Ark Up, Roger Leigh

Joshua felt like he had sat under this solitary tree forever. He pulled his ragged shawl around himself and lifted his head to listen to the wind howl through the branches.  It was his eighth day on field assignment and, much as he enjoyed watching the humans, he was counting the hours until he could shrug off the facade of an old beggar woman and settle into his preferred image—a junior angel ready for promotion (his appearance for most of the last millennium).

As he had done countless times, Joshua returned to base and submitted a banal field report outlining numerous transgressions of God’s law. As no one ever commented on his reports, Joshua hoped they were what management wanted. He put the thought that they never read them out of his mind, as he set off to find Patrick.

‘Hail Brother Patrick. Verily, there are curious happenings upon the face of the Earth.’ Patrick removed his sunglasses and regarded Joshua for a few moments, before addressing the issue head on.

‘Why the fuck are you talking like a knob?’

‘Umm, well, I went to a presentation by the archangel on being the best angel you can be. He said God’s advocates should speak graciously one unto another.’ Joshua paused, his lips moving as he reran Gabriel’s words in his head. ‘Oh, and he said swear words were the artifice of the devil.’

‘Gabriel looks and speaks like he’s got a horn shoved up his—’

‘Shhh,’ Joshua twitched, ‘he could be listening.’

‘That prick listening to the conversation of two low class angels is as likely as Lucifer popping up to borrow a box of matches.’ Joshua cringed. Fortunately, Patrick changed tack. ‘Anyway, what about these curious happenings upon the face of the Earth?’


At the viewing portal, Joshua adjusted the settings until they were looking down on a large scrubby plain. Among a grove of olive trees, two men laboured to cut trees into planks.

Shem stood on a massive trunk pushing a saw. At the bottom of the sawpit, Ham stopped pulling the other end to rest his aching shoulders and to watch a pair of rhinoceros beetles amble up the side of the pit. Shem soon became impatient and stomped on the log, creating an avalanche of sawdust. Wiping the dust from his eyes, Ham roared with anger. As he scrambled out of the pit, his brother was already running. Shem ran past a woman, who led a pair of horses straining against the weight of the cord of wood they were towing towards the main construction area, where an old man was nailing planks to a large wooden structure.

‘You dragged me here for a woodwork lesson?’ Patrick stepped away from the portal, his mind already back on the poker game he was setting up in the archive room. He had a special card deck prepared—angels were so trusting.

‘They’re building a boat.’ Joshua took Patrick’s arm and tugged him back.

‘Wow, that’s completely different, to see guys build a boat. Let me get some popcorn—make a night of it.’

‘They’re on top of a mountain.’ That got Patrick’s attention—more a big hill than a mountain, but still. Weird. ‘The old guy said God told him to do it.’

‘Hmm, all communications with humans are entered in the Divine Orders Register.’ Patrick flicked through a volume from a nearby shelf. ‘Here we are… Tired of people’s evil ways… A flood to wipe out all life…. Noah instructed to build an ark to take two of each animal… Stuff about food… The ark to be three hundred cubits long.’

‘What’s a cubit?’

‘Haven’t the foggiest.’ If forced to guess, Patrick was thinking maybe it was the height of the god of love (bizarrely, this is about right).

‘I wonder what the animals make of the arrangement.’ Joshua said—thinking about all the animals that would be the innocent victims of this plan.

‘Hitch a ride with one.’

‘Mindriding. The last angel caught doing that was reincarnated as a dung beetle.”

‘Don’t get caught.’ Patrick shrugged. The strategy had always worked for him.

There was a warren at the edge of the boat building operation. The peace of the rabbits seemed idyllic to Joshua. It would be a pleasant change from being an angel, never knowing if you are good enough. Joshua entered the mind of one of the large buck rabbits. He was shocked by the rabbit’s feelings—not by how alien they were, but how familiar. There was the sense of desire, the need to prove yourself, and the repressed anger. The rabbit unleashed its feelings. It set upon another buck which was probing the territorial boundaries. The fight was brief, but brutal. Joshua sensed the pain as his rabbit was bitten on the shoulder, but in the heat of battle, it fought on, soon inflicting a fierce bite on its foe’s neck—the other buck ran off to lick it wounds.

Joshua entered the mind of a dragonfly jinking back and forth across the surface of a brook. Its thoughts so simple; little more than a set of instructions—flap wings/seek food/eat mosquito/change direction/survive. It was calming for a while, but Joshua soon grew bored.

In the mind of a wolf, Joshua perceived the world through the wolf’s senses. A pale visual framework with objects given form through smell; like a coloured haze associated with each object. Joshua felt the wolf tense. The wolf had found a trail—pale blue vapour weaving through the leaves on the forest floor. The wolf loped around a tree and came face to face with another wolf. The female wolf bared her teeth, but then relaxed and approached.

On his enumerable field assignments, Joshua had seen fornication many times; between people, between animals, and on one occasion between a person and an animal. But he had never experienced sex. Once the wolf mounted the female, Joshua shared the increasing sense of tension. It felt something like a thunderstorm headache, he thought—there needed to be some release. Then came the release. And then it was over… And Joshua reeled—an angel for centuries and a young wolf could have an experience, a connection, to transcend anything he had felt before.

A little later, a wolf in the distance started the howl. It was taken up by the female wolf. Then Joshua’s wolf joined the howl. Joshua felt it become inhabited with a sense of belonging: to its pack; to all the wolves that would join the howl that night; and to those that would join in the future. When Joshua returned to heaven, he didn’t know how to feel like an angel anymore.

‘He has to be stopped,’ he told Patrick as soon as he found him.

‘Hello, good to see you too.’ Patrick regarded his long-time friend. Joshua was wired. Patrick decided it was best to be calm and humour him. ‘Who has to be stopped, mate?’


‘GOD!’ Patrick shouted. ‘You mean the, omniscient, omnipresent omnipotent God?’

‘Probably also omnivorous.’

‘Are you…’ Patrick looked over his shoulder and reduced his volume. ‘Are you mad?’

‘Are they all evil? All the people? All the children? All the animals? We have to stop this.’

‘Jesus! I need a drink,’ Patrick said, burying his face in both hands.

‘Who’s Jesus?’

‘I have no idea. It just felt like the right thing to say.’


As Patrick and Joshua set off to find a drink, a group of angels were meeting in secret. Uriel, sculpted and muscular, stood discussing clothes with Raphael, who currently favoured a mature rugged look. He was pleased with the authoritative air his cleft chin gave him.  Four other archangels sat around a large burnished gold table, dissecting last night’s intramural football match, while they waited for their final member.

Gabriel strode in, his white robes billowing like the smoke of a forest fire. The members of The Sanctimonium considered themselves a self-managed team. Archangels knew their own mind; they surpassed the need for leadership. Gabriel just surpassed it more than everyone else. He sat at the head of the table.

‘I now call the 2,647th meeting of The Sanctimonium to order.’


Alcohol has no effect on angels, so Joshua and Patrick had retired to the mind of one of the Earth’s ne’er-do-wells. He was at one of the many bars which were doing a steady trade around the ark’s construction site. The locals were mostly farmers and herders. Normally, the highlight of a night’s entertainment was taking bets on which goat was going to take a dump next. The construction of the ark was a phenomenon—a once in a lifetime event. See the ark and die.

The angels’ host was on his fifth glass of wine. Patrick and Joshua enjoyed the false sense of alcohol-induced wellbeing, while having a place to talk. Their host was dimly aware of their conversation echoing through his mind, but put it down to alcohol-fuelled delusions. In his experience, which was extensive in this area, the hallucinations cleared up after the eighth glass of house red. He focused on reaching this target.

‘We must be able to do something that could help us,’ said Joshua.

‘Well you can talk like a nob.’ The angels had no physical form within their host’s mind. They couldn’t see each other, but Joshua could sense Patrick laughing. Joshua borrowed a small part of their host’s mind and imagined a hand, almost clenched into a fist, but for one extended finger.

‘You know,’ said Patrick, ‘I think I preferred the old shy retiring Joshua.’ Joshua wondered whether he preferred that Joshua too. That Joshua didn’t seem to have quite so much doubt and confusion.


‘The first order of business,’ said Gabriel, once he’d got everyone’s attention, ‘is progress of the Eden II project. An update, Brother Raphael.’ Raphael went to stand up, but Gabriel waved him down. ‘No need for formalities Brother Raphael, we’re all friends here.’ Raphael looked around the unsmiling faces.

‘Thank you, Brother Gabriel, the Eden II project remains on track. The ark is all but complete and we have authorised the mindriding of two of each species, so they can be guided to the ark.’ Raphael paused and shifted in his seat before continuing in a less certain voice. ‘Umm, I was just wondering if we’re sure that God is okay with this?’

‘We’ve been through this.’ Gabriel stared around the rest of the group who avoided his gaze. ‘One more time then. God created Eden—yes?’

‘Yes.’ Raphael voice was little more than a whisper contrasting with Gabriel’s boom.

‘So, God will be happy that we wipe the slate clean and create a new Eden?’

‘Well, I suppose so.’ Gabriel glare could have cut diamond. ‘Yes, of course,’ said Raphael.

‘And The Sanctimonium exists to handle all the trivial details which are beneath God.’ Gabriel spread both arms to embrace all those around the table. The Sanctimonium had, in fact, been created by the archangels following the fall of Eden. The archangels, of course, accepted that God was all-knowing. It was just, well, perhaps he had a blind spot when it came to what made people tick. What with the whole ‘whatever you do, don’t eat the delicious juicy red apple’ debacle.

Over the following centuries, The Sanctimonium had gradually taken over the running of pretty much everything. The only thing which spoiled their absolute control was the way people just kept doing as they pleased, without any regard for the nuisance they caused.


Joshua couldn’t remember whether he or Patrick came up with the idea to enter Noah’s mind. When he did, Joshua looked out through Noah’s eyes at Ham stacking baskets. Noah had put Ham in charge of beetles, which Ham initially thought would be an easy gig (Shem was mucking out the ruminants). As different beetle species arrived, he put fifty pairs into a basket. He’d admired the iridescent colours of the many species of jewel beetle. When he had fifteen baskets full, he was in awe of their unending variety. Jewel beetles kept coming and soon there were one hundred baskets. Ham despaired of their unending variety.

‘Noah! Noah, this is God.’ Joshua was shocked by the voice filling Noah’s head. But Noah took it in his stride.

‘Yes Lord,’ Noah said. Ham looked up from the basket he was now filling with blister beetles.

‘Is there someone there with you Noah?’ said the voice in Noah’s head. Joshua kept quiet—something was bothering him about the voice.

‘Just my son, Lord.’ Noah patted Ham on the shoulder causing him to mishandle one of the blister beetles. It squirted its trademark caustic liquid. He pulled his hand away, dropping the basket and sending coloured ovals across the floor of the ark. As he scrabbled to retrieve them, he stepped back turning a yellow and black beetle into a smear across the floor.

‘Oh, fuck!’ said Ham.

‘Who was that?’ said the voice. ‘Swear words are the artifice of the devil.’ And Joshua knew where he had heard the voice before.

‘Sorry Lord, it won’t happen again,’ said Noah. He kicked Ham, then put a finger to his lips.

‘Very well,’ said the voice of Gabriel. ‘It is time to seal up the ark and prepare for the flood.’

Later that evening, Patrick and Joshua watched Ham through the eyes of a stag beetle. Ham had collapsed on his bunk. Baskets of beetles were stacked up against every wall and arrayed around his bed. He tossed and turned; occasionally he moaned. Patrick went to have a look in Ham’s mind. He came back quickly.

‘His mind’s full of beetles—even with his eyes closed, he sees beetles; endless rows of beetles. It’s like some sort of psychosis.’

‘Beetlemania?’ suggested Joshua.


Standing in front of Gabriel’s office door, Joshua had played out a hundred different versions of their confrontation—none came close to what followed. Joshua knocked and as soon as he heard an answer, threw the door back on its hinges. He pointed at Gabriel’s desk and shouted.

‘I know what you’ve been doing.’ The effect was spoiled somewhat when Gabriel responded from an easy chair, way off to Joshua’s left.

‘You know about The Sanctimonium?’ said Gabriel as he stood up.

‘The sancti-what?’ Joshua paused in the doorway and turned to face Gabriel.

‘Don’t say you know I’ve been embezzling from the fallen angels’ fund?’

‘What… No.’ Joshua lowered his outstretched arm.

‘Oh God, surely, you haven’t found out about the choir boys.’

‘Umm…’ Joshua felt he should try and take back the initiative. ‘I know you’ve been impersonating God.’

‘Oh, that. What of it?’

Joshua made his demand that the plan to wipe out all life on earth must be stopped. Gabriel listened quietly and said he would consider the request. As the door closed against Joshua’s back, he wondered if he should have made clear it wasn’t really supposed to be a request.


Beneath the Mediterranean, the African tectonic plate drives under its Eurasian cousin as it has for millennia. But now, a massive fault in its surface causes it to stick. Huge stresses build up as Africa continues to move north as inexorably as an HSC student during schoolies week.

The stuck plate snaps free, displacing a volume of water impossible to enumerate in this time before the invention of the Olympic swimming pool. A massive tsunami sweeps outward from the underwater earthquake. As it approaches land, water piles on water forming a wave one thousand cubits high from horizon to horizon. Where it makes landfall, it smashes all before it, until… It rolls up a large hill, where the ark bobs afloat.

Two angels watch through a portal.

‘Gabriel didn’t change his mind then,’ says Joshua, his face as depressing as a nearly full coffee card for a long defunct café. Patrick adjusts a setting; zooming further out. The wave spreads, eventually devastating an area the size of the Mediterranean.

‘But look, most of the world is untouched. Maybe he did change his mind.’

Joshua is no longer there.


The last of the day’s light leaks from the sky as the wolf lopes up a hill surrounded by the receding floodwater. Under a solitary tree, the wolf sits on its haunches and lifts its head to start the howl. It hears an echo inside its head.

There is always room for one more in the howl.

The Zoo, Michael Shamin

“He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”

  • Dr Johnson

“Beneath the surface of every one of these fallen men lies the beast inside them; it is as if in each of them is the point of intersection where some animal species meets humanity.”

  • Victor Hugo

As the Man enters the Zoo, he remembers when he was led through the same dark halls as a kid, in a small pack of twenty of his peers, all of them terrified and intrigued by what was on display. As he walks, he sees his memories appear like ghosts in the glass, walking alongside him. He tries to ignore the cold steel of chains clamped around his wrists and ankles, jangling and echoing against the cracked stonework as they walk together. Behind him, he can hear his shadows follow his footsteps, all of them behind the thin form of the Tour Guide.

