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Sleight of Mind By AS English Language Classes ACG Senior College

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Contents Introduction

Page 1

Author

Title

Stefan Bachmann

The Ring

4

Ted Bennett

Fall

6

Kelsi Drain

Luthanya

8

Natasha Falkov

Humpty-Dumpty

10

Ezra Grassi

Virus

13

Lucas Machina

Bows and Daggers

15

Louis Mercer-Firth

White Shroud

18

Jason Rosinger

The Ecology of Dung Beetle Collaboration

20

Troy Solloway

The Place

22

Connor Taylor

An Antonine Plague

24

Simon van der Zeyden

Hospice

26

Simon van der Zeyden

Uncommon Love

28

2

Page


Introduction These short stories have been produced by the AS English Language Classes of 2013 and are the result of a term-long assignment which involved reading and selecting a stylistic model and developing our stories. The highest scoring works of the two AS English Language classes have been hand-picked to feature in this collection, exhibiting a wide variety of genres and writing styles. We followed a thorough process of over a dozen steps to create, form and edit our work over a course of two months, the large timeframe of the assignment giving us a chance to develop and express our ideas fully, something for which we were all grateful. The final story, Simon van der Zeyden’s second, is an exception to this. It was written in the space of one hour in the September 2013 internal examination session at ACG Senior College. We are very proud of our works and we hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did creating them.

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The Ring By Stefan Bachmann In reality the gruesome murder occurred like this: the killer stood beneath the cold light of a streetlamp facing his victim’s house, clutching a glass shard crudely sharpened and shaped into a dagger. The air was cool and he stood alone. Only him and the dagger. He flicked the lid of his Zippo with practised elegance and lit a slightly mangled cigarette as his hand delved into his left coat pocket and took out the ring. The ring was as if it were new, the diamond shining like the stars out that night. It reminded him of his beloved wife, Daisy. He smiled at the thought while returning it to the same pocket. He spotted his victim, a red haired girl; she had pale skin, freckles, and was wearing a thick dark coat and dark blue jeans. She wobbled drunkenly past him, car keys in hand, talking on the phone loudly. He followed her. She turned left into her street, followed closely by him. Gripping his makeshift dagger he lashed out and stabbed her twice in the back. Her anguished cries made many people open their windows to investigate, while he continued to cut and penetrate her skin. Her anguished cries for help populated the street as several people watched, seemingly frozen in awe. A metallic clinking noise echoed behind him as he fled from the scene. Blue and red lights flashed around the crime scene. I was investigating the vicious stabbing of a girl who had been identified as Dani Janette Granger. She had been stabbed a total of fifteen times. The body was searched but no significant clues had been found. The initial investigation had not gone well. I drew a cigarette from my pocket and deftly flicked the lid of my lighter, igniting it as the sirens went silent and policemen packed up. I stood just outside the yellow tape and watched as the area cleared until eventually it seemed like nothing had ever happened. I proceeded interview neighbours. Knocking on the door closest to the incident, I quickly stomped out the now halffinished cigarette with the heel of my leather shoe. An old woman who was probably eighty answered the door. She was wearing a long, navy blue dressing gown and fluffy, white slippers. “Excuse me ma’am. I am currently investing the murder of Dani Granger and was wondering if you have any extra information.” I queried. “The whole incident left me quite shocked.” She responded, “She was always such a nice girl, I don’t know why anyone would kill her in such a way!” “Did you see the perpetrator? Can you describe him?” I asked. “It was very dark, I’m not sure anyone could see anything. But whoever did this needs to be brought to justice.” “Thank you for your time Mrs…” “Chambers” “Alright Mrs Chambers, if you remember anything that could help this investigation, please call this number,” I said, handing her my business card. 4


Half an hour later I found myself standing at a see-through door. The smell of coffee was intoxicating as I opened the door. The warm interior drastically contrasting with the chill outside. I walked towards the counter and ordered a double espresso. I sat down at the counter and waited in silence. The room was pretty much empty, and those who were in here were probably hiding from the cold embrace of the outside world. The coffee arrived swiftly. The drink was welcomingly hot. But I could not stop thinking about Dani Granger. Why would someone do such a thing to a poor innocent girl? Who could have done it? So many unanswered questions floated in my head as I sipped my coffee and pondered. As I sat in deep imaginings, I felt a hum from my phone. Private number. I answered the call and it was Mrs Chambers. “I found a ring, I don’t know whether it would be important or not.” “I’ll be over in 20 minutes and have a look.” Back at the crime scene, Mrs Chambers was pacing around the outside of her house. She had not changed out of the clothing I saw her in before. She was carrying the ring. I walked towards her. “Mrs Chambers”, I called. “What’s this about a ring?” She came towards me and handed it to me. “I found this in the gutter next to where she was killed”, she replied. I inspected it. It was a white gold ring, with a gleaming diamond on top. It looked just like my wife’s ring, but badly scratched and damaged. “I will take this to the lab for testing. Thank you Mrs Chambers.” I said waving goodbye. The returning trip to the police station was arduous. All I could think about was what the significance of the ring was. The heavy traffic gave me time to think. What was the killer doing with the ring? Why did he have it? I arrived at the police station and locked the ring in the evidence locker. The day was almost over. The setting sun gave a backdrop to my drive home to see my wife. But I could not get all those questions out of my mind. This case may haunt me for the rest of my life if I did not get the answer. The car illuminated my empty garage as I pulled in. I was looking forward to sleeping but I feared I may not be able to. My wife was waiting for me in the kitchen. “Hi dear, how was your day?” she called to me as I entered the house. She gave me a kiss on the cheek. “It was difficult. The new case is really confusing me.” “Oh that’s a shame. I hope you solve it before it drives you mad.” She hugged me warmly. “Yeah I hope so too.” “Did you remember to take my ring to the jewellers for repair?” I reached into my left coat pocket feeling for it. The ring wasn’t there.

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Fall By Ted Bennett It was Autumn- a cold and frightful Autumn, where the birdsong had ended prematurely, and the snow had begun to smother the exposed areas of the forest. Yet the dense wood, within which my simple home was located, remained as a symbol of untouched beauty and wonder, and provided an endless source of nourishment, amusement, and mystery. He was a stout figure, his hair unkempt and his belly sagging. He wore his nightwear, perhaps, but it was stained and ragged and unwashed. The poison had blossomed about his breast, corrupting all that came in its way with dark, snaking fingers. A single rivulet crept down his chin from the corner of his mouth and weaved between the loose folds of ashen flesh of his vulnerable neck. The liquid was absorbed greedily by the fabric draped across his chest, and the darkness bloomed around his collar. I bathed the poor wretch in leaves of russet and ochre and vermillion, and marked his burial-place with a single stone, placed upon a silent heart. A single bird, a young, arrogant robin, sat above the grave, puffing his chest proudly. As I looked upon him, he smirked, and sang a single, menacing tune, and fluttered into the fog. I sat by the shimmering, dancing fire, and poured myself a small glass. My throat burned, but immediately, her warm touch soothed me, drowning out the outside’s soft humming and light chirping. The days seemed to merge together, but as the week drew to an end, and I hoped the thoughts of this man had finally escaped my mind, the wind upon the leaves beckoned again. They groaned, cried, and begged me to return to the grave. The light snow had been sprinkled across the tomb, yet I made sure that his body remained. The trees chanted softly, the soft, monotonous tune echoing inside my head. I could soon bear to remain with this man for no longer, and excitedly returned to the woman and the bottle of fire. He soon became my sole companion; I would visit when the trees beckoned me so, and I was occasionally accompanied by the woman, and we would talk for hours upon end- firstly, about simple topics, such as the weather and the woods and the game, but later about darker, more evil matters, those that are not mentioned in the common household. Yet soon, the days drew dark, and the fire began to burn low. His remains had become harder and harder to find, disappearing beneath the thick snow. I had begun to search for his company less frequently, and instead I longed for that of my woman. At home, my concerns grew graver. I searched near every cupboard in the house for her, but alas, she had eluded me, had abandoned me. But I heard her voice; weak at first, yet she whispered, beckoning me to follow. I drew a dull blade from a drawer, and crept towards her, my delusional mind driving my unwilling legs forward. Her voice echoed from the cavernous lounge, and I turned and saw her, with a flowing dress of glowing gold and skin of pure ivory, her fragile hands shimmering, emitting a blazing light. I faltered forwards, but she retreated, calling to me, constantly calling to me. I pursued her, my mind trapped in a state of fury and intense desire, and she took flight, gliding across the room, and through the window, before dissipating amidst the howls and shrieks of the wind, desperately gasping my name. 6


