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Edition 81.8 – Hearsay


Volume 81 Edition 8

Editors: Casey Briggs, Stella Crawford and Holly Ritson. On Dit is a publication of the Adelaide University Union.

Editorial 2 Foreword 3 About The Judges

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On Dit is produced and printed on the traditional country of the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains. We recognise and respect their cultural heritage, beliefs and relationship with the land.

Judges’ Comments

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The opinions expressed within this magazine are not necessarily those of the editors, the University of Aedlaide, or the Adelaide University Union Talk to us: ondit@adelaide.edu.au auu.org.au/ondit facebook.com/onditmagazine twitter.com/onditmagazine

Colony Collapse Disorder: Seb Tonkin (First Place)

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Temptation: Vicki Griffin (Second Place)

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Baby Steps: Zara Hannaford ( Third Place)

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Levels: Amy Manyard (Editors’ Choice)

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HB: Toby Barnfield

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Stolen Kisses: Sophie Strickland

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Crosses: Athena Taylor

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Transposing: Rebecca Hamdorf

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Sandy: Harriet Sale

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A Journey: Thomas Hawkins

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Published 13/08/2013.

Cover and inside back cover art by Anthony Nocera. Thanks to distribution logistics field team Viv, Jack, Amy, and Angus, Kearin and Bek in the Union for event support, the office air conditioner for keeping us toasty. Unthanks to: KRudd for distracting us and batteries for not lasting longer. This episode of On Dit was brought to you by the letter ß and the number √2.

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Editorial Hello Possums, Earlier in the year, we put the call out to students at the University of Adelaide for short stories under the theme ‘Decision’. In return, we offered over $2000 worth of prizes. We didn’t really know what to expect, but in the end we were inundated with over 75 submissions. From these, our judges chose ten finalists and three winners. These are what you’ll enjoy in this fun sized edition of On Dit. Inside you’ll read about life after death, family struggles, and the importance of choosing the right stationery. Oh, and death too. You kids really like to talk about death. Why decision? We got sick of making decisions about everything to do with this magazine, so decided on the theme ‘Decision’. As editors we’ve spent our entire year making collective decisions. Font decisions, story decisions, dinner decisions. Making these decisions is never easy. Almost every decision we’ve made this year has been analysed, debated, rationalised and compromised over before coming to any sort of conclusion. In life, it would usually seem simpler to just flip a coin when we need to make a choice. The stories in this edition illustrate that situations are always complicated, the options are varied, and characters often need to think a little bit more about what’s really important. We’re so thankful to our three wonderful judges, our fantastic sponsors and all the talented writers, illustrators and photographers that were involved. Thanks to all. Holly Ritson, Stella Crawford and Casey Briggs On Dit Editors 2


Foreword Judging a short story competition is always more of a dark art than a precise science. During the judging process, there was animated discussion between the panel members regarding how to select and ultimately rank their shortlist; the winning Hearsay entries were ultimately chosen as much for the reaction they had provoked in the judges as for any kind of more formulaic criteria they had met. The entries that were selected were those with a story to tell and an original way of doing it. Many of the stories were inventive, startling and richly imagined. It would be true to say that many explore extremities of experience, and the dark and difficult side of life, as the authors experience it. There is often a powerful personal dimension. In some cases this was quite confronting for the judges. The very best stories are those that have a sense of style as well as a sense of content. Among them are those that have an interest in experimenting with the form itself, and with language, and find a fresh, satisfying shape for the ideas they are developing, sometimes subtle, sometimes bold. The published entries all share these qualities. It was exciting and pleasurable to read them. Many, many more stories were strongly and compellingly written; the well of writing talent at the University of Adelaide clearly runs very deep, which is an exciting prospect indeed. The judges would like to encourage everyone who entered to keep writing, and keep sharing their work; contrary to what some might say, this world will never have too many writers, people who love the art, and the science, of capturing in words what it is to be alive, and to not be alone. Many congratulations also go to the On Dit editors for such an innovative and successful competition! Nicholas Jose, Stephanie Hester and Cath Kenneally Hearsay Judges 3


About the Judges Cath Kenneally Cath Kenneally is a poet, novelist, arts writer and broadcaster. Since 1990, Kenneally has been Arts Producer at Radio Adelaide, presenting the nationally broadcast program Writers Radio and Saturday arts program Arts Breakfast. She is a regular book reviewer for the Weekend Australian and other publications, and writes widely on the visual arts.

Nicholas Jose Nicholas Jose is Professor of English and Creative Writing in the School of Humanities at the University of Adelaide. His published work comprises thirteen books, among them the Miles Franklin Award shortlisted Avenue of Eternal Peace. His teaching career began at Oxford, where he gained his doctorate, and spans several continents.

Stephanie Hester Stephanie Hester received a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Adelaide. Her involvement in contemporary writing stretches from involvement in events such as Adelaide Writers’ Week, panel chairing for the SA Writers Centre, and organisation of Salisbury Writers’ Festival. She currently works at the University of Adelaide and coordinates the Write Now project.

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Judges’ Comments First Place: Colony Collapse Disorder (Seb Tonkin) An extremely powerful and compelling tale of love, illness and loss; it is told with a deft lightness of touch that balances, and brings into sharper focus, the darkness of its subject matter. A deep current of unspoken, unspeakable pain runs through this work, giving it a power and a charge. The randomness, and yet very personal, nature of tragedy is depicted through a series of descriptions of a ‘lost’ mother that emerge as sudden as a tidal wave in the middle of an otherwise calm scene.

Second Place: Temptation (Vicki Griffin) A superb, utterly original and extremely well timed piece of writing that vividly captures the mindset, and motivation, of a young man at the crossroads. An author with a great deal of perception and skill has shaped the characters in this piece; Josh is real, as funny as he is flawed, and we are able, and encouraged, to empathise with him as much as be frustrated by his actions. The older man is a wonderful creation whose mysterious appearances contribute to the surreal air of this piece. Indeed, there is a frenetic energy and charge in this story that is in keeping with its subject matter, and makes its depiction of youth nightclub culture all the stronger.

Third Place: Baby Steps (Zara Hannaford) A brilliantly realised piece of short fiction. It is perfectly crafted, with a fantastic premise that places the reader immediately within the world of the piece; the tension is set and held throughout the entire story. What really makes the reader invest in the story is its characterisation. The two girls and the relationship between them is heartbreakingly true. The nature of the ending is also true, with this author showing great sophistication by resisting the temptation to resort to cliche for the sake of a ‘climax’. 5


Art in Hearsay by: Page 5 : Elizabeth Galanis Page 8: Alicia Strous Page 24: Elizabeth Galanis Page 28: Jack Lowe Page 34: Spark Sanders Page 44: Ariane Jaccarini Page 48: Ariane Jaccarini Page 60: Michael Lawless Page 68: Madeleine Karutz Page 78: Michael Lawless

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(First Place)

Colony Collapse Disorder By Seb Tonkin

Tim’s mother saw colours in the air, on Sunday mornings, every four weeks, like clockwork. When he was little, she had sat down with him – one Monday, smiling, after her headache subsided – and described the zig-zags, the flashing fields, the spreading geometric patterns. The doctors called the hallucinations ‘aura’: a migraine symptom that, medically, was just a benign curiosity. But to Tim, sitting cross-legged on the carpet, the fact that his mother saw things nobody else could had seemed nothing less than magical. He would lie face down in bed, pressing his eye sockets against his forearm. The pressure did something in his eyeballs, brought forth strange and shifting shapes and figures. It wasn’t his mother’s aura, but it was something, even if it hurt a little bit. *

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One Sunday afternoon Tim arrived home to find his mother gone. Tiptoeing to the back room, he saw the door was wide open, the room illuminated. He checked, one by one, each room of the house. He walked to the telephone in the hallway – it was old, still attached to its wall cradle with a curly cream cord. Calmly, he punched his mother’s mobile number into the keypad. Her ringtone started playing, from the table in the other room. Tim began to worry, but had no immediate plan. She couldn’t have gone far. The car was in the driveway – he’d squeezed past it on his way in, like always. Tim poured a glass of water in the kitchen, drank half of it, and tipped the rest down the sink. He pondered calling triple zero. Instead he called the non-emergency police 9


assistance line, which had twice as many digits. The woman on the other end sounded bored, and told him that they couldn’t report an adult as missing until at least 24 hours had passed. ‘Usually it’s the parents calling us!’ she said, with a dark chuckle. *

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As time went on, Tim’s wonder at his mother’s visions had been overshadowed by more practical concerns. Invariably her aura disappeared around noon, to be replaced with a debilitating headache. The monthly ritual saw her recognise the aura’s warning, and confine herself to her bedroom on those Sunday afternoons. She pulled the blinds, closed the door, shrank from the tiniest sound, turned inwards and succumbed to nausea. Tim learnt to tread lightly – to fill her water glass, empty and replace the bucket by her bed, while never letting more than a sliver of light through the door into her darkness. Beyond that, all he could do was ignore her quiet moans of pain. His presence, as much as it made light or sound, would only make things worse. The doctors always called the bouts of migraine ‘attacks’, but in a way it seemed like a misnomer to Tim. His mother seemed to not thrive, exactly, but to regenerate on them. Like a wind-up toy, or phoenix, she’d triumphantly emerge from her dark room each Monday morning and expose the house, throwing wide the windows and propping open the back door. For a few days she glowed and glided about, with a wide-eyed desire to do something, however elusive it might prove. Those moments – those postmigraine rebounds – seemed to carry her through the rest of the month, until the aura returned to herald another reconstruction. Over the years, the doctors had tried neurological, chemical, and eventually psychiatric tests. Nothing was revealed. As she said to Tim, her migraines just seemed to be the way she functioned. *

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About an hour later, Tim’s friend Eliza arrived – unexpected, as usual. ‘Hello!’ she said, grinning. ‘Can I come in? I brought milkshakes.’ She pointed with her eyes at the two enormous paper cups she had her arms wrapped around, and stuck out her bottom lip to blow her fringe off of her face. ‘How is she?’ Eliza whispered once inside. Tim absentmindedly picked the milkshakes up from the kitchen bench and put them in the fridge. ‘You don’t have to whisper,’ he said. ‘I just got home, and she was gone. I don’t know 10


where she is. I don’t know.’ Eliza’s eyes grew wide, before she brought them under control. For his benefit, probably, Tim thought. ‘So what will you do?’ she asked eventually. Tim explained the phone call, the car, that she must be out on foot. Eliza suggested they go out walking to search, just in case. Tim knew that neither of them really expected to find her, but he was grateful for something to do, and agreed. *

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One of those bright Mondays, Tim’s mother took him on a spontaneous holiday to Japan – something she said she’d always wanted to do. They accidentally got off the train from the airport too early, in a district of denim mills and tailors that made jeans to be sold to factory workers and American department stores. They smelled the peculiar acrid aroma from buckets of indigo dye, recessed in shallow wells in stonework. Ropes of drying cotton thread stretched and sagged and dripped in an endless web through the town, between doorways and across streets. Tim and his mother ate bowls of udon while waiting for the train, and watched families walking and laughing, their hands stained a deep, steadfast blue. She brought home a piece of fabric from that Japanese town, soft and slubby, and hung it on the back wall of the kitchen. It was the first of many. She bought them from garage sales, or the Oxfam shop. She sent envelopes of cash to Fukushima, and received more fabric, in dirty paper packages, in return. They didn’t match in colour, shape, or size, but Tim’s mother still filled the house with them. They hung in front of windows and tinted the afternoon sun a rainbow of tones. The shift in the air as Tim entered a room would make them ripple in the corner of his eye. *

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Outside searching with Eliza, it was overcast – one of those autumn days on which it was difficult to find the sun, when trees had no shadows, lit evenly from all sides. Objects lacked edges, and it seemed like the gap between them and their background, between Tim and everything that wasn’t, was less noticeable than usual. Tim didn’t live far from the city. It was a suburban area, but a middle-class one, built before the spread of identical mansions and curvy streets. The houses were older, though still single-story, and large trees shaded most of the streets with dappled light. But the blocks were square, the roads flat, ordered and grid-like, with a speed limit of 40. Tim sometimes missed the organic tangle of Japan. 11


They took a left, and headed towards the horse racing track. It was Tim’s favourite spot, though it wasn’t wilderness by any extension of the term. Circled by a few giant gums, it was little more than an expanse of grass, rarely trimmed. But Tim liked the space of it. He liked the way it interrupted the surrounding grid, and the way the colours shifted over the year, from misty green winters to January’s golden plain. He would watch the workmen taking down the temporary summer grandstands, only to start erecting them again just a couple of months later. As Tim and Eliza walked across it, there was a bee, humming quietly as it circled around their feet. Tim couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen one. He recalled the excitement whenever they flew into a schoolroom. The danger of it. Bees seemed like something that had only existed when he was younger, like anthills on the pavement, or those dried-up white pieces of dog poo. Eliza had picked up a gum leaf from the ground and was slowly crushing it into a ball with her fingers. ‘I think I want to be a bee-keeper, maybe,’ she said. ‘I thought you hated honey,’ Tim countered. Eliza paused for a second. ‘I do,’ she said. ‘But I like bees.’ ‘They’re disappearing, you know.’ ‘What?’ ‘I read about it on the internet; it’s a big deal in the US. For agriculture or whatever. Sometimes, they open the hives and there are no bees. The queen’s still there, there’s still plenty of honey and larvae. Everything is completely normal, except for the absence of the bees. They just pick up and leave. There are theories, but no one really knows why.’ ‘Jeez,’ said Eliza, dropping her gaze, before looking up with a grin. ‘Maybe they just need better bee-keepers.’ ‘My mum’s gone,’ said Tim. Eliza nodded, her grin evaporating quickly. ‘It’ll be okay, but. She’s a grown woman.’ ‘Yes,’ said Tim. ‘Probably.’ He prodded a twig with his foot. The bee was gone. There was a figure in the distance that looked like his mother, but wasn’t. ‘Hey,’ said Eliza. ‘Are you good?’ ‘Yes, I’m good.’ 12


