[Fiction/crime] Nut smugglers

Image property of Blue Sky Studios [Ice Age franchise]

Snow crunched under Red’s tires as she flicked on her indicator, sweeping right into the wide parking lot of the Natural Nuts Packaging Co. The little Invader Zim Gir figurine anchored to the dashboard wobbled furiously in protest at the maneuver.

“Don’t worry, little guy,” Red said. “Just need to hitch up the load and then it’s smooth sailing from here on out.” The robot’s oversized head continued to nod in what she liked to think was agreement.

Red chewed her lip, squinting in the faint pre-dawn light at the loading bays ahead. Three monstrous warehouses loomed against the twilit sky, untethered semi-trailers arrayed before them like boats at a land-locked wharf. She brought her cab to a stop, engine idling. Shouldn’t there be someone here to meet her?

On cue, a figure hurried out from a squat office at the edge of the warehouses, one arm raised oddly. After a moment, Red realized they were shading their eyes against the blinding glare of her high-beams, so she cut the engine and climbed out to meet them. The person kicking through the ankle-deep snow towards her was a bespectacled man in a blue tuque. A bushy brown mustache nestled above his mouth like a slug.

“Ho, there!” he called, waving. “Where are you from? There aren’t any shipments scheduled till six, not for -” he consulted a tablet with an ungloved hand – “An hour, or so.” Red frowned.

“Didn’t you get the updated paperwork?” she asked. The man paused.

“Updated paperwork?”

“I’m here for the Bellevue shipment. Broker should’ve faxed the job through again yesterday.” The man shook his head, ice crystals flaking from his mustache.

“The Bellevue job? Pickup’s not till nine. You’re four hours early!”

“There has to be some mistake. It’s the same job, anyway. Load ready to go?”

“Yes, but…” He noticed Red shivering, huffing on her hands in an effort to prevent them going numb. Why’d she leave her dang coat in the cab? “Look, it’s freezing out here, lady. Come to the office where it’s warm and we’ll sort this whole thing out.”

“Thanks,” Red managed, hugging herself. She couldn’t retrieve her coat now without looking like an idiot, so she trudged along behind the shipping supervisor, cursing internally.

The office was cozy. A cup of coffee sat cooling on a table beside a half-eaten sandwich, little wisps of steam curling up into the air. The man sat down, beckoning Red to do the same.

“So what’s the story, then? The Bellevue shipment’s on the books for nine today, and now you’re here claiming it before dawn. Suppose you tell me just what’s going on?” Red drummed her fingers on the table impatiently.

“It was originally nine, but a couple days ago the broker called me saying the receiver needed the schedule bumped forward, so the new pickup was at five. I thought they would’ve informed you by now.” The man clicked his tongue, checked his tablet again, then wandered over to a stack of papers and leafed through them.

“Here we are,” he said, sitting down and sliding a document over to Red. “This is all I’ve got. FND Express from the Sacramento plant to Nutopia in Bellevue, Washington.” She picked up the manifest and scanned it.

“Yeah, this is the one. So are we good?” The man sighed, taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but it’s all too irregular. I can’t let the load go like this without confirmation from above, and my manager’s still chasing Z’s. About an hour either way’s as far as I can push it.”

“Seriously? You’d rather I hang around for three hours than shift the load a little early? Come on. Neither of us wants that. I’m here now. What say we get this done? Less headache for you later.” The man grimaced, glancing at the document and back to her. He reached a decision.

“Fine. Sign here, please.”

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[Fiction/roleplaying] Cults and culpability

The following is a tale from my Dungeons and Dragons campaign set in the Sunless Shores. It is the first-hand account of a group of poor cultists who suffered an ignoble fate at the hands of my monstrous players.

“You alright to clean up here, Merkel?”

Erkel’s brother looked up from scrubbing bloodstains off the summoning circle. Nearby, the Null Censer fumed silently, just in case.

“Should be. Stronger than usual, wasn’t it?”

“A little. Guess our time’s coming up fast.” Erkel ran his hand through his tousled brown hair, slick with sweat from the hastily aborted summoning. He’d changed into his casual robes, but would need a hot bath later to really wash the slime off.

