Once upon a time there was a mad monk. The mad monk lived in a place called Madmonkhead, in a tower close to the edge of a cliff. He had red, staring eyes, and frizzed hair which stuck out around his head in a badly formed tonsure. The mad monk was an orderly sort of person, who liked to have his week planned out. Every Monday, he’d climb down the precipitous path to the tiny beach beneath the tower, stand on the sharp shingle, and beat himself with seaweed.
“Lord, I am bad person. I deserve to be punished,” he’d wail.
On Tuesdays the mad monk would go for a walk. He walked exactly ten feet to the left of the coast path, through all the mud, sharp rocks and spiny heather, which the actual path avoided. On Wednesdays the mad monk did his house-keeping, and had a bath. He’d take down the threadbare broom which hung on the back of the door and sweep the rubbish off the edge of the cliff. This done, he would descend to the beach, and strip down to his monastic issue grey serge underpants. He would stand while the tide came in, wait till the water reached his chin, and then wait for it to go out again. His face would turn blue from cold.
Thursdays, the mad monk would stay in and catch up with paperwork. Nobody was quite sure what this paperwork was, but anyone on the cliff path with a pair of binoculars could see him though the window of the tower, scratching with a fountain pen at an enormous leather-bound ledger. Sometimes, the monk would moan and wail, and beat his head on the pages. Fridays, he went fishing. He never caught anything, and the boats passing to and fro into the harbour a little further up the coast would pass by on the opposite side of the bay, their nets full of crunchy crab and tasty sea bass.
Saturdays, the mad monk did what any normal person does on Saturdays: he went shopping. He’d take the car keys from the microwave (it didn’t work: there was no electricity, water or phone in the monk’s tower) and unlock the maroon Ford Mondeo parked behind the tower. He’d drive across the causeway which connected Madmonkhead to the mainland, up the very steep hill, and down the five miles into the village of Madmonkport. The unfortunate villagers could always tell when the monk was on his way because the Mondeo had a strange knocking noise in the front suspension. They would take pains to hide their children, lock front doors, and bring the dogs inside.
The mad monk would drive through the silent village, park the Mondeo, and go to the village shop. Miss Merry, the village shop owner, was the only person brave enough to face him. This was partly because she needed the custom, and the mad monk was a very reliable customer. Every week he bought the same things: Evian water; Hovis Family Sandwich Thick-Cut White Sliced, and a large Battenburg cake. He paid in used bank notes, which he kept in a briefcase in the Mondeo’s boot.
Nobody knew what the mad monk did on Sundays, although rumour had it he had once been seen watching Grandstand with a pair of binoculars through the window of a neighbouring farmhouse.
In the evenings, when he had finished his chores, the monk would return to his tower for a dinner of bread and water. Then, for relaxation, he’d stand outside his tower, repeatedly throwing himself at the ground, wailing and groaning. Sometimes, for a change, he would beat himself with a knotted rope. At night, he slept on a ladder propped between two chairs, and the bats which lived in the roof of his tower would crap on his head.
This was the monk’s life, week in, week out. The monk had been going on like this for years, when a week began that was to change everything. It was a sunny week at the end of March, and a few primroses had begun to decorate the coast path. There were no primroses on Madmonkhead: the mad monk had pulled them up.
Monday began as usual. The mad monk stood on the shingle.
“Urghhh,” he wailed. “I am a bad person. God will punish me.” And he thrashed himself with seaweed. Out to sea, the sky began turning dark purple. Fishing boats scudded hell for leather back to port. The monk didn’t notice the weather until a lashing rain came down. The monk fell on his knees. “Lord,” he yelled. “You are punishing me.”
He went back to his tower, and ate Hovis Family Sandwich Thick-Cut White Sliced. Outside, the wind howled. Below the cliff, water surged across the jagged rocks. Not being one to be put off easily, the mad monk went outside, and began his nightly routine of throwing himself to the ground, wailing and groaning.
