In the afternoon, on a rising wind, Twik went out to find the Queen. He returned to the place he had slept to regain his pack and found that his bed, fastened together from pins, bottles, newspapers and tin-foil had long been swept away into the sky, his pack now slumped alone in a grey and dusty space, trembling under the overcast thread of rain. He picked it up and strung it tight around his shoulders, then headed out into the streets with his hand held firm against his wide straw-hat.
The weather here was very different to the Bush. Severe heat and a dry and ghostly plain scuttling with solitary wicked creatures was only an odd memory in this place of drizzles, dampness, greyness, and streets and walls built by marks of humans, all inhabited by slow and mulgy folk; grumphernels and bottersnikes and men-with-heads-hung-low. At the end of a ravine clumped together of rusty engines, he found a small refuge; about a hundred people bolted to the sides of the place, rippling sheets over their heads holding off the spray of the weather. He squelched over to two men and a woman huddled towards the centre, peering noses out of black cloaks to play some unknown card-game from a bent and mismatched deck. One man was presenting three sevens-of-spades, claiming the bottle-caps in the centre.
“How fairs the wind?” Twik greeted coarsely. The three awkwardly mumbled greetings in return, as though broken souls that had half-fallen into the land of the dead. “I hear tell the Queen herself is not far from where we are, up here,” he pressed, “that true?”
“Yep, true enough” said one, through a black and scraggly beard. Then, the woman turned her dark, mousey eyes to the tips of the walls, said “Up there. Somewhere”, and all three huddled themselves up all the more to show that they were not in the habit of being disturbed. Twik took his leave, walking past them to an alcove of crates and metal-bars. He faced up into the ethereal sky, shivered, tightened his clothes about himself, pressed his hat firmly onto his head, and began to climb, or rather, crawl; since he found himself disposed to huddle, and to keep one hand flat and firm upon his hat, and the other having to tackle jagged edges and slimy bars. Hills like these were common in Grungallay – they were considered stairs.
Wash away. Wash away. My mountain of metal and spit.
Like the queen, he had heard word of Grungallay long before seeing it for himself. The City of Rubbish, they called it to an unprecedented degree of aptness. Deep in an undiscovered Australian Bush, somewhere in the unexplored and eternal plains of the Outback, around a river you'd be unlikely to find on a map, a small kingdom founded by renegade convicts in days gone by; they'd crafted it over the years, they said, hundreds of them, piling it up and piling it up till it nearly hit the clouds; a miserable place, impossible to find, best stay and have some beer, eh? Not an option, unfortunately, at least, not for more than a day or so. Then he was out, out into the Bush, for fifteen or so days of crunching heat and sorry deprivation, until the rocks turned red and the shrubs unfriendly, and Twik's hold on survival became a numb routine. Then, finally, the horizon grew murkier, and old labels and newspapers began gliding out along the ground like lone pilgrims, and he had known that he was close.
Sharp-edges and salt-rivers and bird-cries.
Seagulls, seagulls in the mist; flocks of them, hounding the rubbish like monsters. At first, as he climbed over the top onto another level, their demonic yellow eyes struck him. Then the immediate few called out child-banshee screams and took off into the air to sail the higher reaches on mad, angelic wings, and Twik, taking up a now-abandoned tin-of-tuna, walked onwards, cracking the tin with his knife, gulping down the food in a minute and washing it down with the oil.
Then he felt his foot shudder, and immediately corrected his careless steps. Up here, the route was dangerous; yellowing metal grates and planks thick with damp had replaced the stable supports of mountained scrap that built up the lower levels. He staggered his way over it all, inch-by-inch, sometimes falling to his knees and legs and sacrificing some semblance of dryness and warmth beneath his coat for safety.
When he had crossed, one of the grates shift loose from its corners and tumbled away from the high-footings to clatter down misty heights, knocking bottles and mouldy books away from their supports and disturbing countless dim eyes that peered out from behind plastic curtains and grimaced in the face of the grim breeze flying in from the outside dusty plains. Only when the debris died down and he saw no great cause of concern, did Twik pick himself up from lying flat and peering down the edge of the rusting platform on which he now stood, and turned around to find a copper-coloured crane leaning against the walls of machinery, the torn chains high above rattling an eerie welcome. Twik walked inside the crane, and turned a lever. Somewhere, oil began to churn and the platform began rising him up, up into the highest nest of remnants; the heart of dimness.
