Monday, March 1, 2010

Dispatch From the Front: Day 5

Deep beneath the Red Bunker: new, rapid-fire weapons capable of delivering 500 ampules of wheatgrass juice and red chili paste per minute; the red cloak of a Waggaist, killed during a feeding accident.
Waggafish-protecting swans on The Island's only lake.

The Citadel was an interesting building, its history both colourful and dark. Originally there’d been a tower, a broad verandah and various outhouses. In the 1950s the tower collapsed, and in the 60's two outhouses burned down when an experiment in brewing opium-based cough drops failed. The walls were local sandstone and all the beams were crafted from the tall turpentine trees that once grew in the area. There was even a chapel with stained glass windows depicting holy scenes, fishermen hauling in their nets, and the centre-piece: a figure, presumably St Peter, holding up a red-fish.

All this was before the massive renovations that were undertaken after an anonymous person, some say an American, poured vast sums of money into the Waggafish Research Program. WRP.  The plans were kept secret, the local council bribed, and the design was said to be the work of Frank Gehry (with advice on the WRP’s requirements taken from Ayn Rand.) The original owners were the Darrel Leighway family, the nationally famous candy-makers, who formed a company to make and market the Black Drops in Tasmania. These days, especially at night, one can hear, even from the beach, a mechanical pecking noise and strange thudding sounds. There were local rumours of a private zoo, and the residents at Church Point swear the noise comes from deep within the Citadel.

Many stories had been told about The Island and its curious inhabitants. That it was a CSIRO Ocean Breeding Facility was widely accepted. Though other stories began to circulate. One involved a description of a woman with wild flowing white hair dressed in a red velvet gown. Some say she could be seen at night on a full moon at the window below the new needle-shaped glass tower, letting down a massive white rope onto the lawn. Blodgett claims he was this woman’s driver, and when questioned, told a reporter who had travelled in from Edmonton, Canada, that the woman was an incarnation of Alice. When questioned further, he said: "Seek her not in the valleys of excess, but where the falcon rides her outstretched hand." In the trees next to the citadel there were once thousands of flying foxes that would hang upside down all day, then just on twilight would take off, stroking their way in a great airborne squadron heading for fruit trees in the gardens and orchards from the mountains to the sea. Late at night, this red-cloaked woman could sometimes be seen and heard, reading poetry to the moon in the absence of bats. Nothing was known for certain. Information was a brew of gossip and half-baked press reports and a few letters that surfaced in the National Library mentioning dark Island occurrences. Was it a product of the terror-tactics produced by WRP itself, or did it all add up to something more than rumour? According to Blodgett it was all based on a lost poem by Alan Wearne and Ken Bolton, a long rambling post-modern ballad without a central story or any real persona. The poem had a deep, insistent drone that produced hallucinations when read aloud. The subject of the poem was the denial of the existence of Waggas.

What the locals don't know, is that deep below the Red Bunker, a non-descript building outside the citadel, is the new Aquatic Cellar - the heartbeat of The Island's secret activities. Everything in the Waggafish Research Program is state of the art: four 10,000 litre stainless steel tanks house younger fish ranging from fingerlings to specimens up to three years old. Three 80,000 litre enclosures contain the adult Waggafish. These tanks are covered by transparent kevlar screens due to the violent manner in which the Waggas feed. In the early days of The Island's breeding program, two scientists were dragged in and mauled to death.The tanks are filled with temperature-controlled brackish water fed through live carbon-fibre pipes. Special aerators imported from Sweden keep the water oxygenated to simulate an exposed ocean reef. Waggafish are fed only at night, when the fish are most active and ravenous. Fingerlings - pink, slender fish - are given a timer-regulated mix of pellets made from blood and bone. Large adult fish are supplied with the hearts of bullocks and water buffalo, and when these are in short supply, wild boar and kangaroo meat shot by unlicensed sportsmen. As the adult fish are being fed, Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music plays at a deafening volume through wall-mounted B&W speakers. In Japan, this music is played in the many Red Bars, where raw Wagga meat has taken over from Fugu - the deadly puffer fish - as the prized seafood. Throughout the Aquatic Centre, large posters showing Waggafish attacking red-coated scientists cover the walls. Those who work in the undergound breeding facility must go through extensive, harrowing "training". Workers are subjected to such things as sleep-deprivation and swimming in known bull shark territory with fresh lacerations to the arms and thighs. The main reason Waggafish are kept in the RWP well into adulthood is that by this time they have become completely insane, and they patrol the tanks with murderous intent. Release takes place via a remote-control sluice-gate which leads to a massive pipe that surfaces in Broken Bay. The sound of huge Waggas being released has long been mistaken for inconsolable grief and rage, arriving downwind from the local Psychiatric hospital.

