From ghosts and aliens to the moon landing, all kinds of conspiracies—with all degrees of credibility—abound in every-day conversation. In ‘Skeptic’, WORDLY Magazine brings these conversations out of your mouths, and presents them on the page.
Cynical? Good, you’re right to hesitate. ‘Skeptic’ doesn’t stop at cryptids, but delves deeper, questioning the aspects of our society in desperate need of being questioned. A breach of medical ethics. The impact of passive patriarchy. From the glaring questions demanded of our surveillant society, to the too-often shushed heartbreak of an abusive home, ‘Skeptic’ could be our most crucial plethora to date. Could be. Don’t take my word for it. Why don’t you have a read, cover to cover, and decide for yourself? Sheeple.
Editor-in-Chief: Tara Komaromy • Managing Editor: Mel O’Connor Communications Manager: Bel Ellison • Art Director: Jack McMahon Financial Manager: Aidan Kennedy • Social Media Officer: Emily Henry Designer: Mallory Arbour • Front Cover Artist: Ari Moore Editors: Lori Franklin • Mark Russell • Justine Stella Sub-Editors: Jessica Ali • Eliz Bilal • Julie Dickson • Tyler McPherson Ari Moore • Mel O’Connor • Tim Same • Jessica Wartski
Contributors: Liam Ball • Bridget Beswick • Bel Carroll Jackie Chacko • Abigail Elder • Molly Herd • Vicki Jade • Toby Jeffs Ash Leonard • Tyler McPherson • Jack McMahon • Ari Moore Michael Pallaris • Mark Russell • Doctor Gideon Sawyer • Justine Stella Emma Taylor • Alex Wiltshire • Jason Winn
© 2018 Deakin University Student Association Inc Reg. No. A0040625Y All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher. Opinions expressed in this publication belong to their respective authors, and it may not be the opinions of WORDLY or DUSA. Unattributed images sourced from Flickr (CC) and Adobe Creative Cloud Assets. Want to advertise? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
C O NT E N T S 04 Crafting a Conspiracy - Liam Ball 06 The Cube: Unravelling the Great Mysteries - Jack McMahon 08 Katy Perry and the Zombie Apocalypse - Anonymous 09 Tune in Next Week - Alex Wiltshire 10 Consumer Conspiracies - Molly Herd 12 Panacea - Abigail Elder 14 Beyond Delusions - Jason Winn 16 Generation V - Emma Taylor 17 Destroying Eye - Mark Russell 18 False Light - Ash Leonard 20 Thief - Vicki Jade 21 Surprise - Ari Moore 22 Life After Birth - Toby Jeffs 23 Lost Control - Bridget Beswick 24 Mothers are Good - Jackie Chacko 25 Got Spirit - Michael Pallaris 28 The Death of the Tree - Doctor Gideon Sawyer 30 The Nice Girl's Prayer Book - Bel Carroll 32 What I Know Now - Justine Stella 34 Souls of Ink - Tyler McPherson Skeptic_Draft.indd 3
Conspiracy theories are an art. Not claiming the mainstream respectability of the categories of ‘fine art’, or ‘decent art’, however, still a form of art. Conspiracies have their devout followers and rational—by this, I mean harsh—critics. If you were to observe the multitude of theories found online you may be led to believe that all are constructed entirely by mad men. While the vast majority of conspiracy theories defy both science and rationality and so can be dismissed freely, this doesn’t mean you can write them off entirely. Behind the apparent lunacy of these delusional beliefs lies a sacred structure that one must learn before creating an absurd path of logic that others will follow. It is not so easy to create a conspiracy theory as you may think. It takes time, ignorance, and those red strings that you use to connect photos and newspaper clippings together on a pin board.
You can’t just make up a random idea and expect it to work as a theory. There needs to be serious work put into what should appear to be a lack of thought. An example of a bad conspiracy could be, ‘there is no such thing as a Tim, only Brads in disguise’. While bizarre, this just isn’t enough. You’ll need to look a bit deeper into the realm of absurdity before this can become a worldwide phenomenon. To the outsider this appears to just be a random statement with no greater meaning; it’s your responsibility to convince people there’s no such thing as a real Tim. It is also vital for the lifespan of your conspiracy that you establish what the disguised Brads have to gain from such a deception. And in order to do just that we must look towards the scientific method. Follow closely, future conspirator.
1. Make an observation. Like any good theory there must be a reason for the explanation. You can’t just try to explain something when there is nothing in the objective world to pin your explanation on. Any true conspirator won’t merely summon their theories from the void, as that would mean that they would have to fabricate their very own beliefs. Conspiracies have their believers because they genuinely believe in the ideas and truths that they present. When one sees something which doesn’t belong or doesn’t have a clear explanation, that is when the mind runs wild. In the context of our ‘there are no Tims’ theory, our observation would be as follows: there are people with the name Tim, and some without. As basic as this may seem, this is, incredibly, all it takes to lay the foundations for your conspiracy to bloom.
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2. Ask the question. ‘Why are there people with and without the name Tim?’ As the crafter of a highly improbable conspiracy it is your job to ask the questions that no one is going to or even wants to ask. You’ve noticed something about the world and now it is your unnecessary obligation to ponder why things are the way they are. The entire endeavour of making an observation is made redundant when you opt to not even question what you’ve witnessed. Accordingly, the step of finding an observation unsettling enough to pin your theory on will require as much effort from you as it does time, but when you decided to become a conspirator these are the tough challenges that you must grapple with. Think outside of the box and really get to the origin of what bothers you about what you just saw. Remember: something isn’t right, and it is your job to put that gut feeling into words.
5. Analyse your results. Because you are correct in every capacity of the word, it is now your job to uncover exactly what your theory means for the world at large. Think about the deeper implications of your null statement and dig into what your conspiracy uncovers. Why exactly are there no Tims in the world? Why is their non-existence a secret? Or—more crucially—who is keeping it a secret?
The most important thing to remember about your conspiracy is that there is a large group of ‘rationalists’ and ‘scientists’ seeking to undermine your enlightenment and keep everyone else in the dark. It is vital for the sake of the ‘legitimacy’ of your conspiracy that you tie as many links of evidence to it as possible, however weak they may be. Even if someone were to quickly and easily disprove one portion of your theory, an intricate tangle of connections will remain to support the whole. Since no one could ever be bothered debunking everything you believe, let alone attempt to untie your masterpiece of irrationality, then it means that your conspiracy is as good as safe.
3. Provide an explanation. You must now attempt to answer that question with your hypothesis. Remember, the first answer you come up with is the ‘correct’ answer! This is an alternative, conspiracy-specific approach to the traditional scientific method, where you’d normally make revisions and alter a hypothesis if needed. However, as a conspirator, you should absolutely avoid doing this. Returning to our example theory, how would you explain the fact that some people are called Tim and why some people are not? The answer must be because every ‘Tim’ in the world is actually a Brad. Sometimes you might not be sure of how you decided to explain the situation, but you have to trust your personal intuition more than any other form of evidence. Remember: as a conspirator, scientific rationality is not your friend. 4. Test your theory. Skip this step.
6. Conclusion. After much hassle and strife it is now your duty to share with the world your discovery. If the general public resist your idea, be sure to notify them of their ‘sheeple’ status. An ideal way to present your findings—as any person with little formal education and a lower moral standard naturally would—is via the forum pages of 4chan. Those who think you’re wrong, or ask you to prove your findings to even the smallest degree, are the enemy. Any disbelievers likely work for the Brads, hiding behind their false shield of Tim in order to … um … well, you’ll figure it out. And there you have it! It is now possible for you to construct your very own conspiracy theory, effectively and efficiently through the six easy steps of the scientific method. With the knowledge and power that I have bestowed upon you I am now morally obligated to beg that you never actually follow through with any of this. For the sake of humanity, don’t convince a large number of people that Tims don’t exist. Have some decency, please.
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] : e b u C [The
Unravelling the great Mysteries Jack McMahon I am speaking of course of “The Cube”, a magnificent structure gracing the area of Burwood, Victoria, Australia. Its edges are impeccable, a perfect cube, sharp angles and grooves cut into the sides, emitting many different colours.
Report – Alfred Harbottle (Bestselling author of works such as Are we all Russian? The best kept secret in human history and North Korea – Lizardology.)
For centuries, great minds have pondered the unknown; uncovered the tales of horrific creatures and terrible miscreants. The Sasquatch is said to still be wandering across the woodlands, hunting wild deer and the occasional unfortunate human that crosses its way. The Loch Ness Monster continues to evade capture—a remarkable feat, considering the wide-scale government search. Good one, Nessie.
