By Lachlan Barker
It all started when Kellner at number 312 decided to blow up the stump that was blocking his driveway.
Kellner hated that stump.
It didn’t stop him accessing his house, but merely from parking next to the verandah of his house, which was a problem as he repeatedly had to bring in his shopping in the pissing rain.
He could have had it removed when the tree guys were there, but Kellner was a cheapskate.
He didn’t think he was, he thought he was merely prudent, but anyone else when asked would make comments like “he knows the value of a dollar”, and “he would make $20 worth of effort to get back $10 owed.”
When the tree guys charged him the exorbitant fee of $350 to cut down the tree, he asked aggrievedly “do you use gold chainsaws?!”
Then they’d had the outrageous audacity to quote him $2,000 to remove the stump.
Over his dead body.
So the tree company had cut down the tree, mulched the logs and left with the stump in place.
It was a big tree, and therefore now, a big stump.
It sat in the exact middle of the cul-de-sac end of his gravel driveway and was exactly in position to annoy him every time he came home.
He had tried his own hamfisted efforts with his rusty, never starting, always breaking down and always blunt chainsaw to remove bits of it from time to time, but he had never changed the bulk of the thing, and now he’d had enough.
Kellner couldn’t have exactly told you why now was the time to do something about it, but it was almost certainly to do with his neighbour, Wills.
Kellner hated Wills, but then really, Kellner hated everybody.
Disliking the bulk of the human race seems to go hand-in-hand with being a cheapskate, why? Who knows, but Kellner certainly fitted the mold, maybe it was because it was only other humans who constantly cheated him out of money that was certainly his by right.
His work paid him less than he deserved.
The supermarket charged him more than the products were worth.
The government took more than their fair share in tax.
But Wills his neighbour didn’t have any monetary interaction with Kellner at all.
No, Kellner hated Wills simply because of the noise.
Lasseter’s road was a meandering suburban entity that wound away from the town and got quieter with every passing bend till you arrived at Kellner’s driveway, the last dwelling, in the full blown countryside.
Thus Wills’ constant habit of partying every weekend with backpacker chicks he met in town annoyed Kellner to the point of making his doctor think he was eating raw salt, nothing else could explain medically Kellner’s blood pressure.
To be fair to Wills, he constantly invited Kellner to his parties, but Kellner never went, suspecting (quite rightly), that Wills only invited him to reduce the number of neighbours at home in bed, who would then complain about the noise.
And this decision to remove the stump, by fair means or foul, had been taken by Kellner in the week after a particularly noisy party.
Even then, Kellner probably could have handled the noise, but the accompanying annoyances were beyond the pale.
For instance: even if Wills had not invited him over, Kellner knew there was a party on because of the number of drunk and stoned backpackers who would get lost and turn up in Kellner’s driveway and ask if “he knew where Wills lived?”
Whereupon Kellner would tell them “no”, and they not understanding or simply full of drunken bonhomie would then say, “but you must know him, he’s a great guy and there’s a party on tonight, it must be around here somewhere?”
Kellner would then relent and whilst grinding his teeth give them approximate directions and let them get on with it.
He had for a while deliberately given them the wrong directions, but that had just led to innumerable camper vans driving up and down Lasseter’s Road all night seeking the party as mariners had once sought the Flying Dutchmen.
So he suffered on the whole in ground tooth silence.
He had tried wearing his chainsaw earmuffs to bed, but this had had the counteracting effect of not hearing cars pulling up onto his forecourt and coming out on the morning to find he had been parked in by these party goers who had thought his parked car was a sign that this was party parking, they had then parked their van and wandered off through the trees to Wills house to party all night.
So all in all Kellner was not a happy, or even fully sane man when he began the process of obtaining explosives to remove the stump.
A saner person would have noticed for instance that the very house he wished to park closer to, was ipso facto, close enough to sustain damage.
But the stump by now had become the repository of all Kellner’s frustrations.
Somehow it embodied everything that was wrong with the world, or at least the part thereof that Kellner inhabited.
And so he sat down at his computer to find out how to turn that small volume of hated wood into a large amount of smithereens in the shortest period of time.
Wills was drunk.
Even he knew he shouldn’t be drunk at two in the afternoon, but if he knew it internally, there was no way he would admit it publicly.
He had a job, sort of.
The sign on the side of his car said “builder”, but he wasn’t really, or perhaps more accurately, he was a builder who hardly worked anymore.
What he did do, when he could pull himself together to do anything, was supervise people who really knew what they were doing.
Even then the word supervise was a hopeless over-estimate of Wills’ skills.
If he got a job for a new client, it was usually because an old client from the time when he did swing a hammer had passed his name on.
Then Wills would swing into action and beg other tradesmen in town to do the job.
Wills hated and loved those phone calls.
In the short period after the phone had been replaced in the cradle he would be filled with a joyous euphoria, he had work, he could afford more alcohol.
