Sally always hated the winter bonfire.
Category: Writing Page 1 of 12
She kissed his head a thousand times but he did not stir from his deep, adolescent sleep. The mother in her wanted to shake him awake and make sure he understood every possible thing. But somehow, she managed to stand back and more like a guardian angel, trust that her love would flow into his dreams.
“Here in the Manangadang Valley we value tradition and authenticity above all else. Our methods and ingredients date back hundreds of years – well our ingredients don’t. They come up on a truck every Tuesday and Saturday from Bellingary. But the way we deal with them draws on ancient methods, honed by generations from all over the Valley and still standing up to scrutiny today.
“What in the name of all that is unholy is that thing?”
Kobal’s leathery chest puffed out with pride.
“This year’s hellhound, master. I stitched it together myself.”
“It’s an abomination.”
“Thank you, master. I’m also quite pleased with this year’s creation.”
Vilstrax closed her eyes and thought happy thoughts while she counted to ten — spit roasted unicorn, the pleasant aroma of brimstone, over boiled Jerusalem artichokes on toast — before again regarding the creature that Kobal had brought before her.
“And what, prey tell, did you stitch this years effort out of?”
“Ah, master,” replied Kobal, giving one of the hellhounds three heads a scratch under the chin. “After reviewing what went wrong last year, and the issues with the year before that, I went with a much more stable breed this year.”
Vilstrax thought back to the year before last. Kobal had stitched together the hellhound from two cocker spaniels and a dachshund. It had not been a creature that inspired fear in the general population. Indeed, one of the smaller humans tried to adopt it. Last year’s hellhound, Vilstrax had to admit, had potential. Kobal had stitched it together out of three kelpies. It was fast, liked to chase and bite its prey, and lasted about four minutes until it tried to chase five rabbits at once. Even as a demon responsible for the unspeakable torment of humans, Vilstrax still internally winced at the memory of that mess. She couldn’t blame Kobal for playing it safe this year, but still, Hell has standards.
“Kobal, what did you use?”
“Labradoodles, master. Quite popular and very intelligent. Hypo-allergenic, too.“ Kobal gave the hellhound a good scratching under the ears. ”Aren’t you a smart girls, yes you are.”
Vilstrax regarded the brick at her feet. Perhaps using Kobal as a baseline, then yes, the hellhound was a smart girls. This was going to be a long ritual, fortunately it was a long night. Best to get on with it.
“Kobal, release the hellhound!”
Kobal squatted down as best as his skeletal frame would allow. He whispered something into each of the hellhounds ears, their eyes lighting up a dull glowing orange as they received their instructions. Finishing, Kobal stood and gave the hellhound room as it began to sniff the air, its three majestically curly heads working in unison as it triangulated an elusive scent. It wasn’t long before the three heads were in agreement and this year’s hellhound took off in pursuit of its quarry.
Kobal and Vilstrax took off after the hellhound. She wasn’t sure what it was hunting other than a human of questionable quality, but the hellhound had locked onto something. It made its way down the small street that ran through the small village that they had selected for this years ritual, sniffing the ground and the air and the bit in between as it went, following the invisible trail that had been left behind. Eventually the hellhound slowed and began following a path up to one of the houses. Vilstrax and Kobal followed it at watched as it began pawing at the door, determined to go in. Vilstrax grinned a grin of too many needle-like teeth as she unsheathed her sword. Kobal pulled the hellhound back from the door as Vilstrax strode up to it, her sword lighting up in flames as she did so. She barely broke her stride as she kicked the door clear off its hinges.
The hellhound rushed into the house, snagging a jacket on on of its heads as it did so. It bounded up the stairs in a clatter as it dragged the coat rack, four coats, and an umbrella as it homed in on its prey. Vilstrax and Kobal followed, the light from Vilstrax’s sword illuminating the way. At the top of the stairs, they found the hellhound scratching away at a door and again, the door flew inwards as Vilstrax barged through.
The hellhound bounded onto the bed within and began nudging and slobbering on the sleeping occupant who awoke to a three headed hound and a face with more teeth than necessary grinning at him. Before he could scream, Vilstrax had the suddenly awake human by the throat and lifted him up until his hair brushed the ceiling. The hellhound began chewing his pillow.
“Kobal, what is this human most foul guilty of?”
Kobal sniffed the human. “Murder, master.” A quick lick of the humans leg, “The murder of millions, master. The worst of the murderers in this village.”
