Aloysius Charles Perdix had always been somewhat of a strange child, and as an adult he saw no reason to change that belief. As he grew older in years and slightly taller in stature one thing fixated him and he was determined to hunt and catch it before he died. While other boys in his class caught butterflies and turned them into wingless, wriggling objects of pity Aloysius search for a more dangerous quarry.
From his earliest memories he had been taught of a man with a beard who floated up there somewhere and this man saw to it that disapproval was always forthcoming. Later, and this was especially true once Aloysius’ hormones decided to act very strangely, this man in the clouds turned from simple disapproval to something bordering on psychotic rage. To begin with Aloysius was frightened of the man but gradually began to realise that that much anger and rage was really not quite on and that people like that needed to be stopped. So Aloysius began his hunt.
To begin with he used the standard texts and was unashamed in his treatment of them. Whole pages were covered in notes, underlinings, and cross references until there was very little of the pages left and instead the tomes looked like they had been through the office of a particularly puritan censor. In the end he had given up with them. It had taken ten years of studious searching, but when he could no longer read the printed words through his scrawling Aloysius used them for fire lighters, and only half-heartedly considered there might be divine retribution when he began to choke on the fumes from the book covers.
A little after the nausea had passed and it seemed that he was not to die at the hands of the owner of the words that Aloysius felt he should give up his searching. This lasted well into his first evening off until, after his fourth pint of the local swill, Bertie Crowborough and his pal Stuart Liddell appeared and bought him another. As they took their places at a rather sticky table talk turned to the demise of Aloysius campaign against the man in the cloud.
Both pals were sympathetic, and indeed Stuart asked for the real reason for Aloysius’ change in employment. Aloysius drained his glass and waggling it at the barman to indicate the need for more beer began his tail.
“Forget the contradictions.” He said in hushed tones. “Search all you like through the madness you just cant make any of it sit prettily on the soul.”
“So you’re still clinging onto your soul are you?” Bertie asked with a wry smile. “I would have thought you couldn’t have one without the other.”
“Sort of a buy one get one free sort of thing.” Stuart chimed in as he paid the barman. All men drank deeply before Aloysius began again.
“What I mean is that man has always had, for want of a better word, a soul. That is part of the indivisible. No. The problem comes when people try to say that the man in the cloud made it and that he expects us to follow a manual to the letter. Where’s the proof he even exists? Indeed I think i have proved quite the opposite through carefully designed experimentation. Only one thing seems impossible to disprove.”
Bertie laughed and waggled his glass for more beer. When the glasses came he requested a stiff double as well just for the fun of it. Stuart smiled like a lizard but asked in honeyed tones.
“What experiments were these old man? Did you try putting the bishop in a blender again to find a speck of faith in the soup?”
At this question Aloysius turned a little red and reminded his friend.
“That was a mental exercise, that’s all. When the bishop woke up he saw that I was being metaphorical and dropped all the charges. I just wont get invited to the palace tea parties anymore, that’s all.”
“Not that the sandwiches were anything to write home about.” Cut in Bertie. “And the tea? Who serves tea you could tar roads with at a garden party. It should be a fine darjeeling in the least and Clicquot for preference. Sadly though, the bish just doesn’t understand the needs of the refined tea party invitee.” Bertie sighed deeply to indicate his displeasure at the bishop’s catering arrangements and then grinned when his stiff double appeared. It was downed in one and another ordered.
But Stuart was not letting the matter of experiments leave the table without grabbing hold of their coat tails.
“I repeat. Just what was the nature of these experiments old thing; and please don’t spare any of the details on account of us losing our conscience. Mine for one was lost some years ago.”
Taking another sip of his drink Aloysius breathed deeply and began to explain.
“I suppose I can trust you chaps. It’s just a bit embarrassing, do you see?”
“Don’t you dare try and spare our blushes.” Stuart said sardonically.
“Yes well it started simply enough. I chose a day where there had been no rain for a while and took a walk up to the top of Poacher’s Mount. You know, the place we used to roll down as children.” Solemn nods indicated that the listeners did indeed know the spot. “Anyway I went up on a dry thinking that every time the man with the beard appeared it was in some high, unpleasant sort of a place. What I needed was a spot where I could work with an axe unobserved, and also which would be close enough to the lane for the fire-brigade should things get out of hand.”
