The Broken Boots Guide to Astlavonia
Debt-ridden and divorced, Mark King wins a travel writing competition with a bogus article and is sent to Astlavonia, a former soviet state, to write its first ever guidebook. He stays with Augustus, a Fagin-like professor, who warns that all disputes are settled with a knife. This would be fine if Mark hadn't fallen in love with the daughter of the chief of police, a survivor of the Gulag and hater of 'occupying' foreigners.
This is the first part of chapter 1 of 'The Broken Boots Guide to Astlavonia':
'PACKAGE 1 OF 16'
'Only lend your shoe if you have one foot.'
Somewhere amongst dawn, I woke up when the car hit a pothole. There was a plastic half-woman, half-bird thing bobbing from side to side on the yellow fur dashboard. 'The Model' by Kraftwerk was playing and the meter said '2874'. Christ, how much was that in pounds?
An ID card with a photo of a big nosed man with a grey beard was dangling from the windscreen mirror. Another pothole tricked the tyres as the gears were crunched into fourth. I turned to look at the driver. He wasn’t bearded or big nosed. He was young with highlighted hair and a Midge Ure style moustache. A paisley scarf, with a Mayor-full of necklaces, hung over his red shirt that was wedged into silver trousers that tapered into suede pixy boots.
The effeminate clothes didn't disguise his arms which were like stuffed hooverbags. Stale sweat and cheap aftershave belljared the car. He smiled at me and I nervously smiled back, noticing he was wearing a black dagger on a belt topped with Playboy rabbit's ears.
Terror half-nelsoned me: I was stuck in a foreign country in a car with an armed stranger who, out of economic desperation, probably killed the big-nosed driver and stole his taxi. After a coach journey through Russia full of unexplained delays, bad seating and vodka smeared men, I was shattered. I knew I'd arrived in Astlavonia but couldn't really remember jumping into this car at the border. There weren't any direct flights into the country because local politics had slowed down the construction of an airport.
'She’s a module and she lucking god,' sang the driver.
Was he playing with me? Was he about to turn-off into an insignificant lane and end my insignificant life? His neck looked as if it were cricked out of line.
'Urr hi, yeah, um where are we going?' I said.
Rattling with exhilarations, the boxcar nosed forward. Clouds had split across an orange-red sky.
'We on some road to the nowhere with a burning round a house. Wooh.'
Had I told him where I wanted to go before falling asleep? That meter bill would kill me if he didn't. What would he do if I couldn’t change any cash? I should have stayed in Exeter with my boring life, my wonderfully reassuring, tedious life.
'I need to get to town Broiklarrio. It not far. It near Russian border,' I said in a loud speak-to-foreigner voice.
'You a spy?' he said, groping his left bicep.
'No. I've come to see Professor Augustus Dachna...urr...Dachnakovi...'
'Dachnaklovistiati. You got blue eyes. Sure you no KGB guy?'
'I’m not a spy. I promise.'
'Groovy. My name’s Llarotilorius Glatoblikov,' he said.
'Hi, I'm Mark, Mark King.'
'Hey, Marc Almond guy, yeah. Say hello now and waving goodbye with some love tainting. I think you like man with no naming before but Marc Almond guy is cool.'
I could taste sour pine from the car freshener.
'So is the town far from here?'
'Yeah. No problem.'
The driver (I'd forgotten his name already so will call him 'the driver') turned-up the metallic keyboard solo and thumped his foot on the pedal. Tearing around a corner, we narrowly avoided an old shepherd. The driver giggled, tapping the rhythm of the song onto the small, rally sized steering wheel.
Rusting, peeling, the Lada was falling apart. I'd thought there was a shard of mirror by my right foot but it was a hole revealing shifting ground. Sheets of metal had been hammered onto the bonnet. I could see the 'c' and 'o' of a Coca Cola sign that clung to the right flank. I hadn't even realized I was on the right side of the car.
'Hey, I Burt Reynolds and the Hazard Dukes. Maybe I going onto the two wheels.'
'No. Please slow down.'
'We no controlling our destiny, Marc Almond guy. It don't matter when I crash 'cause then it meant to be.'
'Can you slow down just a little bit? Maybe you're destined to drive slower.'
'Tah. All this worry when you having so ace car chase Cannonball to Speedkill fun.'
The taxi wept and shook with the increase in speed. What if the floor of the car collapsed and we fell through?
'Please,' I begged.
'We no boss of the fate, yeah? It written out for us. I do what I have to do, do, do, dah? I got to do the action cause it the way that we do it. Too many persons is always thinking but action is the man. Yeeehaaaaaaah!!!!!!' he yelled, thrusting the car into pain and clapping my thigh.
We sped off towards Broiklarrio. He might feel relaxed about his future but mine was as clear as the purple clouds. I swallowed on a dry throat and yearned for the safety of a hotel room.
Please click on 'asta2' for the next scene.