Tag Archives: fear

Rorka, Rohan Viswalingam

Blood be the body

Surging in it and out of it

Dribbling over the dimming eyes

Separating those eyes

 

Sending the fire out of the mind

Spurting it out of the head

Giving the body supremacy over the city

Drenching the windows in a fiery dark

 

The unmixable smoke

It penetrates the body

Hollowing it out of life

Destroying the centre

 

The crunching face rages with fury

Breathing the black smoke from the air

Sending it down through to the lungs

Deeper deeper go the tainted vapours

 

The city will fall before me

My power will snap the infrastructure

The statues will crumble

Until the rubble will be a second sea

 

The sea will roll interminably

Burning the bodies falling from the surface

Swallowing the enfettered souls

And I will watch those ghostly pained faces

 

Sulphur will penetrate the safe havens

Where the innocent are hiding

In their shady burrows

Warmed by their fleeting love

 

The Black Widows will peak out from the gaps

Come sprawling

Out over the totems of falling civilization

Possessing the newly purged landscape

 

Mercy, there will be none

Just a reminder ever brutal

That homes are temporary

That the reckoning is inevitable

 

The spirits have just been waiting

Forcing a false sense of security

To the lethargic inhabitants

That nothing will come of their decisions

 

But the nature of the land will take hold

Giving no creature a second dice roll

Erasing all hope in their prayers

Leaving but the peaceful silence before annihilation

 

We will teach the people

Of the hierarchy of breath

The legions of emissaries will show no mercy

And the land will be cleaned flat

 

The sea will calm

The Widows will relinquish their thrones

Leaving a vacant, dusty city

Waking up to a new age

 

And it is without the stragglers

For they have whittled themselves away

In the dark crevices that we made

The ones they hid in before perishing

 

The new sun will be born of water

The water of their blood

That ran down the buildings into the stream

And the sun will be called Rorka

 

The purity will be the rage

The rage of extinction

The seething hate of being chosen

Chosen to be vanquished by the upper power

 

The sun will warm the new places

Giving pulse to the dried up swamps

Giving jobs to the legged cripples that survived

And leaving the fallen rubbed into the darkness like charcoal

 

The old safe place is gone

The rebirth is complete

Total Completion

Purity from a sun

 

A new form must be made

A new leader of the second sun

Born from the new sea

And from the shadows of before

 

Build it

Start with the teeth

With black sperm squeezing through the gaps

Forming the gums and lips

 

It all comes back to what we destroyed

A refreshing of the old body

To make a new one

To command the Widows and sea

 

Fetch the parts from the old coves of death

Feed the veins from the seabed

Supply the bones from the graves in the buildings

Give me the soul from the Second Sun

 

The soul will be the centre

Herding the water around it

Connecting the tendons

Latching the veins together

 

Then an earthly being will form

A disgusting new being

A sick reminder of the past

But eventually a new ideal for the future

 

There will be no skin

Only the crimson muscle

And perfect white tendons

No shroud of skin to hide the lies

 

And Skinless will sit on a throne of waves

Constantly nourished by the water

Held above the rusted buildings of old

Giving it elevated reprieve from this sordid world

 

No new citizen will be forgotten

They will come to worship Skinless

They will fill the buildings

Stepping over the stale bones of the past

 

New words will come from Skinless

And the new citizens will learn the past

Learn the present

And they will know the future

 

 

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Where Light Doesn’t Exist, Alex Chambers

Robert and Jaden were running out of ideas. It had been too long since Georgia had disappeared down the cave and black clouds were quickening overhead.

The cave was unlike any they’d seen or read about as it wasn’t made of stone but foliage. Trees sprouted up from the ground then curled and combined with leaves, bushes, and branches to make a completely solid structure, daunting the barely teenage boys standing just outside its mouth. It was lightless inside and no matter how much the two of them called, there was no echo or reply from Georgia. But the strangest of all was that the inside of the structure was significantly larger than the outside. When Robert and Jaden had dared to venture inside earlier, it became clear that they’d walked for much longer than physically possible before turning back.

Robert thought back to earlier this morning, when Georgia had pounded on his door and demanded he come see what she’d found. Jaden was dragged along when the pair chanced upon him on the way into the forest. When they had arrived, Georgia pointed down into the abyss. ‘Come on!’

‘What is it?’ Robert asked, approaching slowly. Jaden said nothing and kept his distance as Georgia grinned and began trotting into the mouth of the cave.

‘I dunno,’ she said. ‘But it goes a long way—I’m gonna see how far.’

She hadn’t said anything more. Before Robert or Jaden could even utter a protest, she’d dashed off. When she didn’t return for a few minutes, the boys tried to follow her, but found that the seemingly straight line surrounded by impossibly close-knit trees wasn’t so simple. As they walked, the path twisted and turned even though they never once changed the direction they travelled. The further they went, the more the light was swallowed by the shadows of the cavern.

Robert, now pacing back and forth at the mouth of the cave nearly an hour later, was starting to mumble to himself. ‘It’s getting late—we need to do something. I can’t believe we couldn’t stop her,’ he groaned. He’d been running his hand through his tan hair so many times now it was no longer neat.

‘Calm down,’ Jaden growled from against a tree nearby. ‘It’s Georgia’s own damn fault. Always running off and doing stupid stuff like this. I wish you hadn’t babbled to her about how ‘interesting’ this ‘strange new phenomenon’ looked either.’

‘Okay, I got a little excited,’ he admitted. ‘But this is like something out of one of my sci-fi books! There could be a whole universe in there—’

‘Please don’t start again.’ Jaden rolled his eyes and began rubbing his forehead. ‘I’m tired. This is the fourth supernatural thing we’ve had to deal with this week.’

