FUGU


- an epic short story starring

  The Icelandic Love Corporation



By Francis McKee




1


Sunday and Sunday rain, falling in gray sheets

from a low ceiling of dull gray clouds. Joni

looked out across the lane and could see no

signs of life. She stepped out of the house and

walked down to the street. The watchtower

loomed above the parked cars and wet

pavements. An array of electronic eyes swept

over her and Joni shivered. High on the

platform, amid the barbed wire and green

camouflage, she thought she could see a human

blinking in the shadows. Zero contact.

She kept moving - down past the train station,

through the tunnel and up into the dark green

parklands of the hospital. Now she was alert,

looking for small signs, the telltale marks of a

shy recluse. Joni wasn’t hopeful. The sky was

getting darker by the minute and the rain kept

pouring down. She thought of Sigrun and Eirun

back in the flat, dry and warm, more than likely

listening to Gram Parsons and making toast.

Meanwhile, every bone in her body was damp

and chilled, rainwater flooded through the

gutters and there were no obvious trails to follow.

She had already decided to turn and head for

home when she heard the singing.

"Roll, roll, roll ... Roll me over and turn me

around ..."

It was coming from the bin area behind the

ambulance depot. A high-pitched whine

masquerading as song - "this is nummm-ber five

and the bee is in the hiivvve!" Joni approached a

dustbin that was shaking in time to the music

and looked in. The fox, stretched across a black

rubbish bag, looked back and immediately

stopped singing.

"Joni!" he shouted, "How are you?" Soaked, with

her hair clinging to her forehead, Joni appraised

the fox carefully.

"You’re still looking for Mort aren’t you? Still

trying to get your revenge for what he did to

you?", she said.

"Could be. You’ll catch your death here – let’s

get out of the rain."

Climbing out of the dustbin, the fox led the way

to a dry spot under the concrete supports of the

hospital.

"We heard Mort’s in town," said Joni. "He’s been

seen hanging around the Shambles."

"Clouds a drifting across the moon ... Cats a

prowling on their beat ... Spring's a girl in the

street at night ..."

"Pay attention! Aren’t you curious enough?"

snapped Joni. "Eirun heard that you should look

for the leopard man. None of us know what that

means but we thought you might. Now I’m going

home – it’s too wet to stand here listening to you

croak."

The fox watched as she splashed off across the

grounds of the hospital, a bedraggled figure

vanishing into a cold, watery world. He started

singing again as he made his way back to the

bins, "Dirty old town ... dirty old town".



2


"It’s called A Memory of a Geisha. It’s really

interesting."

"But this is something that is supposed to be a

secret or what? It’s a kind of a secret world?"

"It’s not a secret world, but a closed world."

"And how old do you have to be? Can you start

training at any age?"

"They start training the girls when they are six

years old. And they go to schools to learn to play

instruments and dance. And to serve tea – a

special way of serving tea."

"Yeah, but we are also learning to play

instruments and serving tea and coffee. And we

dance –" Sigrun and Eirun stopped as Joni burst

through the door. "I went all the way to see that

– that MONKEY BRAIN! And he just sat there

singing stupid songs and not listening to a

word!" She grabbed a towel and started to dry

her hair furiously.

"I think we need some more toast," said Sigrun,

wielding the breadknife.

"And some jasmine tea," added Eirun.

3

The fox stood outside the locked door of the

Weasel Inn pool hall. This was a long name for a

building that was nothing more than a fortified

shoebox, wrapped in corrugated iron, squatting

in the shadow of one of the area’s largest

watchtowers. A slot in the door opened

cautiously and two eyes peered down at the fox.

"What?"

"Here to see the leopard man," replied the fox.

"Speaking." The eyes moved back from the slot

and revealed a face tattooed with spots and

shoulders with the same markings.

"I was told you can get me to Mort Greaves."

"Could do. Heard you’re a bit of a singer. How

about a few bars of Jolene?"

"Not now. Just give me Mort."

"West Nile and 3rd. Green door, second floor.

And don’t hurt him just because you can."

The fox sighed. People just couldn’t resist. He

turned and walked away from the pool hall.

Above him the electronic eyes of the watchtower

swivelled to track his footsteps. Behind the

corrugated door, Mort stepped down from his

box, shed the tattooed skin and dialled a number

on his mobile.



4


"Are you sure this is the place?" asked Sigrun,

staring up at the black windows of the building.

"It looks completely shut."

