Tag Archives: chaos & creation

Fidei Defensor, Cameron Wood

Stephen ran his hand through his bushy beard as he stared at the wooden chest. He knew what was inside but he could scarcely believe it. Slowly lifting the lid, he winced as he heard the creaking sound of the chest opening. He quickly shut it again and took a step back, feeling the crunch of the snow underfoot. What have I done? Placing his hands back on the trunk he threw the lid open and stared inside.

‘God be praised,’ he whispered as he bent over to touch the bible. A crashing sound could be heard as Stephen peered through the falling snow and saw the wool merchants throwing logs onto the fire.

‘Hans!’ Stephen called out to the monk who was standing in the clearing with the merchants. ‘Hans come here.’ Stephen watched as the monk began trudging through the snow.

‘It is all there?’ Hans called out.

Was it? Stephen turned over the cover of the bible and saw a message from Tyndale.
Yes.

Hans gazed into the chest and his blue eyes swelled with tears. He reached in and ran his rough hands over the wooden engravings on the cover.

‘Did you pay them?’ Stephen asked signalling with his eyes toward the merchants.

Hans could only manage a nod.

The translation and printing of the bible in English was an illegal offence. I’ll get treason for this – they’ll have my head. Turning away from the frail monk Stephen contemplated burning the bible and taking off. He knew he’d only have one chance. But before he could decide, he heard the sound of a trumpet behind him and the calls of men in the distance. It’s Thomas. Slamming the chest shut he clambered up the hill towards the road.

‘The Archbishop of Canterbury!’ called a knight.

Bowing as was customary, Stephen heard the hoofs of the horses stamping into the rock underfoot.

‘Stephen, my lad!’ Cranmer called out from atop of his regal black horse.

‘Master Cranmer.’

Stephen held out his arm to help his master dismount. Cranmer had unusually short legs and his gray beard, which hung down to his waist, made his legs look even shorter.

So Stephen tell me – how was it? Cranmer’s gaze was imploring. By that, he meant, did you get the bible?

‘Master, I have it.’

‘Ah my lad!’ Cranmer roared. ‘You continue to be a true source of joy for me. So then tell me, how was Saxony?’

Stephen smiled and led Cranmer down to the chest.

‘Tis well Your Grace. The Lutherans still roam free – but I fear for Tyndale.’

Cranmer stopped and looked up at Stephen. ‘Is he safe Stephen?’

Stephen listened as the wind howled darkening discontent through the oak trees in the distance. He nodded.

‘Have faith my boy, after all we thought they would get Luther.’ Cranmer then took off his soft, broad-brimmed hat and brushed the snow from it.

Stephen pointed out the chest to his master and went to open it, but Cranmer grabbed his hand. ‘Allow me, lad.’

‘Oh my –’ Cranmer gasped. He dropped to his knees and Stephen watched as snow soaked into his beard and purple robe. Cranmer reached in and like a father to a baby he picked the bible up and held it in his hands. ‘Exquisite, isn’t it?’ He ran his gloved fingers over the wooden engravings as Hans had earlier. His fingers lingered over the engraving of Christ hanging on the cross. After Cranmer placed the book back down he got up and laughed at the water imprint on his robe.

‘Looks like even the archbishop couldn’t hide his joy,’ he winked at Stephen. ‘Well my lad, it’s time for you to be shaved, for tomorrow you are to meet her Majesty.’

Stephen looked past his master to a bird which was jumping from branch to branch in the distance. I wonder if I should envy you?

Stephen scurried down the candlelit hall. Under his arm was the bible wrapped in the archbishop’s red cloth. He did not take his eyes off the book even when Queen Anne’s maids passed by. Stephen let out a soft chuckle as he thought about what a Count in court had named the maids, The beset blondes.
When he came to the door he felt his heart quicken and his palms moisten.

‘Enter,’ came the confident call of Cranmer.

Turning the handle he instantly smelt the lavender petals which decorated the table Cranmer and the Queen sat at. Cranmer spoke with great enthusiasm to Queen Anne, who was dressed in an elegant French gown and corset, which accentuated the auburn in her hair.

‘Speak of the devil!’ roared Cranmer.

The Queen turned her head slowly to greet Stephen. ‘This must be him then?’ she spoke with a hint of an accent, harking back to her days in the French court.

Stephen bowed and felt his Adam’s apple rise in his throat.

‘Come sit my lad.’ Cranmer rose and pulled a seat out from the table.

Stephen placed the bible down on the table and sat. ‘Your Majesty,’ he whispered and then frowned. A whisper? You meet the Queen of England and can only whisper?

She briefly smiled at him and then focused her jade eyes on the bible. Taking a cue from Cranmer, Stephen slid the bible across the table towards Queen Anne. ‘It is from Tyndale – Your Majesty.’ He couldn’t tell if she ignored him or just did not reveal anything without first deliberating on the correct response.

‘He’s well then?’ she finally responded after opening the bible.

‘Yes Your Majesty,’ Stephen replied. He looked watchfully at his master’s face. Give me something to say Thomas, please. ‘May I speak freely?’ he heard himself ask the Queen.

She nodded and tapped her long nails against the table.

‘I’m not sure he’s, ah, safe. He is around Englishmen but I fear they will have him hunted.’

‘I see.’

There was a moment of silence. It lingered until it was snatched by the Queen, ‘Thomas, what do you think we should do?’

‘Well your Majesty, I propose that Stephen and I go immediately to his Majesty.’ Thomas leant back in his chair, relaxed his chest and looked at the young man who had been his pupil for the past five years.

‘Master Cranmer?’ Stephen asked, feeling his lips quiver with fright.

Thomas fixed his eyes on him and Stephen knew what would come from Cranmer’s mouth; fear not man, Stephen.

‘Well if I may interject gentlemen?’ the Queen interrupted. Stephen watched the corners of her eyebrows rise, forming a delicate triangle on her forehead. ‘I may only be a woman but surely a wife knows her husband best… and this I know’ Anne paused and looked at both men carefully. ‘He has never spared a woman in his lust, nor a man who has attracted his anger. Therefore, you will need to wait until the morning. I will dine with Henry tonight and persuade him of your necessary audience with him.’ She opened to the inscription on the first page.

May your Majesty bestow upon the English people what is rightfully theirs by your Majesty.
Your humble servant,
W. Tyndale.

‘Lovely,’ the Queen hummed. ‘I think that I should like Tyndale to return home as soon as possible.’

‘Yes, your Majesty.’ Cranmer responded, before nodding to Stephen, prompting his exit.

Stephen bowed to the Queen again and quickly rose to leave.

‘Take the bible with you,’ Cranmer ordered.

Stephen lowered his head to hide his rosy cheeks. He wrapped the bible hurriedly and left.
Times were easier than this back home… before Father agreed to help Tyndale. This shall be it, I’ll finish this and then beseech for leave. Thomas will be saddened, no doubt. And he will surely tell me,
‘Don’t be like young Jonah, Stephen, you must do the Lord’s bidding.’

‘Excuse me young lad –’ the voice broke his train of thought.

‘Yes?’ Stephen turned and saw a man in a black robe with a distinguishable gold chain.

‘Might I ask who you are and your business?’

Stephen watched his dark eyes.

‘Stephen.’

He had black hair to match his eyes and it looked as if his hair had been trampled by a plough-horse.
The man smiled. ‘Stephen. Is it just Stephen then?’

He felt his fingers moisten again as he held the bible against his chest. Just tell him you need to be on your way!

‘Stephen Fitzroy. I work for the archbishop.’

‘Yes, of course. Glad to greet you Stephen. I am Sir Thomas More, Chancellor to his Majesty.’

Stephen courteously bowed and gazed down the hall, praying Cranmer and the Queen would emerge.

‘Tell me Stephen, do you know about your name sake?’ More asked casually as if he had nothing better to do.

‘My namesake? Well my family is from –’

‘No not your lineage – the apostle,’ he said.

Stephen felt a drop of sweat trickle down his forehead. He nodded slowly.

‘Pray then tell me what is it that we remember of the apostle Stephen?’

‘He was the first apostle to be martyred, Your Grace.’

More nodded slowly and grinned. ‘Very, very good. Now one more question, do you know the term his holiness the Pope gave to his majesty the king?’

Stephen paused. ‘Fidei Defensor.’

‘Quite. You have a knack for languages. Fidei Defensor – defender of the faith. It’s a grand title, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, Your Grace.’

More took a step closer and Stephen felt his warm breath. ‘As a servant of the defender of the faith I intend on defending the faith entirely. Do you, Stephen?’

