Monday, August 21, 2006

Sombrero Fallout, by Peter Wild

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 543 Howard Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.

Sombrero Fallout

By Peter Wild


The English writer was killing time in an airport waiting for his long-delayed flight to be announced. Of all the days for an international terror plot. Man o man. His first ever trip to the States. He’d had it all planned. There was an entire goddamn itinerary. Two weeks travelling around the US. All expenses footed by The Man. The English writer had long thought it was too good to be true. Yeah. Go to America. Write a long article about legendary Beat humorist Richard Brautigan. We’ll foot the bill. Just make sure you keep a-hold of your receipts.It was plainly too good to be true. Now they were saying all flights were grounded for the duration and, worse, they mentioned maybe he’d miss his slot. Maybe he wouldn’t get another flight to the US for a week or longer. The English writer was sick as a parrot.

And he wasn’t alone. A formerly jubilant family group was busy stripping off their pre-emptive holiday baubles, dumping buckets and spades and all manner of holiday apparel – sunglasses, flip-flops, sombreros – in the trashcan right by where the English writer sat. Everywhere you looked, ugly, pissed-off people stewed. A thick, soupy atmosphere of virulent pissed-offness settled upon the airport lounge. The English writer felt it too. So, as he was a glass is half full kind of a guy, he decided to try and write a story in which only good things happened to nice people. Once upon a time (he wrote, figuring that a note of fairytale goodwill couldn’t harm him) there was a magical island called Noway in which people lived in happiness and tranquillity all the days of their lives.

Across the way, by the check-in, a very large man and woman started shouting at the top of their voices. It was the same-old, same-old. I have to be… somewhere. I can’t be late. Don’t you know who I am? I’m gonna have your job for this! The English writer sighed. He couldn’t create a magical land of happiness and tranquillity in this environment. Not no way, not no how. So he tore the page out of his notebook, screwed it up into a ball and dropped it in the bin where it landed snugly upon the brim of the sombrero.


They gave all the shitty jobs to the menial staff. Actually, not staff. It wasn’t staff. Staff was so impersonal. Colleagues. They gave all the shitty jobs to their colleagues. Only the menial staff were not their colleagues. Colleagues suggested equality. Colleagues said, hey friend, I know this particular job is somewhat onerous but, believe me, I’d do it myself if I had the time, if I wasn’t busy saving the free world from terrorist insurgency. Pedro took it all, too. Pedro took it like a bitch. That was how he felt. Every day was the same. His colleague, the pinch-lipped tight-ass Whitehead, gave him instructions for the day. You could bet your ass those instructions included shit Whitehead wouldn’t dream of performing himself in a hundred million years. For instructions read shit list. Pedro’s shit list. So Whitehead gave Pedro his shit list and nine times out of ten there was a toilet bowl that needed unblocking manually or some fucking tramp sick or a piss flood or Something. The shit list was a gigantic life-draining suck hole. And today was no different. Yeah, the airport was on high alert. Yeah. He knew all that. But the same shit different day remained. We have confiscated liquid, Whitehead told him, his mouth barely moving, looking like some huge officious ventriloquist’s dummy. I need you to get rid of it. Doesn’t matter where. Just dump the liquid. Okay? Pedro wanted to parrot: Okay? Okay? Just about the only kick Pedro got was ripping shit out of Whitehead. Pedro had Whitehead’s voice down pat. But Pedro didn’t say Okay? Okay? Pedro took the huge cart of confiscated liquid and headed out onto the airport concourse. He wasn’t in the mood. He couldn’t be bothered. So. He figured. Empty the liquid into the bins. Let someone else take care of it.


Meanwhile, inside the bin, on the lip of a sombrero, the English writer’s story refused to die an ignoble death.

