Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 2

Wall in the secret corridor

Sard is still in shock but is beginning to get his act together. He feels cheated that his care-mother never took him to the secret places they now visit. The old man they meet, Rider, has to be a such a fake that Sard plans to out him the minute he’s free ..

Getting the art for posting the novella in chapters is a process in action, as is sourcing a good book cover, without which it can not be published. Enjoy!

Part 2: Plan B


Ghulia sat beside him. “You look like you’ve got a week of work to do in three minutes.”

“Srese is it.” Sard indicated the mini-monitor above the bed. “What does that mean for me?” How could he trust someone as scatty as Srese to look after his interests?

His care-mother leapt up onto the bed, he was amazed to see, and switched off the mini-monitor.

“People think because there is no sensory-felt in the Nest, there are no receptors. Never dreaming that the communication gear itself might carry signal,” she said shakily.

He stared, his mouth agape.

When she noticed she hugged him hard. “Sard-baby, this is it. The first day of your new life.” Cheerful when obviously that wasn’t how she felt. “How much time do you think until Phin and Youk notice you missing?” she said.

“Probably around lunchtime when Phin will want to make sure I don’t eat. They’ll find their clothes ruined in the ionizers and suddenly they’ll care a lot. Why?”

“You have no more time at their disposal. In fact, you have no more time at all for ordinary things. Get into some nondescript clothes and smoothe down your hair. I’ll call in sick, which everyone will consider perfectly understandable.”

If it hadn’t been for her fear—utter and stark—Sard wouldn’t have gone along with her chivvying. He didn’t understand half of what she was on about but changed into ordinary jeans and shirt. Moccasins on his feet. His hair combed as flat as it would go. He could but coast in her wake until the facts came out.

“We need to go to the Dining Hall,” Ghulia said.

“I wasn’t there that long ago.”

“Nevertheless.”

The corridor walls, though still mainly grey, fluttered with blue stalks and leaves. Sard started every time a bird shadow exploded from the undergrowth. “That’s how you feel?” he said.

She talked from behind the bit of her scarf that she covered her mouth with. “Ignore it. It’s Gammy guessing.” She led him into the Dining Hall, empty of breakfasters, and into the kitchen-office cubby and introduced him to that fool, Gregorius the Dining Hall Manager, as though Greg and Sard had never met.

“You know my care-son?”

“Sard,” Greg said. “Will I put you on the roster for early breakfast?”

“There is a roster?” Sard’s amazement wasn’t a put-on.

“Only for the early session, mate,” Greg said while he made them a coffee each.

Ghulia was like, go on this is an emergency, and it was an easy thing to commit to when Sard had no idea of what was blowing in the wind. “Yeah sure, put me down for a couple of weeks.”

Ghulia took the coffees and led him to a table. No one else around helped make it too weird to enjoy. His care-mother waved him down opposite her. She stared pointedly, dragging his gaze along with hers, at every sensor within their range – alongside every light fitting and behind every air-filter screen.

Because of them, she explained without a word, she wouldn’t be saying anything about the emergency in here. She allowed him about two minutes to gulp down what was a hot drink. She drank hers as if it had no flavor and no heat. Like it was water straight from the moldeckery. He followed her out into the corridors. “Where are we going?”

She shrugged and brushed her ear.

Oh yeah. Gamester all ears. They’d exited in the Lane alongside the Dining Hall, walked Neilson-wards. Left into First Circle, crossed Neilson Street and into the lane alongside the silk weaving workshop. They went to its back entry in the corridor parallel to First and Second Circles. As they entered, Ghulia grabbed the doorbell with a practiced move. Obviously to prevent the bell jangling.

She pulled him down onto his hands and knees with her to crawl under the silk stretched from the wall to the loom. The woman already under there apparently had the task of tying off the beginnings and ends of the silk cocoons after their filaments were woven into the new fabric. Ghulia mouthed, “Mab, this is my care-son.”

“One of the avatars, Ghulia.” Mab likewise spoke voicelessly. Sard was like he attended a ball game, his eyes following the action.

“Not chosen for the game,” Ghulia said.

“Plan B?” Mab raised her eyebrows.

Ghulia nodded.

Mab tossed her head to indicate that the person they wanted, whose name Sard was not able to read from her lips, was still up there. Wherever that was. She waved Ghulia and Sard out from under the loom and Ghulia pushed him through a curtained doorway into what was at first glance a kitchenette.

Or maybe the place where they cooked up dyes, he decided seeing the various cooking vessels with coloured slops. The whole rear wall was draped with silks.

“The drying racks,” Ghulia said. “Vents in the floor and ceiling.” She bent and felt for something under a swag of silk scraps in a basket. “Go on through.”

“Huh?” he said pointedly when he could’ve said a ton of other stuff.

She pressed a headband into his hands that had a torch on the front, and pushed past him through the curtaining. A passage? How was it that when he and Srese had investigated every corner of the habitat in their single digit years, Ghulia and he now stumbled along a passage Sard hadn’t even known existed?

He nodded his head to swing the torch up, across and down. The sandstone walls were darkened with age. So, not a newly carved passage. The floor was ordinary polished-with-use stone-kreet. He felt betrayed by the way Ghulia, who might have shown him the tunnel as a treat but didn’t–ever–showed no hesitancy in her walking having obviously been through here many times.