Bertie choked on his second stiff glass but waved Aloysius on with his story.
“There are many ways that the subject has appeared in the past but there is a common thread. Mostly he chooses to set himself on fire, or at least some of the local herbage. Anyway I started with a simple one. I found a bush and sat in front of it to see if it would burst into flames. Three days I went back and did that and not the most minuscule evidence of singing or smouldering was seen.”
“So you were wanting your bush to burn were you old chap? I can give you the address of a young lady who could help with that.”
“Seriously Bertie?” Aloysius snapped. “I would have expected better from you.”
“You did? Good god we were at school together weren’t we? Did you learn nothing about me? And incase you’re interested her name is Clap-ham Kate. Nice girl, but a bit Russian roulette on occasion.”
“I went back for three days.” Aloysius ploughed on ignoring the sniggers. “Finally I decided that he wasn’t going to use that method so I tried a couple of different bushes for a few days just to be sure. When it seemed that burning bushes weren’t on the cards; stop that Bertie, I moved to the next experiment.”
“Which was?” Stuart asked maliciously.
“Which was the sacrifice of someone you love.” Said Aloysius matter of factly.
Two glasses slammed onto the table spilling beer everywhere.
“You didn’t?” Was all his friends could utter in their shock.
“Oh relax. I wouldn’t going use a human, at least for the first go. Actually the texts are pretty lax on definition when it comes to the who. A person who is much loved seemed to be the ticket and as I don’t have a son I had to find another who was adored beyond reason.”
“Who did you choose?” Came the whispered, slightly horrified question.
“Oh relax. I just used Napoleon, that’s all.”
“Napoleon? Emperor of France? I hate to say it old man but that particular victim has rather expired beyond his use by date. I’m not sure the french would approve either come to think of it.”
“Wrong Napoleon.” Aloysius sighed. “Napoleon was the name of my aunt’s favourite Pekinese. You remember. The one who used to try and bite me under the dinner table until I bought out the cricket pads. Anyway I dragged the little demon up the hill, which was no mean feat I have to tell you. Then I just bundled it up in a blanket and stabbed it till the bits that wriggled had stopped.”
“Two questions.” Bertie said quickly. “Firstly, if the dog bites you then how is it adored beyond reason?”
“And secondly.” Chimed in Stuart. “What on earth is your aunt going to say?”
Aloysius looked smug when he heard these questions.
“In the first place my aunt has been told that the demon dog fell in the mill stream while i was walking it. Tragic death, much missed friend sort of thing. Secondly it was my aunt who did all the adoring. That thing was as bad as Stalin and twice as vicious but in her eyes no angel could bring such comfort.”
“So did he arrive then? God I mean.”
“No! And that was the only frustration. I supposed I hadn’t butchered the creature in quite the right ways so I got to it with my Stanley knife and still nothing.”
Aloysius paused to talk a drink. Bertie looked at him with wide eyes and asked.
“So what did you do next?”
“I burnt it. Set fire to the whole bally thing with a can of petrol and a well thrown match.”
Stuart smirked again.
“That would explain you being sans eyebrow.”
“The petrol sort of flowed a bit to much.”
“Well down the side of the hill and into Farmer Jenkins’ hayfield. I may be the one the papers are calling the ‘Longacre Arsonist.’ I didn’t intend it to flow quite so much but everything got a bit explosive and I dropped the can.”
“You? You’re the Longacre Arsonist?” Bertie asked incredulously. “Are you sure? Whoever it was that burnt down an entire field and adjacent buildings seemed to have a vastly greater sense of purpose than you.”
“The wind was up and blowing the wrong way.” Aloysius squeaked. “Promise me you won’t tell anyone. Please!”
Bertie waved a paw at his friend and waggled the glass in the other one indicating that more beer would be needed for his silence to become a given. While the supplicant for silence was at the bar filling glasses and buying snacks his two friends were busy in whispered conversation. Phrases included “absolutely potty” and “definitely cracked” but ended very quickly with Aloysius’ reappearance. elegant eyebrows raised his two friends once more turned their attention back onto him.
