Heading out into the unknown

So, Mei’s exit from the blogosphere got me thinking.  I’ve been isolated since long before the pandemic hit.  I did it to myself.  Well, my folks helped, and the general shittiness of the world contributed, but really, I mostly did it to myself.  I used to have some ambition, but I dropped that when it got too hard, and resented every minute of my life instead.  I avoided the kind of conflicts that might’ve meant shit or changed anything, and I revelled in irrelevant sniping and trolling.  I went in for the kill when I should’ve called truce and slated others’ weakness without trying to lend them any strength.  And this was all part of a grand master plan to push away everybody who ever started to care about me, in case I got reliant.  Then the world fell apart, more than once, and I was more reliant than I wanted to admit, and all my friends in the world were on this blog, and they were there for me.  I’ve got a lot of skills, and I’m not weak, but I do need people.  My own company’s not good for me.  And, I realised, there are people who need me, too.  They’re trying to start up communities and grow food and build shelters and run schools and fight off gangs in little pockets of green in the desert.  And they put out a call for people like me to come and join them, and I laughed about it and decided that, if they were even real, I was better than them.  Well, if I’m better than them, all the more reason to go along and help them out.  I sent them my vid last night.

I’ve got enough supplies for a few days’ trek, a handset, a solar-powered backpack, a scorcher of a summer’s day and a set of co-ordinates that should lead me on the first leg of my journey to this Dreamtime Town place.  Apparently there are tests along the way.  I got to walk the direction they tell me past the point I’ll run out of water, and trust that there’s a water hole at the other end.  If they reckon I’ve got ill intent, they’ll send me the wrong way.  They’ll send scouts to meet me who have to get home safe and give a good report before I get the next clue; they intend to get to know me a little before they let me in, test my resolve, my trust and the skills I say I’m bringing.  I guess I deserve that.  If I find Frank at the other end, I’m going to swing for the bastard.

You know what, though?  Like Mei, I’m not going to blog about the journey, or about the place when I get there.  I got a coupla reasons for saying that.  First is similar to Mei’s: I feel like a fake.  Up until I lost the store, I was blogging to impress, not to communicate, just like the funny announcements I used to make in the old life instead of talking to my colleagues.  It wasn’t that I didn’t really care, I cared so much I could’ve bled, but I never could connect with anything real while I was aware of being listened to, being public.  I always thought I didn’t care what anybody thought of me, but truth is I care about nothing else.  I wanted people to think of me as the kind of person who doesn’t care what people think of me.  That’s what blogging, performing, will do to you.  You create a persona – you can’t help it – and you get trapped inside it.  It’s not a lie, exactly, but it’s not the whole truth.  It’s a barrier.  You’ve always got to be analysing and describing and advising, never just relating.  Wherever I end up, and whatever happens there, I want it to be me who arrives, no pretences.  I want to relate to people as myself, whether I like them or not.  It’ll be hard work, because I’m not that likeable.  Narrating it all for public consumption probably won’t do me any favours, either.

The other reason is kind of for you guys, because, despite all that Mei says, I do fucking love you people, and that’s how I know it’s hell when somebody you care about disappears from their blog without a word and you don’t know what happened to them.  So if I say, “Hey guys, I’m going off into the outback where I could starve or get bitten by snakes or trampled by wild kangaroos or anything, looking for a place I probably won’t find, where I half suspect people will steal my stuff and kill me anyway – I’ll keep you posted!” then if you hear nothing, you’ll waste your time and power endlessly refreshing my blog and calling my name into the bleak and lonely digital void, and I wouldn’t want that.

If I just tell you all now that I’m going to stop blogging, as of the end of this paragraph – well, then you can imagine me tilling fields of golden wheat, or sipping a glass of homebrew Mojito in a hammock under the desert sun, or making sarcastic wisecracks at a meeting full of earnest utopians – or go with trampled by wild kangaroos if you prefer, I wouldn’t hold it against you – and you’ll have no reason to suppose me otherwise.  In short, if I say I’ll blog, and then I don’t, it can only be bad.  If I say I won’t, and then I don’t, it could be good.  You can imagine me as you want to.  Keep up the work, good or bad or indifferent.   And remember, I might still be reading, so watch yourselves.