‘That’s good.’ ‘Are you good?’ ‘I am good,’ one of them said. Once, Tim had stood in that spot and realised that he was at least a couple of hundred metres from the nearest person – that standing there was about as physically isolated as it was possible for him to get. But now Eliza was there. Tim felt that it was somehow enough for them to stand there, in that expanse, and be, at the very least, not unhappy. Eliza placed her hands on his face. They smelled of eucalyptus, and she kissed him. They walked back to Tim’s house as the light became golden and cold. *

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‘I applied for a job yesterday,’ said Eliza, ‘but I do not expect to succeed.’ She had graduated some months earlier, and this had become a common conversational theme. Tim retrieved the milkshakes from the fridge, and joined her on the sofa. He turned on the television, picking up and using in succession the three remotes needed to get the sound working. There was special breaking news coverage – an earthquake off the coast of Japan had caused a tsunami. There was limited footage. The disaster was monochrome, impressionistic, seen through the low-quality filters of mobile phones and security cameras. ‘It got me thinking, you know,’ continued Eliza. ‘There was supposed to be this path there for us.’ There was a shot of the wave hitting a coastal town. The water was already full of debris – more solid than liquid. The street could have been any one of thousands, but Tim thought he could see buckets of indigo dye through the grain. ‘We’re the coddled generation. We’ve been told since before we could speak that we can achieve anything,’ Eliza persisted. Some cars were caught in the water – on their sides, flying with the current. The overhead angle made them look like die-cast toys tossed in the mud. ‘So you do well in school. You work hard at uni. But it’s not true. And it’s like, okay, now what, you know?’ 13


The roar of the wave had overpowered the microphone; it was reduced to a flat, distorted drone. ‘We’re self-absorbed. We suffer from this, like, weird mixture of apathy and vaguely defined ambition.’ The angle changed again. Now there was a bridge, parts of it breaking off and disappearing into the churning mess below. ‘And even though I’m aware of that I feel powerless to break free of it.’ The footage loop started rolling again. Black water. Tossed cars. Broken bridge. As carefully as Tim looked, he couldn’t see any people. ‘I feel anxious about nothing in particular.’ Intellectually, of course, he knew where the people were: evacuated to higher ground, or inside, praying that their houses held. But watching the footage, he couldn’t shake the irrational impression that the wave had hit a deserted shell – that all of Japan had already been empty. No screams, no people, just an unstoppable droning blackness engulfing vacant homes. Eliza prodded Tim. ‘Are you listening to me?’ ‘Mmm?’ he replied, turning from the television, which had started reporting fears of a nuclear incident. ‘Oh yeah. I’m just, y’know, worried about mum.’ It was half true. In fact, he couldn’t properly recall her face. In Tim’s mind, his mother was a worker bee. She was an indigo tide gently lapping at the shore of Fukushima. She was a distant beacon, a plume of radioactive smoke, an unexplained coloured flutter in the corner of his eye. Tim leant forward and picked up his milkshake. The flavouring had settled to the bottom of the cup – he tasted plain milk. ‘I think I’m getting a headache,’ he said. Eliza picked up the remote and switched to a channel showing re-runs of old sitcoms. It had that distinct look of early nineties American television: evenly lit, brightly coloured, fuzzy around the edges. ‘You might wanna cinch that robe,’ said a man without a dressing gown to a man wearing a dressing gown. ‘You’ve got a little fruit coming out of your loom.’ The man in the dressing gown hastily fastened it. The actors paused, frozen in time while invisible laughter faded to silence. Eliza met Tim’s cynical gaze. ‘Everybody loves Raymond,’ she said, without smiling.

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(Second Place)

Temptation By Vicki Griffin

Josh White was getting off the drugs. ‘Town tonight?’ his friend asked him on the phone. ‘Nah, mate,’ he replied. ‘Gotta get fit for footy.’ To tell the truth, Josh was just sick of the lifestyle. Predrink, go out, get more fucked up, drop a few googs, stay out until dawn, spend the next three days pretty much disabled in bed. Spend the next week with your emotions up and down and up and down. Not to mention, he’d just lost his license and been hit with a huge fine. ‘You’ve got to get your life together, son,’ offered the judge at his hearing. ‘You’ve got a lot of potential, but at the moment you’re just letting it go to waste.’ Getting wasted. ‘I’ve just been cranking it too much,’ he offered, by way of explanation, but it was a little bit more than that. He was feeling directionless; he was feeling uninspired. But when he partied he couldn’t get his head together enough to do anything, because by the time the scatter wore off it was already Wednesday and time to get geared up for the next round of hedonistic self destruction all over again. Plus, the chick he was seeing was sick of his shit, said she would break up with him if he didn’t start getting his act together. 15


‘Just tell me what you want,’ she had told him, via Facebook chat one night. ‘Cause I like you, but I don’t know if I like this.’ Josh wasn’t indecisive, per se, he just liked keeping his options open. This chick was cute, he did like her, but he was only twenty, he had a lot to do. He didn’t want to be tied down. But he didn’t want to just give her up either… it was a conundrum. Time to get a little bit sober and sort himself out, right? Right. ‘Look, bro, I really think I’m just gonna spend the night in, ripping cones and watching Better Homes and Gardens.’ He hung up the phone, lay on his bed, and stared at the ceiling for a while. He texted his dealer, and checked Facebook for a little while. ‘Who’s out tonight?’ was a status he saw repeated a few times. His newsfeed was full of indie photos of hipster people at the three clubs that dominated this city. Events were being shared, door lists were getting filled… It was a Friday night. Everyone was gearing up. His phone vibrated. His dealer. ‘Sorry bro, I’m out.’ His heart sank. What was a quiet night in without weed? Back onto Facebook, keep his fingers busy while his mind was wandering. He clicked onto Josie’s profile. One of her friends had tagged her in a status, they were getting ready at someone’s house – she was obviously going out tonight. Temptation. But if he went out, he would take googs. But he couldn’t take googs, not if Josie was going to be out. What if he ran into her? What if she ended things simply over him being irresponsible once again, without giving him time to think things over first? But if he went out to town without googs, he’d just spend a shitload of money. Say a hundred fifty getting drunk, then the potential for spending would go through the roof – cigarettes, pokies. Entry fee. Taxis. Casino. And he needed the money for that little two thousand dollar fine lurking at the back of his mind. His parents’ icy politeness every morning; the economic restrictions they 16


could impose on him. He had to be responsible. Goddamn. He checked Facebook but nothing had changed. No one interesting online. He was restless, jumpy staring at this ceiling, trapped in this little box that was his room. He grabbed his wallet and keys and headed out the door. He was going to buy cigarettes, get this shit off his mind. He put his headphones on and walked out the door. Some days, you just can’t escape. Even advertisements are just unwelcome intrusions triggering unwanted associations in your head. Tailor made to pick the sore spots in your life. A bus shelter – ‘Lose your license and you’re screwed.’ A chocolate bar poster on a billboard at the lights. ‘Give in to temptation.’ Two female lips seductively biting the chocolate bar. What was this shit? How was this allowed to clutter the street? His phone vibrated. His dealer ‘sorry bro im out’ Fuck. He scrounged in his pockets for his last smoke, and swore again. He’d forgotten a lighter. His blood was itching for nicotine and his fingers for itching for something to do, and his brain was itching with thoughts tumbling all over themselves. And he couldn’t get weed. And he just wanted a cigarette. There was an option – a hobo sitting by a tree, feeding the birds and smoking a cigarette. He didn’t really want to do it… ‘Hey, could I grab a light?’ The old man’s bloodshot and droopy eyes flicked upwards to meet him. His eyes were watery, slightly yellow and bloodshot. His wrinkled face arranged itself into a snaggle toothed grin that made Josh slightly uneasy. ‘Ey, mate! Of course!’ The old man sounded delighted. Josh was beginning to regret this already. ‘Sit down, grab the light!’ 17


Josh tried to keep his face as polite as possible. Gingerly, he crouched down to the old man’s level, grabbed the lighter. The old man turned to him and with skinny, yellow-taloned fingers grabbed Josh’s wrist and pulled him close. ‘Ey, mate,’ he said again, and Josh could smell his hot breath far too close to comfort. ‘You couldn’t do me a favour could ya?’ Josh shrugged. ‘Um–’ ‘Could ya spare some change so I can buy meself some dinner? Could ya?’ The old man’s gaze was piercing. Josh shrugged himself out of those vice-like fingers, flipped through his wallet. ‘I got five bucks.’ The old man beamed. ‘Thanks, mate. Now look–’ he moved himself to sit a little closer to Josh. He reclined against the wall, making himself comfortable. Leaned over, draped an arm around Josh’s shoulder. Josh recoiled, because not even Lynx could fix this dude’s body odour issue, but the old man seemed chuffed they were sitting here together, just like mates. ‘I know you got a lot on your mind, son.’ He nodded. ‘I know ya do. You’re a good person, hey, giving someone like me a bitta change. I want to thank you.’ The last thing Josh wanted was to be thanked by this man, but he tried to be gracious. ‘I’ll give you a reward, eh? A reward for helping out an old man like me?’ Josh shrugged, nonchalant. ‘Alright.’ The man turned to him. ‘Well then look at this,’ he said, and there was no trace of any accent. He sounded very serious. He reached into his cart, rifling through the empty bottles and stained disposable bags. ‘This!’ he said triumphant, and extended a hand to Josh. Josh could not believe his eyes. Encased in a single sandwich Gladbag were fifty of the freshest, cleanest stingas he’d ever laid eyes on. ‘Yup, she’s a beauty.’ The old man sounded proud, happy he’d impressed Josh. ‘Purple 18


supermans, only the finest. Now look, Josh.’ He was back to being chatty. ‘You look like a good bloke, I’m sure you’ve gotten around a goog or two in your time.’ It was true. ‘But I’m stopping,’ Josh blurted out, automatically, because it was what he had been telling everyone – himself included – all week. But his eyes shuffled back to the stingas – those beautiful, beautiful stingas, a good time encased in every pill – and he knew his willpower was weakening. Jodie’s face flashed into his head. The old man cackled, delightedly. ‘Even better, son.’ He nodded. ‘Very wise of ya, believe me… If you’re up to it, hey. Because, see, I’ll give you these googs on me. Just a little present from your Uncle Stevie, hey?’ The man found a little bit of amusement in the amazement in Josh’s eyes. ‘But here’s the thing, Josh. You’ve gotta use ‘em wisely. Cause I’ll tell you the two options with giving you these supermans right here – you either sell them all, and take none –’ Josh needed the money, Josh needed the money, Josh needed the money. This was the good option, the smart option. He needed the money. ‘–or you take a few and end up losing it all. If you take a few, you will lose it all. Trust me, eh. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Hey? Hey?’ The man was laughing uproariously like he’d just made a particularly funny joke. What a cooked motherfucker. He pushed the bag into Josh’s hand, and gave him a little push up. Josh stumbled forwards, and then simply stood, examining the hundred little pills with their little logos all encased together happily in this Gladbag. And he wasn’t sure how long he stood there for, but when he turned around the man was gone. *

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Hey, what’s up, look I don’t really use forum sites as a rule cause, let’s be honest, facebook is waaaay better, but I thought I’d make the exception for this strange story to tell because it’s not really a happy one and I’d like some advice. So, this story all started when I was barely eighteen – eighteen and three months, according to my fake ID, and I’d just started going out with my brother Josh and his mates to red square pretty much like every weekend, and it was like the funnest thing 19


out. You guys know what I mean, right? Everyone pretty much goes through that phase when you’re just, like, cranking reds every weekend. Like you can’t stop. You’re not even sure if you’re an alcoholic, addicted to googs, or addicted to going to red square until the mid-morning of the next day and stumbling out as the sun bathes Hindley street in an ungodly glow, firmly illuminating every filthy gutter and pissstained corner… and you go home and spend the next two days in a haze, the next three swearing you’ll never do it again, and the next two getting really excited to do it all again. So, yeah, got lost in a bit of a tangent there but the point is we used to crank it – hard. So like it’s a Friday and Josh comes back from the servo with a new pack of ciggies and a weird grin on his face. I dunno, something just seemed up. ‘What’s up?’ I asked him. His eyes had a strange gleam to them. He said nothing, just pulled a glad bag from his pocket and held it up to the light. My eyes bugged out. ‘Purple supermans! They’re supposed to be insane!’ And I asked him where he got them, and you wouldn’t believe it but some homeless dude gave them to him, and of course we thought it was some kind of trap but after much deliberation concluded it was no more risky than taking them from an actual dealer or buying them off some random in town. Adelaide was small, right? If there was an issue surely someone out there would have made a facebook status about it, you know? ‘So… you going out tonight, then?’ Josh said he was, but only to sell the googs to pay back our parents for his driving fine. Which I thought were responsible words, and all, but come on – I know my brother. He couldn’t resist a good time if it was four foot five and morbidly obese. So, yeah, this being a cooker forum and all, you guys probably all know the story. It was the usual town bullshit. Josh totally started off with good intentions, he met this girl he’d been seeing for a few drinks at nine, and they were chatting and stuff and things were going good. But, you know, things remain unpredictable in town, and I guess circumstance got the better of Josh that night. He told the chick he was going to meet the boys, left her with her girl friends and headed straight to the public toilets outside red square. 20


