April Flash Fiction Entries

Four entries this month. Please read, enjoy (and vote – if you are a member)

Entry #1 – KOALA BEAR?

  Outside the window, a gum tree’s mighty boughs stretched to the moonlight filtering through scudding clouds. High in its branches, a grey shapelessness hung from the main trunk.

The young Asian girl on the ground tugged at her boyfriend’s arm and pointed upward. “Look Guang, a koala bear,” she exclaimed.

The young man beside her looked up, and replied, “No, I do not see it Chizu.”

“There, near the top; it’s hugging the tree.”

“Oh yes, I think I see it – yes, I can. But I can tell you that while it may well be a koala, it’s not a bear. Before we came to Australia, I read that they’re marsupials that nurture their young in their pouch. They’re not bears at all.”

“Well thanks, Guang; you’re such a smarty-pants; but what about the Drop Bears that the nice bus driver was telling us about? Are koala bears, sorry, koalas, the same as the Drop Bears he was talking about? You remember, he said if we look up into a gum tree at night when there’s a Drop Bear in the tree, it will fall onto us as soon as we stop looking up.”

“No, Chizu, I wasn’t there when he said anything like that. I can’t imagine anything only falling on you when you stop looking; that sounds weirdly stupid. Sounds like a ‘let’s trick the tourist’ kind of thing. It’s not real.”

They turned away, and he suddenly screamed as a grey, soft, flat, and empty-looking thing, like a toy bear with the stuffing pulled out of it, landed with a ‘plop’ on his back.

She too screamed as she pulled at it before they both ran, shrieking, to the safety of the hotel foyer.

The bus-driver chuckled as he walked away with his toy and string.

 

Entry #2 – Easter Joy

Outside the window, I see the woman struggling along the platform as the conductor blows his whistle. He waits for her; she clambers onto the train, trying to catch her breath, and charges down the aisle. Heavily laden shopping bags swing back and forth, whacking disgruntled passengers as she pushes on. The train is packed, and the seat beside me is empty.

She flops down heavily, squeezing herself into the small space. The strong smell of cigarettes permeates the air. Sweat pours down her face and she’s gasping for breath. I offer to hold her bags as she gets out her inhaler, takes a puff and lets out a deep breath.

The bags are filled with Easter eggs. I’d suggest she load them onto the racks above, but this seemed unwise.

Her phone rings, she grabs it, stabs her finger on the screen, and yells out, ‘whada want?’

She listens, and yells again, “I told yous I’d get the f*****g Easter eggs, I’ve got them. What?… I got them at the Salvo’s.’

The woman across the aisle catches my eye, and I quickly look away.

‘What,’ she screeches, ‘you’ve got what?’ Silence ensures for a second as her face flushes red and angry.

‘How’d you get them?’ She sits bolt upright in the seat, ‘I’ve told you never to take money from that f*****g creep, haven’t I? What did he want?’ She attempts a deep breath, reaching for the inhaler.

‘Why’d he give you money?’ she yells again as she takes a quick puff. ‘Don’t give me that bulls**t, he always wants something.’

She’s struggling to talk. ‘I’ve gotta go, yous just wait till I get home!’ and jabs at the phone.

‘Bloody kids’, she grumbles, snatching back the bags.

The train whizzes through Footscray as the phone rings again…..

 

Entry #3 – Hugs

Outside the window was were I first saw her smile. She was hanging there in the morning sunlight.

I don’t think I’d ever saw her smile before. I knew her daddy was beating up on her bad, but what could I do I was just a kid too.  She didn’t look as bad as those kids on TV, but I wished she had someone to help her take a bath and clean her clothes. She never spoke not even when I gave her my snacks from school if I ever forgot to eat them. I’d give them to her when we got home. She would just take them and go inside.

We lived next door to each other on the first floor. She was already there when we moved in. I never heard any noises coming from their apartment. I sometimes wished I would so someone would do something. The teachers never seemed to do anything even when she kept missing days. She wasn’t at school the day they told us about the things parents shouldn’t do to their kids, I only hoped her daddy wasn’t doing that to her too.

That’s why I was so surprised to see her smiling when I looked out my window that morning. I’d asked her before not to do it, but she would often climb into that tree. I think she thought it was a safe place.

It was so dangerous to get there though. She had to climb out her bedroom window, stretch out to then cling to the edge of mine, before climbing over onto the tree. But there she was hanging there with a smile on her face, I’d never seen her happy before.

