The Kombi-van rail cannon

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

The Random Breakfast Generator

September 4, 2009 at 10:15 am | Posted in Short Story | Leave a comment
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Pic by Erica Marshall of muddyboots.org

Tristan the Advertising Cadet tossed fretfully on his futon. He really needed All Bran this morning. Fifteen days of Froot Loops had left him twitchy, constipated and more than a little paranoid. Once again he fantasized about sabotaging his Smeg Random Breakfast Generator.

‘Wallpaper’ magazine had claimed that random cereal generation was the ultimate way for young executives to prove their ability to handle whatever life threw at them. The concept was so exclusive that global distribution was restricted to one client per postcode.

Tristan bid furiously online for the personality assessment, triggering a call from his Help Desk Officer, who he told to f*ck off. He won the auction, noting in the disclaimer that random generation was not recommended for Capricorns. He earned a borderline pass and secured his order with a massive down payment. At last he had the means to erase office memories of his mother’s mortifying muesli porridge deliveries.

After four months wait and a three-day installation nightmare, the Random Breakfast Generator (or RBG as Tristan was now entitled to call it) dominated his apartment. The cost was crippling.

He threw a party and was amazed at the number of work colleagues who came. Guzzling his designer beers, they filed murmuring around the gleaming cylinders of what looked like a monstrous paint-tinting machine. Tristan poured schnapps for the creatives and learned with delight that they’d visited the web address he’d emailed them.

‘Twelve months eh, Cobber?’ The Art Director swapped looks with his team. ‘Reckon you can handle it?’

Tristan refilled the shot glasses. ‘Piece of piss, Andre; just you wait.’

‘We’ll be monitoring your progress.’

‘Go for your lives; the website’s updated every day…’

‘We know.’

Tristan’s favourite Account Coordinator approached the bar, achingly lissom in a Christopher Kronos spray-on. Tottering on her Nine Wests, she hefted Tristan’s Orrefors pitcher and sent a sparkling fragment into the salad centrifuge.

‘Oops! Sorry Trist; my bad. The Boys said we need another jug of Midori.’

Tristan gritted his teeth and emptied another textured bottle. It was Danni, more than anyone, that he wanted to impress.

She put her elbows on the bar and leaned forward smiling. ‘Nice toy.’ She flicked her eyes to the RBG. ‘Cost a bit?’

Tristan’s knife missed its lime completely. ‘F*ck yeah! I mean – yeah. A bit.’

‘So how’d you manage to pick thirty cereals? I can only think of… four.’

‘They gave me a list of hundreds; I just had to rank them. They had every cereal from round the world. Even ones they don’t make any more.’

‘Yeah?’ She took a slice of lemon and stroked it absently over her tongue. ‘Even Chocco Nuggets?’

Tristan blinked. ‘Chocco Nuggets? I can’t believe you said that! How d’you know about them?’

‘I used to have ’em at Grandma’s.’

‘Fair dinkum?’

‘Fair dinkum.’

‘Sh*t! So did I!’

Danni put the lemon in her mouth and bit hard. Her freckled nose wrinkled. ‘Wow!’

Tristan stirred the pitcher and tossed in a sprig of parsley. ‘I put Chocco Nuggets third; I haven’t had them for ages; I wouldn’t mind if I got them every day.’

Danni grinned. ‘That’d kinda defeat the purpose though, wouldn’t it? Still, I’d love to have ’em again one day too.’

‘You would?’

‘Yeah!’

Tristan’s heart began to thump. ‘Well, maybe…’

‘Oi, Danster!’ A large Sales Rep gestured from the balcony. ‘Tell Ted to hurry up with that f*cking jug!’ The Sales Boys always called Tristan Ted. Short for Sh*thead.

‘Coming!’ Danni grabbed the pitcher. ‘Gotta go, Trist; great party. I hope you get Chocco Nuggets every day.’

Tristan gazed after her, then realised the creatives were staring at him.

The copywriter lifted an eyebrow. ‘Chocco Nuggets?’