‘On this level, we keep all of our Rats. Desperate little things, aren’t they?’ The Tour Guide laughed, a sick little chuckle that suggested that he might not be the best person to talk to children. Or perhaps the best, given the circumstances. ‘They rend and take in selfishness, eager to escape the flames of their own destruction, and mindless to the suffering that they cause.’ As the pack passed the glass crate cages, they could hear the skitter-scattering of their tiny feet and the sound of their gnawing teeth tearing into their meal. The unfortunate creature had been brought in like a bewildered cow to an abattoir, blind to what lay behind the iron door it had chosen.

The Tour Guide is older now, but the only sign of this is his hair, which has faded from grey to pure white. Other than that, his face still retains the same cruel and thin lines. Above them, the Man can still hear the Cat singing its song on the flesh of its poor prey; broken birds with melted wings of aspiration, flying high and thinking that they could live forever. He knows now, as he suspects they do as well, that this is impossible; the Administration is forever. They had destroyed it; they had thought they had set everyone free. But the people were liars to their own hearts; they didn’t wish for the freedom that he had brought.  Like a hydric machine, others had filled the void that they had created and rebuilt the cages to which they had become accustomed; it was what they were trained to do. It was the only thing they knew. He had lost everything, blood had stained his hands and now he was being punished for it.

Together, the Man, his shadows, and his memories descend the stairs to the next level, the next series of clear cages. One of these, he thinks, could soon be his, and he dreaded the thought.  

The Tour Guide stopped abruptly and turned on his heel with outstretched arms, looming above the children. His face stretched into a wide smile, his lips pulling at the waxen skin of his cheeks, but his eyes seemed fixed in place, a squint of disgust. Unmoved by the rest of his face, their colour was the light grey of the hidden sky at dawn. He looked to the largest of the children in the small crowd and held his gaze, before continuing, still with a forced smile. ‘Here, we hold our Pigs. They eat whatever they are given, to excess, again with no mind to the others they hurt. Where the Rats debase themselves through their desperate self-preservation, the Pigs have nothing to blame but their gluttony.’

Through the window-walls, they could see the herd of pigs fighting amongst themselves for the “food” that had been dragged in by masked figures and dropped it with a heavy thud. As quickly as they had entered, they were gone, slamming the iron door shut behind them. The poor creature lay on the floor, completely still, except for its eyes, which darted around in a frantic panic. Its eye made contact with the Man’s, still a child in his own mind, and held it. He could not hear any sound through the reflection, but he knew that the creature was trapped by its own muscles, not responding to its brain, and it was screaming. Its eyes darted more frantically, trying for some way to escape their prison of flesh, itself caged by the glass. Its muted screams rattle inside the Man’s head, like a mistuned radio picking up a thunderstorm. It was suffering. That much he knew, both then and now. The eye kept his gaze, even as the body it belonged to shook and tore apart in red and pink splashes of chaos, until finally one of the pigs took the eye as dessert. Not even bones remained on the bloody floor when the frenzy died down.

Another level down, the Tour Guide continued with his sermon, a speech that he had crafted and refined to his liking over the years.

‘And here, we keep our Bull. Beautiful, isn’t it?’ he asks, pausing to hear the resounding wonder of the young crowd. As the words bounce around his mind again, the Man could see the large bull in front of him once more. It was still fiercely ornate and intricately decorated. As they approached, it growled, and steam seemed to curl from its mouth, slowly filling the room with a fine mist of sickly-sweet incense. As a child, he had thought that the creature looked almost too perfect, like a giant living creature that had been encased in bronze, not pieced and welded together in a deliberate design. It was only later that he learned how it had been made, and the fate of its creator, a poor artist who had spoken out against the Administration too many times. They had been told that he had died due to an accident in testing, but the Man knew that this was simply another of many lies the Administration told on a daily basis. Like the creator of this beautiful and terrible thing, he had grown tired of his role as a cog in the machine, and had only hoped to make a difference. He had hoped that destroying the figurehead would bring down the cages, and the borders with them. Instead, he had lost him for nothing. Nothing had changed, except for the feeling of failure that lingers inside his gut, and that, in a twisted way, this was what he deserved. He wonders what lie will be told of his own fate, as well as his compatriots. ‘It doesn’t really matter’, he thinks. ‘It’s not my job anymore.’

Another level down, the Tour Guide led them through halls that shined blue and green, flowing lightning cracks of white light flashing like waves against the walls. Each cell was filled with water, filled with more creatures. Behind one wall, there remained splatters of blood splashed from a meal, slowly fading into the water with the ebb and flow of the creatures moving inside. The Tour Guide sighed, ‘Now, unfortunately, we’ve missed feeding time, but–’ the speech was drowned out by half of the children groaning in unison. Meanwhile, the Man turned to look at another cell. There was nothing but clear water inside. The only sound was the muted shout of the Tour Guide in the background. Suddenly, a trapdoor opened in the ceiling, and a large black plastic bag was thrown in, splashing into the water and sinking fast. Looking back, he notes how similar the bag looked to the ones he had seen two of his compatriots now call their final resting place. For a moment in his memory, the Man could see another masked face through the open hole in the ceiling, its black eyes staring deep into his own before slamming the trapdoor closed. He turned his attention back to the bag, slowly sinking to the bottom of the cell. It moved strangely as it sank, like a living tar that was failing to form limbs, a writhing mass of worms that wanted to be free in the water.

It softly struck the bottom of the tank, and whatever was inside continued to writhe and shake, its movements slowed by the water. The thing inside seemed to pay no attention to its sudden stop, still only focused on panicking and struggling, like an escape artist realising their key was missing. The bag finally tore open and another poor creature broke free from its pocket of air, and with it came several serpents wrapped around its torso and limbs, strangling and biting at the pale and blue flesh. He recognizes the face now, and regrets that he did nothing, that he could do nothing, when he had first been brought here. The creature was struggling, unable to breathe, while the serpents entwined around him, flourishing on the struggle of their own blood. He was now exactly what they said he was: a Snake, one that had spoken poison to the masses, a cancerous tumour that had to be excised as an example to the rest of them. This was proof that the system worked.

Tears run down the face of the Man, snapping back from his memories. He had cut off the head of the serpent that had wrapped itself around the world, but in its place a stronger monstrosity had risen, one that had grown even more determined to stamp out any dissidents, any dissonance from their message of conformity in fear.

‘Are you paying attention, boy?’ The Tour Guide had suddenly appeared next to the Man’s face. He held his face between his skeletal fingers, curling under the cheeks and framing his mouth, forcing it into a smile showing teeth. This close, he could smell an unholy stench, a steam of rotting eggs and mould emanating from the thin mouth and hooked nose.

‘Yes’, he lied, terrified. The Tour Guide stared at him for a long moment, the grey eyes filled with disgust digging into his own, searching for something, anything, any excuse to make an example in front of the crowd. Disappointed, he inhaled deeply, as though he was drawing in and feeding on the fear of the small children around him. With this, he stretched his thin body back to his normal tallness, and sighed before continuing. As the Tour Guide turned away, the Man could feel his classmates watching him, catching one eye watching him with a furious intent, peeking behind the girl’s blonde hair before she turned her attention back to the Tour Guide, eagerly devouring every word that escaped his thin lips.

‘Well, in any case, it seems you’ve started watching without me.’ He feigned a sadness in his face, his lips stretching down before curving into his twisted smile, but his eyes remained still.

Finally, both the Man and his memories are led to the final cage. Beyond the open grey stone and steel archway, thirteen doors lay around the chamber, spread out evenly like the markings of a clock. Each door had a symbol engraved into it, carved as intricately as the details of the hairs of the Bronze Bull. Each symbol was one of the animals they had seen on their journey through the Zoo. He saw the mental images in the clear light of his mind, and each were stained a deep red.

Here the ghosts of children fade away, and the Man is finally alone in the chamber, alone in his mind, no more memories of this place to draw upon to distract from his reality. Around him wait the Tour Guide and the Magistrate, along with his two nameless shadows, each wearing black and white and ravenous masks. They had gently accompanied him on his journey, one on each side behind him, always nudging him forward to keep pace whenever he walked a little too slow, with a reluctance that no one would blame him for.

His speech and his part to play over, the Tour Guide slinks away, like a cat leaving a midnight catch at its owner’s feet. The Magistrate nodded to him, slightly shaking the dirty white wig that she wore with pride, exposing strands of greying blonde hair. She fixes her wig with a slight touch, making sure it fit tight against her skull like a parasitic crown. Her gold rimmed spectacles balance on her crooked nose, and the thick lenses grant her grey eyes an alien quality, bulbous and slightly too large for her face. A grey gown hides her form, and he imagines that the warts that adorn her face have spread across her body, a hideous representation of her welcoming invitation of the Administration’s word into her own spirit. She was beautiful once, he thinks, but years within the system have withered her skin and hunched her form. She is apparently the same age as him, and he wonders now if she was really among the crowd of children that had been led through these halls so many years ago. He knew it to be true, but truth is easily fabricated these days. She clears her throat, a sickening sound of acrid air passed though rusting pipes. She begins her own prepared speech, the one she had spoken word for word for years; the same years that the Man had spent creating lies in the name of the Administration’s truth. Her prey was now at the centre of her web, and her own predatory dance begins.

‘No mind can ever be wiped completely clean,’ she says with a vulture’s smirk, as though she was looking at a future meal with an eager tongue, not a man with a sorry soul. ‘There will always remain traces of past lives, past memories. We have realised, with this, that the animal inside will always remain. Thus, it has been decided to erase your human mind and let you beast choose its rightful place.’

The shadows take their places and buckle the man into the faux leather chair. They strap the cap of electrodes and wires to his shaved head. As one of the masked figures behind him sticks a needle into his neck and urges its venom into his system, he wonders which door his body will chance opening when he is stripped of his humanity. The tears have dried up and left him, and he prepares his mind for a final sleep. As thought and memory begin to drift away, he wonders which punishment – which death – the lizard brain of his walking corpse will soon choose for itself.

Shelter, Montana Luppino

5:00pm. closing time.

Spot’s brown paw flipped the closing sign. Though it was time to close the shelter it wouldn’t be long before Scarlet Ebony arrived for her scheduled appointment. Though Spot did all he could to avoid her appointments it was inevitable since she was the only source of money keeping the shelter afloat. Spot hated that he needed her help to support his cause to find good homes for humans, but she was the only consistent source of income the shelter had. Spot was in no place to be picky about how he received an income.

His shelter was hanging on by its bare bones to stay alive. With each breath the shelter showed how weak it was becoming. Cracks framed each of the walls. Their fingers reaching out to hug each and every cover of the shelter. The vinyl floor was starting to show its true age. In areas it was peeling itself from the floor showing the concrete underneath. The darkness of the vinyl couldn’t hide the wet spots forming due to the repeated showing of human to potential customers. Some have been treated that barbaric by animals that the mere sight of one causes the human to enter melt down mode and remove all it can from its body. This act alone, with the issue of overcrowding, gave the shelter its most distinct feature, a smell that no matter how hard you try to block your nose demanded you to smell it. Odours of urine, shit, blood, and bleach swirled together into the nose of all who entered. Not matter how much bleach Spot used to clean the place the other odours also found a way back to the shelter. Due to his long hours Spot had become used to the smell. Though others gagged at the smell upon entering the shelter, Spot welcomed it like a friend, a reminder of why he was at the shelter. Spot had an hour before Scarlet arrived to groom his latest offering of humans to her. In their time together Spot had learnt to keep his thoughts to himself and in a twisted way, be grateful she was clearing out space.

Closing the last of the beige blinds, Spot made his way to the reception desk. Pulling out his To Do list Spot checked what was left. His eyes narrowed down on the two tasks left to complete for the day.

9. Move Alex into the death row.

10. Groom humans for Scarlet’s arrival at 6:00pm.

Task nine was a daily reminder of the reality of the shelter. For every human who finds a home two are sentenced to death. Death can come in one of two ways: A trip to the shelter’s death row or a place in Scarlet’s newest closet.

Checking is watch Spot noted the time to be 5:14pm. He had exactly forty-six minutes to complete both tasks. Placing the notepad into his pocket Spot made his way to the room which held the aggressive humans. The slightest sound of footsteps would cause an eruption of chaos, so Spot started trying to muffle the sound of his approaching paws. Howling, screaming and barking came from every cage. The sound echoing form one cage to another looking for a path to escape. Spot’s path to the isolation section followed a path few animals were allowed to see.

For appearances sake the cleanest, youngest, bright eyed humans were kept near the front display windows. The further into the shelter you traveled the more aged, scared, and aggressive the humans got. Every human in the shelter was the result of animals wanting a pet human until they realised how much care was required. Each human Spot passed was either brought in here, left, or abandoned at the shelter’s door in the early morning hours. Either way they have all been neglected, abused, or mistreated and deemed too old, dangerous, or unwanted.

Since Spot had taken over Green Hills Human Shelter, the number of humans calling the shelter home had astronomically risen. More and more animals were now leaving their humans at shelters as they weren’t bothered to properly care for them or didn’t realise just how much care was involved. In extreme cases the humans were aggressive, dangerous, or just simply weren’t safe for the owners to have. On his first day, Spot’s bright eyes told of a dog ready to help and care for the humans, but soon the reality of the shelter shattered his innocence. Now he was forced — by the multiplying number of humans in the shelter — to resign himself to only helping those that could be saved.

The door of the isolation room had metal plating along its bottom. Its need to keep the human locked behind it required Spot to use extra force to open it. As Spot’s shoulder forced the door open its metal based scraped against the tiles. To any who entered a feeling of doom meet them at the door like a crushing wave. Even the humans who ended up in this room couldn’t escape the pull of the doom’s tide. Here is where the shelters worst of the worst ended up. Due to the large number of humans to care for, most in this room were left tied up, dirty, and hairy. They were either not lucky enough to be adopted within four months or were too aggressive to be left anywhere else. Alex was three cages from the door and required a muzzle over his month. In his first month here he had bitten a staff member and constantly lashed out at anyone walked past his cage. With the cage door closed and locked Alex had kept charging at the door wanting for it to pop open. To keep him contained iron chains were locked tightly around his wrist and ankles to restrict his movements to a few feet. Stopping at his cage door Spot crouched down to be eye level with him. It was the least he could do considering where he would be taking him. A metallic order lingering in the air cased Spot to notice dark red drag marks covering the tiled floor. Moving his eyes up the floor to the back-wall Spot gazed at Alex.

