Pabstus Tack

This piece first appeared in September 2005.

Pabstus Tack, Pabstus Sludge, Pabstus! Pabstus! Of him we sing. We sing his praises, it seems to me, for want of anything better to do. Pabstus Tack sits on his great golden throne, belching out light, a blinding light as gorgeous as it is uncanny. And yet it is an impure light, that is certain, for with Pabstus Tack comes Pabstus Sludge. It is the latter who is the source of those scarcely perceptible low booming noises, grave and deep and sinister.

When Pabstus! Pabstus! was installed on his throne there was carnival and carousing. Fools danced around maypoles and jesting roisterers roistered and doistered as if tomorrow would never come. No one has ever been able to count the pies that were cooked that day. Many, many people drowned at the swimming gala at the Old Crumbling Outdoor Pool, and ravens were seen hovering in the sky. A post office person stuck pictures of Pabstus Tack to his hat and was chased across the fields by happily screeching children. But was there a trace of desperation in their screeching?

And tomorrow did come, of course, as everyone knew it had to. That was when the first rumbles were heard of Pabstus Sludge. To appease him, the throne was moved to a higher point on the hill, just above the coppice, where moles betrayed their presence in their usual mole-like way. A gang from the tavern headed thither armed with rifles, until Pabstus! Pabstus! made it known that moles were sacred and must never be harmed. Some say the men turned their rifles on themselves in terror.

Terror, it is said, is the only proper response to Pabstus Tack and to Pabstus Sludge. Wrapped up tight in their cardigans, hanging Tilly lamps from the rafters of their cabins, the braver villagers plot his overthrow. Turnips are chewed. Cigarillos dangle from the soot-blackened lips of the vanguard. Secret anthems, never written down, are mumbled rather than sung. Food poisoning has wiped out most of these souls since Pabstus! Pabstus! first emitted his light and his booms, seventeen years ago.

The throne has been moved again, moved and reinforced. Now it is perched on a sort of concrete veranda by the edge of a lake in which only puffy and bloated fish may swim. Larval creatures are strewn on the shore, watched over by one of Pabstus Tack’s lieutenants. The air is thick, clotted, far too hot for this region. With each faint boom from Pabstus Sludge, the shoreline creatures twitch. It is never dark here, thanks to Pabstus Tack.

Between the lake and the coppice lies the village. A deranged tangle of overhead wiring stretches beyond the horizon, supported on high wooden poles which sway and creak in the constant wind. Nowadays children are no longer taught to sing “Pabstus Tack, Pabstus Sludge, Pabstus! Pabstus! made the wind / Pabstus made it because we sinned”, but they should be. It is dangerous to forget.

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