Tag Archives: High School

As We Go On, Mary Lou Raposa

‘… at ten-thirty.’

Her hands tighten around the phone. ‘I know.’

‘Don’t be late.’

Her vision melts into a multi-coloured blur as she considers how to best answer the command. ‘I’ll try.’ The sound of laughter forces her vision to refocus. Two teenage girls walk past her and she watches them as they cross to the next carriage. ‘I’m gonna go.’

‘Okay. Take care, Gwen, okay?’

‘Mmm.’

‘Remember: ten-thirty.’

Yes.’

‘I’ll see you tomorrow—love you.’

‘Love you too, mum.’ Sighing, Gwen disconnects the call and drops the phone on the tray. She doesn’t rise; instead, she glances at the folded piece of paper beside the phone—she was in the middle of unfolding it when her mother called. She continues to stare, breathing deep, heart lurching as she exhales. Fingertips shaking, she takes the paper and resumes unfolding. The page opens within seconds, but she barely reads the first word when her heart jumps up her throat. She scrambles to refold the paper and stuffs it in her trouser pocket. Pain and guilt radiate in her chest as her heart continues to race.

Later she promises. Sleep—that’s all she needs; she hasn’t been sleeping well for the past few nights. She curls into herself, rests her head against the window, and closes her eyes.

*

‘I got lucky with my kids.’

‘Yeah?’

The words floated from the kitchen to the living room. Thirteen year old Gwen ate blue M&M’s and turned from the TV to look at the kitchen where her mother and Melanie’s nanny, Ella, stood.

‘Mhm. Seven years apart, but no big problems. It was hard at first, though, let me tell you. Hallie was a rascal and she had all the attention. She threw some massive tantrums when she found out about Gwen—even chucked toys at me when I began to show.’

‘Oh no!’

‘Yeah… she stopped when Gwen arrived, though—good thing too. Gwen’s shy—easily bullied… Hallie was all she had. Now they’re close and everything; I don’t worry about them.’

‘Aw. Siblings are good, aren’t they? Melanie’s an only child, you know—’

‘Mmm.’

‘And Mr Kingston’s always busy so she had to do things alone. Meeting Gwen was the best thing for her.’

‘Oh, Absolutely. Thick as thieves, those two!’

Laughter exploded out of the kitchen as Gwen heard footsteps behind her. She turned and saw Hallie approaching, expression expectant. ‘You’ve twenty bucks for a cab, Gwen?’

Gwen hesitated. ‘Uhm…’

‘Please? If I’m late again they’ll fire me.’

Hallie’s words stabbed guilt into Gwen and she couldn’t resist. She retrieved her wallet. ‘Maybe… you should stop being late?’

‘Shut up. I was up all night for an assignment.’

‘Sorry.’ Gwen held out the bill and Hallie snatched it. ‘I really need this back.’

‘I’ll try—but you know I’m saving up for a car, right?’ Hallie kissed Gwen on the head before striding towards the door. ‘Love you!’

Gwen felt Melanie’s eyes on her, but she ignored it as she resumed her seat after Hallie left.

‘Has she paid you back for last week?’

‘Not yet.’

‘You should tell your mum.’

‘Why? Hallie needed help, that’s all.’ Gwen grabbed a handful of her M&M’s and nicked a few of Melanie’s red ones. Gwen laughed and tried to escape when Melanie attempted to flick her ear. Soon Melanie relented, leaning back just as an M&M commercial came on.

‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have purple M&M’s?’ Gwen blurted.

‘That’d be awesome, actually.’

*

At fourteen, Gwen entered the airport for the first time. Melanie’s father was going to Singapore for a five months business trip and Melanie, with Ella, had to see him off. Gwen accompanied Melanie at her request.

Father and daughter exchanged farewells while Gwen observed from a short distance. She expected tears, but it was all perfunctory. The hug didn’t last five seconds and when they parted the words that came out of Mr Kingston were: ‘Stop causing trouble in school, okay? Every call I get from the principal is a waste of our time.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Concentrate on your studies.’

‘I will.’

Mr Kingston nodded and turned to Gwen. ‘Take care.’

‘Have a safe flight, sir.’

The girls and Ella watched Mr Kingston depart for the gates, only facing each other when he finally disappeared into the crowd. Gwen noticed Melanie’s eyes glistening and draped an arm around her shoulders. ‘Let’s eat?’ she said.

‘Okay.’

*

‘So pumped for this movie.’

‘Same—mum! We’re going!’

‘Take care!’

Gwen, fifteen, opened the door. Melanie nearly stepped out when footsteps echoed in the living room.

‘Gwen! Help me out with my assign—oh. Going out?’

Gwen tensed and faced Hallie. ‘Yeah, the movies… I told you yesterday.’

‘Really? I forgot. Was hoping you’d help me.’

Gwen winced, but before she could say anything Melanie took her shoulder. ‘You’re a big girl, Hal; you’ll be fine,’ she quipped.

‘No shit.’ Hallie snorted. ‘Back to work for just me then—you girls enjoy.’

Gwen couldn’t say goodbye as Melanie pushed her out of the flat. Inadequacy and guilt plagued her as she walked down the hallway. If she only knew earlier then she could’ve spared more time—

‘Stop.’

‘What?’ Gwen glanced at Melanie.

‘Stop feeling guilty.’ Melanie raised her brows. ‘You’re not Hallie; you’re not responsible for her uni work or her life.’

‘She just needed help—’

‘You always say that. She’s an adult; she needs to stop relying on you—it should be the other way around, actually.’

‘I don’t need help. Besides, she’s my sister.’

‘So?’

Their eyes met, each gaze challenging, but neither said another word as stifling silence fell between them.

*

Gwen, sixteen, waited at the back gate for Melanie—the teacher held her back to discuss detention. Gwen wanted to wait outside the classroom, but Melanie told her to go on first. Now, she glanced at the gates every few minutes and wondered every time if Melanie was okay.

Minutes trickled on and the crowd of students diminished as they boarded their respective buses. Often, Gwen glanced up the school. Finally, as the worry threatened to overwhelm her, Melanie emerged from one of the buildings. Her expression was impassive and flanking her were three girls. Gwen’s stomach dropped at the sight of them. Those girls belonged in their grade and she knew them… though, not for the right things.

She watched them approach; soon, they were near enough that she could hear their conversation:

‘You having a party?’

‘No… just dinner and stuff.’

‘Really? It’s your sweet sixteenth, but.’

‘Yeah, we was thinking you’d have a party.’

‘Uhm… that’s not really my thing.’

Melanie smiled at Gwen and she smiled back, though she wanted recoil when the other girls noticed her. They only gave her saccharine smiles as they said farewell to Melanie.

‘You seem close.’ Gwen said after they left.

‘Sort of.’

‘Since when do you guys talk?’

‘Oh… we had a group assignment in English.’

‘I see.’ Gwen widened her smile and decided not to push the matter for now. ‘Dinner? You did that last year.’

‘I lied.’ Melanie sighed. ‘It’s just me. Dad decided to stay longer in London.’

Gwen’s smile vanished. ‘What? Wait… didn’t he come home last night?’

‘He called yesterday and said something came up. I don’t know.’

Gwen remained silent. Soon, Melanie’s car arrived, driving off after the girls slid into the backseat. The journey was thick with silence, the tension so dense that it was suffocating. Gwen stole glances at Melanie and made her decision.

‘You’re sleeping over.’ Gwen said as the car stopped in front of her house.

‘What?’

‘Come on.’ Gwen grabbed her backpack and stepped out of the car.

‘Seriously?’

Yes! Let’s go!’ Gwen grinned when Melanie jumped out of the car. She pulled her backpack forward as the car drove away, fishing keys out of the front pocket. ‘This’ll be great,’ she said. ‘We can buy cake—if not, we’ll make one. It’s gonna be crap, but better than nothing, yeah?’

‘Gwen?’

‘Hmm?’

‘Thank you.’

Gwen looked at Melanie, saw the red cheeks and glistening eyes, and embraced her. ‘Don’t mention it. Come, we’ll order pizza—I think we still have M&M’s somewhere.’

*

‘Cigs’re gone. What’d he say?’

‘He grounded me… from everything.’

‘Well, you deserve that.’

‘It’s just a bit of fun.’

Gwen, seventeen, rolled her eyes and closed the bedroom door behind her with more force than necessary. ‘Defacing public property is not fun.’

Melanie sighed. ‘All right. Thanks for helping, by the way.’

Gwen sat on the edge of the bed. ‘You should stop.’

‘Stop what?’

‘Whatever you’re doing. Stop hanging out with those people. Stop ruining your life.’

‘They’re not bad—’

‘They’re not good for you!’ Gwen snapped. ‘This is beyond skipping school, Mel. This is far from—from shitty test scores and back-talking teachers. This is illegal—do you want to be a criminal?’

‘… No.’

‘I don’t either—wait.’ Gwen glanced at her phone when it buzzed and saw a text from Hallie: gwen im short on rent money cover for me pls i’ll pay u back love u! Dejection settled heavily in her stomach. ‘Seriously?’

‘Seriously what?’

Gwen brought the phone back to her ear. ‘Nothing.’

‘Hallie?’

‘No?’

Melanie scoffed. ‘Okay. You need to stop.’

‘Wait, don’t change the subj—’

‘Listen: giving Hallie everything you have is ruining your life. You have to stop enabling her.’

Gwen rubbed her face in irritation. ‘But she needs m—’

‘Stop saying that! She’s using you, Gwen! If you let her she’ll keep using you until you die! Is that what you want?’

Gwen’s lips trembled, but remained silent.

‘Stop enabling her… or I’ll tell your mum.’

Tears dampened the corners of Gwen’s eyes. She bit her lip. Neither girls said another word, but the line remained open and the silence between them stretched for a long time.

*

Gwen, eighteen, laid flat on the couch. The TV showed the news, but she wasn’t listening. On the floor a poster covered with signatures, sketches, and messaged leaned against the coffee table. The urge to cry hung at the back of her throat and she had to swallow hard repeatedly to keep the tears from escaping. Resentment danced in her mind—right now, she didn’t want to see Hallie’s face.

Somewhere in the city her classmates celebrated graduation. She mean to go—saved for it the week before, but two days ago Hallie was short on rent money again. What could Gwen do?

Minutes melted into hours. A game show replaced the news, but Gwen remained on the couch. Thoughts of the celebrations filled her mind—she could’ve been with them.