This feeling of well-being would last until the first problem arose in the build.
Then he would cross the divide into hating this job, the client, the tradesmen he had dragged on site, the building supply house, the labourers who worked for him, the architect, the council for placing countless footling regulations in the way of doing things and all because they kept him away from the bourbon bottle and the company of 18 year old backpacker chicks (his word) which he preyed upon.
He went to the fridge and poured himself another drink.
He was “not at work” this day, meaning he was supposed to be supervising the laying of a concrete slab at a build outside town, but had twisted the arm of the concretor to do it all without him and was now sitting on his deck getting a full alcohol glow on before the weekend’s partying started six hours or so hence.
He had as usual invited his neighbours for the night’s party, but as usual those miserable, police-calling gits would not attend.
He didn’t really want them there anyway, but even Wills knew that he had to try to maintain some sort of political détente.
He wasn’t sure if anyone could have him kicked out, or indeed if even the coppers could do anything when they showed up once a weekend to tell him to keep the noise down, but keeping some sort of peace seemed to a good idea.
Of course once 8pm rolled around Wills would be in the midst of bourbon-induced revelry and didn’t care if the US Navy started shelling the place in a vain attempt to keep the noise down, he was drunk and was allowed to have a little fun wasn’t he?
But then neither Wills nor Kellner could have foreseen that a single tree stump would not only see the end of Wills partying but the end of life as the residents of Lasseter’s road knew it period.
O’Driscoll knew he had been doing this job too long.
He often tried to remember back to a time when he was a young policeman and to discern if his attitude to the job had been different.
He knew the job wasn’t different, the things he’d hated then, he still hated now, but back then he seemed to have more patience.
O’Driscoll felt that this was ironic, and certainly paradoxical, in that young men were supposed to have less patience, but he felt that back then he had more time to take over things.
Why then was his fuse shortening on a daily, if not an hourly basis?
Like the slowly dispersing cracks in a concrete dam wall, he could feel a parallel corruption of his restraint.
The scenario he feared was if just one more drunk started arguing with him, then abusing him, in the course of his work, he would go off like the fourth of July.
Just one more drunk, just one more loud mouthed, habeas corpus quoting drunk could see him turn from a regular joe into something so incandescant, so full of nitric rage that not even a straight jacket could contain him.
Probably the thing that most enraged him these days was the “Why don’t you go and arrest some axe-murderer?” line that he got from every single fucking drunk.
The drunks seemed to think that what they were doing, pissing on a shop front, fighting in the street, vandalising parked cars, then pissing on said car, jumping on bikes left chained to parking meters, and/or spitting on him, were somehow perfectly reasonable ways to behave.
His old cop buddies from the academy who worked in different locales would say make similar complaints, but then they would admit that at least in their towns the drunken crescendo occurred only Friday and Saturday nights.
O’Driscoll’s town was a coastal resort with nearly two million visitors a year and the partying was 24-7, and thus there was no let up for O’Driscoll and his colleagues.
Even then, the tourists were in general the best behaved of the people he dealt with.
Handsome Aryan men from Germany, passionate French girls, Danish travellers.
There only offences were driving vehicles that were as roadworthy as a rowing boat.
When they partied at their accommodation they would shut it all down meticulously at 11pm and go quietly to bed.
No, the real troublemakers and regular abusers of O’Driscoll, were the locals and their sense of entitlement to do whatever they damn well liked and if someone complained that was too bad because they were locals.
With a sigh O’Driscoll realised it was time to go out on duty.
He got his car keys and drove out of the station.
It was Saturday at 6pm, he just prayed that tonight wouldn’t be the night he cracked.
“Coastal Demolition, Brad speaking.”
“Yes, I wonder if you can help me, I want to remove a stump from my driveway, can you guys help me with that?” Said Kellner.
“Possible, how big is it?” returned Brad.
“Well it’s about, 1 metre across, maybe a metre and a half.”
“OK, um, normally you’d get an excavator to do that, have you tried any of the tree companies?”
Kellner ground his teeth.
“Yes, I have, but the guys who cut it down wanted to charge me the earth to do it. Also, I don’t think you could get a big enough machine down my driveway to dig it out. That’s why I’m calling you guys, as far as I can see, the only way to get it out is to blow it up.”
Brad, the voice on the end of the phone sighed internally.
He wished they’d never advertised they did explosive demolitions.
From the day his company had, they had been fielding a semi-regular series of calls from weirdoes who just wanted to blow something up.
He began the weeding out process, “Well ok, I’m happy to come and have a look, but the minimum price for any explosive related demolition is $5,000. Are you prepared for that?”
Kellner nearly dropped the phone, he cleaned out his phone ear with his little finger, “did you say $5,000?!” he responded.
Brad sighed internally once more, “Yes. Any demolition using explosives requires local council permit approval, insurance, the explosives and staff to execute. Plus nearby buildings, roads, pipes and trees have to be checked and shielded. Do you still want me to come out and check it out?”