The isolated, English countryside town of Edgeville was far from the first place anyone would’ve guessed would be a hotspot for paranormal activity, but for the past couple of months, the town’s children had found themselves embroiled in a series of strange happenings. A decrepit mansion appeared on the outskirts of town one evening and disappeared the next. Pale, ephemeral figures stalked the town’s graveyards. Objects floated and flew across rooms. And the children had had more than enough encounters with fanged, clawed and/or winged creatures that stalked them relentlessly, but always just out of the corner of their sight.

No one over the age of eighteen knew about any of this and most of the older children tried to deny it or explain it rationally. No matter what, any time an adult was called to investigate one of the strange and dangerous incidents it would vanish. Whole haunted houses would disappear. The floating spectres would evaporate just in time for the adult to miss them.

The children of Edgeville no longer slept soundly, but that didn’t stop some of them from trying to do something about it or being intrigued.

‘Do you think it goes underground?’ Robert said. ‘That would explain why it goes for so long and why it’s so dark inside.’

When he didn’t get a response, he turned to see Jaden yawning.

‘You’re still talking science-y mumbo-jumbo,’ he said.

‘Aren’t you interested?’ Robert retorted and then he added, ‘or worried?’

‘No. You don’t sound like you’re worried either.’

Robert thought for a moment, then said, ‘Are we just getting used to this, maybe?’

‘Sick of it, more like,’ Jaden huffed. ‘I mean, how many times has Georgia leapt into some dangerous situation and come out just fine with that stupid grin all over her face? And you’re treating it like a big mystery novel that you’re trying to figure out.’

‘This is a big mystery,’ Robert said. ‘And I do want to figure it out. And if we keep investigating, maybe we’ll all figure something out.’

A distant rumble of thunder came from far above. Jaden wrinkled his nose and frowned. ‘Go get Veronica. We’re not getting anything done right now.’

Most of the town’s children tried to ignore or flat-out deny that there was anything wrong, but after the incidents had started, a small band of kids had decided they’d actively explore the terrifying events that plagued their town. Veronica, as the oldest over Jaden by a few months, had been unofficially designated their leader, which meant that when Georgia got herself into trouble, it was usually Veronica who ended up organising the rescue mission.

‘Does your phone have reception out here?’ Robert asked.

‘No.’

‘Neither does mine. Stay here then, just in case Georgia comes back out. I’ll head into town…’

‘Fine by me,’ Jaden answered, sitting down at the base of the tree.

There was another, louder bang of thunder. Robert gave a thumbs-up and hurried off out of the forest.

He first swung by his own house, creeping in through the garage door and rifling through his father’s things for anything of use. As he’d hoped, he found a rope along with a heavy-duty torch. He wasted no time making a run for Veronica’s house a few streets over. He mulled over the thought of gathering up more friends for the rescue, but a flash of lightning accompanied by a dangerously close rumble caused him to decide that he was close to running out of time.

He approached the front door, first tossing the rope and torch into the bushes, and then knocked. Robert figured it’d be best to avoid any suspicious questions. The door was opened by Veronica’s father, Curtis, who greeted Robert warmly.

‘What can I do for you, Robert?’ he asked. ‘It’s looking to be a heck of a storm. Not really the right time to be off playing in the streets, eh?’

‘No sir,’ Robert answered. ‘I was actually wondering if Veronica was around. I had a, uh, spur of the moment idea. It was looking to be a good night for a movie so I wanted to see if Veronica and some other friends wanted to come over. Is she in?’

‘What a great way to spend a Saturday night! She’s home—I’ll go and get her. Just remember not to put on anything too scary. You know how she hates all those violent horror movies.’

Curtis called his daughter and departed the room. Robert managed to hold the smile on his face until Curtis left before grimacing. Veronica came treading down the stairs and frowned when she saw Robert’s expression.

‘Let me guess,’ she said. ‘Georgia?’

Robert nodded. ‘She’s in trouble.’

‘What did she annoy this time?’

‘It’s a little more complex than that bat thing she upset last week. It might be better to see for yourself. It’s in the forest.’

‘I’ll go get my coat and some good shoes,’ she sighed. She hopped back up the stairs and returned a moment later wearing a pair of pink gumboots and a baby-blue raincoat. Veronica was a year older than Robert, but nearly a foot shorter. She wasn’t as smart as Robert and she definitely wasn’t as brave or strong as Georgia, but she had a shine in her blue eyes and a posture that was tall and confident. Robert could tell by looking—even if Veronica couldn’t see it herself—that she was definitely most suited to be in charge.

‘I’ll try to explain what’s happening on the way,’ he said as they departed. He stopped a moment to retrieve his rope and torch from the garden before they jogged towards the forest. A drizzle of rain had begun to shower the pair as they fought through the trees and bushes towards their destination.

‘It’s over there,’ Robert pointed past some trees and over a hill. ‘I left Jaden there, in case Georgia came back.’

In between breaths and crashes of thunder, Robert tried to describe what the cave was to Veronica.

‘So it’s like a cave, but it’s bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside,’ she panted. ‘But it’s made of trees?’

‘Exactly!’ Robert said. ‘Think of what could be inside there. I mean, there could be anything really—’

‘Is that it?’ Veronica interrupted.

The rain had intensified, but there was no mistaking the gnarled shape of the cave a few metres away. As they hastened towards it, a flash of lightning illuminated the area. In the half-light, the cave looked more twisted and unnatural; the branches of the trees sharper and darker, but something else had caught their attention in that brief moment of sudden light.

‘Robert,’ she breathed. ‘Was that…?’

