World of Condiments

•June 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

When she left, Susan never thought she’d end up at the World of Condiments. She just threw a bag into her ’86 Pulsar and drove West, leaving everything behind. The whole way, she never once looked into the rearview mirror; there was nothing back there for her.  She breezed through Ballarat, and Horsham was a wasteland where McDonalds and KFC grinned at each other like skulls across the highway. When she saw the sign somewhere after Natimuk, she pulled over on a whim.

It had been built in the 70’s, during the craze for big things. Along with the Big Merino, the Big Banana and the Giant Koala, a two storey high mustard pot had been built to house the World of Condiments. Inside, visitors are greeted with sauces, mustards, rubbings, chutneys and chow chows both foreign and domestic. Dusty dioramas take them on a tour through the fascinating history of condiments (who would have imagined that condiments were the first democracy, allowing the populace to cast off the imperialist shackles of received taste?).

It was the same whim as drew Susan to stop that made her ask for a job and stay. Sugar and spice had always struck her as too prosaic things for a girl to be made of, and the World of Condiments offered much more exotic options for her to discover who she really was.

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Hubert

•June 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

They met under the overhang of an old drain, that dripped rain from the autumnal squall; the rivulets a ghost of flows past.  They slunk in like shadows, deeper shades against the shadows all around.

“What now Catkin, what now Dammels?”

“Ah brother, ah sister.  Here, see what is in my bag.  A maiden’s fancy, lifted from her lover’s pocket, even as I sent him to the arms of another.”

“A pretty trinket, Catkin.  Into the covert with it!  And you, Dammels?  What of the cully Hubert?”

“He arointed over hill and dale, chasing the sun.  I purloined his ear, while he slept.  When he awoke, I gave to him that it was the sun that had it, and sent him hounding it.”

“His ear? Sister, it is yet a prettier trinket.  Into the covert with it too.”

Hubert smiles merrily in the darkness, waiting for them to leave.  Age and weirding they may have, but in his hand, leather bound is the weight of a cold iron key.

Wolverton

•June 1, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Wolverton and Chen Baochai grab cover on opposite sides of the room; she shouting in disgust as she slides over what’s left of Mr Yeung.   The hardboy stays up, firing, then sits down a moment later, plucking weakly at the growing stain on his shirt.

Shen sends the remaining rounds in the cylinder zinging around the room then keeps pulling the trigger uselessly, unable to comprehend the mechanism.  Wolverton peeks out from behind the pillar he’s hiding behind and Shen hurls the revolver at him, sending it clattering against the concrete.

Wolverton ducks back and Shen charges forward, screaming in frustration.

Fields

•May 31, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Fields steps out of the cafe, the door closing behind her with a musical tinkle.  Outside, the wind returns, swirling around her in greeting.  She reaches up with a hand to adjust the bandana holding back her hair, her face looking towards the hotel down the street.  She turns away from it and walks through the dust towards the two storey building at the other end, the wind following like a friendly dog.

Wooden shutters sit like punctuation on the face of the building, closed against the wind.  The wind at Fields’ heels blows up to rattle the shutters, but little more.  She bangs on the nearest one with a fist and leans against the wall of the building, staring back down the street.  The nearby shutter opens a crack, allowing a rough voice to emerge.

“Yeah?”

“I want to talk to Crobus.  Tell him I’m available for hire.  Tell him, also, to watch: I’m going to show him what I’m worth.”

Fields fishes in her jacket for a cigarillo, puts it between her teeth and lights it, bending her head to catch the tip in the flame.  End lit, she straightens up and pushes away from the wall, stepping out into the middle of the street.  She walks unhurriedly, letting her steps take her one at a time back to the hotel.

The door of the hotel opens, spilling four toughs back out into the street.  The porker with the nose ring turns and laughs over his shoulder at the others as she approaches.

“Knew she couldn’t stay away, boys.”  He turns back towards Fields with a leer.  “Be a good girl and get inside, eh?”

Fields takes the cigarillo out of her mouth and examines the smouldering end of it.  “You know, I’d ridden a long way to get here, and all I was looking for was a drink.  I wasn’t looking to upset you local farmboys.”

Nose Ring scowls.  “Do you see a farm anywhere around here?  You’re pretty, and we’re patient men, but you need to watch that mouth.  I’m thinking that maybe I’m going to show you how.”

