The Mars Tiles

August 10, 2017 at 7:36 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Martian_face_viking

This story ran in Eidolon magazine in 1999. My style has changed much, but I’ve resisted the temptation to ‘fix’ everything. Therefore, please consider this an ‘artefact’.

While sitting on the toilet of my rented worker’s cottage last Saturday night, I became aware of something that had been staring up at me for months. My floor tiles are not rectangles of slate. They are in fact textured photographic plates of the surface of Mars, coated with a protective epoxy resin. Though I find it more exciting to have images of Mars on my floor than common slate, I can’t imagine that the arrangement is permanent. Further, I feel strongly that my new awareness has placed me in danger.

It was late and I was drunk. To prevent the toilet from spinning, I was rocking and trying to focus. My gaze eventually fell to the floor, whereupon my disinhibition allowed me to penetrate the tiles’ disguise. Heedless of time, I stared in wonder at spectacular canyons, towering volcanoes, dry ocean beds and massive craters. The detail was incredible – superior to anything that’s been on TV. The planet looked like a raw, early Earth. But that comparison falls way short of the truth. Mars is so much more… epic. It’s maddening; the words don’t exist to describe what I saw. How can they, until we’ve been there to invent them?

At first my discovery seemed accidental. Then I recalled a prelude. I was surprised on viewing the cottage for the first time. It had just been renovated and I’d been impressed by the ancient, polished bedroom floorboards and the sheer indulgence of slate through the rest of the house. I remembered thinking, ‘who lays slate in their lounge, kitchen, bathroom and toilet – especially in a rental property?’

Then there was my criticism of the renovations after moving in. They’d looked fantastic during the agent’s tour, but fell apart under scrutiny. Doors had been badly rehung; the paint had drips and bristles and many floorboards were cracked, pitted and badly filled. Shabby work; except for the tiles. They had been immaculately laid. The other renovations seemed desperately ham-handed in comparison, as if seeking to draw attention from the perfect floor.

Finally, there was the anvil. I’d picked it up at a garage sale, since it looked like the one in ‘The Road Runner Show’. While hefting it though the house, I tripped. Fifty kilos of hardened steel plummeted pointy-end first into the lounge room floor. I should say onto the lounge room floor, because the anvil not only failed to shatter the tiles, it didn’t even mark their clear coating. It actually bounced twice before coming to rest.

That my tiles are textured photographic plates of Mars makes sense of the foregoing phenomena. They have been hidden in my home. By the Americans. In a place the rest of the world will never think to look. Until it’s safe to retrieve them.

After my discovery, I began to feel frightened.

The tiles had been laid immediately prior to my tenancy. Was I their unwitting guardian? I thought back to my tour, how the agent had drawn me away from the meandering competition to say she liked me and would put three ticks on my form. Though unemployed, I beat fifteen other applicants. Had she selected me because I was too stupid to notice the plates? Or was I someone who on recognising them, would realise the importance of keeping the secret? When I summoned the courage to ring her this week, I was told she’d been transferred. They wouldn’t say where. Since then I’ve received notice of an inspection that wasn’t due for five months. They’re coming tomorrow.

Yesterday I found one of my rubbish bins smashed. The old security door I’d propped against my rear lane entrance had fallen. Yet there’s been no wind. I suspected a burglar, but nothing was missing.

It’s now Friday night – almost a week since my discovery. I’ve just spent an hour taking Polaroids of the tiles. None has come out properly, though all the lights are on. Only those taken near the skirting boards bear any resemblance to their subject. The walls are crystal clear, but there’s only black where the tiles should be. I tried to chip a piece off one of them after I ran out of film, and nearly brained myself with my mechanic’s hammer. It bounced back with more force than I’d put into the blow. My telephone has rung three times. Each time I’ve picked it up, there’s been silence. I put my answering machine on and there hasn’t been a call since. ‘Skat’, my cat, refuses to come inside.

I’m writing this because I feel too foolish to tell anybody. Reading it over I feel better, since it all sounds like crap. Dave, my best friend (my only friend) is coming over. We’ll get pissed and I’ll read him this and he’ll laugh himself silly. The night is very quiet. A van has pulled up; I can see it through the gap in my curtains. White Mitsubishi: nothing threatening about that.

Ah, here’s Dave, running up my stairs. I’ve got to go.

*********

They say I look good for 35.

I’m 31.

Still, I know I’ve been here a while. I have injection scars on both arms. I’m fatter too.

Dave came to see me today. He’s still my best mate. I couldn’t help myself – I had to ask again what happened, even though it meant loss of privileges. They had him out of the booth before I’d even finished my sentence. Poor Dave. He only ever gave away that one morsel when he first saw me here. He was rattled and I was together enough to exploit that. I’ve never hurt a living creature in my life. If there’s only one thing I know for sure, I never touched Skat. I saw the look in Dave’s eyes though. He believes them, whatever they told him. The Americans. So why does he keep visiting?

Maybe he feels guilty about living in my old house. It’s all open plan now, apparently. The owner gutted it after the fire. The floor’s been carpeted. Whacko; it’ll be warmer in winter.

I get ‘New Scientist’ in here with the staples removed. The other month they ran a Mars special. I leafed through it till Mills snatched it from me to make hats. I didn’t bother chasing him. I’d seen all the pictures before.

I look forward to bath time. They let us lie as long as we want. Until the water gets cold if we like. I enjoy floating and staring at the ceiling. Just the other week, I noticed patterns in the flaking paint above me. I thought I saw a huge blueprint, covering the whole room. I have a theory, but the ceiling’s too high for me to test it. I’m going to have to wait until one of the paint flakes falls. This will be difficult, since I only have a bath every third day. So I’ve decided to map every flake. I’m going to start soon. That way, I’ll see if any are missing each time I come here. If I wait long enough and no paint flakes fall, I’ll know they’re not really paint flakes. Then I’ll find a way, somehow, to get up to that ceiling and find out what’s really going on in this joint.

