Tag Archives: Endangered & Dangerous

Westfall, James Renshaw

1.

At Saldean’s Farm was where I first met you rustling in the silverleaves,

in briarthorns, between the haystacks and broken-down harvest watchers.

Your low-poly green hair mismatched Westfall’s orange oversaturation,

and the ambient loops were far too calm, too quiet, for the way you ran

along the ash-brown stick fences, to the herbalism nodes and back again.

I yelled out to you (I meant to whisper)   /yell lol hey what r u doin

And everyone knew.   Swiftthistle      you wanted them for alchemy.

/yell whats alchemy    You /laugh      I traded you bread and water.

You gave me back the water.

 

2.

On the long stretch of Westfall’s coast was where we fished for treasure.

The wreckage spawns, spread thin beside the schools of oily blackmouths,

had linen, wool, and lockboxes. You could pick lockboxes. You could fend

off the packs of gurgling murlocs as I fumbled B for my 6-slot newbie bags,

looking for space. I had offered to help you when you stealthed and sneaked

up close to them for mageroyal and chests. (I could sheep) (I could nova)

(would dampen you) but you told me     /p dw i got it     /p roll on malachite

and     /p run away if i die                   I didn’t.     I died with you, chasing

your wisp form as a ghost, running to our lifeless bodies on the sand.

 

3.

When it rained over Westfall, the grass fields rendered in a sombre lime hue.

I was gathering your swiftthistles while you queued for Warsong Gulch, and

up on the Dagger Hills, I could see the flicks of low-res raindrops falling down

on the water by the lighthouse. You loved the thrill of PvP: running to and from

between the desert and the forest, capturing red flags, defending your own

Alliance blue. In there you chugged through speed-pots faster than we could

make them. The gold we could have made on the AH, we’d have epic mounts

ready for 60.    (You wouldn’t ever be 60)      /w its fun playing with you

you whispered me as you flew back to Sentinel Hill on a griffon taxi.

 

4.

At the Dead Acre was where I last saw you farming on the old tilled soil,

between the derelict mill and the wagon sunken in the ochre overgrowth.

You were killing off the harvest watchers, the strongest in the zone, but the

loot was glittering, and greyed-out names dotted my FOV. (I ran to see you)

(sprinted out from Duskwood)   I   /wave /wave /wave   and you /yell stop

(you meant to whisper). You partied up with me and said     /p im gonna quit

You traded me swiftthistles. You gave me back the bread. Then I watched you

in the Westfall night counting down from 20 to the exit.       You whispered me

/w you were a good friend             And I hearthed away when you logged off.

 

Tagged , , , , ,

The Uselessness of Aversion, Erica Genda

The tension in the room felt like fire. My eyes burned, and my cheeks were wet. 

It was then that Emma came home, and saw Aaron with his hands clenched in a tight fist. She stood before us and released her shopping bags uneasily to the floor. In the background, the television screen, still stagnant, shone into the dark room. At that moment, I wished I could have turned back time, or been able to force it forwards. I wished to be anywhere other than in that moment.

 

*

 

I couldn’t believe I was here. This moment made me wish to be back with my parents in Melbourne.

Emma greeted me at the door of my new home in the outskirts of North Sydney. It was here that I was to live, with two new housemates. They looked like white supremacists, with their pale and freckled skin, light blonde hair and deep blue eyes. I had friends similar to them in primary school. But the minute they saw my mum wearing a hijab they weren’t my friends anymore.
‘Yasmin,’ Emma said. ‘How’s it hangin? Happy to have a new roomie! Need some help with ya gear?’

I politely accepted and felt bad for judging her. I was such a contradiction.

Emma carried my big boxes inside, and I carried the small ones. My justification being I am petite and was already exhausted from the mess that was my life. After only a few hours, I was almost through unpacking my life’s belongings into my new ridiculously tiny bedroom. In the room next door, I could hear my new roomies yapping loudly. I wanted to join them, but I needed a breather. I lay back on my bed and grabbed my phone to Face-Time my mum.
‘Yasmin, my sweetness, you look so sad, what’s wrong?’ she asked.
‘Just moved into my new place. I have housemates Ma…it feels weird.’
‘Are they nice?’

In the background, I could hear my father yelling.
‘Why is dad yelling?’
‘We are making kebbeh, and he’s asking for my help in the kitchen. I don’t know why – he’s made it a thousand times!’
‘Did you want me to call you later?’
‘Ok Yasmin, just be nice and make friends. It is impossible not to like you. I love you,’ she said blowing me a virtual kiss. I rolled over and saw a message from her with a picture of my Dad in the kitchen with mince in his hands. I missed them so much.

‘Ey! Newbie. I mean, Yaz, come out!’ shouted Emma from the lounge room. ‘Thought I’d properly introduce ya to Az, or Aaron as he prefers, who you’ll notice sits on the lounge a lot at night. I have a TV in my room for privacy, but sometimes we enjoy watching a bit of the  Bach together. For the drinking games!’
‘Love it,’ I said.
‘By the way Az, this is Yaz, or Yasmin – which I like, might start calling you that,’ said Emma as I gave a small wave to Aaron.
‘Righto,’ said Emma, and took my hand as she guided me into the kitchen. She gave me a sheet of paper titled ‘Emma & Aarons Pet Hates’. After that list, there was a smaller list of things not to eat or to get for myself if I wanted any. There were a few other house rules on the sheet, but Emma told me to forget them because Aaron wrote them and who gives a fuck about him anyway. I thought she was joking, but couldn’t tell. She popped open a bottle of VB and offered me one, but I hated VB, so I took water instead. Emma leant on the counter, waiting for me to say something.

‘Thanks so much’ I said, ‘but I better finish unpacking.’

I was hopping off the bar stool when Emma said, ‘so what’s ya story? New to Sydney or what?’

I raised my eyebrows. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share everything straight away, but I sat back down.
‘Oh sorry, sensitive question is it?’ Emma continued.
‘No, no! I’ve been here for a while, few years. But, um, I just split with my ex, so I had to get out of his place ASAP.’

I couldn’t look up, as I knew that if I talked about him, my eyes would start to water. How embarrassing!
Emma leant over the counter and gave me a bumpy rub on the shoulder. ‘Fuck him!’ she said.
‘Shut up Em! I’m watching the news,’ Aaron called out. There was no wall between the kitchen and the lounge area.
‘Stop being a dick,’ Emma bit back.
‘Sorry, no offence,’ Aaron said, turning to look at me. I nodded that it was okay even though it irritated me. Though I was probably just being sensitive.
‘How did you guys meet?’ I asked Emma,
‘He’s my brother’s best mate. My brother moved out with a girl, so he moved in. Helps pay the rent, so he’s not that bad – Are ya Az?’ She had a cheeky smile on her face like she thought he was great or something.
‘Please, don’t listen to her. Call me Aaron. I’m not a bogan like some!’ He joked.

I laughed, even contemplating the VB for a moment. It seemed to me that I had walked into a wacky, yet playful friendship and I felt like I was being invited to join in the fun. That was the nicest way to think about this situation.
‘So what did this guy do to you?’ asked Aaron, not paying attention.

I didn’t exactly want to get into the details with someone who wasn’t even listening.
‘Did he cheat on ya?’ Emma prodded.
‘Um, yeah,’ was all I could say before I lost it. I began sobbing into my chest as quietly as I could. I must have seemed like a complete lunatic.
‘Oh shit! I’m sorry babe. It’s okay, Yasmin. Don’t worry. A week from now you won’t even be thinking about this fucking idiot.’

Emma’s tone was suddenly not so loud anymore. She came around to my side of the counter to hold me. That was the moment we became friends.
Emma spent a lot of time with me after that night. She took me out often. Not to clubs, but to dinner and bars where we could enjoy each other’s company. I had become stressed about being on my own. And I felt anxious about being around people who I didn’t like or didn’t like me! But now we were drinking VB every Friday night. The taste was dismal, but the company was nice.  It was comforting to have someone like Emma. We spoke about the important things in life just as easy as the not so important things. I loved that. Aaron joined us on most Fridays too, but he was hooked on the news. It was tiresome. Terrorist bombings and sieges were always being pushed onto viewers, like some kind of fear mongering. No one wants to hear about that on a Friday night. Plus, I found it funny, in a not so funny way that they never spoke about the effects these things had in Middle-Eastern countries. Like Lebanon, where my parents were from, or Syria, where people were likely to die if they stayed or if they fled. I hated seeing all this hate coming from faux Muslims, making the world hell for the good ones. At first, it just broke my heart. Then, I grew furious. Emma would tell Aaron to ‘shut that shit off’, as she could see it visibly upset me. But he never listened.
‘Don’t you find it depressing to watch the news constantly?’ I’d ask him, interrupting a small pecking session between him and Emma.
‘Nah, my dad homeschooled me, and we did a lot of news watching. He always said that it’s good to be informed. There’s a lot of crazies out here.’

He motioned to the lone gunman on the screen who had just been caught. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, just agreed that the man was crazy. But I guess Aaron and I had a different view of what led to crazy.
I became sidetracked with a message from my mum. Another photo, it read, ‘My Turkish friend from work made me this Kanafeh. You would love it! Wish you were here! Miss you!’ Her missing me was nothing new. Ever since I moved to Sydney, our emotions ran high, and we found it hard to be apart. I knew she would have felt it more because I had less of a need to call her as I was finally settling in.  Our catch-ups became less frequent, but we always had a way of letting each other know we were still there. I sent a message back saying, ‘ I love you Ma, tell Dad I say hi and I miss you both. Will call soon.’

I think she knew that I had to make a life for myself, and I was beginning to.
‘So are you two official yet or what?’ I asked sitting on the lounge as Emma and Aaron nestled up to one another.
‘Oh stuff off,’ Emma cringed slightly but looked happy.
‘Well, why not I guess,’ Aaron said smiling. They kissed, and it wasn’t even gross, but I still threw a pillow at them.

 

*

 

It had been about two months since Emma and Aaron had hooked up exclusively. I was sitting on my laptop at the kitchen bench as Aaron watched TV. There was a brief mention of a protest happening in Melton on the news, which is close to where my parents live in Melbourne.
‘What is that?’ I asked,
‘Anti-Muslim protest, they approved a Mosque in Melton,’ Aaron scoffed.

I couldn’t figure out his tone. I took my laptop to the bedroom and Skyped my parents.  My dad answered, and I could see my mum in the background crying with her head down. My dad was whispering like he didn’t want my mum to hear. He told me about a man who threw a beer can at his car as he drove past. The man then yelled, ‘What’re you hiding under there?’ to my mum in the passenger seat, referring to her hijab.

‘It’s horrible Yasmin. Just horrible! I don’t know why these people hate us. We don’t do anything. We keep to ourselves! These people, they come and even eat at our shop! It’s like they have lost their minds.’
I found it hard not to cry, but I didn’t want to show my dad how much it hurt me too. He needed to see that I was okay.
‘Your mother and I are worried for you. What is it like for you there? Is it multicultural? Are you okay?’

He looked desperately sad. I couldn’t help but shed a tear.
‘It’s okay dad, tell mum I’m fine. I have friends, and it’s not the kind of place where that stuff happens. I’m safe.’

 

*

 

Following the Melton protests, I had a sick feeling in my stomach that wouldn’t budge. But I never voiced my concern. I called or messaged my parents every day. They weren’t distressed anymore, but I couldn’t shake the anxiety. It was time for dinner, but I didn’t know if I could stomach a full meal, so prepared a coffee and was going to sit with Aaron and watch some TV. As I was about to sit down, he yelled, ‘Fucking Muslims!’

My heart began beating fast and hard; I could feel it against my rib cage. I tried to sip my coffee but my hands were shaky, and I ended up spilling some.  I tried listening to the news, but Aaron just shouted over the top of it.
‘What a twisted, fucked up race! Shoot them all!’

At that moment, I realised that Aaron had no idea that I was Muslim. I clenched the paper towels I had used to clean up the coffee. Aaron kept going and going like he was having a conversation with the television.

‘Can you shut up!’ I snapped.
He paused the TV. There was silence between us.
‘You know you’re being completely racist right?’

‘What’s it to you?’ he said. ‘I can see you’re brown, but I didn’t think you were some Arab.’
‘I’m Lebanese. My parents are Muslim. They’re good people, and it’s disgusting to hear this shit in my living space,’ I replied. My voice shook, but I stood strong.
‘Well let’s get one thing straight then, yeah – this is my place, and I’ll say what I want – you can get the fuck out for all I care.’

Aaron pointed towards the door, and I knew he meant it.
‘I don’t get it. You can’t seriously watch one crazy person on TV, who just happens to be Arabic and think we’re all murderers?’
‘It’s not just one crazy person. There are heaps of you.’
‘That’s not us. That guy stalked that girl; he didn’t kill her with some extremism motive, that’s just the news spinning shit… Or, you, you’re spinning shit!’
‘I’m telling you, Muslims are violent and fucked up. You can see it with your own two eyes.’

He gestured towards the TV.
‘You are completely fucked up Aaron! I hope you know that.’
The tension in the room felt like fire. My eyes burned, and my cheeks were wet. It was then that Emma came home, and saw Aaron with his hands clenched in a tight fist. She stood before us and released her shopping bags uneasily to the floor. In the background, the television screen, still stagnant, shone into the dark room.

‘Turn it off,’ Emma said, her voice trembling. ‘Turn it off now, Aaron!’
‘Are you seriously going to do this?’ He threatened.
‘Do what?’ She said ‘Stand up for my friend?’

I never spoke about my background with Emma, but she wasn’t an idiot. I think she had noticed the photos in my room of me with my parents. She knew I wasn’t like them.

‘To be honest Em, I don’t think I can live here anymore,’ I said and turned away towards my room. I had to get my car keys so that I could get out. I didn’t know what I expected from Em, and I didn’t want to get in between her and Aaron, even if he was a racist asshole.

‘Don’t go,’ she said. As I walked to leave she grabbed my arm,‘it’s just stupid talk. It doesn’t mean anything. He didn’t mean it.’ I felt sad for her defending him like that.

‘I bloody do mean it!’ he said. ‘Next thing you know, she’ll be wearing a fucking burka and yelling Allahu Akbar at me!’
I exhaled a shocked kind of sigh. I had to leave. Emma rushed behind me, but I couldn’t stop. I didn’t have any more words.