“Anyway, I’m off for a bit. You need anything?”

“Couple years, maybe,” Merkel said wryly, holding up his left arm. The black watch on his wrist was, as always, totally featureless. They both laughed, but it was laced with uneasiness. “What happened to this city, brother? It wasn’t so long ago we were freewheeling, summoning spirits, indoctrinating starry-eyed commoners without a care in the world. Now look at us!”

Erkel sighed, rubbing his tired eyes. He’d been having trouble sleeping lately – the curse of dabbling in divination magic. What had that instructor said… multiclass in thirty days or your money back? What a joke. Well, it was too late now. That one level of wizard would never go away.

“We got old, Mer.”

“Hell, that’s not it, and you know it!” Merkel tossed his washcloth back in the bucket, which sloshed dirty red suds onto the floor. The filthy water dripped sluggishly into the narrow trench cut around the circle.

“Okay, okay!” Erkel said, holding out his palms placatingly. “It’s not worth fighting over. We’ve got the Gathering in less than a week, and then -”

“And then what? No way will it go back to how it was. Not after Justin’s scheme.”

“Look at it this way, Mer,” said Erkel. “After this, we’ll all be exalted, or dead.”

Merkel grunted, staring at the floor as if ashamed. He’d been acting strangely too, but then, everyone in the church was on edge. These were harrowing times to be a Dweller’s Disciple.

Erkel exited via the secret door into the vestibule, whistling tunelessly. Out in the main hall, he saw Raff and Vee preparing the afternoon service and chatting with Gracie, the head of their chapter here in the city of Fortune. Vee was a delight, but Raff scared Erkel more than a little – he was a shade too close to madness for Erkel’s taste. Sure, the Disciples may aspire to Dweller-touched insanity, but there was something to be said for polite conversation and civility, too.

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[Fiction/feminism] The Truthtellers

me at Vees house

I am a Truthteller: doomed to insinuate certain facts about the world with words and motion.

Sartorial truths are among the hardest of all. My existence in public spaces is mediated by ineluctable subtext draped across our perceptions like a shroud. It’s impossible for me just to be, save in those dark and dusty spaces where society’s tendrils have begun to rot: dank music halls with shitty speakers; my friend’s bedroom (where the rent’s gone up the owner grins unable to hide their glee at a housing bubble that will not burst); Newtown and dim indie theaters in cancerous symbiosis with more successful mainstream venues. The Truthtellers always have existed in the interstices, tolerated or not.

These interstices are cramped and overwhelming, packed already with the moldy human crusts society has thrown out with childish pique. Thoughtlessness is always far worse than intention.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Ella Enchanted, that patriarchal wet dream of feminine subservience. Cursed at birth to always obey orders, no matter what they may be and no matter who has issued them, she is tugged through life by puppet strings dangled by a mother who only wants the best for her.

Always these orders are couched as what is best for us, but society’s real success is in its subcontracting out (what a triumph of capitalism!). Its manifesto is absorbed by osmosis into human immune cells guarding against invasion with homophobia, racism, intolerance. They repel attacks by Truthtellers that threaten to undermine the whole. It’s an allergic reaction, leaving the skin of our society red and swollen in self-destructive violence.

Humans pine for change only in abstractions.

To become a Truthteller is very easy. Simply undergo years of social conditioning and allow yourself to be molded into the ideal worker drone: anxiety-ridden; sleepless; always yearning for something better so long as that happiness can be purchased or stolen from someone else. Then wake up one morning and realize – naked and shivering before your mirror – that dressing yourself has become a political act, that leaving your house has become a political act, that your existence in a public space has become a political act against your own volition.

Cultivate a voracity for veracity. Wallow in it. Congratulations!

Safe spaces are a threat, not a luxury, and our society will not tolerate them. The upper-class white blood cells, aged as they are, must be allowed to wander where they will. Otherwise the Truthtellers will think themselves accepted and poison our society one mind at a time.

[Fiction] They come in bags


Image credit Dessins-Fantastiques on DeviantArt

They come back in bags.