Vilstrax regarded the human in her grasp. It didn’t look like a warrior, a slayer of millions. She looked around the bedroom. She’d been in the bedrooms of those who had slayed millions. This was not one of those. Plus, surely if there had been a murderer of millions up here, she’d still be stuck down below sorting through the immigration paperwork.
“What, praytell, is this human the murderer of millions of?”
With a fingernail the length of a breadknife, Kobal poked the human. “Yesterday he committed genocide, master. He stamped poke and he squished poke and he poisoned poke until there were no poke more poke left poke.”
Decapitated teddy bears, an ice cream van at a playground on a hot day that had no ice cream left but continued to play that damn music in to eternity. Vilstrax was rapidly running out of happy thoughts.
“Kobal, what did this human murder?”
“Those little tiny black creatures, master. That scurry across the earth. He poke murdered them.”
Vilstrax closed her eyes. When she opened them, the fire in them had gone out. She flicked her sword and the fire on that went out as well. She took in the havoc that the hellhound had caused in the bedroom, the pillows were destroyed and it had somehow tangled itself up in the doona. Its purpose finished, it was snoozing happily on most of the bed. She gently lowered the human back onto the bed beside the snoring hellhound, apologising profusely for disturbing his slumber and offering the hellhound as compensation.
Vilstrax threw Kobal through the window just as the sun crested the horizon. He was dust before he the hit the ground. The sunlight shone on the curtains as a breeze gently billowed them, allowing fingers of light to play over Kilstrax’s form as it began to crumble.
I love I love my little COLANDER girl!
Yeah, sweet COLANDER girl!
I love I love my little COLANDER girl!
Every single day of the year.
John Tully was trying to do the dishes, but his brother Fred was being particularly obnoxious today.
Fred picked up the old colander from the clean dish rack, and flicked it, like it was a top hat, on and off his head.
John could have clocked him, right then and there, with a saucepan, but remembered that Fred had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. John had thought their late parents would have approved Fred moving in with him, but John was beginning to feel uneasy with that decision.
Online forums warned him people with dementia could get pretty challenging. Walking around the house in the nude, blabbing all day about nothing, or mistaking their coffee cup for a phone.
John sent a silent curse to his wife, Sheila, for leaving on a cruise last week, and for Fred’s wife, Toni, for dying six months ago. They both would know what to do right now.
Fred was in full dance mode. It reminded him of the 1960s when Fred’s favourite annoying habit was to plague his younger brother with puns based on popular songs.
Today they were called Mondegreens. But John believed Fred invented them, back then. He’d sing Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy, and try to kiss John on the cheek. The Ants Are My Friends and make little ant moves with his fingers up John’s arm.
Fred would point and sing There’s a Bathroom On Your Right to Creedence’s lyric There’s a bad moon on the rise, whenever they passed in the corridor at home.
Each time, back then, John would shove Fred into a wall, or flick him with a teatowel, or there’d be a full on brawl, which Fred, no matter what a hiding he got, would emerge from with a silly grin, saying “I gotcha” as he ran for his life.
But Fred knew full well that John had a particular hatred for Neil Sedaka songs. There was pop, and then there was fairy floss, and John thought Sedaka was a crock.
Unfortunately, at one point in their youth, that seemed to be all that was on the radio station their Mum played. All day it would be Oh Carol, or Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen or Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.
Mum had no idea what she’d unleashed because it sent John straight into Black Sabbath, the Rolling Stones, The Who and Jimi Hendrix, which proceeded to plague her with from his room for a number of years before he moved out.
But back to 2019 – John was woken from his reverie by Fred tapping on his head with that f—in colander again, then shaking it and singing loudly in his ear:
January: you start the year off fine
February you’re my little Valentine
March I’m gonna march you down the aisle
April you’re an Easter Bunny when you smile
Yeah Yeah Yeah My heart’s in a whirl
I love I love I love my little COLANDER girl
Every day (every day) Every day (every day) of the year!
John was NOT in the mood. Just today, he’d been told his services at the hardware store were no longer required. Josie had the guts to inform him that he was too old and they needed to hire 15-year-olds. Sorry.
John’s wife, Sheila, was evidently more concerned these days in hanging out (i.e. getting drunk) with her mates than spending time with him. (“You wouldn’t mind if I went on a two month cruise, would you John?” she asked. “You’ll love spending time with Fred.” John did credit that she managed not to smirk).
To top it all, John was sure he had cancer. If it wasn’t the dodgy bladder, it was the sun spots or that cough he’d develop lately. He didn’t reckon he had much time left.
Meanwhile Fred was into a new verse. And only getting louder.