“NO” yelled Kellner into the phone and slammed it down.
He paced about his kitchen fuming to himself.
He had a mental picture of a couple of hundred.
In his mind’s eye he saw a demolition guy come out, place a stick or two of dynamite under the stump, open a beer, press the plunger and the job would be done.
Once again he had not counted on the local council placing a thicket of regulations around him doing what he wanted on his own property.
He wandered out to the front verandah and stared at the stump.
As he did he noticed that his “always on its last legs” car, was leaking again.
He went over and knelt under the front fender.
This time it was the radiator, a very small pool of green fluid was dripping on the ground.
The leak wasn’t enough to worry him, his car had achieved an almost zen-like state of continuing to run despite the eternal lack of care he bestowed on it, he would just have to remember to fill it before he left.
He stood up, he went automatically to dust the gravel off his knees, and as he did so noticed that there were dark stains upon his skin.
Probably oil or diesel from leaks from other parts of his engine.
Then something clicked in his mind.
Where had he read something about that?
Something to do with diesel exploding, something to do with home made bombs.
“Home made” was an expression Kellner loved, it implied less money spent.
He went back inside and turned his computer on.
The party was in full swing and Wills was, as always, drunk.
Like the Inuit of Northern Canada who had twenty-two words for snow, correspondingly Wills had a range of words to describe his drunken feeling.
A mild glow described how he felt when drinking alone on his stoep at two in the afternoon.
Mildly jouyous described the period around five to six pm when he was “allowed” to drink, and the pace of his bourbon consumption would quicken.
“Pretty Happy” was when he began to forget what had happened.
And the ultimate was “totally fucking legless”, which was literal, and described his immoderate progress around the party, groping women, saying things like “Do ya’ drop ‘em?” (Meaning the accosted female’s underpants), and was a period of the night when his legs no longer functioned as decent ambulatory devices and so legless was accurate.
He also has the expressions “Shit faced”, “Slaughtered”, “hammered” to allow composite adjectives.
“Pretty happy, verging on shit-faced”, for instance, allowed him finer gradations to his descriptions of the revelry.
Now it was ten pm and Wills was completely happy.
His younger workers who did the procuring for him had done a good job and his house and lawn was covered with 18 year old women.
The music blared, the lights resounded and his mood soared.
Clouds of marijuana smoke drifted on the breeze.
“What”, thought Wills, “could be a finer lifestyle than this?”
A song he thought he recognised came on and he yelled, “TURN IT UP! I love this song.”
The music soared forth and he realised it wasn’t the song he thought it was.
He moved onto the dance floor and sort of tried dancing with a couple of attractive young women.
In his drunken state he didn’t notice them edging away.
They knew him too well.
It would have surprised Wills to learn that almost everyone at his house that night hate his guts.
The others at the party, all younger than Wills, only attended because he provided vast tubs of free alcohol.
He thought they attended because he was a great guy who despite the ongoing years still knew how to party.
Oh the self-deception of the middle aged.
He shimmied across to the ice tub and got himself another can of bourbon mixed with coke.
Kellner ground his teeth.
Another Saturday, another party at Wills’s place.
He had already told two van loads of revellers that the party was next door and “couldn’t they bloody hear it?”
They had responded as usual with the “can we park here?” question, as if everyone on Lasseter’s road would be falling over themselves to provide convenience for those attending.
He told them to go back to the road and park at Wills, and they had backed lurchingly down his drive in the dark.
He knew he was in for another night of little sleep and ongoing, increasing frustration and hatred of his neighbour.
Among the real crosses for Kellner to bear was the issue of timing.
His job was with a road crew for the roads authority and was up at 5am each week day to join the crew.
And like all those with a regular early start he found it impossible these days to sleep in on the weekend.
He had tried, saying to himself, “c’mon it’s the weekend, have a relax.”
But he had always just ended up lying in bed with his eyes closed, until eventually, with a sigh he would roll over and start his day.
And of course this had become vastly worse with the advent of Wills next door.
Now it was Saturday night again and he faced his usual courses of action.
Like most, Kellner found his heart racing as he faced the confrontation of asking Wills to keep the noise down.
It was a paradoxical endeavour.
If he went over early-ish, say 9pm, Wills, full of bourbon-fuelled bonhomie would wrap his arm around Kellner’s shoulder and ask if he wanted a drink.
Kellner would say ’no’ and then ask him to turn the music down.
Wills would say ‘yes’, and drop the volume.
Kellner would go home and then wait out the next step.
Which was, an hour after Kellner had gone home, sometimes a minute, Wills would have completely forgotten the conversation and when next a song he liked came on would once again yell ‘TURN IT UP’, and so it would go for another Saturday night.
If he waited till midnight when the local council noise covenant came into force, Wills wouldn’t even remember the conversation.