‘Yeah, I saw it too.’

Something had jolted like a startled spider into the cave, too fast for either of them to make out what it could be.

‘A deer?’ Veronica suggested.

‘Too big and too quick,’ Robert shuddered. ‘And…I think it was black. And scaly.’

‘I really hope you’re wrong. Could it have been—?’

She stopped and they flicked their heads towards each other. Robert switched on the torch and they hurried down the hill towards the cave. He swept the light over the area, scanning for any sign of Jaden. They both began to call his name, hoping he’d just fallen asleep under the tree, but it soon became clear he wasn’t answering.

‘He probably just went home, right?’ Veronica said. Her voice was quivering.

‘I told him to wait here, though,’ Robert said. ‘And I know he’s lazy, but he wouldn’t go home without Georgia.’

They both turned and looked down the looming maw of the cave. Even now, armed with the torch, Robert couldn’t see anything other than the walls of trees on either side of the path deep into the darkness. It seemed to stretch on forever.

‘Give me the torch,’ Veronica said, holding her hand out. ‘And one end of the rope.’

‘But—’

‘One of us has to stay out here,’ she explained. ‘And you’re right—Jaden wouldn’t have gone home without Georgia. If they did go home, we’d have seen them on the way here. So they’re in there.’

‘I want—’

‘I know,’ she continued. ‘I know you want to see what’s in there. That’s why I’m going in; you might get lost or distracted.’

Robert huffed, but complied. ‘If you see anything dangerous…’

‘I’m not leaving without them either,’ she said. Without another word, she faced the cave, torch in one hand and rope in the other, and began to tread cautiously into the abyss. A ways in, she started to run, calling Jaden and Georgia’s names.

Robert watched her get smaller and smaller, the rope in his hand unwinding rapidly as the light from Veronica’s torch steadily vanished from view. He was alone in the closing darkness. The sky howled and rain began to pelt him furiously. He stepped into the mouth of the cave, hoping its branches would at least keep him dry as he waited. The rope in his hand continued to unravel.

*

The walls of the cave had begun to change. Veronica could see the branches and foliage of the trees melting together to form some new substance that was a dull brown. It looked like it’d be sticky to touch, but she didn’t dare test this thought. A smell like decomposing fruit had begun to gradually rise in potency and it took all of Veronica’s willpower to avoid turning back. What was worse was that the light from her torch was steadily becoming useless. The blackness of the cave seemed so immense that her light couldn’t pierce it. The ray seemed increasingly insignificant as she ventured deeper. Her heart was thundering like the storm she had left so far behind

‘Jaden!’ she called. ‘Georgia!’

She stopped running for a moment to catch her breath and listen for a response. She thought she heard footsteps somewhere ahead, but otherwise the cave was silent.

‘Please, please, please be Jaden and Georgia.’ she muttered.

Veronica increased her pace and began calling again. The ground beneath her boots was growing warmer and softer. She dreaded the thought of aiming her torch downwards to see what was happening to it; instead she focused the light on the void before her. As she jogged along, the light occasionally illuminated the walls and Veronica noted that they were stretching further apart. Something was dripping from them without a sound. There was no way she was still in the forest.

When she called her friends again, she gasped at a sound not too far ahead. She thought it’d been a groan. She sprinted into the darkness, clutching her torch and rope and almost tripped over the slouched figure of Jaden.

‘Jaden!’ she cried. The torchlight flew over his features, telling Veronica all she needed to know: he was hurt. Blood was dripping from his nose and mouth. She shrieked, dropped the torch, and began to shake Jaden by the shoulders. Soon enough, she heard a voice from the darkness.

‘What time is it…?’

Veronica stopped and picked her torch back up to direct it to the space beside Jaden. It was Georgia, lying face-down on the ground. When she sat up, Veronica became aware that she was also injured: she had a crimson gash across her forehead.

‘Georgia?’

She blinked and shook her head, realisation setting in. ‘Oh, ‘sup, Veronica? How’d you get down here?’

‘Never mind that,’ Veronica said. ‘Help me get Jaden up—we’ve gotta go.’ She moved to shake his shoulder again, but Georgia motioned for her to step back. Without any further prompting, she began slapping Jaden repeatedly until a series of moans came from his throat.

‘Quit it, quit it!’ he snapped, jumping to his feet. ‘I’m up!’

‘Then we’re leaving,’ Veronica said, standing. ‘You can tell me what happened when we get out of here.’

‘Okay, but question,’ Georgia said, dragging herself to her feet. ‘How’d you get past that thing?’

‘Thing?’

‘Yeah, the thing with lots of legs and eyes.’

Veronica didn’t move. Jaden turned to her and could just make out her horrified expression in the torchlight. ‘You didn’t see it, did you?’

She slowly shook her head.

‘Well ya might soon,’ Georgia said, looking past her friends. Veronica held her breath and could faintly make out a scuttling sound in the direction Georgia was facing.

‘Stay close and don’t look back,’ Veronica instructed. No more words were said as the three tore back through the cave along the path of the rope.

*

It was well and truly storming now, with rain slamming down like the world was ending. The cave offered little safety from it to Robert who was now drenched. However, not once had his gaze left the direction of the darkness where he now watched his three friends charging towards him. Jaden and Georgia’s faces were covered in blood. Veronica looked like she was about to cry. They arrived and stopped in front of Robert, whose expression was a mixture of concern and joy.

For a while no one said anything, and the cacophony in the skies above was all they could hear. Then Robert jerked his thumb back behind him, towards town. ‘I’ve uh,’ he said. ‘Got some Disney movies at my place. And a heater. You guys want to come over? Tell me all about it?’

