Friday, December 16, 2016

Mongrel: Zebe, Hearing Neil's News

A scene from Zebe's point of view in which she hears what happened to her twin, Xanthe and she meets Tardi and Shad. 

Zebe dithered in the corridor. 

Her wrist deck pulsed. Call waiting. Not just one pulse, but five or six. Impatient caller. Had she enough reception in the corridor for talk? “Hey Neil, what’s up?” 

Her brother-in-law-to-be sobbed. 

Oh shit. 

“I’m a broken man, Zebe. Broken. She’s gone. My Valkyrie.”

“What are you saying?” Zebe shouted over his grief. “Are you talking about Xanthe?” She had to make sure. “Where did she go?”
“Nowhere. Didn’t run away.”

Awful feeling that she knew. Was told. Cele.

One of the fire-doors opened further. The Stormy. Already crying, she turned her back. “Where did she go, Neil?” 

“The cleaning crew told me because they knew about us.”

Zebe shouted to shut him up. “Tell me about Xanthe!”  

 “The fucking ladies took her, didn’t they? The aliens. The monster. And the EMBers have embargoed the event.” 

“What happened?” she repeated. “What happened?” 

“I’ve got to get her back, Zebe.” Neil cried, not listening like she was not listening to him. “What will I do without her? I got the licence to marry in the mail, and straight after I got the news.”

She sobbed. Screamed. Punched the stone wall. 

“I’m not complete without her,” Neil said.

“What about me? Xanthe and me being two halves?” Thud. Thud.

“You’ve had her all your life so far,” Neil said.

What was it about him? He owned Xanthe suddenly? “Just fucking tell me how it happened.”

“They made a sail of themselves and billowed ahead of the cleaning crew. Xanthe poked her little machine out in front of the rest of the crew. The whole thing collapsed onto her. The crew turned about and ran for it. Bunch of cowards.” 

“Then what?”

“Nothing. Nobody knows. Told you the EMBers. But no Xanthe running after them, or stuck behind the barred door. They’d bring her out quick-smart if she landed there. Wouldn’t they?”

“You know the EMBers better than I do. Why is what I want to know!” Please let it not be what Cele talked about.

“What do I care about their reasons? They’re the aliens.” 

Neil yammered. The only word for his histrionics. Zebe pulled her deck from her arm not to have to hear him, and let it fall.

A fine-boned Stormy hand caught it. “Might want that still,” he said. “Shad is my call name.”

The Tree-hair came next. He wrapped his bare arms around her and guided her head onto his bare shoulder to cry. Just a towel around his waist, she realised, but she cried up a storm for all the fact that she pressed against a suspiciously handsome near-naked stranger. 
Make that a stranger halfway to handsome …. “Why are you being so familiar? We aren’t even acquainted,” she said, trying to step back.

“Trying to make amends,” he said. “I thought I knew you. I emailed you and you probably thought gobble-de-gook.” 

He looked at her hair. “You are not the blonde who came to Byron Bay, and when I had the chance to see your pic found by my brother Steve searching for you, I thought I already knew you. I thought many bad things about you for infecting my friend Poul with the monster’s dust. So, making amends.”

“My stupid stupid sister,” Zebe said, sagging back against him this time hugging him properly, with her arms around him. “She makes me so angry being a daredevil. What’s this stuff on your back?”

“Tree bark.”

She explored his back with both hands. “Sorry,” she said as if only just now aware of his state-of-being. She stepped around him to inspect his back. “Looks to me as if the mud has decreased the height of the bark.”

Tardi’s face flamed. 

Shad laughed. “That’s what I meant, Cuz. The sea is creeping in, in case you people aren’t noticing. I’ll be upside. Elevator too mightn’t like water.” 

Tardi looked down at his feet. Ankle deep. Slop slop. “Yeah, sure. We’ll be there shortly.” 

Shad shouted down. “Make that right now. I hear Mr Boatman.” 
“Okay. Right now,” Tardi said. “Zebe, please help me. I can’t travel in only a towel.”

“Where are the clothes you came in?”

He nodded toward the shower stall. “We thought too much of the mud."

Monday, December 12, 2016

Mongrel: Connecting One Disaster with the Next

Close Up of the Living Mud

A hand grasped Tardi's shirt collar. Jerked him up. 

He bit down on a scream. The monster jounced in him as turgidly as a water-filled balloon. 

“Fuck it Tar, don’t make me have to kill myself as well,” Shad said, hauling Tardi up. 

The football slowly deflated. 

You saved me, my best-beloved shadow.

“I know I know,” Shad said. “It’s what I signed up for. To die when you die. But shit! I didn’t expect to have to when we’ve only barely left home.” 

Tardi licked his teeth. “Spit or swallow?” he said. 

Shad shrugged. Wiped mud from Tardi’s face. “You lost the chair, I expect,” Shad said. “You should come out, anyway. Have a shower. The old lady is packing her gear. She aims to paddle a kayak? There’s no accounting for what a sapient will do. Meaning the sea-doors?”

Ah. Shad stressed about the sea coming in. Tardi spat. 

After helping Tardi clamber from the tank, Shad led him into the shower cubicle. “You want me to take a knife to your clothes? Get them off you that way?”

“I’ve got no spares,” Tardi said. 

“Soaked to the seams with the grey stuff,” Shad said. 

Tardi fell in with Shad’s mood. “So rassle up some spares somewhere about this place?”

“When? Wear the towel in the meantime.” Shad dipped a leather sack into the mud and let it half-fill. Raised it above the surface thoughtfully, apparently to weigh it. 

“I can help carry,” Tardi said. “Anything.”

“Right. Yes. I managed to get the old lady tipsy enough to get the recipe out of her. Because I forced Trinnet leave his dandelion wine behind. It were a powerful brew. Eyech. ‘Start with a goodly amount of the grey stuff’, she says. Is this a goodly amount would you say, Tar?” 