Great minds, like myself, have dedicated their lives to uncovering the truth, even if that truth is inconceivable. I have been an investigative journalist for over fifteen years, unravelling the secret behind how the great pyramids were constructed (for more information, purchase the “Mighty Pyramid” title from my Lizardology range) and captured a real-life Bigfoot offspring (skeptics claim it to be a gorilla, but let them continue to be herded like sheep). But nothing compares to my research on an almighty power. Never have I willingly leapt down a rabbit hole such as this. Some say that it only stems back ten years, but that’s what they want you to believe. Many organisations, big and small, have tried to cover this up, but not any longer.
After much field work, I came to a shocking conclusion. Whether it be sentient or some kind of demigod, I realised that The Cube may have the capacity to communicate. There are three structures exactly like it, spread out across Victoria, but I believe this one to be the brain of the hive, the pulsing heart, the centre. I sat beneath it, basking in its glory, creating wax crayon rubbings of its surface. It seemed to be some kind of language—an alphabet, if you will. The ginormous sounds that rumble from within its core seem to correspond with certain markings on its inside. I believe I have cracked the code, one of the biggest breakthroughs in modern history. I can communicate with The Cube.
I began asking it questions, questions many students have uttered under their breath in the cruel cycle of assignment deadlines. The Cube has always answered your prayers, but you have never truly heard, until now. After painstaking work, I gave a list of questions to The Cube and in its serene grace it responded. These were my findings.
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Test Question 1:
Test Question 2:
‘Almighty Cube, Blessed is It—is ‘Why do I leave my assignments to the last minute?’ Australia the product of chemtrails spread by the NWO, and covered up Are you aware of the tale of Adam and Eve? It seems to be very famous in your culture—a slight bump in the grand by shadow leader Steve Irwin?’ scheme of reality, to be sure—but it holds many answers Much can be pondered, mortal, for your kind, as well as many questions. but not all can be answered … it seems there is a darkness at work, Humanity is to be punished for the sins committed by I feel it shifting and withering in two. The hiss of the serpent still whispers in your ears, my core. The great Steve Irwin has filling your pathetic minds with self-doubt. Your cruel become a mystery in the afterlife, God brought down a disease upon you all, something foul, his whereabouts unknown, yet the something that seeps into your very soul. It goes by the very land I lay on feels tarnished, name of … procrastination. Your assignments are nothing but a societal construct, one that is important to your stripped and broken. mortal minds. The serpent draws you away from fulfilment, The New World Order continues towards your electronic boxes to numb your dim-witted to swell. With each of your petty minds. breaths, the world grows slightly darker. The time is ripe for a Heed my warning: do not give in to the snake that slithers cleansing. Moral beings hold no between your ears. Fight your nature. It may not end well, bearing in this plane of existence. considering what that serpent has done in recent times … After my shell is gone I will troubling for you … but entertaining for me. My patience find salvation. I hear whispers, has worn thin. As amusing as you are, leave me be. a faint sound drifting through The Cube seems to exist in another plane of existence, yet it has the cosmos, Crikeyyy it hisses. knowledge of human gods. Does this prove God is real? Are the This may be the answer to your Pagans right? Are there many gods inhibiting the same plane? question. Sensing the future is but Are they gods at all? This is deeply concerning. a fool’s game, I communicate with lesser beings as yourself for my I decided to pose one last question to The Cube, something I own cruel amusement. Do what truly needed to know. If I can decipher this, I can possibly find you will … the meaning to life. I know The Cube warned me not to contact it again, but I must try. The Cube’s response is frightening but extraordinary, never in my many years investigating such matters have I came across something ‘Almighty Cube, what is the … ͭͩ ͌ͨ ͪ ͫ̀̃ so terrifying yet awe inspiring. I ͥ ͭ̓ ̐̆ͣ ͒ ͊ ̌ ̓ͤͧ͊ ̑͌̐ ͆ ̊ ̓ͮ ̃̚ ͆ ̾̇ ̃̂ ̄ͨ̓͆ ̓ ̆ ̂̒̿ ͗͒ ̾ͨ ͬ̇ͦ ͊͂̉ ͯ̇ͩ ̂̾ ͂̀ ͆̊̅ ͗ͦ ̄̊̿ͩ ̅ͬͬ̓ ͭ ͥ͋̿̐ ͦ̔̎ͥ ͊́ ͤ̌ ̓͆̈́̚ ̃ ͋̊ ̔ ̂̍ ̔ ͯ̽̾͊ ͥ́̽ ̴ ͊̄͑͑̋ ̔̊ ̆̑ͫ͆̅ ͫͬͮ ̂́̌̂ attempted to give the Cube another W̍͗͐̽ e͛̃ ͯ̈́̆a̅̊ ̉ͦ̈̇ ҉re̔̌ͥ ̛ ̸̏͗͗a ̄̓ ̶̈́͒ l͗l̡̊́ ̍b̡ ̏ ̑̓u͑ͬ͛ t̵͋̀ͬ ̢̅ͨh ̴ ̑ ̛e͐d͌ f̋͋ ̸r͂ ̆ o͑ ṁ̛ ţh ̆ ͣ e̴ ̡aͦr̢ ̧ͪ è ͑m̅ö ul̓d ͥ ě eͬ̋ ҉arͦ t̽͏h҉ ͪ ̓ ͞u̶͑ m̡a͗n ćͬ l͂ǎ ẙ̨,ͧ w ̂ ͧͫ̚ ̀̎ question—would it communicate ͐͐̔̋ ̏͋̆ ́ ͩ ͪ ̿ ͊ ̅ ̈́ ͑ ͘ ̐ ́ ̌ ͐ ̃͌ ͫ ͛ ͛ ͆ ̆̉ ͆ with me again? Only time would tell. ́̃tͯ ͩhͨ̑ eͦ̆ r͊ͣ ҉e͋͐ ̽͌is͋ͣ ͤ̉n͗ ǫͩ̎ ̽m̆̽ ͠e̓̕aͭͧ n̈͊̆ i̓͂n̉̊ g̡̈́͂ ͋ ̚ ̐ ͛ ̆ͬͬ ͛ ̓̔ ̑̚ ̿̈͆ ͋̑̈ ̓ͧẗ́ ̈́̐h̷͐ ͒ eͥ̋ rͦ̋̑͂ e ͞ ͯ ͞ i͌ͥ͋ s̡̆̔̍ ͑ ͮn̈ͩ ö̶̇ c̡̔ͪ à̃̌ û͒͛ s̡ ͂ ҉eͧ͗͆ ̓͑ ̿͆͒ ̈́ ̀ ͨ ͆ ͛ ͮ ̐ ̉ͤͫ ͋ͥ ̎̑ ̓̇͂ ̾ͭͯ ͬͪͭ̐ ̂̿ͧ́̈ ̆ͫ ͋̈̔ ̿ͨ͋ ̂̈́͊ ́ ̄ͫ ̽ ͊̑̒ͩ ͫ͒̑̈ ͐̇ ͂̐ͣ̀̄ ͮ̈́̚ ̿ ҉s̉͏ ̊a͑ ̛l̛l̐ ͛ tͫ hͨ a̚ t ̌w̄e͌̒ ̉mͬa͆ ͞k̡ ̚ ẻ ̶i͗ t̿ ͡ ̾iͤtͪ ̐̾ ́̕iͯ ͛͋ ̊ ̈ ̔ͪ ̇̉ ̈̍͊ ̌̈ ͘ ͣ ͑̍ ͩ̽̚ ͗ ͣͪ ͂͊̊͗ ͆ ̾ͬ̂̑̇ ͂̔ͮ ̵ ̽ ͐ͭ̐̓ ̃̉̿ͦ ̀ ͞ ̀ n̚ dͨ ͏ćl̔͜o̅̕c̸ͩ k̒m̅a̐ ̕k̓ ẽ̈́ ̡ ̒r̃҉ ̃…’ ̿Tͧ̒͐ ̓͆h̏ e ̡̓ͨ ̴ ̽ͮ ̧ͧ̚ḡͫ ŕͭ a
Test Question 3:
(This paper was published in memoriam of Alfred Harbottle. A loving father and inquisitive man, he will be missed.)
7 Skeptic_Draft.indd 7
katy perry and the
A student’s musings on Perry’s ‘Chained to the Rhythm’
Anonymous If you are reading this, you probably belong to the ‘comfortable’ group. Most likely, you have the capacity to make yourself happy by satisfying your needs and wants. We live in a convenient, satisfactory world. We believe it is alright to keep living this way as long as we are not affected. Katy Perry’s ‘Chained to the Rhythm’ was released at the beginning of 2017, many of us may have heard it or are at least familiar with this song. I’m sure many others, like me, would have passed this off as a party anthem or a tribute to music. Nevertheless, I believe this song has not been presented to us in its full potential.