And there, fluttering nimbly around the window, grinned the robin, his vile countenance a twisted scene of ecstasy and madness. The glass came apart with ease, splintering as I grasped for the fiend. I crushed my fingers into a tight fist and –to my disbelief- caught the innocent, fragile bird. But as the grin spread across its mocking face, I felt my thoughts, my mind, every part of my very being consumed by the complete contempt for this brute, the very feelings that had grown, that she had nurtured, within me for so many months. I gripped the knife, raised it, and drove it down, deep into the monsters black heart. It wailed and howled, and I felt my hand raise and plunge again. Blood surged from between my fingers; fat, scarlet droplets cascading down into the deep puddles surrounding my feet, and the horror shrieked, piercing and agonizingly terrible, and I screamed too, for none other act had felt so sweet. I eased my trembling grasp, slowly, and peered into the gory mess of my right hand. The skin was raw and punctured, the thick crimson liquid seeping in slow streams up my forearm, and the bird, this wretched animal, laughed, and threw back its head, roaring as it bathed in its triumph. It rose vivaciously, and with quick, agile movements, passed between the knives of bloodied glass, and it too melted away in the wind. Time has passed, and my fire has almost burnt out. My friend, the lady, all have abandoned me, all but this animal, who mocks my decaying state and wounded mind. Yet soon, I fear, I shall leave my home, and venture into the forest once more, and bring an end to this beast’s mockery, this beast’s cruelty, and the end to my torture.

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Luthanya By Kelsi Drain Death was all around me as I raced forward into a few metres of open space. There was no time for mistakes and concentration was key. The clarion silver wall was cold against my back as I pushed myself up onto it. The walls, floor and ceiling were all in the same shiny silver, my reflection being portrayed four times everywhere I ran. I breathed hard and pushed my long fringe from my face before I saw an opening in the bottom of the far left wall giving a good view of the arenas lower floor and so I crouched down, my fighting gear moaning in protest. My fighting gear was customary and consisted of a figure hugging, full-bodied, black jumpsuit. The material was thick, coarse and matte; shiny material would be too noticeable in battle. Around my waist was a thick, grey, leather belt that held my weapons and embroidered onto the shoulder was my team’s crest which I was proud to be wearing. In all the area around me there was nothing to hide behind, nothing to save me in case someone saw me and decided to take a shot. I was vulnerable. But from what I could see below, there were hundreds and hundreds of wooden crates to save me from keen eyes. I heard a gunshot in the distance which triggered me to get moving. My life has always been like this. I had no choice, as I am the daughter of the greatest warrior the World Tournament has ever seen. My mother, Derina, was a Commando warrior, which I have also become. She was murdered in 2276. Black Falcon warriors are to blame and I have wanted revenge ever since. It is now 2285 and I am twenty one years old, the pressure for me to fill my mother’s shoes is stronger than ever. I must seek revenge for her death and I must become what she would have wanted me to be. I have been selected for multiple games during the time since I was initiated, but never were they against the Black Falcons. So it was a great relief when I was selected for a Team Game against them exactly a week ago. A Team Game is when multiple warriors from two different warrior teams fight against each other to the death. These games were created for public entertainment when the world became corrupt in 2029, and they weren’t for the faint hearted. Somewhere inside me I felt scared but I was thrilled by the thought of carrying out my revenge. I ran quietly up to the opening in the wall when I heard more gunshots go off in the distance followed by howls of screaming. The blaring siren went off to indicate a death and I just hoped to god that it was not someone from my team. I cautiously looked around me before I bent down to see if there were any crates below the hole so I could drop through to the bottom floor. There were plenty of crates, even two stacked on top of one another. Taking another leap of faith I levered myself through the hole and jumped down onto the crates, bending my knees to distribute the weight. Once I was safely landed, I leapt to the floor so fast no one could have possibly seen me on the crate in the first place. I walked around the floor area and found that some were hollow and satisfying hiding spaces, but I was not fooled, to walk into one of those was to be trapped on all sides. There would be no escape. So I sat down outside of a pile of the crates in a place where I could not be seen and decided to check my ammunition. I had been over and over on how to fully take a gun apart and put it back together again, I knew the steps off by heart. Today I had picked up a basic Enforcer Pistol that was abandoned along a small corridor. It had full ammunition. I was putting the last bit of the gun back into place and was testing out its balance in my hand when a noise so loud went off it forced me backwards into the crate. It was close, too close, and probably right around the corner of the crate I was sitting behind. I blacked out briefly from the force that seemed to radiate from whatever weapon was used and my head pounded. A disturbed scream 8