The spokesperson’s words rang in my ear. Of all the warnings he’d issued – fire hazards, mob mentality, grievous bodily harm – this was the most ominous. The bags. What did he mean? The phrase had been haunting me for the week and a half I’d spent at this crazy carnival called the Royal Easter Show. Royal. Ha! Like the monarchy was anything more than an empty throne invoked by our most callous of politicians.

The name’s Sam, Pyjama Sam. Two-time nominee for best presenter at a small community radio station. I don’t expect you’ve heard of me – fame don’t come so easy anymore, not unless you plop out the next big steaming pop sensation on 2DayFM or make it huge as a YouTube celebrity, critiquing the iniquities of our corrupt social system from the comfort of your bedroom. I was here at The Royal – as the locals called it – serving my beat as a two-bit student reporter for a pop-up radio station.

Hey, everyone needs a hobby. It’s never too late to learn.

Today I was the field reporter, forced bright-eyed and bushy-tailed out through the door of our sub-arctic studio to roam the 40 hectare grounds of Sydney Olympic Park, sifting for dirt. This wasn’t just figurative, either – a couple days before I’d found myself discussing soil quality with a passionate farmer from way out north. My directive this afternoon was clear: get me a story on pigs. My producer ordered, and so I obeyed. Tomorrow it’d be my turn. Pig pro quo.

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[Fiction] ACMA Attack

radio ACMA 2

Image by 600v on DeviantArt

“Shut it down! Shut it all down!”

Chelse burst into the tiny studio, arms waving wildly, a look of panic smeared across her normally calm features. Zed and Heather looked up from the equipment, surprised.

“Shut it down?” Heather asked. “But we’re nearly done for the day anyway. We’ve only got, what, ten minutes left to go?” Zed’s finger hovered uncertainly above the panel, a battered old Kreubsig 700 they’d bought third-hand from a junk dealer. Zed seemed anxious, but then, they always were. A legacy of a corporate past.

“Right bloody now! ACMA’s practically at the door!” Chelse shouted. Why weren’t they moving? 2PLY FM definitely did not have a license to do what they were doing. If ACMA – the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the broadcasting watchdog – caught them transmitting on an illegal channel, they’d not only confiscate the audio equipment they’d begged and borrowed over the past few years, but slap an injunction on them so fast it would make their heads spin. Hell, for all the talk that ACMA was a ‘toothless tiger’, Chelse knew better than most just how ruthless they could be. Just ask her Uncle Greg – if he ever made it out of prison.

Still, it seemed her urgency was getting through. Heather gave a terse nod and signalled Zed, who faded out the current song – Little Mix’s latest banger, Shout Out to My Ex – and flicked on the announcer’s mic. Heather remained cool and collected as she spoke into the cardioid, a picture of professionalism. She didn’t rush her words or stumble; it was important to maintain 2PLY FM’s brand even in the face of crisis.

“And that’s all for this afternoon. We’re ending a little early today, but tune in tomorrow for more fresh mixes and unsanctioned opinions from 10 till 2. I’m Hetch McKinnon on 2PLY FM saying: talk soon.” Heather nodded and Zed cut the signal, their pirate transmitter whirring strangely as it shut down. Like everything else in the room, it was old and failed constantly, but Chelse had managed to get it up and running again every time it refused to start. She might not have finished her physics PhD, but she’d still learned to navigate a circuit. Chelse spoke, flustered.

“Okay, the guy who called said a representative from ACMA’s due any moment to investigate a few complaints they’ve received from this neighbourhood. Obviously, someone’s ratted on us.” Heather’s face darkened.

“I’ll bet it was Mrs Logan. She never could mind her own business!”

“Look, pointing fingers at this stage isn’t going to help. Yes, it probably was Mrs Logan because she’s a nosy retiree who complains about everything, but it doesn’t matter. What we need to do is -”

The doorbell rang. Everybody froze, darting nervous glances at each other. Zed whimpered.

