Saturday, October 20, 2018

Rewriting: Kosi Lionhair

My regular readers will remember Kosi Lionhair. I've just reverted the series to draft in preparation for the rewrite. I've taken it off the menu, in effect.  

Imagine one of these to live in 
but without it showing on the outside

Kosi Lionhair lives in a future of legal and illegal children, Life Lotteries, and vast urbs with their footings in the sea. Australia has become the Australia Archipelago. The setting is the largest and most populous island, Eastralia. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Earth Fall: 3. Nene

Short and sweet in part. Nalbo is still on the fall ground where the parts of the 'meteorite' might have fallen. He meets Nene. Then Timpson arrives ... 

Something crackled in the fallen leaves on the other side of the tree’s trunk.
He wouldn’t mind an ordinary animal. A goanna, or even a snake.
The something rustled towards him. Most snakes and lizards wouldn’t. He got rolled onto his knees, ready to run.
His eyes felt like they bulged like they swivelled to find the source of the voice. He shot out from under the tree.
An unkempt, naked, leaves-in-her-hair child crawled after him. She was built to a normal human plan and had all her parts.
He relaxed. Studied her.
A head of russet red hair. Hazel eyes set well apart. The beginnings of a bit of a brow. The whole, a twin to the child’s image inferred from some ancient bones found in a cave in Portugal. The size of his daughter Marina at four.
A bunch of fossickers hunting meteor fragments brought her out with them? 
She held out her hand at him. “Ne-ee-eh?”
The poor kid. She was probably as hungry as a possum, and thirsty to boot.
He slung off his backpack, murmuring the comforting nonsense words he’d lately begun directing at the dogs.
He sat down. She sat down next to him.
He dug into the pack for the bottle of water. Set it in front of them. The cup from the top of the thermos. The home-made trail mix.
No understanding lit the kiddie’s face.
How old/young was she? What kind of life up to now? He hadn’t heard of any young children lost.
But so help me god he recalled childhood games of tricking his best friend into eating something despicable by first pretending to eat or drink it himself.
Not that pretending or despicable applied in this case.
He poured water into the cup. Drank it with lots of slurping sounds.
No reaction.
Poured water into his cupped hand and sipped loudly. 
Bingo! The child’s eyes sparkled and she held out her hands, cupped together.
He poured. She slurped.
He tore open the packet.
Poured mix into one hand and began picking it up with the other, popping the bits into his mouth. Chewed with sound effects.
The kiddie held out her hand for her serve.
For a split second, Nalbo saw Marina super-imposed on her. He shaped the trusting little hand so the nibbles wouldn’t roll out. Shook the mix into the tight hollow.
The kiddie just looked at the stuff falling like a bounty.
She ate each item separately. Thoughtfully. Held out her hand for more once she was finished. Smiled the same little Marina-smile of satisfaction at learning something new.

Behind them somewhere, a dog yelped in excitement.
Timpson’s voice said: “Good boy! Find! Find the master.”
Nalbo froze with fear and so did the little one.
He scrambled to his feet and turned.
So did the child scramble to her feet. She reached for the comfort of his hand. Maybe she was scared of the dog.
He was scared of what the man planned.
“Nalbo. Get down!” was all the warning he had.
Timpson squeezed the trigger.
The day exploded.
On his slow-motion way to the ground, Nalbo saw a couple of his fingers vanishing bloodily from his hand.
The child fragmented into a red mist.
Timpson pumped his gun with a bright, exulting grimace.
A man like that shouldn’t be allowed eyes, Nalbo thought. A war machine had no soul.
Oblivion came for him.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Earth Fall: 2b. The Fall Site