If you haven’t yet, have a listen to this song and check out the music video. You won’t regret it. From the lyrics alone, you will realise the single is a different creature to the other pop music we are familiar with. By being disguised as a catchy dance song, it achieves exactly what the song was out to prove. Most of us may have accepted this as just any other pop song, taking in only what we want, while not even noticing a completely different message is within the lyrics.
This song is a mirror on the complacent, ignorant public of the modern Western ‘utopia’. Perry suggests the public are ‘tone deaf’ to the not-so-perfect aspects that exist both within our bubble and outside of it. We see a positive, fancy, glossed-up world through a distorted lens, whilst ignorantly being ‘chained to the rhythm’ of our normal everyday routine and the extravagant fake lives that we lead (‘like ornaments’).
Although the song is critical of our willingness to ignore ugly realities and soak in our own comfort, it is also suggested that we, the audience, can break free from our zombie state to see the truth. In the music video, there are references to discrimination present today and examples of issues we still choose not to tackle. It could be that there are issues in the world now which even the media is not bringing forward to us. This whole society is wired so we catch only what is relevant to us. This is evident from news articles to pop songs—perhaps we only listened to this track because it was a hit. We are readily absorbing what is on our palette without question. We don’t find it necessary to explore or create other options. As the public, we are obsessed with our own pleasure. Perry calls us ‘wasted zombies’. It is not just the politicians who are the villains, we too are willful participants who bring life to the illusion.
A different type of zombie apocalypse is upon us now. It is time to free ourselves from the self-created imaginary bubble and make a deliberate effort to make a better world, although it means tearing up our glittery cage. What are you chained to? What are the things that you are mindlessly accepting? It does not have to be something profound or political, it can be something as simple as what you wear or what you eat for lunch. We might not change the whole world, but we can always start by changing our own perception.
Tune in Next Week
9 Skeptic_Draft.indd 9
June 12, 2017
Shift: 5 pm–10 pm
Department: Front End Staff Member: Rachel
As I swiftly pack the lady’s bag, I can feel her staring over my shoulder at the cigarette price board. What will it be, I wonder? She isn’t fancy enough for Winfield, but not bogan enough for Peter Jackson.
She was the shade of a brown leather handbag, and it looked like someone had vacuumed away her upholstery, leaving her lining suctioned to her bones. I wondered if it was the cigarettes that caused her unusual appearance? I recall being told during my tobacco-sales training that even if someone looked a bit older than eighteen, they could still be underage because smokes make you look older. At first, I questioned the truth in this statement, but I have since come to find it an honest observation. I wait for her to tell me what she wants before starting a conversation. When I ask a smoker how their day is going, I feel as if I can physically see my words shoot through their forehead, escaping out through the back of their skull into the vast nothingness. They have a way of devoting their attention to the smokes they’re about to buy. 10
‘Can I grab a pack of JPS blue 26s?’
JPS—A plain Jane I see. I was close.
‘No worries,’ I say as I finish scanning an item to get the smokes before her words leave my mind. ‘Are these the right ones?’ ‘Perfect, love.’
Now’s the time to initiate conversation. I have perfected this art during my time as a supermarket worker. I have an automated set of conversation starters: How’s your day been? Are you up to anything tonight? What’s on for the weekend? I use these phrases so much, I sound somewhat like an AI—all programming. I know my ‘traffic lights’—red people, amber people, green people. She’s a green person. A little slow to the conversation, but once you get her going … ‘How has your day been?’ I ask as I pack a bag of Doritos into her wornout environment bag.
‘Aw, you know love, it’s been okay for a Monday. But I’ll tell ya what, I did not sleep well last night. Ruined my whole day, ya know?’ ‘Yeah, you know what? I didn’t sleep well last night either. Which is weird because I usually sleep pretty well.’ ‘Ya know what? Every full moon, I rarely sleep, my husband rarely sleeps, my dogs are up all night whining. Even coming in here tonight, there’s people getting angry; every kid I’ve seen has been bloody hypo. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me.’
Caution. Caution. Topic escalation imminent. Evacuate immediately. She has leant in closer to me suspiciously. Maybe there’s some secret society intent on protecting the influences of the full moon? I wonder what will happen if I feed her suspicions? Should I tell her about those illuminati videos on YouTube?
‘Hmm … I have researched this before because I do have trouble sleeping on full moons. But there has been no scientific evidence saying that the full moon has anything to do with sleep patterns and behavioural issues. Although it seems to be a common issue.’ I hoped that the conversation would rest there, but she started typing on her phone and I knew I was caught in the bear trap.
‘Look here,’ she says, as she shoves her iPhone X (or should I say, iPhone XXX) into my face. ‘This website has info all about this stuff. I tell ya now, there’s something more going on, I can just feel it.’ Code Red. Evacuate. Evacuate.
‘Oh wow, that’s sure a lot of research. Well, maybe I’ll check it out after work. What was the website called?’
I write down the website name on a piece of receipt paper and finalise the transaction. I gratefully watch her leave the store, and proceed to throw the piece of paper in the bin. Who’s next, the anti-vaxxer?
Molly Herd August 20, 2017
Shift: 6:30 am–3:30 pm Department: Meat
Staff Member: Cameron Who’s gonna eat that sandwich? Cam’s gonna eat that sandwich! Who’s gonn… ‘‘Scuse me, mate. Can you tell me if you have any meat that isn’t Halal?’ I stare at the balding man, carefully laying out an action plan in my mind. Should I tell him that only our ham and bacon is not Halal certified? Or will I relish my sandwich after lying and saying that nothing is Halal certified? If only I was that confident.
‘No, sorry. All our meat is Halal certified, except our ham and bacon. Maybe you could try the butchers?’
‘Well that’s bloody bullshit! What’s the point of making ham and bacon Halal free, but not a porterhouse steak? I didn’t ask for Halal meat, but apparently I no longer get a say in what comes into my country.’ Your country? Pfft.
His fluorescent shirt is tainted with mud, or what I hope is mud, and his hardy arms look as if they haven’t experienced a shower in at least ten days. His large hands grip tightly onto the shopping basket, waiting
for a trigger. I wondered if he has an anti-Halal superman suit under those tradie garbs?
‘Well, I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do about Halal certification. Besides, it just means the meat is okay for Muslim people to eat. Same with Kosher food.’
‘Kosher? Not another bloody migrant policy. Do they also fund terrorism? Because that Halal food funds terrorists. And you sell it in mainstream supermarkets … It’s wrong, mate. I shouldn’t be forced to fund those bastards.’
And all I wanted to do was to go on my lunch break. I can’t seem to escape the trodden hoof of this nationalist donkey. I disagree with what he’s spurting, but after waking up at 5 am, I wasn’t ready to be labelled a ‘snowflake’ just yet. ‘Look, the best I can do is write a note to HQ asking them to review the stocking of Halal meat in stores. But other than that, I have no control over what gets stocked on our shelves.’
when I’m not Muslim. Next, we’ll all have to abide Sharia law. It’s not right. I have a freedom of religion, you know!’ When will this torture end?
‘Hmm, it’s not great, but there’s not much we can do. Either way, I must get going. Good luck with finding that Halal free meat.’
I swiftly walk away before he can open his mouth again. There are only so many discriminating conversations I can have in one day. I immediately try to push the experience from my mind, but I can’t help remembering countless other times these topics are forced into my daily discussions. I sit at the tearoom table and unwrap my beef salad sandwich. Time to fund terrorism.
‘Fine, do that then. But I’ll let you know now, there’s a lot of us who won’t stand for Halal shit. And we’ll make sure it gets removed from these shelves. Because, you know what?’ What?
‘This Halal certification, or whatever it is, is not the Australian way. I don’t want to have to eat Muslim food
11 12/07/2018 21:23:30
hey first met at the public hospital in Geelong. Marie was attending a support group for the chronic pain that had slithered inside her like a hot snake since she turned thirteen. Chelle was completing her placement as a nursing student. She had walked into the group room just as Marie was sharing.
Dr Judith Wilder was the facility’s founder. She studied methods for extracting pain through the use of lasers. Marie felt incredulous when Chelle used that phrasing. Pain could not be removed; it could only be subdued.
Chelle approached Marie afterwards, putting a hand on her shoulder, and said she wasn’t afraid of Marie’s pain.
‘Do you really think this will work?’ Marie asked.
‘I scare people away because I remind them of the sad possibilities of life,’ Marie had said.
Marie had tried everything to stab the snake and kill it dead: crystal healing, hypnotherapy, and inutero primal scream therapy sessions in which she curled into a foetal ball and opened her mouth and let out soundless wails like an unborn child. And yet the snake flourished. It moved from her lower abdomen to her ovaries, her chest, her breasts. Marie imagined the inside of her body was a hot, sticky forest, with swinging vines and poisonous flowers, all perfect for a slithering snake to thrive.