Now, one person who had also failed to notice the storm coming in was a young fisherman from Madmonkport. The young fisherman was out in a boat on his own, not catching a single fish. So he’d waited and waited, till the very last moment. Night fell. The sea grew rough. The young fisherman cursed his stupidity, pulled on his waterproofs, and hurried back towards the bay. He was just convinced he had made it safely when a particularly vicious current around the edge of Madmonkhead got hold of his boat, dragging it towards the rocks. He fought bravely, pulling the tiny craft out of the current. But it was no good: a huge wave picked up the boat, and dashed it, smashing, onto the rocks.
The young fisherman was thrown into the sea, his waterproofs filling with water. For one, long, long moment, he began to sink, but then a huge wave – the highest of high tide – picked up his body and threw it hard, right at the cliff. The young fisherman put out a hand, and grasped hold of something. The water receded.
Up on the cliff top, the mad monk was oblivious. The louder the wind, the louder he wailed. The more the rain thrashed down, the harder he threw himself at the ground. Meanwhile, the fisherman clung to the wet root of a tree which grew in a crevasse in the cliff. He looked down: below him were pointed rocks, churning, blackened water, and the ruins of his boat. Out to sea, a huge bolt of lightening came down. In the silence that preceded the rumble of thunder he heard movement on the clifftop.
“Help!” he yelled. The mad monk didn’t hear him. “I am a very bad person,” he wailed, and threw himself down in the mud. “Help!” yelled the fisherman again. The monk became aware that something was impeding his concentration. He looked over the cliff. About ten foot below, someone was clinging to the cliff face. “Excuse me,” said the mad monk. “I’m trying to punish myself here. Can you go away.” “GET ME OUT OF HERE!” yelled the fisherman. The monk sighed, stood up, and threw himself at the ground particularly hard. “Lord,” he intoned. “I am a very bad person. I must be punished. Can you not see I’m busy.” The fisherman continued to shout. This carried on for about ten minutes. The young fisherman’s fingers were slipping: the more they slipped, the more desperate he got, and the more desperate he got, the more he shouted. The more he shouted, the harder the monk found it to concentrate. Finally the monk looked back over the cliff. “Just so you know,” said the mad monk slowly. “I’m only doing this so you’ll shut up.” And he lowered his bit of knotted rope down the cliff. When the young fisherman was standing on the clifftop, the mad monk threw himself down in the mud, and began to pull out his hair. When he looked up, the young fisherman had gone. After an hour or so, the mad monk stepped inside his tower. There was a funny noise. He lit a candle and saw the young fisherman huddled in the corner. The noise was the young man’s teeth chattering.
“Go. Away,” said the mad monk, and threw himself on the floor, so his forehead collided with the flagstones. The young fisherman flinched.
“Any chance of a cup of tea?” he said.
The monk threw himself on the floor again.
“Go away,” he said.
“I can’t!” shouted the fisherman. “I can’t get across the causeway till low tide!”
The monk groaned, painfully.
“Can I have a bit of sympathy here,” shouted the fisherman. “I’ve lost my boat, I just nearly died, I can’t get back to the mainland, I think I’m getting hypothermia, and all you can do is throw yourself at the floor. It’s no good,” he wailed. “I’m finished. It’s all over for me. Everything I do goes wrong. I don’t even have bloody insurance.”
“Insurance,” said the mad monk, “Is God’s way of punishing us.”
But the young man was too distraught to listen. He rocked back and forth, harder and harder, and his teeth chattered like woodpeckers. He began to search his garments, realising small tides of seawater onto the tower floor. Finally he ripped some documents out of a pocket, and let out a low moan. He held out a very wet photograph, in which the image of a petite brunette was faintly visible.
“Jenny,” he moaned. “What’ll I do? She thinks I’m a loser. I knew she was the one for me first time I saw her in office at the trawler agents. She’ll never have me now. Even my photograph.. All I’ll have left of her… Ruined!”
“Will you please,” intoned the mad monk, “Shut up.”
