Thursday, July 18, 2013

Something Else

No, I'm not writing again - just changed pursuits a little, and thought I'd let everyone know. I now raise fish. Want to know more?

http://bjtbettas.blogspot.com.au/

Come over and say hi!

Monday, September 12, 2011

TTFN

It has been a long, slow and painful death of my writing, but the time has come to say enough is enough and admit I no longer have the drive required to continue.

This will be my last post for the foreseeable future.

To go out with a bang, I'm going to post my biggest sale in regards to a respected market. Dreaming was written in 2009 and sold to APEX in June of that year. It was published in their print anthology September 2010.

At nearly 6000 words, it is also the longest piece I've sold. There is violence and there is sex, so if either make you uncomfortable, then please go no further.

Thank you to Pharo for helping me make it into the antho, and thank you to Gill for working with me to make it what it has now become.

I wish all writers nothing but the very best in their endeavours.

Dreaming

Richard removed his hat and dabbed at the sweat on his bald head with a dusty navy-blue kerchief. The landscape around him was a multitude of reds, from the deepest maroon of an overripe plum to the scarlet of a waratah flower. It would have been spectacular if he’d been viewing it from the comfort of his air-conditioned car, a cool box stuffed full with bottles of ice-cold water on the passenger seat. But, with creature-comforts back at the ranger station, the colours left him feeling even hotter.


“Yileen,” he called to the tall and lithe Aboriginal ahead of him. “I need to rest. Is there shade nearby? It must be at least fifty C out here.”

Yileen smiled and walked back to his client. “You part white fellas is not much good out in the desert sun. Just a bit further, Mr Kellarman, and then we’ll stop at my gunya.”

Richard unscrewed the top from his water bottle and took a long pull from the warm contents. “Gunya?”

“My place,” Yileen said, as if it should have been obvious. “I have house over next rise where we can rest in shade. We stay there a bit. Once afternoon sun drops, we can walk to paintings.”

Richard nodded and tucked the water bottle into the side pocket of his backpack. He gestured extravagantly with his hand in the manner he assumed settlers of times past would have. “Lay on, Macduff.”

Yileen’s smile disappeared. “Who Macduff?”

“No one, Yileen. It’s just a saying among white folk. It means have at it, or, in this instance, you lead and I’ll follow.”

Yileen turned away and took up a purposeful stride.

Great, thought Richard, now I’ve pissed him off. These paintings had better be worth it.

Resigning himself to more walking, he sucked in a deep breath through his mouth. A mistake. The moisture in his throat instantly evaporated, and the scorching air coated his mouth with gritty sand. He wafted away flies, adjusted his hot and sweaty tackle and started after Yileen. The flat red land around him shimmered with rising waves of heat as if water in great abundance were only a short distance away. He wished it were.

They stopped on the lip of a hidden canyon where Yileen pointed down to a brown wooden hut with a corrugated iron roof. Even through the black lenses of his expensive Ray-Bans, Richard squinted against the blinding sunlight reflecting off the galvanized metal.

“You can’t be serious,” he said.

Yileen cocked his head to one side. “What’s a matter, Mr Kellarman? My gunya good place to rest.”

“We’ll cook under that tin roof.” Richard retrieved his water bottle and sighed.

“Nah. You come and see for yourself,” Yileen said, his smile back in place. Without waiting, he began to descend towards the gunya.

In the middle of nowhere, it was quite an impressive structure. Built mainly of wood and iron, Richard guessed it to be at least ten feet wide, and close to twenty feet long. Tall thin gum trees with white and grey trunks grew at the rear of the structure, sheltering tangled clumps of greener vegetation that succeeded in partly obscuring the corrugated roof. Hanging from a broad branch was a large hessian sack Richard recognised as an outdoor shower.

He ducked under the lintel of the low door and removed his sunglasses to peer into the near darkness inside. Steps led down into a surprisingly cool interior.

He paused on the steps to allow his eyes to adjust. “Yileen, this is simply amazing!”

“You like my gunya? I told you this would be good place to rest.”

Further into the darkness, Richard could just make out the white of Yileen’s teeth. He stepped down a few more rungs and then his feet met a padded floor. The abrupt change from walking over hard packed earth to soft flooring was heaven sent.

Yileen turned on a lamp. “Solar powered,” he said patting the small solar cells on top of the portable lamp. “We’ve no shortage of that kinda power round here.”

Richard looked around at the rugs strewn across the bottom of the gunya, which had been dug a good four feet into the earth. Discoloured and fraying insulation batts covered the walls and ceiling. Small windows at the back of the gunya, shaded by the gum trees and other vegetation, allowed a breeze to circulate the slightly cooler air.

“Mr Kellarman,” Yileen continued, “this is my wife, Carina.” A woman Richard guessed to be close to thirty emerged from the darkness to stand beside the guide. She wore a loose white cotton dress, her large dark areolas clearly visible in the soft light of the solar lamp. She smiled and looked down at the floor.

Yileen placed his arm round her shoulders and hugged her to his side. “We stay here for a little bit to let sun fall. The day will become a bit cooler for you then, Mr Kellarman.”

Richard tapped the back of his finger on a thermometer nailed to the wall. “Forty-five in here. Darn sight cooler than out there.” He straightened and turned back to Yileen. “Just how long will we have to stay in here before the temperature outside drops enough?” He raised his fingers to emphasise the quotation marks he thought should surround the final word.

“Take a seat, Mr Kellarman.” Yileen gestured to an old three-seater sofa resting against a side wall. “Have nap. We wake you when it’s time to see paintings.”

Richard removed his hat and collapsed onto the sofa. Speckles of dust spiralled around him while coil springs threatened to push through the thin fabric and attack him from beneath. Waving a hand in front of his face to clear the dust, he made himself as comfortable as possible and tried not to think about what might be living inside the couch. “These paintings you’re going to show me, are they really secret men’s business?”

Yileen patted Carina on the rump and ushered her back into the shadows of the gunya, then he turned an old metal-backed kitchen chair around and sat, draping his forearms over the backrest. “You promise no tell anyone ’bout this,” he whispered. “Mr Jensen from the ranger station, he say you’re a good fella and a good painter. He say you can be trusted.”

Richard placed a hand over his heart and raised his other solemnly. “I promise not to whisper a word to anyone.”

“Then I take you to see painting of giant boar done long before the white man come. He’s a special animal who help bring life to this land.”

“I thought the Rainbow Serpent brought life here. That’s what everyone’s taught, according to The Dreamtime stories?”

Yileen nodded and stood. “Rainbow Snake, Marrathal Warkan say, all first life come from him, but new life after that, black fella say come from spirit white man call Mother Nature, but that not whole story. She need help, and that come from boar. You’ll see. You see when I show you.”

“But there were no boars in Australia before the white man came here,” Richard said.

Yileen shook his head. “White man bring pigs on first ships. Some escape into the bush and become ancestors of pigs we see today. Painting is not of wild pig. Painting of giant Boar Spirit many seasons before white man arrive.”

Richard sat up. “But--”

Yileen raised a finger and swayed it slowly back and forth as if trying to hypnotise his client. “No more talk now. You see later. Sleep now.”

Richard watched as Yileen settled onto a cot further inside the gunya. A ghostly figure stood next to the cot before removing its outer white layer. Bedsprings protested as Carina snuggled in next to her husband.

Richard lay back, ignoring the crunch of crystallised foam beneath his head and the poke of an overly zealous spring seeking freedom beneath his shoulder blade. It took a while, but he willed away the growing stiffness in his pants at the thought of Carina lying naked only a few feet away. Visions of giant razorback boars ran through his mind as he drifted into a fitful sleep.

#

The spring below Richard’s shoulder blade poked painfully through the dusty fabric, as pressure pushed down from above. The sound of meat sizzling in a hot pan coupled with the heavy scent of bacon. Richard shifted his weight and opened his eyes, expecting to see the giant boar with its trotters planted firmly on his chest. Instead, he saw Yileen’s white-toothed smile. Relieved, Richard smiled back, as he gently pushed the Aboriginal’s hand away from the centre of his chest.

“Time to wake up, Mr Kellarman,” Yileen said, and gave Richard a gentle shake.

Richard checked his watch. Nearly five-thirty in the afternoon. They’d slept for close on four hours.

His mouth felt akin to the bottom of a galah’s cage: dry and not particularly clean. A build-up of dust combined with the heat to effectively clog his throat. He tried to cough up the grit as he rose, but it wouldn’t budge.

Yileen held out a water bottle. “Swill water round and spit out door. Then take small drink till you feel better.”

Richard took the bottle and nodded his thanks, as he headed to the steps.

“We’ll have a little tucker before we go to the cave, and you can have a shower and freshen up. We should get there before sundown so you see in daytime first. Then we make campfire and you see sacred place at night. Very special then.”

Richard washed out his mouth, spitting thick reddish-brown fluid out of the gunya entrance. He took a small mouthful of water and swallowed painfully. “We’re going to spend the night out there?” he croaked.

“Yes, sir. We come back early in the morning. Easier to walk when cooler. We come back here and rest till day gets cooler again and then go back to car.” Yileen tossed him a towel. “Shower round back.”

The heat was a physical force, as Richard stepped out of the gunya. Towel draped over his bald pate, he started jogging towards the shower. And then he skidded to a halt, sending up a cloud of red dust. Carina, droplets of shower water glistening on her smooth dark skin, was in the process of wrapping herself in a towel, giving Richard ample flashes of her supple round curves.

He bowed and stepped aside to allow her to pass, admiring the sway of her hips beneath her towel as she walked.

Hanging his towel on a convenient nail, Richard ducked under the hessian bag and pulled on the cord. A cascade of cool water flowed over his head and face, relieving the tension in his shoulders and the semi-hardness between his legs. He rinsed his clothes as he removed them, scrubbing hard at the sweat-stained patches and hanging them on a low tree branch. Immediately, steam began rising from them. Then he washed his body and, for the first time since he’d left his car, felt invigorated.

Leaning against the side of the gunya, protected from the sun’s rays by the shade of the greenery, was the remains of a mirror; its sharp jagged edges looked lethal, but the reflection was familiar. Richard ran a hand over his chest and admired the play of water on his muscles. Abstaining from alcohol and drugs, eating sensibly and working out at a health centre in Sydney paid off. He knew it. And so did the other members of the gym. Their admiring glances told him he looked fantastic for a forty-six year old. Even his doctor commented on it when he went for his six-monthly check-ups.

