Little Dagobert

I banged my head on the baptismal font, but that was only the beginning of my troubles. The font was hewn from adamantine rock, and the water it contained, though of necessity holy water, was icy. When the priest slopped it on to my bashed head, I screamed at such a pitch that a stained glass window depicting the martyrdom of St Bibblybibdib (spikes, tongs, fire) was shattered. A falling shard sliced the priest’s jugular, and he collapsed, but not before dropping me into the font. While I splashed about, bawling and freezing, minuscule organisms with which the water was riddled swam into my ears, and burrowed tiny tunnels into my brain, wherein they laid their eggs. If the organisms were minuscule, imagine how microscopically wee were their eggs! Before death claimed me, I was plucked from the font by the sexton, whose beard was so vast and hairy I was almost suffocated as he clutched me to him. Gurgling, I was passed to my mother, a woman of great dottiness who endangered my life many a time in the following months, usually by taking me to unsuitable picnics – unsuitable in that they took place in snowstorms or, during balmier weather, on steep hillsides down which I would roll, gathering pace as I approached, at the bottom, a railway line or major arterial thoroughfare along which huge container lorries thundered. Fortunately, though perplexingly, the sexton was always on hand to rescue me in the nick of time.

Miraculously, I survived into toddlerhood. Around this time my mother began to encourage me to play on the roof of our hotel during electrical storms. I was grateful for the rubber bootees and lead-lined swaddling jacket the sexton gave me. More than once I toppled from the roof into the moat, and I soon learned to swim skilfully to dodge both the sharp-fanged scavenger fish and the unexploded mines therein. Regular swimming while wearing raiment of lead does wonders to build up one’s muscular strength, and sure enough by my sixth birthday my mother was exhibiting me at circuses and freak shows. I was known as Little Dagobert, The Strongest Boy In The Universe. Sometimes I came close to being flattened by the steamrollers I pulled across lawns and village greens, until the sexton gave me a handy tip to avoid even the gentlest of downhill inclines.

Being of an implausibly rare blood group, I had to be extra careful in the vicinity of sharp knives, axes, and slicers. My caution served me well when, on my tenth birthday, my mother had me apprenticed to a well-known butcher. He was a florid, chubby, deranged and blood-drenched man, who took both pride and pleasure in his inhumane slaughtering methods. I was inconsolable for days after he slew the sexton and chopped him to bits and made him into illegal pie-fillings. I resolved to run away to sea, though we lived far, far from any coast.

One crisp autumn’s dawn I gathered my few pitiable belongings and tied them in a bundle and tied the bundle to the end of a stick, and with the stick propped jauntily over my shoulder I set out to make my way in the world. Before I got so far as the garden gate, however, the microscopic eggs in my brain all hatched at once, and let forth monsters. Though I had passed through much travail in my short life, things were about to get much, much worse.

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