He now wore the same look as the night Spot found him. The sight of Alex on that night was something Spot had trouble forgetting. The memory of that night burnt itself into the back of Spot’s eyelids.

Spot had run to the backdoor to be met by a horrific scene, lying on the floor was a barely recognisable human. A thick layer of matted hair and what could only be assumed to be dirt covered every inch of the human’s body hiding it’s gender and skin tone. If it wasn’t for the coat of dirt, the human would have been completely naked. A white shard sticking out of the human’s right leg caught Spot’s attention. Bending down to take a look, Spot noted it to be bone. The contours of goose bumps didn’t hide the bloody rivers forming between the flesh mountains. Taking a step towards the human saw it take up a defensive position, ready to attack. Spot needed to bring the human inside in the calmest way possible. Lifting his paw, he had gently stroked the humans head, ‘It’s okay, it’s okay. No one will hurt you.’

A bath had revealed Alex to be male. He wasn’t too old, but apparently he had developed the response to attack anyone who wanted to help him now that the dirt wasn’t restricting his movement. Whoever his past owner was treated him with such disrespect that all animals, to him, were a threat. The poor bastard needed to have his hair shaved off, bones reset and plaster enclosing his whole right leg. His bones did heal but his aggression never went away. His iron cuffs had dug into his skin which made him look as though he was wearing red bracelets. An unprovoked attack on a staff member was Alex’s last chance gone. In an ideal situation, Alex would have be given time to settle into his new surrounding but in a place where overcrowding was a problem putting aggressive humans down was the quickest solution. Dread radiated through Spot’s body, the sooner the task was complete the sooner it would be over. Spot slowly inserted the key into lock.


The ding of the bell echoed through the shelter’s halls to the isolation room. It couldn’t possibly be her yet. Spot turned to look at his watch which read 5:54pm. Shit, Scarlet was here and Spot hadn’t groomed the humans. Panic jump-started Spot’s need to figure out how to explain to Scarlet why the humans hadn’t been groomed. Throwing the key back on its hook Spot raced through the shelter to the front reception. How the hell did forty minutes pass without him completing a single task? Better yet how the hell was he going to explain the humans not being groomed? Scarlet was the type to show up promptly but not early and expected all of her demands whether they be simple or difficult to be meet.

‘Sorry to keep you waiting,’ panted Spot. The last thing a smart animal did was keep Scarlet Ebony waiting.

‘And here I thought dogs waited by the door for their master to show,’ purred Scarlet as pointed red nails removed black sunglasses from her face.

She was an animal whose reputation did little justice to physical presence. A black cat with perfectly groomed fur and manicured, red paws. She demanded attention into every room she entered with power and control radiating off her body. To close associates she was known as The Collector, since she only ever wore the finest of things. The echo of her designer heels warned of her coming and they were also great for stepping on those who dared to disobey. She only ever wore designer clothes and topped off her look with a coat woven of blood.

‘Nice coat,’ remarked Spot. Scarlet twirled at the mention of the coat. She was one who always made a point to show off her “fake” human leather clothes. She smiled, making sure the irony in her voice dripped of her tongue, ‘It looks like real human leather.’ Her red nails followed the stitching of the leather jacket. Spot placed his hands on the reception desk. He had to control himself. Those with a sensitive nose could tell you exactly how real the leather was. Cane in one hand she strutted across the vinyl floor ensuring with each step who held the power in this meeting.

‘How many humans do you have today?’ she purred. She was one to skip small talk and get straight to the point.

‘I have over twenty to look at but be warned I haven’t had time to completely groom them.’ It was best to admit mistakes early on in the meeting.

Her soft-spoken voice demanded attention as listens were forced to lean in to hear her words, ‘Your incompetence knows no bounds.’

‘I …’ Scarlet’s stare stopped him.

‘Spear me your excuses,’ distain dripped from her voice. ‘I though you of all people would value my business,’ she continued. Spot’s paws started to sweat.

His answer was make or break, ‘It won’t happen again.’

‘No, it won’t or next time your face will be closely acquainted with my nails.’ Though a smile graced her lips, the words couldn’t hide the threat they contained. Deep down Spot knew that the only reason Scarlet came to his shelter was that it was the cheapest, quickest, and most illegally convenient way for her to obtain humans. However, he also knew she was someone not to cross. Scarlet was known for her impeccable taste in collecting and this was not different for when she was shopping for humans. Normally when Spot was selling humans to animals there was an underlying sense of joy since it would be adopted, but selling humans to Scarlet always left Spot with an inescapable chill. All he could do now was continue the exchange as to not piss her off and get her out of here as soon as possible.

‘Are you after any particular types of human today or are you just browsing?’

‘I will inspect each on offer and see which ones are acceptable.’ The menacing nature of her voice told Spot what she really meant, I will personal scan over each and every inch of the humans you are presenting noting each and every imperfection they have. Spot pushed the pedal that opened the gate that separated the main part of the shelter from the reception area.

‘Right this way.’

Spot lead Scarlet to the section which held the human he was hoping she would take. He hated himself for agreeing to do business with Scarlet, but it was the only option he had left in dealing with the shelters overcrowding problem. Though he knew vaguely what Scarlet did to the humans she took he always though better her than ask. Before anyone judges know that for Spot it was easier to hand the humans over to another than killing them himself on a cold metal bed.

Entering the section row after row of humans spilled out of small, dark cages. Overcrowding caused elderly and adults humans to be forced to share a cage. The baby and toddler humans were forced into tiny cages which looked like a blue and silver Tetris game against walls. The cages were cramped, cold, and barely able to provide the humans with their basic needs. The only way they can find room was to stick whatever limb they could through the cage’s narrow bars. As soon as they entered the room its unique perfume hit them. The mixing of bleach, blood and urine made Scarlet turn her nose up at each human she strutted past. The clicking of her heels on the tiles was enough to alert the humans to retreat to the back of their cages and play dead. Somehow the animals had learned to recognise the echo of her heels. With each click of the heels bonding off the walls the humans welcomed the cages back wall to swallow them up whole. Spot lead her to the very end of the section.

‘Here are the humans I personal selected for you to look at.’

Scarlet intensely gazed over each human then approached one to start her detailed inspection. All the humans looked decent but lifeless, hair tangled but mostly groomed, and eyes wide open but bloodshot.

To give her room, Spot moved back and just watched. Scarlet was very thorough with her inspections. She would only take what she deemed to be the best. She ran her claws along every bit of skin the humans had, her eyes narrowing to find the smallest scare, bruise, or skin mark. The tiniest of blemishes saw the human tossed aside. During her inspection of a young man she threw the human against the wall of the cage for having the smallest of scratches. The thump instinctively made Spot take a cautious step forward. Though he wanted to help the human he knew it was dangerous to interfere. One wrong move and that cane of hers would fracture his bones.

Her next victim was a young female blond. ‘My what pretty hair you have’ she stroked her claws through the hair, ‘I have been needing a new blonde wig’. Her perfectionist tyranny continued well into the next. Though Spot just watched he didn’t think about leaving the room.

After the last human meet her critical eye she rose to her feet.

‘I will take her, him, him and her’ her cane indicating her new purchase. The finality in her voice made it clear that only those four meet her criteria. Spot led Scarlet back to the reception area. From her designer bag Scarlet pulled out a white envelope and handed it to Spot.

‘My associates will come past tomorrow night for pick at 7:00pm sharp. Make sure the humans are groomed and restrained for the journey.’ She made sure her eyes narrowed in on Spot’s for her next words, ‘if any of them gets the tiniest of marks in the next twenty hours it will cost you.’ She held the gaze long enough for Spot to take the threat seriously.

Nodding to accept her request Spot held the bloody envelope in his hands. Turning she calmly walked towards the door before briefly stopping. With her hand around the door handle Scarlet paused for a moment.

‘Spot’ her small yet controlled voice spoke. The lingering silence meant he was listening.

‘I expect my next trip to be more fruitful.’ He knew what awaited his next meeting with Scarlet. A good beaten unless he presented more humans with flourless skin and luscious hair.


The door closed, its glass still shaking.

Spot disregarded the envelope into a filing cabinet. He had to account for the money before the shelter opened for business. Grabbing the nearest pen Spot started his to do list for tomorrow.

  1. Groom Bob, Sandy, Tammy and John.
  2. Put their documentation aside for ‘adoption’.

With the scribing of the last word Spot flipped back to today’s list. The joy of removing humans from the shelter was short lived for Spot when he remembered where they were being taken. Task ten was now crossed off his list. Only task nine remained incomplete. Spot slowly walked to the isolation room and took a leash off the wall. The short ten paces to Alex’s cage felt like a marathon. Hearing movement Alex lifted up his head. Spot placed the leash on the floor and looked straight into Alex’s eyes. He knew there was only one way to get Alex out of the cage with little trouble.

‘Time for a walk boy.’

Mary Conner, Robert Ewings

Shots rang through the woodlands. Mighty horses kicked up the dirt, heedless of the underbrush and overhanging branches. Their riders crouched low and clamped tight with their knees. They followed the howls of the hounds. Their noses pointed straight ahead, flying through the grass, hot on the chase.

A quarter mile ahead a small brown vixen scrambled through the underbrush. She ducked through curled up roots and leapt over patches of nettle. The dogs were on her trail now, so the only way out was speed. She had an instinct for the forest paths, a track of grass that bent easily under her paws, a turned over tree that forded small gully.

She burst out of the tree line into a wide clearing. There was a stream and beyond that more woodland. Freedom if she could get there. Less than halfway across the clearing the pack of dogs arrived and with the vixen in sight renewed their efforts. On their heels the galloping horses doubled their speed across the flat land, the men on their backs shouting and kicking to go faster.

She reached the bank and jumped,

In one moment, she saw the rider stand in his stirrups and hold his gun to his eye. There was a shout of pain that split the air and the water rose up to hit her.

‘Miss Conner, wake up!’ The housemaid was clamping Mary’s arms down in the sodden bed sheets. ‘Dear God, release her from this demon.’

‘It was just a dream. Please, I’m fine.’ Mary took off her soaked nightcap and started ringing out her thick curled hair.

The housemaid relented and busied herself with pulling apart the bedsheets. ‘Would you like me to refill the wash basin for you Miss?’

Mary scowled, ‘I’ll be fine.’

‘Are you sure Miss, you seemed sweaty from your, ahem, dream.’ The woman avoided Mary’s eyes but kept a firm lip.

‘Perhaps after a short walk then, I need some fresh air.’ A practiced smile sent the housemaid away and Mary sank into a chair.


Mrs Conner was already at the breakfast table reading some letters while warm porridge steamed idly. Mary sweetened hers with sugar and wolfed it down. She hadn’t realised how much the bad sleep and subsequent dowsing had made her ache.

‘Where are you off to this morning?’ Mrs Conner must have been briefed on the morning’s events.

‘Just a short walk. I won’t be too far.’ Mary said between spoonfuls.

The housemaid glared disapprovingly from her spot near the door.

Mrs Conner hadn’t looked up from her letter, struggling a little with the small print. ‘Oh bother. They’ve disallowed your adoption papers again.’

‘They’ll never let you do it ma. Especially with your brother-in-law lobbying against you.’

‘Nonsense Mary. He’s always said he’s quite happy with his lot, and why shouldn’t he be, he owns the largest plantation in the county. I just want to see you set up to flourish after I’m gone.’ Mrs Conner’s husband had died early into their marriage. He hadn’t had a chance to build his own wealth, so now Mrs Conner was living on a pension from his elder brother, also Mr Conner. It funded the cottage they lived in, the housemaid’s salary, and Mrs Conner’s eccentricities.

‘And when Mr Conner turns me away, where do I go?’

‘Don’t be silly dearie, I hoped I would see you married.’

Mary took a moment to imagine that life. Her husband tilling his own land, two children playing in the yard. She would call them back inside for lunch during the hottest part of the day. ‘I would like that, I think,’ she whispered.

‘I know you would. Now I must confess I don’t personally know any of the free men in town. But I am sure there is someone among them who would appreciate your upbringing.’

The vixen curled up with a pair of pups in a dugout den. They suckled up to her as her mate fussed. He exited the den, then she heard a yelp and the sound of metal shutting closed. She made to get up, but the pups had clamped down hard holding her back. There was the sound of heavy footsteps approaching the den entrance.

A gloved hand reached in through the tunnel and grabbed one of the pups. Her claws scratched at the dirt as she tried to escape, but the den was collapsing around her. The last she heard was the mewling of the second pup as it was taken out of her reach.

Mary fled the cottage, only grabbing a white shawl to keep warm. The weak winter sun hadn’t taken the frost from the ground, so she focused on keeping her footing. Naked deciduous trees stood aimless in the empty fields. The path from the cottage took her to the main complex of the plantation. It consisted of barns, animal pens, the slave’s barracks, and the Conner’s house, most of which were deserted this early in the day.

Her daze was broken by a shout from a pair working on the fence line. ‘Miss Conner, what are you up so early for?’ The two men, who she now recognised as Ike and Charlie, were digging holes parallel to the wooden rail fence.

It was easier to say, ‘Just came by for some fresh air. What are you working on?’

Ike stamped his shovel. ‘Oh, I bet it gets stuffy in that cottage, getting fussed over by a housemaid.’

‘That’s alright, Ike.’ Charlie raised and lowered the crowbar to dislodge frozen topsoil. ‘We’re putting up a new fence.’

‘This one’s not good enough?’ Mary stood on the bottom rung of the wooden fence.

‘This’ll be a wire fence, for keeping out foxes.’ Charlie said.

‘All this extra work, why not just put it around the chicken coop?’

Ike seemed exasperated, ‘Well if you’ve got a problem with it you can take it up with Mr Conner. We just build the damn thing.’ He hefted the barrow full of dirt and headed back towards a barn.

Mary glanced around and hopped the fence, landing awkwardly in her boots.

‘Woah there, what are you up to.’

She put a hand to his mouth, ‘Hear me out. Will you keep a secret?’

‘Of course.’

‘Okay, I think I’m going to run away. I’ll join up with the railroad.’

‘You’re a free woman, why do you need to do that?’

‘Life isn’t all sunshine, no matter how much Ike may think it is. Ma says I need to find my own way, but I couldn’t settle down here. I’d be living in fear, and no self-preserving man in town would want to marry the rejected niece of the plantation master.’

