30 Hours in Hooverville: The First Hour
An Explanation of Sorts
The ensuring chaos is the result of a November writing experiment by the h2g2 Post. Each volunteer has accepted the role of a citizen of Hooverville, a highly fictional town somewhere in western Pennsylvania, not too far from Punxsutawney. Like Punxsy itself, Hooverville is a magical place, where the two loudest sounds to be heard are the organ in the First Church of Nighthoover and Fireman Fred's fire siren.
The action, such as it is, takes place over a period of 30 hours, beginning at midnight on 1 November. Going in, none of us knows what will happen – not even the cats, of which it appears we have quite a few.
These are our stories.
Chapter 1: Midnight-1 am (First Day)
The big clock tower on the Hooverville courthouse chimes midnight. Oddly – or perhaps not – it sounds just like Big Ben. Only smaller, of course. The courthouse is only 213 feet high, compared to 315 feet for Big Ben.
The Hooverville clock strikes midnight. Immediately afterward, the organ in the First Church of Nighthoover begins its midnight concert with a clarion call that bounces off the Carpenter Gothic rafters and spills out into the lamplit street.
That is, Wladislaw Winzekowski is practising, and he figures the town might as well enjoy. He can be heard for several blocks down Main Street – farther, if the wind is blowing in the right direction, there aren't too many motorbikes in town, and the fire siren isn't blaring.
Wlad finds the old pipe organ eminently suitable for the Nighthoover church, because when turned on, its bellows sounds exactly like a vacuum cleaner. A very large, sonorous, and entirely spiritual vacuum cleaner, mind. It's a...satisfying sound, rather like the New Ashmolean Marching Society and Students' Conservatory Band. And like that band, it is sometimes best appreciated at a distance if one is analytical, sensitive, or critical.
Wlad plays to enrich the spiritual aura of Hooverville. He plays to edify the town. He also plays to soothe the troubled spirits, who sometimes come to listen. Often, Wlad is so engrossed in his music-making that he doesn't even see the ghosts. See if you can spot one in the next musical selection.
Wlad is a night owl, and he enjoys practising after dark, when Sandy Beeches, the pastor of the First Church of Nighthoover, isn't on the premises. This subjects his selections to fewer pastoral criticisms. Also, there is no one in the Fellowship Hall downstairs who could be disturbed by the sound of the bellows. After all, when one plays an organ, one plays the whole building.
Wlad shifts to some Early American Sacred Harp melodies. In spite of his name, Wlad himself is an Early American, with deep roots in the country's heritage. His original ancestor came over from Poland during the American Revolution alongside the legendary Casimir Pulaski, father of the American cavalry. In spite of his illustrious forebears' riding prowess, Wlad is hopeless on a horse. Horses treat him with contempt. Wlad would much rather play organ, or piano, or anything with keys. Keys behave respectfully and do what they're told.
He finishes off with a suitably meditative tune,
'Restoration'. It sounds a bit gloomy, but after all, he IS Polish. Besides, the ghosts seem to like it. The atmosphere is turning distinctly surreal up in the old choir loft.
By the time he's done playing, one thing is certain: there are no mice left in the organ. Combining high culture with pest control is a specialty of his.
'It's a good thing I wasn't in bed trying to sleep,' grumbles Arsenio Philpotts as he arrives in front of the No-Bull China Shop after a long drive from the Blemnox Estate, where he attended a Halloween party. He doesn't care if Wlad continues playing for another hour, as the Amazon drones and UPS elves have left quite a lot of packages on his doorstep.
What doorstep? It can't be seen, that's how much stuff is covering it up.
Arsenio carves out a pathway so he can get his shop door open and put the Halloween dinnerware patterns into storage in the attic above his apartment, which is above the shop. This takes about thirty minutes.
Then he uses an efficient cutter to slice open the first of the boxes on the steps. He hates those so-called packing peanuts, so he specifies wadded up newspapers instead. There will be quite a pile of them anyway.
The first pattern is the 2019 collector's plate for Spode's 'Christmas tree' pattern. Customers will be sure to want these, as the design this year is pretty cool: white snowflakes set against a dark background, with some holly here and there.
The second box contains some new turkey plates that he has ordered from France. Of all the Thanksgiving plates he has seen, these seem the most attractive. Amazingly, they are quite affordable.