erupted into the arena and I knew it would attract attention, but I stood frozen. It was Jak, I knew it was her, I’ve heard her scream before. Jak had never liked me, but she was my team mate. It was my duty to help her. I stayed put and listened and to my surprise I started hearing a deep, rough voice. It sounded harsh. Following the deep voice was a higher one, pleading for their life. It was definitely Jak. I could not stand behind this crate any longer; my instinct to save her was too strong. I raised my Enforcer in front of me with both arms and walked slowly around the side of the crate, my left side constantly pressed up against its rough wood. I was ready to shoot when I came around the corner but there was no one there, just a body lying helplessly on the floor. I lowered my weapon and ran to Jak. “Jak!” I yelled in a whisper. I knelt down beside her and tried to asses her wound. She had been shot in the lower chest by a Ripper, as her skin was shredded badly and blood was pouring onto the floor. Jak stirred, “Luthanya, leave me. I am not worth saving.” It was a choked whisper, her eyes slightly open. “Don’t be stupid,” I replied, “It’s my duty.” I pulled the distress button out from my jumpsuits neck. It was a small black button that hung on a necklace. If you were lucky enough in a game you would find one and use it in case of desperate need. My thumb just touched the surface lightly when my vision was clouded in. I looked up in shock. How could I have been so irrational? Sitting here, in the middle of these crates was a foolish idea. But my thoughts were stopped midway when I saw who it was. Him. A few weeks back I had been training in a practise arena in the Commando Warrior Quarters. I did a lot of this in my spare time as I found it quite helpful. For practise, warrior profiles from other teams were kept in a file on the database. These were projected as realistic holograms, so as to give the effect that you were actually fighting in a game. I was looking down a corridor when I saw a man, crouching down behind a wall reloading his gun. He was a Black Falcon warrior and I raised my gun to shoot, but I hesitated. There was something about the way he looked and how he moved. His hair was black and tousled and his muscles flexed as he inserted the round. I shot him eventually, right through the head and then watched him die as the blood poured out from above his eyes, but I knew it was just a hologram. I never hesitated, especially not for a Black Falcon. My hesitation has haunted me to this day and in my head I blamed it on my lack of sleep, but that lie was not convincing. Now he stood before me and looked me right in the eyes. He was even better looking in real life. But I was stuck, this was not a hologram and I found I could not shoot this time either. I was frozen in place and his eyes held mine, they were the most beautiful blue. I was fighting a war in my head because deep inside me there was an eternal hatred for the Black Falcons and I knew I had to avenge my mother, but there was something holding me back from shooting him and I couldn’t quite figure out what that was. He had his gun aimed right at my chest and I knew I should have shot him right in the head like I had with his hologram but a mix of surprise, curiosity and the unknown stopped me. I gave up this conflict in my head and let my gun drop to the floor, its noise ricocheting off the walls. I was filled with hatred for myself but I knew I just could not shoot. I felt defeated. He looked at me with astonished eyes as he took in my gun lying by Jaks’ side. I did not take my eyes from his. He looked back at me and something changed within his face, his furrowed brow smoothed out and after a few moments he lowered his gun with wavering reluctance. Why could he not kill me either? Before I could ask this a searing pain shot through my back and my body suddenly felt as though it

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was on fire. I collapsed to the floor and tried to stay conscious as I heard shouts over me, but the pain was just too much. The darkness took me under.

Humpty-Dumpty By Natasha Falkov All she knew was that the mornings were cold, and so was her mother. The frosty light shone through her long ago broken blinds, illuminating her musty surroundings. It was still dark outside, although whether it was morning or night she couldn’t quite remember. The cold was suffocating, numbing every part of her already numb body. The empty bottles were piled high, prescriptions she didn’t recall getting, prescriptions she didn’t even recall needing. The sounds of a drunken mess returning reminded her it was early morning, a time when suburbia should be tucked up tight, the reminiscence of a bed time kiss still on their cheek. Bed had become a haven from her mother, a sort of safe place, a big blanket of warmth keeping her from all evil. But the more she thought about it, the more she realised it was also from all beauty and all good, that remained to her in this world undiscovered. Unrecognizable mumbling and a loud crash rang from the kitchen, followed by a few swear words as memories of reality filtered through a drunken haze. It seemed as if her mother’s vices rang throughout the neighbourhood, and her loud, certainly too loud, voice seemed to follow her wherever she went. It hadn’t also been like this, but things had changed. Ever since the accident things had changed, and people had changed and she guessed that was just life. I’m sorry it turned out this way she wanted to whisper I don’t blame you. But the truth was she did blame her mother for what had happened whether she liked it or not, she did. Simply, did. Whether or not it was her fault was now seemingly irrelevant, but every time her mother’s face popped back into her already mumbled brain a dark shadow seemed to fulfil her, a sort of darkness and destruction that could cripple an army or darken the sunniest of days. Whether it was anger, regret or sadness she couldn’t quite tell. Silence. An empty lonely silence that seemed to drag on forever filled the house, similar to the silence that had occurred moments after the news of Johnny’s death, perhaps similar to the silence that occurred moments after the last breathe had left his lungs. She gathered that this silence meant her mother must have collapsed, the world simply becoming too much for her to be conscious in. Whether or not she should help her up was a conflicting decision. It usually ended up in a ‘accidental’ black eye and a “I really am sorry for everything sweetie, I know I’m a terrible mother, I’ll make it up to you, I promise”, followed by another bottle of gin that never got a chance to survive in this world, and more recycling that needed to be taken out but never was. She knew what everyone thought; and she knew what everyone was saying. She despised walking around the neighbourhood as the amount of pitiful looks and “Are you okay” ’s or “How’s life at home” ‘s were unbearable. She didn’t want to talk about the bruises, she didn’t want to talk about the police visit, she just really didn’t want to talk to anyone about anything. Period. She knew these people didn’t care, but yet continued to pretend they did, just as everyone always did. She almost always replied with a smile as fake as her mum’s heavily done breasts, which had appeared weeks after Johnny’s accident, followed by a “Fine thanks” and a long pause, silent realizations and a brisk walk in different directions, whispers trailing after her for weeks.

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It was early enough for no questions to be asked and she knew if she sat on the wall to the left of her house and slightly strained her neck on a Tuesday early enough in the morning, she could see Sam emerging from his house and leave for work. She was almost excited for this, the most excited she had been for a while which sickened her. Calm down. Focus. Love only brings unhappiness. The idea of putting what little happiness she had in to the hands of a stranger, later to be trampled on by his big dr. marten boots as he stomped out the house shouting at her, was not one that particularly appealed to her. Alone. She liked that world almost as much as she hated it. “Hey” A voice startled her out of her thoughts, and certainly out of perceptive reality, which nearly resulted with a crooked arm and a wonky smile and a face full of dirt and mangled plants that hadn’t been touched since Johnny’s death. She looked up to see Sam staring right at her, a casual wave just leaving his hand and a grin that reminded her he had witnessed her almost- hospital visit. The reminiscence of last night’s party was still evident in his tousled hair, his eyes drained by mindless chatter and too many drinks. “Hey Humpty Dumpty” he yelled, his obnoxious smile never quite reaching his eyes. Relax. He’s only human. Of course she would suddenly seemingly lose all ability to speak, of course words had now escaped her, just as Johnny’s had that morning his car glided into the big oak on the Perkins residence, just two houses down. She decided to just simply wave, a smile that would never quite reach her eyes forming on her flustered face. As Sam walked slowly to his car, all she could think about was her brother’s face, and his laugh. His laugh that always reached his eyes. Cigarettes. Her mother’s cigarettes. That’s what Johnny had been buying the night of the crash. A part of her mother had died that day when she found this out, as she slowly realised that her only son was killed on the way to get her cigarettes. Cigarettes. An overwhelming sense of nausea filled her as she stumbled out of her garden. She couldn’t be here. Not right now. Her vision had blurred, salt water stinging her rosy cheeks. Run. Anywhere. Nowhere. When she was younger she had asked Johnny why humans cry, why when we are particularly sad salt water pours out our eyes. ‘Well I don’t know silly’ he would whisper ‘Do I look like some sort of god?’ The fact of the matter is that to her, he did. He was. Keep running. Anywhere but here. She could no longer see clearly, a blurry filter dragging her away from reality. Her mind had taken over again, her body becoming just an empty vessel. Why did he have to leave, why did the only person she ever loved had to leave her. He had loved video games and cats and Nirvana and drugs. He should still love them. He should still love her. A highway up ahead. Johnny used to drive her to school this way. A bridge. Johnny would always run through red lights. 11


A height. Johnny always wondered how sturdy this bridge was. A jump. Johnny loved it here. A fall. Johnny. She guessed she really was, Humpty- dumpty After all.

