Book of Watts and the Dwat
Copyright Carolyn Horn 1993
All Rights Reserved

Chapter 24.

The tramps stirred. An officious young man slapped notices up all over Lower Postleton; he sniffed when they asked what it was all about, and sneered: "Read for yourselves - if you can. You'd better look out for yourselves, that's all. This place won't be around much longer." He looked around him with satisfaction, and stalked off, muttering "Layabouts."
        He was beside Marco's, when he began to jump in a most spectacular jig, and beat at himself with his hands, to the accompaniment of little "Urks" and "Oohs". His jacket started to smoulder; he pelted into the cafe and shot out of the back with an oily splash.
        Nathan looked at the innocent expressions around him. "Now, that was childish," he said, "who did it? Which of you beauties put the live coal in his pocket?"
        They all looked up at the looming clouds, and whistled tunelessly. He shrugged, and stroked his huge beard. "Never mind, let's see what this is all about." He mumbled to himself as his finger followed the lines of type. Then he gasped, and went back to the beginning.
        "Well, wossit say, then?" a voice called from the back.
        Nathan gave a short laugh, and growled: "What's it say? They're only coming to bomb us, that's what! `Evacuate the area by 17.00 hours,' that's the words, `military manoeuvres against the alien menace after that hour.' I tell you, they intend to flatten us - our home, our livelihood." He waved around him at the gentle decay and the glowing braziers. He ground his teeth. "Come on, we've got to do something. Put up a fight." "You gotta be jokin'. Against the army? Wott'll we use for weapons?" Nathan rubbed the knitted cap thoughtfully over his bald head. "Joe! Can we make slings, d'you think? We've got missiles right here," and he indicated the red coals. "We know this place like no-one else; we can do all them things guerrillas do - you know, ambushes, and dashing around behind them; stuff like that."
        The tramps got to work.

Bertha Clewydd's hair stood out in anxious white spikes. She checked again. Yes, she thought, there was no doubt about it; they were coming to flatten Lower Postleton.
        She hobbled out of her cottage, and tapped her way from door to door, hammering on each one with her stick. She raised her gentle voice: "Oh, it's going to be a difficult night tonight, look you. There'll be a bombing on the town..."
        Doors banged open, and a tide of murmuring questions rose in clouds of frost-spangled breath. Drivula burst out of Old Codge's house; he sat astride her shoulders and waved his cane in the air. "Yahoo," Gaffer called, "Where's the fight? Lemme at 'em." He wiped an icicle from his nose, and craned his head around in all directions.
        "Now, now, cariad," Bertha said, "you're not to get excited. You know it raises your blood press-" she looked at Drivula's toothy grin, and shrugged. "Oh well, it's your business after all."
        A voice called out: "What be the trouble, Mistress Clewydd?"
        She turned to the gathering crowd, and said quietly: "It is as I say, I have seen it; the army marches. There will be a bombing tonight, at the museum. And, look you, when the Lower town has gone, who will stop their fine plans for us? How shall we keep our homes and our factory? Who will be fine enough to work in their fancy Precinct?"
        The grumbling around her rose to a crescendo; the village surged toward the town, spearheaded by a yodelling, stick-brandishing ancient on a vampire's shoulders.

"Life - how can you give it, only for bondage to that?" Pierre had come down off the wall.
        "Look," Bes was patient, "She's had a final row with her lover; she's all alone. She's the repressed type; bound to be plenty of passion for you. Good stuff."
        "Um, excuse me, what kind of riches had you in-" Daniel dusted the shoe-marks off his suit trousers.
        Pierre shuddered. "Passion? From her? Mon dieu, she would flatten a man. Give her back her lover."
        "-I mean, are you talking mega-rich, here? Yachts, mansions-"
        "Non, ah non..."