"This is the address on the invitation card and

this is today’s date. It must be the right place"

replied Eirun. Joni set off around the side of the

building to find another entrance while Sigrun

tried dialling the number on the card. It was the

answering service for the Nokia sales department.

Eirun, meanwhile, was pressing all the buttons

at the entrance. Suddenly the door buzzed open,

yawning into the darkness. When Joni returned

they entered the building together and, once

they found the stair lights, they headed for the

second floor. The corridor was tiled pale green

and the whole building had a vaguely institutional

air about it. The door to the exhibition space

was open and even from a distance the girls

could see the beam of a projector flickering. So

that explained the darkness from outside. In the

room itself, the projector illuminated the scene

perfectly. Svana was sprawled across the floor,

her throat wide open and a pool of blood haloed

behind her head. The fox was hunched over the

small chicken’s body and at their arrival he

turned – surprised – a feather held aloft in his

paw. It was all terribly simple.



5


Mort folded the newspaper repeatedly until it

was a small, thick square he could easily grip in

one hand. Only the crossword remained visible

and he scanned it expertly, smiling to himself as

he read the clues, filling the boxes with a script

as illegible and coded as a series of scrawled

hieroglyphics on a discarded counting stone,

answering questions that seemed to ask for

more than replies in a daily cryptic quiz: ‘1

across – Is it used to pick out junk in the dark

(7,7)’; ‘25 across – Radioactive element at Etna

is volatile (8)’; ‘7 down – Herds free to roam can

be renewed (9)’. Mort, managing the world

effortlessly, shaping fates and patterning the

future. He paused for a moment and then, with

what seemed particular relish, attacked the final

clue: ‘11 down – dying animal, once upon a

time (7, 8, 9, 10, 11,12, 13, 14, 15, 16)’.



6


Smoke filled the air and the fire alarm was

emitting a deafening squeal. The television,

having exploded a moment before, was still on

fire, its tube radiating a blue wave of light that

enveloped Sigrun, Eirun and Joni. The room

vanished in a white burst of flame and then

reappeared, time jumping like a needle in the

groove. The girls inched along the floor of an

ocean, stingrays and sharks guiding their path.

They stood on mountain tops straining for

oxygen before falling through clouds, hurtling

towards the forests below. And, just as suddenly,

they were back in the room, the smoke clearing,

and the alarm fading to silence.

"Does anybody know what just happened?"

asked Sigrun.

"Spleek burrow twintail flash" replied Eirun.

Sigrun looked at Joni.

"It’s ok. She’s just in shock, I think." As Joni

spoke, she moved around the room carefully

collecting the small fish stranded, twitching and

flailing, among the wreckage.

"And what the hell are they?" continued Sigrun,

 

pointing dramatically at one fish that was

inflating like a ball at her feet.

"Fugu. A fish of the family Tetraodontidae, class

Osteichthyes, order Tetraodontiformes. Blowfish

to the layman. Its liver, gonads and intestines

contain a poison called tetrodotoxin, so powerful

it can shut down the central nervous system in

minutes. The estimated lethal dose for an adult,

a mere one to two milligrams, would fit on a

pinhead."

"I repeat," shouted Sigrun, raising her finger in

emphasis, "Someone tell me what is going on

here!"

"Torafugu poubelled in tongufoss," explained

Eirun. "Amoeba in Las Vegas."



7


The fox was on the run. He’d been set up,

arriving at the address just before the girls,

finding the body and being found with the body,

and then trying to escape. That hadn’t worked

well. He’d thrown himself through the window,

landing on the street below, bruised and covered

in cuts. They’d taken him back to their flat in

silence, Eirun going straight to her bedroom and

slamming the door. Sigrun washed his cuts with

a special soap and applied some bandaids. Joni

gave him a small vodka. Then they left him in

the kitchen and joined Eirun – he could hear her

sobbing through the door and he left as quietly

as he could. They probably realised he’d been

set up but the image of him standing over the

body would take a while to fade. In the

meantime, he could track down Mort though he

now suspected their roles might have changed.

There were no safe houses but he could enter

one of the city’s no-go areas and hope Mort

would at least be more conspicuous if he

followed him in.



8


"Strontium from Strontian. It’s used to line the

cathode tubes in television sets."

"And that caused the blue light?"

"Yeah, and all the collateral juju. Fixed you good

– bust your heartstrings."

"And this way you talk now?"

"Special power – like a super power. I can speak

in tongues and Joni has the power of fugu, an

understanding of the Japanese blowfish."

"I might prepare some later – with ponzu."

"So what are you saying - that you’re mutants

now?"

"Well, superheroes sounds better I think."