I think that rope hugging her neck might have been the only hug she ever got.

 

Entry #4 – Deliverance

Outside the windowless room at last, my lungs struggle with my first breath of freedom.

I’d endured more than two hundred days of confinement in darkness and isolation; silence except for muffled sounds that ignore my attempts to attract attention, with futile kicks and punches against the insulated walls and fortified door. Whoever put me here had prepared the space well.

Day after day, I lay in wait for another chance for rescue. Surely someone will realise I’m here and free me.

I’d woken abruptly from one of my long periods of sleeping. Sleeping had been the only escape available to me and I’d taken greedy advantage of it to stave off the terror that this was all my life would ever be.

It was like something had crashed into the room. Noises started to amplify. The floor quivered and quaked under me. Had someone finally heard me?

Something batters the walls. The room seems distorted and smaller from the incursion. If it keeps going it’ll crush me.

‘No!’ I yell. ‘Stop! I’m in here.’

I wait for the noise and battering to stop but it doesn’t. There’s nothing to do but despair at the irony of being entombed after all my days of waiting for deliverance.

Thump-thump! Roar! The sounds intensify and the room shakes violently, again and again. The forces must be deep and malevolent to cause such disturbance.

My heart pounds out a rhythm of panic. I have to work on the door so I push and push until its weakened structure starts to give way.

I forgot I was tethered, so I don’t think I’ll make it all the way out. Then something grabs me and tugs without mercy.

If birth is this hard, what will living be like?

 

 

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Flash Fiction entries are open to Ballarat Writers Inc members only, but anyone may vote for their favourite story.

This month’s Flash Competition parameters are:

Key word/phrase:    Outside the window . . . (make sure these are the first words of your entry)

Genre:     open

Word count:      270 – 300 words (the title is excluded from the word count)

Conditions of entry

Your entry must:

  1. Be in 12 point Times New Roman font
  2. Have single line spacing
  3. Have a title
  4. Include the author’s name
  5. Include the word count, not including the title
  6. Be submitted as a Word.doc, or .docx file (PDF files lose all formatting in their transition)

Submit entries to: competitions@ballaratwriters.com by 4 pm Friday, 20th April 2018. Voting will open here the next day and will close at 4 pm on Wednesday, 25th  April.

Our next Member’s Night is held at the Bunch of Grapes Hotel in Pleasant Street on Wednesday, 25th April (yes, we know it’s Anzac Day) where the winner of this month’s flash fiction competition will be announced. The evening starts at 7pm and all are most welcome. You can have a very good meal there from about 6pm and then stay on for the fun and frivolity.

March Flash Fiction

Congratulations to Ash Leonard as winner of the March Flash Fiction competition for Entry No. 6, Waste. Take a look at it below.

 

Flash Fiction entries are open to Ballarat Writers Inc members only, but anyone may vote for their favourite story.

This month’s Flash Competition parameters are:

Key word/phrase:    dead sheep

Genre:     open

Word count:      not more than 25 words (the title is excluded from the word count)

Conditions of entry

Your entry must:

  1. Be in 12 point Times New Roman font
  2. Have single line spacing
  3. Have a title
  4. Include the author’s name
  5. Include the word count, not including the title
  6. Be submitted as a Word.doc, or .docx file (PDF files lose all formatting in their transition)

Submit entries to: competitions@ballaratwriters.com by 4 pm Friday, 23rd March 2018. Voting will open here the next day and will close at 4 pm on Wednesday, 28th  March.

Our next Member’s Night is held at the Bunch of Grapes Hotel in Pleasant Street on Wednesday, 28th March where the winner of this month’s flash fiction competition will be announced. The evening starts at 7pm and all are most welcome. You can have a very good meal there from about 6pm and then stay on for the fun and frivolity.

Flash Fiction Entries for March:

What a bumper crop!

Entry 1         A Waste

Sheep must die eventually,

I know that.

But this was odd.

My big rambling ram now motionless,

joined to dirt and maggots.

What a waste.

 

Entry 2     Pass the Potatoes Please

I gazed into the book swap box. Dead Sheep by Craig Coulson. A collection of musings by the amused. I read it in one night.

 

Entry 3     Gunfire

A newsflash crackles over the radio: trouble down Rooney’s Road.

Dead sheep litter the paddocks. Taggerty’s gang again.

I ram home the cartridges – payback time.