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Virus By Ezra Grassi The typing abruptly stopped, and was quickly replaced by a loud arduous banging on the door. The banging briefly stopped. Then typing began again. It was almost complete, no one could stop him now, and the world was about to be changed. There was no time to think about that now; he was so close to finishing. He still had a chance of failing at the home stretch. Corporations still had a chance… Where did it all go so wrong? Some would say hundreds of years ago, some would say last year. It was a cold November day, Zac passed by an oddly placed blue box. His mind wandering as aimlessly as his legs, he remembered those stories his grandfather told him as a boy; the shimmering azure sky that blessed those remote patches in the wealthy new havens of America. Zac always thought that the stories were made to let children dream of a better reality, fiction. His stomach suddenly reminded him that he had eaten little in over thirty-six hours, the software he had been developing Pinfold Incorporated’s new security system had kept him up for the last week nonstop. He knew he should have taken a break, there was bound to be thousands of others who were working on the same security system, no corporation would let just one person develop something that big, but he needed the work. He barely paid for his closet, located on floor one ninety-eight, right in the middle of the smog layer. He looked around for a diner; it was hard to see at this time, the pollution from the Manhattan factories carried down wind, stopped around here. Everything was polluted now days, the streets, the food, the people. People had stopped exploring, they had their technology, they needed nothing else, or at least that’s what the corporations had them think. You work, you buy shit, you die; that’s all that mattered to them, he thought. He looked at the information board; the bright blue light blanketed the streets. Ten thirty, getting late he thought to himself. The large clock flickered to what seemed to be the top news at the moment. “Two apartment buildings were demolished today to make way for the newest Meracorp factory. In entertainment today thousands of residents at shady oaks lofts were left without Internet today a new strain of viruses plagued the resident’s computers. The threat was quickly terminated and the building was back up and running in no time. The estimated economic loss was valued at ten point four-three billion dollars.” “In other news the automator…” Zac drifted off, his eyes wandered to a dimly lit window and his stomach did the thinking as he entered the phoenix diner. The air purifier cleaned him off and the waitress found him a seat by the window. “Any coffee today sir?” Zac responded only very slightly paying attention. What has this world come to? He thought; people lived in a place filled to the brim, ruled by corporations providing for ‘their’ wants and needs. Nobody had any free will anymore, even Zac himself. Nobody could do anything to change it, nobody wanted to. His coffee arrived. He sat there, watching the steam aimlessly dancing and twirling into the sky; a chaotic elegance. He finished the coffee and headed to his loft. It was late now, Zac had been working for three hours and his brain had begun to rest when suddenly a red flash appeared on his computer, “Shit!” he exclaimed. He needed to finish his work. It was at that point that his mind started roaming. He found the code in which his computer had messed up and started re-working it… 13


It was the phone that re-woke him a few days later. Zac bounced up from his chair and checked his Mechaglass for the time. Eleven in the morning, the phone shrilled in his ear. He quickly declined the phone. There was no time for others at the moment. The first cycle of his virus was ready to be launched, he had successfully created it to be untraceable but it was nowhere near complete. He pressed send and the cold blue screen flickered and became normal again. Then the building went dark. All of it. He sat there, in the darkness thinking of what he had created. When he first thought it up he knew he had to take down the system and stop this madness of the corporations controlling society. He wanted to devise a virus, one to bring dire straits to the tech environment. A virus to crush corporations with a gentle touch; trash all the computer systems and revert humanity to their golden age. He would be their saviour, songs would be sung in his honour for centuries to come. He knew other hackers had tried to create viruses before, but he wanted it to be different. He wanted it where a file replication is a chore; it would shut down the entire White House. His virus wasn’t one that could be corrected; it would be one of immaculate design. Shutting down the world section-bysection, and even by experts, it would be impossible to find. The light came back on. Good he was making progress, even if it was small amount. Zac was on his bed, taking a break, when his phone rang. It had been three weeks since he had started creating his virus and he was physically and mentally drained. He picked up the phone. It was Noah, a friend since childhood he knew he could trust him with his ‘project’. “Hey, I’m working on some shit in my house, come check it out. Alright see you later.” The door banged two hours later, Zac opened it and let Noah in. He was a small man. Long and thin, dark on the outside but a heart of gold on the inside. “What have you been up to recently I haven’t heard from you in ages.” Zac then proceeded to tell Noah of his plan and all that he had done. Noah was a bizarre mix of horrified and perplexed with only a touch of wonder of the vision that Zac shared. “I don’t know if this is right but the world needs to be changed.” And with that no more was said. Noah left and Zac returned back to his work. It was a breakthrough a few days later that let Zac really get close to his perfect virus and it was eight weeks after he started working on it that the day finally came to send it. The typing abruptly stopped, and was quickly replaced by a loud arduous banging on the door. The banging briefly stopped. Then typing began again. It was almost complete, No one could stop him now, and the world was about to be changed. The banging grew louder and more frequent, the police couldn’t have found him could they? There was no way, yet he still had the doubt in his mind. What if Noah told them? There was no time to think about that now; he was so close to finishing. The time had come; he pulled out an antique Smith & Wesson Model 15 revolver. Although he would not come to see the change he would create in the world he knew it would come. He forgot about the banging. There was no stopping now. He cocked the gun. The banging was now booming. His finger on enter. Blood dripped onto the key.

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Bows and Daggers By Lucas Machina The sun had risen over the distant snow blanketed mountains, lighting up the golden brown leaves that littered the ground as Acilius and Falion walked into the woods near the village of Prunwood. The trees stood tall and proud despite the season, as if they had been blessed by some divine entity. Falion had changed from when Acilius was first drafted into the army. He now sported long flowing hair that reached down to his shoulders, the once thin Falion had since then grown in to a man. Acilius too had changed, he was much cleaner than before. He tended to his facial hair and kept his head of hair short cut. Acilius was always smaller than Falion but now they were of equal build. It had been so long that Acilius felt as though both he and Falion had grown apart, a thought that led to them both agreeing to go hunting again. Acilius sported a bow and quiver while Falion wielded a dagger in each hand, both of which were well tended to. “I remember when we were children we believed these woods were haunted with the spirits of the dead. Childish stories that you believed, as did I” chuckled Falion. “I do remember something of the sort, my memory is groggy” responded Acilius. Falion let out a hearty chuckle. “I remember one time when Gloria dared you to spend the night in the woods, you didn’t make it past ten minutes without running out screaming.” “That happened did it?” “I remember it vividly, Acilius.” Both walked into the forest and took extra care to avoid shrubbery and thorns littering on the ground. “How has your marriage been?” asked Acilius. “It has been fine. Gloria has just given birth to a young girl, one that we’ve decided to name Dorothy. She was born two weeks ago, healthy as well.” “I’m happy for you” said Acilius, adjusting the quiver on his back. “The entire village stopped by our tannery to congratulate us. It was a big occasion with food and gifts. It really is a shame you couldn’t be there.” “I’m sure it was a fantastic occasion.”

