Tag Archives: violence

Wonder Boy, James Melham

Photo by Gursimrat Ganda on Unsplash

Tom waited impatiently at the metal doors for the countdown to reach zero. The lights had all been turned down in anticipation, as if for fireworks, or for a comet to pass, and the numbers above the doors glowed red. From here, Tom and his roommate had listened to the riots on the streets below. They had opened up the curtains to watch through the large clean windows the first flecks of ash fall from air as the bushfires began. They had looked on with increasing misery as the ash piled up like snow on the disused cars and the broken down brick walls, and the hours turned to days and then into months. Tom’s heart beat against his ribcage with increasing vigour, but he wasn’t scared, at least he didn’t think he was. For the first time in a very long time, they were going outside.

Tom kicked the door.

‘Hey man,” his roommate began, ‘are you okay?’

Tom could see the blurry reflection of his roommate behind him. He could also hear him sucking in air through his mask noisily.

‘Yeah Wonder Boy, just mind your own business, okay?’

If the door didn’t open up soon, Tom thought he would throttle his roommate. Not that he could. Wonder Boy would definitely kick his ass again.

Hurry up.

 

– One minute to go –

 

Wonder Boy had arrived the week before the fifth lockdown and things had started out well enough. Tom remembered how they had played board games, watched re-runs of soccer matches, talked all night about anything and everything.

Wonder Boy would spend hours telling Tom about all the trophies he had won, back when there were trophies to win. He described in vivid detail the glamorous parties he had gone to, the nights he had spent with beautiful women.

It hadn’t bothered Tom that he had never won any trophies; he had never been on any dates either. He used to imagine it was him in the stories, winning those trophies, going on dates, having parties thrown in his honour. Not spending what should have been his high school years looking after his mother, cleaning up the puke from the hallway, hiding his money in the oven, or listening to his mother retching into the toilet in the middle of the night. The stories were a welcome distraction from the memories of repeatedly collecting his mother from rehab, and mere weeks later, returning her again like an unwanted Christmas pet.

In the end it wasn’t the booze that had killed her, she drowned.

In the last few weeks, the weeks following the announcement that they would be let outside, things had begun to go wrong. The stories had become different somehow. They had grown stale, but even more than that, they had become offensive: a never-ending list of things that Tom never had, and never would have. At least Wonder Boy had had glory days. What had Tom had?

Two weeks prior there had been an argument over what to watch on television that had descended, as many drunken arguments do, into something personal. At its conclusion, Wonder Boy had wanted an explanation of why Tom ‘had been such a dick lately’ and Tom had been happy to tell him. The problem, Tom had said, badly slurring, was not the TV, not the stories, it was that Wonder Boy snored so fucking noisily, breathed noisily, ate noisily, showered noisily, exercised noisily, masturbated noisily, he lived too noisily. There was not enough of the grey room for both of them… Wonder Boy needed to go.

Tom had tried to hit Wonder Boy with an empty bottle. Had he meant to kill him? No, just to concuss him a little bit. To have just a few small hours of peace and quiet. But it was Tom that went sprawling over a footstool, shattering the glass bottle on the floor and slicing a hole in his elbow that bled sticky red wine on the carpet.

Tom kicked the door again.

On the security monitor, Anne and her roommate from 6C appeared in the corridor, returning to the room opposite. Her hair was windswept and covered in ash like confetti. She was beautiful in a way that rewired things in Tom’s brain and stopped him from doing simple things such as talking.

‘Hey man, look it’s the girls,’ Wonder Boy said, abruptly interrupting Tom’s daydream. He reached over Tom to bang on the door and smacked against Toms shoulder repeatedly in the process.

The two girls smiled at the camera and waved before quickly disappearing into their room.

 

– BEEP –

 

The locks on either side of the door shot back into the walls and the door sprang open automatically, sending a gust of air and residual ash into the clean room.

‘Go-Go-Go!’ Wonder Boy shouted excitedly, shoving Tom out into the corridor.

Tom tripped and staggered forward, falling in a heap against the door of 6C. Tom could feel the girls watching on their monitor.

‘You fucking asshole,’ he said, ‘what was that for?’

‘Sorry man,’ Wonder Boy replied with a shrug.

Tom pushed away Wonder Boy’s attempts to help him up and got to his feet. It was the second time that Wonder Boy had laid him out in as many weeks and Tom could feel his face and his fists throbbing with embarrassment and anger.

If it had been the other way around Tom wouldn’t have shoved Wonder Boy, he would’ve warned him that the countdown was nearly up, he would’ve given him a subtle poke that said ‘hey buddy, let’s go.’ He wouldn’t have made his roommate look like an asshole was the point. Next time it was Wonder Boys turn. That fucker was in for it next time, yes sir.

Tom walked through the lobby and swung open the heavy doors that led outside, rattling the thick glass panels set into the frames.

A strong wind sent hot flecks of ash and dust into his face that, despite his goggles and mask, made Tom turn away from their approach. Only a bland white light now penetrated through the veil of swirling ash and smoke and the image of desolation that greeted him was more painful than he had imagined it to be.

‘Hey man,’ Wonder Boy called. ‘Sorry I pushed you.’

‘What!?’ Tom could barely hear him in the gusting wind.

‘I said I am sorry I pushed you!’

Tom wished he would stop being so fucking nice. But then again, he did just apologise. And perhaps a little shove was better than missing the exit window because he had zoned out.

That would have looked even worse.

Right?

