Dear readers, tonight we have a truck-driver from 22nd century Australia, who in a freak surfing accident got infected with a sentient alien substance. We caught him talking to Trucker & Jockey magazine, describing life post-infection while trying to avoid a rather persistent ex-girlfriend.

Tardi: You’re from the Trucker & Jockey magazine? Well met! I was a trucker once, with TLC, a family company. My dad and brother ran the workshop, and I drove our old Mack and jockeyed our live-mind freighter. Hope you’re recording all this? I also surfed for Virtual Surfing. Check me out on their website, they still have me in the sensor-suit surfing the actual waves and voice-overing the rides. My pay from them allowed me to rent in Watego’s Wall on Byron Cape, still a hot-shot tourist destination. Yes, formerly Byron Bay.

Me in the past? Oh, my name. My parents intended to register me as ‘Trader.’ The old man can’t spell and neither can I. Learning to write my name, I transformed it into ‘Tardi.’ They did an about-face on names when my brother Steve was born five years later. But Steve. Oh man. My brother and my burden. He drowned and I couldn’t save him. And Herm wouldn’t let him go. Don’t ask me more about Steve, mate. I’ll be tearing-up for the rest of the day. The landscape? Look outside. Boat-ways instead of streets. Major roads on stilts. Get up on one of them and in the distance you’ll see Wollumbin, a world-famous volcanic plug. Nearer at hand is the pimple called Chincogan. The Koonyum Ranges hunker at the back of the valley. And there are the trees, more than ever.

My kid-sized surfboard was absolutely my favourite thing when I was a kid. My dad taught me the basics. And there’s my cherished memory, him waist deep in the sea, pushing me off. Fishing me out when I fell. He’d plonk me back up on the board half-drowned, and push me off again. Remembering him then—like that—makes me feel warm in my heart, you know? You’re asking what I do now? Good question that I don’t know the answer to. On we go to one of my latest adventures.

Rowan: “Mph. You? Adventuring? I wish.”

Tardi: “Rowan, for Pete’s sake. Give it a rest. We broke up months ago. Hey Cy, good to see you’re still in charge.”

Cy, publican: “Seeing as we’re all holed up together in the Gondola, one of the premier eating and drinking places in town, we might as well wet our whistles. Ale for you, Tardi my man?”

Tardi: “Thanks be to you, Cy. Adventuring is thirsty work.”

Ben: “What’s with serving the Tree-man first? We should shoot him and all the rest like him.”

Cy: “Nothing for you until you put the gun down, son. (Grrr-grrrr-grrrr) And drat it, boy. You’re aggravating Tardi’s dog. Easy. Easy. Be a good dog and I’ll find you a bone.”

Tardi: “He’s not mine. He decided to come along. I call him Argie.”

Trucker & Jockey: “A cyborg dog?”

Tardi: “He’ll have had alien input, I suspect, because of that silvering. Argie and I were up on the ranges yesterday. As we came up to the Loreno Picnic place, we heard an almighty stoush of barking and growling, a woman shouting, and a little kid wailing. I dropped my pack and grabbed up a knobby tree-branch, ran into the fray, Argie beside me. The animals were the baskervilles, six of the critters. The woman and child were Del and Lilly Loreno. Del had held them off, but was tiring. Six of the critters. Argie and I turned up in the nick of time to help Del see them off. Seeing his product worse for wear, their damned inventor will hopefully keep better control. Those dogs are the cyborgs. Argie is flesh and blood.”

Rowan: “And that’s the girl you took up with?”

Tardi: “Yes Rowan, Del is the girl I have an interest in. As she had in me, before all this happened … see my hair? More like casuarina needles than my usual chin-length dreads. See my feet? I call them toe-roots. Useless for driving trucks, handy for climbing cliffs. And in between … never mind. I see from the way you’re acting that you are still in denial.”

Rowan: “I am not in denial. I see you gunning for the top prize in the wide-game and I aim to stick around to share in the moment of glory!”

Tardi: “Rowan, for fuck’s sake! You’ll hate yourself when you discover how wrong even you can be. My nightmare is Steve’s worst moment. The eels eating his face. He welcomed the tree disease and that is my worst moment. I saved him from the eels only to have him suffer for the whole rest of his days? But I have dozens of best moments, let’s go for one of those. Earlier, I met Zachie Cortin, an old fella with white hair in a nimbus round his head. I stopped him driving his hoverole into the river. He craftily suggested I drive him home where I could help him unload his vehicle and he, noticing my state-of-being, gave me some ointment to fix my toes.

Friends. Yeah. I love my friends. Argie, my newest best friend. Every week, I deliver veg and fruit, couple of barrels of this and that, and dry goods here. Cy and I have kept the same ship-board fantasy going for years. We both have a week to think up the next chapter and we mix and meld without tears and recriminations. Cy and I have been friends for years. Another new friend is Shad. A guy about my age who was camping at Azalea Bridge when I came by there. We clicked though we met only that one time. He’s half-Stormy like I am half-Stormy. His Stormy father married out, my Stormy mother married out. That’s how Stormies call it. Lilly Loreno is another new friend. She’s four, and she also has a silver dog. She claimed the name ‘Silver’ for hers and she and her mother Del helped me decide on ‘Argie’ for him, the dog accompanying me.

Ha! You want me to talk about the villain in my life? Do I need to? I mean, with what I look like? You’ve seen how people consider me hardly human? While I was videoing a clip to help me be accepted as Virtual Surfing’s hero-surfer, one of VS’s own boats rode over me. I was thrown against a bunch of silver coral seeded in the bay by Joe Loreno. Instantly infected with a villainous substance, I’ve had the Moogerah Monster rampaging within me ever since. Then, Loreno—villain number two—spread the substance up and down the valley. But because I was pre-infected, the alien tree disease turned me into a tree-man. Hundreds, including Loreno himself, were not so lucky. 

My most relaxing pastime? Mm-mm. Surfing. My favourite drink? Sea-water, because it will mean I’m out there. Getting dumped. Favourite colour? Green-blue, such as when you see the sun shining through the water? My future? I try to not think about the future. It looks deeply horrific. But I’m planning—hoping—that I can talk Shad into joining Argie and me on the road trip that I foresee. I’m hoping to mask my intentions from the monster with a shorter trip to the Reefarium, where Loreno did his work, and where they may be working on a cure. Hundreds of people in this valley were affected by that mist? They’re stultified but they only resemble trees. Their human hearts are still beating.

So. Don’t write about the long road-trip yet, I’ll let you know when. The short one, go for it. You’ll be helping me get rides. It’s a long walk to the Reefarium otherwise. But until I learn to control the mongrel now running my life … even the short trip is in the future.

Secret, I think you said. I can’t go there. The monster in me … you get the gist? You should ask Rowan. She keeps secrets by the dozen, some hers, some not. See how she’s near to bursting with one right now?”

Rita de Heer has always straddled the boundary between fact and invention. In her youth she convinced children that the real story candle really dripped colours. As a teacher she invented teacher-and-student-authored fantasies. She and her son lived their way through many worlds. Tolkien. LeGuin. Asimov and more. Serious writing began when she fell down the rabbit-hole of illness and unemployment. Things to learn from her experience? There are no short-cuts. It really does take ten thousand hours to learn to write a novel.

You can meet Tardi on the pages of Mongrel.

Join us next week to meet an ex Pinkerton Agent turned detective and gun for hire. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.