15


Acilius and Falion had finally reached the river they had spent their adolescent years sitting by. Brown and golden leaves floated on the river tranquilly, flat grass surrounded the river providing a natural location to sit and lie. The river had hardly changed from their younger years, if it had at all. “Ah the old river, the memories come flooding back don’t they?” said Falion as he breathed in the fresh air. “They sure do” replied Acilius laying his bow and quiver to the side of him as he sat down. “So you’re on leave from the army, where are you stationed?” “My unit is stationed just north of Spider’s Rock. We are performing reconnaissance for the main attack force. I decided to take leave when my commander suggested it, I thought about it and I decided it would be nice to return home after so long.” Falion sharpened his daggers on piece of grindstone he brought with him. His daggers were luxurious and impressive, able to spur jealousy in even the most modest of men. Watching him sharpen his daggers was watching a diamond being cut into perfection. Falion looked over at Acilius wiping his oak bow with a rag and couldn’t help feeling both a twinge of pity and supremacy. Falion thought to himself the art of marksmanship will never compare to the beauty that is swordsmanship. “I never understood how you could put up with that cowardly excuse for a form of combat. Only cowards fight from a distance, it takes true bravery to face your opponents eye to eye.” “I think I prefer my bow thank you.” “Bows are for cowards who are too afraid of real combat. I’ve attempted to use a bow and it is just too much hassle for too little benefit.” “You’re attacking first if you’re undetected.” “And if you’re not? A warrior charges up to you when you are fiddling with your arrows and consider you head rolling on a floor or on a pike.” A deer wandered into the other side of the river and began to drink. Both Falion and Acilius noticed the creature and drew their weapons. “Well now’s a chance to prove which matter of combat is more superior” whispered Falion, unsheathing his daggers. “I think I will go and hunt some other game, this is yours” responded Acilius, taking care to walk away quietly. Falion slowly made his way around the river and arrived behind the creature in around five minutes. Falion crept up behind the creature. The deer was still drinking, completely unaware of its surroundings. The deer seemed to sway as though it were in pain but that wasn’t any concern to Falion. With a swift and sudden movement he tackled the deer, bringing it to the ground with a single stab in its throat. The deer gurgled silently until it fell quiet. Falion flung his prize over his shoulder and returned to the spot where he and Acilius had been talking. After a few minutes Acilius returned with his prize, also a deer. “A very nice kill indeed Acilius” congratulated Falion. 16


“Thank you, it almost got away” responded Acilius. “I managed to sneak behind the creature with it being none the wiser.” “Impressive.” Both men returned to Prunwood with their prizes and bid each other farewell. Falion returned to his house where his wife and baby daughter were waiting. Falion opened the door and showed Gloria the deer triumphantly. “Well done Falion, I’ll be sure to clean it and cook it” said Gloria, taking the deer away from Falion. “Thank you Gloria” responded Falion as he went to sit with his baby daughter. After a minute Falion heard giggling from the kitchen. He walked in to investigate only to find his wife holding an arrow with a note tied around it. “Off on your stories again Falion?” giggled Gloria. “What on earth are you talking about?” questioned Falion. “I think you may want to read for yourself.” Falion took the arrow and read the note to himself. The note said: Falion, Remember what ‘cowardly form of combat’ got you this deer. You shouldn’t be the one talking of cowardice when it was YOU who didn’t’ last ten minutes in the forest without screaming for Mummy. - Acilius.

17


White Shroud By Louis Mercer-Firth His face still haunts me, yet. As a writer I first saw the event as inspiration, but as the weeks drew on, my dreams became more and more macabre to the point where I was fearing sleep. A faint bloodstain in the snow-- an abomination staggering through a forest-- and his face, nodding and smiling. It was a Saturday, just after attending a meeting in Moscow with my good friend and publisher Anton; I sat rubbing my frigid hands together at a derelict concrete bus shelter. I watched as the snow fell in thick sheets along the outskirts of the city, as skeletal trees reached upward from the nearby wood, caressing the smooth evening sky, and snatching flakes of ice out of the air. Broken out of my reverie by the soft crackle of boots against snow, I turned my gaze to see a man ambling towards me, his ragged, damp coat flapping slightly in the wind, and his face partially obscured by a low woollen cap. His gait was slow, mismatched. I furrowed my brow, a drop of cold sweat rolled down my forehead, tracing a line across the lens of my spectacles, as he reached the shelter and slumped down next to me without so much as a glance. For several minutes, a grave silence hung in the air, before his chapped, blue lips parted. "Excuse me" the stranger requested, "but would you happen to have a cigarette to spare?" his forlorn eyes passed right through me. His voice was like finely ground gravel. "I-- I do indeed" said I, reaching into my coat pocket and withdrawing a roll of tobacco, the chill of his blackened fingers near contagious as I handed it to him. "Thank you friend, I've been feeling the cold recently" We sat there in silence for a little while longer. The way he said it seemed forced and I realize now why, but at the time I assumed it was just the sleep deprivation, whiskey, and chilly weather, bolstering the imagination of a weary writer's brain. "A fine evening indeed, if a touch cold." I pondered out loud. The man nodded stiffly, and released a slight yawn, "Freezing, you might say." "Indeed" I replied "After all, what is snow?" "Boris." he smiled, holding out a thin hand. "Boris Smirnov." "Vicktor Kuzman." I replied, taking it in mine and shaking firmly. For a moment I paused, in suspicious thought. "Would you happen to know a publisher by the name of Anton Smirnov?" His pale, mottled face lit up. "My brother Anton? Why, do you know him?" 18


"Indeed I do, we've been good friends since university." "What a small world we live in." "Well, I'm surprised I haven't met you yet." "Ah, well, Anton isn't terribly proud of me." He mumbled, glancing downward with a tinge of cynicism. "Why, whatever did you do wrong?" "Well, several years ago I got, let us say, involved in the Russian Mafia" "Is that right?" I said, bewildered, "The Russian Mafia?" "Ha-- ha-- haa... Yes, smuggling is a very profitable business, even if I do get myself into the occasional predicament." He chuckled. But just as he was telling me about his most recent encounter, the throaty roar of an engine punctuated the air. Bidding my farewell I hailed the bus, smoke and steam flooding the shelter as it grinded to a halt and as it began moving I turned and waved to Boris. He took no notice of me though, as he gazed wistfully toward the trees. The road cut through the forest, branches leaning toward me and the driver, like bony fingers slowly bringing down a vice-like grip. Looking past the trees and shrubbery a sunken patch of snow, a splash of red, and a set of footprints caught my eye. I thought little of it. It was a Monday, and as I sat at my writing desk, watching the snow flutter past my window, my thoughts were perpetually coming to that strange fellow I had met at the bus shelter, but I found I couldn't remember his face. Playing with the idea in my head, I uneasily wrote a few paragraphs about his endeavours. "I sat low in the leather seat, one hand on the steering wheel, gazing at the street, anxiously waiti--." I stopped, the sentence felt wrong, almost horrifying, heat penetrated the back of my neck, sweat traced lines down my face, my palms were damp, I felt dizzy. The telephone released a shrill cry. I turned my head abruptly, eyes widened with shock. Slowly lifting the receiver to my mouth I carefully uttered my greetings. "Vicktor!" Anton exclaimed. "What is it, Anton?" "My-- my brother's been murdered! I just got word of it yesterday!" My breathing grew heavy. "Dear lord, you mean Boris, right?" "Yes, Boris. I didn't realize you knew him." "Ah." I exclaimed sadly "I had only just met him after our meeting the other day, when I was waiting for the bus." There was a pause on the other end. "Last Saturday?" "Yes, last Saturday." 19


Anton paused once again. "But Vicktor, Boris has been missing for two weeks."