“Mind the ceiling.” She led him up a set of steps. He had go bent for a couple of paces before they went down again, and that for only a couple of steps before they had to do it all again. Why not a straight tunnel for pity’s sake? His temper started to build. “Where are we going?”

“The sooner we get there, the sooner you will know,” Ghulia said.

He ignored the tartness in her tone in favour of a bit of his own. “How is that an answer?”

No answer.

Fine. The way the passage slung about twisting and turning, they could be going anywhere. About all he was sure of anymore was that they’d entered the passage in the silk workshop in the Neilson-and-Everard Quarter.

“Ouch.” He forgot to duck and did his mother stop to commiserate?

She had entered a foyer. The two sets-of-doors-setup made it like the foyer into the Nest, that he and Srese called the airlock. Where they used to play their spaceship games. He wasn’t attending when he should have been, he thought dismally, when he just about fell into the room beyond. It was so large and light and round, he was totally overwhelmed.

By the time he’d collected himself, Ghulia had abandoned him and was stepping out a pattern in the middle of the room with an old joker already there. The person they’d probably come to see. The man’s features were certainly something to see. Grey hair and wrinkles that Sard only ever saw in video-mentaries and then only because he’d searched beyond the common tripe. Most people he knew would prefer to be moldecked than grow old.

The grey head continued to step and turn and gesture, completely unselfconsciously. Sard’s hands grew clammy from embarrassment about the weirdness of someone ignoring bystanders. Personally, during a public performance, he had to have everyone involved in the action of the moment. He’d sent people out if they refused to be in the moment.

Finally the oldster made a namaste-type ending to his routine. After a minute on hold he turned and came. Ghulia would be no help as she continued on hold, Sard saw. She wore her unapproachable meditational expression.

The oldster arrived in Sard’s face while he was still thinking daggers at Ghulia. At the same time—like the old man timed it—a vast bright light sprang into being at the top of the rock rim above the perglass dome ceiling that Sard had had no spare time to see yet. A sun event. He’d bet on it.

“It’s the sun,” the old man said. “Too hot in here when that gets going. I’m known as Rider.”

Sard didn’t nod to say he understood, because he understood nothing. He shook Rider’s proffered hand to express a minute vestige of politeness.

“Have a seat,” Rider said.

There was only the floor. Polished stone. No rugs or cushions. Sard remained standing. Damned if he was going still further out of his comfort zone without knowing why. His skin crawled as he felt the man studying him.

Sard pointedly studied the scene. The perglass dome perched on rickety columns of stacked stones. Nowhere did the dome meet the walls. In the gaps between the stone pylons, the room’s air must mix freely with the outdoors. Or what it looked like.

Seeing where Sard looked, the old man said, “Originally the dome sat on that rim of rocks.” He pointed at an edge far above the dome, that was just now limned with sunlight. “Lucky for us the glass didn’t break when it slid down, though naturally it needed stabilizing.”

“Naturally,” Sard said. The floor was of the usual polished stone-kreet. Including the one they’d come through, three dark entrances broke the encircling wall.

“When it rains, it’s all hands on deck for bailing,” the old man said.

One point to Sard for having moved his attention on while the old man was still on about the gaps between the dome and the wall.

Above the dome hung a circular piece of what would have to be sky, brown-tinged by the aging UV barrier in the per-glass. “The dome dislodging from its original mounting caused this hall to be abandoned by the community,” Rider said. “One of Gamester’s engineers’ mistakes. Serendipitous for us.”

Ghulia finally came to grace the meeting with her presence. “Rider, this is my care-son, Sard. Superfluous to Gamester’s needs.”

“Mmm,” Rider said.

Ghulia nodded. Something she was doing a lot around these people. Sard interrupted the flow of meditational discourse, whatever they thought they were doing. “I don’t need plan B. Srese will get me into Plan A with her. What we planned when the competition was first posted.”

Rider stared at Ghulia. “He doesn’t know?”

“I brought him as soon as I was sure.”

“Yet it is his life,” Rider said. “He needs the knowledge. I think Plan B, Scene 2, Ghulia. You know what to do?”

She bit her bottom lip then seemed to come to some conclusion. “Yes.”

“I thought you just agreed to no more decisions without my input?” Sard said. What did he care about the whine even he heard in his voice?

Amazingly, Ghulia laughed. “Rider, you know him better than I do.”

“I was him once,” Rider said. “Still am sometimes, though I try to keep those moments private. We should get out of here. The heat,” the oldster explained to Sard. He hustled them towards their entry.

Sard let Ghulia take the lead back down the secret passage. He felt like his ears had burned off. He decided he’d go to the hardcopy museum next, and read the Name Book. Bet there was no Rider in it, the man was such a fake. That grey hair had to be a wig.

Ghulia stopped well before they reaching the curtaining of drying silks. “I want to show you a couple of things before you’re too old to enjoy them. You take Two Forty and Second Circle. Don’t let anybody see you. Hide in the overhang of Crystal Cave. I’ll be there in half an hour.”

Sard frowned.