“I don’t even know where she is right now,” wailed the young fisherman. “Probably with somebody else. It’s that slimy Ian the IT repair man. He’s always hanging round the office. He’s probably fiddling with her keyboard right now, while I’m stuck in a tower with a religious lunatic, freezing to death. I’m getting colder and colder. I just want a piece of toast. Some nice hot chocolate…”
The mad monk appeared to be having difficulty controlling himself. He moaned and his eyes rolled wildly in their sockets. He breathed heavily, opened the microwave oven, and took out a breadknife. The young fisherman jumped up, nervously, but the monk only removed a slightly squashed battenburg cake from the innards of the microwave.
“Just for the record,” he said. “I’m only doing this so you’ll shut up.” Very slowly, his hands shaking, the mad monk cut a very very thin slice. It was so thin you could practically see through it. “If I give you the cake,” said the monk. “Will you promise to shut up?”
“Er, alright,” said the fisherman.
While the fisherman ate the very small slice of cake, the monk lay down on his ladder and groaned a bit. He was particularly upset that the young fisherman’s presence seemed to have frightened away the bats.
When he had eaten the very small slice of cake, the young fisherman felt better, as if the sugar was warming him up. The mad monk had made the mistake of leaving the Battenburg on top of the microwave, and a faint whiff of Marzipan filled the tower. The young fisherman glanced at the monk. He seemed to have passed out. Out of the window, rain lashed the tower. It was hours till low tide. The young man got up, and slowly cut himself a much larger piece of cake. When he had eaten this, he felt a little comforted, as if the soft pink pastry was somehow cushioning the bits of his broken heart, and the slivers of almond paste were giving him strength to carry on shivering.
In the morning, when the mad monk woke, the young fisherman was gone. So was the cake. There was just an empty plastic wrapper in the microwave.
“Typical,” said the monk, and he went out, barefoot, for his Tuesday walk along the coast path, ten foot to the left of the path, over all the rocks and heather and barbed wire fences, so his legs and hands grew bloody. He had almost reached the end his march, when he was approached by a rather flustered looking man in a yellow anorak.
“Excuse me! Excuse me!” shouted the man, and he ran towards the mad monk.
“Go. Away,” said the mad monk.
“I wonder if you would be so kind as to, er,” said the man.
“No,” said the mad monk, and strode right past.
“Maybe render us some assistance,” continued the man, running after him. “Rather embarrassing really – my friend – quite inappropriate footwear – seems to have injured his ankle ...”
“Piss. Off,” said the monk.
“How rude!” yelled the man in the yellow jacket, as the monk vanished into the distance. “How rude – I shall – I’m going to report you!”
The monk stalked off. As he neared his tower, a yellow and blue rescue helicopter passed overhead. He ignored it, pausing briefly to look at the wreckage of the boat on the rocks below his tower. He sighed in a satisfied way, went inside the tower, and opened the microwave. Inside, was only an empty packet, and a few pink pastry crumbs. When he remembered this, the mad monk let out a howl that was heard up coast in Madmonkport. He went down to the beach, and flogged himself with dirty seaweed for hours, to make up for his weakness.
That night the mad monk lay on his ladder. He was pleased to see that the bats had returned and resumed their habit of crapping on his head. He drifted into sleep, but his dreams were plagued with images of bi-coloured pastry stuck together with apricot jam. On Wednesday morning, the monk resumed his routine. He went down to the beach, and waited for the tide to come in. The tide rose to the monk’s chin. Bits of the young fisherman’s broken boat floated past.
“Lord, punish me. I am a very bad man,” he shouted, but his heart was filled with rage. Every time he closed his eyes, little pink and yellow squares of pastry floated before them. A phantom scent of marzipan tortured his nose.
Finally, the monk cracked. The tide had not fully gone out, and was still surging around his knees, when he ran back to the tower and seized the keys to the Mondeo. He drove across the causeway, up the very steep hill towards Madmonkport, thrashing the gears. He had nearly reached the top of the hill when there was a loud bang. Brown smoke came from the engine. The monk let out a moan, jammed on the handbrake, and went to open the bonnet.
