The Iron Writer Challenge #5
2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Challenge #5
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Rodney Witherspoon, Edison McDaniels, Steve Harz, Robin Harding
A 1935 Vacuum Tube Radio
A wheel from a covered wagon
A Komodo Dragon
“I reckon Indonesia just skipped from the nineteenth century to the twenty first bypassing the twentieth entirely. These people went from storytelling around the campfire to iPhones without ever having landlines or television.” Lisa made this observation as she sat with her husband Dan in a café in Candi Dasa in Bali and watched the fishing boats cross the reef. She felt rather pleased with this insight.
Dan did not acknowledge the cleverness of the comment. He argued back. “Why shouldn’t they? It’s like you resent the idea that Indonesians didn’t invent the use of electricity and that they don’t have landfills full of 1935 vacuum tube radios and broken black and white TVs. The fact that each house lacked its own video player and telephone is a matter of economics only. Now thanks to tourists like us, they can afford these essentials.”
“I’m not saying that every person has to figure out how to make fire and how to go from covered wagons with wheels to Bullet trains. After all I am a lecturer; I do appreciate the concept of sharing knowledge.” Lisa stirred her coconut shrimp and rice. “I was just observing that as a nation, they seem to have skipped over several forms of technology.”
Lisa had just arrived from Rinca where by courtesy of a grant from her university in Melbourne she was analyzing Komodo dragon behaviour. After three weeks in the bush, she flew to Denpasar and taxied to the hotel to meet Dan. They were going to have a perfect week here. They were staying at the Dewa Bharata guest house and they had a sea view.
Lisa sipped her white wine. “Sometimes going through the development of inventions gives your society an understanding of how the mechanisms work, how they can be maintained and how they can be improved. You’ve seen the roads in those instantly wealthy oil rich nations lined with broken refrigerators that so many could suddenly afford but no one can repair.”
Dan shook his head, “you sound like a primary school girl bitter because someone copied your work.”
This was not going well. Lisa recalled Selima saying to her, “tidak apa apa, no what what – keep it light.” We can salvage this evening thought Lisa. “Anyway, this new technology is certainly going to help me keep in touch with the Reserve.”
“So now that it will benefit you personally, you think it might be alright for this nation to use digital devices. Very generous of you.”
“It’s good for the lizards. You seem to be deliberately missing the point.”
Dan finished his beer and signaled the waitress for another one. “You had a point?”
Would the satisfaction of murdering Dan be worth life in an Indonesian prison? Could romance be rekindled?
Dan burped. When the waitress brought his new beer he gave her a warm smile.
“Komodo Dragons are monogamous and mate for life, you know,” Lisa shrieked and stomped out of the nearly empty restaurant.
Frank felt as if he’d been on the island for months, but his sailboat sank in the storm only last week. It went down so fast that Frank was only able to grab a lighter and a crowbar before hitting the water. He was lucky to find the island, though; the charts said it didn’t exist. Of course, that meant no one would be looking for him here, so Frank prepared for a long wait for rescue.
As usual in the morning, Frank awoke from his bed of palm fronds under a short palm tree and walked across the island looking for food. For the last week, he’d only found coconuts and bananas. This morning was no exception, and, by the time he’d reached the other side of the island, he was loaded down with a bunch of green bananas and four coconuts. He broke through the tree line and was about to return to his camp when he saw something bobbing in the shallow water. Approaching the objects, he discovered three old and worn wooden crates resting on the sandy bottom being tossed by the waves.
Excited, Frank rushed back to his camp, dropped the fruit he collected, and grabbed the crowbar before tearing across the island to the crates. There were no labels or any markings on them. It was as if they had just appeared with no point of origin. Frank shoved the crates onto the beach and drew a deep breath. He might find food, or a tent, or something else that would be helpful in his struggle to survive.
In the first crate, he found wagon wheels that wouldn’t be out of place in the Old West on a covered wagon.
“Museum pieces,” Frank muttered to himself before moving to the second crate. His eyes widened as he took in the device at the bottom. It was also a museum piece, but this one had the possibility of being useful. It was an old vacuum tube radio that looked to be in good shape. The label on the back said that it had been built in 1935. Excitement filled Frank before he remembered that these old radios needed an external power source. Obviously, there wasn’t one on his little island.