The Ecology of Dung Beetle Collaboration By Jason Rosinger Life as an ant is about as honest and exciting as one might believe after a staunch session of shower pontification and reflection. In truth, it at some points was rather good. Frolicking about like a small majestic black… moose searching for a meal under skies blue as… generally advertised, filled with a noble sense of duty and purpose to provide for the hole, mound… thingy. This was probably how the ant was living up to the point where it began considering the large pin-striped rear above it heading towards it at considerable speed. What it was thinking at the point where it was condensed into the second dimension is unknown, and for purposes of economy of effort it shall remain this way. -

Ahem

-

Actually now that the chance presents itself to talk about parallel universes you can’t simply expect me to pass this wonderful opportunity by? Didn’t think so. In another universe, far less stable and generally more confusing yet beautifully so, a giant ant and an upright pinstriped radish are having a fencing match with chopsticks. The entire matter was sparked off by a –admittedly one sided debate over the merits of practicality. The ant had said, “Rules are made for the obedience of pupae and the guidance of the sagacious ones”, and the Radish had responded “OFF WITH YOUR HEAD!” If one was to shift focus back to the pin-striped object in the previous universe that so rudely turned the aforementioned ant into a dimensional astronaut one would probably want to switch back to the story about the ant. But you can’t always get what you want, can you? You see, the pinstriped blob now planted squatly upon the chair was technically part of the animal kingdom – a simian to be precise; it’s just that the animal kingdom at best does not appreciate this to be acknowledged. It was more reminiscent of something like a dung beetle – perhaps minus the exercise. It scampers about for its sustenance, coalesces it into a messy and disgusting mass of feculent refuse and either consumes it, or stores it away in some god forsaken orifice, only to at a later date whip it out and use it for bragging purposes and further nourishment. It was a manager at a law firm; A low level bureaucrat in a depressing department. It took delight in the accumulation of important yet meaningless documents for the express purpose of ruining a person’s day, by rolling them in it, when they least expected it. Paper was its meaning and hoarding was its calling. And for better – or bluntly worse - he had mastered it. It hadn’t been easy, mind you. Talent and art starts young. It was said that it was spawned with a scowling and gleeful countenance, paper in hand and pen poised to write havoc and let slip the dogs of disorder. Even when the age of it could be counted on one hand, it already took delight in tattling and selling out its compatriots and associates to authorities – even to its own detriment. Be it over silly rules, or the pettiest things like a fellow man redistributing wealth in the form of confectioneries. It would gab, as a rule. Much to the despair of the people around it its conduct merely worsened. By the age of ten, it had already 20


achieved mastery in the slimy knack of “organizing”; making as inefficient as possible perfectly adequate systems and turning them into beasts from the deeper circles of damnation. By the time it had finished primary school, it had been a librarian, a bus watcher and a student monitor. Positions it had chosen for the express purpose of disrupting and annoying people. With a chubby fist of iron, it brought utter inconvenience upon those who had breached the most miniscule detail of lawful conduct. In high school It had immediately grasped the attentions of belligerent and disorganized young adults with Its precise and utterly meticulous attention to detail, regarding the school’s rules and customs - Specifically those with the ability to, when breached, warrant all sorts of unpleasant retribution. It had soon established a tyrannical regime of unpleasantness over its classmates. The scenario finally degenerated into every man for himself trying desperately to avoid the malign eyes of… It, presiding over the school above an exultant and maniacal face. With all this in mind, it is hardly a great leap to imagine that it had found Its way into every minor managerial position in university and had made it Its duty with extreme prejudice to slow down any urgent proceedings, to stifle any innovations and utterly smother all positive change in the glorious name of Red Tape. It halted progress, therefore it was. Of course, when it had finally got a degree in law – after helping the English department students write some of the best Orwell commentaries in history – It had swiftly attained a job as a defence attorney. It was soon discovered however that it lacked the imagination for the position and judging from its utter attention to detail and honesty regarding the many cases it worked on, it was strategically placed in a middle managerial position watching budding lawyers, smothering any potential and wasting time of clients to “earn” even more money. So unremarkably when it had entered the lunch room and lowered its red-faced pinstriped form onto the chair, in the aforementioned first and third paragraphs, and spotted a small apple on a tile in a corner with a few ants around it, an expression of pure delight graced what might be considered its features. With great effort the prognathic, pinstriped radish thing heaved itself off the chair and scuttled off into the main room where it presided patiently and parasitically over the cubicles, taking pride in all the worried and worn out faces that sombrely regarded it whilst scanning the room for escape routes. “Miss Termant, would you please come see me in my office?”

21


The Place By Troy Solloway Back in the days, the old ruin was some kind of special, maximum-security asylum. Apparently, some kind of crazed super-humans were being kept in custody there. Word went round that they were people subjected to genetic tests, to breed some kind of real life Captain America. Others said they were captured Russian spies, and that the government was attempting to fiddle with their heads and make them totally believe that they’re actually American. Whoever they were, the government only thought they succeeded in causing their brains to rot, and that they were of no use to the country. So they chucked them in a room at the hotel madness, and let them live out the rest of their days with food and water being tossed through a small vent in the ceiling, and forcing them to snooze in piles of their own shit. Anyway, it hasn’t been in use since the cold war, and all the inhabitants were said to be deceased. That’s what the seniors at Pineville High said about it anyway. Joey was an adventurous, daring type of person. He and two closest friends, Max and Robin, lived for any form of thrill, regardless of the sheer stupidity involved. They had heard about this place in the woods their entire lives, but never really paid much attention to it until the seniors had told them a creepy story about how a girl at one of the other schools was found near the edge of the site. Viciously decapitated. So one summers Friday evening, Joey and his mates decided to go check it out, along with three girls they were hoping to prove how badass they were to, and so get in bed with later on. Joey had a thing for dark, creepy places. Max and Robin were otherwise pretty keen. He didn’t want to make them think he was a pussy, and Sally – the hottest by a long shot of the three girls they had taken with them – had been his crush for quite some time. They made their way through the woods, making an obnoxious amount of noise with every meter they travelled. With the silhouette of the building being a full moon in sight, things got a bit edgy. Brook, one of the girls who had gone a long with them, wasn’t enjoying it much. “This place is seriously giving me the chills,” Brook said. “We all are, it’s normal,” asserted Robin. “Let’s go back….” “Off you go then,” said Sally, who wasn’t showing any signs of fear. “I will. You guys have fun.” Not that any of them cared. She was pretty fat anyway, none of the guys were missing out on much. She’ll go back to some party, and probably drink herself silly for the rest of the night. “This place smells funny,” said Harriet, Sally’s other friend. She was right; it smelt a bit like something dead decaying. The boys all ignored her and the pungent smell. Entering the building, they could see that the place was abandoned rather abruptly. Stuff was all clattered about on the 22