At that point an RAC van drew up behind the Mondeo, and a man got out. “Having a spot of bother, Sir?” he said.
The monk began to bang his head against the bonnet of the Mondeo, making a noise like ‘donk, donk’.
“You don’t want to do that, Sir,” said the RAC man. “Damage your paintwork.”
“I,” said the monk, “Am a very bad person,”
“Not been getting it serviced regularly, eh?” said the RAC man. He looked quite pleased with himself. “Are you an RAC member, Sir?”
“No,” said the mad monk, heavily.
“Well, luckily, all RAC cover comes into force immediately, Sir, so if you’d like to just fill in the paperwork, I’ll be able to assist you.”
“Paperwork?” said the monk. A look of utter and final despair crossed his face.
When the mad monk had paid for his RAC membership with used bank notes, the RAC man opened the bonnet of the Mondeo. A cloud of foul-smelling smoke rose up. “Oh dear oh dear oh dear,” he said, and shook his head. “I think we’d better tow this to the garage at Madmonkport.”
The mad monk got in the cab of the RAC van. He could see the clock in the dashboard. It said 4.49. This meant he had only eleven minutes to get to the shop.
“Good thing I was passing, eh, Sir?” said the RAC man. “Lucky, one might say. Just one of those happy co-incidences. What d’you do for a living, then, Sir?”
“Mad monk,” said the mad monk.
“Fancy that,” said the RAC man. “I do like to meet people who’ve made those more unconventional career choices. That’s one of the best things about this job. Get to meet all sorts. Been doing this job about three years, and let me tell you, best job I ever had. Hours are great, I get to drive around all this beautiful countryside, and best of all, I get to help people. That’s what I call job satisfaction. I expect you wonder how I ended up doing this, don’t you?”
“No,” said the mad monk.
“Well, few years ago I met this bird, right, and we starts going out, right? After a couple of months she finds she’s up the duff, and she runs back down here to her mother’s. Well, I thought, what can I do? I thought, go on, my son, be a man. I followed her down ‘ere and married her. Let me tell you, mate, best thing I ever did. Never regretted it, not for a moment. We got two lovely daughters now and the old girl lives next door. Best Gran in the world. Tell you what, mate, I have a great life, I really do.” The mad monk had begun to turn a slightly greenish colour.
“In fact, I was thinking, just last week, there’s only one thing lacking from our lives at the moment. And that’s something maybe you could help me with, Sir.”
“I doubt it,” said the mad monk. He stared at the clock. It was 4.53. The RAC man pulled a wallet of photographs out of the glove compartment and passed it to the mad monk. Reluctantly, the mad monk began to leaf through.
“All these photographs,” he said, slowly, “Are of small, fluffy puppies.”
“That’s it,” said the RAC man, excitedly. “Exactly it. That’s what we need, so when we go down the beach the little girls have dog to play with. I thought I’d surprise them, right, but then I go down the dogs home, and there’s so many of the poor little beggars, I couldn’t make me mind up. I thought maybe that one with the cute floppy ears, or perhaps that one with the funny curly tail - ”
“I like that one,” said the mad monk at last. “With three legs. And mange.”
They were passing through Madmonkport: the clock said 4:58. The RAC man dropped the monk off in the carpark, and drove the Mondeo on towards the garage. When he’d gone, the monk opened one of the poop-scoop bins and threw up in it. Then he went to the shop. It was closed. Inside, the clock said 4.59. A single large Battenburg cake stood on the shelf by the counter. The mad monk walked back to the tower, carrying his briefcase full of used bank notes. On his way he passed a taxi heading into Madmonkport.
The taxi stopped outside the Madmonkport Arms, and a lady with court shoes and a corporate haircut got out. She went into reception and rang the bell. At first the landlord didn’t notice. He was in the back working on a very complicated project that was going to save his business from bankruptcy, and he was feeling rather nervous.
“Do you have a room?” asked the lady with the corporate haircut. She had a small overnight bag, and one of those big trolleys people use for carrying paperwork.