**********

Smeg contracts were Draconian by design. Tristan was glad; it was going to take a lot to make up for his failure to stop the Sales Boys pissing in his spa. He scanned the pages over his first random breakfast of Froot Loops, left buttock still aching from his NanoBot injection. In a few hours, the implant would advise Smeg Client Service that Tristan’s meal had entered his duodenum and was past the point of return.

Failure to receive this message every 24 hours would elicit a warning. Unless Tristan could prove an eligible medical condition, his contract would be terminated, his huge surety forfeited and his loser status proclaimed on Smeg’s RBG microsite. When he arrived at work, he was stunned to see every browser displaying this exact site.

‘We’re all eager to see how you get on.’ The Copywriter’s breath was hot at Tristan’s ear. ‘We’ve even organised a little communal bet, if you’re feeling confident.’

Tristan flushed. ‘Oh really?’ His voice shrilled as heads popped from every cubicle. ‘You’re bloody on!’

A cheer went up and the Copywriter handed Tristan a pen. ‘Nice one, Squadron Leader, sign here!’

The contract was printed on the studio’s best paper. Through smarting tears Tristan beheld a terrifying figure in double bolded comic sans.

**********

Tristan barely slept that night. He was hocked to the eyeballs; if he lost the bet, he’d have to default on his BMW. He glared at the pristine hoppers glinting in the moonlight. Suddenly they gave an unearthly groan and began to rotate. Tristan leapt like a deer, straight through his Japanese changing screen. Then he remembered: the RBG self-cleaned daily.

He’d nominated 3:00pm; the cycle was twelve hours early. For fifteen minutes he watched the machine behave like a mantis after feeding. The awful scrapes and whines raised his hackles repeatedly. Thoroughly spooked, he watched his ‘Lost in Space’ videos until it was time for breakfast.

He got Froot Loops.

The probability of two consecutive identical cereals was 1 in 900. This figure appeared in the RBG’s metrics monitor, which also advised Tristan that the odds of his next breakfast being Froot Loops were 1 in 2,700. Though tempted to test them, Tristan’s contract constrained him to wait until the following day, whereupon his china bowl rang again with little coloured rings.

The same thing happened the next day.

And the next.

He didn’t even like Froot Loops. He’d put them thirtieth – too timid to chance the nasty looking offerings from Yemen, Belarus and Chad. The cereal was painfully crunchy. The coating, which could only be dissolved by pancreatic amylase (thereby freeing radioisotopes for NanoBot detection), could be optioned to keep every morsel milk-free. Tristan rued his choice; preference changes were only free at the annual major service.

He couldn’t believe that having crunchier cereal than anyone else in his suburb had ever seemed like an edge.

**********

After two weeks of the sickly fruit treats, Tristan’s bowels became capricious. He called Smeg and a voice synthesiser offered a service visit, provided he undertook to pay for it should no fault be detected. Miserably he pressed ‘1’. The voice then asked him to confirm his apartment access code so the Technician could plan his or her day without constraint.

That evening, a crisp printout on Tristan’s dining table informed him that comprehensive diagnostics had shown the RBG to be in perfect working order. He converted his remaining share options and went to bed defeated. At 3:00am, the self-clean cycle scared the bejesus out of him yet again. Four hours later, the RBG presented him with another pristine serve of Froot Loops.

Tristan regarded the bowl white lipped, then flew to the bathroom and smashed it into his chrome toilet. Flush after flush failed to sink the impermeable rings, which bobbed gaily like so many life preservers. Then Tristan’s mobile bleeped with a text message:

‘Your Smeg RBG bathroom sensor has detected undigested breakfast material. Please remit proof of your medical condition to avoid breach of contract. Get well soon!’

Irradiation did more than keep the RBG’s cereals fresh and sterile, it made them easy to track. Tristan sank to his knees and stared long at the strobing sensor peeping from his s-bend. Suddenly it all seemed too much. What was poverty, compared to this hell? In a year or two he’d be back in the black. He’d had enough.

Riding in the office elevator he felt a faint stirring in his guts. His body seemed to be affirming that his decision, however painful, was the right one. The door dinged open and he exited with a faint smile – straight into a phalanx of manic colleagues.

‘He’s here; he’s not sick! Wooo hooo! We’re in the money! We’re in the money!’