The sound of a lock releasing shattered the silence. Gwen didn’t move when her mother called her name until—

‘Melanie’s here.’

Gwen sat up and saw her mother approaching. Melanie stood by the door. Gwen’s shock at the sight of Melanie diminished under growing confusion when she caught the way Melanie avoided her eyes and the sombre expression on her mother’s face. ‘What’s… happening?’

‘Gwen…’ her mother hesitated. ‘We need to talk about Hallie.’

A cold feeling spread across Gwen’s back. She stared at her mother in horror before turning to Melanie. ‘You told her.’

‘I did.’ Melanie finally looked at Gwen.

Gwen stood and approached Melanie. ‘But… it’s none of your business! Why would you do that?’

‘I’m sorry—I can’t stand by anymore. You’re meant to be celebrating with us, Gwen… but look what Hallie did. I’m so sorry, but I’ve had enough. I had to do something.’

Gwen shook her head as her hands balled into fists. ‘Get out.’

‘Gwen—’

‘Get out!’ Gwen shoved Melanie out of the flat and slammed the door in her face.

*

Gwen stared at her phone. No messages in the past three months; not one phone call. This was the longest they went without talking. The fact that she didn’t notice until now…

Gwen’s anger at Melanie lasted for a while. Hallie avoided Gwen after their mum found out—it was expected, but it didn’t lessen the hurt. To distract herself from the absence of the two most constant people in her life, Gwen applied for jobs and volunteer work. Then university started, the new experience overwhelming her. Often she’d stare at her mobile lonely, dejected, and tempted to call Melanie, but her mind persistently returned to that night—after what she’d done, why would Melanie want to talk to her? That call never happened. Work, stress, and anxiety piled high above Gwen’s head and she struggled to resurface.

Then one night she received a call from the local hospital about Melanie Kingston.

Gwen’s head snapped up from the phone when she heard a groan. Her throat constricted at the sight of Melanie moving and scooted forward to take her hand. ‘Hi.’

‘Gwen?’ Melanie struggled to open her eyes, voice rough.

‘Yeah.’

‘W-what’re you—’

‘Apparently, I’m your emergency contact.’

‘Oh… yeah.’

Gwen stroked Melanie’s hand. ‘I had to call your dad, though. I hope that’s okay.’

‘Might as well.’

Gwen didn’t say anything and continued to stroke Melanie’s hand. She eyed Melanie’s arm, examined the scars and bruises marring the inside of it. Her stomach felt hollow. Melanie didn’t have these the last time they saw each other… they’ve only been apart three months. How was this possible?

‘Gwen?’

Gwen swallowed hard. ‘Yeah?’

‘You forgive me yet?’

The words were casual, rough. Tears sprang to Gwen’s eyes unbidden. She bowed her head, gripped Melanie’s hand, and rested her forehead on it. ‘I do. I forgive you.’

*

Eleven-fifteen.

Fists deep in her coat pockets, Gwen appraises the church from the bottom of the steps. A faint male voice echoes through the open doors and glues Gwen’s feet to the concrete. She swallows hard and inhales sharply before dragging one foot in front of the other. Like a machine, she repeats the action until she reaches the top of the stairs.

‘When I almost—almost lost her a year ago… it opened my eyes. Right then I promised her that we’ll be a proper—proper family.’

Gwen enters, presence muted, not making a sound. Half of the church is filled with guests, but she doesn’t know most of them. She sits on an empty pew, unable to join the sea of black. On the podium is Melanie’s father; he spots her and smiles gratefully. She returns the gesture reluctantly.

‘For the past year we were… uhm… happy. I learned… so much about her—’ he sobs and bows his head. ‘When s-she overdosed again and I-I finally lost her… it’s c-cruelty I never expected.’

Regret is pointless, Gwen thinks. It doesn’t revive the dead… it doesn’t forgive the living either. She tunes him out and stares at the casket separating him from the guests. The lid is closed, the lower half covered with white lilies. Knowing what’s inside sucks all the air out of Gwen’s lungs. Disbelief suspends her out of the bubble of grief. She doesn’t believe it, but the next second she wants to scream. Tears dampen the corners of her eyes as the desire to keel and pull her hair claws her body. She steels herself by gripping the folded paper in her trouser pocket.

‘We now invite Gwen Morgan, Melanie’s best friend, to speak.’

She shuts down the moment all the guests turn to stare at her. She doesn’t remember rising from the pew or the walk to the dais. The next time she becomes aware is when she stands behind the podium, her hand still gripping the paper. She stares at the casket and freezes—she’s glad the lid is closed. She doesn’t want to see what Melanie looked like in there. Instead, she thinks about the times when Melanie smiled, joked, and was alive. She steals courage from that and pulls the paper out. Her fingers remain steady as she unfolds it, but when she leans towards the mic and tries to speak, no words come out. Her tongue feels like glue in her mouth. She clears her throat and tries again. ‘Thick as thieves… that’s what my mum said about us. But… we’re more than that.’

 

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Skyfall, Stephen Henry

 

It was a way to fill in two hours and a velvet darkness that promised forgetfulness and escape, so Kyle bought a ticket to the latest Bond movie without even considering the name – Skyfall. He chose a seat at the side and settled in to the soothing murmur of other cinema goers, the softness of the seat and the gentle sound of cola and ice in a paper cup. He closed his eyes and fought that familiar sense; of a mindfulness of the present that teeters on the edge of the abyss… that threatens to fall and lose itself in the past.

The lights had no sooner dimmed for the previews than Kyle heard the giggle and ‘Shit!’, as popcorn was spilled and a teenage couple found their seats behind him. The

chatter began directly as the boy commented on the kiosk worker, ‘That guy really was a prick – he just ignored us for about ten minutes’. Then a read-aloud text from the girl – her friend wanting to know where she was.

‘Don’t tell her,’ said the boy.

Their attention was diverted to the screen, but the boy determinedly maintained the chatter as the new instalment of ‘Madagascar’ was previewed.

‘Mum’s gonna drag me along to see that next week, wants me there to help look after my little brother.’

‘He’s such a freak, you know he pinched my phone and sent a message to Ruby, telling her she has a big ass.’

They had a comment about every preview. ‘She’s fat.’

‘He’s hot.’

‘What a douche.’

Kyle thought about turning around. He should have hissed at them or told them to keep it down. A year ago he would have, if Megan had been with him, she would have, without a doubt. She probably would have told them to shut up or get out. Now though he didn’t have it in him. Besides that – he was thinking that he used to be like that,  that there was a time when as a fourteen year old, he crept sweaty-palmed out of home for the movies with Megan, and his heart was thumping and his mouth was dry and he was glad when she took his hand. They’d laughed their way through ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and shared a strawberry milkshake afterwards. She’d worn skinny jeans and a white blouse and had tied her hair up with a red ribbon, which he’d wanted to touch. So perhaps he should let the rituals of teenage romance take its course.

There was a faint scent now in the cinema, a perfume just out of reach and he half turned to the empty seat next to him before stopping himself. He took a sip of cola and swirled the ice, stretched his legs out under the seat in front of him and then tuned in to the couple behind again. They were weighing the merits of an actor in an upcoming sci-fi movie.

‘Ruby thinks he’s so hot but I think his neck is too long, see how his head just sits way up there?’

‘And he’s nearly bald anyway, I don’t really get what his movies are about.’

Their attention waned, but their conversation didn’t.

‘Hey, check this bruise out will ya? It’s kind of glowing here in the dark, all yellow and shit.’

‘That’s so freaky, how did you get it?’

‘Fell over, chasing my kid brother, knocked my knee on some rocks . . . didn’t hurt though.’

That little bit of bravado reached out to Kyle. He and Megan had discovered a mutual love for everything outdoors not long after Megan’s family moved into the area when Kyle was ten. Exploring the bushland behind Megan’s place, they had climbed or scrambled up whatever they could find, from small rock faces to the larger railway cuttings or the old willows with the ribbed bark that crowded down by the creek. One day they both scraped their right knees after running and falling among the mossy stones that lay scattered along the clear flowing water. Kyle had sat there barely holding back the tears while Megan laughed at him and called him a ‘sissy’. Later, Megan’s mother had stood them against the wall and hosed them off like baby elephants at the zoo before looking at the matching bruises and calling them a ‘pigeon pair’.

Kyle thought that once the feature started the pair behind him might shut up.

They didn’t, but their comments were drowned by the opening action in which Bond commandeers an excavator on the back of a moving train and uses it as a shield. Kyle was more interested in the backdrop as the train moved from a Turkish cityscape to the more scenic setting of sheer granite mountainsides and pine forests. He found himself automatically assessing the cliffs as potential jump sites and wondering what lay at their feet. By this time Bond had made his way onto the roof of the passenger section and was wrestling the villain for a gun as the train rolled over a high stone arch bridge that spanned an impossibly deep ravine. Eve, Bond’s accomplice, had stationed herself above and was looking down her gun sights at the two men fighting atop the train. She hesitated despite being ordered to ‘take the shot’ and hesitated again before squeezing the trigger. She winged Bond sending him sideways and over the edge of the train. Kyle’s breath caught as Bond fell head first, the camera refusing the urge to slow him down, in his grey suit he plummeted like a misshapen lump of granite into the swift flowing river at the base of the ravine. Kyle imagined the train rolling on into the mountains and Eve left there with the heaviness of the gun and its smell, the silence of the pines and the sky, broken only by the distant sound of that rushing river.

If he’d been thinking clearly he would have got up then an there and walked out of the cinema into the gathering twilight instead of sitting there while a nightmare underwater-world formed a surreal backdrop to the opening credits and the boy behind him commented stupidly on Bond’s remarkable ability to hold his breath.

He really was about to say something a little later when the smug little comment, ‘It’s a sawn off shotgun’, floated forward to the on-screen accompaniment of a man . . . sawing off the end of a shotgun.

In fact he was about to turn around and say, ‘You know about guns do you?’, and toyed with the idea of asking the precise make and model of the gun, or for an explanation of why shotguns are sawn off but realised he had no idea himself. Besides, there was that time, when he had pointed out a ‘Harley’ parked out the front of the corner pub. Only, when he had taken Megan over to admire its leather and chrome he’d noticed the ‘Honda Gold Wing’ insignia and hurried her away on some other pretext.