Pic by NASA.

Brought to you by Imagine Day the book.

 

 

Dogwood

May 7, 2017 at 8:45 am | Posted in Article | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dogwood

Depending on interpretation, dogwoods are classed in up to ten subgenera.

The Australian Dogwood (Cornus canae) is a particularly resilient member of the genus.

It can generally be distinguished by its inconspicuous flowers

and distinctive

bark.

Brought to you by Imagine Day the book.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Spotting the hit

July 9, 2016 at 8:15 am | Posted in Short Story | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Click pic to make big and bigger.

Click pic to make big and bigger.

The dribble of doom …

This little tree did it hard.

Drought killed it outside while critters gnawed within.

Curling bark and chomp trails tell the story.

Now a nice council person has sprayed the tree with the yellow spot of death.

Soon, a woodsperson will be along to cut it down.

Its replacement already incubates at bottom left.

To the right, what might have been.

Life’s tough.

Live it while you can.

Brought to you by Imagine Day the book.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

The Kombi-van rail cannon

May 3, 2015 at 7:21 am | Posted in Short Story | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Three couples sprawled around the lounge, digesting pasta. Wine lapped at tilted rims as wreaths of smoke cruised into guttering candles, spread against the ceiling and descended. Fairy lights completed the scene.

‘Let’s go out!’ cried Yvonne.

A shudder swept through the others. Liam, the host, shot a visual plea to Neil.

‘Now now, sugar.’ Neil stroked Yvonne’s long hair. ‘We’ve got everything we need right here. Liam and Sylvie have created a lovely environment for us; why not relax and enjoy it?’

Yvonne tossed her head. ‘Because I think we should all go out. Club Foramen is only 600 metres from this ashtray. We’re young and it’s only 10:30. We’ve gotta live, before it’s too late! Come on; let’s hear some sounds and see some cats! Whatta ya say?’

Ever the diplomat, Sylvia calmed Liam with a caress. ‘I’m easy; what does everyone else think?’

Yvonne leapt up and gazed into each face.

‘I do not mind,’ pronounced Ulrik. ‘I will go if every body else wants to go.’

Sonya patted his thigh. ‘That’s my boy; two shots of Finlandia and you’re anyone’s. What the hell, we never go out.’

Liam baulked at leaving the cocoon he’d so carefully constructed. ‘It’s your night folks, but may I remind you we have entertainment here.’

‘Guitars and PlayStation?’ retorted Yvonne.

‘Yeah!’ chorused the boys.

‘No way. You guys can do that anytime. Tonight’s a celebration.’

Ulrik looked up. ‘Of what is it a celebration?’

Yvonne whipped a quarter ounce from her jacket and tossed it to the floor. ‘Of the biggest goddamn joint you ever saw in your life!’

Liam leaned forward, beanbag balls streaming like tadpoles under his thighs. ‘Ahem. This er, hmm. This could well alter the fabric of the entire evening.’

‘So we’re going to experience the greatest girl-band of all time?’ said Yvonne.

Sylvia’s eyes sparkled. ‘I’m in.’

‘Me too,’ said Sonya.

‘I also think it would be fun to go out maybe,’ said Ulrik.

Neil looked hurt. ‘How long’ve you had that ganjar, Sugar?’

‘Doesn’t matter, baby,’ sang Yvonne. ‘All that matters is we’re gonna get out and get it on.’

Liam fondled the baggie. ‘Get me the scissors, Sylvie. There’s something I must do – for all of us.’

**********

A chill wind whipped through the railings. Liam swung from the door and let the bright stars careen around him.

‘Come on, you old bugger!’ said Neil. ‘Come away now.’

The others fell against each other in baseless mirth. Liam crashed down the steps and they set off raggedly, reflections dancing in a glittering alterworld.

‘It is nice to be outside; fresh,’ observed Ulrik.

‘Too right, Vegemite!’ said Yvonne.

The Dane frowned. ‘I am sorry? What is that?’

The group cobbled a questionable explanation and Ulrik again lamented that their history could never be his, no matter how he studied the language.

Yvonne raced like a sprite among the puddles. Neil lit a cigarette and ambled after her and the two embraced in the brash night. The others followed suit, savouring their own styles of intimacy.

Eventually they reassembled at a tram stop, their destination visible through sprays of barrelling taxis. Naked bulbs festooned the venue, pulsing counterpoint to the muffled boom within.

Liam signalled for silence. ‘Well, this is it folks … ‘

‘Over the top,’ added Neil.

‘Yes, quite. On the advice of the young and feisty Yvonne here, we are about to enter an alternate dimension, replete with alcohol and very loud music.’

‘Yyyay!’ said Yvonne.

Liam grinned. ‘I want us to form a cosmic circle, to unite our groovy energy before crossing over.’

‘Unreal,’ slurred Sonya, missing Sylvia and Ulrik’s outstretched hands.

Liam guided her back. ‘Is everyone ready?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Then let us clasp fingers, close eyes and meditate on this moment before it is lost forever.’

Sonya giggled. ‘Oummm.’

Another taxi roared past, leaving an uncanny quiet. The ring of revellers listened. The silence continued – palpable; like air conditioning shut down.

Sonya opened her eyes. ‘Sh*t! The place is deserted!’

The street was indeed empty. All noise had ceased, no vehicles approached and light rain had begun to fall, transforming the scene into a surreal tableaux. The six stood in awe of the strange aberration in such a busy district.

‘It is an omen!’ proclaimed Liam. ‘The stage is set; a sign imminent! We must wait and watch.’