Incense fumed the air in the museum basement. A rat was trudging around to each corner, with a censer strapped to his back. What a life, he thought. You allowed a god to take over your tribe, and what happened? Somebody stuck burning muck on your back and told you to walk a straight line. And when he's finished this, there was that ruddy great chalk circle to go round... There wasn't even any good nosh in it; just the occasional crumb of some pongy stuff or other. He sat, washed his whiskers, and sniffed again at the heady scent coming from behind. He brightened; still, he could nibble at that snooty cat's tail, if he wanted, and she couldn't do a thing about it. Untouchable, you were, when you took on a job like this. He got up and staggered off to the next corner.
        Olwyn muttered, over by the typestyle racks; she checked over her list, and rehearsed her words in a fevered mumble. Shadows flickered into dusty corners, hiding from the light of twenty coloured candles; the Jerry Flick kettle glistened, kneeling on a pile of fragrant woods which awaited the purification of flame. Bryarus stood around, looking like a stuffed heron and wishing he'd brought some whisky along.
        The gods gathered, in full regalia. Their call: "Dwatters! Rally to your deities!" thundered through the bones of Postleton-over-Wold. The Dwatters streaked through everything, in a green mist, to obey the command. Several drunks saw, and signed the pledge yet again.
        Djehuti stood at one edge of the Gateline; and Hathor, majestic in her lioness form, on the other. "Now is the time;" she said, "thine is the final choice. The gate shall close forever. Upon which side wouldst thou be?"
        The green blobs looked at each other; they twittered and gonged. They thought about Matron and shuddered. Then they thought about being trapped forever in this world of confusing strong-pulls and endless noise, and they began to drift toward the Gate. Djehuti stroked his hand over each one as it passed him, and removed the 3-d translato-vis organ of light. On the Dwat side of the Gate, the familiar green ooze welcomed them. The Dwatter trickle became a stream, and then a torrent, until there was a pause. Djehuti straightened and said: "I think that's the -ah- last."
        "Um, Lord Djehuti," a clear, bell-like voice tinkled, "I-I don't think we want to go. At least, I don't know about Drott, here-" his friend gave a quick tinkle of agreement, "-but I like this life, and I've got friends."
        "That's right," said Drott. His voice took on a wistful edge as he followed Dwish and Bryarus upstairs: "Mind you, I'll miss bits of the occasional dwivvling..."

Upstairs, Tansy shook her head at the bleary Jim Fester. "No," she said, "The Boss said to fortify the building, not the staff." she wrenched the bottle out of his grasp, and he staggered to his feet.
        "Bloody women," he grumbled without heat, and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. "Come on then, Mutt, I suppose we'd better help shift sandbags." he sniffed.
        Mutt wagged his tail and yawned; he trotted after them. Life was never dull around here, he thought. Should be some good biting work soon, if the signs were anything to go by. He couldn't understand why he'd had to lay off that rat, though.
        The windows of the museum were almost completely shielded, now, by sandbags or rusty corrugated iron. Apep was using his huge mouth to shift and place the larger objects. Arlo sat beside one of the holes in the door, polishing up a few gruesome items which he'd found in the museum's Munitions Through the Ages room. "Amazing thing, this," he said, waving an ancient blunderbuss at Tansy.
        She yelped and ducked. "Careful how you aim that thing! How do you know it'll work okay and not explode or something?"
        "Sorry." Arlo gave her a cheerful kiss, and put the gun down. "How do I know...? Oh, well, I don't. But it'll be real interesting to see if I got it back together okay. I wish they'd come."

"Look," Bes sighed, "Djehuti is our scribe and accountant; you can have all you wish"
        "Non! You think I can be bought. Ah, my father, give me nothing,-"
        "-Excuse me, you did say `All you wish'?-"
        "-but give me freedom!" Pierre raised his hands to the ceiling.
        "There's no point fighting it, bucko. Look, just pretend; you'll be getting your travel."
        Pierre drew himself up. "You would have your son be dishonest! Non!"

The infantry, led by the freshly-patched tank, swung through the ordered streets of Postleton West; streets which were lined with welcoming banners, flags, and waving handkerchiefs. Cheers rose in gusts from the genteel throats of the area, as the well-drilled feet marched past. Neighbour jostled neighbour; and friend glanced at friend, to covertly inspect their patriotism and the quality of their clothing.
        It wasn't until they had reached the dark, silent streets of Postleton East, that the marching column became aware that something wasn't quite as it should be at its rear.
        Bonasus, full of Cordial and covered with drunken crocodile, had been attracted by the cheers and stamping. He staggered off in search of the party, with the kitten-filled Gertrude hiccuping beside him; they leaned against each other and watched the marchers go by. Bonasus' brow was furrowed; what was the point of this? And then the light dawned. Of course, he thought, a race! He could do that! "No problem," he said to Gertrude, "come - we race also." They wobbled out behind the soldiers, and made a determined bid to catch up. They succeeded so well that, by the time they reached the hill down to the East, they were having to chivvy the people in front to hurry them up.
        "Why you go so slow?" Bonasus huffed in the ear of one sturdy soul. The man looked back, stared straight up into Cronspyke's gaping mouth, and wondered why, himself. "Pushsh it along," said the teeth. The man put his whole soul into pushing it along.
        Further along the line, Gertrude kept bumping another private. "Stoppit," he said, and missed his step, "get in line." And then he thought for a minute; there shouldn't be anyone there. He reached his free hand behind, and felt cold, quivering metal. Gertrude yawed at him when he turned round; and he dropped his gun, the better to climb over a few regimental heads.
        Taking exception to this, the heads turned around and watched the snapping car. "God Almighty," was the fervent prayer of one stalwart, who proceeded to level his gun at it. The resulting shot skimmed her sun-roof. Three kittens fizzed, and their eyes glowed; three guns turned to stone and were dropped by their owners with a gasp. They legged it; they pushed things along.
        There was a thundering on the tank roof. "Take a look, private," barked the corporal.
        Alfson opened the hatch, and was stepped on by a hurrying boot. He closed it again, rubbed his head, and reported: "Mensir, runningoversir, oohme'ead-sir." The men were, in fact, running over so athletically that soon the tank clanked along at the rear of the column.
        By the time the infantry galloped into Lower Postleton, the men in the back had pushed it along so successfully that the column was half its length, twice its height (in climbing, straining soldiery), and in total disorder. It collapsed in a wheezing mass beside Marco's. Some of them wondered whether the monsters had gone away; most of them didn't care.
        The officers danced around, prodding the men onto their feet. The regiment began to stagger off, toward the proposed scene of battle. Bonasus came up behind a major who was weeping with the effort of beating his men into shape again; the man was gratified to see them leap to their feet and dash off with renewed energy. The bonnacon shoved its tongue in his ear to get his attention, and said: "Please - you tell us now, who won, yes?"
        The major jerked around, fired his gun wildly, and smashed the T of "Tacos".
        Marco could shift like lightning, when moved. He was moved now. He shot out of the door, grabbed the man with one enormous fist, wrenched the rifle away, and bent it over his knee. The major's teeth rattled. "You leave my place alone," Marco growled; "no dogs," he looked up at the shattered sign, "and no guns. You've bust it - my lovely light." He sniffed, and wiped one encrusted hand across his eyes. The major wriggled, and Marco tightened his grip.
        "I didn't mean - I'm sorry..." the man's voice tailed off as he was hoisted toward the sign.
        "Look! Marco's acos!" Marco mourned.