He and Megan had started some more serious hiking and abseiling together as teenagers, but the desire to feel the weightlessness of flight and air had made Kyle restless and Megan didn’t take much convincing. Their first attempt at hang gliding had been from a sea cliff on a day when the whitecaps on the Pacific looked small below but the instructor had suggested they wait for the wind to die a little. After lumbering to a take- off both had been struck by such a strong updraft that it blew them back up the slope to the tree-line, snapping a wing strut, puncturing a wing and leaving them laughing at their inability to fall. They had been introduced to base jumping by one of Megan’s friends and the jumping seemed to be a natural progression from the adventure sports that had come to dominate their life together. Their first trip out of Australia had been to jump from a span over a gorge in New Zealand generally used for bungy and from there they had ventured further afield. There was the terrifying morning they’d flung themselves from the bridge that joined the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and then a series of jumps in the south western states of America.

Kyle leaned back into the softness of the cinema chair, unable now to avoid thinking about the world of Bond and the world of certain types of men. Guns and motorbikes and falling from the sky without dying, men were expected to know about these things—he supposed. Although the last two years had shown him that such things often demanded a high price from boys and young men, and offered little in the way of redemption at the end of the process.

The action scenes on the screen had given way to the dark timbers, candlelight and cane furniture of a classic Shanghai hotel room. A perfumed Eve and a showered and towel-waisted Bond were getting dangerously close to each other, separated only by a razor. When she’d finished the shave, Eve’s tilt of the head and ‘That’s better’, were met by ‘Yeah’, from behind. He thought about the drama being played out so close to him and realised that the boy was testing out his desired role, weapons expert, one shot wonder and smooth talker. Over the next hour Kyle was privy to a mysterious process of becoming, amidst the popcorn smells and darkness of the cinema.

The boy started to respond on Bond’s behalf.

‘I didn’t think you could come up here’, queried Moneypenny.

‘You can’t’, the boy replied.

He tried his hand at repartee.

Bond: Everyone needs a hobby.

Bad guy: What’s yours?

Teen Bond: Kicking your ass.

He strategized like Bond.

‘He’s heading for the river dude, cut him off.’ He even started to give advice to Bond.

‘Leave him there under the ice, the bastard.’ As if Bond was his sidekick now, Robin to the teenage Batman.

Kyle wondered what the girl thought of the magical transformation of her boyfriend into wise cracking lady’s man secret agent. For the most part she sat there in seeming silence or simply murmured some indistinct response.

The silver Aston Martin DB5 represented the young Bond’s best chance though. He confidently announced it as a ’65 Aston Martin’ and kept up the patter as it took its usual place in the action. At one stage Kyle felt a sudden kick and pressure on his back as up on the screen a car chase took place. He realised that the boy had shoved his foot into his chair and was pressing down hard on the accelerator as Bond’s car came through the top of a corner.

Despite the initial discomfort, Kyle simply settled deeper into his chair and allowed himself to drift, back to that day, his car, Megan riding passenger. He was taking the corner on a rain slicked road just before dawn, jamming the old silver Skyline into fourth. The first glimmers of light could be seen to the east and the windows were down. It had rained last night and might rain again, the air a mixture of wet soil and eucalypt, but he figured they had at least three or four clear hours to get up there for the jump. Megan was looking west to catch the first glimpse of their next challenge. Her hair was hidden under a black cap but as she turned he caught a flash of red. This was to be their tenth jump together, but the first from an antenna mast. Their previous jump had been on their trip to the US, from the top of the sheer El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. There had been a light cover of snow over on the top of the Half Dome across the valley and the westering sun had changed the usual grey tones of the rock to a burnished bronze. The valley floor had moved into early shadow by the time Megan launched herself into space. He watched her grow small and the red of her opening chute below was like the flare of a distant match struck over the darkening valley. He had followed, and felt like some comet falling through the sky, for a moment giving no thought to whether his chute would open or not. The air numbed his cheeks and the tops of the pines rushed up to meet him. He glimpsed the river, ice blue from snowmelt before being jolted back up into the air by his harness. He’d landed next to Megan on the washed gravel of the riverbank and they’d built a driftwood fire there that evening as a way of holding on to such a moment and such a place. They’d talked for a while under the stars but their voices disappeared into the vastness of it all and so they sat, back to back, and fell into a sleepless quietude.

They were planning on another trip, Europe this time, and had been scraping some money together by doing some training work for a small sky diving company and working odd hours in the sports store owned by Megan’s brother.  So this jump was an indulgence, and a recognition that they were linked by the intangible nature of air. They were to be the first to jump from this particular antenna mast situated on the lower slopes of Mt Picken, overlooking the coastal plain on the north coast of NSW. The base of the antenna mast was a little way back from the road and they cut their way through the chain link fence surrounding it. A last check of equipment, harnesses, canopies, footwear, first aid and they started their climb. The first sixty metres was a steel ladder but after that they climbed using the spikes welded to the inside of the antenna. They stopped twice on the way up, the first time to watch the sun lift above the horizon and the second at a small platform two thirds of the way up for the warmth of thermos coffee and a pastry. The highest antenna array was three hundred and fifty metres above the plain and they arrived there, short of breath, forty five minutes after starting their climb. The sun, now well above the horizon, had turned the serpentining river course silver. This was the rich farmland of the river delta and the fields were a patchwork of gaffer green and stubble brown, the ocean, mirage-like, glimmered on the horizon. The adrenalin and the breeze which whistled through the guy-wires made normal conversation difficult, but they didn’t need to say much anyway.

As had become customary, Megan opted to jump first and eased herself to the exterior of the mast. She looked back at Kyle and smiled before turning her attention to what lay in front of her, the distant ocean and the patchwork below.

‘Three, two, one’ . . . the familiar jump, the abandoning of the self to the air, a gust…the shiver of a guy-wire, its tug and release, the sight of her hands spread wide to catch the sky and a glimpse of her face, pale under the black cap and then a flash of red as she twisted unnaturally, not like her at all, plummeting, misshapen, the wind now screaming.

He angrily pulled himself back to the cinema, shaking his head and focusing on the screen. Bond had found his moment of redemption. Kyle thought about how ridiculous that was, an impossibly smug bastard Bond, surviving falls and gunfire and wrecked cars, wisecracking and womanising all the while.

He gathered his rubbish and was about to stand up when he felt the movement behind him as the teen couple, quiet at last, stood to leave. He watched as they came into this field of vision and moved down the steps towards the exit.

In the half light, Kyle caught a glimpse of hair tied back with red.

He was alone again, back at the top of the antenna mast, the serpentining river, the wind through the guy-wires and the moment of his un-becoming – when the sky – just – fell.

 

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From Fae’s Labyrinth, Eva Matheson

 

‘Everything is simpler than you think and at the same time more complex than you imagine‘

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

 Bonnie is the new school councillor after the usual one ‘disappeared’. Sarah must routinely visit the councillor, due to her home situation. Hayley is Sarah’s mum’s best friend.  For the past five years she has been the carer of both Sarah, and her mum.

Harry holds his distance from Sarah in social situations, but is aware of her every move. We don’t know his true intentions yet. He is fairly good-looking, but has dulled down his looks in an effort to appear more human. He has half-human blood (as does Sarah, which she has yet to discover) and half-Fae blood, from an elfin bloodline. Harry is Scottish and Sarah is English. The setting so far, is London.

 

SARAH

 

I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this. After talking to Bonnie, the school councillor, at my redundant weekly session, I was convinced the weekend holiday was not a good idea. Then after seeing Harry, talking to Harry, I felt strangely…. adventurous. It wasn’t much like butterflies in my belly, more like a whole bunch of beetles wiggling for space till I could barely stand it anymore. A blend of nerves and excitement I hadn’t felt since I was a kid going away on holidays. Long before Mum got sick. I arrived home from school, the front door creaked, and Hayley’s dogs barked from the back garden.

‘I’m doing the dishes!’

I walked to the den of a kitchen where Hayley stood facing the window.

‘Hi Hayley, looks like rain this weekend. What are your plans?’

Man I was talking fast. Hayley stopped washing the dishes, her pink-gloved hands still in the bubbles. She glanced back over her shoulder. I knew she was onto me.

‘Could you look after Mum?’ It was lame, but I pouted anyway.

‘Do you mean the whole weekend?’ Hayley went back to the dishes.

I lent my elbows on the kitchen bench next to Hayley and fiddled with the silver locket on my chain. ‘Some friends are going to the countryside. We’d be staying in their Auntie’s house, honestly.’

Hayley made a tutting sound with her tongue. She was always doing it. When she watched bad news on T.V, she tutted. If the newspaper was delivered late, she tutted. At the rising price of fuel, she tutted a lot. It was her way of disapproving of bad things, and occasionally her way of teasing the good.

She looked out the window as she washed the dishes. I followed her gaze. Mum was sitting at the table on the lawn. Her hands in her lap, her body completely still. Hayley’s two golden retrievers dozed at her feet.

‘No trouble at all Hayley. Go, pack, don’t worry about your Mum, we’ll be fine.’

I was relieved at how quickly she agreed, after all, it meant giving up her entire weekend to cook meals, bathe, walk, and put Mum to bed.

‘Thanks, I owe you,’ I replied, and squeezed my arms around her.

Hayley smiled and pulled the sink plug.

‘You can pay me back by doing your own dishes sometime!’

I grimaced as I bounced up the stairs behind her.

I didn’t pack much. Two changes of clothes, toiletries, and a book called Little Women to read for the umpteenth time. I turned the first page and read Mum’s birthday message inside. I was 11 years old then, the last birthday before she got really sick. A week later Hayley moved in.

I walked back down the stairs and that seed of guilt began to grow in my gut. How could I leave my Mum?

They were sitting at the kitchen table, the room now smelly from a slow cooked dinner. Mum stared at a wall with her hands around a cup of tea that would be cold and untouched. Hayley was chatting away about the cafe she was planning to visit for lunch the next day. Her cup was long empty. I knelt beside Mum.

‘The bus comes in ten minutes so I’d better get going… Mum?’  She looked like a fragile porcelain doll, except for the roots of silver in her hair, and the wrinkles that dolls never get.

I rested my hand on the back of her chair. Mum didn’t respond, so I touched her shoulder. She glanced over, looking at me, but her expression genuinely blank.

‘Mum, I’ll be back on Sunday. Will you be okay without me?’

