Empire of Dirt: Chapter I (Part 2)

Image: Chad Rossouw, The Future 1 (2012)  Ink on erased 19th Century vellum Ge’ez bible leaf

Lying on this cool carpet of simulated grass, he singed the flesh of the limpets on the flame of his lighter that he kept wrapped in plastic. He then took out of his pocket the piece of slate that he had fashioned into a curved blade and he scooped out the flesh and swallowed down the small pieces of slippery grey flesh. Lying the back on the fairway he ran his hand along the plastic leaves, flicking up showers of dew and allowing its soft spray to fall gently on his arms and chest. But as an all consuming thirst came to him he pushed his exhausted body upright and headed to the 18th green.  As he walked a pain began to grow in his stomach and, clutching at the lower part of his belly, he rushed and sat down in one of the bunkers that ran down towards the beach. There he expelled more of the black liquid that he had been passing for the last few days.  The shellfish, he accepted now, must be bad from the lake of pollution he had seen some days ago floating amongst the frigates. Its oily rainbow-coloured surface had glinted in The Mariners’ search lights as he had watched the ships while he sat staring out from the promontory.

He moved circumspectly up towards the clubhouse.  The course was blanched in a silvery-green glow as the moon’s light reflected off the artificial grass of the fairways.  The stillness and the warmth of the night offered him a small sense of comfort.  On warm nights such as this he slept on the 7th green, which was raised above the rest of the course and which looked towards the mountains where he came from. But that night dehydration and the biting salt of the sea, that smarted in his mouth, forced him to the clubhouse.

He could see through the large glass sliding doors that the red LED light of the alarm. The beams were active.  He had been caught a few times by these sensors in the first week. But he had mapped them out and could now slip under and between them to get to the shelter of the eaves of the clubhouse.  Once he was there he would check the windows of the changing room one by one.  They quite often left one of these windows open and he could pull himself up the wall through the small square opening and get onto the metal lockers above the alarm sensors.  There were towels up there and the occasional half-drunk sports drink. But most importantly the drinking fountain, with filtered water, was just in reach between two sets of lockers if one could bend down low enough.  This time, as he felt along the row of frosted glass windows, he had a sense that he was not in luck. But then going back to the one that was the most difficult to close from the inside he realised that there was just the slightest give to it. It was jammed shut but not locked.

He slipped his fingernails between the metal frame and the window.  He could feel it give a little but his fingers were too painful to effect the leverage that was required. He took out of his pocket the small slate blade and pushed it into the gap.  The window popped out of its frame just as part of the slate crumbled between his fingers. Then with some considerable effort he managed to pull himself up through the window and onto the lockers that sat beneath them.  There he crouched for a few moments.  His eyes took some time to adjust to the lack of light.

The metal lockers rocked slightly as he moved on top of them towards the water fountain at the end of the room. He crawled cautiously, pushing aside the wet towels and a few items of clothing that had been discarded on top of them, all the while feeling out for any sports drinks that may have been placed up there.  His hand touched one almost toppling it off onto the floor, an act that would have certainly set off the alarm.  Without waiting for his nerves to calm he ripped off the lid and drained the last dregs. Finishing it he stretched his tongue into the bottle licking the sweet stickiness inside before he moved towards the water source.

A motion sensor, directed over the lockers towards the door, was visible just above the fountain. He lowered half of his body down towards the water. Pressing one foot and a hand onto the ceiling on the side of the sensor he stretched towards the small stainless steel basin, his stomach muscles strained as they were forced against the top corner of the locker. He was not unused to this kind of position. Having worked as a climbing instructor in the mountains he regularly had cause to hang from above facing downwards in order to help some of the inexperienced climbers up through the cracks and gullies on their way to the snow huts above the village where he was born.  The lockers rocked slightly as his one hand stretched towards the button.  He pushed it. The spray hit him in the face as he tried to direct his mouth under the stream.

He repeated this four times.  On each occasion his muscles trembled under the strain. He knew then that he was getting weaker.  Normally he could hang in this position for some time without feeling strain but now he could only manage a few seconds before he had to climb back on top of the lockers for rest.  He groaned after the last attempt and then, propping his head up on some towels, he lay there and began to shiver. He pulled a towel over his body and, after staring feebly out at the light coming through the frosted glass, he fell into a feverish sleep.


