Matthew struggles with Fellowship philosophies
“Don’t you perdy-one me,” retorted Petra, tersely “I heard all about your Tuesday night misadventures with that blondie in Lake Tekapo.”
“Hey I’ve been getting enough flak from Lorry about that without you starting. It was a perfectly innocent rendezvous with an old acquaintance. Nothing happened, we just talked.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet.”
“Hi boy,” said Jamie running up to Nash’s co-pilot, an aging Blue Heeler. He embraced the dog and giggled as it licked his face rapidly.
“That’s Tango.” announced Adina with a big smile. “He’s everyone’s favourite puppy.”
“It’s almost as nine,” affirmed Petra, gently prising Jamie away from Tango “some puppy.”
“He’s all tongue and tail with a belly full of barks,” added Jamie, wiping dog drool from his cheeks.
“And I take it that you’re Nash.” I ventured staring up at the Helicopter Pilot that towered over me.
“Nash the Slash,” mumbled Travis almost crushing my fingers as he snatched my left hand and shook it with vigour “that’s what they call me.”
“Nash is Petra’s boyfriend,” teased Jamie.
“Don’t be silly, Jamie,” she scolded.
“Jan might be right,” laughed Nash “I’m a complete package; tall, handsome and a few bob in the bank, after all what damsel in distress can resist the Woop-woop man!”
“Wake me up, Nash! I wouldn’t be your partner for all the tea in china. What would Loretta say?”
“Or your blonde Bimbo in lake Tickle Poo-poo?” added Jamie then cringed as Petra swatted the back of his head with her open palm.
Nash signed some sort of document on a clip board then we all busied ourselves with the drop-off. Senior Serenes handed a number of small boxes to their subordinates who stacked them in metal meshed trolleys (similar to those you may find in a supermarket except these had six wheels instead of four) which were wheeled over to Jamie, Adina, Travis and I to transport back to the van. Tango ran around barking and getting under everyone’s feet in an attempt to trip them, but they took his mischief with good humour.
I kept close vigil on Jamie throughout, who seemed to be obsessed with time and became more and more stressed each time he checked his watch. He tended to stay within the main group of activity and I got the impression he was afraid that he was for some reason feeling venerable as if a wounded elk being stalked by some unseen predator; safety in numbers.
We loaded up the van and headed back, with Adina taking her turn in shot gun and me sitting in the back with Jamie and Travis. Petra bypassed the turnoff and continued along the sealed road that seemed to twist and turn for an eternity until finally connecting with yet another road leading to the Commune’s Main Entrance.
A guard waved to us from the top of a watch tower and moments later the gates opened allowing the van to enter, then shutting with a loud clang after us. The compound was alive with Serenes and Scallies toiling at their designated chores and more than once Petra had to resort to blasting the horn to avoid hitting some of them but eventually managed to get to the Administration building in the North western sector without incident.
“Okay guys, best get these packages unloaded before Malcolm throws a hissy-fit,” advised Petra, killing the engine and removing the keys.
The four-storey Administration building with its dark tinted windows seemed almost out of place among the minimalistic cabins and huts that occupied the compound. Two colourful hedges aligned either side of the flagstone walkway leading to the sliding doors, which were controlled from a remote site. Once inside Petra gave us strict instructions to be on our best behaviour and not to speak to any of the administration staff unless they spoke directly to us.
The lobby was quite well furnished with leather armchairs, sofas and oak coffee tables. Old black and white photos and Landscape paintings hung on the walls and sitting in the far left corner was a fish-tank housing numerous colourful fish. Its carpet felt spongey to walk upon and was of far superior quality to the torn and lifeless blue one that lay in my cabin.
An attractive woman in a skimpy pink outfit gave us a welcoming smile as we placed the packages one by one onto a conveyer-belt to the left of her mahogany reception desk and watched it take them into another room via a sizeable slot in the wall.
“They’re off to the sorting room to get sorted,” explained the receptionist to me in a condescending tone “Then they’ll be delivered all over the compound and you and Jamie are going to be the number-one deliverymen today.”
I followed Jamie through a green door to the left of the reception desk and down a dimly lit narrow passageway and came at least to a frosted glass Exit Door; the type that is hard to see through. Jamie tapped in a code on the wall to the right of it. A shrill buzzer sounded followed by a clicking noise. The door slowly slid open and quickly shut behind us once we were outside.
“You must be Matthew, Petra mentioned you’d be helping with the deliveries” interrupted a thickset woman in her early fifties, loading the last of the packages onto the backseat of a green three wheel cycle-rickshaw with a blue canvas canopy acting as its roof. Attached to the rear of this was a small red wagon cum Trailer. “My name’s Veronica but most people call me Bubbles.”
