Les Merdivannes

    • belayd
      belayd
      Global
      Joined: 17.03.2011 Posts: 1,021
      Engleberd Bloafard ran out of luck. Not that his luck was ever good to begin with.

      He sat in his kitchen with the phone receiver pressed against his
      head. A brisk spring breeze stirred his frayed pant cuffs and
      leaked through the tear on the sleeve of his shirt. His mind
      bounced between the empty fridge and bare cupboard and the dreams
      of what he could do once the person on the phone said yes. But
      that person had put him on hold, and bland music dribbled into
      his sweaty ear.

      She came back on. "Mr. Bloafard?"

      "Call me Berd," he chirped, his hand trembling.

      "Sure, Berd. Unfortunately, we are unable to approve a limit
      increase at this time."

      No. A vast oceanic trench opened in the pit of his stomach.

      "Any reason?" he mumbled.

      "Your online rating is too low, but the ratings are updated
      monthly. Feel free to apply again in no fewer than 30 days."

      "Thank you." He hung up.

      Berd stood, dreams crumbling and falling around him. His head
      spun and he thought he would faint. Abruptly, he was hungry. He
      knew the fridge didn't even contain a bag of milk, but there
      should still be half a jar of olives. He walked over and opened
      the fridge door. No, the olives were gone. He remembered having
      finished them after coming back from the casino last night.

      He wandered to the counter and picked up his wallet. It
      contained a nickel and two pennies and his useless credit card.
      The bank card was there too, but he had $900 in the account and
      the rent was $899, and the cheque would clear tomorrow morning.
      All he needed was to bounce a rent cheque and get evicted.

      It was Sunday. What was he going to do until he got paid on
      Wednesday? His stomach rumbled, and he wished he at least had
      some rice left over he could boil. He did have some spices.
      Maybe spiced water would have to suffice.

      Or maybe he could deceive the cash machine. Not his own bank's,
      but the one at the convenience store.

      Berd stuck the wallet in his pocket and began walking to the
      small kitchen window. The wallet fell through a hole and slid
      down his leg to the floor. Berd cursed, bent over to pick it up,
      then stuffed it in his other pocket. Outside, it drizzled.
      Berd's left shoe heel had started to separate, so he avoided
      going out when it was wet, but there was no help for it now. At
      least holding a wet sock over a stove element would cost nothing.

      As he stepped into his shoes and put on his ripped jacket, Berd
      daydreamed that the credit card lady had said yes and given him
      another $200. What the heck, make it $300, so he'd have enough
      not only to buy food but to go back to the casino. Or maybe, he
      thought as he stepped out the door, the cash machine would cough
      up enough money, dumb piece of plastic and metal that it was.
      His pulse quickened at the thought, and he almost dropped his key
      as he locked the door behind him.

      Sunday afternoons were slow in his neighbourhood, so the street
      was nearly deserted on the two-block walk to Kwikli Variety. The
      two people he passed stared ardently at their shoes and avoided
      eye contact with anyone. Berd glanced from time to time into the
      dim building doorways to his left. Once a car streaked past,
      travelling at least ten miles over the limit, and threw up a
      spray of gutter water that barely missed him.

      The owner of Kwikli, Terence, was behind the counter when Berd
      walked in. "Hey," said Berd with a wave as he headed for the
      cash machine.

      "Hi, Berd," said Terence, flashing his impossibly white smile.
      He may have been chubby and balding, but he took great care of
      his teeth.

      Berd's hand trembled again as he slid the credit card into the
      slot. He deliberately punched in the wrong PIN number, made the
      right menu selections, and asked for $20. A screen came up
      asking him to re-enter his PIN, and this time he typed in the
      right one. The screen said "Please Wait", and Berd waited and
      waited and waited. His gaze fell on the nearest shelf, which
      bore, of all things, Betty Crocker cake mix. A brutal spasm of
      craving seized him, and he almost collapsed. Please, he thought,
      just one twenty, just so I can get some milk and cake mix.
      That's all I'll ever ask for.

      "You okay, Berd?" said Terence, his forehead wrinkling in
      concern.

      "Ya, I'm fine," said Berd. "Partied a little too hard last
      night." And doubled my money, he thought, and lost every last
      cent.

      His card popped out of the machine with a click. Berd's heart
      thudded. Soon the display would say "Please remove your cash",
      and a beautiful, adorable twenty would slide into the slot. Berd
      almost cried out in joy. Now, he only had to do it 14 more
      times. In his mind, he was already on the bus to the casino
      again.

      The display said "Restricted card. Please contact your financial
      institution."

      Berd pulled the card out and almost wept. The colours on the
      Betty Crocker box winked and laughed. He had never wanted a
      woman as much as he wanted a piece of homemade cake.

      "Is something wrong with the machine?" said Terence.

      "No, my payment just hasn't gone through yet," said Berd as he
      put the card back in his wallet. "Let me browse a bit."