‘I’m getting wet,’ said Sylvia.

‘My love, that is of no import. In any case, I presage that this experience will be brief. Just hold for a moment more and believe!’

‘All right then.’

Neil lifted his long arms. ‘Whence shall come this sign, Master? From the sky?’

Yvonne leapt onto a bench. ‘Yeah, from the sky?’

Liam gazed along the glistening tram tracks, listening like a blackbird. ‘Nay, children; not from the heavens. The sign shall issue from the earth. Hark! It approaches even now!’

At first there was only silence. Then a lone light materialized. It grew slowly, but remained too dull to belong to a modern vehicle. The collective expectation of a motorcycle faltered as the engine’s staccato identified it unmistakably as a Volkswagen. At last the image resolved into a Kombi-van. An ancient, dilapidated Kombi-van, with one headlight.

‘Behold!’ cried Liam. ‘The messenger!’

‘Hurrah,’ offered Ulrik.

The group gazed at rusty panels, faded flowers and dribbling slogans. The streetlights splayed over filthy windows, rendering the driver invisible. The rotting muffler vomited detonations as the van shuddered past on the slippery rails, a scrap yard its only credible destination.

Liam stepped into the street to witness the van’s departure. Sylvia spotted a phalanx of traffic and pulled him to the safety of the opposite footpath. The others followed. As the van disappeared, the spell dissolved and the street came back to life.

‘Well?’ said Neil.

‘It has begun,’ intoned Liam.

‘What has?’

Liam’s face was deadpan. ‘The Kombi-van rail cannon.’

‘What is that?’ asked Ulrik.

‘I don’t want to talk about it.’

Sonya punched Liam lightly in the chest. ‘Oh yes you do. You’re going to explain to my boyfriend, in simple terms, exactly what just happened.’

‘I cannot.’

‘Bullsh*t, man,’ said Yvonne. ‘You got us into this space. What was the bloody sign?’

‘There was no sign; I was mistaken.’

Neil approached Liam from behind and put him in a headlock. ‘Are you sure there was no sign, cobber?’

Liam looked at the ring of expectant faces. ‘Very well. Release me, oaf, and I will reveal all inside the beauteous Club Foramen.’

**********

They entered the dark, smoky space as the headline band came on. Pushing through bodies, Yvonne navigated closer to the stage, trailing the others behind her. The musicians tested their instruments, then launched into deafening orbit.

The lead guitarist was elf-like, her legs clad in velvet. A mesh top sat over a yellow brassiere. Over this hung a large flannel shirt, tied at the waist. Her hair was fastened with camouflage netting that trailed to the stage. A hand-rolled cigarette rode her tiny mouth, twisting as she wrung the neck of her Rickenbacker.

Behind her stood an Aryan percussionist. Her face shone as she thrashed her drums. Tattoos flexed and a thonged top strove to contain her as her arms fell in king hits.

To her left stood the bass player; tall and thin with angular face. Sheathed in a cat suit, her only adornments were a gold link belt and a spider ring that flashed and scuttled over her fretboard. She stood with one leg forward, regarding the audience with faint disdain – occasionally favouring the drummer with an undertaker’s smile.

The singer pranced and posed like a demented bride; prowling the stage in taffeta rags. With wild hair reaching for the rafters, she taunted the crowd, raged against them, lifted them and lay them on her lyrical bed. On her feet were silken points. In moments of complete incongruity, she interspersed her base gyrations with perfect pirouettes.

Spellbound, Yvonne and her girlfriends barely registered the boys’ retreat.

**********

Snooker balls clacked over burn-pitted baize, the music blunted by connecting doors. Neil set three glistening beers on the tiny table and took a stool.

Liam drank deeply. ‘Thanks, man.’

‘Enjoy it, friend. You’ll not get another till you explain the Kombi-van rail cannon.’

Liam smiled. ‘That old chestnut. Surely you don’t want to hear about that?’

‘I certainly do want to hear about it,’ said Ulrik.

‘Shoot,’ ordered Neil.

Liam massaged his eyes, triggering a head spin. ‘Under democracy, issues can be debated ad nauseam, increasing the time it takes for government to act.’

‘What is “Norseum”?’ asked Ulrik despondently.

‘Bear with me man; I’ll recap. This delay frustrates all players and infuriates the public.’

Neil took out his cigarettes. ‘I’m with you.’

‘Good. Now, a perennial threat to democracy is that discontent over inaction can lead to such disaffection that the system is rejected in favour of anarchy.’

‘Of course,’ mumbled Ulrik, staring at the filthy carpet.

‘To neutralize this threat, our government has created the Kombi-van rail cannon.’

Neil regarded Liam narrowly. ‘Go on.’

‘The Kombi-van rail cannon is designed to break deadlocks in the sort of drawn-out debates that really get people’s goats.’

‘Like?’

‘Reconciliation, euthanasia, injecting rooms, the Republic.’

‘I see. And how does it work? Exactly.’

‘Well, simply put, each party to a debate constructs a blockhouse to protect a carton of eggs. They then attempt to destroy each other’s installations with Kombi-van rail cannons. The last side with an intact egg wins the debate.’

Neil took a long drag. ‘Are you trying to tell me that what we saw tonight was … a projectile?’

Liam sipped his beer. ‘Precisely.’

‘You Australians are f*cking crazy,’ spat Ulrik. ‘I am going to the band.’

Neil ignored him. ‘How come we’ve never heard about this bold new concept?’

‘The government wants to enrage the media, to maximise subsequent coverage.’

‘How come you know about it?’

‘It was trialled successfully in Chad and our government loves benchmarking. The signs have been there, for those who know how to look.’

‘But, why Kombi-vans?’

