Spec-Fic Month: An Excerpt from Milk Island

Read an excerpt from Rhydian Thomas' debut novel, Milk Island.

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The four stories in Rhydian Thomas' debut novel Milk Island take place on the eponymous public-private-partnership island in 2023. In the following non-sequential excerpt, a new inmate to Milk Island starts talking to the digital avatar of Billy T James from his cell's interactive bunk.  

Read our conversation with Karen Healey and Rhydian Thomas about speculative fiction, escapism, and why literary fiction can be so fucking boring.

They said     You could try speaking
So I’m speaking
Speaking       Quietly       Saying
This is everything       Nothing
Whispering into the walls
Who’s there      And
Are you listening

* * *

Callouses blisters bruises lumps tears sores burns and pocks
Milk skin blood and cum seeping night screaming wanking sick
disgusting spectre of a human         Fuck
Save me Billy
Teach me to hit harder        Work faster        Make this corpse a
fortress        Teach me to weave and not lose a leg when I’m
throwing the big ones       Make my elbows strong with dragon skin
and dagger point to cut these fuckers open         Make me more
methodical on the job       Make me a solid worker       Let me own
the clock      Buy the hours       Listen       Just listen        
Let’s remember all those songs       I want to hear every beat again       
Billy T James is my best Mate     He goes oi look at this    
Oi look at this cuzzy      The background on the screen changes and
he’s in a bar       He walks to the bartender and says play my boy
here a song ok?       The bartender is happy to help him        
He plays me SLICE OF HEAVEN on the PA and the customers
are dancing in twos and fours before the song has ended       
DAH DAH DAH BOOM BOOM        Lotsa girls around      
I take a breath      Drink a longneck Lion Red       Next it’s SIX
MONTHS IN A LEAKY BOAT and boy they’re swaying to this
one       This is as good as it gets and Billy knows I’m peaking as he
slips through the crowd and whispers to me      Boy      This place is
one hundred percent pure       See?      This is godzone      
The long white thing       And I don’t remember for a while about
the booth I’m in or where I don’t know where I am or all the
broken horses around me       I laugh with Billy       The bar is full of
lovely people and the bartender is smoking a cigar       We all light
up and in the thick atmosphere we become billionaires         HOW
BIZARRE is playing on the PA now and Billy takes the stage
He’s swinging his hips around and suddenly a mid 30s telesales
recruitment agency’s junior executive liaisons officer starts a chant
he sings        And we all sing       Going harder than a turtle’s
shell       Harder than that hard volcanic rock       Hard as Christmas
with your family      Screaming happy foam from our mouths in big
spit bouquets       Everyone’s alight      Everyone dreaming     
No one’s sick      No one dead
After I cum I leave the booth right to the beat of the bedroom clock
and it’s dinnertime     Billy’s served me several carrots and a scallop
on a little plate beside my bed that retracts after I take the grub from
it and scoff it down in one big gulp     I’ve earned it      
I’ve earned this
I will learn to fight        I don’t want to survive but I will
Learn to fight

