📚 › Cackletown

A town going upside down, reality shook by strange cackling, and a woman with a strange power to unwittingly reshape reality, creating chaos and personality shifts all around. Can the Surge Team keep up with this impossible situation?

Strange cackling occurrences rip through the fabric of realities, and seem to impact every story characters.
Story refugees appear and disappear unexpectedly, and the ones that are here to stay must be given new identities, roles and purposes.
After much confusion, Ed Steam manages to track the source of it all to a not so innocent Bea, whose self-realization and disappearing ego has launched the whole Universe on a nonsensical spin.

Could Ed and other unexpected allies bring back the balance to the verse?

So the Story goes...

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  • Vincentius took one last look at the children, wondering if he should give them all a hug and bid them farewell. But they were happily engrossed in smearing Fanella’s collection of Venetian glass with marmite and peanutbutter paint effects, so he slipped out without a word and left them to it.

    Shivering in the damp chill air, he looked nervously at Arona. “Where are you taking me? I’m not supposed to leave without permission, I might get sent back to the detention camp on the island.” He shuddered at the thought.

    “Don’t be silly,” snapped Arona, “Do pull yourself together, you are but a shadow of your former self. Yes, yes, I know it must have been awful,” she said impatiently at Vincentius’ self pitying look, “You can tell me all about Tikfijikoo Spider Camp later. But now we must hurry. Come on!”

    Becky sat looking at the key in her hand long after the others had gone to bed, her mind going over seemingly disjointed images and random memories, trying to piece them all together. Why had Dory sent her, Becky, the key to the detention camp? She wasn’t expected to fly to the island and physically release the detainee’s surely? Should she send it to someone in the area? But who? Or was it more symbolic? But symbolic of what, exactly?

    Was it connected to the Imagination Wave? It surely must be, she thought. It must be connected to the surge of story character refugees, looking for a new story.

    Becky sighed. There had been such a dearth of imagination during the previous waves that literally countless story refugees had been rounded up and detained, with no new stories available anywhere on the planet. Of course this wasn’t actually true: there were always countless new stories to be told, but the lack of imagination, the sheer lack of will to tell them, had brought the global situation to a dreadful impasse.

    We could write them all out of the stories with a rat tat tat of the keyboards, she mused, and immediately cringed at the idea. Any fool can destroy in seconds. Destruction isn’t power, creation is.

    Was it a coincidence that the leader of the old story where most of the characters were fleeing from, had the same name as that alien that kept promising to land, but never actually did?

    Shaking her head, Becky wondered, not for the first time, if the world population can’t handle a few displaced story characters, what in Glods name would be the reaction to a load of aliens? Still clutching the blue key, Becky went to bed. She would discuss it with the others in the morning.

    Sam woke up the next morning feeling puzzled. There was no apparent reason for it, so he thought it might be related to the new moon or to some singular configuration of space time crossing with the known universe. He scratched his 3 days and a half beard a few times. He liked the sound of it and did it frequently. Only then would he get out of bed and prepare some breakfast.
    When he came to the kitchen, the tv was on. A certain Godfrey was speaking about an upcoming wave of migrants due to lack of rafts in the sea of confusion. Sam thought he wasn’t the only one feeling puzzled.
    “Do you have all your papers ready ?” asked Al, already dressed up as if he was going to a wedding.
    “I like when you wear your tuxedo”, said Sam. Al looked absolutely delicious. “And yes, I have all my papers ready. But I wonder… Why do you need papers when you’re asking for a new identity?”


      He arrived early to the new world’s consuelambassy. He liked being spontaneously on time.
      In order to go to this new world, you didn’t need a visa, only a new identity. The office was in a super mall. You had to get through the shops first. There were elevators to go to the next floor, and you had to change to a new one each time. Of course the elevator to the next level was always after a labyrinth of luxury or food stores.
      Sam felt tired and sick just after the second level. Twenty more to go, he thought. He reminded himself of his grumpy meditation training and looked at the fire alarm. It would certainly clear the area. But might just render it too chaotic for his taste.


        On the fifteenth floor, Sam thought he might be late after all.