The third box is something of a gamble. The plates have turkeys *and* Christmas trees *and* Indian corn. Sort of nailing three holidays all at once, but not in a garish or overly clever manner. The design is naturalistic, a simple outdoor scene with icicles hanging from an evergreen tree, Indian corn sticking out of a light coating of snow, and a turkey in the background, foraging for food.
'We'll see how well this sells,' Arsenio says to himself, realizing that an hour has passed and the carillon has faded away.
'Maybe I can get some shuteye,' he says, yawning as he locks the fornt door and trudges up the stairs to his bed..
I used to enjoy my own company, have always been a bit of a loner, could amuse myself for hours. Happy with just my bike and my thoughts.
But, and this is a biggy, I would not wish seven years trapped inside your own mind on my worst enemies- not even volleyball players!
The three things I loved most in life got me through those dark years.
My bike, for instance. I rebuilt that Triumph so many times, in so many different ways, my mind caressing the remembered feel of steel and tools. Once rebuilt, memories of roads travelled, sights seen, bike rallies and runs replayed in minute detail, treasuring the memory of wind in my face.
Then there was the music, lyrics and tunes recalled, catalogued and replayed, over and over, a constant seven year loop of rock, country and Heavy Leslie, the soundtrack to my darkness.
And, always, there was Caroline, dear sweet, crazy, sexy Caroline!
Days would pass as I remembered each minute detail of her face. Every minute of our togetherness relived in spectacular detail, my mind tormented by the lack of her touch, the sound of her voice, the remembered warmth of her body, pressed into my back as the Triumph roared along remembered roads to a remembered soundtrack.
Of course I'd been written off. No use in hanging on to the idea that this wreck of a man would be coming back any time soon, move on , forget the past, there is no future!
Seven years, but I proved them all wrong!
Coming out of the coma, feeling and seeing the world again, was beautiful, my life could be rebuilt, my bike could be rebuilt, Heavy Leslie was still in the charts ; I could even live with the close cropped haircut they'd given me after the operation, I'd miss my long hair, but still, all was sweet.
All except the love of my life was gone, heartbroken at the thought of me lost to her forever, she'd taken the advice of the doctors and volleyball players and moved on, moved away, started a new life.
I honestly couldn't blame her, wondered how long I would've hung around if it was her in that bed?
As I set about rebuilding my life, my broken heart wished her nothing but happiness, wherever she may be.
Caiman Raptor Elk:
Look at me...
Red hair, moustache to accommodate two servings of soup, snoring like a pig. The big brass bell on my nightstand has left me at peace for the last few hours. Turnout gear is scattered in a sort of ready manner on the floor.
My beloved Paula is enjoying this temporary low tide in the flow of disaster, doing what is to be expected from a born Romanov under these circumstances.
Meanwhile, my dreams are replaying the opening party of my dear Anna's unreal estate agency. Might have been overdoing it on the fizzy stuff there. Well, we'll see in the morning how bad it really is. Or in the night for that matter. That is what that bloody big brass bell is for after all. Anna had been going on about the providence of our choice of her middle names, Charlotte Quirine, given the line of work she is in now. It might just be a self-fulfilling prophecy though. Names have always been important in the Ireland family, just like my own. Fred the fifth. Hereditary fire commander of Hooverville.
Must not forget to ask my brother Ted to pop new rubber around those rims. Can't have a flat tire on the Big Red Kenny when duty calls. Pop would never look me in the eye, ever again, if anything would happen to his Kenny. Fred the third got that truck new for his son, to replace the horse jerky drawn pump wagon. Saved every penny for it. Now Kenny is part of the family, only recently joined by his younger brother, Pete. For those not in the know, Kenny is the secret fifth Kenworth 751 fire truck. The other four were ordered by the PFD, back in 1951, but the dyslectic lettering man put RED on this one instead. Due those the two extra bits, they couldn't sell it to the PFD anymore, despite the accurate description it gave. Well, let's just say a big 'thank you' to the man...
Now let's just hope that that incessant organ night-play doesn't set set the %$#! thing on fire through friction, or we will surely get an even louder one in its place. Maybe I'll go and play a bit with the fire siren in the morning, to restore cosmic balance and to send the darn mice back to where they belong.
Sheriff Rowdybush is startled awake by the clarion call from the First Church of Nighthoover and realises he had fallen asleep on the sofa again while a Quiz Show on the television burbled away in front of him.