* * *

On the outside I once had a particularly sweet job as a waiter in a
place that didn’t serve anyone       It was good        I was happy
The boss let me drink all night        I just had to take some people
into a room down the hall and then I could have a drink       
And they had all sorts of drinks         Different syrups and fruits
Different types of bourbon and schnapps       Bitters and spices
Mixed citrus      I learned every drink on the menu and never served
a single one of em       Had imaginary conversations with strangers
and heard about their lives        Served up a mean old fashioned
A bitter martini with brandy       A coke for the little one      I gave
great speeches       And then they’d come out the room around three
or four in the morning and I’d smile and say good stuff guys good
day to you all and a fine day it’s becoming       And they’d pat me on
the shoulders and say you’re a legend mate and how was it this
evening?        And I’d say all things considered it was pretty quiet but
look I put some good legwork in       And then they’d shake my
hands and kiss my cheeks and say I was a good one     
A solid bloke         No issues with him, they’d say to my boss
He’s a keeper         The boss agreed 
All the drinks had levelled me after a few years in that place
I bought cocktail equipment for my flat on this hill behind East
Papamoa’s lifestyle blocks       Some locals called it a shack but it was
better than that        Had an ice maker        Sixteen types of bitters
Longest long-drop in New Zealand        I spoke to people on
the phone late at night and wished them well and worse with my words
Grew tobacco       Some people came to see me some evenings
Sometimes a woman       I made drinks for them all       But no lager
or white wine here, I warned them
There was a beehive in the garden and I let it go on buzzing until it
stung my mother one night       She was visiting from Tuakau and
trying to stay off the scratchies       The next day I went after the hive
with a can of bugspray and a lighter       Strapped on an armour of
newspaper and duct tape       Wrapped my face in wet bandages
Approached it slowly      Shook the can       Lit the lighter       Let rip        
Watched the burning bees trying to make it out alive       Scorched
bees piled up on their babies inside the honeycomb tunnels       
Little caterpillars I thought        Only they’re bees      
I kept going with the spraycan       Torched them all      Got stung a
few times but destroyed the hive         Crunched a carpet of crackling
shells on the lawn with my gumboots      Thought to myself that’s a
job well done well made and well served good sir      
Made myself a rum and avocado shake        Crawled into my bed
Picked the stingers out of my neck        Peeled the bandages back
Got stung a few more times       I called out into the phone book
ARE YOU LISTENING      I gathered up the stingers with some
tweezers      Put my head under the sheets      
Listened to their bodies buzzing on the table
All the maintenance round that rental place had done my head in by
2010 or so when I up and left to muck around for a bit
Went to Timaru       Picked apples near Napier       Got a job on a
boat watching waves         Made friends with foreigners on the road
No scams for a long while       Learned more about the internet in
places where you’d pay to play their computers for a certain length of
time         I took half days off work in these places and it was worth
it      Packed a lunch      Flask of something slippy      Got a Youtube
channel and a Facebook page       Was reading the papers a lot       
All that corruption business       Wasn’t sure about much      
Made sure to say that when I ranted        Didn’t want to appear
overconfident       You can say what you want about conspiracy
theories but with that many of them some must be true I reckon       
I mean I was told once that some stars have died years ago but we
still see their light and we will for years to come       Not that it’s
relevant to corruption of course        But it is interesting to know
In a caravan you’re mainly free from rates and things but the odd
noble citizen will tell you to move along       They’re some of the
worst       The worst spats I had         I don’t move along for
strangers         Especially rich ones who like to tell you this and that
about morality in their sports cars and people movers full of
purebred children        Well I say it’s still a freer life in a caravan
Though anything else seems free now       And I tend to think more
about those people I met on the road       Remember things I didn’t
resolve with them       Arguments I couldn’t win       Times I got too
drunk to be with people but I let them in anyway     I always
remember different peoples’ vehicles       Amy’s car was a wreck
Paul drove a donkey       Gaz had a nice one courtesy of the job
Mine was a Toyota        Red alopecia bonnet       Wasn’t particularly
special but it got me from A to B       Only problem was I kicked the
muffler off it in a rage last September when this surfer prick in a
pickup cut me off in the carpark of Pak’n’Save in Ashburton and I
ran aground on the roundabout         The sky was purple

* * *

Had a chuckle with Tig      We pretended to be on TV
So Bitch how’s the scene inside Milk Island is productivity at an all
time high are those prisoner scums being turned into ratepayer
citizens is it all a success financially and how is weather in them
Well Tig I’d say I’d say things are all a treat as it goes things are
looking up people are happier wealthier better off and the exports
are a-flowing and the dollars are piling up in big stacks like this is a
movie about drug dealers and as for the dirty rabble of rapists well
they’re off to clean our streets and all them murderers will become
the bouncers outside your new soft house pub right down there on
the quaint square next to the local muff motel and all the glorious
statues of Jono and Bill’s cock
Well Bitch that’s a jolly good thing to hear how fine how dandy
please tell me a little more about how you’re turning these animals
back into people I mean out on the savannah there it’s quite hard to
turn an antelope into a lion isn’t it mate?
You raise a good point dear Tig and you have a sound mind and a
solid intellect if I may say so not to mention your muscles well look
you can’t so much make a badger from a beaver but what you can do
is to show these savages that there’s money in work right there’s a lot
of money in making them levers turn and that rotation keeps on
coming don’t it and look let me tell you mate they are bloody up for
it in down there on Milk Island they just love those cows
Bitchy Bitch with the true facts there folks now let’s hope you all
vote on our online poll who is the best Sir Richie McCaw or the
latest Pope and which one of them would you rather fucked your
perfect children this Friday night when you’re all out on the town
sucking breezers and playing fucken pony with your office mates ok
ok ok well Bitch tell me about the Americans mate what’s their deal
or what’s their problem or whatever
Well look I couldn’t tell you a whole lot Tig because I haven’t been
to the America myself but they do make some fine television don’t
they and that anthem is known all around the world so they’re doing
something right plus back in god knows when they elected a black
president which was a nice gesture given how much they fucked
them up back in the day now as far as Milk Island goes I would have
to say that America has to be bloody chuffed with all the new
cheeses thus far and I would definitely wager that there’s a lot more
money going to be stacked up in suitcases and travel bags and the
like if they just keep at it I mean god knows we Kiwis love to work
hard don’t we
I agree Bitch and I mean in terms of America DUDE WHERE’S
MY CAR is a fine piece of cinema isn’t it and you really saw that in
how much we Kiwis loved that film and others like it
It sure is Tig and what an example FRIENDS set for the world
asking are you enough like Joey in a crisis or are you gonna be a
Ross about economics and now look mate the commercial break is
coming but boy oh boy I just wanted to say how thrilled we are to
be here aren’t we Tig because now life might look a little bit
pointless might even look like dying is pretty awesome but who’s
pulling them levers eh it’s us mate it’s us and we make it all tick we
are the mechanism the machine and we make it move and we get it
lit like the coal in the fire don’t we
Bitch we sure do and now I’m just going to take a moment to
remove this tie right off my chequered Oxford collar office dress
shirt and just tie it up right here on this studio light ok and don’t
stop the show ok don’t pull us off the air I just want to show our
viewers how happy we are ok how good it’s going and just to thanks
America and her majesty for all of the cake
OK well Tig you just go ahead and tie that tie around the light and
do what you need to do for our live audience now look I’m just
going to thank our sponsors so thank you Jesus thank you the
Mighty Ducks thank you Great Gatsby and The Unknown Soldier
and Ross and Rachel and most of all our finest friends the Sensible
Fuckers and the Federated Cunts thank you muchly
Thanks Bitch and fuck you all I hope you die in a fire
Fuck you all indeed Tig

