TZSCHOT is currently under construction. Please check back soon to view my latest projects. In the meantime I have left some thumbnails of previous design and art work and a short story of a trip to Warwick. You can also view my design work at Flickr.

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WARWICK - SHORT STORY 13 | 11 | 2009


No one would hire us a car. We were too young they told us, an insurance liability, I think we were 20, anyway under 21. The sun was almost setting as we sat on the footpath outside the concrete bus depot that resembled a nuclear fallout shelter. We agreed we were loath to board another stuffy bus or even to walk to the outskirts where the refuse waits in the deadlands with fake smiles and pleading thumbs raised meekly for a spare seat. The dying afternoon sun refused to relinquish it's heat as Maria sat drinking water. She was sick of relying on others, sick of other's schedules, of not being in control of getting to where we were going, of where we could stop, what we could see. Tired of conversations with strangers, to whose views we felt obligated to agree with, or else be trapped in a confined space arguing at high speed across the main arterial roads, designed for nothing more than to bridge the empty space between the cities.

We found a second hand store. It was part of a chain that had built a department store facade to hide the fact that you were buying second hand goods, even though you knew you were and had in fact come here specifically for that reason. Somehow it gave the illusion of trust and quality with just a coat of paint and a few large store front windows, in which they show cased the spoils of bankruptcy, death, failed dreams and poverty, for the ghouls to profit and pilfer. We had come here because every other mom and pop store was closed or closed down or had no bicycles. The saleswoman let us ride them down the footpath before we bought them, they were in poor condition and overpriced, but ironically our bid for freedom had left us with no other choice. The pedals turned the wheels and the brakes stopped them, it's all we needed. We told her straight up, we're going to buy these bikes, cycle all the way to Warwick for the rodeo, then return to sell them back to you. She looked disappointed, as though she hadn't made a sale in a while and the one she had finally made was met with a promise of imminent return. We hadn't meant to harass her, we were just excited about our plan and had wanted to infect her with our mischievous adventure.

Earlier in the day the guy at the information office, which was situated inconveniently for any tourist on the suburban periphery of the city, had laughed at us when we asked if we could cycle the distance, so too had the woman at the bus depot. All we had wanted to know was: were there any impassable hills? We knew there were easier ways to get there, we knew about busses they were missing the point. We weren't asking for permission nor opinion on cycling. The woman at the bus depot she was overweight and weighed down by a dead-end job in the terminus of a crossroads town, conducting busses, so far as I could tell, to nowhere, or further from nothing and out into a desert. Yet she still took it upon herself to laugh down our bid for life, to drag us down to where she talked with such lofty authority. People will eat your dreams if you share them, they’ll do anything they can to destroy any idea which reflects their own wasted life.

This town we were in, it had a rugby field with a grandstand called "Nigger Brown Stadium" a few years earlier they had fought to keep the name in the face of out of town interference, they saw it proudly as a part of their heritage and history. It's still named that to this day, a great victory for the values of the town. And yet we found the town itself was quaint and its people friendly. A woman even abandoned her unattended open shop to walk us two blocks to help us find something we were looking for, I don't remember what.

We ate Mexican food at a place called Montezuma's Revenge, years later I would find out that was a clever name for food-poisoning, but would never find out why someone would name their restaurant that. When we ordered one meal to split, the waitress had whispered to us, looking over both shoulders before she did, that if we were students we could get two meals for the price of one. It was as though she would lose her job for informing us of this policy, which had obviously been implemented by the restaurant. We got the two meals split one and saved one for the journey the next day.

We found beds at a place that called itself a hotel, but it had more in common with an old western saloon. Downstairs was a local pub with gaming machines and pool tables and upstairs were rooms with a communal kitchen and TV room. In fact when a man would abandon his family for the night, bored by the people he had created and chosen to be with, he would say not, "I'm going to the pub" but, "I'm going to the hotel." We waited half an hour for the owner to show us to our room. He sat drinking beer at the bar saying, I'll be with you in a minute, filling up his pint twice. There was no hint of animosity in his actions, he was just going about his business.