Her family lived in Queensland and she didn’t have many friends, but she had Chelle. They moved in together, to a terrace house near the beach. Marie worked a few shifts a week at a café. Chelle found a position at a medical research facility. She would steal opiates for Marie that were meant for quivering rabbits in cages. ‘I can’t keep doing this shit, you know,’ said Chelle as she pulled a packet of pills from her bra.
A few days later, Chelle came back from work and dropped a brochure on Marie as she lay on the couch hugging a heat pad. On the cover, a woman and a man were smiling and running through a dry and scrubby terrain. Inside there was a picture of a black roundedged cube. ‘What is it?’ Marie asked.
Her eyes looped around the edges of the black cube.
‘It’s a trial at a pain facility. Jill got us in,’ Chelle said. ‘We have to leave this Friday,’ then she added, ‘please don’t fuck this up for me.’ 12 Skeptic_Draft.indd 12
The facility was built on the highest hill in the Little Desert. Marie and Chelle drove there in Chelle’s dead Nan’s sedan, spotting birds of prey that sailed in the blue sky. ‘Jill went to med school with Dr Wilder, she said she’s crazy intelligent,’ Chelle answered, humming along to a Cher song, something she did when she wanted to end a conversation. ***
Marie couldn’t stand doctors. Most dismissed her pain saying, ‘it couldn’t be that bad’, or questioned if she was putting in the work to make the pain go away. Like it was Marie’s career.
She closed her eyes, trying to ignore the nauseating coil that was beginning to move in her stomach. All she could see in the negative space behind her eyes were the faces of the people from the brochure: their smiling white teeth floating in the dark space of her consciousness. They arrived at the facility after dark. A woman at a gated security booth asked for photo identification. She had incredible curly hair and was wearing a white lab coat with her name embroidered in red letters: Roko. ‘This your support person?’ she asked.
‘Yes, she’s my friend,’ Marie answered in a thin octave that floated out of the sedan’s window into the cold desert air. ‘Most people bring their partner, their mum, never seen anyone bring just a friend before,’ Roko continued.
Marie didn’t know what to say so she shrugged. The guard stared at them as she pressed the button that lifted the gate. ***
The next morning, they woke early to attend the first session. They walked down a long, carpeted hallway and 12/07/2018 21:23:36
were joined by fifteen other participants who were all dressed in expensive clothing. Marie wore track pants because the waistband didn’t press into her throbbing stomach. ‘I don’t think I belong here,’ Marie whispered to Chelle.
Chelle ignored her, and pointed. At the end of the hallway was a tall woman with a white bob, holding the black cube from the brochure in her hand: Dr Wilder.
The cube used a laser to target individual cells and extract the pain, drawing it from the body to its unfeeling core. ‘There are no sharp edges because that invokes a pain image,’ Dr Wilder said firmly.
At the end of the session each participant was given their own continuous cube and two circular plastic nodes with adhesives that attached to the skin.
The participants and Marie left the session in silence. All their lives they’d been sold ways to damper their pain— not physically remove it.
Marie imagined the snake being sucked from her pores into the cube, where it would have to coil very tightly to fit. ***
‘Well, I think it’s just incredible,’ said Emma, downing a glass of white wine. Marie and Chelle were having dinner at a table with a white-blonde woman and her husband.
‘I can’t wait till 9 o’clock when they turn them on,’ Emma continued. ‘Isn’t it a little frightening, though?’ Marie asked. Chelle nudged her under the table.
‘How do you mean?’ asked Emma, with a smile that showed both rows of her white teeth.
‘I mean, if they are extracting pain from us, what else can they take?’ Marie continued. Emma and her husband stared and said nothing.
‘Pain is this invisible thing, right? Well, what other invisible things are they extracting?’ Marie asked quickly. Chelle kicked Marie but she couldn’t stop.
‘And if that cube is smart enough to extract our pain, then how do we know it isn’t in pain as well?’ ‘You’re a little tripper, aren’t you?’ asked Emma’s husband. Chelle stood up, her napkin dropping from her lap.
‘Bed time for you two, hey?’ asked Emma’s husband with a raised eyebrow. Chelle slammed their bedroom door shut.
‘I’m sorry,’ Marie said, but then she continued, ‘but don’t you think this is all a little suss?’ Chelle shook her head and sat down on her bed.
‘I mean, I don’t know anything about this place, what are their ethics?’ Marie knew how she sounded: she was ranting.
‘When we get back, I’m moving out,’ Chelle said softly. Marie felt lightheaded and hot.
She continued, ‘Everyone has told me how silly I am. How you are using me, it’s just so—’ ‘Chelle, wait,’ Marie pleaded.
‘No, I’ve always been the one who liste—’ ‘Look!’ Marie held up her phone. The display read 9.01 pm.
‘It’s gone,’ Marie said softy.
And it was. The snake had ceased to exist—or at least was removed. ‘It’s gone?’ Chelle asked.
Chelle hugged Marie tight. Marie wanted to close her eyes, to hold this feeling inside her, but she couldn’t. Her eyes couldn’t close: they could only trace the outline of the cube over and over in one continuous loop.
o s i
his hallway is long and winding. My footsteps echo within this white expanse. My visage is adorned with a pristine coat, with my name emblazoned on the front in simple bolded black letters. Rows upon rows of doors that lead to various patients’ rooms line the hallway, flitting past my gaze as I start to pick up speed. This is my first day on the job at the city hospital psychiatric ward and I am already lost.
I stumble upon a nurse sitting at a small reception desk. She’s probably no older than me, with a stoicism that could turn Medusa to stone. Nonchalantly, she peers up and stops her game of Sudoku. Her everlasting boredom is plastered on every crevice of her face, like a canvas being exposed to the neglect of an artist. We awkwardly stare at each other as her desk fan lightly blows her black curls, little sable blades lashing at the paleness of the hospital interior. ‘Can I help you, Dr Carter?’ Her voice is like a gruff lunch lady’s.
‘Yes. Can you please show me where Dr Harrow’s office is? I’m his new assistant and I can’t seem to find it.’ Her face freezes with a look of reserved nervousness.
She replies, ‘so, you must be the new doctor, then. If you take a right from here it’ll be the third door on your left.’ She seems on-edge; a small bead of sweat descends from her forehead, dampening the latest number entered on her Sudoku puzzle.
I wave as I turn around. ‘Thank you for your help.’
I barely walk two steps before she seizes my attention. ‘Just be careful. Dr Harrow is known to be somewhat eccentric in his ways.’ I see a look of seriousness in her concerned eyes. I shrug it off as her just poking fun at the newbie. Without a word, I continue walking on.
I stop at his office door—a splintered timber slab that barely hangs on rusty hinges. I knock three times; flakes of paint fall like brittle snowflakes. I hear a muffled scuffle, some cursing, and a few thuds. What have I gotten myself into? Suddenly, the door swings open, revealing an elderly man with a sparkle in his eyes betraying his age. He shoots a quick glance at me, almost surveying my worthiness to enter his unkempt office. He notices my name and beams with pearly white dentures. ‘You must be my new assistant, Dr Carter. Pleased to meet you—my office is a mess right now, but that shouldn’t be a problem. I have a grand topic of research to divulge to you and I hope you listen with open ears.’ I put out my right hand and he vigorously shakes it with the might of someone half his age. I reply back with a hint of apprehension, ‘I’m very pleased to meet you, sir. I look forward to working with you.’
I should’ve heeded the nurse’s warning. Dr Harrow sidesteps and sweeps his arms like a lively marionette and points to his office. ‘Enter my domain, Dr Carter, and prepare to have your mind blown!’ I feel a lump in my throat form as I enter his madhouse.
His office is certainly in disarray: patient files are stacked so high that I fear removing one will cause me to lose a dangerous game of psychiatric Jenga. There is barely any lighting in this place except for the ceiling light, which occasionally flickers a sickening yellow colour. Several boxes containing a myriad of knick-knacks scatter themselves on the floor. I traverse carefully until something catches my eye: a two-sided whiteboard on wheels, with one side embellished with words which map out his thesis. The occasional photos of patients pepper the whiteboard, with red thread connecting them to the words associated with their disorder; like a macabre atlas, he’ll need to wade the sea of questions and inconclusiveness to finally find the answer to his question. I didn’t notice it until now but at the very top of the whiteboard is his question. ‘Is what a patient sees just a delusion?’
I startle and see Dr Harrow walk behind me, except with a more serious face.
‘I think that you’ll find this an interesting topic. I have always wanted to know, what if the things a patient perceives in their reality—something we would normally label as a hallucination or a manifestation of a broken mind—is more than just that? That—maybe, perhaps—there is more to understand; that what they are seeing with their two eyes really does exist, but as the unafflicted we just can’t comprehend it. I want to glimpse into their reality and survey everything through the eyes of someone deemed otherwise.’
