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Story fragment - In the summer of...

Next story fragment in the Wordforge group story anthology.


In the summer of 1979 Max Rickling was riding the lift down the 50 metre shaft to a recently discovered iron ore vein.

Rickling was an underground shift supervisor working for Rio Tinto Plc at the Yandicoogina iron ore mine in Western Australia. He was good at his job and had a perfect safety record in his seven years in the industry. He was thinking over the offer made to him last night by the regional director of Rio Tinto, to move into a business development role. Asian automotive manufacturers were becoming Yandicoogina's major downstream customers and Rickling had spent several years in Japan after university.

The heat was blazing and Rickling, recovering from a summer flu, perspired more than usual. The sweat irritated his scalpel and he removed his hard hat to scratch the itch away. He did not notice that moments before a rock had been randomly dislodged by the vibration of the passing elevator platform and was hurtling directly at his head at a rate of 9.8 metres per second per second.

In the summer of 1984 Richikawa Mako knew his life's work had been a waste.

He was looking at the prototype of the new Valve Timing and Electronic lift Control system that would be integrated into all Honda Civic range vehicles in the next few years. It was an elegant solution that met the conflicting requirements of exceptional fuel economy, sprightly power output and low exhaust emissions. VTEC disengaged one of the inlet valves when the car was driven slowly, creating fast-swirl, lean-burn conditions for the optimal mixture combustion. At higher revs or under full throttle openings, the fourth valve was brought into play, actuated by hydraulic link-pins in the valve gear, while the cam profiles were switched to enable the engine to breathe deeper. The design was beautiful, powerful, reliable beyond anyone's wildest expecations. And it wasn't his.

His own alternative design had encountered so many problems it never even made it to prototype. He had spent the last six years on a futile effort. It had cost him his marriage and his children. His honour.

Richikawa had been raised in a traditional household, one of the few to maintain the old ways after the world war. He thought of the cabinet in the main room of his wooden-floored apartment and the 250 year old katana displayed inside.

In the summer of 1989 Ricky Guzman knew he was in deep fucking trouble.

Lifting the brand new Civic had been piss-easy, in broad daylight even. How the hell could he have known that the dealership was owned by the brother of Elroy Jackson, the Salmon-man himself for Chrissakes. Salmon probably used his brother's business to launder money he made from his real business. Ricky hadn't known. He was new in town. But he knew the Salmon-man by reputation - everyone did. He knew that the Salmon's family was strictly - and I mean strictly - off-limits. Down to the houses, the pets and the businesses. But no, Ricky, he had to prove himself the ignorant fuck he was and not only lift the car but then boast about to the new "friends" he made at the bar. Shit. Shitshitshitshit. The Honda's air-conditioning worked perfectly. But he was still sweating like a roast on a spit. From today, Ricky knew, he was a marked man.

In the summer of 1995 Mary Kay Richtenhaus was glad "Wilson", her Honda Civic, was going to a good home.

She had picked it up at a bargain price from one of those police auctions six years ago, somewhat suspicious of the car's history. You never knew where cars like that had been if the police had ended up with it. But the car ran well, was fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly (she made sure to research this before she purchased) and never gave her any problems. She even found it roared into powerful life on her occasional solitary night forays down the highways out of town. Reliable and friendly, but with surprising grunt at night when required. No wonder she named the car "Wilson" after her late husband.

Over the years she had come to love it - as far as one could love an object made of metal and glass. But now, at the age of 72, failing eyesight and deteriorating hearing meant she could not renew her driver's license. So she reluctantly placed an ad in the local paper putting Wilson up for sale. The young man and his girlfriend had seemed so in love, reminding her of her own younger, more tempestuous days, so she didn't haggle and accepted their lower offer immediately. They'd inspected the car yesterday and had just returned with the money. Wilson was worth more than $500, but she could sense they weren't too well off and that they'd treat him well. Still, she couldn't help a sad wave good bye as the new owners drove her car down the street and out of her life.

She decided to go for a stroll - it was a sunny, perhaps too sunny, day; but Mary Kay felt she needed to walk Wilson out of her mind. Her failing eyesight meant she didn't notice the large oil slick that had formed on her driveway for the first time in the six years she had owned the car until she stepped into slippery stain.

In the summer of 1996 Josie and Kevin Liston, both 22 and newly wed, pulled over the side of a deserted road, lost somewhere in the forgotten emptiness of Montana.

They were excited and scared and wildly proud. Josie wasn't supposed to give birth for another four weeks but three days into the excitement of their unplanned honeymoon road trip, Josie's water broke.

"She's gonna arrive early honey!" Josie managed to squeeze out, clasping Kevin by the arm. So they pulled over under the vast sky and the even, so it seemed to them later when they had time to reflect in the stillness, vaster sun and pushed and held each other and prayed. And screamed. And cried and prayed some more as their child was stillborn.

They would have named her Angelia, after the Richard Marx song they both loved as teenagers and had played at their wedding.

In the summer of 2004 Richard Marks walked out of the Olive Garden of Boise, Idaho after an unsatisfying meal and into the blazing sun; got in his car, rolled down the windows, and turned the scratched key in the ignition.


There's a bit of Stephen King's Christine in there I guess, although the connection wasn't supposed to be via the car per se. More directly, Alan Moore's Swamp Thing mythology with its recurring patterns and similarly named protagonists/victims/hosts shaped the structure. The inspiration however came from Sondheim's "The Gun Song", specifically "A gun kills many men before it's done."

Again, a barely mediocre fragment, but a first draft at least that can be filed away and possibly built on at some stage.

Oh, and the bit about VTEC was lifted word-for-word from a Honda Civic history website. What did people do before google?

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 5, 2004 5:39 PM.

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