“Yes.” He rested his head against the wall in front while the water sousing him went to luke-warm. Too many facts coming at him. The fucking monster with another trick. And Callum, that youth. Such courage. Yet making the fucker the heavier a load to carry. Not that anybody knew that’d happen. 

“Callum is good, Tar,” Shad said. “A hero.”

“Yes,” Tardi said. 

Shad shoved the curtain aside. Closed the taps. Handed Tardi the towel. “He drank all that mineralised water and that water is going to permeate him.” 

Shad jumped back to where the grey mud was starting to try to amalgamate with the rest by escaping from the open mouth of the leather bag and creeping up the outside of the tank’s wall. He whipped a plastic glove from his pants pocket and eased the grey stuff back into the bag.

“Is that all necessary?” Tardi said.

“The old lady says she encourages Zebe always to use gloves, so as the Huddle will never learn Zebe. Nor do I ever want them to learn me, you know? Like as not, they’ll plot to eat me.” He tied off the bag by looping the string around the pursed gatherings, finishing with a lark’s head knot and a half hitch. 

He sat back, finally looking Tardi in the eye. “There can’t be no dying for you or me until the thing is tamed, Cuz. The young one will be a sight to behold, mineralised and beautiful by the time someone finds him. Won’t be his grandmother.”

How do you know, Tardi wanted to say.

In the corridor someone screamed. “What are you saying!” 


Shad frowned, made like he listened. Shook his head minimally all the while. Denying whatever it was, that obviously couldn’t be denied. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Mongrel: Callum's Passing

The monster enables/forces Tardi to experience Callum's last actions ...

Tardi sat in the mud. Wither-wondering. Hope Shad can think of a way to take some mud with us. Wonder if the monster is entertaining Callum and or Trinnet with my doings? 
Errant thoughts. 

The black-haired brow overhung his own, or in other words, he looked through Callum’s eyes. He heard Trinnet excusing himself by way of Callum’s ears.

“Don’t need to look at me so blackly, young one. I did it for the best. A load shared is a load halved, is what we Stormies say. Ace halved Tardi’s load. An elder halving a youth’s load, there’s a topsy turvy in there somewhere, if you get my meaning?” Trinnet stopped, maybe expecting an answer. 

Callum said nothing but continued to stare. 

Trinnet continued. “Topsy-turves are my favourite corrections. The Great Bastard is a heavy load to bear and youths are famously the stronger. You’re a youth and I’m the one that were put upon with the load. Bastard rarely sleeps and I aim to kip the dark of the night away. Hence.”

Tardi-in-the-monster-in-Callum watched Trinnet get ready for the night. Keeping hold of the pillow-end of his blanket roll he flung the rest free. Laid it next to his side of the fire. 

Trinnet lay down on a narrow half of his blanket, facing the fire, and pulled the other half of his blanket over himself. “Keep the fire fresh, there’s a good lad. All that fuel you gathered.”

Silence but for the crackling of the fire. 

Was Trinnet really so dumb that suddenly he couldn’t feel any danger in his situation? Stupid question, Tar-boy. If Trinnet felt the danger he wouldn’t be so stupid. Was it that the monster decided Trinnet was supernumerary? More to Callum than meets the eye, then. 

Stupid again. Stupid cliche. Callum reminded you of one of the Huddle, or at least the life-sized poster in the foyer at SoHAB. Trinnet suddenly was nothing because the monster recognised Callum. 
Tardi swore, short and severe. 

All those goodbyes. The young person had already decided. Don’t stand in his way. Steve all over again. He cried, couldn’t help his tears joining the mud. The little hands stroked and stroked. 

Callum hummed a lullaby, at first only in his mind. 

Tardi hummed with him. Trinnet in a light sleep might feel the fire dying, he thought at Callum. Would his hint cross the virtual monster-membrane between them? Or, in other words, would the monster allow the message to cross? 
Callum fed the fire. He aimed to have it snapping and crackling with small flames licking the firewood without interruption. 

A kind of confirmation. Tardi sweated in the mud bath and the little hands stroked him calm. This was where Callum learned his cool? 

Tardi’s eyesight dizzied with patches of fire-lit forest, now here, now there,  against the glistening underlay of the neck-deep mud he sat in. Callum was on the move. 

Now Tardi saw bare ground. Now the blanket roll in Callum’s hands. Now a close up of Trinnet on his back, snoring. 

Callum straddled his blanket roll over Trinnet’s face. Pressed down on the ends.

Trinnet woke kicking and flailing. His screams were high pitched groans. 

Too much for the boy. He slid his hand to Trinnet’s throat, dug in a thumb. 

Trinnet slumped. The foul rotting vegetable stink of his loosened bowels made him a rotting corpse instantly.

The monster in Tardi exulted. 

Callum whimpered. “I don’t want to be so ugly. So stinking. What if Gran comes to find me?”

Tardi crooned the lullaby. The little hands helped soothe him, soothe the monster, soothe the boy. He’s a nine the younger than Shad. A nine the younger than me. The same age as Steve was. 

“I won’t go back,” Callum said at the world. “All the goodbyes I said. I don’t want to unsay them.” His voice trembled. “Got to find a better way, that’s all.”

Tardi thought clear water at the monster.  A spring. Would the monster fall for a new thing? Clear, strong, blue-green spring water. In the mountains. He wondered now whether everything that happened to him back home was due to the monster’s insatiable curiosity? 

He would’ve added, somewhere to lie in peace for the rest of time. But he couldn’t be sure that the thought would reach Callum, or that it wouldn’t galvanise the monster, and so galvanise Callum.  
How far would it be? How many hours? Should he leave the tank, go to bed? Or stay? Quite comfy if he rested against the tank’s wall. Sleep. 