High above the ash clouds two water bombers zoomed overhead, returning from dousing the endless bush fires, to refill and refuel. Later that afternoon one of the bombers would hit a tall red brick tower in the eastern suburbs that had been hiding in the ash storm all these months, waiting to kill everyone on board.

The HyperMart was Tom’s destination, mostly because it was the only building, shop, or anything else still open now. It was an old-fashioned shopping mall with all but one of the entrances blocked and all of the windows shuttered against the ash storm, which became worse as they drew near.

At the entryway, Tom placed his Vax Cert and ID face down on the scanners and the machine vomited out a little slip of paper with the words ENTER printed on it in blurry red lettering.

‘What do we need to get?’ Wonder Boy asked as he emerged from the doorway.
He had removed his mask and gloves and smiled at Tom with his oh-so-perfect white teeth. He knew exactly what they needed. They had already discussed how far their credits would go and what they would be spent on at least a million times.

‘We need milk, bread, eggs, chocolate, whisky, cigarettes and replacement filters for the masks,’ Tom replied.

‘Great, can you get those?’ Wonder Boy said, handing over his wallet.

‘I’m going to take a look around.’

‘What?’ Tom was on one hand relieved he didn’t have to do all of the shopping with Wonder Boy, but he was also equally pissed off that Wonder Boy expected him to do all the work.

‘Don’t worry man,’ Wonder Boy said, ‘I’ve got my phone in case I see anything good.’

Tom stood speechless for a moment. He could feel the vein in his temple bulging and sweat beginning to prick his forehead. He wanted to look around too, but they only had an hour and it took twenty minutes to get to the HyperMart. If he went gallivanting off like some sort of doomsday tourist, they would be stuck with goddamn Government beans until the next countdown. Why was he always the one left holding the bag? Why did he have to do the shit work? That fucking asshole was going to get it one of these days all right, Wonder Boy my ass.

After a brief search, Tom found a filter dispenser beside a disused cola vending machine near the old cinema. Tom pressed the button for a pack of twenty-five filters and inserted Wonder Boy’s credit card. If he was doing the shopping, he wasn’t doing the paying. He noticed that the plastic frontage of the cola machine was smashed in and where Santa’s jolly face had once been was a black hole.

Tom put the filters in his pocket and returned the card to Wonder Boy’s wallet, noticing his Vax Cert and ID were still both inside. Tom removed the Vax Cert, newly printed that morning on one of those horrible cheap pieces of paper that doctors used to use for prescriptions, and without thinking tore it in half and dropped the two pieces onto the floor. One half landed in a puddle of coolant seeping out of the Cola machine and began to coil up.

After Tom had bought the groceries, he walked back to the entrance thinking about the Vax Cert. If anything, he thought, Wonder Boy deserved to lose his Vax Cert by not keeping it with him at all times, like you were supposed to.

But there was that thought again, was he actually that bad? Did he deserve to have his Vax Cert torn in half? He did play shitty music, and he did jerk off three times a night. But it could’ve been worse right?

Fuck fuckety fuck.

Wonder Boy was definitely NOT going to get through the security checkpoint, and he would know exactly who was to blame. Tom could picture it. Wonder Boy would be all like ‘Hey man, where’s my certificate?’ And Tom would be all like ‘what certificate?’ and then Wonder Boy would say ‘it was in my wallet that you had,’ and then the shit would hit the fan.

Tom wondered if it would be worse if Wonder Boy hit him, or if Wonder Boy was arrested.

Being hit, duh.

And right on cue, there was Wonder Boy coming down the strip of boarded up shops at a jog.

Fuck fuck fuck.

‘Hey man,’ Wonder Boy said, ‘how’d you go?’

‘Yeah fine,’ Tom replied, ‘here’s your stupid wallet. Let’s go.’

Tom went through the security door, scanned his Vax Cert and ID, prompting the machine to vomit out another little ticket that said EXIT, but this time the red letters were smeared across the length of the cheap paper.

Tom considered for a moment that maybe he could just go back to the room and forget all about Wonder Boy. He wouldn’t have to see him get arrested. He wouldn’t be accused of anything.

The silence of the room sang to him in the same way that booze had sung his mother’s name for so many years. He could read the news without listening to Wonder Boy’s goddamned breathing, or his goddamned music. Tom decided to go.

‘Hey Tom!’

After a few minutes, Tom heard his name on the wind.

‘Hey Tommy!’

Was he going fucking crazy?

‘Tom!’

There it was again, this time louder. Tom wasn’t imagining it. He turned towards the HyperMart, and there was Wonder Boy coming once more at a jog.

‘Hey,’ Wonder Boy said as he caught up, ‘sorry I couldn’t find my Vax Cert, but the guy there let me through anyway.’

Tom clenched his teeth behind his mask. He felt angry, although he wasn’t sure why. Was it because he hadn’t been found out? Or was it because Wonder Boy was still going to be there when he got back? How nice would it have been if Wonder Boy had been stopped at the gate, how good?

Tom suddenly felt like he was driving his mother home from the hospital again, knowing that tonight would be another night of listening to her coughing and laughing and puking.

‘Anyway, I guess I will have to get a new one,’ Wonder Boy said. ‘No biggie.’

Wonder Boy began walking quickly through the storm and Tom followed. He was thinking about Wonder Boy, thinking about his mother.

Fucker.

Tom could hear himself breathing audibly through his mask now; it was difficult to keep up with Wonder Boy.

That smug fuck.

