Category Archives: Endangered&Dangerous

Self-Extinction – Emerson Cassidy

EXT. DESERT – ASTRONOMICAL DAWN 1

An open, dry desert plain. Small, dry shrubs that cling to the ground make up the only life in sight. It is dawn and the sky is just beginning to lighten. Stars disappear from the horizon as the faint, glistening light of the sun slowly creeps into the sky. Apart from a soft whistle of wind as it races across the plains, not a sound can be heard. We see an abandoned gas station. Rusted old cars and fuel tanks decorate the scene.

BRIAN, mid-twenties, male, lean physic. He is dressed in a cloak with black goggles and gloves as he looks at the desert.

BRIAN (V.O.)

Immortality is a joke… When you’re alone in a ruined world.

We see broken bottles, food cans, keys and a smashed iPhone. An old newspaper titled “Our end has come!” flicks open in the breeze.

BRIAN (V.O.)

Hunted by what remains.

CRUNCH. A boot appears, crushing the iPhone.

UNKNOWN POV

The surrounding landscape whips past as the unknown POV leaps over rocks and vaults over the gas pump outside the station. Heavy huffing can be heard. The unknown POV leaps several meters into the air. The surrounding landscape whips past.

SPFX: Brian turns to face the pursuer and sees a beast!

Standing on four feet. It is armoured, with crimson eyes that shine. A growl cuts through the silence and we see Brian sail through the air, towards a rocky canyon.

Brian lands hard on the floor of the rocky canyon.

Effortlessly, Brian stands, feet firmly planted at shoulders width apart. The beast lands in front of Brian and charges. Brian punches towards the oncoming beast.

FLASH. A brilliant blue light erupts from Brian, whiting everything out with light. The beast shrieks in pain and white noise blankets everything.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT – ROCK LABYRINTH – NAUTICAL DAWN 2

Brian stands in the middle of the rocky labyrinth. Open ground, with tall rocky walls either side surround unsettled dust. The sky can just be seen past the limestone walls. Brian is alone, bent over one knee and facing the labyrinth’s exit – a tall, blue-sky passageway squished between rocky walls. Growls come from the distance. Brian looks up, eyes still glowing.

SPFX/ SFX: Dozens of shadows appear above the canyon. Some have longer arms or stand on four legs. They lower their heads as much larger one steps into view and roars loudly.

They move towards Brian. Brian closes his eyes and reaches down into his pant pocket, pulling out a small vial. He grips it tightly in his left hand, spreads his arms and gazes into the sky. Light from the sun breaks through the dust cloud as the sun rises.

SPFX/ SFX: The shadows suddenly halt, and then retreat, squealing like pigs.

Brian keeps his eyes closed as his body goes limp and he falls sideways into the dirt. Quietly, he starts laughing… and sobbing. He pushes himself up from the ground, howling in despair. The rising sun can only just be seen past the shelves of rock that blocks this view.

Brian’s howl travels through the air.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT, CANYON – MORNING 3

Moving out of the labyrinth, we see abandoned buildings, houses and broken brick roads. ANNA, an 18-year-old girl in tattered and raggedy clothes, wide-eyed turns towards the sound as the howl fades. Her skin is sunburnt.

Brian kneels in the dirt of the canyon. Sitting between curved rocked formations and smooth limestone walls, the sky can only just be seen past the shelves of rock that block this view.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT, CANYON – NOON 4

Anna walks slowly towards the rocky labyrinth, gripping tightly onto a long piece of wood. She gazes at the dust cloud before heading straight into it. Passing through the labyrinth’s entrance, Anna tightens her grip on her wooden staff. She squints and constantly checks her surroundings.

A silhouette appears. Anna tightens her grip on her wooden staff and steps slowly forwards. As she gets closer, she raises her staff, ready to swing. The silhouette comes into plain view. It is nothing but and oddly shaped rock.

Anna lets out a sigh of relief. She lowers her staff, her shoulders relax. A soft CRUNCH sounds behind Anna. Anna spins around, bringing her staff up again.

Brian ducks.

Anna’s staff just misses crashing into his head. Anna stands in a combat stance, staff out in front, ready to fight.

Brian raises his hands and his eyebrows.

BRIAN

Hey. OK, just wait. I’m not trying to hurt you.

Anna holds her ground, answering him with a glare.

Brian takes slow, steady steps towards her.

Still holding his hands out. Anna swings again. Brian steps back.

BRIAN

Hey! I said I’m not going to hurt you.

ANNA

You’re not gonna take me. I’m not dying by someone like you or those monsters.

Anna rushes at Brian with a series of swings.

Brian easily dodges each swing. He leaps back, putting more distance between him and Anna.

Anna raises her staff above her head, and charges at Brian with a war cry.

Brian catches the staff with his right hand, unflinching from the impact, he rips the staff out of her hands.

Anna stumbles, but she quickly regains her footing. She holds her ground, keeping her eyes fixed in a cold glare towards him.

Brian watches her, glancing at her clenched fists.

BRIAN

(sternly)

Now listen.

(slowly)

My name is Brian. I’m not trying to hurt you.

ANNA

Oh really.

(raising her tone of voice)

Then care to explain what that light was? There is no one else around here, and I can’t see what’s underneath that cloak.

Anna straightens her posture and takes a small step towards Brian.

ANNA

Are you another kind of monster?

Brian lowers his head. He clenches his left hand into a fist. He looks up and tosses the staff at Anna’s feet. He turns and walks away.

ANNA

ANSWER ME!

SPFX: Brian stops. He takes a deep breath. His eyes shine briefly.

Anna notices the shine, and slowly reaches down to pick up her staff.

Brian turns around.

Anna freezes.

Brian starts removing sections of his outfit; gloves, goggles and reveals his face and arms. SPFX: Blue marks cover every visible part of his body – like vines that have grown onto his body – and they are glowing.

BRIAN

I’m not like them.

Anna has a look of astonishment and confusion clear on her face.

BRIAN

But we were born in the same fashion.

CUT TO:

EXT. CANYON – LATE AFTERNOON 5

Anna and Brian sit opposite each other in the empty bottom of the canyon. The day’s light has begun to fade. A small fire rages between the two. Anna watches Brian with caution. She clenches her staff tightly in both hands. Brian drinks from a military water bottle. Brian offers the bottle to Anna. Anna glances at the bottle for a second, before her eyes dart back to Brian.

BRIAN

Like I said

(speaking slowly)

I’m not trying to hurt you.

Brian shakes the bottle. The water sloshes inside.

Anna snatches it from his hands.

She gulps down what liquid remains.

Her eyes never leave Brian. She throws the bottle back to him.

Brian catches the bottle and sets it down on the ground.

ANNA

You said you’re similar to them.

Anna leans closer to Brian

ANNA

What does that mean?

Brian takes a deep breath, and sits up straighter.

BRIAN

We were both created as a long time ago. In an effort to create immortality… By your kind.

Anna looks at Brian, confused.

Brian holds out his right hand. He nods at the glowing blue marks.

ANNA

Alright. By why are you different?

BRIAN

I was a success… mostly.

SPFX: Brian removes his cloak completely. The markings are thicker and more prominent the closer they are to his torso. This is because his torso is covered with black marks that form a vest of scars, covering his chest.

BRIAN

Most of humanity was experimented on. I don’t even know if there are others like me.

Anna moves in. She gently touches his chest.

Brian breathes in through his nose as though it hurts where her fingers touch. Brian pulls away.

Anna looks sad.

ANNA

They were people. Those creatures?

BRIAN

They were my friends. Now they’re beasts.

(His voice turns guttural)

When I fight them, all I can hear, see and feel is their agony.

Brian buries his head into his hands.

BRIAN

(softly, out of earshot)

It’s always there, always clawing into my head. It never stops. It doesn’t get quiet. It won’t ever stop.

Anna steps, slowly, towards Brian.

Brian suddenly jumps up. He quickly pulls his cloak back on. Brian turns and walks away from Anna.

Anna raises her hand to his shoulder. Brian shrugs off her hand.

ANNA

Anna.

BRIAN

What?

ANNA

That’s my name.

CUT TO:

EXT. CANYON – LATE AFTERNOON 6

Brian and Anna walk through the canyon. The brown stone lightly streaked with shades of red and burnt orange. As the afternoon sun becomes darker, the light shifts to purple.

Anna keeps pace behind Brian.

BRIAN

So… Do I get to hear your story?

ANNA

I was in hiding. Until your little light show caught my attention.

Brian slows his pace.

BRIAN

And before that?

ANNA

Not much to tell. I’ve been alone out here for a long as I can remember.

Brian turns to look at Anna, continuing to walk.

BRIAN

No parents?

ANNA

I’ve learned to take care of myself.

Anna swings her staff over her shoulder. While a small grin appears on her face.

CUT TO:

EXT. CANYON/ABANDONED GAS STATION – LATE AFTERNOON 7

Brian enters through the abandoned gas station doors and begins rooting around the shelves. He tosses aside magazines, boxes, and checks an empty cigarette carton before also tossing that to the floor too. Anna moves behind the desk and finds a hooded jacket. She puts it on.

ANNA

Where are you going? There’s not much around here.

Brian continues rummaging through the junk. He does not answer Anna.

ANNA

Hey! what are you looking for?

Where are you planning on going?!

BRIAN

To the mountains. It’s got to be better than this place.

Brian grasps at the pocket that holds his vial and sighs.

Anna looks at him. She opens her mouth to speak; her lips quiver as she hesitates.

ANNA

How do you know?

BRIAN

(spits)

I don’t! But anything is better than this.

Anna frowns.

Brian stands up, holding onto a road flare. He turns to walk back out the door. Anna eyes him suspiciously. He moves his arm to cover the markings on his right wrist. Brian stops just outside the gas station entry. Anna, still inside, watches Brian leave.

BRIAN

(loudly)

Let me show you something.

Anna doesn’t answer, but follows Brian outside.

Brian moves over to a small patch of earth and kneels down. He puts his hands together.

BRIAN

These powers had an original purpose, Instead of killing those beasts.

Anna watches him closely.

SPFX/CGI: Brian closes his eyes and holds his palms together. A small orb of light appears. His blue-vein markings glow. Brian lowers his palms to the ground. As soon as the light touches the ground, it dissipates. Light travels through the ground like a pulse. Anna’s eyes follow the points at which the light vanished. Small blades of grass begin to grow from the ground. Anna looks at her feet, eyes wide and mouth open. She glances up at the gas station roof. Rusted edges of the gas station now have vines growing up the edges.

ANNA

Impossible!

SPFX: Brian moves out of Anna’s eyesight. He looks at his fingertips, which are now turning a sickly black colour. His hands have begun to age. They are wrinkled, grey-skinned and frail. Brian clenches his fists. His markings flash and his hands look normal again.

Anna watches Brian from the corners of her eye. She turns her head away as he stands.

EXT. CANYON – DUSK 8

Brian and Anna walk through the canyon. The canyon walls are darker now.

SFX: The sounds of their footsteps can be clearly heard.

Brian kicks a small rock. The sounds echoes.

Anna walks closer to Brian then before. She glances behind them warily.

ANNA

So what are you? Some kind of god.

BRIAN

Pfft…

I’m no god.

(Looking at Anna)

I don’t know. Interpret it however you want.

ANNA

You’ve killed those beasts?

BRIAN

It affects them differently.

ANNA

What about your chest? What happened there?

BRIAN

Not entirely sure…

Brian stops and looks at her, his brow furrowed with irritation.

Anna raises her eyebrows.

Brian turns. He is not going to continue. He walks on in silence.

Anna looks at the back of Brian’s head, eyes narrowed…

SPFX: Brian stops and doubles over, retching. His eye glow, darker than before. His body tenses up. He moans quietly. His eyes stop glowing as he stands up straight. Anna looks at him with unease, gripping her staff tightly. She jumps, eyes leaving Brian as growls can be heard in the distance.

Brian and Anna both look into the sky, then at each other, expressions worried/fearful.

BRIAN

We have to find cover. Fast.

ANNA

Where? We’ve wandered too far out to head back

BRIAN

Come here. Trust Me.

SFX: Anna opens her mouth to protest but is interrupted by a loud snarl from the b.g.

BRIAN

COME ON!

Anna immediately steps to Brian’s side. He grabs her arm and without warning, throws her over his shoulders.

ANNA

Hey! What are you going to-

-Brian takes off, running with the speed of a car.

EXT. CANYON – NIGHTFALL 9

Brian bolts through the canyon with inhuman speed. Anna holds tightly onto his back. The night leaves the canyon a dark, midnight blue.

SFX/CGI: Shadows are everywhere. CRASH. Rocks break apart either side of Brian and Anna. Loud growls travel through the canyon. Anna lifts her head to look behind them.

CGI: Shadowy beasts erupt from the darkness behind them.

They burst up through the earth and smash through the rock wall. There are dozens of them. They bite and snarl at each other in an attempt to get ahead. More growling shadows can be heard from above Anna and Brian.

Brian jumps onto a rock, still holding Anna.

SFX: The rock breaks apart as he launches off, into air.

Brian and Anna fly through the air, past beasts that leap at them. One of the beastly shadows tears into Anna’s back.

Anna screams in agony despite keeping her grip on Brian.

Brian lands on the top of the canyons edge, out of reach of the beasts.

SFX: Shadows amass below.

Anna’s moans of pain drown out their sounds.

BRIAN

Damn it.

Brian lays Anna facedown onto the ground to check her wounds.

ANNA

I’m fine.

She tries to push herself up from the ground, but the pain proves too much. Her arms give way to her body weight and she falls down.

BRIAN

You’re hurt.

A loud roar is heard.

Brian moves over to the ledge.

SPFX: The alpha beast is moving past the now-placid crowd.

It looks up at Brian and shows it’s horrid and mangled teeth in a sadistic grin.

Brian swallows loudly.

SPFX: The beasts’ start to claw and scale up the rocky wall.

Brian picks up the now unconscious Anna like a princess, her head resting on his chest. He shakes his head at her condition and starts running across the top of the canyon, towards the ruins of a once sprawling city. His confident footsteps pound the ground.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT/CITY – NIGHT 10

Brian passes by a wrecked plane, a convenience store and piles of abandoned, rusted cars. He enters the city, following a path of cracked pavement that separates crumbled buildings. Brian stops in the middle of an overpass.

Brian looks quickly left and right. He gently places Anna on the ground. Brian grabs the vial from his pocket. It has a silvery liquid inside.

SPFX: A faint mist escapes from the vial as the cork is popped. Brian directs a silvery drop into one of Anna’s wounds. He quickly places his right hand on her back.

Brian’s blue markings glow. Anna starts to convulse and groan. She almost yells out, but Brian puts his hands over her mouth. His hands have aged again. His face now shows similar degrading features, becoming skeletal. Anna’s wounds heal. Her entire body regenerates itself; her sunburnt skin returns to its original, pale complexion, her red hair increases in saturation and her body becomes shapelier, curvier.

SFX: Roars echo from the distance.

Brian removes his hand from Anna’s mouth and he picks her up once again and starts running. Brian heads towards the closest building. He kicks the cracked glass of a window.

SFX: SMASH.

Brian ducks under the fallen, wooden pylons and steps carefully around piles of rubble.

SFX: Growls and snarls can be heard from outside. Brian continues to move through the building. CRACK. Brian stops in his tracks. He looks down. The floorboards creak loudly underneath his weight. A CRASH is heard from outside.

The shadowy beasts ram the outside of the weakened building with their combined weight. Some try to claw through the walls.

Anna wakes up. She yells incoherently at Brian, and starts to fight free from his grasp.

BRIAN

Don’t move. The floor–

SFX: CRUNCH. The floor breaks apart from underneath them and both are sent tumbling down into the darkness.

CUT TO:

INT. BASEMENT BUNKER – NIGHT 11

SPFX: Suddenly, a flash of red erupts from the darkness, illuminating the screen.

Brian struggles to his feet, holding the flare from earlier. Anna moves into the light.

ANNA

What happened to you?

BRIAN

(menacingly)

I saved your damn life. Now the voices are louder than ever…and they’re COMING!

Brian scurries about the room. Anna looks confused.

ANNA

WHAT HAPPENED!

Brian turns to her.

BRIAN

I gave you the gift. Now you’ll hear the voices. Only you won’t live until they consume your mind.

ANNA

What?

BRIAN

I’m going to kill them… and us.

CUT TO:

EXT. CITY/BUILDING 12

SPFX: Their building is being attacked. Dirt and debris fall from the rafters at the impact made by the beasts.

CGI: The beasts leave scratch marks against the stone, as they try to dig into the building. The large shadow leaps onto the building and digs its claws into the stone.

SMASH. It breaks through a window and starts pulling out various objects; rubble, desks and a table. It then moves inside, pulling itself over piles of rubble. It smashes the floor with both arms. The floor caves in. The shadowy beast proceeds to start smashing its way through the next floor, moving closer to Brian and Anna.

CUT TO:

INT. BASEMENT BUNKER – NIGHT 13

An old lantern, somehow still alight, illuminates the darkness of the bunker in which Brian and Anna now hide

SFX: Sounds are heard above a set of stairs, behind a door.

SPFX: The door bursts open, flinging Anna into the room. A faint red light illuminates from the direction she was tossed from. Brian walks in, his body is glowing a ruby red instead of bright blue.

Anna rises to her feet.

ANNA

(fearful)

You’re mad!

BRIAN

(yelling)

You don’t know what it’s like.

I’ve had to suffer this power for nearly two centuries. TWO CENTURIES of constant pain, endless voices, and having my sanity slip… day… by… day.

Brian falls to his knees. He pulls out the vial and stares at it crazily.

ANNA

Then why did you save me?

BRIAN

No one wants to die alone…

Anna rises to her feet, backing away from the crazed Brian.

SPFX: Anna’s hands glows, but she talks no notice.

Brian eyes her hands, a small grin spreading across his face.

ANNA

(desperately)

I’ve been alone for my whole life. I’m used to it!

BRIAN

Perhaps… But now we will stay and ignite these ruins with the powers I was punished with.

SPFX: Brian looks at the vial again. His markings glow faintly. He turns around and stretches his arms out – and grunts loudly. Brian looks down and sees a STEEL BEAM plunged through his chest. Anna twists the beam.

Brian falls to his knees, but doesn’t seem in pain.

Anna snatches the vial from his hand.

SFX: A roar shakes the darkness of the room.

SPFX: The red light still illuminating the doorway shows the shadow of the Alpha.

Anna looks at Brian with pity. Before she turns on her heel and escapes through the bunkers open air vent and into the darkness. Brian gazes after her.

BRIAN

One day you’ll see things my way.

Especially now that you possess it.

SPFX: The alpha approaches Brian. Its teeth gleam in the low light. The alpha’s crimson red eyes look into Brian’s.

Brian lets out a small smile before his eyes flash, and he screams at the top of his lungs.