Stephen nodded and took a step back. ‘I must be going the archbishop is waiting for me.’

More lowered his head before turning and striding back down the hall where the Queen and Cranmer were.

Hearing his shoes clank against the stairs played tricks on Stephen’s mind. Fear not man, he told himself as he listened to hear if another set of footsteps were following. The wind howled up the staircase at him, sending shivers up his spine.

‘Caught!’

Stephen pivoted to find where the voice had come from.

‘Caught!’ crowed a black bird from the window next to Stephen. Putting the bible on the window ledge Stephen swatted at the bird and hissed at it. He pressed his hands over his ears and began muttering a Psalm to himself.

‘Caught!’ The crow was louder this time and Stephen watched as the bird seemed to turn its head and look at him, its blood stained beak glistening in the moonlight.

‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…’ he cried at the bird as if debating his right to live.

‘Stephen!’

Stephen spun to hear if this voice came from the top of the staircase. Who? Are they footsteps?

‘Caught!’

He grabbed the bible and took off down the dark staircase, unable to see the stairs beneath him. The chilly air of the night filled his lungs and his body begged him to stop. As he clambered further down the staircase he suddenly felt his frost bitten knees lock beneath him. The stone stairs crashed into his body and he felt a fiery sensation shoot up his spine. Lord save me, he pleaded before everything went dark.

He heard a voice ring in his ears and felt the stench of rotting flesh crawl up his nostrils but Stephen couldn’t respond.

‘Alright then, throw the water.’

The cold water stung the wounds on his body.

‘Don’t make this any more unpleasant Stephen…’

‘Where?’ he whispered, tasting the thick blood in his mouth. He saw the man slip out of the moonlight, which trickled in through the barred windows. Where am I? Am I hanging?

‘Light the candles,’ the man grunted. ‘Hurry about it.’

Where am I? He tried to tilt his head back to see what he was tied to. His arms were tied to a rope which hung down from a scaffold above him. ‘What – do you …’ Stephen groaned before being interrupted by the vomit which rose in his throat. The man approached and stood in the pool of blood and vomit unfazed. His dark eyes haunted him, reminding him of those of the bird in the stairwell. The bird… the stairwell… the bible… The flickering candlelight now gave him the ability to make out the gold chain around the man’s neck.

‘What I want, is for – ‘

‘More?’ Stephen muttered weakly interrupting the chancellor.

‘Indeed. Now as I was saying, I want you to tell me where the bible is.’

The bible… the stairwell… ‘I don’t know,’ he spluttered, more blood oozing out of his mouth.

‘You don’t know? Or you won’t tell me?’ More cried out, punching Stephen’s swollen rib.

‘It doesn’t have to be like this Stephen. I don’t know where you went astray, but I implore you, for the sake of your soul, to return to the faith.’ More stalked around him and loosened the ropes.
Falling in a heap, Stephen felt the icy stone floor soothe the bruises and cuts on his body.

‘I’ll ask you once again,’ Stephen listened to the footsteps. ‘Where is the bible?’

‘I don’t know!’ Stephen cried out in pain, his anguish causing More’s young assistant to slink to the back of the dungeon. Where? Where? The stairwell… ‘I left it in the stairwell.’

‘Liar!’ More yelled as bits of saliva rained down on Stephen.

‘Jonathan, you searched the stairs, did you not?’

‘Y-y-yes,’ the boy spoke through his chattering teeth.

‘Then lift him up and take him to the chair.’

Stephen felt Jonathan’s skinny arms wrap around his arm pits but the boy struggled to pull Stephen towards the chair.

‘Leave him you useless peasant!’ More shouted and then shoved the boy to the ground.

‘Cranmer,’ Stephen muttered nonsensically.
‘Your Cranmer can’t help you down here, Stephen.’

‘Now Stephen,’ More continued. ‘You are going to enjoy this chair, after all that time you’ve been hanging.’ He lifted Stephen to his feet and held him upright next to the chair. Stephen looked down at the metal spikes which were evenly spread out across the chair. He whimpered and cried out for mercy. There were too many spikes to count, but the six large spikes on the base drew his attention. More slowly lowered Stephen into the chair, giving him time to anticipate the torture.

‘Argh! Please, Your Grace! Ah!’ Stephen yelled in agony as he felt the spikes of the chair pierce his skin. He tried with all his might to lean forward to avoid the spikes.

‘Where is the bible and who gave it to you?’

‘The stairwell! The stairwell!’ More bent over and wrapped his arms around Stephen’s back so that he could look Stephen in the eye.

‘Who wrote it?’

‘Lord have mercy!’

‘Tyndale?’ More asked. Stephen’s head dropped and all that could be heard was a groan.

‘It must have been him. Let me tell you about Mr. Tyndale, Stephen. Mr. Tyndale is a criminal of the foulest breed. He rejects Christ’s Holy Catholic Church. And for what?! A heretical belief fed from the devil himself! But Mr. Tyndale will pay the price.’ He lifted Stephen’s chin. ‘And you know what else Stephen? You will pay the price too.’ There was no response. More watched as Stephen’s eyes rolled to the back of his head. ‘Come now Stephen, you cannot die yet.’ Stephen stirred but could not speak.

‘Jonathan, fetch the knife.’

‘No –’ Stephen muttered and gasped for air. More kneeled next to him and whispered in his ear.

‘Ready to talk?’

‘I see now.’ Stephen lifted his head and his blood shot eyes looked up at the roof.

More gritted his teeth and struck Stephen’s face until it dropped again.

Stephen slowly lifted his head. ‘I see the Kingdom of Heaven.’

More snatched his arm, which lay limp by his side, and shoved it through the metal clasp on the arm of the chair. He did the same with the other arm and then pulled the chest strap tight across his chest. Whatever blood Stephen had left oozed out as the spikes sunk deeper into his flesh. His lifeless eyes remained fixed on the roof.

After a few minutes, Stephen’s eyes closed and his head dropped. Blood now flowed from the chair and covered the stone floor. More eventually placed his fingers on his neck to check for a pulse.
‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them,’ Stephen whispered before he breathed his last.

Outside the castle walls a man could be seen roaming across the courtyard, his arms wrapped around a book. Above the man crowed a bird.

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Nutritionism sells like hotcakes, Sam Coutts

An uncomfortable gargling, heaving, snorting, horse-like resonance composes the room as olive oil tasting exhibits itself before me. How did I get here in a room full of foodies? We are discussing the flavours that tackle our taste buds. Grassy? Fruity? Spicy? Malty? Winey? Smokey? The words themselves conjure up more and more ideas about flavour. Sitting in my chair, burning my throat with the rawness of the olive oil, I wonder where my obsession with food came from. I wonder why I’m so fixated on food and not something normal like cats or clothes. Why don’t I find this scene ridiculously hilarious? Why am I so food-curious?

Try to get me to listen to a lecture on physics or mathematics and I would fall asleep with boredom, but start talking about the simplest thing to do with food, like a potato and I am hooked on your every word. I am interested in food; its purpose, its politics, its playfulness, and its performance in people’s lives excites me. Talking about food makes me feel like I’m about to burst with congested, bubbling information. But, I think the main reason why I love food, is because it tastes so damn good if it’s done properly.

This is why I write about food, this is why I’m in this room gargling olive oil like a horse. I was brought up with a high respect for food and I honour it, in all its deliciousness, three times a day. For me it’s more than biology, more then something that is chewed, digested and excreted, more than a collection of nutrients bundled up into something edible. To me Food – with a capital F – is about cooking; it’s about ingredients, seasons, sharing it with friends and family and having a sensorial connection with nature. Food is one of few things that doesn’t have an ‘I’ in front of it, doesn’t need an app to be important, won’t run out of battery, won’t tag you in a hideous photo on Facebook and won’t decide to Tweet about you in one-hundred and forty characters or less.

Food is simple. Well it should be.

Am I one of few people that still think this way? For a twenty-one year old, I feel pretty old-school when my idea of a good meal is a steaming bowl of sweetly rich French onion soup with a homemade crisp baguette straight out of the oven, lashed with butter. Being a chef, I understand that maybe due to the skills I have, food simply means more to me because I deal with it every day. But I’m seeing more and more people who experience food only through the gaze of nutrition and science. Food isn’t simple anymore.