The night passed with the atmosphere of a horror movie. Lightening struck so close to our window that we leapt from the bed and ended up sleeping on the floor at the far end of the room as far away from it as possible. And when I awoke, drowsy in the small hours, the lightening flashes like burning magnesium momentarily illuminated our open room door, which we had locked before going to bed. I got up and closed it and fell asleep once more. And in that sleep came a dream of two elopers, who fled over a ground of garbage that swallowed their footsteps like quick sand. And in the distant background loomed a giant ark, casting its presiding shadow over its kingdom of waste. The inhabitants were throwing garbage overboard, and it compiled and grew over the great ship's bulwark and the ship rotted and sank beneath the filth that came from within it. And the animals too were slaughtered or thrown to that rotting sea, thousand by thousand. Upon its deck waged a war amongst the saved who had made a greater mess of the world than the flood their antecedents had survived. As the ark disappeared in a great white flash, the green light that shone to the heavens was not a path for the dead to follow but a tombstone for their existence, it stood as momentarily as their presence upon that earth. The two orphan lovers watched on, their freedom bound by guilt, knowing their survival had damned the world to this fate once more, no matter the good within them.

When we awoke at five the door was open again. Nothing was taken that we could tell, but who had entered? Why had they left such blatant evidence that they had? Did they want us to know?

We decided to leave and not wait for whatever mischief inhabited the other rooms. The storm had cleared when we left on our bikes. I don't know how we found our way out of town, we had no maps, maybe we'd asked the day before or maybe we went by instinct. It was still dark as far as I remember and the heat which usually rose before the sun was dampened by a thick fog, which hung just above the hills as we rode almost invisibly into the opaque light of the countryside. When the fog finally relinquished the sun the heat came quickly. Settling as thick on the air as the fog had looked and it brought with it flies from where we did not want to know. It was as though we’d escaped from some villainous sorcerer who had conjured a plague to thwart our getaway. We were engulfed by black clouds of them. They crawled over our faces and across our eyes and drank our sweat. We were forced to breathe through our noses so as not to swallow them, not to aspirate them, and our nasal inhalations became shallow, while exhaling heavily so as to keep them from crawling up our nostrils. The arrhythmia of our defensive breathing left us exhausted and our lungs and guts bruised. Maria rode ahead, and on every downward slope she would whack her back pack and send a cloud of flies towards me and I would whack my pack and those flies would be somewhere behind us but always more to take their place, no matter how much momentum we built.

Any attempt to ignore the flies made my skin feel as though it were crawling, as though maggots were burrowing beneath it.

The flies turned our lunch to disease. We’d tried to eat on the road side, crouched in the pale stiff grass but they had swarmed the leftovers as soon as we had peeled back the foil. We ceded it to them, watching in defeat as they did little but walk all over it. We didn’t know when we would eat again. We were still miles from our destination and had no way of knowing if there were towns in between. And so we rode further into the unknown.

There were moments of beauty too on those roads, where kilometers passed by as though they counted for ten. A boulevard of trees sheltered an empty highway, which cut narrowly through barren dry fields that stretched to the horizon and to the red alien rocks in the east. A camel lay chained to a fence, so out of place it was like I had wandered into some child’s daydream. It watched us slowly pass by, chewing docilely with a slight devious smirk, as though preoccupied by some sinister thought.

Our asses and groins hurt. They felt bruised and molested. My seat was askew and I had no way to straighten it. Trucks and cars harassed us, unused to sharing these backwards roads with such travellers. They ran us into the dirt and grass and knocked us with wind gusts that both blew and sucked at us, forcing us to stop and start again, pushing back through the stiff gears. As things got worse our complaints became more restraint. We were marooned, beyond any hope of abandoning our adventure and so our words became minimal and utilitarian.