Tom’s heart raced as images of the previously empty apartment were filled with Wonder Boy’s presence, his noise, his smell, his mere being was surely enough to drive anyone insane. It wasn’t Tom’s fault, it was completely understandable to feel this way. Tom remembered how he had been pushed over, how he had been thrown through the doorway. That noise every night. He needed the room to himself. He needed quiet. He needed Wonder Boy to go away. Like he had needed his mother to go away.

Yet all it had taken then was to run her a warm bath and hold her under, was this so different?

Tom bent down and retrieved a brick from beneath the smooth blanket of ash.

Tom reached the apartment with seconds to spare. The previously clean grey room had a layer of dust and ash on the carpet and Tom trod dark footprints across the floor to the basin. His sleeve was warm and wet and ash clung to the deep red stain that had appeared there. Tom’s face was colourless in the mirror aside from two dark grey ash streaks that ran down his cheeks. It was quiet at last, aside from the sound of a siren wailing in the distance.

 

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The Emperor’s Path, Nicholas Wasiliev

Thirty days have September,
April, June and November
February is alright,
It only rains from morning till night,
All the rest have thirty one,
Without a single day of sun
And if any month had thirty two,
They’d be bloody raining too!
– Anonymous, Kundasang War Memorial, Sabah, Malaysia

We are forgotten.

Alfie and Howard call out. Think they’re being pushed somewhere.

‘Keep it up Harvey!’

‘Don’t let that cage get to ya mate!’

So fucking good to hear them. I put my eye to the widest slit between the bars of bamboo. Can only see the outline of the same Jungle Pine that I saw yesterday.

Fucking bamboo. Every fucking sturdy building here is made from it. The locals make use of it in bloody everything. Wish the Japs designed this cage so I could stretch my legs without crushing my neck.

Think it has been three days in here. It’s hard telling the time when you can barely see the sun. The heat and humidity helps: it’s midday when the heat gets to you; after that it’s afternoon. And at night you’d freeze, of course.

You know it’s morning when you hear our fellas walking on their way down to make repairs to the airfield that we built back three years gone, when we got here after Singapore. You never hear them coming back; Japs make sure we work.

Mornings are the best. Just hearing those boys going past, particularly Alfie and Howard. Reminds me of where I am, cause sometimes this cage does things to you.

We’re members of 2/15th Regiment, and have been since we joined up in 1940. Alfie is a Queenslander, a league boy like me. He signed up because he wanted to check out his mother’s roots. She was a Scottish girl before she emigrated and had him, so Alfie figured that because Europe was where the war was, he could go ‘home’ whenever we got leave.

Howie’s a Victorian, his father played in the VFL for Collingwood. He signed up for the same reason I did; both our fathers had served in the Great War, our grandfathers the Boer War before that. So we got on pretty quickly.

We did basic together in Singapore; that’s when Pearl Harbour happened. So when we were told that we were at war with Japan, we thought it would be a walk in the park. Then Singapore happened.

As guests of the emperor, we were put on a ship to Sandakan, this little hidden pocket of nowhere, to build an airstrip. We quickly found out how hospitable Japs were.

Those fuckers remove any honour we have; they just try to break us. They even started making up rumours that Australia was being invaded.

Three days back one high’n’mighty little Jap came by the mess hall while Alfie and I were sharing the most heavenly cig that we’d exchanged with a Sandakan fella. So this Jap started sounding off about our cities being bombed. One bloke asked about Sydney.

‘Sydney yes!’ came the answer, ‘boom, boom, boom!’

‘Brisbane?’ Alfie asked.

‘Yes, Brisbane! Up in flames! Boom!’

‘Bullshit?’ I asked.

‘Yes, Bullshit, boom, boom, boom!’

Our blokes couldn’t stop laughing. So, after a typical beating that yellow-stained shit throws me in this cage for being a smart arse. Speak for himself!

We never believe their crap. The locals had come by our camp a few months back and exchanged a broken radio with Howie for two of his gold teeth. We got it working and found that the Yanks had turned the war.

We spread the news, telling our blokes ‘…what the kingfisher was telling us’, so the Japs had no fucking clue that we knew they were losing. Made us think that maybe one day, our fighting lads will come save us.

It’s easy to get carried away thinking like that. I did it myself last night!

As always, the Japs checked the cages as always to see who was dead. Then they gave me my first drink in three days.

But the Japs are no problem. It’s the silence, when it’s not broken by the occasional shot. Only sounds are the jungle: soaking rain that comes down in the afternoon and doesn’t stop till the next morning, and the heat that sticks, rips and rots the seams of whatever is left of your uniform and boots.

The silence makes you listen for our boys. You hear them coming, flying in like angels, raining hell on these gits, then taking us far away from this hell-hole.

I hate waking up after that dream. See what I mean?! This cage does things to you. Hope. My best friend and worst enemy—

A Jap unbolts the lock, and flings the cage door open. ‘Speedo, Speedo,’ he barks.

The light fucking blinds me. The Jap grabs my arm in his fist and I fly into the mud. I look for some sort of landmark, and see that lifesaving Jungle Pine. Eyes on it, I get myself to stand up. It’s helping my eyes adjust.

The Jap pulls out another bloke from the cage next door. He’s got ulcers on his ankle larger than a 50p piece. And I see his fucking bone. Looks like he has the runnies too. Must be cholera. Half the boys have it.

The Jap beats him to get him up. He isn’t moving. So the Jap shoots him in the head.

He pulls more of us from all the cages, one-by-one, putting a bullet in anyone who doesn’t get up. Doesn’t matter whether they’re sick or injured.