 
Download a PDF of ‘The Uselessness of Aversion’

Tagged , ,

>Delete File: Y/N?, Sheriden Goldie

Silver pulls the eyepatch away from her left eye. Her fingers press the skin around the metal protrusions, unable to rub in case her skin should pull away from the edges. She closes her one eye, stretches and feels the slight grind in her shoulders. Metal plates and screws pop over each other. She returns to the screen. Silver aligns her aug-eye’s interface over the display’s and selects ‘upload.’

Feeling behind her ear, Silver slides the memory card out of its slot. The patch of synthetic skin hangs loose, and she imagines she can feel the cool air touching a circuit. All phantom feeling, but she shivers anyway. The frame of the screen has a glowing port that she presses the card into. It zips closed, the download of data starts ticking over at the bottom of the screen. She cracks the plastic seal of a new memory card, and slots it in, pressing the synthetic skin back into place. There is a faint buzz and hiss, as the internal vacuum seals the opening.

A blue icon flashes at the edge of the screen. Silver taps the glass table top, and it opens. Mei’s avatar smiles from the corner of the message box.

Mei: You heading home yet or what?

Silver smiles, without parting her lips. Her fingers draw a circle on the table top, and a keyboard illuminates. Silver types.

Silver: Changing over memory cards, just waiting for the download to finish.

Mei replies with a thumbs up.

A second blue icon flashes. Silver frowns, tapping it open.

Rosalie: Has sent you a parcel.

Rosalie: Wish you were here…

Silver aligns her internal interface.

>Open parcel

>Data received

>Image file received.

>View now? Y/N

The image unfolds, spreading across her screen. Silver feels the lower edge of her eye quiver. The city sprawls behind Rosalie, hugging the base of the mountain. She is standing with her back to the camera, but her head is turned, the sunlight catching red hair and haloing her face. The tear falls hot and quick, and Silver’s hand darts out to catch it.

 

*

 

The phone vibrates on the table. The sound interrupts snores from under the blanket. Silver’s arm reaches for it. Long fingers catch an edge, spinning the phone away. She caterpillars to the edge of the bed, picking up the phone. It’s buzzing stops.

‘Hello?’ she says. Her aug-eye boots.

>Interface activating

>Date: 2567.05.07

>Time: 08:37

>Ready for input

She feels the buzzing through the base of her skull.

‘No, I’m in bed still, it’s my day off remember?’ Her sandpaper voice bounces off the walls. She sits up, swinging heavy legs over the edge of the bed. The blanket slides away, half onto the floor. She doesn’t pick it up.

‘What do you need me to come in for?’ Her fingers trace figure eights around her eyes, sweeping the sleepiness away. She presses her feet into the carpet. The blinds begin to rise as her augmented interface systems boot up. The sunlight creeps up the wall slowly. Silver mutters into the phone. She goes to the alcove that serves as a kitchenette. The coffee machine sputters.

‘Sorry, say that again… Couldn’t hear you…’ The coffee mug trembles in her hand.

>Biometric warning: Breathing – Erratic. Pulse – Increasing. Blood Pressure – Falling.

‘Do you know’ she pauses, waiting for the voice on the other end to finish. ‘Yes, of course, I’ll come in straight away.’

>Biometric systems: Increase fluid intake. Regulate breathing. Sit down.

Silver’s hand still trembles as the coffee drips into the mug. She focuses on the rhythm of her breath: inhale, exhale, repeat. The coffee burns her tongue, and the feeling of lightness behind her eyes begins to fade slowly.

 

Standing outside the precinct, Silver watches the passing traffic. Her aug-eye boxes and tracks the cacophony of movement. Her other eye is bloodshot. Silver slides up the optic cover and wipes the moisture away with an unsteady hand. The cover hides her tears from the other agents inside. She is glad of that. She slides the cover down. The ache in her stomach won’t let up. Her hands tremble, so she pushes them into her pockets. A dark car rolls to a stop.

The last time she had seen Rosalie, outside the hospice, they had fought Rosalie ripped a branch off a Japanese Maple and lunged wildly at Sliver. Stabbing for her face, neck, eyes. She had screamed to turn it off the whole time. The nurses pulled Rosalie away with sad nods. They saw this all the time. They left Silver standing in the garden until a dark car had driven her away. The branch of the Japanese Maple remained cast aside on the manicured lawn.

Silver is drawn back to the present as the car door swings open. Silver realizes it is now dark blue, not the black one she remembered.

‘Sil, is it true?’ Donna’s impeccably coiffed hair, chemically set into a wave, has a distinctly greyer tint than the last time Silver had seen it. Donna’s arms wrap around Silver’s shoulders. At the touch, Silver suddenly feels cold, but her biometrics remain stable.

‘They wouldn’t let me see her…’ She says. Silver’s eye fills with tears, seeping under the edge of the cover. Donna squeezes her shoulders and they walk inside.

 

The room is clean, but the walls were the sort of beige that reminds Silver of stained sheets. Donna sits next to her; a tissue box placed in front of her. Silver plucks one out and holds it under her eye.

‘She hasn’t called home for weeks,’ says Donna, speaking to some other unseen entity.

‘When was the last time you saw her?’ Silver asks.

‘Around June,’ says Donna. Silver waits for her to continue. ‘She came home for a while; continued her treatment remotely. She struggled. We struggled. She asked us not to visit anymore when she went back in.’ Her voice wavers.

‘She sent me a photo,’ says Silver, ‘yesterday. She was standing on a lookout.’

‘That must have been from when she came home. We tried to take her out, get her to see beauty again.’

Silver examines the table top in minute detail.

>Composition: Wood veneer. Polychip filler. Recycled metal frame.

>Structural integrity: 98%

>Projected product lifespan: 150 years

The swirls in the veneer are suddenly shadowed.

‘I’m sorry for your loss.’ Silver looks up at her boss. He is looking back at her, his aug-eye shifting in spirals. He sits in front of Donna, and starts to deliver the speech Silver had heard so many times before, but never from this side of the table. She doesn’t realise she is shaking until Donna touches her hand as they stand to leave. Her boss says, ‘I’ve approved your leave Sil, take some time to process this.’ She mouths words. A waved hand silences her protest.

She mouths words. A waved hand silences her protest.

Outside the precinct, Donna and Silver stand together, waiting for Donna’s car to return.

‘We knew she would die. We expected a call from the hospice. Not this, never like this…’ Says Donna. Silver’s aug-eye boxes and traces the paths of the traffic. It keeps her mind busy, distracted. Donna keeps talking about Rosalie. The disease had eaten away at her body. Leaving her hollow. Her organs were removed bit by bit, replaced by wheezing machines, augmented substitutes, or not at all. Donna sighed, and Silver could feel the aching relief seeping out of her.

‘I’m still going to miss her,’ says Silver.

‘Of course,’ says Donna, ‘call anytime.’ Silver knew she wouldn’t.

 

*

 

The quilted foam of the Sync bed is velvety under Silver’s exposed shoulders. The visor slides down over her face. Her aug-eye syncs up, the optic cover projects scrolling text.

>Archive File Retrieval Commencing

>3…

>2…

>1…

 

There is a shimmer as the visor becomes opaque. Silver lets the screen blur in and out of focus. A wave of nausea passes over, as the images whirl, mixing her own internal interface with the memory bank construct. Vertigo passes as the image stabilises, adjusting to her focus range and muscle triggers.

Her eye watches the visor’s projections of the building’s mainframe through the patch. Her aug-eye follows the paths that light up across the screen. The data-streams of the different departments, all flashing in a disharmonious pattern. She focuses on the archives. Maybe I shouldn’t do this. But her mind is already queuing up the commands through her interface.

>Case File Search: Rosalie Flanagan

>Result: 1 File Found

>Unpacking File…

The report streams out, and Silver feels the bile rise in her throat. The images sear themselves in her brain. The crumpled dress around the withered body. A bare-branched sapling tossed amongst the wind. Chipped dollar-store nail polish, pale fingers, lying curled on the dark road. Silver shivers, and feels the velvet ribs of the bed press against her skin. Her biometrics trigger again.

The visual recording of the investigating agent fasts forwards at a flickering pace. It flashes through the day. Silver lets it run while she reads the coroner’s report.

Cause of death: Asphyxiation

Time of death: 01:35 am

Notes: Victim was pedestrian. Brain chemistry suggests unstable mental state.

The video stream shivers and she is watching the road through a windshield. It skips past the sprawl, through the suburbs, into a driveway, a house. Silver watches the flickering lights of home, children, wife. It keeps all of it, every recording, every minute… The thought runs through her head, repeating. Since the install, since logging the cards…

Her mind is wandering, under watchful sensors, and she finds her own files scrolling across the visor. I shouldn’t. But she lets her mind reach. The data file opens, softly, like petals to the sun. Her rookie days. She was leaving work early. The video skips through and then there she is. Rosalie. Sun-kissed and carrying the rabbit bag she loved. Silver had called it childish, but the nurses had encouraged Rosalie to keep it. We were going to the movies, she thinks, recalling the feeling of Rosalie’s hand pulling her along. They had been happy that day.

Silver felt the edges of the memory caving in, could feel the archive recording, absorbing her feedback. A message rolls across the screen,

>Time to jack out.

She folds the soft edges back in, packing the happy face of Rosalie like an origami crane. Silver tags the memory, filing it away in the archive. She begins to withdraw, mentally pulling away. The archive fades out across the visor. She surfaces, taking a deep breath, the recirculated air tastes metallic at the back of her throat.

‘That was a serious dive, Sil,’ says Mei.

Silver slides the visor away from her face. She ignores Mei standing over the bed and goes to the coffee machine. ‘Keep going like that and you’ll begin to corrupt your memory files, you know?’ Mei’s voice echoes around the archive room. Silver focuses on the dark stream of coffee dribbling into the cup.

‘Mei, has anyone ever deleted their own files?’

‘Sure, sometimes. But you can only delete the parts that aren’t relevant to cases, so they have to be screened before deletion, get all the approvals, you know.’ Mei leans against the edge of the sync bed, arms crossed, while Silver nods her head.

‘Do the file deletions affect the brain  you know, the sync?’

‘Yeah, so we’ve heard, it’s not supposed to.’

‘But…’

‘But people delete files, then in about a month – gone. Completely un-retrievable.’

‘Completely?’

‘Yeah, we tested a group of agents. Zero memory bleeds after deletion. And no memories for them to corrupt.’

Silver picks up the coffee and sips. The steam warms her face, and she can feel the place where her cheek is damp. She wipes away the tear, smearing the sheen across her cheek.

Mei sighs, ‘If you changed both eyes, you wouldn’t have this problem.’

 

*

 

The city sprawls around the base of the mountain. Silver stands, leaning against the railing of the lookout. The sun has dipped below the horizon, and the light haze of the city is growing. A network of nodes, flashing lights, towers, and hubs. Silver’s eye adjusts to the light differential in increments. She feels the cool metal of the railing through her shirt. Here in the quiet stillness, she can feel the miniscule vibrations of her aug-eye. She traces a finger along the ridges of metal framework, all plugged in under the skin. She stares into the valley below. The wind that slides down the mountainside rustles the treetops. The optic processor in her aug-eye works overtime.

I can delete it all. I can forget. If I delete, delete… Rosalie.

>Opening data file…

The ellipses flash in sequence. Opening, unpacking, synthesising. Silver waits, her legs swinging back and forth.

>Files ready for review

A message pops up; Silver had to remain linked to the agency network to access the memory files.

Mei: You can just skim through them you know, then authorise the deletion.

Silver: Thanks, I’ll think about it.

Mei: No one would think badly of you, heaps of people do it, you know…

Silver: I’ll let you know.

Mei: No problem, talk later.

>Open files Y/N?

Silver slides down her optic cover, fixing it over her organic eye. The data begins to unpack, lining up in sequence. She picks one in the middle.

She is staring at Rosalie. The memory’s sense-net begins to overlay and dampen her physical senses. The cold air from the open window raises goosebumps on her skin. Rosalie’s eyes are bloodshot, and there is a dribble of clear mucus under her nose.

‘I hate it!’ she says, ‘why did they do that to you?’ she is running her hands up into her hair. The rise of her jumper exposing the pale belt of skin under the navel. ‘I can’t be here! Not with… that!’

Silver’s own voice cuts through, ‘I had to get the augmentation to move into the force, it wasn’t exactly negotiable!’

Hacking sobs follow. Silver remembers the anger, the heat in her chest. The sense-net enflames her cheeks.

‘I don’t want that!’ Her voice choked around the hacking sobs rising from her chest. She paced, gnawing at her fingertips. ‘What is that? I don’t know if it’s even you anymore!’

‘Of course, it’s me,’ says Silver, the feeling of her stomach falling away bled into her voice.

‘But who else is in there, Sil?’

Rosalie walked across the room. Her hands grabbed Silver’s face. Rosalie put her face close, eyes darting back and forth. Frantic. Searching. Silver slipped a hand up and slid up the optic cover.

‘It’s still me, Rose,’ she said, softly.

‘No, that’s not what I meant…’ More sniffs.

Silver feels the tear. Is that mine or the sense-net? She stops the playback. The overlay of senses lessens, but the tear still rolls down.

She remembers how that argument ended.

They had lain together, for hours, curled close. Silver shut down the aug-eye interface and Rosalie traced figure eights around her eyes. Rosalie had learnt not to press too hard. Skin split from the protrusions bled for days.

Silver felt the tingle in her cheeks as the memory faded out of her vision. It would take all of it. She thinks. It would take all of her part of me away. Her lips are dry, and she licks them, feeling the numbness in her gums, the tightness in her throat. She wonders if Mei is still monitoring her.

 

Download a PDF of ‘>Delete File: Y/N?’

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Us In January – Steven O’Mara

FADE IN:

EXT. – CARPARK – DAY                                      1

 

Summer sun beats down on the bitumen. ALANA (26) and KATE (22) lean against the hood of a beat up old Corolla. Alana is taking drags from a cigarette.

They stare down the concrete monolith in front of them. An imposing building which says ‘Stillgrove Medical Centre’ on the glass sliding doors.

Alana scans the building, looking through the windows. Nurses rush around on some floors, some floors have rooms that appear more like offices. Alana makes eye contact with a man who has a shaved head and is wearing a hospital gown.

Guiltily she passes the cigarette to Kate, who takes a drag.

ALANA

Jesus.

 

KATE

Yeah, we should quit.

(beat)

 

Kate stamps out the cigarette butt on the ground.

 

KATE (CONT’D)

Look, I didn’t make you go in when Mum…

 

ALANA

Don’t worry, I’m not gonna do a runner. I just won’t get anything out of it.

 

KATE

You don’t know that.

 

Alana looks back up at the window. The man has gone.

 

 

INT. WAITING ROOM – DAY                                   2

 

 

Alana and Kate sit side by side in a packed waiting room.