He was startled by the door opening. It was morning. His fever had blinded him to the light of dawn. The janitor, standing below the lockers with a bucket and mob, looked up at the sound of his sudden movement. Their eyes met. The janitor’s gaze moved for a moment, inspecting the disheveled and dirtied state of the figure above him. Then his eyes momentarily rested on the silver bracelet forged around the man’s wrist. The janitor seemed confused for a moment, paralyzed by uncertainty, his hand moved instinctively to his own copper bracelet. Their eyes met again and the janitor’s seemed to inquire from the figure on top of the lockers just what he was to do.

It was he that made the decision for the janitor as, in a feverish panic, he started for the window.  The janitor let out a yell, which alerted the club professional and his assistant, who came rushing to the changing room in surprise. In a state of confusion, he clambered clumsily across the lockers towards the open window. The steel cabinets rocked underneath him and, as he reached the window, they toppled over crashing to the floor leaving him lying amongst them in their tumbled mess. He leapt up.  The janitor still seemed confused and did not come towards him.  Instead he continued to scream for the others. His hands, which had always contained a wiry strength, gripped at the windowsill. His arms gave in as he tried to pull himself up.  He lurched towards the door, tripping on the lockers.  Falling onto the floor he slid along the tiles, trying desperately to get past the janitor through his legs. By this time the professional and the assistant had got there and were grabbing his arms, while calling out for the security guard and shouting at the receptionist to call The Paladins. ‘Jesi Choshin! Fug!’ screamed the assistant, ‘weed got thes silva sooled defil.’

He tried to grab for the remains of the slate knife in his pocket but the golf pro and the janitor had twisted his arms behind his back with a brutal strength.  He felt the sinews in his shoulders tearing and he let out a shriek that echoed along the tiled surfaces of the room. Dragging him to the office reception area the assistant swung a fist into his face.  ‘Git roap! Git roap t’tie thes peg!’ The golf professional screamed as they dragged him along the floor into the bursar’s office.  He kicked out and as retribution received several blows to his head and face.  They got him onto a chair and the pro shouted as the janitor came running in with a strap from a golf bag and they tied his hands awkwardly behind his back.  Weeks of bad diet and the diarrhea had left him too weak to resist.

‘Nam? Fugg ou. Wot ist nam? Ou is Gurdianne?  Ou ist silva sooled. Dyssenta? Or ist ou merly mad?’ The grey-haired golf professional took his face in his hand and squeezing his jaw, he looked into the disheveled man’s eyes, seemingly searching into his soul. He asked him for his name a second time and then, on receiving no reply, he lashed out at him with the back of his gloved hand, driving it across his face.  His name was, like everybody’s in The Empire, tattooed onto the inside of his forearm.  The pro took another swing at him, this time making sure that his heavy silver bracelet hit the man across the temple.  He fell from the chair, the top of his eye split open like a boxer’s and blood poured out onto the light beige woolen carpet.  The assistant let go a kick to his stomach and then made sure that his plastic spikes raked down the young man’s uncovered stomach.  ‘Mikhale,’ the pro read off his arm. He lay still, not saying a word, bleeding and staring at the wall in front of him. His guts could no longer control themselves and they let of a small stream of black ooze.  The smell began to fill the room. ‘Hisa smelu defil tiz,’ said the young assistant as they left the room laughing.

The security guard had come in and had pulled him back up onto the chair and examined his cut. Grunting, he cleaned it with a towel. ‘Fifty peg,’ the guard muttered as he placed his hands in irons and removed the strap of the golf bag. Michael sat there for a while trying to blink away the blood that was still running into his eye.  Through the window he saw The Paladins arrive.  They stood outside for a while, in the parking lot at their bakkie, speaking to the security guard and the pro.  The assistant was there too, smiling and chatting to a smooth-skinned well-tanned blonde woman in her forties. Michael watched the assistant. He was gesticulating and laughing, clearly showing the woman just how they had effected the capture. The woman looked disinterested.  She stood there playing with her gold bracelet looking away from the assistant’s presence towards the course and the sea while the young man tried to keep her attention.  She answered her cell walking away and placing her finger in her ear to drown out any further noise the young man might make. Michael wondered if he too behaved like this when speaking to The Leader. The woman then moved off to the first tee while shouting some instructions down her phone.  The assistant, still smiling, turned his head and watched her carefully as she walked away.  Perhaps that is why he hated them so much and why he had left The Empire to join The People in the mountains.  Yes, perhaps that was it: The Leader’s total indifference and The Guardians’ eagerness to enable and accept.


To be continued… Chapter 1 Part 3,

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