          A man with big hairy hands welcomed him in the new world’s consuelambassy office. “Welcome”, said the man with a deep voice. Sam couldn’t get his eyes off the man’s hands. He looked at the guy. Without those hands he would just be like a regular guy.
          “I’m a bit early”, said the man, “so we might as well begin now. Is that ok for you ?”
          “What ? Oh! yes, of course…” those hands are so huge, he thought.
          “Perfect. Just sit on this chair and I’ll guide you through the procedure.”
          “Ok.” Sam sat on the chair he had been shown and gave the man the papers he had brought for the procedure.
          “Great, I can see you’ve brought everything pertaining to your old self.” He barely looked at the documents and threw them in the shredder. A red light flickered before turning to a bluish green.
          “You won’t need those.”
          “Obviously”, said Sam. As he had already been puzzled that morning, he decided it was superstifluous to continue in this direction. He had come here to get a new identity after all. His old self had been torn apart. There was certainly no one to feel disrespected.


            “What is the name of your father ?”
            “My father ?”
            “Yes, your new father”, said the man. “We offer the possibility for you to choose your parents. That’s a rare thing in life, you know. I think that’s why the new world has so much appeal. People are just tired of the lack of control in their life.”
            “And can you change if you get bored by your new parents ?”
            “You can do it twice, after which the choice is definitive.”
            “That’s an illusion of control, then.”
            “Well… People just quickly get into their new role and they forget that they had the choice. Most of them don’t even use their first possibility.”
            “Do I have to choose among parents that already exist in the new world?”
            The man looked annoyed. He put his big hands on the table. Sam looked at them fascinated.
            “You can choose whatever parents you want. If they don’t exist in the new world, you can then choose if they are deceased or just in vacation outside of the new world. In which case whenever someone matching your parents description apply for the new world, we can arrange for a poignant family reunion.”
            “I just have a last question”, said Sam.
            “Ok, make it a quick one. Other people are desirous to start a new life in the new world, you know.”
            “Yes, I know. But still, I wonder if the persons who apply for an identity that matches my new parents. I can see in your file that you never ask their date of birth. They couldnt be younger than me, could they ?”
            The man scratched his head with his left hand. Sam wondered what it was like to have such huge hands.
            “Theoretically, that could happen. But you know, we offer you a new life in the new world, not a perfect life in a perfect world.”


              His shift was almost over. Ed wondered why the funny guy had looked so insistently as his hands. That was not the part people usually stared at… He shrugged — people are always stressed when they get their new identity, probably a bit overwhelmed by the realization of how direly they liked their comfortable boundaries and restrictions.
              Some people weren’t just ready for such a change. Actually, it had taken himself quite a few years as well, that it within relativilastic timing, all considering.

              He looked outside the window, it was night already, but at least the rain had stopped.
              Usually, he would wait a little more until the brunt of the office people had disappeared from the overcrowded stairs, escalators or “moving staircases” as they liked to call it.

              But today he was feeling like leaving early. Liz’ would be waiting for him.
              Putting on his raincoat, with his murse in one hand, he twirled his mustache with a grin and the other one.

              Cornella giggled, dusting off her keyboard before leaving the office. Ed Steam might have something to say about it when he saw the new lists of identities in the morning, but it had been worth it. A little alliteration helped to pass the day, after all. For the most part the story refugees either didn’t notice, or at any rate didn’t complain. They were relieved that the endless process was over, or too nervous about starting a new story to notice.

              Zoe Zuckerberg to Zimbabwe was one of her favourites; and Quentin Quincy to Queensland. What did it matter that Zoe, previously known as Madam Li, had no desire to go to Zimbabwe, or that Ted Marshall had family in Spain? It was up to them to make up whatever they wanted once they started the new story. Her job was assigning names and locations, the rest was up to them.

              She’d laughed out loud when one of them sat down at her desk, clearing his throat nervously. Current name and location? she asked.
              Percy Piedmont from Paris, he said, I have a brother in Shanghai who has a new story, he said he’d insert me into his.

              Cornella couldn’t help wondering who had assigned him his last character role, and if they were playing games in the office to pass the day, too.

              Alright Percy, how about Shane Shylock?


                Yalnnif was stirred from her meditation by the sound of the ezapper soft buzz which signaled the end of the 21 minutes of conscious breathing.