floor; nobody had ever bothered to fetch anything from the place. Broken glass was littered about all over the place, but the guys didn’t bother to watch their step, or even keep the noise down. Joey saw an interesting sign on a door. He began to read it: CELL OF DANGEROUSLY INSANE PERSON, DO NOT DISTURB. The door was unlocked. “Hey guys, come take a look at this creepy shit.” No response. But Joey was sure that they were right beside him as he was saying it. He felt their presence. He could even hear Max’s breathing close by when he was reading the sign. It was only when he turned around that he discovered they were not there. A rush of cold air hit him, followed soon after by a piercing scream. Joey sprinted through the maze of corridors; the layout was confusing. He stopped in his tracks. A head, with a face of horror, lying in a pool of blood. The head of Sally. Harriet jumped out from the shadows nearby, only visible from an eerie dim light coming from a small hole in the roof. A second’s relief from finding Joey alive was destroyed by the sight of what was left of sally. Another two screams, both belonging to deep-voiced men, echoed about the corridor. Probably Robin and Max. Harriet was inches away from Joey when he turned his head in the direction of the scream. He turned around again, but Harriet was gone. He braced himself for the ruthless scream, and sure enough the building shook from the volume of it. It had to have come from only meters away. The sudden darkness blinded him, but the he could sense something approaching him at incredible speed. Then a hand, with bony fingers and sharp nails, grabbed his leg from behind and tore his shoe off– along with his foot. One deafening howl from the depth of Joey’s throat, and the thing swiped the wall near Joey’s face, the old plaster crumbled to a pile on the damp floor. Joey caught a glimpse of a set of razor sharp teeth, stained with red, above a lizard-like tongue, and the creature’s eyes… and although they were definitely human, they were demon-like sinister all right – just as myths had made the place out to hide. In a second, his abdomen consisted of a gaping hole. In another, his guts were spilled all over the floor, along with shards of bone. In the final second, a powerful tug of his head and he watched the rest of his body slump onto the floor.

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The Antonine Plague By Connor Taylor The underlying fear that has forever captivated humanity was now the result of a painful silence under the pitter-patter of raindrops. A single girl was caught in the middle of the rain, flushed pale white. Her eyes manipulated by her instinctive fear beamed forward aimlessly. A man screamed her name from under the shelter. But we all knew it was hopeless. Once the rain has caught you, once you were shrouded in the cold mist of the rain you were already dead. And so she fell backwards. Legs bent awkwardly. Her head hit the floor. Her body regurgitated blood. And so, a small river of blood swam painfully slowly across the street. Rain had always been man’s greatest fear, for all we can remember we had been shaped by it, and so when the rain hit in the dry season of course it caught many off guard and resulted in many deaths. I stood right on the border of the shelter still staring scared at blood that covered the street. Then she came. Her calm face and her slow footsteps, she walked through the rain. I always saw her, the opposite of all humanity, she walked through the rain as if she never knew of the death that rain brought, but she knew, she always saw it; she always walked through the bloodied streets. The bystanders stared at her, as did I. The man who screamed for the girl now screamed “demon” at her, his voice, crackling with emotion. She was always called a demon, there is a theory that the rain is a reflection of man’s sin, and that if we were to stop sinning we could finally live in peace. As a result of this somewhat religious belief people thought of her as a demon, I never came to agree with this, wouldn’t it have been more understandable for her to be an angel, unaffected by sin? But I didn’t like to get mixed up in any of this. And so she continued to walk until I could no longer see her. The rain stopped, and we all began to walk, we were still cautious and terrified. An ambulance had begun to collect the bodies, and the man had now been brought to tears as he picked up the body of the girl. I turned away and continued walking home. Weeks later it was still in the dry season so everyone was less cautious than they were in the rain season. And as usual when it was dry she was never to be seen. So the dry days continued and people slowly forgot about the previous trauma and simply placed it in history, but as always the peace was never long lived. Again the rain abruptly came from nowhere. I was situated in the universities scholar room alone, which stood 5 floors from the ground; this gave a horrific view of the humans scattering and flailing to find safety under shelter. I noticed as a young man threw himself under the shelter but it was in pointless effort as he did not make it out unscathed and fell to the ground the same as the rest, and blood flowed like the rain out of his mouth, and of course she stood there, peering forward, ignoring the dead man not 1 metre from her. She stepped past him. Into the rain she walked. And suddenly she stood still. Turned her head and stared into the scholar room. I didn’t move. The rain began to calm. And she continued walking away. Disorientated I stood still, blankly following her walk away until she was out of sight. Once the sound of the rain had stopped my legs dragged me backwards, then sat softly on the closest chair and questioned the reason she stared at me. “Why?” circled around me, echoed in my skull. After hours of accomplishing nothing the sun had faded and I briskly walked home. I still didn’t understand, but I knew she wasn’t what I feared, it was the rain and the rain came with a strong reminder.

24


Inches from leaving the safety of shelter the drone of rain captivated the city. Less than an arm’s reach from death. I felt my knees tremble. Given the late hour not many people were outside and so I stood alone. Eyes trapped open by fear. “You don’t stare at me like the others” a soft voice sounded behind me. She stood beside me, staring at the rain, but not like me. She stared at the rain with peace, where I was still trembling in fear. “Do you know why people die in the rain?” she asked stepping patiently into the rain. I still couldn’t move, let alone speak. “Do you fear the rain?” She spoke again. She stood calmly in the rain staring at me. “D-Don’t you?” I finally managed. “Why should I?-” “You’ve seen it, you’ve seen the blood and tears, rain has always killed-“ “It’s not the rain” She smiled. “I am no one special; I have no tricks, only that I am not afraid of the rain. You see, people don’t die from the rain… they die from fear” She grabbed my hand and begun slowly pulling my hand to the rain. “If you are not afraid, you will not die“ I stared blankly at her. And she continued to pull my hand under the rain, closer and closer. “How do you expect me not to be afraid?” I asked “I can feel the fear in me animating my veins; I can feel the rain urging to kill me” A moment past where neither of us spoke, I couldn’t think; an idea to be so impossible to comprehend, and yet I felt as if her words justified all she said. … “You don’t need to be afraid.” She smiled. Her hand was neither hot nor cold. The thought of fear spun around me. Yet with all my will I couldn’t pull away from her. And finally, my hand left the shelter, a single drop of rain fell centred in the palm of my hand.”

25


Hospice By Simon van der Zeyden It was very late and the young man was surprised that a bus had come for him at all. He had been relieved to find a bench towards the back of the bus that he could melt away into and it wasn’t until he sat down in the shadow of the dotted advertising panel that covered the window – the type you could look out through and observe the world, in all of its petty and personal complication, yet remain hidden from those trying to look in – that he realised it was this very feeling of isolation, nay, seclusion, that he had been aching for. The bus jolted into life, the young man was taken away, not certain where he would end up and with no control over where he was going. Miles away, an oncologist and a nurse sat dejectedly in an under-furnished on-call room. “She was a lost cause. She tried to kill herself a week ago.” Said one of the men. “They’re all lost causes.” “Maybe if you could accept that we aren’t here to save them.” “What difference, then, can we make?” “You know the answer as well as I do.” The men sat in suspended conflict for uncounted minutes. The night was well upon them, and tired though they were, their shifts had only just begun. It was unusual that there was so little going on that required their attention, but they were grateful for the time to sit and think. It was even more unusual that they, whose profession it was to bring comfort and respite to countless patients through their dying days, should be so shaken by being on standby for the passing of just one more. “Silberman left here hours ago.” “I know. I’m covering his shift.” “I know.” “She was beautiful.” “I know.” “I would hear them whispering in her room every night. Every single night. I would never know what about but I could see that in those early hours, nothing existed to either of them outside of that room.” “Do you think he was fortunate to have had that?” “I do not.” “Why not?”