He turns the TV off and heads into the kitchenette to make toast, as it is four hours since he had had dinner so he is hungry again. While waiting for the toaster to finish, he fetches the pot of bramble jelly and a butter knife, then goes to put his pyjamas on. He hears the 'pop' of the toaster and hurries back to the kitchenette, carefully spreads the jelly on the toast to the exact thickness for perfection (closer to very thin than thick), and then resumes his seat on the sofa to consume the snack. The organ music continues drifting on the breeze and he is soothed by the sound.
After a quick trip back to the kitchenette for a glug of orange juice and milk Sheriff Rowdybush completes his evening ablutions (brushing teeth, toileting and so on) and gets into bed, falling asleep to the sound of 'Restoration'.
He has a short nightmare about trying to write a police report, desperately trying to convince an alien detective that he has finished, even though the report is only five pages long, while the detective keeps asking for more. The dream doesn't wake him up and he manages to change the scenario to one in which he is patrolling the street in front of the Police Station in the fresh air on a pleasantly warm day while the alien detective sits in a cell inside the Police Station writing reports that emerge through the bars on the window of the cell like a concertina of paper from an old dot-matrix printer. He then drifts into a sounder sleep.
Sandy Beeches was dreaming about his sweet late wife when the late night organ session wakened him. He chastised himself for thinking uncharitable thoughts about the organist. The man was a genius and could really get the ancient organ to play. He should have thought about why the rent on his house was so cheap. This new assignment in Hooverville might not be the restful one he had imagined. He wished his lovely wife could have been with him, Sally would have loved this place.
He took a shower and put on jeans and a flannel shirt and light jacket and started outside to see what was going on downtown on Main Street. He did not see anyone about so he started looking in shop windows. He made a note to check out the bookstore when it opened later. He was impressed by the huge bags of trash in front of the china shop. I hope the trash men come today. The sidewalk was almost completely covered.
Sandy went over to the park in front of city hall and sat down in the gazebo to listen to the last of Wlad's concert from a less ground zero perspective. You can enjoy it more from a distance and you do not see what effect is having on the plaster in your living quarters. It also usually frightens the deer away from their nightly foraging of porch flowers, much to the porch owners' delight.
After the last piece was performed, Sandy got up and returned to his apartment with the hope of dreaming of Sally once more.
Tavaron da Quirm:
'Constable Wilson yawned and looked at his watch. Four hours now and the most interesting thing that had happened was a fight between two cats further down the street. He was just about to go back to reading the paper in the dim moonlight that came through the window of his car, when he noticed a movement...'
As the bells across the street strike, Wilhelmina Schreckenghast looks up from her book with a start. Was it really midnight already? She takes a look at the clock on her nightstand – yes indeed.
'I'm afraid we won't finish this today, Cassy', she says and yawns. The black cat in her lap looks up sleepily. She stands up, arches her back, stretches and looks at Wilhelmina expectantly.
'Look, I know I said we'd find out about who picks up the mysterious crates from the warehouse. How should I know that he'll go on rambling about the food at the canteen for so long?'
Wilhelmina makes a point and closes the book, which makes the cat give her a last – rather annoyed – look and jump off the bed. Wilhelmina turns off her reding light and the apartment above the Waffelhaus goes dark. With a sigh Wilhelmina lies down on her pillow and snuggles into her blanket when suddenly a noise gives her a start again. The sound of church's organ blares though the streets. Wilhelmina grunts and turns around. She values the service of the organist but still...
As Cassy jumps up to the window sill the curtain moves and for a moment a beam of light falls into the dark bedroom. It illuminates a black dress and pointed hat with a wide brim hanging at the wardrobe. It had been a busy evening for Wilhelmina. She had a number of guests for the annual Halloween dinner. As usal the ladies from the knitting club had booked the large table in the corner. They were especially fond of the cake which was this year decorated with intricate spider nets and spiders. Of course there were also lots of trick-or-treaters knocking at the door of the wafflehouse, because Wilhelmina's home-made sweets are always much sought after.
For a while Wilhelmina lies awake, listening to the sound of the organ until at some stage she dozes off.
Downstairs in the Waffelhaus everything is quiet. The carved pumpkins still illuminate the windows with their flickering led lights (the café isn't supposed to become a case for Fred Ireland after all). Only the jungle of pot plants slowly moves in a non-existant breeze. An amazingly exotic orchid slowly nods its purple flower. A bunch of lush green ferns shivers.