He ran a hand over his torso again, and his mind drifted back to Carina. She had probably been running her hands over her smooth curves only moments before. The idea roused his manhood.

Richard closed his eyes and thought of cricket, of watching sheep eat grass, of the hard walk ahead of him, but as soon as he opened his eyes, he saw his reflection, his muscles rippling beneath his skin, and was reminded of Carina. He needed a quick release.

The smell of sizzling bacon drifted out of the windows at this end of the gunya and straight through the shower area. The aromas of native vegetables mixed with the pork made Richard’s mouth water. He spat onto his hand and rubbed the saliva over himself for lubrication. Staring intently at the mirror, it didn’t take long to find relief.

He washed again, and then dried himself quickly only to find his clothes had dried faster in the sun. He dressed and then ducked back into the gunya to see Carina piling food onto plates. Yileen smiled at him, but she refused to look him in the eye.

The bacon and side dishes of yams and other native roots, with a garnishing of red dust, was delicious. He saw his hosts forgo any implements to shovel the sustenance into their mouths and heartily joined them. The fat running down his fingers was wonderful. He took great satisfaction in polishing off his third helping before he followed his guide into the outback sun.

They waved to Carina, who returned the gesture from the shadowed doorway of the shelter.

As they walked, Yileen picked up a thick dry piece of wood, grey and curled with age, and began using it as a walking stick. Richard’s artistic eye took control, and he suddenly saw a black Moses walking beside him.

“I think I’ve been in the sun too long today. Or maybe I ate too much for lunch. I’m starting to see things,” he said, as he pulled on his water bottle.

Yileen glanced at him as they walked. “It not the sun, or the food, Mr Kellarman. Mr Jensen, he told me your grandmother was from this place. He say your roots are the same as mine.”

“That much is true.” Richard adjusted his hat. “My grandmother was one of the Stolen Generation. She was taken from here when she was only a little girl. My aperle was one of the lucky ones because she met a nice white fella and they fell in love.”

“Your aperle wasn’t lucky! She was taken from her spiritual home.” Yileen shook his head. “That not lucky at all.”

Richard nodded and placed a hand on Yileen’s shoulder. “You’re right there, Yileen. They were wrong to take her away, but she was lucky she wasn’t beaten and abused like many of the others. In that she was lucky.”

“It because of your aperle that you see things out here.” Yileen gestured with the stick at the red surrounds. “It because we of same blood that you allowed to come here. Very sacred place, very secret.”

Yileen’s stick pointed to a strip of green in the distance, discernible against the water haze only by its colour. “That very special billabong. It never dry up. Painting there.”

Being able to see their destination put new vigour into both men’s steps, and soon they were kneeling at the cool waters shaded beneath ancient gums.

Yileen sat back on his heels and pointed across the water. “Back there, behind bushes is cave. Inside cave is paintings, but we need to set up camp first.”

Richard followed him to a side of the billabong where the remains of past campfires were obvious. They stowed their backpacks in the shade and placed their water bottles into a net bag, which they put into the cool billabong waters for later. Then Richard found a shady nook and relaxed, watching as Yileen gathered dried branches shed by the surrounding trees and piled them next to a ring of blackened rocks, which would act as their fire pit.

Once he’d finished, Yileen picked up his stick and used it to part some bushes. “In there you see source of water and paintings. Come, you go through first. I hold bushes back.”

A trickle of water bubbled up from rocks behind the bushes, making the pebbled ground slippery. Treading carefully, Richard picked his way over them to discover the surrounding rock structures had weathered over the millennia, leaving a shallow cave. In its shadows, he saw markings on the wall. He knelt in reverence, a feeling of numbness stealing over his skin as he came face to face with work done by his ancestors so long ago.

On the cave wall in washed-out lines of black, red and yellow, a number of scenes had been drawn. Yileen squatted beside him and pointed to the depiction furthest to his left. “Here the first of our people follow the Rainbow Snake to this land.” Crab-like, he shifted to the right.

Richard followed.

“Here,” Yileen continued, as he pointed to the next picture, “we see Marrathal Warkan, the time white man call Dreaming.”

Richard nodded.

“Here we see the ancestors come to shape the land.” He pointed to the individual figures. “This Kondili who give us fire and become great whale. That Min-na-wee who give crocodile his death roll.”

He named other pictures of men becoming animals, or those who shaped the land according to native stories.

Then a picture of what looked to Richard like an elephant, stood over a group of men and women. Only this animal had no elongated trunk. Its snout was short and stubbed. It was huge in comparison to the other animal images. “Is this the Boar Spirit?”

Yileen nodded. He pointed back to the pictures before the boar. “See here, no babies.” He swept past the boar. “Here, babies.”

Richard leaned closer. True enough, the picture after the boar showed women nursing infants.

The remainder of the pictures were similar to others Richard had seen in museums and other Aboriginal sites: depictions of men hunting; others of normal Aboriginal life.

Yileen stood and offered his hand to Richard. “Now we prepare for later.”

Richard leading, they began pushing through the green bushes, guarding the cave entrance. Then Richard’s foot landed on a particularly slippery stone. His leg shot out from under him and he went down, landing on his stomach. Before he could get to his hands and knees, a heavy weight landed on top of him.

#

Richard woke to the cracking of twigs in the campfire and a throbbing at the back of his head. Tentatively, he reached back and felt a large lump. “What happened?”

“You fall. I fall on top and hit you on head with walking stick. I sorry, Mr Kellarman.”

Richard sat up gingerly, feeling his brain slide backwards as he did so. “It wasn’t your fault, Yileen.” He checked his watch. “I’ve been out for over an hour.”

“Yes. I think it best we just rest here for tonight. We come another time and I show you ritual of the boar, as our ancestors once did it.”

Richard crossed his legs in front of him and faced Yileen. “I’ll be fine. I just need some water and something to eat. I’ll be right.”

“If you think so,” Yileen said, as he passed over a water bottle.

After taking a swig, Richard wiped his mouth. “So do we have to get naked or anything for this? You know, paint up our bodies or something?”

The stark contrast of white, even teeth against dark skin when Yileen smiled never ceased to amaze Richard. The grin he currently saw spread over the guide’s face was that of a schoolboy who was preparing to do something others would consider rude. Richard returned the infectious grin. It was as if they had regressed to their childhood and were now preparing to peek into the girls’ locker room.

Yileen nodded. “But we eat first.”

Richard watched as Yileen pulled the backpack to him. “While you sleep at gunya, I pack what needed.”

“You made me carry it all this way?”

“Part of ritual that uninitiated must bring own supplies.” Yileen shrugged. “I give supplies, but you must still bring them.”

Yileen pulled a number of plastic bags from the backpack.

Richard gazed at them, inspecting their contents: small fruits, nuts, and one with a suspicious-looking green leafy material. As Yileen placed another bottle of water alongside the gathered ingredients, Richard leaned forward. “Is that weed?” he asked

Yileen smiled again and nodded. He took out a bowl and a short fat stick, and then began mashing all the ingredients together into a multi-coloured paste. Pausing, he reached back into the backpack and retrieved some plastic-wrapped sandwiches.

He tossed one to Richard, who unwrapped it to find cold bacon laced with the obligatory red dust. The sand grated between his teeth as he bit into it, but his stomach rumbled, dismissing any thought of asking if there was anything else.

After eating, Yileen instructed Richard to remove his clothes. As he did, Yileen took out some modern-looking tubes of paint. He squeezed lines of white onto a flat rock.

When he produced a small paint brush, Richard held up his hand. “The paints and the brush don’t look very traditional.”

“It take time to produce paint with ochre and other things from the land. I thought this be quicker.”

Richard frowned but shrugged his shoulders. I guess even a 40,000-year-old culture has to move with the times.

Yileen dipped the paintbrush into the white paint and began marking lines and dots over Richard’s light toffee-coloured skin.

Once Yileen had finished painting Richard’s skin, he repeated the process on his own much darker body. They then settled down cross-legged next to the fire. Yileen retrieved the bowl and passed it to Richard. “Each initiate must attempt to commune with the spirit of the giant boar in this sacred place where all new life began. To aid you in this, an elder, in this case me, has provided you with what you need to make the transition into the spirit world.”

Richard looked dumbly at the bowl in his hands. He looked back at Yileen who made a scooping and eating motion.

The paste was warm in his fingers, as Richard raised it to his mouth. The nuts and native fruit gave it a pleasant taste, which encouraged him to scoop the mixture into his mouth until the bowl was clean.

Yileen rose and gestured Richard to do the same. “Now you must sit in front of the boar spirit and meditate. You will soon open a doorway to His world, where the Boar Spirit may send a mate to couple with you. If you please Him, then life will return to you twice over. If you fall short of His expectations, life will be passed to another.”

Yileen leaned forward. “Don’t worry,” he whispered into Richard’s ear. “That’s only the traditional words. You’ll be fine.”

Richard shivered despite the heat of the fire. Either the hallucinatory mixture was kicking in, or Yileen’s English was getting better.

Holding a flaming torch in one hand, Yileen parted the bushes with the big grey stick again. Richard pushed through, ignoring the poking of branches in areas he’d rather not have them exploring. At least with bare feet, he was able to curl his toes over the stones to give him a better grip.

At Yileen’s instruction, Richard sat facing the Boar Spirit. Yileen placed a flaming torch behind him so his shadow fell at the feet of the giant animal. Nice touch, Richard thought, and smiled.

His smile turned into a giggle when Yileen backed out of the cave and swore as branches poked at his unprotected skin. Richard tried to rein in his humour, but the drugs were taking hold.

The flame flickered, distorting his shadow on the cave wall and bringing the paintings to life. As the flame swayed, it seemed the boar shifted. Richard began to giggle again.

Closing his eyes, he tried to regain control. His head swam from the effects of the drugged paste. His skin tingled with the refreshingly cool air and drying paint. He found himself swaying to a beat only he could hear inside his skull—or was Yileen beating on a drum beyond the bush?