Michael Pollan is a well-respected environmental food journalist. He has godfathered the deconstruction of nutrition in his book, In Defence of Food, and I share his concerns. He writes,
‘Most of what we’re consuming today is not food, and how we’re consuming it — in the car, in front of the TV, and increasingly alone — is not really eating. Instead of food, we’re consuming edible food-like substances — no longer the products of nature but of food science. Many of them come packaged with health claims that should be our first clue they are anything but healthy. In the so-called Western diet, food has been replaced by nutrients, and common sense by confusion. The more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we seem to become.;

People who eat by obsessing over nutrition just don’t sit right for me. Take for example the staff meal. As a chef who cooks for hundreds of people a day, it should be the easiest part of the day to cook for the staff. But with eight colleagues to feed, comes eight different ideas about nutrition and although we are in a restaurant, they’re not eating out; they’re having lunch, so they won’t resist voicing their opinion about what’s been served up. Cooking a simple meal for the staff has become a rather complicated affair that is pushed and pulled by my colleague’s beliefs about what it means to eat ‘healthy’.

Let’s say you are me for the day. You turn up to work to find a prep list of endless jobs sitting on the bench before you. It’s eight in the morning and you have one hour before breakfast starts. That’s one hour to:
-Make the bread
-Cook a batch of scones
-Make the eggplant component to the lamb dish
-Pre-cook a huge amount of risotto
-Cook wild mushrooms
-Make aioli
-Finish off the soup, by blending and seasoning
-Make sure breakfast prep is ready by:
-Traying-up bacon.
-Whisking together pancake batter.

You start to make a dent at the list when the fish delivery arrives, three heavy kilos of Barramundi fresh from the sea, which needs to be portioned into two-hundred gram pieces and put away in the fridge quickly to avoid the pong of decaying fish-scales. Meanwhile a smell of smoky, burnt charcoal reaches your nose. Your apprentice has burnt all the scones you’ve just put in the oven by accidentally cranking it up to two-hundred-and-fifty degrees. All that’s left on the tray is black asteroid-looking clusters of once buttery moist scone dough. Devo.

But this is just a walk in the park. With so much to do you avoid making the staff lunch until now. It’s ten-thirty and they usually eat by eleven. So you quickly cut up some bacon from breakfast, dice up an onion and sauté the two in a pot. This is then mounted with some cream, a handful of cooked and chopped button mushrooms, perfumed with a fresh bunch of thyme and left to simmer into a delicious, quick sauce. You cook up some fresh egg pasta and serve it in a large French crockery bowl with a nicely dressed salad on the side. Yum…?

One by one the staff approaches the pass.

‘Oh, pasta for lunch… I might just have the salad. Oh, but it’s been dressed… Is there any chance I can just have a piece of fish with some salad leaves?’
Fish goes on the pan. Another person approaches the bench.
‘Wow, that’s a lot of pasta! I’ll just have the sauce. I’m not eating carbs right now. Do you have any rice? Preferably brown.’
You look at her confused. Rice is a carb! Where is this chick getting her information? But you don’t question it and you put some rice in the microwave.
Another waiter approaches the pass.
‘PASTA! Yum! Is there onion in this? I’m allergic to onion. Maybe I could just have some toast, but can I have it with some avocado or something that’s green?’
Toast goes under the salamander.
‘Holy crap that looks like a lot of calories! Cream, bacon, pasta wow that’s like carbs, fat and fat. I’ll just have salad I think, or is that fish you’re cooking? Can I have a piece as well?’
Fish goes on the pan. Twenty minutes later what you’re left with is half a bowl of pasta and no salad.

Now to me, what I’m serving them is fresh and real. It is food. Yes, it’s made with cream and bacon, but I’m not asking them to eat it in truckloads. A small amount with the salad and a glass of water is to me, a varied meal that is flavoursome and filling. And as I stand there myself heaping the so-called ‘unhealthy’ meal into my hungry mouth, I can’t help but feel like there’s something wrong with me. Am I the weirdo for taking actual pleasure in my food?

No, I don’t think it would be healthy if it was eaten every day, but every so often it won’t do you any harm. In fact I think it could do some good, compared to all the ‘99% fat free’ phony meals I see arranged in the frozen food section of supermarkets these days. The food I have served is fresh and all made from scratch. But already the meal is marked unworthy and unhealthy – a negative assumption I can’t help but find frustrating, especially when it tastes so good. It’s the middle of the day people; you’ll work it off!

People today are set in their ways when it comes to nutrition. But, if we were to combine all views of nutrition into one big ‘theory of eating’, we would find a lot of contradictions: Fermented foods aid in digestion; Fermented foods are essentially rotten. Pasteurized milk is better and safer; raw milk should be drunk as the bacteria are naturally occurring. Multi-vitamins are great for health; vitamin supplements do nothing and simply pass through the body. Sugar is bad; Honey is nature’s most perfect food. Fruit should be part of the diet; Fruit has more sugar in it than a lot of sweets. Grain fed beef is top grade meat; cows eat grass so grain fed is bad for you. These examples represent the politics of food and how complex it has become.

Food always has a story to tell and these stories reveal a lot about what it means to be human. It’s like religion; everyone has their own beliefs. And while I’d like to think I’m open to all types of beliefs when it comes to eating, the truth is I’m not. Because not all ways of eating were made equal, in fact some are not even close to getting it right. Enter my biggest concern – Nutritionism.

Michael Pollan argues, ‘The age of Nutritionism has come…which implies the need for a priesthood. For to enter a world where your dietary salvation depends on unseen nutrients, you need plenty of expert help.’ I think we’d have to call it a First World problem, because we seem to be the only ones thinking way too much into it and getting fat and sick. It’s an ideology that is fixated on everything that goes into our mouths.

It has even fuelled its own eating disorder Orthorexia! This, in short, is an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food. I’ve seen this eating disorder work its way into the eating habits of a lot of peoples’ lifestyles. Food has become less simple and more pre-occupied with science. Michael Pollan questions the fundamental nature of Nutritionism when he says,
‘This brings us to another unexamined assumption of Nutritionism: that the point of eating is to maintain and promote bodily health…(this) is not shared by all cultures and, further, the experience of these other cultures suggests that, paradoxically, regarding food as being about things other than bodily health – like pleasure, say, or sociality or identity—makes people no less healthy; indeed, there’s some reason to believe it may make them more healthy…So there is at least a question as to whether the ideology of Nutritionism is actually any good for you.’

As a chef I’m use to cooking with raw whole-foods. That is the banana-skin on (none of this puree crap that’s been loaded with preservatives), the carcass of an animal, bread made from scratch with flour, yeast and water. So to say to me that products that have a nutritionist agenda and are fortified with vitamins and minerals are still food, I would be quick to say NO. On the basis that fortified ‘foods’ are products that have been added to with something like a vitamin or antioxidant so as to make the product more ideal and convenient to the consumer. As Michael Pollan suggests, all that crap in the middle of your supermarket aisle is marketed accumulations of trending ideas of Nutritionism and corn. But, corn is a whole other topic.

So, no your bread is not supposed to be abundant in Omega 3’s, and unfortunately no, your LCM bar is not a natural source of fibre. These things have been added. And what we seem to forget is that food company’s main priority is not to make us healthy and happy, it’s to make money. When the food corporations know that people are trending towards vitamin D, they will put it in their cheese. If they’ve heard of some miracle antioxidant, they will drop it in their cereal. Nothing is by chance. Super foods like quinoa, goji berries, freekah, acai, blue green algae, flaxseeds, cranberries, and prunes; are examples of these trends. All these foods are missing the point to eating. For to eat, is to eat Food… not Algae.

Aristotle once pointed out that although ordinary citizens lack the cobbler’s expertise in how to make good shoes, they still know when the shoe pinches. While Aristotle was referring to the politics of popular government, there is still something important to take from this. For while we dwell in this world as our feet dwell in our shoes, no one knows the world of my body better then my body. But have we lost touch with this embodied tacit knowledge when it comes to nutrition?

To bring you back to the room of olive oil gurglers, I’d like to suggest this idea that we use our bodies more. As I taste the olive oil and gargle it like a horse, I’m doing something with my body. I’m understanding flavour with my mouth and I’m registering its quality. I feel it is our whole bodies that tell us what needs to change, not Nutritionism. If it doesn’t sit right with our body then we know we need to change what we are eating. Instead of going on a diet, it could just be becoming less involved with the middle of your supermarket or eating more often with friends and family.

I am what I’d like to call a Classical foodie. I eat food that had a face, I eat vegetables that knew the sun, and I eat bread made by hands not machines. As I write this I hope you can hear my plea for food to be real, for food to be natural and not for all the wrong reasons, and for food to be a social activity of pleasure and celebration.

