Friday, August 31, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #2

Max stared hard at the cards facing him in his hands. How had things gone so wrong? He had been winning quite handily a minute or two ago. Now it seemed like he was holding half the deck! He needed to find a way to make the dramatic comeback. He could not lose. Not again. This was too important.

“Max is gonna have to vash zee toooooilets!” Natalia announced in a sing song voice.

“Have I mentioned recently how helpful you are?” Max asked her across the table, doing his best to ignore the fact that she only had three cards left.

“Nein!” she replied cheerfully.

“I wonder why that is.”

Max returned to studying his hand, vaguely disappointed it had not magically improved since last he looked. Things were looking pretty grim – his hopes for avoiding toilet duty seemed doomed for the third straight day. Oh well, Nat still had three more full days left at Mossy’s after tomorrow, he would have time to get his revenge yet.

Over the top of his cards he saw her lean forward and start idly twirling her blonde hair in her fingers. Just throw in some bubble gum, Max thought to himself distractedly, and she would fit right in on any beach in California.

“You know,” he began, being careful to look directly at her eyes, “I don’t know why you insist on wearing low cut tops whenever we play cards. Your boyfriend is sitting right beside you – a boyfriend, I might add, who is an amateur boxing champion back home in Cologne. No idiot would try to steal a look.”

“Ja,” Natalia answered with an innocent smile. “But maybe you are too vorried about zee boxing boyfriend to play vell at cards?”

Max glanced over at Tomas, who shrugged his chiseled shoulders as if to say “Yeah, I could break your nose any time I wanted to, but you haven’t given me a reason to, so what’s there to worry about?” The man may not speak much, but he had some seriously eloquent shrugs.

He was also way too good at cards, Max thought glumly. Tomas had been the first one out as always – the only time he had done the toilets in the four weeks he had been here was the morning after the Halloween party when Nat had been too hung over to do them.

Hopefully the people Mossy hired to replace them would be terrible at cards. Speaking of whom, where the hell was he? It was quarter after nine and he owed him…

“Good evening all!” Mossy boomed from the doorway. A chorus of greetings met him as he crossed the room to reach the dinner/card table. Before Max could get a word out Mossy had placed two bottles of dark beer in front of him.

“Stuck cleaning the loo again?” he asked after a quick survey of the table.

Max tossed his cards down on the table in mock disgust and grabbed a beer. After cracking it open he slid it across the table to Nat and took the other bottle for himself.

“To piss and shyza duty,” he proposed.

“To piss and shyza duty,” Natalia replied brightly, clinking her bottle against his.

“Articulate as always Max,” Mossy chuckled. “So, who’s the new blood? Come introduce me around.”

“Sure ting bozz.”

Max led the way over to the sofas where several new arrivals were making the usual backpacker small talk. It appeared as though the How Long Have You Been Traveling round was just finishing up.

“Excuse us for a moment,” Max broke in before the Where Are You Headed Next round could begin. “I just wanted to introduce y’all to the man, the myth, the leg… oof!”

He tried to take the elbow to the ribs in stride, but Mossy had some big damn elbows.

“This here would be Mossy, your gracious host,” he finished. “Mossy, these two lovely sisters would be Sara and Magdalena from Spain. I’ve already set them up with some apple picking work at Anton’s starting Monday.”

“Nice to meet you both,” Mossy told them as he enveloped their hands with two quick handshakes.

“And this is Haya and Kisho from Japan. They’re taking over the Rain Forest room from Em and Vic and I’ve left a message with Mark to get them some vineyard work.”

“Good stuff,” the big man beamed as he shook hands again. ”And if Mark is full up on workers then you two could just take over for Nat…”

“Yup, we’ll find you work one way or another,” Max interrupted, ignoring Mossy’s sideways glance. “No worries at all. We’ve got one last new arrival for you to meet around here somewhere…”

Just then Max spotted Caitlin stretched out in front of the TV in the lounge, chatting with Cindy and Greg. Max nodded his head in their direction and brought Mossy over for the evening’s final introduction.

“Hiya Mossy, how’s it going?” Cindy called out. “Have you met Caitlin yet? She may sound half English but she’s another one of those wise arse Canadians, ya best watch out!”

“Oh no,” Mossy moaned. “Max is all the Canadian I can handle! I guess there’s only one thing to be done about it…”

“Too right,” Greg chipped in. “It’s been nice having ya around Max, real grand. But ya know, the hostel is moving in a different direction now. We’ll throw a nice retirement party for ya. I bet Mossy will even bake you a pie!”

Well. This wasn’t going according to plan at all, Max thought to himself. Maybe he should just stick to losing at cards.

“Well I could definitely use the cash,” Caitlin began, almost shyly. She brushed a stray hair away from her green eyes and barreled on. “I’m pretty much flat broke!”

“Tell you what,” Mossy told her. “Nat and Tomas are gone on Thursday and I’ll need someone to help Max take care of things around here for me. It’s a free bed and a bit of cash to go with it, and we’ll try to get you hooked up with some other work until then.”

“That sounds pretty good to me!” she replied, a little taken aback by the suddenness of it all.

Then again, Max thought while doing his best to hide his delight at this rapid turn of events, maybe he should just keep his damn mouth shut more often.

“Aww Mossy, mate!” Greg sighed dramatically. “Don’t do this to us! Two Canadians watching our gear while we’re out working?”

“What’s the matter?” Caitlin shot back with a wicked grin. “Afraid you’ll come home to find maple syrup in your socks? Or maybe a half-mad beaver in yer bags?”