Thinking of Yileen and the bush made him start giggling again. He opened his eyes.

His shadow had grown larger, no longer the shape of his seated outline but that of a standing woman. The silhouette of her naked body stirred his loins. Firm breasts with hard, erect nipples were outlined, as the shadow turned and gyrated to the same rhythm he still swayed to.

A hand ran across his back, giving him goose bumps. He turned his head to find Carina’s dark-coffee-coloured face only inches away. Her moist brown lips opened and descended onto his.

Their tongues met as she moved in front of him, her breasts pushing against his biceps. Hands grasped him and stroked him to higher readiness. He closed his eyes and lay back as she straddled him.

Sensations exploded when she sank onto him. He lost track of time and space, the beat of the drum and the feel of her invading his thoughts. A strange grunting echoed from the shallow cave wall. They were one, he was communicating with the Boar Spirit as she rode him. It built in him, the beat in his head coming quicker, making the lump on the back of his skull throb in time with the rest of him.

He sat forward, crushing her against his chest, and exploded into her. Over her sweat-slicked shoulder, he stared at their combined shadows writhing beneath the boar.

The light flickered and the shadow grew again. A huge black mass with monstrous straight tusks. It swung its head as if preparing to gore the combined flesh of man and woman.

Pain surged though him, rolling up from deep within his bowels. He slid sideways, and his head bounced hard on the sandstone floor.

Carina pushed him away from her.

He stared at her. A rivulet of sweat running between her breasts and pooling in her belly button kept drawing his eyes away from her face. He dragged his gaze up, shook his head to clear the sight of long white teeth jutting from her lower jaw, but darkness crowded in from the sides. He closed his eyes and slipped into a comforting void.

#

Sizzling, spitting noises of food swimming in heated fat percolated through Richard’s mind. Then his nostrils were assaulted with the tangy smell of freshly cooked bacon. Throbbing in the back of his head made him shift a little to his right. A sharp pain bit into his shoulder blade. He sat upright, bile racing him to see who could find vertical first.

He leaned forward and vomited into his lap, covering his khaki shorts with a viscous white fluid.

A hand rubbed his back. “Easy there, Mr Kellarman. You had bad night.”

Richard looked up into Yileen’s face. It took a moment for his guide’s features to swim into focus in the soft light of the solar lamp. He looked around, relieved and confused to see the inside of the gunya once more. Behind him, the end of a coil spring stuck through the threadbare fabric.

Carina edged in beside her husband with a plate piled high with greasy bacon held out before her. “You eat now. Feel better after food and shower.”

Richard gently pushed the plate away. He looked into Carina’s eyes for a sign as to the previous night’s reality. “How did I get back here? What happened last night?”

Carina backed away. Yileen sat down alongside him. “I come back to you inside cave after midnight. I find you sleeping, but I not able to wake you.” He scratched his head and grimaced. “Yileen worried, so I carry you back here.” He passed Richard the same towel he’d used yesterday. “Maybe you better have shower first. Clear the head--” Yileen sniffed “--wash pants.”

Richard sniffed as well. The overpowering scent of vomit made him want to retch again. “Perhaps a shower would be a good idea.”

He staggered out of the gunya, the mid-morning sun another physical blow to his already battered senses. With a hand trailing along the side of the structure, Richard stumbled into the shower area. Like yesterday, he pulled on the cord and began by washing his clothes, scrubbing hard where he’d been sick over himself.

He hung his clothes on the same branch as he had the previous day and stood under the cool spray of the shower. Closing his eyes, he enjoyed the water running over his skin.

He rubbed a hand over his scalp and felt the lump on the back of his head, a rough patch at its centre where a scab had begun to form. He pressed lightly down, the pain helping as much as the cool water to clear his head. Probable concussion; real slick, Richie.

Eyes squinting, he peered through the film of water, washing over his face. No, it couldn’t be. He stepped forward, leaned closer to the jagged remnant of a mirror. His body was covered with blackened welts and bruises. He ran a shaking hand over each new blemish that marked him, felt the raised contusions beneath his fingers.

Turning around, he glanced over his shoulder. His back was covered in long purple lines.

Numbness crept up his legs. His vision blurred. He stared, trying to get the shower area back into focus. But now numbness was stealing up his calves. His knees buckled. As he stared up at his reflection, his fingers began to shake. The trembling spread to his arms.

He closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing. His stomach rumbled. It sounded more like water escaping down a drain. He swallowed a lump of rising bile.

Suddenly desperate not to see his reflection, he lowered his head before opening his eyes. As he yanked the cord to stop the water flow, he could feel his hand shaking. Clumsily, he pulled on his damp clothes and then stumbled back inside. Yileen stood leaning against the arm of the sofa, watching Carina as she scooped bacon into a mountainous pile on another plate.

Richard slid down the steps to the carpeted floor but managed to stay on his feet. He lurched forward and grabbed Yileen by the shoulders, spun him around.

Yileen knocked Richard’s arms away. “What the fuck you doing?”

The smell of bacon hung in the air, stirring Richard’s stomach. He swallowed hard, trying to force down the rising tide of bile, and slumped onto the sofa arm. “What did you do to me!”

Carina stepped next to her husband, the plate of greasy bacon held before her. “You need to eat, Mr Kellarman. You feel better with a full belly.”

Richard sagged back onto the arm of the sofa and pointed at her. For a second, relief overcame anger as he realised his hand was steady. The shakes had gone. Then he saw Carina standing there, smiling that same smile Yileen loved to use.

“What did you do to me last night!”

Carina stepped in front of Yileen and held out the plate. Her gaze never wavered from Richard’s face. “We answer call of the Boar. We create new life.” She held the plate in one hand and rubbed the other over her stomach. “We create life,” she whispered.

“You can’t be serious! Fucking paintings on a wall!” he yelled, gesturing with one arm towards the doorway. “That’s all they are. A myth, a fucking fairytale!”

“Are you so stupid not to recognise truth when you’re living it?” asked Yileen from behind Carina. “You’ve seen the markings on your body. It’s happening.”

“Nothing was real. It was all a lie! You’re fucking con artists! The both of you. Even your pidgin was put on!” But as he said it, he knew he was wrong. His hands had started shaking again, and the spasms were spreading. His feet were doing the quick-step, tapping on the rug beneath them. He clamped his lips together, trying to will the onrush of bile to subside. But pain was lancing through his lower jaw. The metallic tang of blood washed across his tongue. New teeth protruding from his jaw.

Carina, still smiling, displayed her own set of enlarged teeth. They glistened with saliva.

Richard shook his head. This can’t be happening to me!

Carina held the plate out before him. “You must eat to regain your strength, my husband.”

Yileen leaned over her with an arm resting lightly on her shoulder as if trying to provide comfort. “Remember, Richard, you have coupled with a mate sent by the spirit of new life. If you please Him--” Yileen looked down as his hand slipped from Carina’s shoulder to caress her stomach “--then life will return to you twice over.” He returned his gaze to Richard, his eyes locking onto Richard’s. “If you fall short of His expectations, your life will be passed to another.”

Richard’s throat constricted. His tongue rolled forward from the back of his mouth, rippling across his palette as a torrent of fluid arced from his lips. It splashed across the bacon and bounced against Carina’s belly, covering Yileen’s hand.

Carina threw the plate into Richard’s lap and swung her hand viciously at his face, the back of her knuckles connecting flush with his cheekbone and driving him from the sofa arm. “You are not worthy.”

Yileen squatted and lifted Richard’s chin. “I am sorry, my friend. I thought you had the strength of your aperle running within your veins. But you don’t. You are like a coconut, brown on the outside, but your soul is pure white. You have turned your back on the land.”

Yileen stood, as Richard managed to cough up more fluid onto the layered rugs beneath his hands and knees. He spat the last of it out in front of him and dragged the back of his hand over his lips. He swayed back to rest on his heels and looked up into Carina’s cold staring eyes. “What have you done to me?”

Carina leaned down, her face inches from Richard’s just as it had been the previous night. “You were given a gift,” she whispered. “And you have wasted it.”

Richard felt his balls shrivel against his body. The coating of bile across his tongue became a viscous carpet as moisture fled his mouth.

“I’ll give you money, anything. Take my car; whatever you want. I don’t care.”

She stepped behind him. Richard craned his head back, his mouth hanging open. But the room began to spin in the soft lamplight. He closed his eyes and rested his head on her thigh.

Agony. Then a warm wetness flowing down his neck and dripping onto his shirt. He put a hand to his throat. A gaping wound. His eyes sprang open. Carina, mouth covered in blood, peering down at him. Yileen, smiling sadly at him.

The lithe Aboriginal picked up his gnarled grey stick from where it leaned against the wall, hefted it in both hands as if testing the weight of a cricket bat. “You have failed, Richard Kellarman. New life needs strength, a strength you do not have.” He drew back the stick. “You are unworthy, so your life will feed your unborn child in the name of the Boar Spirit.”

Carina stepped away as Yileen brought the club down on Richard’s head.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Happy Birthday Musings

It's been four years since I started this blog. Happy birthday Musings - sorry I don't visit as often as I once did.

This week's posting: My story writing is starting to get longer now. Somewhere between 3-5k is becoming the norm, so I'll post the word count to warn you how big a piece is being presented for your reading pleasure. I hope you continue to like...

Spoilt Rotten
3948 words
Originally published in Deadman's Tome (Aug 2009)

The pressure on Holly’s bladder was getting uncomfortable, made worse by the sudden dips and rises in the undulating road. A highway marker glowed in the car’s headlights as they raced along the remote section of country tarmac. It read ‘S 35’: not long to go now.


She turned to Kevin as she lowered the volume on the antiquated car radio. “Slow down, honey. The turn off is just up here on the right.”

Kevin flashed her a smile. “This car may not look like much, but I told you she’d get us here.”

“How’s the temp gauge holding up?”

Kevin glanced down at the dash as he slowed the car and flicked on the indicator. “Hot, but we should make your dad’s place.”

They swung off the sealed road onto the rarely graded gravel driveway which led to Holly’s dad’s little piece of country life. The car’s headlights played over the white trunks of old gnarled gum trees, and tall brown grass, definitely well past council regulation height for safety.

