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!”

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