She stared at me for a long moment; her blue eyes had tiny dots for pupils. Her eyes didn’t look like they even worked. Then her lashes flickered.

‘Sarah.’ She confirmed softly.

I froze. Mum hadn’t spoken in weeks, let alone recognised me.

‘Yes Mum….will you be okay here, with Hayley?’ My throat grew tight. Somehow this stopped tears.

Mum looked across the table to where Hayley sat, silhouetted by the window. Hayley was smiling back.

‘Yes.’ Barely a whisper. Then I could see in her eyes, she was fading again.

‘Pinkie promise?’ I reached my hand up, offering her my arched pinkie like I had done so many times when I was little.

Mum raised her hand and linked her finger with mine. Her mouth twitched at the corners. Then she looked to me and in the slowest motion ever, placed a warm, frail hand on the side of my face, cupping my cheek and chin.

‘I know you,’ her voice was hoarse, leaking with confusion.

I could only nod and place my hand over hers. It hurt when she was lost inside herself, and it hurt when she wasn’t.

‘I’ll be back soon. I love you Mum.’

As quickly as she had returned to the land of the living, her eyes glazed over and the porcelain doll face returned to the window. She was gone, somewhere deep inside her mind, somewhere out of my reach. I looked to Hayley, calm and collected, Mum’s best friend; and the only reason I had stayed out of foster care all these years.

‘Go Sarah, we’ll have fun, and so should you.’

I didn’t move.

‘Tut tut tut. Go.’

I nodded, and wrapped my arms around her; my throat was feeling tight again.

She was right, and it was in this moment that I realised just how wrong Bonnie was. I wasn’t being selfish like she had said.  I was just trying to be like a normal teenager with something that resembled a social life.

‘Thanks Hayley.’ I pushed my chair back. Mum didn’t react in the slightest to the scraping noise. Hayley leaned forward and gave me her serious face. She played the role of Mum, in Mum’s absence.

‘Be safe, have fun, and please don’t worry. She will be safe as long as she’s with me. I promise’.

I looked back one last time as I left the kitchen. For a moment I thought Hayley’s face seemed sad and worried, even though she gave me a smile and a wink. I hoped I wasn’t making a huge mistake.

 

HARRY

 

There she was, Bonnie, the school councillor, standing in the shadows to the rear of the platform. She was dressed in a full-length black dress; her hair fell about her shoulders, her pretty face painted with pretty make-up. She watched the small crowd entering the train station. Even in the dark she looked beautiful, and if I didn’t know better, I would have found her striking. But I did know better. I knew exactly what she was. And she was waiting for Sarah.

A water witch cleverly transformed. Naturally grotesque webbed feet, much too wide for human footwear; Bonnie wore long dresses all the time. That was my first clue. But the biggest give away was the smell leaking from her flesh.

A smell like clothes left to go damp in a laundry basket. The first time I met her, the smell was so subtle, but that odour and her feet were enough to give away her disguise. And yet, as clever as her disguise was to the inexperienced, this witch sure wasn’t good at spotting others in camouflage.

I looked at the clock on the wall above the platform. Bonnie hadn’t seen me yet, and the train would be here in five minutes, and that meant Sarah would also be arriving at any moment. I needed to get rid of the witch before she could get her claws into Sarah’s mind and convince her not to get on the train.

I knew what had to be done. It wouldn’t be the first time, and there really wasn’t any other choice.  My job was to protect Sarah and bring her to the manor where the others waited, no matter what it took. I walked lightly on my feet towards Bonnie, adjusting my backpack over my shoulder as I went. Bonnie was hidden in the dark, and distracted by her goal.

She didn’t notice me until I was standing close to her, just behind her right side. I glanced around; no one was looking our way. I pulled my dagger from my jacket pocket, and held it out of sight, but ready nonetheless. It would take only one strike through the heart, and she would be finished quickly, and quietly.

But Bonnie turned and I was caught.

‘Harry! What are you doing here?’

Bonnie smiled in a friendly sort of way, but I noticed her mouth twitch. I had caught her off guard. ‘Waiting for Sarah,’ I replied.

Her smile disappeared. She eyed me up and down with suspicion. Her eyes tore at my skin like invisible fingernails, as she tried to see if anything lay beneath my outer appearance. Is he human? Or is he not? Her eyes questioned.

I took a step closer and gripped my hidden dagger. It had to be done, now. Suddenly, Bonnie’s eyes widened, and she stumbled back.

‘Romus!  I can see you… No, please Romus, no. I will leave her alone. Please don’t do anything.’ Bonnie began to cower and shrink before my eyes.

This was murder. This was not how my clan had raised me. I had only done it once before, cornered in a cave by a pissed off red-cap goblin. It had to be him or me. Today, it was me or Bonnie.

Maybe I could let this witch walk away? I hesitated, my dagger still by my side, but Bonnie embraced my hesitation as her opportunity. Her pretty face turned grey, her smile transformed into a jaggered, diseased grin of teeth.

My arm twitched.

Bonnie whipped a hand up to the spot behind her neck and drew a long thin knife, concealed by her blanket of hair. She cocked her head, cracking her neck.

‘Oh, it feels good to be me.’

My fingers tightened around my dagger.

She was fierce in her lunge as her jaw clenched, but I was faster, and my dagger dug deep up through her ribs, destroying her heartbeat. The witch dropped to her knees as I withdrew my dagger, and in her final breath, she transformed to her true appearance. Her body was grey all over, with gills carved up and down her throat, a hunch back, twisted bony arms, and a face and chest wet as though coated in Vaseline. Her eyes were hollow now, and black, cocooned by a drawn and sagging human-ish face.

Bonnie’s knife fell to the ground with a tinkle, followed by her limp, grotesque body. No one noticed a thing tucked away in that dark corner.

I managed to control my shaking enough to wipe the grey blood matter from my dagger, onto the witch’s dress. I couldn’t help but wonder if this kill was just the beginning. There was still a long way to go. I pushed her body back against the wall. It was already shrivelling, and soon she would be just a pool of dark water and wet clothes. In my stomach, and in my head, I was queasy, and there was sweat beneath my clothes. It might have been easier if I hadn’t known her, and it didn’t help to see the gruesome corpse transformation. Then I heard the train approaching, and as I did, I watched Sarah step onto the platform, her eyes searching for friends.

I moved along the wall, concealed by the shadows. I approached Sarah far from where the witch lay.

‘Hey! I’m real happy you came,’ I smiled, and shoved my sweaty hands in my pockets.

‘Hey, Harry. So, where are the others?’ Sarah asked, glancing around.

‘They’re catching the morning train. Dunno why, they didn’t go into detail.’

I knew I was talking too fast. I was sounding contrived. I imitated a yawn.

‘Thanks for meeting me. I probably would have gone home if no one was here.’ Sarah shrugged; I thought I saw a small smile.

The train doors slid open as we talked. People were beginning to find their seats.

‘Come on. It’ll be warmer on the train.’ I reached out my hand, but I knew I shouldn’t have, not to her. It wasn’t my place, even though we were on the human side. I could hardly believe I was about to succeed in bringing Sarah back. I didn’t want to let her go. The others would be waiting. She took my hand, and we stepped inside the train.

 

SARAH

 

We sat in a strange, easy silence. The train seats were like lumpy rocks. They smelt of feet, or bad food, or both, and were structured in rows, dappled, with people all facing the wrong way. By the time the train left the city, it was so dark that I could barely see a field or a tree. Harry and I piled up our backpacks and propped our feet on them like footrests. I glanced at Harry’s reflection in the window. He looked so deep in thought. I hardly knew him, even though he’d been hanging out with my group for most of term. I’d see him at the shops and movies, or whatever was going on that weekend.

Most of the time he just sat with the boys, not that he was anything much like them. He was…kind of weird, polite in an old fashioned way, holding doors open and saying, ‘After you.’ And he always looked so serious.

‘I heard about your mum.’

‘Heard what?’ my words cracked like a whip. ‘You heard she’s brain damaged? Gone crazy? A vegetable? A retard? What?’ Oh god shut up Sarah.

Harry was staring, his mouth parted.

‘Forgive me, I didn’t mean to –’

‘Don’t.  Don’t pretend you understand.’ It was so dark outside I could only see my face in the window.

I looked back at Harry.

‘I didn’t think you had green eyes.’

Harry was staring ahead. He dropped his eyes, and turned to me.

‘I don’t. They’re brown.’

As the train rolled on, Harry got a message on his phone. I pretended to stare through the dark window, but I was carefully watching his reflection. He looked worried at first, but when his phone beeped with a reply message, he smiled.

The motion of the train was winning. I closed my heavy eyelids; it was what they wanted. I didn’t know how long I slept for, but when I woke, my head was on Harry’s shoulder, and the train was slowing.

 

Download a pdf of Fae’s Labyrinth Ch1

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From Slipstream, Kylie Nealon

 

The two men stared at the screen in front of them, disbelieving.

‘It worked,’ the older of the two whispered.

His companion’s eyes glittered under the lab’s eerie artificial lights. ‘This changes everything,’ he said. ‘Everything.’

The older man shook his head. ‘It makes no difference at all. We still can’t guarantee the subject’s safety, or the reliability of the transfer. I don’t want to take this to the committee yet.’

The younger man stood up, his athletic frame rigid with fury. ‘Your overcautious mentality is absurd, Richard. We’ve tested and retested, and we get the same result. Every. Single. Time.’ His voice rose to a half-shout on the last word.

Richard fixed his stare on his colleague of more than a decade. ‘Harry, do you understand the implications in saying something if we’re wrong?’

His voice was flat; he was weary of having the same argument they’d had dozens of times before. In the past, they’d always managed to resolve it, at least for the sake of appearances in front of the lab staff. Not this time, Richard thought. Something seemed to have shifted irrevocably in Harry. 

The latter strode to the security door as if unable to speak, clearly unwilling to break the impasse.

Don’t don’t do this, Harry!’ Richard attempted to appeal to the only thing he knew would reach him – a slim shard of morality that remained within an otherwise corrupted conscience. ‘You can’t inflict this on them. They aren’t ready. You’ll regret it, I promise!’

The younger man turned, his face hard. ‘The only thing I’ll regret, Richard, is that I wasted so many years listening to you.’

Harry slammed the ‘exit’ button, leaving Richard alone. His exhalation echoed around the room, save only for the beeping coming from the panel in front of him. He knew there was no longer any point in delaying. Touching the console in front of him, he waited. A woman’s face appeared in front of him, her concern evident. ‘Cerys? We have a problem.’