                Obviously Yalnnif was not her real name, just the one she got when she’d came to the Bureau of New Identities. Some uninspired pencil pusher had obviously pushed it the opposite way, and found the result funny.
                Do your worst, I can always fix it up” had always been her secret mantra. For once, she was served. She still could apply a second time, but she had her share of bureaucracy for a year, and she wanted to allow this one a try.

                Yalnnif Yanit from Yorknew.

                She could have sworn the clerk had smirked at her when he’d handed her the card with the name, a sort of unspoken “now, fix that one up”.

                She had thanked him with a proper “peace off.” After all, propriety was her secret super-power.


                  Geoffroy du Limon had felt confident that he had the skills to act the new role, considering his notable career in the theatre in the old story. He liked his new name: Miles Fitzroy suited him perfectly; and he anticipated resonating with London (although he would have preferred New Zealand: he’d heard that his old friend Francette Fine had been assigned a new story there). He found himself floundering, however, in unexpected ways.

                  The most unsettling factor was the absence of a back story. Without associations or automatic habits, he was unsure how to play his personality. Without triggers, where was the humour? There was simply nothing dramatic, comedic or tragic, nothing to make the play thrilling, exciting, or enticing, if everyone was an innocuous beige blob. A present beige blob is still a blob and not very interesting.

                  Roll up! Roll up! Come and see the show! Watch the cast focusing on themselves and not reacting to triggers! Nothing to judge here, folks, Roll up!

                  Geoffroy had no idea that having so few limiting guidelines could be so difficult. One had always assumed that it was the limiting guidelines that boxed one in, held one back, he mused, not the other way round. It was indeed a challenge, and he found himself feeling nostalgic for the old story.


                    The old woman looked him up and down before pushing past him, curtly telling him to knock because they were all asleep. Quentin quaked inwardly. He’d arrived at his new location, a dilapidated old hotel, although not without a certain other worldly charm, at an ungodly hour of the morning. Hovering on the porch, he was unsure whether to risk waking his new hosts. He didn’t want to make a bad first impression. He felt even more dejected and confused when he realized he had no idea what kind of first impression he wanted to make.

                    His first encounter saddened him, and he hoped they all weren’t as unwelcoming as she had been. He wasn’t accustomed to feeling like such a stranger, or so nervous and shy. What made it even worse was that Quentin was quite well aware that his lack of confidence would be bound to make everything worse.

                    “You’re not another one of those story refugees, are you? Did I frighten you?” the girl asked, as Quentin jumped at her sudden appearance from behind the spider plant.
                    “My name’s Prune, are you Quentin Quincy? Aunt Idle’s expecting you, but she’s not up yet. Are you going to be in the new room ten story?”


                      After a few days, Quentin had had enough already of the food. Pickles, pickles, and more pickles. Pickled cabbage, green or red, gherkins and all sorts and sizes of pickled cucumbers, pickled onions and eggs… There was only variety in the type of thing that weird hostel family was able to think of pickling. Even his beard started to smell of pickles. It was slowing driving him nuts.

                      That, and the strange random cackling at all hours of day and night, which he’d hoped to leave behind after being a refugee from that dreaded town. It had started again. And it seemed to come from the huge framed pea above the mantelpiece. He smirked at the thought that the only reason that pea was framed was that they didn’t find any fitting jar to pickle it.

                      He was still waiting for an appointment with Aunt Idle, who apparently had forgotten him altogether. That was no small wonder, as he passed in front of her door with the half-unscrewed sign on her door that said “management”, he could smell she was into another kind of pickling altogether. With moonshine rather than with apple cider vinegar.


                        It was no coincidence that “Elikozoe”, his nom de plume (he was born Albert (Al) Yokoso, from a father of Japanese descent and a mother of Cajun descent) had been sent to the Pickled Pea Inn (formerly known as the Flying Fish Inn).


                          This morning was quiet, but his mind was not.
                          There were always the nagging thoughts that something ought to be done, the restless fear of forgetting something of importance.
                          But this morning was quiet.
                          A bit too quiet in fact.
                          No raucous cackling to stir the soft velvety dust from the wooden floorboard.