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Giving up on giving up

I’ve left Canberra.  I’m sort of following the river, just to keep some kind of water supply, but trying not to be too visible from the major paths.  Still no idea where I’m headed to, but I have new reasons to fear what I’m running from.

Yesterday, I was searching for a key-safe – they make the breaking and entering a little easier, and they tend to be found amongst the tackier lawn ornaments.  I wasn’t having much luck, and was scattering woodland creatures in my wake when I heard the sound that every city scavenger dreads: engines.  I scrambled for the cover of a water butt as the sound of a truck engine approached, a recorded message blaring out its windows.   I listened, pressed against the wall, watching a meerkat I’d overturned roll to a stop at my feet, its paws raised in alert and a madness in its resin eye.

“…have to run and hide.  This amnesty will last three days.  If you are still in the contaminated zone after this time, we cannot guarantee your safety.  This area must be sanitised.  The quarantines are clean and safe.  You will find food, shelter. medical care and clean water.  Once the city can be sanitised, the quarantine will end.  You will be able to return to your home.  Go to your nearest quarantine centre and all refusal charges will be dropped.  You no longer have to run and hide.  This amnesty will last three days…”

I considered my options.  Give up and go to quarantine?  Not happening.  I don’t believe a crackle about any amnesty, and even if I did I’m not just walking into it, not after all this.  Hide out somewhere to wait until this “sanitisation” is over?  Where would I be safe?  What will it involve?  Are they going to fumigate each building?  Nuke us from the air?  How do you sanitise a whole city?  I couldn’t risk assuming a bluff any more than I could risk trusting the announcement.  It’d have to be option three: head into the bush until it’s over, then see what’s left to sneak back to.

So I headed towards the river to find that the paths out that way were looking freshly trodden.  I wasn’t the only contestant to choose door number three. I saw some people out in front, and after passing them in a wide arc I saw some more.  I haven’t seen more than one person at a time since the raid, and I never thought I’d see a crowd again.  I didn’t think that many people were even left in Canberra.  Something on the back of my neck started prickling, and I pulled my hat down and walked on the edge of the path, casting quick glances and listening to the chatter, but not meeting anybody’s eye.  There were families there, little kids, people who’ve been hiding out in their own basements or escaped the quarantines.  People were beginning to talk openly, the way you can when you’re two strangers on a journey in a crowd instead of two strangers with guns in a dusty store with one tin can left on the shelf.  They were starting to get friendly, swap stories. They were letting their guard down.   And I thought, “This isn’t right.”  We were like a bunch of sheep trotting away from a crouching collie.   Sooner or later we’d walk right into a pen.

I tried to talk to a few people, the ones who were front and centre of small huddles, to point out how visible we all were heading this way together.  I suggested breaking up into smaller groups, taking different routes, staying under cover, travelling at night.  Some nodded and started talking amongst themselves, then shrugged and carried on.  Most said, “Safety in numbers” or “Jumpy, aren’t ya?” or even “If they’re coming for us, they’ll get us one way or another.”   Towards nightfall people started making camp, and I thought about what to do.  In the end I decided to keep my distance from the herd and scout ahead, in cover of darkness.  If I spotted anything, I could get back and warn them, but mostly I hoped I could get safely round any trap before it was sprung.  I guess I did that.

About 4am I heard a plane approaching, turned off my torch and dived for cover.  It passed over, back the way I’d come, towards the refugees.  Then a minute later I saw something like fireworks dropping from the sky, and the distance lit up, and a moment after that I heard the muted rumbles and felt the shockwaves, like a train passing underground.  I started running back, then away again, then back again.  Then I did what I always do, what I’ve done since the day I took over the store – hid and waited it out, with my hands over my ears.  I did go back this morning, but there wasn’t anybody left to save.