Georgia made some sort of discontent sound and Jaden shoved her.

‘Sounds great, Robert,’ Veronica sighed. ‘Let’s get out of here.’

 

Download a PDF of “Where Light Doesn’t Exist” here

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Peroxide and the Doppelganger, Rebecca Fraser

 

Johnny ‘Peroxide’ Steele placed his sweating palms on the cool ceramic of the basin. He closed his eyes briefly to offset the bile that clawed at his throat. Christ, it had been a big night. Again. He took the weight of his body on protesting arms and leaned forward to inspect himself in the mirror.

A pair of bloodshot eyes looked wearily back at him. Peroxide took stock of the apparition in the mirror. His cheeks, boyishly fleshy less than a year ago, now looked as if they’d been carved into his face by a maniacal sculptor. A congealed streak of yellow – mustard? – ran from his pierced lip to his chin. It matched the overall pallor of his face with unsettling accuracy. Peroxide ran an unsteady hand through his shock-white hair, and he poked his tongue out as far as he could. He instantly wished he hadn’t. The surface was furry with a creamy substance.

He turned on the tap and cupped water to his mouth. It tasted metallic. He swished it around his cheeks a number of times before spitting it back into the sink. He turned the tap back on and watched as the water swirled the noxious glob away.

When he looked back up, his reflection was smiling at him. It was not a cheerful top-of-the-morning smile, rather it was a sly, knowing grin that didn’t reach his eyes. Peroxide gaped. His reflection didn’t gape back. It just kept up its malevolent leer.

He took a step back in alarm. He careened into the shower cubicle and clutched at the plastic daisy-embossed shower curtain to steady himself. The curtain rings splintered under his weight, and he fell to the floor. The curtain descended on his shoulders like a floral cape, and he wrenched it free.

‘Johnny, what the hell’s going on in there?’ Kaylene’s voice was muzzy with shattered sleep.

Peroxide kicked brutally at the curtain and got to his feet. ‘Nothin’, babe. ‘S’all good.’ He looked back at the mirror. It was just him again.

Kaylene appeared in the bathroom doorway. Even with her long honey curls dishevelled from sleep, and the oversized Ramones t-shirt she wore to bed slipping from her thin shoulders, she looked unbelievably wholesome. The sight of her freshness made Peroxide feel even more soiled.

‘The curtain’s broken,’ Kaylene said evenly, surveying the crumpled heap.

‘Sorry, babe. I’ll fix it.’ He moved to pick it up, but a wave of dizziness overcame him.

Kaylene steered him back to the bedroom and made him sit on the bed. ‘It can wait,’ she said. ‘Why don’t you just sleep it off here today? You’ve got a gig again tonight, don’t you?’

‘Yeah, over at The Bluebird. Don’t kick off ‘til half ten. It’s okay, Kaylene, I’ll head home, get myself cleaned up.’ He looked at her apologetically. ‘Sorry, I’m such a mess, babe. I’m trying.’

Kaylene didn’t say anything; she just regarded him with her usual sad serenity. It was a look that cut Peroxide deeper than if she had expressed her disappointment.

 

The midday sun smarted, and Peroxide groped in his jeans pocket for his sunglasses. They weren’t there of course. Another casualty of the night. They were probably abandoned; left on a sticky table at some seedy nightspot.

Peroxide berated himself. Kaylene had bought him the glasses as a gift. He recalled with a pang of guilt how excited she had been to find them. Black Buddy Holly frames with a set of faux rubies ostentatiously encrusting the arms.

‘Perfect for a rock star.’ She had laughed as she pushed them up the bridge of his nose, and stood back to admire him.

How in God’s name he had found such a girl, and why she stuck with him, was a mystery to Peroxide. She was nothing like the others. The endless bevy of groupie trash with their predictable tattoos, shrill voices and cut-rate perfume. Kaylene was on another plane entirely. Calm and intelligent, caring and funny. She seemed to dig him in a way no one else ever had, or had ever wanted to.  It had only been two months, but he knew that he loved her.

If he could only stop fucking up.

Lost in introspection, and with his head still throbbing like a demon, Peroxide turned left into Chirn Street. He could see his apartment block at the far end through a Jacaranda haze. It was November and the trees that lined the street, hueless for the better part of the year, were ablaze with magnificent blue-purple blooms.

Up ahead, someone with hair as blonde as his was walking towards him. Peroxide squinted. There was something about the walker’s gait; a familiarity of stride. He made his way beneath the footpath’s mauve canopy. The distance closed between them, and Peroxide felt an ice trickle of fear run down his spine in spite of the heat of the day.

At twenty metres distance, he saw a glint of red beside the other man’s head, like a crystal’s prisms throwing light in the sun.

At ten metres, he saw the source of the red. It was reflecting from bejewelled sunglasses: The Buddy Holly kind with faux ruby detail.

At five metres, Peroxide stopped dead in his tracks. It was him. The other him. The one from the mirror; he was wearing the same unpleasant grin.

He – it – didn’t slow down. It brushed past Peroxide so closely that he could smell its cologne. Globe – the kind he wore. Peroxide spun on his feet and watched as his other self continued along the footpath. He could see the outline of the crucifix that dangled from its right ear, and he whipped a hand up to his own ear to make sure his earring was still there. It was.

‘Hey,’ Peroxide tried to shout, but his throat felt as if it was stuffed with wool, and nothing more than a feeble croak punctuated the afternoon heat.

His other self heard though. Its shoulders tensed and it stopped. Slowly, very slowly, it turned on its – his – heels and stared back at Peroxide. It was too far away for Peroxide to read the expression on its face, but it cocked its head to one side in a whaddaya-want fashion.