Fields finishes the cigarillo and drops the butt to the ground, grinding it into the dust with a toe.  “Actually, you’re right.  I was thinking about you, and that offer you made to me earlier.  I was thinking, ‘What would these dickless fucks actually do with a woman, anyway?’”

There’s a slight pause, while Nose Ring takes it in, followed by a flash in his eyes.  His hand reaches down for his gun.  It doesn’t make it.  Fields’ gun is already in her hand and smoking before he can complete the motion.  The bullet takes the nose ring, along with most of his face.  The body’s buckling at the knees and falling when the others reach for their own weapons.

Fields’ revolver barks again, faster than thought.  Two of them fall into the dust; another drops to his knees and howls, clutching at the bloody stump of an elbow.  The moment after her gun has spoken, it’s back in its holster; Fields turns on her heel, and walks back the way she came, as unhurriedly as before.

As she passes the undertaker on the return journey, she points towards him.  “Three coffins.”   She pauses, then looks over her shoulder at the armless man slumping back against the ground.  “Maybe make that four.”

Titus and Publia

•May 28, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The parties thrown by Titus and Publia held a reputation for excess that was unmatched anywhere beneath the waves.  They were spectacles of light and colour that you went to as much to be seen as anything else.

Reef sharks circulated with stately grace, shadowed by remora waiters carrying trays of canapes.  Clownfish pirouetted and acted the fool, delighting crowds who gathered to watch their antics.  Groupers, cod, tang and damselfish mingled in the grand ballroom, while schools of leatherjackets hung around in the corners, looking tough.

At the centre of it all were Titus and Publia, weaving their way through the guests, leaving a trail of laughter and bonhomie behind them.  They were the social morays of the time.

Wolverton

•May 25, 2011 • 3 Comments

Mr Yeung turns inside out and splatters messily upon the ground before Wolverton can obdurate the room.  Wolverton’s vision twists upon itself as he drags the dictaphone out of his coat pocket, thumb hammering the play button as it comes free.

“Pocket Manual of Rules Of Order for Deliberative Assemblies,” begins a calm voice, issuing tinnily from the dictaphone’s speaker.

The room snaps into focus, but Shen still wavers like a summer’s day.  The remaining hardboy snaps a shot off, but the bullet bends away in the weft of reality.  Shen raises a heavy revolver in reply, hissing like a cockroach.

The Fleur de Lys

•May 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Nobody really knows where the Fleur de Lys came from.  It first showed up in the Spire with Jimmy “Two Shoes”, but Jimmy never told anyone where the zeppelin he arrived on started out at.  Even with something like the Fleur de Lys, it took a while for Jimmy to make a name for himself.  For a time, he was just a session player who’d fill in now and again at this place or that.

After a while, folks started to recognise the little man with the homburg and the trumpet that sounded like an angel crying when he played it.  After that, it wasn’t long before he had himself a regular spot, down at the Twelve Steps Club.  I can still see him now, standing in the spotlight, hat pushed low, eyes shut tight and fingers dancing over the stops.

Some people say there was too much poetry in his soul, but I think there was something missing.  Two Shoes used to chase the dragon, or chased whatever was missing in his life, until one day he just didn’t come back.  It’s generally accepted that it was Ray Parker, who played in his band, that found him, and found the Fleur de Lys lying right there beside him.

Ray Parker picked it up, and carried on just where Two Shoes left off.  Ray had been an alright trumpet man before, but with the Fleur de Lys, he became great.  That first night when he stepped on the stage and raised that trumpet to his lips, it was like time stood still.  None of us who were there can remember anything but a sense of calm amongst chaos; like we were all sheltering in the eye of a storm.

I got to know Ray Parker a bit, and he used to say he felt the transitory nature of it; that he was just a stop in its journey.  I guess Ray was right, because one day he came off second best in a knife fight with one of the band.  After that, the Fleur kind of disappeared.  A lot of folks were certainly interested, but it was never found anywhere in Ray Parker’s possessions.

There’s rumours though, from Down Below, of a kid playing the clubs.  They say that when he plays, it’s like he’s washing your soul clean with the sound.  They say you can tell it’s him by the flower etched into the brass of his instrument.