“Indulge me, son. You owe me for that tantrum back there. I thought I did a better job than that, socializing you.” She had him by the ears then, and not gently either. She shook him. “Wake up to yourself, Sard-baby.”

Tears in her eyes and her voice. What could he do but indulge her?

Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 1

DNA strand … Sard’s will be weirder than that
Sard was born an avatar in the community where he lives, and has honed his skills in the production of cave-wide games for most of his sixteen years. With his twin sister Srese, who is a superlative actor and usually stars in his productions, they top this competitive profession. To his consternation his sister is chosen over him as the one to star in Gamester's newest production, while he is remaindered!

Remaindered? What does that even mean, he wonders as the electronics of the underground community begin to shut him out. His care-mother; one of the previous, now hidden, remaindered avatars; and Greg, the community's chef all help him to stay alive as he comes to grips with his new status. But how will he now live, doing what?

In this, Part One, Sard learns a couple of the facts about his new way to be and a whole lot of unpleasant suppositions, and he's hardly in the position to be able to tell one from the other.


Sard strode through the pastel yellow arch out of the Nest. He needed the roiling colours of his envy and disappointment and anger. Because how come Srese won the contest when he was always the better producer? He wanted reds and blues and greens storming along the corridor walls alongside him. Where were they?

He stopped. The Nest doors soughed shut behind him.

The walls, what he could see of them, were grey. And all the holos, one on every block-end, were extinguished.

Some kind of power cut? I don’t think so. He stepped back seeking with his fingertips the comforting painted story on the Nest’s doors. A fill layered into the dark green paint made the bas relief trees. A rectangular brown roughened area signified a door into a tree trunk. Zoya, the kiddy-carer, regularly pasted the profile of a different infant over the door as if they were then pushing it open. She’d painted a tremble of golden light as if it came through the aperture.

The doors slid open behind him because he still stood on the sensory-mat. He breathed relief. Phew. At least a couple of doors still worked for him.

A chatter of voices neared from the Wingham direction, the group still out of sight around the bulging-out curve of the Nest. Dorms and family apartments fronted First Circle on that side. This late in the morning it was probably Tye and his girls. Sard almost bolted back into his hole. What good, though? He had to eat.

“Bad luck, mate,” Tye said as he passed Sard. “Not winning, I mean.”

Sard was slightly comforted. If that was all Tye knew, he could probably brazen it out and go to breakfast at least.

Tye hugged Relda to him. Both had dressed gypsy-style. She swirled a shin-length red and yellow skirt. Tye’s pants were about the same length, with the cuffs artfully folded up and he wore a neckerchief the colour of Relda’s headscarf. Gold coins sewn over both. Caro arm-in-armed Viva, twirling so each could add her play to the hotspots in the holos.

So far they’d conjured a carved gypsy caravan pulled by a horse plodding along a sandy track in a high summer scene of green and gold. The ceilings round about were now blue and they seemed to walk on the same gold sand track.

“What do you think?” Caro said.

“I like it.” Sard touched the opposite wall, near where he walked, where flowers burgeoned in a field of green. His touch killed off a swatch of flowers. He jerked back. Hope no one saw that.

“You want to input your alterity?” Viva said. “Since you’re not costumed?”

“No. Go ahead. You two are doing a great job.” They were all represented in the mural. The couple strolled in the meadow and Viva drove the horse. The Caro-alterity did cartwheels alongside.

The gypsy caravan followed them across Second Circle and pulled into a meadow forming on the Dining Hall’s long wall between Second and Third Circles. The horse began to graze and the alterities followed their people around the corner toward the Dining Hall entry where they pixilated into the scenery.

Sard walked into the Dining hall among them. His heart hammered when for the five or six seconds that he was the only one on the sensory-mat, the doors started to slide shut. He pressed back the near one. Should he suspect that the door utility suddenly didn’t know him anymore?

Youk and Phin were already in there, shoveling scrambled eggs down their respective gullets. How he hated them. Obviously he was late, along with every other trouble this morning.

“Don’t let them get to you,” Tye said.

“Thanks.” How, was the question. He fetched his porridge, the white pap, his eggs, the yellow pap, on the baked and toasted pap. If he was slow about it maybe his tormentors would leave. But they were still at the table and so because he dormed with Phin and Youk he had to go sit with them.

As usual Youk across the table from him watched everything he did. Didn’t the guy ever have anything better for his yellow eyes to do than make sure the avatars didn’t get ahead of him? Youk said, “Shoveling it in rather, aren’t we?”

“What?” Sard could’ve kicked himself. When would he learn not to react?

“Shoveling the food in like the farmers didn’t grow it to your taste.”

“Ha ha,” Sard said around the egg. “Since I’m one of the farmers.”

Phin, diagonally across from Sard, smiled benignly. He kicked Sard’s feet out of his way under the table and hooked his own under Sard’s chair.

“Finished?” Youk said. “Good. You and I have business.” Loud enough for everyone to hear, he said, “Fare thee well, oh golden avatar! Do you wend to your Herculean labours?”

Of course everyone remaining at the other tables looked up and laughed and commented.

“Do you join him, Youk, to be dusted by his benison?” Tye said. He winked. At Sard when of course both Youk and Phin could not miss seeing.