I take a step back to see the whiteboard with more clarity, but I stumble and trip over a few of the knick-knacks. I fall right into his desk chair. Dr Harrow sprints forward with a malicious grin on his face; he’s nothing but a blur as a silvery glint pierces its way into my left arm.
I reel back at the sudden jolt of pain. There’s a needle in my arm, buried deep. I rip it out and toss it to the floor. Dr Harrow breaks into a small chuckle. I get up from the seat and try to head to the door. My whole body feels like it’s been leashed with a ball and chain; my movements become lethargic. That bastard injected me with a paralytic. My steps become no more than a sad attempt at fleeing an insane man. Behind me, the reaper’s amusement morphs into a cacophony of howling laughter. My body is now dancing with death, lulled into stagnation by the will of a fluid paralytic coursing through my veins. I fall down to the floor, defeated by my weighted limbs. My eyes hopelessly stare upward at the ceiling light.
I hear glass crunch underfoot as Dr Harrow comes closer. His stark silhouette looms over me blocking the light, the very last eclipse I will ever witness. He reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out a scalpel. Within his mind, he has burnt the remaining crops of sanity, and in their place he has sown the seeds of pure madness. His fingers tremble with the ecstasy of his little sadistic fantasies about to unfold. My mind screams, but my mouth is muzzled. ‘Don’t worry, Dr Carter! I will find what makes you tick.’ Dr Harrow comes closer and puts his hand on my shoulder, his face reflected within the glittering steel blade of the scalpel. ‘As a man of science, it is my job to pursue knowledge.’ The scalpel sinks into my skin as I sink into another realm.
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We are Surrounded By eyes Watching Following Us CCTV A Constant Gaze Inescapable Cameras Prying into lives Hidden Dashcams Amongst The Mobiles Everyday We are Media We are Entirely Completely Seen heard Tracked traced IMMERSED
Immersed in the lives of others, this is the instant generation #instagen. You are the era of voyeurs, the voyeuristic. You are Generation V. You SEE everything. Curiosity rules your existence. Indulged in the lives of others to satiate your inquisitiveness. You feast on gossip and feed upon the stories of others. You are a consumer in a consumeristic society. Thirsting for knowledge in a hunger to know more to learn more to be more. They are rare bugs waiting to be pinned down by you—the collector. Curious beings. A sense of wonder and marvel at the world drives society forward. Desire for knowledge has created, transformed, reimagined technology—your future. You want, you need, you crave to be like others. You seek escapism from your worries, your struggles, your life. You consume the lives of others to escape your own. You’re constantly collecting, pinning down your specimens. They stare up at you blankly, trapped in your gaze. While you watch others, you are being watched too. Tracked.
Invisible eyes follow you. They watch you. Prying into lives, analysing your movements. The security camera of a shop swivels silently to study your steps. The dash cams constantly record. Surreptitious spectators of your internet motions who stalk your every click, recording, analysing, scrutinising. Tracked, traced. Snaps and videos capture you just like you capture others. People sitting, standing and walking who watch you, look at you, wonder about you. They’re watching you now. Following you. CCTV, constant surveillance of cities, shops, streets, public spaces, a constant gaze watching you. They pin you down. Inescapable. Someone is always watching.
You are the gaze within the gaze of a gaze which never ceases, never stops because you are always watching being watched. Those eyes slide silently from space to space. Attentive to your actions, behind pillars, hiding from your view. Your lack of awareness is key to their objective. You’re desensitised to your watchfulness of others, but almost completely unconscious of eye who is watching you, who is pinning you down in their specimen collection. You are one of many bugs in a collector’s set, the set each one of us attempts to collect. Pinning down those fine specimens of your voyeuristic world. Now you must consciously disconnect from the gaze. Disrupt it. Stop it consuming you, transforming you into a collector. Stop watching. Start noticing. Notice people, notice things. Don’t dwell … notice and let go. Notice the eye watching you. Turn away. Disrupt. Switch off. Stop collecting the bugs around you.
No eyes. No longer part of the collection—you are a person unpinned and unbugged. Undefined world. Closed off from observation. No windows no view. You’ve refused the gaze. Disrupted the stare. You’ve left the world of the eye for this.
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17 Skeptic_Draft.indd 17
F A L S E L I G H T Ash Leonard
he bricks on the fence are painted. It’s not a good job. There are spots missing, uneven streaks spreading themselves across the brickwork, and the paint is already flaking. It litters the footpath like rose petals, getting stuck between crevices and grinding into the concrete. I double check my phone to make sure I’m at the right place, heart skittering in my chest. I have an hour and a half before I need to be home. Any longer, and Mum will make it home before I do. I promised her I wouldn’t visit Jackson, no matter how many times he wrote to us. She doesn’t know I made those promises with my fingers crossed behind my back, breath bated. He said he’s changed.
The front gate creaks open, and I make my way up the path towards the front door. It’s one of those houses you know will be cold. Not a chill on the air type of cold, but feet numbingly cold. Stale. Lifeless, except for an optimistic electric panel heater thrumming in the corner of the lounge room. I shove my phone into my handbag and knock on the splintery wooden door, surprised when the wood remains mostly intact under my knuckles. Jackson throws open the door almost immediately, looking relieved, as if he wasn’t convinced that I would actually turn up. I give a quick smile, trying to diffuse the awkwardness between us, before pulling my brother in for a hug. He smells of stale cigarette smoke and damp linen, and for a moment he looks as though he isn’t quite sure how to respond.
‘Good to see you, Ames,’ he says, clearing his throat as he pulls away. ‘Cuppa tea?’
He doesn’t wait for my reply before ushering me through the passageway towards the kitchen. He flicks the kettle on and pulls two grubby mugs from the dishrack. The kitchen is in a better state than I anticipated, the countertops clean and two empty beer cans stacked neatly near the rubbish bin. He seems to be alone.
‘I know, it’s a shit heap but it’s the best I can do for now. Trying to get my hours back up at work but there’s just nothing around at the moment.’
He pours the boiling water into the mugs, sloshing some onto the countertop. ‘It’s not that bad,’ I offer with a small smile.
Jackson snorts and fetches milk from the small bar fridge. ‘Thanks. Not that bad is what I aim for.’
He sets the tea in front of me, taking a noisy gulp from his own mug. There’s a chip in the rim of mine, browned from the stains of beverages past.
‘So’s Mum coming or what?’ Jackson asks, taking another large gulp of tea. ‘Not sure,’ I shrug, keeping the smile fixed in place and trying to read his signals.
Mum doesn’t believe that he’s stopped using. She keeps saying she ‘can’t see him like this’, repeating it like a mantra. She doesn’t think he’s changed and insists that he’s offering us a false light. It’s only a matter of time before it fades. 12/07/2018 21:23:53
Jackson is adamant he’s changed. He said as much to our neighbour, Ellie, a prolific gardener whose age hovers around the seventy-plus region. He’d just finished sliding the letter into our mailbox, explaining to us where he was living now and giving us his new mobile number, when Ellie accosted him, pruning shears in hand, and asked him what he was up to these days. Ellie is a shrewd character. I’ve been convinced since I was ten years old that she knows everything, which is why I believed her when she told Mum she’d seen Jackson. He looked different, she said. As if he’d come into his own. I’m not entirely sure what she meant by that, but Mum had just scoffed at her and changed the subject. ‘I doubt it, that boy is a natural bullshit artist,’ she said over her shoulder, not even bothering to stop to chat with Ellie, as she normally would.
She didn’t want to believe, so she remained protected, cushioned, behind her wall of skepticism. ‘So, she’s not coming,’ Jackson says now, lips thin, pressed tightly together. This time, it isn’t a question.
I shrug again and take a sip of tea.
Jackson’s back is turned to me as he rummages in a kitchen drawer, pulling out loose sheets of paper. A bottle opener. Pens and mismatching lids. He finally closes his fist around a crumpled twenty dollar note and slams it on the table between us. ‘Maybe now she’ll believe I’m different, huh? Give that to her, would ya, Amy?’
His breathing is heavy and the intensity of his gaze goes through me. I don’t meet his eyes as I nod and pull the money towards me. ‘Shit. Now you’re scared of me too, huh?’
There’s a dangerous edge to his question, glittering with a manic energy, barely controlled. He pushes his chair roughly against the table and the force of the movement thrums through my body. Maybe Mum was right about him. He’s the same person who would lose it at the smallest provocation, sweat glistening on his forehead, before storming out of the house and staying away for days at a time. Maybe he hasn’t changed.