“Hi Veronica,” I replied giving her a polite grin. There was something about nicknames that had always bothered me, sort of a long rant which I’ll get back to in time but suffice to say I preferred to address people by their actual name. “My Grandma used to say "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”. My Granddad worked at the post office.”
We set off at a moderate speed with Jamie in the driver’s seat and me in the back to the left of the mail bag; taking turns dropping off various items to various cabins. It gave me a chance to meet other members of the commune. Most of them greeted me with indifference, whilst others with a slight distrust or at least mild distain. Our task continued without incident, until we reached Cabin number 16 and that is where it started turning pear shaped.
A slim blonde teenage greeted us with a disgruntled scowl as we entered the cabin. Behind her sat two other girls at a small table playing cards and lying face down on the lower bed of a double bunk in the far right corner was a forth.
“About time!” she scolded “I’ve been waiting half an hour for you guys to show up.”
“Nash got a little delayed,” explained Jamie, nervously handing the parcels to her.
“What about the other one?”
“What other one?”
“You know very well what one I mean, the one with the chocolate.”
“There was only three addressed to this cabin.”
“Don’t lie to me! I’m onto your scam; pretending not to know anything about it and then greedily pigging out on it when you think no one is watching.”
“I wouldn’t do such a thing.”
“I’m going to search that cart from top to bottom and you’d better pray I don’t find that package.”
Jamie gave a slight whimper as she snatched his hand and towed him back out the cabin. The door slammed behind them and I could not help but feel apprehensive for him.
“So you’re the new commune eye candy,” said the younger of the two girls at the table. She rose and approached, stopping just short of me. “My name’s Crystal…I’m small and fragile.”
“Hi Crystal. My name is Matthew,” I said shaking her soft moist hand “I’m ruff as guts”
“And I’m Natasha; the naughty party animal.” announced the other girl not bothering to get up “Take no notice of Crystal she’s just teasing; does it to all the new comers.”
“Not all, just the cute ones” retorted Crystal boldly wrapping her arm around my shoulders as if we were long-time friends.
“And you think I’m cute?” I asked curiously.
“Careful how you answer that Crystal, Norton might get jealous,” teased Natasha.
“Who’s Norton?” I wondered out loud.
“A cute flat chested rebel and born leader of the pack.” affirmed Crystal, drawing a love-smitten sigh. “He’s got fair hair, dreamy blue eyes and charming smile.”
My attention shifted to the lower bunk as the girl lying there twitched in her sleep. She was wearing tight fitting red top that did not quite reach rim of her peach coloured shorts. Each of her toenails were tinted a different colour as was her fingernails and someone had etched a crude smiley-face on her left heal with a red pen.
“So what do you think of our commune so far?” asked Crystal, snapping me out of my licentious daydreams.
“There is definitely a pecking order" I told her "and those who at the bottom rung of the ladder forever being pecked at.”
“Adjusting to new rules is never easy but you’ll get used to it in time.” assured Crystal, gently caressing my shoulder in a sympathetic manner.
“I don’t really want to adjust.”
“Disobedience is the doorway to discipline in the Fellowship. It’d be in your best interest to at least humour the Guardians and Supremes.”
“About ten months after my mum died I was fostered out into a new family. My new found stepparents worked odd ours and being the oldest my stepsister Charlotte would sometimes babysit us after school until they got home.” I regaled “One afternoon she accused me of stealing money from her. We got into this big argument, I said something I shouldn’t and she sent told me to wait for her in my room.
“I sat there nervously for quite some time and she finally arrived and shut the door behind her. She said I needed to be punished and ordered me to take off my belt and give it to her. I refused to obey and received a sharp slap across my face.
“She repeated the order so I did just that. I took off the belt and gave it to her; right across the back of her legs. She screamed and tore the belt from my grip, then forced be facedown over the bed and started giving me a severe whipping.
“The door suddenly burst open and in rushed my stepparents and all hell broke loose. They had arrived home earlier than expected and heard the commotion coming from my room. Suffice to say Charlotte was relieved of her babysitting duties. Not long after that she moved away from home and went flatting with a bunch of losers"
"I’m sorry but I’ve got to side with Charlotte on this.” commented Natasha after a thoughtful pause. “You stole and swore and struck out at your elder when she tried to correct you, like a spoilt little brat.”
“I had had a hard day and she’d been on my back nearly all that week…guess just I sort of like snapped. Besides I didn’t’ steal any of her money.”
“You won’t get very far in this commune disrespecting authority.”