Thanks Tye, for nothing. Sard thrust back his chair, hopefully doing damage to Phin’s hooked-up toes. Sard stood in a hurry to catch the chair before it fell. All he needed was a whip, to tame his lions. He put the chair down and shoved it hard against Phin’s outstretched legs. He didn’t say sorry because he would pay whatever he did.

Youk followed him near enough that he looked like he hustled Sard from the Dining Hall.

“Master and slave. Youk in his favourite role,” Tye shouted after them.

The doors closed when Sard and Youk stepped from the sensory matting, shutting them off from any further ribaldry. Because he had Youk breathing down his neck, Sard made for the dorm he supposedly shared with him and Phin. He dived into the lane beside the Dining Hall, and took a left into the corridor between Second and Third Circles. Walls, where available, were grey.

The dorms fronted onto the lane with doors and windows, and backed windowless onto the Circles allowing a lot of wall to be given over to holos. “Surely the walls should’ve been flaming red on black?” Youk said. “Gammy-the-damned-AI loves strong emotions all said and done.”

Youk was of course commenting on Sard’s lack of nanobots. Yesterday Sard hadn’t had any nanobots either, but he’d been a whizz at programming holos. The same as Caro. Today, because he didn’t win the programming competition he suddenly was nobody? It still didn’t make sense. He stood back for Youk to unlock.

Youk stood back, too.

It looked like it would be a stand-off.

“Well?” Youk said. “You’re the golden-bloody-avatar!”

But how much of an avatar could Sard ever have been to be so instantly excised? “No nanobots, remember?” he said. “You’ll be missing lunch along with me if we stand here all morning.” As if Youk will miss lunch, he thought. “Funny how the corridor walls don’t reflect your mood. Shouldn’t they be a dirty green? The colour of envy?” Youk had envied Sard and Srese all their lives.

“The stupid AI wouldn’t dare try,” Youk said. He stepped forward. “He knows I’d hack into him with no respect.”

“Yeah right. Full of gas as usual.” Sard pushed past Youk’s fist.

The main room was a disaster. Any clothes that Sard hadn’t taken to the Nest were trodden into the rest of the mess. He started picking them up. “That’s what we’re here for? For you to tell me that the walls aren’t reacting to me?”

“And the rest. But why would I help you? You’re so stupid.”

“Oh, you mean you’re now not going to tell me the walls aren’t reacting to me today?” He sprang aside to escape Youk’s kick.

“The Pit would’ve been the better place.”

“Why would I have gone in there with you, with every man of your friends joking and laughing at my expense.”

Youk slung his arm over Sard’s shoulders and sidestepped him into the bathroom. Dirty clothes underfoot wherever they stood. Phin refused them the use of a laundry basket.

“See what I just did?”

“What you just did?” Being thickheaded was often his best defense against Youk.

Youk shook him. “Stop that. I was demonstrating how friendly I can be.”

Sard laughed. “You hate me. I’m the golden bloody avatar, remember?”

“You’re an insufferable know-it-all clone. Just like my father. Just like Gammy. You and your sister both are just a pair of damned Gammy-clones.”

“Srese would remind you that we are twins, same DNA, womb tanks side by side.”

“Trust me, Srese is half Yon Kerr doubled, and you’re Yon Kerr.”

“What would you know?” Sard said. “Though why would you know is probably more to the point.”

“Ferd is my father. He’s the Yon Kerr clone of his generation. I’m his natural-born son.” Youk stood up straighter. Even puffed his chest out.

“They say that about you,” Sard said. “So what?”

“I wasn’t made in a test tube or decanted out of a womb tank. My mother was the desert woman Yon Kerr got in for my father to romance. He won a contest to star in a cave-wide entertainment.”

Like Srese just did. Sard swallowed.

“Ring a bell does it, that phrasing?” Youk said. “I was going to show you what happens to remaindered avatars. It’s why we should’ve gone to the Pit. Walked through a holo there into the next disused complex.” Youk punched Sard’s disbelief back into him. “You didn’t know that there are more habitats than this one, did you?”

Punch. “Too bad, I could’ve shown you my hide. I have a standalone there with all the info you would’ve been likely to want.” Youk shook his head. “There’s history there you wouldn’t believe. You’re so superior that you don’t even want to know? When Srese has so obviously won and you’re suddenly remaindered?”
Youk let Sard go as if he was suddenly poisonous. He flung himself onto the couch.

Sard bent and picked up a pair of pants. “I’m not worried,” he said. “Srese and I have an agreement.” Whichever of them was picked for the role would hoist the other twin up with them. He’d been so green with envy himself, he’d forgotten. People said they were the best CAVE actor-and-producer team ever. Not that he’d swirl that cape in front of Youk.

And anyway, Srese and he knew the habitat inside out. Spent years finding all the nooks and crannies. No unused complexes that he knew. As for the other thing, he’d have to believe she’d remember their pact.

“So what will you be doing about it?” Youk said, almost friendly.

How stupid did Youk think he was? Sard shrugged. He wished Youk would go. He went round the room picking up his clothes. “My laundry.”

“You could do some of mine.”