*Michael Pollan In Defense of Food http://michaelpollan.com/books/in-defense-of-food/

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Pandora, Catherine Edwards

These poems are inspired by the evils, which escaped from Pandora’s Box into the world and into our lives creating chaos: ‘Secrets’ (death), ‘Ten Fingers Ten Toes’ (passion), ‘Today’ (illness), ‘We are the Same’ (hatred), ‘Battle of Caffa’ (war) ‘Famine’ (famine), and of course, ‘Clay Figure’ is based around Pandora’s creation

 

Clay Figure

she opens her eyes

crafted of clay, water smooth, shapely
body
earth made, for mankind
blood pumps warm veins

brown clay, thick lifeless.
I study the edges of the cube,
size, feel the weight
in my rough hands

dip the tips of my
fingers in warm water
gently rubbing my
moist hands over the
smooth grains of the
dry, crackling clay

I grip the handle
of the sharp scalpel
slicing her soft silhouette
she begins to grow

clay dries on hands
filling the groves of
tree ring fingerprints
lines on palms
I become a part of her creation

I am gentle with her,
lightly I stroke the clay

I must be patient, precise
knuckles rocking gentle on the clay
shaping her hips, breasts
The curve of my index finger marks her
eyes, lips

I place the small figure
in the heart of the fire
a volcano, turning mud
into rock, into vitreous
burning her into life

she takes a breath
raises her chin, eyes flicker across her
body
feels the curve of her narrow chin

beauty, beyond imagination
grace desire
cunning as a deceitful crow
vixen defiant
crafts defining femininity
weave sow

Curiosity

I place a gilded box in her slender arms
a white veiled bride
a gift to man
she takes a breath

ghosts seep into the world, creating chaos

 

 

Secrets

She whispers a secret she knows he
can answer

he watches, through purple shadowed-eyes,
as naked branches bare fruit,
he seeks the blushing Corella
deep lines dig out a map,
upon his palm.
blue eyes illuminate
wrinkled white-paper skin

He takes her on bushwalks
she demands her pink gumboots
he watches her squeeze
the blossoming wattle buds
in her tiny hands
sniffing the yellow cotton
expecting a delicious scent
she sneezes twice and
continues on her way

He puts a finger to his lips and points to the
old weeping willow
out of place among the squiggly gums
a fat green tree frog with a white, puffed out
belly
suctions his toes to the slippery leaves
she giggles at its throbbing throat

He prunes his Cleopatra roses
rubbing his fingers on each velvet petal
he opens the deep folded layers
she is impatient to see inside the closed bud
slips her button nose in the rose petals and
sneezes twice

black and red rubber snakes
litter his garden, strategically placed
a metal cage made of wire and wood
armed and ready, he watches on like a child
to scare or catch Myna birds, he doesn’t mind

Balancing on the balls
of her purple polished shoes,
his soft chestnut ear hair flutters
against her dry lips
the hem of her black dress has been dipped in
mud.

Curious eyes painted on her porcelain face
trace the stiff curves of the dead tree
the piano breathes
a final note

She whispers a secret she knows he cannot
answer
open your eyes Grandpa, what do you see?

 

 

Ten Fingers Ten Toes

I
I rest my head in the crook of your neck
your breath warms the night chill
my cheek feels the slow pound of a heart
that is not mine
my fingers twist through black chest hair
I trace the velvet hairs that cover your pink
ears
they tickle the groves of my fingertips
I stifle a giggle,
scratch the rough edges of your shadowing
stubble
you lift your chin arching your neck

white lace curtains flutter against the
windowsill
light swims across the room, like ripples in
water
I tangle my feet within the sheepskin rug

Lick the curve of your jaw
slip my tongue between your wet lips
I stroke your pale torso, muscles tense
under my light touch
drink in your greedy grin

II
In the deep folds of my flesh and bones
I can feel her grow
I know her
before she takes a breath
before she opens her eyes
before she meets her father
the small life is already a part of me
she hides in the darkness of my ribs
among the bone cradling arms of my body

III
Pools of blood leak into white linen
cramps contort toes, spreading down my thighs
jaw clenches, teeth grind together
blonde hair drips salty sweat
violet nails dig deeper into palms

A single cry in a blanket of white silence

She is saturated in my blood outside
and in

IV
The sky blue water is calm
bubbles break the clear surface
light reflects green and brown
Her small hand rests in mine

Grains of sand sear our feet
soft and tender from winter
we climb the dune digging in our toes
the hot air dries our skin, thick in our lungs

Rainbow frills cover her swimmers
they sparkle in the rising sun
white wide-brimmed hat shadows her
small face, brown eyes cast down
I rest her warm body on my hip,
auburn hair swings at her shoulders,
she cuddles her face into my neck

She points a stubby finger to the sea,
‘Mumma, bath time now?’

 

 

 

Today

Yesterday
He makes friends,
at the beginning of year seven.
I watch him take his school to state,
for throwing the furthest discus.
He pulls apart motorbikes,
puts them back together

Now
The anesthetists have put
him under twenty-four times.
They take tests, from his bone marrow.
Stick tubes down his jugular.
Poison is the only cure
only hope

Yesterday
He camped at Brogans Creek
scaling thick branched fig trees
clinging to smooth limbs, sweating fingers slipping.
Caught tadpoles in plastic bottles, laughed at their wiggling tails
Felt the burn of a campfire on his face,
the familiar smell of musty smoke and aerogard
Listen to the rain, fall on the tight canvas roof

Now
His tissue paper skin bloated, stretched
His favorite drink makes him nauseous
Dead strands of straw-like hair cling to
a sunburnt pealing scalp
His bed a prison, confined and locked

Yesterday
He stands knee deep in salty water, calves tense
his feet grip smooth pebbles
The tip of his finger tightly pressing the cord of his fishing line,
waiting for a small tug, a nibble
He flicks the rod back, frantically reels the line
Thrashing on the hook is a mangrove jack

Now
Dad cries for the first time
We visit him in a bed with labels and
stained sheets.
Like a black shadow disease will follow
him for the rest of his life

 

 

We Are The Same

                             we celebrate with lamb roast
they are appointed by the people
we are born into privilege
collecting tears with mothers fingertips
now we are seen by all
free speech and choices to control
no concern for forgotten land
loud voices heard over crowds
I have an advanced education
we have life
bright blue skies open horizons
eyes open to technology
we are tucked up in silk sheets
we are safe during the night
born in Chicago
with a water view apartment
adored by eyes of parents
I have no responsibility
young girls have cul de sacs to play in
small pale faces laugh with glee
gently wash skin with lavender soap
watch as I change my future
I was a lawyer like my father
given names identities
the world is a small place
gave me a Barbie Dream House
soundless sleep sweet dreams
surrounded by digital beeps
governed by selfish power
teddies softer than clouds
red lipstick makeup on child pageant queens
painted clown faces
meet brothers for a big brunch
family wedding fight over cost
forced lollies, lick, suck cavity
free medicine for everyone
we
                                      have
                                      eyes
                                      arms
                                      toes
we are the same we are different
we are the same we are different
we are the same we are different
we are the same we are different
we are the same we are different
we are the same we are different
different

                             we eat scraps with dogs
they are cruel powerful dictators
we are born innocent privilege
tears collect with leaking blood
no one sees us
silenced choices no control
no connections to justice
silenced voices lost in crowds
I wish for an education
we have to hope for life
deserted brown dilapidated land
clouded eyes weeping
we are stolen from our beds
we are afraid of nightfall
born in Uganda
with eager hunting rebels
taken from eyes of our parents
I feed the little ones
young girls have been raped forced sex slaves
small black faces watch in terror
skin whipped torn from flesh
I have no future
I was a fisherman like my father
given a green and grey uniform
not an important world issue
gave me a gun to kill friends, neighbors
terrified sleep abducted from homes
surrounded by child soldiers
governed by threats and dictators
bodies don’t belong to the soul
mutilated scars burning skin
thousand faces with empty eyes
meet brothers again in heaven
we murder our parents
forced to fight in the LRA
addicted to drugs trapped in this place forever
                                        we
                                        have
                                        eyes
                                        arms
                                        toes
we are the same we are different
we are the same we are different
we are the same we are different
we are the same we are different
we are the same we are different
we are the same we are different
                                        different

 

 

Battle of Caffa
1345

Battlefields make me giddy
I soar through bright skies
humans sweeter than any meal
specks scattered in vast landscapes
vibrating call, screeches across open skies
wings beat in unison

Smoke clogs the air
flames burn dried grass
black eyes twitch, searching
mesmerizing metal, flickers in light
guttural, chocking noises escape
creatures wide-eyed withering faces
sticky liquid saturates soft feathers

the first feats
the scent is sour
rip juicy bubbling bumps
marks left by other feasting animals
they burrow through hair and skin
latching on deeper sucking harder
delicious blood
I use my beak to tear through weak flesh
I peck brittle bones

White cloth wrapped around human mouths
they leave me to my feast
I watch the creatures
they lift my meals into their contraptions
they fly like us over stonewalls

 

 

Famine

Hollow brown stick thin limbs
Hang from a stone-like belly
A final whimper
Mothers milk dried to powder
In weeping eyes lay maggots
Mother cradles empty blankets
Her child cradled by soil and earth

Tagged ,

My Father’s Eyes, Merran Winchester

Look at your eyes. They are small,
But they see enormous things.
Rumi, ‘The Book of Love’

‘Is that your gun?’