Kevin tutted. “Your dad needs to do something about all this undergrowth,” he gestured with his hand at the roadside. “One spark and she’ll go up in no time.”

Holly reached over into the back seat and grabbed her cardigan. December was way too hot to be wearing one, but she needed to cover the bruising on her arms. She awarded Kevin with a sour look for noticing what she was doing.

“I’m sorry, babe. It won’t happen again. I told you that.”

Holly pushed up the sleeves to allow her forearms a chance to breathe a little. “That’s what you said last time. If my mum and dad knew you hurt me, they’d kill you.”

“Your dad is old and bent, and I can’t see your mum carving anyone up real soon, it’d cause havoc with her perm and nails.”

“Don’t start on my parents, Kevin.”

Kevin pointed out the windscreen. “What the fuck is that?”

Holly followed the direction of his arm and squinted down the section of dirt road illuminated by the weak headlights. “Pull over! I want to check it out.”

Kevin did as asked and pulled to the side of the road. They both got out and approached the object. The light from the car reflected off the silver case of a digital camera.

Kevin bent down and picked it up. “Now why would someone leave this in the middle of the road?”

Holly looked around at the blackness pushing in from the surrounding paddocks. “I think Dad’s dam is just over here somewhere.”

Kevin played with the buttons on the camera but nothing was working. “I think it needs batteries.”

The car coughed. The headlights blared into sudden brightness, and then died to leave them in a gray darkness. The ping from the cooling engine was accompanied by a constant hiss of steam escaping under pressure.

Kevin kicked at the gravel surface, scattering small rocks into the underbrush beside the road. “Fuck!”

“It’s not far to Dad’s place. We can come back in the morning and sort out the car.”

“It’s a fucking antique. I have no intention of leaving it out here where some local lads can smash it up.” Kevin opened the driver’s side door and dropped heavily onto the seat. “We’ll just let her cool down a bit and then nurse her to your dad’s place.”

Holly crossed her arms. “You think I’m going to sit out here when I can walk a few hundred meters and be sitting in my Dad’s kitchen? Besides, I’m busting for a wee.”

Kevin waved toward the dark surrounds. “Go squat out there. Nobody will see you.”

Holly opened the back door and retrieved her backpack. “Very nice; I’ll see you when you get to Dad’s.” She slammed the door and hefted her pack into position.

Kevin leaned over and locked the doors. He got out and slammed his own door. “What a great way to spend Christmas.”

Holly held back any comment about the stupidity of bringing his bucket of bolts instead of her cute little hatchback. She could do without another thumping.

Away from the car, the full moon’s radiance bounced off the lighter coloured gravel of the road and allowed them to find their way. Holly pointed to the side where a wavy silver line stretched across her father’s dam. “I knew it was around here. Look, the fence has been broken.”

Kevin kicked at the road surface again. “It seems a car went off here as well. These look like tyre marks,” he pointed at the grass beside the road, “and they continue through there. How deep is that dam?”

She scratched her head and started walking down the road again. “If it’s full, I think it’s about 3 meters in the middle. We used to swim in it when we were little, but Dad stopped that when we became teenagers.”

“Why’s that?”

“Attracted the local yobbo’s when I used to go swimming. Dad didn’t like it.”

Kevin pulled her against his side as they walked, hanging an arm around her neck and pawed one of her tits. “I bet you were something even then.”

Holly pushed him away. “Hey! Piss off! I’m not some thing for you to grope for fun.”

Kevin chuckled and held up his arms in mock surrender. “Whatever, babe.”

They rounded another bend in the driveway. Kevin stopped and took in the view of where they were going to spend Christmas. “You have got to be kidding me.”

A narrow house fa├žade made of warped timber and rusting iron sat before them. Soft orange light glowed from a single window nestled under the front porch veranda. An off-white door reflected the pale moonlight.

Having walked on a pace or two further, Holly stopped and turned back to him. “What?”

“One strong blow and this thing looks like it’ll fall down around our ears. Why couldn’t we stay in a motel or something?”

Holly grabbed Kevin by the arm and pulled him toward the house. Because you’re a tight-arse when it comes to forking out money, is what she thought but let it go. “Dad may have let the place go a bit since he and Mum separated, but I think it just adds to the charm. Besides, I want to wake up here tomorrow morning with those that I love, and who I know love me. It’s Christmas!”

Kevin stopped dragging his feet and started running the last bit to the front door. “Race you then.”

Holly didn’t bother and stepped onto the front porch a little after Kevin. She opened the front door and flicked on the overhead light. “Seems like Dad’s out somewhere.”

Kevin came through the doorway and glanced around. The front door opened directly into the kitchen/dining area. A single oil lamp sat beside the stove, its orange glow overwhelmed by the overhead light. A closed door on the opposite wall, with an obviously well used axe hanging on it, led further into the house, a second door to one side had a small plaque attached to it with the silhouette of a toilet printed on it. Everything was made of wood, or rusted metal covered by peeling paint. Large dust-covered cobwebs decorated the ceiling corners and more hung from the central light which swayed slightly above a huge table.

Made of highly polished wood with thick legs and matching heavy chairs, the setting dominated the room. Kevin looked down on the tabletop and admired his reflection, while Holly rushed into the toilet. When she emerged he nodded toward the table. “How out of place does this look?”

“What do you mean?” asked Holly. “Dad built this table himself.” She ran her fingers lightly over the surface. “We sat round this when were kids.”

Kevin pointed with an open hand at the rusting dirty-white stove and the dusty benches with their peeling lime-green laminate. “Everything here stinks of age and neglect.” He swung his arm down to rest the back of his knuckles against the table top. “But this is so well cared for.”

“Dad always said that the dining table is the heart of the house. It’s where the family should gather together to share their day and their meals.” Holly pulled out one of the chairs, its legs scrapping noisily on the dirt strewn grey linoleum of the kitchen floor. “Did you bring that camera with you?”

“It’s no good; the batteries are dead.” Kevin took it out of his pocket and handed it to her.

With camera in hand, she stood and opened a side drawer. She pulled three placemats out and an old plastic school lunchbox. Kevin sat at the table as she retook her seat. Spreading the placemats out before her, she laid the camera on one and the lunchbox on another.

“What’s this placemat for?” asked Kevin lifting the last one.

“For you to lean on, so you don’t mark Dad’s table.” She ignored Kevin’s sneer as she opened the lunchbox. Inside were batteries of all shapes and sizes. Flicking open the back of the camera she poured out the spent double AA’s from inside it and replaced them with a couple from the lunchbox. The small digital screen came alive as she turned it on.

Kevin leaned closer. “Well? What’s on it? Any nudie shots?”

Holly rolled her eyes as the review menu came up. She started flicking through the shots.

Kevin came around behind her to watch over her shoulder. “Hey,” he said pointing to the screen. “Isn’t that your brother?”

Holly leaned in closer to the screen. “He looks similar but it’s not him.” She advanced the screen to the next photo. A self portrait of the photographer showed a young blond woman. “See, it can’t be my brother. You know his wife is older than this girl and has dark hair.” She pointed at the eyebrows of the picture. “Unless she had dyed her eyebrows as well, this girl is naturally blond.”

“Maybe the rug doesn’t match the curtains,” Kevin said as he moved away from his viewing station. “I wonder if your dad has any beer in the fridge?” He pulled open the heavy door on the old Kelvinator.

“You should ask the man of the house before you go helping yourself,” said a gruff voice from the inner door. Holly’s dad entered the kitchen. He was wiry and tall, and enveloped in a long black raincoat. As if age pressed down physically from above, he leaned slightly forward as he stepped further into the room and closed the door behind him.

“Sorry about that, Phil. Wasn’t sure where you were or how long you’d be gone. Expecting rain?”

Holly jumped up from her seat and wrapped her arms around her father. With one arm, Phil returned his daughter’s hug, with the other he pointed at Kevin. “You may as well get me one while you’re at it, smart-aleck. Holders are on top of the fridge.”

Kevin pulled two cans and slid them into the holders before passing one to Phil. “So what’s with the raincoat?”

“A storm’s rolling in. I wasn’t sure when, or if I’d still be in the middle of it when it hit, so I prepared for the worst and hoped for the best, but you youngsters wouldn’t know anything about that—would you?”

Kevin took a long drink of his beer.

Phil’s brow knitted. “Where’s your car?”

“We came up in Kevin’s,” Holly said. “It died a little way down the road, not far from the broken fence.”

“You kids didn’t happen to see anyone out there did you? I thought I heard someone mucking around out in the paddock when I was feeding the hogs.”

Holly and Kevin both shook their heads.

Phil, still with an arm around Holly, nodded at the table. “What’s with the battery box?”

Holly handed him the camera. “We found this on the driveway, next to where Kevin’s car died.” She ignored the grimace from Kevin. “Did somebody go through the fence?”

Phil nodded and began flicking through the pictures. “Yep, these are the one’s we pulled from the dam earlier today; dead as the proverbial Dodo.”

Kevin choked on his beer spraying frothy white bubbles across the table. “You’re fucking kidding me?”

Phil handed the camera back to Holly and grabbed a cloth from the side bench. He tossed it at Kevin. “Watch your mouth around my daughter and in my house.” His voice remained soft but the menace was obvious. “And clean up your mess.”

Kevin raised an eyebrow in Holly’s direction, but she shook her head. He settled for smiling at Phil. “Sorry about that, old man. Won’t happen again.” Kevin moved his placemat to one side and carefully placed his drink on it.

“Be sure it doesn’t. If you must know, I was on the other side of the dam. Some of the flotsam from the car had washed up over there. With the storm coming in, I didn’t want it being drawn back in.”

The sound of a nearby gunshot exploded through the night stillness. Kevin jerked his arms as he instinctively tensed, which knocked his beer can forward. The contents spread across the slick surface of the table. Dust and long dead insects drifted down from the overhead light to mix in the amber river. An ominous roll of thunder sounded in the distance.

“What the fuck was that?” Kevin yelled.

“Sit down,” Phil ordered. He stood up straight, gaining another six inches in height.

He didn’t look so old or frail in Kevin’s eyes any longer. He sat as directed.

Phil stepped to the single window and peered into the darkness. “You two stay here. I need to find out who is playing silly buggers on my property.”