‘Symbol of the people. Worked for Hitler. Did you see the detonator on the bonnet?’

‘No,’ said Neil, with heavy sarcasm. ‘And I suppose the windows were treated to stop us seeing inside?’

‘Bloody oath! Imagine the panic if people realised they were pilotless.’

Pilotless?’

‘Of course! Why do you think it’s called a rail cannon?’

‘So it goes on … rails, does it? On our tram lines, to be precise.’

‘Correct.’

‘So, what if one of these vans hits a f*cking tram?’

‘Impossible; they’re launched according to timetable. You’ll only ever see ’em late at night. That’s the best time.’

Neil crushed his butt. ‘You’re full of sh*t, man; I don’t believe you.’

Liam stared at him. ‘Why not? You think our government isn’t capable of something like this?’

A minute passed.

‘All right smart arse; why haven’t we heard an explosion?’

‘Two possibilities. One: we’re in a club with the loudest band in the world. Two: the van hasn’t reached its target yet. That line runs as far as Kew, you know.’

‘My parents live in Kew!’

‘So you believe me.’

‘Of course I bloody don’t! In any case, I’d know if a blockhouse had been built there.’

‘I wouldn’t be so sure, mate. Who can tell what they’re building these days, once those hoardings go up?’

‘Do you know the location of any of the blockhouses?’

‘No. But I’m confident at least one will be fairly pinpointed by morning.’

Neil drained his glass and scowled.

Liam stood. ‘My shout?’

‘For the moment, you bastard. But this discussion is far from over.’

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Imagine Day – The Book!

March 26, 2015 at 8:39 am | Posted in Short Story | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , ,
The great unboxing. I cried so many tears of joy I couldn't read the dedication!

The great unboxing. I cried so many tears of joy I couldn’t read the dedication!

This post is dedicated to my dedicated readers and subscribers.

Your past actions have suggested you enjoy this blog.

Well, now you can hold my creative content in your hands!

In a fair dinkum, read on the bus, book book.

A 20-year dream realised at last!

A 20-year dream realised at last!

Prepared in total secrecy by my wife and friends for my 50th birthday, this tiny tome collates 19 of my surreal short stories for the first time in print.

This first edition, strictly limited to just 200 copies, will be the only one featuring dedications written with my Magic Red Pen.

Email paul@thefeistyempire.com to order your personalised copy.

Thank you for reading yet again.

Kind regards,

P.

🙂

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Shane the slug

January 28, 2013 at 7:41 am | Posted in Short Story | 4 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , ,
5107038796_1e18266125

Commuters on two train stations heard
Fon’s scream …

Feisty and Fon married and bought an inner-city cottage.

It was warm and humble, with hand-made bricks, a kitchen fireplace and 13 types of vermin.

Though these were not evident until some time after the auction, Feisty calmly resolved to combat them by humane, environmentally responsible means.

As it turned out, this was not always possible.

When a plate-sized huntsman spider in the bedroom ignored his well-reasoned arguments, Feisty persuaded Fon to take the only remaining course of action.

She smashed it with one of her Doc Marten’s ten-ups, on the understanding that he would handle all similar transgressions by reptiles and tigers.

The next day, on their walk, Fon tested Feisty’s resolve by shouting ‘Snake!’ and leaping into his arms. He immediately rushed towards the indicated area.

‘What the hell are you doing?’ shrieked Fon.

‘I’m gonna club it to death.’

‘What with?’

‘Your Reeboks.’

Fon struggled to her feet in disgust. ‘That’s not what I had in mind.’

Despite her best efforts, Graham the Jack Russell terrier failed to impact the mouse population.

She lay snuffling for hours in the pot cupboard (and once accidentally overnight) as a robust clan devoured box after box of poison.

Feisty bought a mousetrap and experimented with cheese, salami and corn chips.

Only when he tried pre-softened Kit Kat fragments did he meet with success.

The victims stared bright-eyed up at him in a highly unsettling manner, strengthening his resolve to encourage Skat the cat to take a more active policing role.

Though she toyed mewing with the tiny corpses hurled on the roof, she steadfastly refused to source her own.

It was a wet autumn. As the house gradually slipped into the ancient sewer beneath it, cracks opened in the walls.

Worst affected was the shower. Week after week, Feisty watched the tiles diverge, until one night he found himself gazing right through the ceiling at the evening star.

‘This is crap,’ he observed to Fon, who vehemently agreed.

‘I hate the mould. It’s gone out of control since the recess broke. We’ve got to get it fixed.’

But they’d spent all their money on furniture and celebrating.

The toadstools appeared shockingly, literally overnight. Pale and spindly, they felt horrid even through the wads of toilet paper Feisty used to pluck them. When flushed, they spun lazily to the surface and clung to the bowl.

‘Jesus,’ moaned Feisty. ‘This wasn’t in the brochure.’ He lifted a broken tile to reveal rotting wood smothered in more fungus. Then a huge, febrile centipede shot out and reared angrily, startling him into the shower door with a crack.

Swearing and trembling, he fetched his silicone gun and glued the tile fragments to the best of his modest ability.

Though this worked for a while, the mould became worse than ever.

The couple took it in turns to scrub, but the stains went too deep. Soon the shower resembled a gritty wire-frame model of itself.

When it seemed it couldn’t possibly get any more hideous, the slugs arrived.

Commuters on two train stations heard Fon’s scream.

Feisty flew from their bed to find her rooted to the spot, clad only in her sparkly shower cap. Through chattering teeth she wailed, ‘Feisty, there are f*cking SLUGS in our shower!’

Feisty followed her bloodless finger and recoiled as four of the fattest gastropods he’d ever seen pulsed nonchalantly across the walls and floor.

