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Paragliding in South Africa

The Remains of the Day
by Greg Hamerton

Mort gazed up at the soft blue sky. Drat it! That blasted dandelion had grown up into his helmet again, and it was itching just behind his sunglasses. He vowed to pull it out of the ground the moment he got his hands on it. The only problem was, he had lost his hands when that inquisitive slobbering cow had visited last week, and he couldn't find them. Blast that cow! It had taken him over a week to dry out from the sticky saliva that the cow had left in its eagerness to get to know him intimately.
"Women! they just can't get enough of me." Mort loved the way his ribs knocked together when he laughed. There was a blurred movement and the sound of wings beating the air. Mort stiffened.
"Someone is coming, best to look cool," he thought, and gazed out through his sunglasses again. Mort was very good at looking cool. Not a bone moved. No sign that he was afraid or nervous or ruffled or even that he gave a damn. Dead calm.

A crow hopped into view and cocked his head to one side, beading Mort with one eye. "You look pretty chill, bro," the crow croaked out a greeting.
"Just a crow!" thought Mort, letting the wind sigh through his helmet in relief. He eased his back deeper into the grass, trying to look disinterested and aloof, the way he had seen a pair of teenage girls look at boys they were really interested in.
"What do you mean, just a crow?!" the crow crowed.
"But I didn't say a word?" Mort thought. "How did this rapscallion know?"
"I can see into your mind. It's nice and dark and each thought stands out so clearly inside your helmet. In fact..." the crow chuckled, a mischievous grin splitting his beak as he bobbed closer to Mort's head. The crow had leaned in under his chinstrap and was looking up inside his head.
"Jolly nosy parker!" Mort was irritated "What right has he got to be so chummy?"
The crow was tugging on something inside. It was agitation he felt, deep within his mind. Or was it the crow? "Jolly Nosy Parker" he grumbled again.

There was a soft sucking sound, like Mort's granpa used to make every evening to pull his false teeth out for the night. He had oftened wondered if the teeth preferred the glass of stale water or his granpa's mouth...
The crow exploded into view, chasing a small pink object that was running wildly through the grass. The crow was struggling to keep up with the little runner, not because of its speed, but because the crow was convulsed with laughter.
"It'''s a Nononohahahshh..." the crow wasn't making any sense.
"It's a Nosy Parker" he gasped out, then cried as tears of laughter rolled over his beak. With one foot he clung on to the little parker as it tried to investigate off under the bushes, but even that proved to be too much to bear. The Nosy Parker scuttled away; the crow on his back in the grass was a hopeless hysterical puddle.

Mort could not catch the joke. He had a nagging feeling that the Nosy Parker belonged to him and that somehow he was the centre of the joke, but...something was missing; Mort could not remember quite what it was.

QuiteWhatItWas came trotting out from under the bushes then, its pink little body quivering with curiosity and then step by step it edged closer to Mort's head. Finally, with an eager squeek, the Nosy Parker leapt into Mort's helmet. Mort vowed to keep all future thoughts behind his sunglasses.
Eventually the crow composed himself, although some features were put back in the wrong place. He wobbled over to Mort on feeble legs, struggling to keep his tearstreaked face in a sober visage. It was a thin veneer of sobriety, for beneath the surface Mort could see ripples of laughter.
"Oh, you're beautiful, man" the crow chuckled in a mellow voice. "A Nosy Parker - that joke was to die for!" And then he looked at Mort, taking in the skeletal alabaster. The crow stopped in his tracks and his eyes started to bulge, as he realised the implications of what he had said. He was staring at Mort and making strangled sounds, fighting to maintain his composure. It was a short round and the challenger was conquered in a few swift blows to the belly. The crow leapt backwards into the air, wings spread wide as gales of laughter claimed his body. There would have been a loud "splosh!" sound at this point if such things made sounds, but they don't so there isn't. The crow landed on his back in the hopeless hysterical puddle.

"Oh, I get it" grumbled Mort "to die for . . .habloodyhaha". But it was quite a good slip and Mort slowly warmed to the strange humour of this irascible crow. He began to build a plan, but kept it well hidden under his helmet's chinstrap to avoid espionage.
The crow was still wriggling about in the puddle, quite helpless. "It just needs one little thing now, to push him over the edge" Mort schemed "and he will never recover." Mort could think of the perfect One Little Thing. "Nosy Parker nosy parker nosy nosy nosy Parker jolly nosy jolly nosy Jolly Nosy Parker" He piled the thought thickly on top of itself, over and over just to be sure and he felt It bumping around inside his helmet.
"Go on, little guy, go see what's out there, what that big friendly crow doing..." The Nosy Parker squeeked with delight and bounced over the edge of Mort's helmet. It saw the crow floating on his back and scuttled off in his direction. It all seemed so very interesting.
It was at that moment that the crow happened to roll over amidst a fresh gale* of laughter. Which stopped, frozen inside a beak clamped shut with fear. The crow's eyes bulged even larger than ever as he looked straight into the face of the Jolly Nosy Parker
"No no that's not fair, take it away its too much please no please TAKE IT AWAY I'm going to die laughing no not a Nosy Parker IT'S A NOSY PARKER HAHAHAHAAHAAAA"
The crow's pleads for mercy were swallowed in the enormous sea of hysteria that engulfed him then. He cried with the pain of each wave, tears streaming down his feathered face, falling off his beak to fill the hopeless hysterical puddle. The puddle became a raging torrent and the crow was swept away.

 * The Beaufort Scale gives 12 official wind classifications. Beaufort forgot to contact the wind about this, with the result that it regularly behaves as if it is a Strength 6 wind when it is officially a Strength 4, a Strength 3 when it is officially a 5 and sometimes refuses to blow at all, even though there is, officially, wind. The fresh gale is officially Strength 10, which, if the wind had been behaving itself according to its rank would have been strong enough to break branches off trees and roll Maltese Poodles down the road. The wind wasn't behaving. It was much stronger than strength 10. This may have been due to the crow assisting with the generation of wind, however.

Mort's ribs made a hollow clocking sound as they knocked together.
Finally all was quiet. A thermal lifted gently off the field in the sun, pulling a breeze softly behind it. Mort gazed up at the blue sky and wondered. He wondered if the recovery vehicle really was coming to fetch him. They had said that they were coming, he could still remember the voice on his radio : "Don't worry Morton, we'll find you soon. Just stay right there and we'll bring the vehicle in"
That had been before the radio battery had run flat.*

* "Running flat" is a typical English expression which is designed purely to confuse foreign people who want to learn our language. I have watched many batteries as they run flat, and believe me, they don't move at all, and when they are finished they are just as upright as when they started.

How long was it now? Five, six weeks? He couldn't be sure. But then he had landed in a rather inaccessible neck of the woods, high up in the mountain ranges. Maybe they were having trouble with the vehicle. Or maybe there were no roads to this particular field where he lay. But his friends were good people, they wouldn't just leave him here, of that he was sure. They must be having problems, but they would find him soon. Mort eased deeper into the grass and slowly drifted asleep. The sun blazed down on his white bones and the breeze whispered through the gaps in his spine. It was a delectable sensation being cooled on the inside and heated on the outside. It was beautifully relaxing. Mort had never felt so good in all his life.