Sunday, October 28, 2018

Earth Fall: 4a. Timpson's Retreat



Cele returns from the wool dye workshop and Nalbo is brought home by Timpson.


Cele parked the station-wagon in the car-port forming the lower stroke of the L shape of the house.
Neither the dogs nor Nalbo came to welcome her or to put her mind at rest that they were all right. All the windows under the eaves on this, the southern side of the house, were black holes. Only shards remained in the frames. She ran round the house, crunching broken glass into the ground with every hurrying step. Probably the blast had made them deaf, and they didn’t hear her drive up.
Coming round the corner to the long rear of the house, she almost fell back at the sight of all the sliding glass doors shattered. Beyond repair, she thought dully, especially if the whole district suffered the same. They’d be waiting for years for replacement glass. “Nalbo?” she called. Her voice quavered.
The old dog started barking. Telling Cele that she was in the garden shed.
No windows in there, she thought. So no glass. Nalbo shut the dogs in there … After the event, Cele! So where is he?
He might’ve thought to keep the dogs safe but the shed door wasn’t locked. And the young silly dog wasn’t there. Someone else had unlatched the door, and the young dog had followed him. She suspected Timpson. He’d taken such a shine to the pup he couldn’t take a step into the swamp without it.
Jazz followed her to the house and to the edge of the broken glass.
“Where’s Nalbo?” Cele said.
Jazz sniffed the ground. Turned her head and with her nose pointed into the swamp. Whimpered.
 “Stay Jazz,” Cele said. She tiptoed into the house through the sparkling grit. The hall cupboard was open. Nalbo’s bush-walking gear was gone. Should she think that he’d gone to find a meteorite? She shook her head. “Men.”
Might as well get started. She fetched the outdoor-broom with the stiff brush so that the fibres wouldn’t pick up the shards. Re-purposing everything twice or three times was second nature, but she was stumped for a use for all the broken glass. In the end she dumped piles of it against the western side of the house. There to wait for further consideration.
Now there were just the splinters to sweep up. No vacuuming obviously until Nal rewired the solar panels. And forget that anytime soon, with the coming dearth of glass. They should probably help in Hillet, do the Emporium’s refrigerators first. No, first a cup of coffee.
She’d have to start a real honest to goodness fire.
Worth the effort?
Yes, she decided. Plenty more reasons they’d need a fire. Lucky that she hadn’t been able to convince Nalbo to get rid of the wood-burning stove.
She and Jazz went down to the timber plantation to the southeast of the house, stacking twigs for kindling in a pair of little panniers on Jazz’s back and stuffing the backpack with wood.
As they stepped from the forest, Jazz clung to the back of her legs again. As if there was danger was out here. Cele took a quick squizzy around. Nothing to get excited about.  
Ha. She discovered it. Splinters of glass in the grass. She patted Jazz. Give the poor dog some credit.
And ha ha. She could still start a fire with a single match, especially when she had a paper starter, in this case a page torn from her wool dye journal.
She set the kettle on the hotplate. Coffee was their one addictive luxury. She filled the eight cup jug. A day’s supply. She pulled a wry face. No fridge. No ice. No ice coffee.
With a cup of hot at her elbow and the dye journal turned upside down and back to front, she started to record the weekend’s events. Call her vindictive, but she wanted to be able to remember exactly what Allie said.
Because she wanted to be fair. She wanted Nalbo to be able to read Tim’s and Allie’s plans without Cele expressing all her biases. She sighed. Where was he? Should she start lunch?
Jazz whimpered under her chair. Then was up, barking, at the kitchen door.
She met Timpson pulling Nalbo up the northern slope. Saw the details in a flash. A rough sled. The pup pranced around them, as if he did all the work. Up the garden path, she thought irrelevantly.
Timpson didn’t greet but pulled past her without stopping.
Nalbo caught one-handed at her legs. “Cele. Cele.”
He was red-brown all over. He wore a slightly loosened tourniquet on his left arm. His left hand was bundled in a red-brown rag. Fresh blood seeped from a fold in the wraps. He shuddered. Groaned. Shivered feverishly. But he was conscious and he could still speak.

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
thinhouse_1537756c.jpg.

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.
“Ne-e-e.”
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.