Oh yes, Max thought with a laugh. This was going to be very good.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I'll be using this space to post a series of short fictional stories, mostly to just keep myself writing while I attempt to get some other work published. All feedback is welcome.

I've decided to start off by telling the story of Max. I'm planning on drawing from my own experiences backpacking in Europe and New Zealand to inspire some fun travel fiction. I hope you enjoy the first installment.

Mossy's Backpackers #1

“Heya, welcome to Mossy’s Backpackers!”

He hoped that sounded as jovial as he meant it to be. It was too bloody early on a Saturday to be legitimately that cheerful, so faking it would have to do. He looked back and forth between the guy and the girl, smiling (he hoped) brightly, trying to figure out if it was working or not.

“Did you just wake up?” the girl asked, “It’s nearly noon!”

God dammit. At least the guy had the decency to look a little embarrassed by the question. There could be little doubt as to whose idea it was to show up at this time of day.

“Are you looking for dorm beds or a private room?” he returned, completely ignoring the question.

“A private room. For two nights,” she replied, looking a bit put off. This was going swimmingly.

“Let me have a look in the book.”

He pulled out the hostel’s reservation binder and started flipping through it, being careful to ensure Mrs. Early Bird couldn’t see its contents. After a few moments he found today’s date and started browsing the floor plan.

Cindy and Greg in Ocean’s Breeze were staying on for another two weeks. Natalia and Tomas in Waterfall had five more days left in their stay. Emily and Victor in Rain Forest… oh, right, they were off to Benton City this afternoon. They were also the reason he was up much too late last night – after a 6 week stay they deserved a proper send off, after all.

“Sorry,” he said, closing the binder. “Looks like our private rooms are all booked up.”

“Oh that’s too bad,” the guy replied while looking around the common room. “This looks like a really cool place.”

He winced inside, starting to feel a bit bad about lying…

“Hmmph, doesn’t seem all that great to me,” retorted the girl. “Let’s go.”

Ah, much better. Conscience clean again. As the guy glanced back from the doorway, he had to struggle to not mouth “Good luck with her.”

“What was that about Max?”

“Oh, nothing,” he told the man everyone called Mossy. “They wouldn’t have fit in here.”

“And why’s that?” the big tree of a man inquired.

“They showed up before noon on a Saturday, for starters.”

Mossy snorted loudly.

“If you keep turning business away from my…”

Max rolled his eyes.

“We’re full up every night, big man. And there’s always a good vibe here. Just think of me as your Vibe Quality Control.”

Mossy shook gently with laughter, knowing full well it was too early to let loose one of his signature booming laughs – more than half the hostel was still in bed.

“And would you be expecting a pay raise for these additional duties?”

“Nah mate, just buy me a beer or two tonight and we’ll call it even.”

“How ‘bout I just give you tomorrow morning off?” Mossy responded with a smile. “It’ll save me money tonight and get my hostel full faster tomorrow.”

“Vibe Quality Control cannot be bribed so easily. I’ll see you in the common room at nine.”

Mossy walked away, shaking his head. “Making a grocery run into town. Be back in an hour. Try not to bankrupt me while I’m gone.”

Max smiled fondly at Mossy’s retreating back. It was hard to believe they had only known each other for a couple of months. Max had arrived after a long, rainy day of hitch-hiking and the gentle Goliath had welcomed him with a piping hot bowl of home made soup and a smack on the head for thumbing in such terrible weather.

They had hit it off immediately and so when, two days after his arrival, Mossy’s then receptionist decided it was time to get moving again, Max offered to take over without a second thought. Admittedly, it didn’t hurt that his funds were also running low at the time.

Staying in one place like this was almost like a vacation from the vacation after three months of near constant motion – he had not stayed anywhere more than three or four nights at a time. But Max knew it was only a matter of time before the travel bug bit hard once again and he would be back on the road. Probably sooner than later; there was still so much he wanted to see and do…

His attention was brought back to the present by the sound of the front door opening again. He involuntarily straightened up as he caught sight of the short, dark haired girl wearing a backpack almost twice her size. She glanced around the hostel for a moment before spotting Max under the white on black “Check-In” sign. She flashed him a brilliant smile that threatened to render him speechless, then strolled over as if she was carrying nothing at all.

“Welcome to Mossy’s Backpackers!” he said, fully meaning it this time. A small voice in the back of his head congratulated him on his voice not breaking like a 13 year old hitting puberty. Max did his best to imagine that voice getting swept overboard in the middle of the ocean.

“Hi, thanks!” she grinned back. “I’m looking for a place to crash and a couple weeks of work.”

“Two weeks? Oh, I don’t know about that.” Max said straight-faced.

“Why not?” She looked a bit crestfallen but was battling on.

“Well, everybody who comes here thinking they’ll stay 2 weeks… usually end up staying at least a month.”

“Oh you wanker! I thought I’d have to go hitch to the next town!” She laughed and thumped her monstrosity of a backpack to the floor.

“My most sincere apologies my lady,” Max chortled. “I’d hate to think I caused you any distress by…”

“Oh get off it you smart ass and give me a dorm bed.”

“Absolutely. And what shall we be calling you?”

“Caitlin seems to get my attention best.”

“Max works for me. Great to have you here with us Caitlin.”

He could almost hear the travel bug scurrying back to a distant corner of his mind, the appeal of the road diminishing rapidly in the face of this lovely newcomer.

And what was the rush anyway? Mossy’s was the best hostel he had ever stayed in. And his bank account was not yet back to where he needed it to be.

The excuses continued to pile on top of each other as he continued to sign Caitlin in.