Alana tries passing the time by leafing through well-worn magazines. Kate is peering around at the other patients in the room. They are a total cross-section across age, race, gender. Kate subtly points to a woman on the other side of the room.

 

KATE

(Whispering to Alana)

What do you think she’s in for?

 

ALANA

Kate, you’re actually despicable.

 

KATE

(Mock outrage)

How dare you? (Beat) I’m just trying to cheer you up.

 

SECRETARY (O.C.)

Alana Webster?

 

Alana gets up to leave. Kate pulls her back for a hug, and whispers in Alana’s ear.

 

KATE

I’ll text you pics of any gross rashes I see.

 

 

INT. THERAPIST’S OFFICE – DAY                                 3

 

A clock ticks, jarring the otherwise overwhelming silence.

Alana is slouched uncomfortably in a gaudy, pastel coloured chair. Across from her is DR. CAMPBELL (not much older than

Alana), reading paperwork for an exceedingly long time. No changes in expression, just the occasional tongue-click and head shake.

After an extended beat Dr. Campbell looks up at Alana and places down the papers, letting out a sigh.

 

DR. CAMPBELL

So you’ve indicated you don’t wish to pursue talk therapy outside of the consultation last week?

 

ALANA

I don’t trust people who profit off of other people’s suffering.

 

DR. CAMPBELL

If you think that, why continue seeking treatment at all, if you don’t mind me asking?

 

A text flashes up on Alana’s phone, a picture of an oozing rash with Kate posing next to it with a thumbs up.

 

ALANA

Uh, family.

 

DR. CAMPBELL

I see. Well with the symptoms we’ve identified, we can definitely start you on a regime to get your life under more control.

 

ALANA

So what do I have?

 

Dr Campbell hesitates – he’s young and still adjusting to blunt patients.

 

DR. CAMPBELL

The best we can do is identify collections of symptoms, even if the label doesn’t necessarily cover it all.

 

Alana sits patiently with her arms crossed. She won’t proceed unless he gives her a concrete, digestible label.

 

DR. CAMPBELL (CONT’D)

You’ve been diagnosed as Bipolar. Now with this regime there may be some side effects, but it’s really the best chance…

 

Dr. Campbell’s words begin to fade into muffled unintelligibility. Alana’s face gets closer and closer, to the point of claustrophobia.

Her eyes sink, her face drops expression. The colour in the world slowly desaturates. The physical dimensions of the screen start retracting and closing in to a pinpoint.

 

 

INT. LIVING ROOM – NIGHT                                      4

 

Alana and Kate are sprawled on a couch together, pizza boxes and an open bottle of wine in front of them. They’re watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

 

ALANA

I’m liking this sympathy.

 

KATE

Don’t get too used to it. It’s still your turn for bin night tomorrow.

 

They sit for an extended beat, the lights of the television projecting onto their face.

 

KATE (CONT’D)

It’s a good step though. Thanks for going.

 

Alana smiles back at Kate, without taking her eyes from the screen. The movie is at the point where Cameron’s father’s car goes crashing through the window.

 

ALANA

I love this scene.

 

 

INT. PHARMACIST – DAY                                     5

 

Alana is standing at a counter opposite a familiar looking

PHARMACIST (note: the same actor as Dr. Campbell), and once again the world is severely muted in colour. In front of them is a small line of a few pill bottles. Each has the name

‘ALANA WEBSTER’ emblazoned on the label, above some medical mumbo jumbo.

 

PHARMACIST

…once every three days but only between meals. Got that?

 

Alana snaps out of a haze. Normal colour returns.

 

ALANA

I think so.

 

Alana takes the pill bottles and attempts to stuff them into her handbag. They don’t fit. She begins unpacking the contents of the bag onto the counter – phone, purse, makeup mirror. But the items don’t stop coming, like the bag of Mary Poppins. More and more peculiar objects begin to emerge – a teddy bear, a knife, a mesh bag of marbles, an encyclopedia, loose cut grass. A small mountain of objects amass, but the pill bottles still don’t fit. Alana’s heart is audibly pounding as she tries to stuff them in the bag, her breaths getting shorter and more urgent.

 

PHARMACIST

Alana?

 

Alana’s head snaps up, remembering where she is. She looks down, at the pill bottles still in her hand and her handbag fastened shut. The mountain of objects is nowhere in sight.

She makes awkward eye contact with the pharmacist.

 

ALANA

Do I know you from somewhere?

 

PHARMACIST

…no? I only started here a month ago. Anyway, you should be sorted with these, contact your therapist or GP if anything arises.

 

Alana puts the pill bottles in her handbag, with the greatest of care.

 

ALANA

Thanks.

 

INT. KITCHEN – NIGHT                                      6

 

Kate is washing up the dishes, while Alana has lined up the pill bottles on the kitchen counter. One is in her hand, as she inspects the label.

 

ALANA

(reading)

Only take after meals. Got it.

 

Alana shakes out two triangle blue pills and chugs them down with water. Kate watches over her shoulder. She tries to ease the tension.

 

KATE

You fucking druggie.

 

Alana chokes down two oblong orange pills. She smiles at

Kate, who’s trying her best to look supportive.

 

ALANA

Go back to washing up, you might find a black pot and a kettle in there.

 

Kate laughs this off and flicks some soap foam at Alana.

 

 

INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT – LATER                              7

 

Alana is asleep in the dead of the night. She is tossing and turning. She is covered in sweat – not Hollywood ‘glowing’ sweat. More of an aggressive, ugly sweat. Like an addict coming down off a binge.

 

A metallic, high-pitched whine begins to fade in.

 

Alana’s stomach gurgles, her eyes shoot open. Disoriented at first, she looks around at the room in the dark. Glancing down she sees the sweat that has formed on and around her.

Another gurgle.

 

The metallic screeching starts to crescendo.

 

Alana jumps up out of bed, with urgency and purpose. She takes two or three frenzied steps before clutching her back and crying out in agony.

 

Louder.

 

Alana bursts into the ensuite bathroom. She grips the sink, knuckles white. She looks up herself in the mirror. Bright red yet shaking as if she’s in the Antarctic.

 

For a sudden, brief flash, an alternate vision of Alana appears in the mirror. Pale white, blood flowing freely from both wrists, purple bruising around her neck. The figure stares back at Alana, expressionless.

 

This brief flash sends Alana into panic mode, clutching her own hands to make sure they’re really how she sees them, hyperventilating. A gurgle.

 

Unbearably loud. A climax.

 

Alana rushes over to the toilet, gets on her knees and flips the lid with reckless abandon. A short, sharp breath in. The screeching is replaced with the guttural sound of Alana emptying her stomach into the toilet. She flips her head up.

Uncomfortably close, Alana’s face fills the frame. Streams of tears have run past her bloodshot eyes. The sweat is tenfold, and evidence of the vomit has already started to crust around her mouth. Staying focused, we pull back to reveal:

 

(MATCH CUT TO:)

INT. THERAPIST’S OFFICE – DAY                                 8

 

Frozen, Dr. Campbell’s office materialises behind Alana – still in her nightwear and in the vulnerable state from moments ago.

Dr. Campbell is writing some notes in his typically drawn-out manner.

 

DR. CAMPBELL

So you say you experienced some nausea in the past week. Any other symptoms?

 

Back to Alana, who is cleaned up. A sundress, flats, subtle eye make-up, and definitely no vomit.

Not a trace of the night before.

 

ALANA

Um, I sweat a lot now, which is new. My anxiety attacks are still a thing. But they feel much worse.

 

Dr Campbell raises an eyebrow. He writes even more arduously slow notes. The clock ticks.

 

DR. CAMPBELL

Well with these symptoms, I can offer you an adjustment. Then we’ll see how you respond to it and keep trying and refining.

 

ALANA

This isn’t very precise, is it?

 

This strikes a nerve with Dr Campbell. Flustered, he answers.

 

DR. CAMPBELL

We don’t know exactly what causes deep, recurring disorders. The brain is mysterious, Alana. But our tools are strong. We can get you to a good place. We just have to find the path.

 

Alana shifts uncomfortably in her seat. She begins scratching at her arm. We stay focused on this.

 

DR. CAMPBELL (O.C.) (CONT’D)

Let’s figure this out, try the adjustment.

 

Alana stops in her tracks and the screen rushes towards her face, like we’re travelling through her eyes to…

 

 

Cut to:

INT. VARIOUS LOCATIONS – DAY                              9

 

MONTAGE: Alana goes about her day to day routine, with differing adjustments to her medication affecting her world.

An experimental, jazzy underscore.

Alana is lying in bed. She is acutely conscious.

 

SUPER: Adjustment 1.

 

ALANA (V.O.)

I’m having trouble sleeping now.

 

Alana’s eyes slowly start to close. The moment they shut, the alarm clock next to her buzzes. She punches it.

 

CUT TO:

Alana is in the kitchen making herself lunch. She attempts to open a jar of mayonnaise. She can’t open it.

Jump forward in time to her using a towel to grip the jar.

Not useful.

 

Further forward. The jar is jammed between her legs as she uses both arms to try open the lid. The jar slips out from between her legs and smashes on the floor. She stares at it.

 

ALANA (V.O.)

My muscles seem weaker too. Alana walks out of the kitchen.

 

DR. CAMPBELL (V.O.)

Okay, we have your second adjustment configured.

 

CUT TO:

Alana is lying in bed again. This time she’s alone, fast asleep with the alarm clock buzzing incessantly next to her.

 

SUPER: Adjustment 2.

 

ALANA (V.O.)

Now I’m too tired.

CUT TO:

 

Alana is having her morning shower when her stomach gurgles.

A panicked look in her eye. She quickly runs out of the shower and embraces the toilet bowl like earlier.

CUT TO:

 

Alana is grocery shopping, staring down the fresh produce section. Her shopping trolley is empty.

 

ALANA (V.O.)

My nausea is getting much worse. My appetite is completely gone.

 

Alana walks out of frame to keep shopping.

 

ALANA (V.O.)

Yet I’ve gained weight, which is total bullshit.

 

DR. CAMPBELL (V.O.)

Third adjustment…

 

CUT TO:

SUPER: Third Adjustment.

 

Alana is sitting watching television at night with Kate. She scratches her arm again. She pulls up her sleeve to reveal a deep red rash that’s blistering. Kate looks on concerned from the background.

 

ALANA (V.O.)

…skin problems…

 

DR. CAMPBELL

Fourth adjustment.

 

The underscore starts picking up speed at a frantic pace.

Cuts become more frequent. All the voices blend into each other to form an unholy choir. Again, the world is literally losing colour throughout. As Dr. Campbell lists off the adjustments, the words appear and fly off the screen.

 

Dr. Campbell’s voice becomes more uncertain with every adjustment, to the endpoint of a question-asking, permission-seeking tone.

 

CUT TO:

Alana roars down a highway in her Corolla, cigarette in mouth. Moments later, the car is stationary on the side of the road, Alana is crying and having a meltdown in the driver’s seat.

 

ALANA (V.O.)

Mood swings.

 

DR. CAMPBELL (V.O.)

Fifth adjustment. Sixth adjustment.

CUT TO:

Alana is brushing her teeth when the same alternate version of her from earlier appears again in the mirror. She shrieks.

 

ALANA (V.O.)

Visions. Suicidal thoughts.

 

DR. CAMPBELL (V.O.)

Seventh adjustment. Eighth adjustment. Ninth…

 

Alana’s world is now crashing together. Past symptoms. Dr. Campbell’s voice is counting upwards and repeating over itself. Rapid fire cuts. The music indecipherable, distorted and unbearably loud.

 

QUICK CUTS:

Alana’s rash.

 

The broken jar.

 

Excessive sleep.

 

Vomiting naked with the shower still running.

 

The mirror vision.

 

 

Crying in the car.

 

SMASH CUT TO:

END MONTAGE

 

INT. KITCHEN – DAY                                        10

 

The world has only the slightest hint of colour, and the noise from milliseconds ago is replaced by the most still of silences.

Alana stares down the lineup of pill bottles on the kitchen counter.

 

A long beat.

 

She picks up one bottle and unscrews the lid. Two square orange pills fall into her palm. She inspects the label, which fills the screen.

“ALANA WEBSTER. TAKE ONCE DAILY BETWEEN MEALS. ACTIVE

INGREDIENTS…”

 

Alana looks down at the pills in her hand. She crosses the room and defiantly throws them down the kitchen sink, followed by the whole bottle.

She grabs the other bottles and empties their contents too.

She takes the empty bottles and heads upstairs.

The world returns to colour.

 

 

INT./EXT. THE WEBSTER HOUSE – VARIOUS LOCATIONS – NIGHT   11

 

Kate pulls her car into the driveway. She enters the house with a bouquet of petrol station flowers.

 

KATE

Alana? I’ve got something for you!

 

Kate walks into the kitchen, pulls out a vase and fills it with water.

 

KATE (CONT’D)

(quietly muttering to herself)

Now, where are the scissors?

 

Kate turns around and one of the drawers is already flung open. She makes a quick face, but grabs the scissors and continues on her way.

 

KATE (CONT’D)

Alana?

She sets the flowers down, and takes a beat to admire them with pride. Realising there’s no answer, she walks around to find Alana.

The messy living room. No Alana.

The sterile laundry. No Alana.

She makes her way upstairs and into the bedroom. No Alana.

She knocks on the ensuite door, then opens it.

Alana curled up in the corner of the dry bathtub, an empty pack of cigarettes and two empty wine bottles in front of her.

Kate coughs through the remaining smoke in the room. She looks over at the garbage bin on the other side of the room.

She notices the empty pill bottles and panics.

 

KATE (CONT’D)

Fuck, Alana. Have you taken al-

 

ALANA

No, I just got rid of them.

 

Kate gingerly walks over to Alana and gets in the tub with her. They sit quietly for a beat.

 

KATE

Why did you throw them?

 

ALANA

I always either felt worse than before or numb. Which they call ‘stable’. It’s no way to live.

 

Kate holds Alana’s hand, as Alana puts her head on Kate’s shoulder.

 

FADE TO:

INT. THERAPIST’S OFFICE – DAY                                 12

 

Both Alana and Kate are in the office this time. Outnumbered,

Dr Campbell is visibly intimidated.

 

DR. CAMPBELL

This is highly unorthodox.

 

ALANA

I can’t do this again without her here.

 

Kate smiles over at Alana.

 

DR. CAMPBELL

I’m not just talking about her. You want to go completely off the regime? You were making solid progress Alana.