Callum tasted the water. Strong and oily, it seemed to slide down his throat all of a piece, like a long sausage. He drank more, he needed to fill his stomach. The sandy spring bottom looked as blue as a coral shore. Neither vegetation nor fish marred the clarity of the water. Beautiful.

Just as well Zebe could never teach him to swim. 

He thought again of Gran finding him so didn’t take off his clothes. Just the clumsy boots. He set them side by side. 

Slid into the water down a rock. 

Tardi slid from the bathing stool onto his knees. His nose just above the surface. 

Oh! Callum startled. Water was deeper than he’d thought. Can’t breathe! He struggled to keep his head above the water. He was too short. Feet down. He stood on tip-toes. Still too short. 

Tardi sat back. His green hair floating on the surface of the mud breathed for him. Help me to help him … he stopped thinking as Callum’s lungs filled and they wheezed in distress. His own lungs squeaked in sympathy.

Callum’s heart out-paced Tardi’s. Faster faster. 

It’s fear. He’ll burst. Stop him hurting!  

The monster sank down in Tardi. Twice as heavy. Three times as heavy, with Trinnet’s portion as well. His insides stretched where its boundaries tried to slide past. No go. 

Callum spread his arms and legs, dumpled over like a doughnut. Turned face-up.  Surprise in his eyes as bubbles rose from his mouth and nose.

Tardi swallowed those same bubbles, in reverse, with difficulty. His gullet felt stretched out of proportion as the monster tried for freedom within its confines. My body. A football-sized tumour trying for freedom. How would he walk? 

A hand grasped his shirt collar. Jerked him up. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Mongrel: Tardi living Callum

Bit of chopping and changing among stories happening due to time constraints. 

Tardi walked around while Shad cut up vegetables. The monster was doing a time lapse thing in him, it felt like. Trinnet and Callum sat opposite sides of a camp fire the monster showed Tardi, first looking from one set of eyes then the other. 

Trinnet talked a kilometre a minute. Tardi shut his mind to Trinnet. The man burbled out everything Tardi already heard.

The monster apparently also heard it all before. It transferred its own and Tardi’s awareness to the calm in Callum. The silence in the young one’s head. 

“If only we’d known,” Tardi said. 

“Known what?” Shad said. He filled a pan with water, set that to boil. He smiled at the stove. “Who’d have thought Ionic Exchange is just another name for a battery operated cooking thingie.”
“Young one being so calm, so resolved. He’s made his mind up to do something and he’s going to carry it through. I don’t know what,” Tardi said. 

“That’s good, isn’t it?” Shad said. “That you don’t know?”

Tardi circled the whole restaurant, thinking it through. Back to Shad. “The Great Bastard seems to have learned to make himself transparent. He can have me believing he isn’t in with me, when he is. Wonder if Callum is aware of that?”

Funny how when he talked about the entity with Shad or Trinnet, he got used to thinking of the alien monster as the Great Bastard. Partly because there hadn’t been much going on. He’d exulted, thinking he’d got rid of the bastard’s input into his life. Got used, in fact, to not having it. 

Shad added soy noodles to the water. 

Tardi stayed to watch the pot with him. Better they could feed Cele on al dente, not the soggy mess they ate on the road when they tossed their findings in and made a starchy stew. 

With the steam rising, he got an eyeful of Trinnet’s hands preparing a similar meal. Seen through flames and smoke, Callum was like a watchful buddha on the other side of the fire. 
The young buddha turned his head and watched the light leaching from the day. His mouth made a series of shapes, over and over, the same words, as he scanned the surrounding countryside. 

What was he saying? 

Callum’s mouth funnelled slightly while the muscles beneath his jaw drew together and lengthened. His lips pressed together in a plosive sound, p or b. His mouth opened with rounding lips and dropping jaw. Three separate sounds. 

Tardi experimented making the same shapes with his mouth.  Goo … p … eye. Not that. Goo … b … eye. Oh no. 

Callum said good-bye. Under his breath and over and over. To everything in the landscape he knew. In between he glanced at Trinnet, always noting the same place. 

All Callum’s repeated glances went to Trinnet’s neck, Tardi discovered. He blinked on green tears. Saw the steam again, the pot he and Shad watched. 

“I can’t be here for dinner,” he said thickly. “I can’t look Cele in her face and make conversation. I’m going for a swim.”

“Salt to salt, brother?” Shad said. “Is just a saying. Truly, I will manage the women better with you out of my aura.”

But instead of finding a jump-off point outside, for swim in the ocean, Tardi ghosted through the corridors looking for Cele and Zebe. Not to talk with them, but to know where they were. 

Floor-plan of the Reefarium, he thought at the entity, though he had plenty of nous to vision up a floor-plan from his own memories. A trick he practised while he still drove and jockeyed. 

A multi-colour floor-plan strengthened from nothing on the virtual interface in his mind. The colours were the proof it wasn’t his own. Monster in him, invisible. Fuck. Two turns from where he was, were the basement guest quarters where Cele and Callum lived. Where also Cele kept the tank of mud. Could he get in, with everything locked up like fort nix? 

He tried them and the doors were unlocked. Meaning the sea-doors were to be opened imminently? Good thing he swam. But anyway his wood would float. 

Worth a grin? 

He wanted another turn in the grey mud before it was flushed away on the outgoing tide. After his bath the other day, he’d felt renewed and flexible for the first time since the tree-bug infected him.

Last time also, the monster had felt stupefied after the first ten minutes despite that Tardi had felt invigorated. 

Though he couldn’t know whether when the monster was stupefied in him, it was also stupefied in Callum and Trinnet? He could only hope. The alien support system managed the alien with that mud, and presumably with that stupefaction. 