Holly sat down slowly at the head of the table. “You can’t go out there, Dad. It’s not safe.”

Phil crossed to the inner door and removed the axe. He licked his thumb and ran it along the cutting edge. “It’s probably the Jenson kids from the neighbouring property. I’ll be fine.”

“I don’t give a fuck who’s out there.” Kevin picked up his can and drained what was left of his beer. “You’re one stupid son-of-a-bitch if you’re going out there in the middle of the night. An axe ain’t going to do shit against a gun.”

Phil held the axe handle just below the head and walked over to where Kevin sat. He leaned down close to the younger man. “I don’t give a flying fig what you think about me going out there. A man has to protect what’s his, but if you use that foul mouth of yours one more time in my daughter’s presence, I’ll take you outside and show you how effective this old axe can be.”

Kevin sat back in the chair and stared, wide-eyed at Phil, his hands shaking enough on the table top to cause the ring on his little finger to tap out a rapid cadence. Phil slammed his free hand down onto Kevin’s wrist. He yanked Kevin’s arm to the left and let it drop onto the placemat beside the now empty can. “Don’t you dare mark my table. I stand for people marking my table almost less than I do if they mark my little girl.” He hefted the axe to add the full stop to his sentence.

Kevin didn’t move as Phil walked around behind him. He hadn’t realised he held his breath until Phil went out the front door. As the door clicked shut he let out a sigh of relief.

Holly sat quietly opposite him, playing with the camera and occasionally glancing anxiously at the window.

Kevin raised a hand and pointed at her. “You fucking told him, didn’t you?”

Holly knitted her eyebrows together in a frown. “Dad told you to stop swearing in front of me. I suggest you do as he asks while we’re here. You never know when he’ll come back in.”

Kevin’s finger shook as he continued to point at her. “You told him I’ve hurt you, haven’t you? That was some thinly veiled threat. I’ll be fucked if I’m staying here tonight.”

“What you going to do, Kevin? Grab a bottle of water and head back to that shitbox you call a car?” She pointed at the window, her own finger shaking just as much as Kevin’s was, but in rage rather than fear. “Are you just going to walk down the driveway in the middle of the night, with some lunatic totting a shotgun out there, and my father itching for an excuse to hit somebody with his axe? He could mistake you for the nutter out there, you know. Wouldn’t be the first time.”

Kevin stood, knocking the chair backwards. Only its solid construction stopped it from tipping over. “What do you mean it wouldn’t be the first time?”

A noise at the window caused them both to turn toward it. A peel of thunder exploded overhead and blue-white lightning flashed. A contorted pale face pressed hard against the dirty pane. As quick as the lightning flash it too disappeared.

Kevin went to the drawers and pulled them out. “Where the fuck does your dad keep his knives?”

Three loud thumps rattled the door. A cackling high-pitched voice called out in sing-song fashion from the other side. “Hello, kiddies. Would the owner of the yellow Corolla parked down the road care to come outside. I have a proposition for you.”

Kevin pulled a meat cleaver from another drawer. “We’ve got someone outside as well, arsehole, and if they catch you, you’re fucked...and if you touch my car, you’re fucked,” he added.

“Is that so, little man? Would it be someone other than the owner of this property, for you see we’ve already taken care of him.”

Holly screamed. “Daddy!”

Kevin ran around the table and grabbed her by the arm. “Shut up. I’m sure Phil’s fine. They’re bluffing.”

Thunder echoed across the plains again.

Holly turned and buried her face in Kevin’s chest. “What are we going to do?”

“Do you have your phone?”

Holly reluctantly let go of him and grabbed her backpack from the corner and upended it on the floor. Kevin snatched the mobile as soon as it fell free. He flipped it open. “Fuck me, is nothing going to go right tonight?”

Holly looked down at the screen. No signal.

The shotgun exploded into the night once more, but the gunshot wasn’t from the porch. It came from much further down the driveway. Lightning flashed turning the blackness outside into a false daylight. The after image was burnt into Kevin’s vision. A small figure dressed in black aimed a rifle back down the gravel road. Lightning flashed again. The area outside the house was empty.

“That fucker has gone to destroy my car.”

“Give a shit about your car. What about my dad?”

Kevin turned and grabbed Holly painfully by the upper arm. “You don’t get it. I’ve got two kilos in the boot. I was going to drop it off on the way home tomorrow. If I can’t deliver it, who do you think will be in the shit then?”

“You told me you’d finished with all that.”

Kevin pushed her back against the wall and turned toward the front door. “I lied.”

He threw open the door as the lightning flashed again. A pattering of rain had begun to fall and was slowly gaining in strength. Kevin stepped out into the night, the light of the moon now hidden by storm clouds. Holly ran to the open doorway. With a hand gripping each side of the frame, and the strengthening winds whipping her hair behind her, she watched Kevin run down the driveway with the cleaver held before him.

The roar of the gun mimicked the thunder overhead. Kevin’s legs slipped out from under him, driving him hard onto the rain-slick driveway. The cleaver slipped from his grasp and slid to a stop a meter away. He struggled to one knee and dragged himself forward.

A shadow detached itself from the blackness on the side of the road. Kevin held out a hand in desperation. “Phil, help me.”

Phil swung the axe with practised precision, driving it down through Kevin’s clavicle until he split the sternum. “I told you what would happen if you swore in my house—,” he said as he wrenched it free. Kevin obliged by staying upright on his knees, a look of bewilderment on his face, his arm still stretched out before him.

“—or in front of my daughter.” Phil swung again, creating a clean V shape from the other side of Kevin’s head. He smiled as Kevin folded forward and crumpled on the driveway in a growing puddle of body fluids, his head only attached to the rest of him by his backbone. A few more quick swings and Kevin was six neat packages ready for the hogs.

Holly ran out into the storm and wrapped her arms around her father. “Thank you, Daddy.”

Phil gave her a quick hug and then pushed her away. “Go get back inside you silly girl, and put the kettle on. We’ll need a hot drink once we’re done.” He gestured at the bloody remains at their feet. “The Christmas ham will be something special next year thanks to you and your brother.”

Holly nodded and gave her father another hug before she turned and sprinted back into the house. She filled the kettle and placed it on the stove before kicking off her muddy shoes. She picked up the camera from the table and opened the inner door.

The plush apricot carpet was soft under her toes as she walked along the hallway. She knocked gently on the first door she came to. Without waiting she turned the handle and stepped into her brother’s room. “Hi Peter. You left this out on the road.”

Peter sat up from lounging on his bed where he was reading his book. “Thanks, sis. Sally must have dropped it. Everything okay out there?” he nodded toward the front of the house.

Holly nodded. “Sally? Is she the girl in the pictures? Anyone I should know about?”

Peter shook his head as a smile played at the corners of his mouth. “Not anymore.”

Holly shivered. “I need to get out of these wet clothes. Could you keep an eye on the kettle for me? They want a hot drink when they’re done.”

Peter swung his legs over the side of the bed, closing his book, but keeping his thumb in place as a page marker. “Sure.”

Holly ran quickly down to her bedroom and changed into dry clothes. She slipped on her house slippers and made her way back to the kitchen. She ran around the table and hugged her mother. “Hi, Mum. It’s so nice to be home for Christmas.”

Maggie kissed her daughter on the cheek and then rubbed away the white marks her makeup had left on her daughter’s face. “It’s nice to have you back where you belong.”

Phil turned from the kitchen bench with a mug of steaming tea in hand. He took his place at the head of the table and raised his mug. “I’d like to thank God, for delivering my children back home to Maggie and me, and for helping us remove the burdens they had in their life. May He protect us and allow us to continue to care for these children in His name. Amen.”

Maggie, Peter, and Holly all raised their mugs. “Amen!”

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Decision

For the next little while, I'll continue to post some of my prevously published stuff, just so it's out there, but, I'm trying out some new stuff for my back and it seems to be making a difference.

I hurt less. I can sit for longer - but the desire to sit and write has not returned.

For now, my writing days are over :c(

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On A Roll

In mid-2009, writing had taken over my life. I'd begun spending six or more hours a day at the keyboard. Time to do anything else seemed to just fall away. I was obsessed. I was hooked. I should have been committed.

May saw two more publications in print. These are both in the Erotic genre so I won't repost them here. See the bibliography for more details on where you can order them if you really want to.

June saw the posting of my acceptance into the inaugural 52 Stitches anthology put together by Aaron Polson.

Murky Depths
Originally posted here

Richard braced his foot against the back of the boat, a massive rod bent almost to breaking point in his hands. “Get the bloody chair organised.”


Andrew, his best mate since pre-school, gestured him toward the waiting game fishing chair, but he couldn’t drag the rod backwards. He flipped the lever on the reel and allowed the line to spool freely into the water. The monster on the other end didn’t need a second invitation and took off; nylon zinged from the rig.

Shrugging off the thought of having to wind in all the line now disappearing into the deep blue, Richard settled into the chair and allowed his friend to buckle him in. “What took so long?”

“The pin securing the chair to the deck was bent, but I straightened it out,” Andrew said. “Should be fine now.”

Richard flipped the lever on his new fishing rig to stop the free spool of line and began winding the thick aqua blue nylon back on. The line went taught causing the rod to bend. Leaning forward, Richard reeled in as fast as he could before pulling the rod back, drawing the piscatorial wonder on the other end closer to the boat. “This thing is huge,” he gasped as he leaned forward and wound on again. “We won’t be needing to shop for seafood for some time to come.”

The grin on Andrew’s face matched the excitement Richard felt as the adrenaline coursed through his veins. This was life: the thrill of the hunt, the chase, the kill.

A hundred yards out from the boat and something big broke the surface and Richard’s line went slack. He leaned forward and wound on, squeezing his eyes shut as exhaustion threatened to overwhelm his muscles.

“Jesus,” said Andrew. “Quick, cut the line.”

“What, no,” said Richard, snapping open his eyes to see what was going on.

“We have to,” said Andrew, his face a deathly white, spittle flying from his sun chapped lips. “A Great White is chasing your catch, and it’s too big for this boat to handle. Some times you have to let one get away.”

Richard scanned the ripples and white caps in the boats wake. There, his giant sailfish broke the surface, pulling against the strain he’d setup on the line, almost dislocating his shoulders in the process. As it disappeared back into the water another grey torpedo shaped creature broke the surface.