The house rocked. Nalbo clutched for the veranda rail, deafened but conscious of breakage. Glass fragments showered down from the roof. The solar panels, probably.
Dozens of pieces of something floated down, mid-field, into the swamp. Huh? Sputtering embers burned their shapes onto his retinas. Parachutes? He blinked and blinked but the darkness near at hand was absolute. The emergency nightlights must have broken along with the solar panels, as well as probably every other breakable thing. Sweeping it all up would have to wait until later. In the morning the whole world would be out searching for the fall-site. Wild horses couldn’t stop him trying to be there first.
He packed in a huge hurry. He took the small backpack. Some trail mix. He made himself a thermos of coffee. Took a precious bottle of water in case he got lost. Map. Torch. Compass. Knife. Gaiters around his pant cuffs against blady grass, ticks and leeches. He still couldn’t hear anything, and shrugged into his waterproofs, in case the wet cold of early morning fog turned into rain, in a deep silence.
The moon was up now and the gardens lay silvered under its calm shine. The house hunkered at the top of the hill like a large animal. A huge, grass-eating dinosaur asleep, Ushen compared it to. A dark stone heap he always said at the end of their imagineering, to prevent nightmares. He shut the dogs in the garden shed, no glass in there to cut their paws, and tramped to the edge of the northern slopes terracing down the hill.
Timpson had a horror of tall plants. “The cover provided by corn and staked tomatoes would allow a raiding party to oust us in three minutes. To repulse invaders, they have to be seen in good time.”
Nalbo allowed the man his foibles, even in Nalbo’s own backyard, and grew silverbeet, carrots and parsley on his slopes because there was Cele’s friendship with Allie to think about.
  Every winter, Timpson convinced Nalbo to join him at mosaic burning in the swamp, to keep the grasses and sedges from becoming a jungle in summer. Nalbo usually agreed since the land appeared to definitely improve under the regime.
Timpson considered Nalbo and himself the valley’s gatekeepers. Nalbo thought of himself as a steward of the land.

All the rest of the night Nalbo walked along the narrow paths made by swamp wallabies, always in the direction of the pink glow in the northeast. After a couple of hours, his hearing returned and the swishing of grasses along his gaiters kept him company. At grey dawn, he had walked for four hours. In the dark of night, three kilometres per hour made that twelve. The glow in the sky had faded. Burned grass and sedges made an acrid smell that tickled his nose. His eyes stung from wisping smoke.
Why the scene wasn’t already over-run by sightseers was a mystery. Nearly every man or woman he knew walked comfortably at twice his speed. He pulled aside the overgrowth of a couple of strappy lomandra plants to see the path continuing underneath. Beyond the giant tussocks that the lomandra made, to the right of the path, tendrils of smoke here and there curled up from a couple of square metres of blackened vegetation.
He neared the something that lay unburnt at the far end of the clearing, half under such a plant. Whatever it was, he didn’t have words for it. He closed his eyes. Opened them. The same impossible sight. A forearm, long, straight and as thick as his leg ended in a complex hand with two parallel thumbs and a cluster of five fingers attached every which way? Huh? Maybe a peculiar case of double vision caused by the unbearable light earlier?
There should be a lot of pain and a lot of blood at arm’s other end. What if the thing that had lost that arm was still alive? Was coming for him?
He looked up and around. Nothing. The arm’s skin was as thin and blotched as old rice paper. Picking up a stick, he poked at the arm. The skin wrinkled away from the stick, with thick folds. Nalbo shuddered. The arm—though torn from its body—was not dead? 
He opened his pocketknife. Slid the blade like a prong between two fingers and curled his fingers around the haft. Felt a bit better for having armed himself in whatever small way.
Long moment. No wind. No voices. No pumps clattering through the valley.
Pocketing the knife, he bent the strappy grass away from where the other end of the arm probably was. He expected a body. Large. Unconscious maybe. Broken at least. Brought the knife back out, in case.
A manikin lay at the base of the tussock, no longer than about thirty centimetres! No taller than from his elbow to mid-palm! How could that be attached to the arm? A dark, wide-awake eye sprang open in the middle of its little face.
Nalbo reared back and fell over another of the tussocks behind him. Another eye blinked sleepily at him from among the bunched fingers of a hand that lay at the level of his eyes. He clambered to his feet in a hurry. Now he was seriously in two minds. Go back? Go on? He strained his ears for sound. Nothing. There wasn’t even a breeze soughing among the sedges.
He tiptoed to the next circle of singed grass. At its green edges, lay bits of torn fabric. Were these the remnants of parachutes? He bent closer and saw only fleshy, bloody edges! There were too many scraps, he saw at a glance, representing too great a wing area, for the remains to be of a fruit bat accidentally caught up in the disaster. There’d been two fruit bats? So where were their bodies? He searched by not moving from where he safely stood, by turning on the spot and looking.
All around he saw bits of fleshy organs, some still breathing, some bleeding, and some doing both. He heard a hacking and coughing as of a pair of deeply scarred lungs.
 He seemed to be in the middle of some sort of fall ground?
That conclusion left him incredibly tired. He could feel exhaustion steal over him. The sun … he felt his head. He’d forgotten his hat, leaving home in the dark.
Go sit under the tree.

