Guns, Magic & Parrots: Welcome to Sticky City

This week we’ve seen the NaNoWriMo beginnings of Elizabeth Kurz, Geoff Micks, Halton Stoves and Tasty Yumyum, and we’ve had teasers from Ian Worte, Ekstasis Amor, Drew Beaudoin and Tim Dallimore. Meanwhile, I’ve been falling further and further behind on my NaNoWriMo word count. I don’t even want to type out the number—suffice to say it’s around a quarter of what it should be.

That being said, I’ve finally hit a reasonable groove, and I’m ready to present the first few pages of my presently untitled work, to be temporarily referred to as A Sticky City Story. I realized that whatever I wrote for NaNo had to be something I could have some psychotic fun with, so I send you into this fictional world with a warning: it will be surreal; it will be whimsical; it will contain elements of science fiction and mystic realism; it will be filled with unreliable characters and related to you by unreliable narrators; and it will very likely be full of plot holes until I edit it in December.

For the tone and style I took a little inspiration from Kurt Vonnegut and Samuel Beckett, with a splash of Cory Doctorow (though I’ve only read one of his novels). The structure (a series of short chapters from various points of view, which by the time I am done will number in the dozens) is inspired by one of my favourite novels, a WW2 epic by Louis de Bernières.

Read on and enjoy—and may I be the first to say: Welcome to Sticky City.

A Sticky City Story

1. Sticky, Sticky, Sticky…

What are we to do with you? Sticky City. Stickwell Hub, as if anyone ever calls you that. Between you and the next hub are a hundred unbroken miles of suburbs, where every conversation about the border leads to a fight, because everyone wants to be “from Sticky”. A city boy. A Sticker. In your last census year, two-million fringe folk rioted when they got forms from Caraway Hub.

And like anything popular, you do as you please. You eat people and digest them slowly. Your alleys are full of bodies like rocks stuck in your colon. You’ve been sick for decades, but you just won’t fucking die.

2. It’s Parrot Season!

Ten years ago, something unexpected happened: parrots came to Sticky City. Scientists are pretty sure it started with a handful of escaped pets, but beyond that they are baffled. Something altered their behaviour—the typically monogamous birds become insatiable, undiscerning lovers—and the population exploded. The air and water were ruled out after lengthy tests, and now there are desperate experiments underway on everything from radio waves to seismic activity. If anyone ever figures it out they will probably win the Nobel Prize.

Within three years of the first wild parrot sighting, their summer numbers were pegged somewhere in the millions. Plenty froze every winter, their corpses lending feathery topography to the snowbanks, but a few hundred thousand would always survive, taking refuge in disused warehouses and forgotten basements. Each year by July they were back in force—squawking and chattering, ranked for miles along all the eaves and power lines in Sticky City. They made life maddening: they sneered, screeched insults, and mimicked everything, throwing the sonic landscape into chaos. Car horns, smog sirens, fire alarms and the public address blasters were all rendered meaningless, their distinct sounds replicated constantly from every direction. And all of it was underscored by ceaseless, deafening chatter—the echoed fragments of a million Sticky conversations, chosen by the parrots for general phonetic appeal and and sieved through their birdbrains into a mish-mash vocabulary of ever-evolving nonsense. It was impossible not to project meaning onto the mess, and soon every resident of Sticky had felt a chill when a “Yeah, right!” or a “That bastard should hang” or a “So did you fuck her?” caught their ear at an instant eerily aligned with their internal monologue.

With a tired, haunted and infuriated populace on her hands, Mayor Clasp made a decree that she hoped would deal with the problem and alleviate the city’s stress at the same time: she declared March through June open hunting season on parrots in Sticky. Not wanting the city to rain bullets for four months, she added the important caveat that guns and projectiles of any kind were entirely off-limits, and so the people took to the streets with sledgehammers and sharpened mopsticks and kitchenstring nets and all manner of gleefully improvised weaponry.

At relieving stress, the plan was an unqualified success: Clasp’s approval rating hit its highest peak ever. But when it came to the problem of the parrots, all the people’s predatory fervour could only make a medium-sized dent. Their numbers were thinned—enough that they broke off into separate flocks rather than the noisy continuum that had engulfed the city—but it is still impossible to spend a summer day in Sticky without seeing a dozen parrots, and hearing a few dozen more. The hunt still happens each spring, defining Sticky life for a quarter of every year, and it has been so thoroughly enshrined in tradition that children must think it’s as old as Christmas.

3. Scene in a Sticky City Alley

A dead-end alley, cramped with a treacherous thicket composed of hundreds of rusty bicycle parts. An old man sits on an aluminum lawnchair at the end, sucking on an atomizer and draped in innumerable filthy coats. An open garage door in the brick wall behind him reveals a large utility room with a mattress wedged in next to a water-heater.

A young man enters at the far end of the alley, hesitates, and begins gingerly picking his way through the thicket. He wears brand-new but visibly cheap clothes and carries a satchel over his shoulder. Just before reaching the old man, he stabs his leg on a snapped wheelspoke and cries out in pain.