Then Kellner would ring the coppers and complain about the noise.
The police were very good and would do their best, but in this partying town, particularly in the summer, they had so many calls for noise abatement that they sometimes didn’t get to Lasseter’s road till three in the morning, by which time Kellner was a red-eyed wreck, dozing fitfully in his chair in the living room, knowing the futility of entering his bed, since the moment he did he would have to be up to tell someone to get out of his driveway, or know that simply the volume of the music would rattle his walls and make his bed dance in time.
So he continued his research into home made bombs on the internet, and with each passing second an unconscious desire to make Wills sorry burgeoned within him.
“You there Barry?”, crackled the radio in O’Driscoll’s car.
“Yes, June”, he replied.
The dispatcher this evening was Constable June Holcroft, O’Driscoll got on well with her and they had a loose and definitely unspoken agreement that she wouldn’t bother him if she could at all avoid it.
“It’s that time, I’m afraid,” said Holcroft.
O’Driscoll’s heart sank.
Like most in this coastal party town he knew the time to the minute without looking at his watch.
When the pubs shut, when the nightclubs shut, when the bakery opened, when the first coffee shop opened, all provided him with time markers that helped him through his shift.
However, again like everyone else, he had trouble keeping track of the days.
“That time”, from June meant that it was Saturday midnight and now the noise complaints would start coming in.
“It’s not is it?”, said O’Driscoll in a hopelessly optimistic attempt to change the time and day of the week.
“Sorry Barry, but it is. And first up is your favourite address.”
“What again? Jesus does that guy ever stop.”
“Well not this weekend, you on your way?”
“Sure June. I’ll go now.”
‘Your favourite address meant Wills place on Lasseter’s road.
O’Driscoll couldn’t count the times he’d been there, but each visit was a carbon copy.
He cursed under his breath and started driving.
Kellner had decided not to go over and put his heart through the racing stress of trying to get Wills to turn his music down this night.
He wasn’t sure himself why it stressed him so, but it was most likely to do with the fact that it never did any bloody good.
Some Saturdays Wills would turn down the music, but as ever Kellner wasn’t able to relax, sitting in his living room waiting to hear if a song Wills liked came on and the music got sent up to heaven again, whilst Kellner gritted his teeth in his private hell.
Also, even when Wills did turn it down, usually only after the police came, the roar of the drunken conversation would easily fill the sound vacuum and once again Kellner would have to wait till the last reveller had gone to sleep, before he too could find some rest.
So this Saturday he had gone for the easier option of calling in his complaint to the police as soon as the noise covenant came in at midnight.
The police were very good about it, in that they now knew why Wills’ neighbours called in at 12:01am, and responded as rapidly as the events in town would allow.
Thus it was Kellner’s call, routed through Holcroft on the switch, that had set O’Driscoll on his way.
O’Driscoll parked his police car at the end of a long line of cars parked haphazardly on both edges of the road, indeed the gap in the middle was barely adequate for a single car to pass.
He locked the vehicle and began walking.
If he hadn’t been here every Saturday for the larger part of his working life, he would have known where to go by the noise.
It was scandalous, he had no difficulty understanding the neighbours complaints.
He turned into the driveway and approached the house.
As ever possibly a hundred, maybe more people were thronging the joint.
He entered the exo-rings of partiers and began to shoulder his way through to the heart of the action.
If the noise was scandalous, so was the condition of Wills, O”Driscoll knew him well by now and was able to pick him out where he stood leering down the tops of two young women.
With a long practised skill he manoeuvred his way to the music centre and turned it off.
The onrushing silence, well comparative silence of only the voices echoing around the place continued.
Wills, vaguely sensing something was wrong, well different, to what had been happening previously, turned and saw the upright blue figure of O’Driscoll staring balefully at him.
“All right Tony, it’s midnight and you know you’ve got to turn down the music”, said O’Driscoll.
He then waited for the next part of the routine.
Wills walked, well lurched in an upright sort of stagger, over to speak with the sergeant.
He threw his arm around O’Driscoll’s shoulder and said, “Aw, yeah, officer, real sorry about that, do you want a drink?”
O’Driscoll looked down at Wills’ hand dangling below his shoulder.
“Take your hand off me”, he said, in as calm a tone as he could muster.
Thoughts shambled around in the subterranean caverns of Wills mind.
He faced this regularly.
He had to impress the young women at the party with his mature(?) and strong dealing with the policeman.
He faced a difficult decision.
He wanted to get through the conversation without looking like he was backing down.
But also, he didn’t want to antagonise O’Driscoll who had the power to write him a noise citation, and, he vaguely thought, the power to confiscate his music centre.
“Take your hand off me, “ repeated O’Driscoll with about the same level of menace as a leopard stalking a gazelle.
“Would you like a drink officer?”, he said, allowing him to take his arm off the policeman’s shoulder and rummaging in the ice tub and coming up with a beer.