A small town we came across was desolate and hidden from the main road. It looked newly settled by old time pioneers, weatherboard buildings with corrugated iron roofs stood tortured beneath the heat, their edges fluid in the arid glare, the environment of an unforgiving epoch. We found a “foodbar” that shared a warehouse sized building with a hardware store. We bought sandwiches and water and fruit and the woman seemed nervous to serve us and the man at the hardware counter stared upon our interaction jealously. The room was pregnant with disquiet, apprehending him to say something jarring to evict us from that place. A man who would hollow the meaning from words used to reason with him and choke the life from their speaker. There was a sinister subtext there that seemed to be a storyline far more ominous than our own. Something violent that festered in that small town closed off from the outer world. It had crossed paths with our journey and it seemed to want the author to deviate towards that story rather than follow our own. Instead that moment stays frozen in suspense, an unfinished plotline revisited in imagined scenarios that branch outward from that starting point. Sometimes it ends with our bodies and second hand bikes awaiting discovery in a ditch off that highway, hunted down and mangled by a pick up truck, one story invading another.

On the highway once more clouds had begun to gather on the horizon. Giant thunderheads that looked as though continents were colliding ahead of us, building a mountain range in minutes, what should have taken millennia. We could feel the temperature drop and soon knew we were not only racing the darkness. But there was no need to mention it. A solitary building stood on a landscape of fields. A mechanics shop and gas station housed in a dusty barn sized tool shed that worked on farm machinery. It made no attempt to hide the grease behind the clean logos and sterile white showrooms of corporate manifested myths. It sold a service and the reality of the work was inherent in its presentation, not just in the shop but in the man himself. We rode up to the workshop and asked if he could fix my bike seat. He looked at it impersonally, muttered something as he walked back into the shed and got a crescent from out of a metal container and handed it to me for me to work on the seat myself. For some reason I wanted to relate to him, to convince him that I was not some child asking his fathers help in fixing his bike. I tried to start conversations about “down to earth” topics, but he had no time for my questions, they only exposed me as they fake they were attempting to cover. It was silence that might have bonded us. He did tell us however, that it would not be too much further to our destination and that we should be there before the rain.

Our spirits were lifting with every new sign, as the kilometers behind us began to stack up heavily against those that remained. Soon the town appeared below us, a downward hill seemed to lead all the way to it, and it was there, only a few kilometers from the end that the police siren blasted us. He pulled the Land Rover in behind us, where we stood with our bikes. He put on his wide brimmed sunhat as he got out of the car. He was a large man whose facial features looked as though they were carved from soft clay with a toothpick, his lips and eyes disappearing into skin. Where are ya helmets? He yelled brashly as he walked languidly towards us. We explained we didn’t know there was a helmet rule. We were tourists. We tried to impress him with the distance we’d traveled, that we had such a short distance further to go. But he filtered the information out robotically. A fly landed beneath his eye as he talked to us and he made no move to swat it away. It crawled all over his face like he was some standing corpse. All my concentration was on the fly, scratching the mirror coordinates of its movements on my own face, while he lectured us taciturnly on the legalities of cycling without helmets. He let us go without a fine, imploring us to buy helmets in the next town and to walk the rest of the way.
Walk? Couldn’t you give us a ride?
You’ve got perfectly good feet.
We waited until he was out of site before coasting down the hill into the town.

We’d reached Warwick with hours of sunlight remaining. At an information center a silver haired man in cowboy clothes told us we would be lucky to find accommodation on rodeo weekend, but he would phone around and see what he could do. He seemed friendly, upholding some sense of small town charm with a Northern American accent that he said was Saskatchewan. But the more he talked the more creepy his smile became, it was a genuine smile but its reasons were questionable. He would ask probing questions and then grin in anticipation of the answer as though he got some perverted pleasure from it. And maybe we had exposed our apprehension when we began to close the conversation off with ambiguous answers in an attempt to leave, because when we returned later that day trying to find a bus that could get us out of there, he did not smile at all. It was as though some argument had taken place and he was thinly masking an impatient preoccupation with an unexpressed rage. We left to call the airline to see if we could get an early flight home, but changing our dates would have cost as much as buying new tickets so we resigned ourselves to staying.