Charlie held up a hand to stop her. ‘You want me to run away with you? That’s why you came to tell me.’

Mary couldn’t tell what he was thinking. He kept the same measured tone he used with everyone. ‘Well sure. I think it makes sense to me, in that sort of way.’

‘It makes sense to me too, in that way. But you see why it can’t be. I need to stay here and look after the others. Can you imagine Ike on his own?’ She knew it wasn’t just Ike. No one could be certain whether they were to stay on the plantation or be sold somewhere else. She’d seen it happen over the years and had always admired the way Charlie supported the others through their grief. It would be selfish to take him away for her own.

‘Perhaps some other time then, some other place.’

‘No. If you leave, promise me you won’t come back. Find your own way and be happy there.’

‘Get back to work!’

Mr Conner was walking over from the main house, a cup of black coffee cradled in his hands.

‘Good morning uncle.’ Mary called as Charlie resumed his hole digging.

‘I’m not your uncle.’ He took a long sip from his coffee and studied Mary up and down. ‘Would you tell my sister that there’s no chance for her little scheme. I’ve suffered enough to have you running around, sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong and bothering my property.’

‘What else is family for?’ She knew humour wouldn’t help the situation, but she wished it could.

Mr Conner smiled. ‘It amazes me how stupid you people can really be. How do you think your mother came by you?’ He stepped forward so he was in her face. ‘She bought you. You’re not family. You’re not even a person. Just a dress up doll for the daughter she never had. And here is the fun part. When she dies, you belong to me.’

Mary was caught frozen even as her mind raced away. She had to run, just like she had said. She’d known all along, somehow. The way he’d looked at her as she grew up with Charlie and Ike; property, borrowed and soon to be returned.

The digging sounds had stopped. Instead, Charlie held the crowbar at rest, with his legs firm on the ground ready to rush forward.

She steadied herself and took a breath. ‘Goodbye Mr Conner. Goodbye Charlie.’ Then she returned to the cottage.

In the middle of the night, the vixen crept back onto the poultry farm. She sniffed out the direction of the coop and slipped through the darkness. Then a wire trap closed around the vixen’s neck and pulled the cord to an alarm bell.

The farmer, who had been waiting up on his porch, rushed over to see what he’d caught. Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to come back so soon after her last chicken. He held her by the scruff of her neck as he undid the trap, so she couldn’t scratch him to let her go.

The farmer took her to a wire pen, dropped her in and covered it with a wooden board. No matter how much she barked he didn’t come back to free her. So, she waited, crouched on the ground, sleepless.

When the rooster crowed the whole farm seemed to light up with activity. Hundreds of chickens poured out of the coop and running among them was a young hound. He beelined to her pen to look at the new smell.

He jumped about and stuck his nose through a gap to sniff her out. Curious, she tried to gauge what he was up to. Her first thought was that he wanted to eat her. The way the hunting packs ran made her think they were savage beasts that would tear her apart. But this one she could only describe as playful.

The hound was digging at the base of the wire that circled the pen, and the vixen joined in when she saw that the wire didn’t extend into the ground. They worked together, and when it was large enough, she crawled through the hole to freedom.

The hound chased after her for a while but when she made it clear that she was going back to the woods he sulked back to guarding the chickens.

Mary had joined up with a group of five escaped slaves travelling up from the coast. They were all yard men from a stock farm and told an elaborate story of how they set the cattle loose in the middle of the night to distract the guards and slip away unnoticed.

They stayed two hundred yards to the west of the Mississippi River to keep their bearings as they moved from station to station. Mary enjoyed the journey until one day they were passing through a narrow valley that was being patrolled. The hunters were on foot, but there was no mistaking the long rifles they held at the ready.

The small group huddled in a shallow ditch, holding their breath. The men pushed Mary to the back to shield her, but she knew they would need to escape. The shouts from the hunters were growing closer and they could hear the sticks crack under their boots. Everything stayed still for a long minute as the sounds died away.

Then there was a gunshot and one of the men fell to the ground. Mary didn’t have a chance to see who it was as everyone scrambled to get out. More shots flew past hitting no one so the hunters gave chase.

‘There’s a stream up ahead, we can lose them,’ someone called. Mary remembered her first nightmare being chased by dogs and riders. What if they hadn’t used up all their shots, there’d be no cover over the water. Instead she ran up the ridge, splitting away from the others.

The dirt was loose at this sharp angle, but the trees were firmly held by their roots, so she clambered up from trunk to trunk. There was a shout, thirty feet below one of the hunters was aiming his gun. The shot hit the tree and rained out splinters.

‘Get back here traitor!’ He was following her now and gaining steadily. She couldn’t outrun him; she didn’t have a weapon.

She remembered that last time she saw Charlie. Feet planted and ready to jump to her defence. She imagined it was Mr Conner moving up behind her, except now he wouldn’t be stopped.

The hunter grabbed at her dress. In one movement Mary spun around and kicked him with all the rest of her strength. The dirt slipped from underneath him and Mary grabbed a branch to steady herself. He fell back down the ridge and took the full impact of a tree trunk to the back of his head. She heard his last shout expire from pierced lungs and by the time she opened her eyes his had gone glassy.

Mary paused only to whisper a prayer before turning back north. When she made it to the next station the master fixed the scratches on her arms and legs. Only two other passengers had made it across the stream and outrun the hunters over a few miles. They continued the rest of the journey in a sombre mood and had no more trouble with slave hunters.

Mary paused on the edge of Lake Ontario. The cloak she had been given from the shelter kept her warm despite the dusk winds off the water. There were celebrations every time more passengers came into port, but her thoughts drifted to the people she left behind.

‘Good evening, miss.’ Mary was stirred from her thoughts by a cheerful voice from behind her.

‘Good evening, sir. May I ask with whom I have the pleasure of speaking.’ She didn’t realise she’d fallen back on Mrs Conner’s mannerisms.

His laughter only slightly embarrassed her. ‘My name is Jonathan, Jonathan Reynard. I gave myself that name because all the ladies here say I’m quite the catch.’

Now it was her turn to laugh, and she couldn’t stop. Not because of Jonathan, but she was reminded of Charlie telling her to be happy. Nothing she could do would ever fix the world she’d been born into, but now she could build a new one, wild and free.

Noticing, Alison Hatzantonis


Have you noticed? Did you smell it? The wattle is out. That unmistakeable scent is in the air, but just a whiff as it is only beginning to flower, the perfume not yet overpowering. Did you notice the tickle in your nose, the slightest sniff?  It’s starting, hayfever season. Did you hear the whipbirds? They were out in force this morning. That elusive, incongruous little green-black bird with the punk haircut and the dominating voice. The male and female were having a cracking duet high up in the blue gums. Did you feel the condensation on your hair from the cool spring morning, turning it frizzy and making you shiver? But mostly did you notice the dogs? Don’t you think they resemble their owners? Or maybe it’s the other way around, do the owners look like their dogs? I think they subconsciously must want to.

Did you catch the chocolate Labrador going past, so fat that he sometimes rolls down the path when he trips over his own feet? His owner is somewhat portly, to say the least, puffing after him.  And the running dogs.  Did you see the greyhound today? Did you see yesterday the whippet and the other day, the red Kelpie? They all join their lean, fit owners on their daily run, pacing studiously at their owners’ heels, keeping up, urging them on, like a canine personal trainer.

Did you see the staffy, following his nuggety bloke around the park, both of them with no neck? And the power walking lady, her black curly hair pulled back and up in a high ponytail, which bobs up and down as she walks. Her two black poodles prance behind her with their tails bobbing along with hers, in unison. Their resemblance to each other is uncanny.  I once asked her, as nonchalantly as possible, if she noticed the similarity. She laughed incredulously and looked at me as if I was strange. 

‘No of course not. I rather hope I don’t resemble a dog actually,’ she flounced. I found her incognisance puzzling. What was going on here?

And I notice the naughty dogs.  Like schoolboys hiding behind the gym from the teacher.  Unwatched by their self-absorbed owners who are always on their phones, they get up to all the mischief they can before getting caught.  Hole digging, ball stealing and general destruction. These dogs can put the Australian cricket team to shame with their ball tampering skills. They are the masters of feigning innocence when caught, and swap looks of irreproachability with their owners when challenged.

Did you see the old man leaning on his cane as he slowly hobbles along? His seventeen year old schnauzer waddling behind, their arthritic hips clicking as they go. They are both deaf and oblivious to the bikes and scooters whizzing past them, saved from injury by children with quick reflexes. Sometimes they get separated, stopping in their tracks and peering myopically around for each other. I suppose the best part about having a dog is growing old together. These two definitely look alike, with their grizzled old muzzles covered in grey.

Do you notice the lanky young guy with the endless legs? They match his Irish wolfhound’s legs, the two of them tall, thin and a bit awkward, taking great strides around the park. They lean over other dogs, peering down at them with interest. And did you see the new guy, he seems very shy, standing away by himself? He is not sure of the park protocol, watching tentatively. His young, white German Shepherd cross behaves strangely too, making tentative approaches for play but unsure how far to go. His body language disturbs the other dogs who chase him away. He is like the new kid at school, unsure of where his place is.

Or the pretty lady with the Pomeranian who drives to the park, then sits on a bench. Did you see where her dog sits? On the bench next to her, the two of them happy with their daily exertion. Both satisfied that being there is enough. She hides her face behind a wall of hair and occupies her time by flipping through apps on her phone.

Have you come across the aggressive owners? Like the frustrated, angry man fighting to hold his leashed, snarling greyhounds, swearing at me to move aside on the path.

‘Get out of the way, you stupid bitch.’ His angst at the world on show for all to see, with his dogs channelling it like canine mediums. And the bald man with the bullet-headed bulldog, who both just growl at everyone?

I had an interesting altercation with the bald man once. His bullet bulldog I’ve discovered is a sniffer, insistent on sniffing other dogs beyond the point of decency. Bullet head sniffed me and my dog continuously until we both were annoyed. The bald man looked away.

I’ve noticed all these people. Upon some further research, I found that apparently there is a psychological mechanism which explains why a person might choose a dog that looks similar to themselves. It is simply familiarity, especially around the eyes. Apparently looking into similar eyes to your own invokes a feeling of the familiar, which is comforting. This makes research rings true as did you notice me, with my curly brown hair and brown eyes. My labradoodle is like me with his brown eyes and curly fur. We also share characteristics of indifference and aloofness, turning away from friendly overtures and pretending to be busy with our game to avoid conversations. He is very observant of my interactions with other people, knowing who my friends are, the ones I am willing to share a few words with. And he knows when it is time to leave. So maybe he notices too?



The morning air is losing its crispness. Gone is that delicious coolness and the warm air is lingering all night now and into the mornings. Summer is stampeding towards us and the dogs are panting more and running less. Did you see this morning that someone has put up a sign on the dog bag dispenser?

‘Lost staffy. Last seen at the park.’ His owner, the nuggety bloke is standing nearby looking forlorn. The black curly haired pony tailed lady is cheering him up, talking about microchips and friendly neighbourhoods. They walk off together to look for the staffy, the poodles scampering behind.

And after that, the small crowd had gathered to discuss the lost dog, everyone eagerly offering advice on where he could be and what they could do to help. The fat lab’s owner promises to put something on Facebook and everyone agrees to update the post if they hear anything. I noticed then the old man on the edge of the crowd, his schnauzer is playing with the white German shepherd, the younger dog gently nuzzling the older dog. The old man seems delighted and animatedly chats to the shy young man who is smiling now. They are discussing their dogs and swapping training techniques. I overhear the old man saying the best part about having a dog is growing old together and feel smug that I had noticed this already. He then said he has trained his old canine companion to smell when his toast is cooked and let him know.   

I saw later in the day, the word ‘found’ had been scrawled across the lost dog poster. The portly labrador owner saw me looking at the poster and yelled out ‘good news isn’t it.’

He took great pleasure in taking credit for his Facebook post which had received a message from a lady three streets north of the park. She had returned home to notice the staffy hiding, shivering and scared, under her front porch. She thinks he might have been chasing her cat under the house but got stuck, thanks to his ‘roundness.’ We both chuckle over this mental image. 

‘See ya round’ he says. And then I saw them, the nuggety man and the poodle lady, they were power walking together. The staffy was half running, half skipping behind them, valiantly trying to keep up with the poodles who would routinely stop and look around for him. They all seemed to be enjoying their liaison.



I felt the air change today. Did you feel the nip? I’ve noticed more long sleeves being worn in the park now. The heat of the past month is abating and everyone strides around the park a little faster now. The dogs don’t need coaxing anymore to chase one last ball.

I see the power walking couple with their poodles and staffy every day now. The bloke seems to have a neck now, his handsome chin emerging thanks to the exercise. All three dogs trotting in time behind their people. And I watched the pretty Pomeranian lady, she is walking now too, no longer confined to her bench. Her dog wanders along behind her and was bailed up by the Irish wolfhound. I could see he wasn’t doing any harm but noticed the grimace of distaste on her face. I think the lanky guy noticed too as he hurried over to drag his boy away. Surprisingly she relented and asked him, ‘is your dog a rescue?’ in that pitying tone often used to explain away bad behaviour. I heard him laugh.

‘Yes, but that doesn’t have anything to do with his issues. He just thinks he is fearfully attractive,’ he said. Before he could say anything else, she jumped in with, ‘he probably just needs to meet more dogs,’ a trifle flirtatiously I noticed.



All the dog jumpers are out now. No, not pole vaulting or hurdles, but the little knitted jackets, pullovers and vests that everyone puts on their dogs when the wind gets bitter. They walk around stiffly, the larger dogs with grievous looks on their faces, the smaller ones humiliated by the dashing home-knitted attempts they are forced to wear. This attitude of clothing animals mystifies me and I often wonder if owners forget that their dogs already have a coat on. I look at my dog, happily sniffing and weeing all over the place with not a thought about being cold and laugh silently.

I saw the old man today. It was the first time in a long time.  He looked happy to be out and about.  He was being pushed in a wheelchair, his schnauzer sitting on his lap looking frail. Pushing him was the shy young man, his white German shepherd having a great time barking and trying to bite the wheels of the wheelchair. They both smiled a cheery good morning to me as I passed.



I heard my first whipbird today and the wattle is back. It seems to bloom earlier and earlier.

The bullet-headed bulldog knows me now and charges over for a sniff.  His owner doesn’t growl at me or my dog anymore and even stands nearer while the dogs circle us. He seems close to striking up conversation.