CUT TO:

INT. BASEMENT BUNKER/BEAST TUNNELS – NIGHT 14

Anna runs blindly through a dark hallway. She trips over a wooden beam and falls into a hole, tumbling forward into a tunnel dug by the beasts. The tunnel is rough and the floor uneven. Bits of broken pipes and debris can just be seen poking out the tunnel walls. Anna rises, and keeps running.

SFX: Anna flinches at the sound of Brian’s inhuman scream.

SPFX: The light from an explosion appears behind her. Anna is swept up in the blast. Anna crosses her arm to shield herself from the explosion. A blue light glows. She moves her arms down. They are covered in glowing, blue markings. The yellow/white light from the blast fills the screen.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT – ASTRONOMICAL DAWN 15

A pale white mist covers the ruins of the collapsed city.

SFX: A soft thump is heard from a pile of rubble.

SPFX: Anna bursts up from underneath the rubble. Her body is covered with the same markings that Brian had possessed.

She squints her eyes as they adjust to the light of day.

Anna stares at her arms with horror, before looking up and appraising her new surroundings. She turns, looking all around her, realizing that she is alone.

CGI: Anna looks down to the ground, where small green shoots are emerging from the rubble. Anna’s head slowly lifts up. The same growth is now reaching over the entirety of the destroyed city.

FADE TO BLACK

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Bad Girls, Suvi Derkenne

Boys walk over to the public pool because of the giggling and stay because of the girls. A youngster with auburn hair bursts into tears as he watches the tantalizing pink dip under the surface. Unable to move away from the edge of chlorinated blue he grabs his crotch for comfort.

‘It’s our tails,’ Madison tells August and Crystal as they swim, ‘girls don’t have tails.’

August flicks her iridescent scales. Having crashed through the nebula with her sisters, the forty-degree heat at Katherine Low Holiday Park isn’t what she imagined sunshine to be.

‘How do you know?’ She asks Madison.

I just do, okay.’

So they cut them off with a plastic steak knife Madison finds in the cabin’s kitchen drawer. To drown out the shrieking Crystal puts Saturday VMAX on the television turning the volume up loud. After, the girls lock their circumcised flesh in the bathroom and dance on raw toes.  Madison and Crystal fight over which song is better, Talk Dirty or Don’t Cha, mimicking the pop and grind of the dancers. August sings from the couch as her sisters leave bloody footprints over the lino, ‘Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me? Don’t cha wish you girlfriend was a freak like me? Don’t cha wish you girlfriend was raw like me? Slow banging shorty…’

‘Shut up August, you’re ruining the song.’

At night, as Madison and Crystal peel off each other’s sunburn, August creeps into the bathroom. She chucks Froot Loops straight from the box into the tub, the tails thrash hungrily in the water, snapping at her for more as she licks coloured sugar off her palm.

On Sunday, Madison buys a red suitcase from the shopping mall in town in which to hide the tails. The boy at the local café, acne erupting underneath stubble, gives her free ice cream. Crystal leans over the counter and licks his ear, ‘Greetings loved one. We can melt popsicles’. He gives Crystal and August free ice cream too. The girls grin, vanilla dripping down their chins.

 

When the money runs out they hitchhike north, lost in fields of bitumen and fireweed. August pulls the suitcase, it leaves a trail of water as its wheels bounce over the gravel. She swaps arms, struggling with the weight – exposed, her skin burning. She worries that she’ll crack in the sun and bubble into foam. The tails whimper inside, scratching at the zipper. Crystal and Madison look over their shoulders, squinting and dizzy in the light. They hiss at the tails, giving them a kick. August lags behind her sisters, her sandals cutting into her toes. Each step a blade slicing against her arches.

‘Hurry up August,’ Crystal sighs, taking the handle.

Semis and four-by-fours eat up the road. The girls are coated with grit as the traffic shoots past. August watches Madison walk ahead into the bruising light, head high. Before they ran away, Madison and Crystal told her ‘You’re mum’s favorite. Stay if you want to.’ But, somehow, being a favorite isn’t such fun.

Headlights search over the road, catching Madison’s hair. A sedan slows, warm exhaust air slapping against their knees. The passenger window rolls down.

‘Hi girls.’

August looks the other way. She keeps her head down and locks arms with Crystal.

‘Where you girls going? I’ll give you a lift?’

‘Leave us alone.’

‘Come on girls.’

‘Don’t talk to him Crystal,’ Madison looks sideways at the sedan. The setting sun hits her eyes. She can’t see the man behind the wheel.

Crystal keeps pulling the suitcase. Madison tries to catch a better look.

‘Come on, where you headed?’

August tugs on Madison’s arm but she shrugs her off. Madison smiles, ‘Nowhere you’re going.’

‘I don’t bite. Youse girls can all sit in the back.’

Madison stops. The man pulls over. August watches as her sister leans into the car, wriggling in her dress.

The man shouts over the throb of the engine, ‘I’m heading to Rabbit’s Flat.’

‘Yeah?’ Madison asks, pouting her lips. None of them know where Rabbit’s Flat is.

‘Yeah. Where you girls from?’

He laughs. ‘Alright no questions. Youse getting in or not? It’s getting dark out.’

August watches her sisters open the car door and get inside, unsure of where her sisters are going, except that they’re going toward it.

Suitcase in the boot, August climbs into the backseat. The man, cleft lipped and blue eyed, tells them his name is Clint. His head brushes the roof of the car, knees up in his chin. ‘Dad was watching Play Misty for Me at the pics when Mum went into labour,’ he says. He doesn’t pause for breath, showing pictures from his wallet of his dogs. ‘The one with overbite is called Daphne. She don’t look it but she’s a real sweetheart.’ Madison climbs into the front to hold onto the steering wheel while Clint pulls up his sleeves to show off his scars. He turns on the interior lights. ‘See? The ones that keloid glow a bit. Got eighteen stitches for this one. Haven’t touched a chainsaw since – pain was something else.’ He smiles, eyes crinkling into well-worn expression lines. He takes the wheel back, ‘Cheers love.’ August clutches onto her seatbelt, watching birds, soft scaled and razor-lipped, fly home. Clint peers at her in the rear-view mirror. ‘Cat got your tongue huh?’ August shakes her head.

‘She mute or something?’

‘August doesn’t talk to strangers.’ Crystal wraps her arms around the headrest. Madison shrugs her off before asking Clint, ‘Do you have any music?’

He lights up a cigarette. ‘You can try, mostly just get static out this way though.’

Madison zips through the radio stations. Bass and shouting fills the car. Clint opens his window, smoke blowing into the backseat as he taps out his cigarette. ‘You girls here on holiday?’ he asks.

Madison turns up the volume even louder, the car rocking as she starts to dance. You know the words to my songs, our conversations ain’t long. But you know what is… She grins at Clint, ‘You know this song?’

He looks away. ‘Yeah.’

Madison looks back at Crystal. ‘This is our song isn’t it?’

Crystal nods, thrusting against her seatbelt, brushing her fingers against the roof of the car. Madison starts to sing. ‘Close to genius, sold out arenas, you can suck my penis, guns on deck, chest to chest, tongue on neck….’ She locks eyes with Clint. ‘Every picture I take, I pose a threat.’ Clint tightens his grip on the steering wheel. ‘You girls visiting family?’

Madison ignores him. ‘You don’t need explaining…All I really need to understand is, when you will talk dirty to me.’ She leans out of the passenger window, shouting at passing traffic, ‘Talk dirty to me!’ She falls back into the car, cheeks flushed and sweat glistening over her top lip. Clint turns down the music.

‘Can’t handle it?’

‘Bit loud for me.’

‘It’s a great song isn’t it Crystal? It’s our song.’

‘You already said that Madi.’

‘Shut up August, nobody asked you.’

Clint lights another cigarette. Wind and ash whips through the car.  Madison takes off her shoes and rests her feet up on the dashboard, her dress falling around her thighs. She opens up the glove box, finds a packet of mints and pops a few in her mouth. The road turns to dirt, the tails jostling up and down in the suitcase over the potholes. August puts her hands over her ears as the tails scream out in anger. Clint turns the music off completely. ‘You girls hear that?’

Madison pulls a mint out of her mouth, wiping lip-gloss across her chin. ‘Did you hear them scream? When I was just a girl, I asked my brother, What will I be? Will I be pretty? Will I be pretty? Will I be pretty?’

‘That poetry or something?’

‘Or something,’ Madison says, turning in her seat. ‘Crystal what are the rest of the words?’

Crystal shrugs. Madison turns the volume back up, her hand hovering over the hand rest – daring Clint to turn it down again. August stretches out, falling asleep and pillowed on the buoyant lap of her sister.

 

Later, August wakes to find that they’ve made a pit stop at a servo. Wiping drool off her cheek, she finds Crystal and Madison arguing by the open boot.

‘What’s going on?’

‘The tails.’

August looks down at the suitcase and the puddle it has left on the upholstery. She wipes her nose. ‘They’re hungry. For real food.’

‘I know idiot,’ says Madison,

August pulls up a fallen strap on her dress, waiting for her sisters to snap out a plan. Madison watches Clint paying at the counter.  She licks her lips. ‘He’s pink.’  August turns to watch Clint buy a packet of Marlboro menthols. ‘You gonna do it?’ Madison frowns, ‘If you’re so keen why don’t you do it?’ The silence is filled by the hum of the petrol pumps. August slams the boot shut and gets back into the car. Madison and Crystal follow, not looking each other in the eye.

 

No one asks for the radio when Clint rejoins the highway. They eat the rest of his mints and gnaw on peppered beef jerky, homesick for Titan’s seas. August looks past the sand flats at what looks like an old wheat silo. It looms ahead for hours before they pass it, the silo’s roof crumbling inward. Clint catches her watching. ‘Hasn’t rained up here for years now, farms are all dead.’

When he lets them out at the corner of the Rabbit’s Flat Motel, Madison lingers high and dry on the footpath. ‘Don’t cha want to come with us?’ she asks. Clint grins. ‘Nah love, you’re okay,’ he says before driving off. Crystal puts on her sunglasses. ‘You should have chewed your words more. You frightened him off.’ Madison scowls, pushing past in her high-heels.

The motel’s windows have been boarded up with timber scraps and cardboard beer cases. Inside, regulars well past the first round watch the rugby. Backs to the door, the men look up from their drinks to watch the girls sit down in the corner. August slides next to Madison, her thighs sticking to the leatherette bar seats, conscious of being watched. A floor fan, its white plastic yellowed, brushes the girls’ hair off their shoulders. The barman breathes in deeply as he wipes down the counter. He smiles at August, the cloth leaving its own smear. ‘You right love?’ She glances at Madison, who speaks for her before looking back at the menu. ‘She’s fine.’ They order bacon and eggs, with potato wedges and sour cream. They lick butter off their fingertips, hungry for more. Crystal gazes at a man high up on a stool across the room. He cracks pistachio nuts with his teeth, sucking the salt off the shells that won’t open and spitting them back into the bowl. He winks at the girls, his shirt unbuttoned. He walks over, and gives Crystal a cider. He watches her as her lips pull at the straw. ‘We haven’t the likes of you for a while,’ he says.

Embarrassed, August looks down at her drink. She tries to sip around a dead fly that bobs between cubes of ice. Her belly heavy, she gets up. The suitcase dribbles along the carpet as she drags it behind her towards the bathroom.

‘Wrong room sweetheart.’

August turns to hurry out, but the man keeps talking. ‘Unless you’re hiding something up in that dress,’ he says. Zipping his fly, his lips wet, he leans over to close the door. The suitcase whimpers. August watches as he picks up his beer off the sink. ‘Shh. Our little secret.’ Up close his hands smell like salt-and-vinegar chips.

 

Madison and Crystal giggle with the mining boys, their skin blackened underneath Chesty Bonds and high-vis vests. They tell the girls about Nambeya Lake. ‘Most beautiful place on earth.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Yeah.’

Madison and Crystal want to see beauty. The boys lean in, wrinkling freckled noses as they laugh. They describe an avenue of paperbarks and dagger wattle, Crystal imagines green seaweed growing upside down and swaying in invisible tides. Madison makes the boys draw a mud map on a paper napkin, stealing a kiss and biting down on a sunburnt lip.

‘Whoa love.’

Madison giggles. Crystal whispers, ‘She eats meat for breakfast.’

Leaving the boys to stare into their beers, Madison and Crystal stumble into the Ladies, mascara-smudged and cranberry-vodka-stained.

August walks in, the suitcase rumbling on the tiles. She pushes past her sisters and washes her feet furiously in the sink with hand soap. The tails stretch against the fabric of the case as she squishes suds between her toes. ‘They’re starving.’

‘So?’ says Madison.

August watches as her sisters apply eyeliner and pout at their reflections. The girls appear to float in the mirror, sundresses hugging their hips.

‘Can we go home?’ asks August.

Madison lights up one of the cigarettes she stole off Clint. ‘You’re such a pussy.’

August sits down on the suitcase. She pulls dead skin off her thumb. ‘Mum will be worried.’

‘Mum doesn’t give a fuck. You didn’t have to come you know.’

‘I know.’

‘You’re not gonna be a baby are you?’

‘I’m not a baby.’

August picks at the frayed edge of the zipper of the case. Madison slaps her hand away. ‘Don’t, we don’t want them to escape.’

Crystal scratches flakes of dried snot off her nose, inspecting every inch of her face in the mirror. She pulls at her dress, grasping her breasts. ‘Why are they so small?’ She rolls up toilet paper and pads out her bra, looking enviously at Madison. ‘How come you got the better skin?’

August reads graffiti on the toilet walls as Madison and Crystal argue. Women have written poems in pen and pencil, or drawn crude images of castrated ex-boyfriends next to Exodus 21:7-11.

Snapped wrist, and pierced,

If you ever feel powerless

Remember love is the greatest gift

God has given.

Underneath, scrawled in pink, are the words Can I return it? Followed by others, in black, Keep fucking and preaching sista. August leans her head against the cool porcelain of the sink. She brings her hand up to touch a patch of missing hair, her scalp stinging. ‘I don’t feel well.’

Madison sighs. ‘You gonna moan this whole time?’

‘No.’

‘Cos you’re being such a bitch.’

‘Fuck off.’

‘Fine.’

Madison smirks and leans against the sink. August walks out into the car park, the wheels of the suitcase catch her ankles. There is nothing outside but an odd tourist S.U.V speeding through, bullbars splattered with the blood of road kill. August tugs the suitcase over the gravel and walks off.

Inside, the barman clears the table. He stares down at the teenage girls all pink limbed and soft. Crystal pushes at escaping toilet paper peeking over the neckline of her dress.

‘Last orders?’

‘You buying?’ asks Crystal.

‘Nah love. No cash no drinks.’

Crystal sucks her lip, fingering the boys’ map. ‘What’s the quickest way to get to Nambeya Lake?’

‘You girls not from around here then?’ He asks. ‘Just follow the road girls. If you head off now, you can catch a look before it gets dark. You by yourselves?’

They shrug.

‘Well, unless you girls are thinking of paying for a room, I’m closin’ up.’

Night presses in as they hurry to catch up with August. She hasn’t gone far, the wheels of the suitcase have caught in the salt scrub. Out of breath, the girls are startled as the mining boys roar past in their utes, wolf whistling and catcalling ‘Real nice baby!’ Madison winks back but no one pulls over. As the tail-lights disappear over the crest Madison lights another cigarette. She lets it burn to the stub without ever bringing it to her lips. By the time they find the turnoff into the National Park the sun bleeds into the sky, mopped up by trails of cotton clouds that can’t staunch the flow of red. As the girls stand by a fading signpost for the lake, they gaze out at beauty. Madison juts out a hip, and asks no one in particular, ‘Is this it?’ Taking off her shoes her blisters ooze into the sand. Crystal pulls out the congealed clumps of toilet paper from her bra. She shakes the paper flesh from her fingers. August sets down the suitcase and slumps by its side; the tails haven’t stirred for hours. She looks up. Home looks so far away, an orange infinitesimal speck.

Nambeya Lake stretches out alien and empty. Nothing but pink salt and bass bones that fade into the horizon. Burning light sets the clay banks ablaze and the girls cannot tell if it is dusk or dawn.

 

 

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Adjust Your Sets, Olivia James

Chinese filmmakers recently made their first ever foray into the International movie-making scene. The Great Wall is an action and fantasy movie directed by Zhang Yimou, an acclaimed Chinese director. The cast features young Chinese stars Wang Junkai, Lu Han, Jing Tian and Andy Lau as the supporting cast. The lead of the film –a film funded, produced and directed by Chinese individuals, starring a Chinese supporting cast, filmed and set exclusively in China–is Matt Damon. Matt Damon as in Oceans Eleven Matt Damon. Matt Damon as in about a hundred of those Bourne action movies Matt Doman. Matt Damon as in very, very white, so white that he probably eats casserole at least once a week Matt Damon. Damon responded at New York’s Comic-Con, ‘it was a f—king bummer…When I think of whitewashing I think of Chuck Connors when he played Geronimo. And look there are more nuanced versions of it and I do try to be sensitive of that.’[i]

Matt Damon’s role as white savior is nothing new in film. For decades movies have not only featured overwhelmingly white actors, they have also cast white actors to play people of colour. From Mickey Rooney’s vaguely Asian Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffanys to Jake Gyllenhal’s portrayal of Middle Eastern royalty in Prince of Persia, whitewashing runs rampant.The 2016 Hollywood Diversity Report believes that this casting has become the norm. In the report, it is detailed that between 2011 and 2014 protagonists were white in more than 80% of films.[ii] During this time, casts were always predominantly white with most films featuring a cast with only 10% or less people of colour.[iii] Gender was also imbalanced with roughly 74% of films featuring men as leads during this time.[iv] What has caused this massive underrepresentation of women and minorities in film? If you ask Hollywood you’ll be met with a huge range of answers and a whole lot of awkward stammering.

Actress Viola Davis, star of the wildly successful television series How to Get Away with Murder and a physical manifestation of the #blackexcellence twitter trend,believes that the issue extends beyond recognition through awards. ‘The problem is not with the Oscars, the problem is with the Hollywood movie-making system…How many black films are being produced every year? …The Oscars are not really the issue. It’s a symptom of a much greater disease.’[v] Michael Caine, a self-described bourgeois nightmare, has made comments suggesting that diversity shouldn’t be forced. ‘You can’t just say, “Oh I’m gonna vote for him, he’s not very good, but he’s black”… you’ve got to give a good performance.’He has also said that non-white actors need to be ‘patient’.[vi] What Caine’s comments are indicative of, is how a dangerous disregard for the historical treatment of minorities continues to disadvantage POC actors and actresses today. With already overwhelmingly white casts, it’s understandable that minority actors are frustrated when the few roles reserved for them are instead handed to white people.

