Monday, April 21, 2008

Gods of the Wastelands.

I sure am happy now I've left the Home Compound to seek out my destiny here in the wilds of the Wastelands. I don't have to answer to any deadhead creep overlord, live up to any bullshit ideal of the perfect man or obey nonsensical superstitious mumbo-jumbo, I am footloose and fancy-free, responsible only to myself. And my dog Butch of course, genetically modified tho he is, he's great company, keeps me warm on the freezing nights and with his two heads is able to keep watch in all directions, and with all those razor teeth he can terrorise any mob of bloodlust marauders that might attack me.

I camp out under the stars at will, nobody to harass me about slacking off, those monsters called Family that I've left behind can all go fuck each other and devour their mutant offspring in the dirt, I'm so glad to be shat of them, they only wanted me for their own survival, the mucky-muckers, to feast upon me, fattening me up as if they loved me, it still breaks my heart to think about it, their false love. I hate them and their horrific religion that has an image of Death as their main focus, I'm so glad to be free of their filthy, dumb lives.

My path diverges and leads me far, far away from them, with so much to discover over the horizon and so much to learn about my place in this destroyed world. I've been roaming for a month now and have avoided other humans, mutant or otherwise, going in the other direction when I see camp-fire smoke or come upon a well-trod path, and the only life I've seen have been the giant kangaroos gnawing on the tough vegetation growing from the refuse.

The mounds of garbage and debris of a vast city in collapse are heaped in a labyrnth as far as the eye can see and I have to jog in and out of grotesque constructs of cancerous concrete and rusted steel to find my way thru the maze, but I hum my song of freedom as I run, deleriously happy to be my own man, while Butch trots ahead sniffing out danger or any hidden caches of sustenance.

When I scurried over a pile of plastic shards I found a giant, mouldy plastic head shaped like the mythical hamburger sticking out of the rubble with a grim smile on it's time-ravaged face. I imagined it was some dead alien god that once promised endless blissful consumption but now only communicated disappointment. Butch was snuffling and digging at it's grimacing mouth and looking back at me as if to say, "something smells good down below." I kicked in one of it's large plastic teeth and thrust my head into the dark interior. Yep, there was a tunnel of sorts leading down thru the debris and knocking more teeth out I pushed my way in, Butch barking and leaping about with excitement by my side.

We scrabbled down thru fallen masonry and rotten advertising boards, pushing ruined furnishings out of our way and kicking open delapidated doors till finally we found what once must have been a temple of display for the marvellous and varied goods the fallen civilization seemed to adore beyond all else. There were many lumps of unrecognisable, decayed crap stacked in cracked glass boxes as if they were sacred religious reliquaries but I found one glass box still hermetically sealed in which marvellous objects glittered. Smashing it open I lifted out a small metal device and toyed with it, flicking a wheel that created sparks, and suddenly a flame leapt from a tiny nozel. A fire-maker, yes! How wondrous and just the tool I needed as it was mighty tedious to scratch away with flint and tinder. I scooped several of them into my belt-pouch, they could be life-savers in turbulent times ahead.

Much of the decayed goods lay littered about amidst heaps of splintered glass as if all had been trampled in a mass panic, there were even human bones and skulls lying entangled with the gaily coloured plastic and shiny metal detritus, and we trod carefully about, turning over the garbage and smashing the remaining glass cases, clutching at curious objects but discarding most as unknown or useless.

I found a few bent cans of what hopefully was still eadible foodstuff and I sat on a ruined, manky couch to pry one open with my many-tooled knife and just as I was managing to suck out some of it's rancid juices I noticed Butch had stopped snorting about and was staring into a dark corner, both heads stiff and snarling. In the gloom I could just make out the glinting beady eyes of one of those noxious smart Rats that were the bane of my tribe, the device it wore plugged into it's brain blinking hypnotically. It had been observing our every move with intelligent curiosity and, realising we'd spotted it, gave an enigmatic smile and turned tail, disappearing down a dark passage torn into the garbage pile behind it. Canned crap was OK on those days of starving desperation but there's nothing like fresh meat to warm a cold heart, me and Butch sure loved a clever hunt, so we rushed off after it, down, down, down the pitch black tunnel hot on it's ratty tail.