The wool in Peroxide’s throat knitted itself thicker, and he found he couldn’t speak at all. Up ahead, his other self seemed amused. Its shoulders rose and fell in mirth, in the exact fashion that Peroxide’s did when he was trying not to laugh out loud. After what seemed like an eternity, it raised one hand and fashioned a finger gun. It then extended it until it was pointing in Peroxide’s direction. Its index finger pulled the trigger. Bang. And then it turned heel and was striding off back down Chirn Street in the direction Peroxide had just come.

Peroxide’s knees buckled. What the fuck had he taken last night? He remembered drinking first beer, then bourbon, and then they had moved on to shots. But he had stayed off the drugs, he was sure. It was part of his resolution to keep Kaylene. Unless the boys had been messing with him and tripped his drink?

It had been an awesome gig; that was for sure. Since he and The Regrowths had first taken to a wooden box stage at one of the grimy local clubs only a year ago, they hadn’t looked back, and last night’s crowd had to have been somewhere near five thousand strong. They played bigger venues now of course, and the after parties were bigger too. Since Kaylene had come into his life, Peroxide had been struggling to keep a balance between the two. It wasn’t easy, but like he had said to her that morning, he was trying.

Whatever had gone down last night, he must be still under the effects of some powerful hallucinogen. First the unnerving mirror incident, and now this. If he found out one of the crew had spiked his drink, he was going to tear them a new arsehole. With this thought on his mind, he walked on down Chirn Street.

 

His apartment resembled the state of his life over the past twelve months: hectic, uncontrolled, and messy. He prised open the windows to let the afternoon breeze have its way with the pungent smell of negligence that hit him like a physical force, when he opened the door. He was going to have to get his shit together on the home front if he was going to have Kaylene over on a regular basis. So far he’d been dodging that one by sleeping at her home.

He lit a cigarette and searched about for something to use as an ashtray, settling on an aluminium takeaway container, that judging by the coagulated remains, might once have contained cuisine of the Asian variety.

The green light pulsed urgently on his answer machine, and he depressed the playback button. It gave an agreeable little blip, followed by the machine’s androgynous voice: “You.have.one.new.message.”

It was Troy, The Regrowth’s bass player. ‘Yo Johnny, you home, bro? Pick up, dude. What a fucking night, aye? D’ya see that chick up front? She flashed her tits at me, man. Dave reckons it was for him, but …’ An almighty crash interrupted Troy’s flow. ‘… Ah, fuck-it, that was me guitar, gotta go, Johnny. Catch you tonight at The Bluebird for set up. Bring those Midas vocal chords.’

Peroxide couldn’t help but smile. He was starting to feel a little better. It had been a huge night, and he probably had been spiked, but so what? He was okay now. Wasn’t he?

That grin. That awful cunning grin.

He stubbed his cigarette out and peeled off his evil smelling clothes. A long shower and sleep was what he needed. He reckoned he could get a good six hours in before it was show time again.

The shower felt good. He let the hot water drum on his head and shoulders for a long time, cleansing away the craziness of the day, and the detritus of the night. He towelled himself dry, cinched it around his waist, and searched the vanity for toothpaste among the various bottles, disposable razors, and half used tubes of bleach that helped him create his on stage persona.

His fingers paused on the box that contained his Globe cologne. It was empty.

Doesn’t mean anything, his mind yammered at him. Probably in the bedroom. Or the kitchen. Hell, you know what you’re like, it could be anywhere. But his heart was pounding like a backbeat from Davo’s snare drum, and he was already racing to the bedroom. Suddenly it seemed very important that he knew where his bottle of Globe was.

It wasn’t in the bedroom. Nor was it in the kitchen, or the lounge room, or under the bed. He went shakily back to the bathroom. He had just missed it; that was all.

His twin was in the mirror.

It wasn’t grinning anymore.

Oh, it was smiling alright, but it was a deadly, elongated smile. Too wide for its – Peroxide’s – face, so that every tooth, right down to the back molars, were impossibly visible. Peroxide focused on the crown that he’d had fitted four years ago, and distantly felt the warm-wet sensation of urine on his legs as his bladder gave way.

The reflection threw back its head and laughed. It was an obscene sound that prickled at Peroxide’s scrotum.

‘What do you want?’ Peroxide’s words were barely more than a whisper through numb lips.

His likeness stopped laughing. It fastened its eyes on his, and leaned forward. Peroxide watched in horror as the face first flattened against the glass, then pushed hard against it. The surface of the mirror rippled and stretched with the shape of its face, until finally it broke free, and swam at Peroxide in three-dimensional horror. A pair of leather clad shoulders followed, and it kept coming until it levelled with Peroxide’s ear.

He felt the chafe of stubble against his own as it leaned close.

‘You,’ it rasped.

Something in Peroxide snapped. He launched himself at the thing with pure adrenalin. His fingers, hooked into claws, found purchase on nothing but the smooth surface of the mirror. The last thing he remembered before his head connected with the glass, and a blessed red curtain of unconsciousness dropped on his mind, was that terrible word.

You.

 

It was dark. For the second time in a day, Peroxide found himself prostrate on a bathroom floor. But this wasn’t Kaylene’s house. He was in his apartment and …

The mirror. The mirror. The thing in the mirror.

Peroxide lurched to his feet and jabbed frantically at the light switch. The mirror was broken. Shards of glass clung precariously to each other in the frame; the rest glinted here and there from the linoleum, tiny fragments that threatened his bare feet, and reminded him of his frenzied head-butt. He felt the egg on his forehead, but when he inspected his hand, it was clean. No blood. Small mercy.

