Richard K. Walker
© Copyright 2003 by Richard K. Walker
Dawn and Mad Murgatroyd was hiding behind a thin steel pipe that held the camp's radio aerial aloft. The watery sun touched the distant sea and sent its blinding rays to fill our eyes with sandman dust.
" I can see you," Mad Murgatroyd said. His voice had that rubbery kindness in it that always filled us with dread. "Can you see me?"
"No Corporal," we chorused, knowing full well that Mad Murgatroyd knew that we could see him as plain as day.
"Good," Mad Murgatroyd announced. "This is how you must be when the Cossacks come. How must you be?"
For a moment a frisson of horror flickered through our ranks until little Ponsonby in the front row piped up. "Just like you, Corporal," he said.
A terrible silence followed this remark. We tried not to look at the tiny silver bucket by Mad Murgatroyd's feet or dare to think that today was the day when we would be let out of this prison and go home on leave.
"Ha!" Mad Murgatroyd screamed as he jumped from behind the steel pipe. "You lot thought I'd gone to sleep didn't you?"
"No, Corporal," we chorused as we tried to make our trembling hands still enough to stop our rifles from loudly shivering on the fine gravel below our service boots.
"What would you lot do without me? You'd all be murdered in your beds. You might be just good enough to guard the Queen in Buckingham Palace' but when the Cossacks come you'd be mincemeat! What would you be?"
"Mincemeat, Corporal," we chanted.
This seemed to mollify Mad Murgatroyd for a second. He went so far as to wave a thin arm at the Military Policeman in the distant guardhouse. The Military Policeman repaid this complement with a rude gesture, making Mad Murgatroyd's moon-like face contort into wild and wrinkled rage.
"The Cossacks 'll shove a rod down his throat and roast him on a spit. What will they do?"
"They will roast him on a spit, Corporal," we said, happy at the policeman's fate.
Mad Murgatroyd drew himself up to his thin, full height. He stood at attention, becoming rigid in his immaculate uniform. We could plainly see all the knife-edge creases in his trousers and the gleaming white blancoed webbing belt around his middle. The lead chains that were hidden in his trouser-legs settled well over the tops of his perfectly polished boots.
Suddenly, Mad Murgatroyd began to sing. He had a loud and discordant baritone voice. It rocketed around the parade ground, echoing from distant walls like a demented trumpet.
"My old man's a dustman. He's got ten thousand bins. When he comes home on Thursday, he'll give me mother twins."
At once this brought an angry demand that he shut his great gob, amongst other things, from the Military Policeman in the guardhouse.
"How dare he say that to a non commissioned officer?" Mad Murgatroyd was deeply hurt. His face had crumpled like a crushed orange and tears streamed down his face. "All I am doing is to try and help you lot stay alive when the Cossacks come. Right now they are getting on planes in Soviet Russia- They've even got snow on their boots! What have they got, Ponsonby?"
"They've got snow on their boots, Corporal." Ponsonby's voice had a tremor in it.
"Oh, Ponsonby! You are a lovely little man. I shall take good care that you know what to do when the Cossacks fall out of the sky on their snow-white parachutes. What will The Cossacks do?"
"Fall out of the sky on their snow-white parachutes, Corporal," Ponsonby bleated.
"But what if they come in the dead of night, Ponsonby? They'll come on black parachutes like carrion crows and the first you'll know about it is when they cut your throat. Who can you depend on then, Ponsonby? Who will wake you up and let you get to your rifle?"
Ponsonby stuttered as he tried to make his early morning brain think of a reply.
"That fat fool on the guardhouse should wake you up, Ponsonby. That's who. It's time we taught him a lesson. What must we do, Ponsonby?"
"Teach him a lesson, Corporal."
Ponsonby's voice was a mere sad sigh on the morning air. He had realised, like the rest of us that we would not be going home today. The Air force would keep us in chains forever. Six long weeks of basic training had seemed a lifetime and now we faced eternity with Mad Murgatroyd for company.
"Bayonets!" Mad Murgatroyd yelled. "Bayonets fix!"
A mad clatter followed this command and almost before we had twisted the steel spikes home on our rifles, Mad Murgatroyd was dancing with glee.
"I'll show that oaf in the guardhouse," he cried as he danced over to the small silver bucket on the ground by the aerial pole. "Watch This!"
Mad Murgatroyd stooped and picked up the bucket. He stirred its contents with a thin wire loop that hung from the bucket by a thin chain. Ten minutes went by before Mad Murgatroyd was satisfied. Then he puckered his lips into a small circle and blew on the loop. Instantly a cloud of huge soap bubbles filled the air.
"Here come the Cossacks," Mad Murgatroyd roared. "Kill the lot with your bayonets before they hit the ground! Don't bother with their horses! We'll eat them for supper! Go! Go! Go!"
We ran about like madmen, stabbing the air and bursting soap bubbles with our bayonets until only one was left. It floated by Ponsonby's left ear in iridescent impudence.
"Don't let him get away, Ponsonby! He'll be on a train to London and rape all the women there. See to it quick before the world is full of little Cossacks. They eat other people's babies you know."
Ponsonby swung his little form towards the soap bubble. It moved quickly away on a slight breeze from off the sea. Ponsonby set off after it, bayonet at the ready, at a gentle trot.
"After him quick, Ponsonby. It's heading towards the guardhouse. Don't forget to scream as you go. It will freeze his blood."
Ponsonby screamed our frustration to the unkind morning air. We should all have been on a train to home by now and his high burbling yell lifted our spirits.
It was with some collective pride that we watched as Ponsonby stabbed the offending soap bubble when it came to rest on the guardhouse door. We did not even shudder when Ponsonby's rifle had become stuck and all Ponsonby could do was undo the catch on his bayonet to release his rifle from its horizontal growth in the guardhouse door.
"I'm so glad that you've come to stay, Airman," the Military Policeman said, false charm oozing from him like hot butter from a bread roll. "I've got a nice cell waiting in here for you!"
Mad Murgatroyd bounded over to the guardhouse. His face was a study of hatred and sweet reasonableness. "Release this man at once, Mr. Policeman! Don't you know that it is ten past eight and all my men are on leave?"
The Military Policeman looked deep into Mad Murgatroyd's eyes and sighed. He knew better than to argue. It would upset his cosy arrangement that he had with a blonde in the village.
Mad Murgatroyd doubled Ponsonby back to join our ranks. They came at such a speed that their legs seemed to blur as they ran.
"Don't just stand there like wet Nellie's," Mad Murgatroyd said sweetly as he slammed to attention before us. "Get off on leave and don't get any girls at home pregnant! Dismiss!"
We turned to the right and slammed our feet down in the correct manner laid down. It was all we could do not to break into an unseemly run as we marched back to the billet for our suitcases.
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