Losing all sense of karma, he mounted the cubicle, reached in and turned the hot tap on full. Aiming the showerhead like an Indonesian water cannon, he blasted the writhing intruders onto the drain hole and into oblivion. He then hosed the surfaces repeatedly as Fon regained sufficient motor control to retrieve her robe and retreat to the kitchen.

A few days later, two more slugs appeared. Ashamed of his former reaction, Feisty gingerly plucked them with disposable chopsticks and threw them in the garden. They returned the following night. And the next.

He didn’t want to kill them, but could find no merit in allowing them to stay. Then, completely by accident, he encountered an enchanting article on slugs in New Scientist.

A naturalist in ever-damp Sydney, on observing three species of slugs in his shower, had discovered that they loved eating mould.

Through a series of experiments, he had even determined that the Great Grey Slug (limax flava) exhibited the optimum combination of appetite, light aversion and territoriality.

He provided a ceramic oil burner, to which his ‘leotard’ of slugs returned every morning. In return, they cleaned his shower nightly – growing up to nine centimetres long in the process.

‘No f*cking WAY!’ replied Fon to Feisty’s carefully worded suggestion.

To her eternal credit, she eventually capitulated under his intensive lobbying and agreed to a trial.

Elated to at last be dealing with critters in an holistic, non-violent fashion, Feisty installed his own oil burner and waited for results. Sure enough, the mould began to recede, particularly in wet, hard-to-get-at places like the door tracks.

Though the switch from daylight saving caused several fatalities, the program proved a success. So much so that during one full moon, a baby slug appeared.

Feisty was amazed to find that his revulsion had turned to acceptance.

Fon was markedly less enthusiastic and declined his invitation to name the new addition.

‘How about Séamus?’

‘I don’t care.’

‘Sly?’

‘I don’t care, Feisty.’

‘Simon, then?’

‘I really don’t give a damn what you call it. I am not bonding with the slugs the way you obviously are.’

‘Shane?’

‘Yes; Shane. Fantastic! Shane the Sh*t-eating Slug. That’s the one; let’s run with it, shall we?’

Feisty regarded her narrowly. ‘You’re not just saying that? You really prefer Shane?’

Fon unmuted the TV and concentrated on a ‘Toilet Duck’ ad.

‘We’re the germy germs, under the rim … ‘

Feisty stared at the screen, and was struck with a sudden thought. ‘I wonder if they really could be trained to clean toilets.’

He jumped up and ran an eclectic keyword search on Google, only to stump it for the first time ever.

‘Trial and error it is then!’ he declared excitedly.

🙂

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Pic by SleetDro.

Sole trader Christmas party

December 18, 2012 at 5:48 am | Posted in Short Story | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Graham Christmas Small

You put these parties on and people make a mockery of them …

I work alone from my home office. Running your own business is great, but it can make you a bit paranoid.

Last year was tough and, as my only employee, I really carried the can.

When December came, I felt a party was needed to reward effort and boost morale.

Before

I asked for volunteers to form a committee. Naturally, I was the only one who gave a damn. After squabbling over the budget, I decided not to allow partners.

I couldn’t agree on a venue, so opted to have the party at the office. I did the invite myself, after the printer said he couldn’t be bothered with such a small run.

The name tags didn’t take long either.

The RSVPs came back straight away, with 100% acceptance. I took it as a good omen.

I ordered light beer (someone had to look out for company liability) and a variety of appetisers. Even those horrible spurty asparagus vol-au-vents that burn your mouth.

I sourced a Portaloo in case there was a queue.

Anyone who’s organised a party knows what a time-consuming and thankless task it is. My sole reward for chairing the committee was that I got to choose where I sat.

During

I’d booked a limo for the night, but was the only one to cough up his share. It cost a fortune, since some idiot got the address wrong.

I arrived late because I didn’t want to be uncool. Even so, the cook, waiter, barman and DJ were the only people present. They seemed to be having a pretty good time.

The smoke, strobes and balloons were disorienting. I put up with it, recalling that I too had been young once. I’d authorised a taxi voucher, so I figured it was safe to have a tipple.

The barman gave me a drink with a funny name. It didn’t taste like beer, wine or orange juice.

The theme was ‘Fun with Fur’. I was disappointed when I saw another koala in the bathroom. Whoever it was must have also been upset, since they stayed there all night and wouldn’t talk to me.

The DJ refused to play my request, so I went outside to join the party games. I might be the boss, but I’m not aloof.

The limbo competition was a dead loss and blind man’s bluff took forever, but I won every other event except the three legged race (there were odd numbers).

The dinner was fine, though the Christmas crackers were impossible and some prankster rearranged the name cards. I ordered chicken but got beef and no one would swap. That’s gratitude!

In my speech I thanked everyone for coming. Despite having the best sales figures, I didn’t get a bonus; I’m so tight.

I did a quick change into Santa; I don’t think anyone realised it was me. Kris Kringle was a giveaway, but at least I got what I wanted. I even won the door prize.

The dessert wafers were so small, the waiter put two of them straight on my tongue. I left the party an hour later so as not to cramp my style.

Once I was gone, I really cut loose.

I did a skit taking the piss out of the boss. No one laughed – out of respect I guess. When the DJ played ‘Time Warp’ and ‘Nutbush City Limits’, everyone danced in time.

I fired up the jukebox when the DJ left, but someone chose the same song seven times. I quite like the Nolan Sisters, but I felt for those who didn’t.

I tried a conga line but it didn’t catch on, so I grabbed the company video camera.

I couldn’t find anyone to film except the koala in the bathroom, who also happened to be filming.

When the hired help had gone, I went outside for a ciggie. No one would let me back in and I had to smash a window. The cops came; then the fire brigade.

Some fool had butted out on my tree fern.