Good Christ, the gig! It was nighttime. How long had he been out? He blundered back to the bedroom and snatched his cell phone from the bedside table. The screen threw up 10:17pm in its electronic font. Thirteen minutes until he was due on stage. The Regrowths would be cursing him six ways from Sunday by now. He could imagine how Davo, Troy, and AJ, would have cussed him darkly as they struggled with the last of the amps and lighting. Set up was always a bitch.

Peroxide checked his phone, resigned to the barrage of missed calls. The ‘where are you?’ The ‘you’d better not be stoned again?’ and the ‘get the fuck here, right now, we’re on in halfer’. Peculiar. There were none.

There was a voicemail from Kaylene, however, but no time for that now. No time to worry about the bump on his head either. And definitely no time to worry about his malevolent twin.

It was show time, and he was late. And so, Peroxide came alive.

Without a mirror, he applied his trademark makeup freestyle. He hastily dabbed on rouge and glitter shadow, and applied thick kohl outlines to his upper and lower lashes. A handful of gel set his namesake white hair into edgy spikes, and he pulled on his usual costume of leather and mesh in record time.

He was out the door and sprinting for the train station in less than seven minutes. It was only when he sank into the torn vinyl seat of a carriage that he relaxed enough to pull out his phone again. He tried Davo first. His phone was switched off. So was Troy’s. AJ’s rang out until it switched to message bank, so he left a garbled message. ‘AJ, it’s me, man. Listen, it’s been a crazy night, I got knocked out, but I’m on my way, okay? Hold the crowd. I’ll be there. Ten, fifteen minutes tops.’

The train rattled through the urban night. It was only a blessed few stops to The Bluebird. Peroxide punched at his keypad to play Kaylene’s message.

Oh Johnny, yellow roses. How did you know they were my favourite?’ Kaylene’s mellifluous voice floated through the phone. ‘Thank you, this makes up for … well, so many things. I’ll see you at the show tonight, okay? Love you.’ She laughed. The sound hurt his heart. He had never given Kaylene flowers. But someone had. And it had made her happy in a way he never did.

Peroxide reeled in his seat. No, he hadn’t give Kaylene flowers, but all of a sudden, he had a terrible notion of who had. A panic rat gnawed at his stomach as the train pulled into the station. He sprang onto the platform and pounded up the stairs into the street above.

He could hear music pulsing from The Bluebird from where he was. Surely, they hadn’t started without him? But there it was – the unmistakable electro backbeat of ‘My Society’, one of their firm crowd pleasers; and the crowd was pleased. He could hear them roaring every word to the chorus, drowning out the vocals.

The vocals?

Peroxide felt as if he was moving through water as he crossed the street and entered The Bluebird. Time took on a dreamlike quality. The crowd heaved and surged around him. There was Davo, thumping away at his drum kit with abandon. AJ and Troy were working the stage, bass, and lead guitars in perfect harmony.

But the real hero of the stage was him. Leather and mesh, makeup and hair. Bent over the microphone in classic rock stance as he belted out the last lines of ‘My Society’. As Davo pedalled his hi-hat to deliver the crisp culmination of the song, the Doppelganger flung his arms wide as if to embrace the audience. The crowd went wild.

A slim figure with honeyed curls pushed her way up and onto the stage. She threw her arms around the singer.

‘Kaylene!’ Peroxide elbowed his way through the crowd. He was dimly aware that he was screaming, but his terrified chant of ‘No, No, No, no, no nononono,’ was drowned out amid the cheering.

Someone to his left said, ‘Cool Peroxide, get up, dude. You must be, like, a total fan.’

He shoved and pushed at bodies blindly, oblivious to everything except his need to get to the stage and Kaylene. He was almost there – he could see the pale-soft down on her cheek, illuminated by the stage lights – when he felt heavy hands fall on his shoulders.

The security guards were unceremonious in their ejection of Peroxide from The Bluebird.

He bucked and kicked and fought, but they were irrefutably strong. As they muscled him back through the crowd, Peroxide strained against the headlock to catch a final glimpse of the stage. He moaned as Kaylene planted a kiss on the Doppelganger’s cheek. As the crowd roared their approval, it raised the finger gun in the same fashion it had on Chirn Street. It pointed it squarely at Peroxide and pulled the trigger.

Bang.

 

Peroxide roamed, his mind askew with shock and anguish. He let himself become one with the city night and the pedestrians that coursed through its streets like a tidal current. At one stage, he passed by a shop window. He stopped and looked into the glass for a very long time.

He had no reflection. None at all.

 

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The Forest, Amy Way

It’s just after 10am when I’m standing at the head of the road. Behind me and to the left are golden paddocks with fat cows and dams sparkling with reflected sunlight. In front and to the right is the forest. The pine trees stand like soldiers in their state assigned grids. Tall, regimented, plain. Yet in their shadows is something sinister that’s hard to distinguish. Is it the tangy smell of sawdust that burns the nostrils? The way the wind makes a muffled roar through the pine needles? Or the light that flickers in the corner of my eyes?

Back on the road, I shift my feet on the finely ground gravel. The sun is warm on my back but I feel cold as I watch the road ahead disappear into the shadows of the forest. Beside me is the sign, parading its welcome and warning: ‘Welcome To Belanglo State Forest. Please Be Careful.’

2013-08-17 10.03.00The sign is almost scarier than the forest itself. From a distance it’s impressive and dominant, but up close you can see etched into the enamel the myriad of messages that make up its power. Names followed by dates, and ‘Tim loves Jess’, ‘Lackey was here.’ Then there’s the more ominous: ‘ANT (DENGY) NOW RULES THESE WOODS! BEWARE!’ and ‘IVAN WAS HERE.’ Beside this last message, some cunning visitor has written, ‘No shit.’