 

‘Miss Hambleton?’

The assertive query came amidst the shrieks of joy and garbled announcements over the loudspeakers. Even at 7:00am, Heathrow was mental. Sixteen-year-old Scarlett pushed her overloaded trolley towards a small man holding a ‘D’Orsay Academy’ sign with her name on it.

‘Hi, that’s me,’ she managed, holding her wayward trolley with one hand.

He smiled, and took hold of the trolley as it threatened to mow down a group of old aged pensioners who’d also come off her flight.

‘Welcome to London, Miss. Come with me – you’re the last one to come through.’ He began weaving through the throngs of waiting relatives and friends with an ease that spoke of many such previous trips.

Scarlett followed, tripping over feet and earning a few scowling looks in the process. As she drew closer to the exit door, the air shimmered and she felt a familiar wave of nausea rooting her to the spot.

Multi-hued auras began appearing around people who were eyeballing her with wary expressions. Please, not here, she pleaded with the universe. She closed her eyes and took a few breaths, hoping it might disappear. These weird episodes, which appeared out of nowhere, had become more frequent over the last six months. Scarlett had no idea what was causing them, but she was pretty sure that the last thing she wanted was another one in the middle of the world’s busiest airport. The deep breathing was making her hyperventilate, and a cold sweat broke out between her shoulder blades, sticking her already grubby t-shirt to her back. Behind her, someone let out a harsh string of curses under his breath.

‘What is it with you tourists? Want to take a few pictures? Move, already!’ The sarcasm was unmistakable, made more prominent with an American twang. A tall, lean boy of about her own age, sidestepped Scarlett, his bright blue eyes glaring down at her. His movie star looks were spoiled by a scowl that tore up his face.

‘Geez, okay,’ Scarlett said. She wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans and straightened up.

The boy huffed. ‘Spare me your redundant apologies.’ His eyes flicked over her. Scarlett pushed her slightly damp hair back and looked up at him, nausea forgotten.

‘I don’t think I did apologise,’ she replied, stung by his rudeness. ‘I’m so sorry that I stopped you getting your,’ she glanced at the solitary bag slung over his shoulder, ‘duffel bag out of here. I can imagine how inconvenient it must be for you having to get all of that luggage out of here.’

The duffel bag was definitely a step down, for someone who looked like he wasn’t short of a bob or two, as her granny would say. She noticed that the boy’s knuckles were turning white as she spoke, an unexpected anxiety that was at odds with the arrogant attitude.

‘Whatever.’ He hoisted the bag closer to his body and brushed past her, leaving a whiff of leather and something metallic hanging in the air. Scarlett watched him climb into a car that must have cost more than her parents made in a year.

‘Uh, Miss?’ her driver’s voice called out to her from the kerb. ‘Gotta go, love, the traffic’ll be a nightmare if we wait any longer.’

Scarlett nodded and walked over. The boy’s car melted into the traffic and she realised that her ‘episode’ had been cut short by his unexpected intervention.  Cheered by the thought, she boarded her bus and put him completely out of mind.

 

On the D’Orsay bus, Scarlett met three other new students who’d arrived around the same time she had. They seemed nice, though she couldn’t imagine that she’d find a friend like Sass, who’d been her best friend since they were five. Determined to soak in as much detail for her first missive home, Scarlett studied the landscape, fascinated by how different everything looked here. It was so green and tidy, compared to the desiccated wild dryness of home.

‘First time away from home?’ Mike, a student from the States, leaned over as if able to read her thoughts.

‘Yep,’ she said. ‘You?’

‘Nah.’ He scooted closer. ‘Parents are diplomats, so I’m used to it.’

‘Wow. I’m from Melbourne. The closest I’ve gotten to diplomacy in action was a school trip to the capital in Year 8.’

He laughed. ‘Yeah, I’ve done a few of those.’ Mike had an assured sense of himself and his place in the world, with the kind of skills that suggested that diplomacy as a career might extend into a second generation. He had an unlimited supply of humorous travel stories to tell, and the trip into central London passed in a blur. He was in the middle of a particularly entertaining one, involving insects dipped in chocolate as a snack in a café in Central America, when the bus took a sharp corner, pulling up at what looked like the entrance to a medieval castle planted right in the middle of London’s urban metropolis.

‘Hey, check it out.’ Mike craned his head over the top of the seat as they pulled to a stop. ‘We’re here.’

Passing through D’Orsay’s ancient doors, the building looked like a something from a film set: all weathered stone and stained-glass windows, with an enormous, modern glass tower that shot skyward from the inside of the building. There was a particular kind of energy that seemed to reverberate from its stones, but as Scarlett looked around at her travel companions, none of them seemed to be affected by it. It almost felt, she thought, that if she reached out and touched the weathered grey stone, she could feel the pulse of the building underneath her fingers. Mike grinned as he made his way past her off the bus, mistaking Scarlett’s interest in D’Orsay’s surroundings for something touristy.

As she stood in front of the bus, she couldn’t help but wonder how on earth D’Orsay had managed to build such a huge building behind what appeared to be a church, especially in central London. Her musings were interrupted by a gentle Irish accent.

‘Welcome, all of you, to D’Orsay. My name is Maggie.’

A tiny woman with jet-black hair and bright green eyes introduced herself to them, as they craned their necks to see her. Scarlett found that she was thinking of leprechauns, and blushed when Maggie fixed her with a glance that suggested she’d been able to tell what she was thinking about.

Flicking her eyes back to the rest of the group, Maggie continued. ‘Some of you have had quite a long trip, so let’s get you settled in right away. Please, follow me and try not to fall behind.’

Scarlett stepped forward to follow the group inside, but felt herself being held back as if by some weird magnetic pull. Glancing over her shoulder, she came to an abrupt halt in front of Mike, who stumbled into her. Muttering a good-natured complaint under his breath, he stopped when he saw the look on Scarlett’s face, and he followed the direction of her glance.

You have got to be kidding, she thought. The boy from the airport unfolded himself from the back of his expensive car, and stood up. Scarlett felt his gaze fix on her from behind his dark Wayfarers.

Escorted by his driver, the boy walked past, turning his head with the barest of movements, one eyebrow raised over the top of his sunglasses. He still had a pretty tight grip on that duffel bag, Scarlett noted.

‘Friend of yours?’ Mike asked her from behind. They watched the boy disappear inside, and Scarlett felt the pull begin to dissipate.

‘Uh, no. I mean, not really.’

She explained what had happened at the airport. Mike chuckled.

‘Well, whoever he is, he must be someone pretty important. Us plebs are stuck doing the group tour. Which we’re about to lose if we don’t get a move on,’ he said, grabbing her arm.

They were led on a tour that was both swift and confusing. Corridors snaked off into a vast research laboratory section, as well as to other buildings that were used for the day-to-day running of the company. Scarlett wondered how anyone found his or her way to the right place. The term ‘rabbit-warren’ didn’t even begin to cover it.

‘The student wing is through here,’ Maggie said.

Going through the massive doors, Scarlett caught her breath.

No expense had been spared in furnishing the academic wing. A large circular living area with plush furniture was arranged around a vast array of high-end technological equipment, some recognisable, some she’d never seen before. Even Mike looked impressed.

‘Your personal rooms, dining hall, and classrooms are located off this central area,’ Maggie said. ‘Please, have a seat.’ Forty or so other students were already seated in the middle of the meeting area. A relaxed conversation was coming from the young staff gathered around the edges of the room. They were all dressed in identical blue uniforms, and appeared to have an alternative career option as high fashion models.

Scarlett slipped in near the back of the room, near a girl with platinum-blonde hair and a boy who was more interested in his cuticles than making eye contact with anyone. The girl smiled over at Scarlett as she sat down.

‘Welcome.’

Scarlett’s attention was drawn to the front of the room before she could strike up a conversation with either of them.

‘It’s lovely to have you all here, finally.’ This time, Maggie was standing on some kind of platform, so they could all see her, but instead of making her more imposing, it served to emphasise her diminutive stature even further.

‘As Head Mentor at D’Orsay, I’ll be overseeing your academic progress and psychological wellbeing during your time here with us. The mentors,’ she gestured over to the blue-clad staff, ‘are also here to provide support. Each of you has been matched to a suitable mentor, based on the psychological profile carried out prior to your departure.’ Maggie’s gaze swept the room. ‘We’ll have more time to chat later, but for now, we’ll get the initiation process underway and meet back here later this afternoon. If you’ll all make your way over to the Dispensarium, please follow the instructions once you’re inside.’ She indicated a large doorway set into the wall with misted glass doors.

One by one, the students lined up, with Scarlett, the blonde girl and Cuticle Boy bringing up the rear.

When her turn came, Scarlett stepped through the sliding doors into a booth, from which a large cylinder dropped down over the top half of her body.

‘Please look straight ahead,’ a voice said. It was a dry, hollow-sounding voice of indeterminate gender that pulsed inside the capsule as it spoke. Scarlett waited, a little unsure. Was this like those eye tests you got at the optometrist, when you weren’t supposed to blink? She wondered.

A blue strand of light streamed into her eyes, not hurting her, but not comfortable either. It felt like a tickle deep inside her brain that she couldn’t itch. The light disappeared, and she was left standing in a blue glow.

‘Please place your hand on the scanner,’ the voice prompted. Scarlett was rewarded with a stinging sensation in her forefinger as she did so.

‘Ow,’ she hissed, nursing the finger. Peering at it closely, she could see that something tiny had been embedded under the skin. What was that? And how did they do that without drawing any blood?

‘Thank you,’ the voice told her. ‘Data collection is complete. Your assigned mentor is Gil.’ A picture of a young man, no more than twenty years old, flashed on the cylinder’s surface in front of her. ‘Please leave to the left, where you will find him waiting.’

Scarlett stepped out of the room, eyes a little tender under the bright, overhead lights. She walked up to Gil, her fingertip curled up in her palm.

‘Uh, hi,’ she said.

‘Scarlett, it’s very nice to meet you.’

Gil’s upper class BBC accent was gentle. Note to self, Scarlett mentally added to her list of things to tell Sass. Those accents actually existed in real life. Gil smiled as though he knew what she’d been thinking. Damn, that was twice today already! What was going on?

