Gunned down in cold blood, the mighty sage Lao-Tan refuses to die. He re-animates the body of a recently deceased girl, but discovers he is trapped inside the body of a physically challenged person with learning difficulties. There he will have to stay for the rest of his borrowed life.
At the nineteenth floor the lift-door, scuffed and scrawled, opened straight onto the flat roof, where residents could hang washing or laze in a deckchair and forget they were in a conurbation. But George’s wish was not to be fulfilled. There were people there already: two “old ducks”, as he called them, making the most of the precious daylight. One got up from her deckchair to help George ease the wheelchair down the step. He didn’t need help—and she wasn’t in a fit state to give any—but out of politeness they fumbled and mimed cooperation.
In the sky to the north-west a tiny gleam appeared. Presently the vapour trail could be made out of an airliner as it climbed steeply out of Luton. The Lavinian delegation was on board that plane. So was Giacomo.
LIFT ME ONTO THE PARAPET.
A sudden gust flung George’s hair about. “Whee! It’s clear enough to see for miles. Of course you can’t see it. You can’t see much down there, can you? Let me lift you onto the parapet. Just this once, mind, ‘cos it’s not safe.”
The plane was practically overhead.
KISS ME GEORGE.
Without ever knowing why, George did. For an instant his knuckles lost their whiteness. But an instant was all that Lao-Tan required. Giving a sharp jerk, he twisted out of George’s grasp.
The two old ladies staggered to their feet as George’s scream faded away in the space between sky and earth.
As he fell, Lao-Tan had twisted facing upwards, his eyes locked on the airliner, so far as Trixie’s poor eyesight would allow. At the moment of impact he was flung towards the sky in a spurt of consciousness. Caught in the perpetual up-draught between the tower-blocks, he soared aloft on a magnificent thermal. The aircraft grew and grew until it filled his tiny drop…
Giacomo had booked the entire row of seats on both sides of the gangway so nobody could see what he was doing. He was assembling his machine pistol from all-plastic parts sewn into his clothing. One-by-one he slid eighteen bullets into the magazine. Then he slipped off the safety-catch.
Now let the fun begin!
Something made him glance up: a spatter on the window. As he gaped, it spread out into a face: a slant-eyed visage with a wispy beard. The face of the mystery man who had hunted him down across the world! The man he thought he’d killed with an explosive bullet!
In terror he fired at the apparition and the featherweight weapon squirmed in his grasp. Instantly air rushed past his head, slamming his forehead into the rent he’d made. There it stuck fast, but only for a second. Progressively his head was sucked into an oval maw, rimmed with Perspex shark’s-teeth. Jowls frosting in the chilling gale, his eyeballs popped out and were snatched away. Blood filled the space between the shattered panes and a narrow cone of body fluids sprayed the fuselage. Then, bit-by-bit, his skin scraped back and his bones splintered to needles, he was voided from the aircraft like a great, gory turd.
He came down on mud-flats in the Thames estuary. They never found his body. It wouldn’t have been a very nice thing to find.
As the aircraft levelled out after making an emergency descent, passengers’ noses crept out of their dangling yellow masks and breathed plain air once more. Their ears screamed, their eyes smarted and they felt exquisitely sorry for themselves. Too sorry to waste much compassion on the man squeezed through the burst cabin window.
As the first bullet struck, Lao-Tan had flaked off. Now he floated down, ever-so-slowly, in the sunlight and the blue. A midget babyform, tumbling head-over-heels, his arms were spread-out in an all-embrace.
Brilliant clouds billowed up around him, fleecy rugs laid wall-to-wall, from horizon to horizon. Sierras of vapour, they hung between sky and earth: a space, for all their vastness, they could never fill.
Many centuries ago he himself had written:
Between the sky and the earth there is empty space,
But it does not fall in. It makes a bellows:
Work upon it—and ten thousand things issue forth.
Speak into it—and ten thousand words will die away.
It is good to keep a little inner space.
But now his tiny head had room for just one thought. What a beautiful world. What a beautiful… beautiful… world!
Weeks later he fell into deep forest and misty rains washed him down between pine-needles into crumbly black earth smelling of truffles and tombs. There he lay still, as moon followed moon. But when it came springtime, he pushed out a single mycelium.
Ten thousand springtimes were to come and go before he started to evolve.