Category: Writing Page 2 of 10
Midnight. That’s when they leave. Warm in her small black Golf, Laura checked her watch. Eleven thirty. She turned the radio up. ABC RN babbled on. She leaned back in her seat. The moon hung above the gumtrees—yellow tonight, like a welcoming light, the round one above a door to some other suburban life.
Meaghan could just spot the Eiffel Tower from where she sat in the café. Framed neatly between the ornate gold lettering on the window, it symbolised everything she was feeling about everything right now — a huge brutalist dagger stabbing straight into the soul of the universe. Seriously, what prick brings his fiancee of two years to Paris, the rumoured city of love, to introduce her to his lover of six months? She shook her head as she thought back to the introduction to his “newer, hotter version of her”. His words. She thought of the two of them, entwined passionately, bare skin, writhing together, impaled on the tip of the Eiffel Tower after a tandem naked skydive goes horribly wrong. Meaghan smiled slightly for the first time in a week.
Phoebe took that as a sign. Or maybe a lack of a sign. Maybe both. She’d been looking for signs in everything the last few days. The rooster crowing at dawn, that was a sign. A predictable one for sure, but a sign nonetheless. The next door neighbours cow facing in the opposite direction to most of the other cows in the village. That was a sign. An inscrutable sign that one. But again, a sign. It didn’t particularly matter what the signs were, they were all pointing in favour of Phoebe’s plan.
She took a quick swig of water, readjusted her pack, and stepped fully into the shadow of the forest. The path here was fairly even, well trod by gatherers and the occasional hunter as it began to weave its way through the trunks. Any sounds of the village were filtered out as the forest soaked it all up. She could hear her breathing as she went, the odd trill of birds up high in the canopy, her footfalls on the path, but that was all. She continued on.
The light in the forest slowly went from a bright jade through to a deep emerald as she went, the path slowly getting worse as she reached the limits of where the hunters and the the gatherers normally went. Phoebe followed the path as it narrowed and thinned until it became barely a thread of a track, marked only by stones placed carefully. The green around her slowly faded away as she continued on, the sun having set and the full moon now rising above the forest. The trilling had stopped and had been replaced by other noises, scurrying in the undergrowth, a growl here and there. Phoebe wasn’t concerned. The creatures of the forest had long learnt to steer clear of anyone walking this path this deep in the forest.
Phoebe reached the rock shaped humorously like a turnip and stopped. She looked carefully around her. From here she needed to take the alternate path, not the one marked by her ancestors, but the other path; the one the forest had marked out. She shaded her eyes from the light of the moon and before long she could see the line of glowing mushrooms leading off to her left, deeper into the forest. A quick swig and a readjustment, and she followed the mushrooms deeper in.
The trail of mushrooms took Phoebe around a small hillock before bringing her out into a clearing ringed with the glowing mushrooms. She sat on a tree stump just outside the ring and rummaged through her pack. Munching on an apple she found in there, she pulled out what she would need next – a thin rope and an axe.
The apple core was tossed out of the clearing and she set to work. Tying one end of the rope to the stump that she had been sitting on, Phoebe tossed the other end over a thin tree and bent it down to her. She tied a knot there, part way along the rope, and taking the free end of the rope and her axe, made her way into the centre of the clearing. She gave the rope a quick pull and her knots held. She took this as a sign. A sign the she could tie knots well. Phoebe looked up to the moon and waited, listening carefully, ignoring the sounds of the forest around her, and as the moon reached its highest point in the night sky, she heard it.
Phoebe could just make the voice out from under the earth. It was expected. She stood still and silent and waited.
“Join us over here.”
Phoebe could hear footsteps now, just beneath where she stood. She could hear them walking in circles, trying to find her, pausing now and then as they quietly called out to her.
“Join us. Join her.”
Phoebe finished tying a small noose in the end of the rope and waited, listening to the footsteps as they closed in on her. She felt them as the stopped just below her, boot to boot. Phoebe waited. She could her the rustle of clothing, that fine rustle of silk, as the creature beneath her crouched down. She could hear the dirt begin to move as a hand began to push its way though the earth beneath.
As the creatures fingertips broke the surface, Phoebe pounced. She shifted her footings and plunged her hands and the noose through the earth, dropping to her knees to force them through. Slipping the noose over the creatures feet from below, she stood up again to bring her hands back into her world, making the noose tight as she did. Phoebe sprinted toward the tree stump she tied the rope to before, pulling the axe from her belt as she did. The tree that the rope and been thrown over shook violently as the rope whipped and pulled. Phoebe took that as a sign that she had caught the bastard and brought her axe down hard on the tree stump, severing the rope.
The bent tree straightened up, causing an explosion of earth from the centre of the mushroom ring as it pulled her into the world the creature from beneath. Phoebe looked at the creature dangling now from the tree, her knots holding fast as it struggled, its fine blue and gold silken robes whipping around as it tried to free itself, its gossamer wings beating out a hurricane as it tried to get them clear, the creature screaming threats to shred the one that did this.
Phoebe stalked up the fairy with her axe and held the iron blade just shy of its face.