Olwyn stood before the Gate, with sprigs of thyme on the gold cloth of the altar before her, and fastened her hair back with gold clasps. She checked the altar again against her list; yes, there were the golden candles, stroked with rosewater; the chalice and the oils; and, resting in a golden cup, the geode and its crystalline mystery. She sprinkled oil of myrrh over the depressed rat, who ambled past her again on his tour of the Great Circle. He twitched his whiskers. "Geek," he muttered. The gods sat, cross-legged and silent, within the circle. Olwyn lifted a blessed bough of oak in both hands, and began to chant: "Hear the words of Deep Peace; aroycas taplo catahar-"

The corporal in the tank scratched his head. "We're behind everyone. If we shoot, we'll kill 'em all. Well, it's their fault." He brightened. "Kill! Kablooie! Man the gun, Private."
        "Sir! Permissiontospeak-sir!"
        The corporal frowned, and nodded.
        "Suggestionsir. PhoneGeneralfirstsir. Aaachoo-sir!"
        The corporal glowered, but he thumbed the RT and reported the situation to the general's temporary headquarters. Cragblatt's voice blistered through the ether:
        "Dammit, man, get in the front again! Go down a side street, anything - we can't shoot our own men in the back."
        "Yes, sir," the corporal grumbled, and he wrenched at the controls. At that moment there was a "crunch" on the roof, and the tank bounced. the corporal looked through the viewfinder and blinked. "Gawd," he whispered, it looks like a bloody great foot!"
        It was Haroon. He was out to exercise a revolutionary pair of combat shoes, with Failey perched professionally on his shoulder. "Ah, good," the Stomp God beamed. "It is as you say, they stretch for the stomp. Yes, and also the metal of that infidel machine has made no mark. See?" He held the foot up for inspection, and Failey gave a pleased nod.
        "To be sure," he said, "and I knew they'd work."
        Haroon stomped on, toward the sound of distant, intermittent shooting, and the tank swayed and wobbled down a side street. A few bits fell off. They weren't important.

Scents thickened and joined in the basement; the peace hummed to the chant: "Tarahoo cataha, Peace from the stars; the whirlwind centre, galaxy heart..."

There was a roar as the blunderbuss was unleashed from the museum; the night reverberated with it.
        "Ack!" "Ow!" "Omigod!" "Silly beggars!"
        The gun had sprayed its favours impartially. Everybody in the vicinity was jigging up and down, and flapping their hands at what looked like: "Alphabet soup?" Asked Tansy, her brows raised.
        Arlo blushed. "Well, there wasn't any shot. But there was this stuff in the kitchenette..."
        The village forces had whooped into the combat area, and had joined the tramps in their shifting shadow-fight. Drivula had dropped Old Codge, the better to grab and demoralise people. She just bared her teeth at them. It was amazing how quickly they could faint, she thought, as she laid yet another young man in the gutter. Her partner, meanwhile, laid into anyone he could see, whether friend or foe. To him, a fight was a fight - who cared about enemies?
        Nathan and his pals lobbed burning charcoal at the soldiers, who were bunched in a defensive formation in the street. They wildly tried to shoot back. Something kept going wrong. Triggers were pulled and firing-pins made deadened "Kthonk" noises. The puzzled soldiers examined their firearms. "Stone?" said one, and scratched his head. "'Twere metal when I loaded it, fer sure." All around, soldiers were dropping their heavy, useless guns; they didn't see Gertrude and her kittens, who snickered in the shadows.