"But an octopus has three hearts and that

doesn’t make it a superhero!" "Doesn’t make it a mutant either."

"We might be different because we have the

choice to use our powers for the common good."

"And doesn’t this all mean we need new

costumes?"

"Exactly! I thought we could have black hats

with long ribbons …"

"…and long white robes, like soutanes ...!"

"Do your teeth glow in the dark now?"

"Yes! You too?"

"And what about me?"

"You seem to be exactly the same."

"That’s impossible!" exclaimed Sigrun, falling to

her knees and pounding her breast.

"Well, you can still dress up with us," said Joni,

"And if you don’t mind moving I have to shave

my legs. Superheroes should be smooth ..."

"Do you remember how I always wanted to be

Commissar X, and Joni wanted to be Ms X-Ray?

Well it’s like that," explained Eirun. "And you

always wanted to be Nancy Drew and she was

just a human too."



9


The fox had fallen asleep behind a burnt-out car

on a patch of wasteland. Under the faint sodium

glare of city, he twitched and whined, dreaming

like any other dog. Helicopters swooped past

overhead, their searchlights pinpointing the

columns of deep black smoke rising from the

surrounding landscape. Sirens howled like

crazed banshees, punctuating the perpetual

rumble of unknown machines. And nothing

jarred the dreaming fox.

Across town, the Icelandic Love Corporation

stepped out into the night. They wore tall black

hats, banded with white ribbons that flowed

back in the wind. Under the full moon, their

white robes shone against the darkness of the

lane. Linking arms, they almost seemed to glide

down towards the street. Reaching the

watchtower they stopped for a moment. Joni

reached into a pocket and extracted a small

puffer fish which she tossed, grenade-like, into

one of the tower’s viewing slits. They were

gliding down the street as the tall structure

bellied out, softened to a pink fur and began to

pulsate.

It was going to be a long trip so Mort packed the

small black suitcase this time. There were the

essentials – an extendible wand, a pack of cards

and a shell game. And textbooks: The Saragossa

Manuscript,The Last Testimony of Margery Daw

and Already Dead would be enough. Socks,

underwear, a good pencil and his mobile phone.

Then the more specialised stuff: an ash ra

tempel prayer wheel, exploding eyelashes,

mushrooms and a pair of razor sharp high heels

by Louboutin. He retrieved the mobile to check

on the progress of things while he rummaged for

a good set of noumenal callipers.

By the time the Love Corporation reached the

wasteland, the fox was awake, bound and

suspended by the tail from a tree that had

sprung up beside the car wreck. Upside down

and spinning slowly, he glimpsed the luminous

image of three white witches seemingly floating

in the distance. Then something that looked like

a fish flew past and landed in the branches. He

could have sworn it winked at him as it went by.

The tree promptly sprouted velvet fingers, untied

him and set him on the ground before walking

off in the direction of the noisiest sirens. Mort

appeared, setting down a small black case, with

a certain amount of weariness thought the fox.

Opening the case, he withdrew a prayer wheel

and began to utter a chant – "come in on the

freakyfluky, rain down your fire …"

"Musha ring dumma do damma da!" countered

Eirun immediately. Mort dropped the prayer

wheel and gripped the fox’s head in a strange

set of callipers. The fox watched the stars melt

and stain the sky. Sigrun advanced brandishing

a pistol but Mort just laughed as she fired. The

bullet vanished on impact, indifferent to the

moment. Suddenly, Sigrun understood and

threw the revolver to the ground. She turned

slowly as if picking up her shotgun from a table.

Facing Mort, she pulled what would have been

the trigger and was knocked back by what would

have been the recoil from the gun. The fox fell,

thankfully, to the ground as Mort exploded in a

hail of sparks like a giant firework.



10


"So that was your special power – the power of

mime," remarked Eirun as they made their way

back through the streets with the fox.

"I still feel bad though, shooting him. Even if it

was Mort and even if it was mime," said Sigrun.

"If he’s still out there I don’t think he’ll forgive

me. I don’t even know if I can forgive myself."

"Remember when we spoilt the milk in France

we asked it for forgiveness."

"But we don’t know if the milk did forgive us –

we’ll never know ..."

"Well, we can only do what we can do." While

they talked, the inconspicuous fox walked over

to a garbage truck and jumped in the back as it

disappeared around the corner.



Francis McKee will be editing a book with The Icelandic Love Corporation as a NIFCA collaboration with Diamond Heart Projects.


This story was first printed

in NIFCA info, 1/2002.

See www.nifca.org