“Don’t move, or I’ll push this iron through you slowly. Where. is. my. sister?”
“Solstice!” her mother shouted from the other side of the house. “Have you got your robe?! And your coat? And your boots? It’ll be cold out.”
“I’m not going,” said Sally. “And it’s Sally, not Solstice. Solstice is a made up, crappy name.”
“What?” her mother, Griselda, was at the bedroom door now. “what did you say?”
“I said I hate the name Solstice. I get teased about it at school. The other kids say it must be the name of a dishwashing detergent. You can call me Sally from now on.”
Sally swallowed. It was not like her to defy her mother, who tended to be overwhelming. But she was 16, and she sensed the time had come.
Griselda was, for once, lost for words for a bit, then found her voice. “Why would you want an everyday, boring name that everyone else has? Do you want to be a sheep? Solstice means….”
“Yes, yes, I was conceived on the shortest day of the year,” said Sally, in a monotone. “And I should be blessed with my individuality bestowed on me….but Mum, I hate it.”
Sally paused for a minute to gather her courage. “And…..and I don’t want to go to the bonfire.”
Griselda, dressed in a tie dyed heavy long green dress, black boots and a hippy knitted hat that tamped down her long purple hair, just stared at Sally, her black eyes boring into Sally’s in the usual intimidating way.
The look of disbelief rapidly dissolved into anger, like a bank of blackening clouds rolling across the sky.
“You WILL come to the solstice,” said Griselda, her voice rising alarmingly, taking steps towards Sally, who was sitting on her bed, her back to the wall. “It’s important to me, to your brother Element and to Bronson….”
“I hate Bronson. That’s a shit name too,” said Sally, her own anger bubbling up alarmingly. “He’s a bully and a shit. How long have you been seeing him now? He’s not my Dad. And his real name is Brian. And your real name is Nicole.”
“Solstice, this is NOT a conversation for right now,” said Griselda, her teeth now gritted, and her fists closed at her sides. “We are going to go to that bonfire. We are going to dance. We are going to chant….”
“….and smoke a lot of weed and drink a lot of goon….’’ Said Sally, rather nastily, she knew, but she also felt a shot of joy. “You know it’s just a crock of shit, all that hippy bullshit, Mum.”
“Do NOT call me Mum!!! It’s Griselda……
“Nan told me it’s a made up name. Your real name is Nicole Irene Cockburn. Pronounced Coburn. You went to a Catholic school. Nan says you’re a drug addict. I want to go and live with Nan.”
Griselda strode across the room and held her hand up as if to slap Sally. She looked like it was a supreme effort to resist. Griselda dropped her hand, hard against her own thigh. She grabbed Sally’s arm and pulled on it. Sally resisted, and Griselda tried to drag her out of the room.
“F–k OFF Mum.”
“Come on. Bronson’s getting the car ready,” said Griselda. “I’m getting Element from his room.”
“Element doesn’t want to come, either….MUM. That’s what I’m calling you now. And if you don’t split up from that f–kwit Branson, who groped me last week, by the way, in the lounge room, I’m definitely going to stay with Nan. Nan’s already said she’s filled out the forms to send to child protection. I told her about all the enemas, the colonscopies, the dope you guys smoke, the goon, the times you pulled me out of school to do tie dying and forest bathing, the witch meetings we had to go to….’’
“Wash your mouth out, Solstice. I am not a witch. I will NOT have you talking like that. Come on, let’s go to the bonfire. It’s winter solstice! There’ll be kale chips! And kombucha!”
“It’s Sally, Mum. My name is Sally! Sorry but I can’t take it anymore. Nan told me that when you were 16, you ran away from home. You couldn’t hack Nan and Pop’s straight lifestyle so you ran off to a commune with your boyfriend Genesis. Whose real name was Brad, from next door.’’
“So consider this my running away. I want to go to school. Go to uni. Get a good job in finance. Earn a lot of money and live in the suburbs. Drink wine and gin and tonics. Have children and …and…. Get them vaccinated. And they’ll call me Mum, not some crappy made up shit name like Solstice…..’’
Sally was sobbing now, prostrate on the bed.
Griselda sighed loudly, and groaned. She turned on her heel, left the room and slammed the door.
Bronson was hanging around in the living room, in his tattered robes, his hair and beard long, his feet bare. In one hand was a lit spliff, and he dragged on it, not concerned by Griselda’s agitated state.
“Hey babe,” he said, as though he’d just woken up, which he probably had.
“Eh!” sighed Griselda, loudly. “Solstice cracked the shits over the bonfire, I think we’ll have to go without her. She was yankin’ my chain, threatening to run of and be a square. She’s at that age. I was a shit, too at that age.”
“yeah babe”: said Bronson, giving Griselda a kiss and stroking her arm. “She’s a teenager, man, she’ll be OK.”
And with that, they rounded up Element, and headed off to their friends’ farm to the bonfire, and where Element, being 10, was still happy to run around with his friends, scare the chickens and goats and chuck all sorts of stuff into the fire.
“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.
“Good of you to join us, Sleepy.”