“No,” yelled Richard as Andrew bent forward, a knife poised to sever the line. “That shark can go to hell before I let it win.” He leaned forward and wound on another length of line, ignoring the screaming muscles in his back.

“You don’t have enough time or strength—,” Andrew stood motionless as the pin holding the chair to the deck gave way. It was only ever meant to be for small game fish.

Richard sucked in a lungful of air as the chair broke free, but it was forced from him as he struck the rail and went over into the water. Instinctively he unclasped the belt around his waist and kicked free of the fast descending chair.

A black shape sped by him. The sailfish was magnificent as it shot through the water. The gleaming hook in the side of its mouth the only blemish. The heavy weighted nylon between the steel barb and the fishing rod still tangled with the chair snapped taught, cleanly severing Richard’s right ear and filling the water with blood.

Another shape sped past him.

Richard struggled to the surface. In the distance the boat was turning, Andrew, at the helm, waved in his direction. He tried to raise an arm in reply but his energy reserves were spent.

He dipped below the surface. Beneath him the darkness resolved into his worst nightmare: a gaping maw full of razor-sharp teeth. Fresh water tears and warm urine mingle with the sea as Richard tried to utter a final expletive.

Intense pain immediately dulled as he was shaken from side to side.

The sailfish streaked by, iridescent scales flashing in the red filtered sunlight.

Richard wished he was the one which got away as the Great White rose from the depths again.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Academy Of Art

While I was busy trying to learn how to write, I had big ideas on getting a job in the industry. My line of thinking was something like - "How cool would it be to get paid, not only for writing fiction, but by a real employer for doing something I love?"

So I enroled in a professional writing course at the local Academy of Art. I completed six semesters, 18 months. I gained distinctions and credits. I did pretty well. I got bored.

Before I let it go, I had a running battle with one of the lecturers. He was the type I thought fitted quite well into the old cliche of "those who can, do, those who can't, teach". In particular, he continually ragged on me about the content of my essays or my stories. Then came Idolatry. Doing a search on Idolatry as the tag word on this blog will bring up the history, but it became a personal challenge to get this thing published somewhere.

Eventually, it found a home in NVF Issue #5 which was flogged off at some big convention in the USA. Other writers who gained the TOC for that issue have assured me it was all real, but I never received my contributor's copy, and when I paid for a copy, it seems I lost my money, and still didn't get to see this story in print. To be honest, I only wanted the copy to throw at the lecturer along with a few choice words on how little he actually knew.

Without further ado...I present:

Idolatry
Published in print: NVF #5

Alan looked up and down the dimly lit side street; grey-white tendrils of mist crept from the sewer grates to spread a carpet of undulating vapour across the tarmac. Moving back under the dilapidated hotel canopy, he checked his watch.


Twin headlights appeared down the street and slowly grew in intensity as they approached. A taxi stopped in front of him amid a blue haze of exhaust fumes. The rear door opened. His client stepped onto the pavement in an ankle-length, scarlet coat with matching stilettos, the red jarring against the backdrop of the yellow cab and the grey-white mist. It seemed she’d decided to disregard his advice to dress down for the environment.

As the cab drove away, she joined him under the protection of the canopy as a light rain began to fall.

Alan mentally shrugged off her appearance. He was used to dealing with high class dames he'd never be able to impress. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

Looking steadily into his eyes, she said with unmistakable determination, “My ‘husband’ ceased being able to fully function years ago. We still love each other and desperately want an heir. Gaining the Matriarch of Harappan will allow him to regain his vigour and for us to produce a son. So yes, Mr Johnson, we are very sure.”

“As you wish.” With a hand in the small of her back, he guided her inside the hotel.

The clerk looked up from the counter. In a thick Sicilian accent he greeted them. “Not such a good night to be out and about, hey? What can I do for you?”

“Room 6, please,” Alan said.

“Ah, Mr Johnson. Glad to see you back, sir.” The clerk took a key from its hook and handed it to him. “If you would sign for the key please?”

“I’m glad to see you too, Tony.” Alan scrawled his moniker across the page, his sleeve leaving a thin trail of moisture in its path. Dropping the pen into the fold of the book, he headed for the stairs. He didn’t wait to see if she’d follow; he knew she would.

The room held a small double bed, like those used in a display home, a nightstand with a single lamp and a clock radio. The display flashed in evidence of a recent power outage. A gold bedspread complemented the beige carpet, and heavy brown curtains hung in front of the single window. The lingering aroma of cleaning products almost cloaked the stale smell of cigarette smoke and past moments of passion.

Alan allowed her to enter the room first before he closed the door.

His guest turned at the sound. “Straight to business or have you decided to rob me?”

“Sorry to disappoint you, ma’am, but I’m an honest business man. We’re here to complete a simple transaction and then go our separate ways. Perhaps you’d prefer a drink before we continue?”

“Maybe a glass of champagne once the deal has concluded.”

“As you wish, but for now have a seat. Take off your coat and relax. I’ll go get your new aquisition.”

“Is it far?” she said, unmistakable excitement creeping into her voice.

He smiled. “Not far. When I go, don’t open this door for anyone. I won’t be long.”

He left her standing in the middle of the room and headed downstairs. The clerk smiled as he approached. “Ah, Mr Johnson. How may I be of service to you?”

“I need my property from the hotel safe, please.”

“Of course, sir.”

Alan drummed the tune of the William Tell Overture on the counter with his fingers as he waited. He ceased his solo concert as the clerk returned from the manager’s office, carrying a package of similar size and shape to the Women’s US Open tennis cup wrapped in plain brown paper.

“Here we are, sir,” said the clerk as he passed the package over the counter. “She is heavy.”

As Alan reached to take it, a gunshot exploded through the glass front door. The round took the clerk in the chest. He slumped forward. Alan steadied the package on top of the registry book as it slipped from the clerk’s fingers. The Sicilian’s knees buckled. Without a word he closed his eyes and slid below the countertop.

A cloaked man stepped through the ruined glass door with a pistol levelled at Alan. The large silencer on its muzzle explained the lack of a gunshot. “Thank you, Mr Johnson. I’ll take that.”

Alan raised his hands.

The stranger moved toward the counter. “Nasty cuts you have there,” he said with a flick of the barrel toward Alan’s raised hands.

Alan kept his hands above his head but snapped them into closed fists. “Occupational hazard.”

The shooter picked up the package, nestling its bulk under his arm. “I know someone who’ll pay a pretty penny for this.”

“That already belongs to me,” said Alan’s client from the stairs. Alan hadn’t heard her come down.

The shooter turned toward her voice, levelling his pistol at her. “Ah, Mrs Pendlebury. I should’ve known your husband would be in the market for this. Perhaps I should give him a call, and allow him to make a counter offer. But then, that would upset the Oppenheims, and I wouldn’t want that.”

“How did you know it was here?” Alan asked.

The shooter casually waved the pistol barrel between his two captives. “I knew your grandfather was in possession of it for many years, but kept it securely hidden away in a bank. On his death, I followed it to you.”

“I’m guessing you know of the journal my grandfather kept, then. It contains the Matriarch’s history--her powers--everything. She is useless without knowledge of the rituals.”

The shooter retrained the pistol on him. “No, I didn’t know about that, but it would make sense. I imagine you’re stupid enough to have it here, as well.”

The shooter extended his arm holding the gun when Alan took a step toward the stairs. “No sudden movements. I wouldn’t want there to be any misunderstanding between us.”

Alan nodded toward the stairs. “It’s in my room.”

The shooter motioned with the pistol for Alan to continue. “I think you should accompany us, Mrs Pendlebury. If you’d be so kind as to walk ahead of Mr Johnson, so I can keep you both in sight.”

Alan stepped up to her, and guided her back upstairs. Once inside his room, they stood near the bed.

The shooter closed the door. “Where’s the journal?”

“It’s in the room safe, but I’m not telling you the combination until you let her go,” Alan said.

“That’s very chivalrous of you,” the shooter said, “but you’re in no position to bargain. Now open the safe.”

Alan walked to the wardrobe door and slid it open to reveal the room safe.

Mrs Pendlebury moved closer to the bed. “Do you mind if I sit while you rob me?”

“Not at all, my dear. Be my guest,” the shooter said.

She sat on the edge of the bed and crossed her legs. Her scarlet coat fell open to reveal her stocking-covered leg to mid-thigh.

Alan licked the sweat from his top lip as he keyed in the code and opened the safe door. He glanced over his shoulder. No one seemed to be interested in watching him anymore. His client sat batting her eyelashes at the shooter, who stood transfixed by her exposed portion of thigh. In one smooth motion he grabbed his own silenced pistol from the safe, flicked the safety off, turned, and double tapped the trigger.

Bewilderment crossed the shooter’s face as his legs refused to support him any longer. He fell forward, his pistol dropping harmlessly from his fingers. The package bounced once and came to rest beside the gun.

Mrs Pendlebury stood and moved toward it, but Alan raised his gun and pointed it at her. “If you’ll just wait while I retrieve his weapon. I wouldn’t want there to be any misunderstanding between us.”

She raised her hands. “Of course, Mr Johnson. I meant only to retrieve my property.”

Alan went down on one knee and pocketed the shooter’s gun before he gestured to the package. Still keeping the gun pointed in her direction, he stepped back and allowed her to retrieve the ancient tantric idol.

“I’ll phone the police and sort all this out,” he said gesturing to the body beside them. “Your name won’t be mentioned.”

“That’s very kind, but you said there was a journal which was required to invoke her powers. I’m sure my husband would be happy to pay extra for that.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs Pendlebury. That was just an excuse to get him in here, so I could get my gun. You need to be able to protect yourself when you have a product which is in demand. I appreciate you providing a distraction.”

“I took a chance. I thought you must be up to something to have agreed so easily. Perhaps a discount is in order?”

Alan chuckled softly as he shook his head. “I’m sorry, Mrs Pendlebury. Your distraction made it easier for me, but I would have shot him anyway.”

“Very well then, Mr Johnson,” she said with a curt nod. “I assume our business here is concluded.” She withdrew a thick yellow envelope from inside her coat. Alan gained a brief flash of a black lace camisole beneath, stark against the alabaster skin of her chest. “You’ll find it all here--as agreed.”