He stumbled toward it. Dropped to the brittle leaves under it. Blessed shade.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Earth Fall: 2. Conspiracy Paranoia

Nalbo should’ve been at his telescope already.
But Timpson still had him by the arm to help keep his drunken balance. “Seriously, Nalbo. Your house on this little outrider hill is ideal. With it as our watch-post, we’ll be sitting pretty to spy the danger from the east before it hits us. You do see that, don’t you?”
Timpson waited for Nalbo to see it.
No matter how he answered he was always drawn into the argument. “Because it stands out front, higher than your house behind it, like a sentinel at the open mouth of the valley.” He said it like a lesson learned. When Timpson was drunk he couldn’t see past his dark fantasies.  
Nalbo led Timpson toward to the beginning of Timpson’s track. The first stars twinkled in the violet-red sky. He raised his head for a naked eye sighting.
No. Nothing yet apart from the regular stars. Anyway, what would a piece of the mysterious satellite orbiting Earth look like?
The satellite itself, and its arrival fifty years ago had ruined electronic communications. He and his astronomy club communicated by pigeon post. Well, not him personally keeping pigeons. All mail went through the Hillet Emporium. But by way of the rice-paper slips, they had calculated a west-to-east trajectory that lapped the Earth twice, and that would see the fragment burn in the atmosphere.
He planned to see both passes.
Timpson gripped Nalbo’s arm to stop himself from tripping over his own feet.
Since the Timpsons had moved in next door, Nalbo often regretted the track, and indeed the spine joining their two little hills.
Cele was away with Allie Timpson at a plant dye workshop. Therefore no Cele nearby to help him wrench the conversation away from Timpson’s paranoia.  
 They arrived at the gate. Nalbo had fenced the top of the hill to stop the dogs wandering. He opened the gate and encouraged his guest through by disengaging his arm.
Timpson stopped. “We will have depredations as soon as the whole caboodle outside goes up. Sooner than you think. What about that satellite set to drop out of the sky? Wham! There goes one of the islands. A rearrangement of sea levels and hey presto. The presenter said people in hidden valleys will have to carry civilisation when night falls …”
Nalbo sighed. He knew Timpson’s arguments by heart. everywhere else. Makes sense to prepare.”
Their hidden valley was enclosed by forested uplands, apart from the bit at the head. Farms surrounded the little river there before it dropped into the valley. Spectacularly, after rain. The only road in, because it shared the narrow defile with the creek, was often closed.
But the front of the valley was open to anybody. Though the land lay untamed, growing wild grass and sedges set with clumps of spiky trees and the ground was seasonally boggy. It flowed and eventually lapped the walled suburbs near the coast. Bushwalkers kept to the uplands but Timpson was not to be convinced.
The man himself took hold of Nalbo’s jacket front to get back Nalbo’s attention. “You should point your telescope toward the land instead of the sky. And, as I have said numerous times, we should clear the swamp so we can see who tries to come up that way.”
The night was progressing. He wanted to be up in his observatory. “I’ll think about it,” he said.
Timpson let go of his shirt. He expelled a deep sigh. “Mate, you don’t know what good you’ve done me. I’ll be able to sleep tonight.”
Was he serious?
“I’ll start bringing over the weaponry first thing in the morning.”
He was serious. Hope he’s drunker than he looks and wakes up embarrassed.
“And in the morning I’ll put the hard word on Smith, across the way,” Timpson said. He turned for home by way of the reflective white stripe he’d painted along the path to save having to remember to carry a torch. 
Should he signal Smith? Nalbo wondered.
To say what? That a paranoid with a fortress mentality was coming to talk him into joining his house to a fortification of the valley?
His dot-dashing wasn’t that good.
And Smith lived alone. He seized the chance for a yarn however it came.
He hadn’t the time tonight. I’ll wander across the valley early in the morning when Timpson is still nursing his head.