Tristan’s image stared from every terminal, a crimson ‘WARNING ISSUED’ plastered across his Smeg file. The Copywriter began an exponential conga line and Tristan choked as Danni sashayed past – a hairy pair of sales hands at her supple hips.

For dinner, Tristan fished one Froot Loop at a time from his toilet, rinsed it in a bowl of vodka and washed it down with more.

**********

Mountain dawns and ocean sunsets swept unheeded past Tristan’s picture windows. The odds of Froot Loops were now so titanic, the metrics monitor expressed them as a formula. In return for a month’s free consumables, Tristan had allowed Smeg to run an article on his freakish statistical experience.

Now he spent his evenings bitterly declining invitations from chat rooms. Smeg’s home page had even begun scrolling up to the minute data and commentary on his progress.

At work the mood was hostile. It was almost Christmas and Tristan’s colleagues were sweating on their windfall. Their premature jubilation had soured to resentment at his stubbornness. Surely it was only a matter of time.

The agency mysteriously snared the All Bran account and Tristan was assigned to oversee the national re-brand. Bound by his contract, he dejectedly donated his pallet of freebies to charity.

On New Year’s Eve, Tristan breakfasted as usual. Hunched and rocking in the gloom of his filthy kitchen, he failed to notice the puff of powder that followed the Froot Loops through the dispensing chute. Only when his spoon made a gritty crunching sound did he look into the bowl.

Tristan began to tremble, then tore open his curtains to examine the vessel more closely. Under gentle morning sunlight, a faint residue bore witness to a vanished milk tide.

Ten seconds into the New Year, Tristan activated his RBG again. Amid a blaze of re-aimed downlights, his prayers were answered: Froot Loop dust. With a mad cackle he leapt onto his bench and tapped one of the hoppers with a cleaver. The pentatonic note was loud and pure. He hit another, and the sound was the same.

Forcing the machine around on its axis, he banged each cylinder in turn, frantically searching for the one that had to be almost empty. But the Italian steel was too thick to permit differentiation.

Undeterred, he loaded his owner’s CD and pored over the specifications, then calculated the volume of Froot Loops he’d eaten during the previous months. He carefully rechecked his figures, concluding that there could be no more than five serves of the hateful food left in the machine. If Smeg thought he were going to authorise a refill, they had another f*cking thing coming.

That week saw a transformed Tristan. Though pallid and overweight, he cut a commanding figure among his peers. Even the creatives began to look nervous. With each new dawn, Tristan happily devoured a growing portion of dust until only one possible Froot Loops serve remained.

It was Friday. For the first time in months, Tristan followed his peers to the pub. He drank heavily and even shouted a couple of rounds into his social vacuum. In just a few hours, he’d be free. As he got intoxicated, he began baiting the Copywriter and got a pleasing reaction. For once the shoe was on the other foot.

He became increasingly bold, thrilling as the Sales Boys congratulated him on his wit. Goading and taunting, he gradually worked the whole room into laughter at the Copywriter’s expense – tapping into deep-seated ignorance and jealousy of the creative function.

Then the Copywriter’s mobile rang and Tristan elatedly accepted his first free drink since joining the agency. When he turned back, the Copywriter’s furious face was only centimetres from his.

‘Alright, Arsehole, if you’re so f*cking confident, why don’t you double our bet?’

Tristan did a clumsy mental calculation and ended up with his BMW, two weeks’ holiday and enough cocaine to dust Danni’s entire body. Swayingly he surveyed the assembly, alcohol burning in his ulcerated stomach. Suddenly, all became hushed.

‘Doubleall yerbetsh? Yerrr bloody ONNN!’

The cheer was deafening. Tristan smirked at the Copywriter, who toasted him in surprisingly gracious defeat.

The summer sunset moiled huge on the horizon as Tristan slewed into his apartment. Chuckling and dribbling, he tore off his suit and slithered onto his cool Spanish granite. His pupils slid in and out of focus, then abruptly narrowed to pinpricks. At his nose was a tiny plastic toucan.

He scrambled to his feet and seized the mascot. Attached was a letter from Kellogs, thanking him for all the publicity and promising free Froot Loops for the remaining months of his contract.