‘Yeah, it’s for… just in case.’ My dad stands with a group of men, all carrying AK47’s. ‘Haven’t you seen these photos?’ he asks me.

‘I don’t think so.’

I wonder if that’s his fault or mine. As a Petroleum Engineer my dad spent much of my childhood in remote and often dangerous parts of the world, returning to our family home periodically with artefacts and stories. A lot of conversations took place over distorted telephone lines from our suburban Canberra home to Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, or Uzbekistan. He was a walking atlas of strange and interesting facts. I haven’t seen most of the photos or heard half of the stories, but today he’s sitting in my Bondi flat, crunching on salted crisps, while he flicks through photos of his last visit to Afghanistan, three years ago.

It took a book launch to pique my interest in Afghanistan again. Somewhere along the line I’d switched off. I mostly avoided articles in the newspapers with headlines about the ‘War on Terror’, soldiers dying, death and destruction, blah, blah, blah, it’s so much doom and gloom, so I usually turned the pages to something lighter like horoscopes or entertainment. Mac Serge Tucker launched his book Fighter Pilot during a cruise around Sydney Harbour. My dad had been invited along and asked me to join him. I didn’t really know why he was going, but we don’t spend much time together and ‘who knows, the glitterati might be there,’ he’d said in his much-faded ‘Souf-end’ English accent. Plus it was a cruise with free champagne and canapés. On reflection, by the ‘glitterati’ I guess he meant the guy dressed up like Elvis or the Air Force men in Hawaiian shirts with cowboy spurs on their boots.
After we’d been cruising for a while the author stood up to get on with the formalities of the evening.

‘I’d love to write a book about what Afghanistan is really like, but no-one would read it, so I wrote this one instead.’ We all laughed appropriately, knowing it was probably true. The book is his story; an ex-RAAF, fighter pilots ‘mis-adventures’ in war zones. With the mention of Afghanistan the men around me seemed to shift and I found myself looking at them, wondering what memories and associations the country held for them as Air Force men. Then the author introduced my dad. He was there to run the auction and collect donations for Mahboba’s Promise, a charity looking after orphans and widows in Afghanistan. He’d done a few different trips to Afghanistan in the last ten years and he’d also lost his dad at the age of three in the Second World War. I guess that’s what had taken him to work with the charity. He walked across to Serge, took the microphone and held up a framed photo of two young Afghan girls: messed up hair, dusty skin, big smiles, staring straight at the camera. It was a beautiful yet simple photo.

‘I’m a hard-nosed oil man and this photo brings a tear to my eye.’

I looked around the room to gauge other people’s reactions. I was shocked. It seemed to be such a revealing comment. I’d never heard him speak that way and certainly not in a room full of men. It was strange to hear him describe himself as hard-nosed. I guess he was, but he’d never said that before. I’ve probably spent a lot of time trying to figure him out. He is a sporadic man- here one minute, gone the next and then arriving again, like a hurricane. Mostly hugs come with a slap on the back or a pat on the head. We’ve tried to talk in the past, with varying levels of success and there have been times when I’ve been surprised and moved by his response. But, there’s also been a lot of conversations that have escalated into arguments never to be resolved. So, mostly we talk about politics instead of personal issues and even though we have different political views, somehow that keeps the peace. Anyway, he remains a mystery to me, a lot of the time.
‘So who’s going to open the bidding?’

So here we are, in Bondi, crunching on crisps. His photos show the landscape of Afghanistan, hostile and desolate. The earth is a mass of ripples and crinkles, across huge mountain ranges. There is the desert, broken buildings, and rusted Russian tanks littering the streets. Then there are photos with bright, vivid colours, of mountain streams, huge gorges, and snow-capped mountains. The scenes are picturesque and haunting. The cliffs and passes remind me of Lord of the Rings. There is such contrast between the landscapes. This place is at once diverse, desolate, lush, hostile, and home to many different tribes.

‘These are the Hindu Kush mountain ranges. They connect to the Himalayas.’ The peaks reach up to 7000 metres. They run for 900km between central Afghanistan and northern Pakistan and span 250km of deep caverns, passes and gorges. Later I learn that Hindu Kush literally means ‘to kill the Hindu’. They were named after the devastating journey Indian slaves used to have to take.

‘How safe is it?’ I ask him.
‘It’s not.’

It may seem like a stupid question and of course I’ve read the travel warnings and seen the news, but I’m not looking for an official statement. I want to know what it’s really like.

As a child, every now and then, on the way to school or sport or getting dinner, mum would say ‘When I was in Afghanistan….’ and then lead into some exotic story. Our house held trinkets, books and carpets from the Middle East, veiling the place in mystery and romance like an old Hollywood film. She was a young woman on the ‘hippy-trail’, who travelled Afghanistan in the 1960’s before the Russian invasion. She was inspired by novels like James A Michener’s Caravans and Herbert Muller’s The Loom of History. I ask my mum about her memories of Afghanistan.

‘We’d read all about Afghanistan and the area and we were coming overland from London. We took trains across the Persian desert and then a local bus across the border. Mosques were aqua and turquoise; spices were interesting, the markets, dusty roads, people laden up carrying things or with horses and carts in the streets. The people were very friendly. We were a bit of a novelty I think,’ she smiles to herself.

‘What was it like travelling as a woman?’

‘We never had any trouble. We wore long sleeves and covered up, to not be offensive, as you would anywhere. You have to remember, as a woman, at that time, you weren’t really free here or anywhere else. But the dynamics were very different to what they are today.’

Afghanistan is wild. Its environment is bold and dangerous. The need to map and define the country’s borders came with the British occupation of India (now Pakistan) and Afghanistan in 1839. In the last 100 years, Afghanistan has been occupied by Britain, Russia and now the US and Allied forces. It shares its borders with six countries; Tajikistan, Pakistan, China, Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Its geographical location has made it a strategic point for many invasions and occupations from the Mongols in the thirteenth century, through to the present. It seems that if you were a military power playing a game of chess, Afghanistan would be the board and the game would be alliances, resources, religion and power.

‘If you want to understand Afghanistan you have to research it beyond 100 years ago, when it was called Ariana and Khorsan,’ Sidiq tells me. He is an Afghan-Australian who came here as a refugee with his family in 1991. We are sitting in the small Sydney-based office of Mahboba’s Promise. The charity was set up to look after some of the 60,000 orphaned children and single mothers in Kabul and the surrounding region.

‘We have many tribes and languages in Afghanistan. We have many great scientists, philosophers, and writers, but you don’t hear about these things on the news. It doesn’t make a good story.’

I can’t tell how old Sidiq is. He is a handsome man with dark skin and flecks of grey in his hair and beard. His gentle eyes match his countenance. He still speaks with a heavy accent.

‘Australia is one of the best countries in the world, but you cannot compare Afghanistan and Australia. Afghanistan has been fighting for over 40 years. A lot of things have changed. A lot of people lost their rights. It is very different now’.

Sidiq spends half his time in Australia and half in Afghanistan. The charity runs various services and orphanages. They recently acquired a big building they could use as an orphanage. The site was an old government building and also used as a centre for torture by the Taliban. On the walls in the basement, prisoners recorded some of their experiences. Simple stick figure drawings depicted scenes of torture, electrocution, beatings and sexual abuse. There is no doubt that most of the people brought there would never have returned home. This building holds the memory of those atrocious crimes and abuses in its walls. And yet, what could the charity do but paint over the walls and try to start again? Now they’ve turned it into an orphanage called Hope House where they can shelter and educate some of the homeless children who have lost their parents in war.