“She forced my respect through threat of pain, but I felt little if any brotherly love toward her. When she moved out it was good riddance to bad rubbish…you can’t flog affection into a minion.”
“Affection should never get in the way of correction. An undisciplined child brings shame to the entire family. The Enlightened One tells us that it’s an elder’s duty not to spare the rod when a child does wrong by the teachings of the Fellowship.”
Listening to her rants convinced me that Natasha had been brainwashed from an early age into unquestionable servitude and obedience. Concepts such as mercy or second chances were obviously subversive ideologies. I pitied the luckless kid who would one day be her son or daughter.
It seemed grossly unfair of her to accuse my stepparents of spoiling me when in nothing could have been further from the truth. They could be quite strict at times, but I was never denied a chance to explain my actions, and if I could prove innocence they would sometimes spare any reprimand.
I thought back to Petra’s distain the previous night when she had discovered my cabin door unlocked and the ineffectiveness of my apology. She, like Charlotte,seemed impervious to excuses; rule-breakers were to be chastened without exception otherwise nonconforming anarchists would run amok.
Petra’s image led me to Jamie and I suddenly became acutely aware of his absence. Caught up in the inane debate with these girls I had completely forgotten about him. Paranoia suggested that my distraction had been staged managed, but for what ends I could not yet tell.
I quickly broke away from Crystal’s embrace, opened the door and saw no trace of Jamie or the blonde girl, or even the rickshaw. Panic gripped me as I fear what consequence would befall me for failing to ensure my young friends safety. Gazing back inside the cabin I caught a glimpse of what appeared to be shame and guilt on Natasha’s face confirming my paranoia.
Rain had ceased and sunshine was peeping through the gaps of the parting clouds, warming me slightly as I searched for Jamie. The commune was scant of people and something told me their absence was closely related to his unexpected disappearance.
I searched the labyrinth of cabins, huts and various other structures but could not find any trace of my young friend. Frustration motivated scorn and I could now appreciate what had occasioned my biological mother to chastise me time I went AWOL at the Rainbow’s End Amusement Park.
My attention was drawn to the sound of distant ruckus Southern Sector of the commune. Anger receded and I was once again overcome with a necessity to protect my young friend. I hastened toward a large concrete gymnasium and as I approached the awful sounds of thwacking, squealing and cheering became apparent.
My heart froze when I rounded the left-hand corner and saw what was going on. At the far end of the yard, tied to a fence writhed and shrilled Jamie, while one by one members of the commune dunked tennis balls in water and threw them at him. His bare back was littered with scarlet welts and track-pants sported the tell-tale wet patches where had obviously peed himself with terror.
The violence sickened me and I felt infuriated by the cheering crowd that took such sadistic pleasure in seeing this helpless little boy being so cruelly treated. Was this the commune justice that Pedro had spoken of? This was not justice; it could not possibly be justice. It was cold calculated retribution designed not only to punish the guilty but to control the Scallies and Teen Serenes with fear of such vicious reprimands.
Urged by ever intensifying rage I fought my way through the mass of excited spectators and participants and started toward Jamie, but was quickly tackled to the ground by two bulky Teen Serenes.
They lifted me up and I was dragged to the left of the crowd where they held securely in place whilst a third Serene joined us. I recognised him instantly as Pedro; the one who had threatened Jamie in the Commune/Naughty Gardens.
“Leave Jamie alone,” I implored.
“Beat it Snotbot” retorted Pedro with the same air of control-freak arrogance.
“This don’t concern you.”
“He’s Petra’s cousin and my friend. I have an obligation to protect him.” I retorted with indifference to his grading and misplaced authority.
“Jamie’s a traitor to this commune. He’s getting no more than he deserves.”
“Deserves? He doesn’t deserve to suffer at the hands of some sadistic asshole like you!”
Pedro seemed taken back by my insolence. It was obvious he had become accustomed to the kowtowing of his conditioned subordinates. He snorted angrily like an enraged bull then snatched my left earlobe and twisted it clockwise.
A number of sirens abruptly shrilled into action. Seconds later a half-dozen four wheel motor bikes roared around the same corner of the gymnasium as I had, closely followed by a two late model utilities and a red van. The vehicles screeched to a halt and a company of Supreme Serenes rushed toward us with their batons unsheathed.
“I’ll get you later,” promised Pedro, releasing my lobe and fleeing along with the rest of the scattering crowd; abandoning the saturated tennis balls and traumatised alleged traitor.
Taking advantage of the chaos I hastened to Jamie but got less than twenty meters before I was apprehend by the Supremes and escorted forcefully back to their waiting vehicles.