Underneath was another Smeg printout, confirming that per the recent change in account conditions (as detailed in the brochure emailed to his work), his hopper had been refilled automatically.

Tearing at his face and hair, Tristan ran howling from the giant burning Froot Loop that filled his Western window.

Back at the office, his Help Desk Officer exited Smeg’s Client Control Site and deleted her hacker’s ID.

‘That’ll teach you,’ she whispered.


If you found this entertaining, you may wish to:

Your smallest kindness will keep me going strong. With many thanks, Paul.


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.

The Bloke Who Drives The Bus

August 29, 2009 at 6:54 pm | Posted in Short Story | 2 Comments
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Pic by Steffe

G’day.

I’m a bloke.

I drive a bus.

THE bus.

The bus people get hit by when they’re least prepared for it.

In layperson’s terms, you could say I’m the bloke who drives the bus.

Except that sometimes I drive a truck.

I don’t mind; it makes for variety and the results are generally the same.

It’s weird that most people fear buses more than trucks. I keep stats for my own interest; it’s currently a 70/30 split in favour of buses.

I don’t get it. Compared to rigs, I reckon buses are pretty tame. Except the ones in Africa with 90 people on the roof.

On a muddy mountain track you can really get up some momentum, though the brakes and shockers are usually shot, which ruins your aim.

When I worked Gabon in my early years, I had to sideswipe more than one target and the collateral damage was not pleasant.

I’ve done a bit of research on my craft.

Did you know that ‘omnibus’ means ‘for everyone’ in Latin? Common English usage shortened it to ‘bus’. In Italian, there are eleven names for buses of every kind. I sh*t you not: autoalveare, autobus, autosnodato, autotreno, belvedere, carro alpino, char-a-banc, corriera, filovia, pullman and torpedone.

What is it with these people? I prefer ‘omnibus’ because for me, everyone is a potential mark.

Benz built the world’s first omnibus in 1895. Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft produced a truck the following year. Maybe that’s how buses got the jump in urban mythology. As you can imagine, they were pretty thin on the ground at first. Helmut, my great-great-great-grandfather, was a champion driving bloke.

How he managed to orchestrate a pile up with the only other two commercial vehicles in Cannstatt is anybody’s guess. That he caused so much carnage with only four horsepower is even more impressive.

I guess it’s in our blood.

For me, it always starts as a tingle in my right thigh – deep down where I can never scratch. I can be driving the same route I’ve been on for months and then suddenly, I know I simply have to nail that Finance Director who’s exiting the Melbourne Club.

Uncle Roy gets a nervous tic in his left eye; brother Norman wets his pants and cousin Enid … well, let’s just say she really looks forward to getting her ‘message’.

Whatever the medium, we all know when it’s time. And thanks to the amazing safety features of today’s vehicles, we invariably live to tell the tale. You know when the newsreaders say: ‘the driver escaped serious injury’ or ‘the driver walked away unhurt’? Well, that’s us.

When it’s showtime, surprise is everything. As pedestrians, we’ve all had close shaves with traffic. Driving blokes play this to the max. The best outfits run vehicles so quiet you can get onto your targets before they know what’s hit them.

The Kenworth T800 Liquefied Natural Gas rig is quieter than any diesel on the road and produces 60% less nitrous oxide to boot. Raley’s Supermarkets of Sacramento runs a fleet of these, providing an excellent training platform for younger blokes.

But even your standard Mack can benefit from accessorising. Take the Goodyear Eagle LS. With curved pitch boundaries, triple tread block geometry and wide circumferential channels, it’s the king of stealth.

As you can probably tell, I love technology. Every now and then I get the urge to be an owner-driver.

More than anything, I’d like to run road trains out of Alice Springs. No witnesses, plenty of power and oodles of room to maneouvre. But with my record, I’d never get the permits.

I’ve been a driving bloke for 40 years now, but it wasn’t always the case.

I first felt the call on my Schwinn tricycle at kindergarten. When I got sent home for piloting Virginia Folvig onto a wooden peg (a’ la ‘Midnight Express’), my parents bought me a pedal car. I was horrified at what I’d done and resolved to take public transport thereafter.