“You wish.”

“You know what Phin will say.”

“What will Phin say?” said Phin, coming in.

“About Sard doing just his own laundry,” Youk said.

“Phin will say that that isn’t right,” Phin said. He gripped Sard by his arm. “Wait right here. Youk!”

Youk piled the rest of the clothes from the floor, overalls, towels, the lot, on Sard’s armful. “Go at it, young fellow.” He opened the door into the corridor.

Phin put his foot on Sard’s butt and shoved him out.

The corridor walls should’ve been incandescent but stayed obdurately grey. The corridor’s laundry was centrally situated. That no one else was in there to witness his fury, was one good thing, and very convenient for his plan was the other. But would he even be able to program the damned ionizers?

He seethed as he sorted clothes and stuffed them in three separate machines. Right, yes. Probably the laundry was on a slave circuit, not yet changed. He grinned wolfishly changing the settings for Youk’s and Phin’s clothes.

His own clothes tumbled about for the regular two minutes. He took them out clean and creaseless. Folded them and packed them flat in his washing bag. The twelve-minute cycles finished. Folding those clothes would be pretty well impossible, storing them like having a set of minions falling out of the cupboard every time you opened it. He walked away.

Not back to the dorm. The Nest was where he seemed to spend every second night these days. Thank Gammy his care-mother had kept his room in her apartment. Make that, thank Gammy his care-mother had been allowed to keep her apartment in the Nest after Sard had been assigned his dorm. Yeah, ha ha.

He let himself in through the apartment’s street door. Another slave circuit. Not everyone need know Sard was sleeping at Ghulia’s again this week and he’d rather not meet Zoya, the kiddy-carer who also was Srese’s ditzy care-mother. Or even Srese and her tears and dramatics.

He dumped his clothes in his drawers and switched on the mini-monitor above the bed. Might as well watch a movie. He wouldn’t go to work at all.

The same words still on the screen. <<Srese Kerr awarded the main role in the new cave-wide games>>

Sard closed his eyes, dozed. Words still there when he opened his eyes the second time. His gut churned. There had to be worse things in life than not being picked to be the primary avatar. There had to be worse things in life … It was no good. He didn’t know anything worse right now.

He wanted to shout and scream. Not fair! Not fair! Not fair! Srese was so young still! He ground his teeth. He’d never believed they were identical, or twins. He wished now he’d let Youk be victorious. What did being remaindered mean?

“Oy,” Ghulia tweaked his toe.

He hadn’t even heard his care-mother come in? Sard sat up, feet over the side of the bed.

1. New/Old Life

My fungi library … couple missing I see …

This is the (1) before the previous (1). I thought I wouldn’t need reading in my new life?

The idea that I could slough off my old life and take up a completely new one isn’t happening and was probably doomed from the start. It’s true that while I was in treatment, I put everything normally ‘me’ out of my mind to keep my attention on the main event, to learn the disease, what was required every day, learn the people involved, how the meds affected me, keep my oxygen line straight. [I was on oxygen for ten days]

But after a while it became necessary to take up reading again. In between engaging with staff, which was mostly in the mornings, hung swags of time. Watching TV while in hospital is difficult. Volume is restricted. You can’t turn the TV off, attend the x, y, z person/procedure needing your attention, and turn it back on expect to hit the same place where you left off. The remote is fiddly, usually on the same gadget as the nurse’s call button.

While I was on the Oncology Ward at John Flynn Hospital, out in the corridors practicing my walking, I discovered nooks with bookshelves filled with books. Life-savers, in effect. Not that I read every book. But every walk I took, I’d change a book, like at at a library. I’ve read both fiction and non-fiction voraciously for most of my life.

I’m now officially in remission with a totally clear PET scan. My last chemo session was at the end of January, followed by two Rituximab (monoclonal antibodies) chasers taking me into the beginning of March. A ‘stupendous recovery’ my hematologist calls it, given where I began. My hair started growing again the week of the first chaser. My toenails apparently need more time.

Since I moved into the unit where I’m living now, I’ve been sorting through books … nineteen boxes of them. Some books don’t need a decision. Anything to do with fungi make it onto the shelves beside my work station. Fiction using fungi as plot devices, bad or good, also onto the shelves.

Most other books get the will-I-want-to-read-this-again question. If not, straight into the remaindered pile. If maybe, I open the book anywhere and read a few pages. If boredom sets in after only a few paragraphs, into a remaindered pile it goes. The books that will be sent on their way so far number about eight boxes.

Other things I’m reading at the moment are an article titled Proposal for a subdivision of the family Psathyrellaceae, which I keep for breakfast reading since it is a .pdf and must be read on the laptop. ‘Sideshow’ by Sheri S Tepper. This follows on from ‘Raising the Stones’ which is one of fungi-related novels in my collection. Tin Tin in Adventures on the Moon by Herge for light relief. And I’m thinking of soon reading ‘Meld’ the second part of my trilogy Doomed

We’ll see.

After Chemo

Every morning I open the vertical blinds out to the patio and open the glass door then the screen door and go out to check what little things have sprouted. I said fungi would be first thing in my new life, and so it has so far been.