His friends demanded a few googs, and he watched as they snorted lines off the sink. I kinda admire his willpower not to give in right then and there, but he just smoked a cigarette and counted out his cash. Good for him. Then things got a bit more complex, because all these chicks were coming up to him for googs and kind of hitting on him too. And, like, my brother’s an alright looking guy and good on him and shit but then the chick he’s been seeing turns up just as another girl is coming up to give him some cash and things get hectic. Because Josh has cheated on her before and stuff, Josie goes a little bit apeshit. I totally get it, right, from a girl’s perspective because you just don’t know what boys really want in life, pretty much ever. Like, they’re all about keeping their options open and stuff. So like given the past, etc, she just storms off. But this other chick still wants to buy googs, and I guess business calls, and Josh gets the money from her and turns around and Josie is hooking up with some other dude at the bar. And he reckons this chick was really banging and she gave him seventy five and asked for two googs, and he tried to give the money back and she was like ‘oh no, the other one is for you’ and he was like what! Because that never happens, ‘at least not involving a hot chick with a tongue ring,’ as he put it to me later, so of course he goes to the bathroom with her and they snort the pingas… And he goes out and Josie is all teary and wanting to make up and talk about it and shit, so he follows her out for a cigarette, but to be honest the pinga is starting to kick in and he is losing his train of thought. ‘I’m just trying to make money to pay the fine babe, I’m not even taking them myself –’ And he looks over at her with his incriminatingly wide raccoon eyes, and she knows, and he knows she knows, and he looks back down at his feet. ‘It was for free, someone bought it for me–’ he tried to defend himself, but she was having none of it – which I totally get as well, given all the shit this kid has put her through – and just threw the cigarette on the ground and walked into a taxi. So my brother is like totally heartbroken, but also really and truly pinging by this stage, so he gets back into the nightclub and just has a rowdy night, you know, thinks fuck it, takes a few more stingas, ends the evening with an eight AM cig break outside before heading home to pass out for an our or twelve. 21


And, dude, I saw him the next night and he was totally and utterly wrecked, but he still couldn’t sleep for all the pinging, so he just decided he should go out again, and sell more pingas, and at least make enough money to pay the fine back if he lost a girlfriend. And I was like ‘ok dude, if you want to, but just don’t take anymore, you’ve got footy and shit on…’ You know, trying to be a responsible sister at the same time, but at a certain point it’s pointless to try and tell people what to do, you just have to let them go out and do it. So pretty much I just knew Josh was gonna crank goog after goog after goog, and I was pretty sure it would just be therapeutic by the end of it and maybe he’d just be so sick of it he’d get his life together after all. *

*

*

But here’s the thing – the reason why I’m writing on this board. Cause yeah it went on for like two weeks, Josh going out and cranking hella googs, and kind of making money but at the same time spending it on ciggies and stupid shit and drinks and whatever. And about a week later I walked into his room on a Friday night and he was just lying on the bed and there were bags under his eyes and he looked like he’d lost hell weight and that. And he was just staring at the ceiling and I was just like ‘Aren’t you going out tonight?’ And he looked at me with huge shadows under his eyes, and was just like, ‘Nah, Kirst, I can’t take googs anymore.’ ‘They just don’t work.’ And that’s why I’m writing, right, because you know everyone always tells you there’s too much of a good thing. But Josh really loved googs and he told me the other day he took eight but ‘the magic is gone’ and so now he doesn’t even want to go out, just sit in his room and play video games all day. I mean, what’s up with that? Cause it really sucks for him, you know, do you guys know what’s going on? And, like, I was thinking – that old man couldn’t have been psychic or cured Josh or anything? Could he? *

* 22

*


An old man sat under a bridge smothered with graffiti. It was damp and dark, and the river splayed reflective beams of light across his wrinkled and wizened face. ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions,’ the man said. To whom? There was no one around, but a single boy with a skateboard slung over his backpack. The man’s eyes gleamed. He hobbled a little bit out of the shadows of the bridge. ‘Eh, mate!’ The boy looked over. ‘Couldn’t spare some change for an old man to get some dinner, could ya?’

23


(Third Place)

Baby Steps By Zara Hannaford

The Corolla drove the sisters slowly down the street, searching for the right number. The houses were squat, uniform things wearing hats of grey tile, and they had numbers to the left of the front doors that were hidden by tattered screens. They lay twenty feet back from the road, lined by streetlamp-trees that cast a soft glow. The night was yellow, and they passed the plumes of light in silence. They both silently counted down the odd numbers, and worked out how many letterboxes they would pass before they got to the one particular house they had come so far to find. The dashboard hummed beneath a notepad bearing an address and phone number in curled handwriting. They breathed carefully, lest the other should detect nerves, and Olivia glanced at her sister in the passenger seat, took her hand off the wheel for a second and held Lucy’s. The pressure released something, and Lucy breathed a sigh she did not realise she had been keeping in. ‘We could do it in stages. We’ve found the street now, let’s come back and find the rest next time.’ ‘We could.’ Olivia faced forward. ‘Three more houses.’ ‘I know.’ Heavy silence overruled their attempts to convince themselves to give up, and Olivia changed down gears as the car began to creep forward. The car moved decisively, and 25


soon they were on the opposite side of the street. The car came to a halt behind a van advertising cleaning supplies. Olivia turned off the ignition, shifted in her seat, and turned her body toward Lucy. ‘Right. How are we going to do this?’ ‘How are we going to do this.’ Lucy stared forward, and repeated the question as if it were a statement. They both looked at the house across the road, inconspicuous among the rows of others just like it. This house contained a man. This man was half the reason they were both alive. The man who, twenty-three years earlier, had left them and their mother with a surprise parting gift of a decade’s worth of gambling debt. His screen door looked so unwelcoming, the unlit porch so dark, and the path across the gravel impossible to navigate. Olivia did her best to form words in her mind that would be of some use to her little sister, but she had never drawn such a blank. Lucy spoke first. ‘We’ve come all the way here. And he’s been here the whole time.’ ‘I know.’ ‘We could wait, see if he comes outside, and get a look at him.’ Lucy stared at the front door. Olivia did not reply. They really had not considered a plan of action once they found the house. ‘Or a note?’ ‘What –’ Olivia stopped. She thought she saw movement from the house, but it was only a shadow cast by the bright streetlights, shifting uneasily in the breeze. ‘What would we put in a note?’ ‘Um, hi, it’s your kids, remember us?’ They laughed together, at the magnitude of what they were doing, and at the triviality of trying to convey it in the number of words that would fit on any page. ‘Dear dad. How’s tricks?’ They laughed harder. ‘Miss ya lots, give us a ring.’ Lucy had tears in her eyes, eyes that were fixed on that screen door. ‘What if he comes out and sees us?’ Olivia asked, regaining her breath. ‘Hi pops, thought we’d drop by,’ Lucy proposed, her voice attaining a shrill loudness. This sparked something, and they laughed until their laughter died out. Silence again. ‘But really. Shall we just rip off the band-aid?’ The silence seemed harsher now. ‘I don’t know. I’ll go if you will.’ 26


‘Alright, get out of the car.’ ‘You get out.’ Each met the other’s eyes. They stared each other down the way they had when they were children, taking a moment to quietly notice the reality of the similarities they shared, square chins and broad cheekbones, delicately flared nostrils and dark chestnut hair. Each had eyes that could not be more different. Lucy’s were earthen, Olivia’s like grey marble. Olivia looked away first. ‘Ha. You go.’ Lucy pointed. Olivia began to fidget with her nails. She looked again at the yellow-lit house. ‘I wonder what it looks like in the daytime.’ ‘Aww.’ Lucy made a patronizing noise. ‘What? Seriously.’ ‘Let’s just go, darling, if you’re a bit nervy?’ Her voice had risen an octave. Olivia screwed up her face, and began to protest as the front screen door of the house opened with the scream of neglected hinges. A man emerged, tall, with very little hair on his head, but with a face covered in unruly wisps of white hair, which either seemed to spread downwards from the ears, or upwards from the neck. He wore a knitted sweater, the kind a nimble fingered grandmother could knit in a weekend, and the neck was sagging to reveal a collared shirt. He walked oddly, left arm out like a tightrope walker as he carried a bag of rubbish to the bin. His shoes were work boots, with the laces undone, and his ill-fitting cargo trousers were tucked into the socks. He counterbalanced the weight of the black bag, chest out, with an odd, wobbling gait which took decades from his senile frame, making him look like he was mocking a sobriety test. The bin was twenty feet from their car. He glanced toward their car as he walked, and they could see from his deliberate stride and the distribution of fat in his cheeks, so like their own, though his hung decidedly slacker, that he was unmistakably their father. After depositing the rubbish in the black bin, he turned and walked back to the house. He bent to pick up what looked like a pile of junk mail, paused to skim the pizza offers or Indian take-away menus, before going back inside. The light on the landing dimmed, and the light in the front room switched on. They sat for a moment in silence. ‘Well,’ said Lucy. Olivia started the car. ‘Baby steps.’

27


(Editors’ Choice)

Levels By Amy Manyard

‘I’m sorry, this has never happened before.’ I stood awkwardly as the receptionist typed out something on the computer in front of her and then clicked ‘enter’. She frowned slightly at the information she received back. ‘One second,’ she muttered, holding up her finger. She picked up the telephone sitting at her right, one hand keeping it to her ear, the other dialling another member of staff. If they were even known as ‘staff’ down here. ‘Hi, Azazel? It’s Reception calling, I’ve just got a young lady called…’ The embarrassment was palpable as she mouthed ‘what’s your name again dear?’ and I said it as silently back. You would think in a place like this they would at least remember their prisoners’ names. I looked longingly back at the couches. They were sticky and sweaty and whenever you moved – which was often, discomfort synonymous with cheap pleather – you would make a sound like you’ve just cracked a wet one out your arse. But they were better than the hard cement floors. Even the cement couldn’t stop the heat from slowly roasting the soles of my feet through my K-Mart flats. But, the poster above the reception desk did say ‘Stand as You Are Being Served’, and I didn’t want to push my luck in a place like this. ‘…and the thing is, she came down here because of kinslaying, which would put her down in the Ninth Level, but the computer is telling me that she belongs in the Fifth 29


Level, because it was an act of anger. Mm. No, no, I’ve typed in the right ID, it just keeps on giving me the same answer.’ She screwed up her little nose and roughly slid the mouse back and forth, as if to even punish the computer for its crimes. ‘Ok. Abraxas? Yeah I suppose he’d know, where is he at the moment?… Right-o then, yeah I don’t mind being put on hold. Thanks.’ She put the phone on loudspeaker. The hold music was the sound of babies crying mixed with the wailing of widows and the howling of wolves. She smiled at me pleasantly. Unsure of what to do, I smiled too, except my smile was weak and wavering. ‘So… this Abraxas can sort it out?’ ‘Oh yes, he’s been around the office for a long time, he’ll sort it out, quick sticks. Quick River Styx!’ She smiled wider at her little joke, immensely pleased. ‘Is that why you have it on loudspeaker, so you can hear it when he picks up straightaway?’ ‘Mm hm. That and the fact that I like the music; it’s nicer than the stuff we had before.’ I was about to ask what the ‘stuff before’ was like and then decided that I really didn’t want to know. I looked behind me. There were only two other people in the reception office – a fat man fanning himself to no avail, as his hands looked less like hands and more like bloody chunks of meat, and a young boy who looked starved, eyes burning into the vending machine. More specifically, the ‘Out of Order’ sign hanging in front of the array of chocolates and candies. So instead I told the demon that she didn’t look quite as I was expecting. I quickly added that it was nice, though. ‘Oh, thank you!’ She sat up straighter, as if to show me more of her human form. ‘It’s part of our new ‘Walk Amongst You’ program. We, the workers who are either Above or in Limbo, each have to create our own hologram, to make the transition amongst worlds a little bit easier. Before, people would be screaming with fear before they even got to their Level, which really wasn’t fair to the demons who put in the hard yards 30


down there. My real form is hard for your mind to comprehend, simply because it is so grotesque. Although, there have been cases where demons have been spotted and people lose their minds, such as in the cases of Medusa and Chimaera and that sort of thing –’ ‘They don’t exist,’ the fat man butted in, rudely. ‘Or if they did, God would have created them. He created the world and everything in it.’ ‘Excuse me sir, but it is company policy to not discuss matters that refer to the Higher Realm. If you are going to do so, then I’m afraid that I’m going to have to call security to take you to the Lowest Level. There you can take your complaints directly to the manager.’ That shut Fatty up quick smart. ‘Now, as I was saying,’ she looked back to me, as sweet as pie again, ‘we do have the odd kerfuffle when it comes to holograms, but it’s been going for its 2000th year now, and we’ve had quite the success rate!’ ‘That’s pretty awesome.’ ‘It is, isn’t it?’ She smoothed her hair back, and then began humming along with the wailing and howling the best she could. I could feel myself sweating, and it wasn’t because of the smothering heat in the little room. This demon didn’t seem too bad, and maybe when I stated my case it could help her out of her jam, too. ‘Excuse me?’ ‘Yes dear?’ ‘I might know why the Circles are being mixed up.’ ‘Oh, they used to be called ‘Circles’, but then we decided that the word might be offensive to some in the workplace who associated circles with ‘certain elements’ of ‘the Higher Realm’. Specifically, ‘jewellery’, and so we changed it them to ‘Levels’. Much more PC.’ ‘Sorry, the Levels. I think the problem is that I stabbed my cousin with a broken bottle after he tried to rape me at Tash’s party, right, but I didn’t know he was my cousin at the time.’ ‘Mm, and I do hear that rape can make mortals pretty angry,’ said the demon, nodding along in sympathy. 31