Another Jap makes us walk. Fucking hurts to put one foot in front of the other, but it’s good to be out of the bloody box. The view down this path stretches out to an open muddy space outside the mess hall.

This view always reminds me of the view from my veranda back home, with the huge paddock of brown grass, and old pine trees lining the driveway. My brother and I used to call them pines ‘carrot trees’, cause they looked like giant green carrots sticking up out of the ground. Was peaceful there too, apart from the sounds of Dad shooting rabbits—

There’s a couple hundred of us outside the mess hall, all shunted in here like beef cattle. I see Howie and Alfie.

‘You little bastard! Nice of you to join us for our little gathering,’ Alfie laughs.

Howie offers me a cigarette. ‘You have to suck the Jap’s cock to let you out?’

‘Nup, just used charm. Bet you would’ve done that.’ I missed these buggers.

A Jap shouts at us to move into two lines, taking my cig before I can light it. ‘No smoking!’

We all squeeze up; they start walking us, out of the camp towards the jungle.

I remember seeing some of our guys being led out like this a month or so ago. Apparently the Japs want to move us inland somewhere, to some place called Ranau. Probably cause our air force boys are getting ready to kick the shit out of them. Well, sorry Japs, but marching us a few kilometres inland ain’t gonna do much when you’re flying in a fucking plane.

I hate jungle. Of all bastard places, this is the greatest bastard. It’s always raining, and on the rare occasions it isn’t, the humidity makes you wish it might as well be. The scrub sticks into you more effectively than barbed wire – any cuts from that always get infected. That and the mozzies that eat you alive, and you can barely see due to how thick the canopy is. Jungle works better than any fence; we knew if we ever escaped in our malnourished state we’d be dead within a day. That was if we weren’t caught first.

We’re being led up a steep path, looks like it has been recently cut. The mozzies feast on us as we all climb; humidity crawls its way into us through our breathing and weighs us down. We’re weak, tired, injured, and sick. How do they expect us to climb this?

We march a few hours. How we do that, I don’t know.

Then there’s a foot in my periphery. A bloke has collapsed, his body wrapped in beri-beri by the looks of it. A few boys try help him up, but a Jap pushes us on ahead.

A few minutes later we hear piercing echoes from behind us cut through the trees. Soon, that same Jap walks past us, his gun sizzling from falling water droplets. He looks down and wipes bits of brain off his lapel, then grabs a dirty white handkerchief out of his pocket and wipes his face.

If I ever get outta this, I’m gonna put thirty bullets through that fuckers forehead.

He walks on ahead. I see above him through the canopy a mountain, towering above the rest of the hills we’re travelling over. We know this mountain. The local fellas praise it like no tomorrow, cause some mountain spirit is there. Its slopes are steep and monoliths of rock strut out on its summit, like a crown of thorns.

I fucking hate this mountain. Feels like it’s looking down at us, contempt little toy soldiers! Fuck you!

I see Howie; his eyes are to the ground, breathing hard.

‘You see Alfie?’ I ask between breaths.

‘Haven’t seen him since we left. He’s probably behind us,’ Howie spits in the mud. He’s struggling.

‘Keep it up mate. Think about your girls Double-Ds, that’ll put a spring in your step.’

‘Fuck you.’ Howie shakes his head.

Howie had a missus for close to two years. He’d been planning to marry her before the war got in the way. He didn’t like it when Alfie and I try to get him to talk about her; he liked to keep her for himself. Lucky bastard.

I’ve never been with a girl. Not even a smooch. Mother told me I had to be a gentleman to women when I moved from home to the city. First girl I’d spoken to properly was a girl who watched my first Manly Colts game. Her brother was the captain. We didn’t talk about much outside of what happened on the field.

Eventually, after a few more mountains, the night arrives quietly, but with it the rain. We stop for a break, which is a blessing. Howie collapses. Come on you!

I steady him on a stump next to me, before falling against a tree myself. I listen, hoping to maybe hear our fighter planes. Fucking silence makes you think like that. I drift out quickly.

I’m back home. Dad is showing me how to use his old sniper from the Great War. Think this was from a few years back. He likes shooting rabbits to stop them eating his beef cattle’s grass. Those gunshots across the farm are such comfort, means Dad is home; making rabbits drop like flies. He never misses.

Mother doesn’t like him showing us how to use his sniper; she said he spent more time polishing it than he did with her. But we still love him. At dusk everyday he’d march back home, rifle over his right shoulder, with half-a-dozen rabbits for that nights stew. We marched behind him; playing toy soldiers. At night, we’d eat with Mother inside, but Dad sits out on the front porch, eating by himself. He’d be there all night. We’d always drift off to sounds of him wiping his nose with his old handkerchief. He always sniffled at night—

The jungle welcomes me back. A Jap is beating everyone awake to be on their feet.

I’m alive? I genuinely thought I would not wake up. How unbelievable. I look over at Howie on the stump next to me, his body deathly still.

I poke him to get him up. Doesn’t move.

‘Howie?’ I poke him a few more times.

Then I get it. I’m not bullshitting myself.

I’m glad he didn’t have to wake up to this again.

We start walking in lines, going past the lucky ones who didn’t wake up. I don’t know how I’m still going. I’m just walking. One foot. Then the other.

All Japs are bastards, especially their emperor. Suppose this is how they do it in Japan, make a path just to watch how many of us drop. It’s probably some cultural thing. I remember in basic training when they talked about the psychology of the Jap, how they all had the mentalities of dark-age warriors. I almost feel sorry for these Japs around me, they probably did not even know what a gun was till the war.