Well before the poets arrived on The Island, Blodgett had consulted a leading Australian engineer and organised a team of workers - red-necked youths from Bundaberg - whom he supplied with hip flasks of rum and haversacks of zest in case of a red attack, to construct a moat around the base of the citadel. These angry young men were once live-bait suppliers, but were now out of work because of Steve Starling's rubber bait Squidgies. There is hardy any call for live bait suppliers now because the live-bait men catch their own.

Digging the moat was a massive undertaking, and could only take place in the dead of night, when Metal Machine Music was being played during feeding times. The workers would wear the same halogen head-lanterns they once wore while live-baiting from the rocks. It was at these times that one of the young discontents would patrol the moat in an old Shelby Mustang without a muffler that sounded like a machine gun when it accelerated. On hearing of the Mustang, William S. Burroughs insisted on being given the keys. Being a lover of this kind of rude noise, he spent hours roaring back and forth, throwing great clods of earth and leering from the window, a cigarette hanging from the side of his grin.

To disguise the moat, workers placed a thin veneer of kevlar, earth and grass over the channel, which was strong enough to withstand the pressure of anyone walking over it. Finally they set charges at hundreds of intervals alongside the moat, in readiness for when Blodgett would hit the switch, setting off the explosions and exposing the water and its vicious, red inhabitants. The moat's exit point, near the wharf, had been blocked and set with charges. The other young thugs would often practice stoning the crested doves that pecked for seed around the moat. Whenever they'd knock one out, they'd cheer and pounce on the wretched bird, then take it to the only access point to the water in the moat - a red hatch - which they'd lift, throwing the crestfallen bird into a boil of red water as the Waggas tore it apart. Once, when Blodgett had witnessed the end of one of these episodes he shuddered, as he used to write sonnets wherein crested pigeons pecked adjectives to death in the dead of a Canadian night. Blodgett grabbed the rednecked youth responsible and head-butted him with once precise jab of that broad forehead, his great height adding to the swing of his neck. The sound of the two heads coming together was sickening. The youth tumbled into the open hatch and was instantly engulfed. ‘Goddamn good burley’ Blodgett told Dr Greene on his red cell phone. Blodgett was playing Greene, and had convinced him that he had converted to Waggaism.

The last thing worth reporting here occurred in the late afternoon. Just on twilight there was a disturbance on the beach. A green helicopter was hovering above the wharf, looking for a suitable landing spot. Seagulls wheeled around, then scattered out onto the bay where a school of whitebait, escaping marauding Waggas, rippled like a circle of heavy rain and disappeared. The helicopter landed. All eyes were on the door as the apparatus that lowered the stairs hummed and zipped until the ladder reached the ground. The door opened and Devin Johnston appeared, escorting the great Irish poet W.B. Yeats. They were both dressed in cream suits and Panama hats. Devin had connections in Dublin and had arranged for WB to come to the Island. Yeats walked straight up to a group of young poets who’d been mesmerized by the sudden appearance of the helicopter. "This is where we draw the line," Willy said. "Take me to Shelby and Frederick Seidel. I want them to know the consequences of their continuing loyalty to the Red K." Then Yeats straightened to his full height, adjusted his sunglasses, and concluded: "Their red days are numbered." Devin winced, knowing the implications of these measured words.

K. Slessor, the Front

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