He had to hope the mud was like a drug to the monster, and that that stupor might be the thing that would help Callum achieve his plan. Otherwise Tardi would have to find Trinnet and … Fuck Trinnet, he were a loose cannon. Kick yourself for thinking like that of Callum’s intention. 


From the direction of the sea-doors. Perhaps the women had been visiting the dolphinate. Tardi hid behind the tank. 

Cele shut the doors behind her.

“Do you need to lock?” Zebe said. 

Cele murmured but then did not lock the doors. Tardi frowned. Did Zebe know Tardi was in the tank room? Didn’t matter. They hadn’t met. 

He waited, listening for their further intentions. Finally he heard the gnarling metal over metal sound of the elevator rising to the cafeteria’s level.

He clambered over the tank wall, and finding the bathing stool with his feet, hunkered down onto it, shoulder deep in the warmed mud. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

This is Not a Werewolf Story: 3. Maliced Genes

The reins slap down onto the oxen. They lurch into motion. The traffic stops entirely to allow them their way. 

“Don’t let that surprise you, “ says the accountant. “It’s that nobody wants a contact-incident. The beasts and the wagon are the only solid transport around.”

I wish the man would tell us his call name. I’m not a fan of titling a person ad infinitum. 
At the end of the street the wagon rolls onto a track slithering up a slope. A stunted forest takes us onto a remnant of the plateau. 

“About my business,” says Esse. “Will you tell me your secret name?”

Will he or won’t he when he’s doubtful already about his call name?

The accountant whispers near the Esse’s ear. 

He doesn’t allow any part of himself to touch her. He is well informed. 

The young chief frowns. “So it is to be a secret business,” she says. “I expected action. Fireworks. Fighting.” 

The accountant rolls his eyes. 

The girl, for that is what she still is, faces forward abruptly. Her face and neck flame red. She pulls at the harness bridling the oxen.   
She feels shame? She should. How things have changed since last I was a man, that such youngsters are chosen to rule. Or is that one of the mysteries about this action that I should study? Her particularly, or all three? 

My Esse ignores my wavelength. She nods the conversation along. “So Monk said. He organised the details with you?”

The accountant nods. “With Tim at the same time.” He nods into the back. 

“Tim,” the techie says, reaching out his hand for shaking. 

I do the honours. Touch is one of my roles. An ordinary mortal will flare and burn should the Esse touch him. 

 “I have a laptop and a mobile phone with me,” Esse says. “They contain an accounting of my years so far, numbers and words both. I need them both under the protection of a dependable House?” 
She waits. 

I have time to notice the labour of the oxen, the backward slant of the load in the wagon, the trainees walking now to lighten the strain on the animals. 

“The lady asks about the why-and-wherefore of Bec,” Blaze says. “If I’m not mistaken.” He bows. Toward the Esse. Toward me. “Hail to you, Esse and to you, oh Warrigal.” 

He names me Warrigal with an honorific? “Loup is my call name,” I say. 

Perhaps this is the hangup with the accountant? I did not tell him my call name therefore he won’t tell us his? I can’t believe it’s a power play. He seems an educated man. 

While I cogitate, the accountant sags as if overcome with emotion. “Blaze. Please relieve Bec,” he says. 

Rope is Bec. There is a mystery about her. 

Bec walks to her father’s side, speaks across him. “My mother is the real chief,” she says. “She lies broken. Her a woman of honour with two husbands. The other and two of my brothers are dead. All four killed by the fucking Naif miners.”

She punches the side of the wagon. 

I take back what I thought about Bec, my Esse. My inner face is red. 

We share our thoughts, both of us having been implanted with one of Shaman Jeb’s chips, in our case liaised only to each other. One of the blessed Silver Ship’s innovations.

Bec resumes her accounting. “This husband-my-father fights with words. He brought you and your red-eyed wonder to burn the fuckers, I hope. The daughter tries to fill her mother’s shoes. They try to pretend it’s business as usual.”

Tears want to slide down her face and I want that for her. I spit over the side despite that Monk warned me that this epoch frowns upon such spitting. 

“Or are you just some Ancient itinerants,” the girl says choosing to hide her grief in a tantrum. “The same as we must feed and send on their way without expecting their help in any kind of detrimental event?”

The Esse glimmer-grins, showing her power sparking and blue behind her teeth. 

More than a tenth of a second and the two electronic devices she still holds will be fried. But even Blaze at the head of the oxen sees. He straightens. The accountant breathes the warrior way. In out. In out.

The Esse continues. “As I said, I need them both in the protection of a dependable house. You are Monk’s recommendation.”

“Why Tim, though?” the accountant says. “You’ll return from the action, we hand over your machines untouched.”

“Next time I sleep the long sleep,” she says. “It must be to merge with the red mountain. I want our stories told but wrote them encoded, to not fall into Naif hands. Hence your Tim.” 

I hear the tremble in her voice. Way oh way, my Esse. I swear I’ll not send you walking into the mountain alone. 

Maybe I gave her hope for she continues. 

“Our maliced genes are not the only influence on our actions. The ways that the Silver Ship rehabilitated us for our people’s benefit and for the benefit of this, our ancient home planet, should be known too.” 

She finishes with a sob. Hides her face in her scarves. She’s afraid. She is younger already than I expected, and must eat her Numen. 

Her fear sets our hosts blushing or freezing. The youngsters don’t know where to look. They grin embarrassedly at each other. Their elder becomes a pale statue. 

What did they think? That we live magically and forever? 

The accountant wakes from his stupor. “I swear you my secrecy.”

“I swear you my skills and talents,” Tim says. 

These two save themselves, in my opinion. 

My Esse wipes her tears. She hands over her laptop and her mobile. “Both are dormant.” She grins at Tim. “Your first test will be the password.” Then she warns him. “Not before you hear that we …” she hesitates, needing my confirmation. 