So why are people of colour endangered in film? Why do moviemakers continue to believe that white led and predominantly male casts are a guarantee of cinematic success? Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings was completely overwhelmed with criticism as the film, set throughout the Middle East and Africa, featured a wholly white lead cast slathered in fake tan like an Aussie teen on schoolies. Scott defended his choice by saying, ‘I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I’m just not going to get it financed.’[vii] Despite showing an immense amount of cultural insensitivity Scott’s opinion supports how the problem has been institutionalized. Still, Scott maybe should have considered caring even a miniscule amount about the historical accuracy of his movie, which had a $140 million dollar budget didn’t even make half of that domestically. It only ended up bringing in $65 million.[viii]

Is there a direct correlation between whitewashing and a movies financial failure? Pan, a live-action prequel to the famous Peter Pan drew criticism after they cast Rooney Mara, a white actress, as Tiger Lily, a Native American character. Whilst Mara defended her choice to play the role, ‘I feel like there really hasn’t been a proper interpretation of the character’[ix], critics and audiences canned the film. Even Hugh Grant, Australia’s greatest export, couldn’t save the movie, with it only earning back $35 million domestically of its $150 million budget.[x] Whilst is did make a final international total of $128 million, this doesn’t make up for the total budget or the extra marketing budget, which has not been disclosed.

A departure from the action genres was Aloha. The choice to cast Emma Stone, who played Allison Ng, a character who was a quarter Chinese and a quarter Hawaiian who instead looked like a British person two months into winter, was heavily criticised. The film only made back $26 million globally of its $37 million budget.[xi] The 2014 film The Lone Ranger starred Jonny Depp, notable white man and dog smuggler, as the Native American Tonto. A poor casting choice? Definitely. Worsened by poor writing? Absolutely. Throughout the film Depp spoke in disjointed sentences such as, ‘do not touch rock. Rock cursed’and ‘it better you not hit him. Him plenty weak from journey.’The movie domestically made back $89 million of its $219 million budget,[xii] which was presumably a nice change of pace for Native American activists who are still struggling to change the name of the Washington Redskins.

So why is there a perception that white-washed and non-diverse films are successful? Star Wars: The Force awakens is perhaps the greatest piece of proof that diversity is not a roadblock to success. The Force Awakens was already due to be a financial success, but critics praised the fact that of the new trio of protagonists, not a single one of them was a white male. The LA Times lauded the casting choices; ‘Part of the power of “Star Wars” movies has been how they have invited generations of audiences to imagine themselves as heroic characters in the fantastical, detailed world George Lucas conceived nearly 40 years ago. In 2015 —spoiler alert —it is not only white males who get to harness the power of the Force.’[xiii]

When Star Wars introduced aspiring Jedi master Rey, young girls felt welcome in a space usually reserved for men, despite the fact that a woman, Mary Shelley, created the genre. When Finn pulled off his storm-trooper helmet, black children felt that they could be heroes in a world that was, until recently, overwhelmingly white. When Oscar Isaac flew his X-Wing into the Starkiller Base and completely destroyed budding Sith Lord and continual disappointment to his mother Kylo Ren’s dreams, Latinx children were reminded that they have the capacity for greatness. And the films showcasing of diversity certainly paid in dividends. Whilst it was always set to be a box office success, the total earnings of over 2 billion, for a film with a budget of 245 million, was aided by the positive press surrounding the casting choices.[xiv]

Despite the overwhelming success of Star Wars, both financially and creatively, film is still being left behind in regards to diversity. This year’s newest blockbuster and to-be-expected flop Ben Hur features a predominantly white cast despite the Middle Eastern setting. Similarly, Gods of Egypt only just made back its production budget, despite its token casting of African-American Chadwick Boseman, scene-stealer of Captain America: Civil War. Ground has been made in diversifying casts on new forms of media. Viewers have applauded Netflix’s self-produced content and the lengths taken in diversifying casting. 2015s Sense8 featured a main cast with a transgender woman and tech guru, a Kenyan man trying to cure his ill mother, a Korean businesswoman and kick boxer, an Indian pharmaceutical worker disinterested in her arranged marriage and a gay Mexican film star in a long-term relationship with his boyfriend. The diversity of the cast and the effort taken to film at locations all around the world made the series a success.

Also released in 2016 was the sci-fi hit Stranger Things, which was celebrated for its portrayal of female characters. It featured Eleven, an earnest young telepath, Joy, a mother desperate to find her missing son and Nancy, a gun toting teen on the warpath to avenge her friend’s death. The three main female characters were applauded for having their own emotional and fleshed out storylines that were not reliant on male intervention to progress the plot. The women were also given their own agency throughout the eight episodes. When Jonathon, elder brother of the missing Will Byers, realized that Nancy was a better shot than him he quickly handed the gun to her. Chief of Police Hopper never wrote off Joy’s belief that her son was alive as her being ‘crazy’. Mike, Lucas and Dustan never once questioned befriending Eleven because she was a girl. In fact, women go on to save the day. Nancy orchestrates the plan to trap and wound the show’s monster, the Demogorgon. Joy ventures into the alternate universe titled, the ‘Upside Down’, a horrific dystopia, to save her son Will. Eleven ultimately destroys the monster by sacrificing herself and saving her friends in the process.

Netflix’s dedication to diverse characterization and casting has led to the generation of a great deal of exciting content. In the next year alone they’ve already slotted a sizable list of shows. The revamp of Gilmore Girls will be released in late 2016, and is known for its sundry portrayal of women. A Series of Unfortunate Events will also be released in late 2016, featuring Indian and Black actors in lead roles. Season two of Sense8 is set to air in 2017, along with Marvel’s Luke Cage, which will showcase a predominantly African American cast. Also rumoured for a 2017 release are season two of The Get Down, season two of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, the continuation of Orange is the New Black, part two of Stranger Things and Marvel’s The Defenders, which has a main cast of superheroes comprising of a disabled man, female rape survivor, and Luke Cage, as well as an immensely diverse secondary cast.

Why is a dedication to diversity in film and media necessary? Film theorists Laura Mulvey and Anna Backman Rogers assert that film is a reflection of the world and as such should be honest in its portrayal of the human experience.‘If the ethics of film are to do with understanding how to live, how to die, how to speak, and how to listen – then surely difference, and understanding, respecting and recognizing that difference, needs to lie at the heart of that thinking.’[xv] In some circumstances an authentic reproduction of our world can be quantified. Hailed as an example of feminism ruining the sanctity of iconic movie making, the Bechdel Test was created to highlight the inequity of development given to male and female characters in film. Critics of the test have argued that it sets an unnecessarily rigid standard for creators and believe that the test is incompatible with iconic moviemaking. So what does a movie need to do to satisfy the Bedchel Test? Two named women in the film have to talk about something other than a man. Once.

No, the other elements of the test haven’t been forgotten. That’s it.

American Beauty, Requiem for a Dream, Donnie Darko, Jaws, Pulp Fiction, The Godfather Part II, Star Wars: The Force Awakens–these are just some of the movies that pass the Bechdel test, most of which are acclaimed. Many of them went on to win Oscars. Jaws won three Oscars and a Golden Globe. American Beauty won five Oscars and three Golden Globes. It is curious that there is a belief that the Bechdel test is placing unattainable standards upon filmmaking. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask that two female characters in Jaws, whose names we happen to know, have a single conversation about the giant shark gobbling up children and scantily clad teenagers. It isn’t too much of a burden, to expect that at some point, while saving the galaxy from a tantrum-throwing adult male who fundamentally misunderstands the beliefs of his grandfather, that Leia and Rey have a quick chat about how they’re going to destroy the Starkiller base.

Female characters should not be used as props and devices for the development of their male counterparts. If filmmakers are meant to accurately reflect society, then they should do so by showing women that they are more substantial than an untimely death at the hands of their partners arch nemesis. To do otherwise is dangerous, and perpetuates societal beliefs that women exist as an extension to men. Similarly, theorists Carole Gerster and Laura Zlogar believe that images of race depicted in films can contribute to the disenfranchisement of ethnic minorities. ‘Hollywood learned its lesson…Euro-American audience consumed a steady stream of images whose function was to marginalize African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos/as and American Indians.’[xvi] In today’s shrinking world issues regarding gender, sexuality and ethnicity are no longer separate. The rise of intersectional feminism across cultures has meant that critiques of racial diversity in films go hand in hand with feminist critiques. The need for representation is universal.

To not care about honestly portraying the world in media is dangerous. Visibility creates attainability. It allows a young girl who watches the revamp of Ghostbusters to imagine herself existing in a space traditionally reserved for men. It allows a young black girl who sees the trailer for Hidden Figures to believe that her dream to work for NASA isn’t impossibility. It allows a child of colour who watches Luke Cage or the upcoming Justice League or Black Panther to see themselves as a hero. When it is normalized for children to see those who they identify with as heroes, they themselves will grow up believing that they can be the hero of their own life. Film and television is one of the most easily digestible sources of information, and informs our opinions and understandings of the world in which we belong. It has immense power in shaping our interactions with one another, both positive and negative. Surely we want film and television to influence the world to be more tolerant, peaceful and compassionate. Unfortunately, we still have a lot of work to do before diversity in film is universal. Thanks Matt Damon.
Works Cited

 

[i] Christopher Rosen, ‘Matt Damon: Great Wall whitewashingcontroversy was “a f—ing bummer”’Entertainment Weekly (October 8, 2016) Web. Accessed October 8 <http://www.ew.com/article/2016/10/08/matt-damon-great-wall-whitewashing-controversy>

 

[ii] Ralph J. Bunch Centre for African American Studies, ‘The Hollywood Diversity Report’UCLA (2016) Web. Accessed August 25 <http://www.bunchecenter.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2016-Hollywood-Diversity-Rport-2-25-16.pdf>

[iii] Ralph J. Bunch Centre for African American Studies, ‘The Hollywood Diversity Report’UCLA (2016) Web. Accessed August 25

<http://www.bunchecenter.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2016-Hollywood-Diversity-Report-2-25-16.pdf>

[iv] Ralph J. Bunch Centre for African American Studies, ‘The Hollywood Diversity Report’UCLA (2016) Web. Accessed August 25 <http://www.bunchecenter.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2016-Hollywood-Diversity-Report-2-25-16.pdf>

[v] Eliza Berman, ‘Insiders Reveal How Huge Hollywood’s Diversity Problem Really Is’Time Magazine (January 25, 2016) Web. Accessed 30 August <http://time.com/4192594/hollywood-diversity-problem-oscars-academy-awards/>

[vi] Yohana Desta, ‘Every Major Celebrity Who’s Commented on the Oscars Diversity Controversy’Mashable (January 26, 2016) Web, Accessed August 30< http://mashable.com/2016/01/25/celebrity-diversity-oscars/#jn68xyNoKPqk>

[vii] Nick Allen, ‘”I can’t cast Mohammed so-and-so from such-and-such”says Ridley Scott’Telegraph (November 28, 2014) Web. Accessed September 2<http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11261784/I-cant-cast-Mohammad-so-and-so-from-such-and-such-says-Ridley-Scott.html>

[viii] Box Office Mojo, ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings: Domestic and International Movie Totals’Web. Accessed September 5 < http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=exodus.htm>

[ix] Sean O’Connell, ‘Why a White Tiger Lily Works According to Rooney Mara’Cinemablend (2015) Web. Accessed September 2 <http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Why-White-Tiger-Lily-Works-According-Rooney-Mara-70870.html>

[x] Box Office Mojo, ‘Pan: Domestic and International Movie Totals’Web. Accessed September 5 <http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=pan.htm>

[xi] Box Office Mojo, ‘Aloha: Domestic and International Movie Totals’Web. Accessed September 5 <http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=crowe2014.htm>

[xii] Box Office Mojo, ‘Lone Ranger: Domestic and International Movie Totals’Web. Accessed September 5 <http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=loneranger.htm>

[xiii] Rebecca Keegan, ‘Star Was: The Force Awakens reflects our diverse, modern World’The LA Times (December 21, 2015) Web. Accessed September 8http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-star-wars-diversity-20151221-story.html

[xiv] Box Office Mojo, ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Domestic and International Movie Totals’Web. Accessed September 5 <http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=starwars7.htm>

[xv] Laura Mulvey and Anna Backman Rogers, ‘Feminisms: Diversity, Difference and Multiplicity in Contemporary Film CulturesAmsterdam University Press (2015) p 136

[xvi] Carole Gerster and Laura Zlogar, ‘Teaching Ethnic Diversity in Film: Essays and Resources for Educators in History, Social Studies, Literature and Film Studies’McFarland and Company (2006)p 22

 

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Person of the Forest, Teri Jane Boldizar

I crossed the rickety handmade bridge precariously, one of the last in our group of nine; sent into the Sumatran Rainforest by Sydney’s Taronga Zoo as part of their “For the Wild” campaign. My hands grasped at the thin stretch of rope that followed my path on both sides. The day pack on my back was tiny compared to the 55L backpack one of the village ladies had carried across that very bridge for me the night before, but every step I took still sent it swaying on my back. One of the girls ahead of me stumbled slightly over the thin planks, causing the entire bridge to sway violently beneath us and bringing my attention to the riffle that sauntered along below us. A nervous laugh wove its way through the group as our team leader standing at the other end of the bridge, feet safely planted on solid ground, yelled back that she’d make us wear helmets for the rest of the trek if we weren’t careful. We were looking for semi-wild Orangutan that day; with one of Taronga’s Orangutan keepers, and our local Indonesian guides leading the way.

Often forgotten or overlooked in the grand scheme of apes that humans share similar DNA with, the orangutan may be one of the most fascinating. Named for the Malay words Orang, meaning “people” and Hutan, meaning “forest”, the orangutan is literally the person of the forest. The similarities between ourselves and these forest dwelling apes appears to agree. Not only do orangutan share 97% of our DNA, they also display a variety of amazingly human-esque traits. For the first two years of their lives, orangutans are completely dependent on their mothers for everything. Other than humans, no other animal is known to spend so much time dependent on their mother. In fact, baby orangutans will cling to their mothers the same way toddlers do during the morning daycare drop off. Like many great apes, orangutan have developed tool use and arboreal though they are, construct nests for sleeping in, complete with “umbrella” style coverage to keep the rain at bay. The term semi-wild isn’t a term used professionally but you’ll find that organisations, and even locals to the area will often use the term. It simply refers to orangs that were captive but have been rehabilitated and released. It can also refer to parts of the rainforest that are tended to or have been built into for eco-tourism as we experienced that day.

We trekked through Bukit Lawang, a small village on the edge of the looming rainforest, greeted the kind locals who waved, smiled and complimented us on our pale skin and took note of the stalls selling beautiful handmade clothing. Those that live on the boundary of the rainforest and understand the importance of the rainforest and its animals rely on eco-tourism to bring guests and income that we gladly offer for such an opportunity. However, it was not just the kind people of Bukit Lawang nor the nearby orangutan that provided such an extraordinary experience. There were also the hundred or so long tailed macaques scampering around the village.

They darted in and out of house windows, travelled across clothes lines and stole the fruit of those who didn’t hide it away well enough before leaving their home for the day. It was our first glimpse of a Sumatran animal that wasn’t a cow hovering along the edge of a potholed dirt road. Looking to discover even more of the native wildlife, we continued on and into the depths of the Gunung Leuser National Park, a protected area of the Sumatran Rainforest.

It wasn’t long before we were completely enveloped in the beautiful tall trees of the rainforest; Damar, Rubber and Meranti, the few identified by our guide, Lily. It was our second day in Sumatra and the intense humidity and heat had already begun to take its toll as, under strict time constraints, we made our way up hills so steep we were essentially rock climbing. Perhaps the helmets wouldn’t have been such a bad idea after all. After roughly an hour of hellish trekking we reached a plateau onto which a platform had been built. Lily invited us to sit on the felled logs facing the platform, ‘quietly, quietly,’ he whispered.

We watched on as one of the national park ranger’s deposited cups of water and bunches of banana onto the platform in front of us, and as he made his way back towards us, we readied our cameras.

‘No orangutan for two weeks’ he advised us, ‘maybe none today either.’

Prepared to see nothing, a thought that hadn’t crossed my mind as I counted down the days to the trip, we sat and made quiet small talk. While it felt as though we had sat for hours, it was only minutes before the rustle of leaves in the distance made its way to our ears. A hush fell over our little crowd as slowly the sound moved closer. Heads swiveled wildly as we searched for what we could only hope was actually an orangutan and not a troop of macaque.

Finally, a blur of red swung through a distant break in the canopy just away from us. It moved closer and closer, until in a whirlpool of beautiful red hair, an orangutan finally dropped down on to the platform. My heart skipped a beat and in shock and awe, my mouth made a surely comical “O”. Before us, a mere metre away, sat a female Sumatran orangutan; and clutched to her chest… Her baby.

With hair my ideal shade of red, the beautiful mother nonchalantly drank water from a child’s blue plastic cup while her little one eyed us off from the safety of her hip, eating a banana he had snatched up from the platform upon their arrival. Apparently satisfied with his fruity finds, the baby orang decided to put on a show. The urge to squeal like a Justin Bieber fan at one of his concerts overwhelmed me as I watched the little one climb a tree, swinging and jumping back and forth between the nearby branches and the planks that made up his platform. Carrying her banana treats, his mother made her way over to sit within arms reach of him and this became a routine. He would frolic; she would follow, inching her way back and forth across the platform in his mischievous wake. Watching this orangutan show such concern for her child was such a sight. But it was one that was cut unfortunately short by the arrival of a much colder spirited mother and child duo. In quite a contrast to the behaviours we had just observed, the new arrival pulled the water bucket from the hands of the ranger and swiftly stole the remaining fruit, sadly causing our first orangutan and her baby to swing away into the canopy. These wild orangutans face such potential dangers, and yet there, sitting on those logs, we saw two mothers, with their children, acting in the carefree way that any orangutan should.

 

*

 

Orangutan face a great many dangers from humans. Population estimates from the most recent transect survey suggest that there are as few as 14,000 Sumatran orangutan left,[i] and only approximately 54,000 Bornean,[ii] leaving both species endangered, the Sumatran critically so. One major threat to the animals of Indonesia in particular, is palm oil. The destruction of palm oil plantations, in the last few years alone, has resulted in more than half of the Sumatran Rainforest – once the third largest rainforest in the world – being removed for palm or acacia tree plantations. And the Indonesian government has approved the removal of another seventy percent of what remains in the near future.[iii] The threat of unsustainable palm oil farming is no longer the tightly held secret that it was in the past though. More people are being educated in the dangers of unsustainable farming and make the active choice to buy sustainable palm oil or palm oil free products from their supermarkets.

Within Indonesia and Malaysia, the illegal wildlife trade of orangutans, most commonly below the age of two, is also booming amongst a select population of locals. The wildlife trade of orangutan occurs both domestically and internationally with most international trade occurring between other nearby islands, particularly in association with zoos that do not comply with the international ethical standards for captive animal care.

