Tracie McBride is a New Zealander who lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children. She is a member of the Melbourne-based speculative fiction writers group SuperNOVA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in over 40 print and electronic publications, including Pulp.Net, Coyote Wild, Abyss and Apex, Space & Time, Sniplits and Electric Velocipede. She won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best New Talent for 2007 and the Williamstown Literary Festival's Seagull Poetry Competition in 2009.
"Did you forget to pay the power bill again, Gary?"
"Um...I dunno. Yeah, maybe..."
"For fuck's sake, Gary, can't you do anything right?"
"If you don't like the way I do things, why don't you do it yourself?"
"Because I shouldn't have to do every-fucking-thing around here, that's why."
"I just took you away for the weekend, didn't I?"
"To Ballarat, Gary. You took me to fucking Ballarat to spend the weekend at your mate Steve's place. Trying to sleep on a fold-out couch in the lounge while you two get plasterered in the kitchen is not exactly my idea of a romantic weekend away."
"Speaking of beer...I could do with one right now."
"Well, there's no use looking in the fridge, because even if there are any in there, they'll be warm because you FUCKING DIDN'T PAY THE POWER BILL!"
"I'll just have a look...holy crap! What crawled in there and died?"
"Shut the door, quick, shut it, you moron! God, that stinks. Right, that's it."
"What are you doing?"
"I'm calling Cheryl to see if I can stay with her for a few days until you get the power back on."
"Don't you mean, 'we'?"
"Cheryl hates your guts. You know that."
"But she puts up with me for your sake."
"Oh, alright. I'll ask her. But you'd better have the power reconnected by Tuesday. And I'm not cleaning out the fridge. It's all your fault, so you can clean it."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever."
It is warm in the fridge. The air inside is ripe and rich, its interior awash with a unique combination of rotting organic matter. Week old pizza is slowly becoming one with its cardboard container. Slimy lettuce leaves merge with a furry zucchini. A long-forgotten bacon rasher turns iridescent with decay. A carton of milk bulges ominously. Had the jar of jam been properly sealed, it might have been immune, but not only has the lid been left loose, but the jar has tipped on its side, its contents oozing out as if it is bleeding.
And then there is light. It is dim and diffuse, and only illuminates the fridge contents for a second or two, but it is enough. The door shuts, and new life begins.
"I can't believe I had to drive you all the way back here to pick up your wallet. Not that there's anything in it, I bet."
"I told you, Gillian - my Metrocard is in it, which is why I couldn't catch the train. I'm going to need that to get to work tomorrow, since you've made it very clear you won't drive me to work."
"Why should I? Cheryl reckons all that stuff you say about reducing your carbon footprint is a bullshit excuse for being too much of a loser to buy your own car. Anyway, I'd have to get up half an hour earlier to get us both to work on time. "
"Yeah, 'cos you need all the beauty sleep you can get..."
"What? I didn't hear what you said."
"Nothing�just talking to myself. Now, where did I leave my wallet...oh, here it is."
"About bloody time. I want to get back to Cheryl's in time to watch Rove."
"Didn't you want me to clean out the fridge?"
"Not now, dickhead! You'll have to come back tomorrow."
Life is simple at first in Fridgeworld, but as the first cells divide and and multiply, they quickly mutate to form more complex organisms. The creatures in the vegetable drawer soon exhaust their food supply. Some of them grow wings to carry them up into the higher reaches of their world, thus granting them a reprieve from extinction. The microscopic monsters spawned by the jam have ferocious appetites, and develop needle-like appendages ideal for sucking the sugars from their prey. The first sour milk-dwelling animal to sprout a flagellum is irresistively attractive to other milkfish, and soon they all bristle with whip-like limbs, navigating easily through their soupy sea. The decomposing pizza is a treasure trove of nutrients, a magnet for browsers, scavengers and predators alike. It gives birth to huge, shambling beasts that would be visible to the naked human eye, were anyone to gaze upon them.
They all co-exist in mindless harmony, eating, sleeping, breeding and dying�until a vegebat and a jamtiger find themselves reaching for the same scrap of mouldy cheese. The vegebat is quicker, and has the obvious advantage of aerial flight. But the jamtiger has two fiendishly sharp weapons protruding from its face, and is the more aggressive of the two. It seems like they are too evenly matched for the conflict to result in anything other than a stalemate.
Then the jamtiger's front paw closes on a projectile. It draws back its limb and throws. The vegebat, struck in the head, spirals lifeless to the ground. The jamtiger abandons the cheese, finding a much richer meal its foe. Hitherto unused synapses fire in its miniscule brain. Later, it breeds, and its offspring share its aptitude for conflict and domination.