 

Both Kate and Alana pull the crossed arm routine from earlier

– it runs in the family.

 

Dr. Campbell sighs.

 

DR. CAMPBELL (CONT’D)

Alternatives are few, especially considering you won’t pursue talk therapy. And you began developing symptoms of a treatment-resistant disorder.

 

KATE

So what do we do?

 

Dr. Campbell shifts uncomfortably. He hesitates his words.

 

DR. CAMPBELL

Electroconvulsive therapy is the standard in cases like these.

 

Alana and Kate share an extremely worried look. They clasp hands, both with white knuckles.

 

DR. CAMPBELL (CONT’D)

It sounds scarier than it is. It’s effective for more than 50% of patients with your particular disorder.

 

ALANA

…and the other half?

 

Dr Campbell considers engaging, but pulls back. He is extremely measured with his response.

 

DR. CAMPBELL

Either you receive the treatment, with its risks and benefits taken into account…

 

Kate looks over to Alana.

 

DR. CAMPBELL (CONT’D)

…or you can suffer your symptoms for a few more years until they snowball.

 

INT. HOSPITAL – NIGHT – DAYS LATER                            13

 

Kate is at Alana’s bedside. She’s reading over a pile of medical paperwork.

Through her eyes, we see some of the pages:

By signing off I recognise the inherent risk in the procedure, including and not limited to the known side effects of: Memory loss, jaw pain, weakening of heart tissue, inability to process information...”

 

Kate puts the clipboard down.

 

KATE

What. The. Fuck.

 

Now the roles are reversed, Kate is anxious about what’s going to happen and Alana tries to lighten the mood.

 

ALANA

Hey, when I get out of here we should download One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

 

KATE

Not funny.

(beat)

A little funny.

 

Alana motions for Kate to come over to her. They hug and Kate lies on the empty space on the bed next to her. A still, silent, perfect moment. The Kate pulls out her phone.

 

KATE (CONT’D)

This is going on my Snapchat story.

 

 

INT. SURGICAL WAITING ROOM – LATER                            14

Alana is conscious, but a bit out of it. A SURGEON is nearby, trying to be reassuring. This surgeon, like all the other medical personnel we’ve encountered, looks oddly similar to Dr. Campbell.

 

ALANA

You seem very familiar.

 

SURGEON

(with a heavy Spanish accent)

I get that a lot.

 

ALANA

Will it hurt?

 

SURGEON

It’ll mostly be confusion. Patients only record a small amount of lost memory.

 

ALANA

How do I know the amount of memory loss if I’ve already lost it?

 

A beat. The surgeon chuckles, conceding her point.

 

A crackle of inaudible, distorted words through an intercom system. Nurses on either side of Alana spring into action.

Cannulas get inserted into her arms, electrodes are placed onto her head.

 

SURGEON

Do you have a history of seizures?

 

ALANA

 No.

Alana goes to elaborate, but is intercepted by another nurse fitting a breathing apparatus. The sound of mechanical breathing fills our ears.

 

 

INT. OPERATING THEATRE – MOMENTS LATER                    15

 

Alana is in the middle of the room, with a number of identical doctors hovering around her.

 

Suddenly we’re seeing the room through Alana’s eyes. Masked faces drift in and out of frame.

 

SURGEON

I’m going to get you to count backwards from ten, okay?

 

The screen nods up and down.

 

ALANA (V.O.)

Ten, nine,

 

The sound of static appears faintly, like an old CRT television warming up.

 

ALANA (V.O.)

eight, seven, six,

 

Edges become soft, light becomes dim.

 

ALANA (V.O.)

five… four…

 

FADE TO:

A VOID – OUTSIDE OF TIME                                      15

 

Extended blackness.

 

A visible waveform with the sound of lightning.

 

A flash of the pills going down the sink.

 

A spark. Back to nothing.

 

A flash of Alana driving down the highway, carefree.

 

Two frames of Alana’s first meeting with Dr. Campbell.

 

 

Alana and Kate as children. Their mother still around. But only for a fleeting second.

A hundred unrecognisable memories appear at once for a second.

Then nothing.

The sound of breathing appears.

 

INT. HOSPITAL – NIGHT                                     16

 

Kate is sitting in a chair, watching the mounted TV on the wall. Next to her is an unconscious Alana in bed.

 

Kate has either just woken up from a nap or has been awake for an excessive amount of hours. She’s frazzled.

Alana’s eyes flicker open. She stares at her surroundings, her wrist tag, the gown. The world is more saturated in colour than we’ve seen before.

Kate looks over at Alana. Careful not to overwhelm her, Kate approaches and smiles.

 

KATE

Hey sleepyhead.

 

A nurse enters and gives Alana a plastic cup of water. Her hands tremble lightly as she drinks. Kate motions over to the corner table.

 

KATE (CONT’D)

Look at what I got for you.

 

There’s a giant, gorgeous bouquet of chrysanthemums sitting in an ornate vase.

 

ALANA

Chrysanthemums – my favourite.

How’d you know?

 

Alana seems genuinely confused as to how she would know this, but Kate just smiles and holds Alana’s hand.

 

Alana looks down at their hands, confused. The trepidation in

 

Alana’s eyes gives Kate pause, who lets go.

 

ALANA (CONT’D)

And you are…?

 

Kate stops dead in her tracks. Her face drops. Alana’s face also changes, feeling bad for seemingly offending this unknown woman. The nurse leaves to get a doctor.

They stand there in silence. Alana looks up at the television on the wall. There is the familiar scene of an expensive red car crashing through a window as Ferris Bueller, Cameron

Frye, and Sloane Peterson look on.

 

FADE TO BLACK.

 

 

THE END.

 

 

Download a PDF of ‘Us In January’

Tagged , , , , , ,

The Heaviest Matter in Australia, Michael Sturtridge

It’s Saturday night at the Bald Faced Stag, and the seedy inner-west pub is awash with black t-shirts, flat-caps, bullet belts and ripped jeans. The familiar faces of local metal-heads crowd out the bar while they wait for the first band of the night to start playing in the adjacent room. In the meantime, the bourbon and coke flows freely as mops of long unkempt hair wax lyrical about their favourite bands and who they’re seeing next. The answer is usually, ‘me too!’ Followed shortly by, ‘are you going to X?’ There are one of two local punters determined to tune out the sea of head bangers as they watch Saturday Night Football on the wall-mounted widescreen TVs.  Before long the thundering distortion of a guitar prompts a slow migration to the stage next door, giving the locals a brief respite. The band tunes up their instruments and sound-check their amps while the crowd of bearded beer-swillers looks on with stony indifference. The front-man nods to the sound guy at the back of the room and approaches the microphone: ‘We are Dispossessed, and Australia is under military occupation.’

Vocalist and lead guitarist Birrugan Dunn-Velasco’s antagonist display of righteous anger continues throughout their set, in stark contrast to his otherwise unintimidating stature. His modest height and slender figure are only further diminished by the guitar he wields with ferocious precision. Despite being the main point of contact for the audience, he tends to avoid direct eye contact as he summons hell from within his lungs, preferring the wall running along stage right where the group’s entourage watch on dutifully.

Serwah Attafuah and Jarred Osei round out Dispossessed’s lineup, forming the tight rhythm section which frames Birrugan’s violent rejection of white Australia. Sans bass player, Serwah is left to round out the bottom end of their aural assault. She remains effectively stationary throughout the performance, her eyes darting between Birrugan and drummer Jarrod Osei. Her withdrawn presence is challenged only by the loudness of her guitar and the long dreadlocks that weave down the left side of her face from a loosely bound top-knot. Jarred appears the most at ease, perched on his drum stool-throne, he breezes through blast beats and an array of splashy drum fills. The two remain silent throughout the performance. As it would happen, the majority of the talking this evening would be given to the band’s entourage of guest speakers.

And there’s every reason for their audiences to listen. Indigenous Australia faces a constant uphill battle for the kind of recognition and respect becoming of the world’s oldest known culture. Somewhat ironically, the average life expectancy of an Aboriginal or Torres-Strait Islander is on average 10 years lower than that of their non-indigenous counter-part[i]. Structural inequality is still an everyday fact of life for Australia’s first people – more children were being taken from their families during the Rudd Labor government than during the stolen generation[ii]. Fast-forward to 2016, and the Turnbull Liberal government refused to consult with indigenous leaders before forming the royal commission into youth detention in the Northern Territory. Only after former Supreme Court judge Brian Martin resigned as commissioner for perceived bias did the federal government appoint Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda alongside Justice Margaret White.

It is for this reason that Sydney-based heavy metal band Dispossessed are so vital to the modern music scene. Traditionally an overwhelmingly white genre, with (ironically) subgenres such as black metal promoting white supremacy, the presence of an aggressively black band has made many a mayonnaise metal fan uncomfortable. So we should feel uncomfortable – hard rock and heavy metal is derived from the blues, which is a black form of music. The entire history of rock music in the Western world is built on cultural appropriation. Elvis Presley made rock and blues palatable for white audiences in the 50s. The Beatles and other British Invasion groups did the same for England in the 60s. As Mos Def once wisely espoused, ‘You may dig on The Rolling Stones, but they ain’t come up with that shit on their own.’ In 1982, MTV allegedly only began playing Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean after CBS Records Group President Walter Yetnikoff threatened to pull all CBS videos. I reached out to Dispossessed multiple times for an interview, hoping to get some insight into their firsthand experience with racism in music (and specifically, heavy metal), but was met with silence. I can hardly blame them for being trepidatious about the motives of a 24-year-old white boy.

Heavy metal itself was born with the arrival of Black Sabbath, a group of disaffected white teenagers from Birmingham with an interest in horror movies. Lower-middle class suburbia in England offered little in the way of job prospects, which left academic under-achievers with nowhere to turn but factory labour. It is these foundations that have helped perpetuate the status of heavy metal as a predominantly white genre. People of colour are scarcely represented throughout the genre’s history, with a few notable exceptions: Brazil’s Sepultura helped to pioneer thrash and death metal in the mid to late 80s, before redefining groove metal in 1996 with Roots. In America, Run DMC revitalized Aerosmith’s career with their 1986 remix of ‘Walk This Way,’ whilst Living Colour’s 1988 album, Vivid, gave funk metal an authenticity sorely lacking in the likes of Faith No More and Red Hot Chili Peppers. They too experimented with rap-rock alongside Public Enemy’s Chuck D on ‘Funny Vibe’. Then there was Rage Against the Machine.

Australia is no stranger to this exclusionary approach to rock. Just last year, critically lauded two-part documentary, Blood + Thunder, detailed the evolution of the ‘Australian’ sound guided by the vision of pioneer Ted Albert (founder of Albert Music and Albert Productions). Albert helped the careers of now iconic artists like The Easybeats and AC/DC. Conspicuously absent is Albert’s hand in introducing Australia to jazz and blues, when he brought the Sonny Clay Orchestra to our shores in 1928. As The Conversation notes, they were deported 9 weeks later after a directive from the Musicians Union to ban visas for ‘coloured’ artists[iii]. This ban wasn’t lifted until 1953, a full 25 years later. We are expected to accept the notion that Australian (read: white) musicians simply discovered and mastered the blues through divine providence.  This is before we consider indigenous Australians, who weren’t even granted personhood until the 1967 referendum.

There are a select few indigenous rock acts to have achieved varying degrees of mainstream success either before or after the referendum: Jimmy Little, Yothu Yindi, Troy Cassar-Daley, and the Warumpi Band are largely recognizable. Narrow the focus to heavy metal, however, and the list becomes essentially non-existent. Nu metal act NoKTuRNL, who won The Deadlys’ Band of the Year in ’98, ’00, and ’03, and toured nationally with Spiderbait, Powderfinger, and Regurgitator, appear to be the only real antecedent to Dispossessed. Even then, NoKTuRNL fall more in line with the hip-hop stylings of Shepparton rapper Briggs than anything resembling Dispossessed’s hardcore-tinged extreme metal. Despite this, hip-hop and extreme metal share commonality through their inherently political worldviews. Both speak to the socially maligned and downtrodden, albeit in different ways. It’s amazing Dispossessed didn’t happen sooner.

‘Alright, after this us black fellas are gonna tell you off,’ Birrugan murmurs. A collective chortle emerges from the crowd. ‘I’m serious,’ he retorts with indignation, before introducing a tune tentatively titled ‘Kill All White People’. A second chortle is drowned out by screeching guitar distortion flooding the room as Jarred’s double-bass reverberates through the floor, sending every beer-addled bro off balance for a single moment. Windmills of hair turn in unison as fast as their hardened necks will allow, struggling to keep up with the rapid-fire snare. The song crashes to an abrupt finish and the walls look as though they’re about to cave in around us. As we gather our composure, Birrugan tells us to shut up and listen as he introduces each guest from his entourage. A night of killer riffs evolves into a demonstration before our very eyes.

These extended breaks are a feature of all their gigs, and often provoke defensive indignation if not outright hostility. We are treated to a poem and a rap. The whole room fell silent, and each performer was applauded as they concluded their piece. This, from the same audience that is presently mad at Rihanna for unveiling a metal-inspired type-font at this year’s VMAs, and previous abused Kanye West for doing the same for his Yeezus tour merchandise. Such viciously insecure reactions might lend itself to the view that such a scenario as this could never take place. Even as the last speaker, a slightly older indigenous man who is unmoved by liberal platitudes, tells us in between sips of his drink that we’re all complicit in systemic racism, everyone nods silently. ‘I’m probably going to be harassed by the police the moment I leave this venue. I have every other night.’

This is not a surprise. Since the tabling of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody 25 years ago, rates of indigenous incarceration have doubled, and their risk of landing behind bars is 13 times that of non-indigenous Australians[iv]. In between 1989 and 2013, 365 indigenous Australians have died in custody[v]. It is hard to believe that the current royal commission into youth detention will yield any real results considering the country’s history of inaction on indigenous issues. The terms of reference remain confined to the Northern Territory, meaning that any abuse happening outside the state will continue unperturbed.

The revelations aired by Four Corners have sparked a slew of protests nation-wide against torture in detention. Dispossessed has been actively involved with the promotion of these protests. In an interview with Vibe, Birrugan stated:

‘I see the work we do as Dispossessed and the work we do on campaigns, speeches at rallies, grassroots stuff like that, as one and the same. The band is a platform for a wider movement.’[vi]

This is in stark contrast to the tendency for musicians and bands to distance their art from their personal views. For Dispossessed, their political ideology is an integral part of their music, not a subtle undercurrent. They are a band with a purpose.