“I think you may be in luck,” said the landlord. “Just one unoccupied.” He led her upstairs, down a slightly damp, unused smelling corridor, to a room at the end. “Will you be staying tomorrow?” he asked, desperately.
“No,” said the lady, looking around disparagingly.
“Business or pleasure?”
“Business,” said the lady, haughtily, as if he’d said something inappropriate.
That night the monk dreamed of exploding Battenburg cakes. He dreamt that he opened the bonnet of the Mondeo, and it was full of puppies. He dreamt that a yellow helicopter was hovering overhead, and it was bombarding him with love-lorn fishermen who kept trying to tell him their problems. He woke up screaming, and the screams could be heard right up in Madmonkport.
Because of his nightmares, the mad monk overslept. He was woken at 9.00am exactly by someone hammering on the door. “Mr Monk?” called a lady’s voice.
The mad monk opened the door. Outside was a middle-aged lady with a corporate haircut and court shoes. She had one of those trolleys with her that people use to wheel paperwork around in.
“Mr Monk,” said the lady. “I’m ever so glad I’ve found you in. We’ve tried to contact you by letter – “
“I don’t get letters,” said the mad monk.
“And we’ve tried to contact you by email – “
“I don’t do email,” said the mad monk.
“And we’ve tried to find your telephone number – “
“I don’t have a telephone,” said the mad monk.
“So finally I’ve been forced to come here in person,” said the lady. “I’m the head of the complaints department at the National Trust, Mr Monk, and we most unfortunately have on file more than three hundred and fifty-eight complaints about your use of the cliff path, Mr Monk.” She pulled a red file from the trolley. It said ‘Littering’ on it. “That’s just the first,” she added. “There’s also damage to fences and walls, Mr Monk, damage to plants and vegetation, fishing without a permit, bathing in an unsafe area, frightening other path-users, and most recently, failing to assist a gentleman who had had an accident.”
“That,” said the mad monk slowly, “Is because I am a very bad person.”
The lady from the complaints department appeared a little flummoxed by this response: her mouth pursed into a sort of ‘O’. Before she had a chance to reply, the door slammed shut in her face. After a minute or two, she knocked again.
“Mr Monk,” she said. “I really do need a response. I can’t have all these complaints hanging round on my files. I need to resolve them, Mr Monk. It’s part of our corporate strategy to resolve all complaints within six months. I really need to talk to you, Mr Monk. We need to come to a resolution here. Perhaps make an agreement. Or we’ll have to consider passing it to the legal team, Mr Monk. And that’s an eventuality I’d be very disappointed by, Mr Monk. I really think – “
From inside the tower came a noise like ‘donk, donk’ followed by a howl of pain. Then there was silence.
“Mr Monk,” shouted the woman from the National Trust. “Are you alright?”
The door opened with a creak, a red eye appeared in the crack, and the door slammed again. The woman from the National Trust sat down on a rock, and resolved to wait. Inside, the mad monk lay down on his ladder. It was no good, his day was completely ruined. At about six, the National Trust woman returned to the Madmonkport Arms, dragging her trolley behind her.
“Looks like I’ll be staying a second night after all,” she said.
“Oh – how unfortunate,” said the landlord, breathing a sigh of relief.
That night, the mad monk’s screams rent the air of Madmonkport for the second night running. In the morning, the mad monk got up really early, but when he opened the door the lady from the National Trust was there already.
“Mr Monk,” she said. “I really think – “
“Paperwork,” said the monk, “Is God’s way of punishing us.”
“Well, I do think you may have a point there,” said the woman from the National Trust. “If we could just start with – “
The door slammed shut. The monk lay on his ladder. Outside, a thin rain began to fall. At midday, the mad monk opened the door. The woman from the National Trust lay on the rocky ground outside the tower, looking up at the sky. A faint film of water covered her. In her hand was clutched a file: it too, was growing soggy.
“You know,” she said slowly, “I haven’t been out of the office in months. I only joined the National Trust because I liked nature.” The mad monk crept inside. When he next came out, the complaints woman said nothing, nothing at all. The file had turned to mush in her hands. Small rivulets of water ran off her anorak. Spider webs had formed, connecting her to the ground.