I shake my head and take Jackson’s hand in mine, looking for my little brother. His breathing starts to slow, and he smiles, but there’s something reserved about it. It’s stretched taut and not quite reaching his eyes. ‘Don’t be stupid,’ I insist. ‘Now, show me around the rest of this house. You’re only half an hour away from us now, that’s great! I can visit more often.’ ‘I’d like that.’
‘How long have you been here, Jax?’
‘That’s just so fucking typical!’ Jackson ignores my weak attempt to change the subject and throws his mug into the sink. The chip on my mug makes sense, and I grip it tighter, the heat of the ceramic biting into my hands.
‘Is this over that twenty bucks? It was only a twenty, for God’s sake!’
A twenty dollar note, clawed at by desperate fingers as they removed it from the faux leather wallet. A twenty dollar note that my brother slipped into his pocket as he smiled at Mum, regaling us with tales from the bar where he worked. I pretended not to notice, like I pretended I didn’t see the scabs on his arms or the space in my jewellery box where my gold bracelet used to be. ‘She’ll come around,’ I insist.
His voice is small as he gestures for me to follow him, offering a tour of his scantily furnished house. I leave the twenty dollars on the table, crumpled and faded. Jackson doesn’t force me to take it, but his eyes dart towards the money before he leads me through to the lounge room. Clouds of doubt are scudding across my brain. I placate them by retrieving my phone from my handbag and putting it into my pocket for ease of access. Just in case. Jackson scratches at his left arm.
19 12/07/2018 21:23:54
Scratch, bang. Another trap triggered no cheese, no mouse who’s in my house? Scratch, bang. The cheese is gone. Pitta-patter no trail of matter. Cold spots lighting glitches you can’t tell me because you can’t see. The ghost in my ceiling likes cheese and biscuits. Takes them from my kitchen crumbs and all. Scratch, bang. I went to visit up the stairs I flatten my standing hairs. Platter of cheeses boxes of crackers we sat for hours talking about his poltergeist powers. He moves through walls freezes glass learnt to move objects at last and even haunts people from his past. The ghost in my ceiling is no longer a thief but that is beyond your belief. We sit up late Trying new cheeses I find We even shopped online for new kinds. It’s the only thing he can still taste So none of it ever goes to waste.
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21 Skeptic_Draft.indd 21
LIFE AFTER BIRTH
I don’t really know where I am, but I call this space ‘the womb’. I heard the walls call it that once; it feels true. The womb is cramped, mostly because of the presence of another being. The other being has the same long thing coming from them as I do, so I assume they are like me.
‘No, I don’t. Face it, this is all there is and there is no mother. Unless you can show me hard evidence of the mother’s existence, I will not believe.’
I wonder if they hear the same things I do. I have these feelings that there is a bigger presence here. But I can’t see it. I hear it call itself the mother and it is filling me with something lovely, a good feeling all around me. ***
‘Do you believe in the mother?’ I ask. Perhaps the other feels it too.
‘Hah!’ the other exclaims. ‘Of course not! Where do you get such ideas?’
I’m not entirely sure, so I stay quiet. Perhaps realising I’m not going to answer, the other asks, ‘Have you ever seen the mother?’ ‘Well … no. But …’
‘Well, if you haven’t seen the mother, then how could you possibly believe the mother exists?’ ‘It’s … just a feeling. Do you know about feelings?’
‘No, I do not know. I’m telling you that this is all there is to existence.’ They sound so smart that I feel I have to believe them. But this feeling won’t go away, it feels bigger than the words coming from the other. After some time, I ask again. ‘Where do you think we are?’ ‘We’re in the womb.’
‘Yeah, I know. But where’s the womb?’
‘Does it matter? The womb is the womb, that’s your answer.’ ‘Don’t you think it’s important to know where we really are?’ 22 Skeptic_Draft.indd 22
The other is beginning to use words I can’t work out. I can’t shake the feeling that this means they know better than me. I must put the feelings I get from the mother into this evidence they keep talking about. But I have no idea how. ***
It’s a long time before I try to speak to the other again. I’m not sure if we’ll ever be able to make sense out of each other. But, even over time, I’ve never let my feeling of the mother go. If anything, it grew stronger. I always felt like the mother was speaking to me, all the time. But the other’s doubts made me wonder whether it was really the mother at all. ***
After a while, it becomes clear that we are growing, but the womb is not. It becomes hard to move and impossible to be comfortable. It is harder to avoid each other, as we always get in each other’s way. ‘Do you mind? You are in my space!’
‘I don’t think we’re going to have much space to ourselves soon.’ We are both scared. ‘I can’t take it anymore!’ The other starts to move and shake. They begin to kick at the walls of the womb. ‘Stop, stop!’ I can’t bear to watch them harm the womb. But they won’t stop. They look so scared and confused. They just won’t stop. I have to look away.
In trying to ignore all their confusion, I begin to hear a voice, a soft voice.
‘You’re nearly here.’ The voice sounds an odd mixture of pain and excitement. What’s stranger, it sounds familiar. It isn’t coming from the other, who is still thrashing about. Suddenly, it all makes sense. The other begins to slow their squirming. I look to see that a hole has formed in the womb and the other is beginning to fall through.
‘Help me, please!’ they cry. But I do nothing, because I understand. The other disappears from sight through the hole, crying and screaming. I know my turn will come soon. All this was preparation. The voices from someplace else were an encouragement. The feelings were love. And now, moving towards the light, I feel peace. I’m about to see the mother.
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CONTENT WARNING: DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Mothers are Good Jackie Chacko
Mothers are loving and sweet.
Mothers are encouraging and good.
I was four years old when I first remember looking at my bruised bum in the mirror. Crying. Hearing my older sister screaming, suffering the same punishment. Kissy lips. All over a chocolate frog. He ate it. I couldn’t sit for a week.
Mothers are kind and generous.
Mothers are affectionate and good.
I was seven when you locked me out of the house. It’s cold, raining, and dark. I banged against the door. Terrified, alone, and so dark. You laughed. I begged to be let back inside. Hysterical. I threw up on the porch.
Mothers are gracious and warm.
Mothers are soft and good.
I was nine when you called me a murderer. You knew you had an unstable uterus. It’s not our fault. Siblings argue. Siblings fight. Please, we’re sorry. Our eldest sister had to sneak us food for a week. Mothers are caring and good.
Mothers are understanding and nurturing.
I was ten when he threw me into a wall. I was unconscious for a minute. I thought the ambulance was for me. A suspected heart attack. I stumbled to my bedroom, bruised and swaying. You scoffed melodrama. What happened to her? You barely even cared about it. Only about what we said. My ears were ringing all night.
Mothers are nice and supportive.
Mothers are comforting and good.
I was thirteen when you tried to light me on fire. Leave now or stay forever. You grabbed a bottle of Johnson’s, poured it on my head and lit a match. You’ve made your decision, I’m making mine. How did you not realise a product made for infants isn’t flammable? Please, help me. Get me out. I still can’t stand the scent of baby oil. 24 Skeptic_Draft.indd 24
My mother is a monster.
Got Spirit Michael Pallaris I encountered my grandfather’s ghost when I was five years old. I was playing on the swing with my father at the local park. Then I felt a cold shiver.
My Pappou’s voice echoed through the air: ‘Ela, Mihali.’
I turned around and looked for Pappou. I couldn’t see him.
‘Pappou? Where are you?’
I began to cry. My father hugged me. ‘What’s the matter, Michael?’
‘Daddy I heard Pappou, but I can’t see him.’ He nodded. We walked back home in silence. My father opened the door.
He asked my mother if anyone had called.
She told him that the nursing home had left a message. ‘What did they want?’
‘It’s your father. He’s just passed away.’
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The Deakin Writers Club is basically a group of nerds who read, write and do anything in between. This club gives you an opportunity to hone your writing skills, create contacts within the writing/publishing community, moan or rave about any books you’ve read recently, post opportunities to an exclusive Facebook group, and make friends with like-minded students.