 

Entry 4     Heaven Scent

I opened the front door to a pretty girl holding an open perfume bottle.

“What is it?”

“Perfume; Heaven Scent.”

I smelled; “Nope, Dead Sheep.”

 

Entry 5      To the Rescue

a fisherman and his tinnie

with a load of hay

thirteen bales

for the farmer’s prize ram

on an island of dead sheep

 

Entry 6     Waste

Lack of rain confuses the land, the livestock, the bank accounts. Dead sheep dot the paddock. Wasted. A sign wobbles in the wind. ‘For Sale’.

 

Entry 7     A Marketeer’s Dream

Not your loveable livestock

And supposedly not so simple either

Fodder for big business

Bloodthirsty bureaucrats easily bleeding them dry

Sentimentality’s the hook

Forcing submission

 

Entry 8     Lambing Season

The unexpected frost, well into lambing season, claimed a newborn, yes they’re only animals, but one dead sheep was a loss felt by us all.

 

Entry 9    First-time Mum

First-time mum gave birth to a stillborn lamb, she was perplexed and unprepared, but the flock rallied around her as we removed the dead sheep.

 

Entry 10   Dead Sheep

Bones alone mark their fall,

Bleached white, like headstones in Bomana War Cemetery.

Jesus, Lamb of God, died for us.

To the slaughter, all.

 

Entry 11     No more Baa Baa Black Sheep

Dead sheep dotted the paddocks, eyes glazed, slack-jawed, flies buzzing.  No more woollen blankets and jumpers, or Mum’s Sunday lamb roasts.  Another Nursery Rhyme extinct.

 

Entry 12     Dolly

I saw it happen twice before. Back to life and a sluggish crawl. The dead sheep without a soul. Science advances, perhaps without toll.

Voting closes at 4.00 pm on Wednesday 28 March 2018

 

February 2018 Flash Fiction entries

It is essential that stories are judged exclusively on their merit, including (as appropriate for the item), punctuation, syntax, spelling, and grammar.

Please vote only on the story’s worth, and do not allow personal loyalties to influence your vote. Our aim is to encourage all writers, not discourage any through having no chance of winning solely on their excellence.

Please vote for the best all-round submission. That is true honesty and good-citizenship.

1          What I did on my holidays by Meaghan Rose Aged 10

I ran away from home. Look, I know that I am supposed to tell the story in the order that it happened, but that’s what I really did.

I had to, didn’t I? They were all so angry about the car. And taking Aiden to the hospital on my own.

It was Christmas Day – or night, actually – and they had all been drinking all afternoon. All of them.

Dad always starts a beer while he gets the BBQ ready. His parents had already had some before they arrived because they don’t like Mum’s parents. Mum’s parents don’t like big family get togethers so they had a few before they arrived. Mum had one to settle her nerves, she says.  You can always tell that they’ve been drinking before they arrive. They get all mushy and kissy and yukky. And there’s the smell.

I couldn’t trust anyone else, could I? To drive I mean. And Aiden needed help.

Aiden hates the kisses too, he hid in the tree house. That’s where the trouble began – where the bees were. When he’s bitten, he swells up like a balloon and could burst. You are not allowed to let your little brother burst.

He looked like a beetroot and could hardly talk. I couldn’t tell anyone – they’d know he’d been hiding, so I shoved him into the car, grabbed the keys and took him to the hospital. Its an automatic. Anyone can drive one of those.

They were all so angry when they found out. Apparently, I shouldn’t drive the car, even though I saved Aiden.

I didn’t get far. Next time I’ll get further.

2          “Kind Regards, Lucas Black”

What did I do on the holidays?

Well, Miss, firstly, that is a lay-ass teacher way of keeping the classroom quiet. I know it. You know it. So, let’s just know it together. I see you, don’t think I haven’t noticed your constant glancing at your phone, as though it might come to life and bite you. Your jiggling left foot, your tapping pencil. Last year, you were all about the bright colours; a cartoon character compared to this new, ninja look. I think, Miss, what you did on the holidays might prove more interesting. So, I offer you this.

“What YOU Did on the Holidays” by Lucas Black.

Your mates celebrated the end of the school year without you. You had other things to do. Things that involved the re-emergence of a family connection. A brother that you dearly loved once, but had lost contact with because you had become a respectable teacher while he had become a “criminal element”. He turned up at your house didn’t he, desperate for shelter. He took advantage of your confusion at his sudden appearance at three am and your desperate need to keep the noise down for the sake of the neighbours.

