Contemporary Fiction

Stewart Robb’s Tyres, an extensive business on Ponsonby Road, near Auckland city, had been going downhill since the COVID-19 pandemic. Stewie, a pompous git with a high opinion of himself, was considering what to do about it on a brief visit with his Aunty Margaret in Mokau when a series of earthquakes struck.

“Bloody hell, Aunty, it’s a bit wobbly down your way,” he said.

“Just as long as we don’t have one as big as Christchurch,” Aunty Marg replied.

It’s widely known that the most isolated country on the planet, that cluster of islands at 41˚ latitude south 174˚ longitude east, commonly called New Zealand, is a tad shaky on a daily basis. It’s also fiery, though mercifully, somewhat less frequently.

Aunt Margaret was referring to the most recent significant quakes, which occurred in Canterbury in 2010 and 2011. At 7.1 and 6.3 on the Richter scale, they caused devastating destruction to the city of Christchurch and considerable loss of life. Marg’s own sister, Esme, lost her Lyttleton house to soil liquefaction in the second tremor. To add insult to injury, there was the Kaikōura rolling quake north of Christchurch in 2016. At 7.8 on the Richter scale, it caused tremendous damage to infrastructure, primary industry, homes and businesses. There was some loss of life and further damage to Aunty Esme’s psyche.

“We’ll watch the frequency Aunty Marg, and if these quakes continue, you can come back to Auckland with me,” Stewie said as he logged on to New Zealand’s seismic hazard website to take a peep.

“Don’t be silly, boy,” Marg replied. “How’s a city that’s built on fifty volcanoes any safer than beautiful Mokau?”

Aunt Margaret was referring to the fact that New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, sat on a plateau that included fifty dormant volcanoes.

“Aunty, they’re dormant. That means they’re temporarily inactive.”

Well, yes, Stewie, I know that, but they could still come to life. It’s been six hundred years since Rangitoto erupted, so it wouldn’t surprise me if magma found its way to the surface sometime soon.

Stewie thought she was probably right. However, he didn’t dwell on it. But talking about the craters gave him an idea.

He called his marketing manager, Morrie Scott, and together they came up with what they considered a pretty good idea to bring Stewie’s business back into the public eye and eventually back into the black.

First, Morrie penned a jingle that he set to the music of Bruce Springsteen’s I’m on Fire. This suitably impressed Stewie, so he begged and borrowed the money to put it over the airwaves.

Hey guys, do you need new wheels?

At Rob’s Tyres we do good deals Mhmm

D’y’need to replace a tyre

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re on fire.

I tell you folks, they’ll be good for you

Our tyres on yer Merc or Subaru.

We know you’re discerning buyers,

Oh, our tyres are on fire.

When the Mokau tremors had eased and Stewie was satisfied, his aunt was well (which was a pity, really; he could have done with the money she’d said she was leaving him) Stewie went back to Auckland, to put his ‘Propel the Business Forward Campaign’ into action.

During the night of the March 31st Stewie, Morrie, and a few hangers-on who would keep a secret, and a carton of Dominion Draught for the favour, took truckloads of used tyres up Maungawhau (Mt Eden) and dumped them in the volcano’s crater. Then they set them alight.

Well, they tried to set them alight, but even though tyres are highly combustible, they’re designed to withstand the heat generated from the considerable friction of the tyre bolting along the motorway at high speed. So Stewie sent Charlie Christie back to Stewart Robb’s Tyres to fetch an acetylene torch.

Now it happened that Stewie Robb’s aunty Esme, Margaret’s sister, who’d lost her house in the second tremor in Lyttleton, had moved to a leafy street in Three Kings close to Maungawhau. She and her husband, Albert, were happy and comfortable in their smaller cottage in the bigger city, though Esme still suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder brought on by the terrible Canterbury quakes. She jumped every time an unfamiliar mobile rang, or a car horn beeped.

When Esme opened her kitchen curtains in Three Kings on the morning of April 1st, she screamed out for her husband.

“Albert, Maungawhau’s erupting. Albert, get in here. Albert, where are you? For goodness’ sake come quickly, Maungawhau’s erupting.”

“Don’t be silly, woman, it’s dormant, like the rest of the volcanoes Auckland’s built on,” said Albert, for the umpteenth time exasperated at his wife’s considerable anxiety.

Esme grabbed her husband’s pyjama coat and dragged him to the kitchen window.

“Well, take a look at that then, and tell me it’s not erupting,” she said.

“Bloody hell,” Albert muttered. “Pack the car, Esme, with everything we’d take if it was an earthquake.”

As Esme threw some clothing into a suitcase, she thought of her nephew Stewie Robb.

Stewie went to Otahuhu College, where the kids still use the inside of the volcano called Sturgess Park as their athletics field and the rim of the crater as their long-distance running track. And Marlene, my dearest friend Marlene, lives beside Mt Wellington, and her grandkids are always BMXing on the slopes of the crater. None of these volcanoes has erupted in donkey’s years. Why now?

Up on Maungawhau, the acetylene torch worked a treat. Daylight revealed dense black smoke produced by the burning tyres. The spectacle was being reported over the airwaves, though no one had sent a drone up for a closer look, and media moguls advised their corporate leaders not to deploy news helicopters in case of sudden scoria explosions or lava emissions.

Callers inundated the Emergency Services triple one number and local hospitals began moving the more vulnerable patients away from the city. The evacuation of residents and businesses close to Maungawhau was quickly put into effect and the elderly, asthmatics and others with respiratory illness were encouraged to leave Auckland immediately.