I quickly pulled a head-lamp from my rucksack and lit the candle within with my new fire-maker. A reflector cast a shaky beam of light ahead and thus we were able to push out way thru the crapulous junk, clamber over obstacles and occasionally get a view of the Rat's tail slithering into darkness, reassuring us our quarry was not lost. We came to a clearing deep within the garbage heap, a cave dug out and filled with cans of food in many shapes and sizes which glittered alluringly in my candle-light. I momentarily forgot our prey as the pile of various consumables promised a luscious feast, enough for many weeks, and so I lay my spear aside and grabbed up the goods, avidly reading the pictograms labelled on each while shoving them in my rucksack and I gave a shout of jubilation for there was meat and soup and fruit and fish, many things I'd only heard of in hushed tones of awe and desire whispered by the Soothsayers around the campfire.

Butch had continued chasing the Rat and was out of sight when suddenly a net dropped from the overhanging debris and pinioned me to the ground. As I threshed about, and got more entangled with every attempt to break free, a gang of Rats crept out of the litter pile and stood about me twittering, their whiskers fluttering as they sniffed my presence, drool dripping from their smiling maws. A tall male steped forward, dirty lab-coat denoting his rank as Chief, the machine plugged into it's brain twinkling with lights that cascaded in patterns the closer it peered at me. In a squeaking language I could not decipher it twittered to it's fellows and four of the creatures pounced and tied me firmly within the net till I could hardly move. They then inserted a pole thru the ropes, hefted me up onto their shoulders and carried me off down a tunnel towards the sound of thrumming engines and piping whistles that issued from caverns somewhere far below.

My headlamp had been knocked aside and in the guttering candle flame I glimpsed Butch jump from the dark in murderous fury, managing to rip out a few throats in the melee. But he was outnumbered and banged on both his heads with stout clubs by several Rats till he collapsed in a heap and left for dead in the shadows while I was carried off to meet my fate, probably on the menu yet again, for all carnivores, intelligent and moronic, lusted after sweet human flesh in this world at the end of history.

I was heaved thru an endless maze of ruins and trash, down, down, down, till I lost all sense of direction and the fearsome noise of metallic clanking and machine murmuring drowned out all other sounds. Then we broke into architecture that spoke of order and purpose, weird glowing tubes in the ceiling lighting every corner, and I was dragged along corridors of gleaming white tiles with walls of shiny metal cabinets, thru room after room full of benches and shelves littered with glass beakers and jars, many of which contained monstrous body parts or horrid alien creatures floating in their own juices. Stacked everwhere were elaborate spinning, churning contraptions that spewed forth smaller devices and I was amazed to realise they were machines that made machines.

Finally I was carried into a vast auditorium with gyrating paraphenalia covering the side-walls where multi-coloured diodes blinked rythmically and readout windows spun numbers hynotically. A huge crowd of Rats gathered in the centre all facing an altar at the far wall and they twittered and crouched in genuflection to some obscene godhead. As one the throng turned to witness my arrival and the squeaking invocations rose in pitch till even the cranking, clunking machines seemed just the background beat to a hellish choir of ullullating demons. I was manhandled up to a podium whereon stood a trully huge Rat, his lab-coat pristine white and head-dress more elaborate than others in the worshipful crowd, twinkling and flashing with a myriad of tiny lights, spinning wheels and coloured wires, all as gorgeous as the crown of an ancient priest-king.

It raised it's arms authorititively and the mob fell instantly silent, then it turned to bow down to a mummified corpse of a wizened Rat seated in meditation in an intricately carved stone coffin placed high on the altar, it's lab-coat in filthy rags but archaic head-dress twinkling still. On either side of the sarcophagus illuminated boxes flashed images that mesmerised me and as I sunk into their fascination I gradually pieced together the story they told while the congregation of Rats behind me again started up with a religious wailing, the head-priest beside me leading the litany in a piercing, squeaky sing-song.