I squeeze her hand. 

“… That we have joined with the red mountain.”

The accountant slips the machines into a box under the bench. “Lead-lined,” he says. “According to instructions?”

He still doubts? Way oh way, my Esse mought not be doubted. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

This is Not a Werewolf Story: The Wherefores

Still the Ordinary Moon
Even a seat-of-the-pants writer such as I am, needs every so often to fix a few landmarks in her story-world. This tale (of ten or so instalments) is my attempt to explain the origin of the jinkers, a strange wizard-kind, at the heart of both The Half Shaman and the Monster-Moored Series. 

The Esse and I don’t hug. I may not even hold her hand lest I set her magic free before it can be known. Way oh way, my Esse. My heart mought burst into my belly I am so warm that you picked me. 
Ancients walk fore and aft of us, but untidily, to portray a friend-group out welcoming their oldest lady, though, in fact, under her scarves she looks quite young, I’m disturbed to see. She chatters, as I predicted. She’ll make a friend of anyone.
Local grandpa waves till-we-meet-again. 
I wave tell-you-then.
Rope might’ve said a negative thing had she known our acquaintance, Rope’s expression says. 
“Be easy, young woman,” says the Esse. 
“Why would Monk ask us to bring our accountant?” Rope says, attempting to counter the Esse’s attitude with some of her own. 
Good luck with that, youngster. 
“Glad you asked,” Esse says. “May we settle somewhere, carry out a few odds of business?”
We pass the long horizontal cafe-window. People at the bench look out on us with interest. 
“Not the cafe,” Esse tells the chief.
I see with her the table with nine chairs surrounding it, coffees steaming or variously consumed, with ninety-nine or some such Naifs encircling. They resemble naked-neck vultures waiting for a kill. Some, when they look to see us walking past, start to get up. Some get their mobiles out. At least one already presses a particular digit three times.  
They remind me to con the scene like a hunter. Who do these vultures await? Whom are they trusting to deliver their prey? 
“Not the park opposite the police station,” I say, foreseeing the possibility of a nasty flickering-in-and-out-of-character scene should I need to use energy to maintain my cool. 
Neither Esse nor I are in our steady-state. My heart and my head buzz as if fat golden bees zip in and out. My wolf-hair reluctantly allows itself to be transformed, hair by hair. 
The lack of a shaman in the other-lands means we must perform the appropriate rites ourselves, on each other and soon, if the transformation is to ‘take’.
“The wagon?” the accountant says. 
“That’ll work,” Esse says. 
We stop by a wagon-and-pair parked parallel to the pavement, taking the place of two electronic vehicles. 
“Monk said no electronics,” the accountant says. “Lucky we use oxen for carrying up and down the stone road. We borrowed the wagon from the museum in return to bring them a load of sandstone for repairs.” 
The wagon sits nearly as low as a foundering sea-ship. The sandstone on board already. 
Esse slides onto the seat beside the accountant and motions for me to join her. 
The wagon dips some on my side. Despite my looks, I am no lightweight. It’s the accretion of stone in my old old bones. 
My Esse smiles out of the corner of her mouth near me. She’s having trouble not sliding into me. She is a lightweight. I’ll need to feed her up. Wonder if this country has rabbits? 
We somehow have forced the young chief to walk at the heads of the animals. I don’t see anything other than pride going before a fall. The warrior and the techie cross-leg on the load. Win a friend and gain an enemy might-and-ought also sum the situation so far. 
“Where to?” says the accountant, holding the reins up off the backs of the oxen. 
“I have in my mind a ridgeway,” I say. “A track running along the top of the ranges. Do you know it?” 
I also have in mind a cave of golden sandstone warmed by the westering sun. Private. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

This is Not a Werewolf Story: Loup

The Ordinary Moon
Part 1: Loup

I am a ramshackle man, old and grey and barely holding it together, is what I read on the Naif faces surrounding us. 
I’m sitting at a table in the fucking middle of the only cafe in a town where Naifs outnumber everyone else three to one. Three Naifs to one Local or one African or one Ancient. Even when the Ancients are us.
My minders don’t notice the staring. They’re agog in their own way for being lumped with me, a figure from their ancient mythologies. 
I do resemble a wolf somewhat. 
Or I did when I looked into a window at the jail, at my reflection. I’m long, lean and rangy. I lope no matter how I adjust my pace. My eyes, beetling under my grey man-brow, are wide-spaced and often red-sparking. I dress to cover the fringing on my heels and elbows. 
Be on the fucking bus, Esse. I do not want to be a wolf in a shooters’ paradise and my living days gone before the work.
“Fucking Monk,” says Rope. “What does he think we can do with you?”
I call her Rope due to the way she wears her hair. She is our Chief, apparently.
“I’m not here for you to do anything with,” I say. “You’re keeping me company till the bus gets here. Monk said to pretend you are my daughter. You always bring warriors to meet your old father?”
We speak in the ancient, it-is-to-be-hoped generally unknown tongue.
“My-old-father is the laugh,” Rope says. “Bring your accountant, says Monk. This is him, my not so old father.”
“Not a warrior,” says the man firmly. 
I see now how he lightly carries his years. 
“Our trainees,” the accountant says. “A warrior. A tech. All of us as suggested by himself. Monk’s wish, our command.”
The young people are so riveted I’m not sure they’ll do. 
A waiter comes. A Naif. “Five coffees,” she says. “Drink up and out of here. The old fucker is scaring people.” She speaks the english of this region.
Rope hisses. “Must I put start a cafe myself and take your customers?”
The waiter looks confused. I almost laugh, Rope is a lateral thinker. 
The techie takes out his mobile and messages people. The warrior fetches willow-back chairs from where they can be got. 
I missed the signal for their actions, nor which of the leaders grimaced it. 
“Four more coffees,” Rope says, smugly laughing so no Naif will see it. 
Oh way oh way, my Esse. Nor can I live out my days without you in them in these new times. Or would I want to. 
“Bus ETA in seven minutes,” the techie says. 
I rise, shaking off a wait-a-while hand. I’m out of there. “I need her to see me. Why would she alight in this dim place otherwise?”
The warrior joins me in my standing-and-waiting. A youngster, he stares out front as if he is on parade. 
My heels still hurt with me upright. 
“Hey Blaze,” says a young tenor. “You waiting to travel on the bus?” 
A Local, if I’m not mistaken. He has set himself beside the young warrior. 
The warrior tips his head to me. “Waiting along of this guest we have. Keeping him company. Stranger in a strange land.”
“You out of school totally then?”
Blaze nods.
“Times a-coming, our grandpa asks? He’s across the road, not wanting to formalise.”
The warrior looks to me. 
For my input? The kid is out of school totally to help deal with the times a-coming? Local Grandpa is across the road not wanting to alert the Naif if the action is still a secret? 