‘The people look very harsh from the outside,’ Sidiq tells me, ‘but it is just their lives. When I take people there, they meet a man with a long beard and not a happy face. His face shows the hardship he’s had for so long – but inside he is full of love and talking, he has so much knowledge. These two countries are very different, but their humanity is the same. People develop differently at different parts of the earth, but human beings are the same all over. We all have goodness and badness.’

With racial and religious tension spilling onto the streets in Sydney and across the world I awkwardly ask Sidiq, ‘What does it mean to you to be a Muslim?’

‘It is about inner peace; submitting to God and inner-peace.’

I wonder how Sidiq adapts to the changes of lifestyle between the two countries. I wonder what he has seen, what he has to deal with.

‘Do you ever feel you are in danger there? Are you scared to go back?’

‘I never used to be scared, but now I am scared to leave my family. I wonder if someone will get some idea about the ‘Afghan’ family down the road and the screen door will be unlocked and someone will go in and do something to my wife and my kids…’

‘You’re scared to leave them here, in Sydney?’ Is it possible he really feels that level of hostility in Sydney?

‘Yes.’

Back in my flat, Dad and I explore the world eating crisps and looking at photos. ‘Look at this one.’ He flicks to the next photo of a group of boys in the street. ‘We were heading west to check out some old oil wells and we stopped at this little café by the side of the road. It was a café but they didn’t have anything there. No wood, no fire, no food. They sent the kids out to get something to light the fire. They came back with a handful of weeds they’d collected from the ground, which was used to boil the water. We asked them why the kids weren’t in school. The men said they couldn’t afford it. They didn’t have enough money and they needed the kids to work. They go out and sell chewing gum and things. God knows who buys the chewing gum; no-one has any money.’ In the background a group of girls peer from a doorway, huddled together and barely visible.

I look at my dad as he tells the story. It took me until I was about twenty to realise who I’d inherited my green eyes from. I’d thought it must have been some long lost aunt or something, but it was from my dad. He has green eyes too. I guess I never really noticed. I’d never stopped and looked into his eyes. I get up to get a book off the shelf.

‘Have you ever read Rumi?’ I ask him.

‘No. I’ve never heard of him.’

‘He was a thirteenth century Persian poet and mystic from Afghanistan. This is my favourite book of poetry.’

He flicks through the roughly cut pages.

You have said what you are.
I am what I am.
Your actions in my head,
My head here in my hands
With something circling inside.
I have no name
For what circles so perfectly.”
Rumi, ‘The Book of Love’

I never would have thought Afghanistan could teach me more about my father. His life has spanned over 70 years; a collection of diverse and rich experiences. Though I’ve missed him, he’s always brought home parts of the world for me, igniting my curiosity and imagination. There are many things I may never know or understand, but perhaps the differences between people aren’t so great after all. Perhaps we just need to take a moment to try and see through someone else’s eyes and to share our differences.

 

Download a pdf of My Father’s Eyes

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Co’viri & Sera, Joshua Spudic

The gates to Trinawine Cemetery stand before me. It’s surrounded by the townhouses of my home city, Lundinium. The gate squeaks as a gust of wind barrels through the cemetery. The flames flicker on my staff, made of oak with a crystal at the summit. Some of the leaves that litter our path sail through the air as the wind sends a chill down my spine. Sera, who decided to accompany me, snuggles underneath my cloak. She gives me such a warm feeling in my heart. It’s hard to believe that we were just friends for most of our relationship. Now, she is in love with me and I am in love with her.

We were only eleven years old when Sera and I first met. She was sitting right in front of me in our first class of Elemental Magic at the Academia Magus. Our professor, an elderly man in red robes, asked us what we thought of using the elements as a magical weapon. Sera was the first with her hand up. My hand shot up as well, but was hidden behind her hand, also raised. When she spoke, my ears felt like they went to heaven. Her voice was soft yet sharp and clear. Her knowledge was apparent when she answered the question with even more than I knew. When that class was over, I walked up to her.

‘That was a good answer,’ I said. That was when I saw her beautiful smile for the first time.

‘Thanks, um…’ she said.

‘Co’viri.’

‘Sera.’

Ever since that day, the two of us kept each other company. We were considered inseparable by some of our friends, a notion that rang true when we realised our feelings for each other when we were sixteen. Since then, I have never had a thought that wasn’t about Sera.

‘We need to split up, Co’viri,’ Sera says as she breaks my trip to the past. She is right; it would be faster to locate Helmut Grinvolt’s tomb if the two of us cover smaller sections of the cemetery separately.

‘Take the east side, I’ll take the west side,’ I say. She releases her hold on my arm and runs to the right. I walk to the left.

A lot of these gravestones corrode as fungi take over them. Some of them are in such poor shape they are impossible to read. I brush off each one I encounter. Does it read Helmut Grinvolt? No. How about this one? Nope. Is this even the right Trinawine Cemetery? It has to be.

I gaze upon Sera, who is scanning each gravestone on the other side. She isn’t having much luck either. Helmut Grinvolt must have wanted to keep these staffs well hidden. Then again, they are considered the most powerful staves in the world. According to the story, he created the staves for his wife as well as for himself. He spent years in his workshop, carving wood from an elder tree and searching for the perfect pair of crystals. This is where the power comes from, as it is said that the love between two people draws out its power.

She is staring at another gravestone when I squat down next to her.‘Why are you helping me?’

‘That’s an odd question to ask, Co’viri,’ she said.

‘I know, but you could have said no.’

‘True.’ She averts her gaze upon me. ‘I have two reasons. The first is my love for you. Ever since I fell for you, I can’t let go of you. It hurts my heart when we are apart.’

‘I can say the same thing,’ I add.
‘Then there is my family. My baby brother has gotten ill, a rare disease that will eventually kill him, Co’viri. He is so young.’

I grab Sera and wrap her in my arms. Tears flow down her cheeks as she rests her head on my chest. She continues, although her voice is muffled a little. ‘Possessing one of these staves could give me the power to cure him, as everything else has failed. My family and you are the most important people in my life. This staff could protect all of you.’

I smile as Sera finishes talking. This is out of selflessness, better than one of my reasons for the staff. ‘We better keep looking,’ I tell her. We scan the gravestones together. Again, we come up short as we pass most of the gravestones. Where is the gravestone? Why isn’t it here? This is frustrating me.

‘Co’viri, here,’ Sera says. She stares at a rather clean gravestone. I read the name: Helmut Grinvolt. This is it. Sera found it. I smile and kiss Sera on the cheek.

‘Thank you, Sera,’ I say. ‘Now… something on this gravestone must be the key to the location of the staves.’

‘Be careful, Co’viri,’ Sera says as I run my fingers over the gravestone. As I run my fingers over his name, a green light emits from the letters. I take a step back as the whole gravestone is covered by green light. It flashes, forcing Sera and I to cover our eyes. The ground begins to shake. The dirt of the grave starts to sink. Stone stairs begin to appear. Once the dirt disappears, a small corridor reveals itself. This must be the entrance to Grinvolt’s tomb. I quickly glance at Sera. She nods. We must investigate this, so I lead the two of us right into the corridor.

The corridor is tight, small and dark. I lead the both of us further into the abyss of darkness. I sincerely hope I did not lead Sera to any danger. I periodically look back at her. She is always smiling. Is this her way to show there is hope in this situation? At times, I would wonder why I decided to undertake this journey. At first, the power the staves give to their bearers can never be described with mere words. But power isn’t everything to me anymore. It was when I saw Sera’s smile that I found a new reason.
The staves float in the middle of the chamber as we enter it. The circular room is all stone. Our footsteps echo throughout the room. The emptiness feels wrong. Something should be protecting the chamber and its contents. But we encounter no resistance. Was this too easy?

Sera approaches the two staves. She examines the neatly carved wood. A small white crystal sits atop of the staffs, glowing quite brightly. I approach the staffs, holding onto Sera’s shoulders. Sera turns to me. ‘We found them,’ she tells me. ‘We have found them.’
‘Should we grab them?’ I ask her. She simply turns around and hugs me. I felt her lips locking with mine. Her tongue moves around in my mouth. A euphoric sensation.

‘This is what we have been looking for.’

‘I don’t think we should just simply grab them.’ I continue to stare at the glow from the crystal. It’s pulsating a bright white light. My eyes don’t want to turn away at all. I want to reach out for it, but something is stopping me. My gaze returns to Sera.
‘Hmmm…’ I agree. Grinvolt has hidden them, yet getting them was quite a breeze.