He bounded up the spiralling iron stair to his observatory.
The still stupid young dog competed with him to arrive first.
“Heel, damn it! Heel!” All Nalbo needed, was for Cele to find him at the bottom of the stairs with a broken neck. How she would manage Timpson was the only interesting conjecture arising. Jazz, their old dog, followed sedately.
As he quartered the area of the sky where the thing was meant to be, Nalbo shook his head at Timpson’s perversity in picking up only on the global disaster stuff.
There, he had it in his sight.
Barrelling up over the back of the valley. Was Cele, at her fancy wool dye workshop, watching for it as well?
Larger already than he’d expected. Going fast enough that it was difficult to keep it in focus. Screaming along, in fact.
Nalbo swung the scope in a smooth arc to follow the satellite to the horizon in the east. He swung the barrel back to the west and waited, counting the minutes on his old watch.
Inside, under the table, Jazz whined her the-sky-is-falling refrain.
Luckily he’d planned the trajectory and had taken the telescope out on the veranda for maximum follow-through because there it was! Look at the thing! Twice as big as the first time and flaming like a star! It had to be caught in the atmosphere!
Big, bigger, biggest.
It was arcing down.
Nalbo stepped away from the scope.
But no way could he watch it bare-eyed as it sputtered down, down, bright as the sun even through his hands.

Woomph! The fire ball exploded. 
Or hit the ground.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Earth Fall: 1. The Dye Workshop