I can’t remember exactly when I first heard the stories of Ivan Milat and the ‘Backpacker Murders’, but like most Australians, the killer’s name and the place of his crimes has long lurked my consciousness. It was a story so unbelievable that it existed for me only in the realm of fiction. That was, until November 2010, when 17-year-old Matthew Milat brutally murdered his friend in the same forest as his notorious great-uncle. Lured with the promise of alcohol and marijuana to celebrate his 17th birthday, the victim, David Auchterlonie, was taken to the forest by Milat and two others. I couldn’t understand it. Why would someone go to Belanglo State Forest with Ivan Milat’s nephew? What did they think would happen?

It’s not exactly superstition, nor is it the workings of a cautionary tale. So what is this feeling of a dreadful knowledge inside me? Surely David Auchterlonie would have felt it too, knowing what had happened there. The forest is imbued with symbolism to the point of being tainted by it, and the more I think about it, the more places I can list whose connotations have been altered by some conflict or event.

Sometimes it’s a physical alteration, a mark on the landscape whose effect your eyes can comprehend in the instant it takes your heartbeat to quicken. In Pripyat, the ‘ghost city’ of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, time is suspended and the ground is littered with remnants of a former life. Its population of nearly 50,000, all nuclear plant workers and young families, were evacuated in 1986 after the explosion in Reactor 4. Resting within the 2,600 square kilometre Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, the entire city is abandoned.

Six-storey apartment buildings stand silent in their decay, hidden among overgrown trees. Their interiors, along with those of the hotels, the fire station, schools and kindergartens, are full of dust and rubble. Most haunting, are the kindergartens. Once the playground of several hundred children they now resemble tombs. Dolls lay scattered among the debris, their eyes clicked shut, their hair and faces rotten. Others sit stoically on small, toddler-sized chairs, staring with a weary determination through the cobwebs that cloud their faces. Desks are overturned, the wallpaper peeling, and in the nursery rusty bunk beds and broken wooden cots lie awkwardly on a floor of shredded feather pillows and tiny shoes. On the wall hangs a list of names: children of Pripyat, and the allocated beds they once called their own.

Such places may never be anything more than large-scale memorials and museums. Suspended by past horrors, their function now is to educate and to mourn. Over time, they may lose some of their stigma. But for the foreseeable future at least, their scars are too visible. Sometimes, the effect is more subtle. You may see slight changes in the landscape or perhaps no noticeable marks at all. Everything about it will look unimpressive and benign. It’s only for people privy to the stories and the whispers that something else emerges.

When I was ten years old, my grandmother tripped on an uneven bit of a footpath in Castle Cove. The offending piece of concrete, protruding almost invisibly on the corner of Kendall Road and Holly Street, had been part of her daily walk to the shops for over fifteen years. Nothing much had changed, but that day she just went down. Split her head open and needed four stitches. For months, years afterwards, her blood stained the concrete with spectacular ferocity. For a while it was a source of pride and amusement. Walking hand in hand every weekend, we’d pass the spot and I’d laugh and marvel: ‘Look Gran! Your blood’s still there!’ And sometimes with friends or visitors: ‘See that? That’s where my Gran fell that time. She’s a trooper.’
She died less than a year ago. Quite unexpectedly. Now, whenever I pass that spot, I can’t bring myself to look at the faded black stain. As I avert my eyes it whispers to me of past happiness and future evils. Like a glob of slick paint it withstood the storms and the sun and has marked that place forever.

As my car crawls along the gravel road I look from window to window at the lines of trees, scanning the needled undergrowth for something out of the ordinary. But life seems to continue as normal in the forest. As I pass a crossroads, loggers in high-vis vests and hardhats lumber between the green shadows of the trees and a dusty Ute. In another hundred metres I see a women walking two dogs.

‘What the…’

I follow her with my gaze. She’s sporting sunnies and a nonchalant expression as she clambers over branches on the side of the road.

I shake my head and continue following the main road into the trees. It skirts along the southern side of the forest and before long I come out the western edge into more paddocks of private property. I do a U-turn in the first driveway I see. From the porch of a small house, a dark haired woman and an aging Labrador regard me with squinted eyes.

Back beneath the gaze of the trees I spend ten minutes driving around the gridded roads before pulling off onto a patch of grass. This area of the forest looks the same as all the others: sparse, dull. I can look down the lines of the skinny trees and the gaps between, but I can’t see through to the other side and the road I know is there.

‘Well,’ I say to no one. ‘Nothing left for it.’

I have no plan, I have no map, I have no phone reception. For a moment I am still. In my head is a soft memory, a warning echoed by a girl in a red hood.

Don’t wander from the forest path.

2013-08-17 11.10.19But like I’ve told myself before, this is not the working of a cautionary tale. Trying not to look too wistfully back at my car, I walk slowly off the road and into the trees. I’ve gone about five or six metres when I allow myself to look back. I let out a gasp when I can’t see the road at all. The deceptively skinny trees have closed in at an alarming speed.

‘Right. Well…’
If I just stick to the grassy rivet between the tree-rows, I’m sure to come out the other side. I glance up at the sun snaking down through the branches of the pines. There are a few clouds in the sky but overall it’s a beautiful day. I bring myself back to earth and start to examine the trees and forest floor as I move gently across it. Pinecones dapple the ground just as regularly as shadows. Everything is a mixture of dull shades of green, brown, grey and white. Nothing shines, nothing glimmers, but still, there is lightness.