I take their photos: caps, stems, undersides, the way the gills attach to the stem, the pattern of their gills, is there or is there not detritus from a partial veil on their caps, what color is the cap, what color is the center? I note a few more things for future reference.

These may be in the Coprinopsis genus
These may be of the Parasola genus

All of them are tiny and really to make good photos I’ll need some equipment superior to what I have. An older model mobile phone with a 50% success rate where the photo is sharp enough to enlarge for extra detail. Just like the older model operator whose eyesight is not as sharp as it was, but whose eye for detail still works very well.

After breakfast and a couple of chores I may sit down at my laptop and do online fungi IDing on the various FB fungi groups I’m a member of, or I may submit a few more fungi observations to https://inaturalist.ala.org.au

Some days … when my state of being doesn’t allow me any running around … that’s all I do. Like today. Have to keep reminding myself, need to crawl before I can walk.

Part 1, Fungi

A recurring part of my new life will be fungi. Even though I can’t get out into the field as yet … am stuck photographing whatever comes up in plant pots … I’m spending the majority of every day traversing the four FB fungi groups I belong to, and now also adding old data to my account at iNaturalist.org

Hygrocybe astatogala

Life After Chemo …

The tile which, after suffering an unfortunate accident, nevertheless became a work of art

Today someone asked me if I could see my life lining up after chemo. It stopped me in my tracks.

I’ve been living in the moment of having cancer and having it treated for so long that plans about what to do afterwards are not on my horizon.

Should they be? I’ve gotten out of the habit of making plans. After all, it wasn’t just cancer that hit me. There’s COVID too that hit the whole world. Does anybody now think they know what is around the corner?

— — — —

But let me tell you what happened with that tile.

I was learning to paint with ceramics at the time. My next big project was going to be a 30 cm square tile using all the techniques of applying texture available to me. I’d gotten as far as recessing the sky areas by patient scraping and sanding with the scrubber part of the dish-washing sponge. The applying the three coats of sky blue. In the foreground I’d started the stylized bamboo, and the carving-in of various landforms.

Un-kilned tiles (referred to as green ware) are extremely fragile. I decided to leave it at the workshop for my next class the following week for that reason. Nobody knows how it happened, just that sometime during the week the tile broke.

The pebble insert above was my first idea for saving it. The rest of the class, Carmel, Carole, Sue and several others all made suggestions. If I was to have a band of pebbles, I’d first need to saw off part of the existing bits, top and bottom, then stick the middle two bits on another tile, kiln the whole assembly, and finally glue the pebbles in.

I didn’t like it. No elegance in it. There had to be a better solution, I thought. I took the tile home for the four-week interim around Christmas and New Year and studied it often.

Finally, I realized that the only way to camouflage a break so definitive would be to have more breaks. More pieces.

Did that. Very satisfying. Ended up with about eleven pieces. Was able to highlight a different technique on each of them. I use it as a puzzle. Lend it to people and they call me in the night to ask which piece goes where.

— — — —

I think that this puzzling-together of the pieces I am left with after my life broke is probably going to be the way into a new way of being. There will be no lining up of the pieces. How can there be?

I’ve got old bits that need upgrading … my writing and my painting … friends from then, and family, to convince that my new way of being is how I’ll need to be.

New bits … the amount of attention I now need to give to my health … new friends to make and maintain … my grandchildren now within reach to nurture … a new way of gardening to learn …

More new things than old things possibly, and all of them having to fit into a narrower borrowed time.


Fiction: Cortinarius alin aff sapient

Cortinarius sp

Cort had three places to sit in his apartment and today he intended sitting in all of them. He began in the kitchen. Sitting on his wooden kitchen chair at his wooden kitchen table. He had the two vintage crystal wineglasses part-filled with water in front of him and the silver teaspoon ready for action.

Mrs Soup would be along soon. He’d earlier checked her progess by standing this side of his front door and listening. She lived-in in the block—in fact had an apartment not too far from Cort’s—and was employed by the Department of Human Services to provide nine of the block’s residents with their meals.

“Yoo-hoo?”

Cort ting-tinged with his fork against the right-hand glass.

“In the kitchen as usual,” Mrs Soup said. “Waiting for me, I suppose.”

He would’ve smiled if he could. Not safe now. Ting. This was the high note with which he put positive comments into the conversation. Mrs Soup wasn’t backward in supplying the words.

She set the dinner bag on the counter and unloaded the covered bowls. Cort’s teeth had given up the struggle and he’d graduated onto soups and stews that didn’t require chewing. “Both into the fridge?” she said.

Ting. He didn’t know yet when he’d have time to suck up the mid-day meal.

“Oh?” Mrs Soups said. “Expecting another caller?”

Ting. Cort pointed the teaspoon at a red square on the placemat.

“Ah, you’re expecting Red. A good man.” She took yesterday’s disinfected and sealed-up dishes in their plastic bags from the vegetable crisper.

He agreed. Ting. Red was the house medic. Employed under the same arrangement as Mrs Soup, he was overworked and underpaid. In Cort’s opinion. A lot more sick people in the scene than were fed by the house.

“Thank you for this disinfecting. You are such a dear,” Mrs Soup said. “Different to the old codger two floors down.”