At least there were no gate crashers.

After

Now I always front for work no matter how much I’ve drunk but I almost couldn’t face myself the next morning.

No one offered to help clean up and the only bright moment was when a bunch of thank-you flowers came.

You put these parties on and people make a mockery of them. Next year someone else can organise the damn thing.

Come to think of it, I might even take myself off the guest list!

🙂

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Bondage Bear – A True Story

December 14, 2009 at 2:59 pm | Posted in Short Story | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The leather was dark and fragrant …

It was a slow, hot day in the shop. Bec and Feisty waited for customers. She was used to it; he was out of his mind with boredom.

Bec wandered to the street display and retrieved the belt basket, which was almost empty. Feisty looked in and spotted a dozen spare keepers. He pushed two onto his fingers.

The leather was dark and fragrant, crossed with stout twine stitches bitten, no doubt, by some impoverished piece worker.

‘Cool loops,’ enthused Feisty, who was very easily amused.

‘Yeah.’

‘Why’d they send us so many spares?’

‘Dunno.’

‘Hmmm.’

To Feisty, everything had a message – sometimes obvious, often oblique. The best were those he invented: ‘omens of the highest order’. He resolved to divine the message of the spare leather loops.

‘I’m going to divine the message of these spare loops, OK Bec?’

‘Go for it.’

The toilet was even hotter than the shop. Tripping an angry dispersal of fat blowflies, Feisty dropped his jeans and sat in the oppressive fug. Perspiration dribbled down his back. A zephyr checked itself at the window.

Why send spares? Those poor buggers only make eight cents a day. Quality control? Sabotage? The desire to create an illusion of prosperity in the minds of Westerners. Now there’s a theory!

‘Additional loops? Of course Sahib, we have many, many loops; a veritable cornucopia of leather fragments for your utility and pleasure. Here, take some! Take 12! And go with God…’

Feisty daydreamed until, too soon, it was time to return to work. He’d determined the reason for the loops’ arrival. Now, how best to employ them?

A stock cabinet stood at the top of the stairs. As he chose paperweights to replace the morning’s sales, Feisty spotted a teddy bear jammed at the very back of the lowest shelf. An old, old stock item. Reverently he withdrew the bear and took it downstairs.

Bec moved the limbs and cocked the furry head. ‘Yeah we got ’em years ago, but they didn’t go. We had a sale.’ She sat the bear on the register. ‘They’re from India.’

Feisty regarded her narrowly. ‘India? Are you certain?’

‘Yeah; says on the tag. See?’

Feisty clutched the bear dramatically, fingers plumbing humble kapok filling. Then he took a leather loop from his pocket and examined it minutely. ‘Do you know what we’re going to do, Rebecca?’

Bec fanned herself with a greeting card and grinned past her chewy. ‘I cannot begin to imagine.’

‘We’re going to use two of our spare belt loops to create a wondrous product from this unpopular plaything. And do you know how we’re going to do it?’

‘Nuh.’

‘Watch!’

Feisty seized the bear and threaded its arm through a loop. Crooning with satisfaction, he slid it to the bear’s shoulder where it rode snugly amid the fur. With mounting enthusiasm, Feisty repeated the process with the other arm, then stood back and gestured wildly.

‘Behold, Bec! I give you… Bondage Bear!’

Bec snorted, first in disbelief, then with reluctant approval. The tawdry gewgaw had indeed changed into something novel. She picked it up and felt the… arm bands. A butch teddy with a fetish.

‘Hm. Hm. Very good.’

The weekend ground on. Feisty’s interest in Bondage Bear waned. But not before he’d explored every positional permutation. On finding the composite discarded by its creator, Bec put it in a dim corner and forgot about it.

**********

It was a slow, cool day in the shop. Bec and Feisty waited for customers. Both were used to it. A strange man entered – strange even by the shop’s standards.

He towered over the counter, bones prominent at selected chakras, jester suit tattered under diaphanous sarongs. His feet were curled and petrified.

He greeted the shop assistants with rabbit teeth and one good eye, while the other took a crazed, milky inventory. Then he made for the dim corner and retrieved Bondage Bear.

‘I’ve just got to buy this.’

Bec looked sharply at Feisty, but on seeing him stunned, held fire.

Feisty recovered quickly, to enjoy the rarest of retail triumphs. ‘Will that be cash?’

‘Yes thanks.’

Bec shook open a plastic bag.

‘Lord no! Bondage Bear must be wrapped thus!’

So saying, Feisty put the bear into a kneeling position and trussed the arms behind it with a rubber band. The customer nodded. Feisty snipped a corner off the bag and tied it firmly over the bear’s head with raffia. Bec watched, mouth agape.

The strange man placed his purchase carefully inside a knapsack and beamed. ‘I’m so pleased I found this.’ And he swept away into the dusk.

Bec and Feisty gazed after him.

‘What, in God’s name, is he going to do with that thing?’

‘It’s not a thing, Bec. It’s Bondage Bear. Don’t worry, his mystical hand-tooled Indian arm bands will protect him.’

‘Bullsh*t; our belts are made in Sydney.’

Feisty froze, a horrified expression on his face. ‘…I see.’

Bec glanced at her watch. ‘It’s five-thirty; better bring the stock in.’

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Death & The Afterlife – Frequently Asked Questions

October 5, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Posted in Article | 3 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Which side are YOU on?

Mine is not a Catholic heaven. Mine is a composite of the finest elements of many creeds, combined with desire and imagination. It took three years to create. I carry it with me always. It calms me like no other theoretical construct, reducing my fear of death and giving me a heightened appreciation of life. I figure it’s worth describing before I die.

Q. 1     How does one gain access to heaven?

The route to heaven is reasonableness. Those who live reasonably are treated reasonably when they die. This is fair, since reasonableness is seldom rewarded in life.

