The Beginning, Number 6 – The Old Guard

Friday 24 April 2009

The old guard returned from his rounds to the booth by the gate. He put down his torch then carefully poured himself a hot cup of coffee from his thermos. “Don’t forget the sheet,” he said out loud. His husky voice echoed hollow in the silence of the night. From a nail on the wall the guard reached down a clipboard and proceeded to fill in the form. Site round – nil report, 4:06 am, he wrote in his cursive hand, then signed his entry: J Scottland, #04864. Satisfied he rehung the board and settled down to enjoy his coffee. 

“Another quiet night,” he said as he sipped his drink. Not the best coffee, he thought – his wife could never make a good cup of coffee – but it was warm and gave him something to do. Not that he minded doing the night duty – he’d been doing it for so long that these dark hours were now his waking days – but sometimes the shifts were long. There is nothing more dull than routine.

The old guard looked at the wall clock – 4:12. Not long now, he thought. On cue, he heard the soft rumble of the approaching truck on the thin cold air. He swigged down the rest of his coffee and waited patiently for the truck to arrive. 

“Howdy Louis,” he said to the driver. “I see you’ve got little Dom with you. Hello Dom.”

“Yeah, g’day Jasper,” replied the driver. “Yeah, it’s school holidays and it’s my turn to have Dom. Say ‘hello’ Dom.” The boy mumbled a reply. “He doesn’t enjoy these night shifts but it can’t be helped.”

“Nope, can’t be helped,” said the guard as he switched open the large wire gate. “Can’t be helped.” 

The driver gave a short nod and a wink then started the truck through the gates and on towards the buildings. The guard clicked closed the gate before again taking down the clipboard. Waste truck arrived, 4:22 am, J Scottland, #04864. Now again the night was silent.

He sighed, then from his lunchbox took out a ham and cheese sandwich. “Another quiet night,” repeated Jasper Scottland, the old guard, and proceeded to unwrap his sandwich.

9 to go …

The Beginning, Number 5 – At the Pub

Thursday 23 April 2009

Tom returned from the bar. “Hey, I’ve got a joke for you,” he said.

“You sure?” asked Marcus, “You always get them wrong.”

“Nah, nah, it’s good this one,” Tom assured. “It’s a good joke, this one. Heard it today at work. You’ll love it.”

Marcus looked across to Alan who glanced in turn to John. John simply shrugged and sipped at his beer. That was enough encouragement for Tom.

“Ok,” he said, gesticulating with his hands, “there’s this truck, right, and it’s night. Well, more like early morning, but the sun’s not up yet so you can’t really see much.”

“It’s still dark,” prompted John. Tom snapped his fingers.

“Yeah, that’s it, it’s still dark. Anyway, there’s this truck and it’s driving down the road through one of those sprawling suburbs. And it’s really quiet except for the truck.”

“Really quiet except for the truck,” murmured Marcus into his glass.

“Yeah, really quiet except for the truck, which is, like, really noisy. So the truck’s going along until it gets to these big wire security gates, and the guard gets out of his booth and the driver says Hello, and the guard says Hello back and then gets back in his booth and opens the gates and the truck drives in.”

“Is this going somewhere?” said Marcus.

“Hang on, I’m getting there.” said Tom before taking a swig of his beer. He put the glass down carefully on a coaster then stared blankly at the small bowl of nuts. “Where was I?”

“Truck goes through the gates,” said Alan.

“Right,” said Tom getting back in the swing, “The truck goes through the gates and drives up to this huge roller door. And on the roller door are painted the words PTERON: Tomorrow’s Company Today! in big bold letters so you know that this door must have stuff for this company Pteron behind it. And the truck pulls up and this kid gets out of the truck.”

“There’s a kid driving the truck?’ said Marcus.

“No no no, his dad’s driving the truck, the kid’s in the passenger seat. So the kid gets out of the truck and opens up the big roller door and then the truck backs up into the shed.” Tom paused for a moment, his hands reaching out but as frozen as the grin on his face. His brow began to wrinkle. Moments thundered past.

Marcus picked at some crumbs on the table. “You’ve forgotten the punchline, haven’t you?”

The tiniest bead of sweat trickled down the side of Tom’s face, coming to rest in the folds of his forced smile. Slowly he put down his hands and settled back into his chair.

There was a very long uncomfortable silence with only the background disco muzak and the occasional clink of pool balls to crack the hush.

Alan picked up his beer and drowned its remaining third. “So John,” he said as he put down the glass, “How’s the wife and kids?”

10 to go …

The Beginning, Number 4 – Stabs

Sunday 19 April 2009

Black. Night. Cold. Street. Suburb. Mist. 

Quiet. Still. Silent. Screech. Cat. Screech. Another. Silent. Still.

Hum. Murmur. Truck. Close. Rumble. Closer. Roar. Here. 

Guard. Gate. Rattle. Open. Onward.

Shutter. Closed. Beep. Beep. Truck. Stop.

Shutter. Open. 

11 to go …

The Beginning, Number 3 – Insomniac 2nd Person

Saturday 18 April 2009

It’s 4 o’clock and you’re still awake. Not even the shopping channel is putting you to sleep tonight. You switch the television off.

Nursing a cup of warm milk you stand at the living room window and watch the street outside. It’s still dark, only the street lamps lighting the slight mist. You look closer – every light in every window in every house is off, including yours. You stand there, the roughness of the curtain fabric against your bare legs, watching the nothing outside, and sip your milk.

In the near distance a cat screeches and next door’s feral tom – Samson – calls back. Bloody cat, you sneer, should be locked up, but still you shudder. Secretly, you’re a little afraid of that cat.

Down, not yet in sight, you hear a truck murmuring along the road. You look at the VCR: yep, 4.15, right on time. The engine slowly becomes louder and soon the street becomes bathed in the oncoming high beams. A little too bright; you shade your eyes as the truck rumbles closer. As it passes you notice there’s a young man in the passenger seat. “He’s new,” you say to no one in particular.

The street is now coloured red from the rear lights and you watch and listen as the truck continues on its way – its engine becoming softer, its lights becoming fainter. Soon everything in the street is how it was just a few minutes before – silent and dark.

And you are still awake.

12 to go …

The Beginning, Number 2 – Dialogue Only

Thursday 16 April 2009

(a beat)

A – Is it far?

B – We’re nearly there.

(a beat)

A – Will it’ll take long?

B – It’ll take as long as it takes. We’re doing good time. Relax.

A – … I hate these night shifts, always forget how bloody boring it all is.

B – You get used to them.

A – I don’t want to get – 

B – We’re here. Get out and open the door, I’ll back up the truck.

13 to go …