The Cypher Revolution
When a radical Grandmother takes up cudgels against an insensitive and indifferent establishment
It began with tea and tears. Sophie sat at Gran’s kitchen table alternately sobbing and sniffling while Gran kept the tea coming.
‘'What am I going to do, Gran? How am I going to pay the rent and everything?'’
Gran was used to Sophie catastrophising and calmly said, ‘’So what exactly did the manager say?’’
Sophie’s voce was angrier and surer now. ‘’He said that with the new self-service checkout machines they didn’t need as many staff, so I wouldn’t be getting any more shifts until the next vacancy comes up. Bastard!’’
Gran thought ‘’Well, you could start by getting that useless husband of yours off the couch and out looking for a job’’ but said ‘’Let me think about it. We’ll find a way. Now, wash your face and go home to your family.’’
After Sophie left, Gran took a glass of wine out onto the back veranda and, as she gazed at her immaculate flower beds, she thought about what could be done.
Sophie’s mother was Gran’s eldest daughter, Alice. Alice claimed to have ‘found herself at last’ with a tarot-reading non-binary woman somewhere up near Byron Bay and had changed her name to Essence. Last heard of she was training to be a Reiki therapist, by correspondence. So, no point in asking her to help out. Sophie’s father was a mystery, even to Alice, courtesy of her teenage penchant for priapic wannabe rock musicians.
A plan began to take shape. In her university days, Kate (now universally known as Gran) had been a student radical, organising protest marches and boycotts and thinking about a career in politics with the Labor Party. A few months of factional infighting and rampant sexism lifted the scales from her eyes and she returned to concentrating on her studies in Law, with the hope of making a difference for disadvantaged clients. But she took Ken, a carpenter and union organiser, with her and by the time three kids had arrived her energy for saving the world had gone into hibernation and now only emerged when one of her tribe was threatened. Losing Ken to brain cancer when he was 40 had hardened her and made her all the more determined to protect her brood.
Far from a Luddite when it came to technology, she hit her email list, filled them in on Sophie’s story and arranged the first ‘meeting’ of what was to become ‘We Are One’. The ‘meeting’ was held where Sophie had worked at the local Cheap ‘n’ Fresh supermarket.
In fact, it consisted of two synchronised meetings. Members of the first group each collected a large trolley, filled it to overflowing with randomly selected items and presented at the traditional check-out queues. Simultaneously, another group did likewise but entered the self-service checkout corral. There they laboriously scanned each item, including large bags of apples, which they weighed and checked individually. It was not long before there was a logjam at the ‘Not OK Corral’, so legitimate customers headed for the now burgeoning queues at the two checkout desks that were open.
The manager leapt into action at one of the tills, while the deputy manager frantically rang on-call staff to see if they could come in, only to find Sophie and many of her friends were not answering or were ill.
When the checkouts were almost all open, Kate blew a whistle and the crews assembled for afternoon tea at the rival Colworths supermarket café, having left their laden trolleys unscanned and blocking the aisles. The staff at the café there had heard about what had happened down the street and laughed heartily, little knowing that it would be their turn very soon.
The next morning, Sophie’s bother, Luke, rang Kate and said excitedly ‘‘Gran, you’re a legend. You’re all over Arsebook and Twanker.’’
‘’Language, Luke. But that’s excellent. Now for Phase 2.’’
‘’The ultimatum. And more fireworks. But I need your help. You’re a nerd. How do I set up a fake email account?’’
Luke laughed. ‘’You don’t, Gran. I do. I’ll call with the details later. Right after I get you a burner phone. This is so cool. I’ve been bored stupid.’’
Gran imagined Luke bored but never stupid. He was practically born with a screen in his hand and had a special technology gift, but he couldn’t stomach the idea of working for a company and freelance was a very episodic income.
The email to the manager of the local Cheap ‘n’Fresh was succinct. ‘’We Are One. Remove the self-serve checkouts immediately or we will send you broke.’’
The email to her local MP and the mainstream media was longer but short enough to allow her to drip feed then over coming weeks.
‘’The Government claims to want full employment but stands idly by as corporations shed jobs to machines. The Government then demonises the victims and rewards the greed of corporations, by punishing the unemployed and the under-employed for not applying for non-existent jobs. No more. We refuse to be cyphers. We will be counted, and we will counter. We Are One. And this is just the beginning.’’
What happens when Weasel and Cronk enter Curan's abode in search of valuables?
As soon as they arrived at that town, they constantly lost track of where they were. It was only when Weasel and Cronk emerged into the morning fog that they noticed what a dump they had spent the night in, with its broken-down signs and peeling paint. Cronk had been too beaten up the previous night to notice anything, so Weasel put him to bed. Unable to sleep himself, he talked to the man behind the counter and his wife. They told Weasel about the Curan.
“The Curan lives in a huge temple in the middle of town,” said the wife.
“No,” said the husband. “He’s dead. He’s been dead for years.”
“That’s what some people say,” said the wife. And maybe he is dead, but then who rings those bells at night?”
“Probably just some kids who sneaked in there,” said the man.
“Maybe he’s a ghost,” said the wife.
“Well, no one goes there anymore, and that is good.”
“Something strange is in there. Sometimes someone disappears. There has been talk about that place.”
“I’m telling you no one goes there. And that’s the way it should be.”
It all sounded like bullshit to Weasel. He decided to see if that temple had anything valuable the next morning.