I don’t think this is even about decontamination.  I think it’s about control.  Anybody not under it is a threat.  I don’t know how I’m going to live away from the city.  I’ve got my rifle and hobbyist bushcraft, and there might be the odd farmhouse to raid on the way out.  I doubt I’ll find much to eat, but I’ve got some supplies and I can survive a little longer.

A little before I started writing this, I wondered whether it was even worth the effort.  I lay down where I stood, decided I wasn’t going to fish or forage or do anything.  I never planned to make it even this far – it’s here and no further, I thought.  That’s it, I’ve had enough.  I can’t do it anymore.  I just wanted to stop.  I wanted to make it all stop.

Well, after an hour or so, I was kind of half asleep, but I opened my eyes and saw a huge brown snake slinking along, not a metre from me.  Not sure what species, but all the ones like it are pretty deadly.  I’ve seen them before, but never that close.  It had tiny, perfect, light brown scales, like a baby pine cone, except where the sun glinted blue-green on the edges, then it was like a tropical fish, sliding through the dry ocean towards me.  And I just thought… oh.

Fuck.

Off.

I rolled away, and by the time I’d picked up a stick it had slithered out of view, leaving me to contend with the idea that I really didn’t want to die after all.  Fucked if I know what I do want.  I guess I need to hang around a little longer and find out.

Going Home

They say you can never go home, but we all know they’re full of shit.

I wasn’t heading towards the area, I just happened to get here.  It’s like when you’ve got an ex you don’t want to bump into, but you kind of do, so you go to the places they hang out, telling yourself all the while they won’t be there so you can act surprised when you see them.  I turned the corner onto my street, and it was just, like: “Oh hey, Low-Rent Studio Unit, fancy seeing you here!  Not moved on yet?  Well, I have.  Not that I came here to tell you that.  Actually, I’m just here to raid the house across the street.  I thought I may as well collect some of my things, while I was passing.  I didn’t even think you’d be home.” But it is. It’s home, and even as I tell myself I can’t bring back the past and it’ll only open old wounds and leave me confused and vulnerable, I know I’m going to stay the night.

I can see now that I was just putting off the inevitable.  I had to come back before I could move on.  I just couldn’t imagine a scenario where I’d open the front door and it wouldn’t be depressing as fuck.  I thought, it’ll either have been raided by someone like me, and it’ll look like a burglary: every lock broken, every cupboard and drawer turned out in search of edibles or useables or valuables, then abandoned as a wreck not worth the effort of salvage, like a metaphor for my life.  Or it’ll be somebody like the Triggers, before they went rogue, and they’ll have been in and cleared everything to be logged and sorted and stored for the quarantines, leaving it empty and hollow with only the ghostly echo of the presence of my soul, like a metaphor for my life.  Or there could be somebody living there, eating the last of my food and wearing my clothes and sleeping in my bed, reading my books, watching my movies, listening to my music, taking in everything I am and gradually replacing me from the outside in, challenging me to surrender everything I was or fight to reclaim myself, thereby ultimately destroying a reflection or aspect of myself.  Like a metaphor for my life.

As it turned out, none of those things had happened.  Where I live isn’t exactly rich pickings, so it might have been passed over by the salvage squads and not yet resorted to by the scavengers.  It’s almost exactly as I left it, except for the radioactive slime monster in the fridge and the patches of mould and fungus that a winter without heating has brought out of the wallpaper and soft furnishings.  It’s kind of weird.  I got out my spare camp stove, and it still had half a canister of gas left.  I made coffee – actual coffee – and drank if from the blue speckled-glaze mug I stole from work for my birthday.  I made a bean chilli and rice from the food in my cupboards, with cumin and smoked paprika and passata with basil, a splash of cabernet and fresh oregano from my window box, the new spring leaves.