“No”, said O’Driscoll, “what I want is to not be called back here tonight because of noise, or any other complaints, do I make myself clear?”
Wills struggled to come up with an answer that gave him some face saving wriggle room.
“Oh, sure, there’s no problem with that, you sure though you don’t want to take a beer along with you when you go?”, he said.
O’Driscoll, fed to the back teeth with dealing with this guy, just shook his head and turned and left.
He made his way through the now (slightly) subdued crowd and began the walk back to his car.
Wills turned back to the young women he had been ‘talking’ with to discover they had taken the opportunity to flee his advances and made for a part of the party that Wills wasn’t.
Wills, waited till he heard a car start on the road and drive away, prayed that it was O’Driscoll’s car and then yelled, “OK, PARTY ON!” and turned the music up to about half it’s previous volume.
‘That should impress everyone’, he thought and began patrolling for more female company.
He was able to follow the events of O’Driscoll’s arrival at the party as if he had been listening in on a phone extension.
Some nights Wills had co-operated, this was one night when he didn’t.
Even at half volume he would have described the music as blaring, throw in the conversation and it was as if O’Driscoll had not been there at all.
He had a vaguely defined feeling that it was somehow bad form to call the cops twice in one evening, his only hope now was that one or more of the other neighbours would complain.
He went into his bedroom and lay down and wondered what his quota of sleep would be this night.
As he lay there he heard a snippet of a Wills sentence, “…. Yair, I wasn’t having that, I even offered him a beer, and he …..”
‘Some day’, thought Kellner to himself, ‘Some day’.
The noise continued and Kellner began his Saturday nightly activity of staring at the ceiling and waiting for exhaustion to overwhelm the sounds from Wills house.
The stump was no longer recognisable as such.
An ice sculpture now stood in Kellner’s driveway, or perhaps a highly localised snowstorm had fluttered down in the night and formed itself into peaks and scallops on the woody surface.
It certainly looked quite beautiful to Kellner as he stood and admired his handiwork in the dawn light.
Like all cheapskates Kellner had kept everything he had ever owned in his life in a ramshackle shed made of stringybark logs, rusty gal and fencing wire.
He had once bought a cow which he was planning to milk, but quickly learned the lesson that so many diary producers have, that having even one cow gave one a morning and night chore that couldn’t be ignored and tied you to the house, making holidays out of the question.
He likewise has had a brief enthusiasm for gardening and had layed out a garden in which he would grow veges, and save himself the exorbitant costs associated with purshace at the supermarket.
But likewise, he had found the work hard and by the time he brought in soil and fenced it off, the veges from the garden had actually cost more than those bought in town.
Thus his shed was full of the remnants of past ideas.
One such remnant was bags of fertiliser, and it was this product that now covered the top of the stump and trickled down around the sides onto the driveway.
Kellner had finally shuffled into a restless sleep around three am, but his body clock had snapped his eyes open with a click that almost audible at 5am.
A lifetime of rising for work at this hour had once again denied him a desperately needed sleep in.
He had tried.
He rolled and lay with his eyes shut, but after a mere ten minutes of this he had swung his legs out of bed and lumbered groggily to the kitchen to make coffee.
Once he had imbibed some mouthfuls he had decided that since he was up he may as well get on with the stump removal.
He wouldn’t have really thought he was out for revenge, but he had to work Monday and this was the day he had set aside for the stump to go.
He finished his coffee and went out to the shed.
He shifted things around till he had located the fertiliser and began dragging the bags out to the stump, one by one he emptied their contents out until he was he had emtied all the bags.
His internet researches had not been clear about what volume of fertiliser was needed to create what sized explosion, but like the chinese inventors of gunpowder centuries before he decided to start big, as it was a big stump.
He had brought home a jerry can of diesel during the week, and now he emptied this onto the fertiliser and it, in more liquid form, splashed and trickled down and through the fertiliser, pooling around the seam of stump and gravel.
He once more stood back and admired his work.
Looked good, but would it work?
Soon find out.
The last piece of the apparatus was an electrical circuit to create ignition.
The diagrams he had looked at had all favoured a car battery with wires leading to the charge, but Kellner’s only vcar battery was in his car, and he had carefully backed it up the driveway away from the ignition zone.
SO how could he set this off?
He went back inside for a coffee refill and thought about it.
He jiggled the cord to his electric jug to boil some water for a second round of coffee.
As you expect, his cord looked like Isaac Newton had used it for early physics experiments and it had to be jiggled into place create a circuit.
An idea formed in Kellner’s mind.
He had had a problem with rats.
His television wouldn’t turn on one night and he eventually discovered that starving rats had chewed through the power cord to the back of the TV.
As one would expect, he had taken the chewed cord and thrown it in the shed, he couldn’t have imagined what it could ever be used for, but now his frugality would pay off.
He went out to the shed and ferreted about.
Under a rusted out ride on mower, but dangling over some besser blocks was the cord.