“Come in, come in,” you said.

He was skinnier than you remembered. Bearded. Not like the teenager you had last seen. You talked through the night about old times, ignoring the why and how of his finding you, despite your move from city to country, despite your change of name. He slept on your couch. While he slept you flicked on the news. You saw a police identikit just like him. I saw that too. And I saw him, glancing through the curtains.

My terms are simple. I keep your secret. You give me excellent grades.

Kind Regards, Lucas Black.

3          Still Got It

It was a caricature of a summer, with fearsome warm winds. No-one could talk about anything else.

“Gonna be a scorcher” they’d say, or “hot enough for you?”

Our fire warning sign was permanently red.

“Still High!” I exclaimed, on the only day of cooler weather. We were driving to town, with the aircon off.  You rested your arm on the open window, and said the people who change the sign deserve a holiday, too. There was a shimmer on the golden fields. Out here, we were connoisseurs of yellow.

Daylesford was invaded by warrior tourists, in search of things to buy and eat.

“Coffee, in this heat?” you moaned, “No way.”

In Vincent Street they ate piles of pumpkin and fetta, heirloom tomatoes and avocado, drizzled with sticky black stuff. Jaws moved stolidly, eyes stared blankly ahead. Like sleepwalkers, you said.

“Let’s get out of here,” you suggested. I nodded, slipping my hand in yours. We drove home lazily, between giant sprinklers that doused roads and paddocks alike.

“Don’t the birds love it,” I remarked, full of placid goodwill. You didn’t answer but placed your hand on my thigh. We would have taken a dirt track, once, found a clearing and lain down there. Our bodies would have melded, oblivious to stones below, and flies above.

At home, we banished the cat from our bedroom.

“Want the fan on?” you asked, as you undid the shirt we bought in Byron.

“Sure,” I said, smiling and lifting my t-shirt over my head.  We looked like ageing hippies.

Your hands were full of warmth, and when you touched my face, I could smell ripening tomatoes.

Afterwards we dozed, listening to the pumps throbbing on the reservoir, woke as the cicadas started their summer screaming.

4          In Great Company

Jack and Charlie are two of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, easy going and living a quiet life by the coast. I spent a week with them during my holidays in their beautiful home, with its large rambling garden and sea view.  During my stay I was assigned the role of cook; a task I readily accepted for they were easy to please. Not being fussy eaters, they preferred a simple diet of basic food, as did I.

On the day I arrived they were excited to see me; met me at the door and immediately indicated they’d like to go for a walk and show me the neighbourhood.  So off we went, walking past the houses alight with Christmas decorations.  They had celebrated Christmas day at home; lunch was a simple affair, with a few added treats, then they slept away the afternoon. Today they were full of beans.

As we strolled along the streets, exploring the gardens, I told them of my Christmas day, and how for the first time, I decided to have a quiet time on my own, and spent the day at home enjoying the peace and solitude. No big cook up, no rushing around at the last minute, and no mountains of Christmas presents.  Just the simple pleasure of the day.

They made no comment but their gentle eyes said it all, for their needs were modest and their pleasures few. Spending time with them I sensed the contentment they felt in the simplicity of their daily lives.

The week passed quickly; we walked each day, sharing stories, as I chattered and they listened.  I wished for more, but finally the family returned, greeting their much loved dogs with joy. Sadly my housesitting with Jack and Charlie had come to an end.

5          Celebrating Australia Day in Syria

Hi mum,

I hope my letter reaches you. You’re probably wondering why I haven’t answered your regular calls and still think I’m in Maroubra with Geoff; I’m not, & it’s much colder where I am.

Truth is, passports ready, I took a flight to Rome (too many Catholic nuns & priests). Got a bus to Istanbul via Romania (fairytale countryside) and Croatia (got by on English).  From Istanbul (crowded, noisy & frenetic) booked a tour that took me close to the Syrian border.  Jumped the tour at Kilis, Turkish police in pursuit 3 days later, by which time I’d reached A’zaz & made contact with Hashim (a minion from IS).

Did 3 days of basic training with suicide vests (duds) & made a video you may have seen on TV (just visualize al-Gary sans beard & kufiya). Sent to Damascus on mission to eliminate Bashar al-Assad at a State function. Entry was easy with US passport & letter of recommendation from Trump (all fakes).  Sidled up to al-Assad & released button on my tailored suicide vest (dud!!). Left after a few single malts only to be arrested for public drunkenness later & thrown in jail.