This novel-length story began as two intermingling backstories. That of the Moogerah Monster's fall to Earth. The when and where of the Monster's depredations on the valley's human population in general and on Cele and Nalbo King and their family in particular. Its make up and what makes it tick. How it was finally caught.
Second, that of Cele King who appears briefly in Mongrel and has a more comprehensive role in Meld. Cele is a retired biologist, a resident of the Moogerah Valley at the time of the slow-motion cataclysm. Cele was my first attempt at writing an older woman. 
This story is the next most finished novel, hence you get the chance to read what there is of it so far. Comments welcome!
Cele navigated while Allie drove Cele-and-Nalbo’s old station wagon. They’d left the strenuous switchback road out of the valley and drove through a flowing landscape of green paddocks on every side. 
“You might as well accept that you have got us lost,” Allie said. “It’s probably your age. I’ve noticed a bit of fog creeping up on you.”
They’d been warned the plateau was a warren of little farm roads with none of them sign-posted.
Allie stopped the car, barely pulling to the side of the graveled road. She pulled the map from Cele’s unresisting hands.
 “Be my guest,” Cele said.
“I’ve hurt your feelings, and you’re the pragmatist.”
Cele bit the inside of her lip to stop herself saying something equally hurtful. She got out of the car and looked along the horizon for evidence of farm buildings. There. She grinned.
She got back into her seat.
Allie had the map upside down and traced the way from the switchback laboriously with her finger.
“It’s the next on the left,” Cele said.
“I really don’t think so.”
“There’s a sheep with a rainbow across its flank in the next paddock.”
Allie thrust the map at her, turned the ignition and accelerated. Gravel spat up and hit the underside of the car.
Cele re-folded the map.
A child stepped from the roadside bus-shelter. He waved a little rainbow flag to request them to stop. “Are you here for the dye workshop? Oh yes. I see your little flag. I painted that one.” He smiled at his work before become professional again. “Drive down there until you see a gate on the right. Another flag. That’s the camping paddock. We’ve set the tents up. I think you have Number Three. You’re Miz King and Miz Timpson?”
Allie nodded.
“Thank you, Darian,” Cele said. “Lovely welcome.”
“You know him?” Allie said as she negotiated the potholes in the track.
“A little.”
“Hope it stays that way.”
“What? Why?”
“I mean, don’t use up all your grand-mothering on kids who don’t need it.” She steered them into the paddock and stopped in front of a tent with a ‘3’ on the closed canvas door.
She cut the ignition and walked round to the back of the car to get her bags.
Cele snapped shut her amazed mouth. She’d have to do some digging. There was something going on.
After freshening up – a bucket with rainbow hued hand-towel behind the tent – they walked across the paddock toward a marquee beside the house. 
Cele made heavy going of the hidden hollows in the paddock grass, even clutched at Allie’s arm at one stage.
Allie shook her off. “Don’t! You’re just acting old now. Probably because I’ve been at you. But I’m totally disappointed. I researched you and Nalbo before we came. You were the perfect solution. You certainly haven’t turned out who I thought you’d be.”
Cele stopped, almost open-mouthed again. Should she spit or should she swallow down Allie’s … accusations?
The sun had set and the sky flamed orange in the west. The paddock was grazed only lightly. The cow-footprints left after the last rain, were disguised in the dark green grass. Even Allie stumbled two or three times as she stumped ahead.  
Allie was disappointed in Cele? Nalbo was the perfect solution? Cele shouldn’t spend all her grandmothering on kids who didn’t need it?
Someone came up behind her. She turned. “Maeve?” She smiled, nodded at Maeve’s hot-bag. “I should think you know all about carrying your dinner about with you.”
“Being the Hillet midwife? You bet. Was that Allie I saw marching forward with a bee in her bonnet?”
Cele laughed. “One minute she tells me to stop acting old, the next that I shouldn’t spend all my grandmothering on kids who don’t need it.”
“She told me she and Tim came here purposely. They’re expecting twins.”
Cele stopped Maeve with an arm on her sleeve, noticing unconsciously the weave of her coat and the fullness of her breast. Though she was thirty years younger than Cele, Maeve wore spectacles and had silver grey hair.
“You’re thinking I look more a grandmother than you ever will?” Maeve said. “Great minds and all that. I told Allie she’d made a mistake. Probably why she turned snippy. My apologies. I was trying to save you from being dumped on.”
“I’m not sure I want to continue with this thing,” Cele said about the wool dye workshop they were all attending.
“Nonsense,” Maeve said, drawing Cele with her. “The shallow conviviality of the evening will give you a chance to marshal your defenses.”
A child of the house, a long-legged girl this time, met them at the corner of the garden. “Mother invites you to drinks on the terrace,” she said. “The trestle table there is ready for your dinner contributions.”
The meal was convivial. Cele watched Allie chatting with a couple of women of her own age. Life of the party. Early thirties? Now that she knew, she saw Allie’s slightly swelling abdomen. Presumably she showed early because she was having twins.