Did you see the notice for the Christmas party?  It is to be held at the park, BYO drinks and dogs. It seems to have gone up very early this year. A few owners cluster around the poster, discussing details. The fat lab owner is there, and the Irish wolfhound and Pomeranian owners, talking and laughing together. The party sounds like fun.  Maybe I’ll raise my theory of dogs resembling their owners and see whether anyone else has noticed.

 I’ll definitely be there.

Amy, Felix Bailey

Amy awoke in a cold stupor. The hardest effort was to open her eyes the first time, when the dizziness was still letting her go. Something had pierced her thoughts, a pain growing, and now seemed to linger, bringing her head to sway like a bauble on a loose fitting. She blinked away crusts of sleep, let her eyes adjust to the dark.

This was nowhere, everywhere. Somewhere cold. At first all sleep-addled, she thought she’d landed in a void, some mystical realm robbed of the reality of colour. Then she eyed bright, square patches somewhere to her right, beyond in the river of black. Underneath them a table, below that still a haze and cloud of lime smoke, receding.

Already she missed the sky, the gentle caress and flow of the beach afternoon robbed of her. She tried to move over, to be somewhere that promised warmth and clear existence, when her arms drew behind her, and she heard a rattle as the chains went taut.

The shackles themselves were short, feeding down into a grate. Less than a half metre of reach, with the steel reminding her of its tug before she could stand.

‘Awake I see.’ said a voice, echoing from some unseen nook. A door screeched, and Amy jerked in place, her body pinned too tight to the ground to turn and see. No scent identified him, all fragrances suffocated by polyester and rubber.

Amy felt a rising pain in her heart, drawing in each breath like she were being choked. Maybe it was the trauma, but the afternoon has gone foggy, and she couldn’t recall her morning flight. This wasn’t how one day was supposed to end, it was the mockery of one, turned bitter and sick.

 A shape drew out from the dark, the figure a mix of glints and refracted light.

‘Hello Amy.’ he said. ‘How do you feel?’ In shadow there was little more to see than the gleam of his glasses and the tip of his forehead. Then a short flame burst to cover the stretched-out silicon glove on his hand, the light blowing from what looked like a red stump.

‘Curious?’ the man questioned. ‘It’s a devil’s finger. The bastards don’t give them up easily, but set alight they’re bright, and they don’t stop burning. Not nice to eat, either.’

Amy flinched away. She didn’t want to think how he knew her name or know how a stumpy pound of flesh could act as an incendiary. How had she got here at all? She’d been taking the route up toward the cliff face when…

 ‘When I ask a question, I would appreciate an answer.’

‘Tired, dizzy. Thirsty.’ she said. In the moment she hated herself. It was a sort of betrayal to list her needs, but the pain in her wrists was starting to grow, and the headache was killing her. This had all started so recently, and yet already she wanted it to end, to take her afternoon strolls where there was no competition and give in to relief. ‘I’m meeting my Mother tomorrow.’

A hard plastic pressed to her lips, the hint of wet splashing at her lips. ‘You should drink.’

The styrofoam was tipped, and Amy began to gulp and choke it down, gasping when the cup was empty. A series of heavy rasps and her breath was back. ‘Thanks,’ she said, wishing she had a free hand to wipe her dripping chin. ‘But a drink doesn’t entitle you to—’

 ‘If you have questions,’ he interrupted. ‘I’ll answer them later.’ The tips of his fingers caught in the light, holding something. ‘Now, try to hold still for this.’

The jab came fast, so quick Amy barely felt the needle. It stayed in the flab of her arm another second while the barrel was pulled and blood was sucked from within, then drawn out.

Amy gasped. Now it was hurting. ‘What did you…’

Already the man was walking back into the dark. He made several steps, and then the flame in his hand lit the wicker of others, revealing a wall of similar, creeping little torched stumps, and Amy was certain they were wriggling in place. The light burnt bright, but there was not enough to share the details of the room, and a squat darkness enveloping anything more than ten metres away. The room was tiled with flat, ceramic flooring, while the ceiling was left a question of overhanging black.

The man made his way toward a table. Amy saw what she initially thought was a green shade came from a kind of apparatus. Goblets, flasks, vials, all bubbling away, the colour of a fetid marsh. Plastic in strange shapes, leading down and through spirals and odd curves from one container to the next. Housed on table as a collective, they seemed a complete engine, all cogs of a greater machine. Her captor was not far away, back to her, a white coat cloaking much of him bar his shoes, what limbs he did show thin and spindly. He held the offending syringe in one hand, the stopper pulled taut and swimming fresh with her blood. If she’d ever learnt anything about who she was, having any of the stuff out of her system was never a good sign.

With a shaking finger the man squeezed her blood into a wide beaker on an overarching spire of the structure and left it to chug through the spirals of glass and mix with various vials of green and grey substances. Not once did he look back at her, always the focus on the glass.

‘I’m sorry to put you through this dear, but I have to test something.’ He said, turning back to her. His hair wasn’t much more than a black cap, a salt and pepper beard caking his chin. His nose held an ugly point. He studied her intently, circling the vapid haze of chemical gunk, as if she were a puzzle to be solved. ‘You see, there’s a chance you’re a regular schoolgirl, who’s experiencing quite an unfortunate afternoon. But going by the sightings and my own research, there’s also the possibility you’re something much more.’

The glasses on the table blew out fumes from the many air holes stabbed through their system. A dark accusing look to her, then, unhurried, her captor skulked over. In its long journey through the tubes the red had changed from bright orange to the clearest white, and dropped into the final beaker a dark colour, cascading and breaking out in flashes, blue like a gem vein trapped in stone, a mass of chlorine.

From a rack he pulled one vial from an empty hundred and rushed back over to fill it with the final mixture. Then he brought it over, sparkling in his hand. He shook it experimentally, and Amy recoiled as the contents crackled like lightning in a rooftop storm. ‘Oh, Amy.’ He laughed, eyes lit with understanding. ‘I know exactly what you are.’

His figure slouched and skulked closer, anxiously, nervously close.

He retreated from the certainty of the light and began to circle her. Then a hand pressed, cold and clinical, into the centre of her back, as if to groom, pressing between her shoulder blades in a grotesque search of cold latex and plastic. Her first reaction was to gasp at the chill of his hands, and then to struggle and shift away so he wouldn’t find them. But when his hands grabbed at the lumps around her shoulder, she knew it was over.

‘There’s no use hiding them anymore, Amy, if that even is your real name. Unfurl them. Now.’

‘It’s not what it looks like.’ The girl said.

Her captor ignored her pleas and swiped for a hold on her, and with her limited reach huddled back into the dark. He began to grunt and turn furious and when she made to dodge his grip again he caught her by the hair, and her grunts of resistance turned to strains of agony.

 ‘Enough!’ he roared. ‘Show me what you really are.’

Reluctant, Amy obeyed. They came loose slow at first, edging through hidden slits in her shirt as short, hazel-flecked feathers; at their full height they were long, crescent like things that became iridescent in the heavy, clinical light of the theatre. Three flaps to show them off, as if the act there might be enough strength to break the chains and carry her free. A wild flurry of forest debris and plumage flew out as she flapped, and the faint tang of ocean salt and beachside herbs released in the unfurling.

‘Beautiful.’ The man said, stroking the feathery down of her right wing. She felt her wings being prodded delicately in cautious touches, as if they were made of soft tissue like collage, but then he found her win

g bones, and clutched at them like they were an elephant’s tusks, audibly awed at their strength for something hollow.  

It would do her no good, pinned as she was, to use that strength against him, to send him keeling to the ground in a heap of coat leather and spectacles. But she considered it.

 ‘To think there really was an Angel visiting earth, fascinating. I’ve encountered a few demons in my time, they probably think this world is home by now, but Angels? You really are an enigma.’

‘You’re wrong. It was an experiment I’m really not a—’

‘You’re a little too divine to be good liar, Amy.’ he interrupted. ‘Try to be patient, you can be free soon enough.’ With a harsh tug he plucked a handful of plumage from her wing, and several stray hairs from her head.

‘What are you—’

 ‘Procuring my final ingredients.’ Her captor said, carrying his prize away to the table.

The wing down and head hair funnelled in until they made a splash and boiled and churned through the glass, being crushed and melding with the mixture as it made to meet the final product.  

‘I apologise for the measures I have used Amy, but they are necessary. By Monday you’ll be flying free, and this will just be an unpleasant experience.’ He dropped new ingredients into the vials as he spoke, purple furs, a red stained hair, a mangled eye, little pieces of animals, dribbled down as if squeezed recently through a grater.  

‘What are you even trying to make?’

Her captor chuckled. He turned and continued to monitor the vials, tapping them as if the chinking it produced were some vital data.

 ‘Perhaps the one upstairs didn’t tell you. Everything in this world is quite rotten, but with you that can change; one of his own holds the key. Imagine everyone empathetic and thoughtful of those around them, everyone as clever as Socrates, disciplined as Aurelius.’ He brought his hands out in a gesture of grandiosity. ‘I’m trying to make something great.’

As they continued to wind and boil through the glass work, the eyes and hairs mixed and corrupted down the vats, and in their spiral descent turned to a colour black as death, mired and bubbling.

The lab-coat man was by the table’s side in an instant, tipping the beaker so that the black pitch seeped perfectly into the blue vial. A laugh, a long and broken cackle as the man swished the mixture together; the colour eroding to swampy swathes of deep, dark ocean blue.  

‘I’m not what you’re wanting, I wasn’t born with these, these things. Whatever that is, it’s not going to work.’

‘You give yourself too little credit. There is a power in you, Amy. An infinity; the potential of a god. And I intend to draw it out.’ The vial cupped intensely in his hand, full of promise. ‘Now, let’s see if the myths about your kind are true.’ and he tipped the vial by degrees into his mouth, until a single drop leaked out.


The initial reaction seemed the most promising. It reminded Amy of natural divinity, river sprites and spirits who worked to heal out of benevolence. A life-like force had encircled her captor, transforming veins from blue to an ethereal green. The grey of his beard became a defined brown, and his flesh shrunk what few wrinkles and creases marred his body until he was scoured clean. An undeveloped imitation of her own wings crept out of his back, with a short, feathery down, feeble like a chick’s.

He drew breath, then exhaled with an unnerving calm, as if he had lived his whole life paralysed, and now every vein and nerve was moving free at last.

‘Thank you, Amy.’ he said. ‘Because of you—’

And then he stumbled in his speech. A terrible darkness welled like ink out of his chest, staining his coat, dripping to the floor. His jaw set rigid, unmoving when he tried to ratchet it back in place. All the freshness in him from the previous minute seemed to revert, and he began to stammer out a series of retches, harsh and churning.   

He tripped as he rushed to her, his legs now brittle and little more than sticks, falling to the ground beside her. The wrinkles and age that claimed him accelerated in their corruption, quickening with their initial taste. 

‘You were supposed to make me perfect!’ he lisped through his broken jaw. ‘This world perfect!’

Amy screamed, retreating from the flesh that dripped from his slowly whitening skull. It was with horror and a gross hatred of the man that she kept watching, and saw how the ooze in his eye and the cartilage of his nose burned in tandem with the black of his chest.

All her captor could offer was a quizzical look, a denial that he’d been duped, as he reeled, jaw setting fully, and roaring without a mouth to scream. The fire continued to burn inside  him, and its pressure changed something in his system, broke the very foundation of his being, for his skin began to fade and drift away, until all that was left was his lab coat blanketing the rest of his clothes.

In among the remains, Amy searched with a leg outstretched, hoping, praying there was something there. And then, her foot passed over a jingle of metal, and her shoes pressed the remains of the lab coat closer. Enough careful manoeuvring had them by her feet and after searching deep in the jacket pocket, retrieved the keys.

The chains gave easily after that. In her first moments of freedom Amy swiped up a devil’s finger and dashed for an open door. The first she found yielded to a steel corridor smelling of fungi and dank moss. A bright orange like sunlight gleamed from the furthest reaches of her vision. Down she raced, charging with all her might.

The feeble, aluminium door casing blasted away, and Amy was enveloped by the going light of the afternoon. She was somewhere near the top of a cliff, overlooking a town she’d never seen, coming out of what appeared to be a lighthouse, broken and windowless at its upper tiers. Peering down, she could see jagged rock pools at the bottom of the cliff, roiling under the crash and lick of the waves. It seemed the world had lit itself perfectly to meet her.

She couldn’t wait to put the horrors of the day behind her. Really, it had been just a minor setback. Her Mother would have been missing her a few hours, but that could be fixed. They had talked of migrating soon, before the beachside towns became too cold to sleep in.

A chill laced with the wind to batter her, howling to greet her as it scurried up the mountain. Prepared and fully unfurled, she perched upon the rail boundary at the cliff edge, and dove down towards the sea, ready to ride the thermals of the afternoon.

1956, Dannielle Parkes

Elizabeth’s Dior heel struck the pavement, igniting a frenzy of flashing lights in her direction. The press swarmed around the private jet, their beady eyes devouring every inch of the actress. Her fitted evening dress didn’t shy away from her curves, and the low plunge lured their lustful eyes.

An orchestra of shutters clicking, and film winding played from the cameras, capturing Liz’s pageant smile. She prowled along the edge of the crowd, teasing the press, daring them to take one step out of line. She grew bored with their evangelical eyes and began to strut towards the black Cadillac at the end of the tarmac.

Before the press could load another roll of film, a brown fur coat had engulfed the film star. The fine sable collar brushed against Liz’s neck, sending a warm shiver down her spine. All the press could see was a knee-length mink coat, a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses, and a mane of crimson waves.

The press circled around the film star, bombarding her with questions.

“Are you happy to be back in LA, Ms Loren?”

“Is it true you’re staring in Brodeur’s new film?”

Liz’s sunglasses did their best to hide her tired eyes, but it didn’t help the incessant noise of the press feeding her already excruciating headache. Liz slipped into the black Cadillac and took one last glance at the press. She fed them every day, but they kept coming back for more. She could see the way their eyes burned with desire that they wouldn’t stop feeding until there was nothing left.


The sun faded behind the old mansion on Sunset Boulevard, its grounds littered with the memories of Hollywood’s finest parties. On the marble walls hung film posters documenting Liz’s rise to fame, and on top the grand mantelpiece, a statue of a golden man stood proudly.

Liz sat hunched over in the bath, her mind drifting back to the previous night, to the woman who had laid in her bed. She thought of the woman’s dark curls, her soft smile, and the way her eyes danced in the light. A person’s eyes never lied, Liz thought. Liz could see the pools of lust swirling in the depths of her eyes, and in there swam a desire not to be with her, but with the Hollywood starlet.