The monk slipped past, and began to walk to Madmonkport. At about three-thirty he stood at the top of the steep hill, and looked down at the village.
At three forty exactly, the door to the village shop opened. Miss Merry scurried out. In the shop stood two young men with dreadlocks and backpacks with New Zealand flags sewn to the pockets. One of them was short and blond, and the other was taller and darker. Miss Merry noted that the young men had been polite enough to leave their surfboards outside. Both were looking at the Battenburg cake.
“Dude,” said the smaller of the two surfers. “Look at that cake. It’s, like, completely retro.”
“Yeah,” said his friend. “It’s so retro, it’s almost… futuristic.”
The blonde one nodded. “So futuristically retro, it’s like… really now.”
“Boys,” said Miss Merry, “Would you like the Battenburg Cake? It’s all homemade.”
“Yeah,” said the surfers, in unison.
Miss Merry looked at them. There was something vaguely familiar about the small blond one, but she couldn’t think why. “Ooh. New Zealand,” she said, because she couldn’t think what else to say. “I expect you’re both very good at rugby.”
An expression of pain crossed their faces. “Nah,” they said. “We surf.”
“Ooh,” said Miss Merry. “Surfing.”
“Yeah,” said the larger of the two. “We’re going round the world. It’s like, a spiritual odyssey.”
Miss Merry thought what nice, polite boys they were, and how handsome they’d be if only they got proper haircuts. There was something in the smaller one’s face that made her feel faintly protective towards him, only she couldn’t work out what. When they had gone, she felt a vague sense of loss. She went in the back, and mopped the floor. The bell over the door went again. Miss Merry was rather shocked to see the mad monk.
“Ooh,” she said. “Is it Saturday?”
“No,” said the mad monk. His eyes turned to the place where the Battenburg cake usually stood.
“Ooh,” said Miss Merry. Past the mad monk, out through the window, a terrifying scene met her eyes. In the carpark, the maroon Mondeo was parked crazily. Propped against the wall of the car-park were two surfboards, and on top of the wall, the two Kiwi surfers were seated cross-leggedly. They were stuffing Battenburg cake, with some enthusiasm, into their faces.
“They’ll be more tomorrow,” she offered, helpfully.
The monk’s tonsure began to frizzle. On his scalp, bat-shit crisped and sizzled. Behind his eyes, a gargantuan struggle between hope and despair seemed to be taking place.
“Ooh dear,” said Miss Merry. She clutched her apron to her spinsterly bosom.
“Battenburg cake,” said the monk, at last, “Is a sin.” Then he turned, and strode out of the shop. But as the monk entered the car park, a whiff of almond paste caught his nostrils. He looked up, and saw the surfers sitting on the wall. In their hands were big, fat slices of Battenburg cake. He groaned out loud; raised a finger, and pointed it, shaking, at the cake.
The larger of the two surfers paused, a fistful of cake half way to his mouth.
“Dude,” he said, “Are you, like, a street performer?”
Then he raised the cake to his mouth. The monk could see nothing, nothing at all except his big white teeth that came down and cut right through the pastry. He let out a wail, and staggered sideways, like a man who’d been shot.
The surfer just nodded, slowly. “Yeah,” he said. “Good character. Good character, man. I’m really getting the, like, mad monk thing.” With that he opened his mouth wide, very, very wide, and the last of the cake – its pink and yellow pastry, its almond casing, and its little smears of apricot jam – vanished between his careless Kiwi teeth.
The monk let out a shriek. The world dissolved around him, spinning horribly in a blur of yellow and pink pastry, green poop-scoop bins and orange Billabong hoodies. He leapt into the Mondeo and beat his head on the steering wheel, letting out blasts of the horn. When the mad monk opened his eyes, the first thing he saw in the mirror were two surfboards, propped against the wall behind him. He slammed the Mondeo into reverse, jamming his foot on the accelerator. The car hit the wall with a crunch of splintering plastic. The sound of yelling filled his ears. He reversed twice more, thrashing the gears till smoke came from under the bonnet, then drove off, running over the foot of the smaller surfer on the way.