I smile a glimmer. “Seems to me the Locals has the ball.” A good feeling warms my belly. “I’m waiting for a garrulous old woman. She’ll tell us.” 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Mongrel: Zebe Arrives

The boat bringing Zebe from the mainland

A Zebe point-of-view section. Cele drops three hints. Is Zebe on the ball enough to understand what she is being told? 

Mr Boatman-and-boat, as named by Callum, dropped Zebe off at the Reefarium jetty on the Monday. Cele tied off the ropes thrown toward the bollards, looking livelier about it than many youthful crew. 
Look at her. Rosy cheeks framed by fly-away grey-silver hair. Brown eyes. Hardly a wrinkle despite living outdoors more than in. Cele’s maths, her years at the Reefarium, and how old she was on arrival never made any sense to Zebe. 

They waved off Mr Boatman and picked up Zebe’s innocent bags. The dust in a sachet in her bra, a sweaty square against her breast. 

They walked measuredly, their backs to the PoleWatchers. Everywhere there was a pole carrying communication transmitters, and there were at least two in sight of the Reefarium, there would be a spy camera attended by sneaky technicians, in the pay of the EMBers more often than not. 

The jetty was long enough to meet, greet and get any serious news out before it must be shared with whoever was in residence. Or not, Zebe thought, recalling their abandoned state. 

“You look happy like you have solved a problem,” Cele said. 

Zebe’s stomach fluttered. Cele was onto her? She caved in. “What do you know so far?” 

“What do I think I know so far?” Cele said. “The silver mud I brought from the valley has somehow escaped this facility and, hallelujah, is being spread through the landscape by natural forces.”

Zebe was stunned. “You mean to contaminate the whole world?” she said.

The wind soughing among the jetty’s pilings was like a sign for the end of the world.

“You bet. However you want to describe it. The mud is in no way inimical, unlike the dust. The revival of that krill was like an omen. I started releasing mud in a big way. Come see my witches cauldron?” 

Zebe let Cele guide her into the visitor overnighting quarters, Cele skipping behind and in front unlocking and locking up again. 

“Security still as tight as ever,” Zebe said. 

“Forgot to tell you we have a bunch of visitors. Three that can’t, or won’t, live below the water-line. I put them in the upstairs ocean-side apartments.”

“From where they can see the dolphinate?” Zebe said in the same tones as she might ask whether she should hyperventilate. 

“Give them something to think about,” Cele said. 

Mysterious visitors indeed. “When do I get to meet them?” 

“Dinner. Which the two remaining are catering. I gave them the run of the restaurant kitchens though they look more used to cooking over a campfire.” 

Still hours till dinner time. Zebe ignored Cele’s innuendos as well as the three-visitors-two-remaining conundrum. “In the meantime?” she said.  

“One of them looks like he might’ve been your type before he was transformed,” Cele said. “I posted a treatment plan to his deck, for you to get prescribed for him and then to treat him with. It should be interesting.”

Cele stopped Zebe near a wet-room workstation in the gloomy wet-gold corridor. Non-essential lighting on half power.

With her hand on Zebe’s arm, Cele turned Zebe. Xanthe’s missive glowed on the monitor. “I highlighted the phrases that seem to relate to us,” Cele said.

Zebe laughed weakly. “Xanthe plays at being the world’s best spy.”

“Did you bring back a sample so that we can regularise the scene?”

“Because of our visitors?” Zebe said.

“They aren’t EMBers, or any kind of officialdom.”

“Had me worried,” Zebe said ironically.

Cele looked at her in that sizing-you-up-way that she had as if she seriously wondered whether Zebe could take what was coming. “One good thing,” Cele said. “It was your sister who went down to Byron Bay. Our visitors are convinced you are a blonde.”

“What did she do?” Zebe said.

“Infected a gent by the name of Poul with the dust. I hope she only pretended to infect herself.”


“It’ll go very badly for her should the Huddle discover it if she did infect herself.”

Zebe felt her blood drain from her face and extremities to help her labouring heart. She stared at the highlighted phrases in Xanthe’s email, engraved on her heart already. …. “That Poul is here?”

Cele looked nearly as sick as Zebe felt. “Remember that mattress-fish that hung around for a while?” she said.

“You fed it for the longest time,” Zebe said.

“Thought it might eat my people if it went hungry?” Cele said.

“How did you convince it to go?” Zebe said though what it had to do with the topic under consideration, she had no idea. 

“Not me. Bunch of orcas herded it away. I thought killing two birds with one stone. But, what I heard just now, the mattress-fish grew much much bigger and made it south. Suggests the tables turned and the orcas eaten. In Byron Bay it ate, maybe, that Poul. Though the informant swears Poul is alive in the fish.”