Indigenous Australia needs a band like Dispossessed right now. A study conducted by the Larrakia Nation (representative of the Larrakia community in Darwin) in conjunction with the University of Sydney and the University of Tasmania which suggests many indigenous Australians feel they have to abandon their culture in order to succeed. According to the ABC, more than 500 Darwin residents took part in the study, ‘ranging from long-grassers to university students.’ The report indicated that over 50% of respondents felt unwanted in Darwin[vii]. One anonymous participant is quoted as saying:
‘We get our power from knowing we are connected … knowing who your family is, who your background is, got the country, how you’re connected, what your totem is and your dreaming is like.’

‘But there’s this other culture that says no, that’s not power.’
Dispossessed command your respect, and refuse to take white Australia’s dismissal of indigenous culture. Every gig they play is a violent reminder that black Australia isn’t going away silently.

This lack of respect for indigenous heritage is also part of why constitutional recognition is not perceived within the community as the fix-all the media would have you believe. In an interview I conducted with Jenny Munro of the Redfern Tent Embassy last year, she stated: ‘I don’t want recognition in the constitution – I want that racist document torn up.’ More recently, The Guardian reported on a survey conducted by social media channel IndigenousX which found that of 827 respondents, only 25% supported Recognise. This in stark contrast to Recognize’s claimed 87% support[viii]. The overwhelming sentiment amongst those surveyed by IndigenousX is that their lives are unlikely to improve with constitutional recognition. However, the notion of a permanent representative body within parliament garnered widespread support. It’s pretty simple, really – indigenous people want their voices heard when the nation makes decisions.

The recent death of a 14-year-old indigenous boy, Elijah Doughty, in Kalgoorlie has only further illustrated the need for greater consultation with the community. WA Today reports that the boy was riding a scooter when he was involved in a car crash with a Nissan Navara[ix]. Protests erupted outside Kalgoorlie Courthouse demanding justice for the deceased boy, a ‘well-loved community member and local football team player.’ The protests ended in violence as riot police were brought in to control the crowd, many of which believe the death was a racially motivated murder. Elijah’s aunt is reported as telling the Kalgoorlie Miner his death was the third in the family in the last few weeks[x]. It is in situations like this that indigenous people feel their lives don’t matter to white Australia. It is the reason Dispossessed sees no hyperbole in writing a song called ‘Kill All White People,’ because white people have done nothing but kill black people since first invading ‘Terra Nullius’ in 1788.

This predicament is not unique to Australia, however, which the group are often highlighting through their Facebook page. Racial injustice is a systemic problem on a global scale, which greatly affects indigenous communities and people of colour all over the world. Whether it is the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA, or Ethiopian runnerFeyisa Lilesa’s protest against government killings at the Rio Olympic Games, Dispossessed are consistently among those expressing international solidarity and pushing against discriminatory power structures designed to maintain white supremacy. As Desmond Tutu astutely proclaimed, ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’

Dispossessed and their guests receive a round of applause as their mid-set showcase comes to an end. The segment has soaked up most of the allotted time for their set, and they’re left with just enough to perform one more song. The lights dim and the band dive into a cacophony of frantic riffing and vocal howls. The crowd returns to causing ourselves irreversible neck damage as if nothing had happened. One can only hope the message sunk in, and wasn’t lost in a drunken haze of indifference. Their final song collapses under its own weight as the final chords are struck and distortion rings out before being abruptly cut off, and the band walk off stage without a second thought. They don’t need to say anymore, they’ve already cemented their place as the most vital metal band in Australia.

 

 

 

Works Cited:

 

[i] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2016). Life expectancy (AIHW). [online] Available at: http://www.aihw.gov.au/deaths/life-expectancy/#indigenous [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[ii] Australian Government Productivity Commission. (2016). Report on Government Services 2014. [online] Available at: http://www.pc.gov.au/research/ongoing/report-on-government-services/2014/community-services/factsheets/rogs-2014-volumef-chapter15-factsheet.pdf [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[iii] O’Connell, D. (2015). Blood + Thunder: patriotism whitewashes Australian music history. [online] The Conversation. Available at: http://theconversation.com/blood-thunder-patriotism-whitewashes-australian-music-history-44081 [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[iv] SBS News. (2016). ‘A national crisis’: Indigenous incarceration rates worse 25 years on. [online] Available at: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2016/04/15/national-crisis-indigenous-incarceration-rates-worse-25-years [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[v] Booth, A. (2016). Stop Indigenous incarceration rates from rising by ‘addressing poverty’, says Mick Gooda. [online] NITV. Available at: http://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/article/2016/04/13/stop-rising-rate-indigenous-incarceration-addressing-poverty-says-mick-gooda?cid=inbody:royal-commission-into-deaths-in-custody-25th-anniversary-whats-changed [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[vi] Collins, S. (2016). Meet The Radical, Indigenous Metal Band Out To Destroy The Status Quo. [online] Vibe. Available at: http://www.vibe.com/2016/07/austrialian-metal-band-dispossessed-angry-band/ [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[vii] Lawford, E. (2016). Aboriginal people ‘pressured to lose culture’, report suggests. [online] ABC News. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-27/aboriginal-people-pressured-to-lose-culture-study-says/7790928 [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[viii] Liddle, C. (2015). 87% of Indigenous people do not agree on recognition. You’d know if you listened | Celeste Liddle. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/19/87-of-indigenous-people-do-not-agree-on-recognition-youd-know-if-you-listened [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[ix] Young, E. (2016). Enraged crowd attacks police at Kalgoorlie court after Indigenous boy’s death. [online] WA Today. Available at: http://www.watoday.com.au/wa-news/crowd-threatens-violence-outside-boulder-court-after-local-boys-death-20160830-gr4bzn.html [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[x]Hickey, P.,Kelly, J. and Campbell, K. (2016). Community mourns Kalgoorlie teen. [online] Perth Now. Available at: http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/western-australia/man-accused-of-kalgoorlie-boys-manslaughter-to-face-perth-court/news-story/71b352036131fce8f26a38654a85001d [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

 

 

Download a PDF of ‘The Heaviest Matter in Australia’

Tagged , , , ,

Discord, James Renshaw

 

Cmd:   enigmatic apparition.

Animator images, processing rhythmic

words queued first as tacit-tactile,

synesthetic modes on mechanical [WASD]

– transmitting –       01100011 01101111

01101110 01110110 01100101 01110010

01110011 01100001 01110100 01101001

01101111 01101110   – transmitted –

as the left thumb beats [SPACEBAR].

Smash [ENTER] / Electric ultimatum.

Run:        the VOIP chill. Replica clutch, nail bites,

metronomic mouse-click hesitations –

FWD TO: peripherals

>press down [NUM](push-to-talk);

>push up (release)[NUM];

{Identify Connection?}             >input:

navigate my spine;                 >rasp:

the cerebellum; >pulse:           inhale;

>spiral: ears,                       exchange,

ASMR secrets;                     express

{YES} to me between the GPU fan-force

{NO}               white-noise-background

muffling the timbre in your mic.

Cmd:   troubleshoot me.          [CTRL] +

Interaction error 502               [SHIFT] +

bad gateway. You can              [ESC]

{X} to end human.exe(not responding)

if: high memory use;

if: unknown program;

if: first time connection;

if: unsecure;

Tagged , , , , , ,

Bright Star, Emma Stubley

Before, the crowd hid us.

Amongst the swaying dancers, no one even noticed two girls kissing. But when Athena pulls me on the DJ’s stage with her, we become the center of the universe. She puts her hands on my waist and the crowd slows. Suddenly everyone is looking at me. I stand on my tiptoes, slipping on the beer-polished floor as I try to make out the glowing exit light hiding behind the swarm of heads.

‘Relax,’ she whispers in my ear and the crowd growls in response.Athena just dances, head down, eyes squeezed tight, ignoring the attention we are drawing.

There’s got to be an exit in here somewhere. But it’s not near the bar, or at the back of the room. The crowd stares at me. They are a pride of growling lions, hungry, shoes scratching against the floor. It makes my skin crawl. We don’t fit in here.

‘We should leave,’ I mutter, grabbing her hand.

They turn to watch a man with slicked back hair, a white shirt buttoned to the top and crocodile-skin shoes. He is front and centre, the king of the pride. His eyes undress me, picking out my weaknesses. He doesn’t move, his chest neither rises nor falls. He is still, except for the mechanic movement of his wrist that swishes wine in his glass, around and around. My palms sweat and he watches me rub them down my thighs. His mouth twitches, smirking at my submission.

He takes a sip and nods. A path appears in the sea of footy shirts and flower crowns, revealing a door, light from the wharf outside seeping underneath. I grab Athena’s wrist and pull her towards it, holding my breath in anticipation of a crushing wave that never comes. Just before we push out the exit, I look back. The man is still staring at us.

Who is he?

 

‘Do you want to find another club?’ she asks as we wander down Darling Harbour. She teeters along the edge of the wharf pretending it’s a balance beam. She is so carefree, holding her arms out and wobbling.

‘Didn’t that bother you?’ I ask as I count the shadows around us. None of them move.

‘Just try not to think about it, yeah?’ She runs to me and kisses my hand, leaving a ghost of lipstick on my knuckles. ‘How about Scary? We’ve not gone for a while.’

I look around to see if anyone saw us. Only the shadows. There was a day, before the eggs cracked on my car, before the love letters spray-painted on my front door, when I didn’t look behind me. I didn’t care who noticed. I held her hand as we danced down the escalators to the harbour, greeting the flying whale on the way. We ran through fountains with the other kids and kissed in the back row of the Imax; 3D glasses discarded, eyes closed. Later, we sat on the wooden boardwalk, feet hanging off the edge. Hands touching. Carefree. The world glared at us and we just watched the sunset. We told ourselves we could survive here. Belong here.

We don’t.

 

 *

 

It’s midnight. We stand in line in the 7-Eleven. Athena has grabbed a sausage roll from the pie warmer and the grease soaks through the paper bag.

‘It’s too early to go home,’ she says, wiping her hands down her dress. ‘Besides we have to wait ‘til your mum falls asleep.’ She rests her chin on my shoulder, waiting for an answer.

I stare at the wall of cigarettes as I hand money over, ignoring the cashier’s eyes as he notices how close together we are standing us. He calculates each of the three atoms, nodding as though he has proven our sin.

Outside the shop, streetlamps yawn in a lazy flicker that barely illuminates the shadow-littered street. With only a pregnant moon watching us, I take Athena’s hand. For a moment, quiet reigns.

A shadow stretches across the pavement. It is long and thin and peels away from the brick wall, forming the shape of a leg. A crocodile-skin shoe follows, bringing with it a man – no; The King. Yellow lips stretch into a plastic smile. I feel greasy, itchy. He balances a cigarette between his fingers. Tendrils of smoke reach out, filling the air between us.

‘Ladies, you can’t be going home so soon?’

I recoil, only to find Athena transfixed, breathing in the smoke. She smiles at him, leaning closer. I grab her wrist, attempting to pull her away.

‘I can show you a new world. One where girls like you belong. A safe place.’

Athena tugs back, and I stumble closer to him.

‘It could be fun,’ she sings to me, her fingers dancing up and down my arm. They fiddle with the sleeve of my shirt. She looks back at him. ‘Where is it? Oxford Street?’

‘Somewhere new.’

I can smell the fruitiness coming from the cigarette smoke. Cherries. I am intrigued. ‘It could be fun,’ I repeat.

Athena giggles, taking a bite of her sausage roll before she skips off down the street.

 

*

 

The moon is pinned between 12 and 1 as we climb the graffiti-covered staircase to the club. A shadow curves up the stairs with us. My stomach tightens as we follow a path of phone numbers and lewd advertisements. From the top, the King smiles at me with the same overstretched grimace as before, reaching a hand down. Shadows buzz around him. Maybe this was a bad idea. I take a breath and step inside this so-called paradise.

The walls are painted like rainforests. Ivy drips off a balcony outside. A fishpond lies sunken into the middle of the room. It paints the ceiling with the silvery glow of its water. Koi fish jet beneath the surface like shooting stars. Bouncers guard the edge of the room, roses tucked into their lapels. On the dance floor, girls dance with other girls, their lips too close and hands too wandering to just be friends.

We move to the bar where an ibis sings pop songs. The bartender, a lion-faced man with a mane pulled into a bun, serves us a shimmering drink in a coconut.

‘Ambrosia,’ he says. I take a sip. It is sweet. A pomegranate and strawberry blend. It tastes like summer, like immortality. My muscles instantly relax.

‘Dance?’ I ask, as I pull Athena onto the dance floor. The ibis sings Bohemian Rhapsody and we sing along. Athena’s eyes are closed, hips loose. Light dances across the glitter on her cheeks. Her hands run up my snakeskin tights and slip around my waist. I wrap my arms around her, letting our hips rub against each other. Her breath tickles my neck. My ponytail becomes looser with every song until my hair bounces on my shoulders. Athena wraps her hands in it. She is so beautiful. I draw her hair behind her ear and lean in. Just as I am about to kiss her, the King appears behind us.

‘Don’t you just love it here?’ he says, handing me another drink. As I sip it, I smile at him, slightly woozy, and take his hand.

‘It’s fantastic,’ I say.

He smells so sweet. Fruity. I pull him close to me. Athena is confused. She grabs my hand but I push her away. I take another sip as a bouncer taps her on the shoulder. The shadows swallow her, but I’m too busy staring into the endless galaxy of his eyes to notice.

We sip back the ambrosia, lining coconut after coconut along the bar while the ibis sings jazz tunes. It is just him and me now, everyone else has melted away. We laugh, heads thrown back, feet kicking. I kiss his cheek, his nose, his hands. The ambrosia has made me ravenous. The moon grows heavier as the song gets louder and I become drunker.

A slow dance plays, and his hand rests on the small of my back. We spin, dazzling and perfect, Cinderella and her king. ‘You and me, we are the golden ratio. We can be so beautiful,’ he says. ‘Together.’

I want this to be beautiful. I want to believe in this safety. It is so much easier. So I kiss him. I tuck my hair behind my ear, place my hand on his chest and kiss him. And it is perfect.

Until it isn’t. His mouth tastes of maraschino cherries. It is sour and artificial. My stomach turns. I push him away.

I’m going to be sick.

 

I find myself dry-heaving in the bathroom sink. A glass of pink liquor rests on the marble counter and I chuck it back, hoping it’ll soothe my stomach.

Then, he appears behind me. ‘Look how perfect we are. Together,’ he says.