‘Let’s get you organised, shall we?’ He nodded to the other mentor he’d been chatting to, and he and Scarlett set off through one of the exits. ‘I hope your trip was uneventful? You’ll notice quite quickly that we aren’t like other schools here. There are lessons here, shall we say, that your normal school won’t have offered,’ he said as they made their way out of the meeting hall. ‘But I promise, you’ll find them quite interesting.’ He was moving quite fast, and Scarlett was struggling to keep up, trying not to miss anything he was saying. ‘How’s your finger?’ he asked.

Scarlett looked at her finger, which was bright pink and a little swollen. ‘Kind of sore,’ she admitted.

Gil picked up her hand and examined the fingertip. His hands were calloused, an unexpected contrast in someone who looked like he’d never done a hard day’s work in his life.

‘It looks fine. It’s D’Orsay’s way of ID-ing you.’ He let go of her hand. ‘We don’t carry cards or tags here. It might seem a bit extreme, but actually it’s a great idea. We’ve got your DNA profile, with some other odds and ends.’

‘Odds and ends?’ she asked. ‘Like what?’

‘You know, family history, genetic predispositions, other abilities.’

Other abilities? Scarlett opened her mouth to ask, but he cut her off.

‘Naturally, all of that is encoded, so if anything should happen to you, the information won’t fall into the wrong hands. If you’ll pardon the pun.’ He smiled at her, and gestured to a doorway that looked identical to the other dozen or so lined up in the corridor. ‘You just need to wave your finger over the sensor at the entrance to each room you’re in,’ he said. ‘It’s a bit retro, but we rather like keeping the past alive here at D’Orsay.’ Gil smiled to himself, as if enjoying a private joke. ‘If you have any questions, let me know. There’s a console in your room that you can contact me through. You’re in Room B5, which means that you’re the second tier out from the main meeting area. I’ll leave you to settle in. We’ll be meeting back in the main area in an hour. Your bags will already be inside. If you have any problems, use the console.’

‘Thanks. I guess I’ll see you in a little while.’ Scarlett hesitated before waving her finger over the sensor set into the wall next to her dorm room door. The panel lit up with her photo and DNA sequence. She looked at Gil, who smiled, and left.

That was pretty impressive, if a little freaky, she thought; a bit like D’Orsay.

 

Download a pdf of Slipstream Ch1

 

 

 

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Another Day Above the Ground, Anatomy Dichotomy, Minarets, & Cotton Fences, Susan Lewington

Another Day Above the Ground

Shrouded sleek secret burqas

 billowing mesmerising

                                    kohl – lined bullet eyes

                                                glinting.

Gilded clicking Arabic

                                  magical kinetics click

                                                             connect lyrical

                                                                             voices.

  Delicate dynamic

              melodic prosaic verse

quelled   rhyming

             Arabic chants.

 

Alien identity

        Diminished hidden beneath

                                         Layers of bold cold -

Otherness.

Dwarfed in context time and place

                   I slide between   imbedded

                                         cracks of tortured tiles

                                                           -  a puddle.

I am

the only

Outsider

Here.

 

Anatomy Dichotomy

 

Steep Bundeena bush tramping

Indigenous rock carvings

sacred caves burial site

vigilant vines lumpy track

intractable cliff climbers

shrouded sylphs slipping stepping

support gnarled knotty trunks

another leads ant-like lines

we form a narrow sprite shrine

- I am at the back.

 

Sudden shrill sharp screech shocks screams

shouts shatter crystal salt air

birds fly off flapping horror

clustered hallowed girls

huddled with bedraggled scarves

pointing to salt soaked shallows

below catching breath, look see

what has wrought this commotion

thank goodness – noted muted

mirthful murmurs giggle.

Hushed voices some have bolted

Anatomy Dichotomy image, Lewington

others stopped to peer and gawk

like heaven’s messengers lost

in their holy veils and smocked

pocket uniforms hidden

‘Move on Amanie, Sabah,

Madeeha’ I chide relief

alive, no cataclysm happened

on this auspicious cliff-top

ledge we slide and climb.

 

‘We haven’t got all day girls’

‘Ms Look, see? He’s got no clothes

on’ whispers Zainab pointing

through trees in contemplative

awe – gaze pursues her slender

hennaed finger pointed – where

I see a swimmer naked

 

standing in the joyful waves

oblivious of audience -

- invisible voyeurs.

 

Peek through acacia curtains

squinting in sun’s bedazzled

beams, covered in layer upon

layer hot cotton rigid rules

on this burning scorching day.

Poor souls. His perfect handsome

surfer’s body lashed by licking

waves, droplets, riverlets down

haunches bronzed by noble sun –

flaxen surfer boy

 

With bulging pecs body-surfs

God-given glory alone

with foam and flotsam

standing majestic splendid

white bubbles kiss naked skin,

blue eyes calm and free he can’t

 

hear muffled whispers breathlessly

admitting interest, he reaches

shallows, water runs in ripples

off Coke can abs

 

I sigh at this dichotomy

of physical anatomy -

a shrouded teacher standing

glancing back with black burqa

being blown across her mouth

 

by a gust of carefree wind

-      It clings on hollow bones

she freezes on the crest it flaps

the image burns my soul somehow

woman – veiled black mask.

 

Viewer, viewed, free, chosen, all

bewitched with emboldened eyes

brazen flushed faces heated

vermillion   blushes, wide eyed

 

pursed lips numinous- I tell

flock to ‘Move along’ but then

cannot resist quick furtive

glances to their right – why not?

Must keep going forward.

They might

- Slip.

 

Cotton Fences

Classroom brimming desks end to end text books in piles on unkind tiles – Rows, chairs, stepping over more stuff – Clutter, mutter,  tick here  tick there ‘Put it down. Mirror away Nadine, listen, pick up a pen. Do Some Work.’

‘But Ms I’m different,

I’m going

     to be a Star.

Spray water in  bathroom splash splish splash endlessly shake out  hair, laughter mirrors basins  hidden secret girls stuff  re-appear dampened chastened modest  covered chagrined pinned buttoned huddle frown chatter whisper mutter utter weep frown  shout   look in the mirror they smooth the edges of their scarves around their faces – Again

I don’t need to learn this,

I don’t like it.

I’m going to be on TV.

An actress.

Or a model’

Slides her fingers under chin, loosens constrictive hijab, adjusts sharp pins that keep scarf, rules, codes in place.

‘I can sing Ms

do you want

- to Hear Me?’

 Peep from cotton fences faces bound by tradition cannot escape, their bodies – fenced in, captives tied up bound -hidden by religious fervour without encouragement shriek belly dance at the drop of a kebab. Leap up out of their chairs onto desktops challenging demanding trouble forgivable they are Allah’s beautiful prisoners.

 

Minarets

Monday morning walking talking,

striped abandoned kittens

milling round nylon ankles forlorn.

Ignore plaintive mews, massive gates

black metallic spires

 spiked minarets, huge rovers glide ride.

Hurry across road dodging wheels

sad voices reluctance

hostile faces nod or not.

Oh congested suburban day

drive by shootings headlines

treeless friendless aliens surround.

Feeling spaced out I remember

something I forgot

 heart thumping faster sense bleak panic.

I gasp for the memory

of what it is, I have

forgotten.

 

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The Artist, Ashley Ward

 

1. INT. CLASSROOM – AFTERNOON

An American HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOM occupies rows of small, vacant desks. A groomed TEACHER with a striped tie enters with two teenagers and a magazine under his arm. SIMON, a teenage lanky thing with large round glasses, heads to a desk at the back of the room. He sits, submissively. A high schooler with a ‘Go Bulls’ hat, JEREMY, attempts to follow, but is stopped by the teacher.

TEACHER

I don’t think so! I want you up the front.

Jeremy looks at Simon. Smirks.

TEACHER

I won’t condone interruptions during my lessons. Is that clear?

BEAT.

TEACHER

That goes for the both of you. I’ll be right back… If I hear anything coming from this room, you’ll both be back here tomorrow, same time after school.

The teacher leaves. Jeremy takes off his NIKE sneakers one by one. He throws them over his shoulder. One almost hits Simon. Flinches. He stands up and sits on top of a desk next to Simon. Jeremy begins to taunt him.

JEREMY

Pick it up.

Simon hesitates.

JEREMY

I said pick it up, faggot!

Simon doesn’t move.

JEREMY

Don’t make me hit you, aye!

Simon bends down and slowly picks up the shoe. Hands it to Jeremy.

JEREMY

That’s what I thought.

 CUT TO:

2. EXT. SUBURBAN STREET – NIGHT

Stars hide in the evening fog. Lampposts illuminate an EMPTY STREET beside a high school. We see Simon leaving the school. He drifts down the street, breaking stride to adjust his backpack every now and then. Jeremy lurks close behind. Simon, oblivious to him, cuts around a corner street and arrives at home.

3. INT. SIMON’S HOUSE – Moments later

A large front door cracks open, catching on a folded towel. An excited PUPPY bounds towards Simon as he pushes the door open.

SIMON

Helloo?

VOICE (O.S)

Simon? Careful of the towel! Maxi’s peed again!

Simon shuffles into the living room where SIMON’S MOTHER, a forty-something brunette woman, slurps noodles in front of a T.V screen. The house is comfortably messy.

SIMON

Sorry I’m late. I had swim club practice.

MOTHER

…On a Tuesday?

BEAT.

SIMON

Is there a plate for me?

MOTHER (jokingly)

In the dungeon, where you belong!

The two share a smile.

4. INT. CLASSROOM – DAY

The sun shines through a cracked classroom window. Inside, the room is stuffy with teenage angst. Tapping feet, shifting eyes, and creaking desks. At the front of the room, a middle-aged high school ITALIAN TEACHER stands slouched near a chalkboard. Her skin is cinnamon coloured, toughened by the sun. Written on the chalkboard is the word “I BREAK” underlined. The teacher addresses the class.

ITALIAN TEACHER

Can anyone give me the Italian translation for this?

Jeremy chimes in to answer. He gives the wrong answer accompanied with a ridiculous Italian accent. A symphony of laughter from the class follows. Lucy sits at a desk in the back of the class, drawing. Definitely not laughing. Simon cuts in.

SIMON

It’s Rompere

BEAT.

SIMON

… You then have to conjugate it from the infinitive ‘to break’ to the first person… So, ‘I break’ would be io rompo.