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“It will haunt him.” The young man found the incessant flickering of the BUS STOPPING sign irritatingly profound. It seemed to implore him. To beg that he step off of the bus and to turn around and to return to the very place he was being driven away from. He knew it was hopeless but he wasn’t thinking rationally. Maybe if he went back he would find her awake. Lucid, even. Maybe if he went back she would be waiting for him, sitting, awake in her room, smiling as she always did when he walked in. But maybe she would end up screaming at him the way she always seemed to end up screaming at him. Maybe the cursing and the anger and the vilification would start. He didn’t mind. The least he could do for her was take the abuse. He only wished that he had known of the unpayable debt that he owed before he met her. A full hour had passed at the hospice with neither man having been called to a patient. They had left each other alone to their thoughts for most of that time. “As gently as she did at times whisper, I would sometimes hear her screams from 2 floors up.” “Why did she scream?” “She felt abused.” “By Silberman?” “By her body. By the cancer.” The men shifted uneasily at the word “Did we not have someone comforting her?” “She was Silberman’s patient.” “He said speaking only made her feel worse.” “She said she hated his tone. She said that it made her feel deserted.” Neither man was willing to admit it but they understood each other. They understood that neither had ever looked at a patient the in this way before. Never before had they truly appreciated a patient as a complete human. Admitting it to themselves was enough to bring the men a rush of guilt for having not fully appreciated those that came before, and not fully appreciating those that would come later. Then again, neither had ever seen anyone fall in love with a patient before. The young man endured a handful more bus stops without succumbing to his impulses. On the bench towards the back of the bus he remained, falling in and out of an unsteady slumber. Just when he thinks he may have fallen asleep she appears to him. Her face up against his, her soft whispers sweetly suspended, never forming full sentences, slurring aimlessly. He was too terrified to speak. He had always been too terrified to speak. He hated his own voice for how it made her angry. He could only ever talk to her in whispers and even then only when she was asleep, when what he said wouldn’t be able to make her cry or make her angry. And yet he loved her. Something had kept him standing by that hospital bed. He should have quit and skipped the abuse but instead he took care of her. And as many times as he had been told of how everyone betrayed her, as many times as he had been told how unfair it was, he had never loved anyone more. He was bound to her bedside. He was her eulogy singer. And though there were two different people inside her brain, and two different voices agreeing that he was the one to blame, there were still two people living inside the one room, and there were two wedding bands on their fingers through the doom. The Oncologist and the nurse had kept the illusion of disaster alive long enough that they still ran to the room when told that the monitor had beeped for the last time and the breathing machine had drawn its last bellow-full. They both knew that her death was inevitable, and they both knew that it

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was going to happen in this early morning. They even had the integrity to check for a pulse before she was pronounced dead. She hadn’t been responsive since late morning, “Where is Silberman? He needs to be here. Why is he not here? His wife just passed away.” “I believe he already said his goodbyes.” “Where the hell did he go?” “He said he was looking for a bus home.”

Uncommon Love By Simon van der Zeyden Humans have always dazzled me with their complication and their irrationality. Perhaps no human more so than myself have I deemed incomprehensibly bizarre. I have never thought my choice was rational or at all natural but I have given it all the reasoning it needs with that one universal excuse, I was merely following instinct. And it was that one choice I made all those years ago, and the changes the decision brought about, that have led me here: to this evening support session. I’m surrounded by people just as complicated as I, if not more, and people who I know I can share in the experiences of. There are labels hanging off of everyone; Mr Manic-Depressive, Mrs Schizophrenia, the asexual, - bisexual, pansexual, the bipolar alcoholic, the one with multiple personality disorder in the corner there, but there certainly isn’t any judgement between us. And that is just as well. As much colourful diversity there is between us, there is, of course, that one unifying trait, that has cobbled us together into this somewhat coherent support group. But perhaps before I tell you that I will first tell you what happened that made this one particular session so significant. It was the 25th of August, when I showed up in my usual, subtly tardy, manner at the old suburban church for our fortnightly group counselling session. The unseasonably warm night already had me unsettled before I’d even walked inside of the slightly gothic and implicitly daunting venue that I had become more than familiar with. The uncomfortable clatter of chairs moving into a circle within the church inspired me to dart inside and wolf down an almond-frosted donut before taking my seat in the circle, as was my usual custom. There were two new faces tonight. The first, Kasper from Germany, the second, Buttercup from upstate. The invariably soothing and friendly tone we were all so familiar with acknowledged this. “Welcome, you two, we’re glad to have you. Shall we get into it?” But it wasn’t just Kasper and Buttercup. A sheepish hand raised from under a brown coat 3 seats to my left gently interrupted our counsellor politely enough that only a handful of us even noticed any interjection at all. The newcomer in the brown coat spoke far more audibly when asked to introduce herself, and listening to her words, tumbling softly from her rose-petal lips, was enthralling. Rosie had me at one. I could tell that Rosie was much more than your average woman. Rosie was far unlike Daisy or Lily, and even though I didn’t know her, I could tell Rosie was so much more than Buttercup across the circle. Rosie was different. Rosie was more. Her long eyelashes batted and flitted in unison with her musical speech as I became completely fixated on her profile. Originally from California, twenty two years of age, Rosie said she had been “In the cycle, in the community for 3 years now.” 28


I remember letting out a quick whistle from high to low to show my astonishment, and that is when it happened. Rosie delicately tilted her head my way, and, as quick as the motion probably was, I remember it feeling an eternity, the suspended seconds of fear, knowing Rosie was to look my direction, not knowing if I was ready. But it happened.

Our eyes caught, My heart stopped, Her face clicked, The clock ticked, The floor dropped, The daydream stopped, Her gaze dropped. I had felt a serious connection. I looked around the circle for expectant glares from these people. Surely they had caught as much in that glance as I had! But there was nothing. In absolute desperation I decided I would go for a second attempt, a repeat experiment, to reinforce my opinion. I spent the entire session with my eyes glued to the collar of that light beige coat. I didn’t think about my broad emotional state once the whole evening. I took no support from it and I gave no support to it. I was occupied. I was smitten. “Why the hell is she wearing a coat in this heat anyway?” I thought to myself. Rosie, Rosie, Rosie, Oh you do make me so nosy, Though your voice does make me dozy, And draws from me this poetry. She hadn’t looked my way again, though I waited diligently through the whole two hours. I remember being certain she just wished to avoid the temptation that looking deep into my eyes again presented to her. And with such confidence it was that, finally, upon the session closing up and the socialising beginning, that I did confront Rosie. And I did so with a donut, frosting of a rose-pink hue, though she doesn’t eat sugary treats. But I approached her, and I told her as plainly and opening as I dared, that I had been completely stricken by her charm, and that I genuinely believed she was meant for me. Though perhaps my fearfulness made for a slight distortion of my ideas when it came to the communication of them because all I remember doing with Rosie, the woman I considered my one true love, was making smoothies in my apartment with her that night. Oh, Rosie, The letters of which you are sender, Your lipstick still on the blender,

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Our love so sweet, Oh isn’t it neat, That we are both transgender.

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Sleight of mind