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The Deakin Writers Club also runs Deakin University’s one-and-only student magazine: WORDLY. If you’ve ever had the pipe dream of being a published author or hired as an editor, WORDLY is the place to go. It is published four times a year, each with a different theme to spark your writerly talents. Once you sign up to the Deakin Writers Club, you will be given updates regarding the club and magazine in a monthly email titled ‘the Write-Up’ to ensure you don’t miss anything exciting. Not too keen on writing? No problem! We’ve got heaps of Opportunities in other fields as well, including: publishing, editing, design, visual art, film and television, marketing, journalism, social media and more. If you’re still tossing up whether you’d like to join or not, don’t hesitate to send us an email with any questions, or even just say hi. email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org Join the club using this link: https://www.dusa.org.au/ClubsSport/Clubs/Deakin-Writers
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B E PA R T O F T H E E X P ER I EN C E & JO I N En rich y our s tu d e n t e xp e rie n c e a t D e a k i n a n d b e p ar t of a f u n , i n c l u s i v e a n d s up p or t iv e c o mmu n i ty a t D US A . DU SA. OR G.A U
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THE DEATH OF THE TREE
Written by Doctor Gideon Sawyer Or, Mortem ex Arbore
A lecture by Doctor Gideon Sawyer of the Royal University of Taured
Professor of Applied Philosophies and President of the Society of the Non Apis Volans Where to begin? Where all legends begin—in the great Ubermarkets of Taured. That is where I came into the world, malformed and wheezing, and where, as the long decades drew out, my life’s purpose was realised. I have, after a lifetime of corporate funding and academic backstabbing, conclusively proven that trees do not exist. I know this is a bold claim to make, and many will denounce my achievements with the same vigour with which they denounce Flat Earthers and my brethren in the Society of the Non Apis Volans.
They are so convinced of what institutional science has told them, by the fallacies of common sense, that they do not realise they are blind. I say again, Trees do not Exist. But how can this be, my detractors cry, there is a tree there on the university lawn, right next to the statue of the great Dictator, Hugh Matheson.
I reply to these people, How can you trust what your senses tell you? Why, just last night I was eating strange mushrooms and an elephant walked into the room! What have you got against trees? they demand. Well, let me tell you a story.
My first encounter with these supposed trees was in my native Taured, which was, according to cartographers and environmentalists, once filled with trees! I was in my fifth year of living when my father tied me to a tree beside him and threatened the developers to do their worst.
The lawyers who came to his defence asked the question, if there were no trees, where would paper come from? My father lost the court case, for the answer was simple. Where does meat come from? Where do babies come
from? The Ubermarket! I have seen a thousand reams of paper on the shelves and not a tree in sight! Therefore, the existence of paper is not contingent on the existence of trees! This was the first of many epiphanies that led to my life’s work. And despite a life of labour, I fear even I have only seen the most distant glimpse of truth. In the national anthem of my country it is said: So oft in theologic wars, The disputants, I ween, Rail on in utter ignorance Of what each other mean, And prate about an Elephant Not one has ever seen!
There is not one philosopher or environmentalist, I would wager my mother’s soul, who has fully experienced the total existence of what they call trees. For what is existence? The span from nothing to nothing, bridged by order forming from chaos and then returning to chaos? There is not one moment where a thing can be said to exist or to not exist! For this is the nature of trees. They say a tree is growing, changing, adding new material to its composition. But if you have defined a tree, and the next day that tree is composed of a different set of particles, how can you claim it is the same tree? The next day too it will be a different tree! How can you claim to have defined a tree at all? Furthermore, when has a tree fully ceased to exist? When not one of its particles remains? Impossible! And if it never ceases it has never existed. What are the qualities that even define existence? Mass? Perceptibility? The dread of death? Until one has inhabited a tree one cannot claim to know what it means to be a tree!
For what, might I ask, is a tree? Is it the trunk, like an elephant, the bark, like a dog, the leaves, like a book, the roots, like a pornographic? A composite of these things? No, because any of these things can be taken away and it remains a tree. How do we know that a tree without leaves remains a tree? Without bark? Without being alive? How do we perceive a tree? We see it and it is no more than an image in our minds, no more intrinsically itself than the painting of a tree—this too is just an image in our minds. Some say that a tree depends on all of these things. But what is the relationship between the sound of the leaves and the texture of the bark and the image of a tree? There is none. Each acts separately on the faculties, independent of the others. Only the mind composes them into this fallacy of tree-ish-ness.
One day I was walking on the banks of the beautiful strip-mines of Taured when I saw a little orphan boy drawing in the toxic runoff with a stick. I asked what he drew, and he said it was a tree. A tree. Not the image of a tree, not a symbolic representation of an image in his mind, but a tree itself!
We speak of trees as though they are a whole—an essential thing. But according to my Periodic Table, there is no Wood particle. No fundamental force of Leaf. How then could this boy have drawn a tree? If we, momentarily, bow to popular physics, we see the claim that the tree is a living thing that composes its substance from air, water and soil—from a great multitude of particles. But these very same particles also compose the bees (of dubious existence), the toxic runoff and the meat. If we took the atoms said to compose a tree, where do we see the tree? If we were to mix meat pieces and tree pieces together, could we even separate them? Where does this delusion come from? Why do people believe in trees? It saddens me to see my brothers Skeptic_Draft.indd 29
and sisters of Taured chaining themselves to trees and condemning the Great Dictator’s Legacy. I dedicate my life to their salvation.
Sometimes we may not feel we have much power, as individuals, to change the world. But all it takes is that everyone plays their part, that one is willing to cast aside their preconceptions and has no fear of knowledge. If we do not act now, the environmentalists will corrupt the integrity and power of the greatest nations on Earth. For the seekers of truth, the power to change the world can be found in my new book, set to be on Ubermarket shelves in this year, for the low low price of Five and Twenty Australian Dollars. What can you do to dispel the greatest lie ever told? Don’t just believe what science tells you. Invest in the truth today, for only Five and Twenty Dollars.
References I have referred to for the purposes of this lecture: The Government of Taured www.riotinto.com The Anthem of Taured John Godfrey Saxe, sometime before the year Eighty-Eight and Eighteen Hundred, of the poem, The Blind Men and the Elephant
Buy my book today! Invest in a world without trees! www.nonapisvolans.wordpress.com
29 12/07/2018 21:24:04
The Nice Girl’s Prayer Book Bel Carroll Today I’m going to cache in On what I owe myself Ripping the stitches binding my old life Will be the manifesto of my reckoning.
Now I will not kneel down to protect an ego I have underlined and bolded in my notes That I should be skeptical instead of sweet. Next time malicious words spill out Of his self-important mouth I will key in his mother’s phone number That I kept in my book just in case.
Next time a creep decides I’m his to take I will go by the book and give him a kiss With my manicured fist All over his face.
I have kept one particular page bookmarked Next time he calls me with his alligator tears I will hang up and not feel bad about it Because I am not a means to an end.
See, I am not your feel bad fuck, Your backup bitch or your therapist I know this because I wrote out a thousand times That ‘I am always good enough.’ My shoulders back now and chin cocked forward Wearing highest heels once more I will never dictate my life again By the insecurities of other people. And last page of my prayer book reminds me That when someone asks ‘how are you?’ To tell the impolite and unpleasant truth That I’ve been too damn nice for my own good. 30 Skeptic_Draft.indd 30
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31 Skeptic_Draft.indd 31
What I Know Now Justine Stella
You score an internship and go out to buy new clothes. You need to look the part after all. You don’t want to stick out like the moon at night—much better to blend in with the stars.
So you go to your first day and shadow your supervisor, attending an exclusive meeting and briefing with some ministers. You take some photos of everyone sitting at the table. You mock up some tweets to promote the meeting and get the okay to post them. So far so good.
Until you realise that now your job is done. But you can’t leave. You’re required to stay with your supervisor, and she’s required to stay throughout the whole meeting. So you stand still, back straight, in the same spot for over fifty minutes.
After ten minutes you feel it. The ache and pinch grinding into you about five centimetres to the right of your belly button. As the minutes begin to bleed into each other, the pain moves on to a throb. You try to position your hands so you can subtly clutch at your side. You can’t slouch or lean against the wall. You can’t squat or sit on the floor. You can’t draw attention to yourself. You’re not a shooting star after all. You press harder into the flesh above your hip bone, knowing from past experience that pressure will help to alleviate the pain a little. But you also know that being upright and standing will give root to the pain. This is my reality.
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I don’t tell my internship supervisors that I have a possible complication from surgery from over a year ago. I have no current medical documentation to say anything’s wrong—I’m on a wait list to be reviewed by
my surgeon. I don’t tell my manager at my retail job that standing on tip toe to reach the highest shelves causes the pain to slice through my side like I’m ripping through stitches. I know that I cannot be discriminated against for a medical condition, but if I tell them and they need a physically capable worker, they’ll give the hours and positions to someone who is capable. It won’t be me.
I keep this information secret and battle on as I do my time on the wait list. And I’ve been wondering the whole time—should I have asked for a test just to make sure that I actually did need surgery? ***
It was cold and dark as my partner forced me to go to the emergency room. His nail beds were covered in dry blood from nervous biting, his eyes shadowed with worry. The triage nurse couldn’t believe I’d waited five days before coming to hospital. I was immediately given nausea and pain meds. My blood taken. Plastic bracelets circled my wrists. An IV cannula inserted into the tender skin of my inner elbow. The nurses and doctors and surgeons of the emergency ward poked and prodded my abdomen. IV bags were hung and whatever dripped into my system was cold. I was numb when they threw the diagnosis at me. ‘Appendicitis.’
