Nightingale Fleeertch (pronounced like the noise that cats make when they are coughing up a fur ball) had been working on the Thames flood barrier as deputy, assistant operations manager for just over two years. In that time he had calculated the mean average level of neap tides from 1899 to the present day, accidentally killed a swan with a remote controlled helicopter and learned to speak Volapük, a language invented in 1879 and to his knowledge spoken by no-one else in the entire world. It had been nothing but a roller coaster of near death thrills and spills. Away from work, he had watched the film “Flood” in which an armageddon sized tsunami engulfs and destroys the Thames flood barrier 158 and 1/8th times - on the commencement of the 159th viewing his girlfriend had picked up the dvd player and wordlessly frisbeed it out of her flat window without opening it along with his tooth brush, underwear and shoes. There was every chance that if she had caught him he would have been next but he was not sorry about this denouement - she had recently confided in him that she would rather that her lungs were ripped from her chest by a pack of rabid hyenas than become the next Mrs Fleeertch so he had suspected that the relationship had lost something of the quintessential spark of romance.
Standing on the barrier’s central observation deck, Nightingale picked up the high powered binoculars through which he was expected to survey the Thames for possible signs of “a threat to the security and operational integrity of water displacement systems / resources.”
He inspected the stains on his brown(ish) tie through the long range precision lenses. Chili chicken Tung-rymbai, stuffed eggplant, loft drip, goat intestine and woad and that was only in the last 7 days. He inhaled for what felt like a month, sighed languorously and turned his attention with huge reluctance to the Thames - the vapid shit streak that trailed its fetid intestines through the heart of the glorious city of London. What water-related wonderment awaited him this fine day- a seagull with a cyst on its arse? A barge full of slurry that had strayed minutely off route, a dead perch? A giant wooden potato headed directly for them on a collision course? He dropped his binoculars and fumbled for his radio transmitter.
“We have entered the Straits of Messina and we must defeat Charybdis and Scylla or perish where we stand” shrieked Bathsheba grabbing the lank wire wool which hung apologetically from her skull and pulling it out in blooded clumps.
“Its the Thames Barrier” said M, “not a giant armour plated fish sucking down boats and eating their passengers whole -if the City of London Corporation had tried to install one of those it would never have got past the planning stage.”
M could see that Clive was focusing and refocusing his addled pupils upon the distant silver fingertips of London’s flood defences, his mind was trying to identify what way up he was and was not therefore a precision instrument. Residing within the four walls of Clive's skull was a landscape replete with unfettered torment - the tiny flame that his father lit and fanned had become a forest fire that had engulfed reason. He was agony, he belonged to mania, he was owned by fear. This was the defeat his father had engendered.
M reached out and took Clive’s face in his black leather gloved hand, squeezing just a little bit harder than necessary. “Cut out the low resolution thinking and concentrate. You and Princess Leila over there couldn’t navigate this thing to the end of my prick, let alone traverse the globe. Lets empty the bilge, secure the forecastle to a cleat with a lanyard, park this pile of shit by the side of the river and start again - there will be other dreams brother, other horizons.”
Clive flinched out of M’s grasp batting his hands away with archaic wrath “listen you glutted fuckmaggot this is the dream - this, nothing else. Don’t you dare, don’t you have the audacity to pretend that you understand me, you don’t have the moral compass. You have the empathetic capacity of a dung beetle. You stood there while our father stamped and stamped on anything that Bathsheba and I could have called an aspiration. You watched him abbreviate our childhoods into no more than a footnote.”
“I was a child myself.”
“You were never a child M, not close to it.”
“I couldn’t have stopped him - he couldn’t stop himself”, said M with unaccustomed defensiveness.
“You could have tried M” replied Clive. “Just that and no more - and we would have seen that someone cared just a tiny bit, that we were children who had some intrinsic value. He swallowed us whole, he taught you rage and that’s where you escaped to, but all we learned was submission. We were vacated - voided. So don’t talk to me about dreams M - I could not function as an adult- I was goaded by my wife and her fucking forgiveness, it made me sick - the worse I was to her the more she gave and I detested her for that and disgusted myself. I flagellated our marriage until it was a blood soaked corpse. This boat is all I am - it is all your sister is and if she says that the Thames is blocked by a giant sea serpent then I see it too and if it is in our way then we will attack it and destroy it.“ He pushed M aside and held Bathsheba, her arms stuck out like a scarecrow which slowly, stiffly, fell around and about her brother, her right hand remaining, as ever, in a fist. Human contact stung her, she was not constructed to accommodate it.