A mother orangutan is incredibly unlikely to willingly leave behind or surrender her baby. This means that for a young orangutan to be captured for the pet trade, its mother will most probably be killed while her baby clings to her. This is not only traumatizing for the young kidnapped orangutan but is also massively detrimental to the ability for repopulation of the orangutan populace. It is estimated that every year around one thousand Sumatran and Bornean orangutan are trafficked overseas and that as many as twenty thousand have been caught or killed for the trade over the last ten years. For every one baby orangutan that makes its way into a home as a “pet” or into a market to be sold, two other young and five mother orangutans have died. [iv]

Sixty percent of all orangutan that currently reside in sanctuaries and rescues within Indonesia have been confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade.[v] One particular orangutan, now under the protection of an Australian organisation, The Orangutan Project, was sold into the pet trade by a local fisherman for only $10.40 AUD. The orang was found malnourished and weak, and was confiscated. One of the lucky few, he now resides temporarily in a sanctuary where he is being cared for. Through social learning among his own species and a special forest school under the safe eye of his rescue carers, he will learn necessary skills before being released back into the rainforest to live a natural, semi-wild life.

One of the most intriguing facts about orangutan is their self-awareness. A study which was first carried out in the 80’s, found evidence of self-awareness at a level that is not present in humans until around 18-24 months of age. Orangutan marked with a safe and indelible dye while asleep, were placed in front of mirrors. Upon seeing their coloured reflection, they proceeded to touch their own faces and bodies. The conclusion of this study was that orangutan are more self-aware than human infants. [vi] With this in mind, it is easier, or perhaps harder, to conceive the horrific trauma that a baby orangutan suffers when taken from its mother and thrust into such a situation as the illegal wildlife pet trade.

 

*

 

I had been seconds from deciding on the perfect spot to use as my jungle toilet when I heard a rustling to my left. Somewhat terrified, I did exactly what all the people in horror movies do and approached the foliage and squinted, staring out into the darkness. Unbelieving, I threw myself back into camp in a frenzy. The orangutan I had spotted flinging herself through the trees just behind me. The rest of the team spotted her in the same moments that they saw me and we all paused for a moment before racing to our tents to grab our cameras.

To our great luck, she stayed where she was; hovering in the trees above the little kitchen tent that had been set up in haste that afternoon as the rain had begun to beat down on us. She stood upright, very human in her stance, one hand and one foot fastened to a vine. Her other hand fell upon the baby that clutched at her chest. That was our third mother orangutan and at the time we were just halfway through out trek.

 

She graced us with her and her little one’s presence for close to an hour before she swung off into the forest to make her nighttime nest. That wasn’t the last time we saw her though.

The next morning as we packed up camp that all too familiar rustling worked its way to our ears yet again and, prepared as we were, we stood waiting for her reveal. She met us in the exact location she had occupied the night before and we soon discovered why as she made her way to the ground – a very unusual behaviour in orangutan – and stole our watermelon scraps. She stayed low to the ground eating the entirety of the watermelon skin while her little one suckled at the corner of a smaller piece, sucking up the last of the juice from our dessert of the night before. None of the guides recognized her as a re-released orangutan, she was just a mother taking advantage of her surrounding environment.

 

*

 

During my trip to Sumatra, thanks to Taronga Zoo, I had the chance to see ten orangutans. Four were dependent infants; and one was only around five years old and still learning skills from her mother. These young orangutans are just a small number of the population lucky enough to have relative safety in their protected jungle home within the Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra. The helpful income provided through eco-tourism, donations from establishments such as Taronga and the forest rangers of the national park, attempt to protect them from people involved in this harmful trade. Not all orangutans have such luck, however.

Were orangutan faced with only the threat of deforestation and their population decline continued at it’s current pace, the entire wild population of Sumatran orangutan would be completely wiped out by 2100.[vii] Deforestation is not their only concern, however. Organisations such as The Orangutan Project (TOP) which is run out of Australia and was first founded by an orangutan keeper at Perth Zoo, operate to rescue, rehabilitate and re-release orangutans that were taken into the illegal pet trade or became victims of forest burning or felling for unsustainable palm oil plantations. In fact, Perth Zoo recently became the first zoo to ever release a captive orangutan into the wild, to much success. The orangutan in question, Temara, now resides semi-wild within the Sumatran Rainforest.

So how can you help organisations like TOP and Taronga and Perth zoos save those orangutans who find themselves suffering at the hands of the pet trade and/or desiccation of their homes? You could choose to adopt a young orangutan online through organisations like The Orangutan Project, visit the zoo and adopt an animal or even donate to conservation efforts on a more general scale. Our support assists organisations tremendously in their attempts to protect these amazing animals either by leasing land for sanctuary or funding rescue centres.

The orangutan shares 97% of our DNA and possesses a level of self-awareness comparable to human toddlers but these people of the forest rely on us to triumph in this battle, to be able to live in their natural rainforest homes.

 

 

Works Cited

[i]Wich, S., et al. “Land-cover changes predict steep declines for the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii).” Science advances. 2.3 (2016): e1500789.

[ii]Meijaard, E., et al. “Not by science alone: why orangutan conservationists must think outside the box.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1249.1 (2012): 29-44.

[iii]Vidal, J. “The Sumatran rainforest will mostly disappear within 20 years.”The Guardian Australia. (2013): N.P. Web. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/26/sumatra-borneo-deforestation-tigers-palm-oil Accessed: 9 Oct. 2016.

[iv]Afrida, N. “Orangutan: From Illegal Trade to Conservations.” The Jakarta Post. (2008): N.P. Findings also used at: http://www.orangutans.com.au/Orangutans-Survival-Information/Illegal-Pet-Trade.aspx Accessed: 1 Sept. 2016.

[v]CITES/GRASP. (2006). “Orangutan Technical Mission Indonesia”. https://cites.org/common/prog/ape/ID_mission06.pdf Accessed: 1 Sept .2016.

[vi]Suarez, S., and Gallup, G. “Self-recognition in chimpanzees and orangutans, but not gorillas.” Journal of Human Evolution. 10.2 (1981): 175-188.

[vii]Marshall, Andrew J., et al. “Orangutan population biology, life history, and conservation.” Orangutans: Geographic variation in behavioral ecology and conservation (2009): 311-325.

 

 

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The Course of Empire, Mischa Parkee

Part One: The Savage State

empire_savage_state

Thomas Cole, The Savage State. Oil on canvas, 1834

This is the savage state. You are the savage that charges down into the wilderness; a hunter with only eyes for your prey. This is your basic human instinct, yet you are susceptible to the expectations of consummating an empire. The light of dawn is struggling to break through the clouds and maintain brightness in the severity of the anticipated storm; your rawness of emotion, your untainted early stages of desire, your ultimately savage state. But the sun is soon to be unsuccessful; the figurative native is soon to be dispossessed from the land he calls home.

 

*

 

It is raining the day she goes to see Thomas Cole’s The Course of Empire. The humid wetness soaks through the layers of her dress and her skin, and her bones shudder in exhilaration. The paintings from Cole’s collection are on loan for only a matter of weeks before they are to head back to the New York Gallery of Fine Arts. Mercy had driven the two and a half hours from Sydney to Cessnock to spend the day absorbed in the rich and rustic textures of the converted town hall, now known as The Hunter Gallery. Cole’s is the biggest collection that the esteemed rural gallery has ever commissioned and she is excited about finally getting to see one of her favourite artists’ works in the flesh. She had studied his brush strokes, his technique, and his harboured ambition to illustrate a pessimistic vision – the rise and fall of civilisation – for her thesis at the National Art School.  But now, looking at the dark palette of The Savage State, she sees it, not for its commentary on man’s early relationship to nature, but for what it really is. She sees the chaos that had been her relationship with Lucas; the cavernous wilderness in the foreground is like a giant gaping hole waiting to swallow the charging native, whose only thoughts are on securing their prey. She sees the vast openness of the land and danger of the looming storm clouds, and how easy it had been to be swallowed by her ideals.

There had been something about him that had made her ravenous. The movement of the days became more like that of poetry. The sun would lull into the moon, the days unknowingly become nights. All her thoughts were consumed by the burning beneath her skin, that instinctive impulse to secure her prey. It was as if her concept of time had become nothing but an inconspicuous blur as her hunger took over her senses and ravaged her thoughts. As it kept slipping into new day after new day, time seemed to escape her conscious thoughts until she was nothing but the shell of her former self; nothing but a fleshy animal of desire and hibernation. She had been part of the real world when she was first with him, but part of a fantasy with her own set of unattainable expectations, oblivious to the poison of her prey.

Mercy had always tried to make contact; when they went to the little Tapas restaurant on their first date, or when they walked down to the pub to get a quick bite before they went to see the latest superhero film that Lucas liked. Every so often she attempted to subtly let her hand catch the back of his as they walked in a strategic dance, like a hunter stalking its prey. Although Lucas seemed not to notice, she was sure that he had just been playing hard-to-get. Looking back, however, she thinks herself foolish for not seeing it earlier, for wanting to capture the feeling of it all with oils on a piece of canvas when every moment a little piece of thread had been unravelling from a jumper; the storm of the Savage State had been closing in on the sun.

 


Part Two: The Arcadian State

empire_pastoral_state

Thomas Cole, The Arcadian or Pastoral State.  Oil on canvas, 1834

This is Arcadia. It represents the space inside your mind that believes in miracles and impossibilities. The storm has cleared to reveal the idyllic alternative to the savage state. The part of you that is unpredictable; aligned with the hunter’s mindset of securing your prey. Much of the wilderness’s uncertainties have given way to ploughed fields and pruned bushes, depicting the foundations of what will eventually be your empire. It is the fabled world of knights in shining armour, of princesses who always find their ‘happily ever afters.’ It is the greeting-card picture world of your brain; the world that never came into being, and that never can.

 

*

 

Lucas hadn’t felt the rain. He wore only one layer of clothing, and Mercy noticed that he had no goose-flesh and did not shudder. Mercy, who sat in the passenger seat of his Toyota as they made their way back to Annandale after seeing one of Lucas’s unmemorable superhero films, remembers feeling the cold wetness of the rain seeping into her pores as if she had been sprayed by a garden hose. Her eyes continually glanced sideways, searching for Lucas’s eyes, for a reaction from him; an acknowledgement of her coldness, for him to take her hand or turn the heating on. His eyes met hers once, briefly, and then continued watching the road ahead.

She was wearing the crimson blouse she knew Lucas liked best. He had told her on one of their first dates that it had gone well with her long ebony hair. Mercy had been in a particularly jovial mood despite the weather. She was imagining all the ways in which it might prompt him to encourage her into his bedroom. He would take off her wet clothes and warm her body against his own. It would be a feeding ground. Her, pulling his see-through white shirt over his head, and him, tugging at each little red pearly button of her blouse with the fumbling hands of desire. They would kiss each other greedily, devouring one another until there was nothing left but scraps – leftovers for a morning feast.

‘I’ve never felt this close to anyone before,’ he had whispered, jolting her awake from her fantasies.

Mercy knew from bits and pieces he had told her that he wasn’t close to his parents – though she hadn’t quite deduced why at that point – and that this had fractured him somehow, like there was a magnetic field inside of him that would always find a way to repel.

Her heart swelled. ‘Neither have I,’ she replied.

But of course, that wasn’t exactly true. She had felt a similar way at least once, or possibly twice before. There was Darren in Year 11. He had wooed her with his surface level love of Romantic poetry, which had an unwavering ability to satisfy her youthfully primitive desires when they should have been studying for biology exams. And then there was Noah during her first years at art school. Mercy had fallen for his bad-boy-misunderstood persona, although she quickly tired of him when his façade wore thin, and she discovered that really he prided himself on taking inspiration from Picasso simply so he could paint whatever the hell he wanted and claim it was ‘abstract.’ But she didn’t want to ruin the moment with Lucas. She didn’t want their relationship to fall. She had wanted the idyllic pastures of their early and neatly defined relationship to remain perfectly ploughed, ready for the next stage, which meant responding in ways she knew he wanted. She was the hunter, and he was merely her prey.

Mercy wonders now, however, whether or not Lucas had been playing hunter as well.

 


Part Three: The Consummation of Empire

empire_consummation

Thomas Cole, The Consummation of Empire. Oil on canvas, 1836

Within the Empire, the majestic sturdy columns have slowly been constructed to form the foundations of your idealised relationship. Each brick, each stone, each pillar represents a struggle you believe you have conquered together, that you have built over time to finally form the beloved city of your dreams. The knights and princesses of your Arcadian state often visit this idle place to feast with their old friends and laze beneath the sail of a lulling boat, drifting without direction. It is a monument of achievement and pride, a soundly built structure of your desires. But an Empire built of ideals is doomed to fall. You cannot live in the Empire, feasting and idling for long. Soon you will have to face reality, and in reality your beloved Empire has been consummated to fail.

 

*

 

Mercy was preparing the fruit platter. The setting sunlight twinkled softly through the window of their kitchen.  The thought of finally having a space of their own, one that they had built themselves to create their very own personal empire had overwhelmed her with pride. She was starting to truly believe that their relationship was reaching sustainability, that they were compatible, that they understood one another beyond the initial hunger. By the time she had placed each watermelon slice, each strawberry quarter, each little plump blueberry into its prospected spot on the plate she had created quite a well-constructed tower.

‘Looks good,’ Lucas said, peering his head around the corner of the kitchen door.

She remembers feeling at ease in their new kitchen, preparing for their small housewarming as if she had done it a thousand times before, as if her and Lucas’s joint preparation was some sort of anticipated ritual. Looking back on it, however, Mercy thinks about how when she was doing the vacuuming, Lucas hadn’t even offered to lift up his feet.

When their guests arrived – an eclectic mix of Mercy’s old friends from Fort St High School, artsy classmates, and Lucas’s joinery buddies – she poured drinks and smiled like she was the face of a toothpaste ad. And later in the evening, when they had all had a bit to drink, talking over the top of one another about their lives and where they saw themselves in the future, Lucas reached across her to pour himself his sixth whisky of the night. Mercy forced herself to feel an indifferent sense of contentment as his arm brushed against hers, and she gave him what she thought was a playful glare of admonishment.

‘Just one more,’ Lucas declared.

‘Don’t you think you’ve had enough,’ she said, reaching out to place an affectionate hand on his sun-tanned arm.

Lucas drew away. ‘Oh don’t be ridiculous, Mercy! I can have one more drink.’ She was shocked into immobility at his hostility as he grabbed the whisky bottle in a fumbling display. The act might have been considered funny – a humorous anecdote to be passed on at the next dinner party; “remember that time Lucas got really drunk and made such a fool of himself? And remember how caring Mercy was, taking him off to bed like that? If that was my boyfriend, I would have left him in a heap on the floor.” That was if he hadn’t lost his footing and catapulted straight into her festooning fruit display with a loud and echoing clatter.

Mercy remembers watching the watermelon pieces drop with a deflated sounding squelch, the carefully quartered strawberries hit the floor, and the perfectly plump blueberries roll off in all directions (she had found little collections of them under the couch and beneath the shelves later). With the blinds tightly shut and the lamps casting a harsh glare across the mess, she noticed how the light was suddenly shining on things differently.

 

Part Four: Destruction

empire_destruction

Thomas Cole, Destruction. Oil on canvas, 1836

Destruction is dawning. This is what has become of your meticulously constructed Empire. This is what happens when you refuse to let nature take its course, when you become too distracted by the ideal. This is what happens when two people come from incompatible magnetic poles; they repel. Nature is dissatisfied with the idealised, man-made structure. The Empire begins to crumble, to fall apart at the seams. The savage clouds that the sun fought so hard to overcome are thickening, planning their destruction. The knights and princesses of Arcadia attempt to flee, terrified of the city’s crumbling walls, the rising water, and the fire’s ravenous rage. But there is no escape. The native is coming to reclaim the land that rightfully belongs to him.

 

*

 

‘Let’s go see the factories,’ Lucas announced one overcast weekend in July. ‘I want you to see where I work.’

He was reaching out. He must have been. Desperation filled Mercy’s lungs. He hadn’t initiated an outing in a long time. She couldn’t quite remember how long it had been, but she thought sometime around when she first moved into Lucas’s apartment about nine months prior. She didn’t know how she should answer. The desperation to connect clouded her judgement.

She had been reading Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia at the time. She remembers this because she found her copy a few days later, discarded amongst an array of trashy Woodworker and GQ magazines. Her heart had beat faster at the thought of Lucas pondering Chaos Theory and the analogy of stirring jam into pudding. On a lazy Sunday afternoon perhaps, when the sun hovers in that perfect transitional stage between day and night upon the horizon.

She never before considered the possibly that he had simply tossed the book there without even realising it was hers. Had he known it was one of her favourites? Surely she’d told him – although, staring blankly at the flames of the Destruction, she can’t quite recall.

When they arrived at the factories, they had lain on the concrete of the deserted carpark and watched the smoke leak from the heavy industrial chimneys as casually as if they were watching stars. Mercy wanted to see what he saw in the smoke, his furniture-making and the industrial world it came from. But in her mind, she was lying in an uncomfortable position with the pressure of the oily concrete beneath her head, watching pollution fill the air, slowly taking away their oxygen.

Is that what he sees too? Mercy had thought. By the look on his sombre face, he must have seen something more. He seemed to possess a connection to the factories and their smoke that ran deeper than a workplace affinity.

Maybe he saw how soullessly mechanical they were, that all they were able to do was something they were programmed to achieve. It concerned Mercy that there was not an ounce of life in the factories and that the same emptiness she associated with them she also saw in Lucas’s eyes. A vast, yet polluted nothingness, like the clouds of smoke that ooze from the chimneys, resembling giant cigarettes. The smoke had no purpose. It was simply what was left over from the mechanical workings of the factories where most of Lucas’s time was consumed.

Maybe that’s what he saw, Mercy thinks, a resemblance to himself.

 

Part Five: Desolation

empire_desolation

Thomas Cole, Desolation. Oil on canvas, 1836

The desolation will arrive slowly. The remains of the Empire will decay, until there is nothing left of it but a cold hard emptiness. You brought on the desolation yourself. The chaos of a deteriorating ideal has taken its toll, and nature has finally taken back what belongs to it. Beneath the surface of the mysterious water lie the remnants of destroyed cities, the desolate state of relationships passed, of artificial empires. People may visit it, take pictures, commemorate what might have been. But in the end, it is completely void of life, nothing but a past to be consumed by the earth until there is nothing left of it except dirt. From the dirt, with time, the wilderness of the savage state will return, slowly replenishing itself until the cycle begins again and another idealised relationship builds its first brick in what will eventually become this once again: desolation.