Alan took the envelope, conscious of the fleeting touch of their fingers in the exchange. Casually he glanced inside to confirm payment. Folding the flap closed, he strode to the room safe and placed the envelope and the dead man’s pistol in it before he shut the door. A cadence of electronic musical notes confirmed the safe was secure.

“I think it would be best if we skipped the champagne,” Alan said as he turned to face his client.

Mrs Pendlebury nodded. “Under the circumstances I believe that to be prudent.”

He led her downstairs, shielding her from the sight of the dead clerk.

“What happened to the door?” she asked.

“It’s a rough neighbourhood. It will be fixed before morning. You should hurry home. I’m sure Mr Pendlebury will be anxious to try out his new acquisition.”

He watched his client signal a taxi from the cab rank further down the street, and waited for the red tail lights to disappear into the swirling mist and increasing rain, before he returned to his room. After securing the door, Alan unlocked his ensuite. The far wall had a single shelf stretched across its width. On it sat packages wrapped in brown paper, identical to the one he’d just sold Mrs Pendlebury for $30,000.

At the shelf’s centre squatted a dusky wooden carving depicting a woman as she prepared to give birth, her discoloured and engorged vulva boldly displayed. Next to it laid a battered journal.

Alan kneeled before her and bowed low, whispering archaic passages he knew by heart. He had no need to refer to his grandfather’s spidery script. He interrupted his homage to retrieve a jewelled knife from a drawer in the ensuite vanity. He held it up for her inspection. A beam of light came from between her legs and struck the polished blade. He lowered it when the light vanished and sliced deeply across his palm.

He made a fist of his bleeding hand, and raised it above the Matriarch, as he chanted words his grandfather had taught him so long ago.

In the vanity’s large mirror, Alan saw smoke tendrils rise from the shooter. The body began to collapse, as if dissolving into the carpet. In moments, all traces of the corpse disappeared.

Alan opened his hand. The deep cut closed and became a pink scar, which would soon fade to match the criss-cross network he already bore. Bowing once more, he offered thanks to the idol. He stood and replaced the knife before he picked up one of the paper wrapped packages and returned to the bedroom. He closed and locked the ensuite door behind him.

As Alan walked around to the nightstand, he casually dropped the package onto the bedspread. He sat beside it and picked up his address book.

He whistled the William Tell Overture with gusto as he thumbed through the pages until he came to the Pendlebury’s listing. He grabbed the pencil next to the phone and crossed it out. He flipped the pages again until he came to the names listed under O.

Softly tapping the pencil against the tip of his nose, he considered his next move. “I wonder if the Oppenheim’s paid the recently departed, or if it was strictly cash on delivery.” He regarded his reflection in the scarred polish of the nightstand surface. He smiled and nodded. “I’m guessing they’d still be interested in gaining good health and increased virility either way; and a holiday in a new city wouldn’t do me any harm.”

Alan chuckled to himself as he dialled the Oppenheims’ number.

The Mother was with him; Jason Oppenheim answered and was shocked when Alan informed him of the shooters death after attempting to steal the artefact.

Alan switched the phone to his other ear. “However, Mr Oppenheim, before the man died, he informed me you were in the market for the idol.”

“You have been correctly informed, sir,” Oppenheim replied in his heavy southern drawl.

“Good. Then I shall be in your fair city soon to discuss an equitable exchange.”

“Then I’ll be looking forward to making your acquaintance.”

Alan hung up. He packed an overnight bag and made travel arrangements for the following day. As he disconnected from the travel agent his stomach rumbled. “Time to grab a bite to eat,” he said to the empty room.

After locking the bedroom door, Alan almost skipped down the stairs to the lobby.

“Ah, Mr Johnson. Glad to see you back, sir,” Tony said from behind the registry counter.

“I’m glad to see you too, Tony. Everything in order?” Alan asked as he strode past.

“Same as always, Mr Johnson. Same as always.”

Alan paused at the front door and used his sleeve to remove a smudge from the glass, before stepping into the night whistling his favourite Overture.

The Matriarch was still with him, covering his tracks as she'd done for his family for the past four generations, and tomorrow he had another client to meet.

Just one more mark and he could lie low again for another year or two.

He pulled his collar up and stepped out into the rain. Maybe it was time he started thinking about his own succession plans: someone to carry on the family name; the family business.

His palms itched.

Alan smiled and whistled William Tell. It seemed the Mother agreed.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Christian Writing

After being flushed with the early success (as small as it was), I began building my pile of electronic rejections slips. Stephen king once kept all his rejection slips and looked upon as them as a badge of honour. I wasn't so pragmatic and began to wonder what the heck I was doing.

I read stories I thought were rubbish, I saw other new writers gaining publication with stories I believed were less than good - I became somewhat green.

To this point, I had published something in the sci-fi genre, fantasy, and had dabbled in horror. My circle of online friends had grown and writing had taken over my life.

I began to target better, more acknowledged markets and competitions.

Triangulation run an annual comp which looked good. PARSEC is something all emerging writers should probably have a go at. A friend of mine scored an acceptance (actually two), and now another friend is a regular contributor. I wanted in.

So I wrote The Winged Shepherd. I received positive feedback from the editor of Triangulation but no acceptance. I took her advice on board and reworked it. I began subbing it around to my list of target markets.

As it bounced back, I edited somemore and resent. Eventually, it made it's way to Fear & Trembling where they asked for the removal of some nudity and one swear word. Changes made, they accepted it and threw it upon their website. I could now include Christian writing as a feather in my cap - and I'm no Christian.

Thanks to Pharo for the poem at the beginning - I'm also no poet!

The Winged Shepherd of Innocence
Published at Fear & Trembling

As babies sleep, she circles home,



So white of skin and frail of bone.


By Death’s black side, her steps are light;


She helps new souls find rest each night.

God’s special few are gently taken,


Their grieving parents left forsaken.


Broken hearts and questions why,


Pursue the darkened path she flies.

She reaps what others planted well,


And in her wake there sounds the knell.


Upon His right hand they will sit,


Delivered from the burning pit.

So parents guard your charges well;


Protect them from the gates of Hell.


But Death will choose without regard,


For Satan or for Holy Lord.

Anon


Forked lightning struck the sea, its passage turning the black roiling cloud of its birth a sickly dark green. Only two or three times each winter would a storm of this magnitude rise out of the Great Southern Ocean.

“You’re an idiot! You never should’ve brought a woman and child out here. What were you thinking?” Kevin mumbled to himself.

“I’m going inside!” Susan yelled, as she shielded their three-month-old son Neville from the rising wind.

Kevin nodded, one hand holding his hat in place while the other steadied the expensive camera on its lightweight aluminium tripod. He raised his own voice so she could hear over the wind. “I think that’s best. I’ll join you soon. I just want to get a few more pictures of this front as it rolls in.”

He watched her walk back to the two-story rental cottage. It was the original lighthouse keeper’s residence. The National Trust had restored it to its former glory and now allowed the public to rent it. Susan didn’t look back as she took their son inside.

He continued to snap pictures as the storm cell gathered momentum. Wind gusts increased in strength, whipping sand from the nearby beach against his cheeks. Mother Nature’s invisible fingers ripped the cap from his head as he used both hands to steady the tripod.

The storm’s vanguard spread across the horizon and loomed over the island like a cobra preparing to strike an unwary victim. The green-black clouds blotted out the last rays of sunlight, bringing an early nightfall to the isolated outpost. Lightning flashes came more quickly, tracing vivid white lines across the churning cloud front.

The stern voice of his long-dead mother echoed through his mind. “Get inside, you naughty boy! Don’t you know lightning like that could set off a seizure?”

He didn’t care; he never had. He’d been drawn to big storms all his life. His passion was to catch the powerful images on film, and he made decent money from it, with sales to magazines all over the world.

But that was before the arrival of his son. For the last few months, getting out into the field to capture his images had been difficult. Pushing his glasses firmly back onto the bridge of his nose, he hoisted the camera and tripod under his arm and ran the two hundred metres to the cottage.

The strong southerly winds ripped the door handle from his grasp as he opened it, slamming it against the sturdy oak doorstop. He stepped into the entrance alcove and shouldered the door shut before carefully stowing his gear in the corner.

After he’d ensured the latch was firmly in place, he opened the interior door. On their first day, Susan had made the mistake of leaving both doors open. It had taken them a couple of hours to tidy up the house after a whirling dervish had ripped through it. The gale outside today was probably ten times stronger.

The smells coming from the quaint kitchen stopped him in his tracks. Homemade bread and biscuits! His mouth was watering as he made a beeline for the tray of fresh-baked goodies he spied on the rustic timber dining table.

“Don’t you dare, Kevin Waters! I’ve been baking them all afternoon.” Susan warned with a glare and a pointed finger as she entered from the kitchen.

“I wasn’t--honestly,” he replied meekly. The use of his full name vanquished any thought of a pre-dinner snack.

He must have looked like a sullen schoolboy, with hands thrust into his pockets as he stared mournfully at his boot tops, because Susan’s stern tone softened. “Okay, just one, but then I want you to go up and check on Neville before we start preparing for dinner.”

With a mouthful of delicious biscuit he mumbled, “You’d better break out the extra candles and lanterns, hon. I don’t think we’ll have power for much longer.”

She held up a box of candles and a lantern with the “already ahead of you” look on her face. He shrugged his shoulders and spread his palms outward, as if calling on higher powers to help him win occasionally.

“It’s not safe out here for you and Neville. If the storm has blown over by tomorrow morning, why don’t you two head back to the mainland? I’ll only be out here for another week, and then I’ll be home.”

“You can’t keep doing this, Kevin. You have a family to think about now.”

“And how do you think I get the money to for this family to enjoy the things it does, Susan? I’m a freelance photographer. It’s either environmental stuff like this; wildlife stuff like sharks and seals; or chase celebrities around. I know you don’t want me going anywhere near animals that consider me part of the menu, and you think the paparazzi are parasites. That doesn’t leave me a lot of choice.”

“There’s still--”

Kevin cut her off. “I am not accepting money from your dad! We’ve talked about this already. Taking photos of stuffy individuals and their snot-nosed brats is not art. It would barely pay the bills, with very little left over for the nice things we like. It’s not happening.”