                          Quentin was wondering whether the story makers had lost all interest in moving his story forward. Yet, he was more than willing to move it notwithstanding, his efforts seemed of little consequence however. Some piece was missing, some ever-present grace of illumination shrouded in scripting procrastination.

                          His discussion with Aunt Idle had been brief. She’d told him with great intensity that she had a weird dream. That she looked into a mirror and saw herself. Or something like that,… she was not a very coherent woman, the ging wasn’t helping.

                          Maybe his task was done. Time to leave the Pickled Pea Inn.
                          His friend Eicnarf seemed eager to see him. Or maybe that had been a typo and she really meant to sew him, or saw him,… she could be gory like that…

                          No matter, a trip out of the brine cloud of this sand coated place would do him good.


                            “Did anybody see our last guest?” Mater couldn’t help but regularly count her herds (so to speak), and although she wasn’t as authoritative with her guests as she was with her family members, she couldn’t help but notice that her last count was one person short —enough to start worrying her.

                            “Hmm lwwft thws hhmmmng” said Idle, her mouth full with cookies.

                            Mater shrugged. It was still better than when she used to talk with sauerkraut.


                              “You can’t leave without a permit, you know,” Prune said, startling Quentin who was sneaking out of his room.

                              “I’m just going for a walk,” he replied, irritated. “And what are you doing skulking around at this hour, anyway? Shouldn’t you be in bed?”

                              “What are you doing with an orange suitcase in the corridor at three o’clock in the morning?” the young brat retorted. “Where are you going?”

                              “Owl watching, that’s what I’m doing. And I don’t have a picnic basket, so I’m taking my suitcase.” Quentin had an idea. “Would you like to come?” The girls local knowledge might come in handy, up to a point, and then he could dispose of her somehow, and continue on his way.

                              Prune narrowed her eyes with suspicion. She didn’t believe the owl story, but curiosity compelled her to accept the invitation. She couldn’t sleep anyway, not with all the yowling mating cats on the roof. Aunt Idle had forbidden her to leave the premises on her own after dark, but she wasn’t on her own if she was with a story refugee, was she?

                              Seeing Dido eating her curry cookies would turn Mater’s stomach, so she went up to her room.

                              Good riddance she thought, one less guest to worry about.
                              Not that she usually thought that way, but every time the guests leaved, there was a huge weight lifted from her back, and a strong desire of “never again”.
                              The cleaning wasn’t that much worry, it helped clear her thoughts (while Haki was doing it), but the endless worrying, that was the killer.

                              After a painful ascension of the broken steps, she put her walking stick on the wall, and started some breathing exercises. The vinegary smell of all the pickling that the twins had fun experimenting with was searing at her lungs. The breathing exercise helped, even if all the mumbo jumbo about transcendant presence was all rubbish.

                              It was time for her morning oracle. Many years ago, when she was still a young and innocent flower, she would cut bits and pieces of sentences at random from old discarded magazines. Books would have been sacrilegious at the time, but now she wouldn’t care for such things and Prune would often scream when she’d find some of her books missing key plot points. Many times, Mater would tell her the plots were full of holes anyway, so why bother; Prune’d better exercise her own imagination instead of complaining. Little bossy brat. She reminded her so much of her younger self.

                              So she opened her wooden box full of strips of paper. Since many years, Mater had acquired a taste for more expensive and tasty morsels of philosophy and not rubbish literature, so the box smelt a bit of old parchment. Nonetheless, she wasn’t adverse to a modicum of risqué bits from tattered magazines either. Like a blend of fine teas, she somehow had found a very nice mix, and oftentimes the oracle would reveal such fine things, that she’d taken to meditate on it at least once a day. Even if she wouldn’t call it meditate, that was for those good-for-nothing willy-nilly hippies.

                              There it was. She turned each bit one by one, to reveal the haiku-like message of the day.

                              “Bugger!” the words flew without thinking through her parched lips.

                              looked forgotten rat due idea half
                              getting floverley comment somehow
                              prune hardly wondered eyes great
                              inn run days dark quentin simulation

                              That silly Prune, she’d completely forgotten to check on her. She was glad the handwritten names she’d added in the box would pop up so appropriately.