It seems that long ago their great ancestor, the mummy on the altar, had passed some threshold of creative intelligence due to implanted computer chips and genetic modification by experimenting human scientists and, while the holocaust raged above, for generations they had kept the knowledge alive, passing on the techniques as a religion and as a lifestyle to his most promising offspring. I watched flashing images of archaic rats transmogrify from down on all fours to standing on hind-legs like kangaroos while small fleshy buds on clawed hands grew into functioning opposable thumbs that allowed tools to be picked up and weilded while intelligence sparked in beady black eyes.

Natural selection had armoured them with the ability to survive the human cataclysm raging above, they continued with a science and civilization all their own, from all the buried stores seeking out foodstuffs, water and fuel with their superior olfactory and digging skills. Thus they procreated and kept the machines running, and schemed to one day overtake homo sapiens as the rulers of the world. At the end of the slide-show one image loomed large and repeated as if it was the central icon, it evinced much hysteria from the crowd as it flashed and glowed, a huge Rat on it's bent hind-legs morphing with the form of a perfect physical human, the legs and back straightening, hands grasping, snout receding, the creature growing tall, flexing it's limbs, the perfect Rat-man with mad eyes agleaming.

My hair pricked and my flesh quaked as I grasped the horrific import of this historical legend while the Rats reached a crescendo of wailing and shrieking, they leapt about in an epileptic-like dance, a few with devices whirring on their brains fell to the floor and shook spasmodically, frothing at the mouth as if in some religious ecstacy. To the sides I saw uniformed Rats pour some kind of reeking fuel into several machine's unplugged gullets and then much rumbling and clanking ensued. The crowd parted and a tall female Rat, dressed in lab-coat with many shiny medals glinting on her chest but not sporting a head-dress, was carried up to one throne-like machine and placed within it. While the congregation reached a fever pitch in religious sing-song a helmet-like device was lowered over the smiling bitch's ratty head, many cogs whirled, diodes flashed and whistles piped, then a glittering tiara-like appliance was stamped into the Rat's brain, wires flaring like wings from behind her ears.

I swear I then saw a sudden explosion of light in her beady eyes, a look of triumph and intelligence shone forth, she glared about her in a knowing, commanding way and thrust both her thumbs up in that age-old signifier of success, then turned her malevolent gaze upon me and pointed with one Rat's claw straight to my heart, squeaking out a demonic invocation. Several drone male Rats dressed in tatty simulation of Security Guard uniforms rushed forward, untangled the ropes and backpack confining me and, picking me up roughly, carried me towards the Queen Rat, who now stared at me smart and vengeful. She was lifted gently from the embrace of the machine and placed upon a cushioned palanquin while I was seated on the techno-throne in her place and Rats in lab-coats pulled on levers and pressed at buttons while engines groaned and diodes twinkled.

I looked up and watched the helmet-like device slowly descend and fit itself upon my head, adjusting till it was snug and, thru my dreadlocks, I felt pin-pricks of needles scratching at my scalp and clammy lotions applied to the skin, then the sharp laceration of a scalpel as it dug into my flesh. I heard a buzz-saw whine and felt my skull reverberate like a bell being rung. A wave of euphoria swept down from the scalp-wound to flush my whole being, I rolled my eyes up in ecstacy and saw an apparatus plunge down thru the helmet and stamp a glittering device into the back of my brain, wires trailing behind that tickled my neck. Too late, I flashed, I have been enhanced, for a Ratty purpose I dreaded to contemplate!