 

*

 

Mercy stares at the landscape of the final painting. There are no people in it, she realises for the first time. Perhaps they all drowned in the expanse of water whilst she had still been forcing herself to remain on the surface, too afraid to be dragged down to the bottom where all of those dead souls lie. There is nothing there but a sky of savage clouds, devoid of the mystical dawn light she so desperately wants to see in everything.

But, like jam cannot be unstirred from pudding, she knows that time cannot turn backwards. Mercy is there with them now, sinking beneath the surface to let nature swallow her. She embraces the desolation. She no longer feels like one wrong move could fracture her meticulously crafted world, no longer feels like the native of The Savage State is displaced from his homeland.

Mercy walks down The Hunter Gallery’s stone steps with purpose, out into the greying light of the late afternoon. When she reaches the final step, she turns back around to glance at the converted town hall. Its sturdy sandpapery columns look like the entrance to a tomb, Thomas Cole’s The Course of Empire locked tightly away inside. A moment passes before she turns and takes the last step to the bottom, making her way down the long, winding path back to where she parked her car.

The empire that she built up with Lucas had fallen, leaving her in the vast solitary space that stretches out beyond the horizon – further than her idealistic eye can see. And she is free to do anything she wants with it.

 

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Wednesday, Bridget Corke

Bing bong.

I look up from where I am crouching on the floor, legs tucked under me and a wine bottle in each hand as I restock the shelves. A face with more wrinkles than my shirt peers down at me through square metal-framed glasses that magnify the eyes to alien-like proportions. Those same eyes follow me as I push myself up from the floor until I am the one looking down.

‘Hi Mrs Foster. Will it be a green ginger wine or a sherry today?’

Those big eyes get even larger, then blink, as she tries to figure out which drink will be the best company over the next couple of weeks; and which will put the smallest dent in her pension. Once a fortnight on a Wednesday, after she has collected the pension from the Centrelink down the road, Mrs Foster comes into the shop to refill her stock. Her swollen hands, riddled with arthritis, finger the collar buttoned at her throat. A fine gold chain drapes down her chest; a diamond ring with intricate work around the central gem hangs from the chain and swings as she shuffles closer to me.

‘Mmm, I think I’ll take a green ginger tonight, thank you, Jay. I need a little spice in my life. This is the only way I can get it, ever since Eddie died.’ This statement is followed by a wink in my direction.  I slap a smile on my face and try not to let on that inside I’m cringing. Mrs Foster needing ‘spice’? Nope. Not going there.

In a few strides, I have grabbed the fortified wine and am at the counter. I’m hoping to get Mrs Foster out of here before she says anything else that I’ll have to spend the rest of the night forgetting. Slipping the bottle into a brown paper bag, I put out my hand for the coins with which Mrs Foster will inevitably pay. Slowly, she counts out the $8.90, starting with a few gold coins and then methodically counting out the silver shrapnel.

‘$7.80…$8.30…$8.40…’

Finally, satisfied that she has provided me with the correct change, Mrs Foster trots to the door, wine in hand.

 

*

 

Bing bong.

I’m in the fridge, stacking cartons of Carlton Draught and shifting from leg to leg trying to stay warm, when a man wanders into the shop. He appears to be in his late 30s with a paunch that rests over his trackie pants. He has on runners with the soles worn away and dirt smudged across the front and the top. A frayed t-shirt clings to his chest and back where sweat has soaked through the material, leaving dark patches. He looks around the shop blankly. I catch a glimpse of the bloodshot whites of his eyes and his tiny pupils. He doesn’t seem to take me in as he continues to glance around, standing in the middle of the aisle and making no move to get anything. I wonder if he’s forgotten whatever it was that he came in for. As he again turns his head my way, he jerks back as he realises that I’m standing on the other side of the cooler room door. For a few seconds, he stands there looking at me while I stand there looking at him, and then he wanders back out of the shop.

Bing bong. 

A group of guys, not much younger than me, maybe eighteen or nineteen, walk in. With heads held high, hands in pockets and some shoving, they make their way to their Holy Grail, the premixed drinks. They crowd the fridge door and pull it open.

‘How ‘bout two six-packs of the Woodstocks?’

‘Nah, we need more than that. Get the Woodies and a ten-pack of Jack Daniel’s.’

‘Fine, but you’re paying for it.’

‘Fuck off…I paid last time. This is your shout, you tight arse.’

The smallest of the group looks over his shoulder, sucking on his lip, then turns back to the fridge and sticks his hand in. After some more shoving and arguing, they come over to the counter. Two six-packs and a ten-pack hit the bench. A dark-haired individual with a patchy moustache that looks as though it has been drawn on with a felt tip pen, leans against the counter as he waits for me to ring up the grog.

As I scan the packs of alcohol, I notice that the lip sucker is now standing off to one side, hunched over and with his arm around his middle. Subtle. I’ve seen enough people shove bottles up their tops to know what a thief looks like.

The patchy moustache holds out some cash, but I don’t take it.  Instead, I lean on the counter and look straight at the thief. My eyebrows draw together, and my nostrils flare.

‘Hey mate… planning on paying for that?’

He turns red and looks down at his hoodie.

‘Oh… uh… yeah. S-sorry, I totally forgot about it.’

He puts a cheap bottle of red on the counter along with the other grog.

 

*

 

Bing bong.

It’s five minutes until closing when the same dishevelled man from earlier stumbles back through the front door and sways over to the spirits. He picks up a bottle, looks at it without really seeing it, then puts it back down, too close to the edge of the shelf. He repeats this process as he makes his way up the aisle, every few bottles looking over at me with pupils that seem to be even smaller than before. I tap my fingers on the counter. This isn’t looking good for me. Peering over in my direction again, his gaze flicks down. I follow it until I realise I’m looking at the till.  Great. My heart begins to thump, throwing itself against my chest as though it can make a break for it. Sucking in a breath, I glance at the door on the other side of the room and then back at the guy perusing the spirits. Who designed this goddamn trap?  Someone who obviously couldn’t be bothered to think about providing future employees with an easy escape route. Dick.

Christ, where did my boss say the panic alarm was? I can picture Dave’s round bearded face smiling up at me, welcoming me to the shop. I remember him telling me about the staff discount, but nothing else springs to mind. I really should have been paying more attention. Now I’m stuck in the shop with this dodgy bloke eyeing the till and a panic button whose location I don’t know.

I think about calling the cops. He hasn’t made a move yet, but the longer he stays here, the more the knot in my stomach tightens and bile rises in my throat. When I put my hand into my pocket and feel nothing but a few empty gum wrappers, I remember that my phone isn’t here. I left it at TAFE this morning. Bloody hell. I was so tired that when it was time to leave I left my bag in the locker.

I reach for the landline on the counter only to see the fluoro pink post-it note stuck on top. It’s broken and won’t be fixed until Friday. While I go through my options, I watch the man continue his way around the shelves. Maybe he won’t try anything. My heart continues to pound in my chest. Trying to get out and save itself while leaving the rest of me to deal with the situation at hand. Maybe he will leave like he did earlier, although, now that I think about it, that could have been him casing the joint.

Bing bong. 

We both look over at the door as Mrs Foster enters. She doesn’t seem to notice the man standing a few metres away from her.

‘Jay, I got home and decided that I might as well buy a sherry too, just in case of emergencies.’  She winks as she walks down the aisle towards me. I glance at the man who has now turned and is facing us.

‘Sure thing Mrs Foster.’

The sherry is on the shelf half way between us. I edge around the counter and try to calmly make my way towards the bottles. He hasn’t changed his position; he just continues to stare at me. His dirt covered hand moves near his side, and I see a flash of silver. Yep, pretty sure that’s a knife. I grab the bottle closest to me then head back to the counter in an awkward side shuffle, ensuring that my back is never turned to him. I place the bottle on the counter and notice that Mrs Foster has begun to open her purse to pull out more coin shrapnel.

‘This one is on the house, Mrs Foster.’

‘Oh no, I can’t possibly take it for free, it’s-’

‘Please just take it.’

‘No, that wouldn’t be right.’

‘For Christ’s sake just take the bloody bottle!’ I shout, shoving it across the counter and into her hands.

Her eyes open wide and her mouth quivers. I’ve never been anything but pleasant with her before, but if that was a knife, she needs to get out of here before the shit show begins. As I walk to her on shaking legs, preparing to shoo her out of here, the man takes a few steps forward. I freeze, not sure what my next move should be. He is looking at the ring on the chain around Mrs Foster’s neck and raising his hand, which I can now clearly see is holding a knife.

‘Gimme the riiing,’ he slurs as he lurches forward.

Mrs Foster stumbles back into me. I can feel her body quaking against mine.  She’s so small that the top of her head barely reaches my chest. Her hand wraps around the ring, and she shrinks back from the knife-wielding nut job in front of her.

‘I said gimme the ring.’

‘No! Eddie gave this to me fifty years ago. I’m not giving it to you.’

‘I don’t give a fuck about this Eddie bloke. Gimme the goddamn ring,’ his attention shifts from Mrs Foster up to me, ‘and you, gimme the cash!’

My big hands become useless, causing me to fumble with the till. I’m basically swatting at the register and hoping that it will open. Jesus Christ! Finally, the drawer dings open and I grab all of the notes, shoving them into a brown paper bottle bag. When that’s done, I grab a handful of coins, then look at the knife-wielding fiend.

‘Uhhh, did umm… you want the coins as well?’

He stares at me for a few moments as though weighing up whether or not it would be a good idea.

‘Nah, too much hassle. Just the notes and the ring.’

‘Look m-mate, it’s her engagement ring given to her by her dead husband. I can get you a Hennessy Cognac from the special liquor cabinet. That one’s worth about three and a half grand. Probably more valuable than that ring.’

The longer he is here, the more sober he appears which is frightening in its own way. His thick brows pull down to meet the creases in between his eyes. I hold my breath as I wait for his answer.

‘And how will I make any money from that? I don’t know anyone in the market for a fancy bottle of grog, but I know plenty of blokes who’d fork out for a nice piece of jewellery. Now stop pissing about and hand it over, you stubborn old bitch.’

I look at Mrs Foster and see her jaw tighten and her eyes narrow. No one’s coming to help us and Mrs Foster isn’t going to back down. I round the counter and push Mrs Foster aside, barging into the intruder. Having not fully come down off his high he is still unsteady on his feet, and he falls backward onto the wooden floor. His free hand latches onto the front of my polyester shirt, taking me down with him. I wriggle and pin down the arm with the knife, but he’s strong, despite his unhealthy appearance. We roll on the ground. He tries to stab me while I avoid the blade and try to hold off the arm attached to the knife. Every breath burns my lungs, and my arms ache as I try to wrestle the knife from his grasp. The man’s struggling begins to weaken and I let my gaze drop to the knife.

THWACK.

I rear back and place my hands on my forehead. The fucker head butted me!  The pain in my head feels like my skull has been cracked. A hard ache radiates from the point of impact to the base of my head. I try to stop focusing on the pain remembering that the bastard has a knife. He’s coming at me with it now. With one hand still clutching my head, I scramble backwards until my shoulders hit the counter. He’s still advancing on me, and there isn’t anywhere else for me to go. I close my eyes and wait for the inevitable.

CRACK.

I hear a hard smack and open my eyes to figure out what has happened. Through bleary vision my watery eyes, I see Mrs Foster standing over the two of us, her bottle of sherry raised and fire in her eyes. She kicks aside the knife in the man’s limp hand. My heart continues to race as my aching head tries to take in the scene before me.

‘I’ll take up that offer of a freebie Jay.’

 

 

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Giving Up Glamour: The Magic and Mayhem of Ice Addiction, Angus Dalton

 

Nevermore

 

Will and I walk along the gutter after a summer party gone dull, our bare feet dodging redback webs and shards of glass catching streetlight. An almost empty bottle of vodka swings between us. My hair reeks of chlorine. Will had shoved me into the pool after I swatted a lit fag from his mouth; he’d never have wanted one sober.

He broke the silence. ‘Do you remember that book I lent you?’

‘Book?’

Tithe or some shit.’

I did remember – a black hardback inlaid with a metallic-green butterfly. He’d lent me his copy years ago when we became friends in early high school. I’d never given it back. My slowly sobering brain reached for past imaginings sparked by Tithe’s pages – like remembering a dream with the texture of paper. I get flashes of a girl scorching the underside of a teaspoon with a match, melting a substance the colour of earwax. She draws it up into a syringe and pushes the steel into the inside of her elbow. As a line of beaded blood trails down to her wrist the dark around her manifests into shapes: ogres with hulking muscles, fae wielding swords, changelings with manic faces.

The book is a suburban fantasy novel by Holly Black about a girl named Val who discovers an underworld of fae living in the train tunnels and abandoned spaces of her New Jersey neighbourhood. Humans can access to this faery world – and are afforded the use of magic – under the influence of a drug called Nevermore. Once injected, the human characters become aware of sweet voices drifting out of drains and snarling beasts that skulk in train tunnels. Plumes of coloured light spew from fingertips and ignite alleyways. This magic is called Glamour.

I’m about to tell Will that I do remember the book, it’s at home gathering dust, but he says:

‘I think one day I’ll be an addict.’

‘What?’

‘Yeah. Get on the hard shit. I feel like I have that personality. That it’s inevitable.’

We walk past patches of pale grass guarded by mailboxes printed with NO JUNK MAIL. I run up to one and cover the last word with a finger.

‘Hey,’ I gesture to the sign, grinning. ‘No junk. Okay?’

He doesn’t smile.

When we’re almost at his house he lobs the vodka bottle against a garage wall. He turns around, hugs my stunned frame, and leaps through the open window of his bedroom. He draws the blind behind him. The road is scattered with wet crystals.

That was four years ago. We lost contact soon after.

I wish I had taken that post-midnight conversation more seriously. I thought it was post-HSC anxiety, a brief flash of existentialism in the haze between school and uni. But it proved to be more. The last I heard, Will had moved to Bathurst, and was dealing ice.

In his memoir, The Ice Age, Luke Williams describes a similar conversation he had with his best friend during high school who was comparably disenfranchised with school and the society she was growing up in. At 3am by the fireplace, she said: ‘I don’t really have an identity – I’m not really anyone … I am thinking about becoming like a junkie – it makes you somebody.’ [i] (66)

Almost a decade later, she was regularly taking ice, and Luke moved in with her and some other addicts in Pakenham, an outer suburb of Melbourne, for a journalistic investigation into methamphetamine addiction. But he became addicted himself. The process of becoming hooked on crystal meth and the resulting psychosis and aggression he experienced are all detailed in his memoir. He sees addiction not as a result of one bad decision, but rather a result of a troubled past, and a symptom of his dissatisfaction with suburban living. He writes:

‘It is an anti-anxiety drug in the age of anxiety: a depression-busting, awe-inspiring chemical that brings a tribe, adventure, and excitement to an often monotonous, uneventful suburban life.’ (25)

Reading Tithe was one of the ways I escaped the brain-rot of suburban school holidays. The premise of a gritty faery underworld lurking in the shadows of construction sites and sleepy newsagents was impossible to resist. But I think what appealed to Will about the story is the fact that there is no ‘Chosen One’; no hero elected by fate or by some inheritance of magic from an ancient bloodline – anyone could be fantastical. All they had to do was make a small tear in their veins and let the magic in. Luke writes:

‘I hate rules and limitations, such as the fact that humans don’t live forever, don’t have wings and can’t fly, and I can’t deny that a syringe full of meth brings me pretty close to flying and feeling immortal.’ (33)

Fascinated with his story, I found Luke’s contact email and sent him a tentative string of questions about how and why he got addicted. He wrote back within the hour.

‘I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to change your consciousness,’ he wrote. ‘But my advice would be: don’t do it with crystal meth. It is too addictive – you often very quickly confuse reality with fantasy.’

 

Soon We’ll All Be Brilliant

 

‘I think there’s too much clandestine glamour attaching to drugs just now,’ said Ted Noffs in a grainy Four Corners episode from the mid-1960s as he opened Wayside Chapel, one of the first community centres to respond with empathy to drug addiction. ‘I believe that by bringing the issue of drugs out into the open a lot of the glamour will disappear.’[ii]

Noffs’ efforts were valiant in a time where the Church looked disdainfully at his attempts to provide counselling services to the addicts of Kings Cross. But 50 years later, the perceived glamour of drug taking remains. Luke tells me, ‘There are many different reasons why people take drugs – glamour is one of them. I am surprised how interesting people find me because I was a druggo – my goodness, if I had of known all I needed to go was use needles and have psychotic episodes to get people to read my work I would have made it all public a decade ago.’

One of the first incarnations of amphetamine was accidentally boiled up in 1887 by a Romanian chemist who was trying to synthesise fabric dyes. When the chemical arrived in Australia three decades later, it was sold freely on pharmacy shelves. From the 1930s-50s, amphetamine was the most popular anti-depressant in the world.

Australian newspapers touted the chemical, then marketed as Benzedrine, as ‘The Drug that Will Banish Shyness’[iii]. An article appeared in a 1937 issue of The Mail in Adelaide with the headline, ‘Soon We’ll All Brilliant’[iv], reporting that the drug increased confidence, initiative, and articulation. After waxing lyrical about the reported benefits of Benzedrine, it finishes abruptly with: ‘The danger of addiction is stressed.’

After reports of people taking over 200 tablets per day and an epidemic of pharmacy robberies throughout Australia in the late 1940s, distribution of Benzedrine was restricted to prescription, and then finally made illegal worldwide by the UN’s Psychotropic Substances Act in 1976. In city clubs, partygoers started taking Benzedrine, now rebranded as ‘speed’ on the black market. Increasingly pure versions of amphetamine began circulating worldwide, until, in 2011, its purest known form arrived on Australian shores in the form of the crystallised methamphetamine – ‘ice.’

When Luke moved in with his mates, he thought he’d be reporting on the powdered meth he’d partied on in previous years – he’d even planned to take some. But he didn’t realise a far more potent version had infiltrated the suburbs.

‘Crystallised meth is totally different – you are awake for days at a time and often go psychotic – I was pretty much hooked from the get-go. I didn’t realise I was taking crystal meth until after I moved out of the house and started talking to researchers,’ he says.

Taking ice inflates your ego to its highest point, into a state that Luke describes as ‘fantasia’.

‘Crystal meth is a very ugly, atomising, ego-maniacal drug that gives a false sense of achievement leading to a sense of personal superiority and sometimes psychotic delusions of grandeur,’ explains Luke.

The hyper-charged ego boost that characterises a meth high is the result of a dopamine spike a thousand times stronger than a naturally induced rush. Despite that we’re a society increasingly disassociated from the natural world, we’re still at the mercy of a force that has driven every organism since the first cell split 3.5 billion years ago: the manic urge to survive and reproduce.