Wynken De Woordesmyth squirms. There's that diabolical tuft of dry grass again, poking into his lumbar area through the entire infrastructure of the ground sail of the tent, the thin foam rubber mat and the sleeping bag. 'I should just splurge and get myself one of those fancy inflatable mattresses', he thinks. 'But I also need the new guide to the fungi of the Appalachians. Mattress … fungi … mattress fungi.' The mattress fungus is huge, broad, billowing, soft and a warm glowing orange. He jumps up and down on it a few times, ejecting clouds of spores all around him, pink and poofy clouds, sweetly scented. He squeals with delight and tumbles down on the mattress fungus onto his back; he sinks into its softness …
Again the tuft of grass grates at his back. The mattress fungus disappears in a puff of spores.
He tries shifting an inch or two to his right. But that brings him straight over a jagged stone.
He sighs, turning onto his side. Success … he now fits in between the grass tuft and the stone. He folds his pillow double and props it under his head.
'This isn't too bad; I can handle this.'
He hopes he can fall asleep soon. He wants to get up before sunrise next morning to go hunt for spectral orchids. They flower for only a brief few hours in the morning, only over a period of one week, starting tomorrow. Last season Wynken was able to find twenty-five. Down from thirty-two the year before. 'I'd better get more this year. There'd better be more...'
He snuggles into his bag, twiddles his toes. It can get nippy up here in Poacher's Gorge, but he's feeling toasty right now.
He listens to the night sounds. Pattydidn'ts are chirping. A little anvilfrog is tink-tinking merrily. 'Say, Pete, Areyoualright?' goes a Greater Eastern Horned Nighthawk. And way in the distance, the dulcet chords of a church organ …
With hypnagogic visions of vast herds of fleeing dear, Wynken finally drifts off to dreamland.
They are standing at the edge of a cliff, the sun is setting, he is holding his backpack out to her, despair in his eyes, tears in hers.
'Sarah, dearest daughter... I have to tell you...'
The wind is whilrling around them, almost drowning his voice.
'Always remember this... You must never, ever...'
She sits up, sweating, breathless. This time, she was almost there... If only she hadn't been woken by the organ screaming... But it's midnight, of course. 'The organ plays at midnight', that sounds like a good title for a thriller. Mind you, it might turn into a murder story...
She's been trying for so long, in her dreams, to remember... She has to remember, but it's always just a little out of her reach.
She gets out of bed. Sleeping is out of the question now anyway, not until the (so-called) music stops.
Out of the bedroom and up into the attic. The old wardrobe was already there when she bought the house. She opens the doors, reaches in. The backpack. The only thing she has left of her father. She found it on her doorstep one morning when she opened the shop. Not a note, not a clue as to how and why it had been dropped there. Not a clue either as to where he might be, where he'd been all those years, or where he was going.
So she kept it, as a relic, as a precious memory. Maybe one day he'll come back for it. In the meantime, she looks after it, inspecting it regularly, keeping an eye out for moth holes and making sure the treasure inside doesn't spoil.
She opens it, gently, slowly. Everything is in order. Good.
She puts it back into the wardrobe, and closes the door. All is well. From the attic, she finds she can enjoy the music. So she decides to stay up there a while longer. As usual.
She crosses the room to the armchair she placed under the vasistas last year. Grabs the shawl from the footstool and wraps it around her shoulders. Sits down, comfortable. Soon the clock will strike one o'clock. She might get back to bed then. Or she might just sleep in the armchair. It's become a habit, and that's all right.
The moon is shining through the window, or maybe it's a street lamp. Or the headlights of a witch's broom.
She's drifting off again now. She tries to send herself back to the cliff's edge again, hoping that maybe this time, she'll hear the words. Every night she hopes. When she was a child, they always said if you want something hard enough, if you ask Him to give it you, with all your heart, Nighthoover grants it to you. It's never worked so far. Then again, hope can't hurt. Well, not much anyway...
Yawn. I think I'll call it a night.
Lola takes off her glasses, saves the document, and turns off the computer.
She rolls her chair away from the desk, gets up and walks to the bathroom.
Toothbrush, toothpaste, brushy brushy.
Bedroom, pyjamas, lights off. The music has stopped. Pity. She was so engrossed in her writing, she didn't hear it. Oh, well, there's always tomorrow night...
Dmitri Gheorgheni (for editing)