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[Fiction] Killing softly with sorghum


Image credit purple-grey-fox on DeviantArt

In a rural town that had broken its bread and bad habits, bread had finally broken them. Amidst arid plains and a burst of health-consciousness, the town of Gumtree Flats in the Northern Territory, Australia, had taken the plunge and switched over to the gluten-free life.

No more would wheat darken their tables at breakfast or dinner. Barley, rye and oats were tossed in the trash and their suppliers politely informed further deliveries would not be necessary. Grains were swept from the pantry and scoured from the supermarket in an attempt to root them out before their determination faltered and they thought better of their plan. Perhaps hardest of all, fridges were thrown open and their doughy ales and bitter, brooding brews disgorged to general lamentation; Holly Robbins was spotted wailing upon her lawn as her neighbor Drew solemnly poured her latest batch of Hotchkins’ Malt Special into the thirsty grass.

Grain was purged, with all the word implies.

Little Calvin Quinn, the two Quinn dads’ kid, marveled at the town’s anti-grain campaign with all the wonder that a six-year-old can muster.

“Look, Cal,” dad Brian said to him. “Everyone cares so much about your health that they’re chucking the grain so you don’t get sick!”

“Is that cause I’m a seal yak, dad?”

“A celiac, Cal. And yes! Isn’t it just swell of them?”

Of course, the true reason behind the grain purge was far different. A string of health-food ads on television had sparked concerns in the Gumtree Flats mayor’s office. Alarmed by the severe threat gluten posed to their longevity with scary things like gut inflammation and escalated intestinal permeability, Mayor Wrigley had called for a debate around a possible ban on the dangerous substance. Citizens from both sides had weighed in, arguing in circles until eventually, by some miracle, the town agreed to try it – just for a little while.

People streamed from the town hall that evening in chattering droves, but only one left in smug silence, smiling softly to herself.

She killed softly with sorghum.

Naturally, a substitute had to be procured – some of the residents of Gumtree Flats didn’t have much more pleasure in life than a good strong hunk of bread and a dark, cool draught out upon the patio. Sorghum was settled on as an alternative: a few farmers in the region already grew it, and it could be cheaply imported by some health-savvy suppliers who knew a sale when they saw one. Within a week, artisan sorghum beer was flowing at the taphouse and people began to joke that soon they’d go all the way and maybe be a vegan next month as well. There were even tentative, self-conscious jabs about gentrification and how it was really time Gumtree Flats got its own modern art gallery on the go.

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[Fiction] Lord of the Liferings: All Aboard the Fellowship


Image credit Jamie Smith – inksnow.blogspot.com

All characters property of J.R.R. Tolkien.

“The world has changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the sand. I smell it in the salty air. Much that once was is now lost, for none now sail who remember it.

“It began with the forging of the great liferings. Three were given to the elves, immortal, wisest, and most buoyant of all beings. Seven to the Dwarf Lords, great miners who wouldn’t know the ocean from their aunt Nimli’s bathtub. And nine, nine rings were given to the race of men, who above all can’t swim without an instructor and years of intensive training. For within these liferings were bound…”

“Cut! Cut!” screamed Gríma Wormtongue, forgetting that the bullhorn he held magically amplified his voice many times. The resultant blast of sound had everybody clutching at their ears. One grip, a young orc named Bolg, was so startled he knocked the lighting rig he was adjusting into the ocean with a soft splash, where it promptly fizzed itself into oblivion.

Wormtongue winced, trying to calm the ringing in his own ears. “Sorry, sorry, everybody,” he said, more softly. “Stop the scene. And take better care of that equipment!” he barked at Bolg – half-heartedly, since he knew he was at fault. Moving the bullhorn aside, he shouted up at the lighthouse which loomed large above them all, in a far more deferential and nervous tone than before.

“What is it, my lord?” In response, a blinding beam of light shone down from the lighthouse, centering on Cate Blanchett, who lowered her script and shielded her eyes with a cloth-draped forearm. “Galadriel, lord?” The beam gestured angrily, jerking insistently and repeatedly to the left of where Cate stood, towards the waterline.

“Cate, go stand to the left a bit! That’s right, where the Dark Lord is pointing,” Wormtongue said. “Gorgol, how we doing on that lighting?”

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