                              She would pray to Saint Floverley of the Dunes, a local icon who was synchretized from old pagan rituals and still invoked for those incapable of dancing.
                              With her forking arthritis, she would need her grace much.


                                On the empty road, Quentin realized there was something different in the air.
                                A crispness, something delicate and elusive, yet clear and precious.
                                A tiny dot of red light was peeking through the horizon line.

                                It was funny, how he had tried to elude his fate, slip through the night into the oblivion and the limbo of lost characters, trying so hard to not be a character of a new story he barely understood his role in.

                                But his efforts had been thwarted, he was already at least a secondary character. So he’d better be aware, pretend owl watching could become dangerously enticing.


                                  “There hath he lain for ages,” Mater read the strip of paper, “And will lie Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep..” Buggered if I know what that’s supposed to mean, she muttered, continuing to read the daily oracle clue: “Until the latter fire shall heat the deep; Then once by man and angels to be seen, In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die…..”

                                  Mater had become increasingly irritated as the morning limped on, with no sign of Prune. Nobody had seen her since just before 3:00am when Idle got up for the loo and saw her skulking in the hallway. Didn’t occur to the silly fool to wonder at the time why the girl was fully dressed at that hour though.

                                  The oracle sounded ominous. Mater wondered if it was anything to do with the limbo of lost characters. She quickly said 22 Hail Saint Floverly prayers, and settled down to wait. If Prune had accidentally wandered into the lost characters limbo, battening upon seaworms would be the least of their problems.


                                    “You should have thought about it before sending me for a spying mission, you daft tart” Prune was rehearsing in her head all the banter she would surely shower Aunt Idle with, thinking about how Mater would be railing if she noticed she was gone unattended for so long.
                                    Mater could get a heart attack, bless her frail condition. Dido would surely get caned for this. Or canned, and pickled, of they could find enough vinegar (and big enough a jar).

                                    In actuality, she wasn’t mad at Dido. She may even have voluntarily misconstrued her garbled words to use them as an excuse to slip out of the house under false pretense. Likely Dido wouldn’t be able to tell either way.

                                    Seeing the weird Quentin character mumbling and struggling with his paranoia, she wouldn’t stay with him too long. Plus, he was straying dangerously into the dreamtime limbo, and even at her age, she was knowing full well how unwise it would be to continue with all the pointers urging to turn back or chose any other direction but the one he adamantly insisted to go towards, seeing the growing unease on the young girl’s face.

                                    “Get lost or cackle all you might, as all lost is hoped.” were her words when she parted ways with the strange man. She would have sworn she was quoting one of Mater’s renown one-liners.

                                    With some chance, she would be back unnoticed for breakfast.


                                      Prune turned to look back at Quentin as she made her way home. He’d have been better off waiting for a new chapter in the refugee story, instead of blundering into that limbo with that daft smile on his face. What a silly monkey, she thought, scratching under her arms and making chimpanzee noises at the retreating figure. Look at him, scampering along gazing up into the treetops, instead of watching his step.

                                      A deep barking laugh behind her made her freeze, with her arms akimbo like teapot handles. Slowly she turned around, wondering why she hadn’t noticed anyone else on the track a moment before.

                                      “Who are you?” she asked bluntly. “I’m Prune, and he’s Quentin,” she pointed to the disappearing man, “And he’s on the run. There’s a reward for his capture, but I can’t catch him on my own.” Prune almost cackled and hid the smirk behind her forearm, pretending to wipe her nose on it. She wondered where the lies came from, sometimes. It wasn’t like she planned them ~ well, sometimes she did ~ but often they just came tumbling out. It wasn’t a complete lie, anyway: there was no reward, but he could be detained for deserting his new story, if anyone cared to report it.

                                      The man previously known as the Baron introduced himself as Mike O’Drooly. “I’m a story refugee,” he admitted.

                                      “Bloody hell, not another one,” replied Prune. Then she had an idea. “If you help me capture Quentin, you’ll get a much better character in the new story.”

                                      “I’ve nothing left to lose, child. And no idea what my story will be or what role I will play.” Perhaps it’s already started, he wondered.

                                      “Come on, then! If we don’t catch him quick we might all end up without a story.”