Reasonableness does not equate to mediocrity. It is a virtue as accessible to the anarchic bohemian as to the corporate executive. It means giving things a fair go. It means travelling through life without shafting other people or the environment. It means being gracious, hard-working, honest, generous, positive and grateful – not all the time, but wherever possible and according to ability.

Few can identify with martyrs and saints. Better a world of reasonable folk than one perfect person to every thousand arseholes.

Reasonableness permits redemption, since it is reasonable to suggest that destructive behaviour can be reconciled over time by constructive behaviour. The rule of thumb is to over-compensate. And given the uncertainty of life, it’s best to atone as quickly as possible.

Cooking with gas are the reasonable, for they shall get a fair go.

Q. 2     How does one deal with bereavement in heaven?

When the dead arrive in heaven, most nurse crushing feelings of loss – for their own lives and for the people and things they have left behind. The Time Elasticity Rule offers relief. In heaven, time is malleable; decades can be compressed into moments.

Most newly dead elect to fast forward eighty years or so. As a result, they are reunited with loved ones moments after their own arrival. Surrounded again by friends and family, they can better come to terms with what has happened.

For others, the grieving process is too important to gloss over. They quietly sit out their time at normal speed, waiting for those dear to them to arrive, one by one.

Yet even for the purists, grief fades faster in heaven than on Earth. This is largely due to the staggering variety of exciting activities on offer.

Q. 3     How does one avoid boredom when one is immortal?

Entry to heaven necessitates deification. But immortality is no fun if there’s nothing to do. Heaven’s Edutainment System is the last word in sophistication and flexibility. Because information and novelty excite humans, few are immune to its attraction.

The System makes virtual reality look like Snakes and Ladders. It employs the universe as a setting and time as just one of an infinite number of parameters. It is the mother of all role-playing games.

Yet this description is flawed, for what occurs in the System is real. In short, it allows an immortal to assume any form, in any time, in any place, for any period of time, with any degree of self-awareness and extraneous power.

The awesome power of the System is best illustrated by example: An immortal is chatting with friends over coffee. An argument ensues over the navigational prowess of the Laysan Albatross. Rather than check the facts manually, the woman decides she’d rather experience life as a seabird first hand.

She elects to return to Earth in the 16th Century as a day-old chick on Cape Verde Island. She sets self-awareness to cut in immediately prior to her first flight, but grants herself no extraneous powers. The weeks pass. The woman is the albatross. Only when she flings herself from the nest does she realise she is a returned spirit. Now she can really enjoy learning to fly.

She wheels and dives, revelling in her power. She discovers how to make incredible journeys, drinking sea water, sleeping on the waves, and chasing the ships of Magellan. After thirty years, she is drowned in a storm. At once she is back at her coffee. She relates her marvellous adventure to her friends and wins the argument hands down.

One man is so impressed, he decides to play the role she has just vacated, with a different choice of parameters. He is gone from heaven for an instant. Later, the albatross couple adjourn and compare experiences long into the night, replaying and reliving their favourite parts on the System.

From a tsetse fly on a rhinoceros, to a child at Joan of Arc’s execution, to a crater on the third moon of Jupiter. Nothing is impossible. There is enough to do and learn to fill eternity. Which is handy.

Heaven has everything for everyone.

Q. 4     How can somewhere so crowded be any good?

Some imagine that heaven is bursting at the seams, since everyone who has ever lived a reasonable life must be there. This is a fallacy. Heaven is not crowded, because only a fraction of those who have walked the Earth were on their first time around. The rest were immortals on safari, seeing what it felt like to live as a mother, or a farmer, or a refugee, or… whatever.

The beauty of the System is that when an immortal elects to experience a whole-of-life adventure with full realism, there is no need to create a new mortal on Earth. Imbued with the essence of his or her chosen vehicle, a ‘tourist’ is indistinguishable from the real thing.

People who feel they have met each other before may well be highly sensitive yet non-self-aware immortals on separate real-time adventures. It makes more sense for an immortal to experience many lives than for a mortal to struggle through just one. It keeps the numbers down in paradise.

No one likes a crowd.

Q. 5     How does one know if one is already immortal?

One of the most attractive aspects of heaven is that any of us could already be immortal. When adventure parameters are set to full realism, there is no awareness of immortality until death. You yourself could be an immortal, touring your life.

Those questioning the attractiveness of an adventure with full mortality need only consider the futility of playing cards for matches. Playing for keeps is infinitely more exciting.

The possibility that we are here voluntarily, free to return in any form once we die, makes the prospect of death less frightening. If everything we love is already in heaven, what have we to lose? We are able to enjoy every second and fibre of our existence free from concern about the hereafter, since we may well already be there.

Even if we are not yet immortal, we become so at death, provided of course that we have lived reasonable lives. The pain and suffering of our existence become as important as the joy and ecstasy, since they make for a more holistic life experience. And any unpleasantness becomes more bearable when it is known to be of finite duration.

However you look at it, you can’t lose.

Q. 6     What if one does not value immortality?

For heaven to claim universal appeal, it needs to offer something for the nihilists.

Some people maintain that on dying, they will simply want to stay dead. Since the success of heaven does not rely on everyone ‘getting with the program’, oblivion is a viable option. If, after a cooling-off period and comprehensive System demonstrations, the dead are not impressed by deification, they can forfeit their afterlives and disappear utterly and for ever. Few do.

Would you?

The Latex Beanbags

August 31, 2009 at 2:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The following week, Rodney bought a new lawn mower …

Wolfgang was a tall, rangy homosexual who spoke with flamboyant gestures and a heavily contrived German accent. His acerbic wit could slice the knees from anyone foolish enough to consider him a stereotype.