Jail is where I met this whining Aussie by the name of Neil Prakash.  He’s driving me nuts! I’m no longer sure whether he’s Australian or Cambodian (he does have an Aussie accent). I let slip I’m from Hawthorn; he’s been at me about Springvale ever since!

Mum, you’ve got to help me, please.

I’m getting to know the guards (one’s from Marrickville & a former fixer for the ALP); all it takes to get me out is money.

Mummy, I’m begging, please send $2000 in cash. I need to get some distance between me and Prakash.

Your loving son,

Gary

6          Reimagining

‘How much further is it?’ whines my little sister Izzy, tugging on my hand as we push our way through the Melbourne city centre.

‘Nearly there,’ I assure her, giving her hand a squeeze.

The streets have come alive with excited chatter and the scent of fried food, as we wait for the transforming moment after dusk. People have already stationed themselves in front of their chosen buildings, anticipating the minute that the city will flood with colour.

‘My feet hurt,’ insists Izzy, stopping to raise a sandalled foot towards me.

‘Come on, Iz. Don’t you want to see what I’ve done with my holidays?’

‘Holidays are over.’

‘Not for uni students,’ I reply smugly.

‘Mum says you’re always on holidays.’

I ignore this, and grip Izzy’s hand tighter as I pull her through the throngs of people, dodging prams and dogs on leashes. Music thumps from all directions, as restaurants and food trucks swell with crowds.

The sun disappears, and a chill descends over the city. The hours of designing my artwork in front of the air conditioner over the summer holidays, while my friends tanned themselves at beaches or took refuge in dark movie theatres, has led to this moment.

We make it to the university just as the darkness is really starting to set in. I buy Izzy a churro to keep her pacified while we wait for the projection of my work. This was supposed to be a fun assessment task to start the year, but my heart is pumping faster now than it ever has in an examination hall. Izzy pulls my phone from my sweaty hands and starts recording as the first artwork is illuminated with a flash of colour on the façade of the building.

The reimagining of the city begins.

Flash Fiction – February 2018

Did you enjoy your school days, or did you hate them? Either way, our February Flash Fiction competition can take you back to those hazy, crazy, lazy daze. Just as when you went to school, the first English essay when school resumed was, “What I did on my holidays”.

So, that’s our FF topic for our BWI New Year commencing in February. In not more than 300 words, “What I did on my holidays”.

Entries will close at 4pm on Friday 23rd February, with the winner announced at our Members Night on 28th February.

Good luck and best wishes for xmas and the New Year, and if Santa brings you a bike, don’t fall off and hurt yourself, we need you! And don’t forget that Mummy and Daddy will expect you to have completed all your homework projects on time.

Entries are limited to financial members only. Entries will not be accepted if they exceed the maximum word limit – even if by one word, and must comply with all the required parameters. Your email must include author’s name, story title, and word count. One entry per member, and sent as a Word file (.doc or .docx file).

This month’s Flash Competition parameters are:

Genre:     Open

Word count:      not more than 300 words (the title is excluded from the word count)

Conditions of entry

Your entry must:

  1. Be in 12 point Times New Roman font
  2. Have single line spacing
  3. Have a title
  4. Include the author’s name
  5. Include the word count; exclusive of the title
  6. Be submitted as a Word.doc, or .docx file (PDF files lose all formatting in their transition and will not be accepted in that form)

Submit entries to: competitions@ballaratwriters.com by 4 pm Friday, 23rd February 2018. Voting will open here the next day and will close at 3 pm on Wednesday 28 February.

Our Member’s Night is held at the Bunch of Grapes Hotel in Pleasant Street. The evening starts at 7pm and all are most welcome. You can have a very good meal there from about 6pm and then stay on for the fun and frivolity.

Flash Fiction November – Pamela Miller Memorial Prize

It is essential that stories are judged exclusively on their merit, including (as appropriate for the item), punctuation, syntax, spelling, and grammar.

Please do not ‘stack’ the voting by getting family and friends to vote for your story just because it is your story.

Please vote only on the story’s worth, and do not allow personal loyalties to influence your vote. Our aim is to encourage all writers, not discourage any through having no chance of winning solely on their work’s excellence.

Please vote for the best all-round submission. That is true honesty and good-citizenship.