“Jonah in the whale come to life. Or, in other words, a story?” Zebe said. 

“I thought that too but for the informant’s state-of-being. Damn, damn Joe Loreno!” 

Cele cried, Zebe was astounded to see. Her tears spattered anywhere. 

“And damn you for killing my work, my life, my theory!” Cele said.

Dry-mouthed, Zebe said, “The spreading the alien dust through the landscape theory? When the dust is out there right this minute, spreading itself, you said?”

“I only ever spread the mud, Zebe. My theory that the mud is benign and will do more good than harm. You and Xanthe introduced the dust,” Cele said. “But everyone under the sun will believe that was me too.” 

Zebe stepped away. 

“I’ll be leaving as soon as I can. Get out of your hair.” 

“It’s a mess, is it?” Zebe said distantly. 

Crying again, Cele said, “Callum refused to come.”

“He’s not stupid, is he? Where will he go?”

“He went. Without so much as a goodbye. Away with the least trustworthy of our guests. Who are men, to his understanding.” 

“So,” Zebe said after a while. “Delete the hard drive?” Something to say. A way to get proceedings proceeding. 

“Don’t bother. I’ll leave the sea-doors open as I go. Seawater still very efficient at wiping hard drives.”

“You really are going?” Zebe felt aghast at last. 

“Why would I abandon my dearest friends?” Cele said. “The innocents in all this.”

Which put Zebe in her place. Cele that good with pin-pricks. “The only innocents in this are the children they will bear.” Something Zebe had thought since discovering Cele’s project. Never said anything, though. Cele’s project’s money kept them all. 

Cele laughed. “You’re judging me. Hope you find it easier than me to negotiate the cataclysm.”

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Mongrel: Shad Tattoos Tardi

Tribal tattooing method that is now called hand-poke,

If you've read The Half Shaman, you'll know that some of the details of Jeb's story mentioned in this installment have not been written in yet. Read, or refresh your memory by clicking on the link. 

Shad gave things into Tardi’s hands and hitched his shirt-tail ends up over his shoulders. Draped himself face down over the slab table of the picnic setting. “I found the greaseproof paper that time I made the coffee. And I made the rosemary charcoal sticks then too. You trace the designs on my back.”

Tardi chortled. “No wonder the coffee was so ugh.” 

 “Talk me through it. It’ll help me see your tracings better.”

“What do I see?” Tardi began. “Over your left butt bone is a star system with a yellow star and a red star. Both have a planet. The fucking Procyon System? Why?”

“Moving along,” Shad said. “In the middle?”

“A broken staff of some kind, the pieces crossing. Not the kind of staff for fighting with, I think. A setting at the top with nothing in it,” Tardi said. 

“Half of Shaman Jeb’s staff while she still lived on Lotor. Don’t know why it’s shown as broken. Nothing in the setting because there are no crystals on Lotor. Above my right butt bone is a …?”

“Hard to make out. A human-like outline half-filled with all the colours of the rainbow in stripes and blotches while the other half is … a fucking bad colour. You don’t have some kind of death warrant on you?”

Shad laughed. “Would I be here? It’s the Hole-in-the-Day life-suit so black in the daytime that it appears to have no substance. Shaman Jeb’s life-suit that she was gifted by the pegasee on Lotor. An undercover kind of attempt by them to hitch a ride off-planet. Would’ve worked but for Shaman Thyal’s smarts. Jeb and he were the only shamans remaining. Trace over the designs with the charcoal.”

“I’m going to make the tattooing even easier,” Tardi said. “I saw pigment pens somewhere. You could trace over the charcoal with them and on with the needling.”

“Don’t want to make it too speedy, got to tell the tales while I do it,” Shad said. 

By late afternoon, Shad was a long way into the telling Jeb's story. He’d inked-in the binary Procyon Star System on the left of Tardi’s back, carving tracks through the tree’s bark-like skin with Tardi’s encouragement. The two pieces of the broken staff were inked in the middle of Tardi’s back. He was tracing out the Hole-in-the-Day life-suit to the right. They still used the picnic setting, Tardi laid out over the table. With the tide on the up, water lapped the under-deck.

“No!” Tardi shouted. 

He’d been close to a trance taking in the story at the same time denying the pain of the needling. 
He rolled from the table and sprang away from Shad. He shouted. “What have you done to me? My Gran worked all her life to save me from them. You are a bad, bad man!"

“Tar, wake up!” Shad said. “It were Trinnet doing something to the boy?”

Tardi panted. He stared past Shad to try and see Callum through Trinnet’s eyes. 

The monster played with him. It cycled him through seeing Callum from under Trinnet’s bushy brows and seeing Trinnet from under … from under …. Callum’s dark eyebrows. 

“Fucking Trinnet. He infected Callum.” Tardi all but fell over one of the benches. “He cut him while he slept. Did the blood exchange on him.”

“Sure?” Shad said.

Tardi walked. Turned. “I’m seeing Trinnet. Victorious. I’m seeing Callum. Furious. The fucker did it without asking.” His voice crescendoed on his disgust. “What excuse will he have?”

“He’ll say he did it to get a second opinion on things the monster is telling him,” Shad said. “Or he’ll say it weren’t right, Callum the only one out of them two without the influence. He was always saying that to me as well.” 

Shad talked at each place where Tar turned in his walking. “I always had the excuse that I swore to shadow you. I feel terrible, telling you the young one would be safe. What will we tell his gran?”

Tardi stopped. Thought. “Nothing. For now. Callum is not some ignorant know-nothing and so there will be a reprise. Better to tell the whole lot together. Or nothing if Cele leaves before it happens.”

“Dusk soon. Get some dinner going.” Shad packed up the tattooing kit. “Miz King is expecting Zebe, she said. Man, have you got some times coming!”