Miss Merry, who had witnessed the whole scene, ran out of the shop, clutching her apron to her face. The mad monk and his maroon Mondeo were already gone. The surfers were staring at the wreckage. The smaller of the two was clutching his foot and trying, rather manfully she thought, not to cry.
“Ooh dear,” said Miss Merry. “I think I’d better make us all a nice cup of tea.”
The mad monk drove back to Madmonkhead, thrashing the gears. There was still a funny knocking noise coming from the Mondeo, even though he had just paid six hundred quid to have it fixed. The monk parked the Mondeo right on the edge of the cliff, and stood above the abyss, where the water churned beneath.
“Lord,” he shouted, “I am a very bad person!”
Nobody answered. The monk felt vaguely dispirited, like he couldn’t find the energy to shout any more. He kicked the maroon Mondeo. That was when he saw that the funny noise wasn’t coming from the suspension, but from the half-broken surfboard which had become attached to the towbar. In a frenzy, he seized the surfboard, groaning. His feet slipped in the muddy soil. The mad monk pulled harder, harder and harder.
Something began to move.
Slowly, the maroon Mondeo began to roll forward. It rolled right off the cliff, turned over, once, and hit the rocks with an enormous boom.
Moments later, there was a smaller splash as the monk hit the water. For one long, long moment, his habit filled with water, and he began to sink. Something floated above his head: he reached out and caught it. The mad monk clambered onto the remains of the surfboard, and sat there, shivering. It was very cold.
Evening fell. The tide began to come in. Small blue and green boats passed Madmonkhead, and settled in the harbour. Above the Western horizon, the sun went down in a blaze of reddish glory. The stars came out: the coastline fell into blackness. At midnight, the landlord of the Madmonkport Arms came out to lock up. The sky above Madmonkport was full of stars, and totally silent.
“That’s funny,” he said. “It’s very… quiet.”
One by one, lights went on throughout the village. Without the screaming and groaning they had become accustomed to, the villagers couldn’t sleep a wink. Clutching their dressing gowns, they stumbled out of doors.
Daylight broke. A strange procession began to straggle out of Madmonkport, led by Miss Merry and the two surfers. The shorter of the two surfers was nursing a bad limp, and had one tattooed arm wrapped round the shoulders of the village shop-keeper. The villagers stood on the clifftop and looked down. Below them were jagged rocks, black, surging waters, and the ruin of the Mondeo, locked in a death-defying embrace with the wreckage of a small fishing boat.
“Just to think,” said Miss Merry, tearfully. “If the mad monk hadn’t run over your surfboards, I’d never have found out that you were the only child of the illegitimate daughter I gave up for adoption fifty years ago.” She sniffed, and the young surfer offered her a rather dirty handkerchief.
The young fisherman peered over the cliff. “I can’t believe he’s gone,” he said, slowly. “If she hadn’t spent the whole of Monday night thinking I was dead, my Jenny would never have realised it was me she loved, not that slimy Ian, the IT repair man.”
A petite brunette clung to his chest, and burst into tears. “To think he saved your life,” she sobbed, “And I never got to thank him!”
“Well,” said the young fisherman. “I suppose he wasn’t such a bad bloke, after all.”
“It’s true,” added a nervous looking man in a yellow anorak. “If it hadn’t been for the mad monk forcing me to call out the cliff rescue, I’d still be with that stupid Graham and his inappropriate footwear. Instead I met Cliff, the real love of my life.” And he gazed lovingly at a craggily handsome, grey haired chap in uniform.
Behind them, an RAC van pulled up. A man got out, clutching a small dog with three legs and scabs on its head. He sighed, and looked fondly at the dog. “You know,” he said. “That bloke really taught me the true meaning of charity. No point keeping your good fortune to yourself, is there? Meant to buy the bloke a drink or something. Don’t suppose I’ll get the chance now.”