Jeremy slouches back in his chair. Shamed and angered. His knees bounce anxiously together. He places a textbook on his lap. Simon glances to the back of the room at Lucy. Their eyes meet – his more eager than hers – and she adjusts her skirt. You can see his heart beat through his neck. School bell rings.

5. INT. BATHROOM – LATER

Simon washes his hands, and pauses. The tap continues to flow. He gazes at his reflection with somewhat needy eyes.

SIMON

Hey Lucy… That notebook new? …. What’s up Lucy? You have nice breasts… Wanna go out with me?

 

The bathroom door flings open. In an instant, we see Jeremy’s fist forcefully swoop in to punch Simon.  Clutches his stomach.

JEREMY

Not so smart now aye, faggot!

 He grabs Simon by the shoulder of his jacket and hauls him out of the bathroom.

 6. EXT. SCHOOLYARD – CONTINUOUS

Jeremy steers Simon to a seedy schoolyard behind the classrooms. He pushes Simon against a wall covered in graffiti. A small gang of TEENAGE BOYS skulk around the corner. Some of them have matching white beanies. Others have more style. On a NEIGHBORING STREET, Lucy meanders towards home. She stops and watches for a moment. Jeremy and the bullies torment Simon. One of the bullies snatches Simon’s backpack. He unzips it and shakes it upside down.

BULLY

Aw sorry bro, was that yours?

SIMON

Common, man… Cut it out.

JEREMY (to Simon)

What are you gonna do?

Lucy continues home at a slight quicker pace. One of the bullies shoves Simon into a nearby dumpster. He falls to his side. Cheek to cement. Some scattered rubbish and a blue SPRAY PAINT CAN lay close to his face. Especially the spray can.

 

7. INT. SCHOOL LOCKERS – DAY

Students are herding through a box-sized hallway. School bells RINGS. Lucy idles at her locker shuffling her books. Background conversations fill the hallway. Two girls talk behind her amongst the herd of students.

GIRL 1

Did you see what they painted behind the school? ..A sky mural or something?

Lucy pauses to listen.

GIRL 2

I heard that geek from Italian did it!

GIRL 1

Oh my god what a loser. Cry for attention much?

Girl 2′s giant handbag scuffs Lucy’s shoulder. She looks at Lucy in disgust.

GIRL 2

Excuse me!

Lucy’s gaze falls down and she apologizes.  She grinds her teeth, dressing her anger with a half smile.

 

8. EXT. BUS STOP- NIGHT

Simon waits at a bus stop near the side of the school. In the distant foreground, we see the same wall he was pushed against. A painting of a BLUE SKY with MELTING DIAMONDS covers the wall.  Simon looks at a sign with a bus timetable. He glances at his watch. Sighs.

9. EXT. STREET PAY PHONE – MOMENTS LATER

Simon feeds the machine some coins and dials. Ringing. A soft voice answers.

V.O

Hello?

SIMON

Mom! The buses have stopped running. Can you pick… -

A hand reaches behind Simon and ends the call. Simon turns around, where Jeremy stands with his unfashionable gang. His eyes widen.

JEREMY

Did you do that painting?

BEAT.

SIMON

Why?… Did you… like it?

Jeremy nods in thought.

JEREMY (CONT.)

You ever tag anything before?

Simon’s fingers brush his bluish purple chin.

SIMON

Here and there…

Simon breaks eye contact in anxious spurts. Jeremy holds out a spray paint can to Simon.

 

10. INT. CAR – NIGHT (DAYS LATER)

A white van occupies an empty street by the high school. Inside, Jeremy, the thugs, and Simon all cluster in a circle. A heavy bass blares through speakers in the background. Jeremy exhales perfect circular smoke rings. His eyes tango between his burning joint and Simon. He holds out the joint to Simon.

SIMON

Oh, I don’t smoke…

The group laughs.

SIMON

I mean… I don’t like it spun…

There’s a BEAT before Simon takes the joint. He takes a deep draw.

VOICE (O.S)

So we ready for tonight?

Jeremy looks at Simon, who’s coughing smoke.

SIMON

Y…yeah!

11. INT. LIBRARY – NIGHT

Books line the shelves of an empty library. At a large white study table, sketchbooks are sprawled messily. Lucy’s hand moves fast, scribbling and erasing in a frantic rhythm.

 

12. EXT. SCHOOLYARD – NIGHT

Outside a familiar schoolyard, a wire fence rattles. Simon climbs up and over the fence. He peers back through the diamond-shaped wire gaps. Jeremy and his gang merge into the darkness behind the fence. Tosses a can of spray paint over to Simon. Simon drops the can, and fumbles nervously. He arrives at a familiar blue wall with painted stars and melting diamonds.

 

13. INT. LIBRARY – CONTINUOUS – NIGHT

Lucy continues to scribble. A round-bellied LIBRARIAN at the help desk assists an ELDERLY WOMAN with a large book. They talk about this and that. And probably Dancing With the Stars. Lucy’s pencil punctures through her drawing paper. ZOOM IN on a perfect replica of the diamond painting on the school wall. Except Jeremy is in it, holding Lucy’s hand under the melting sky. She tears the paper in half.

14. EXT. SCHOOLYARD – CONTINUOUS – NIGHT

Simon smiles at the sky painting on the wall. Sirens sound, WHOOPING closer and closer to the schoolyard. Jeremy and his gang disperse. Flashlights shine on Simon and his spray can. An OFFICER holding a flashlight approaches him.

OFFICER

Hi there.

Simon squints, frozen in panic.

SIMON

Hi…

 

OFFICER

Do you realize this is school property?

C.U. on Simon nodding and smiling simultaneously.

 

15. INT. SCHOOL OFFICE – NEXT MORNING

A neatly arranged office with the occasional potted plant detains a row of students. Simon fidgets amongst them on the end chair. Biting his nails to the skin. Jeremy sits at the end of the row, glancing over at Simon periodically. Lucy enters, rushed. It’s apparent she’s late. Her handful of books and loose sketches fall scattered along the floor. A sketch falls near Simon’s shoe. He fumbles nervously.

SIMON

Uhh… Here let me!

Simon picks up the drawing of Lucy and Jeremy. Stares at it. Shocked. Hands Lucy the sketch.

LUCY

A…actually… this is for him.

Lucy motions to Jeremy. Biting her lip seductively. Simon glares at Jeremy through the corner of one eye. Stands up to confront him. Tight clenching fist. And then…WHAP! The boys fight.

CUT TO:

16. INT. CLASSROOM – AFTERNOON

C.U on Jeremy’s bruised cheek. ZOOM OUT to see rows of small empty desks. Except two. And a teacher reading a magazine at the front of the room. Jeremy sits at the back. Head down. Simon’s at a desk in the front row. He takes a blood stained tissue out of one nostril. Examining his busted knuckle with pride. There’s a crack in the glass that splits the penetrating afternoon sun on separate parts of his face. Simon continues to look forward despite the sun in his eyes. He doesn’t flinch. Not even once.

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Burdens, Olivia Whenman

DAMON HILTON

Constable Derrin was standing behind me whilst I was on the phone. In high school we used to call him Herc the Lurk.

‘I love you baby. Please! I won’t do anything like this again. Please baby. Don’t hang up! Don’t hang up!’

But she hung up. I turned around in defeat. I was face-to face with Herc. It reminded me of when we were forced to partner up in self-defence class. He kicked my arse. Ugh, in high school he was a loser. Actually, he’s still a loser. The only difference is the school blazer’s now a badly pressed uniform and its emblem a poorly shined badge.

‘Who was that?’ Herc asked.

‘Mara,’ I said.

“She like princesses or something?”

‘What?’

‘Come with me mate,’ he said.

His mother was Greek. Called him Hercules or some shit after a Greek god who fought monsters. I don’t know. I don’t care. There’s not even anything particularly godly about Herc. I bet the only monsters he ever gets to fight are underage offenders. They aren’t even monsters, they’re just bored.

‘Check out ya face,’ he said.

He opened the bathroom door and let me in. Water had leaked underneath the mirror leaving a mass of black ooze in the corner. My face was blue under the light. On the side of my face there was a stain and on my cheek a splodge. Mara. Black eyeliner and pink lip-gloss. Her signature. I didn’t wipe them off. I left them there for company. I missed her already.

‘You like being a princess?’ Herc said.

‘Yeah, maybe you can be my Knight in Shining Armour and save me? Wait, aren’t you a god or some shit?’ I asked.

‘Yeah real funny wise guy. I won’t be saving your arse until I know it wasn’t you. So until then I can’t let you go.’

‘What does that mean? Is there going to be a line-up?’

‘Yeah mate, there’s going to be a line-up.’

The cell bed sagged in the middle where various arses had been before. I’d been lying there for at least an hour.

There’s a photo stuck above my bed. It’s a school photo of Mara. It was taken in Year 11 a couple of months before we started dating. Her hair was blonde and long, and her lips tinted with pink lip-gloss. Sometimes I’d see sticky residue on the collars of other boys in my year. But then we started going out. After that the lip-gloss smears disappeared.

In Year 12 I used to smoke every afternoon at the train station. I’d smoke one, two, three cigarettes. Commuters would stare. I’d fight with Mara at the station because she wouldn’t kiss me. She said my mouth tasted like shit. Then she said second-hand smoke was even worse than the real thing. She said that it caused cancer and if I kept it up I’d be dead by the age of 30. Than my brother Levi died. So I stopped.

The year after we finished school Mara decided she was going to move away and go to university. She ended up staying. I’m pretty sure she stayed for me. I was glad because I didn’t really care about anyone else in our shithole of a hometown. Mara’s best friend Larnie moved away though. I could tell Mara missed her. But she had me. She still has me.

‘Mate you awake?’ Herc asked.

‘Ugh yeah,’ I said.

‘It’s time.’

I stood against a white backdrop with seven random guys. Actors? Picked off the street? Other cops? I don’t know.

‘Is there anywhere in particular you want to stand?’ Herc asked.

‘Nah not really,’ I said.

Honestly, I just wanted it to be over and done with. Through the observation window I could see the witness’s hair in some sort of bun. There was a vein bulging on the left side of her temple. Frustration? Anger? Exhaustion? I’d seen her three times before. She worked at the jewellers.

She pointed straight at me. Her lips tight.

‘It was that one. He broke into the jewellery store… again.’