It’s very quiet. Almost peaceful, until I realise why: there are absolutely no animals. Only several minute spiders, strung undisturbed between grass blades. Once or twice I see the flitting of grey birds. They don’t chirp or sing, and their wings are swift and silent. At that moment a cloud swallows the sun. I pull my jumper tighter around my shoulders and head deeper into the trees.
Somewhere near the centre of my chosen grid I come across a clearing. There are different types of plants here. Shrubs that look almost tropical with their straight shining leaves and sharper shades of green. Every metre or so sits a severed stump, old and flaking. I smile at the unexpected change but it disappears when I recall old news stories. The remains of many of Milat’s victims were found in small clearings. So too were nearby campsites, evidence that the killer spent considerable time with his victims both before and after their deaths.

I don’t cross the clearing. Instead, I turn sideways and shuffle around its border, heading back into the trees more quickly than before. As I’m hurrying away from the clearing I start to hear noises. Thuds, thumps, something clunking nearby. My whole body shudders with the sound and I can think of nothing but getting out of the trees. As abruptly as I left it I find myself stumbling out onto the road again. It isn’t the road I started from, but the section that stretches away to my left ends in a T-intersection. On the corner I can just make out the nose of my car.

The thuds return, this time accompanied by the murmur of voices. I spin to my right, breathing fast. At the end of the road I can see the beginning of another clearing, this one much larger. Slowly, I walk towards it. The closer I get the more familiar the thudding becomes. As the trees start to thin, I can see it but I don’t believe it.

It’s a camping area. And it’s full.

The campground is surprisingly big, almost the size of a football oval. On the right, 4WDs, station wagons and trailers with motorbikes are slotted tightly into a grassy car park. Closest to the car park is a huddle of eight tents. They circle a makeshift communal area with a fire, several dogs, and parents who watch their kids play from the comfort of foldout chairs. To the left of the tents stretches a expanse of mowed grass. On the far left of it, nestled in some trees, are a few swags and a dome tent. A man methodically pegs his swag to the ground. The background to the camping area is a small brown lake. The campers laugh together and pat their dogs, but I don’t cross this clearing either. I stick to the road and make my way to the next intersection. A few of the campers look my way, and for an instant I wonder if they’re startled to see a lone stranger stalking through the trees. But I wager if they’re brave enough to camp here then they wouldn’t be fazed by me.

I’ve reached the intersection and I’m about to turn right, away from the campsite, when something catches my eye. Down at the very back of the campground, there’s a tiny green toilet block and a State Forest noticeboard. Moving closer, I can see it’s covered with pamphlets and posters. I’m expecting some information on the Backpacker Murders: dates, names, a memorial perhaps. But instead the noticeboard is bursting with State approved advice on how best to explore the forest, particularly its two main activities, motorbike riding and mushroom picking.

In the mushroom foraging community, Belanglo Forest exists as a place filled to the brim with desirable fungi. You don’t need a permit, and as long as you don’t pilfer any timber, mushrooming is a popular hobby in all of NSW’s State forests. In late 2011, a group of foragers went to Belanglo to harvest mushrooms. I’ve tracked them down through an organic forager’s online forum, and despite enjoying the day, group leader Elizabeth Perez-Meza explains to me that the trip was structured and business-like.
‘We knew that we would have to get there by about 11am and leave by 4pm, way before sunset. Definitely go in a group of 4-5 people, bring walkie-talkies, make sure everyone is wearing boots or gumboots, plus gloves. And leave way before sunset.’ Just like me the sign at the entrance to the forest made a lasting impression for her, but what is most evident when Liz speaks of her time in the forest are its silence and baleful conformity.

‘I wasn’t scared but you just know that something bad has happened there,’ she says. ‘I understand why the Milats went there to kill: it’s dead quiet and everywhere looks the same. It’s so easy to get lost and if you were to scream out for help, your calls may go unanswered.’

The sun vanishes as I’m examining the noticeboard. When I look up, the entire blue sky is doused with grey. The wind is picking up and the muffled roar of it through the pines is starting to irk me. I pull my jumper tighter around me but it yields no extra warmth. Head down, I walk back past the campsite in the direction of my car. The man has finished pegging his swag, and the voices of the campers are lost in the wind.Belanglo Forest 3

Climbing into the warm air of my car, I expect instant relief. Instead I find myself desperately trying to look anywhere but at the trees. An impossible feat: I am surrounded. Some relief comes when my car starts on the first try. I buckle up and drive, weaving my way through the dirt roads towards the entrance. I’m almost on the main road when around a corner there emerges a log cabin. Thin white curtains veil every window of the squat brown building. I slow down slightly until I see a maroon commodore parked on the other side of the house. It’s just a park ranger, I tell myself as I speed up again. But this doesn’t stop my fantasy of owning a hidden log cabin from being quashed somewhat.

Finally, I’m back on the main road. Ahead of me are the entrance and the silver back of the sign. As I pass it I can’t help but look back. The paddocks of the surrounding farmland are still golden despite the clouds. Perhaps they will shine forever, always in contrast to their silent neighbour.

Later, I’ll find out that there was a visible reminder to the past. Hidden at the other end of the forest is a rock memorial to Ivan Milat’s victims. The boulder would blend into the background of shrubbery if it weren’t for the dark plaque. In brassy letters, it commemorates the memory of the seven backpackers and the efforts of the state services’ members who aided the investigation into their deaths. A bible quote reminds the reader: ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
Looking at photos, safe in the comfort of my lounge room, it strikes me just how ordinary the forest is. Unlike Pripyat, there is nothing to suggest that this was, or ever will be, anything more than a lonely pine forest. Only being there, once you’ve heard the stories and you can stand listening to the sound of nothing, only then do you feel it.

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