‘So… if Abraxas can’t fix the computer details, does that mean I’ll go…’ I tried to swallow with a dry mouth, ‘…somewhere else?’ ‘Oh no dear.’ The sympathetic look was still on her face. Even if she was faking, she was good. ‘No, I’m afraid then you’ll just have to fill out some forms and then go wait in Purgatory whilst the Human Resources office takes care of it.’ ‘How many demons work in the Human Resources office?’ ‘None, they’re all dead.’ ‘So I’d be stuck in Purgatory? Forever?’ ‘I’m afraid so dear, but I don’t make the rules.’ She shrugged. ‘That’s just the way it goes.’ ‘Yeah.’ The demon went back to humming, and got her mobile phone out of her pocket. By the way her manicured fingers slid over the keys, I assumed she was playing a game of some sorts. I shuffled my feet, (which by now really starting to sting if I stood too long), and wondered what sort of games a demon would play on their mobile. Angry Beelzebubs? Hopes Crush Saga? Forbidden Fruit Ninjas? ‘AUUUUUUUUUUURRRGHHUUUUURRRGGHHHURRRGGH!’ As I let out a cry of shock, along with the other humans in the reception room, the demon just chirped, ‘Oh, that must be Abraxas!’ She picked up the phone, mercifully muting the loudspeaker. That was very likely to be the last merciful act I was ever to witness. How depressing. ‘Hi!… Yeah, so I typed in the ID, and then it came up with Fifth Level, and now I don’t know what to do. Oh ok, so – just leave it? Or should I try to override the system? Uh huh, yeah, well… Are you sure that’s okay? Just ignore it? Ok, great! Gosh, I feel so dumb, I’m so sorry for bothering you! Ha ha, no, no, that’s fine, you go on and enjoy your bat blood, you’ve earned it! Oh, really? Oof! Monday! Yep, well I’ll just pass on the good news to the client. Thanks again Abraxas, bye-eeee!’ She hung up, beaming at me. That just left me even more depressed. Wherever I was going, I wasn’t going to be around a very smiley demon, that was for sure. ‘Good news!’ She clicked ‘enter’ on the keyboard again, followed by a few numbers, and this time she was satisfied with the results. 32


‘It’s been decided that you’re going up to the Fifth Level!’ Reaching into a drawer next, she plucked out a pamphlet, and slid it along the table with more relish than I would have liked. ‘If you turn to page three, you’ll find a great description of what to expect in the Fifth Level. You’ll be submerged in the River Styx, which overlooks the Land of Dis. As well as a beautiful view, you get to have frequent contact with your own personal masseuse! They gently push you under the water as you flail, and then you get to soak in the black water, reflecting on your sins, before leisurely bobbing back to the surface to repeat the process. Oooh, your skin is going to look great!’ ‘…Great.’ ‘Now, listen closely, because this is how you get to the Fifth Level from here. You go up the elevator to Level Five, and then go right, left, right, right, left –’ ‘Sorry to interrupt, but could you write this down?’ ‘Oh no dear, you see the fear and frustration that comes from getting lost, or the feeling that you might be lost, is all part of the pain and misery experience. Now, after you go right, you go right, right, left…’ Five minutes later, she advised that I go left and then straight ahead, and I was there. ‘Thanks… for that.’ ‘You’re welcome! Enjoy your time in Hell!’ The doors slid open behind her desk, nothing behind them than what appeared to be pitch black. As I walked towards them, I heard her call another name to the desk. It could have been the starving kid. It could have been Fatty. I didn’t particularly care. Before I passed the doors into the unknown dark, I noticed that there was a small yellow poster stuck on the wall. I paused. Read it. ‘WARNING! Elevators out of order. Please use the stairs.’ God-fucking-damn I hated this place.

33


HB By Toby Barnfield

‘Decisions,’ he thought, ‘decisions, decisions, decisions.’ He, being a young man with few serious concerns but with countless trivial ones, sat alone at his desk in his bedroom. There was a piece of paper from a notepad in front of him, and on it he had written: ‘Dry-cleaners? Or stationery shop?’ He was hunched over the desk, running his fingers through his hair. He glanced over at his watch, which rested nearby. Eight-thirty-four. Then he looked out of the window, and saw that it was evening. It was quite dark outside, and the light in his room gave the glass a kind of reflective gloss, making it difficult to actually see out; but there were some streetlights there, and some parked cars and an apartment block. Nothing particularly interesting. Nothing to help him choose between collecting his laundry or buying some new stationery. He sighed. Nestled in the groove behind his ear was his trusted pencil. It was HB grade – the middle of the spectrum – neither soft nor hard, but balanced. He had it sharpened to the keenest point possible. At other times, he might have it blunted and smooth; that helped him to relax, for instance. But at that moment he needed it to be sharp: he was thinking. ‘Dry-cleaners? Or stationery shop?’ Which was more urgent? Was one more important? 35


It was decisions like these that troubled the young man; decisions where neither choice was better than the other, like a pencil well-sharpened at both ends. How was he ever to choose which point to write with? Clothes were important, yes. He needed clothes, especially, for his appointment in two days’ time. (That he would need to write down somewhere). But, see, what if something were to happen to his pencil? It was his last one. How would he even remember to collect his laundry? How would he be able to think properly? He needed an HB between his fingers to choose – to act. He looked down again at the note: the problem hadn’t solved itself. Only now the paper was covered in his fallen hairs and flakes of dandruff. He drummed his fingers on the table, then he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. ‘Dry-cleaners? Or stationery shop?’ He sighed. A few minutes later he found himself standing in his doorway, downstairs, a cool wind from outside swirling around him. Some loose flecks of dandruff were caught in the gust and carried away into the night. Someone had knocked on the door, but there had been no one there when he answered. He hadn’t gone back to his room, though. Maybe there was something in the wind – who could really know? – but something suddenly made him feel like going for a walk. So he did just that. He returned upstairs, put on some pants, some shoes, a coat, and retrieved his watch from the desk. Then he brushed the pieces of his scalp away and put the question in his pocket. He checked his pencil was safely behind his ear, and went outside. It was a pleasant evening: there was some light rain falling, like salt and pepper from their shakers. It was invigorating, in a way. The clouds were dense, enshrouding the goings-on of the world. He looked down at his watch: eight-thirty-four. Then he took out the paper and continued to think as he walked out into the street, and away. He wandered back upstairs a few hours later. It was still eight-thirty-four. He had realised that his watch had stopped when he had reached the stationery shop and found it closed. (He would need to buy some new batteries for it). After that, he had walked home, sat on the porch and counted raindrops. 36


He stood for a little while in the dark, upstairs, thinking. Eventually, he turned the light on and went over to his desk. He slumped into the chair. One of his hairs remained on the desktop, distinctly black against the white. It had fallen into the shape of a question mark. He stared at it for a long time. He supposed he could go elsewhere to buy pencils – there were stores open all night. No: he was too tired. Anyway, his eyes felt like lead already. He chuckled. Although, he remembered, pencils were really made of graphite. He frowned, and went to sleep. He awoke the next morning at eight-thirty-four. For a few moments he saw his room through his eyelashes, as an abstraction of light and carpet and wardrobe, but he blinked a few times, and the room came into focus. He grabbed his pencil from under his pillow and put it back behind his ear. He went downstairs to the kitchen, and turned on the kettle. Eventually it whistled to him, so he turned it off and poured slowly, carefully, into his mug. The smell of tea and the steam of the boiling water was an opiate to our young man. He breathed it in slowly, letting it sooth his sinuses, and cover his eyelids with warm mist. He drank it in small sips. Once his mug was empty, he prepared for the day. As he was leaving, he gave the mirror a cursory glance. He looked okay. He repositioned the pencil behind his ear, and left the house. Where was he headed? He forgot momentarily. Then he remembered: the university. He had a class to attend. There was the scent of wet asphalt in the air, but the sky looked blue and serene. It was the same when he arrived at the university. There seemed to be hardly anybody around, which was strange. He reached the correct room and found that the class had already begun, which was extremely disorienting because he knew he was early. He knocked timidly on the door, and entered. Nobody noticed him come in, which was a relief. He took his seat and pulled out his notepad from his pocket, and his pencil from his ear. He looked at the professor – he hadn’t seen her before. She was talking about something he hadn’t heard of. Ham-something. He sighed. He was in the wrong class. He closed his notebook and slid his HB back behind his ear. Standing up quietly, he began to walk out. He didn’t understand – this was the correct room. He would have to figure it out later. 37


Suddenly he became aware that the professor was speaking to him. He stopped and looked at her confusedly. ‘Sorry?’ he asked. ‘I said,’ she replied, ‘where are you going?’ He ran his fingers through his hair, and said ‘This isn’t my class. Sorry. Do you know if Professor Burgess’s class is still on?’ ‘It’s already been. You’ve missed it.’ ‘But it’s only eight-thirty-four!’ he said, looking at his watch. ‘Please go, young man,’ she said sternly. ‘But it’s only eight-thirty-four,’ he said, quietly, and left the room. He wandered down the corridor trying to make sense of things. Then he remembered – his watch had stopped working. (He had to get a new battery for it). What was he to do with his day now? And then there was this appointment tomorrow. He took out his paper as he walked and wrote down some options. He hummed to himself. He turned a corner, and suddenly came upon some students. He mumbled ‘hello’ and nodded to them, and was about to move on, but one of them put his hand on his shoulder. ‘Hey, pal. You aren’t looking for something to do or anything, are you?’ The young man said ‘Oh, actually, yeah. I am.’ The student smiled and said ‘Great! Well, if you’re interested, we all study medicine and were planning on practising some intravenous treatment methods later this afternoon. It’s not anything intense, just setting-up drips and stuff like that. What do you think?’ The young man looked thoughtful for a moment, then replied ‘Yeah, okay. I think that sounds good.’ The student rubbed his hands together and said ‘Awesome, man. Well the plan is to meet at my apartment at about five o’clock.’ The young man quickly wrote down the address on his notepad. His writing looked neat and precise, owing to the HB grade. He thought of something, and asked: ‘How late do you think I’ll get home? I have this appointment tomorrow.’ 38


The student half-turned to face his friends, and maybe he said something; but he turned back. ‘Not late at all, pal. Besides, you can leave whenever you’d like.’ The young man smiled and said ‘cool’, then the two shook hands. ‘It was nice meeting you, pal,’ the student said; ‘look forward to this afternoon.’ ‘It was nice meeting you as well,’ the young man said, smiling. They parted ways, and, though he hadn’t spoken to the other students, they said ‘see you later, man’ and things like that, which was polite of them. As he walked home he reflected how fortunate it was to run into those guys. Now he had an obligation tonight, which meant there were no serious decisions to be made; that was always an immense relief. He arrived at the student’s apartment at eight-thirty-four. He was annoyed that he was late; he wouldn’t be able to stay for as long. He seemed to be losing track of time more often than usual. He knocked on the door. One of the other students came to answer. The guy was a pretty sturdy-looking guy, about the same age as the young man. The guy patted him on the shoulder and said: ‘Hey, man. Right on time. Please come in.’ The young man frowned, slightly puzzled. ‘Aren’t I late?’ ‘No, man, it’s just gone five – look,’ and he showed the young man his watch. Five o’clock exactly. The young man remembered again that his watch had stopped. (He needed those batteries). He was led into a room with all the blinds closed, and several reclining chairs arranged. There was some medical equipment set up in the middle; the young man didn’t know exactly what they were, but they had a distinct hospital aesthetic. The room was very dim; it was lit by only one light bulb that hung from the ceiling. The other students waved him over and greeted him, and sat him down in one of the reclining chairs. They explained that they would offer him something to drink, but he was about to have electrolytes injected straight into his bloodstream. The original student – the one who had invited him – asked if he was all right. He was, 39


he said, so they began. The same student got him to roll-up his sleeve, and wrapped a blue strap around his bicep. The vein opposite his elbow rose up, pulsing with blood. The young man looked at it curiously. Then he saw the student take a syringe, filled with a faintly yellow fluid. He had not realised there would be any injections, but he sat back and tried to relax. He looked over and saw that the other students were watching intently. One of them was trying not to laugh. That made the young man want to laugh, too; but he didn’t. ‘Okay, pal,’ the student said, ‘here we go. This is just to...anaesthetise your forearm, right? In case we make a mistake with the drip. Don’t worry about a thing, pal.’ He jabbed the needle into the protruding vein and gently pushed the liquid in. Then he stood back, and all four students watched intently. The young man, for a brief moment, felt perfectly relaxed. This was nice. He was just wondering when they would put the drip in when, suddenly, his head span a little, and he began to swoon. He stared at the light bulb. ‘Swoooooooooooon,’ he said to himself, at length. He heard his voice echo through time and space. Then things went dark. His arm hurt. He woke up shivering on the reclining chair. The blinds were still down, and the early morning sunlight was slipping in through the gaps. He reached and felt his arm – there was something still in there. He groaned, and went to pull it out, but was stopped. ‘Hey, woah, easy, pal,’ said one of the students – the one who had opened the door. The young man did not realise he had been there next to him. The student explained that he was attached to an actual drip now, and that he would be fine; it was just a matter of time. His system would flush out the drug. There was a silence for a few moments. ‘Why did you inject me with a drug?’ the young man asked quietly. The student began to say something, but stopped. He tried again. ‘I’m sorry about that. It wasn’t my decision. That’s why I stayed.’ ‘That’s alright,’ the young man replied, ‘I’d better get going, though; I have an appointment.’ 40