Maybe if I ask your Dad and Mom (June)
They’ll let me take you to the junior Prom
(July) like a fire cracker all aglow
(August) when you’re on the beach you steal the show
It was then that John cracked.
“Fred!!” he shouted, after Fred grabbed his shoulder to emphasise the singing.
John grabbed the colander out of Fred’s hand and whacked it at Fred. Not hard, but it hit Fred in the face and he went off balance in shock and fell backward.
Fred hit his head on the kitchen bench, so hard it sounded like a sledge hammer hitting a solid object.
Fred fell like a tree, sideways, and like a dead weight on to the floor.
For a few seconds, John stood there in shock. He bent down, and tried to slap Fred. He poured water on him. In panic, now, he checked his pulse. Nothing. John put his hand over Fred’s mouth and nose. No air was coming out.
He did chest compressions and mouth to mouth, but it was futile. Fred was dead.
John squatted there in the kitchen, his head in his hands, for what seemed like a long time.
Yes, Fred was a pain in the arse, but he didn’t deserve to die.
He’d have to tell the police, Fred’s kids and Sheila, wherever she was, what happened.
Then John felt a tickle in his throat and it wasn’t a cough.
John was overcome by uncontrollable laughter, so hard it made him cry.
There were bizarre colander shaped dots imprinted on Fred’s nose. Fred would find it funny, he was sure.
John had believed Neil Sedaka was the death of good music but his music had actually caused the death of Fred.
It would be a weird one to put on the death certificate: death by colander.
The only thing missing from her list was a colander.
It was 3am. Pitch black. Dead quiet outside, as she schlepped, for the fourth time that night, to the toilet, which was across the hall and kitchen.
Her bladder was playing funny buggers but it was no laughing matter at all. She wasn’t a man with an enlarged prostate, so what was the deal with that? Was she getting kidney cancer? Probably.
And she just could not stay asleep. Every night, she’d sleep for the first three hours then toss and turn, wide awake, until morning.
She’d tried all the usual tricks. Have a glass of milk (cue more toilet trips), toss and turn (no joy), lie stock still (she just got bored), or listen to terrible overnight radio (why did they always play some god-awful 1950s drama serial just as she woke up? Or some talkback caller droning on about his psoriasis?).
As for TV, forgeddaboutit. She’d rather go out and mow the lawn than tolerate those Fat Blaster machine advertorials or re-runs of Bewitched.
She tried reading a book. That, at least, was fairly pleasant, but gnawing away in her head was the through that, every hour, two hours, then three, was hacking into her total sleep hours.
In short, she couldn’t win, short of taking drugs.
She wasn’t yet that desperate, but she had a feeling it was any day now.
She’d end up a hopelessly addicted hag, sitting with a hat and a sign on Swanston street, peddling for money to score.
With that happy thought, Monica entered the kitchen door and made her usual glance around to check for serial killers. Or ghosts. Or a serial killer’s ghost. She chuckled.
And screamed loudly enough to wake the dead, and backed against the kitchen bench. Sitting on a kitchen chair, his legs crossed on the table, was what looked like a giant smurf.
Bare blue chest and face, and white cap and trousers. This one had a black moustache, black eyes and a three day growth.
Monica was frozen, backed against the bench, metres away from him, while one arm groped behind her back for her mobile phone.
Damn! She’d left it on the bedside table – her latest offering to the sleep Gods was to look up obscure historical figures on Wikipedia in the hope she’d bore herself to sleep.
“There’s my purse – take it,” she croaked. “What else do you want? My laptop. It’s old, but it works. A-a-and there’s a jar with a few coins in the pantry. Here. Take the car keys. Car’s out in the car port.”
OK, she was being a bit generous, but she was panicking, her heart was galloping. She just wanted this freak out of here.
He just peered at her with his little beady black eyes, as though she’d been speaking Swahili. He grinned, and promptly yawned.
“Who are you? And why are you dressed as a Smurf?” she said, a little impertinently. But grumpiness was a known side-effect of insomnia.
The Smurf spoke in a high pitched whine, sounding like a jockey. “I’m not a Smurf,” he said, frowning. “I’m a dwarf. I’m Sleepy.”
“Yeah and I’m the Queen of England. Now I don’t know what drugs you’re on, or what riches you think I might have but I can assure you there’s nothing to steal, apart from what I’ve told you about.
“So would you please get out of my house?”
“No,’’ squeaked Sleepy. “I’m on a mission.”
Monica pinched her hip, hard, to check whether she was dreaming. “Owww” she heard herself say.
