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.