The young man convinced the student to take the drip out prematurely. He would be alright. He reached behind his ear for his pencil, but it wasn’t there. He looked around and saw it on the floor. Dolefully, he picked it up – the tip was broken. He really needed his HB at that moment; he felt very strange. ‘Do you have a pencil sharpener?’ he asked. ‘Ah,’ the student frowned, looking around; ‘sorry, pal, I don’t. I only have – well – this.’ He held out a pink novelty pencil, with an eraser attachment. The young man took it, and held it close to his eyes, looking for the engraving on the wood. ‘Is it an HB?’ he asked, and tried to fit it behind his ear. It wouldn’t stay, though, so he found some sticky-tape and taped it there. Once that was done, he said good-bye and left the apartment. The daylight was blinding when he came outside. It gave him a headache. He checked his watch: eight-thirty-four. His appointment was soon! He wouldn’t have time to go home first – he would go straight there. It wasn’t too far, anyway; just through the mall. So the young man walked through the mall, the pencil taped to his ear swinging back and forth. He thought about it, and decided that time went by like an orange: unpeeled. As he went, he began to notice, out of the corner of his eye, that something was following him; but when he looked it would disappear. He could make out that it was a small, spherical, furry thing. It was good company. But, at one point, just before he turned a corner, he noticed that the thing was gone. Damn. Maybe he could catch up with it later. As he rounded the corner something else caught his eye. A large neon sign extended out over the footpath, with flashing lights of green and blue and yellow. ‘Stationery Shop’ it read. The young man agreed with himself when he yelled ‘How lucky’. He ran into the shop, and tore the novelty pencil from his ear. An employee saw him, and asked: ‘Hello, young man. What are you looking for?’ ‘HB,’ he replied. ‘An HB pencil? Sorry, young man; we’ve run out of those.’ 41


The young man looked astounded. Then he frowned very severely, and asked ‘Sorry, how does one run out of HB pencils? I mean, how does a stationery store run out?’ The employee shrugged, ‘I suppose our stock –’ ‘They’re the most important kind!’ he yelled. ‘Well, we have H grade, F grade –’ ‘No, you don’t understand. HB is balanced. HB is the middle of the spectrum – not too hard, not too soft. It produces the best writing!’ he cried. ‘I’m sorry, young man,’ the employee said, and walked off to help another customer. The young man left the store. Would he even go to the appointment now? It was such a large commitment. It was so important. He needed the support of an HB. He ran his fingers through his hair and closed his eyes. When he opened them, he found himself standing outside the place of his appointment. He could not understand how he got there so soon. Perhaps he should go in, while he was there. He walked up the steps and into the foyer. Then he walked up a flight of stairs, turned left, and walked down the corridor. There, he stopped. Well, there was the door: Room 2B. He took a deep breath. He reached out, and tried the handle. It was locked. Locked? But how? He checked his watch. ‘But it’s only eight...’ he began, but he remembered: his watch had stopped working. He had missed it. He ran his fingers through his hair, then dropped them to his side, defeated. ‘Good morning, young man,’ said a voice from behind him. He turned, and saw a man wearing a nice suit looking at him with a smile. ‘You’re early for the appointment; it’s just gone eight-thirty-four. But, no harm in beginning twenty minutes early.’ He turned and unlocked the door, then indicated the number. ‘I know – Room 2B. Reminds you of Hamlet doesn’t it?’ he asked enthusiastically. ‘Who?’ the young man asked. This was all quite bewildering. The man frowned briefly, and then shrugged. 42


‘Never mind. Anyway, please come inside, if you would still like to.’ The young man hesitated. He wasn’t sure. He couldn’t think. ‘Ah,’ he said, hopefully, ‘do you have an HB pencil I could borrow?’ The man did. He handed it over. The young man felt the tip – it had been well-sharpened. He smiled. Then he pulled out his notepad and scrawled: ‘2B? Or not 2B?’ ‘That is the question,’ he muttered.

43


Stolen Kisses By Sophie Strickland

They arrive at the stadium separately, as they do every week, and greet each other with relaxed punches on the arm, as they greet every other teammate. When they change into their kits, they don’t look at each other, and Ricardo tries to avoid watching Samir as he rolls his long white socks over his toned legs, tries to avoid watching Samir’s hands as he ties his shoelaces. Walking through the tunnel, he tugs Samir’s jersey, looks into his eyes for a moment and smiles ‘Good luck!’ before casually brushing his palm against Samir’s as he moves to find his place in the line. One step out onto the pitch and he’s alone again. Thousands of people surround him, yelling undistinguishable praise from the stands. The team stands in the customary line with their arms around each other’s shoulders as the anthem plays, and he looks far above him, past the top tier of the stands, and past the blinding stadium lights into the black sky. Eyes on the prize, eyes on the ball, he chants to himself, the same words he always does before a match. He resists the urge to search for Samir, and as they break out of the line he closes his eyes to centre himself, trying to erase every image of him from his mind. Now is time for football. Only football. The whistle is blown, and he is already on the run, making space and calling for the ball. *

*

*

This was routine, this thing they liked to call ‘acting neutral’. And it was always the same: stolen kisses in rare times when they were alone, and frequent shared glances when they were apart. It was painful to be so close to one another but unable to display 45


the most innocent of touches in fear that maybe that would be the time someone would catch them out. When they first walked onto the pitch they felt alone, but after the first whistle they didn’t have to hide anymore. Their cohesion and connection on the pitch was breathtaking. Playing in the same team for years meant that they knew each other as well as they knew themselves and could accurately predict each other’s movements. To the thousands of spectators this was beautiful football. To them it was equivalent to a conventional relationship’s slow dance, or hours of confessional conversation. Out there they laid themselves bare – exposed to the world, but only able to be interpreted by each other. Theirs was a beautiful secret, but a secret nonetheless. *

*

*

The ball makes its way into the opposition’s half and is in his teammate Leo’s possession. He is lightning-quick, dancing around defenders like it has been choreographed for him, and he crosses it to Gonzalo out wide near the corner of the pitch. Gonzalo takes the ball in his stride expertly, and glances up to view his options. Ricardo knows what he has to do. He streaks down the centre, willing his body to move faster. Timing is everything. He sees the long ball crossed in, and he sprints into the penalty box as the ball arcs smoothly over players’ heads. The ball is barely metres in front of him, and he slides in an attempt to reach it quicker, one leg outstretched. His heart stops and he thinks I’ve missed it, as it breezes past his foot, a split second too late. He feels a rush of air and a spray of water and mud as Samir slides in beside him, only inches away, having timed both his run and his slide perfectly (as expected). Ricardo turns, still on the ground, to see Samir’s leg come in contact with the ball and tuck it away neatly into the back of the net. Ricardo exchanges a brief look with Samir next to him, sprawled on the grass, and catches his breath. He pulls himself up before offering his hand to his teammate who gratefully takes it; a large tanned hand engulfing his own slender pale one. Samir is barely standing before Gonzalo jumps on his back, and Leo musses his hair affectionately. Ricardo offers a smile and a high-five to him, both of which Samir reciprocates, an elated look upon his face. When the rest of the team make their way over, whooping and patting him on the back before coming in for a group hug, Ricardo joins in, feeling not so much disappointment at his own failed attempt at a shot but copious joy at seeing Samir so happy. For months Samir’s happiness has been his main concern, and to see him accomplish greatness is all Ricardo needs. Amidst the roughness of the laughing, the grabbing hands and the spontaneous dancing he feels a soft pressure on the back of his left hand, and he looks across to see Samir’s mouth 46


pressed against it, so softly and swiftly that by the time they lock eyes it’s over and he isn’t sure if it even happened. Ricardo places his hand on Samir’s neck and slaps him lightly, to let him know that he understands. *

*

*

At the end of the match they shower on opposite sides of the room and leave the stadium in separate cars. Ricardo imagines that this is it, that this is where it ends. That what they have, they leave out on the pitch, forgotten in their normal lives. He contemplates life without Samir – no legs tangled with his in bed, no lengthy warm embrace, no pressing up against the kitchen bench with heated breath. Empty beds and empty arms and empty hearts. But that means safety, too. That emptiness means safety, but it makes Ricardo’s blood run cold. What if he had to live like that? What if they will have to in the future? What if he should choose it now, before he is too much in love? Maybe he should call Samir and tell him they need to talk. Maybe he should call him and tell him he chooses peace over passion. Maybe. He thinks of this briefly while driving down the dark roads to his house, and he thinks maybe it’s the right decision. But when Ricardo arrives back at his house, his is not the only car pulling into the driveway. Once inside the safety of his home, the spell of the outside world is broken. The thoughts that picked at Ricardo’s brain like vultures in the car vanish from his mind. Too used to keeping his hands to himself, he revels in Samir’s confidence and ability to put aside his work chasteness as he is pulled over to his lover and kissed lightly on the mouth. They don’t do anything particularly special. They are content with the fact that throughout the night they can touch each other as often as they like, free from fear. They cook dinner together and watch mundane Spanish sitcoms in front of the television, Ricardo letting his hand run lazily amok through Samir’s hair. In bed, Samir pulls Ricardo closer to him, so Ricardo’s back is pressed against his chest. And as Ricardo feels Samir’s breath against the back of his neck deepen, he laces their fingers together, pulling his lover’s hand up to his face to return the gesture from the game by placing a soft kiss on the back of it. But unlike Samir had, Ricardo doesn’t move away, instead keeping his lips pressed against Samir’s skin as he drifts off to sleep, unafraid and no longer alone. Peace over passion was never an option, and he is deliriously glad of that.

47


Crosses By Athena Taylor

[Bonnie] The hospital was blinking white and harsh, open spaces. It made strange noises and vibrated with an underground hum. Click-clack of heels and the shuffling of slippers and ungreased wheels herded anxious whisperers into corners where they huddled like lost sheep. The smell of death was everywhere. Bonnie had been sitting on a wooden bench for over two hours. She was waiting for the nurse. In her hands she held a handkerchief, pink with blue flowers. It was spotted with blood from biting her fingernails. She had risen earlier than normal that morning, restless after a poor night’s sleep. Splashed her face and put on water for a coffee. Jake her sometimes-boyfriend lay face down on the bed, snoring. He had stumbled home just before dawn, stinking of girls’ perfume and casual sex. For a while she wandered aimlessly around their small, colourless apartment. It was messy, that was nothing new, and she lacked the energy to restore a cleanliness she didn’t feel. Dirty dishes and scrappy bits of paper floated on the living room floor, tangled cords and dust on everything. Bonnie stared at it all and needed to get away. Outside it was a crisp, cool day. The sky threatened rain but she didn’t worry. Her neighbour in the block of units sat in a deckchair on his tiny square of lawn, twiddling his thumbs. He was an old man and Irish and loved to reminisce about his time as a fighter 49


in the IRA. Jake said he was fake and a conman, but Bonnie always took the time to say hello. Occasionally she even sat and spoke to him, for he was alone and she was lonely. This morning he grinned. ‘Lovely Irish weather today lass.’ Once he touched her thigh and she didn’t really mind. *

*

*

[Candy] The colours bled into her from all sides, like a painting melted at the edges. It was nearly midnight, and she was wobbling on 6-inch heels down the city street, hemmed in by flashing neon lights and seedy bars. Howls of laughter and the slap of skin on skin tingled in the humid, slightly stale air. Up ahead, the intersection shone with the red and blue of a police car, its lights illuminating the street in grisly definition. A drug bust. Candy could smell it in the air – that familiar stink of fear, putrid wash of sweat and vomit, the sickly sweet of chemicals. No sense going that way, the dogs would maul her in an instant. Night times here were dangerous, a wheezing maze of cavities and decayed openings from which many never emerged. But Candy was no spring chicken wandering blind; she knew this neighbourhood like the breath between her teeth, the curve of her own body on the motel bed as faceless, fleshy creatures sucked at her and spread her like butter over toast. ‘Heya sweetheart,’ came a drunk voice from somewhere to her left. A fat, gorilla of a man lurched towards her, emerging out of a swarm of facelessness. His face was dominated by crusty lips and a bulbous nose red from alcohol; sweat glistened on his forehead. ‘How much?’ For a moment Candy entertained the possibility, the now recognisable thrill of her own wildness jolting up her spine. She stared greedily at the cash in his hand, imagining it tucked safely away in the tiny purse she kept beneath her bra. It was almost worth it. The man, sensing her interest, rocked back on his heels. ‘Atta girl,’ he leered. ‘Come upstairs and we’ll discuss pricing, somewhere comfier, eh?’ Candy blinked, forcing herself to remember the reality of her situation. Not tonight. Not until she had finished what she started. There wasn’t time for any more distraction. ‘Sorry,’ she simpered, brushing past the squinting idiot. ‘Some other time, maybe.’ ‘Fucking tease,’ he called after her. *

* 50

*


[Bonnie] Her brother had called to give her the news the night before. She was cooking dinner, stirfry with left over veggies and gravy beef. On the stereo Joan Baez was singing ‘Farewell Angelina’ and it was raining outside. The apartment glowed orange in the light. She picked up the receiver with greasy fingers. ‘Hello?’ ‘Bonnie, it’s me, Charles.’ Her brother lived in Sydney on the fourth floor of an apartment overlooking the harbour. He worked for a company she had never heard of. His girlfriend was tall and blonde and manicured; Bonnie had never spoken to her. In fact she hadn’t spoken to her brother for over six months. The last time had been at Christmas when he visited for half a day and spent the whole time drinking coffee. Everyone avoided his gaze and he left before dinner. ‘Hi.’ ‘Listen, Bonnie, something’s happened.’ In the background the frying pan spat. ‘Yeah?’ ‘Yeah.’ The silence stretched itself through the phone. Charles cleared his throat. ‘It’s – it’s about mum. She’s had a stroke.’ There was a kaleidoscope of colours in the kitchen. Bonnie tried to count them all but she couldn’t. The food was burning. ‘Oh.’ ‘Yeah, look, I’m flying down tomorrow. She’s at the hospital. You gonna be okay?’ He fired words at her like bullets. She wanted to speak but her throat was choked with something. ‘Anyway I have to go,’ he continued without an answer. ‘I’ll see you soon.’ What else was there to say? Bonnie put the phone down and wiped her hands on a dishtowel. She switched off the stove, now smoking heavily, and scraped her charred meal onto a plate. Put it aside. Ran the cold tap and poured herself a glass of water. Her hands were shaking. Outside it was cold, and dark. There weren’t any stars. Bonnie sucked in the night air and tried to breathe. 51