But we’re evolution gone haywire. Where our ancestors fought fang and claw for calorie-high foodstuffs, we line up in a drive-thru, bark orders into a speaker, and a minute later, a huge dosage of salt and sugar drops into our laps. Macca’s is a juggernaut simply because it has tapped into our basic biological desire for high-calorie foods. The rest of the animal kingdom battle, perform and kill for sex, but a potential partner for us is as close as the swipe of a finger. The reason we spend hours curating Instagram feeds and Facebook profiles has a similarly biological basis. As social creatures, the more people we surround ourselves with, the greater access we have to resources and safety and the more protection we have for our offspring – #safetyinnumbers. Social media tricks us into thinking that we’re part of a huge group, which is why a phone vibration can trigger a jolt of excitement – it makes us feel as if we’re increasing our chances of ‘survival’.

The dopamine-fuelled motivation to chase evolutionary success still churns away in our brains and through our bloodstreams, even if it’s been rendered superfluous by our hyper-successful civilisation. An upsurge of dopamine is the most raw, animalistic and biologically vital feeling we have access to. It is this feeling that is unleashed by an injection or lungful of crystal methamphetamine.

Is the ‘war on drugs’, then, a vain fight against the primordial impulses of evolution?

 

Scare Tactics

 

Luke’s answer to the question of how we should tackle widespread meth addiction is curt: decriminalisation.

It’s a conclusion that’s hard to stomach after you read about the violence that ice users are capable of, and the manic throes of psychosis Luke found himself at the mercy of during his time as an addict. One of the hardest parts of writing The Ice Age was picking through the flaky tatters of memory left over from his bizarre psychotic episodes.

‘There was a weird subtext of men – including myself – becoming sexually obsessed with adolescences when we were on the drug and this collided with the fact I began having psychotic episodes believing the local Coffee Club was operating a paedophile ring in town (possibly an expression of my own guilt). So much of that was left out, because it was all just too confusing.’

Around a quarter of ice users come to suffer from methamphetamine-induced psychosis, which can involve intense paranoia and hallucinations. As Luke succumbed to psychosis, he became convinced that his parents had paid his friends to murder him by slipping small doses of cyanide into his food.

When the dopamine begins to ebb away after a meth high, an abnormal amount of adrenaline lingers in the blood. This, paired with psychosis, can result in astonishing violence.

One case involved the murder of an 18-year-old girl in Ultimo, Sydney[v]. The coroner who examined her smashed ribs and the torn tissue of her heart made the initial conclusion that she had been involved in a high-speed car crash. But the injuries were actually administered by her boyfriend’s bare hands. He was high on crystal meth at the time of the attack.

However, the evocation of the ice-user as a violent ‘monster’ has become a stereotype, to the detriment of the addicts, the victims of violence, and the fight to reclaim regional towns from crystal meth as a whole. The anti-ice ad[vi] currently circulating in movie cinemas and on YouTube features a haggard man elbowing his mother in the face after he robs her, a girl crying on her bed and digging bloody craters out of her skin with her fingernails, and a man head-butting a doctor and hurling a chair at a screaming receptionist before being tackled by two policemen. Similarly, the first hit you get on Google if you search ‘crystal meth’ is the website drugfreeworld.org[vii]. A colour-leached video plays, showing a pale, snarling young man raise a gun at a convenience store worker.

These advertisements are obviously using scare tactics to discourage potential users, but for regular users and people already dependent on crystal methamphetamine – of which there are over 286,000 in Australia[viii] – who are portrayed in this way, the result is alienating and reductive. How can you speak out and search for help if you’re portrayed as a monster?

The installation of a supervised ice-smoking room in Liverpool has been met with outrage and petitions from local residents worried about a spike in violence[ix]. What could be a progressive step forward in increasing user safety is being blockaded because of the alarm these media campaigns proliferate.

Luke says that this ice-smoking room and its staff would’ve actually seen a reduction in ice-fuelled violence, as the people who staff institutions of the sort are trained specifically to deal with drug users.

‘There is so much violence in hospitals by ice users because public hospital staff offer no empathy, no patience and very little understanding of what it means to be in a drug-induced psychosis,’ he says. ‘I have on occasions been into hospitals and actually had nurses antagonise me while I was on drugs – it’s bloody disgusting.’

Prior to reading Luke’s book and our back-and-forth email conversation – during which he was courteous, thorough and courageous with his answers – whenever I thought of Will, I cast him in one of those bleached anti-ice ads. In my mind his eyes were underscored with grit and purple circles, dead skin lodged under fingernails, split knuckles, teeth the colour of Tithe’s ageing pages. In my dreams, he wandered alone in streetlight flinging bottles at walls, watching the glass scatter. What if he was caught dealing – was he now pressed against the cold concrete of a cell writhing against the venom of withdrawals?

Now my imaginings are far less dramatic. Will is not a monster. Nor is Luke. We know that humanity reacts with violence and fear towards things we don’t understand – perhaps another undesirable leftover from our evolutionary instincts – but the greatest leaps forward in terms of human rights are propelled by empathy.

I can’t remember if the characters in Tithe ever manage to untie themselves from the addictive tendrils of Nevermore, or if they ever overcome their lust for Glamour. I pick up Will’s copy from my bookshelf. Mould scatters the cover like track marks. Its pages bloom with fading yellow bruises and the butterfly is decaying in lustrous flakes. I go to read the last page. Then, I stop. I turn to page one and curl up beside a window that looks out over the streetlights hovering in a grid above my suburb.

To understand the end again, I must start from the beginning.

 

Works Cited:

[i]Williams, Luke. The Ice Age: A journey into crystal meth addiction. Melbourne: Scribe Publishing, 2016. Print.

[ii]Four Corners. Facebook. 7. Sept. https://www.facebook.com/abc4corners/videos/vl.335220750154562/10153920129330954/?type=1. Accessed 08/09/16.

[iii]Author Unknown. ‘New Drug Will Banish Shyness’. Border Watch (Mount Gambier, SA : 1861 – 1954) 4 August 1936, pp.6. Web. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article77934134. Accessed 10/10/16.

[iv]Author Unknown. ‘Soon We’ll All Be Brilliant’. The Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 – 1954) 15 May 1937, pp.2. Web. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article55930408. Accessed 10/10/ 16.

[v]Meddows, David. ‘Sean King bashed teen girlfriend so violently she looked like a car crash victim’. The Daily Telegraph. 9 December 2015: Web. http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/special-features/in-depth/ice-addict-killers-sean-king-blames-the-toxic-drug-for-brutal-bashing-murder-of-jazminjean-ajbschitz/news-story/eb97687dcb45a6e7e958ab4264558c2c. Accessed 09/09/16.

[vi] ‘Ice destroys lives Australia Government Commercial 2015 HD’ Youtube, uploaded by Commercials HD: Abantec, 15 May 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfB3iK9jQ_I. Accessed 15/08/16.

[vii] ‘Crystal Meth’ Foundation for a Drug-Free World, 2006-2016, http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/crystalmeth.html Accessed 15/08/16.

[viii]Degenhardt L; Larney S; Chan G; Dobbins T; Weier M; Roxburgh A; Hall WD; McKetin R, 2016, ‘Estimating the number of regular and dependent methamphetamine users in Australia, 2002-2014′, The Medical journal of Australia, vol. 204, pp. 153. Print.

[ix] Metherell, Lexi. ‘Liverpool community members express unease with plans for Australia’s first ice inhalation room’. ABC News. 24 August 2016. Web. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-24/liverpool-community-uneasy-with-plans-for-ice-inhalation-room/7780070 Accessed 10/09/16.

Black, Holly. Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002. Print.

 

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The Golden Mile in Sticky Shoes, Victoria Marin

It was a mild September night as I walked from Kings Cross station toward Victoria Street. There were people who really ought to be wearing a jacket, lining Darlinghurst Road handing us coupons for their venues. Free drink! Free entry! Each one seemed just as enticing as the next to a young crowd starting out the night. I was with a group of friends – it was my first time in Kings Cross – and I felt reassured by safety in numbers. Young people flooded the area as we headed down Bayswater Road, congregating in packs as though marking their territory. With arms slung over each other, groups of mates stumbled around to their next party stop. Perhaps it is my own lack of interest in getting intoxicated beyond recognition, but the volatility of nightlife in Kings Cross made me feel uneasy. Growing up watching news segments that showed the worst of the Cross’ nightlife put me on edge. I knew it could change from pushes and shoves to punches being thrown in the blink of an eye.

Still onwards I went, following the leaders to World Bar. A popular venue where they sell shots of vodka that taste like Skittles. It was the overwhelming smell of tobacco that hit me first. Shuffling through the narrow gaps in the crowd to get inside, the soles of my shoes stuck to the floor with each step. With two drinks for the price of one in each hand, we wondered around looking for a table. What a prize to find a table. They are few and far between in any venue. Spare stools were lying around which we slowly accumulated until all four of us were comfortably seated…more or less. By the time I went back for a second round of drinks the atmosphere had shifted towards the sloppy end of intoxication. This was only the beginning.

 

*

 

In 2001, when Kings Cross was in its golden age where bars, pubs, and brothels kept their candles burning well into the early hours of the morning. Helen and Arthur – my aunt and uncle – started up an Italian pizzeria on Victoria Street. It was previously owned by family friends who had decided to move back to Argentina. My aunt says at the time there were ‘half as many restaurants on Victoria Street.’[i] At first the restaurant was nothing but a shell. The sour smell of fresh insect poison stung my eyes. The kitchen was tucked away behind the front counter, concealing huge steel ovens and benches that still had their plastic labels on them. The dining room had been cleared out to polish the tiles. Delivered tables and chairs sat stacked outside. My cousins sat in the upstairs dining room polishing cutlery. The sun had just begun bowing its head for the day, leaving polluted rays to light the street which was preparing itself for another big night. Above the restaurant was a small apartment that my aunt and uncle began renting in 2003. After their nightly dinner service they would retire upstairs to their apartment. Being so close to the main road, they watched nights disappear into mornings where people eventually stumbled their way home. My aunt says she remembers that from around 2010 onwards, more and more young girls were getting themselves into strife. She and my uncle have witnessed some horror stories, she says; watching young girls struggling to stay upright, and even restraining a young woman whom they presumed was high on something, from attacking their dinner guests. Christie, their daughter, was 21 at the time and just beginning to venture into the Kings Cross nightlife scene. She recalls the queues for nightclubs – Hugo’s in particular – wound all the way down the street and around the corner. Despite being completely ‘packed,’[ii] and ‘messy,’[iii] there was a distinct ‘community feel,’[iv] she says, but that deteriorated quite quickly in the following years.

 

*

 

By round three, I was a little cloudy. My fingers were numb, my tongue wasn’t working properly and it had gotten very warm. Perched on my stool, I recall thinking that people were really enjoying themselves, maybe even a bit too much.

The scene began in the 1920s when the residential landscape began to shift. New apartment buildings were being constructed across the Kings Cross precinct in Darlinghurst, Woolloomooloo, Potts Point, and Elizabeth Bay. They replaced the existing boarding houses and residential chambers that had largely occupied the area. With the rising number of residents in the area, the commercial sector began shifting too. Kings Cross was a becoming a Bohemian place, not just in its new living style but also in its food and entertainment. Bars, restaurants and cafes were the platform for the emerging atmosphere; where artists, writers and musicians began crafting the scene. Murals sprung up on the sides of buildings, both local and international bands and musicians made regular appearances. The Australian poet Kenneth Slessor based much of his poetry on life in Kings Cross during the 1920s, when its seedier, more dangerous side began to emerge. In the journal article Home in 1923, Slessor wrote that Kings Cross ‘is a chasm, echoing with romance and adventure – and hidden drunks.’[v] There has always been something about these streets that make Kings Cross so alluring. Anne Summers, a long-time resident and author wrote that ‘the romance of the place is that it embodies the tougher, edgier side of life.’[vi]

The 1920s brewed an illicit trade of razor-gangs and thuggery in a violent territorial war. Assaults and shootings were all the more frequent. An Australian drama series, Underbelly: Razor that aired in 2011 documented the crimes in the underworld of Kings Cross; from notorious brothel owners, to assassins and corrupt police officers. The show had massive success and was ranked ‘the highest ever drama to have screened,’[vii] in Australia since 2001. While the troubles of the 1920s soon dissipated after countless Royal Commissions, there remained an undercurrent of criminal intent well into the new millennium. Between the late 1980s and the early 2000s, another bout of organised crime surfaced where corrupt police officers and prominent night-club owners were caught drug dealing and organising prostitution. The ‘King of the Cross’, John Ibrahim, was a leading figure in this new era. The Underbelly franchise capitalised on his reputation in another series, Underbelly: the Golden Mile,which traced the 1995 Woods Royal Commission into drug and prostitution crimes. He would frequent the Cross, enough for my aunt and uncle to see him ‘hanging around with his mob’[viii] on their way to Coles. Christie comments that she once saw him pull up in front of Show Girls to pick up his money shortly before leaving. ‘It was like a movie.’[ix]

 

*

 

From this cultural landscape came a series of events that forever changed nightlife in Kings Cross and most of wider Sydney. On my way home from my first night out in Kings Cross, even in my haze, I watched security guards throw young men out of the venue and quite literally shut the doors in their face. It seems I turned 18 during one of the most violent times in Sydney’s nightlife history. Kings Cross was a place that got wild even on a school night. Anne Summers describes it as a ‘place of risk, full of gamblers who seldom win much and who often lose everything, including their lives.’[x]

In July of 2012, a young couple were heading out for a birthday on Victoria Street. It would later be revealed that the young woman was apprehensive about heading into the Cross that night. One random and unprovoked punch from a violent man was enough to fatally injure her partner. It was early in the night, just after 10pm when the incident happened. At the time I was 17. It’s hard to forget the shock of such vicious attacks at that age. The name, Thomas Kelly, still strikes a very sensitive chord.

Similar fatalities were occurring around Sydney. In an interview with Gordian Fulde, the head of the emergency ward at St Vincent’s Hospital in Kings Cross, he described the scene in the emergency ward during this period as ‘really busy,’[xi] and the longer people were out the busier it got. Generally speaking, 10pm onwards saw young girls, typically in their 20s, come in who had ‘drunk too much on an empty stomach.’[xii] Midnight onwards brought in testosterone fuelled young men, whose bodies were toxic with alcohol.

In March of 2014, the NSW government introduced alcohol laws to Sydney’s CBD, in an attempt to ‘crackdown on drug and alcohol-fuelled violence.’[xiii] These laws had been used in other parts of NSW. In 2008, Newcastle experienced ‘something of an element of the Wild West.’[xiv] Young people would pre-load on alcohol before heading into the city and nightclubs, where they would be topping up until all hours of the morning. When they were eventually asked to leave, violence broke out on the streets. It was called the ‘Newcastle experiment.’[xv] The Newcastle coalition ‘scaled trading hours back to 3am in the CBD and instituted a lockout that prevented patrons entering licensed venues after 1am.’[xvi] Much like Sydney, assault rates dropped and violence in the CBD had considerably reduced.

In the eight years since, these laws have become known as the ‘Newcastle solution.’[xvii] In Sydney the effects seem to have succeeded in keeping patrons safe and reducing violence in venues and on the street. The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research ‘found that the reforms were associated with an immediate and substantial reduction in assault in Kings Cross (down 32%) and a less immediate but substantial and perhaps ongoing reduction in the Sydney CBD (down 26%).’[xviii] Fulde says the scene on the footpaths of Kings Cross was the first positive change following the lockout laws. ‘They are safe now,’[xix] he says. Reports gathered by the emergency department at St Vincent’s hospital showed a ‘25% decrease in the most critically injured patients coming in over the weekend,’[xx] which Fulde calls ‘high alcohol time.’[xxi] There are few worthy arguments against a policy that ensures fewer lives are lost, however like every political decision, it has its opposition…

 

By February of 2016 it stood at 16 licensed venues had shut down in Kings Cross since the 2014 lockout laws. The loss of local businesses has had ramifications on trade, employment, and culture. NSW Premier, Mike Baird, describes opposition to the laws as ‘growing hysteria.’[xxii] When the popular nightclub Hugo’s closed its doors, in August of 2015 something of a panic swelled among protestors, with signs reading ‘locked out of venues = locked out from jobs,’[xxiii] Kings Cross businesses are going as far as seeking compensation for the impact the new laws have had. ‘The streets became bare,’[xxiv] my aunt says. Victoria Street had developed into a bar and restaurant metropolis on its own. It was only in May of 2015 when they arranged their liquor license. Prior to that they had been operating as a BYO business. People would just ‘walk out,’[xxv] because venues that sold alcohol were what patrons were looking for. Already tough times were made tougher.

On the 31st of May 2016 my aunt and uncle closed their restaurant. While my aunt says it wasn’t a ‘direct decision’[xxvi] to close after the lockout laws, the downturn was obvious. ‘It wasn’t going to get better.’[xxvii]

Businesses all over the Kings Cross precinct have felt the slow burn of a culture being locked out. The decrease in patronage, particularly of the male variety, has hit the brothel industry hard. Kellet Street, once full of brothels, has seen several adult establishments shut their doors. There are simply not enough young men to make a profit anymore. The new owner of number 16 Kellet Street, formerly known as Cleopatra in the City, ‘plans to turn the space into a licensed boarding house,’[xxviii] transforming it back to what Kings Cross was once known for. Plans for redevelopment of sold-off brothels include high-rise apartment buildings, more boarding houses, and bars and restaurants. Kings Cross was always a modern place. It makes sense, but the thought of knocking these historical buildings down to build more high-rises is depressing. Victoria Street has always been home to bars and restaurants as opposed to nightclubs and brothels, some lasting longer than others. My aunt says ‘the true picture comes from seeing every second shop on Darlinghurst Road with a for lease sign.’[xxix]

 

*

 

Newcastle is now a thriving coastal destination with a nightlife to match. Commissioner of the Newcastle lockouts, Tony Brown, revealed that ‘there has been a 100% increase in the number of licensed premises, which has led to more jobs.’[xxx] In Los Angeles nightclubs close for good at 2am. While my cousin is cradling her first baby boy she says ‘where don’t you see the odd fight? In a mass of nightclubs in the space of a few meters you’re bound to encounter violence.’ She kisses her son and smiles ‘But he isn’t allowed out.’[xxxi] The Coca-Cola sign that dominates the Cross is the last remaining survivor of Sydney’s most iconic suburb. Its flashing red light is about the only red light left in the district. ‘We never thought this is how it would end,’[xxxii] my aunt says.

Lockout laws have now been part of my nightlife experience longer than they haven’t. The trend for young people now is to head to the lockout-free areas of Sydney; Newtown and Surry Hills precincts. Gordian Fulde reveals the local hospital in these areas, Royal Prince Alfred hospital, have seen a decrease in alcohol-related injuries. This may signal part of a cultural change.