I stare at my reflection in the mirror. My body redefines itself to his desire as his hand caresses my cheek. Sharp cheekbones. Plump lips. Curls graze against my shoulders, bouncing in a kind of effortlessness that takes hours to perfect. He kisses my neck. My breasts grow plumper and my waist grows thinner. Am I really this pretty?

I reach out to touch my reflection. It smears, leaving grease on my fingers and revealing the truth. Smudged mascara. Cracked lips. My t-shirt hugs my collarbone and hangs loosely, hiding any curves. The bathroom smells of vomit and cherry air freshener. I push him away from me.

‘This isn’t me. This is just an illusion. Just the promise of emptiness,’ I cry.

He grabs my wrist and spins me to face him. His fingers dig into my skin, and I feel the bones move. I gasp. I try to pull away but his grip is too strong. He pushes me back against the bathroom counter. The impact of the marble flashes up my spine and I’m ripped out of his fantasy. My vision goes black.

 

I sit across from Athena. Steam from a coffee machine perfumes the room. The cafe is filled with small children weaving between tables. Athena flicks grains of sugar at me and I hold my spoon up like a shield, giggling. Her nose scrunches at the bridge from the faces she pulls. I brush my fingers along her hand. This is the perfect day, the perfect future. The coffee machine splutters. Children knock a table and cutlery clashes to the floor. I look up, only to see him. He can’t be here. This is my dream. He doesn’t belong here.

Our cups explode into shards of porcelain. In the blast, I am torn away from her. Ivy wraps itself around her arms and she struggles to reach me. I try to crawl to her but something grabs my ankle, stopping me.

 

‘Wasn’t it easier to be with me?’ he asks ‘Isn’t this world safer?’

I knee him in the groin, and push him off me with more force this time. I dart out of the bathroom, back into the club. The music has stopped and shadows lurk on the dance floor. She has to still be here. But where?

The bottles behind the bar are filled with murky liquors, and the bartender bares his teeth at me. His mane slips free of its bun, flaring wildly around his face. She’s not near the barstools. I spin around the room. Crocodiles crawl out of the pond, snapping their jaws. Above me, bats hang from flickering lights. Snaps of light pierce through their wings like makeshift strobe lighting. I see no trace of her. Flapping wings swarm towards me, biting my neck and clawing at my face. I grab a fire extinguisher off the wall, and hold it like a weapon.

Something moves outside. Athena? I push through the glass doors, and out onto the balcony. She’s there, collapsed at the edge of the balcony. Her hair spills across the ground like spilt milk. Her arm is trapped beneath her body but reaches out, as if calling to me. Ivy from the balcony creeps towards her, twisting around her limbs- half-blanket, half-chains.

Oh God, be alive.

The King steps in front of her, appearing in a crack of thunder that buckles the concrete beneath us. He stands in the broad moonlight. Gnarled knuckles. Yellowing teeth. Skin stretched across his gaunt face. He is horrific. Why couldn’t I see it before?

The bouncers pour out from the club, onto the terrace. Their arms are covered in thorns. Pink petals have replaced their heads in the form of a grotesque face. They circle me, standing side-by-side with interlinking arms. The thorns grow across their chests until I am trapped in a caged rose bush. I swing the base of the extinguisher at the wall, hoping to make a hole.

The cage barely even budges. Instead, the thorns grow around it, swallowing the tank. I punch the guarded wall. Kick it. Flail against it. The rose faces just blink at me. A leafy arm uncurls itself from the cage and wraps itself around my neck. Its grip is just tight enough to make me gulp for air. Thorns dig in and drops of blood seep out staining the neckline of my shirt.

‘Come with me and you can save her,’ the King says. ‘I can protect you. Be the home you always wanted. You could be free from all of this pain.’

The cherry smell appears again, forcing me to imagine a life with him. The small suburb. The Toyota. The dog. The smiles shared with neighbours while taking out the bins. A peaceful life. Without Athena.

I remember the way her breath tickled me on the dance floor. The way her hands, those soft hands, accept me, the way they always have. The way she felt like safety more than anything else in the world. More than anyone else.

Here I stand, a girl in front of a king.

Fuck him.

I shove my hand through the cage of thorns. They scrap up the length of my arms, but I reach through. I won’t be paralysed by fear anymore. The petals flake away. Pink turns to brown, then dust. Thorns fall apart. The tendrils release their grip on me. The extinguisher clanks to the ground and rolls near my feet.

I pick it up and turn to face the King.

‘You were never protection. Only decay.’

The metal extinguisher is cool in my hand. I raise it. Point it at his face. Something fills his eye, perhaps fear. I squeeze.

Snowflakes line his eyelashes. He blinks and frost grows across his skin. He crashes to the floor. Gone.

Athena wakes up in a gasp. The ivy withers, shrinking back onto the balcony. I run to her.

‘You are my family. My home. I want you. I will always want you,’ I tell her.

I kiss her.

 

The sky has sweetened since we entered the club. We walk up the black footpath to Wynyard station and slip onto a train just as the doors close. Something draws my glance back to the platform. A man stares at me, hair slicked back.

 

*

 

I sneak Athena into my bed as the morning takes its first breath.

‘Tell me a story,’ I say.

She creates a constellation, pinning together the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling. ‘In a great empire kissed by the gods, no one has to hide between moth-laced jumpers,’ she starts. ‘There, we are bright stars, luminescent, gorgeous.’

I close my eyes. ‘Where is this world?’

‘Far away,’ she sighs. She rolls over to me and rests her chin on my chest.

Here, we are still less than beautiful.

But, for now, it is enough.

 

 

Download a PDF of ‘Bright Star’

Tagged ,

Misguided, Ben Lawrence

The fire crackled, green logs spitting sap into the small inferno. A man and a woman huddled close to the fire. Their silhouettes danced around them. They sat on the cracked flagstones of a ruined tower. The rest was tumbled out around the hillock, long overgrown with moss and lichen.

The woman wore a circlet of gold on her greying hair. Her face was dominated by a hawk-like nose that kept watch over lips set in a sharp line. She wore studded leather pants, with thick riding boots and a coat of plates that had once been fine, but was now scarred and dull. On her shoulders she wore ornate pauldrons set in the likeness of a lion’s head, the eyes set with precious gemstones.

A snore came from the prone figure on the other side of the fire. She looked at the pile of blankets and creased her brow in a frown.

‘Bard’

‘…’

‘Bard!’

The man jolted awake at the Queen’s bark, grumbling under his breath. He was dressed in a much simpler fashion. Woollen pants, supple hunting boots, a dirty linen shirt and a simple leather vest. His blonde curls sat in a tousled heap on his head, giving him a youthful appearance.

The Queen’s frown deepened,

‘You are addressing Queen Ysabel of White Shore.’

‘Raise the dead with that shoutin,’ you will.’

She bristled at his lack of respect.

‘You would do well never to speak to me like that again.’

‘Aye, and you might do just as well to keep ye voice down… M’lady. No tellin’ who or what lurks in these parts at night.’

He could feel her baleful gaze drilling into him from across the fire, but she didn’t deign to retort. Probably never been told to shut her trap, he thought.

Instead, she rummaged in her pack and drew out a whetstone. Her sword lay next to her on the flagstones and now she inspected it. With a sniff of annoyance she set the stone to the blade and began honing its edge with long, purposeful strokes. The Bard watched from across the fire, the flames highlighting her movements. They were graceful, exact, and deadly, just as they had been in the battle against the Griffon that day. She did not wear the armour or sword simply for show it seemed.

He inspected his own sword. It was a utilitarian tool, solid iron with a wooden handle and a bronze cross piece. There were several nicks along its edge and some rust spots at the base of the blade. He shrugged and placed the weapon on top of his pack alongside his harp. He didn’t feel like sharpening it just now.

The night was deathly silent. No owls hooted, no critters scurried along secret paths, and the rasping sound of stone on steel set his neck and arm hairs standing on end.

‘Why sharpen it?’

‘Because it needs doing,’ she said in between strokes.

He pushed the sound to the back of his mind.

‘Why? The Griffon’s dead, the battle fought and won.’

‘This battle,’ she said, looking up at him. ‘And who are you to question the Queen of White Shore? You were hired to write a song about my victory over the Griffon. Nothing else, understand?’

He was not surprised by the shortness of her reply. He was used to being looked down on by those of higher station. Yes, they would pay him handsomely enough for a song of their brave deeds, but at any mention of a truth that was not their own, he would be discarded. Just another peasant who didn’t know how to respect his betters. What truly shocked him was her coldness.

‘That beast slaughtered a hundred of ye knights today. Their blood is nawt cold and here ye are preparing for the next battle? Why so cold, mistress?’

‘Are all Bards fools? Or just you? I would think that singing songs of great heroes all day would teach you a thing or two. There is always another battle, another war. To not recognise this is to die a fool.’

He shook his head in disbelief, his mind recalling the images of the battle against the Griffon. He saw again how the Queen had ordered her knights to charge the beast, and how the knights were cut down by the Griffon’s foul claws. All the while, she watched, searching for an opening. He saw how she had urged the last of her knights forward to their death, and how she had charged behind them, trampling those who were wounded in order to strike the killing blow.

‘Aye, I sing songs of heroes, mistress. But none so cold as you.’

She regarded him with narrowed eyes and a furrowed brow, and if she hadn’t been raised a Queen, she might have chewed her lip.

‘You truly are a fool. All heroes are heartless at some point. That is the part the tales leave out.’ She reached inside her pack and withdrew the trophy she had taken from the Griffons’ corpse. It looked like a feather, but it was about half a metre long and rich gold in colour. The fibres were malleable, but he had witnessed swords shatter against them. As his eyes ran along its sleek surface, he noticed how the colours changed, from gold to bronze to brass, and at the very tip, bright silver.

‘How much do you think this is worth, Bard?’

He thought for a moment, but couldn’t think of a number high enough.

‘I don’t know, mistress.’

‘Exactly,’ she said as she twirled it in her hands, the firelight making it look like liquid gold. ‘It is priceless. It is power, and glory, and riches. And this is just one. When I harvest the rest from the Griffon’s corpse tomorrow, I will become more powerful than all the Kings on this continent. And I will start an Empire the likes of which the world has never seen. Yes, my knights died. But they died an honourable death serving their Queen.’ She said this all without taking her eyes off the feather. She seemed to be somewhere else, as if in a daydream.

The Bard didn’t understand.

‘An honourable dead man is still a dead man, mistress. And you’re already a Queen. You’ve a whole kingdom, hundreds of kilometres of land and wealth. Why be an Emperor?’

She tore her gaze away from the feather, although it seemed to pain her to do so.

‘And? Hundreds will become thousands, tens of thousands. I will have it all. And no man will ever dare to question my rule again.’

He was lost for words. Granted he had always wanted a bit more. A few more coins to jingle in his pocket would have been nice. A new harp would be good if he could afford it, and he did want to settle down someday with a plump wife that would give him many sons. But she was a Queen. The idea that she could possibly want for more just did not make any sense to the Bard.

An idea struck him.

‘Do you know the history of this tower?’

‘Of course I do!’ she snapped. ‘It is the seat of the Old Empire.’

‘Right you are, mistress. But do ye know how it came to be nawt but a ruin?’

Her eyes narrowed and she shook her head. A grin split his face, revealing crooked teeth.

‘Worry not, mistress, let me tell ye the tale of the great Empire of Abernia, which stretched all the lands to the north and most to the south, all of it ruled from right here in this very castle.’

‘Get on with it, Bard, I assume this tale has a point?’

‘Aye, it does. Now, the Empire was at peace, had been for years. But the King was a vain man. He loved nothing more than to sit on his throne and count his coins. Then, one day, during a feast he held as celebration for the conquest of another nation, a real threat came to his kingdom. Or at least, the news of one. A farmer crashed through the door to the great hall, weak and weary from travel. “Dragon! Great, terrible, fire breathing dragon! A vile creature, evil to the core! Please O’ wise and noble King, send your knights to slay this beast and deliver us from fear,” said he. Naturally, everyone at the feast was shocked by such news, but they were even more shocked by the King’s reaction. “Good man! Thank you for bringing word of this threat to our safety. Sit! Feast! On the morrow, I will lead my knights and slay the creature.”

“O’ Wise King, O’ brave King! God’s praise you! The creature is truly evil. It killed ten farmers with one fell sweep of its claws, and then set the buildings alight with its wicked breath.”

“Fear not, brave fellow, my knights and I will slay the beast, of that you can be assured!”

‘So, that settled, they feasted into the night and when morning came, the King and his knights and the farmer set out to find the dragon.

‘They travelled far to the south where the King’s grip on the land was not as tight. The farms he passed were far dirtier, and far poorer than the pretty ploughed fields outside his castle. “Look at what this beast has done! My poor subjects suffer greatly at the hands of its evil.” His knights agreed, but the farmer was confused. The creature had only attacked his village. These farms had not been affected and to him looked as they always had. But he didn’t say so, far be it for him to question his King.’

‘If only all men were as noble and loyal as this farmer’ remarked the Queen, voice thick with derision.

‘Aye, mistress, if only,’ the Bard replied, knowing full well the comment was aimed at him, and recalling that the Queen’s sword was now very sharp. But he continued anyway, hoping his tale would reach her. ‘When the King and his knights came upon the man’s village, ravaged and savaged as it was, they found the dragon sleeping on a pile of bones. The King ordered the charge and the battle was on. For a day and a night it raged, but finally, the beast was slain. Many brave men died in the battle, including the poor farmer.

‘As proof of his victory, the King brought back a large scale from the beast’s breast, crimson and gold in colour. Now, as I said, he was a vain man and wanted to assert his wealth and power even though he was an Emperor. He flaunted his prize and gloated with glee… And was promptly assassinated by jealous rivals.

‘Without a King, the Empire crumbled, and all because the man who had it all, wanted more.’

‘A fine tale, Bard, you obviously have some skill,’ the Queen said begrudgingly. ‘But it is a tale, nothing more than myth and legend based on an old fool.’

As he had been talking, a red sun had begun to rise. It was still an hour or so until dawn, but the first tendrils of crimson light were filtering in from the east, creeping over their camp.

The Bard’s shoulders sagged. He had failed to have an effect on the Queen. She remained stoically silent as she watched the world awaken to the new day.

Eventually, she spoke.

‘Tell me, Bard, what song have you written of me? How shall my victory over the Griffon be remembered?’

‘I haven’t written anything yet, mistress’ he lied.

‘I have seen you practice at night as we travelled from White Shore, and you have just proved you have some skill in the art. Come, sing it to me. Now.’

With a sigh he relented. He picked up his harp, plucked a few strings and adjusted them. Then, satisfied, he began to play a slow melody.

