Travelling Man

Published in Dark Mountain: Issue 7 and Walking on Lava: Selected Works for Uncivilised Times
is a frequent contributor to Dark Mountain books with her speculative poems and micro-fictions. She holds a degree in biology and is an avid field naturalist and performance poet. She has been known to win ornithological swag in competitive birdwatching events on Vancouver Island.

The Travelling Man rolled into town in his painted-up wagon pulled by two stout fir trees. Yes, you and I know that trees are sessile and cannot pull a peanut, let alone a 900-pound caravan, across the landscape. It must be some sort of trick. And indeed it was. The Travelling Man’s engineers had laid a concealed metal track four inches beneath the earth along the main wagon road joining all the towns. At each end of the track, a steam-powered winch was hidden in a hen house. The engineers had worked away night after night with sound-deadening Teflon shovels while the townsfolk slept. The lips of the incision in the earth pressed themselves together like a kiss. They parted only briefly when the tree-platform’s wheels slid through on the sunken rails.

The sight of a wagon pulled by fir trees filled the townsfolk with awe. Hearts quickened. Jaws gaped. They had heard rumours, but who could believe? ‘Anyone who can harness the stasis of forests to get some useful work out of the damn things… Hells bells! Let’s see what else he’s got on board!’ (This reaction had been predicted by the Travelling Man’s market research team, who had been required to sign non-disclosure agreements.)

He stopped his wagon in the middle of Main Street. The town’s children raced in from all corners. Their porcelain skulls, thin as wasp nests, bobbed on C1 vertebrae like bright buds beneath their shiny skin and hair.

‘Will it bite me?’ asked a freckle-faced girl as she reached out to stroke the tree’s craggy bark. (Trees of such magnitude had not been seen ‘round these parts for quite some while.)

‘Course it won’t bite you, darlin’! Trees don’t bite,’ laughed the Travelling Man, who had donned his gleaming prosthetic smile at the outskirts of town to hide his teeth, blackened from years of betel-chewing.

The townsfolk followed their children, crowding around the caravan. Brilliantly coloured long-tailed birds were painted on the doors on one side. With a flourish and a piano chord from somewhere, The Travelling Man swung open the doors to show off his wares. ‘Plenty for everyone!’ he announced.

Gasps rippled through the crowd as the townsfolk marvelled at what they saw (although they understood none of it). They each held out cupped hands to receive their gift. For that was the genius part – the Travelling Man’s miracles were free. The blacksmith went away with a small cough. His neighbour took home an arrhythmia. The freckle-faced girl was given a shadow no bigger than a quail egg on her brain.


Walking on Lava: Selected Works for Uncivilised Times

Essential paperback collection of essays, fiction, poetry, interviews and artwork, selected from the first ten issues of Dark Mountain. COPIES ON ORDER


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