The villagers were too upset to take much notice of this, apart from a lady with wild hair and brand new hiking boots, who looked at the small dog. “I do hope,” she said, rather haughtily, “That you’ll be cleaning up any dog mess.”
“Who are you?” said the RAC man, startled.
“New coast path warden,” said the lady. She took a deep breath, as if scenting freedom, and strode off down the path. Just then, the owner of the Madmonkport Arms arrived.
“Is he dead? Is he dead?” he yelled. When the villagers nodded, he fell to his knees. “Ruined!” he shrieked. “My Mad Monk tours! Booked solid till August! What’ll I do? I can’t have a mad monk tour without a mad monk! I’m ruined!”
The villagers looked on while the pub landlord wept in the mud.
“Er, dude,” said Miss Merry’s new grandson. “You wanna talk to my mate, right. Mostly he surfs, right, but he’s actually, er, like, an unemployed actor.”
“You’re a… you’re a…” said the pub landlord. The phrase ‘unemployed actor’ seemed to hang on the air, as if lit in neon. The pub landlord threw himself at the young man’s feet.
The larger of the two surfers looked rather surprised. “Dude,” he said, “You can’t be serious? I mean, It was like totally, his role. Such a great performer… Jeez… what a privilege…” Here he became overwhelmed, and wiped his eyes on the sleeve of his hoodie. Not to be outdone, the young fisherman’s girlfriend burst out sobbing once more. The small dog began to howl. The villagers wept and snivelled and sobbed, and thumped each other on the back.
Below the clifftop, the mad monk clung on by his fingertips. He had been hanging there for hours, ever since a particularly large wave had cast him up from the waters. His fingers were quite numb. The broken surfboard hung from his ankle. Bits of torn fisherman’s waterproof flapped in his face. From time to time, the tree in the crevasse would give slightly. Earth fell in his face.
As daylight broke, he began to hear voices. It seemed they were having some kind of party. There was a lot of noise going on. After a while, the phrases ‘never got to thank him’; ‘not a bad bloke’; and ‘meant to buy him a drink’, drifted by his ears. The noise of weeping came down the cliff. The mad monk became very confused.
“The mad monk – the mad monk has saved us all!” somebody shouted.
The mad monk shook his head, in case he had misheard. The tree root gave a little in the cliff-face. The monk looked around. He thought for a long time. Finally the mad monk drew a deep breath, and did something he’d never done before.
“Er,” he said. “Er… Help?”
But the villagers were weeping too loudly, grieving and consoling each other, to hear him. Right then, the tree root gave way, and the monk plummeted towards the sea, unwitnessed by the mourners above. He hit the water, sank, cracked his head hard on a rock a few feet below the surface, and floated back to the surface.
The mad monk stared blankly at the sky, and began to drift out to sea.
Several hours later, a trawler bringing in its catch was surprised to find that it had netted a completely naked middle-aged man clinging to the remains of a surfboard. They took him to hospital, thirty miles down the coast. The hospital phoned the local surf hostel, and asked after any missing surfers. The hostel phoned all the other hostels, but no-one seemed to be missing at all. For five days, the mad monk said not a single word, and his eyes were quite blank. Then he sat up.
“Blessed are those who pass through the waves,” he said. “For they shall be cleansed.”
Since there seemed to be nothing really wrong with him, the doctor gave the mad monk up into the care of the surf hostel, who offered him a bed in the dorm for a week, as a point of charity. At the end of the week, when the mad monk still hadn’t remembered who he was, the surfers had a whip-round. They gave him two pairs of combat shorts, one Hawaiian shirt so hideous its owner had abandoned it, a blue hoodie, some slightly smelly Vans trainers, twenty six quid and three Australian dollars. The landlord donated a surfboard from the lost property cupboard. The mad monk seemed quite pleased with this.
“Blessed are those who pass through the waves,” he said. “For they shall be cleansed.”
“Dude,” said the surfers. “That guy is like, spiritual.”
Then he walked out the door, and no-one ever saw him again.