He wrestled it loose of it’s impediments and took it back to the house.
He got some pliers out of his work room and then examined the cord.
He found the parts chewed by the rats and cut the cord off neatly there.
Then with some scissors he separated the two wires back about twenty centimetres from the cut, then stripping the plastic from the copper core.
He plugged the cord in and flicked the switch.
Holding one wire with the rubber handled pliers he brought in closer to the other.
A spark crossed the circuit and every light in his house went out.
He had shorted the circuit.
He went around to the fusebox to flicked the fuses back on.
The hum of the fridge and light in the kitchen came on again.
Kellner was satisfied, he had the power.
He plugged the cord into a powerpoint in the front hall and carried it out to the stump.
He placed the two wire ends into the diesel-fertiliser mix and went back inside.
He bent down to the powerpoint, installed at ankle level in the hall, and flicked the switch.
In the part of his mind where no one else can go, in the inner mental sanctum where he could be honest with himself, he knew this would happen.
The reason, generally, that home made things are cheaper is because they don’t work.
Or, they work once and then fall apart.
Or, they work, haphazardly, sometimes effectively, most often not.
He walked down the hall and stood on his front porch looking at the mound of chemicals piled on and around his stump.
As he stood there in the quiet of the Sunday morning his befuddled mind slowly grappled with a seed of mystery deep inside.
True the explosion hadn’t worked, but…
He turned and looked back down the hall toward his kitchen.
The light was on.
That was different, last time he’d tripped the fuses.
He turned back to the pile.
As he did so, he noticed that the morning wasn’t as quiet as he’d previously thought.
Down at the very lowest level of his hearing a sound was seeping in.
Where had he heard that before?
The faint noise was a snap, crackle, pop, as of a famous breakfast cereal when the milk is added.
He went out to the pile and looked at the point where the cord entered the mix.
The sound was clearer now, and there was a sizzling component.
Then Kellner noticed that at the epicentre of the noise, bubbles were emerging.
With an appalled fascination he watched as a bubble grew and popped, and was then replaced by another slightly larger one.
With a rush a terrifying realisation hit him.
Against all the odds, he had succeeded.
His home made reactor pile was approaching ignition point.
It was the last coherent thought he had, his endocrine system took over.
He turned and fled.
Through the house, out the back door and into his ramshackle shed.
He dove through the air and landed behind some straw bales bought to mulch his garden beds and crouched down and held his hands over his ears.
Less than a second later the air was rent by an almighty ka-whuffing sound, felt as much as heard, and the whole thing went up.
Kellner had hit the jackpot of home demolition.
Inside his shed he watched with a preternatural fear as the rusty gal walls at the back of the shed bulged outward and then sprang back with a clank that rivalled the sound of the explosion.
From the house he heard the tinkling of broken glass as every window on the front of the house disintegrated in a welter of shards.
The stump itself, lifted and tilted as if by a giant hand, then resettled down the driveway from the newly formed crater showing its previous lodgement.
The natural eucalypt oil in the wood, combined with the spark and latterly encrusted diesel caught and red flame began to lick around the stump as it settled, mud encrusted roots exposed, on the gravel.
Kellner was a not a religious man but prayed for the first time since childhood that he would come through this alive.
The percussive effects began to recede, replaced by the sounds of falling debris.
First the heavier chunks of wood, glass and gravel settled over the environs of his house, clunking,, clanking and thunking over gal roof and timber decking.
Then the lighter material began to fall and Kellner could hear the pitter-patter of a gentle eucalypt rain on the roof of his shed.
Eventually even this died out, and the quiet of Sunday morning returned to Lasseter’s Road and the only sound Kellner could hear was a persistent ringing in his ears.
However, unbeknownst to Kellner, the effects of his explosion were really only just starting.
His attempts over the years to reduce the size of the stump with axe and chainsaw had made a series of cracks and fissures in the body of the stump.
Sometimes he cut down, sometimes he held the chainsaw parallel to the ground and thus a series of geometric shapes had been visible in the stump.
One of these, about the size of an adult human leg, had been separated from the stump and launched into the high atmosphere like an organic rocket.
Coated with diesel and dusted with fertiliser this chunk of timber sailed aloft trailing smoke and glowing red.
At the zenith of it parabola the chunk turned lazily, gravity took over and it began its descent.
As it speed increased the flames died down, but driven by the increasing rush of highly oxygenated air over its surface anew and demonic cherry red incandescence burgeoned.
Wills’ septic tank was not in great condition.
Installed by the previous owner some twenty years ago, it had now succumbed to the heating and cooling cycles of the seasons and was cracked on all surfaces.
Wills had inspected it from time to time and often thought he should do something about sealing the cracks.
If the wind was strong in any direction it wasn’t a great worry, but if the wind was light and drifting toward the house, then Wills’s place was enveloped in a fairly foetid odour.