      "Sure thing, Berd." A lady Berd didn't know walked in, and
      Terence turned his attention to her.

      Berd walked down the aisle past the shelves of soup and dog food.
      The thought flashed through his mind to steal something, but then
      he cursed himself for it. Terence had always been good to him.
      As the lady took her pack of smokes out the door, Berd walked
      toward the counter, intending to ask if he could buy something on
      credit. He couldn't bring himself to do it. He cast one last,
      forlorn glance at the box of cake mix and stuck his wallet back
      in his pants.

      "You sure you're okay?" said Terence.

      "Ya. See you."

      "Bye, Berd. Have a good evening."

      The sky was still dull and the drizzle continued as Berd trudged
      back toward his apartment building. His left foot squished
      miserably and his gaze never left the pavement. A car roared
      past and did splash him this time, but he barely noticed. He
      wondered if he should leap in front of the next passing car and
      finally be free of everything.

      He was so preoccupied that he almost ran into it. He saw it out
      the top edge of his vision and stomped to a stop an inch away.
      Someone had put a metal frame ladder against the wall of the
      three-storey building he was passing, and at a steep angle too.

      Berd began to walk around the outside of the ladder, then swore
      and doubled back. So what if a can of paint fell on his head?
      Better than squeezing past the ladder with his ass off the
      sidewalk.

      He began to walk through the inside of the ladder, then stopped.
      Was opportunity presenting itself? If he could climb high enough
      and jump...

      But that wouldn't matter if someone were on the ladder already.
      Berd looked up. The top of the ladder and the roof were engulfed
      in low cloud or fog. Peering at it, he saw to what must have
      been the third topmost rung, and there was no pair of feet.

      Another spasm of appetite shook him. Enough. Berd began to
      climb the ladder. He laughed silently at himself as he
      deathgripped the slippery frame to avoid falling.

      As he went past a second-floor window, Berd saw a pudgy man in a
      stained tank top sitting on a threadbare couch and glumly
      watching a black and white TV. Another loser like himself. The
      world was full of losers. Was this a sign too? Berd thought he
      was high enough. Maybe he should jump now. But no, he wanted to
      make sure of dying, and two storeys might be too low, so he kept
      climbing.

      As he neared the top, Berd noticed that the fog or cloud just
      above his head was like a solid wall. He imagined it stretching
      up for miles. Or was it only a foot thick? For some reason he
      wasn't clear on, Berd didn't want to die with that mystery
      unsolved. He climbed on.

      His head entered the cloud and he couldn't breathe. It must have
      been the thickest fog in recorded history, because he felt like
      he had dunked his head in molasses. A compulsion seized him to
      find out what was going on. He stepped down one step, took a
      deep breath, and climbed up again.

      The fog abruptly decreased as his head passed the lip of the
      roof. Over top he could breathe and see for a few feet.

      Something huge and ugly was charging at him.

      Berd barely had a chance to see what it was. He caught a glimpse
      of four knobbly limbs and a bulbous torso with a gnarled, rounded
      head. One of the arms was pointed either right at him or right
      at the ladder frame.

      If he'd had time to think, Berd would have closed his eyes and
      said goodbye to the world. Being pressed, he seized the edge of
      the roof and flipped himself up into a roll. The thing was three
      feet away when his feet slammed into its chest, sending it
      staggering four steps back.

      The thing paused. Berd lay with the roof's pebbly surface
      digging into his back and wondered if he'd set himself up for a
      fate worse than falling to the road. He lost count of the number
      of symmetrically placed eyes the thing's face had.

      The thing dove toward him. Berd rolled and felt the roof shake
      as it landed beside him. It leapt to its feet, and Berd
      crabcrawled in some random direction. He had never wanted to
      survive more than he did then.

      The thing dove at him again. Berd started to roll once more,
      then stopped, because it had adjusted its leap to land where it
      must have expected him to roll to. It landed beside him again,
      but this time he was on his flank as its foot-long scabrous mitt
      slapped the roof.

      Berd made a fist and slammed it as hard as he could on the
      thing's hand. To his surprise, he heard a wet crunch. The thing
      shrieked. Berd squeezed his ass together to avoid shitting his
      pants from the sound. Then it leapt to its feet once more and
      scampered off into the distance, squealing and cradling its
      injured hand.

      Berd clambered to his feet, nerves drawn tight and eyes
      chiselling the fog. He had to get off the roof before some other
      horror accosted him. Looking around, he couldn't see the edge of
      the roof or the ladder. The fight had disoriented him, and he
      was lost. He turned in the direction he thought the street was
      and started walking.

      Some time later, he realized his wristwatch had come off and was
      gone somewhere in the fog. He lost track of time as he wandered
      over the pebbly tarpaper, never seeing more than five feet ahead
      of him. The excitement of the fight died down, and gloom lapped
      at the back of his mind again. It seemed that he would die after
      all, collapsing from thirst as he wandered in circles atop this
      impossibly wide building. How big could the roof be anyway? He
      felt like he'd been walking for hours.