‘There once was a Queen, greedy and bold,

She went chasing legends of old.

 

For o’er yonder hill from White Shore,

There was a creature who she was sure

If not slain, would be her shame,

So she set out, to gain her fame.

 

Over high mountain and deep river,

She voyaged with barely a shiver.

 

She took a hundred knights to meet their maker,

All in the hopes that she could be greater…’

‘Enough!’ she screamed. ‘Your arrogance knows no bounds. You have insulted me beyond forgiveness this night. As Queen of White Shore, I sentence you to death.’ She rose from her sitting position, sword in hand and advanced. ‘The Lords of White Shore have always been their own headsman. Bow your head so that I may make it a clean death, though you don’t deserve one.’

The Bard scrabbled for his blade, regretting his laziness earlier in the night. She was old but experienced, and he lacked training but was young and fit. He took the guard position he had been taught as a child, feet braced apart, sword raised in front. She swung her sword in lazy arcs as she advanced, the blade whistling as it cut the air.

She feigned left then lashed out with a right-hand cut. He blocked to his left then slashed wildly, forcing her to jump backwards. She immediately stepped forward again, bringing her blade down in a swift overhead motion. He barely managed to get his blade up in time, and the force of the blow made his hand go numb. She was much stronger than he had anticipated.

He lunged forward, but his blade was easily swept aside. Overbalanced, he had no choice but to continue the motion. He knew he couldn’t bring his sword around in time, but neither could she, so he threw his fist into her chin as he careened forward.

She fell hard but instinct saved her. As soon as she hit the ground she was rolling, and his sword struck the stones where moments before her head had been. He advanced on her again and she lashed out with her heavy boots, catching him on the knee. He howled in pain and was forced to moved back, giving her enough time to regain her feet.

They had the measure of each other now and the duel settled into a steady rhythm, the clash and clang of their sword’s echoing through the pre-dawn light, giving a grim feel to the red light of morning.

Her sword sliced into the Bard’s arm, her superior skill giving her the upper hand. He grunted in pain and frustration, blood flowing freely down his arm. She advanced again and he backed away, unable to keep his sword raised. He tripped on the fire as he retreated and the Queen’s boot caught him in the chest as he struggled to maintain his balance. He sailed backwards over the fire, losing his sword as he fell, severely winded. Fighting for breath and in immense pain, he dragged himself across the ground toward the Queen’s pack. She advanced, ready to drive her sword into his exposed back.

He reached the pack and frantically rummaged. The Queen brought her sword down just as he rolled, so instead of skewering him, her sword only cut him superficially, grating as it glanced off his ribs. But he had what he had been searching for in her pack, and he drove the feather into The Queen’s neck. Blood erupted from the fatal wound and poured down the feather onto the Bard’s hand.

Her eyes widened in shock as she fell to the ground, coughing and spluttering. A pool of blood quickly formed as she clawed at her ruined neck, fighting for a breath that would not come.

The Queen of White Shore died with the Griffon’s feather still protruding from her neck, shining crimson and gold in the light of dawn.

 

 

Download a PDF of ‘Misguided’

Tagged , , ,

Heart of the Storm, Jacqui Chami

Rhythmic island beats from our neighbour’s dorm serenaded the rain. But the rain was relentless. Cyclone Winston was a force to be reckoned with. The wind was like a sadistic puppeteer pulling its strings – no mercy. Trees had been uprooted from the earth as though their grounded existence was a cosmic joke. An abandoned white bed sheet clung onto its last peg, flailing about on the clothes line. Empty boxes were strewn out in the pool of muddy rainwater collecting between the campus buildings, resembling a river. Towels had been piled up beneath the windows in all the rooms on the left side of the hall to absorb the leaking rain water. The rooms on the right side of the hall were untouched by the rain, both Neha’s and mine. Images flooded my mind as I lay in Neha’s bed, holding her safe and warm in my arms. It was less than a month ago when we first met at Suva airport, Fiji. We’d both been granted a scholarship from Wakeford University to study for a semester here at the Sandy Valley University. It’s hard to believe there was a time when we could have walked past each other at Wakeford as complete strangers. Now, I couldn’t begin to fathom life without her.

 

Homes had been torn apart, but our concrete walls stood high and mighty. The days and nights had morphed into one. The power was out. No cooking. No water. More importantly for some, no wi-fi. I recognised Ana’s loud hyena-like laughter echoing through the walls of Neha’s room. I smiled at the sound of it. It was only a month ago when I first met these girls. Our night had consisted of blaring loud music to drown out the sound of the pouring rain. I might have busted my speaker in the process. Ana braided my hair as we all sat at the dining table and shared stories, going through our supply of breakfast crackers and canned food. Even though the cyclone had confined us to our dorms, I had never felt more free.

 

I listened to the background voices die down as the girls slowly retreated to their rooms. Neha and I had left the others early to watch a movie on her laptop. Her laptop sat abandoned on the corner of the single bed, dimly lighting up her room. The wind danced against the shutters. I looked up. They remained tightly locked in place. I imagined the wind circulating the building, searching for a way in, tearing through whatever stood in its way. Shaking the thought from my mind, I pulled Neha in close and wrapped my arm around her waist. We lay on top of her bed sheets. Even the rain couldn’t drown out our heat. Her long, dark hair cascaded across the pillow we shared. The smell of her cherry blossom shampoo wafted through my nostrils. I nuzzled up to the curve of her spine. My fingertips wrote fleeting thoughts across her soft arms. Her hairs stood on end. My hot, heavy breath sent goosebumps crawling along the back of her neck. She tentatively held my hand close to her chest. Her heart was racing with mine. I swallowed, sliding my bare legs against hers. She responded, releasing my hand, running her fingertips down the side of my leg.

 

Wait, Neha’s straight, isn’t she? All she’d ever talked about was this Henry gamer dude on Team Speak who I couldn’t give two fucks about. Aren’t they in some weird, virtual relationship? Was I misreading this entire situation?

Her ass pressed against me.

Holy shit.

This could ruin everything. You’re friends. You cook together, you live together! Her oversized shirt slid up her body, revealing black laced panties. My fingertips teased her perfect mocha skin. Her body twitched in response as my fingertips danced down her waist. I slid my hand down the slope of her hip, enamoured by her curvy figure. My lips brushed against the back of her neck. A stifled moan escaped her lips.

Fuck it.

‘Do you want me to kiss your neck?’ I whispered in her ear. No response. Oh God. She doesn’t want this-

‘O-okay.’ Holy shit. Taking a deep breath, I lightly pressed my lips against the back of her neck. Her body tensed against mine.

‘Do you want me to stop?’ I asked through heavy breaths.

‘N-no.’

My lips caressed her skin, slowly tracing the length of her jaw. A moan escaped her mouth as she reached back, her fingers entwined through the strands of my hair. Her body turned to face me as I gripped her thigh, nails digging in, our legs entwined. Rolling my body on top of hers, I pressed myself against her warmth. She gasped, sliding her hands down my lower back, my tee hanging loosely from my chest. Running my finger over her parted, plump lips, I leaned in.

She pulled away. ‘I-I don’t think we should do that,’ she murmured, her heavy breath on my cheek.

‘O-oh, okay,’ I replied, hovering over her hesitantly. I watched her chest rise and fall, mirroring my own. She smiled at my confused expression. Lifting her head, she pulled me in to kiss her neck again. I kissed trails down to her chest. Her hips rolled against me. I did the same, causing a loud primal moan to escape her mouth. Giggling, I covered her mouth before pulling her on top of me. Bemused, I watched her confused expression as she tried to position herself. Sitting up, I undid the buttons of her plaid shirt, kissing my way to her chest. She gasped, falling down on top of me.

 

*

 

We lay for a short while in each other’s arms. It felt safe, warm.

I’d almost forgotten about what was going on outside these walls. The rain had died down, and the wind had become a whisper. Its soft breath tickled my ear, taunting the sound of my frantic heartbeat. Neha’s face rested against my chest as she caressed my exposed stomach.

‘S-sorry. My heart is beating so fast,’ I gasped through heavy breaths. ‘It won’t slow down.’

Neha laughed. ‘It’s okay.’

Bzzt. Bzzt.

I glanced over at her vibrating phone lit up on the bedside table.

Neha groaned, reaching for her phone. ‘Fuck,’she jerked upright. ‘It’s my mum.’ Buttoning up her shirt, she walked over to the chair by her desk, answering the call. Asalam wa alaikum mama?’

I curled up under her sheets as she spoke to her mum. I couldn’t stop smiling. Holy shit. That was my first experience with a girl. Finally. But what does this mean for our friendship? Is this going to be a friends-with-benefits sort of thing? Will this even happen again? Could Neha also be bi? I glanced over at her. We briefly made eye contact before she looked away, hanging up. She proceeded to scroll through her phone.

‘Everything okay?’ I questioned.

‘Yeah, my mum was just checking what we ate for dinner. She really thinks we’re living in poverty eating all this canned food.’ She laughed, scrolling through her phone again.

‘Okay, how are you not freaking out right now?’ I hammered, sitting up. ‘This changes everything.’

She put down her phone, looking at me. Her deep, brown eyes bore into mine. ‘I don’t want this to change anything. This doesn’t mean I’m bi or whatever…’ Her voice trailed off as she stared intently at the floor. ‘I don’t know why, I just felt comfortable doing that with you.’

She could be in denial. ‘Till next time then?’ I suggestively grinned.

‘No…’ She ran her hands through her hair, avoiding eye contact. ‘Mary I feel bad. I shouldn’t be doing this, it’s against my religion.’

‘And having an online relationship with a non-Muslim guy isn’t against your religion?’ She flinched. That got her attention.

‘Please don’t make me feel any more guilty,’ tears welled in her eyes. My heart battled with my brain. I chose my brain.

‘So that’s why didn’t you kiss me?’ I pressed on. ‘Because the flaws of your faith only have room for Henry, not me. Am I right?’ I snapped.

‘I didn’t kiss you because I want my first kiss to be with a boy. I’m sorry but I don’t see you…that way.’ Her voice treaded carefully as though it were tiptoeing on eggshells.

‘Mary, I’m straight. I’ve never done anything before tonight…I just got carried away in the moment.’

And suddenly, I saw tonight for what it really was.

‘Look, we’re still cool, right?’ Neha questioned.

‘Yeah. Yeah, we’re cool.’ The pitter, patter of rain filled the silence in the room. I glanced over at the space on the bed where she laid moments before. ‘Will we ever do this again?’ a small voice I didn’t recognise escaped my throat.

‘I don’t think so. If we ever did, it would just be for fun. Could you handle that?’ she asked.

I hesitated, falling back onto the pillow.

‘Sure. Sure, I could handle that.’ I could handle it. Right?

 

*

 

3 months later

I dragged my purple, dirt stained carry-on through the front door of our 11th halls residence. It was 6am, everyone was still asleep. I hesitated outside Neha’s bedroom door. It would be so easy to knock on the door, see her face, spend the day asleep in her arms. Taking a deep breath, I took a step back. I had to be strong. Fighting the urge to wake her, I rolled my luggage down the hall to my room.

 

Kicking off my stained white chucks, I collapsed on my bed. Grabbing my journal from the bedside table, I flicked it open to my last entry.

May 19th

Dear Diary,

Everything I thought was real is nothing but an illusion. When I’m with her, I forget everything and everyone else. Yesterday put everything in perspective. She fooled around with Henry the same day she’d fooled around with me. She insisted on staying in my room after she told me. She could tell I was upset. I needed my space, so I frantically left for the bathroom. I sat in the cubicle, thinking. Eventually I snuck out to Rita’s room downstairs and told her everything. That was before Neha figured out where I was and intruded my ‘safe space.’ Technically, Neha didn’t do anything wrong. I know we’re not in a relationship. But when we’re together, I don’t think straight. I love her. This has to be love. Why else would I let myself feel so much pain?

 

I turned the page, hovering my pen over the paper. I was too tired. My journal lay abandoned on the mattress as I rolled onto my stomach, letting sleep take hold of me.

 

*

 

The sound of laughter resounded from outside my window.

Groaning, I rolled onto my back, slowly opening my eyes. The room was almost completely dark, faintly lit by my phone screen. I grabbed my phone, squinting at the screen. Holy shit. How long was I asleep?

11.30am: Neha: Hey! Weren’t you supposed to be back early this morning?

4.30pm: Neha: I miss you. When will you be back?

Smiling at my phone, I bounced out of bed, fixing myself in the mirror. Tentatively, I stepped out into the hallway. Weird. It was so quiet. Everyone must be chilling in their rooms. I strolled down the hall to Neha’s room, knocking on her door.

‘One second!’ I listened to the bed squeak as she got up, making her way to the door. My foot tapped anxiously. I finally get to see her. She opened the door. Her high pitched squeal rung through my ears as she embraced me in a warm hug.

‘Oh my God, you’re here! When did you get back?’ she beamed. Her long, black hair hung softly over her grey Star Wars shirt.

‘6ish? I’ve been asleep since I got here,’ I laughed, leaning against her doorway.

‘How was it finally seeing your family?’ she exclaimed, perching herself at the head of her bed.

‘It was amazing…’ I shut the door behind me, approaching her bed. ‘I didn’t realise how much I missed my mum and bro till I saw them.’ I sat opposite her, her laptop between us. ‘Nadi was incredible. I wish I was rich and could take my mum anywhere. She’s done so much for Carl and I, raising us on her own.’

‘She did an amazing job.’ Our eyes met. Everything felt warm and fuzzy.

‘Thanks.’ All I wanted to do was close the space between us and kiss her.

Ding!

My eyes drifted to the laptop between us.

‘Oh, sorry. Were you on a call before I came in?’ I imagined Henry waving his crippled gamer fingers from behind his laptop screen.

‘Pfft, that can wait,’ she closed the laptop and set it aside. ‘I missed my masseuse,’ she grinned.

‘Eh, this masseuse has had enough of her bossy client,’ I teased. ‘Her name’s Neha. She thinks just because she’s studying to be a teacher, she can teach the master of masseusery?!’

‘Wow,’ Neha laughed. ‘And this bossy client has had enough of her masseuse thinking she can invent new words, just because she’s a writer. Masseusery? Really?’ I snorted.

‘Okay, who should go first?’ Neha routinely asked. She laughed, reading the look on my face. ‘Okay I’ll go first, as usual. You’ll just end up falling asleep if I massage you first.’

‘Hey! That was one time!’ I laughed.