But volcanologists smelled a rat.

Even though there was the pungent odour of sulphur dioxide in the air, which is what you would expect from a volcanic eruption, the scientists’ infrasound monitoring system had not forewarned them of an event. They were suspicious that an authentic explosion was in progress at all. These experienced scientists knew that magma breached the earth’s crust on Auckland’s Volcanic Plateau only once in any one place. If Auckland was going to erupt again, it would be in a new location. Nevertheless, the authorities thought it prudent that a team of volcanologists should suit up and venture forth to investigate, so they did.

It wasn’t long before the scientists alerted authorities that the eruption of Maungawhau was an elaborate hoax. The level of emergency was scaled down, though many residents continued to evacuate, at least until the hazardous chemicals in the air dispersed.

Once again trucks piled up Maungawhau one by one, this time with loads of sand to douse the flames.

Then earthmoving companies transported excavators and front-end loaders up the hill to recover the sand and tyre debris and truck it down the hill to a prearranged site.

Stewie was spitting chips when the police knocked on his door.

What the hell do they want? He thought.

Stewart Robb was arrested and charged with arson, public mischief, and causing an environmental catastrophe.

How the hell did they know I set the damn fire? He wondered.

Stewie had entrusted Charlie Christie with returning the acetylene torch to Stewart Robb’s Tyres. Charlie threw it on to the tray of his flat-bed truck. However, in his haste to scarper, he failed to secure the truck’s back flap. The torch bounced around for a bit, then flew off when Charlie took a corner too sharply. There it lay on the side of the road until a police officer found it on the morning of the 2nd.

The business name ‘Stewart Robb Tyres’ was etched on to the outer surface of the acetylene torch.

While Stewie was in the holding cell waiting to go into court, he received the news that his Aunty Margaret had died as a result of myocardial infarction. Evidently, Margaret had worried herself sick that the eruption of Maungawhau would adversely affect Esme and Albert.

You beauty, Stewie thought. My $150,000 inheritance. That’ll get me out of the red.

Stewart Robb sat and listened to the court proceedings. Being the pompous git that he was, and blissfully uncaring of the fear, inconvenience and heartache his prank had caused, he smiled at the brilliance of his elaborate hoax.

Seeing smoke billowing out of Maungawhau was pretty spectacular, he thought.

The judge wiped the smile off Stewie’s face when he ordered him to pay $150,000 reparation and assist in the crater’s remediation once the tyres and sand had been removed. That meant he was to lay tons of turf to bring the crater back to its former green glory.

Morris Scott, Charlie Christie and the other hangers-on, each received a substantial fine and were ordered to do some labouring for the asphalting crew when the road to the Maungawhau summit was resurfaced. They never got their cases of Dominion Draught.

When Esme discovered what her nephew had done, she had her Will changed (Stewie was to inherit from her as well) to benefit the Heart Foundation in memory of her dear sister, Margaret.

When Morris Scott was lugging the motorised manual roller over the new asphalt, he added another verse to the jingle.

That’s the last time I listen to Stewart Robb

He can sell his tyres, he can keep his job.

Oh, oh, please, no higher.

Oh, oh, my back’s on fire.

A bemused Stewie Robb lowered the prices on his tyres and had a blazing fire sale. It was all he could do to save his business.

March 29, 2021 01:19

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Angel {Readsy}
12:32 Apr 07, 2021

The last line of the story , oh it reminds me sale sale sale , grand sale on every shop , 50% discount , just kidding, yup I like sale on every product so the last line is highly fascinating and impressive


06:41 Apr 08, 2021

Bia Jee, thank you for your lovely comments. I'm glad you liked the song and the last line. It's very kind of you to give such wonderful remarks. Please tell me the name of your story and I shall read it. I applaud writing in English as a second language. May I ask what your first language is? By the way, I was one of those students who ran around the crater of the volcano when we had long-distance running. haha Best Wishes, Rhonda


Angel {Readsy}
10:10 Apr 08, 2021

Title of my story is "My baby's momentum first flight "


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Angel {Readsy}
23:51 Apr 22, 2021

Kindly read my story I need to talk to a fairy


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Angel {Readsy}
12:21 Apr 07, 2021

After reading to Rhonda I can sing a song , the choice of your words are pure , I think you are designed by God to express your divine wit through your writing pen


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Angel {Readsy}
07:31 Apr 06, 2021



22:10 Apr 06, 2021

Gosh, Bia Jee, I'm not sure how to take that comment. It could mean, Wow, that was great, or wow, that was dreadful or wow, that was revealing. I realise now that I put too much information in the piece about New Zealand's seismic activity. I can rewrite it later. But thank you for commenting anyway.


Angel {Readsy}
12:29 Apr 07, 2021

Wow is a tribute , wow illustrate the astonishing range of many voices and the ideas that populate in your story. Wow is for a detailed commentary, shedding light on the complexities of the individual in your every writings. Wow is for the most valuable writing in the world


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Angel {Readsy}
12:33 Apr 07, 2021

A millions time wow, wow for your story, because it is good


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Angel {Readsy}
12:35 Apr 07, 2021

Please do write about New Zealand's seismic activity. With all pleasures I will read it.


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12:31 Apr 01, 2021

Did you like that last line Johan? I'm glad. I suspect we might hear more about Stewie Robb. I rather enjoyed writing about a pompous git. haha.


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Johan Rosenblad
04:48 Apr 01, 2021

"A blazing fire sale." Haha!


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