RAT

Monday, March 21

“Howdy doody, folks! You don’t see that every day.” The sound of Sandy Crab’s voice, mechanically amplified, drifted across the water.

Sprout pulled up his pants, turned, and silently walked away with all the dignity of a Maori mooning the Queen of England. The members of the Redemptive Action Taskforce were already gathered at Riddlepit.

Sprout had wanted to call it the Radical Action Taskforce. Blavatsky preferred a closer association with liberation theology. It all amounted to RAT in the end.

Umber Schist was trying to find a comfortable position on the couch made of Norwegian wood. There was none. Hurley Hocking also sat on the couch, as far as he could get from Umber. They had a history. Hemp Sessions, the unofficial mayor of Shantytown, was perched on the three-legged stool with the tractor seat. He looked none too steady to Sprout. Maud Seward sat in the austere wooden chair in the corner, her head nodding over her knitting. The chair looked like a piece of modern art disdainful of comfort, much like the rest of Riddlepit. Hattie Malept stood beside the picture window, looking misplaced.

Blavatsky paced the room. The meeting had already started. “…it’s different,” she said. “This is an existential threat. They’ve tightened the noose around our necks and this time they intend to hang us with it.”

“My dear, aren’t you being a bit melodramatic?” Umber said and squirmed on the couch. “We have an agreement with the city council. They ignore us and we police ourselves. Besides, we’re not in the council’s jurisdiction.”

Blavatsky stopped pacing and pivoted. “Something’s changed. The old agreement no longer holds. They’re claiming eminent domain. They’ve plotted streets beneath us. The plan is to fill the bay and build on it. That gives them jurisdiction. And we’re in the way.”

“That’s absurd,” Umber said.

“When did absurdity ever stop bureaucracy?” Blavatsky said.

“If they fill the bay beneath us, then we’ll become houses rather than houseboats,” Hurley Hocking said. Umber looked at him balefully.

“What do they plan to do about it?” Hemp Sessions said.

Blavatsky waved a handful of papers. “This is the proposed amendment to the zoning rules. It states that any inhabited structures floating within city limits that aren’t specifically permitted will be defined as landfill. It’s the city’s charter to dispose of landfill as they see fit.”

“We’ll just have to go somewhere else,” Hemp Sessions said. It seemed to Sprout the mayor didn’t have much loyalty to Shantytown.

“There’s no place left to go,” Blavatsky said. “No place where people can live like they want. The world is being sanitized. It doesn’t include people like us.”

“Then we fight,” Hattie Malept said. Everyone turned to look as if they had forgotten she was there.

“Exactly,” Blavatsky said. “We fight with everything we’ve got.”

“And what do we have?” Hemp said. “A bunch of artists and misfits and panhandlers. People who believe you can control the weather with magic. No offense, Hurley, but really, we couldn’t even organize a bake sale.”

“I agree. We can’t fight them on their own ground,” Blavatsky said, tossing the proposed amendment to the zoning rules on the floor. “We have to change the rules to win the game.”

“Kill them all,” Maud Seward said, raising her head from her knitting. “Let God sort them out.” She seemed to nod off again immediately.

It was rumored Maud had been a member of the Yellow Hand in the early ’60s. The Yellow Hand was a violent revolutionary faction so secretive no one knew their purpose. They were characterized by single-minded viciousness. They claimed to have killed an informant, his parents, his second cousin, and his postman. The postman had simply delivered a letter to the wrong address at the wrong time. The Yellow Hand killed him for incompetence.

“That woman scares me,” Hurley said. “I can’t tell whether she’s serious or not.”

Blavatsky ignored Maud. “We gather information, probe for weakness. People greedy for power are often careless how they get it. They leave skeletons behind. We dig them up.”

“We could ask the spirits for help,” Umber said. “Some of those skeletons might hold grudges.”

“We could reach out to others in the community,” Hattie said. “People like us who feel they have no voice and no place.”

“What, a bake sale?” Hemp said.

Hattie looked at him like he was a misbehaving child. “A rally, maybe. An event. Maybe a concert for the dispossessed.”

“A children’s crusade,” Hemp said, smirking.

“Something theatric,” Hurley said. “Street theater.” He brightened. “I have some ideas for costumes.” Hurley was fond of dressing up. “We would need a figurehead, an icon, something to focus attention.”

Blavatsky turned to Sprout. “Maybe it’s time to resurrect Mascarita Payasito.”