Kaleidoscopic patterns exploded in my mind's eye, whole universes of stars were born and scattered across my infinite mind, quantum particles coalesced to atoms that formed molecules that built chains that evolved and streamed thru my conscious cerebrations, a gnosis of eukaryotic cells uniting with symbiots and crawling from an inner-ocean to grow as big as dinosaurs that then morphed into furry mammals with intelligence beaming from their hungry Rat eyes. Cities grew and collapsed like mushrooms in a compost heap and tsunami waves of epiphany, cognition, deduction and speculation swept thru my hyper-intelligent awareness in psychedelic waves of light and euphoria. I snapped my eyes open to find the Queen Rat peering at me expectantly from her bed of cushions.

I glanced about the cavern and realised I could see in the shadows the glowing forms of uniformed Rats, for my eyes now saw in other waves of the light spectrum, infra-red and x-rays. Not only was my sense of hearing heightened so that I could hear sub-sonic wailing, I also quickly deciphered the squeaking jabber-jabber of the Rats and understood their language and what they were all shouting in idolatrous rapture. To my shock it was that archaic human mantra, "Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" mimicked here by humanity's unctuous, furry acolytes. The Queen was crooking her finger at me, indicating for me to join her upon the palanquin, a look of lust distorting her beastly face.

Oh no, not again! The usual over-ruling imperative to procreate and evolve at any and all cost, no matter the individual's free will or personal proclivities. This monstrous species actually planned to mate me with their Queen so as to bring about their age-old promise of growing superior to homo sapiens, not just to emulate humanity's wondrous science but to improve upon the genome, for what could be more glorious, more god-like than Rat DNA, enhanced and humanised? Two of the uniformed Rats disentangled me from the machine and carried me to the Queen's bed and threw me into her lap. Chanting a hym of praise they proceeded to connect the gizmos on the end of the coloured wires that trailed from the back of my head to the female receptors on the glittering wires that fanned out from the bitch's jewelled crown while I went into a sweat. They must have designed some techno wonders that manipulated and spliced DNA and overcame the species barrier.

I searched about the auditorium with my new x-ray eyes, particularly taking in the machines blinking and chugging away near me, and quickly figured out how it all worked and the few switches I could throw to bring it all down upon their ugly heads. The Queen Rat embraced me, digging her claws into my flesh and our connecting wires crackled. I struggled in her arms and computed the possibilities of my escape but I needed some miracle to divert the murderous congregation. And, just when I needed it, as if from mental telepathy, help arrived, for Butch my trusty dog burst forth from a hidden recess behind the altar and took the high-priest by the throat, chomping into the creature as if it was a Rat-burger he was having for dinner.

A crowd of Rats rushed forth to tackle the ferocious dog, all falling over each other in their hysteria, getting limbs torn and heads crushed in the fierce battle. It was the very distraction I needed, I snapped our connecting wires loose and wrapped hers around the screeching Queen's neck and throttled her amidst a rain of sparks, smoke wafting from her nostrils and ears. I then leapt from the palanquin and ran about the front of the machines, bending levers, pushing buttons, breaking gears till explosions burst forth, cogs crunched and metal ripped, smoke and flames billowed out filling the riotous cavern so that I might escape under it's cover.

As the walls of machinery exploded and fell upon the screaming hordes, I snatched up my backpack, clambered up onto the podium and ran to the back of the altar from where Butch had appeared, throwing over the sarcophagus as I passed to see the Ancestor's mummy crash down upon a mob of pursuing Security Guard Rats and send them into disarray. The cavern lit with detonations, even the ceiling collapsed in parts as I rushed down a secreted passageway, Butch following close by as if he knew my very thoughts. The tunnel caved in behind us and thus I was assured I would not be followed for awhile, enough time to make good my escape, me and my faithful dog.

After a long scramble thru a maze of ruins and fallen refuse we burst out into the chill, desolate air of a starry Wastelands' night and kept running for our lives, leaving the centre of Rat society far behind and hoping to never fall into their clever, monstrous traps again, if we could help it. For I was now much smarter, not just wiser for the experience, I had that dammed contraption buried in my brain that seemed to enhance my ratiocination, for better or worse, only my further adventures in this devastated post-human world would tell.

If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.