Monday, September 12, 2011


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.


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.