Arlo turned from his peephole, and looked at the others. "They're getting closer," he said; "we'd better get a move on with that spell."
        Apep turned his huge head on one side to hear through the cries of alarm and sporadic shots. Yes, there it was again; he could definitely hear the familiar whup-whup of an unpleasant flying creature.
        The army's tank clattered out of a side street, directly in front of the museum. Its gun began to creak from side to side as it tried to move into line. The whup-whup grew louder.
        "Oh, no! That tears it," Arlo said, "the frontage won't be able to take a full-scale tank attack. If that gun fires toward us..."
        The whup-whup grew louder. Apep slipped out. Yes, he thought with satisfaction, it was the same creature. The searchlight slid past him and hesitated. Voices floated down:
        "What's the matter?"
        "For a minute there I thought I saw... Nah, couldn't have. Keep going on course; should get the bomb on target."
        "Hey!" the searchlight swung wildly as an enquiring head raised itself toward them, Oh, my god, it's that thing again!"
        "Bastards!" Bryarus was all but sobbing with rage. He clattered down the steps to the basement, but pulled up in silence at the majestic scene which met his eyes through the fug; Olwyn's head was flung back, and she made upward sweeps with the branch over the altar. Bast twined round and round her feet in a figure of eight, and her purrs mingled with the chant:
        "Athelha kabbat, cleanse and make light-"

Upstairs, the gun's creaking sweep had finally finished. Dwish and Drott, mounted on their table-trolley, trundled out of the door. "No, Dwish - come back!" Tansy's shout was lost in the sound of the robot arms clattering down the steps. They flailed along the ground until the trolley stood before the sights of the gun. Then the arms reached up and boxed at the tube. It swung.
        "Keep it still, Private, for gawd's sake. I wanna fire it."
        "I'mtryingsir. Somethingbashingus-sir."
        "Dammit! What the hell's going on, Corporal?" the RT squawked.
        "Alien attack, sir."
        "Fire, then, you fools!"
        "We're trying, sir." the Corporal's voice was becoming hysterical; the tank dipped and swayed as the trolley battered away at it.

"Excuse me; excuse me, but you said mansions? Um, excuse me."
        "Non! Let me go; I shall find this lover, make him stay."
        "Pierre, he's already gone. Is it so bad?"

"Alaetha, adrahey, come together, come what may-"

"Fire, dammit, fire. come on, Corporal.
        "Sir! I - urk - keep it still, can't aim, someone kill the bastards..."

"Aaaagh! It's going to grab us again; a-ha-ha-ha..."
        "George! Cut the hysterics, for chrissake. We've got a bomb on board, keep her steady!"
        The gentle sound of sobbing was broken by yet another screaming babble: "Oh, my god, I'm going mad, mad. Beetles! I'm seeing beetles now..."
        "George! George - it's all right, I see it too. Steady! Steady!"

"In love, in learning, drahel anparning; swing the life-force through our gleaning..."

"You say: `Sorry.' you think that's enough? Do you? Do you?"
        "No, no, I'm sorry Marco, I'm more than sorry, I'll pay for a new one, I'll replace the `T', anything you say, only please - please, put me down. I think my teeth are falling out."

"Help! Hey, over here - get this off me!"
        "Gawd - have you seen that bird? Whew! What a tasty-"
        "Never mind her figure, mate, have you seen her teeth? She's a bleedin' vampire."
        "I tell you, that one can suck on me any time."
        "No, I mean it - sucks blood out of veins, get me?"
        "Now, for Pete's sake, will you stop gawping and get this old geezer off me? He's gumming my arm to death."
        "Ow! Look, ain't those guys ever goin' to run out of burnin' rocks?"

"I, Pierre, shall catch her lover, and make him come back!" The naked man, in clodhopper boots and spectacles, began running to the other side of the window, searching for a way out. There was a shift as Olwyn's spell began its countdown; the air gave a "poof", as Pierre disappeared into the past.
        Bes' voice echoed in his ears: "No, Pierre; it won't do any good..."

"-That all shall join to cleanse and grow. Alcathahie. So mote it be."
        Olwyn's arms lowered. Bryarus leapt down the last step, grabbed hold of her and kissed her.
        The geode thought for a moment and then stretched and expanded in an ecstasy of death:
        Kerblackett... Fwwada-ooff-ooomph.

Go on to Chapter 25
Book of Watts and the Dwat
Copyright Carolyn Horn 1993
All Rights Reserved