Episode 8 – Kangastralia

Jaak’s Cabin – The Valleys

Following the early start and highly successful day getting Lizzie the engine up and running again, Jaak had curled up in his bed for an early night straight after supper. He had fallen asleep almost before his head hit the pillow. That night his dreams were spent in the land of Steamtopia, flying from one great cloud of steam to another, all the while avoiding the huge black clouds of sooty smoke that rose from the great belching stack, and the angry dive-bombing birds looking for their lost nests. It was not unlike playing some kind of video game – only weirder.

The sun found its way through the gap in the curtains. Jaak uncurled lazily in his bed and stretched himself – head down, backside up, his tail twitching from side to side – making a yawn so cavernous that the casual observer may have caught a glimpse of last nights supper.

Jaak wandered out still in his boxers, to the combined kitchen / living area of the cabin to find his father already sitting at the table drinking coffee.

Altai: Good morning PJ!

Jaak: Mooooor – yawn – ning.

Altai: Planning on more tinkering with that donkey engine of your’s today? What plans do you have to get your alternator, batteries and lights?

Jaak was a little surprised and taken aback that his Dad was showing an interest in his project. He had fully resigned himself to indifference at best and outright opposition at worst – expecting another long lecture about the culture.

Truth was that Altai was feeling just a little envious of Layan and Tenzing helping Jaak out to get the donkey engine going again – something he as an engineer could of easily done himself. Yesterday, was simply the end-stop on a growing realisation over the last few weeks that he needed to make a little more effort with his son. The years where Jaak might still want to hang out with him were slipping by. It was also true that he did not really know Jaak that well, as visits since his divorce from Eliza – Jaak’s mother, had been infrequent while Jaak was growing up. There were the usual excuses – distance, weather, work commitments – along with the deeper unspoken ones. The unexpected transition a few months ago from living alone in his small off the grid cabin, to having a growing, energetic, always hungry teenager now sharing his life and larder, had not been easy for Altai either.

Jaak’s ears wiggled in opposite directions – which they did when he was unsure about something.

Jaak: Er-rm. Well – to be honest I’m not too sure about that yet. Yup – I’ll need an alternator and about four pick-up batteries – and yeah, I’ll also need some wiring, switches and lights.

Altai: I think I know where to go. Gazza’s Gas and Grease. Gazza will have a few old batteries and alternators lying about in that junk yard of his.

Tell you what – let’s drive down after breakfast and see what we can find.

Jaak’s ears eagerly perked forwards.

Jaak: Wow! Thanks Dad! That’d be awesome! Oh and by the way – the steam engine’s name is Lizzie.

Altai had just at that moment taken a mouthful of coffee and on hearing Jaak’s name for the engine – he snorted coffee everywhere in surprised bemusement.

Altai: Oh! Lizzie eh?

Your mother would have been proud.

Gazza’s Gas and Grease

Soon after breakfast, father and son jumped in the pickup and headed down the valley road to the end of the ridge spur that then led around and up into the next valley over. Altai and Jaak chatted about the Lizzie the engine, with both the former and latter grateful in their own different ways to have a topic of conversation that they could both engage in without the usual indignant chuffing or eye-rolling. Altai was genuinely impressed at Jaak’s understanding and grasp of the steam engine’s workings and how it could be connected to an alternator to charge up a bank of batteries.

Jaak: …and the four batteries will need to be connected in parallel – positive to positive and negative to negative, otherwise we would end up with forty-eight volts instead of twelve…

He grinned impishly

…and that’d blow up the lights!

They passed several small farms, then the green-houses, and finally pulled up at the filling station, mechanical shop and wrecker yard known as Gazza’s Gas and Grease. They jumped out of the pick-up to look for Gazza – an earthy, neko-human from the planet Kangastralia who ran the place. The small shop – come living quarters, at the front of the yard did not yield their quarry – so they wandered out back to the assorted mechanical repair workshops and out-buildings.

Gazza’s buildings and yard was one of those maze type places that you might wander into and never be able to find your way out again. They heard some metallic banging coming from a large barn like building at the rear of the yard. They rounded the corner to hear a sound which was a bit of a keening mix of a band-saw and raspy-wailing. It turned out to be someone singing – or at least attempting to.

Voice: “… you’ll come a-waltzing matilda, with meeeeee! – an’ he sang as he watched – and waited ’til his billy boiled – you’ll come a-waltzing matilda, with meeeeee…”

All they could see was the butt end of a pair of blue-jean dungarees – a tail swaying from side to side, mostly but not quite in time with the singing – disappearing into the engine bay of an old 50’s style pickup truck. This was the source of the metallic banging and the keening singing.

Altai: Hey – Gazza!

The tail stopped swaying, and a moment later a torso and head appeared.

Character image courtesy of – newcarpathia.com

Gazza: G’day Alto! Crikey mate you almost had me packing darkies in my under-jocks, sneaking up on me like that!

Gazza motioned a greasy hand towards Jaak.

This your ankle biter? – the one that came up from the big smoke?

Altai: Yes – this is my son Jaak.

Gazza: G’day Jaako!

Jaak: Hi!