There’s a mist coming down. I hear shouting up ahead. There’s a boy leaning on a bamboo tree. His eyes are staring into the canopy, dunno what he is looking at.

A bunch of boys are trying to get him to stand up. You can do it mate. Come on! Why aren’t you getting up?!

Two Japs shout at him. He keeps staring. So they bayonet him a dozen times. His eyes are still looking in the same place.

I’m just walking.

A few hours later the man in front of me collapses, so a Jap blows him away through the back of the neck. He gasps, air escaping from his lungs as he desperately tries to take a few last breaths.

One foot, then the other.

This fucking mist. The fucking trees. The fucking rain! More mud and more fucking rain. I’m just walking.

Minutes go by…

Hours go by…

I’m just walking…

Hours…

Hours…

No one’s coming for us. No one will ever come. They’ve left us here. Alone.

Are we nothing? Just absolutely fucking nothing?! I guess to you we are.

I feel a bit dizzy; there’s mud… around my knees, I think. I’m just looking through the mist, looking… For something.

Is that…?

I think I can hear engines. It’s our boys! There’s a Jap shouting at me, but he doesn’t matter. It’s over for him.

I’m saved! I can’t wait to see home – Dad and Mother will be waiting for me. I’ll be with my brother. We’ll see Dad’s face at the sight of his sons in uniform marching up the hill towards him. No toy soldiers anymore, now we are real men. They’ll sit us down to a beautiful roast chicken, with pumpkin, onions, and boiled potatoes. And Dad won’t be out on the veranda anymore. He’s with us. We’ll sit and eat as a family.

There’s something cold touching the back of my neck. A sound pops my eardrums. I feel a sudden need to grab the back of my head, I have to stop something flowing—

It stopped.

‘When you go home, tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrow, we gave our today’
– Australian Kundasang War Memorial, Sabah, Malaysia

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Picking Pockets, Elise Fowler

I, Jacob Henly, state the following to be a truthful account of my whereabouts and activities on the night of Tuesday 8th June.

*

Working in the city on weeknights you’re always going to meet some crazies. Most customers are those finishing late in the office or off to work night-shifts. Sometimes, you have the every-night’s-a-party types stumble in to refuel on Gatorade and processed sugar. But, you never really get much of the homeless coming in.

It was a Tuesday night when she came rushing into the convenience store where I work; her head down, hands stuffed in her pockets. She was quite obviously homeless with her messy hair shielding her face and old clothes dirtied irreparably. My boss always made it clear to us employees that we need to ‘keep a close eye on them hobos. Their fingers are surprisingly quick for the amount of drugs they’re hopped up on’. Yeah, my boss is a bit of a prick. I never really understood this warning because I’ve never had any of them come in, so I don’t usually pay him much attention. But, looking at this one, I thought his warnings were on point.

Working alone in the city isn’t always the safest job, but me being male, six foot two, and having some meat on my bones help a lot in sticky situations. As in, my height means I can easily keep an eye on those suspicious-looking customers who spend a bit too long looking through one aisle only to purchase nothing. This one hadn’t left aisle 3.

I put down my phone, where I was writing up my statistics essay for uni in my notes, and stood up to have a look.

The girl leaned forward and paused as if to pick some things up and turned away from me for a moment. She then moved quickly back up the aisle, as if to flee out the exit. I scrambled awkwardly out from behind the register, banging my knee against the doorway in the process. Dammit, I’ll get a nice bruise out of that one.

She was almost at the exit, but I got there first.

‘Sorry mate, but I’m going to need those back now,’ my tone spoke of no nonsense and I turned my palm up to her.

Dirty blonde hair clung together in dry clumps. Her eyes darted around the store, returning to me, jumping from me, and back again. She breathed in deep fast breaths as she backed slowly away from my advancing figure. In her front pocket, she held something. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it didn’t belong to her.

She was shaking quite violently. I’d dealt with plenty of kids stealing here, but none of them had looked as terrified as the one before me. Her eyes screamed at me when they skittered past mine, her feet shuffled as if she was ready to bolt at any time.

I stopped my advance, ‘Come on, just give it back,’ I tried to smooth my rough voice, but failed. It sounded more like a low growl.

Her clumped hair whacked her cheeks as she jerked her head back and forth. Her dress hung off her, cracked, creased, and stained. The dress came to just above scabbing knees, dried blood smudged over her shins. Her feet were bare.

‘Look, I’m not going to hurt you. But, you have to give it back… now,’ I used my normal voice this time, hoping for a better reaction this time.

Her wide eyes stopped moving and focused their intensity right on me, but she didn’t move her hands.

Enough was enough. ‘Oi, show me your hands now, girl, or I’ll call the cops.’ My voice echoed throughout the space in the small store, ‘You want to spend the night in jail? Huh?’

Her already wide eyes grew and she released a small sob.

She lifted her arms first, guiding her shaking hands out of the pockets. Freshly drawn blood clung to the fingers and palms, though I saw no source for it on her. In one hand she clutched some blood-stained package of bandages, in the other was a travel sewing kit. Both sourced from aisle three, just as I’d thought.

My first thought was, well shit, she can keep them now. My second, how could she afford those nails? Blood dripped off fake nails. Even covered in blood, they were pretty fancy. Look, I don’t know a lot about nails and shit, but I know they’re not cheap. My girlfriend gets the stupid things and has to keep getting them done. She’s always complaining to me about how much they are – certainly a lot for the homeless. Wait, is she, though?