I shifted to the side of the mattress, giving her space to lay on her stomach. She slowly slid off her shirt, revealing black laced panties. I’d seen them many times before, yet they still had the same effect. Taking a deep breath, I perched myself on top of her, gently squeezing coconut oil onto her back. I watched her tense as it trickled down the arch of her spine. Setting the bottle aside, I spread the oil across her soft skin. My thumbs moved in circular motions up and down the edges of her spine. She moaned in approval. My hands worked their way to her neck, moving in intricate circles. Leaning forward, I rested my body on hers, running my nails along her arms. I watched goosebumps form as my nails followed their familiar route along her arms, down the sides of her back. I felt her butt twitch against me as I reached her ticklish spot. I moaned in response, gripping her hips. She giggled, placing her arms protectively by her side.

I leaned in till my mouth was inches from her neck. She stifled a moan as my breath caressed her skin.

‘M-Mary, we talked about this. I thought we weren’t going do this anymore. It’s been 3 weeks since we’ve-’

‘I’ve been counting the days too.’ I ran my lips lightly over her skin, silencing her. ‘I need you.’ Gripping her hips, I pulled her body against my warmth.

‘M-Mary. This isn’t fair on you. We talked about this-’

‘I’m done talking,’ my fragmented thought process escaped my throat in a broken whisper. ‘I’ll be fine.’

‘Are you sure?’ Neha’s body spoke on behalf of her mind. Reaching back, she placed her hand over mine. Thoughts flooded my mind.

Soon we’ll be back in Sydney. That means no walking down the hall to Neha’s room in the middle of the night when I miss her. Which was most nights. No cuddling when I feel lonely. No massages to relieve my physical pain, briefly numbing my emotional scars. It was inevitable that this would come to an end. Things would never be the same once we leave Fiji. I was willing to hold on for as long as I could, before letting go.

‘Mary?’

I silently wiped a tear away with my shoulder, staring at the back of Neha’s head. I would regret this, I knew I would. ‘I’m sure.’

Our bodies became one as our minds watched on in be-known silence.

 

 

Download a PDF of ‘Heart of the Storm’

Tagged , , ,

Weathering the Storm, Claire Jones

Naomi stared up into the sky, darker and more threatening than the Sunday Nippers were used to.

The girls huddled together, like penguins in their matching swimsuits, trying to stay warm and protected from the sand being hurled at them by gusts of icy wind. The notoriously flat Collaroy surf was large and violent today. The water events had been called off and the sand events, Naomi hoped, would shortly follow.

‘Alright, Under Fourteens,’ the supervisor called, ‘take your marks.’

Reluctantly, the girls separated and took their places – their backs facing the water. Naomi knelt on the sand, inching back until her toes found the groove of the freshly drawn line. She gave a quick glance down the line of competitors before lying flat on her stomach. The sand felt cold against her body as she folded her hands neatly on top of each other, elbows out to the side.

‘Heads up.’

Naomi raised her head up from the sand and stared out at the Collaroy Surf Club in front of her. The normally bright yellow building dulled in the absence of any sun. She turned her gaze right, about a kilometre down the sand, to the two-story houses that lined the beach – hers amongst them. In their back garden that opened onto the sand stood the lean-to shelter her father had built. It displayed the first surfboard he’d ever used and his father’s before that, spanning four generations. The limited space of the lean-to was currently occupied by a small group of mothers, including her own, taking refuge from the wild weather. Naomi envied them.

‘Heads down.’

Naomi placed her chin back down on her folded arms, her body clenched tight with cold and nervous anticipation. The optimistically applied sunscreen stuck grains of sand to her arms, smelling thickly of creamy chemicals and salt.

Phwoot!

The whistle blew and Naomi jumped to her feet, turning to run into the wind for the hosepipes sticking out of the sand a few meters behind her. She plucked a hose from the end of the row as she ran past it, sand hitting her legs as two girls beside her dove for the same flag. Satisfied, she gave the hose to the supervising lifeguard and returned to the start as the course was reset.

Walking back to the line, she picked her father out from amongst a group of lifesavers gathered closely together under the big red tent. This wasn’t unusual, quite the opposite, but Naomi could tell from the way he and the others were standing, furrowed brows and arms crossed or gesticulating wildly between the waves and the buildings, that something was off. She lay back down on her stomach, ready for the whistle. But her eyes and mind were still on her father. It’s not a shark, or someone in trouble, or they’d by running for the rubber ducky, she thought. A big rip? No, they don’t need a group talk about moving the flags. What’s going on?

Lost in thought, she didn’t register the starting whistle, springing up a second after the others. Damn! She was close enough to her neighbour to be in with a chance if she dived, but Naomi didn’t like diving into the sand – that’s what the ocean was for. She kicked at the sand where the flag had been and headed over to the tent.

‘Out already, Naomi? What happened there?’ Paul asked.

Naomi shrugged. ‘Just wasn’t concentrating, I guess.’

‘Not to worry.’ Paul clapped her on the back. ‘You’ll get ‘em next time.’

‘Is everything okay? You’re all looking worried.’

Paul took a deep breath, recreating his troubled stance from before.

‘There’s a low pressure system moving in from the east, apparently bringing one heck of a storm with it.’

‘A cyclone?’

‘No, sorry love,’ Paul laughed. ‘Just a big, windy storm with some pretty sizable waves.’

‘Will you have to close the beach?’

‘Yeah, we’re starting to send people on their way now.’

Meanwhile, the company of mothers in their yard had dispersed. Trinny, Naomi’s least favourite of the mother’s group, approached them. Her whiter-than-white smile looking even more unnatural against the ever-darkening skies. Please don’t talk to us, please don’t talk to us, please don-

‘Paul! Darling! Young Mark over there was telling me you’ll likely be evacuated with these king tides. Well, you three are always welcome with us up on the plateau there. You could keep an eye on your house from the lounge!’ Paul smiled tightly while Naomi tried to mask her horror.

‘Thanks, Trinny. But we’ll be right. People like to over-warn to avoid lawsuits.’

‘Well, if you’re sure, darling. My door’s always open if you change your mind!’ Trinny gave Naomi’s arm an intrusive squeeze and, after an uncomfortable wink in Paul’s direction, she was gone.

Paul let out a frustrated sigh. ‘Look, Naomi… even if we end up being evacuated, it’ll only be as a precaution. Your mum will probably want to pack up a few things just in case. But I promise you, there’s nothing to worry about.’

Naomi felt a slightly terrified thrill working its way up her chest. Her cousins in the Blue Mountains had been evacuated countless times during the fire seasons, and she thought it sounded like quite an adventure. Nothing like that ever happened to Naomi and secretly, she resented it. Maybe this year she’d have a good story to share at the Christmas table.

The heavy clouds unleashed, rainfall rapidly building. The yellow sand turned dark and the beachgoers were sent packing. It was then that Naomi’s mother, Angela, arrived from the house, bringing Paul a travel mug of fresh coffee and a kiss on the cheek.

‘Will you be needed here for long?’

‘Only about an hour after the beach is closed. I think the weather will keep people away.’

‘I gave my mother a call after I saw the storm warnings. She’s happy to have us if needs be.’

‘Thank god,’ Naomi said with relief, ‘I’d rather drown than spend ten minutes with Trinny.’

‘Naomi!’ Angela gasped, giving her a light slap on the shoulder. ‘We’d better get to the house, start packing what we can.’

‘Just in case,’ insisted Paul.

‘Just in case.’ Naomi nodded back.

 

 *

That evening, Naomi stood at the window of her unlit bedroom, the immense power of the storm shaking the window in its frame. It was exhilarating being so close to the raw elements, only the tremoring glass pane separating her from the thrashing storm. The rain pounded relentlessly on every surface. The streetlight cast the trees’ shadows against her wall, moving violently from side to side. The weakest were branches ripped from the trunks and flung in every direction. She was transfixed. What would that feel like, to be at nature’s mercy? Could I end up in Oz, like Dorothy?

A deafening crack came from somewhere nearby and the street was plunged into darkness. Before iPhones, a blackout always meant her parents pulling down the candles from the top of the pantry, the three of them sitting in the dim light around the dining room table. They’d draw pictures and play cards or board games until it was time for bed. That was the part Naomi looked forward to most. Getting ready for bed while her mother followed her around with a candle made her feel like an eighteenth century princess. For nostalgia’s sake, she fumbled through her cupboards for a candle and matches by the light of her phone. She placed the lit candle on the windowsill and sat down in the middle of the room, hugging her crossed legs to her chest and staring at the orange glow against the black.

Not long after the blackout the Emergency Evacuation Alert had come through on their phones. Naomi was breathless; whether from fear or excitement she could not tell. She bombarded her parents with questions as they drove their packed car up to Angela’s mother’s house on higher ground, asking, could their house get flooded? (Possibly.) Would next-door’s fish drown? (No.) Could Grandma get evacuated too? (Unlikely.) After much fussing from her grandmother, Naomi had settled on a roll-out bed in front of the unseasonably lit living room fire, her parents on the fold-out couch behind her. The fire crackled, it’s heat warming her face. Rain pelted down in the background , the occasional clap of thunder barely discernible above the wind. Naomi had assumed her parents had fallen asleep until her father spoke softly.

‘Say it.’

‘What?’

‘I know what you’re thinking, just say it.’

Angela sighed reluctantly. ‘I’d feel a lot better right now if the sea wall had been put in. I wouldn’t keep imagining the beach collapsing from under our house.’

‘Ange, if a seawall had been put in, there’d be no beach to collapse. No nippers for Naomi, no life saving for me. Just a kilometre-long concrete slab.’

‘You don’t know that, Paul. Not for sure.’ Angela paused before mumbling, ‘I don’t think Naomi even likes nippers.’

Naomi could remember the seawall causing conflict between her parents a year or two before.

 

*

‘Do you know what we’re doing here, Naomi?’

Naomi shook her head, eyes squinting in the glare of the morning sun. Her hand felt tiny, grasped in her father’s.

‘We’re drawing a line in the sand,’ Paul said.

Naomi looked out at the line of people stretched along the beach, from Narrabeen to Collaroy, where they stood.

‘Woah! It looks like hundreds of people!’

‘Thousands!’ Paul grinned widely.

‘Millions?!’

‘No, honey,’ Angela said flatly, adjusting her sunglasses and looking at her watch.

The seawall had been a contentious topic at the dinner table the night before.

‘There’s no evidence that sea walls will prevent coastal erosion,’ Paul had insisted. ‘In fact, it may well do the opposite. The water will just hit the walls and drag the sand back in. Eventually there’ll be no beach left.’

‘Trinny was saying -’ Angela started.

‘Oh god, not Trinny.’

‘She was saying that the council could use all the sand they dredge from Narrabeen Lake and some of the other lagoons to replenish the beach.’

‘That’s not just sand, that’s sediment and sea grass and all sorts of crap. Do you want to turn our beach grey? That Trinny is an idiot.’

‘Let’s hear your great idea then, Paul.’

Paul leant back in his chair, clasping his hands behind his head. ‘Not my job. That’s what the local government and its fancy think tanks are for.’

Angela had simply shaken her head in an angry silence as she cleared up the plates to the kitchen.

‘We’ll show ‘em what’s what at the protest tomorrow, eh?’ Paul had said to Naomi with a wink. Naomi scrunched up the left side of her face and blinked hard in an attempt to wink back.

 

 *

The storm raged on for another twenty-four hours. Naomi was glued to her iPhone, transfixed by the images and videos on social media capturing the increasing severity of the damage. Narrabeen Lake had spilled over, flooding sections of the main road. People were filmed kayaking in the side streets.

‘Idiots,’ Angela said, shaking her head.

‘Still not as stupid as the people driving through the flood waters,’ Paul replied.

‘You wouldn’t run into a bushfire, so don’t drive into a flood,’ Naomi read aloud from her Facebook feed. Then she saw it.

An eleven second clip taken the night before by one of the Collaroy residents, showing a backyard pool being dragged into the sea along with barbeques, garbage bins and outdoor furniture. Police lights flashed in the background. What was on the other side of the pool punctured a hole in Naomi’s stomach. Is that…

Her back garden. At least, it was where her back garden used to be. Now it was a straight drop into the tide, barely a metre from their back door.

‘Dad? Dad!

The lean-to was gone. The family’s boards were nowhere to be seen. The table, chairs, her mother’s roses, those were replaceable. But…

‘Shit.’

‘Paul! Language!’ Paul took the phone from Naomi and showed it to Angela.

‘Oh my god. Oh, Paul. Wha – what do we – how will…’ Angela trailed off in despair. Paul handed Naomi her phone. He left the room without a word. Naomi felt paralysed. She had wanted something exciting to happen. But nothing like this. She felt her mother’s arms wrap around her shoulders.

‘It’s okay, Nomi,’ Angela whispered. ‘We’ll be okay.’

 

*

Naomi waded into shore, looking out at the reserve that now separated Collaroy beach from Pittwater road. Small children with ice cream-smeared faces played on the grass as their parents watched from a picnic table. That used to be my living room. Water dripped from her hair onto the sand as she bent to collect her belongings. She straightened, car keys firmly in hand, and noticed her father’s dusky orange van beside her dented Mazda in the car park. She spotted him stepping off the short wall that separated grass from sand. He held a close-to-melting ice cream in each hand.

‘A graduation present.’ Paul held out an ice cream. ‘Congratulations.’

Naomi exchanged it for a kiss on the cheek and sat down on the wall, toes digging into the dry sand. It’d been six months since she saw him last. She’d stayed with him in Byron Bay shortly after her mother’s wedding, Naomi and her grandmother vacating the house in lieu of a proper honeymoon.

‘How long are you here for this time?’ Naomi asked, catching drips of ice cream with her tongue.

‘Just for the week, then I’ll spend a few days in Coff’s on my way back. Do you want to join me?’

Naomi counted out the days in her head, realising with disappointment that she had to work.

‘Another time.’ Paul promised.

Naomi watched as Paul looked around behind her, biting into the cone as he contemplated the recreational area standing in place of the houses. Once it had become clear the large-scale storms would be a more than annual occurrence, beachfront homes at Collaroy, like Naomi’s, were no longer viable. Bit by bit, the land was sold back to the state and transformed into a reserve. Though Paul had held out for as long as possible, Angela and Naomi having already moved in permanently with Naomi’s grandmother, the fight was eventually one he could no longer afford.

Naomi gave him a friendly nudge. ‘At least the beach is still here, right?’

‘Yeah,’ Paul conceded. ‘They could’ve done worse.’

‘Speaking of, Dad…’

‘Mm?’

‘Trinny sends her love.’

‘Naomi, that’s not even funny.’

 

Download a PDF of ‘Weathering the Storm’

Tagged ,