When it started to get dark, I lit some scented candles from the cupboard of generic gifts, collected over the years from colleagues and casual drinking buddies and ex-partners’ mothers who’ve felt they should get me something but don’t know what I like.  I filled a hot water bottle.  I put on my pyjamas and my dressing gown and my slippers, and got into my bed and dreamt strange dreams.  I dreamt that I’d spent five months barricaded into Colmart and then wandered the deserted streets of Canberra looting kitchens to survive.  Then I dreamt that was only a dream.  Then I woke in the bright sun through unlined, badly-sewn velvet curtains and looked around and, for a good while, I really didn’t know what had happened, and I tried to get back to sleep before I’d remember for sure, but I couldn’t.

I got up and put on clean clothes.  Then I filled every container I could find with water.  I dug out the solar shower I’ve never used (cause I sneer at campers who won’t get in the river) and put it out front in the spring sunshine.  Then I opened every window in the house, got out every cleaning product from under the kitchen sink, shook out every sheet and duvet and rug and throw, scrubbed the mould off the walls, emptied and cleaned the fridge and freezer and kitchen cupboards, washed my raiding clothes and sleeping bag in the bath and hung them out on the neighbour’s washing line.   I went through just about everything  in the place, burning junk I’d never want again in the yard, packing what I could use in my rucksack, stowing everything else away neatly in clean drawers and cupboards.  Then I brought the solar shower into the bathroom and hung it off the useless electric one and got properly clean in warm water for the first time in months, with flower-scented soaps and seashell-shaped sponges (more generic gifts).  I made more real food to eat and to pack.  Then I sat down at my table to write this.

And now I’m hearing that seductive little traitor voice that says I can stay here just a little longer, just casually, no commitment, no ties – no rent, even – and nothing outside has to be real tonight.  I could lock my door and make it all go away.  “Just for eight hours,” says the duvet.  “Or twenty-four,” says the liquor cabinet.  “Or forever,” says the bathroom cabinet.  And that’s why I can’t stay.  If I keep still, then by the time I’m out of options I won’t be able to face going out to find more, and this time there might not be a gang of raiders to chase me away.  Or there might be one too soon. I don’t have my in-store security system here, and my smoke’s probably already caught somebody’s attention.  It’s too dangerous not to move on.

I’m re-stocked and clean, and I’ve got fresh clothes and thick socks and boots that fit.  This is the time to head out again.  No staying still, no going back.

No idea where I’m headed.

The Looter Situation

I haven’t played with my looters for a few days now, and they’re getting despondent.  I gave them board games and playing cards and books and toys, but I can tell they feel neglected.  Jack’s right, I should never have taken them in.  I’m responsible for them now; even if they are first degree arseholes who were going to shoot me and take my store, I can’t just look the other way while they starve or suffocate in their fridge.  So I take their food down and open the door for them every six or seven hours, but I haven’t set them a challenge in days and I don’t even look at the screens that much anymore.  When I do, they’re usually just sitting there, sometimes exercising, sometimes poking at a tin of spam or dog food, and they have that blank look of tired anxiety on their faces, and I know what they’re thinking.