Herc took me by the right arm. He gripped it tightly as he walked me back to the holding cell, told me that in the morning they were going to take me to a corrections centre, a new fancy fucking way to say ‘jail’.  I was a repeat offender. Breaking and entering as well as theft was my specialty. This wasn’t the first time I’d stolen something from that store. But it was the first time I’d stolen an engagement ring.

Herc leant against the cell wall, hands in his pockets. He was chewing gum that squelched around inside his mouth.

‘You wanna know something?’ Herc asked.

‘Ok,’ I said.

‘So you and Mara started like dating in year 11 or something, right?’

‘Yeah. What of it?’

‘Nothing mate. It’s just she’s a huge bitch.’

‘Fuck you! You talkin’ shit about my girlfriend? I’d fuckin’ kill for her.’

‘Are you fucking serious? Mate you gotta draw the line somewhere. She’s a bitch. That ring you stole was for her wasn’t it?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Yeah thought so. Just like all that shit you took last time? You know what your fault is mate? You’re massive idiot,’ he said as he shut the door.

Yeah I thought. I am a massive idiot. But I love her.

 

CATS ARE BETTER THAN DOGS

Joel Hilton hit me because I said his dog was stupid.

‘Cats are better than dogs. Dogs can’t even look after themselves. You have to clean dogs. You don’t have to clean cats.’

‘Yeah well dogs are better than cats. Dogs can play fetch! Cats don’t do anything, they just sleep all day. Borrrrring.’

‘No they don’t! I play games with my cat all the time. He likes to play games with this stick thing. It’s got a string on the end and you like wave it around and he chases it and tries to eat it.’

‘That sounds boring Gabby. Your cat sounds stupid. He’s trying to eat string. Cats can’t eat string.’

‘He’s not stupid! Your dog is stupid.’

‘Nuh-uh, my dog’s smart. He can play dead and everything.’

‘Yeah well he’s probably so stupid he should be dead.’

We both have time out tomorrow at lunchtime because Mrs Burrell says so. She says it doesn’t matter if cats or dogs are better. She says I shouldn’t have said what I said. But I don’t think she understands. Cats are better. They just are.

I hit Gabby Wright because she said my dog was stupid. But he’s the smartest dog I know. He’s smarter than Gabby. She’s so stupid. Mrs Burrell says I shouldn’t have hit her. So I’ve got time out tomorrow at lunchtime. Anyway dogs are better than cats. It’s not my fault Gabby doesn’t understand.

It’s lunchtime and everyone else is outside in the playground. It sucks I’m stuck inside on time out. I asked my Mum if cats are better than dogs. She said yes. She said cats are better than dogs because cats are independent. I think she means that cats can go and catch birds and eat them if they’re hungry.

I’m in time out. My brother told me I shouldn’t worry about it. He used to get put on time out all the time. He also said that that dogs are better than cats because dogs can help blind people. All my friends are outside playing. Gabby and her cat suck.

Did you know in ancient Egypt the mummies loved cats? They made statues and pictures of them and stuff.

Did you know one of the first animals in space was a dog? I wish I could go to space with my dog.

Cats always land on their feet.

Dogs are used by the police to find things.

Garfield is a famous cat.

Snoopy is a famous dog.

Cats are better than dogs.

Dogs are better than cats.

Cats are better than dogs.

Dogs are better than cats.

‘Have you two learnt your lesson?’ Mrs Burrell asked.

 

LUNCHBOX

 It was the 17th of January 1963 when the Bray family came to town. Fourteen children + one mother + one father + one uncle + one aunt + one grandmother = nineteen unwelcome Brays.  Their clothes, tacky with tropical dampness, had dirtied in the dust as they set up their makeshift homes. Now they were all brown. George Wright watched through his bedroom window. His mother Patricia shouted from her sewing room, ‘You stay away from them, you hear? They’re filthy people.’ But George ignored her. She never let him do anything. At church he’d often pictured God’s arm crashing through the ceiling and grabbing his mother from the pulpit and taking her away like King Kong did to Ann Darrow.

Pa Keith was the only interesting grown-up he knew. He was 86 but George liked the fact that the wrinkles on his face were so deep he could stick a half-penny in there and it would stay. He also took George to see King Kong at the movies and let him have a whole bottle of Coke. Pa Keith told him it was their little secret. George’s Mum never let him have Coke. She said it would ruin his teeth. She never trusted anyone with bad teeth.

By late afternoon, the vacant lot had been transformed into ‘Brays’ Land’. Their six horses ate the fresh, green grass beside their four caravans placed in a line like peculiar storefronts. Each wooden body had been decorated with patterns and pictures. The doors were round.

There were five girls and nine boys in the Bray family. George counted them on the morning of the 18th of January as they ran around the oval giggling and yelling. His mum said he had to stay inside because of his allergies. George knew she was lying but his dad was home so he couldn’t argue.

George’s dad had really white teeth. George’s dad wore suits and only suits. His pyjamas were even ironed to have the same starchy stiffness as the business suit he sported every day over his body like a second skin. But it was a Sunday and Malcolm Wright was in his home office making telephone calls because ‘A banker never rests son. One day you’ll understand. Now what’s one + five + nine + two?’

‘17.’

‘Good.’

At 11:00am Patricia Wright left for one of her ‘Women’s Meetings’. She took Pa Keith with her and dropped him off at the RSL to play bowls with his friends James and John. George left the house at 11:15am and walked to the oval with his lunchbox, packed with a sandwich just in case he got hungry.

‘Who’s that?’ the oldest Bray asked when he saw George walking towards the cluster of children sitting underneath the only tree on the vacant lot.

‘Oi, who are you?’ he asked George.

‘George Wright. Who are you?’ George asked.

‘Gary…  Ain’t you been told to stay away?’

‘Mum said to stay away yesterday. I thought we could play or something…’ George smiled.

‘Nah it’s alright. We gotta enough kids to play with already. Whatcha got in that lunchbox?’

‘A sandwich.’

‘Can I have it?’

‘It’s turkey. But can I play with you?’

‘Yeah but only if ya give me ya lunchbox.’

‘Ok.’

George played tips with the Brays until their legs were too tired to run anymore. Then George helped them feed the horses. His favourite was called Onyx. His favourite Bray girl was called Maggie. She gave George a kiss on the cheek. Her teeth were yellowed and gritty. She smelt like ants and melted sugar cubes.

‘You’re nice,’ she smiled and then walked away.

George blushed.

‘George William Wright!’ Patricia Wright screamed.

‘I need to go home,’ George said.

‘Don’t you want to stay for supper?’ one of the Brays asked.

‘I can’t.’

George saw his Mum crossing the vacant lot. Her blue dress threatened to lift and expose her underwear.

‘What did I tell you? What did I tell you about going near these filthy people?’ she said.

‘I was just…’

‘You never listen to me George! Why is that? Why are you disobedient? And why does that boy have your lunchbox?’ she pointed to Gary Bray.

George Wright knew what would happen if he told her the truth. A bar of soap in the mouth, a few smacks with the belt and no dinner.

‘I was having lunch in the park and he stole it so I came over here to get it back.’

‘Gary didn’t steal nothin’! That’s a lie!’ Maggie said.

‘Shut up you filthy little liar! Shut up!’ Patricia Wright said.

On the morning of the 19th of January the revelation that a Bray child had stolen George Wright’s lunchbox was the talk of the town.

‘You can’t trust anyone these days,’ Pa Keith said.

‘Yeah, you can’t trust anyone,’ George said as he sipped some Coke.

The police said they couldn’t do anything so a group of men including Malcolm Wright went to the vacant lot. George heard that Mr Bray had some of his teeth knocked out by a cricket bat. They cracked and splintered. Little white dots like breadcrumbs thrown for the birds on the green grass. The Bray family packed up their things and left.

 

NARCISSISTIC MUCH?


How’s the train ride going? J

I’ve got some bogan sitting next to me. He smells like that Lynx chocolate spray all the guys used to spray on themselves after P.E.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA it smells so bad! Sucks to be you!

Fuck you. I’ll buy you some for your birthday. P

Ok. All the boys will want me cause I’ll smell so good!

You wish bitch.

LOL. I’ve gotta go. Talk later. xx

 

My skirt is riding up my leg again.

The guy sitting next to me on the train looks like such a pervert. Shit, he’s looking at me.

Great so I picked the carriage with the seedy looking guy. His red windbreaker reminds me of James Dean in ‘Rebel Without a Cause.’ But he isn’t James Dean. A curly orange mullet cascades down the back of his freckled neck. He has a suitcase. His nose is inflamed and crusted around the nostrils. Wait. Crust around the nostrils. Cocaine? OMG you are such a prude Martina. He keeps twitching. Fidgeting. There’s sweat on his upper lip. Why can’t he keep still? I get my book out of my bag. Sense and Sensibility. I’m just going to ignore him. He’ll eventually get off.

‘Hey is it alright if I leave this here?’ I hear someone say.

‘Ummm yeah. Yeah that’s fine… Wait, what?’ I reply.

I look up and no one’s there. I look backwards down the aisle and I see the guy with the red windbreaker already moving in the space between carriages. Where’s he going? Why’d he leave his suitcase?

I read the tag. It says his name is Sam Bray. I go back to reading my book.

40 minutes later and that guy hasn’t come back. I’m trapped. Trapped forever in an endless sea of green seats and beige plastic walls. I just want to know if he’s coming back. I just want to know why he left his bag because like, is it even normal to leave your bag with a stranger?

It’s been over an hour now. I remember reading a sign once at the station that said you should report unattended baggage. I’m not overreacting am I? Wait, is this even unattended? He sort of implied I watch it, right?

Fuck. Maybe he’s somewhere doing drugs? Maybe he’s hiding in the bathroom snorting more cocaine? OMG what if he’s left me with his stash of drugs? What if the cops come on and do a random bag search? I’m not a drug mule!

Some guy left his bag with me and disappeared. He’s been gone for like an hr. Wat do I do?

IDK. Move to a different carriage? xx

OK.

I put my book in my bag and stood up to leave.  I walked past an elderly couple sleeping in a huddled mass. The woman was snoring like a pig. The thump of footsteps stopped behind me.

‘Hey! What are you doing? I asked you to watch my fucking bag!’

‘I was! You were gone for like an hour!’

‘Yeah so. Just let someone steal my fucking bag instead yeah?’

‘But you were gone for ages.’

‘Yeah and? I was on the phone to my Mum OK. Is that a crime?’

‘No.’

‘Fuckin’ bitch.’

 

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