A wheelchair carted me to another ward. A blood pressure cuff strangled my upper arm. A clip attached to my finger kept track of my heart beat. More surgeons opened and closed the privacy curtain circling my bed, with the shattering sound of plastic whipping into itself.
A woman. ‘No time for an ultrasound. Almost positive it’s appendicitis. You’ll be in the OR soon.’ A man. ‘We’ll do laparoscopic key-hole incisions. That means you’ll have three tiny scars, a centimetre or two long. You’ll hardly notice them. They heal really well.’ A pen found its way into my numb hand. Consent forms lay in my lap.
How do they know they’re right? Blood tests only showed I was severely dehydrated. Was their poking and prodding an accurate enough diagnostic test that they were sure I needed invasive surgery to remove my appendix? ‘No time for a scan, you’ll be in surgery within an hour.’
I signed the forms and a gentle nurse rolled surgical stockings onto my goose bumped legs.
Seven hours later I was rolled into the operating theatre. Four hours post-surgery I was informed that my
appendix looked perfectly normal, but that there was blood and free-floating fluid in my abdomen and pelvic region.
‘Probably from a ruptured ovarian cyst. We suctioned out the blood and fluid. And we took your appendix out anyway.’
A month after my stitches were removed, the same pain came back. An ultrasound revealed no more ovarian cysts. My GP. ‘Possibly some scar tissue from the surgery causing some issues. You might have some abdominal adhesions. I’ll send through a referral so you can be reviewed by your surgeon.’ ***
I’ve been on this wait list for a year. For twelve months I’ve sifted through Google pages, discovering that it’s not uncommon for a ruptured ovarian cyst to be misdiagnosed as appendicitis. But in most cases, a test is performed and this discovery is made before any scalpel touches the skin. In most cases treatment does not involve removing the appendix. Most don’t experience ongoing pain when standing up, months after treatment. In my hospital bed I had no internet or mobile phone reception. I was slow and clumsy from the cold IV fluids. I was sore and exhausted. I also trusted my doctors. I did not ask questions, I didn’t conduct any research. I was only curious as to how they could be so sure of their diagnosis without performing any tests. I was in awe that their knowledge of the human body let them diagnose me without the help of scans or images. I was impressed. And I was so grateful that someone was going to do something to get rid of the burning pain.
When I was told that my appendix was fine, I wasn’t annoyed. I didn’t second guess myself. I didn’t beat myself up, wondering why I never asked for a diagnostic test for confirmation. I wasn’t angry with the doctors for their misdiagnosis—they’re only human after all. I never considered that perhaps it was my responsibility to ask for tests. I thought at least I can’t ever get appendicitis now.
But this newfound pain, where I cannot stand or reach up high, is a constant niggling at the back of my mind. If I’d asked for a test, I could have, perhaps, avoided surgery. No incisions mean no scar tissue. Which means no pain. I could have avoided my current situation if I’d asked questions. I cannot wait for my surgical review. From what I know now, I will ask for every relevant test to be performed. I will ask for proof before I consent to any treatment.
In hindsight, asking for something could be the very best thing for you.
s l u o o
‘And they never will,’ Harmony said. ‘I wish that weren’t the case but it is.’ ‘Love is love. What’s so complicated about that?’
I was alone.
All around me people spoke and shouted, individual voices lost in a permanent chorus. I felt their glances and glares aimed at me even from this distance. I didn’t care. They could think what they wanted. I wasn’t there for any reason other than to mourn my husband. I thought the funeral had been bad, but this wake was even worse. It felt like the world was against me. First a drunk driver had taken Patrick from me, then his parents had taken over his funeral arrangements, and now this; the dark stares and overt glances in my direction. A body folded into the seat opposite mine. ‘Bugger off.’ I didn’t even look up. ‘Is that how you treat family?’
The voice sounded strained, as though it took a lot of effort for the speaker to joke at a time like this. I looked to the middle-aged woman opposite. It was her; his sister. Harmony. ‘Whaddya want?’ my words slid together in a rush and I reached for the beer in front of me. Harmony leant across and pulled my glass away from me, forcing my attention to her. ‘Just ignore them, Al.’
‘They still don’t understand,’ I muttered reaching for my glass a second time. Harmony moved it out of my reach again.
‘Nothing. But they don’t see it that way.’
I sighed. More than ever I missed my husband. He was always the one that stood up for us, that defended our love to his family. But they had never accepted him for who he was. They had never accepted us. His mother and father hadn’t even called him once in our five years of marriage. They could never get past the fact that he had married me. And yet he never resented me. Never spoke ill of me. Had stood by me in front of them. I didn’t know how I was going to do this without him.
‘I miss him,’ I said to Harmony. She was the only one who had been kind. The only one who truly saw Patrick as I did. ‘Come on, let’s take a walk. Get away from these people.’ Harmony pulled at my wrist futilely, attempting to haul me to my feet. I stayed sitting. I would rather sit there, just to spite those who felt uncomfortable in my presence. ‘Please,’ she said. Her voice sounded desperate, and that made me look up. Her eyes were ringed in red, just like I imagined mine were. ‘Please come with me, Al.’ I grumbled something incoherent but, shakily, rose to my feet and let Harmony lead me out of the sports club that had been repurposed for the wake.
The night air fogged our breath as we moved from the temperature controlled room out towards the oval. It was darker than I had expected and few stars emerged from behind the clouds as we began to walk down the hill.
ls f ink o ) Tyler McPherson
Harmony led us down the short path towards the grandstands that bordered the oval. We sat down in the front row amidst the rubbish and grime. The goalposts stretched into the night sky like thin ghosts and the deserted oval was cloaked in a dense layer of mist. Silence surrounded us, broken only by the occasional bird call or the odd shout from the club up the path. Harmony split the silence with a sigh. ‘Do you believe in souls?’
‘Huh?’ I had relaxed into the seat and let my mind drift, so I was unprepared for the question. ‘Do you believe that we have souls?’ ‘Like in a religious sense?’ ‘In any sense.’
I took a moment to gather the scattered ideas in my head and form them into sentences. ‘I don’t think so,’ I said. ‘It sounds like something out of a fairy-tale. Some kind of magical essence that exists after we die. A happy ending for everyone. That doesn’t sound realistic. We are just flesh and blood controlled by a brain. A unique brain, but a brain nonetheless.’ ‘Yeah, I don’t either,’ Harmony leant her head on my shoulder. ‘But I just can’t accept that Patrick is completely gone either.’
‘He’s dead, Harmony.’ Bitterness coated my tongue, the words forced. ‘I don’t think that anyone has quite come to terms with it yet.’
‘They all seem to have,’ I waved my hand towards the drunken revelries up the hill. ‘They even seem happy that he isn’t here. That he’s gone.’
‘I don’t think he is.’
I looked at Harmony in confusion. I knew I had had a few drinks, but that still made no sense. ‘What?’
‘You said you don’t believe that we have a soul, but Patrick did. He used to tell me that our bodies may be flesh and blood, but our souls are made of pages and words and ink— ’
‘That our souls are our story, not laid out as it is, but twisted and mingled so that the only way you can truly see someone, is to see their story as they see it,’ I finished for her. I remembered Patrick telling me on one of our first dates. It was one of my fondest memories of him. The recollection brought with it a spike of pain, piercing through my chest. ‘Exactly,’ Harmony laid her hand on my arm, ‘he thought that our souls are made of every feeling we’ve felt, every experience we’ve had and every person we have met. Which means he is still here.’ ‘So? What are you trying to tell me?’
‘That although he is gone, that doesn’t mean he isn’t with us. With you.’ She gestured at my dishevelled form, untucked shirt and messed up hair. ‘No matter where you go, you carry him with you. In what he taught you. In the love you feel for him.’
I paused. There wasn’t really much I could say. I sat there in the dark. Rubbish crinkled underfoot and loud voices echoed in the night. I felt a warm sense of calm course through me, it soothed the pain for a brief moment. ‘Thank you,’ I finally managed to reply, my cheeks wet.
‘We’re not alone, Albert.’ Harmony rested her head against my shoulder and we both stared into the misty oval thinking of the lost. ‘He is a part of our souls.’
Jessica Ali Mallory Arbour Liam Ball Bridget Beswick Eliz Bilal Bel Carroll Jackie Chacko Julie Dickson Abigail Elder Lori Franklin Emily Henry Molly Herd Toby Jeffs Aidan Kennedy Tara Komaromy Tyler McPherson Jack McMahon Ari Moore Mel Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Connor Michael Pallaris Mark Russell Tim Same Justine Stella Jessica Wartski Alex Wiltshire Jason Winn