With a sigh, Frank opened the last crate. A hiss erupted from inside, and a creature jumped at him. Frank let out a high pitched scream and pushed himself away from the crate. Sitting on the sand on the discarded lid was an adult Komodo dragon. Rather than fight the creature, Frank decided to run. The dragon followed forcing Frank to climb a nearby coconut tree. As the dragon waited patiently at the bottom, Frank pulled a coconut from the tree, aimed it, and flung it at the lizard. The dragon was no longer a problem.
Frank returned to the last crate and carefully looked inside. “I’m going to get off of this island,” he said staring at the hand cranked generator at the bottom.
“Is it salvageable?”
He pursed his lips, blowing the dust out of the innerds of the cabinet. He squinted his eyes, missing his glasses for the hundredth time. “I dunno,” he said, then “Yeah, I think mostly the tubes are okay. A few might be cracked. I’d guess this radio is circa 1935, maybe even a little before that.”
“Thing’s a relic,” she said, adding soto voce “thank god.”
“Whole damn planet’s a relic,” the man said.
She nodded, pulling at the hair on one side of her head. She felt the queaze again, had been feeling the queaze for some days now. She looked out the window at the covered wagon and its wheels. All they owned, which wasn’t much, lay under its canvas.
The pulse, ten plus years in the past, had destroyed everything. Nobody knew what it had been, not for certain. Probably not a nuke though. A meteor maybe. Whatever, the worst of it had been the charge of static that came with it. Anything electronic had fried. Vacuum tubes had become like gold in the years since. They couldn’t be made anymore. Had to be found. The likely places had been scoured clean, which meant scavengers like them had to go farther and farther afield. Which meant…
“We can’t get back tonight,” the man said.
“No,” she said, “I don’t suppose. We’re at least a whole day out from the colony.”
The sun was falling and there was no question of traveling at night. “The dragons will be out soon.”
“This place’ll be alright,” he said, looking around. Like most buildings, its upper floors had been leveled by the pulse, but it had a good foundation. “The walls will keep ‘em out.” It had a good basement too, but they didn’t dare go there, not if they wanted to live. The dragons—the entire So Cal desert had been over run with Komodo dragons after the pulse, probably from the LA zoo but who really knew—sought the cool basements in the day and came out at night. Not especially fast, but they were numerous. Their bite, even just their touch, might be lethal.
They found a small room—four good walls and a large credenza that did for a door. Surprisingly cozy, mostly because it was clean and dry and out of the weather, which was sour and cold and wet. A perfect night for the dragons, a perfect night to curl up inside beside a fire. They burned a small library and roasted dog meat.
The queaze came and went again. She had to tell him. She had planned for it, had bought the only delicacy she could both find and afford back at the colony. He had shared a coconut the night before the pulse, a last—now legendary—moment with his mother. He spoke of it—of her—often.
She pulled the coconut from her bag.
“Where did you—”
“I’m pregnant,” she said, “thought we’d celebrate.”
“With my mom?”
Gas Station Road Map
Your history had been
written in pencil
on bathroom walls
by inaccurate historians
bent on cruel conquest
rather than mutual capture
and while we had been told
history is written by the victor
I do not subscribe to that theory
because in actuality history
is written by those who
survive the longest and
since you are here with me
and they have disappeared
I have taken an eraser and
eliminated your past
allowing us to rediscover
the world together using
a bottom drawer broken compass
and aiming the frozen needle
anywhere we need true north
or due south to be
we do not discover with a plan
like Lewis and Clark and their
covered wagon wheel ruts
and Chinook canoe wakes
but rather meander with a purpose
taking clues from junkyard road signs and
Howard Johnson 50 state placemats
and along the way we are comforted by
mismatched borrowed rocking chairs
and the distant big band signal
coming from a friendly front porch
1935 Detrola Cathedral vacuum tube radio
with its map of the world station dial
that helps us avoid the fault line
that runs from your lips to my chest
and one twist of the radio’s dial to the right
points us towards Komodo Island and its
dragon discovered by the Dutch
and to the left the West Indies where
ancient history is broadcast on
the coconut telegraph
and each step forward is a
quicksand leap toward comfort
and we walk the extra mile
barefoot down median strips
holding hands with a posture suggesting
a mix of love for each other and
protection from the world
and when we reach our destination
we will rewrite history
yours mine and ours
with permanent ink
in the margins of a public library atlas
and will compose our future
word for word
along the rural routes of a
gas station road map