“All heads below the knees!”
The City streets, to Padgett Weggs, were paved with golden scales… making it slippery underfoot. It was tantamount to walking upon a Great Old One’s hide which had just been shed as soon as its owner had been born, still fresh with Mother. Since the invasion of these immeasurable creatures (that had somehow found the key to the landlocked space-time-mind monopoly and arrived within the sanctuary of Earth, eager for equalising Good and Evil), those in the City (of every livery and trade, such as barber-surgeons, costermongers, ex-Lord mayors, etc.) had craned their necks to peer into the turbulence of the roiling skies, to ensure they dodged the inevitable random off-loading of such a vasty fleet of Aliens...
“All heads below the knees? NOW LET ‘EM Go!”
Padgett Weggs was rudely disturbed from his reverie. He knew what he had been doing: dreaming again, slightly heady as he was with draining straight glasses in the Jackass Penguin hostelry. He’d staggered into the street, cursing the day his mother gave him birth. The talk he’d undergone with Diamante Fillul, elderly prostitute of this parish, had been full of ambiguities. Was she propositioning him? Or vice versa? To avoid further misunderstanding, he quaffed a tall pint (that had been left standing by another customer who’d momentarily turned his back whilst begging for a penny from the charity jar on the bar)… and left the pub. Leaving untold gossip in his wake.
“LET EM GO! Attack! Attack! Attack! Tear ‘em limb from limb!”
He could not judge the direction wherefrom the raised voice was coming. He shrugged: probably another dosser trying to fit his (or her) own brain back into its rightful skull. The fact that he could not tell the sex of the voice told him something.
The sky had cleared since the night had first fallen. However, a fitful mist was rising from the cold pavement, as if the sewer-workers below the business City had lit bonfires. He could just make out the perfect shape of St Paul’s great Dome, politely lifting above a nearby office block. That building should not be there, he mused; but, when all the counterfeit money was reckoned at the end of the game, he himself did not appreciate which building he meant. All he knew was the voice could not possibly be a coster’s street call, for they had long ceased business (except, perhaps, those selling plague pills on prescription).
If his dreams were true, it would soon be the opportune moment for a Great Old One to be settling upon the Dome for the night. Apparently, there was much rivalry (friendly or otherwise) for this prime roost. The small hours dragged for such creatures, so the rounded shoulder of a religious building would be warmth and comfort indeed. The creature’s skeletal limb-joints that seemed to splay in all directions, with very little flesh to speak of clinging, once the birth-hide had been jettisoned, were literally made for such geometry of architecture. Furthermore, its skullhead (so much like a human’s but equally so different) actually slotted neatly, via the complexes of the labyrinthine ear, upon the Dome’s crowning tower... thus to prevent the toppling down, the toppling down when its brain had wriggled off for more suitable lodgings within the Cathedral itself.
“Command the beast as if you mean it!”
The same voice was louder. Padgett Weggs resented the way it kept interfering with his own private thoughts. Who the Hell was it, anyway?
A schoolboy was heading towards him.
“What’s yer name, mistah?”
“Why do you need to know, young lad?”
“Cos I do. Cos I don’t.”
“Why should I give you my name? It’s mine, isn’t it?”
“Cos Teacher says we’re to do a bit of writing about down-and-outs like you. It’d read bettah wi’ yer name innit.”
The boy was scruffy, a dangly striped tail of inch-wide cloth ill-tied at his neck with a cub’s woggle. His short trousers were long enough to hide the scabs on his knees. The wrinkly socks no doubt stank to high heaven. The greasy mop that had once been hair was now more like a cap.
“What’s your name? Fair exchange, eh?”
“Mine’s Padgett Weggs. Or so my mother told me... when I had a mother.”
Tears filled the dosser’s eyes. They came more often these days. Even the urchin looked sad.
Suddenly perking up, Padgett asked, “Have you any Special Brew about your person, Idle White? Us down-and-outs live off the stuff.”
The other quickly scribbled in his notebook.
“Do you know how to spell ‘Special’?” queried Padgett. “It’s got more letters than you’d credit.”
“Course I know how to spell, mistah. It aint an orphans’ school, you know, that I go to.”
“You don’t say!”
“I do say! My teacher’s a right swankpot about the best pupil in his form. He say it be me. Though, other teachers are bad hats, and do say that he talk from the back of his head. Though it looks OK to me, his head...”
“Idle White? Can I now ask you something more? Fair exchange?”
“Well, do you hear that loud voice that keeps a-calling out? What the Hell is it?”
“It be a dog-handler trainer.”
“How do you know?”
“Back there in Patter-Noster, there be a whole load of people with brutes on leads. They’re being learned to make ‘em do things they don’ wanna do - like jump over fings and attack critters they don’ like or who don’ like ‘em or just ornery people...”
Padgett Weggs ruminated. “You’ve got a good eye on you, Mister Idle White. You sure see things well. My own eyes are growing greyer by the day. Will you be my eyes for me? Lead me around, so I can find the door of the Jackass Penguin. I’ll pay you in tales...”
“No fear, mistah, I’ve got me own life to lead. I’ll be no bleeding guide dog for the likes of you, tales or no tales.”
And, with that, Idle White skidaddled, with not even a backward glance.
Padgett Weggs looked back towards the mighty Dome of the Cathedral but it was quickly being hidden by the further encroachments of the unseasonable fog. For the second time that eventful night, tears filled his eyes. Nothing special about tonight, though...
“Now they’re done, tickle their necks, give ‘em big hugs!”
The voice grew fainter as Padgett Weggs made his way towards the Underground... taking care all the time to keep his feet...
“All heads below the knees!”
But now he could not hear it, mercifully, let alone understand it, as the cycle began again. He did not even need to question whether it were the owners or their pets that had to make such contortions.
Published 'Panurge' 1989