*

*

*

[Candy] Candy slid like water through the crowds of people, keeping her gaze down and her feet fixed in a straight line. She had just enough alcohol in her system to calm her nerves without losing control; just enough adrenalin to keep her moving without rush. And to top it off, the streets were busy; enough people for her to lose herself in if things went wrong. Yes, it was all shaping up just perfectly. It wasn’t long before she reached the spot. A cold wind had begun to blow, lashing her bare skin. She shivered, folding her arms against the chill. Nothing she couldn’t handle. Up ahead was the corner where she had scored her first customer. They had been as nervous as each other, the two of them; foolish children drawing their first hand against fate. Candy smirked at the memory. There was a taxi parked there now, idling away the time until a passenger came. Candy flirted with the thought of getting in, going… home? Pointless. There was nothing there, no dope, no food in the fridge, probably not even any cigarettes. Besides, Sharky had her house key and he wouldn’t want to see her until she had the money, until she had done it. Without the money she was nothing. Suddenly a sense of vast emptiness welled up inside her and she felt an irrational urge to cry. But her eyes were dry – too dry in fact, she was dying for a hit. Nothing for it but to keep going, keep walking until the burn of her calves drowned out her own inner turmoil. Like turning up the radio to smother the sound of your screaming. *

*

*

[Bonnie] The nurse had large, matronly hips. Her nametag read ‘Jane’. She moved heavily but her smile was kind. Bonnie tried to focus on the outline of her face. ‘Miss Simpson,’ her voice was conciliatory yet formal. It grated on the stillness of the room. ‘You can go in now. Just for a minute or two.’ This was it then. If she could get her muscles to work she would stand up, shuffle over the too-shiny floor like a crippled ballerina, stand outside Room 134 while she caught her breath, turn the cool metal doorknob and… ‘Miss Simpson?’ There was too much pity in the nurse’s eyes; Bonnie couldn’t look at her. ‘Are you sure you’re ready to go in? Would you like to wait until your brother gets 52


here?’ Charles would be another hour at least. Bonnie shook her head and stood up, her movements mechanical. Her mother had always reminded her of the ocean. Free-spirited, temperamental, endless. Her skin tasted salty, her eyes creased from squinting in the sunlight. There was always too much sand on the welcome mat. It was incomprehensible – no, impossible – to see her lying on the hospital bed, so pale and shrunken she looked already dead. And yet here she was. Bonnie stood at the end of the bed and wanted the ground to open and consume her, gnashing gnawing teeth devouring her from the bottom up. Somehow she managed to inch forward, her vision blurring and transforming the room from sterile cleanliness to chaotic streaks of white and grey and blinking lights tossed in dizzying circles. *

*

*

[Candy] The man looked exactly as Sharky had said he would. Candy knew he’d seen her from the straightness of his back and the slight stiffening of his jaw, though he gave nothing away. There were coppers walking past, two of them; thin-lipped female and a greying, overweight man. Candy tried not to stare, kept her posture cool as they walked towards her. The female glared suspiciously, heavy eyebrows knitting together in a frown, but passed without comment. Candy walked in slow, purposeful strides, only stopping in front of the man once they had turned the corner and disappeared from view. ‘Charles,’ he extended his hand, regarding her warily. He noted her worried expression and added, ‘They’ve been patrolling the block for the last twenty minutes. Obviously suspect something.’ Candy’s skin prickled slightly with nerves. ‘Whatever,’ she brushed past him into the building, ignoring his handshake. ‘Let’s just get this over with.’ *

*

*

[Bonnie] If the world were coming to an end, what would she do? Bonnie had a half-finished coffee, a newspaper and an open notebook in front of her. She was numb, something was missing inside her, as if she had left a part of herself on the hospital bed beside her 53


mother. She was trying to fill it, with caffeine and ink and words, so many words. But it all meant nothing. Outside, it had finally started raining. Heavy storm clouds bruised the sky, but the rain itself was more of a light drizzle. There had been an election recently; vacuous posters of the local candidate still hung crookedly from some of the lamp posts. Bonnie gazed idly out the window, watching the passing cars and pedestrians with a strange sense of hatred. If the world ended they would all be obliterated. She could almost see them, white and expressionless on a thousand hospital beds, barely breathing. Wasting away. Charles appeared at her shoulder. He was hours late. Giving her an awkward peck on the cheek, he slid into the chair opposite her. ‘Bon, how are you?’ His suit was crumpled, the cuffs yellow at the edges. Underneath the table, his shoes were scuffed and faded. Bonnie could see beads of sweat poised beneath his collar. When she didn’t reply he coughed uncomfortably. ‘Uh, it’s terrible about mum hey?’ he reached out, grabbed her coffee and took a large gulp, dripping it on himself. Bonnie stared at him. ‘I mean, so unexpected. I couldn’t believe it when I heard.’ ‘Yeah,’ Bonnie’s mind was clicking slowly into place. ‘It was very sudden. I hope you didn’t have trouble getting time off work.’ For a moment Charles stared at her in confusion. Then he blinked and looked away. More sweat. ‘Yeah, I mean, the – the boss was pretty, pretty understanding, you know.’ He laughed. Bonnie saw his teeth and felt her heartbeat rise. ‘Charles –’ ‘I haven’t been to see her yet, is she alright?’ He leaned forward and wet his lips. ‘Look, Bonnie, I’m gonna need somewhere to stay while I’m over here. Just – just until my pay comes through, you know.’ His eyes brightened. ‘How’s James?’ ‘Jake,’ Bonnie corrected, staring out the window. She considered the people below in a new light. A lie, it was all a lie. Candy cotton pictures that were hollow on the inside. Her brother’s life, a sham. And she had never cared enough to find out. ‘He’s fine.’ ‘Good,’ Charles sat back. ‘I can only stay for a few days, unfortunately. I mean, what with work and all that.’ 54


Bonnie inclined her head. Who was she to burst her brother’s bubble? She felt a groundswell of impulsive love for this man, with his crack-teeth and his impostor suit. After all, with their mother lying on the brink of death just a few corridors down, this was no time to point fingers. He needed her. If the world ended tomorrow Charles would want her to think of him as a good man. ‘Bon, you alright?’ her brother’s eyebrows knitted in concern. ‘You’re crying. C’mere.’ He shuffled his chair over to her and put his arm across her shoulders. Outside, the rain grew heavier. *

*

*

[Candy] She had done it. Simply, quickly, without fuss. It was over. She placed the gun back in her purse, snapping the lock shut with trembling fingers. Took a deep, steadying breath. Wiped a hand across her forehead. Charles’ body lay sprawled on the ground, his expression frozen in the shock of a sudden and unexpected death. There was blood pooling on his suit; a deep, crimson red. Candy put on a pair of gloves and bent over, carefully emptying his pockets. What a fool, she thought bitterly. He had owed them so much money, and still he wanted more. Like a stupid child. Her throat tightened and she looked away. At least he had brought cash with him. Sharky would be pleased. His happiness meant her life would be easy for a week or so. At least while the money lasted. Money meant drugs, and drugs meant peace. Of some sort, anyway. Candy removed the gloves and held her cigarette lighter to them. When they had caught alight, she dropped them on the floor and watched as they were slowly reduced to ashes. She had done this too many times. ‘You should never have come back from Sydney,’ she spoke to the corpse before her. Charles just stared, his eyes filled with the chilling emptiness of death. Candy sighed, turning away. What a fucking waste. Straightening her clothes one last time, she strode back into the night. *

*

*

[Bonnie] Her mother’s hand was cold and soft between her own; long, sculpted fingers, hard lines engraved on the palm like clay-made artistry. But there was no life in it. It was a 55


dead hand. Bonnie lay it back on the crisp white bed sheet, gently. Her mother was like a china doll; she could break at any moment. In the corner her father slumped with his head bowed. Asleep, probably. He hadn’t spoken for a long time. Bonnie had watched the sky grow darker and darker, until all she could see from the window was an infinite blackness, thick and overwhelming. Her mother glowed yellow in the room’s fluorescent light. Charles had left to get coffee when their father arrived and had not returned. Not wanting to sit alone with her thoughts, Bonnie got up and walked out of the room, away from the beeping instruments and the wires and the spectre of her mother on the bed. She needed space. The night smelt of fresh rain and the metallic tang of the city. The street was deserted except for a taxi and a young woman smoking. She had peroxide hair and fishnet stockings beneath a black skirt. Bonnie knew what she was and felt oddly drawn to her. ‘Hi,’ she offered, standing close and drawing a deep breath. ‘Aren’t you cold?’ The girl laughed. ‘You get used to it.’ She paused, then extended a manicured hand, fingernails painted red. ‘I’m Candy.’ ‘Bonnie. What are you doing at the hospital?’ blushing, she added, ‘if you don’t mind me asking.’ Candy eyed her up and down, appraising her. ‘I’m just on a break. This is my pit stop, if you know what I mean.’ ‘Hmm,’ Bonnie rubbed her hands together against the chill. ‘My mum’s had a stroke,’ the words tumbled out of her mouth before she could stop them. They hung accusingly in the still, smoky air. ‘Shit,’ was all Candy said. Then, after a while, ‘I never had a mother.’ The night seemed to intensify, thicken somehow. Candy flicked her cigarette butt into the gutter. ‘Well, I gotta go. You take care of yourself kid.’ Bonnie watched her go, her striking figure slowly fading into the darkness. Alone, she noted the taxi had driven off. She felt in a strange way that she was the only person in the world. It was too cold. There was nothing to do but go back inside.

56


Transposing By Rebecca Hamdorf

Note: this story contains a trigger warning due to allusions to self injury. It’s like an itch under my skin. A faint hum below the pale, delicately vein-patterned point at the edges of my wrists, right where they meet my palms. A muffled buzz the foundation of hastily scribbled words, ink blotchy and not quite finished. It aches in way that can be forgotten – if only for a single moment. Yet in silent, forlorn instants it is a starved yearning. Sometimes, I think I might be able to take a standard laboratory scalpel to it; just a tiny nick and peel back the skin like I’m standing in my whites and goggles, and dragging apart the top cells off a piece of Spanish onion. Pull back the paleness of my inner wrists and tattooed words, just enough for just a single layer of cells or so, and instead of it breaking like onion always seems to do, to keep going. To keep carefully pulling until it’s all gone, until I’ve taken off my skin and dropped it onto the floor. Shed it like I’m something with an exoskeleton, and then walk away. Just walk away from everything that I was, everything that people have decided I am and who I should be and how I should think and start anew as someone else. (The doctor calls it ‘wanting to transpose’, like I’m drowning in my problems and I don’t know how to fix them, or make them better, or even how to ask for help anymore, and so I want to run away. Run away as far as possible, to the other side of the world perhaps, just because I need to get away from it all. Leave all the problems and pain behind. 57


Maybe becoming a new person after I shed my skin like I’m some grotesque, pink, two-legged caterpillar is like buying a plane ticket and just leaving. It’s like needing to translocate to another country, as if the world is one giant cell and I’m in the wrong part, but I can’t get there so I’ll become something else that’s far more useful.) But I don’t know who or what I want to be. And so the feeble murmur lingers in my pulse points, beating along unobtrusively throughout the day as I traipse along in too big boots and a weary smile. It’s a hushed drone at the back of my thoughts as I put pen to paper, the scratching of my writing as loud as it is. It’s almost soundless as I learn about distributions of variance and the colours of transition metals. The wordless whining moves and spreads as I leave the influx of knowledge behind, sparking in my veins as I imagine passion should. It shifts and rolls back like a breeze stirring into something more, like waves pounding endlessly against at the beach. The itch starts with a slow, steady burn; increasing the more I try to not focus on it, and instinctively I go to scratch it. The skin of my wrist feels delicate, like I could break it with too much pressure of my thumb. Or perhaps, if I hadn’t patiently clipped and manicured my nails to very short some nights before, I could start the line that’s needed to peel it off and be a new me. The itch bubbles and fizzes all the way up my arms, and pools in the crook of my elbows where the skin is also as pale and vein encompassed as my wrists are. There it rests and soaks in, the world unaware as I sit at my bus stop waiting and waiting. Sometimes I wonder, the cold metal of the bus stop seat against my legs, what I am really waiting for. The bus does come though, it always comes ambling along eventually and maybe that’s something that I can rely on, something that I can trust. The big lumbering machine pulling up in front of me, doors opening to eat me up with a loud hiss of its hydraulics. The drone of an itch seems to like the noise, melds into the fizzle of the air brakes whilst I curl up at the very back, watching as the seats fill like electrons in sub-shells do. There’s a whisper to the ride home, like wind rattling through the leaves of the trees, like there’s secrets in air and I’m the only one that notices. They dip and swoop, whirring past my ears like the buzz of a bullet that just misses and I’m waiting for the one that actually hits. If I put my headphones in they’re lost to a strange mixture of light-hearted pop and gritty rock, but the itch is still there. 58


Pulsating in under the words impulsively written, sliding up and down the tendons in my wrists, biting at the edge of my palm. It follows crease lines of my pale skin, along veins and arteries and dances through my nervous system like it wants me to bend my fingers to pull at it and make it get off me, out of me. Like as if it’s a splinter that the skin healed over because I was afraid to dig it out at the time, and now it’s causing me more grief and pain, and the skin’s puckered and sore and itchy. (It’s really none of those things as I look down at it, just pale and kind of soft. A flimsy covering of layers of cells over my frame; it’s still in place and only marred a little by black ink. It doesn’t look like how it feels and I wonder what other people see. They can’t possibly know about the itch, there’s really nothing there to show them, even if they cared to look. It must seem a simple joint, something that helps me with my everyday life. I wonder if I did itch it properly. I wonder would they see it then: would they see it the same way as I do, see the way it calls to be puckered and let free, to be pinched at until parts of my soul evaporate into the air? Would they look at it and hold it carefully and help apply antiseptic to the wound and wrap it up in bandages like nurse with a lovable bedside manner? Or perhaps they would not want to look at it, ask me to keep it to myself and tug at my selves to hide it. Not that it’s a thing that works that way, it can be hidden, but it’s there, getting worse and worse. I’m not going to scratch it, though – I think I can transpose without doing that.)