My feet jerked me back a few steps as my eyes focused on her hands. The blood didn’t seem to be coming from anywhere, it was smudged all over her hands but wasn’t too concentrated in any area. I looked to her knees. Maybe it’s from them, I hoped. But the grazes on her knees were too shallow to produce that much blood, and they were already scabbing.

‘I think I need to call the ambos,’ I said to myself, more than to her.

A small, mousey voice burst from her mouth. ‘No, no. I’m fine.’

‘No offense, but you don’t look it.’

‘It’s not my blood.’

Shit.

I felt my body locking up and shying away from her. I reached in my back pocket for my phone, ready to dial 000 and get this chick out of here and away from me. I dug into my pocket to produce nothing – my phone was still on the counter. Shit, shit, shit. Suddenly, she dropped the bandages and sewing kit back into her pockets and grabbed the front of my shirt with both hands, the blood transferring there. I felt my lip curling and my neck tensing up as I strained as far as I could away from her.

‘No, please! You have to help me. Someone hurt him and he won’t wake up. He’s bleeding so much. Please. Please, help me!’ Her voice was as rough and frantic as her eyes. She moved her hands to my right arm, her fake nails digging into my forearm, ‘Come with me, please. He’s going to die!’

My whole body was numb, making it easy for her to pull me out of the exit and onto the street. I couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening to stop her from pulling me along, let alone realise that I should have locked up the store.

She rushes me down the block, the streets quiet. All I could think was how loud my

She pulls us to a stop in front of an alley. Her hands release me only to shove me roughly into the dark alley.

Oh shit.

Lying haphazardly half out of a dumpster bin was a body. The top lid was closed on him, securing him in place.

Oh God. This guy’s dead for sure.

I felt her body come up behind me. She nudged me closer urgently, ‘Come on. You have to help him. Move!’ Her voice was curt and echoed through the alleyway.

My breath caught in my throat, choking any words trying to get out. My body was as stuck still frozen as my eyes – focused solely on his misshapen form.

There was blood… everywhere.

I heard a groan from behind me before the girl barged past me towards him. She went to lift the lid with plastic-gloved hands.

Wait, when did she get gloves? When did she put them—

My thought process was cut short when I saw how she was trying to hold up the lid with one hand and pull him out with the other.

This girl is nuts.

My jarred body jerked forward to help, but I stopped before them – unsure and reluctant.

‘Just, pull him out for me. Please!’ she huffs.

My neck tightened with the idea of touching a dead guy and I was about to tell her this when I saw it.

His chest was moving.

‘Wait! Stop! Stop! He’s alive!’

‘Of course he is! We need to help him. Hurry!’ She continued to try and keep the lid open for me.

Gritting my teeth, I grabbed under his armpits and wrenched him out of the bin. His body hit the floor as she let the lid slam close.

‘Oh God,’ I whispered as I took in the sight before me.

The guy’s stomach – along with his t-shirt – was cut open, the wound wide with blood bubbling out. How he was alive at this point, I had no clue.

She kneeled beside him and looked up to me, ‘Come on!’ she grabbed my hand, pulling me down as well.

‘Here,’ she rummages inside her front pockets and produces the stolen bandages and sewing kit, ‘do something.’

‘What the hell am I supposed to do!?’ I hissed at her, ‘I work at fucking 7 Eleven!’

‘Please. Please!’ her hands shook as they fought mine. Pushing, shoving, until I finally gave up and took the items, ‘I don’t know what to do!’

I sat back on my heels and scrubbed my face with my trembling hands. ‘Why can’t we call an ambulance—’

‘No! No! We can’t! He… he’s into drugs… and he has some coke on him,’ her eyes bored into mine, ‘please. Please! Just help him.’

When I don’t move, she rips open the sewing kit, spilling the contents on the floor. Her hands weren’t shaking anymore. They were still as she opened the packet around the string and threaded it through a needle.

Once she had prepared the needle, she grabbed my hands in one of hers and put the needle carefully between my fingers, ‘go. Do it. Please.’

Her pleading eyes screamed up at me.

Shit.

I turned to his body and focused down on the wound at his stomach.

‘God. How did this happen?’

Her breath stuttered out, ‘Um. We… we were making out back here, when… when this… guy came up to us. He w-wanted his wallet. But, he said no. And h-he had a knife… and,’ tears ran down her cheeks as she gestured towards his stomach.

She moved my hands into position, ‘please, you have to save him. If you don’t, he’ll die!’

I squeezed close my eyes and sucked in a huge gulp of air, opened my eyes and got to work.

He was still bleeding bloody bad. Only seconds after starting to stitch him back up, my hands were dripping.

I focused on stitching the poor bloke together – silently thanking God and my mother for having the sense to teach me how to sew on my own buttons.

While I focused my attention on stitching this poor bloke up, she moved to his head. She bent over and laid her forehead against his nose – staring intensely into his eyes.

‘Wake up… just, wake up,’ she mumbled into his vacant face.

The wound was pretty big so it was a while before I had done a semi-decent – that’s being generous – job at closing the wound. Once I got to the end, I lifted the left over needle and string and I was wondering how I was going to cut it off when the girl sat up from her position and handed me a steak knife.

Where the hell did she get a steak knife from?

Ignoring my thoughts, I took it in my hand and cut the string.

‘How’s he going? Is he still alive?’ Her voice was strangely calm. But, I didn’t pay much attention to that, rather, I quickly reached my fingers to feel for a pulse at his neck – like they do on TV.

But, before I could feel anything I noticed another wound.