Voting closes at 4pm on Wednesday 22 November.

1          Porphyria’s Lover

Words 293

I spent a lot of time ignorant and flippant. It took me a long time to get better, to realise how hard it is to put words onto a page. I got mad at the people around who weren’t doing the same, their silence indiscriminate acceptance spread out into the universe, like monster children running up and down the aisles on buses. We have people masquerading as creators when they are mere curators.

I don’t hate them for retelling someone else’s story — we’re all guilty of that. I hate them for pretending it’s theirs. I hate them for distilling something so spread out and reconcentrating it into one place. They’re outsourcing trauma and trying to sell it back to us, the ones who had to tear it into shreds and dispose of it in the first place. I hate that their repetitions make it feel like it’s meaningless, even though I know it was played out before I ever heard it.

And here I stand nearly 20 years after the last time I saw you, staring at someone who’s just trying to get by day-to-day, appropriating someone else’s words into their art form, wondering if you’re still doing okay. I that last time we spoke you seemed distant — experience has taught me that people forget. You were a huge part of me but I’m such a small part of you. Maybe there’s no place in your memory for me, leaving me the custodian of an irrelevant legacy.

I’m not sure how to reconcile that.

Sometimes you want to not say things, let the gaps between sentences tell the story. You want to do away with all the words you ever had, and just get to the core of the thing.

I miss you.

 

2          What Guilt Looks Like

Words 247

The stick sits on the bathroom counter. There’s no pink cross. Again.

‘We can try for next month,’ says Aaron.

‘What would be the point?’ says Lisa.

Aaron’s brow drops.

‘The point would be having a baby, wouldn’t it?’ Aaron’s question is laced with concern about the stony look on Lisa’s face. ‘I … I can get tested,’ he says.

‘Tested for what?’ asks Lisa. ‘What is there that we both don’t already know?’

‘Maybe I’m the one with problem,’ offers Aaron.

‘I think we already know you are,’ Lisa says.

‘What?’ says Aaron. The blood has drained from his face. This is what guilt looks like.

‘You had a vasectomy. You had a vasectomy but you let me keep trying to get pregnant. You kept going with me to buy tests.’

Lisa glances down at the stick on the counter.

‘I’m sorry, Lisa, I’m so sorry. I just didn’t know how to tell you I didn’t want … ‘

‘Don’t! Just don’t.’

Lisa pulls open the cabinet drawer and starts loading the contents into a zip bag with little red hearts on it.

‘Where do you think you’re going?’ says Aaron.

‘I’m going to Pete’s.’

‘Pete’s?’

‘Because Pete doesn’t lie. Pete doesn’t pretend he’s someone he’s not.’

Aaron studies the pregnancy test.

‘So, if you knew we couldn’t … why the charade with the test?’

He looks at Lisa’s hands, adding to the bag of cosmetics. She has a new ring.

We couldn’t… Aaron finally understands.

 
3          The Nestling

Words 290

Daylight filters through trees and ferns. The forest, momentarily silent, returns to its usual twitters, rustlings, and screechings. The sound of an echidna’s snuffling for ants softly rises from the damp ground.

A tiny young bird lies at the base of a tall gum-tree. It has fallen from its nest at the base of a forked limb. The structure should have been secure for its feathered inhabitants, but the combination of a sudden gust of wind at the same moment that the baby stretched to take food from its parent’s beak resulted in it toppling over the side. As it fell, its wings fluttered weakly, and its legs searched for a twig or stem to clutch at. Shaken but uninjured, it is helpless. It’s not yet able to stand on its spindly legs. All attempts to do so result in a pitch forward or backward, or from side to side.

A feral cat hides behind a mass of wire-grass. It pushes its nose and whiskers past the stiff stems, and with its head now showing at the edge of the small clearing, it scans the area with a darting scrutiny. Eyes narrowed, it stares intently at barely-breathing food. With its belly on the ground, the cat’s body seems to lengthen as it silently pulls itself forward with extended paws and claws.

The wild cat draws closer to its meal, and, sensing that the feathery little lump is at its mercy, it stands upright and casually walks toward its prey. It rears, ready to pounce on the morsel, as a shot rings out.

A young man with a .22 rifle kicks aside the now dead cat and gently places the tiny bird back into its nest.

The youngster walks away chuckling.