This was fine until high school. For two years straight, bullies held me on the bus beyond my stop.

Then along came Stan.

No other driver had ever heeded my cries, let alone interceded. For weeks he was my guardian, until the boys got even.

They hijacked him one dark winter afternoon.

Their frozen oranges crazed his windows and startled him into a violent skid, which ended in the foundations of the school’s new swimming pool.

The boys successfully denied everything.

I have their names, though. My family has promised to alert me if any come up in the course of our business.

We’re all over the world now, my family. We love being instruments of Fate.

It’s so empowering; we never take a sickie. This can be risky where vehicles are publicly owned and malingering is a way of life.

Fortunately, economic rationalism is privatising most fleets. It’s perfect – increased turnover promotes anonymity, while low morale, reduced maintenance and deregulation make it easy to shift the blame.

To be on the safe side, we generally change employers every few hits. People are so superstitious.

The most interesting aspect of my work is the aftermath.

Though death by heavy vehicle is clearly a fact of life (Google provides over 13,000 returns for the phrase: ‘hit by a bus’), few firms have a progression and succession plan hardy enough to handle the spontaneous loss of key employees.

Of course, most organisations are only really scared of losing senior staff.

I find this endlessly amusing, since it’s generally the loss of ‘little people’ that causes the greatest havoc.

I once despatched a popular tea lady at a small factory. It took management two months to replace her, during which time the union initiated disputes on breaks, demarcation and the use of contractors.

Scalds and fights over biscuits blew the WorkCover premium out by 18% the following year, torpedoing a major export deal.

The job went to a competitor and the factory has been in decline ever since.

By contrast, I recently nailed the $250K-plus-benefits Strategic Director (Asia Pacific) of an insurance juggernaut.

No one even noticed until he missed his Hamilton Island ‘Resource Leveraging’ conference.

The irony of my role is that most people affirm their own deaths.

You know how those New Age types warn: ‘don’t give that thought energy’? Well, they’re right. So many times I’ve heard people say: ‘he only mentioned getting hit by a bus the other day’.

The universe is a ruthlessly efficient machine and I’m proud to be one of its drivers.

See you on the road.

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Penny for Your Thoughts?

August 29, 2009 at 2:21 pm | Posted in Short Story | 2 Comments
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mind memory memories remember thought

Barbra is a Mobile Consultant for Piece of Mind Inc. A seasoned psychiatrist, she earns more than most of the folk at Accenture – which is a sh*tload.

Piece of Mind deals in memories. Barbra’s job is to assess, price, acquire and resell the recollections of prospective clients. The longer and more significant the memory, the more it’s worth.

For instance, the memory of a wedding night invariably fetches more than that of watching Billy Crystal in ‘Forget Paris’ – while the complete record of a dead relative is generally worth more again.

Once Barbra has negotiated a contract, she connects her new client to her ‘Think Tank’, which looks like an early Toshiba laptop. This device copies the memory onto triple-density double-sided disk(s) and electrically wipes it from the vendor’s brain. Barbra then emails a backup to Piece of Mind’s memory bank, in case she comes to grief on her journey back to the office.

Contrary to widespread belief, it is impossible to install a memory into anyone other than its originator. The brain’s insanely complex circuitry ensures that any foreign thought is rejected as surely as a bamboo hip joint.

This means that for each memory acquired, there is only one potential customer. Surprisingly, 23% of Piece of Mind’s clients want their memories back within a decade of selling them. Since the firm charges ten times the purchase price to reinstall a recollection, it earns more than enough to cover the lease on Barbra’s V8 Lotus Esprit.

Barbra enjoys her work and is happy to recount authorised case studies. These help explain why so many clients change their minds.

‘A’ gives up smoking by having all pleasant associations with the habit removed. These are so numerous that his personality alters dramatically and his friends desert him – whereupon he turns to alcohol.

‘B’ sells his memory of childhood abuse for $15,000 (which he spends on vinyl cladding). A year later, police ask him to identify his attacker to help break a pedophile ring. After agonising deliberation, ‘B’ sells his house to repurchase his memory for $150,000. His wife leaves him and the offender escapes on a technicality.