Sera is pacing all over the chamber. We are so close, yet so far. I must touch it. I want its power. No, I need its power. I reach out for one of the staves and grab it. The wood is smooth and light. I can feel a stream of energy channelling through my body. I feel more energetic. I just want to cast spells. Doesn’t matter what they are, I just want spells.

‘Co’viri, no!’ I hear Sera shouting. Her footsteps echo as I see her rushing to my side. I raise my hand.

‘Sera, I feel fine. In fact, I feel better than fine.’

‘Really? Should I… reach for the other one?’

I give Sera the go ahead. While one mage holding one of these staves is powerful, two who are close must be unstoppable. Sera slowly approaches the staff. She reaches out with caution. Does she fear some sort of consequence? When I did it, nothing happened. She should be fine. She clenches the staff and pulls it towards her. I could see the astonishment on her face as the energy of the staff flows through her body.
‘Grinvolt should have protected these better,’ she tells me with a smile across her face. She comes to my side once more and embraces me. My world is complete. The love of my life is by my side with the most powerful staff in the world of Gaia. I grab her waist and pull her even closer. I can feel her tender breasts upon my chest. Her soft lips occupy my own. I knew she wanted a powerful me. With this staff, we shall be unstoppable.

A gust of wind interrupts our passionate embrace. The torches surrounding the chamber extinguish. Sera and I hold the staffs tightly. The crystals glow a white light, illuminating our line of sight. I turn my head all over the chamber. It is still empty, except for Sera. She also scans the chamber. This is quite perplexing. Who or what is doing this?

A sinister laugh echoes through the chamber. I take a step back, taking Sera with me. We hold our hands as we search for the source. It rings throughout the chamber again. Where is it coming from? Is it the staves? They say searching for lost treasures can turn you into a psychotic mage. All of the students and professors thought I was crazy when I told them I was going to conduct this journey. I can’t wait to say that they were wrong.
I raise my newly acquired staff. A bright flame emits, further lighting up the chamber. I notice that the door is still open. Relief spreads throughout my body.

‘Sera, through the door,’ I tell Sera. She nods and we make a run for it. As soon as we are about to reach the door, it slams shut on us. This must be the defensive charms placed upon the chamber. As my mind brings in thoughts of defeat, a deep, cold voice echoes through the chamber.

‘So, who has come to take away the great Staves of Grinvolt?’

I turn to Sera. Her head is staring at the ceiling, but a frown paints across her face.
‘I am Sera Vintamosa, daughter of Gregor,’ she shouts. I smile and nod, knowing what I need to do.

‘I am Co’viri Bolzano, son of Ygridi.

A fog fills the chamber. A human figure approaches. It is a man, taller than the both of us and long, bushy facial hair. He wears a green robe with a hood covering his hair. He raises his arm. A staff materialises into his extended right hand. The fog stops as he removes his hood, revealing an elderly man with grey hair.

‘I am Helmut Grinvolt, keeper of this chamber and all that is contained in it,’ he speaks in that cold tone.

As the chamber re-lights itself, I point my staff in his direction. Sera raises her staff and points it to Grinvolt.

‘Grinvolt? Are you not… dead?’ Sera says.

‘I do not possess my original body, rather, my soul lives on through an unwilling volunteer,’ Grinvolt says. ‘You have, in your possession, unworthy ones, the greatest staves Gaia has ever seen. You cannot bear the power it produces.’

‘We shall see,’ Sera adds. Sera lights up her staff with fire and launches a fireball towards Grinvolt. Grinvolt summons a dome of blue light. The fireball strikes the dome, disintegrating. Grinvolt is untouched.

‘A mere fireball? Try to use it properly.’

‘You mean like this?’ Sera launches another fireball. This time, Grinvolt is struck on his chest. He is pushed back quite far. He lands with a thunderous thud. He gets up slowly, clutching his chest.

‘Not bad. Not enough to do anything, but you are catching on,’ Grinvolt teases Sera. ‘Now it is my turn.’ Grinvolt summons lightning from the tip of his staff. It ejects and heads towards Sera. She erects a blue dome of her own. I enter it as the bolt of lightning strikes it.

‘Co’viri, our spells can pass through the dome. Cast something on him,’ Sera informs me while holding the dome. I nod and slam my newly acquired staff into the ground and hold it there. The ground beneath us begins to shake. Grinvolt still casts the bolt of lightning and just stands there. One bolt pierces through Sera’s shield and hits her on her arm. Sera dispels her shield, panting. In an instant, however, two coned spikes of rock, one beneath him and one above him, impale him as I raise my staff in the air. Blood drips down the lower coned spike of rock. Cracks begin to show from above and below, starting from my earth spell. The chamber begins to shake. Rocks tumble down from the ceiling.

‘We need to go,’ I say, grabbing Sera’s hand. We both sprint for the entrance. A big chunk of rock narrowly misses us, forcing a sudden stop of momentum. We make our way around the rock and continue for the door. The stone door is stuck. I try to open it to no avail. Rock continues to fill the chamber.

‘Ready?’ I ask Sera as I point my staff to the door. She nods and does the same thing with her staff. Raw energy exerts from the staves, exploding the stone door. We rush through the opening as the corridor begins to fill with dirt and rock. A light pierces through ahead of us. My legs pump as hard as I can.

I make that final leap with Sera still holding my hand. The corridor that led to the chamber is no more, collapsing in upon itself. In fact, the chamber is now a pile of rubble. I lie on the ground as the shaking stops. I turn to Sera and hold her. My face snuggles up to hers.

‘Are you alright?’ I whisper in her ear. She gives me a smile. I rise to my feet and extend my arm to Sera. She grabs it. I pull her up. As she brushes herself, I take one glance upon the staff in my hand. Our mission is a success. The crystal still flashes white. I turn to Sera once more. I raise my staff in triumph. She does the same thing.

‘We have what we searched for,’ I say to her. ‘What now?’

‘I must return home, Co’viri,’ she tells me. ‘I have a brother to cure. Come with me, will you?’

I nod my head. I hold her hand and we walk out of the cemetery. As we walk, a strange, tingling sensation travels throughout my body. All of a sudden, I feel like I have more energy, similar to the feeling in the chamber. All I want to do is exert the energy, use powerful spells. No, I must not. What is… this sensation?

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Tunnel of Madness, Todd Newton

A glimmer of sunlight shined through the trees of  Marlyvale National Park. Light enveloped the bush land as we ventured deeper into the park. Twigs snapped beneath their feet.  The Calls of galahs could be heard within the trees.

‘I can’t wait to explore,’ Carlos said.

‘We should be there in just seconds,’ Lana replied as she adjusted her glasses upon reading the map guide in her hands.

A clearing appeared behind two green bush ferns that bent slightly into the way of the trail. Carlos shoved the ferns out of the way and Lana and Mark followed. Beyond the ferns, crawling bugs and shrubs permeated along the abandoned platform.

My eyes stretched to a station sign, perched atop two parallel poles. Brown benches were positioned along the platform. Its brown coat of paint had faded.  Benches were mostly engulfed by overgrown bushes. In my mind, I knew the chaos of nature had taken over this  artificial creation of men.

‘Couldn’t we have just googled the place instead?,’ I asked. ‘This place gives me the creeps.’

‘It’s always improves the quality of a school report if you observe what you are writing about,’ Lana replied. ‘Besides, I need a great mark otherwise I won’t qualify for uni. My parents have been pressuring me.’

‘Can’t believe Mrs Greyson put us together in a group, I care about exploring and getting photos for my dad’s scrapbook,’ Carlos replied as he approached the sign and tapped it with his hand.

‘Why couldn’t he come here himself then?,’ Lana questioned as she tied her brown hair into a bun.

‘He’s climbing the Andes Mountains in Chile,’ Carlos replied.

A giant ladybug crawled onto my right shoe. In fright, I jumped and squashed it.

‘So Mark is not only afraid of the dark but he’s afraid of bugs? You’re a wimp. No wonder we locked you in that closet at Destiny’s party!,’ Carlos said as he averted his eyes to a dark cavernous hole in the side of a hill cutting. It laid metres from the end of the platform.

‘Well I did some research and found out that Marlyvale Railway Station closed in 1919. The old line was used to transfer passengers between Sydney and Werrima, until a detour opened in 1912. It ran along the coast with the purpose of sightseeing on the train so they closed the line because of it,’ Lana remarked as she walked, dodging high shrubs.