Gazza: So what brings you this way then?

Altai: Jaak has got our old donkey engine running again – he needs an alternator and some batteries to make an off grid power bank.

Gazza: No worries mate! I reckon we can fix something fo’ ya. I’ll go take a bit of a dekko out the back of me shed. Bring yer ute on ’round the back an we can load the gear straight in.

Gazza disappeared into the dimly lit shed that was packed chock full to the rafters of all manner of auto parts, some of the aisles between the shelves so narrow it was a wonder anyone could get through – let alone find what they were looking for.

Altai turned to Jaak.

Altai: I’ll go back out the front and bring the ute around.

Jaak just grinned, as if to say – Kangastrali – they talk funny!

This left Jaak alone for a few moments. He wandered over towards the haphazardly stacked piles of old junker cars and trucks – and gazed absently minded at them wondering what all their stories were and what kind of lives and owners they’d had. However for most, their semi-stripped bodies and missing engines stood as a silent witness of journeys long past.

Skinny boy: Hullo.

Startled by the unexpected intrusion into his automotive daydream, Jaak suddenly became aware of a very small skinny boy peeking out at him with big blue eyes.

Jaak: Oh! Hello! I didn’t see you there!

The boy was squeezed in a very narrow space between an old rusting 70’s pickup and a beat up sedan with no hood and no engine, which was stacked on top of the pickup, making a small cave like space in the pickup tray. Jaak could see that there were a couple of old blankets and a pillow crammed in there as well.

Skinny boy: This is my Tet space station. I’m an astro-cat! You wanna see?

Jaak: I dunno if I could fit in there as well as you!

The boy wiggled himself through the small gap like grey and white stripy toothpaste squeezed out of a tube. He was wearing only a pair of shorts and no shirt even though the temperature was still quite cool for the time of year.

He looked vaugely familiar – as if he had seen him somewhere in the crowd at school, but couldn’t quite connect the face with a name or year.

Jaak: I’m Jaak. What’s your name?

Skinny boy: Most people call me Tag – but my real name is Taqqiq – but people dunno how’ter pronounce that. Me mam’ sez it’s Inuit – for snow on ice.

Jaak: Really? My real name is Pukajaak – that’s Inuit too – for sugar snow! We both have Inuit names!

Tag: Yay – neato! What’chu doin’ here?

Jaak: I came with my Dad to get some batteries and ‘n alternator – we’re gonna hook them up to Lizzie our steam engine to generate electricity for lighting our cabin and to charge my phone…
– but don’t mention the bit about my phone to my Dad!

Jaak grinned impishly.

Me, and some other friends got her going again yesterday. It’s a science project for Miss Asha at school.

Tag: That’s cool! I love helping my Pap with mechanical stuff – especially pulling stuff apart to see how it works! I sure would like to come and see your donkey engine!

Even though they had only just met, something about Tag and his common interest in things mechanical, immediately clicked. Jaak liked him.

Jaak: Sure why not? – I’ll ask my Dad if you can come back with us – if you ask your Dad if that’s OK.

Just then they heard the honk honk of the pickup horn. Both boys hurried over to the shed where Altai had backed up the pickup.

Altai: There you are! C’mon and help load this stuff up.

The batteries were heavy and it took both Jaak and Tag working together to heave them one by one into the pickup tray. Gazza also had an alternator, drive belts, several lengths of wiring, assorted auto lights, and a variety of switches and connectors ready in a large box.

Gazza: Well I reckon this lot oughta do it – its all in good nick – that steam engine of yours will make that alternator go like the bloody clappers!

Altai: What do we owe you?

Gazza: For you Alto – let’s call it mate’s rates – fifty goldies and a box of coldies for the lot.

Tag: Pap? Can I go with Jaak and see his steam engine?

Jaak: Dad – this is Tag – he likes doing mechanical stuff too – can he come over?

Altai: Well sure – as long as its ok with Gazza.

Gazza: Sure he can – I’ll come over later this arvo and pick’im up. Wouldn’t mind taking a bit of a dekko at yer set up me self!

Gazza gave Tag an exasperated look…

…and putta shirt on before you go!

Tag: Aww – Pap! I’m not cold!

Gazza: Bloody kid would run around in the nuddy if I let him.

With that, Altai and the two boys, one shirtless piled in the pickup and headed back to the cabin.

Previous – Episode 7 – Steamtopia
Next – Episode 9 – Lizzie

5 thoughts on “Episode 8 – Kangastralia

  1. MikadoSora 31 August, 2020 / 04:50

    Tag is so adorable

    • Craig 31 August, 2020 / 07:04

      Yup, Jaak might wanna take him home and keep him!

  2. Ian Fox 6 September, 2020 / 16:28

    If that’s as weird as Jaak’s dreams get well… Let’s say I wish I could have his dreams.

    • Craig 6 September, 2020 / 16:48

      Jaak’s dream was a steampunk version of Angry Birds!

  3. Craig 18 July, 2022 / 15:00

    Author’s commentary: And so we meet Tag, another important piece to the quickly evolving story. Oh and ‘ute’ is Australian / New Zealand for utility truck.

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