59


Sandy By Harriet Sale

I heard Mama saying that Sandy’s coming. So I asked her, ‘Who’s Sandy?’ ‘She’s a storm darling.’ Oooo, she must be real scary. Papa said Aunty Brooke was a real blast and she can be ter-ri-fying, especially to Cameron and Maddy. They’re my cousins. We just missed the bus. Mommy is mad. She is practically dragging me back from the bus stop she is walking so fast. It’s hurting my arm. It wasn’t really my fault we missed it, but I couldn’t find where I had taken my shoes off. ‘Wait here. I’ll get the car keys.’ She was putting her strict English voice on. She was never normally this angry when we missed the bus; I think she is angry about scary Sandy coming. ‘Why don’t you just tell her you don’t want her to come anymore?’ Mama laughed at me and said no one could tell Sandy not to come. Surely her Mommy could tell her? Or the cops? She has obviously been bad otherwise people wouldn’t be so scared of her. People are beeping their horns. I like it, but Mom’s not laughing with me like she normally does. It’s taking us aaaa-ges to get to school; there are more cars on the road than I think I have ever seen in my whole entire life. The gates are shut. I have never seen the big front gates shut. 61


‘Oh for goodness sake! Right you stay in the car darling while I find out what’s going on.’ I look out through the wet window and see Miss Courtney and Principal Clark talking to the mommies. Miss Courtney is the nicest form teacher ever and she knows everything. Mommy looks angry and is standing face-to-face with Principal Clark. I think Principal Clark is pet-ri-fying but Mommy isn’t scared of her. ‘It was her decision,’ Mommy says as she slams the car door. I didn’t think Principal Clark would be scared of angry Sandy. I’m happy on the way home and want to sing songs with Mommy. Now we could have a play day, but Mama says she isn’t in the mood. We have to listen to the boring people talk on the radio instead. *

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When we get home Daddy is there! He gives Mommy this weird look and says, ‘Do you think she’ll be that bad?’ My daddy, the bravest man in the whole wide world, wants to run away from Sandy?! ‘Don’t be ridiculous, we have nowhere to go. The Vespers next door aren’t going anywhere and neither am I! Listen to yourself, “will it be that bad?” For crying out loud, it’s a goddamn bit of rain Ry!’ Mama is shouting. I hate it when they fight. Mommy always shouts and Daddy says one nasty thing back, and then just leaves. They fight a lot at the moment. ‘I stayed in America for YOU Ryan. This is my home!’ I go to my room and cuddle Sammy the bear. I start to cry. I’m scared. I sometimes wish I were a tortoise because they can hide in their shells. *

*

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Daddy picks me up and cuddles me tight. He and Mommy will always protect me, he says. We go down to the kitchen and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch because they are our favorite. We have sandwiches and crisps and I’m allowed two chocolate doughnuts. I ask if on my play day we can go and make sandcastles at the beach but Daddy says no very angrily! ‘But sandcastles are your favorite?’ He’s not listening to me. He always smiles and nods when he’s not really listening to me. They are being so annoying. Why aren’t they happy? They aren’t talking; they are 62


doing that thing when they pretend they aren’t even looking at each other, but I see them. They give little glances at each other that they don’t think anyone can see to see if the other is looking at them. It’s a strange game. We were having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a surprise play day! Secretly, I start to think Sandy coming isn’t so bad after all. Sammy bear agrees, but it is our secret. *

*

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‘Come on, let’s take Lula for a walk,’ Mama says, ‘it’s getting windy but it hasn’t started raining yet.’ I don’t think it’s stopped raining. It has rained all day. I’m playing mommies and daddies with my new Barbie, so I huff like Granddad England used to when he didn’t want to go for a walk. Mommy doesn’t have to look after him anymore; he’s in the clouds. Not these mean dark grey America clouds, he’s in the white fluffy clouds in England, with the angels. There is no one at the park. Even the old man who never moves from the bench isn’t there. I’ve never seen that bench empty. It looks lonely. My special pink hat blows off and we have to chase it. The leaves play too; they whirl and swirl around on the ground. It starts to rain so we turn back. We can hardly see through the raindrops and they get heavy and hard and start to prickle me. By the time we get home even my knickers are wet. I am so cold and Mommy says to run straight upstairs for a warm bath. ‘Why’s it dark Mama? Is it bedtime?’ ‘No, it’s just the dark clouds.’ ‘Where’s Daddy gone?’ *

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‘Come on, hop out! How about some hot chocolate?’ I jump out the bath making a big splash and run to my bedroom. ‘Shall I put my PJs on?’ I shout. But Mommy has already gone downstairs. So I put them on anyway. *

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*

‘What do you say?’ ‘Thank you, Mommy.’ Hot chocolate is the best. 63


‘Good girl. So, why don’t we watch your new Dorothy of Oz DVD?’ ‘Yes pleeeease! But can you watch it with me because I get scared of the wicked witch?’ ‘Urr, yes, okay then, I don’t see why not.’ When Mommy is putting the DVD in, I ask her again where Daddy is and she looks really sad. ‘He’s gone to stay with uncle Mase.’ ‘Wwwwhhhyyy?’ ‘Because Sandy’s coming, so he thinks it’s best. But we’ll be fine darling; we’ll stick together, okay? … okay?’ ‘Okay.’ But I don’t know why Daddy would leave us. He said he would protect me. Maybe it was because of their fight. Uncle Mase doesn’t like Mommy. ‘When will he be back?’ ‘Tomorrow probably.’ The wind and rain are really noisy against the windows. I have never seen rain like this, apart from in my Noah book. *

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Dorothy gets transported to this land called Oz in a big storm and has to find the Wizard of Oz in the Emerald city. Dorothy has a dog called Toto who is just like Lula. She makes friends with a tin-man, a scarecrow and a lion, and they all help each other find things. But then there’s this wicked witch who tries to stop them. It’s hard to watch the screen as trashcans outside keep falling over and bumping into each other and into cars and garden fences. They’re crashing around and moving like they are alive and playing their own mean game ruining everything. No one likes trashcans. They smell. The trees lean right over like someone is blowing them. There are so many strange noises, Mommy holds me tightly because I don’t like it, but she isn’t cuddly; she keeps fidgeting. There is a massive crash. The TV and all the lights go. I start crying loudly. ‘Mommy, I don’t like it!’ Her voice is all shaky too. 64


‘Don’t worry, I’m here.’ She holds my hand and we look out the window. But it’s as black as night. We can’t see anything apart from dark things being pushed and shoved around by the wind. Then I see the dirty sparkle of running water. The road is a river. I cry louder. Everything is loud; the wind is roaring against the drumming rain and then there are big bangs and crashes. It’s hurting my ears. This is like a real life Dorothy storm, but hers doesn’t last this long. Or worse, it is like a Noah flood. Only Noah and his family live in that book. But they build an ark. We don’t have an ark, only our house. ‘Wait here, darling. I’m going to find a torch.’ ‘NO, NO MOMMY! Don’t leave me!’ ‘It’s ok. Sit here I’ll keep talking to you.’ ‘NOOOOO!’ I have to scream to be louder than the wind and rain and bashing and crashing from outside. I wipe my sore teary eyes but snot is steaming from my nose, tangling with my tears and plugging my mouth. She holds onto me and we go into the kitchen like blind people but without a dog to show us where to go. ‘Shh, shh darling it’s ok, it’s just a power cut.’ I’m really scared; I’m can’t shhh. Mommy puts me down and taps the surfaces trying to work out where things are. Lula is whining from her bed. I know where she is but try to feel where she is. She isn’t her normal, warm, cuddly self; she’s cold and shivering. She doesn’t like it either. I cling her tightly, and although I’m snotty and crying I tell her that I will look after her. Mommy has found her phone as I can see the screen flash. Now she can find matches to light the candles. When she comes back I see her eyes sparkling in the dark. The red about her eyes shows it is a scared sparkle. We cuddle on Lula’s dog bed: Mommy holding me and me holding Lula. We are listening to the loud angry rain outside and watching the creepy little flames. I see a little stream of water the kitchen floor. It’s coming towards us. We splash through the water that’s starting to cover downstairs. We go upstairs and snuggle together in Mommy and Daddy’s bed. She tells me this story of the most beautiful princess who gets put to sleep for hundreds of years under a spell by a wicked witch. The only way to save her is for a prince to chop down the forest 65


around her tower and to rescue her and the only way to break the spell is for him to … *

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*

‘Mommy!’ I must have fallen asleep, but the giant crash of something breaking wakes me. ‘Mommy! Where are you?’ I scream. It’s still scarily dark outside. I can still hear the loud wind and the heavy rain. Mommy rushes into the room straight away. ‘Darling are you alright? I just popped to the bathroom.’ She’s wet right up to her knees like she’s been in swimming pool with her pants on. I scramble out from the covers and go and grab her. She grabs me as quickly as I grab her. She really is scared. I can tell. There’s a loud bashing on the door. ‘ARE YOU IN THERE? IS ANYONE IN THERE?’ It was a man but it wasn’t Daddy. He was shouting but we could only just hear it through all the other noises. I grip Mommy tighter. The man starts bashing the window. ‘Is anyone in there?’ I squish Lula with my foot and she squeals. ‘LET GO OF HER! SHE’LL FOLLOW US.’ Her squeal just adds to the painful noises. ‘We’ve got to go!’ The crumbling noise hadn’t stopped. We were running down the stairs and splashing through the hall. It’s a man. But it’s not Daddy. He is outside running around bashing on the neighbors’ house now. He sees us and says the naughty words Daddy sometimes says and Mommy tells him off. It’s ‘Holy Shit!!’ They don’t think I know it. I don’t know what it means, but I know it. ‘Are there any more of you?’ Mommy shakes her head. I can only see the beam of his torch. The rain makes it hard to see on one side. There are bits of bricks and wood and paper and trash, and well just lots of things flying around. Everything is breaking. ‘Follow me!’ He is shouting. He is the only other person around. It’s strange. We are following him down into the darkness. I’m bouncing around on Mommy’s side as 66


she splashes down the dirty stream where the road normally is. I look back at our house. ‘Ahhh! Mommy, the roof’s coming off!’ Mommy half looks round to see the flying roof for herself. There are bricks and stones flying around us. I’m screaming. I hold my arm over my head to protect myself. ‘Where are we going?’ ‘I don’t know! Just, just hold on to my shoulders.’ As if she is trying to spin me round, she shifts me onto her back like a koala having a piggyback from their Mommy. It flashes in front of my face as it collides with Mommy’s head and knocks us right down into freezing cold. Mommy is pulled away from me. I shout. I shout for her. My head bangs the hard ground under the water. I open my mouth to cry out but my mouth fills with water and I gag. And I gag. I can’t breathe. Where’s Mommy, where’s Mommy, where’s the man? I try and sit up and search round for her. I’m shaking. The water completely soaks my pjs. ‘Are you ok?’ What? Is he talking to me? He, the stranger, is running towards me. I see the lump lying in the stream that is Mommy. I try to get over to her as fast as I can. The man gets there before me. He moves quickly and crouches by her side. ‘WAIT!’ He shouts at me. I stop. He’s frightening. I want to see Mommy; why isn’t she getting up? He lifts the top half of her body up and out of the water. He turns her body over so she is facing upwards but her face is still hidden by her tangled wet hair. He sweeps it back quickly. ‘MOMMY!’ What is he doing? He’s trying to hide her from me. I try and grab him and her. I can’t really see what I’m doing. I pull his arm back with all my body and he loses balance falling to the side. He lets go of Mommy. Her eyes are still open. She’s awake! She drops back down into the water. I heave at her arm. It’s the angle that I see it. Blood and dirt tangled in her hair. He snatches her from me. Her eyes are wide open. 67


A Journey By Thomas Hawkins

Part One The steaming horse snorted as it strained against its tack. Behind, a large, empty cart groaned in sympathy as it slowly ploughed up the road. A pair of leather boots dangled over the back of this wooden vehicle, their buckles catching the soft light and shining dully. The owner flexed their toes, stretching the stiff leather a little, before returning them to their rhythmic swinging. A pair of narrow troughs trailed behind, forming rivulets in the thick mud. The passenger watched as the channels slowly filled with watery sludge until, in the distance, all evidence of their passing disappeared into the mire forever. Turning and pushing the hood of their travel cloak a little to the side, the passenger peered at the only other person on board. The driver sat at the front, crouched on a little box seat. Water dripped from his dark grey, broad-brimmed hat down the back of his even darker coverall. This was pulled up around his neck making him look like a huge, squat mushroom. He hadn’t spoken since their journey began; in fact, the only thing to escape from under that shady brim had been a few wisps of smoke about two hours after they left. The road seemed to be getting steeper, and the cart’s progress slower. The passenger watched as their brand new boots slowly swung forward into their vision. ‘Hah!’ the driver called as he flicked the horse, finally breaking his silence. The cart crawled to a halt. His gravelly voice continued, ‘Somebody needs to get off and push.’ 69