‘C’ sells her memory of mediocre nightclub evening during which she has a fleeting encounter with a charming man. She returns the following week to spend her earnings and the man approaches her, keen to continue their conversation. She cannot remember him and he withdraws offended.

Tired of chronic conflict with his mother, ‘D’ sells his entire memory of her, from infancy to adulthood, for $200,000. The mother subsequently begs for reconciliation, but neither party can raise the money.

Barbra’s work is not without risk. Recently, one of her colleagues was abducted and forced to remove incriminating memories from a murder witness and then himself. Despite these efforts, the suspect still met justice on failing a lie detector test (having neglected to have his own memory purged).

Most would agree that memories are precious. So can they be given a price? Think for a moment; what is your most treasured memory? Would you sell it for five million dollars? Such a sum could certainly finance a galaxy of fresh experiences.

We can perhaps conjure memories that we would trade on the spot for two slabs and a bottle of Bacardi. But which memories can we truly afford to renounce: those that are repetitious (our daily commute), those that are substandard (some of the later ‘Muppets’ episodes) or those we’d like to experience over and over (first pet, first car, first love etc.)?

Since they comprise a record of what has and has not worked during our lifetimes, it could be said that memories are what make us. Bad memories could even be considered more important than good ones, since they teach us to avoid dangerous situations.

What reminiscences, then, would you sell and for how much?

Piece of Mind’s switchboard music is the theme from ‘Men in Black’. Few recall that this is a rip off of ‘Forget-Me-Nots’ by Patricia Rushen and Freddy Washington. In light of this and other disturbing phenomena, Piece of Mind’s detractors have accused the firm of stealing memories en masse from the public.

The conspiracy is said to involve an ingenious synergy between mobile phones and fast food additives that exploits the brain’s delicate electrochemical physiology.

Australia is the world’s highest per capita user of mobile phones and a voracious consumer of fast food. Perhaps this is why crucial political promises containing the words: ‘no child in poverty’ and ‘never ever GST’ have been forgotten by voters. Were they to be remembered, surely neither of the parties involved could still claim the right to govern.

Barbra’s take on the matter is philosophical, if not evasive. As far as she’s concerned, ‘memories may be beautiful and yet, what’s too painful to remember we simply choose to forget’.

🙂

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Hurt Couture

August 29, 2009 at 1:34 pm | Posted in Article | 1 Comment
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Look bad, feel worse.

In a little while, an extremely avant-garde fashion house will be formed. Rejected by all established organisations in their respective fields, two bright graduates will form a partnership. Their names will probably be Oskar and Vivienne and their company will almost certainly be called ‘Hurt Couture’.

Oskar will be a breathtakingly innovative designer. Vivienne will specialise in artificial intelligence and have a good grasp of nanotechnology. They will make catastrophic love once, swear never again to touch banana advocaat and then settle into to a close and productive friendship.

Hurt Couture’s mission will be ‘To make it impossible for people to look bad in our clothes’. Its slogan will be ‘No More Sneers’, ‘Look Bad, Feel Worse’, or something of that order. The logo will be a pair of stylised scissors suspended, like the sword of Damocles, by a thread.

Hurt Couture will not use fur, leather or feathers in any creation. Vivienne will argue in interviews and documentaries that since vanity is a purely human trait, its impact should fall accordingly.

The unique selling proposition of Hurt Couture will be revolutionary. Their garments will be engineered to punish people who don’t look good in them. ‘Countermeasures’ will range from gentle warnings to execution, depending on the severity of the offence.

Successful use of a Hurt Couture outfit will mean, by definition, that the wearer looks good. Rapid public adoption of company standards will flow from their intrinsic logic. Base directives will prevent shirt sleeves being rolled above the elbows, blue and green being seen without a colour in between and single breasted suits having all their buttons done up. Forbidden accessories will definitely include braces, bow ties and berets.

Countermeasures will be categorised, allowing clients to nominate their level of risk. Elegant contracts will set precedents for signing away common law rights. To the dismay of Hurt Couture’s left wing founders, this will quickly spill into the industrial relations arena.