Once upon a time there was a magical island called Noway in which people lived in happiness and tranquillity all the days of their lives. There was no pain and no hunger and no want. People were born in a spirit of harmony and accord, grew, developing their minds and their bodies, and lived lives of fulfilment, satisfaction and joy. Whatever the people wanted grew upon the island in abundance. The people merely had to think of something and it was so. If you wanted an apple, you closed your eyes and there it was. If you wanted to smoke a cigarette, you closed your eyes and it was there. If you wanted to hear some swinging old time rock’n’roll ditto. And the same went for all the other hip thrills life can offer. If you wanted love, it was there. If you wanted sex, that was there too. Drugs. Cars. Fame. Whatever it was you wanted, you could get it on the island. And nobody frowned on you or made judgements or refused to welcome you to the Bridge Club as a result of your third drink driving conviction. Life in No Way was good. Life in No Way was the best ever. Similarly, if you didn’t want to eat meat, that was fine. If you wanted to go to church, that was fine too. Everybody believed what they believed and let the other man or woman be. It didn’t matter what you did. Everybody lived their lives in a state of love and encouragement. There were no wars, there was no violence, nobody was ever murdered. Mostly people died of old age, but that was fine. Everyone agreed, you had to die sometime. That was life. And life was be-yoo-ti-full.


The English writer felt like kicking things over. Or shouting at people. But he couldn’t be bothered. And people who shout at other people in airports were almost always total arses. So he got up, walked across the concourse to a coffee concession and bought a cardboard cup of molten java. By the time he sat back down, he didn’t want it. He was just killing time. But time was like some horror movie bogeyman that refused to stay the fuck down. The coffee sat there in the cup like a reprimand written in a language he didn’t understand. The coffee was making the English writer feel bad. He drank too much coffee. His wife was always saying. You drink too much coffee. The English writer could hear her, his wife, in his ears, despite the fact that she was all the way back home and more than likely asleep. Now he didn’t want the coffee more than ever. So he removed the cancerous lid and tipped the scalding mud into the bin at his side.


The coffee hit the sombrero and bounced, causing a shower of red-hot coffee to fall upon the English writer’s scrunched-up ball of aborted story.

The people of Noway did not know what hit them. There they were, a peaceable, fun-loving race of peace-nik fun-lovers, suddenly decimated by what came to be known among the survivors as the Tsunami of Fire. The surfers disappeared beneath the crud brown waves, the skin boiling off of their faces, their screams a signal of greater screams to come. Entire families fled the beaches – or tried to. The Tsunami of Fire, the terrible Tsunami of Fire, swept away all in its path. Blistering rain fell, too, among the hills and mountains of Noway. Who was immune? The cave-dwellers, those backward types given to brewing moonshine by the light of the silvery moon. And the rich folk, those high-falutin’ wheelers and dealers who lived in the centre of town. They lived too. Everyone else? Everyone else was swept away. Noway didn’t know what hit it. And Noway was changed forever. But worse was to come.


The wheel on Pedro’s cart whistled, and the progress of the whistling wheel on the floor of the concourse elicited a squeak. So, as Pedro made his way across the concourse, dumping cartons of orange juice and bottles of Diet Coke and bottles of water and baby milk and tubs of jelly and creams and potions and unguents into each of the bins he found, gradually, the squeaking and the whistling started to do his head in. Every step he took. Squeak, whistle, squeak, whistle, squeak, whistle. And that was without taking into account the lolloping swash of the various bottles and cartons in his cart. Pedro hated his life. Each and every day at some point in his travels, he thought: I hate my life. Today was no exception. But for some reason today felt worse. Maybe it was all the shouting. Maybe it was all the paranoia. Maybe it was all the shouting and the paranoia.

Pedro, unbeknownst, approached the English writer and started to empty bottles and cartons into the bin. The English writer asked him what he was doing. Pedro said, I have been told to empty all of the confiscated liquids in the bins throughout the airport. The English writer laughed, involuntarily, in a somewhat smarmy way that he had. You’ve been told to empty all of the confiscated liquid? Pedro said, Si. The English writer stopped chuckling in that smarmy way he had. Isn’t that dangerous? Pedro shrugged. But that wasn’t all. Pedro felt mildly annoyed by the manner in which the English writer addressed him. And so he removed a carton of orange juice from the cart, crunched off the lid and emptied the juice into the bin. It didn’t matter to Pedro. He wouldn’t have to clean it up, after all. The orange glug-galug-galugged into the bin, onto the sombrero, onto the island of Noway. But Pedro didn’t stop there. Pedro took up a couple of water bottles, what he thought were water bottles, cracked the lids and emptied the water in the bin as well. The English writer was smiling again, but the smile was nervy, tempered by the fact that the English writer was wondering whether the man with the bottles and the cartons was an insane person. What neither of them knew was that the water wasn’t water but petrol. And Pedro didn’t stop there. As well as petrol and orange juice, Pedro added milk from a lady’s breast, hand wash, magnesium palmitates and white phosphorate. The English writer stood when Pedro started kicking the bin and cursing, although he didn’t move away. Not even when the bin started to fizz and exude a sickly sweet white cloud.