“Yeah, like a maniacal clown sends the right message,” Sprout said.

“Did I miss part of the conversation?” Hurley said.

“Mascarita Payasito was a luchador,” Sprout said. There were expressions of incomprehension around the room. “A Mexican wrestler in the Mini-Estrella. Don’t any of you watch late night TV? He was a dwarf, a mad clown, a trickster. I played the part for several years.”

“And he still has the costume in his closet,” Blavatsky said.

“The things you learn about your neighbors when a crisis threatens,” Hattie said.

“I doubt I could even fit into it anymore,” Sprout said.

“We could always let the costume out…or take you in,” Blavatsky said.

“You’re enjoying this way too much,” Sprout said. “And it’s not a very anonymous costume. The size gives it away.”

“The idea has merit,” Hemp said, warming to it. “We could introduce you as—what was the name? Payasito?—in a few street protests. Work up to a march on city hall. The costume would play to a television audience. Keeping your identity secret doesn’t matter. The mask becomes the character. Or we bill you as ‘The Little Lebowski’.”

“You will not,” Sprout said.

“Hattie’s right,” Blavatsky said. “We need to find allies. Maybe the people closest to politicians are the ones most willing to betray them.”

“Who are you suggesting, dear?” Umber asked.

“Wives, secretaries, hairdressers, house cleaners,” Blavatsky said. “Maybe their children. If politicians are anything like preachers, their children resent them most. I have a half-baked idea.”

The meeting broke up after another was scheduled and everyone left except Maud who remained fast asleep in her chair, her knitting in her lap. Sprout didn’t have the heart to wake her and was afraid of what she might do with her knitting needles if he did.

Blavatsky came down the stairs in a short dress that clung to her hips and breasts and high heels that stretched her calves. “Ready to go?” she said.

“I feel under-dressed,” Sprout said. “Where are we going?”

“The warehouse district,” she said, “to execute my plan.”

They left Maud in her chair and walked to the warehouse district of Port Angeles, less than a mile from Shantytown. Blavatsky’s plan involved a skate park in the old cannery building. It wasn’t a sanctioned park. The kids had built the ramps and halfpipes and quarterpipes from rusted metal they scavenged in the district. Each wipeout risked tetanus.

“Why are we here?” Sprout said.

“This is our foothold in the lives of the city council.”

“A bunch of rebellious kids?”

“One specific rebellious kid. He was in a class I substituted.” Blavatsky was a substitute teacher in the Port Angeles School system. “I hope to leverage his rage.”

“Dude, the bitch brought her own dwarf.” A skater with a shaven head and a missing front tooth rested his foot on his skateboard. He half turned to a ragged group of adolescents behind him. “We won’t have to use our own when we make sweeeeet love.” He kicked his board into his arms and pantomimed a caress.

“Keep it in your pants, snaggle tooth,” Sprout said. He began to understand Blavatsky’s fashion choices.

“Let me introduce you,” Blavatsky said. “Sprout, this is Henry Stowe, known to his friends as Hardball.”

“Sprout?” Hardball’s friends hooted.

“Where’s the Green Giant?”

“Gonna get me some Brussel sprouts.”

“Hardball is the son of Harriet Stowe,” Blavatsky continued, “Councilwoman and ally of Big Bob Reingold, chairman of the city council. Your mother is an intimate ally of Big Bob, isn’t she, Hardball?”

“What do you know about my mother, bitch?”

“Just what they say around town,” Blavatsky said. “But you know what they say. You’ve heard it all. You’re not a fan of Big Bob, are you, Hardball?”

“What’s it to you?”

“I expect you’d like to get Big Bob out of your mother’s bed. And maybe take back some of your self-respect. I’m here to help.”

Hardball bristled at the mention of his mother sleeping with Big Bob. He looked back at his gang. It didn’t seem news to them. “Why should you care what I want?”

“I don’t care really but I’m honest enough to tell you. I think we’re both headed to the same place from different directions. We both want to make Big Bob a little smaller. I can help you. We both get what we want.”

“Why should I trust you?”

“You shouldn’t. At least, not until I deliver.”

“Deliver what?”

“I can teach you and your friends how to kill with your bare hands. Would that be of interest?”

Whistlepig

In mythology, the hero descends to the underworld. What happens when the underworld ascends? Whistlepig, a serialized fiction. Table of contents.

@ Copyright 2018 Charles Thrasher All rights reserved.

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