“Will you use the weapon?” She asked Clive whilst staring fixedly forwards.
“We have no choice” he whispered.
“Then I will fetch the sheep” she replied.
“Either there is an imminent threat to security or there isn’t Fleeertch - I would have thought that even you...” the voice of Mr Grobe, the operations manager struck out at his subordinate through the walkie-talkie.
“Well, sir, there appears to be - some kind of, medieval catapult device that has been erected on the top of the giant floating potato,” replied Fleeertch.
“Your job is hanging by an imperceptible thread at this point Fleeertch, I just wanted you to know that” said Grobe “no pressure.”
“They seem to be loading the device with...” Fleeertch adjusted his binoculars “for the love of god this cannot be happening.”
“You absolutely, categorically are not going to launch a sheep at the Thames Flood Barrier” shouted M, after Clive had uncovered a giant catapult on the top deck of the potato , ratcheted it back into a loading position and Bathsheba had emerged from the lower decks with half a dozen sheep on dog leads.
“I agree with you - using a sheep like this as ammunition ” the sheep stared up at him plaintively, not enjoying all these references to sheep being used as projectiles “would be quite futile.” A wave of relief fell upon the sheep and they sighed collectively.
“Which is why we need to set them on fire first” said Bathsheba.
“You say you are being bombarded by burning sheep?” said Grobe.
“Thats what I just said” screamed Fleeertch ducking as a lamb fizzed past his ear and exploded through the window of the observation deck.
“Right - meet me on the war bridge” said Grobe.
“Where’s that?” Asked Fleeertch as a flaming sheep bounced into the central flood barrier turning it into a volcano. “I didn’t know we had one.”
“It’s the room between the coat cupboard and the mens toilet” said Grobe.
“I thought that was the women’s toilet” shouted Fleeertch.
“That’s right, the government have militarized a women’s toilet” replied Grobe “doesn’t it make you be proud to be British?”
By this point in time, the union representative of the sheep had been urged to make their position felt. They were very clear that the contract for this job had not included the words “to be made to go all on fire” or “to be shot from a catapult in a manner which might cause you to explode.”
Obterelix, the ewe who had perhaps singlehandedly brought about the nationwide unionization and emancipation of sheep, felt that a line in the sand had been crossed. This was the moment to make a stand, not only for sheep but for humanity - to open its eyes to anti commercial and anti proletarian practices which were leading them down the slippery slope towards strategic sectarianism.
She marched up to Bathsheba, determined to make her voice heard and in so doing, perhaps change the course of history as we know it. "Baa baa" she said with clarity "baa baa baa baa baa".
She stood back to judge Bathsheba's expression - no human could avoid being moved by such an eloquent outpouring of emotions on behalf of a species.
"Right, you're next" said Bathsheba, grabbing Obterelix, setting her alight and
pinging the resultant sheep shaped ball of flames skywards on a collision course with London’s smoldering flood defences.
"This is going to really fuck up my cv" said M.
Grobe and Grobe’s face, set permanently into a contemptuous jeer, opened the door to the women’s toilet, which was now illuminated in red light as if it had been rehoused between his quivering, disparaging lips. One of the cubicles had been converted into a ready room and in the second a panel had been lowered, just above the cistern to reveal a radar screen, two key holes and an excellent selection of toilet ducks.
Grobe had worn the same green corduroy trousers to work since the early 90’s when his previous pair were ripped asunder whilst he was dangled by them over the side of Waterloo Bridge. Short of a similar subordinate driven debasement he would be wearing this current pair until he carked. He delved into a pocket which was used to a good degree of delving and removing two important looking keys, he placed one into Fleeertch’s gaping hand.
“We have to insert and turn at the same time. That will target and launch the peace devise,” explained Grobe eagerly.
“The peace device?” Asked Fleeertch.
“The weapons grade plutonium tipped, nuclear warhead equipped, attack torpedo” replied Grobe, his perfectly cuboid head swiveling back on forth on his angle-poise neck. “Its the only way to protect London from the threat posed by this” he pointed at the potato shaped blip on the radar from which emanated smaller, sheep shaped blips at regular intervals.
“I hope you will forgive me for asking Sir” asked Fleeertch sure that he would not, “ but won’t the devastating conflagration resulting from the explosion of a nuclear warhead, albeit a peaceful one, in the middle of the Thames have a more devastating effect on London than a few combustable sheep?”
“What can you see on this radar Fleeertch?” Asked Grobe pointing at the landmass to on either side of river.
“Woolwich Sir?” Asked Fleeertch.