The passenger continued to stare at the points of their clean boots, waiting to see what the driver would do – go to Part Two With a sigh the passenger slid forward off the cart, grimacing as they felt their feet slide into the loamy muck – go to Part Three

Part Two They weren’t kept in suspense for long. After laying down the reins and chocking the wheels, the driver gripped the edge of the cart and swung down beside his horse with a plop. A strong easterly gust seized the opportunity to lift his hat from his head, sending it flying out across the moor. The hat spun and rolled, catching on clumps of sturdy grasses and small shrubs. The driver trudged after it, splashing through puddles and brushing aside branches in his path. This wind was possessed of an impish spirit; as soon as he got close to his large hat, it would get loosened and swirled along to the next stand of grasping vegetation. After pursuing his truant apparel for some time the driver finally gave up and returned to the cart. The passenger had been watching with no little amusement. They took note of the driver’s appearance as he approached to take up his position at the head of the horse. Previously the hat had obscured most of his face, but a mottled grey-brown beard and long brown hair were now revealed. His tanned, frowning face, emphasised by large bushy eyebrows, made him look grim, but not unfriendly. He certainly got on well with his horse, gently coaxing it forward with a firm hand. The cart pulled to a stop on the crown of the hill. The passenger admired the open grey landscape and soft skies presented from the top. On the horizon the sun could be seen starting to peak beneath the thinning blanket of clouds. Back on the hill, the driver started undoing the horse’s straps. Alarmed, the passenger brought the rapidly sinking sun to the driver’s attention – go to Part Four With the rain now reduced to an occasional spitting, the passenger lay back, cradling their head in their hands, and looked up at the murky sky – go to Part Five

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Part Three The slop squelched as they settled themselves and looked around. The open, cultivated fields they had spent the morning travelling through were no longer visible. Instead undulating moors spread beneath them, a sea of exposed heath all the way to the horizon. Turning to face the cart they took in the back of the driver, who apparently hadn’t moved at all, and ahead of them a steadily rising hill. The road they had been following through this wilderness disappeared over the ridge of this hill and presumably continued beyond. At a shake of the reins, the horse renewed its battle with gravity and the sucking mud. It strained against its collar, hooves slipping in the slush, but the wheels were grasped as in a vice. The passenger leaned into the rough wooden boards at the back of the cart, adding their exertion to that of the animal. Shoes pressed into the muck, sliding until they found firmer ground about a foot beneath the surface. Together they heaved, the wheels turned, and with a cry the passenger fell flat on their face. Picking themselves up, they quickly caught up to the slowing cart and continued to push. With a lot of huffing, puffing, and a few more slips they reached the peak. The passenger was now clothed darker than the driver and struggled to find a clear patch of cloth with which to clean their face. From atop the cart a booming laugh rolled over the passenger and back down the road. Blinking grit from their eyes, the passenger started chuckling as well – go to Part Six Dirty and frustrated, the passenger scowled at the laughing driver through a mask of mud – go to Part Seven

Part Four The driver paused and looked towards the skyline. Standing completely still, he seemed to be listening for something. After a long moment he came out of his reverie and began replacing the harness. His hands moved quickly, and they were soon on their way again. The passenger watched as the clouds on the horizon turned red as blood in a fantastic announcement of imminent night. This display disappeared as they descended another fold in the land, leaving only a purple-grey, rapidly darkening roof overhead. Silhouetted against this backdrop a huge dead tree stood pronounced in black. A final relic of a forest long lost. On its largest branch sat an enormous crow. Despite 71


being over a hundred yards away, the passenger could still see its bulbous yellow eye following them as they passed along the road. A sound as of many feet caused the passenger to turn and look down the road ahead. A flock of sheep was being driven across their path, causing the cart to stop. At the rear followed a dirty brown mat of woollen garments, representing a small shepherd. He saw his herd across then stepped up to the cart to talk to the driver. The passenger strained to overhear their conversation. ‘I would stay to help you, but I have a traveller and we are already late,’ replied the driver. The passenger examined the shepherd. His face was rough and weathered, though probably not more than thirty years old, and his brown, wild eyes matched his rugged attire. ‘They can come as well if they wish, more will be better anyway,’ the shepherd stated. Intrigued, the passenger interrupted, asking what the man needed help with – go to Part Eight It was not far to the Inn where they were meant to be staying, and going off into the ominous night with this stranger was not one of the passenger’s priorities – go to Part Nine

Part Five The passenger opened their eyes, or at least they thought they did. About them was complete blackness. They could feel the planks of the cart against their back, but whether the cart had moved was impossible to tell. They strained their ears, listening for movement from either the horse or driver. Complete silence covered them, bringing a feeling of dread. With the sun completely gone, it felt as if a watchful guardian had abandoned them. There was also no way of knowing how late it had become. Cautiously making their way to the edge of the cart, the passenger slid themselves over the edge and onto the ground. Keeping one hand on the wooden vehicle, they tentatively stepped out. Their boots felt slick from the silty soil as they made their way around to the front. Rounding the final corner, the passenger reached out to where they thought the horse should be. Unsurprisingly, their hand found only air. Releasing the cart they tried again. This time, their feet found one of the cart’s shafts, sending them sprawling amongst a patch of clawing briars. 72


The passenger managed to disentangle their cloak from the thicket and stand up. Suddenly they realised that they had lost the cart. Although they had moved but a yard or two away, it was completely hidden by the gloom. Panicking, they began reaching around them. When this failed, they moved one foot and reached as far as they could. With a dull thud their arm hit a wooden plank. Relieved, they clambered on to the cart and contemplated what to do. They could not stay here for the night, and there was no way of knowing when, or even if, the driver would return. Realising they had no choice but to try and follow the road, they reluctantly slid off once more – go to Part Ten Thinking about their experience with the cart, the passenger decided to wait – go to Part Eleven

Part Six The driver had finally decided to look back and was caught by surprise at the sight which greeted him. Instead of the dapper youngling he had taken on board that morning he was greeted by a veritable mud monster. His brown eyes sparkled from within the twilight beneath his hat. Still chortling, he brought a water bag out of nowhere and clambered to the rear. ‘Here, wash yer face off with this,’ he stated, passing the bag, ‘That hill is a monster; I’m surprised we made it over in this weather.’ The passenger thankfully took the water and washed what the spitting rain had failed to dislodge. ‘Look, there’s the town.’ The driver continued, pointing to a small clump of wooden buildings in the distance. ‘We should arrive ere nightfall, and I’ll make sure the innkeeper gives you a nice hot bath once we’re there.’ The passenger gratefully handed back the water bag and pulled themself onto the cart. The driver returned to his seat and with a deft flick set them off on their final leg. The passenger watched as the hill slowly diminished until it was engulfed by another undulation in the terrain. Swinging their blackened boots rhythmically, they let their mind wander on pleasant thoughts of hot food and a clean bed as the plock plock of the horse brought these musings to ever closer realisation. FIN

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Part Seven The sparkle which had formed in the driver’s eye at the sight of the grime covered passenger turned hard. He leaned forward, the voice coming from his obscured mouth much quieter than the deep rumble seconds earlier. ‘I wouldn’t worry about a little dirt, my dear fledgling. You’ll see plenty more of that, and worse, before you get where you’re going.’ As he spoke, the passenger found a small edge of their cloak which had escaped from the mud and dabbed at their eyes with it. Ignoring the dark, grizzled face of the driver still staring keenly at them, they pulled themselves up on the now level cart. Conscious of the sharp gaze trying to penetrate their turned back, they glumly examined their soiled boots below them. ‘Would you like the water?’ the driver enquired. Retaining their silence the passenger simply shifted to a more comfortable position. Behind them they heard the driver settle into his place as well. The cart lurched as the horse began its descent, almost throwing the passenger back amongst the filth. Within a few minutes the hill which had caused so much trouble disappeared behind another smaller rise. Dwelling on the miserable day, the passenger hoped this was not an omen of things to come. The cart continued its implacable progress taking them ever further from home and all that was familiar and comfortable. But to what, they did not know. FIN

Part Eight It soon became clear someone had been taking the shepherd’s sheep. He explained that half a dozen had disappeared in the last month. The thief would come at night and no matter how vigilant the shepherd was, too often the light of morning revealed one less fleecy form. The passenger had been listening intently to the shepherd’s tale, and only when he finished did they realised night had come upon them. The shepherd explained to the driver that he had a shelter just off the road and invited them to join him in sharing a fire and evening meal. Taking the horse out of its harness, the driver bound two of its legs before setting it loose. Meanwhile, the shepherd had started a fire and begun preparing a stew. Stepping between mounds of wool, the passenger walked up and sat beside the fire. A scream pierced the darkness, causing the passenger to start. The shepherd chuckled, ‘It’s only mister Rabbit saying ‘evening’ to mister Fox.’ The 74


passenger thought of the cold ride through the darkness ahead of them. Compared to the warmth and light of the shepherd’s lively fire, a trek through the dead, still night seemed unbearable. Perhaps sensing their angst, the shepherd suddenly offered they stay the night. With the horse already hobbled, the driver was just as ready to accept as the passenger. Wrapped in their thick travel cloak, and with their back to the fire, the passenger lay in a patch of thick grass. The fire had kept the dew at bay, and now, warm and fed, they closed their eyes and dreamed of counting sheep. FIN

Part Nine It was a considerable relief to the passenger when they finally saw the shepherd and his flock off into the night. By this time it was so black both the horse and driver were invisible, although they were but a cart’s length away. The passenger hugged their cloak about them tightly and listened to the creaking and scraping of the cart as it trundled along. They wondered what the shepherd’s trouble had been as they strained to see into the gloom. A feeling of urgency had been growing in their stomach ever since the sun set. Now, lost in this sea of darkness they wondered if they could ever escape back to the light. A scream pierced the night, causing the passenger to jump. It felt as if the horse was picking up its pace. The cart was rumbling along the now dry lane, each divot almost sending the passenger bouncing off the end. As they hurried through the blackness the passenger contemplated the idea of staying out there somewhere with the shepherd and shuddered involuntarily. As they climbed yet another rise, light, coming from further ahead, caused long shadows to stretch out behind like clawing fingers. Looking over the driver’s shoulder towards the source of this glow the passenger saw a small town of just over two dozen wooden, thatched buildings, clustered in the shoulder of a mountainous hill. The main source of the light was a two storey, tiled building near the middle. This Inn stood like a lighthouse, pronouncing food, warmth and rest; it welcomed them home for the night. FIN

Part Ten Aligning themselves with the troublesome shafts, the passenger renewed their journey. Slowly sliding one foot in front of the other, they quickly realised the edge of the road was marked by a small curb of dirt. Using this small rise and the surrounding vegetation they managed to guide themselves. 75


The shuffle of the passenger’s feet cut through the silent night like ragged tears. Suddenly, high to the west, a single yellow eye appeared. Having noticed it immediately, the passenger could not stop looking at it. It seemed to follow them on their winding path, just hanging there in the darkness. As they continued under the gaze of this malicious eye, the outline of the hills began to appear. A small, flickering light, its source hidden behind a fold in the terrain, was illuminating the landscape. Leaving the path, the passenger started to run, tripping on hidden obstacles in their fierce urgency to reach this light. A shepherd, still awake, was sitting amongst a congregation of sheep. His fire flickered brightly, beckoning the passenger. Calling, the passenger hurried to him. Despite the shepherd’s rough attire, he had been friendly and generous with his food and fire. The passenger now relaxed on the ground by this fire, leaving the rest of their journey for morning. FIN

Part Eleven The passenger wrapped their cloak about them tightly, trying to keep out the biting cold. It must have been an hour since they woke, and still the driver was gone. Curling into a ball they squeezed themselves to stop their shivering and wished they had never left on this journey. A sound woke them. They had fallen asleep on the hard wooden boards of the cart, but now sat up. It was still pitch black and nothing could be seen. The passenger called, hoping it was the driver. Their small voice disappeared into the darkness. Another noise came from the distance, a shuffling, then silence. It was a wretched night for the passenger. No other noise occurred, but they had been spooked and were unable to fall asleep. With the dawn came relief from their suffering. As the passenger followed the road on foot, they examined the ground. Only a few yards ahead of the cart two sets of prints, a horse’s and a man’s, had entered the path. The passenger expected they would be waiting at the next town. They hoped the driver had a very good explanation. FIN

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Winners of Hearsay receive: All Finalists: A one year membership to the SA Writers Centre First Prize: $700 book pack from Allen & Unwin $200 worth of workshops at the SA Writers Centre Second Prize: $500 book pack from Allen & Unwin Third Prize: $250 worth of books from Wakefield Press Editors’ Choice: One year subscription to Voiceworks Magazine Thanks to sponsors Allen & Unwin, SA Writers Centre, Wakefield Press and Express Media 79


On Dit is your student magazine. Published fortnightly, the magazine prints the words, art and photos of students at the University of Adelaide. While this edition is full of creative writing, ordinarily we accept submissions on anything at all. To get involved with On Dit or find out more, visit auu.org.au/ondit or get in touch: ondit@adelaide.edu.au facebook.com/onditmagazine twitter.com/onditmagazine

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On Dit Edition 81.8 - Hearsay  

Hearsay: On Dit's creative writing edition.

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