They’re wondering the same thing I’m wondering: how am I going to end this?   How do I get them out of here without risking retribution?  Cause Trigger Bright worked out before I’d even thought about it that my safest, my only really sensible option was to turn off the cameras and let them rot.  That’s why his game from the start has been Trigger Sensible, Trigger Calm, Trigger Reassuring.  He needs to persuade me that he’s Trigger Trustworthy.  I’m not convinced.  He’s tried the Man About the House line on me again, the skunk.  I said he should note, from his current situation, that I’m clearly able to defend myself from the likes of Trigger Happy and his creative threats, and he actually said not to “mind him”, because “he’s harmless really, but you can’t expect the kind of deference you might’ve got in the old world.”
He was trying to push my buttons, I know that now.  He gets me angry, I drop the Big Sister routine to yell at him, and before I know it we’re having a conversation.
“I don’t want deference, you arsehole.  I want to know that if I open the door and let you fuckers loose, some woman’s dead, raped body isn’t going to show up in the parking lot the next day.  Your mate threatened like as not it’d be mine.  How am I supposed to trust you?”
“How are you supposed to trust anyone?”
“Luckily, I don’t have to.”
“Not just yet.  It’s a big store, but it won’t last a lifetime.  Neither will your security setup – batteries stop keeping charge, parts go.  Or you’ll get a bigger gang at your door, and they won’t all fall into your traps. Who’re you gonna trust, them or me?”
“I’ll have to find myself some other options.”
“Such as?”
As it happens, I’ve got a few precautionary measures in place for those eventualities, but no point in showing all my cards.  He waits – I can see him, but he can’t see me.  His hands are resting on his knees as he sits stock still on the beanbag I gave them from the staff lounge.  His scraggly beard doesn’t quite conceal a smirk, and his eyes are always searching, calculating.  I’m calculating how much to say, too.  I shouldn’t be talking to him about this stuff at all.
“I can move on, when I want to,” I tell him.
“Move on where?”
“Why would I tell you?  But I know where there are places it didn’t all fall apart; people pulled together, built communities.”
He scoffs. “Don’t give me that Dreamtime Town shit.”
I was really just trying to lead the topic away from the store, because I honestly have no intention of leaving this place or any idea where else I could go.  So this was new.
“I was thinking of the Beijing students.  What’s Dreamtime Town?”
He paused, but not long enough to look like he was making it up, shrugged and snorted.
“Bunch of fucking hippies starving in the desert, if it exists at all.  Nobody who’s gone looking ever came back.”
“Maybe they found it.”
“Maybe they walked into a gang of bandits with a nice line in web design and some stock footage from a nineties commune, and their bodies were eaten by dingos.”
I’ve got to admit, I’m growing a fondness for Trigger Cynical.  But I’m not about to let him join me.

I looked up Dreamtime Town – there’s a vid of crops growing and kids doing lessons and people sitting in circles having civilised meetings where they all vote on what to build next and whether to go looking for more people and what colour to paint the fence.  If you want to go there, you’re supposed to send them a vid of yourself saying who you are, what skills you can bring, and answering a load of questions designed to find out if you’re about to take a hatchet to them in the night – they’re not majorly subtle.  Trigger Cynical’s probably right – they’ve been gunned down by now and there’s a gang of Unsavouries meeting each newcomer with a hail of bullets and living off the spoils.  Then again, they don’t say you have to bring anything except a willingness to learn, so if they are bandits they’re missing a trick – unless they really like to see people learn not to trust vids they find on the internet.

I think I’m going to have to let the Trigger Brothers go.  I can’t keep giving them my food and water, and I’m sick of slopping their buckets out.  And I can’t leave them to die.  I’ve been practicing my shooting in case they try and come back, but I don’t think they will, even if they can find more guns from somewhere.  They’ve talked about it, quietly, when they reckon I won’t be listening, and the consensus is there’s got to be easier places to raid.  I’ll take Trigger Happy first, call him into the diary room in the early morning and then open the door and lead him out at gunpoint.  I’ll take him a few blocks away and make him padlock himself to a lamppost with a bike chain, then I’ll come back and let the others out.  Grumpy’ll scarper – I don’t believe his shit about never wanting to join them, but I believe he’ll keep up the pretence as long as I’ve got the loaded pistol.  I’ll give the padlock key to Frank – that’s his actual name, Trigger Changeable is a Frank – and I’ll tell him where Trigger Happy is and let him decide what to do about it.  And I’ll lock the doors behind them, and go back to my Inner Sanctum, and watch my security screens and wait for them to never come back.  I’ll do it tomorrow.

I’m a Quarantine Refuser

So, everybody’s got a Disaster Manifesto, even if nobody really thinks it’ll work. Here’s mine – hole up where you can’t be found and sit tight until everybody else is dead. It’s working for me so far.