Along his neck and down his chest were deep gouges still leaking blood. I’ve seen wounds like these before. Not in real life – but in movies and stuff.

‘Jesus, these ones weren’t done by a knife. These are, like, fingernail wounds or something. How the hell did that happ—’ I stop, a gasp caught in my throat. Bloody expensive-ass fake nails could have done it.

No. No, no, no.

The alley way was silent except for my stuttered breaths.

A breathy chuckle sounded from behind me.

I turned.

She stood before me; her unruly hair was now controlled into a low bun. A trench coat covered her stained dress and she now wore high heels.

What the f—

Her heels clacked on the pavement as she came toward me – stopping just before me. Fear gripped me and held me firm.

She raised her taloned hand with a flourish and laid it against my cheek. Her nails raked their way down my cheek, stopping at my quivering lips. She whisper, ‘thanks for this, Jacob.’

Her body retreats, enabling me to breathe once more.

However, amused eyes keep me still as she backs out of the alleyway. When she reaches the entranceway, she pauses – her whole body and demeanour changing.

Her eyes widen and her mouth slackens in an expression of horror. She lets out an almighty squeal and runs out of sight.

I looked down at my blood stained exterior and the knife cradled in my palm.

‘Wait! You can’t do this,’ I choked out of trembling lips.

A smirk darkened her face, ‘What makes you think that I can’t, hey?’

My eyes jerked around the filthy alleyway as I search for something, anything to get me out of this shit.

‘You’re a hobo! The police won’t believe a word you say over a uni student,’ the thought came out of my mouth before I could stop it. Probably not the best idea to provoke a crazy chick with a knife.

Her smirk disappeared as she strolled back to me, looking around her as she went. As she got closer, she pulled out another knife – identical to the one still in my hand. She swung it around, stopping it at my face.

She leaned in closer, ‘So, murder-suicide it is, then.’

‘What! No!’

Her arm pulled back and then plunged. The knife dug into my stomach for a second before being sliced back out again.

I felt the cold ground hit my back. The knife fell out of my hand with a clatter.

My vision was closing in on itself. The last thing I saw was her fuzzy figure stumbling out into the street.

‘Help! He’s killed someone! Someone help!’

*

That is all I recall.

 

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Flowers and Tea, Grace Mitchell

‘You useless woman.’

The voice resounded through the café and rang through her brain, opening up the doors to the memories she had long ago tried to forget.

The small ornate tables and the talking customers disappeared as the café was overtaken by grass, leaving Samantha standing confused and bewildered in a field. Hearing the voice, she turned around, only to see her father and mother on top of a nearby tall, grassy hill. They seemed to be both smiling and waving down at her. Dazed, she found herself smiling and waving back. The smiles on their faces seemed to glitch for a second into the look of anger on her father’s face and fear on her mother’s. They instantly turned back into smiles as though nothing had really happened. Just as children would, her father pushed her mother down the hill and her mother joyfully rolled down the grassy knoll. With a large smile upon her face, she rolled down to where Samantha was standing. There she landed, though not as a bundle of joy like a child who was playing, but as a messy heap with her arm at an angle that an arm shouldn’t naturally be in.

Looking into the fearful and weeping eyes of her mother, Samantha felt her gaze rising to see her father. There he stood menacingly above her, on the top of what was no longer a grassy hill but an old splintery wooden staircase. He stared at her for a moment before walking away, leaving her bruised and battered mother to find help by herself. Samantha wanted to pick up her mother and help her, but she looked at her hands only to find they were too small to ever help move an adult. In fact, her whole body was too small to help her mother; she was just too young. So she did the only thing she could do and sought a way out of this horror. There to the right she saw a darkened door; it didn’t seem to fit with the old house. So she ran to it and pushed it open with all the strength that her five year old self had. Stumbling on to the other side of the doorway, she found herself out of the memory and back to her twenty year old body. Not only that but when she looked around, she found herself in an ancient wooden corridor that was lined with dark wooden doors.

Tree roots showed through the floorboards and the more she looked, it felt like she could feel her mind tear and warp just like the wooden planks. The corridor before her looked like it went on forever, with all the tree roots and grass growing out of the wood, or maybe it really was because it did truly go on forever. Feeling drawn to one of the dark wooden doors down the corridor, she felt her feet start to move, like they had different ideas about the door than her mind did. Walking across the unsteady flooring, she saw the wooden ground under her feet start to crumble and break. Suddenly at the door, she didn’t have a moment to think about the dangers of her surroundings. Instead her hand shot out, and she let herself into another world.

Another world being her old kitchen. There was the old dirty sink filled with plates, and the fridge displaying a pathetic drawing from her six year old self. Then, of course, there was dear old Dad sitting at the table, right next to the gathering pile of bottles. Except…this time, the pile wasn’t as big. This time, half of the pile was smashed all over the floor, along with a smear of blood. It was now that Samantha suddenly realised which memory she was in. It was the night he had thrown the glass bottles at her mother, the night when…

There was her mother in the kitchen doorway, with a shotgun in her hands. The same weapon that was her right to bear. The same gun she had to protect herself from intruders, but this time it was her husband who was the trespasser. A trickle of blood came down her forehead as she stood glaring at her husband, with fire in her eyes that even devils would be scared of.

‘Harold,’ she said, announcing herself to the poor excuse of a man before her.

Samantha’s father turned around and his face instantly turned into shock, and then anger. His hand grabbed a bottle, as if to punish her insolence. ‘What are you going to do, you useless woman?’