* * *

As a youngun I had some good ideas      Wasn’t bright     
Teacher said I had instinct though       Liked history but preferred
sleeping       Stayed up too late at home with the talkshow hosts
laughing at the band       But I knew a good scam from the get go       
Saw the other kids at primary scoffing lollies from the dairy paying a
dollar a mixed bag      Thought I could provide it cheaper       
Got hooked up at ten with a local confectioner who sold to the
dairies       Nice bloke       Smart bloke      Sold me squishy planes
and chocolate fish by the kg and never charged me interest        
By thirteen I was raking it in on the schoolyard      They’d see me
coming       Hear the candy rattling round in my lunchbox       Queue
up outside the sickbay       Made enough money to buy a skateboard      
Alien Workshop       Matty Helm broke it down the bowl after he
couldn’t do a boardslide on it        I tried to stab Matty but his mates
broke my arm        It got worse as I got older        Selling crushed up
Panadol outside the Christian raves down in Wellington        
Making money on cash returns and bathtub vodka          First time I
took a boat I was seventeen        Never loved the sea but riding
above it was fine        Saw some other countries for a while       
Bought tobacco from the locals and sold up to the wharfies      Aged
quickly after that        Too many hidings      Thought I had the bug at
one stage       Turned out to be scurvy
I speak out loud now       Yeah       I’m not proud of me       No one
is       But saying these words       Feels better somehow      Trying to
remember the old days      Before I fucked it up       Wouldn’t change
much that happened to me tho        Would you       Better to just be
here now         Better to be real than imaginary       I don’t own the
future       I don’t have life insurance        No dependents for me
My number is sixteen ten nineteen seventy nine offence bracket C
and collar tag two four eight two four       Life’s a breeze
Lying here in the dark        Thinking about what I done
Like they want me to

* * *

Splayed out baby in its crib       Naked      
Shitting pissing spewing into the chute      
Eating       Wanking      Crying     
Chatting to Billy
I’m a parasite with big greedy eyes       Round the cups round the
cups       Take the cluster ignore the cramps       Don’t eat fast
Walk slow       Drink a lot of water       Talk your problems away       
The daylight hour is precious       Sun and slaughter the tough old
milkies       A sandwich to pretend it’s springtime      
What’s the news Billy?       A big one give up, he says       All the
soldiers in the fleet      All them flags on awnings      Somewhere
going to end badly      Cockroach running town but the blizzard
going to escape him, he says
It’s useless talking to Billy sometimes
Naked baby lay back in crib        Debate spending ten as Sims
onscreen        My boy’s going to college       Or      
I could take another shit maybe       It doesn’t matter    
Naked      Search my body for the tag      Armpits       Balls    
Bellybutton    Asshole      Find new hairs on my back     
Tug them out      The tag is in me somewhere       Lights go out for
sleepy time and the screaming starts      Fag has got a new one
I ask Billy the whys and the whens but he just has a giggle       
Speak       Just speak, he says        Keep speaking       
And tell the truth        The truth, I said       
I can’t remember what I told myself it was

Milk Island was launched in June 2017 by Lawrence and Gibson.
You can read our conversation with Karen Healey and Rhydian Thomas about speculative fiction, escapism, and why literary fiction can be so fucking boring.