Cort tapped the other, almost full glass. Tang.

“Red is with Mr Irascible right now, I’d say. He sidled in as I sailed out.”

Which gave him Red’s approximate arrival time. Ting.

————

For Red’s visit, Cort made himself comfortable in his old armchair. The arm rests were perfect for him to lay his arm on a pillow for Red to serve him up with an injection or a cannula for a dose of IV meds.

“Hey, old-timer,” Red said at the door. “How’s it going?”

Cort slipped his mask up over mouth and nose.

“That’s a new thing between us,” Red said at the mask, fetching the upright chair from the kitchen. “And I have been thinking I’d like to have a look at the problem?” He finished with his head on-side, asking.

Cort gestured futility with his fingers spread, hands upturned.

“There’s a thing growing in your mouth and what? You don’t want me to have a look-see, to see if it is cureable?”

Cort shook his head. Indicated down with his thumb.

“Is it bacterial?” Red said. “I’ve still got some antibiotics you haven’t had yet. Could hit it with them.”

Cort shook his head.

“Is it cancerous?”

Cort shook his head.

“Not cancerous.” Red wrapped the blood pressure guage around Cort’s upper arm. “Only one thing left. Show me and I’ll be able to prescribe something.”

Cort pointed at Red. Gestured Red’s probably fate with a finger across his throat.

Red frowned. “As bad as that? I can go to the ambo station, get some hospital-grade personal protection gear, see you again this afternoon.”

Cort grabbed one of his signs from beside his chair. THERE IS ONLY REVENGE.

Red’s eyes above his mask narrowed. He hissed. “I told them at the station there’s a killer in our scene. What’s he doing?”

Cort mimed diseases passing from one to the next. Infecting people. He got his second sign out. His mobile. A photo, a selfie from hell. His pursed mouth with the deep grooves of his aging face radiating from his thin lips pressed tight. Both the depths of the grooves and the lips painted a deathly white. The disease escaping its confines.

Red studied it with quick glances back and forth to Cort’s eyes, the rest of his face. He frowned thunder. “What can I do?”

Gesturing, Cort asked for help to get out of the chair and be settled on the couch. Cort with a towel over his head for extra protection for Red. His third sign. BURN THAT IN A MEDICAL FURNACE. 1100 DEGREES. He mimed. Make me look like a half-warm corpse.

Red grinned wolfishly. Got out his second mobile, set it to Record. “I’ll be at Mrs Soup’s, watching this. I insist,” he said to Cort’s head shakes. He laid it between Cort’s knees. “I’ll see that your revenge goes nowhere else.”

“He’s dead anyway,” Cort signed.

“Not soon enough. Don’t worry, I have a good plan. No one else is going to be farmed by this dude.” Last thing, Red fetched the red half-blanket from his kit. Spread it over Cort’s lap. He nodded. “Eleven hundred degrees.”

————

Next, the grower. What he called himself. Just a humble farmer popping in from time to time to see how the crop was growing he said. Cort savagely echoed him in his mind.

The man getting sicker, Cort saw the fucker think, his legs up on the couch like that and covered with an ambo’s little red blanket. Cort chuckled behind his mask, whatever that might sound like.

Grower checked that that ambo was not on the premises while fetching the upright chair from the kitchen. Three rooms and a bathroom. No ambo. He set the chair on the rug alongside the couch. Its outer limits but opposite Cort. “Can’t be too careful,” he said.

Cort grunted.

“I traded some of my stock this week and scored me some magnifying specs,” Grower said. He pulled them from his shirt pocket and Cort saw that they were an eye doctor’s magnifiers. Grower slid a couple of lenses into the left frame, three on the right.

Cort grinned close-mouthed behind his mask. Made an inquiring sound.

“You’re right,” Gtower said. “I do owe you an explanation or three.” He laughed. “Your name was the beginning of it.”

Cort raised his eyebrows. This was where he might’ve asked the damned farmer-in-the-dell to explain. Mouth too far gone. But don’t worry he consoled himself, this fucker will tell you because this fucker likes the sound of his own voice.

“In the bar they all called you Cort,” Grower began. “I knew rightaway the crop I’d want to try you out for. Then I learned that you were Allin Cort. Even better. It fits the genus and species naming system. In my literature—pamphlets, brochures and pricelists—I’ve started to call the crop I’ll be harvesting from you Cortinarius allin aff sapient.”

How would he get the delusional sapient to come closer? Cort grunted as disparagingly as he still could.

“It does sounds kind of weird,” Grower said. “But hey, you don’t seem to be doing that well?” He hitched the chair nearer. “The minute I went into job-lots of specifics for the laboratories, my life improved. I got rid of all the species that were too ornery. Too meh. The ones that had no poison and or no flavour if they were edible. I was thinking to get a sample today? Get it tested and so be able to offer my clients a specific rather than a general.”

Cort let his eyelids droop to half-mast, like he was a very sick man. Chuckle chuckle. Sicker than some, not sick enough to not want his revenge before he died.

The fellow hitched the chair even nearer, reached over the remaining distance and gently unhooked Cort’s mask. “Just want to see how we’re progressing, old boy.”