Countermeasure severity will be expressed in ‘hurts’ (microhurts, millihurts, megahurts, gigahurts and terahurts). In a confusing nomenclature, ‘killerhurts’ will be reserved for terminal countermeasures. Mired in a non-metric system, US consumers will drop like flies until instructions are translated into their archaic terminology.

Spectacular garments like gowns and dance costumes will carry the gravest countermeasures – particularly if designed for high profile events. Television industry awards will consequently suffer numerous embarrassments.

Garments will be both solar powered and able to harness static electricity. State-of-the-art sensors, microprocessors and nanobots will put the price of even a tie beyond the reach of average wage earners.

All countermeasure sequences will begin with a warning, allowing reasonable time to either cease committing the fashion crime or leave the scene.

Electrical countermeasures will comprise audio and visual messages, lights, alarms and shocks. The common mistake of putting on odd socks will be countered by a friendly warning (‘microhurt’).

Chemical countermeasures will involve garment discolouration and self-destruction as well as acid irritation and injury. A white suit worn in sufficiently poor taste will generally dye itself piebald or corrode its owner’s wrists (‘megahurt’).

Mechanical countermeasures will include garment tightening and self destruction, cutting and pricking and emetic or poison injection. Any lapse of concentration at a fashion event will swiftly lead to incapacitating illness and/or the rending of every stitch (‘terahurt’).

Hurt Couture’s logo will be prominent and actively lit on every creation. Inside, fibre optics will feed a powerful central processing unit. Depletion or compromise of any countermeasure mechanism will disable the glowing scissors, defeating the purpose of wearing the item.

For safety reasons, pregnant women will be prevented from wearing Hurt Couture by hormone sensors. At least one dancing queen will watch her logos short circuit as she conceives atop the boom boxes at a three-day rave after a heated encounter behind the vegieburger tent.

Hurt Couture will capture public imagination and become a killer brand. Though industry bodies like The Cotton Board will strive to influence directives, consumers will reject their obvious self-interest and cling more firmly to ‘source’ dictates.

Vain people will become addicted to the brand and wear nothing else. By refusing to cover the risk, insurers will trigger mass policy cancellations – negating the effect of government rebates and dealing the industry a well-deserved kick in the teeth.

There will be no website; word of mouth and reportage will do everything. Production will be subcontracted under strict licence to accredited manufacturers. International standards like ISO 9001 will be rewritten to incorporate Oskar and Vivienne’s visionary ideas as to what really constitutes a quality organisation.

Ruined clothes will be refitted as clients try again and again to wear them correctly. This repeat business will create exponential growth of such magnitude that Hurt Couture will single-handedly revitalise the Australian dollar.

A leading footwear juggernaut will try to knock off company designs. Hundreds of Vietnamese children will die in a factory explosion as unscrupulous directors seek to minimise countermeasure substrate costs.

In a desperate bid to reclaim market share, a Swedish homewares firm will purchase the right to produce a complementary range of ‘Hurt Furniture’. Its first product will be a banana lounge that delivers high-tension piano wire wounds to incautious recumbents. Insufficient field-testing, however, will result in a string of gruesome self-assembly accidents.

Death by deliberately induced fashion crisis will account for a statistically relevant proportion of suicides.

Charities will forbid donation of Hurt Couture garments, owing to the high risk of injury to recipients.

Representatives from the bondage and discipline community will lobby Hurt Couture to create garments that punish wearers who look GOOD. Vivienne will decline to produce a range, but concede to re-engineer bespoke items.

One day a crowd will accost Oskar in the street, demanding to know what right he has to decide who wears his designs. Oskar will be deeply troubled by this and will rationalise that while he has no moral mandate he is, like a lawyer or accountant, entitled to choose his clients.

This will not sit well and he will continue to be agitated until he discusses the issue with Vivienne over an impertinent Verdelho. She will suggest they expand their range to include styles suitable for all body types, with the aim of making everyone on the planet look their best.

As the sun sets over their cliff-top studio, the partners will agree that if, despite this accommodation, some paedophilic scoutmaster still insists on cramming his fat arse into their beloved Lurex ‘Marching Boy’ hotpants, he deserves everything they can dish out.

🙂

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

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