But then like most builder’s jobs, paid or otherwise, Wills found it far easier to just say, “she’ll be right” and go back to sit on his deck and drink bourbon.
And so when this most aerial piece of Kellner’s stump arrived at terminal velocity from on high, the cover of the septic offered little or no resistance.
With a crack, then a groan, a section of the cover gave way and the still flaming chunk of wood entered and became as one with 25 years of well matured sewerage.
And there for a few seconds matters rested and the peace of this Lasseter’s Rd dawn returned.
Wills, passed out drunk on the outdoor couch on his deck had started visibly from the first explosion at Kellner’s place, but then unable to see the cause of the noise returned to his drunken sleep.
Which was a shame in its way as he would have been the first human to see a septic tank exploding.
At first the timber merged with the contents of the tank and a chemical battle ensued, with the moisture within at first threatening to douse the rocket red surface of the timber.
But the thing about septic tanks is that they gas off.
The smell that Wills had noticed over his tenancy was indeed a highly valuable commercial product, natural gas.
A bubble of this ignited, spread its exothermic message to other bubbles in the tank and the peace of Sunday was once again split by an almighty explosion.
The roof of the tank lifted with a lurch and the contents erupted skywards carrying, then splitting the roof of the tank into smaller pieces of concrete.
The cracks in the side of the tank gave forth geysers of raw sewage and the side walls likewise came down and the contents at the base of the tank decamped sideways in all directions.
The percussive wave of force travelled up the pipes connecting his tank with the house and all three of his toilets, two upstairs, one down, became a revolting mirror image of their function, spewing raw sewage out instead of in.
The toilets began to run and cascades of the muck formed rivulets, then creeks and finally small streams of sewage, flowing along the halls and down the stairs.
At the base of the stairs the various courses merged and an ankle deep pool of waste began to cover the living room carpet before flowing over the step, onto the deck and down the garden.
The flying sewage then began to retrace the path of the burning timber progenitor of this cataclysm and returned to Earth, covering the roof of Wills’ house, the driveway, the garden and Wills himself.
Wills, insensible from twelve hours of bourbon drinking slept on.
Some time hence he would wake and know truly what hell was.
“Barry”, crackled Holcroft’s voice over the radio.
O’Driscoll stared at the thing in disbelief.
It was 7am Sunday morning, an hour after he should have clocked off.
There was no way, just no way, that Holcroft was thinking of sending him on a call.
Following the first call to Wills’ place he had then dealt with the usual round of Saturday night calls to holiday makers and told them, one after the other, at one house after another, to turn the music down.
He had argued with drunks till his already threadbare tolerance had approached a point similar to the pile of explosive in Kellner’s driveway.
With gritted teeth he tapped the ‘respond’ key on his car’s mobile.
“June”, said O’Driscoll, in ominously low tones, “I know, I just know you are not calling me to go on another call.”
“I’m really sorry Barry”, said Holcroft without preamble, “I really am, but you’re the only mobile unit left and this is a recall.”
O’Driscoll rolled his eyes.
A recall would indeed tie Holcroft’s hands.
In an attempt to “simplify’ dealing with late night complaints, the supervising officer had decreed that if at all possible, the same officer would return to a previously complained about address, as they already knew the situation, and it was thought this would aid in sorting things out.
As if, O’Driscoll had thought to himself many times, ANY administrative tweak would make dealing with irascible drunks any easier.
“All right”, said O’Driscoll, “what is it.”
“OK”, said Holcroft, “I’ll read you the exact words of the call that came in four minutes ago.”
Holcroft cleared her throat, “There was a big party last night that went on till after 4am, then this morning there were two explosions at the party, now there is a really bad smell and I have had to close all my windows. Can you get someone to have a look up there.”
June continued, “the call came from a Mrs Trail who lives at 264 Lasseter’s road.”
“Goddammit”, said O’Driscoll. “OK, June, I’ll go and see.”
O’Driscoll pulled over, made a u-turn and headed out of town.
Driving the vehicle was less a policeman than a blue-clad incendiary device getting ready to detonate.
O’Driscoll noticed the smell some kilometres from Wills’s place.
On this summer morning he had the windows down in an attempt to stay awake and in a far less successful attempt to provide some serenity to his fusing mind with a gentle rush of morning breeze.
With the first waft, he rolled up the window and found that the toxic odour was unstoppable.
He drove on attempting not to breathe.
He pulled up much closer to Wills’s house than last night, the young things at the party, as always seemingly able to operate without sleep, had decamped for an early surf of just not to be there when the clean up started, and so the line of cars along the road was much reduced.
He pulled a t-shirt out of the boot of his car and with this providing minimal at best odour reduction, walked down Wills’s driveway.
Within a few steps of doing this he stopped and stared.
A perfect circle of…, well, now that he attempted to form a sentence, he wasn’t sure what the substance was, but continuing inside his head, he saw a perfect brown circle covering the lawn, driveway, deck and roof of Wills’s house.