She frowned. How much had Allie and Tim researched them? A fury began to grow under her breastbone. Did they know about Marina? Was that why …?
“Look at the sky,” Maeve said. “Almost purple. Strange shade. I wouldn’t mind dyeing a hank of that, for a shawl for Nancy.”
Maeve’s stay-at-home partner. Cele wrenched her attention from Allie and seized on the subject Maeve gave her. Maeve and Nancy were friends from the first days that Nalbo and Cele arrived in the district. Nancy ran the Hillet Emporium.
The strange colour bled further into the sky.
A bright pinprick, like an early star, bulged larger and larger.
Not a star.
“Surely not a plane?” Planes were a youthful memory. The mysterious spacecraft’s arrival in an orbit around Earth fifty years before had put an end to all air transport.
The object, getting larger with every second, swung over them west to east. Cele blindly put her plate on a nearby trestle.
She had parted from Nalbo in a foul temper. He told her only this morning that he’d sent for a mechanical telescope.
“Bought it, you mean?” she’d said cuttingly.
“Of course, Cele. Go and enjoy yourself.” He’d been setting it up for the well-publicized fly-by of a comet. Or something.
She hadn’t listened very well, being extremely angry about the money and that he reminded her that she was going to the workshop. He never went to workshops. So surely they could afford him  …etc etc. 
The object had looped the Earth and re-appeared in the western sky.
She had been expecting it as apparently had a number of other participants.
“There it is!”
“Look at the size of it!”
They could barely look at the football-sized object, it was so bright.
All their upturned faces were tinted gold, Cele saw. “Don’t look at it. It’s hotter than the sun. It’ll blind you!” she shouted.
This time as it sank behind the eastern flank of the Earth, the object’s light reflected in the ocean that lay that way. Flash.
All of them listened now. Surely it would crash to Earth on the other side somewhere? If they could at least hear the explosion, they’d have shared in it.
People gulped what they had in their glasses. Elderberry champagne was passed around for a top-up. Ready to toast the comet’s fall.
Waiting. Waiting.
 The object exploded out of the west.
A glowing garbage bin hurtled past overhead.
Low enough to see flames!
Over the valley, their valley, it exploded into a shower of fragments.
Windows, the glasses in their hands, ceramics on the table exploded.
Deaf and numbed, not hearing the usual pingling and shattering, everyone swung to follow the objects’ downward trajectory.
Cele expected the cinders to arc to the ground and if they fell in the swamp – it looked to be happening above the swamp – to douse on the moist ground. Phew. Starting no fires as a result.
She rubbed her eyes.
The cinders fell much too slowly!
Several seemed to sway. To and fro.
She blinked several times to moisten her eyeballs.
No, still the swaying.
It must be that the violence of the light had done something to her old sight. She looked around. Everyone gabbled madly telling each other what they saw. No one heard. Everyone was as deaf as she. All of them wondered about their homes in the valley. It might not have been the swamp. Appearances in the dark are deceiving.
Several of the women prepared to leave there and then.
Were talked out of it by friends and their hostess. The switchback road, people described with exaggerated sweeps of their arms. Down the side of the valley. The landslide and the detour over a fire-trail that some people had had to negotiate.
Nighttime driving, especially with broken windscreens, was out of the question.  
Everyone helped tidy up the feast. Their hostess got out bread to toast. No one wanted their beds yet. The excitement knit them in a cohesive crowd.
In the morning, only mechanical cars could be made to work despite their broken windows and windscreens and lamps and headlights.
Cele thanked Nalbo’s insistence that they pay good money for theirs to a broken down old garage tucked away behind an abandoned shopping mall, before they left the city. And his insistence that she and Allie use it. He wasn’t going anywhere, he’d said.
Maeve in her grocer’s van led the cavalcade down the hill. Five kilometers per hour, if that, due to the broken windscreens. Lots of time for looking.
Cele drove. Navigating wasn’t a problem now that they knew the way. They could both hear a little.
Allie told Cele everything that worried her. Being pregnant, three months already. Twins. Tim was a worry. Not the father type. Nor did Allie feel completely ready for mothering.
Cele studied the bush as she drove. No fires here or along the road straight through the valley.
Allie laughed, hardly embarrassed. “It’s sort of the reason we chose to live next door to you and Nalbo. They’re girls. When we heard about your little girl, we thought, perfect. Like it was meant to be. Don’t you think?”
They passed the turn-off to the spiraling road up to Hillet. Cele remembered Marina. Four years old. Skin softer than velvet. Hair a cloud. Her eyes …
“So they’ll have grandparents at least, Cele, if you don’t mind. It’s why I worry so when we quarrel.”
Cele stopped the car at the bottom of Tim’s and Allie’s drive. “Your stop, I think.” She waited woodenly.
“Cele, please.”
Cele stared out front, refusing to cross gazes with Allie. “I’ll drop your stuff off later.”