The pounding of those infernal drums began shortly before dawn. I could hear them, in the distance, from far across the wild and desolate tarputa. It was not a regular, rhythmic pounding, but a drum din more disturbing, a clattering cacophony of bangs and rattles and thumps and booms, as if a thousand Chris Cutlers were improvising simultaneously. In the folding camp-cot next to mine, Carruthers stirred.
“My God!” he said, “What is it? Your countenance is ghastly, and the blood has drained from your face, which is twitching horribly, like Herbert Lom in the Clouseau films.”
“It’s the pounding of those infernal drums, Carruthers,” I replied, “Can you not hear them?”
“Bit of a problem with the old hearing, actually,” he said, “Since that savage aimed his blowpipe directly at my eardrum the other day.”
I had forgotten the incident. I had forgotten much of what occurred on our journey to the edge of the tarputa. Sometimes it is easier to forget.
I stepped out of the tent, lit my pipe, and took a deep draw on the filthy Kirghiz scrag tobacco. The sun was rising now, over the tarputa, and the din of the drums grew louder and more ominous. Carruthers joined me, lit his own pipe, and muttered something about eggs.
After breakfast, sitting in our folding camp-chairs, smoking our pipes, we gazed dully across the wild and desolate tarputa. Every so often the bleak expanse of nothingness was broken by a swooping bird or a distant, scurrying gazelle. The drumming continued without cease, still increasing in volume, though not yet within our sight.
“Can you hear it yet, that infernal pounding?” I asked.
“Yes, faintly, in my good ear,” said Carruthers. His face too was now twitching horribly.
“Soon enough whoever is making that godawful racket will appear on the horizon,” I said, “We must devise a plan.”
Carruthers spread our map out on the folding camp-table. We pondered our position, on the edge of the tarputa, with the Big Frightening River behind us. To hide in our tent would be unmanly. But our folding camp-rocket launcher was out of commission, having been gnawed to ruin by an army of ferocious biting ants.
“What if we covered ourselves in vividly coloured dyes and posed as savage gods?” suggested Carruthers, “We might strike terror into them, and they would turn tail and scamper back to wherever they came from.”
“But who are they?” I said, “We do not yet know with whom we are dealing.”
“Fair point,” said Carruthers, relighting his pipe, which had gone out.
I set up the folding camp-sundial to ascertain the time. It was nearly midday. There was still no sign of the infernal drummers, yet the noise they were making was now deafening.
“More eggs?” said Carruthers. We wolfed down our lunch.
Suddenly, on the far horizon, we could see them. Far from being a thousand, they were just three in number. How in the name of all that is holy did they create such a tremendous and terrifying din?
Two against three. Carruthers and I looked at each other, jutted our jaws, and, in unspoken compact, agreed that our chances were better than good.
“Let us wait until we see the whites of their eyes,” I said.
And so we sat awaiting the drummers as they slowly approached across the wild and desolate tarputa. To muffle the din, I stuffed cotton wool into my ears, and Carruthers plugged his good ear with a half-sucked boiled sweet. We smoked our pipes.
At last, shortly before dusk descended upon the tarputa, we saw the whites of six eyes. I stood up, and shouted.
“Halt!” I cried, “Step no further, or you will have to answer to the might of the Empire and the fury of the Queen! Now cease your infernal drumming and tell me who you are and what is your business!”
And then I learned, and Carruthers learned, that we had found the Urbane Blodgett Electronic Percussion Trio, long thought lost, having vanished somewhere in the vast and desolate tarputa twenty years before.
Happiness is having been bogged down in interminable debates on Residents’ Parking for a week and then discovering you have not read four posts by Mr Key. I have stopped gnawing my foot now. Thank you Mr Key. This is your purpose in life……
Did you know that if you Google “tarputa”, you get hits for Target (at least in the USA)?
which film had the line something like – it’s not the heat “It’s the pounding of those infernal drums, Carruthers,”