“I am prepared to cure you of insomnia,” said Sleepy. “I can get you eight hours’ sleep a night.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “And in return, I want….”
She gasped in horror.
“Ahhh, naaah, no,” said Sleepy. “Look, I know I’m attractive, I hate to disappoint you, but sorry love. I’m gay.”
“Then what?” she said. “What do you want.”
“In return,” he said, “I want your soul, your first born and I’ll give you blocked ears once a year.”
Monica rubbed her eyes. She really didn’t have to think about it for long.
“I’ll take it,” she said.
Sleepy looked stunned. “You what?”
“I’ll take it. Insomnia’s a bitch. I’d do anything to end it. Anything!!!”
“Well, uh, Ohhh K then!”
Sleepy sat up and magically a large sheet of paper, written in illegible ink script appeared from behind his back. He handed her a giant feathered fountain pen.
She didn’t have her glasses, but she gathered it was mostly in the vein of “and according to the party of the first part, I hereby declare that heretofore…”
She signed on the dotted line.
Sleepy disappeared in a puff of blue smoke.
Monica proceeded to the toilet. Look, weirder things had happened while she’d been wide awake at stupid o’clock.
She went back to bed, switched off the light, and the iPhone, and slept the sleep of the dead, for the first time in five years.
Stuff the consequences. Here was sleep, sweet sleep.
At five feet one and a half inches, I was the tallest person in my family. Together with my father, mother and twin siblings, we moved contentedly through our compact lives; effortlessly picking things up from the floor, deftly controlling the presence of mice under the fridge. Our house was naturally cooled by the shadows of all that surrounded it and the lofty ceilings inside created a sense of majesty that never failed to lift our spirits.
“Good of you to join us, Sleepy.”
Norma Monkton’s rise to fame was swift. Her cheeky girlish memoir Adieu Gruyere had been an unexpected hit, becoming Australia’s second highest non-fiction seller after only six months on the book store shelves. Critics agreed the tale of Norma’s misspent youth in the cheese markets of Provence had tapped into an undercurrent of foodie melancholy that was sweeping through the nation’s bloated middle class as it adjusted to life in recession. At the age of 52, Norma suddenly found herself in the giddy celebrity world of the best selling author.
Norma’s memoir had originally been a therapeutic project ordered by her long-time psychologist, Dr Otto von Schrenk. After twenty three years of unsuccessful therapy, Dr Otto finally announced he could do no more and Norma’s fate now lay in her own shaky hands. Loaded up with medication and writing materials, she was sent home to creatively re-engage with her troubled past as the only way to unlocking any future happiness.
Despite an initial reluctance, Norma soon found the recall of her time in Provence was effortless and compelling. The tangy aroma of ageing Cheddars, the ooze of the double Bries and the skillful way Cedric and his father had nurtured their cheeses from a cool stone farm cellar to the bustling market where Norma worked, all came flooding back to her. The memories of breathless moments in the cellar with Cedric and his father also returned, often as affecting as the encounters themselves and leaving Norma in an alarmingly heightened physical state more than once.
Norma did not hold back. Her pen began to flow across the page as she relived her provincial odyssey; at the farmhouse, in the fields, on the back of the cheese cart. How alive she had been; awakened amongst the whey, enabled by curiosity and curd. Her story came to life in vivid erotic colour.
Norma got an agent and started doing media. Radio National ran an in-depth interview with her about the relationship between food and sensuality. Sunrise did a ten minute slot with her and RALPH Magazine Editor, Brad Trolley, playing quoits with plastic cheese rings and vibrators.
But beneath the glamorous media engagements and the invigorating journey back to her youth, Norma felt a growing sense of unease. In truth, France had not been kind to her, taking far more than it had given. When she found herself suddenly cast out one day, left alone to deal with the consequences of her actions, Norma realised for the first time that she was in a foreign land that had no regard or responsibility for her well-being. Madame de Brique had come to her rescue it was true but in the crude and cruel way of the Paris streets. Adieu Gruyere had glossed over those desperate final weeks in France, ending instead with Norma’s return to Australia and the start of a new life farming goats in Gippsland.
After only three weeks on the celebrity circuit, Norma disappeared. She sacked her agent, cancelled all engagements and retreated into her farmhouse to correct the record. Her triumphant return eight months later with The Cheese Stands Alone established Norma Monkton as one of Australia’s most versatile writers. Her second book marked a radical departure from the flippant, risque style of Adieu, employing an anarcho-seperatist-feminist framework to trace the emergence of dairy products as a primary source of protein in the Middle Ages.