The Hotel he had found for us was like an asylum for vagrants, some uncivilized sect of colonial outpost. The pub downstairs was inhabited by what seemed like bearded prospectors, they sat hunched over the bar and eyed Maria pervertedly with intimidating stares, elbowing each other with disregard. I imagined their smiles to be toothless and wondered what I would need to do when they broke down the door to our room. A woman walked us up the dark wooden stairs through the cool narrow passage ways, trying to engage in small talk while seemingly uncomfortable in doing so. A barefoot man in nothing but shorts and a stack hat bicycle helmet was sweeping the floors and we did not now if he was a guest or an employee. Guests sat in a communal TV room, lounging like bored inmates on dilapidated furniture. A thick atmosphere of smoke circled above them.

She showed us to her room. There were two beds and she told us we could sleep in the one by the window but not to sleep in the other one. We didn’t ask why. Once alone in the stale smoke smelling room we lay exhausted on the bed looking up at the nicotine yellowed ceiling, spotted with dark brown. The mint coloured curtains cast the room in the moody cinematography of a grimy thriller. We made up stories of why we couldn’t sleep in the other bed and began to scare ourselves with the scenarios until we had to dare each other to look in the wardrobe to find evidence of our murder stories.

Outside our window was a wide verandah that circled the second floor and allowed anyone to peer in through the thin transparent curtains to our room. And beyond that the railway yards where once a man had thrown an egg at the prime minister and the police had refused to carry out official orders to arrest the assailant. It was overgrown now with weeds and chained dogs howled behind the cyclone fence.

We had abandoned any plans of cycling back, that had been decided maybe less than an hour into the journey and so we went in search of second hand stores. In the main square of the town a P.A system was playing Waltzing Matilda through rattling speakers. The singer’s shrill accent was as much an element of patriotism as the song he was singing, it twanged with brittle treble like the banjo accompanying him. It hung like an atmosphere of indoctrination over the town folk where giant pick up trucks sported bumper stickers with slogans like “Fuck off we’re full” written in the outline of Australia. Every store we went to recommended other stores that might be interested in the bikes. The last store we visited mentioned every place we’d already been and wouldn’t even take them off us for free.

We stopped for coffee just as the rain hit. Soon heavy balls of hail were bounding over the road, hitting cars like rocks and imposing a claustrophobic white noise so loud it turned our shouts into barely audible whispers. A white flash exploded before us and we saw the lightening hit the ground without noise before the soundtrack caught up. It hammered the air with thunder so loud it silenced the hail and reverberated through our organs. And we could not help but think that the open door that had led us to leave early that morning, was a portent that saved us becoming pulverized charred corpses on the roadside.

The bus station was closed when we went to enquire. We asked the secretary at a real estate office next door if she knew anything about the busses. Does this look like a bus station to you? She said with harsh and unexpected sarcasm. I apologised and explained that I thought she might at least know what time it opened. Sorry. She replied incredulously. They don’t give me a bus schedule.

We felt like outsiders in a town with a deeply guarded secret and we were not welcome.

We left a note under her door the next morning, before the office opened. It was a love letter from a secret admirer who said he saw her everyday but could do nothing about the feelings he had because he was married. Would she meet him this night? By the statue in front of the church? He told her he loved her and that she knew him very well. Maria always had psychologically creative ways to get revenge on people. One time to get back at our elderly neighbour we hollowed out one of her pot plants and filled the pot with meatloaf and placed the plant on top of it again. The next morning she shooed away a gang of howling cats from her garden and looked in disbelief at the empty pot that had been licked clean. With a bit of luck, she would tell her friends the story of how a gang of cats ate one of her pot plants and her friends would smile politely.

When we finally lay down to sleep that night we felt phantom flies crawling over our faces. So relentless had the sensation been that day, that our senses had remembered it intimately, adopting the feeling as its natural state. The flies had caused the sensation and now the sensation invoked the flies and there was less a way to stop them now as there would have been if the flies were real. So deeply embedded was the sensation in our tactile memory. Our room it seemed was haunted but it was we who had brought the ghosts with us, like some cheap horror where the villain rises again just as you think you are safe.