They sat in silence, sipping at their drinks, eyeing Aloysius as one might eye a shape on the horizon hoping it didn’t turn out to be a bull. Finally Bertie could no longer bear it and broke the uncomfortable silence.
“Our silence on the arson is a given old chap, but I can’t help wondering just what your motivation was? Why, precisely, would you be so empty headed?”
Aloysius spread his hands on the sticky table and sighed.
“I’m tired of begging.” He said, as if that explained everything.
“Since I can remember there’s been this man in the clouds who I never seemed able to please.” Another sigh came and went. “Thing is nobody seems to have the answers, and when they think they have nobody else agrees with it.”
“Sorry old thing but I’m still lost.”
“What would you do if there was a tiger out in the forest who threatened your safety every night?”
Stuart choked on his beer and spilled quite a lot of it down his front.
“Hang it all! There are very few tigers in rural Berkshire. Even if there were one, well I suppose the authorities would have to deal with it.”
Aloysius gave him a blank stare and continued.
“I was being metaphorical.”
“Oh goody, metaphors!” Was all Bertie could say and waved his hand urging Aloysius to continue.
“When one is faced with a tiger,” Aloysius pushed on, “one deals with it. That’s what I’m getting at. One sets the trap, waits until it’s sprung then shoots the blaggard. That’s what I was attempting to do on Poacher’s Mount. Do you see?”
His companions shook their heads slowly.
“This god everyone talks about. Well you see he’s a bit like a tiger. All tooth and claw in the night of one’s soul. I thought by recreating some of his favourite spots to appear, or where one of his minions anyway, I could tempt him into the trap and deal with him once and for all. Poacher’s Mount is the highest place in the parish so I figured that I could include the old Moses scenario too.”
The group returned once more to uncomfortable silence. After two more pints Stuart, who was himself something of a deep thinker, asked a question.
“What would you have done if he had turned up?”
The same question had occurred to Bertie but had been accompanied by a whole dictionary’s worth of expletives.
“Well the texts are a little light on detail but if an angel had turned up to rescue Napoleon I suppose I would have had to wrestle him.”
Bertie choked back a laugh and reminded the would be champion just how badly he had done at school in both cricket and rugby. Aloysius bit and launched into a tirade about how chaps should be more supportive in another chap’s endeavours. He was met by a smug smile.
“So let us, for the moment, assume that in an angel scenario you would have wrestled the blighter to the ground. What then? You have captured one of your prey’s lackeys but what then?”
“I would have demanded that god show himself.”
“And if he didn’t?”
“Well then I suppose I would have had to sent the angel back to his boss with a stiffly worded complaint about the concept of omnipotence and requested a formal meeting.”
Neither Stuart and Bertie could restrain themselves any longer and howled with laughter. The subject of their mirth sat fuming at them silent in his rage. When Bertie finally managed to stop laughing and drew an enormous breath he spoke plainly.
“My dear Aloysius, you pudding-headed idiot, do you really believe god is so English? You think he will be admonished when one of his servants turns up with cracked ribs and politely but firmly requests a meeting with a mortal? If god is anything he’s Spanish. Full of fiery passion and rage. If you wanted to try for the English bit of him you should have tried for the holy spirit. He’s far more conversational.”
Stuart finally got control of his mirth, though there were tears streaming down his face.
“But suppose.” He asked. “Suppose the big one had appeared? Just what would you have done?”
“According to the guide books you’d have been incinerated in a second.” Chimed in Bertie.
Aloysius rose rather unsteadily thanks to the alcohol and thanked his friends curtly for their input. With an angry, “I would have crossed that bridge when I came to it,” he stumbled out of the door and off into the night.
Both friends agree the next morning that a caring yet anonymous response would be to write to Aloysius’ aunt suggesting the poor chap be taken to the seaside for the good of his health. This was in fact done and it was nearly two weeks before the friends saw each other again.
Stuart seemed in black mood that evening and after two beers explained that Aloysius had been thought missing at Morecambe shortly after arriving. It had transpired more recently though that he had drowned in the bay. When enquiries were made to his distressed aunt it seemed that the fool had thought to test out the possibility of walking on water; an experiment which had singularly failed.
“Perhaps,” said Bertie sipping his drink. “Perhaps the pompous idiot just annoyed the divinity enough to arrange a face to face meeting?”