The remaining inhabitants of Noway started to change. Acid rain fell from the sky. Noxious gases started to rise from the ground. This meant people no longer stepped out as much as they had done once. People stayed home and watched TV. The TV told them how dangerous the world was becoming. The TV said maybe they should start to think about home security. And not just home security either. The TV recommended guns. You should buy guns, the TV said. Don’t just buy one gun. Buy a whole arsenal. You don’t want to get caught short. The TV also said that there were people in the world who didn’t see things the way that you did. This was not okay, the TV said. The TV said maybe you should start to think about the fact that people in the world see things in a whole bunch of different ways. Didn’t it make sense, the TV said, for us all to agree? And – if there were people in the world who didn’t agree with us – weren’t we right to teach them the error of their ways? And, if they wouldn’t listen to reason, weren’t we right to bomb them? And, once we bombed them, as a result of our being right and their being wrong, weren’t we then allowed – hell, weren’t were then compelled – to take the things that they had that we wanted? Because we were right? And they were wrong? The people of Noway started to shout things like Yeah! and Hell yeah! at their TV screens.


The liquid started to fill the bottom of the bin. The various liquids started to mix. Relatively quickly, the liquid became a liquid not dissimilar to napalm. But it didn’t stay napalm for long. A dirty nappy left there earlier that morning helped contribute a particularly nasty slather of baby shit. A ketchup-smeared burger wrapper and a banana skin rubbed each other up the wrong way. Wet newspapers, yoghurt pots and a forgotten bleach-stained mop head conspired with the fizz and pop of the smoking formerly napalm now something else cloud. Pedro and the English writer paused in their relation to one another and drew close to the lip of the bin. On the island of Noway, an electrical surge made the TVs fritz. The hill dwellers drew close to the mouth of their caves. The well-to-do folk paused in their endless perambulations. Was this the apocalypse that the TV spoke of? The brim of the sombrero twitched. A curlicue of white smoke twisted itself about the hat. The English writer’s ball of paper made a noise like an autumnal orange leaf when crushed underfoot. A sound, akin to the library shusssssssssssssh of a firework fuse, brought a hurried halt to the airport concourse.


The contents of the bin went SNAP. The contents of the bin went CRACKLE. The contents of the bin went POP.


Later, of course, nobody told the same story twice. There was an explosion. This much we’re clear about. The bin burst open like a cheap joke shop comedy cigar. There was an eardrum-smashing roar. Fire leapt forth. One woman compared it to the gaping maw of Hell. And, of course, there was screaming. People running this way, and that. Breaking glass. Whistles. The usual signs and signifiers of a general melee. But that wasn’t all. A small group of people who were close to the bin made a strange and unusual claim. They said strange people came out of the bin. One minute there was a guy and a cleaning guy. The guy and the cleaning guy were leaning over the bin. There was an explosion and then, suddenly, there were dozens of people streaming out of the blasted hole in the ground. It was almost as if the bin had contained multitudes. Or maybe there were a bunch of immigrants living beneath the bin and the hole set them free or something. Weirder stories appeared on the Internet. Stories that told of a man, an aggrieved man who went by the name of Pedro, a man who was drenched in strange and noxious chemicals, who was given strange and unfamiliar powers, a man who left the airport that day hell bent on wreaking a terrible violence upon the world. A quick thinking teenage girl managed to snap – something, a shape, a vast shape, some great hulk – emerging from the lolling waves of ash and smoke. But no-one took it or her seriously. And yet, there was a death that day. A fatality. A junior manager nobody liked, a guy called Whitehead, was found with his head snapped clear off his neck. Whitehead was nowhere near the explosion so his death was one of those great unexplainables. And a cleaning guy, Pedro, did go missing that day. As did an English writer.

But nobody missed the English writer. Not even his wife.


And Noway? Who can say what happened to Noway. At best, the island of Noway incinerated. At worst? At worst, perhaps a world of happiness and tranquillity was done away with forever. What a sad thing. Nobody lived happily ever after.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 543 Howard Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.


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