O’Driscoll had been on the force twenty years and like all beat coppers had a plenty of stories, some tear-squirtingly funny, others that still rankled.
He had seen fires, vomit covered driveway, blood strewn bar rooms, fights, accidents and wild parties, but even he had never seen anything like this.
Whatever THIS was.
O’Driscoll continued to stare and as he did a movement caught his eye.
On the couch, on the deck, a figure was struggling to stand.
The encrusted figure slowly, shakingly gained his feet and like O’Driscoll stared down the lawn.
O’Driscoll, still uncertain, knew one thing with clarity.
He wanted to be a long way from this odour as rapidly as possible.
“HEY!”, he yelled.
The figure on the deck started visibly, then turned and saw O’Driscoll in the driveway.
He began a shaky ascent and as he slipped and slid his way till he stood before the sergeant.
O’Driscoll saw now that it was Wills, and realised from the flecks of toilet paper stuck to his surface among the brown goo what the substance coating every surface was.
O’Driscoll then said a line that would go down in the annals of police folk lore.
“So Mr Wills, how’d this happen?”
He stared the stare of a man who had woken up with a chronic hangover covered in sewage.
He began to speak, but then realised he had nothing to say.
He didn’t know how this had happened.
O’Driscoll waited a few moments and then continued, “Well, however it happened you better start cleaning it up.”
This broke the walls of the little restraint Wills had.
“Clean it up! What are you fucking talking about, I didn’t do this, I’m not cleaning it up.”
“Oh, so you do know who did this?”, O’Driscoll took out his notebook, “would you like to file a complaint against the perpetrators?”
Wills stared wildly around him.
He hadn’t done this, couldn’t this dumbass copper see that?
But then large chunks of the night before were lost to his memory.
Whatever had happened, and whoever had done it, Wills didn’t know.
O’Driscoll waited once more.
“So Mr Wills, can I have a name please?”
Wills shook his head.
Wills shook his head.
O’Driscoll waited again then put his notebook away.
“OK, then I’ll leave you to clean this up. Be aware that following the neighbours complaints you can be cited under the environmental health act if you do not abate the smell and leaking sewage. The maximum fine can be as high as $20,000 per breach, do you understand?”
Wills stared dumbly with bulging eyes at the policeman.
Sometimes there are no words, or more accurately, no language had developed adequate words to describe his immediate situation.
O’Driscoll gave it a few more beats to see if Wills would respond, and then turned on his heel and walked away.
He drove back to the station turned in his car, reported briefly that the explosions on Lasster’s road were fireworks and it was simply a big clean up job up there.
Then drove home and went to bed.
Wills finally regained his deck, found the phone and began calling anyone whose number he had in his phone that had been at the party.
But those he could reach didn’t answer the phone and when he went to leave a message he realised that asking anyone to come and help clean was unlikely to respond to a message saying “there’s shit all over place, can you come and help clean it?”
So he then searched his house for some cleaning materials.
He began at the top of the house and began frantically trying to remove the sewage from his carpet.
Within thirty minutes he had cleared a space a metre square.
He estimated he had a week of cleaning to go.
And so Sunday continued on Lasseter’s Road.
Kellner sat contentedly on his porch and watch the stump burn away, soon it would be small enough to hack up and remove completely from his driveway.
He would wheel barrow in some soil and stones from the boundary of his property and fill the crater.
Then he would be able to pull up to his house, then turn full circle and leave his driveway front on and not face the anxious reversing that had been his such a big part of his driving life before.
He had swept up the broken glass and would replace that as the weeks went by, costly it had to be said, but in general the overarching glow of having removed the stump, quietened his mind.
Additionally, having noticed the smell he had snuck through the trees and watched, hidden from view, O’Driscoll’s interview with Wills.
His hearing was till imperfect, and he hadn’t been able to audit their conversation, but the body language told him all he needed to know.
What’s more the near square acre of faeces spread across Wills residence had provided him with a satisfaction he had never known before.
All Kellner’s frustrations over all those times Wills had refused to turn the music down over all those Saturday nights was now gone, washed away on a tide of sewage.
He hadn’t consciously set out to get revenge, but he had succeeded, all unlooked for, beyond his wildest dreams.
O’Driscoll slept well during a Sunday for the first time in as long as he could remember.
Most Sundays he struggled, with his mind continually churning over the arguments he had had with raving drunks through Saturday night.
But this day he drifted off to sleep with the image of Wills, covered in shit, facing multi-thousand dollar fines and having to clean the lot up on his own, with a raging hangover to boot.
Like Kellner, O’Driscoll had not set out to revenge himself on Wills, but he had been granted a privilege denied so many law enforcers, of seeing one of their tormentors completely reduced to mental and physical rubble.
None of the three men would have said they believed in karma before, but certainly Kellner and O'Driscoll did now.
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