She looked down at the signet ring on her middle finger. Liz ran her thumb over the ring and her heart ached. Her eyes stayed fixed on the initials engraved on the ring: S.H. taking hold of her memories and transporting her back in time.


On Sunset Boulevard, in one of those great big houses in the ten thousand block, a younger Liz stared at her reflection in the mirror. The studio had put the finishing touches on her makeover. She didn’t even have time to look at herself before Frank, her manager, had rushed her over to this party. He couldn’t stress how important it was to make a lasting impression tonight. She was debuting as a new actress to the most important people in Hollywood.

“Liz! Liz you in there?” Sylvia yelled over the pandemonium of the party below.

Sylvia Hayes was the daughter of a famous director and the niece to Hollywood legend Katherine Hayes.

The only highlight of the night so far was being in Katherine Hayes’s Mansion. Liz had only glimpsed the actress. All she had seen was Katherine wrapped in a thick fur coat, prowling around the party, daring the men in suits to converse with her. ​She was the only person Liz had ever seen wear such a coat in the middle of summer.

The old bathroom door creaked open, and a young woman peaked inside the marble room. Brown curls fell like waves around Sylvia’s face, and in that white dress, Liz thought she looked angelic.

Sylvia’s eyes roamed over Liz’s new look, making her heartbeat thunder throughout her body. Liz thought she now resembled a B grade Rite Hayworth with her face full of makeup, her low-cut dress, and her hair now an intense auburn colour. She stepped away from Sylvia and crossed her arms.

“You think I look stupid, don’t you?”

“No, never,” Sylvia said, stepping closer to Liz and pushing back a stray strand of hair behind her ear. Heat flushed to her cheeks, and Liz was positive her face now resembled the colour of her hair.

“So, they’ve dolled you up to feed you to the wolves tonight?” Sylvia stated, fiddling with the signet ring on her finger. Liz felt the weight of a thousand cameras pointing at her under Sylvia’s gaze.

“Frank said if I impress them tonight, I could start getting leading roles,” she said, glimpsing at herself in the mirror. “Maybe someday I’ll be like your aunt.”

“You don’t want to be like her or anyone at this party.”

But in fact, Liz wanted to be like Katherine Hayes. An award-winning actress who lives on Sunset Boulevard, who wears fur coats and has a million adoring fans. Was that not every young ​actresses​ dream?

Liz grabbed her hand, feeling the emptiness in her voice. Sylvia’s hazel eyes danced under the light, and emotion swam in the depths of her iris. Liz leaned in closing the distance between them. Their lips brush one another, when the sound of someone clearing their throat forced the two girls back to reality.

A large man stood at the opening of the bathroom.

“Sylvia, your aunt is looking for you,” Frank said, his eyes fixed on Liz.

She knew once Sylvia had left the room Frank would scorn her, again. This was the third time he had caught them. His hands shook with rage, and his beady little eyes narrowed in on Liz.

“Liz, come with me.”

She followed him down the long corridor, passing various film posters of Katherine Hayes from her early career. He stopped at the big door at the end, pushed it open, and gestured for Liz to follow.

The room was full of the finest clothes and jewellery she had ever seen. There were shelves for pearls and diamonds, and even a tray full of vintage broaches. Liz turned her attention to the other side of the room, where a rack of fur coats caught her eye.

She ran her hand along the coats. The fine furs of the dead animals were soft against her skin. Liz stopped at the end of the rack and inspected the mink pelt. The lifeless animal hung there. Its glossy eyes stared back at Liz. She picked the pelt up and moved over to the mirror.

“Stop this, Liz. People have been talking – they’ve noticed you two. Sylvia has her daddy’s name and aunt’s fame to fall back on. You have nothing.” Frank watched Liz grab a coat to go with the pelt and pranced around the mirror.

Liz thought about what Frank said, and he was right. If Sylvia grew bored with her or found someone famous like her, then she’d be over. But she couldn’t imagine her life without Sylvia.

“If the studio caught wind of you two, you’ll be blacklisted. Your career will be over before it starts and all the work we’ve done will be for nothing.”

Liz patted the arm of the fur coat and looked up at Frank in the mirror’s reflection.

“Kid, if you want all this one day, listen to me.”

She shifted her attention to the two golden statues on the shelf behind Frank. Liz wanted fame, her name in big print on the posters, and her face on the big screen. Sylvia knew this. Liz was sure if she listened to Frank, they would only be apart for a few months. Just enough time for Liz to get her first gig.

Liz pulled the collar of the coat up, and the smell of Chanel No. 5 clung to the fine fur. “What do I need to do?”

“You need to stay away from her for now. I’ll fix things up.”

She turned to Frank looking him in the eye. “Promise me we won’t be apart for long?”

“I Promise,” Frank said, taking the coat from Liz. 

After a long night of networking and dancing, Liz’s feet throbbed, and her cheeks hurt from smiling. She walked into the garden searching for Frank, so she could grab a cab home​, when she found Sylvia. Sylvia sat on the lawn, picking at the blades of grass. Her eyes were red and her cheeks puffy.

“I thought I would say goodbye,” said Liz.

Sylvia pushed herself up off the grass and walked over to her. She tried to muster up a smile, but tears fell down her cheeks instead.

“Dad has offered me his place in Paris while he’s filming. I leave tomorrow.”

Liz’s hands shook, watching tears stream down Sylvia’s face. She could feel her heart shrivel up.

“It’s only for the summer, right? Then you’ll come back to me?” Liz questioned, her voice cracking.

“I hope you get everything you wanted,” Sylvia said, taking off her ring and handing it to​ ​Liz. She looked into Liz’s eyes one last time, searching for something, then brushed past her and into the Mansion.


The sound of heavy footsteps brought Liz back to the present. She got out of the bath and put on her silk robe. Liz followed the sound of footsteps to the back room where the golden statue stood upon the mantelpiece. The fire flickered in the dark room, illuminating the large man on the sofa.

“By all means Frank, make yourself at home,” Liz said to her agent.

“Someone has to,” Frank said, dropping a newspaper down on the table. He cleared his throat, then began to read out the headline. “Wild Liz out on the town, can she be tamed?”

“What were you doing in New York?” he ​said​, holding the article up for Liz to see. The picture that accompanied the article was of Liz bar hopping on Christopher St with the woman from last night.

“I was there for business.” Liz leaned against the door frame.

“I told you to stay put, and next thing I know, you’re partying on the other side of the country.”

“Frank, I don’t need a keeper.” She glanced at the ring on her middle finger. “We’ve been over this.”

“I should talk with the studio again about getting you a husband. That’ll fix this problem.”

Liz narrowed her eyes. “I definitely don’t need a husband either.”

“I think it’s best for your career.”

“Cut the crap, Frank. Why are you really here?”

“I heard about the film with Brodeur.”

His mousey eyes studied her for a moment, before Liz moved over to the oak bookcase and picked up the script that laid on the dusty books.

Liz sat down on the sofa across from Frank with the script in hand. Frank shifted in his seat as a bead of sweat trickled down his face. Liz slid the script over to him. The orange hue of the fire next to them caressed Liz’s face as she studied him intently, waiting for his reaction.

“I’ve already signed the contract, and the script is decent. Well, better than the shit you make me do.”

He ran his hands through his non-existent hair and over his sweaty face. After he wouldn’t let her do ​The Children’s Hour​ on Broadway, she met with Brodeur. She knew it’d piss him off.

“Did he say who’s playing alongside you?” Frank questioned.

She hardly thought it mattered. Brodeur had mentioned getting a French actress, but that didn’t really concern her.

Frank sighed. “I don’t want those rumours to start again.” He picked up the newspaper and turned the page. “Liz, I’m trying to protect you,” he said, placing the paper back down on the table.

She knew of the rumours the first time, but they were dead and buried now, unless—

She’s back.

Liz looked down at the picture of an actress getting out of a plane. Her heart stopped.

The article read, ‘America’s sweetheart Sylvia Hayes returns from France to star in MGM’s new film.’

“I’ve already told them you can’t do the film.”

Liz closed her eyes, trying to compose herself. Rage pumped through her veins as she continued to listen to her agent go on about the new film that he booked her.

“You’re not doing this to me again.” Liz said, throwing the paper in the fire. “You promised me we wouldn’t be apart for long. But you’ve kept me from her for five years now.”

Frank began to speak when Liz cut him off.

“I don’t care what people say anymore, I’m done, Frank. I want out.”

He sat there for a moment dumbfounded. “It’s not that easy kid, you signed the contract.”

Frank got up, made his way out the door without saying another word.

When Liz heard the front door echo throughout the mansion, she broke down in tears. She rubbed her thumb of the ring on her finger. Years of frustration and anger flowed down her cheeks. She had to wait so long to see Sylvia, and she’d be damned if she listened to Frank again.

Liz ran down the corridor, passed the marble bathroom, to the small room full of her clothes. She picked one of her vintage coats; but the fur felt coarse against her skin. She picked up the raccoon fur next to it. The coat no longer smelled of luxury perfume, but of rotting animal flesh. Her stomach churned at the smell of it.

Liz grabbed all the fine coats and took them back down to the fireplace. She threw every one of them into the fire. The fire grew larger with each coat she threw in. She was setting the animals free. She had sacrificed love for those dead animals, for the big mansion, and for the adoring fans. Yet none of those things could fill the hollow void in her chest.

The flames began to grow beyond the fireplace, engulfing the golden statue above it. Liz moved out of the mansion and onto the lawn. The orange hue of the flames behind her illuminated the sky. She watched the flames burn the old mansion. This was never her home, Liz thought, it would never be.

“It was about time someone burnt it to the ground,” said a voice behind her.

Liz turned around, knowing the sound of that voice anywhere. Sylvia stood before her, her hair now cut just below her ears, and she wore a soft smile across her lips. Liz was positive she’d died in the fire and this was just an apparition to take her into her next life.

“Why are you here?” Liz questioned.

“I read a story in the newspaper about a wild actress who couldn’t be tamed, so I thought I would come and see her in her enclosure and ask her if she wanted to escape with me.”

Sylvia offered her hand to Liz. The orange light of the fire behind them danced in her hazel eyes. Liz took her hand, and warmth radiated through her body when they touched. The two actresses fled into the night, and the old mansion on Sunset Boulevard continued to burn into the early morning, creating a thick black smog that descended over LA.

Letters From A Lost Love, Cain Duncan

Dearest Eliza,

The roof caved in yesterday—and would you believe, the entire household slept through it all! The howling wind of the coast is such a constant companion that it drowned out the crack of splintering beams and plaster. We woke up this morning to a layer of rainwater. It spread glistening over the freshly polished silverware, like dew over morning grass, leaving behind a miniature sea stained the colour of cold tea, of which soaked the hem of my skirt a murky brown. The storm rolled off the horizon sometime during the night, washing branches the size of trees to the shore and tossing stones and sticks through the windows. The thundering rain that had heralded the storm had apparently been too much for the poor roof – which we later discovered had been attacked by woodworm – and it had broken under the weight of the night’s fury.

The servants tried to usher J— and I away from it all. Afraid, I think, of the broken glass, but I am so sick of being treated like a brittle fragile, broken thing Eliza, that I wandered inside the kitchen for a closer look. And there, among the shredded thatch and broken beams, hidden under the softly creaking beams, was a cuckoo chick. Its down feathers caught and radiated the light like a halo, and before I even knew what I was doing I had it cupped in my hands. It reminded me so much of that tiny sparrow we found on one of our frequent walks through the park, that I could not bear to leave it alone.

I do so miss you Eliza. You, and your quiet laughter and the small smirk you never can quite hide behind your hand. I just finished reading Pride and Prejudice. I am sure you will be overjoyed, a fact which makes it worth that half year slaving over it. Miss Austen is a beautiful writer, yet I cannot help but wish for the easiness of their love. No secrets or guilt in keeping things from the people they love. Would my own father love you as much as I, then I would not be happier for the world.

When father came down, he did his best to convince me to give the chick to the dogs, but J— persuaded him to let me keep it, aware of my chafing at being locked inside the house. I am not, after all, so sick that I must be confined to bed all day, as you were last autumn with that awful flu.

The servants cleared away the debris and we breakfasted on the balcony; the cuckoo chick wrapped in rags beside my elbow. As the morning progressed, we persuaded Father to take the carriage down to the village so we might be able to meet our neighbours, who have been so kind as to send us fresh fish every Sunday since we arrived.

It will surely be an interesting visit. They have an unmarried son; a young man father seems set on me marrying. It’s all dreadfully predictable, but I know you worry about my loneliness, and who knows? Maybe I shall find a friend in him.

Farewell for now my lovely Eliza, you will be present in my every waking thought and prayer.




My dearest Eliza,

You’ll be glad I’m sure to hear that the frequent visits with our neighbours have been going well. At least that is what my father might say. I must confess to you though; the son is a terrible bore, and I cannot see a friendship blooming with him. We have dined with them nearly ten and two times, each time my father loudly and publicly expressing his love of the man. It is most uncomfortable. You know what he thinks, of you my love? That my illness is caused by your ‘unsavoury character’ and wicked intentions. He must have seen us when we were walking through the park one day, but when, I would not be able to say. Your frequent hunting excursions and tendencies to challenge men to chess and backgammon have never earned his approval. ‘Women are playthings to be forgotten,’ as he so often says. I doubt your declaration at the dining table on Christmas Eve, that you are to remain unmarried, has helped the situation at all. The ripple of shock that sent through the vicar’s guests truly was a miracle to witness. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life. For one so shy and quiet as you Eliza, it is incredible how often you manage to get under other people’s skin.

It is indeed getting harder to smuggle you these letters dearest Eliza. Even J— is weary of helping me in what he thinks is a pointless exercise. But you know, you must know, that even this will not deter me. I will hobble down to the post office myself if I must.

You seem to be in better spirits than our last exchange, a fact of which I can be forever grateful. Thinking of you suffering alone has been most awful. The last time I saw you cry was when we were but thirteen, and I cannot help but worry that you now are more alone than I. I at least have the cuckoo bird, a most spirited and frightful creature. She has been terrorising the entire household, and I cannot help but be quite proud.