Old Man: Hush, it can’t be that bad. You’ll be needing a shot, though.
Young Man (rubbing his leg): Don’t worry about it. You know what I’m here for, yes?
Old Man: Not for tea and biscuits then, hmm? (he raises an eyebrow) I must say, you look quite nervous.
Young Man (with forced authority): Let’s just get down to business.
Old Man: Oh I see, nervous with an ego! Have some respect, son—I’m five times your age. We don’t have to be friends if you don’t want, though personally I find it makes business much more pleasant. So, what for and how many?

The young man opens the satchel and removes a submachine gun, which he hands to the old man.

Young Man: As many as you can give me.

The old man looks from the rifle to the young man and pauses in consideration. After a moment of silence he stands, hands back the gun, and disappears into the utility room. Scraping noises are heard, and he soon reemerges pushing a small but heavy wooden crate along the ground.

Old Man: Cash only.

A squawk is heard and both men look up. Three parrots land on a second-storey windowsill overhead. The old man halfheartedly chucks a stone in their direction, and it smacks harmlessly against the wall. He looks back at the young man expectantly.

Young Man: Actually, I was hoping to arrange a trade.
Old Man (scoffing): All this just to waste my time? (he rolls his eyes) Go home, kid.
Parrot #1: Gotohell. Honk honk!
Young Man: Have a look first. (he retrieves a small leather pouch from his satchel and hands it to the old man.)
Old Man: What do you need this much lead for anyway?
Parrot #2: (police siren sounds)
Young Man: Just look.
Parrot #1: Look where you’re going!
Old Man (looking at the gun): Not hunting parrots with that, I hope.
Parrot #3: Golly!
Parrot #1: Golly-gee! Golly-gee!
Young Man: Don’t worry about it. Just have a look and tell me if we have a deal.
Parrot #1: Deal with it!

The old man loosens the drawstring and looks inside the pouch. His face scrunches up in anger.

Old Man (stonily): Take your bullets, get out of here, and don’t come back unless you plan on telling me how you got this.
Parrots #2 and #3: (jazz music)
Parrot #1: You’re dead, bitch! Pizza delivery!
Young Man: Well, you know I’m not going to do that.
Old Man (looking at the crate): How are you going to carry that anyway?

The young man returns the gun to his satchel and picks up the crate with surprising ease. The old man looks at him with the beginnings of fear, and clutches the leather pouch to his chest.

Old Man: Go now.
Parrot #1: Look where you’re going!

The young man turns and begins navigating back through the alleyway. The old man watches him for a moment with a twisted expression, then picks up another stone and flings it forcefully at the parrots. Parrot #2 is hit in the head and falls lifelessly to the ground, while the others fly away squawking.

4. Crisis Log, Friday (AM)

I hoped I’d never crack this little red book, but today’s the day. Garrett and Shell are dead, and I’m pretty sure Needy is too. Odds are good I’ll be joining them soon; this trip will only buy me a day or two. But that might be enough time to figure out what the hell happened back there.

Okay, focus, play it back: Needy hopped the gate and snuffed all three guards without a peep, then we followed the wall to the records office. Shell fried the alarms and we went in through both doors at once. Shell and Needy on the left, Garrett and I on the right. Four guards in four corners. Four bodies in four seconds. Aisle ten, drawer ten: easy. But then, when I was dumping the files into the sack, something hit me in the back of the head. It was a swift, square blow and I recognized the friendly thud of a blackjack as my knees gave out from under me. My last clear memory is my cheek smacking the cement floor—but there was something else. Was I seeing double as the tunnels closed over my eyes? Maybe, but I think I saw who took the files: two men, arm in arm, striding in unison with chilly determination and remarkable speed. Odd, I know, but it adds up: Garrett, Shell and Needy were out cold too, and there wasn’t more than a split-second window in which to take us all down like that. I still can’t quite figure out how they managed it.

Whoever they were, they were a lot kinder than Melon. He must have had someone keeping an eye on the job: Shell and Garret were dead the moment we stepped out of the compound. Needy and I split just in time, in opposite directions, and I haven’t heard from him since. Al’s goons sure were quick on the draw. Why was he so jumpy? Al Melon is not the kind of man who would hire us just to see us fail, so why was he so well-prepared for that very outcome? And what did he want with hospital records anyway? Melon doesn’t make elaborate plans. No good criminal does.

Questions, questions, questions—that’s all I have at the moment, the foremost being who the hell those two ghosts that socked me were. Figuring that out would be easier if I was still in Sticky, on foot, but distance is the only thing keeping me alive, and it’s nice to be away from all the parrots. I guess I’ll have to make some calls.

5. The Magician Fell (1)

The Liplock District of Sticky City is famous for its street performers. Busking is a lucrative career in Sticky, but it’s heavily regulated almost everywhere. In Liplock, however, thanks to some anomalous century-old laws, it’s a complete free-for-all: no licenses, no designated spaces and, most importantly, no taxes. The competition is cutthroat and the payoff can be huge—not as huge, perhaps, as the choicest spots in regulated neighbourhoods, but those are mostly monopolized by a handful of glitterati with political connections. For those buskers who are hoping to break into Pinwheel Bridge or the Argentine Quarter, Liplock is their proving grounds—for the rest, it’s home.