The sick man aka Cort relaxed back onto the couch armrest. He’d laugh if he still could. He gathered himself for his last lunge. Had to be good.

“Medic was here?” Grower said. “He give you some salve and that’s why your mouth and all those grooves are so white?”

Cort shook his head. He coughed through a narrow slot with a tearing paper sound. Pressed together his lips again.

“Right. Right. A little cough is the go. Let me get ready for the next one with a swab.” Grower scrabbled in his bag. Got out a swab. A glass container. A this. A that and a whatever.

Cort watched the madman’s face. Here he comes. Those crazed blue eyes.

“Ready when you are,” Grower said. Sitting on the edge of the chair, both his hands filled with the equipment to catch Cort’s … spores?

Cort grabbed the dead man’s upper arms with an iron grip and opened his mouth wide.

His lips crackled. Cracked. Flaked away.

The white felty interior stretched, the fibres sprang apart.

The spotted brown gills hanging from the roof of his mouth released a cloud of dark brown spores. Cort pursed his lips and blew more of them faster and further into the fellow’s face, his hair, his clothes. He blinded him with Cortinarius spores.

Grower would’ve reared back but Cort hugged him. Breathed spores into him. Kissed him to give him the taste. Cuddled the deluded dead thing to his chest.

Whispered lovingly. “Red will be here in a minute. He’ll tidy us up.”

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

While the beast illustrated here was once what a newspaper printer looked like, being in the Magnetic Resonance Imager today felt just like this looks like. The whole event was as near to a first hand nuts and bolts steampunk experience that I will want to experience.

fineartamerica.com

Imagine lying on a stretcher bed inside a machine like this in essence, being told to take deep breath and hold it. Dozens of times. Each episode you’ll hear a clickety-clacking, high pitched whistling, rumbles, moans and groans, cracking and creaking; each soundscape in sets of six to nine instances.

At the same time you’ll feel waves of heat traveling down the presumably steel stretcher you’re lying on that’s sliding slowly in and out of the MRI donut. The ghostly voice in your ears and the SOS squeeze bulb in your right hand are your only contacts with reality.

At the end, one of the staff said quite matter of factly that they don’t have many fans. First thing I would do is modernize the monster and cut back the high decibel sound effects. I doubt that my hearing improved.

End Times: Societal Collapse

Volcano, Watercolour by Rita de Heer

Yes. Pretty serious title. It’s the mood I’m in. After a twelve week euphoria about still being alive, first in hospital and then for six weeks in a respite community, learning to be a normal person again, the other day I got back to reading some of my favorite commentators on the state of the world.

Michael Mobbs, of Sustainable House fame, writing a Spinifex column in Fifth Estate, told the story of how he looked for a bolt-hole for when what’s coming arrives … this is the end time we’re talking about. The societal collapse. He’s convinced we have no more than ten years!

He couldn’t find a good bolt-hole. The whole east coast of Australia was burned in the 2019 bush fires and most of the creeks he looked at were either dry or running at about ten percent of what they once were. There’s no safety, or security in the bush. He went home, back to the city, where he’s thrown himself into food gardening, and modelling that.

Me? I was in shock. Here I am … went my thinking … going through the gnarliest treatment on Earth in the hope that I last ten more years and see my grandchildren on the way to growing up, and my society is going to fall over around my ears? Ending is such a final thing.

I’m aware of course that the average length of time for surviving cancer is five years, and I aim to step off my mortal coil with grace when the time comes. But only if I’ve given my descendants the best possible chance at surviving what’s coming.

In my mind I ran around like a Henny-Penny complaining about the sky falling in, me trying to think of solutions. Imagining how I’m going to spend the next five years.

Some time later I remembered that I’d known the 2030 deadline already. That I had accepted it already and had become nihilistic in my attitudes toward the end-time events, being a long-time environmentalist …

——

The above was all written a few weeks ago. Treatment is on-going. I feel sicker and less able to get involved in any damn thing with every turn of the cycle. Two to go. Maybe in six weeks … two more chemos, one more lumbar puncture with chemo … and when I’ve been able to address the near constant oral thrush in my mouth … I’ll be able to think again.Maybe then I can get excited again.

Too tired right now.

Art: #Huevember 2019

24. Path through to the Beach

This time last year, being under the mistaken apprehension that if I painted every day for thirty days that would then be a habit, and I would continue to paint every day.

But as we all know when the pressure is off, we tend to relax. I seem to recall I achieved an unbroken 24 day run of painting, followed by some patchy efforts thereafter.

During the time I painted for #huevember2019, I used postcard-sized paper and I’d have up to four scenes on the go at the same time. For that size paintings I need 2 or 3 passes with drying times in between.

On a particular day I’d take a look at what I had in hand, and decide which one to finish for that day. Above is the claustrophobic push through tall shrubbery to the beach. Of course, by the time ten surfers have pushed their way through, there is quite a well-delineated path.

I’m still such a beginner, that I’m always testing something. I think I was using the sepia for the first time that Sharon at the art shop talked me into. A greenish-olivey tint that she said she got more mileage out of than true sepia.

Mixed feelings about it then and now. Not that I’ve done any painting for the last six months. My paints are packed up with all the rest of my chattels, in storage.