“Yeah, okay,” Tardi said of Shad getting dinner. Zebe’d be arriving, and Man I’ve got some times coming? Huh? Got no energy to follow that up.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Mongrel: Tardi Refuses to be Distracted ...

Low Tide Washing the Reefarium's Strand

Shad distracts Tardi from his worries generated by the monster, by interesting him in the Stormy tattoos. 

Today, Tardi explored an area of the island not overseen by windows. North-facing, the whole quadrant of the building remained shuttered for storms and every time between them. Not enough people to run the place, probably. Tardi hadn’t met Cele this morning and Shad was glum. 

Serves him right. Shad should be suffering indigestion on top of the guilt. Tardi’s problem was the monster. When he so blithely stepped into Callum’s mud bath, the monster pulled back so sharply that Tardi felt every aspect of the disengagement. But when Trinnet on board the boat grew sea-sick, and then vomited, the monster hijacked all of Trinnet’s sensations and Tardi also grew sea-sick and then vomited.

Tardi began his study on the lower of the two decks encircling the whole building. The sandy-bottomed shallows adjacent to a narrow sliver of sand troubled with the purest reef blue water he ever saw, and it was low tide, he saw by the marks of past water levels on a jetty pylon round to the left.

Not a blade of a water-weed fluttered to show him the currents. No sea urchins waved their myriads of delicate little hands between their spikes which they used to wedge in under the rocks, to scrape at yummy seaweed with their parrot beaks. And not one school of little fish darted in the shallows. In short, no evidence of life in the water that he could see.

Further round the building to the right, he’d glimpsed Cele’s creations, her dolphinate as she had christened them, too strange yet for describing with words, though she said the -ate part in the word meant -like. 

What would they be eating? More to the point, how unlike a human could a dolphin be? And how unlike a dolphin could a human be? True, they were both placental mammals. They both had big brains. And were both warm-blooded. They both liked to play. Any other comparison? 

How like a tree was he? The deck made him conscious of it in him. His toe roots started to try and cross the gaps between the boards. He jumped down onto the minuscule strand and sloshed into the water. 

Toward mid-morning, Shad soft-footed from the shadows surrounding the stair to the upper deck. Tardi almost always knew when Shad arrived on the scene.

“Found you,” Shad said. 

 “Callum is still quite young for dealing with the crap a bastard like Trinnet will surely dole out,” Tardi said. 

“On the attack right away," Shad said. "Same age I was when I begun learning my trade studying you.”

Woah, Tar-boy. Keep you cool or the monster will come running. But still Tardi's temper made him say, “As if I knew anything about that.”

“I mean, when I started my training for the shadowing,” Shad said. “That part’s the least of your worries. Trin’s a cranky bastard but good at training up half-feathered youths.”

“What’s the worst of my worries?” Tardi said.

“Is the Great Bastard back in you yet?”

“Only to have me feel every ache and pain Trinnet is suffering. Sea-sickness, bone-paining from sleeping on the ground, and now dog-tired. Cranky. I expect the monster is goading him,” Tardi said.

“Or the boy is, if Trin is slowing,” Shad said. 

“It’s funny how when the bastard first started in me, I had so many people to worry about - Steve, Rowan, my father, Poul - that I couldn’t concentrate on it. Now I’m trying to find more things to keep my mind on, not wanting to give him all my thoughts.”

Shad grinned. “We could get started on the levels.”

“Water levels? I’ve been reading them on the underside of the building. At high tide and when the sea-doors are open, we’ll be like we’re floating, with it coming deck-level,” Tardi said. And he’d been going to say, that isn’t a safe margin when actually Shad was his equal at worrying. Why hassle him ahead of time? They had to be gone by the time that storm blew up.

“Levels in three-dot history,” Shad said. “Every dot represents a trey of stories told while the teller tattoos you with a trey of motifs. A world of pain you never suspected.”

“Sounds interesting,” Tardi said. 

Shad laughed. “What I said, Cuz.”

“But is now the right time?” Tardi said. “I’m expecting lots of interruptions.”

“Interruptions make it bearable in my opinion. Soon as you fell asleep, Trinnet shook me awake. His hand over my mouth. Quick, the Tree-Hair is out of it. He had me face down over a table and his needling kit out quick as, and filling in the shaman’s staff he outlined previous. Or you went down to talk with Cele. I knew the game by then and draped myself over the table. That day Trinnet blacked-in Hole-in-the-Day.” 

Tardi laughed. “I’m onto what you are doing name-dropping these mysterious objects and tickling my curiosity.”

“It’s fresh in me. And we’re going to have to cheat. We have a good place here to do it, but no opportunity for the needler, that’s me, to learn the designs from the one who went before. You maturing for seven months between bouts is also out of the question. Mature enough already, I reckon.”

“We’ll be lucky if we get seven days,” Tardi said. “The weather …” he shrugged. “Sorry. Meant not to worry you.”

“We won’t be here in seven days.”

“You’ve seen that? I mean with your second-sight?”

Shad nodded. “Storm of a man spraying his grief over all and sundry is what’ll dampen us.” 

Tardi studied Shad. A flush high on his cheekbones. Shy suddenly. “Go on.”

Shad shook his head. “No more on that.” 

“You’re blushing. A woman involved, is there?” Tardi said, laughing. 

“I wasn’t going to worry you …,” Shad started.

Tardi laughed more. “If she can cope with a tree-hair, there’ll be no worries by me.” Here’s hoping. “Besides, she might take to you.” Well, he said that to tease.

“She won’t.” Shad stricken-looking suddenly. 

Tardi narrowed his eyes. “You’re worrying about something more. Only woman I know who might turn up is Zebe. Will you be okay with her?”

“Yes. We should get begun,” Shad said.

Preventing more thought on that subject …