“Exactly” replied Grobe” his well furnished eyebrows scuttling back and forwards across his forehead like rabid caterpillars. “I doubt anyone will notice it’s gone’.
Unable to rain barbarity down upon the heads of his siblings, as he would have done in most normal social situations, M had begun to form an exit plan when he noticed a very un-flood-barrier-like protuberance had emerged and was now pointing directly at them.
“They are going to fuck us up” said M.
“Thoughts drain down through your skull and are filtered through your harrowing world vision until everything that you see, everything you touch, is clogged with horror” said Clive. “Violence doesn’t define everyone as it does you.”
M grabbed his brother by the shoulders and swiveled him 180 degrees so that he was precluded from loading any more sheep into the catapult and forced to look at the barrier.
“For a man who was emotionally vanquished by a tyrant as a child and has lived by a creed of sadistic self indulgence you are insufferably proud. It is the kind of pride, however, that does not stand up to any form of scrutiny. That” M pointed at the huge gun barrel which was now surrounded by red and green flashing lights - “that is about to bring about a small but not insignificant revision of your plan to sail to the other side of the world. So I suggest you and I and our sister get the fuck out of Dodge.”
“What makes you think we want to leave” asked Bathsheba with previously uncharted clarity.
The gun barrel began to reverberate expectantly. All but two of the lights surrounding it were now green.
“Surely this....boat, is about aspiration, not evisceration?” Asked M. “Despite everything, all the unspeakable things we three saw, the things that bastard made us endure when we were too young to fit suffering on that scale into our hearts, even after all that, you cannot want this to be your coda.”
“You see this hand?” asked Bathsheba, waving her fisted fingers under M’s nose. “One day, it might as well have been a Tuesday, when I was 5 years old, our father took me to Kew Gardens. Even then I had realized that the good times were the worst, that the periods of respite from his awful revelry only allowed him to gather strength before defiling us still more. He took me into the tropical house and over to the Bougainvillea which soared up above my head in a incalculable rocket tail of crimson bound for the heavens and he made me reach out this hand. As I touched a diaphanous flower head he closed his hands around mine until each petal seared as if it were made from the embers of coal. He forced me to grasp until my little hand was smashed. This hand.” Tremulously she unpicked the fingers of her clenched fist one at a time with her good hand, breaking each one as she did so. Inside, hidden for 36 years, were the almost imperceptible remnants of a bougainvillea flower.
“Insert and turn the key” snapped Grobe from the other side of the toilet cubicle.
“It isn’t right sir” replied Fleeertch.
“Right and wrong, they’re such relative terms” replied Grobe.
“Mr Grobe, Percival, when I was having ultrasound treatment for my kidney stone, I noticed that the nurse operating the sound wave device had turned the dial up to 5 and I asked her whether turning it up to 10 would get rid of my kidney stone. She said yes it would but that would be because my kidney would have exploded.”
“What point are you trying to make?” Snarled Grobe.
“My point is - why do this, they have to run out of sheep eventually.” Replied Fleeertch.
“Have you ever seen one of these?” Asked Grobe, removing a Ruger LCP 380 Ultra Compact Pistol from his pocket and sticking the nozzle so far up Fleeertch’s nose that the septum snapped like a broken guitar string. “This is a small calibre hand gun” and this “he pointed towards the key in Fleeertch’s hand, which was doing the watoosie, operates a very big gun. They both kill people just as dead. So what’s it to be - head blown to tiny little pieces bravery or key turning and promotion?”
With one hand vaguely stemming the flow of blood from his nose, Fleeertch used the other to insert and turn the key.
“Bang bang you’re dead” said Grobe.
All of the lights on around the barrel of the gun had turned green and it had stopped moving.
“We have to abandon this potato right now” shouted M, grabbing his brother and sister by their wrists.
“Why protect us?” Asked Clive.
“Leave us to Poseidon” said Bathsheba pulling loose.
“When he came home and dad wanted something to hit, something to blame, some temporary poultice to assuage the terror that this was all his life could be, I stood up and I took it for all of us” said M.
“Why? Asked Clive.
“I don’t know” said M, turning and grabbing for his sister again.
“It wasn’t enough.” said Clive who had picked up a length of wood and planted it with no little force in the centre of M’s lavishly presented forehead.
M half woke to find himself sharing a rubber dingy with three sheep. He didn’t like the expressions on the faces of the sheep but he could not say exactly why. He felt as if his head had been masticated by the blunt, conical, nipple-like teeth of a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex.
Floating all around the dingy was the burnt out wreckage of a boat. A quickly scribbled note had been shoved into his hand - it read “be a better man than your father.”