Weasel and Cronk had been friends since childhood. Weasel loved pranks, putting bags of cow manure in the school swimming pool, and joyriding in the teachers’ cars. Cronk was big and dumb, with an unassuming appearance. Bullies would underestimate Cronk and discover, too late, that he had a ferocious temper. Cronk had left a trail of black eyes and broken arms through his years at school. Midway through secondary, they were both expelled. Then they were thrown out of their homes. Cronk was lost, but Weasel took him in and the two made their way together.
Weasel found that putting Cronk into cage matches brought out an insane fury in him, just like the school playgrounds. Prize money soon followed. Nevertheless, a bad night of fighting and a shortage of funds could still happen. Stripping a few items out of the Curan’s temple sounded like easy money to Weasel.
The temple was grandiose, and centuries old. It had high walls, ugly statues, and towers. The front wall of the temple had paintings of people hung by their wrists, or driven through with pikes, or burnt alive. The gate had a massive arch, like an ancient mountain. People outside walked by, focused on their own business and urgent destinations. No one took notice of the gate. Once Weasel and Cronk crossed onto the grounds, the people stopped taking notice of them too.
They pushed through a maze of vines, walls and cacti. Stones held words of an inscrutable language. Cronk tripped on a statue that looked like a bat. He howled and proceeded to kick it until it broke off its pedestal.
They pulled open a heavy door of rotting wood that reached up twice as tall as Cronk and went in. They could see nothing, and after the door closed behind them, everything went black. Their eyes slowly became accustomed to the darkness. The stench of rot and shit assaulted their noses as they passed from the foyer into the sanctuary. Shafts of colored light bit through the dusty air. Shadows and silhouettes distracted the eye. Statues and murals, showing more gruesome deaths, filled the head with notions.
Cronk lifted the end of a pew and let it drop with a boom that echoed across the darkness. "What the hell is this place?" he said.
"Dunno," Weasel said. "Why don't you make yourself useful and find something valuable?"
Weasel looked at the surrounding art and remembered similar things deep in his childhood. He considered trying to figure it out but dismissed that idea. No one could ever understand all that bullshit.
Walking up the center aisle, they saw movement in the shadows. Hideous little creatures with horns darted about. Some looked ancient. Some walked about aimlessly, bowing and whispering. Many were biting the frames of paintings, stripping the gold-leafed decorations from the tops of the pillars. Some made threatening gestures.
Cronk's voice quivered. "Hey Weasel—there's things moving in here."
"I see 'em, Cronk. Just keep your cool. They ain't bothering us, and I wanna see if there's anything good here."
In the back of an alcove, partially hidden by a statue, was a door. It had been built-over many times, in many styles. The most recent rebuild was simple, white and dirty. Portions of the older frames had been beaten off. If there was going to be anything interesting, it would be through that door.
Weasel pushed, but the door did not open. He turned to his friend. “Hey buddy, do ya mind? Cronk put his shoulder to the wood, and with a yielding crunch, the door collapsed. The two stepped inside.
The delicate scent of sweet incense replaced the stench of where they had just been. Candles burned in isolated shelves, delicate points of light in the dark. Shadows flitted like ghosts. Almost invisible, an old man in a black cassock and a clipboard was placing a skull on the shelves, which held hundreds of bones of various shapes. Some of the skulls had horns. Some did not. The man was hunched over, like an upside-down letter ‘J.’ Weasel figured this man must be the Curan. The top of his head began to hurt.
The Curan turned to Weasel. His motions were slow and deliberate. Anywhere else, and Weasel would have easily put him on the floor with a jab to the stomach, but this man would not hurry, even for a couple of punks who had just burst in on him. Why was this man not shocked? Weasel was uneasy, wondering what the Curan knew that he did not. The old man peered at them with a pair of squinty eyes that gave no hint of fear. His face was placid as a cloud.
The smell of the incense was making Weasel woozy. He cleared his throat.
"Did you know you have creatures wrecking things out there?" he asked.
"No," the Curan said. “Thank you and good day."
"But we saw them. They're destroying this building of yours."
"No. Nothing is there. Nothing at all. Good day." The Curan’s voice expressed the utmost of confidence. It was a deep voice, a nice voice, a mesmerizing voice.
"I guess you're right," said Cronk from behind Weasel. "Nothing is there. Nothing at all." Weasel looked back at Cronk. The big man’s eyes looked like silver coins and his arms hung limp at his sides. Two horns were sprouting out of the top of his head. Blood trailed through his bushy eyebrows and onto his face.
The pain in Weasel’s own head became excruciating. He put his hands up and felt two horns breaking out of his skull. When he brought his hands down, he saw red on his fingertips.
The Curan had gone back to his clipboard and the skulls. Weasel staggered back. He tripped over a dusty old ottoman and fell. "Cronk! It’s time to get outta here!" Weasel got to his feet. Cronk peered straight ahead, still and stupefied, like a rock that had just crashed onto the floor.
Weasel ran back through the room filled with creatures and hurled himself onto the front door. He shoved hard and barely squeezed out to the garden. The sunlight blinded him, but he staggered to the gate. His heart pounded as he waited for Cronk, but the big man never made it. As Weasel rejoined the people walking on the sidewalk, he felt the top of his head. The horns were receding with each step he took.
Weasel guessed that if anyone saw the Curan again and asked about the creatures in his building, he would still deny their existence.
While he walked, he ached more than he had anticipated at the loss of Cronk. He did not know what he would do without his friend. They had known each other since first grade, but now Cronk was gone, and there was no way Weasel was going back in there after him.
Weasel continued walking. The sidewalks had less trash on them, and the buildings became newer. Then he forgot about the Curan and the temple. Amidst the skyscrapers and noise, he lost his way yet again, and Cronk vanished too.