Yet how can I take pride in such things when you are not here? You, who are so far away, under a different sky, a different sun. I must admit to you, the horizon from where I’m standing is rather grey. The birds which have been keeping my company in these long months are taking flight to escape the winter, of which I too wish I could escape. Yet God – if she exists – did not grant me wings and so here I must remain. An idea I imagine that will leave you scandalised; I know what you were like in church my love. The most devout woman I know, and the kindest too. That vicar who stared at us with such malice is not blessed with half of Her grace as you. It is those summer stained memories of a happier time that will warm me through the cold to come. That, and your promise to visit this spring. Being apart from you does not bear thinking about. But bear it I must.

The gulls are abandoning their nests my love, and so I too must take leave of you.




My dearest Eliza,

I will not dance around the news which even my pen shudders to write, for that would be an unkindness I could not wish upon you. So, the crux of the matter is that it appears to be that I am in fact, more ill than we first feared.

The family doctor visited yesterday and left me with the knowledge that my own body is eating itself alive. I am afraid I was not present for the conversation, father leaving me to sit outside while they consulted privately. So, there I was, watching the clouds scurrying across the sky like rats, decidedly not listening to father’s rage leaking out of the house and staining the air a sickly orange. Father believes that I will walk away from this alive, Doctor G— must have told him otherwise, nothing makes him so angry as being told he is wrong.

But let’s move on to happier thoughts. I was strong enough yesterday to sit at the bottom of the garden and watch the gulls flock overhead to nest in the great stone cliffs that crash down to the sea. I couldn’t help but laugh at their cries, those wild things. Their elegance and grace brought back bittersweet memories of a time when you and I danced together at your manor in the countryside, in the ballroom and then in secret, under the light of the moon. You always have possessed a certain recklessness that I cannot help but let sweep me away. Like that day you convinced me to go climb the trees in the orchard, which ended in you neatly spraining your ankle after jumping from one tree to another. A fond memory now, if it wasn’t one then. One of the many reasons why I love you.

J— said he would take me there in the carriage tomorrow to see the gulls up close. An offer borne perhaps out of the need to wipe the exhaustion from the corners of my eyes. It is an effort doomed to failure; I can already tell. Every day I grow weaker. The trip from the village to the coast seeming to drain the last of what little energy I have left. I should not have been parted from you and I wish that you were here Eliza. The sun does not shine so brightly and the fresh breeze not so relieving on my feverish skin without you here by my side. But you remain in town and may as well be half a world away.

Forever yours,



Beloved Eliza,

Your last letter has filled me with a fear I can scarcely describe. To talk of taking your own life! My love, how could I continue to exist in a world without you in it? You must not allow yourself to lose hope! This illness shall pass, and I will escape from my father and reunite with you in that cottage by the woods where we first met, however long the carriage ride may take me.

Please write as soon as you can. Please wait for me.

Your love,



My dearest Eliza,

Thank you for your swift reply. I have worried myself sick. Scarcely a day has gone by when I didn’t pray to God. But my love, don’t you know that I would give anything to see you again? You must not allow yourself to fall into despair; we are destined for greater things than this, and you know not all evils are unending.

What are you now reading? I take comfort in the fact that your books will be there to keep you company even when I am not. I can only imagine how your sisters would take your loss, young L— would be inconsolable. No, it doesn’t even bear thinking about!

These thoughts lead me to the fact that I have not seen you for an age. Every day drags on as if the clock has forgotten to keep ticking, yet I cannot tear my gaze away. My illness has me confined to the house and edges of the garden. The long walks you and I shared during those sweet summer days now seem like a far-off memory that belong to someone else. Yet I can still feel the dry grass brushing against my ankles, see you falling asleep with Jane Austen’s newest novel open on your chest.

Yet spring has taken hold of the valley in a turn of events which seems to surprise no one but me. These long winter months have dragged themselves by, but the flowers peering through the grass have convinced the sun to hang herself back in the ceiling of the sky. The cliffs have become my favourite place to be; the wind talking my hair loose of its pins for it blow adoring around my face. It makes me want to write novels – only for you to read of course – and it seems to be the only place my breath doesn’t stutter in my lungs.

Of course, J— does not approve. You know his proper views of the world, how could he? He thinks I look like a wild thing, but he would never begrudge me anything, and I am ashamed to say that it is too easy to take advantage of such a thing. Please don’t be displeased with me Eliza. Without you by my side, I must take advantage of any small pleasures that stumble across my path. The graceful curve of the gulls wings, their raw cries that echo across the surface of the sea – they remind me of the poetry you constantly fall in love with, another way for me to be closer to you.

The cuckoo chick has found a home in a discarded hat box that I spent the morning lining with old clothes that have grown too big for my thin arms. She has taken to peeping softly at the rising sun, in want perhaps, of the family blown away in the storm. Certainly, we have seen no other circling birds wandering the empty sky in search for their lost chick. As dismal as her lodgings are, I cannot help but notice that her feathers have grown in glossy and strong. Her voice high and sweet, even as my own hair becomes thin and grey, my voice withering with the waning moon.

The sun is rising from behind the clouds and I’ll have to leave you for now, Eliza. I am not yet spoilt for good weather and must make the most of it while I can.




Dearest Eliza,

I’m sorry my letters are becoming shorter. I haven’t the strength to write them. Your latest letter came like a warm breeze to spirit away storm blown clouds. It lifted the haze which has become my constant companion these long months, even if only for a moment. Your story about the little dog moved me almost to tears. I cannot remember the last time I laughed that hard. I’m sorry my own letters take so long to get through, I have now been forced into secrecy as J— refuses to aid me any longer. I have to lie in wait like a prey animal waiting for my father to turn the other way so I may steal down to the post office. My only company now is the cuckoo chick who has now flourished into a beautiful specimen, the like of which I have never seen.

My father took me out hunting with he and my brother in an effort, I overheard them discussing in the parlour, to get me some ‘fresh air’. It reminds me almost of our first days together as children: the sun kissed ground, the bare trees and quiet birdsong. There was no big game for them to catch and so they resorted to shooting the gulls flying overhead. And there I was, forced to watch as they fell to the ground one by one, like feathered tears. I was still seeing them hours later, even as the cuckoo fluttered around my head singing her sweet song.

I stained my handkerchief red yesterday, and the family doctor Mr G— has started to watch me with eyes as sad and distant as the moon. Even though I was sent here to the sea for my health, I’d have rather stayed and wasted away by your side my love. If I look at my hands under the weak light of the moon, I can see the delicate bones of my fingers poking through my skin. I think I am ready now to say goodbye to you Eliza, one final time.




My sweet Sophia,

Your last letter made me fear as I have never feared before. The thought of you dying before I could hold you in my arms one last time is unthinkable. And so, I have left town in a flurry of hurriedly packed trunks and am making my way to you as I write this. I only pray I am not too late.

When I arrive in your village have your bags packed and ready to go, for we shall leave in the same carriage in which I arrive. There is a house waiting for us in the warmer part of the country, with a sturdy roof and yellow walls, surrounded by flowers on all sides, populated with swallows and nightingales to keep your cuckoo chick company.

I know your father will surely be upset, but how can we care when we have such limited time to spend together before the end? If God can forgive us this – and she will, of this I am sure – then your father must understand.

Please wait for me my love.

Yours, now and forevermore,


Guardians, Jessica Carmona

It was not often that the ocean approached them with a quest. She was not one for intervention, more inclined to allow the ebb and flow to take its own course. Yet, as she appeared before them now, they could only see distress within her waves. This was a side of her that they had not seen before. If something was so much of a threat that she was coming directly to the sisters, they had no doubt it would be a difficult task.

At first, they were hesitant. Her request varied drastically from their usual exploits of luring sailors into dark waters, but the ocean was certain that the outcome would far outweigh the risk. They could not deny her. She had given them life and, more importantly, purpose.

The ocean explained that all they needed to do was split their tails into legs. In doing so they could walk on land as if they had always belonged there.

‘Split our tails?’ one of them had asked. They all seemed anxious at this prospect. It was not something that had been done before. Sirens had never sought to live in the world above. They only needed water.

Even if it seemed simple, the ocean conceded that it would be painful. This did not help reassure the sisters, but all they needed was one of them to step forward. Bound by duty, they would follow each other.

Blue tinged red, water blubbed to contain the sound as each of the sisters were transformed. It was a slow process, having to relearn everything that they knew. Kicking with two legs was different – it required a lot more precision. With their tails they only needed one continuous, smooth motion. That could not be achieved with legs.

Once they could swim, they needed to learn how to walk. The rocky outcrops off the coast of the nearby beach served them well, but the sharp edges dug into their exposed flesh as they stumbled, leaning against each other to try and stay upright. As their determination stayed true, they became accustomed to using seaweed to wrap around open wounds.

Then there were their voices. If the sisters were to speak their power would still hold, luring any human to do their bidding. This could be a great distraction on land, drawing unneeded attention to them. Instead, they learned to speak to each other in silent gestures. Their hands moved to convey the meanings of words, creating a new language only they could understand. This way they could still plan between themselves, even amongst the humans.

The ocean didn’t allow them ashore until they possessed the fluidity of the women they had witnessed on land. After wrapping themselves up in the tattered sails on an old shipwreck – a mark of their recent work – the sisters made note of a path leading away from the beach. They were told this was where the humans disappeared at the end of the day. It was where they must follow.


At first there was nothing. No sign of humans, only silence. Beneath their feet the yellow sand had shifted to coarse dirt, rocks piercing between their toes with almost every step. For a moment, the sirens considered that maybe there was a different path. Surely the ocean would have corrected them before they left the beach. Instead, they were surrounded by green grass. While it was something they had never seen before, it wasn’t too different from the long seaweed that marked the ocean floor.

Soon enough there were fields. Expanses of plotted land stretched out before them, behind fences made of the same wood as the ships they so often encountered. Crops stood tall in countless rows, swaying silently in the breeze that might have trailed all the way from the water’s edge. The sisters kept to the path, remaining in step with each other as they moved forward. At least, until their eyes were drawn to a new creature.

What? one of them asked, her hand gesturing towards it. The creature’s skin was comprised of patches of black and white, its head resting down near the edge of the fence as it lazily ate the grass. Her sisters offered her a shrug in response, and she took a step forward. Not wanting to startle the creature, she approached slowly.

‘Moo,’ the creature said.

She startled, jumping back and narrowly avoiding a fall. This was not a member of their ocean family that she was familiar with. She had yet to consider that the land might have been home to its own creatures too.

Moving closer again, she steadied herself against the fence. The creature was just close enough to her that if she were to reach out, she could place her hand on its head.


This time she didn’t startle. The others looked to each other, trying to assess the situation.




… Yes?

Eventually one of them tugged her sister away, and they continued down the path.


When they came across the first two humans, the sisters were unsure what to do. They locked eyes, but the humans gave them a strange look. None of them knew what would cause this reaction. Did they not appear just as the humans did? With legs and cloth wrapped around their bodies?

Shortly after this, they came across a small structure held up by dead wood. In front was an old woman. She was sitting down, wrestling with two sticks and a small piece of cloth. As the sisters moved passed her, she looked up at them. They each offered her a smile.

The old woman blinked at them, concern clouding her gaze. She placed down the sticks and cloth and stood, moving around her fence and towards them. ‘What happened to you, dears?’ she asked. Her voice was slow and rough, different to the human voices of the sailors they were used to.

As a way of explanation, the sisters gestured back to where they had come from, even if the beach couldn’t be seen this far inland.

‘A shipwreck?’

They looked to each other, deciding this must be their answer, and nodded.

She sighed and gestured at their cloth. ‘Well, you can’t go into town like that.’

The woman quickly ushered them into the structure. Inside there was more wood crafted into shapes. As they entered a small, fluffy creature came up to them and brushed against their legs. One of the sisters leaned down and placed a hand near its pointed ears. The creature purred in response. This structure must have been a home, like theirs except not underwater. Maybe the creature lived here too.

They were offered more cloth, and between the five of them they managed to get it onto their bodies. It didn’t drape the way their old cloth did, instead it was tight against their forms. It was heavy, with more than one layer and stopped a few inches from the ground. Walking away again, the sisters realised why the humans wore feet coverings. The rocks were no longer cutting into them.

It seemed they had found where the humans were. All gathered together where the path the sisters had been following started to fan out. They drew themselves off to the side, concerned that they would be separated if they tried to move amongst the humans. It was the sound that brought them to a complete stop.  It reminded them of waves crashing against the rocks, continuous and unrelenting, until the rocks themselves were taken under. Drowning while on land was not something that the sisters had thought possible; but that is what it felt like to be standing on the edge of the cobblestone space.

As a distraction, they tried instead to focus on what was around them. They hoped that it would ground them, and maybe they could think of why the humans would all be in one place. Around them were more structures, more homes, but these were smaller than the one the old woman lived in. More compact, all lined up in rows with little space running between them. In front of them, humans bustled about. Some of them were behind a smaller structure topped with striped cloth. These seemed to be the humans making the most noise, dozens of them throughout the space yelling to gain the attention of others. Occasionally, a human would approach and exchange something for one of the items with the structure. Maybe this was a human ritual.

While gazing around, the sisters noticed one human who was leading a smaller human, a child, with one hand. This seemed to be a strategy to avoid losing each other. Linking hands, the sisters chose to mimic this so they could begin to move amongst the humans. All they needed to do now was brave the noise, even if it was starting to numb their senses, creating a frequent buzzing in their heads.

If only the noise didn’t get louder. The closer they were to the humans, the worse it was. Weaving amongst them, the sisters ignored as they were yelled at, only managing to hear some of the words.

‘Dates! Imported dates!’

‘The freshest this side of the mountains!’

They were drawn to a holt when they heard a call, a different sound that stood out amongst all the human voices. Soft and high pitched, a song with a melody not too different from their own. Following the sound, the sisters approached one of the vendors under the striped cloth. The man behind it watched with careful eyes, but stayed silent. The song was coming from three small creatures with wings like their own kind used to have centuries ago. Trapped behind thick bars, their light voices called to them.

‘Pretty, aren’t they?’ the man said with a flash of yellow teeth.

The sisters simply nodded, their eyes unable to look away from the creatures. One of the sisters reached a hand towards them, and they feel silent, looking back at her as if this were a conversation.

‘Don’t touch them.’

She didn’t listen, resting her hand against one of the bars. As she did so, the creatures started flying erratically, as if to escape their confines and join the sisters. One of the others quickly pulled her away.

Dark, one of the sisters noted.

Distraught from their discovery and disoriented from the noise, they made their way down one of the thin paths between the homes. Down this way there were more structures, but less movement. It was quiet and most of the sunlight was blocked out by the roofs.

Cold, another added.