A loud sound echoed through the kitchen as if to answer his question.

A golden flower flew out of the shotgun’s barrel and slowly careened over to Harold’s chest, where it hit in a sudden shock and then, there were petals everywhere. The petals escaped from his chest as he slowly fell to the ground. Samantha turned from her father, who looked like he had just robbed a flower shop, and then to her mother. Samantha, in shock, looked down at herself to see a petal on her dress.

She quickly turned and ran for the door, without looking back at her parents. She didn’t want to see her mother give a giant sigh of relief before finally saying the words, ‘I’m not useless.’ She didn’t want to see her father’s body give its last heave. She didn’t want to see, she didn’t want to remember.

Instead she found herself back in the hallway, which now looked like the floor was crumbling beneath her feet. Nevertheless she kept running to the next door way, which was all she could see. Back in the hallway, the part of her dress that the petal had fallen onto was now stained with the dark red of her nightmares. She needed to keep running to get away; she needed to get away in case reality wanted to make its presence known.

Swinging open the door before her, Samantha ran into a room that was dimly lit. The first thing that really that hit her though was the noise. The noise of screeches and roars. She cringed at the noise of fists pumping and hands slamming. Slowly and unsurely she walked into the dim lit room. As her eyes adjusted, she was shocked to see that the room was filled with metal cages. Cage after cage, they seemed to go on forever or at least as far as she could see. The screeches of birds and howling of monkeys were louder now she was inside, and she found her hands scrunching up the edges of her shirt. In the cage nearest to her was a big gorilla thumping his chest, making sure all that saw him knew that he was the boss here. There next to him, in her own separate cage, was the meek form of her mother.

Hands clenched tightly around the edges of her brightly coloured shirt. She seemed so pale against the bright orange that hung off her small and thin body. A small taut smile came to her face as she saw her daughter come closer to her.

‘How is school, honey?’

Samantha didn’t know how to answer. Not only was the question too ordinary for a situation that was so bizarre, she was pretty sure the last time she checked, she had graduated from high school.

‘Mum…’

‘Yes, what is it Samantha?’ Her mother said with the same kind eyes she had always had. They looked like total strangers to the rest of her body now.

‘I…I miss yo-’

A sudden barking from the next cage over made Samantha jump. Her mother’s neighbour wanted to be heard and feared, especially by little girlies like her. Samantha looked at the terrifying muscular black dog, and then back to her mum, whose eyes looked at the floor. Slowly fading into the background, only the orange suit stood out. Not wanting to see her mother disappear, Samantha felt herself running down the lines of overbearing cages. It was there at the end of the cages, she found the same familiar door waiting for her.

Grabbing the door’s handle, she pulled it open and rushed through, only to find herself in midst of a puzzle of the few pieces of mossy timbered floor left. Looking around wildly, she knew she had to get out of here. She had to get out before the whole place around her broke apart and she fell to the abyss below.

Then she saw the golden wooden door. The door that had a cute etching of a teapot on the front. Her safe place, her haven. Without a second thought, she jumped from piece to piece of the ancient wooden floor, without ever looking down or thinking about what would happen if she missed, until she was at the door that smelt of roses and tea, the smell of home.

Looking back, she found the once full of life hallway and the many doors had all disappeared around, leaving only her and this final gateway left. She didn’t care though; she only wanted to go forward anyway. Grabbing the handle, she pushed and welcomed the world before her.

The first thing she saw, of course, was the alligator. It wasn’t acting like most alligators would, as it was not only sitting cross legged on a garden chair but it also was holding a cup of tea (luckily it was an alligator, because if it was a crocodile it would surely have not liked tea, since it is made with fresh water and not salt water). It had its pinkie extended; after all, he did have manners. He did look remarkably like the soft toy she had once owned, which had stolen her heart as a child with its big toothy grin.

‘Hello Samantha, my dear,’ the alligator said politely, as he looked at his new company. ‘Please do come and take a seat.’

Samantha walked over to the garden table and chairs and sat down with a large smile upon her face. ‘It is so good to see you again Sir Reginald.’

She calmly took the spare tea cup and poured herself a cup of tea. Then she leaned back, letting the tea cool down as she took in the little garden she had walked into. There were rose bushes everywhere that scented the place so wonderfully, and the white garden seating that consisted of two seats and a small table, just seemed to come out of a Home and Gardens magazine. Then there was, of course, Sir Reginald sipping his tea slowly, looking dashing in his top hat. Samantha gave a large sigh as she relaxed in her chair. She needn’t run here.

‘So how has work been?’ Sir Reginald politely inquired.

‘Quite terrible, the other day this couple came in and-’

The teapot crashed, shattering into pieces of ceramic as the tea escaped on to the café’s floor. Samantha’s gaze had been slowly following it as it had fallen out of her hands, and then suddenly, with that loud sound, she was back to her job at the small café by the train station. Back to her reality, back to here and now. Quickly kneeling to the floor, she started to pick up the pieces of the teapot.

‘I’m so sorry.’ She said as the customers peered in to see what the large crashing sound was.

‘Why do you always make a mess of things?!’ A man’s voice broadcasted himself from halfway across the room.

Samantha looked up to see a large man harshly pulling a woman by her arm out of the café. For a second she swore she saw her father’s face but with another look, she could see it wasn’t. So she stopped, with the ceramic pieces limp in her hand for a moment, as she watched the couple walk out. It was only when they were out of sight that she went back to cleaning up the mess she had made.

After all, she had learnt a broken teapot can easily be cleaned up.

 

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