Pavel Fell was of the former breed. He had is eyes on the biggest of big leagues: Artificial Distance facilities. Not the cheap little Out-Of-Towners either, but the Overseas Pavilions where billionaires hid in simulated seclusion. It was rumoured that some of the live-in entertainment staff had become billionaires themselves.

So, in traditional garb of tails and top-hat, Pavel took his magic show to the streets of Liplock, hoping to catch the eye of a talent scout or, better still, a private sponsor. His penchant for small-scale spectacles—sleight of hand and psychological trickery—proved to be a significant advantage in an economy based on sidewalk space. While the jugglers and the acrobats and the dance troupes and the big-bands and the many tented acts had to rise with the sun and fight for prime corners, Pavel could wait for the morning tourist rush and slip out into the crowds, drifting from reveler to reveler and snagging a few moments of attention (and hopefully a few small bills) from each. The temptation to snatch wallets and watches was strong, as it would have been remarkably easy with his skilled hands, but he knew a single arrest would rule out any chance of ever working for A.D., so he resisted.

Pavel wasn’t the only magician in Liplock, but he quickly built a reputation as the best, thanks in large part to a signature mindreading trick. Though it was little more than a sophisticated Clever Hans act, it bested the performances of the chip-choppers who had achieved modest-but-genuine extrasensory skills through the use of homemade implants. Meanwhile, his coin and card tricks were exceptionally creative and demonstrated tournament-grade ability at the technical level. All his competition tended towards stage magic: they put on elaborate shows with contraptions and assistants, trying to generate enough buzz to hire a hawker, put up a tent and live off admission instead of tips, which was considered by many in Liplock to be the peak of accomplishment. Pavel had been a fan of stage magic as a child, but he quickly grew out of it, deciding the pageantry weakened the illusion rather than enhancing it. It turned out this was a popular sentiment, and more than once his performances were met with cries of “Now that’s magic!”

Being the district’s fastest-rising star didn’t win Pavel any friends. Liplock may not be officially regulated, but it has an internal order and a complex pseudopolitical landscape. Pavel avoided guilds and fraternities, turned down the insurance salesmen and never attended the town hall mixers, and this behaviour quickly provoked ire among the established pillars of the busker community. Rare was the society function that didn’t lead to a discussion about what is to be done with this Fell fellow?

Though not oblivious to this, Pavel did his best to put it out of his mind. His course was clear, and others could think what they would and fume as much as they pleased. He was confident his burgeoning fame would protect him from any overt intervention. He was wrong.

It wasn’t long before he realized he was being watched. There were two spooks—he spotted them nearly everywhere he went, watching him with cold eyes. He paid some local thugs a hefty sum to scare them off, and those thugs all ended up in the hospital. Finally Pavel accepted that he would have to lower his profile and manage his success, and that to start he had better drop off the map for a little while. Before he became an A.D. employee, he’d have to be an A.D. customer. He withdrew the bulk of his savings and was on his way to check into a decent facility when they got him: the van made a rolling stop, door already open, groping hands sprouting from the dark interior to pull him inside, then it flew away from the curb, all in the space of a second. A nearby parrot repeated the screech of its tires with delight, and continued to do so all afternoon.

6. A Flyer, Heavily Circulated on The Streets of Sticky City

Twice the Salvation!

The way to the LORD is not one but TWO.
HIS image is attained, not granted.
HE has TWO faces. Know BOTH.

Join Us This Saturday In Crater Park And See The Lights.
Magic Show At Noon. Refreshments And Parrot Hunt To Follow.

Come Two Come All!

5 thoughts on “Guns, Magic & Parrots: Welcome to Sticky City”

  1. Good God, Leigh, that’s marvelous. Simply marvelous. I wish I had your knack for prose. My NaNoWriMo efforts sound like my Inca narrator throwing his voice, whereas you’ve definitely picked up the Vonnegut bounce and melded it beautifully with Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’s flair for perspective shifts. Tell me there’s a middle and an end firmly in your mind, and I will call this a book I want to read.

    Cheers, buddy. Well done!

    1. High praise! Thanks Geoff.

      And for the record, the thought of the Inca’s voice hadn’t crossed my mind in Life Loves Death – the narration felt familiar, and I took that to be *Geoff’s voice* – I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

      As far as middles and ends, I’d be lying if I said “firmly” – I have a course charted, but it leaves considerable lee to fall back on in case of weather or sea monsters. But yes, to some degree, I do know where I’m going.

  2. I’m re-reading it each day and it’s continuing to yield fresh colours and scents. The structural challenges ahead would seem immense but the writing is so tasty……what’s really working for me is that it’s riding waves of wonderfully painted specificity while always seeming capacious and spontaneous enough for you to sling a grand piano into any crevice of the scene any time you choose.

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