Perhaps these laws are doing more than we think? Despite their unpopularity, the laws did their job in reducing alcohol-related injuries and deaths. It’s difficult to think of a good enough rebuttal to that result. It is a great shame it had to play out as fatally, and as abruptly as it did; that we couldn’t see this problem coming sooner, or chose to turn a blind eye and have another drink instead. Not just in the loss of life, but in the loss of a family business, and others alike; that held birthdays, graduations, and baby showers over the years. Perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves now is why people need to be heavily drinking past 3am and why they are violent when they do…

 

 

 

Works Cited

[i] Lanza, Helen. Personal interview. 2 October 2016.

[ii] Lanza, Christie. Personal interview. 2 October 2016.

[iii] Ibid, p 2.

[iv] Ibid, p 2.

[v] Dunn, Mark. ‘Kings Cross.’ Kings Cross. Dictionary of Sydney. 2011. Web. <http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/kings_cross>

[vi] Summers, Anne. ‘In the Gutter … Looking at the Stars. A Literary Adventure Through Kings Cross (Edited by Mandy Sayer and Louis Nowra).’ Preface. In the Gutter … Looking at the Stars. A Literary Adventure Through Kings Cross Anne Summers. Web. <http://www.annesummers.com.au/speeches/in-the-gutter-looking-at-the-stars-a-literary-adventure-through-kings-cross-edited-by-mandy-sayer-and-louis-nowra/>

[vii] Channel Nine. ‘Underbelly: Razor Sets New Ratings Record.’ Web blog post. Underbelly: Razor Set New Rating Record – Throng. Throng, 30 August 2011. Web. http://www.throng.com.au/2011/08/underbelly-razor-sets-new-ratings-records/

[viii] Lanza, Christie. Personal interview. 2 October 2016.

[ix] Ibid, p4.

[x] Summers, Anne. ‘In the Gutter … Looking at the Stars. A Literary Adventure Through Kings Cross (Edited by Mandy Sayer and Louis Nowra).’ Preface. In the Gutter … Looking at the Stars. A Literary Adventure Through Kings Cross Anne Summers. Web. <http://www.annesummers.com.au/speeches/in-the-gutter-looking-at-the-stars-a-literary-adventure-through-kings-cross-edited-by-mandy-sayer-and-louis-nowra/>

[xi] Fulde, Prof Gordian. Phone interview. 2 October 2016.

[xii] Ibid, p4.

[xiii] NSW Government. ‘New Alcohol Laws in Place │Sydney’s alcohol laws.’ New South Wales Government. 2016. Web. <http://www.nsw.gov.au/newlaws>

[xiv] Stephens, Kim. ‘Lockout laws: How Newcastle stopped the bloodshed.’ Brisbane Times. 10 January 2016. Web. <http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/lockout-laws-how-newcastle-stopped-the-bloodshed-20160109-gm2lfg.html>

[xv] Ibid, p 5.

[xvi] Ibid, p 5.

[xvii] Ibid, p 5.

[xviii] Weatherburn, Dr. Don. ‘Media Release: “Lockout” law evaluation.’ NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research. 16 April 2015. Web. <http://www.bocsar.nsw.gov.au/Pages/bocsar_media_releases/2015/mr_cjb183.aspx>

[xix] Fulde, Prof Gordian. Phone interview. 2 October 2016.

[xx] ABC News. ‘Alcohol-related injuries down at St Vincent’s Hospital since Kings Cross lockout laws introduced.’ Australian Broadcasting Corporation News. 2 November 2015. Web. <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-02/alcohol-related-injuries-down-since-kings-cross-lockout-laws/6904450>

[xxi] Fulde, Prof Gordian. Phone interview. 2 October 2016.

[xxii] McKeith, Sam. ‘Sydney Lockout Laws Have Had A ‘Massive Effect’ On Community, Jobs.’ The Huffington Post. 13 February 2016. Web. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/02/13/sydney-lockout-laws-have-had-a-massive-effect-on-community-jo/>

[xxiii] Dumas, Daisy. ‘Kings Cross businesses seek compensation for impact of lockout laws.’ The Sydney Morning Herald. 7 August 2015. Web. <http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/kings-cross-businesses-seek-compensation-for-impact-of-lockout-laws-20150806-git5gh.html>

[xxiv] Lanza, Helen. Personal interview. 2 October 2016.

[xxv] Ibid, p 5.

[xxvi] Ibid, p 6.

[xxvii] Ibid, p 6.

[xxviii] Gorman, James. CENtRAL. ‘”People don’t come to Kings Cross for sex”: Lockout laws killing off famed red light district.’ The Daily Telegraph. 15 April 2015. Web. <http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/newslocal/city-east/people-dont-come-to-kings-cross-for-sex-lockout-laws-killing-off-famed-red-light-district/news-story/801c558035d74b393a6780218fe9ad54>

[xxix] Lanza, Helen. Personal interview. 2 October 2016.

[xxx] Stephens, Kim. ‘Lockout laws: How Newcastle stopped the bloodshed.’ Brisbane Times. 10 January 2016. Web. <http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/lockout-laws-how-newcastle-stopped-the-bloodshed-20160109-gm2lfg.html>

[xxxi] Lanza, Christie. Personal interview. 2 October 2016.

[xxxii] Lanza, Helen. Personal interview. 2 October 2016.

 

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Self-Extinction – Emerson Cassidy


FADE IN:

EXT. DESERT – ASTRONOMICAL DAWN                           1

An open, dry desert plain. Small, dry shrubs that cling to the ground make up the only life in sight. It is dawn and the sky is just beginning to lighten. Stars disappear from the horizon as the faint, glistening light of the sun slowly creeps into the sky. Apart from a soft whistle of wind as it races across the plains, not a sound can be heard. We see an abandoned gas station. Rusted old cars and fuel tanks decorate the scene.

BRIAN, mid-twenties, male, lean physic. He is dressed in a cloak with black goggles and gloves as he looks at the desert.

 

BRIAN (V.O.)

Immortality is a joke… When you’re alone in a ruined world.

 We see broken bottles, food cans, keys and a smashed iPhone. An old newspaper titled “Our end has come!” flicks open in the breeze.

BRIAN (V.O.)

Hunted by what remains.

 

CRUNCH. A boot appears, crushing the iPhone.

UNKNOWN POV

 

The surrounding landscape whips past as the unknown POV leaps over rocks and vaults over the gas pump outside the station. Heavy huffing can be heard. The unknown POV leaps several meters into the air. The surrounding landscape whips past.

 

SPFX: Brian turns to face the pursuer and sees a beast!

 

Standing on four feet. It is armoured, with crimson eyes that shine. A growl cuts through the silence and we see Brian sail through the air, towards a rocky canyon.

Brian lands hard on the floor of the rocky canyon.

Effortlessly, Brian stands, feet firmly planted at shoulders width apart. The beast lands in front of Brian and charges. Brian punches towards the oncoming beast.

FLASH. A brilliant blue light erupts from Brian, whiting everything out with light. The beast shrieks in pain and white noise blankets everything.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT – ROCK LABYRINTH – NAUTICAL DAWN              2

Brian stands in the middle of the rocky labyrinth. Open ground, with tall rocky walls either side surround unsettled dust. The sky can just be seen past the limestone walls. Brian is alone, bent over one knee and facing the labyrinth’s exit – a tall, blue-sky passageway squished between rocky walls. Growls come from the distance. Brian looks up, eyes still glowing.

 

SPFX/ SFX: Dozens of shadows appear above the canyon. Some have longer arms or stand on four legs. They lower their heads as much larger one steps into view and roars loudly.

They move towards Brian. Brian closes his eyes and reaches down into his pant pocket, pulling out a small vial. He grips it tightly in his left hand, spreads his arms and gazes into the sky. Light from the sun breaks through the dust cloud as the sun rises.

SPFX/ SFX: The shadows suddenly halt, and then retreat, squealing like pigs.

Brian keeps his eyes closed as his body goes limp and he falls sideways into the dirt. Quietly, he starts laughing… and sobbing. He pushes himself up from the ground, howling in despair. The rising sun can only just be seen past the shelves of rock that blocks this view.

Brian’s howl travels through the air.

 

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT, CANYON – MORNING                             3

Moving out of the labyrinth, we see abandoned buildings, houses and broken brick roads. ANNA, an 18-year-old girl in tattered and raggedy clothes, wide-eyed turns towards the sound as the howl fades. Her skin is sunburnt.

Brian kneels in the dirt of the canyon. Sitting between curved rocked formations and smooth limestone walls, the sky can only just be seen past the shelves of rock that block this view.

 

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT, CANYON – NOON                                4

Anna walks slowly towards the rocky labyrinth, gripping tightly onto a long piece of wood. She gazes at the dust cloud before heading straight into it. Passing through the labyrinth’s entrance, Anna tightens her grip on her wooden staff. She squints and constantly checks her surroundings.

A silhouette appears. Anna tightens her grip on her wooden staff and steps slowly forwards. As she gets closer, she raises her staff, ready to swing. The silhouette comes into plain view. It is nothing but and oddly shaped rock.

Anna lets out a sigh of relief. She lowers her staff, her shoulders relax. A soft CRUNCH sounds behind Anna. Anna spins around, bringing her staff up again.

Brian ducks.

Anna’s staff just misses crashing into his head. Anna stands in a combat stance, staff out in front, ready to fight.

Brian raises his hands and his eyebrows.

 

 BRIAN

Hey. OK, just wait. I’m not trying to hurt you.

 

Anna holds her ground, answering him with a glare.

Brian takes slow, steady steps towards her.

Still holding his hands out. Anna swings again. Brian steps back.

 

BRIAN

Hey! I said I’m not going to hurt you.

 ANNA

You’re not gonna take me. I’m not dying by someone like you or those monsters.

 

Anna rushes at Brian with a series of swings.

Brian easily dodges each swing. He leaps back, putting more distance between him and Anna.

Anna raises her staff above her head, and charges at Brian with a war cry.

Brian catches the staff with his right hand, unflinching from the impact, he rips the staff out of her hands.

Anna stumbles, but she quickly regains her footing. She holds her ground, keeping her eyes fixed in a cold glare towards him.

Brian watches her, glancing at her clenched fists.

BRIAN

(sternly)

Now listen.

(slowly)

My name is Brian. I’m not trying to hurt you.

ANNA

Oh really.

(raising her tone of voice)

Then care to explain what that light was? There is no one else around here, and I can’t see what’s underneath that cloak.

 

Anna straightens her posture and takes a small step towards Brian.

 

ANNA

Are you another kind of monster?

 

Brian lowers his head. He clenches his left hand into a fist. He looks up and tosses the staff at Anna’s feet. He turns and walks away.

 

ANNA

ANSWER ME!

 

SPFX: Brian stops. He takes a deep breath. His eyes shine briefly.

 

Anna notices the shine, and slowly reaches down to pick up her staff.

Brian turns around.

Anna freezes.

Brian starts removing sections of his outfit; gloves, goggles and reveals his face and arms. SPFX: Blue marks cover every visible part of his body – like vines that have grown onto his body – and they are glowing.

 

BRIAN

I’m not like them.

 

Anna has a look of astonishment and confusion clear on her face.

 

BRIAN

But we were born in the same fashion.

CUT TO:

EXT. CANYON – LATE AFTERNOON                                  5

Anna and Brian sit opposite each other in the empty bottom of the canyon. The day’s light has begun to fade. A small fire rages between the two. Anna watches Brian with caution. She clenches her staff tightly in both hands. Brian drinks from a military water bottle. Brian offers the bottle to Anna. Anna glances at the bottle for a second, before her eyes dart back to Brian.

 

BRIAN

Like I said

(speaking slowly)

I’m not trying to hurt you.

 

Brian shakes the bottle. The water sloshes inside.

Anna snatches it from his hands.

She gulps down what liquid remains.

Her eyes never leave Brian. She throws the bottle back to him.

Brian catches the bottle and sets it down on the ground.

 

ANNA

You said you’re similar to them.

Anna leans closer to Brian

 

ANNA

What does that mean?

 

Brian takes a deep breath, and sits up straighter.

 

BRIAN

We were both created as a long time ago. In an effort to create immortality… By your kind.

 

Anna looks at Brian, confused.

Brian holds out his right hand. He nods at the glowing blue marks.

 

ANNA

Alright. By why are you different?

 

BRIAN

I was a success… mostly.

 

SPFX: Brian removes his cloak completely. The markings are thicker and more prominent the closer they are to his torso. This is because his torso is covered with black marks that form a vest of scars, covering his chest.

 

BRIAN

Most of humanity was experimented on. I don’t even know if there are others like me.

 

Anna moves in. She gently touches his chest.

Brian breathes in through his nose as though it hurts where her fingers touch. Brian pulls away.

 

Anna looks sad.

 

ANNA

They were people. Those creatures?

 

BRIAN

They were my friends. Now they’re beasts.

(His voice turns guttural)

When I fight them, all I can hear, see and feel is their agony.

 

Brian buries his head into his hands.

 

BRIAN

(softly, out of earshot)

It’s always there, always clawing into my head. It never stops. It doesn’t get quiet. It won’t ever stop.

 

Anna steps, slowly, towards Brian.

Brian suddenly jumps up. He quickly pulls his cloak back on. Brian turns and walks away from Anna.

Anna raises her hand to his shoulder. Brian shrugs off her hand.

 

ANNA

Anna.

BRIAN

What?

ANNA

That’s my name.

 

CUT TO:

EXT. CANYON – LATE AFTERNOON                                  6

 

Brian and Anna walk through the canyon. The brown stone lightly streaked with shades of red and burnt orange. As the afternoon sun becomes darker, the light shifts to purple.

Anna keeps pace behind Brian.

 

BRIAN

So… Do I get to hear your story?

 

ANNA

I was in hiding. Until your little light show caught my attention.

 

Brian slows his pace.

 

BRIAN

And before that?

 

ANNA

Not much to tell. I’ve been alone out here for a long as I can remember.

 

Brian turns to look at Anna, continuing to walk.

 

BRIAN

No parents?

 

ANNA

I’ve learned to take care of myself.

Anna swings her staff over her shoulder. While a small grin appears on her face.

 

CUT TO:

EXT. CANYON/ABANDONED GAS STATION – LATE AFTERNOON        7

 

Brian enters through the abandoned gas station doors and begins rooting around the shelves. He tosses aside magazines, boxes, and checks an empty cigarette carton before also tossing that to the floor too. Anna moves behind the desk and finds a hooded jacket. She puts it on.

 

ANNA

Where are you going? There’s not much around here.

 

Brian continues rummaging through the junk. He does not answer Anna.

ANNA

Hey! what are you looking for?

Where are you planning on going?!

 

BRIAN

To the mountains. It’s got to be better than this place.

 

Brian grasps at the pocket that holds his vial and sighs.

Anna looks at him. She opens her mouth to speak; her lips quiver as she hesitates.

 

ANNA

How do you know?

BRIAN

(spits)

I don’t! But anything is better than this.

 

Anna frowns.

 

Brian stands up, holding onto a road flare. He turns to walk back out the door. Anna eyes him suspiciously. He moves his arm to cover the markings on his right wrist. Brian stops just outside the gas station entry. Anna, still inside, watches Brian leave.

 

BRIAN

(loudly)

Let me show you something.

 

Anna doesn’t answer, but follows Brian outside.

Brian moves over to a small patch of earth and kneels down. He puts his hands together.

 

BRIAN

These powers had an original purpose, Instead of killing those beasts.

 

Anna watches him closely.

 

SPFX/CGI: Brian closes his eyes and holds his palms together. A small orb of light appears. His blue-vein markings glow. Brian lowers his palms to the ground. As soon as the light touches the ground, it dissipates. Light travels through the ground like a pulse. Anna’s eyes follow the points at which the light vanished. Small blades of grass begin to grow from the ground. Anna looks at her feet, eyes wide and mouth open. She glances up at the gas station roof. Rusted edges of the gas station now have vines growing up the edges.

 

ANNA

Impossible!

 

SPFX: Brian moves out of Anna’s eyesight. He looks at his fingertips, which are now turning a sickly black colour. His hands have begun to age. They are wrinkled, grey-skinned and frail. Brian clenches his fists. His markings flash and his hands look normal again.

Anna watches Brian from the corners of her eye. She turns her head away as he stands.

 

 

EXT. CANYON – DUSK                                        8

 

Brian and Anna walk through the canyon. The canyon walls are darker now.

 

SFX: The sounds of their footsteps can be clearly heard.

 

Brian kicks a small rock. The sounds echoes.

Anna walks closer to Brian then before. She glances behind them warily.

ANNA

So what are you? Some kind of god.

 

BRIAN

Pfft…

I’m no god.

(Looking at Anna)

I don’t know. Interpret it however you want.

 

ANNA

You’ve killed those beasts?

 

BRIAN

It affects them differently.

 

ANNA

What about your chest? What happened there?

 

BRIAN

Not entirely sure…

 

Brian stops and looks at her, his brow furrowed with irritation.

Anna raises her eyebrows.

Brian turns. He is not going to continue. He walks on in silence.

Anna looks at the back of Brian’s head, eyes narrowed…

 

SPFX: Brian stops and doubles over, retching. His eye glow, darker than before. His body tenses up. He moans quietly. His eyes stop glowing as he stands up straight. Anna looks at him with unease, gripping her staff tightly. She jumps, eyes leaving Brian as growls can be heard in the distance.

Brian and Anna both look into the sky, then at each other, expressions worried/fearful.

 

BRIAN

We have to find cover. Fast.

 

ANNA

Where? We’ve wandered too far out to head back

 

BRIAN

Come here. Trust Me.

 

SFX: Anna opens her mouth to protest but is interrupted by a loud snarl from the b.g.

 

BRIAN

COME ON!

 

Anna immediately steps to Brian’s side. He grabs her arm and without warning, throws her over his shoulders.

ANNA

Hey! What are you going to-

 

-Brian takes off, running with the speed of a car.

 

 

EXT. CANYON – NIGHTFALL                                       9

Brian bolts through the canyon with inhuman speed. Anna holds tightly onto his back. The night leaves the canyon a dark, midnight blue.

 

SFX/CGI: Shadows are everywhere. CRASH. Rocks break apart either side of Brian and Anna. Loud growls travel through the canyon. Anna lifts her head to look behind them.

 

CGI: Shadowy beasts erupt from the darkness behind them.

They burst up through the earth and smash through the rock wall. There are dozens of them. They bite and snarl at each other in an attempt to get ahead. More growling shadows can be heard from above Anna and Brian.

Brian jumps onto a rock, still holding Anna.

 

SFX: The rock breaks apart as he launches off, into air.

Brian and Anna fly through the air, past beasts that leap at them. One of the beastly shadows tears into Anna’s back.

Anna screams in agony despite keeping her grip on Brian.

Brian lands on the top of the canyons edge, out of reach of the beasts.

 

SFX: Shadows amass below.

 

Anna’s moans of pain drown out their sounds.

 

BRIAN

Damn it.

 

Brian lays Anna facedown onto the ground to check her wounds.

 

ANNA

I’m fine.