Away from the sunlight, they were too far from the ocean to ask her where she was leading them. This path was not wide enough for the five of them to walk next to each other, so they stuck close together as they continued. Down here, there were fewer humans and the ones they did see were different. The humans down here were completely silent, bulging eyes trained on the sisters as they moved passed. Sometimes one of the would reach out to the sisters, but they were not sure what this meant. They were not calling to them, not using their voices; the humans seemed to be doing this of their own accord. Not knowing what to do, the sisters tried to avoid them, walking as far away as the path would allow. All they could tell was that these humans seemed tired, and sad. Maybe it was the darkness that caused it.

Soon, the path was empty of humans. The structures themselves were boarded up in a way that the sisters would see sailors patch up the holes in ships, planks of wood covering portholes. It was then that the sisters began to worry that they might be lost. Their steps became quicker as they tried to find another path that led back to the light again. That was until one of them stopped.

Dropping to her knees against the cold floor, she reached out a hand towards the glimpse of another creature. As it came out to meet her, the sisters noticed that it looked just like the people that lived in the dark. It was shaggy, unkempt and its skin was straining against its bones. The sight of it broke their hearts.

She petted the creature, and it nestled against her, grateful for the affection. After a moment, the creature darted off down the path. It stopped before reaching the end and looked back at them. It wanted to be followed.


Instead of the noise, this time they were hit with the stench. The creature had led them exactly where the ocean wanted them to go, and with another pat on the head it disappeared. Ships were lined up against the water’s edge, stationary except for the occasional movement of the waves. Out of the ships, men were carting large crates that smelled distinctly of the sisters’ home. It shocked their systems, pain hitting them as they felt the thrashing within.

This was why they were sent here.

This was something they knew how to do.

During the day there was far too much activity, so the sisters waited the few hours until nightfall. It gave them time to plan and to observe the men as they worked. There seemed to be a procedure in place. As the ships pulled in, they were met by the men on land. The captain would instruct his crew to help unload their cargo. Men would drag out the crates of fish taken from their homes and cart their carcasses into a large wooden structure for storage.

Waiting gave them time to watch for their target. It would have been far too easy to hit them all if they wanted to. It was something they had done before – taking down a whole fleet in one night. One of the ships had arrived late in the afternoon, the light of the setting sun filtering through its sails. It was the only ship that hadn’t been unloaded yet. The sisters would start there.

Each ship had a guard to protect it during the night. Most were younger men, tired and wary after being at sea for so long. These were the type of men they were used to dealing with. It took no more than a few words to him and they could pass onto the ship. On deck, it was empty of people, but the smell still lingered. The sisters shuddered as they made their way to the bow of the ship. Leaning against the bannister, they looked out at the ocean. They asked her permission for what they needed to do.

As the ocean spoke, holding more authority than the universe itself, the sisters felt the words settle in the core of their very beings.

‘They steal from us. They lure and they murder. It is only kind to do the same.’

The sisters glanced at each other and after just one moment, they smiled.

Luna, Jennifer Bolliger

My lap human had gotten fat, it wasn’t the soft squishy type of fat that was comfortable to sleep on. This type of fat was the ballooning of the tummy which looked ready to pop if I tapped her with my claw. Once I had gotten around the stomach, I found there was still some space to sit on. Lap human ran her fingers through my fluffy fur.

‘Left a bit, ah.’ I push harder into the fingers that scratched the back of my ear.

My body vibrated with purrs of bliss, Lap human always found the best spots to pat. I purred louder as my other ear was scratched. As she got underneath my chin, a little drool slipped out and onto her hand.

‘Can you get me a tissue?’ Lap human asked Food human who had just entered the front room.

I rubbed my scent onto her giant gut. My purrs continued even when she had stopped stroking me. Relaxed as a puddle of fur, I settled down my head for a nice nap.

Then I got kicked by her bursting belly. I yelped and stood up. Lap human kicked me! We were fine a moment ago, patting, stroking, purring and napping. There must be a thing inside her that made her kick me, like a hairball. My fur puffed up when her tummy moved. It’s going to kick me again, I thought. My ears flattened back. Claws were out.

I scratched her ginormous gut then hissed as I leapt off her lap. ‘Cough up the furball, fatty!’

‘Ouch!’ Lap human clutched at her bulging tummy. ‘Ah, help me!’

Food human sprinted to Lap human, he almost trod on me! I growled and hurried away from them. My tail swished in agitation. Food human was now sprinting towards the doorway I stood in. Look down before you move, I nearly growled but changed my mind. I hissed and retreated, making my escape through an open window into the backyard, just in time to hear the vroom vroom leave. Lap human kicked me first.

My humans have been gone for days, well just Lap human. Food human is gone every morning.

‘You forgot to feed me again!’ The door shut behind Food human.

Where do they go? This is the third day food human hasn’t fed me. My bowls have been licked clean, where’s my wet food? Food human has left dry tasteless bits from the inside of a bag with a horrifying image of a tabby smiling. No healthy cat can smile that way and eating that stuff will force that sickness onto me. I will not lick it.

I’ve been yowling down the hallway and scratching at the front door. My humans come when they hear me call. I trained them better than the yodelling dog, Teddy, next door could. They feed me, brush me, pat me and play when I command them to. If they continue to misbehave, I’ll have to find a small animal to entertain me inside the house. That will make them jealous, being replaced.

‘Where are they then?’ Teddy asked.

I glared down at him from my perch on the fence. I was going to steal some of Teddy’s food, a slightly better alternative. While I decided what to say, I feigned interest in cleaning my paw. Dogs were all stupid with their muzzles poked into everything.

‘They’ve gone to work.’ No, it’s not a workday for them. ‘On an errand.’

‘Why didn’t you go with them?’

‘I’m not going out of my territory with these strays ready to claim what’s mine!’ I growled.

Teddy sniffed at my tone. ‘You cats are all so stuck up, can’t even go for a walk.’

My ears flattened back, and my throat vibrated with the rumbles of a warning. Teddy growled back in answer. My fur spiked up as our growls rose in volume. This standoff would stop the moment one of us moved. I had planned out two options for myself. If Teddy moved first then I would beat the hell out of his face, if I did, then I’d aim for his eyes. I ignored the vroom vroom’s roaring return. My claws were ready.

‘Luna!’ A man shouted.

Food human, I recognised the voice. I jumped off the wooden fence into my yard and raced towards Food human. He called for me, will he give me wet food? Teddy had gone into a barking frenzy, unable to reach me with a fence between us.

‘Get back here Luna!’ He chased me on the other side of the fence.

Food human jumped when Teddy got his front half up on the fence. I slowed down to a confident stride. My mouth filled with saliva knowing that I’ll have a bowl full of bird in gravy. I won’t ignore Food human if he gets my food ready for me, I decided. Lap human is still going to be ignored for getting fat and not being here, where she can be my seat.

‘I’ll chew your tail in half!’

Teddy’s threat was typical of a dog. My tail raised up in the air with my butt facing Teddy, stupid dog. I paused briefly to look up at Food human. Dark smudges under the eyes, I’ll lick them clean later. While he sleeps.

‘I’m hungry.’ I informed him then rubbed my right side against his leg, before going through the cat flap into my house.

Food human didn’t follow me inside, he needs to be reminded who’s queen. Lap human’s scent has been fading out of the house. I want her back, wait somethings changed. Boxes and bags all over the front room. I sniffed and smelt something new mixed with Lap human’s fresh scent. She’s back, but what’s this other smell? It was a little bit like the chemical smell from where the Scary humans live, jabbing needles and poking at my wounds.

They didn’t come here, I sniffed and glanced around. Not in the boxes or bags. The scent was stronger down the hallway towards the bedroom. Muscles tensed as I slowed to prowl closer for a peek. In the bedroom Lap human cooed over something she had on the bed. I sat and stared at her in contemplation. No Scary humans, the thing inside her was gone. How had Lap human lost all that weight over a few days? She was still on the tubby side, but it wasn’t like she was going to explode with a bang. My ears twitched when the front door opened and closed.

‘How is he?’ Food human walked into the room without looking down, I sprinted away from his feet.

‘He’s still asleep, did you get the cradle?’

Cautiously I stalked forwards, but she didn’t notice me. I felt irritation along with the urge to claw her. That thing on the bed had taken all their attention. Look at me. I haven’t seen you for days and your eyes are all soft gooey like when you gazed upon my litter. My stomach clenched. I need to eat something far away from them.

I left the bedroom and wandered down the hallway into the kitchen. The bowls next to the bin had those dry tasteless bits, I sniffed but could only smell that inedible stuff. My stomach grumbled at me. I swished my tail and looked back to the entrance of the kitchen. Neither human seemed to notice me waiting for food. They’ll come, I trained them.

‘Feed me.’ I meowed, then waited.

Food human didn’t come into the kitchen. Maybe I’m not loud enough, it takes several commands at sunrise to get Food human to the kitchen.

‘Food!’ I yowled loudly.

No Food human. Why isn’t he feeding me? I huffed and anxiously padded back to the bedroom doorway. Both Lap and Food human were focused completely on that thing on the bed. I swished my tail banging it against the door frame with my ears flicked slightly back. They should be focused on me.

‘Feed me, I’m dying from hunger!’ I made my yowl loud and miserable like the stress hunger I felt. ‘You left me alone!’

‘Shh, Luna calm down.’ Lap human didn’t glance away from the bed.

‘Look at me!’ I wailed back.

Food human smiled at Lap human and walked over to pat me on the head. I smacked his hand with my left paw. The claws were out and cut into his skin. Why won’t Lap human pay attention to me?

‘Don’t pat me I want Lap human!’ I hissed.

‘Ow, Luna.’ Food human backed away from me.

Lap human had come over to look at his bleeding hand. I glared while they fussed with his hand. Should have listened to me and given me food, shouldn’t have left my house for days.

‘We need a band aid.’

Lap and Food human left the bedroom.

‘Don’t ignore me!’

Neither human returned. I jumped when a gurgle sound was heard from the bed. They were focused on the bed, was the thing a Scary human? I waited then ducked down to the floor and prowled closer. Gurgle.

I jumped back then ducked down low. Waited for a while, nothing. No sound. Was it a ghost? I sniffed the air. The smell was the same. Lap and Food human mixed with that new strange smell. Not chemically but different. I prowled closer then lifted my top half to get a look. Can’t see, the bed’s too high. My front paws clawed into the quilt and I pulled myself up higher.

Something pink squirmed. My ears twitched forwards to hear it better, I sniffed at the thing. That was where the scent had come from. I leapt and scrambled onto the bed. The thing was wrapped in a blue blanket and had one arm free.

What should I call this thing and how do I get rid of it? The top half looks slightly human but the rest of it is like a cocoon. I prodded at one side of the blanket with a paw. Got a few claws out and caught a couple of threads then yanked. The blanket came off a little more. No wings. Not a moth or a fly. My humans shouldn’t be bringing in strange things, a bird or a lizard is better than whatever this is. I lifted my right paw up above its tummy. My body tensed up uncertain how this thing would react. I smacked my paw down.

‘Wahhh!’ The thing cried.

‘My ears!’ My ears were flattened hard against my skull.

Fur puffed up like I was shocked by static. I leapt from the bed and ran straight for the door. Food human sprinted in and we almost collided. My claws gripped the carpet for traction to help change direction and get around the leg in front of me. Down the hallway wasn’t far enough away. That thing was too loud, my ears were bleeding, I was sure they were. The cat flap left a bruise from the solid bang on my head as I retreated outside. Its wails were muffled but still not enough. I hurried over to the next-door neighbours’ yard. Could still hear it yet was easier to ignore.

‘Luna get off my grass!’ I turned to spot Teddy charging at me.

‘Wait stupid dog!’ I turned tail and raced back towards the crying.

My ears flattened harder against my skull, I didn’t want to go back to that screaming thing. I skidded in a sharp turn; my back half swung wide. Teddy couldn’t turn fast enough, and his face splattered onto the fence. There wasn’t enough time to snicker at his lack of grace, Teddy had recovered. He snapped at my tail.

I raced to the fence for the next house over. Jumped and scratched my way up the wood to the part I could stand on, so long as I keep an eye on my balance.

‘Wait, it’s all that thing’s fault.’ I huffed.

Teddy glared at me. ‘This is my yard just like that’s your yard, stay out.’

‘They brought home a thing and it’s too loud and they won’t look at me.’ I complained.

Teddy sighed and shook his body. I looked over at my home. Invaded by a thing. It has to be thrown out; my humans were so focused on it that they ignored me. If I can’t throw it out, then replace it with a lizard. They’ll be busy playing with the lizard while I feed the thing to Teddy.

I could hear the screams again. Food human opened the front door to go and search inside the vroom vroom for something. Teddy stared with perked up ears. I watched his tail wag at an accelerated speed. He seemed excited about something.

‘When did you get a puppy?’

‘What puppy?’ I was confused, wait. ‘No, that thing is a puppy?’

Teddy turned around to stare at me. No wonder I found Teddy annoying. My humans brought home a puppy. I don’t share, dogs cannot stay in my house.

‘Yeah, humans have puppies too.’

When it was dark, I returned to my home. A replacement for the puppy was in my mouth. Couldn’t find a lizard so I killed a noisy miner. Easier to carry a dead bird than a live one. I pushed open the bedroom door, they never closed it before. Lap and Food human were asleep in bed. A little cage on a stand had been added to the bedroom.

In it was the puppy as Teddy called it. Closer inspection didn’t reveal a tail or lots of fur like a puppy should have. I thought it strange while I got into the cage. These bars were so wide apart I could go through them. This thing would have no problem escaping.

Its eyes were closed. Asleep then. The young of a human, I padded around it. What does it do? Can’t feed me and has no lap. I glanced at the pink feet. Too feeble and weak to go for walks.

With its eyes closed it reminded me of a kitten. Born blind and dependant on its queen. I still miss my litter. Four tiny kittens, taken away by other humans. I had them for three months, I didn’t want them to go. If my human’s puppy is like my litter, they’ll send it away just as soon. I don’t want to wait a few months. I stared at the thing. Too big and heavy to carry, though very weak. Like a kitten but a human kitten. A Kitten human, I named it.

This Kitten human can stay, but it will leave. I placed the dead miner on top of Kitten humans’ belly. Meat will make it grow faster; it won’t stay here for long.

Kitten human was quiet, I turned on my purr motor. Silent and asleep is perfect for the few days it will be here. My body curled around the Kitten human’s head. I purred into his left ear, while our warmth was shared.