Cannot taste it. Cannot breathe.
“What brings you to Grungallay?” the old man by the rusty-gate-to-the-city had asked.
“Could I ask for an audience with your Queen, mayhaps?”
“Yep. You go up and see her.” That was all he had needed, to lift up the gate and let him through, it had seemed. The expected question had only come afterwards.
“Question, first though mate. Why are you wanting to see her?”
“Well,” said Twik, adjusting his hat about his hair. “I suppose it comes down to talking. In the country where I come from, we carve our buildings out of the stone and trees. I'm here a-representing the king. There's many reasons I want to see her, many things to talk about, it's all so different, you see..”
“Talking?” said the man, eyebrows-raised, and chuckling. “Alright, go and find her, talk to her. She's right at the top mostly.”
“Alright” said Twik, and began to walk on through.
“Enjoy your walk there, mate” said the man as he went. “It's all just a big pile of filth.”
Help me. Help me.
Up here, at the top, the wind was calmer somehow. The seagulls down below were quieter. The desert mist was kinder, and lurking with gold instead of black, a welcome remembrance of the distant Sun. Down there, the drizzle seemed to run riot in the streets, but here, it seemed a thing of healing; caressing and soothing the city of rubbish down to content and wistful sleep, running calm rivers down the walls and into nooks and crannies to give life to worms, and into hidden seclusions to run into the mouths of cockatoos. And, while the city felt warmer than ever, the ground outside seemed all the blacker, and the dead trees all the more broken. Then he saw, down below, sat at the high edges of the city, a Maori; with dark, moon-cracked skin, fishing in a pond of oil and gazing out into the void, hair grey and tumbling in the sweeping hands of the hills.
He remembered the Queen. Turning around, he met the outskirts of the throne-room, and found that the rubbish was sleeker than ever, built into arching walls and held fast with a kind of spittle. He could hear heavy breathing.
“Good day, ma'am”, Twik said, taking slow footsteps. There was no response.
“Good day?” he said, none the louder, moving ever closer.
Creasing and crackling. The brungy, salty smell grew ever more pungent. The whistling and rustling behind him ever dimmer. The sky above ever a more piercing white.
She was in the centre; a wide, dark-walled room, inside a jet-black old auto-mobile with no windows, drooling over gears, and hooks, and wires, and crafting – ever crafting – with slender fingers atip with claws. Now and again, she took her creation, and added it to the mass of walls by extending gangly, bone-knobbled arms through small, punctured holes. She only broke the entrancing rhythm, when she noticed her visitor.
When she saw him, her grey eyes grew wild, and her beak began snapping at the chains and wires that contained her. Twik's steps began to ease backwards, but soon the beast was wailing, and he stopped. The Queen, then, was only a name; a name for a creature that they might have found by the river long, long ago, or brought with them from some lonely place in the Outback. And was this what it did? Build walls out of rubbish? Rubbish that had washed in from far-standing cities and towns; grinding, stinking, flotsam, jetsam; pieced together by men bored of huddling around fires, and turning a creature with an innate instinct to nest and order chaos into something natural, into their mighty tool.
Breath, and boxes and cries. Wash away, wash away.
It finished wailing. Having no reason to be here any longer, Twik nipped over to the cage, took out a wire, and picked each lock, the channelled wind-howling through the walls swirling with the threat of discovery. Then he ran away, out into the city, too afraid to observe the thunderous sounds behind him, as a great, grey, beautiful, ancient bird burst out of the lid of its cage and cried out into the sky, to relish the rain.
Air, and leaves, and waters.
Already, as he was running, the free waters were washing away the summit of the kingdom. By the time he was fleeing out into the desert, he could already hear the roots beginning to crumble.
Wash away. Wash away.
By the time he escaped the mist, he would not hear of it again.