 

She tries to push herself up from the ground, but the pain proves too much. Her arms give way to her body weight and she falls down.

 

BRIAN

You’re hurt.

 

A loud roar is heard.

Brian moves over to the ledge.

 

SPFX: The alpha beast is moving past the now-placid crowd.

It looks up at Brian and shows it’s horrid and mangled teeth in a sadistic grin.

Brian swallows loudly.

 

SPFX: The beasts’ start to claw and scale up the rocky wall.

Brian picks up the now unconscious Anna like a princess, her head resting on his chest. He shakes his head at her condition and starts running across the top of the canyon, towards the ruins of a once sprawling city. His confident footsteps pound the ground.

 

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT/CITY – NIGHT                                  10

 

Brian passes by a wrecked plane, a convenience store and piles of abandoned, rusted cars. He enters the city, following a path of cracked pavement that separates crumbled buildings. Brian stops in the middle of an overpass.

Brian looks quickly left and right. He gently places Anna on the ground. Brian grabs the vial from his pocket. It has a silvery liquid inside.

 

SPFX: A faint mist escapes from the vial as the cork is popped. Brian directs a silvery drop into one of Anna’s wounds. He quickly places his right hand on her back.

Brian’s blue markings glow. Anna starts to convulse and groan. She almost yells out, but Brian puts his hands over her mouth. His hands have aged again. His face now shows similar degrading features, becoming skeletal. Anna’s wounds heal. Her entire body regenerates itself; her sunburnt skin returns to its original, pale complexion, her red hair increases in saturation and her body becomes shapelier, curvier.

 

SFX: Roars echo from the distance.

Brian removes his hand from Anna’s mouth and he picks her up once again and starts running. Brian heads towards the closest building. He kicks the cracked glass of a window.

 

SFX: SMASH.

 

Brian ducks under the fallen, wooden pylons and steps carefully around piles of rubble.

 

SFX: Growls and snarls can be heard from outside. Brian continues to move through the building. CRACK. Brian stops in his tracks. He looks down. The floorboards creak loudly underneath his weight. A CRASH is heard from outside.

The shadowy beasts ram the outside of the weakened building with their combined weight. Some try to claw through the walls.

Anna wakes up. She yells incoherently at Brian, and starts to fight free from his grasp.

 

BRIAN

Don’t move. The floor–

 

SFX: CRUNCH. The floor breaks apart from underneath them and both are sent tumbling down into the darkness.

 

 

CUT TO:

INT. BASEMENT BUNKER – NIGHT                                  11

SPFX: Suddenly, a flash of red erupts from the darkness, illuminating the screen.

Brian struggles to his feet, holding the flare from earlier. Anna moves into the light.

 

ANNA

What happened to you?

 

BRIAN

(menacingly)

I saved your damn life. Now the voices are louder than ever…and they’re COMING!

 

Brian scurries about the room. Anna looks confused.

 

ANNA

WHAT HAPPENED!

 

Brian turns to her.

 

BRIAN

I gave you the gift. Now you’ll hear the voices. Only you won’t live until they consume your mind.

 

ANNA

What?

 

BRIAN

I’m going to kill them… and us.

 

CUT TO:

EXT. CITY/BUILDING                                        12

SPFX: Their building is being attacked. Dirt and debris fall from the rafters at the impact made by the beasts.

 

CGI: The beasts leave scratch marks against the stone, as they try to dig into the building. The large shadow leaps onto the building and digs its claws into the stone.

 

SMASH. It breaks through a window and starts pulling out various objects; rubble, desks and a table. It then moves inside, pulling itself over piles of rubble. It smashes the floor with both arms. The floor caves in. The shadowy beast proceeds to start smashing its way through the next floor, moving closer to Brian and Anna.

 

CUT TO:

INT. BASEMENT BUNKER – NIGHT                                  13

An old lantern, somehow still alight, illuminates the darkness of the bunker in which Brian and Anna now hide

 

SFX: Sounds are heard above a set of stairs, behind a door.

 

SPFX: The door bursts open, flinging Anna into the room. A faint red light illuminates from the direction she was tossed from. Brian walks in, his body is glowing a ruby red instead of bright blue.

Anna rises to her feet.

ANNA

(fearful)

You’re mad!

BRIAN

(yelling)

You don’t know what it’s like.

I’ve had to suffer this power for nearly two centuries. TWO CENTURIES of constant pain, endless voices, and having my sanity slip… day… by… day.

 

Brian falls to his knees. He pulls out the vial and stares at it crazily.

 

ANNA

Then why did you save me?

 

BRIAN

No one wants to die alone…

Anna rises to her feet, backing away from the crazed Brian.

 

SPFX: Anna’s hands glows, but she talks no notice.

Brian eyes her hands, a small grin spreading across his face.

 

ANNA

(desperately)

I’ve been alone for my whole life. I’m used to it!

 

BRIAN

Perhaps… But now we will stay and ignite these ruins with the powers I was punished with.

 

SPFX: Brian looks at the vial again. His markings glow faintly. He turns around and stretches his arms out – and grunts loudly. Brian looks down and sees a STEEL BEAM plunged through his chest. Anna twists the beam.

 

Brian falls to his knees, but doesn’t seem in pain.

Anna snatches the vial from his hand.

 

SFX: A roar shakes the darkness of the room.

 

SPFX: The red light still illuminating the doorway shows the shadow of the Alpha.

 

Anna looks at Brian with pity. Before she turns on her heel and escapes through the bunkers open air vent and into the darkness. Brian gazes after her.

 

BRIAN

One day you’ll see things my way.

Especially now that you possess it.

 

SPFX: The alpha approaches Brian. Its teeth gleam in the low light. The alpha’s crimson red eyes look into Brian’s.

Brian lets out a small smile before his eyes flash, and he screams at the top of his lungs.

 

CUT TO:

INT. BASEMENT BUNKER/BEAST TUNNELS – NIGHT               14

Anna runs blindly through a dark hallway. She trips over a wooden beam and falls into a hole, tumbling forward into a tunnel dug by the beasts. The tunnel is rough and the floor uneven. Bits of broken pipes and debris can just be seen poking out the tunnel walls. Anna rises, and keeps running.

 

SFX: Anna flinches at the sound of Brian’s inhuman scream.

 

SPFX: The light from an explosion appears behind her. Anna is swept up in the blast. Anna crosses her arm to shield herself from the explosion. A blue light glows. She moves her arms down. They are covered in glowing, blue markings. The yellow/white light from the blast fills the screen.

 

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT – ASTRONOMICAL DAWN                           15

A pale white mist covers the ruins of the collapsed city.

 

SFX: A soft thump is heard from a pile of rubble.

 

SPFX: Anna bursts up from underneath the rubble. Her body is covered with the same markings that Brian had possessed.

She squints her eyes as they adjust to the light of day.

Anna stares at her arms with horror, before looking up and appraising her new surroundings. She turns, looking all around her, realizing that she is alone.

 

CGI: Anna looks down to the ground, where small green shoots are emerging from the rubble. Anna’s head slowly lifts up. The same growth is now reaching over the entirety of the destroyed city.

FADE TO BLACK

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Pub Grubs, Rohan Viswalingam

Sydney is dead. That’s what you’d hear people say and everyone seemed to agree. I didn’t. It was Sunday, the ninth of October 2016 and I was standing in Belmore Park, a two-minute walk from Central Station, Sydney. The park was filled with people, mostly young. They were all there for the second ‘Keep Sydney Open’ rally.
I looked around and saw people talking, smiling and some dancing to minimal tech being shot out of a couple of speakers in the centre of the grass.

The speakers framed two DJs working their decks in the back of a hired Ute, their equipment festooned with rainbow ribbons. I didn’t know their names.
When the lockout laws were first rolled out in Sydney in 2014, I like many others, was afraid nightlife in the CBD would flat-line. I was afraid because I loved to go out and I thought I’d lose the ability to make sparks fly when the hour was late. But a setting doesn’t dictate the experiences you have and the ones you want – your attitude does.

I wandered through the groups of people, looking at the signs they’d made and chuckled to myself. I saw: ‘Baird – Culture Vulture’, relating to our turbulent premier Mike Baird, ‘Sorry Nightlife Is Currently Unavailable’ and a personal favourite of mine and a well known classic, ‘It’s Not My Baird Time’.
I then saw the back of someone I recognised. Sam Hansen. A guy I met on a whim at a university party. I’d offered him pizza for no particular reason and invited him to a party I was having. He turned out to be a good presence with all his faculties in check. What made him different was his noticeable proclivity toward protesting. So, I smirked as I walked up behind him. A roll of white card stuck out of his backpack.
‘Of course you’re here!’ I announced. He turned and looked at me for a moment. It’d been a while since we last spoke so I was a stranger to him at first. Then he smiled back.
‘Rohan, mate, how’re you?’ I shook his hand.
‘Very well, you packing heat today?’ I asked as I motioned to his rolled card behind his head. He recognised it.
‘Haven’t written anything yet, gotta come up with something good you know?’
‘What about “No Lockout Laws and Happy Greyhound Paws”?’ We both laughed and Sam pointed to the centre.
‘Let’s go to the middle, people are dancing there.’
‘Amen.’

Dancing in the midday summer heat would have been favourable had I not had work in two hours. I predicted I’d make a little of the march then would have to leave – a shame, as the vibes of democratic protest were starting to become intoxicating. The music beat was fast and the bass was muted and deep – just the way dancers liked it. It blew my mind that so many people could rock up to a place like this on a weekend, voluntarily. So I celebrated and bopped and swayed among the forest of wooden posts, sporting their signs high up like a canopy of leaves. Someone tapped me on the shoulder, it was Sam.
‘I’m gonna find my friend I’ll see you around.’ I gave him thumps up and returned to solo exhibitionism. Learning how to dance and have a good time on your own is a slowly-learned, vital skill that I had acquired. I’d recommend it to anyone. Losing your group of friends while you’re out is a common experience and a potential downer. But if you know how to operate alone the stakes get a lot lower when you find yourself adrift. For girls this was different, and this is why many of them stuck together like industry-strength adhesive. But issues of gender are another story, not this one.

The music suddenly stopped. Groans galore. A man named Tyson Koh swapped places with the DJs and spoke into a mike. He was the spokesperson for the campaign, this was the first time I’d heard him. His eyelids were sleepy but his eyes were not and they beamed out through his beady, hipster rim glasses. He spoke words of stealing Sydney, the death of culture and live music, of fat cats and casinos, of violence and of friendship and creativity. He also spoke of Melbourne, a city south of us that had so far avoided the dreaded one thirty AM lockdown.
The march began and the crowd, in a slow current, started plodding north. We moved onto Hay Street, under the train overpass where our voices echoed for a moment and out onto Elizabeth Street.
I called Ben. He was to meet me up at the corner of Liverpool a few hundred metres up. The crowd wasn’t too loud but I had to yell into my phone. The corner came and I waved to him from the side of the worm and he joined in. He was well built and walked with a gladiatorial eagerness, his forearms would swing high and both hands were open like they were about to catch a footy. He had pug eyes but that didn’t seem to be a flaw, merely a singularity in a beautiful and jovial face. Of course physical beauty had its place, but there’s no sin in luxuriating in it, like a girls waterfall hair or sand dune legs, or a man’s knife edge jaw line and craggy brow.
We walked up to Oxford Street. People watched from unit blocks above, tiny people way up in the sky looking down at the swirling mass of people below. Cars sounded their horns on the other side of the road, raising cheers from the crowd. A guy in front of me brandished a handheld speaker, held it over his head like a trophy, spitting out more EDM, fuelling the spirit even more in his radius. I saw so many beautiful women, dressed up in lively summer denim and baggy white shirts with those knots done at the torso. The men were all so sanguine, striding up the white lines of the road, with their revamped nineties snapbacks and Mac DeMarco rat moustaches. There were a few older folks dotted here and there, veterans of the night, still bobbing their heads to the plumes of music wafting in the air.

Over the past year or so I’d been out with Ben at night so often that he’d become a best friend. I only had one other from school but Ben satiated my underworked impulsive side. He was the best host, a better drinking buddy and if you could weather the rollercoaster then you’d have a great time. He, like me, could keep his head screwed on no matter how wild things got, which made for some interesting and well-remembered stories. There was never any memory loss; we enjoyed it too much for that to happen.
He was one of the many Sydney nightlife success stories that the anti lockout crowd chose to ignore. I loved all the signs I saw but one at the first rally. It said this: “F**k this, I’m moving to Melbourne”. There seemed to be a sentiment of faithlessness in Sydney. Like these people wanted it to provide them everything they needed to have a fulfilling nightlife. And that if it didn’t deal out a winning hand every single time they went out, they’d simply pack their bags and move to a very similar city. I’ve been to Melbourne and it’s a hoot but that was because of my attitude, not because the bars and clubs were open twenty-four seven.

For better or worse, my attitude was uncompromising in having a good time and sharing that with other people, making them feel included whoever they were, making them feel thankful they got on a train and hiked it all the way into the CBD. Ben shared the same impulse and I had made so many good memories with friends and also strangers before the lockout laws. After lock out laws were introduced in February 2014, my memories and the experiences that forged them actually got better. This was because I now had to be mindful about the way I planned my night.

With fewer resources one is forced to be more creative and I was able to do that on my own or in league with Ben. We sort out different venues, different events for different crowds. I got into the deep house dance scene, jazz bars, whiskey bars, poetry reading, book clubs, performance art, rock metal gigs, late night film screenings and festivals, warehouse parties, dress up parties (even though I hate dressing up) and even a fetish party. Plus the old faithful beer and footy with mates at the pub. The nightlife never went anywhere, it wasn’t dying off under the stairs, and it was all still happening, waiting for people to dive in.
So why was everybody so angry? Because a lot of crowd were cynics who saw Kings Cross as the face of Sydney nightlife and that if they didn’t fit into that scene, all two-to-four streets of it, they would give up all hope and write off the rest of the city as a sloppy failure. The angst would permeate most social groups as the groups’ themselves couldn’t be bothered, or were for whatever reason unable to go to places other than the now deceased workhorses Bar Century and Soho.
If we were so against the lockout laws we should have been protesting but also filling up the dance floors, bars and stages of the venues we loved, great and small, mainstream and underground.
Jimmy Barnes, lead of Cold Chisel, spoke out about the forty percent drop in attendance to live music events. That was our fault. How can you make a stand if you show up to protest, but not at the locations the protest aims to protect?

The crowd plods up Oxford Street, a place where I had seen a decline in populace happening at night.
‘We’re going so fast aren’t we?’ said Ben.
‘Yeah like F1, I have to go work soon.’ I said and then proceeded to make an F1 sound with my mouth. Ben and I did this together. You squeeze your lips tight and then tense your stomach and force air at high pressure through your lips while trying to keep them closed. The sound is like the old V12 engines the cars used to have – the ear splitting, earthquake sound. But for us it sounded like slowly letting the air out of a balloon.
‘Two o’clock right? You’ve got ten minutes to walk all the way back to Central’ He asked, I nodded like a head banger and made a face.
‘Yeah got caught up in the vibes, everyone’s all about our generation not caring about things, but look at this shit.’ I gestured to the masses. Ben jumped, peeking at the line snaking ahead, and then he did the same to see the rear.
‘Quite a lot of people.’
‘Yes.’
‘Protesting the fact that it’s a little bit harder to get a shitty drink past one thirty.’
I laughed. He did have a point.
‘Only the biggest issues in this country.’
‘Oui, you know what else is big?’ No joke is too shameful for Ben.
‘You’re a big dumbass, that’s what’s big.’ I deflected feebly.
‘Nah my dad was a big drinker, sort of became another person after a few. He wasn’t bad, just annoying and like, loose and everything.’ I changed tact, came down to his level.
‘Oh right, well yeah the issue goes back to that I guess. You know our cultural love affair with the bottle. And guys are getting hurt, and dying as well. I mean how can people protest against a decline in violence? Everyone just kinda gleans over that here.’
I did remember seeing a sign advocating to keep Sydney closed.
‘Well yeah they sorta do, but ‘Keep Sydney Open’ want better than blanket solutions. Like Oxford Arts Factory was a graveyard last week.’ He pointed behind me to the Factory, we passed it a few minutes ago.
‘Yeah there were less people.’ I said half to myself. ‘I reckon two thirty or three might be the sweet spot, so places don’t lose so much money, I never knew it would have such a tangible effect in some places.’
‘It’s a bloodbath in some joints.’
I sighed, ‘If Baird can back flip on the greyhound issue everybody suddenly cares about then maybe he will for this. I still love this city, it’s ridiculously beautiful and I’ve been able to satisfy myself and lockout laws haven’t changed that. We’re invincible, matey.’
Ben laughed knowingly, kind of like he knew it wasn’t completely true, that we were unbeatable at times. Ben was Gatsby, Jordan Belfort and Chopper Read all in one but still managed to actually be a proper friend (and also didn’t assault people or commit crimes if you’re worried about the latter moniker). That’s what was just in that knowing laugh. He had all the excitement and almost rabid thirst for experience but also the same fears and insecurities as Joe Blow from down the street. I wasn’t Joe Blow but I certainly wasn’t Gatsby.
But I loved Ben and what we’d done, him as pilot and me as co. Two pub grubs screaming through the sky in a jet made of taxi parts, running on beer, cigarettes and other disparaging substances. There was no destination, just spending time together. I suppose that’s all I ever wanted. Not to miss out on things like that. For us, lockout laws were a non-issue. I said goodbye to Ben and left the crowd.

I rang work to say I was running late, they were okay with it. I cut back down south toward Central through Pelican Alley and then Goulburn Street. My stomach rumbled and I realized that I hadn’t eaten that day.
I slumped into the chair in the newsroom, sizing up the eight-hour shift in my head. The rally would end in Taylor Square where they’d probably have some big bands and more speeches. I had a responsibility to be there but also to work. A reporter I’d seen down at Belmore Park brought in camera cards; the story would feature on the bulletin that night. I perused through the footage on the computer, none of my fantastic face in there but I suppose the crowd made up for it. More attractive women wearing John Lennon shades and daisy chains. I smiled to myself and closed the window.

I’d probably end up going out with Ben that night, maybe to Mali Bar, or Side Bar, Midnight Special, The Bank, The Different Drummer, World Bar, The Palisade, Bungalow 8, Sweeney’s, White Horse, Beresford. Onwards I would go in an endless search for love and human connection, of silence after the noise of voices and music, of the quiet humming of a nourished soul at the end of a good night out.

Sydney is not dead, but perhaps it’s just transitioning between stages of life in certain areas. There are still buckets of the hopes of youths running through our streets – you just have to leave the house to find it.
To re-appropriate a platitude: If you can’t handle the heat, learn to love it and get cooking in the kitchen, because Sydney can still whip up a raging feast. And we can all peacefully sit down and dine. Are you hungry? Because I sure as hell am!

 

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