To end the discussion, Kevin went upstairs to check on his son. The clatter of plates on the table and the slamming of cupboard doors from the kitchen told him this was only a temporary reprieve.

Quietly he opened the door to his son’s room. He could hear Neville cooing in his crib. The sliver of light from the hallway fell across his son, allowing Kevin to see he was still awake. A distant clap of thunder caused Kevin to jump, but his son never flinched. “You all right, buddy? You should be asleep.”

His son tried to roll toward his voice, but the tightly tucked blankets kept him on his back. Kevin quickly checked to ensure they were still snug. He wound up the mobile which hung over the crib. Dulcet notes filled the room as colourful moons and stars twirled above his son’s head. Within minutes, Neville’s eyes were struggling to stay open.

Kevin quietly closed the door and headed for the stairs. A thunderclap announced its presence directly overhead. The old structure shook, as if it, too, shared the fear racing through Kevin at that moment. He sneezed. Dust and soot shaken loose from the exposed rafters now swirled through the air. From years of open fires, the fine particles had worked into every nook and cranny throughout the house. The occasional renters’ mistake of leaving both front doors open only helped it spread.

Kevin waved a hand in front of his face, batting away the dust particles that swirled around him, making a mental note to tell the National Trust the cottage was overdue a good cleaning.

Suddenly the lights flickered and went out, replaced by a flash of dazzling brilliance from a lightning bolt touching down somewhere close by. The sound of breaking glass drew him to the top of the stairs. “Susan? Are you okay?”

He descended carefully and entered the combined lounge, dining and kitchen area, guided by the naked flame of the lantern sitting next to the tray of fresh biscuits.

Susan’s head popped up from the other side of the table. “Sorry. I dropped the lantern cover. That flash of lightning scared the bejesus out of me.”

Kevin circled the table, cuddling up behind his wife. Slowly, he massaged her shoulders in an effort to calm her. “I’ll get a fire started so we can save on candles.”

“Okay. I’ll finish getting dinner ready. Your tablets are on the shelf next to the oregano.”

Kevin gave her shoulders a final squeeze and accompanied it with nuzzling and a soft kiss to her neck. He smiled at Susan’s involuntary sigh. He playfully swatted her backside as he moved to the huge fireplace. Maybe they could just enjoy an evening together instead of fighting all the time.

He was still looking up the chimney when he heard Susan place dinner on the table. The wind channelled down the flue, blowing out each match he tried to light.

“I think you’ll need to close the damper first,” Susan said. “Let the flame get a hold before the wind can blow it out.”

Kevin looked back at her. “Do you happen to know how we close the damper?”

Squeezing into the space next to him, Susan reached up into the chimney. She grunted as she pulled back on an old iron ring. Somewhere above they heard the clang as a metal plate closed over the opening. She kissed him on the cheek and playfully patted his rump. “Don’t be too long, baby. Your dinner will get cold.”

Shaking his head at his continued demonstration of ineptitude, he lit a match and started the kindling. Slowly he added bigger pieces until he could see Susan beginning to squint as she sat at the table. He figured enough smoke was inside the house, and now would probably be a good time to open the damper again. He reached up and pulled on another, higher, iron ring. The ingenious old pulley system inside the ancient chimney levered the damper open.

Susan rewarded him with a big smile as he passed her on the way to wash his hands.

After dinner they rested comfortably before the fire, listening to the raging sounds of the storm outside. An even brighter flash of lightning than the earlier near miss followed another house-shaking clap of thunder. They could smell the ozone over the faint reminder of dinner. The hair on Kevin’s arms stood to attention as testament to the over-charged atmosphere.

Susan extricated herself from his embrace. “I’ll go check on Neville. I’m surprised we haven’t heard a peep from him through all this.”

Kevin watched the gentle sway of Susan’s hips as she moved toward the stairs. She grabbed a candle off the dining table to light her way. As she placed her hand on the banister, a powerful gust of wind slammed into the house. It forced its way down the chimney, extinguishing the candles in the living area, and the one in Susan’s hand, leaving the weakened fire as their only source of light.

The icy winds of the Antarctic instantly removed all warmth from the room. Their breaths plumed in little misty clouds before them. “Holy shit, that was cold!” Kevin said, briskly rubbing his arms.

“Quick, narrow the damper in case it happens again,” Susan said as she retrieved a match to relight her candle.

Kevin leaned over the fire pit as Susan headed upstairs. The heat of the flames warmed his skin and clothing. “Now which ring did what?” he mumbled to himself.

Susan’s scream caused him to jerk upright. Pain exploded behind his eyes as he smashed his head against the underside of the quarried mantle.

Taking the steps two and three at a time, he rushed to his son’s room.

Susan stood beside the crib with Neville cradled in one arm. Her other hand pushed furiously against his chest. She bent her head and blew gently into his mouth, trying to force air into his lungs. Finally noticing Kevin in the doorway, she looked up, her eyes pleading. “He isn’t breathing!”

Tears flowed freely down her cheeks, mixing with the soot on Neville’s face to leave long gray streaks.

After what seemed like an eternity, she hugged Neville’s little body to her breast. “When I came in, he’d managed to roll over. There’s dust and soot all over the place. He’s like ice. He’s like that wind! He’s gone. Our little boy’s gone! Why did we ever have to come to this godforsaken place?”

Kevin reached out a tentative hand toward his son, but Susan turned away. “He’s dead, Kevin, and it’s your fault. You’re the one who made us come out to this shit-hole. You’re the one who was too proud to take a helping hand from Daddy.”

“Susan, please, let me see.”

Reluctantly she allowed him to caress Neville’s forehead. His fingers left a trail in the soot. His little boy was cold.

He stepped back into the doorway, watching his wife cradle their dead son. She seemed determined not to let her sobs exit her lean frame without a struggle.

Her beautiful features and cold words left no doubt whom she blamed.

He wiped his hands across his face and was surprised at the moisture he found on them. He hadn’t realised he’d begun crying.

‘Useless as a husband and a father,’ he thought. He knew Susan’s blame was well placed. The fine dust and soot was layered over his son’s crib. He remembered the earlier thunderclap, the sneeze. All that crap falling on Neville’s face. He must have rolled over to try and get away from it. And he’d not gone back in to check on him. The breaking lantern cover had distracted him, but he knew that was a flimsy excuse. He’d just not put two and two together. He’d failed as a father. He’d failed when his son needed him most.

A loud crash came from downstairs. The sound of the wind roaring through the downstairs area was clearly audible. Icy fingers brushed past him as it howled up the stairs. The latches on both front doors must have failed.

Torn between the unsolvable situation of his wife and son, and the solvable maelstrom downstairs, he chose to fix the only thing he could.

Kevin raced down the stairs to close the outer door before the wind tore apart everything inside the house. He pulled up short on the bottom step and stared in horror at the translucent figure walking away from him, as if it had just alighted from the same step he still stood on. With lightning flashes glinting from its ebony scythe, it glided toward the open doorway.

A nearby strike lit up the scene, allowing Kevin to see the Reaper wasn’t alone. Walking in front of him, huddling against the force of the wind, was a woman dressed in a similar long black cloak. The wind whipped her blonde hair wildly about her head but she kept her gaze bent before her. As she cleared the outer door, the cloak’s real nature was revealed as she expanded giant wings. Her naked white back and buttocks contrasted sharply against the black of her feathers. She leaped into the teeth of the tempest, beating her wings furiously to rise toward the black clouds overhead.

She turned against the onslaught of the storm, and Kevin saw the babe she protected in her arms.

Kevin forced himself through the doorway on the heels of the Reaper. He had failed his son once. This might be his last chance. He lunged for the hem of the Reaper’s black cloak. His hand passed through the material, instantly blackening his fingers, and filling him with a coldness that felt like a thousand ice shards driven directly into his soul.

Mindless fear raced through him as the Reaper turned a faceless cowl in his direction, regarding him as he lay in the freezing mud.

Cradling his injured hand against his chest, Kevin knelt before death personified. “Please, take me instead,” he croaked. “Allow my son to live. I beg you, please. Please!”

No movement indicated whether the Reaper understood. It turned and rose in the direction of the winged female. Kevin could still make out her naked white form getting further and further away.

He looked around in desperation, trying to find something that would allow him to stop these phantoms from taking his son. Susan stood in the open doorway holding the mortal remains of their child, her hair streaming out behind her as she watched him grovel in the mud.

With increasing frequency, the bolts struck the island and the surrounding sea, the strobe effect creating stark contrasts. The nerve synapses in Kevin’s body began to fire erratically. He’d forgotten to take his pills; they were still beside his wife’s favourite spice. As he fell, he turned his head to plead for help. The doorway was empty.

Fighting against the onset of his seizure, he nodded his acceptance of her actions. She must think him mad. Kevin could imagine what he looked like: a grieving father wailing his sorrow against Mother Nature at her worst. In her grief, she had overlooked what effect the increasing strobe of the lightning would have on his epilepsy.

Kevin looked in the direction his son’s spirit had been taken. The rain against his glasses made it difficult to see clearly and the constant flicks of light from the overhead electricity show confused his already overloaded senses. Was the Reaper getting closer?

There was a moment of blackness, of ripping and separation, and Kevin realised he was being raised toward the storm clouds overhead. The reaper’s bony hand circled his wrist and led him quickly up to the winged creature carrying his son.

A gap in the clouds began to appear and Kevin stared in wonder at the vista before him, before turning to look at the weather beaten cottage far below. He could just make out the image of Susan bent over his body, pushing against his chest.

He could feel the pressure on his ribs, on his sternum, the wetness of her lips as she forced air into his lungs. The Reaper turned to face him. It was now he realised they were no longer ascending, no longer following his son and the Winged Shepherd.

The Reaper’s dark cowl looked down at the scene on the isolated island and then back at Kevin.

Tears mixed with the freezing rain as Kevin realised he had been given a choice. He looked up at the powerful back of the woman carrying his son, the wings beating steadily as they approached the gap in the clouds, and then down to the woman he loved.

Kevin took a deep breath before peering into the depths of blackness inside the Reapers hood and smiled. “Take care of my son.”