                                      Mike wasn’t as courageous as his former self, the Baron. That new name had a cowardly undertone which wasn’t as enticing to craze and bravery as “The Baron”.

                                      The idea of the looming limbo which had swallowed the man whole, and having to care for a little girl who surely shouldn’t be out there on her own at such an early hour of the day spelt in unequivocal letters “T-R-O-U-B-B-L-E” — ah, and that he was barely literate wasn’t an improvement on the character either.

                                      Mike didn’t want to think to much. He could remember a past, maybe even a future, and be bound by them. As well, he probably had a family, and the mere though of it would be enough to conjure up a boring wife named Tina, and six or seven… he had to stop now. Self introspection wasn’t good for him, he would get lost in it in quicker and surer ways than if he’d run into that Limbo.

                                      “Let me tell you something… Prune?… Prune is it?”
                                      “I stop you right there, mister, we don’t have time for the “shouldn’t be here on your own” talk, there is a man to catch, and maybe more where he hides.”

                                      “Little girl, this is not my battle, I know a lost cause when I see one. You look exhausted, and I told my wife I would be back with her bloody croissants before she wakes up. You can’t imagine the dragon she becomes if she doesn’t get her croissants and coffee when she wakes up. My pick-up is over there, I can offer you a lift.”

                                      Prune made a frown and a annoyed pout. At her age, she surely should know better than pout. The thought of the dragon-wife made her smile though, she sounded just like Mater when she was out of vegemite and toasts.

                                      Prune started to have a sense of when characters appearing in her life were just plot devices conjured out of thin air. Mike had potential, but somehow had just folded back into a self-imposed routine, and had become just a part of the story background. She’d better let him go until just finds a real character. She could start by doing a stake-out next to the strange glowing building near the frontier.

                                      “It’s OK mister, you go back to your wife, I’ll wait a little longer at the border. Something tells me this story just got started.”

                                      Aunt Idle was craving for sweets again. She tip toed in the kitchen, she didn’t want to hear another lecture from Mater. It only took time from her indulging in her attachments. Her new yogiguru Togurt had told the flockus group that they had to indulge more. And she was determined to do so.
                                      The kitchen was empty. A draft of cold air brushed her neck, or was it her neck brushing against the tiny molecules of R. She cackled inwardly, which almost made her choke on her breath. That was surely a strange experience, choking on something without substance. A first for her, if you know what I mean.

                                      The shelves were closed with simple locks. She snorted. Mater would need more than that to put a stop to Idle’s cravings. She had watched a video on Wootube recently about how to unlock a lock. She would need pins. She rummaged through her dreadlocks, she was sure she had forgotten one or two in there when she began to forge the dreads. Very practicle for smuggling things.

                                      It took her longer than she had thought, only increasing her craving for sweets.
                                      There was only one jar. Certainly honey. Idle took the jar and turned it to see the sticker. It was written Termite Honey, Becky’s Farm in Mater’s ornate writing. Idle opened the jar. Essence of sweetness reached her nose and made her drool. She plunged her fingers into the white thick substance.

                                      F LoveF Love

                                        But wait! What is this?

                                        Her greedy fingers had located something unexpected; something dense and uncompromising was lurking in her precious nectar. Carefully, she explored the edges of the object with her finger tips and then tugged. The object obligingly emerged, a gooey gelatinous blob.

                                        Dido sponged off the honey allowing it to plunk on to the table top. It did not occur to her to clean it up. Indeed, she felt a wave of defiant pleasure.

                                        The ants will love that, although I guess Mater won’t be so thrilled. Fussy old bat.

                                        She licked her fingers then transferred her attention back to the job at hand. After a moment of indecision whilst her slightly disordered mind flicked through various possibilities, she managed to identify the object as a small plastic package secured with tape. Excited, and her ravenous hunger cravings temporarily stilled in the thrill of the moment, she began to pick at the edges of the tape.

                                        Cocooned Inside the plastic was a piece of paper folded multiple times. Released from its plicature, the wrinkled and dog-eared paper revealed the following type written words:

                                        food self herself next face write water truth religious behind mince salt words soon yourself hope nature keep wrong wonder noticed.

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