      A swordtip appeared from the fog and paused at his abdomen. Berd
      froze. From behind the sword, out of the fog, came a gangly
      woman wearing some sort of metal girdle over a leather vest and
      pants. The hair tucked under her helmet seemed a vivid red. Her
      face was wide-jawed and completely unadorned.

      "Look," said Berd, "I'm just trying to get off."

      The woman frowned.

      "I mean get off the roof," Berd said quickly.

      She studied him. "What do you know about the curse that has
      befallen the World?"

      Berd did his best to look earnest. "If I knew anything, would I
      be wandering around unarmed and almost naked?"

      After a pause, the woman lowered her sword. "You seem more a
      beggar than a wizard. I have not lost my wits enough to neglect
      those the gods send to us. Come."

      She started walking off into the fog, and for lack of anything
      else to do, Berd followed. In a few steps they came to a leanto
      pitched next to a small fire. Over it roasted a grotesque-
      looking small animal on a spit.

      Berd grimaced. "Doesn't anything up here have only two eyes?"

      "It is part of the curse," the woman said. She hacked off a
      small piece of meat and offered it to him. "Sit. Eat."

      Berd felt his mouth filling with saliva. Food! Then he looked
      at the little beast on the spit and felt revulsion. His body
      warred with itself, and he didn't know if he'd implode from
      hunger pangs or throw up. He squatted uncertainly and took the
      piece of meat and studied it. It looked like a normal chunk of
      roast game. If he squinted so he couldn't see anything but the
      food he was holding, especially not where it had come from, he
      found his stomach settled.

      Berd put the piece of meat in his mouth. It was tasty, just like
      the wild rabbit he'd had as a child. He chewed dreamily and
      remembered his late father and the hunting trips and Ophelia,
      their sad-faced redbone hound.

      He swallowed. Focusing his eyes again, he saw the woman chewing
      on her own piece of meat and offering him another.

      Thunder belched overhead. Berd started, and the woman glanced up
      without moving her head or slowing her jaws. "More strangeness
      befalls us," she mumbled around her food. "First the ground
      turns to rough stone, then this accursed fog, then the gods pass
      gas in dry skies."

      Berd took the proffered piece of meat and wanted to ask whether
      the creatures on the roof used to be normal. He looked at the
      thing on the spit and found the sight no longer bothered him. As
      the food boiled in his stomach, his depression lifted, and he was
      able to think straight for the first time since his head broke
      through that solid wall of fog. This small inner city roof had
      turned into some kind of benighted neverland. What was going on?

      But first things first. "What's your name?" he said.

      "Bruna," she said. "And yours?"

      He chewed. "Berd."

      Her head snapped over to face him, and her face was grim. Before
      his eyes could register motion, she was on her feet and holding
      the hilt of the sword above his head. Berd dove sideways, but
      the hilt still struck him on the shoulder. Pain exploded in the
      joint and rattled his brain.

      Berd dragged himself backward, but she was impossibly quick,
      standing over him again. His arm scraped uselessly across the
      rooftop; he was sure his shoulder was dislocated. If she had
      been using the point of the sword, he would have been dead, but
      she bent down and held the hilt above his head again.

      "What's gotten into you?" said Berd.

      She silently brought the hilt down on top of his skull, and he
      knew nothing else.

      Bright sunshine. A spotless blue sky. Lush grass in the yard,
      and a big ruddy dog cantering toward the frisbee he'd just
      thrown. The dog leaps and catches it, and trots toward him with
      it hanging from its mouth. He leans over and reaches and...

      How many eyes does that dog have?

      He opened his eyes. He was lying in a small leather tent, his
      head wrapped and his shoulder in a sling. Next to him, sitting
      crosslegged, was a wizened old humanoid he couldn't tell the age
      or sex of.

      "You wake," it said. No, the voice didn't help peg its sex
      either.

      "Who are you?" he said. Then his eyes widened. "No, wait. Who
      am I?"

      "You are The Berd," it said.

      "What is The Berd?"

      "The Berd is The Word."

      His head and shoulder ached, and he wasn't in the mood for
      riddles. He tried to sit up and collapsed with a grunt.

      "Lie still," the old one said. "It is too soon. You must
      forgive Bruna. She can be too direct."

      He scowled in frustration. "Who is Bruna? What is going on?"

      "That is what you must discover, for the sake of us all."

      The words galvanized him. His mind clenched like a fist around
      the thought that this one couldn't help him.

      "Leave me," he said. "Send in someone more useful."

      "You are The Berd," it said formally, and rose, and walked out.

      "I am the Berd," he said to the empty tent. He didn't know what that
      meant, but just saying it made him feel better.


      - 30 -


      Copyright 2004 by Belayd
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