He was into latex, but not in the biblical sense. Despite looking and acting like one, Wolfgang really was an eccentric and innovative fashion designer. He did all his own work, jealously protecting his exotic techniques. He worked exclusively in latex and had repeatedly pierced the membrane of accepted thought on its use.

In Wolfgang’s hands, latex swooned and surrendered its deepest secrets. It danced for him, happily assuming the appearance of any fabric he cared to nominate, from lace to hessian.

One spring, Wolfgang was suffused with two urges, one of which was to create something truly new in latex. After much deliberation, he decided to construct a set of beanbags. He told his hetero friends, Rodney and Susie. Wired into their Friday night cocktails, the couple embraced the idea and threw in their own thoughts. Most Wolfgang rejected as passé or unviable. A few, however, entered his fertile mind and began incubating.

**********

It was Saturday. Wolfgang bid his hosts a shaky farewell and returned to his studio. He slept for most of the day, rising as an alien orange moon clambered into the dusk, an hour ahead of schedule. The designer looked up bleary-eyed from his basin. The cratered disc filled his window, commanding him to work. The tides in his brain surged. He towelled himself dry, snatched a handful of sweet biscuits from the packet beside his shaver and stumbled into his workroom.

Four hours later the studio was alive with the stench of latex. Faint from fumes, Wolfgang cut and bonded the freshly prepared fabric in a trance. Above hundred year old slate, the moon kept up an even, insistent pressure. It dandled its servant from silver wires, guiding Wolfgang’s hands with supernatural precision. He had become a conduit, and pure inspiration flowed through his abused veins.

The possession continued until the moon sank beneath cold sheets, drawing comfort from the night’s mischief. The sober sun took charge, pouring light over the prone form of Wolfgang, slumped amid three perfect beanbags.

**********

Susie opened her door to three huge tumours. She gasped, then realised they were the beanbags Wolfgang had threatened to construct. Laughing with embarrassment, she invited him in.

‘They’re marvelous, Wolfie! How’d you manage to knock them up so fast?’

Wolfgang smiled. ‘I vas possessed, darlingk. You haf no idea vat it vas like. I verked like ze demon all night. I just hat to show you zem. I em fery prout.’

The beanbags were indeed handsome. One was a dappled military farrago of four earthy colours. The others were of the same design, but employed only two of the hues of the first. One was olive and russet, the other brick red and ochre. The members of the set complemented each other perfectly.

Susie ushered Wolfgang to the terrace. Rodney stood in long grass before an ancient lawn mower, worn components strewn over sun-warmed concrete.

‘Hello, friend,’ said Rodney.

‘Hallo, darlingk.’ Wolfgang tossed the beanbags onto the terrace and stood arms folded. Rodney gave a low whistle and pulled the nearest towards him. He rolled the smooth latex between his thumb and forefinger and tested the seams. Holding the units together, he marvelled at how the colours worked. Then he turned one over and over, hunting for its zipper.

‘You von’t find him. I haf hidden him mit much cleferness.’

Rodney rose to the challenge, but Wolfgang’s prophecy held true.

‘Bloody ingenious; I think they’re fabulous. Why don’t we have a beer and try them out on the grass?’

‘Vell … perheps a small portion. Ya, O.K.’

Rodney beamed, happy to abandon his struggle with the mower. He nodded to the beanbags.

‘Like to do the honours?’

Wolfgang gathered up the four-coloured beanbag and with patent pleasure, hurled it from the terrace. It described a slow, graceful arc through the azure sky and fell deep in the lush lawn.

The moment it hit the ground, the beanbag disappeared.

The three friends blinked. The grass was fifteen centimetres high at most – nowhere near tall enough to conceal a beanbag at ground level, let alone from their elevation.

‘Fok me! Vere did ze fokker go?’

‘Buggered if I know,’ replied Rodney. ‘Chuck one of the others out.’

Wolfgang nodded and threw the olive and russet beanbag after its sibling. It landed close to where the four-coloured unit should have been, but remained clearly visible.’

‘That’s where the other one went,’ marvelled Susie. ‘So where is it?’

‘I don’t know, but I’m goingk to find out.’ Wolfgang prepared to jump down beside Rodney, then seized the last beanbag and sent it after the others. In utter amazement, he watched it vanish on landing, along with the other bi-coloured bag it hit.’

‘Sh*t!’ exclaimed Rodney. ‘That’s some camouflage. How’d you do it?’

Wolfgang strode to the site. ‘I just mixed up ze colours like I alvays do. I don’t haf any formula, so zey alvays com out a bit different. I don’t know vot ze fok hes heppened here. But I’m fokking goingk to find out.’ He stomped around the landing zone, crushing innumerable blades of grass and releasing a fragrant promise of summer.

Susie joined the search. ‘This is crazy; they must be here!’

Much later, the group sat on the terrace. Too exhausted even to open their beers, they glared at the trampled lawn.

The following week, Rodney bought a new lawn mower. Delighted with its power, he gleefully scythed through the grass and filled his compost bin with catcher after catcher of clippings. He failed to notice the soft resistance midway through one of his turns around the rose bed.

Not until a white jet of polystyrene balls shot over his shoulder and dispersed in the hot air did he realise he’d found a beanbag. He spotted the red and ochre fabric of one of the bi-coloured units and excitedly scanned the ground for its mate. It lay behind him and to the left – out of range.

**********

These days the two bi-coloured beanbags live in Susie and Rodney’s house. Whenever Wolfgang visits, the couple put them away. He cannot bear to be reminded. When the beanbags get in range of each other, they disappear – and usually remain so till vacuuming day. The four-coloured unit is still somewhere in the garden.

It’s like anything.

🙂

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.