 

4          The Vortex

Words 283

Anna coughed as she choked on her sip of wine. Neither of her dinner companions seemed to notice. They continued to shove food in their mouths and look at each other without speaking for another twenty seconds while she cleared the obstruction. Not once did they look at her. She was officially invisible.

Anna glanced down at her hand. It sat, propped on its elbow, still holding the glass. She swirled the thick red wine around in her glass until a hole appeared to form in the centre. She’d seen something similar on the surface of streams. Once, when the river flooded after too much spring rain, a boy and his dog were sucked down into a large whirlpool. People searched for weeks. It was assumed that they had been drowned, their bodies washed down stream. But nobody ever found them. Nobody could say for sure. Maybe it took them to another world. A world that nobody knew about, except those who’d been pulled into its depths. And it was so wonderful there, nobody ever came back to share its location in case it got too crowded.

She wished to be sucked into the vortex of liquid. That a kind of doorway would open up and take her away to another place. She took a sip. Then a mouthful. Then a gulp until the liquid had disappeared inside her. Nobody would know her there. No one would expect her to be thin, or smart, or be somebody’s wife, or save the world.

She filled her glass and repeated the steps, each time wishing harder until she’d done it so many times that she forgot how many, or what she was even wishing for.

 
5          She

Words 123

Outside the window it rained. The soft Melbourne rain that shows as a fog hugging the light, barely staining the path she stood on.

She didn’t look up or move or notice us as we eased to a stop. Our light spilled out and mixed with the gloom of the station. She was stillness in the bustle of people who shoved to get off or rushed to get onto the train.

A sparrow shifted easily amongst feet. It found food where it could, preparing for the night ahead, as ignored as the woman who still stood.

In her hand a device held her attention. It cast shadows and reflected her tears.

My train moved on. She didn’t want this train. Not this time.

 
6          Limitless

Words 280

As I felt the cool waters of the Mississippi River pass between my fingers I knew I’d made it.

Every mile a marathon they said I’d never complete. Leaving the hospital in anything other than a wheelchair was the best diagnosis they could give me.

“They”. So often in life we are told what “they” think or say, but “they” were wrong.

One foot in front of the other 4,640,576 times. That’s how many times I proved them wrong.

Each step forcing my body to put into practice everything I’d spent months teaching it.

I’m still not sure which was harder, relearning how to walk, or doing it without my brothers.

Being the sole survivor of the bus crash was something else “they” could not explain. My football career was certainly over I hadn’t suffered enough brain damage for me to believe that was ever going to be a possibility again. They rebuilt me with more spare parts than an old junker, but somehow I managed to make those parts do things, they said I never would.

Despite or maybe in spite of everyone’s advice I set off upstream. Every step taking me further away from home. Training had been a wonderful distraction from life before the accident and rehab after it had been no different. With each step though, it was harder to ignore the question, what do I do when I complete this journey. Will I, had never been a question, only when.

I still don’t have the answer, but as I feel the cool waters of the Mississippi River pass through my fingers I know that if I’ve made it this far I might as well keep going.

 

7          Into The Void

Words 299

The headlines in The Ararat Advertiser October 1964 read: ‘Hikers Lost in the Mountains.’

The Advertiser reported four young hikers went missing overnight in The Grampians; the temperature had plummeted to four degrees as heavy rain teemed down, and police were fearful the hikers would not survive the night. A search party was quickly organised. Local men gathered in the car park where the hikers were last seen, concern on their faces as they set out along the track with torches, calling out as the night closed in.

The young boys had set off carefree that afternoon, confident of hiking into town. They were familiar with the bush; spent weekends clambering through the woods near their home, returning late in the evenings, never concerned at getting lost. But on that day along the track in the mountains, as night was closing in, the boys were in unfamiliar territory. This was not the bush they knew. This was vast endless mountain ranges, posing dangers not seen before; not known before. Ominous rocks loomed large, jagged and threatening in their unyielding strength; the air haunted by the ghostly presence of people long-ago. As the wind howled through the trees and the birds gave out an eerie call, they sensed the isolation of the mountains and huddled close together.

Stumbling along, they came across a fork in the track; a signpost damaged and unreadable. They hesitated; turn back or go on? Which path should they take?

Peering through the trees they searched in vain for the lights of the town nestled in the valley below. Shaken and uncertain the boys agreed to keep moving, then turned towards the new-found path, and like silent ghosts, disappeared into the darkness. Heavy clouds hid the moon as sheets of rain swept in across the mountains.