Alfred generally tried to avoid talking to Jemmy Harrison. Jemmy was the proprietor of the South Hertling Super Centre's music shop, an establishment that had once been known as 'World of G-Strings'. The name had to be changed after it began attracting an undesirable – and disappointed – brand of customer. Jemmy had decided that that the new name had to be something cool and so, against Alfred's advice, he had renamed the place 'Ice Dealers'. Naturally, this caused even more problems.
Now the music store's sign was down, awaiting some new brainwave of Jemmy's. In the meantime the massive display of guitars in the windows did all of the work of attracting customers.
Alfred breathed deeply as he approached the nameless shop. He knew perfectly well that he was an aging divorcee slowly fossilising in his clock and watch shop. But Jemmy... Jemmy was boring. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 12: Music"
Down the road from the South Hertling Supercentre was a little packet of parkland called South Hertling Reserve. It contained a concrete picnic table, a tiny swing set, and old Scout hut. It also contained the water feature called Hertling Creek, though it was really more of an open stormwater drain than a creek. A footbridge stretched over it, leading to South Hertling railway station.
It was raining gently that night, so Karl prepared to sleep under the footbridge, on a dryish patch of ground. From where he lay, he couldn't see the massive shape of the Pyramid, but it was never far from his mind, its great eye burning into his mind. It just was like that movie where there was a terrible burning eye – what was it called?
Oh, yeah. The Fantastic Four. The Eye was like the sinister gaze of Johnny Storm himself.
"I fear, Karl, that you have gone quite mad," said a cat. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Interlude: Cats"
Fanaka's step always lifted a little when he walked into the Disposal store. This wasn't so much because of the merchandise. The camping gear and army jackets reminded him unpleasantly of his short stint the Air Force back home. He'd served as a Meteorologist's Mate on a stealth airship, running recon missions over Madagascar. He'd been so happy when his deferment had come through, giving him the chance to get to Nairobi and PAISAW. Then, of course, the accident had happened stranding him in this odd, non-Steampunk, non-Afrocentric world…
But there was one consolation. He'd found another lost soul to love… If soul was indeed the right word.
Nalda Teheintausand was restocking some camping pots when Fanaka entered, and his heart lifted at the sight of her. Nalda. The time travelling killer cyborg that had won his heart. Her hard, thin lips twisted upward when she saw him. Her smile was barely perceptible. But it was enough. He grinned broadly in return. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 11: Clues"
Delia had been hoping not to have to talk to Alfred directly. Nalda had refused to work as her envoy for some obscure Teutonic cyborg reason. Delia hadn't yet come up with a Plan B when Alfred walked into Storage Universe. She shook her head gently. She really hadn't want it to come to this.
Alfred took his time looking at the items on display, as for the thousandth time he worked up his courage to talk to her. For the thousandth time Delia there was just more to the man -- that somewhere under the bald, chubby Clark Kent of his exterior there was a bald, chubby Superman.
Perhaps, just perhaps this might not be the thousandth time he disappointed her.
"Hello, Delia," he said as he finally willed himself up to the counter.
"Hello, Alfred. How's business?"
"Tolerably good," he said. "Tolerably good… that is not really what I wanted to talk to you about." ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 10: Spine"
"Is Fanaka here?"
Alfred looked up from his laptop where he was balancing his shop's books. Before him was a thirty-ish white man in a camouflage jacket over a t-shirt, who spoke in an accent Alfred couldn't place. "Today's Fanaka's day off," he said. "If you need a watch repaired, you can leave it with me and I'll give it to him tomorrow."
The man scratched his head. This gesture caused his jacket to fall open, so Alfred could see his t-shirt more clearly. It showed what looked like a feathered velociraptor in a pickelhaube helmet, one tiny arm held up in a Roman salute. This image was framed by a circle, and featured a line through the middle. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes – Part 8: Ghosts"
As she did every Tuesday, Delia stopped by the Place O'Pets to pick up supplies. She bustled in, studiously avoiding Captain Pete, the one handed aquarium specialist. She made her way past displays full of flea collars, chew toys and lizard dentures, to the food section. There she filled her trolley and took it directly to the counter.
At the till stood the imposing figure of Zorbar, husband of Carol from the coffee shop and semi-domesticated ape-man. He scratched at his lime green Place O'Pets polo shirt as if he wanted to tear it apart.
"Zorbar have question Miss Crispin," he said. "You buy dog food. Zorbar smell dog. You buy cat food. Zorbar no smell cat. Why that?" ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 6: Friends"
It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a shovel may dig a hole in half an hour, but two men with shovels can take up to two hours to perform the same task. First, there is the need to closely examine the area to be dug out. This takes fifteen minutes to half an hour. Following this, there must be a rambling, expletive-filled discussion on hole digging in theory and practice. This takes at least half an hour. After that, a half hour cigarette break is a must, and then we dig the hole which, to the horror of maths teachers everywhere, takes almost exactly the same time to dig as if one man did the work.
Donna sat on a sunny bench outside of the Barbeque Imperium, watching two particular men digging a hole in a garden area next to the carpark. She wasn't watching them in a diet-soft-drink-ad sort of way. She wasn't particularly interested in either of them. It was just that the men leaning on their shovels was the only thing to look at in the carpark. Her attention was momentarily redirected upwards as a superhero flew overhead. Donna sighed at the realisation that it was not Voyager and went back to looking at the workmen.
Donna recognised Christian's voice, but didn't look up. "Hey, Christian."
"Mind if I join you?" ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 5: Maths"
Alfred's usual lunch was a roast beef sandwich with horseradish. Most of his life, he'd eaten that on white bread with the crusts cut off, but his doctor had all but twisted his arm over his diet and so now he ate it on multigrain with crusts and alfalfa sprouts.
Today, though, today he was doing a thing that he rarely did, and that was eat out. He did this perhaps once a year and never happily. The great comfort of a regular lunch is never having to decide what to eat, but he had left his sandwich at home in the fridge, so it was eat out or go hungry. And eating out meant making a decision.
Alfred leaned on the counter of his shop and chewed his lip. There was a food court in the South Hertling Mall, but that was far enough away that he felt justified in ruling it out. And both of the food outlets at the Mega Centre had been destroyed at the coming of the Pyramid. That left just two choices, Carol's or the kebab shop. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 4: Food"