The newsnets have dubbed the likes of me “Quarantine Refusers”. Thankfully there’s so many unidentified dead that they haven’t yet been able to make an accurate list of us out of the missing. And there’s a use of the word “Thankfully” I didn’t think I’d see myself making. Misanthropic curmudgeon I may be, but that’s a new low. As penance or punishment – swear I didn’t cut and paste:
I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.
I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.
I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.
I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.
I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.
I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.
I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.
I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.
I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.
I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.
Not cause of heaven or hell or karma or any of that shit, it’d just be nice to feel like I’m any kind of loss to the world.

Anyhow, turns out us quarantine refuseniks have good reason to stay away from the hostels, if the blogs from those who’ve escaped them are anything to go by. The ABC newsnets are claiming they’re set up to work on similar lines to the successful quarantines in China, with new arrivals isolated and given food until it’s safe for them to join the green-lighted people inside. The escapees, however, tell tales of hotels crammed to double capacity, healthy people being forced into rooms with those already coughing blood, being locked in, food not arriving, handsets confiscated, families broken up… and all enforced by police supported by a network of Emergency Support Officers recruited mostly from security firms. I wonder if Coll’s finally living his dream.

I also wonder how much of this is a botched attempt at containment of the disease, and how much is just population control. Maybe those who’ve been sitting in their luxury bunkers for weeks just want to limit property damage and ensure there’s more food left for them when everybody else is dead. Maybe the authorities had my manifesto. Is that paranoid? It’s difficult to tell these days. I’ve always held that no conspiracies are necessary for powerful people to be arsewipes, but it does seem like this snapped into action like a sprung trap the instant the riots started. Perhaps I should be out there, smashing up the security stations, instead of in here washing down the last of the chocolate fondant puddings with a bottle of Prosecco.

I must learn to give a shit about other people before I die.

But I’m not dying just yet.

Not so resolute

Hey my macaroni cronies, welcome to page one of my shiny new blog!  I haven’t done this shit since high school – hard to believe there’s people out there who actually want to read my scrambled brain-eggs, but it can’t be a total figment of my ego because I’ve been asked, by real live actual people, to keep in touch with them on here.  I even got tagged in a meme already, and since it’s a serious breach of netiquette to ignore a tag, this is me responding with alacrity.

Trouble is, the meme was about New Year’s Resolutions, and I don’t do ’em – not never, not nohow.  Yet my Extreme Research compatriot Mei has asked me to post up personal information on the internet for all to see, and I must oblige.  So here, for your delight and edification, are the reasons why I don’t do New Year’s resolutions.

1)      I Fear Failure

Yep, the first reason’s just plain old cowardice.  It’s all very well to harbour intentions of achieving something in the privacy of my own brain-space before blowing it off in favour of a quiet night in with a lasagne for one and a bottle of plonk, but to publicly resolve to achieve something?  That’s just setting up myself and anyone foolish enough to care for big disappointment.

2)      I Failed Already

Here I am, with a first rate training in Performing Arts, living the entertainment dream on the Colmart airwaves with my erudite observational commentary and pronouncements on the price of canned peas.  I don’t exactly have a track record of achieving what I set out to do.

3)      What’s to succeed at, anyway?

And, you know, even if I had made it, if I was a well-known vidcast presenter or a big comedy Voice, isn’t all that just peddling canned peas on a grander scale?  At least the rut I’m stuck in now has an honesty to it.  I look at the paths the people I admire take through their careers and see them all selling out, doing ads, doing gigs they don’t even enjoy anymore, living an empty dream.  Sure, they have money and adulation and security.  But they don’t have any more integrity than I do.  Of course, I don’t have any of that other stuff, either. I think I had a point somewhere, but I lost it…

Oh yeah, that’s why I don’t make resolutions. Please subscribe to this blog for more life-affirming cheery chatter!