It has invented war.
Monday 3.30 pm
"Hello, Steve? It's Gary... Yeah, yeah, nah, good, thanks. Well, no. Not really. I've split up with Gillian. It was kind of mutual... Yeah, you're right, she kicked me out. Usual bullshit�you never have any money, blah, blah, blah, you don't have any ambition, blah, blah, blah, you're always hitting on my friends, blah, blah, blah... No, I only did it once, and I was really drunk at the time... Yeah, Cheryl, the one with the big tits...
"Anyway, I was wondering if you could put me up for a while until I get my shit together... Nah, I've chucked it in, mate. Walked out this arvo. I always hated that job, anyway. Only took it on 'cos Gills was on my case... Yeah, I know, she hates being called Gills. I'm going to call her that all the time now. Gills, Gills, Gills, Gills, Gills... I'm at the flat now, mate. Borrowed my mum's car so I can pick up my things. Thought I'd get in while she's at work and take some of the good stuff. Is there anything you want?... Stereo, yep, yep, I was going to grab that... Flat screen TV, for sure...
"Fridge? Nah, mate, that won't fit in the car. Anyway, the power's been off here for a few days, and it was pretty rank last time I looked. Gills wanted me to clean it, but that ain't gonna happen... Yeah, mate, the shit in there's probably grown legs and walked off by itself by now.
"So I'll see you around 6 o'clock?... Cheers, mate. You're the best."
The other creatures in Fridgeworld are quick to develop defences against the jamtigers, but the jamtigers are even quicker on the offence, finding it more efficient to make the appropriate tools than to adapt their bodies. First to go are the milkfish, dredged out of their sea in nets and devoured in their thousands. Some milkfish grow sharp teeth to cut through the nets, and some come to prefer the lower reaches of the sour milk sea where the nets don't reach, but it is too little, too late. Their numbers dwindle below the critical level for survival.
When the last milkfish dies, it gives the jamtigers a good excuse to tear apart the milk carton and use it to fashion more elaborate weapons. The pizza mammoths are next in their sights. The massive animals take up a lot of space and use a lot of resources, both of which the jamtigers consider would be better put to use supporting themselves. Try as they might, the pizza mammoths cannot grow hide thick enough to withstand the jamtigers' arrows. When the last pizza mammoth falls, it is a cause for great celebration in Jamtiger Town.
Which leaves their oldest, most resourceful opponent, the vegebats. They come at the jamtigers on crystalline wings, their fragile bodies sheathed in almost impenetrable armour. Their weapons are made from chiselled fragments of peach pit, and their bombing campaign sends the jamtigers scrabbling to build adequate defenses.
The leader of the jamtigers orders its team of scientists to be moved to a bunker in the depths of the pizza crust. Shielded from the attacking vegebats, they work tirelessly in their bid to invent the ultimate weapon, one that will wipe out the vegebats once and for all. And just when it the battle is just about to tip irrevocably in the vegebats' favour, one scientist has a Eureka moment. Clacking its face needles together in excitement, it describes its invention to the others. They work as one, constructing a complex series of levers and pulleys and barely contained lethal chemicals that stretches from the bunker to the surface. The jamtiger leader has the honour of flipping the switch.
But they have made a fatal error. In their eagerness to destroy the enemy, they failed to take account of the effect it would have on their own species. The chain reaction, once initiated, is swift and irreversible. Both vegebats and jamtigers pause, mid-battle, to shield their eyes from the blinding light. It is the last thing they will ever do, as all life and substance in Fridgeworld is obliterated.
Tuesday 5.15 pm
"Thanks again, Cheryl, for coming to help. The sooner I move out of here, the sooner I can get my bond back."
"Doesn't look like there's much left to move, Gills."
"What the...that prick! That fucking bastard! He took the T.V! And the stereo! I paid for those!"
"Calm down, Gills, calm down. We know where he's staying. We'll take T.J. and Carl and go up there on the weekend to get your stuff back."
"That's if he hasn't sold it already. Anyway, I'm not taking Carl. I don't want Gary to know I've got a new boyfriend already."
"You mean, you don't want him to put two and two together and figure out that you'd been screwing Carl for weeks before you broke up with him."
"Yeah, yeah, alright. Jees, I thought you were meant to be on my side."
"The fridge is still here. You'll be able to put Carl to use moving that, at least."
"Ew, don't open it, Cheryl. The power's been off for ages, and it's full of rotting food."
"Gotta do it some time. I'll just take a quick peek...looks fine to me. Spotless, in fact. It's got a funny chemical smell, but otherwise it's fine."
"What? That can't be right...well, would you look at that. Gary must have cleaned it before he left. Wonders will never cease."