‘That’s very interesting,’ Carlos replied in a sarcastic tone. He jumped onto the thin rail tracks, pushing aside the shrubs that grew between them, and made his way towards the tunnel.

‘Carlos, stay here!. Mrs Greyson said we only had to write about the station!,’ I yelled.

“Who cares!. I’m exploring this tunnel whether you like it or not,’ Carlos replied.

Lana lowered herself onto the tracks cautiously. She maneuvered her hips around the high weeds as she headed in the direction of the passageway and followed Carlos.

‘Lana, where are you going,? I called to her.

‘Mark, he has a point. If something needs to be investigated, why would I pass up this opportunity. Besides, if we talk about the tunnel, I may get more marks,’ Lana yelled with her back still turned.

Carlos emerged into the depths of the tunnel.

Lana approached the entrance a few seconds later. ‘You’re fine out here by yourself, right? We’ll be back in a few minutes.’

The thought sent shivers down my spine. As a only child, I was never alone. My parents always kept a watchful eye on me. I always felt protected. Many people thought I was being babied  but my parents saw it differently. They saw it as ‘love’. Close friends were not accessible. I was always walled up in the confines of my home outside school hours. School was my only source of social interaction yet no one would befriend me. I was the outcast, the bulled. When Mrs. Greyson assigned the first group project, I ‘was’ excited to have the chance to interact with other students on a personal level.

On the first day of the group project, I had battled my inner demons and asked the group to visit the site together. Why? I was so desperate just to make friends. The next day, Carlos drove us down in his car on the 50 minute journey. We exited the freeway onto a main road. 5 minutes later, we had turned into a dirt road on the outskirts of the town of Marlyvale and headed directly to the tunnel.

I shot quick glances to the swarm of trees surrounding me, hoping their appearance would instill a sense of comfort from within. Not in this case. Looking upon the platform and seeing Lana head into the tunnel, loneliness crept in. I wanted company despite the consequences.

‘Hang on. I’m coming!’ My voice yelled as I aggressively jumped onto the tracks and tore through the weeds en route to entering the depths of the old channel.

‘Lana. Where are you?,’ I shouted.

My eyes failed to adjust to the dull chasm of the tunnel as I crept slightly further into the darkness. My hands reached through the dark as it landed on the slimy concrete walls. A wet, moldy smell floated in the air. My shoes scraped along the wet concrete floor.

‘I’m here,’ a voice rang. A hand swiped at my back and I jumped in response.

‘There you are. Sorry. It’s difficult to see in here. Do you have a flashlight?’ Lana’s voice questioned.

‘Sorry I don’t have one,’ I replied.

Out of the darkness, a hand grasped our shoulders. A scream of terror echoed through the tunnel as we prepared to run from the unseen force

‘It’s me Carlos. You two wimps scare so easily!’. Carlos laughed.

‘You jerk!’ I screamed, turning back towards the entrance. A smidgeon of daylight could now be seen in the shape of a small circle in the distance. A black figure stood in the way of the light as a yellow torchlight shined on Carlos, who grinned evilly at us.

‘Enough!. Let’s explore just this area of the tunnel and go. It’s too dark in here and I can’t find the light from the exit up ahead at all,’ Lana remarked.

‘Hey you can leave but I’m not going until I leave the other end. I set myself a task and I’m going to finish it,’ Carlos replied as the light from the torch moved further into the gloomy chasm.

‘I’m following him. He might get himself in trouble if we leave him,’ Lana retorted.

Lana’s footsteps were then heard running into the distance.

I pondered whether to turn around and wait at the station but then I remembered being alone in the woods,  having to trek back to the car. Besides, I didn’t have my driver’s license. My parents refused to let me learn to drive. In a quick decision, I ran and followed the dim yellow light in the distance.

In what seemed like mere minutes, I had caught up to the flashlight.

‘Nice of you to join us!,’ Carlos said as we continued to walk through the dark.

‘Can we get out of here before the steam train comes.?’

‘Mark, what steam train? This line is abandoned…’ Lana replied.

‘You are wrong, Lana. This railway was not closed down just because of the detour.’

‘That part was just a cover up. The real reason is Steve Greene, a driver of the steam train which ran along this line. Steve returned from the First World War with post-traumatic stress. He was crazy. He thought that because his friends died honorably in the war and yet people lived in vain, he would make things right, so to speak,’ Mark exclaimed.

I paused for a few seconds to hear the silence in the dark.

‘So Steve stole miniature tanks of chlorine gas tubs and smuggled it back on the ship. In the first day back at work, Steve hid the tubs of gas in his backpack. Upon entering Marlyvale tunnel, he released the gas through the engine ducts and it floated into the upper class carriage behind. The smoke and gas billowed through the tunnel, killing everyone in the first carriage.’

‘And you expect me to believe that?’ Lana questioned.

‘You don’t have to. But my Pop told me the legend and says the train driver handed himself in to the police, feeling his duty had been accomplished’ I answered.

‘Mark, that’s why you have no friends, because you believe in the most stupid crap’ Carlos said.

I shot Carlos a brief sneer as a droplet of water fell from the tunnel roof onto my head.

‘A drop of water just fell on me’ I yelped.

‘When there is rain, water seeps through a crack between the soil above and the concrete and drops onto the tunnel floor…. ARGH’ Lana screamed.

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

‘I feel something crawling up my leg’ she shrieked.

Carlos shone the torchlight as a rat was seen scurrying up into Lana’s white dress.

Lana whacked the rat frantically with her forearm until it dropped to the ground and scurried off into a small hole in the side of the wall.

‘Disgusting!’ Lana exclaimed with a vulgar look on her face.

‘It’s gone now. No sense worrying over it’ Carlos replied.

Suddenly a horn could be heard in the distance behind me. A ‘whoosh’ noise of an engine crept closer

‘It’s the ghost train’ I yelled.

Carlos erupted in laughter as he placed his hand on my shoulder from behind.

He held out his phone to my ear which had been playing train noises. ‘I fooled you again, wimp!. I knew this ringtone would come in handy’.

‘You idiot’ I yelled as I lunged at Carlos. I was finally fed up with the constant pranks and bullying. We fell to the ground and began wrestling each other.

Carlos punched me repeatedly in the face in beastly grunts. ‘Stop’ Lana screamed in fits of sobs as she tried to pry us apart. Carlos commenced punching my stomach. That did it. I snapped. I kneed Carlos in his groin, causing him to tumble off me. I then lunged at a weakened Carlos and I pounded my fists into his face. Carlos screamed in terror. In a matter of seconds, I froze my fists as I now stared down at the trickle of blood flowing from his nose.

‘Mark, what have you done? Why?’ Lana questioned.

‘Why? I think it’s pretty obvious’ I replied as I rose to my feet. ‘I have always been alone. No friends. No social life. Just walled up at home. Then when Mrs Greyson put us together for the project, I wanted it to be an opportunity for us to bond and be closer. For me to make new friends. Before I left to meet you guys at school, I made up the  legend of the Marlyvale steam train about this place to give us something to share and create conversation. And what happens? Carlos makes fun of me by scaring me consistently. Well I’ve had it. I’m not going to be the victim anymore’.

“You’re crazy!” Carlos yelled frantically as he made his way onto his feet slowly.

‘Really? Like I care what you think. I told you, I won’t be the victim anymore.

You wanted to try to make my life chaotic by bullying me? Well, I believe in the concept of an eye for an eye’.

I then ran towards Carlos and lunged my knee into his throat as he was on his knees. Carlos collapsed onto the floor, choking in rampant wheezes, as he clutched his throat.

‘Well, it’s been nice chatting but I’m going to go and abandon you both like you two and many others have done to me my whole school life’ I said as I grabbed the flashlight that had fallen next to Lana.

‘Don’t leave me!’ Lana squealed as her hand grasped my ankle.

‘Like you left me at the platform today or how you abandoned me to catch up with Carlos?  A bit hypocritical don’t you think?’

‘Please!’ Lana pleaded as she moved towards me. I pushed her down to the floor.

‘Goodbye!’ I replied. I caught a brief look at Carlos who gripped his cell phone in hand and was typing numbers in slowly. Probably calling the police. I didn’t care. Going to prison would not make a difference.  I would still be alone. I turned my back on the groans of the two. I clicked the flashlight on as I ventured back towards the entrance of the tunnel. I would rather have not walked in the dark channel alone but I needed to face my fear of the dark, just as I had rectified my fear of being alone.

The groans and whimpers faded as I walked further back into the darkness, away from those that had abandoned me.

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