1. THE GIFT OF TRUTH
Word count: 500
“We’re all … MAD! HERE, I’m mad! THERE, you’re mad! We’re all …MAD!” Alicia chanted the words in unison with the beat box voice from her Retro Pocket Hologram. Her best friend, Neuleighah, gasped; her hand over her mouth, she said, “Shooosh! Turn it down. Quickly! ” Neuleighah stared hard at the device. It was enough to flip the thought-activated switch. Its voice fell silent. But it was too late. Neuleighah’s parents had heard the hologram’s voice … and Alicia’s.
The expensive Retro Pocket version (the RPH) had just been released. Alicia had won hers in a promotional competition to compose voice riffs using the RPH’s multi-toned voice function and any retro theme, of each competitor’s choice. Alicia had chosen the six centuries old (forbidden on some planets) classic, “Alice In Wonderland” as the theme for her riff. The age cut off point to enter had been fourteen years old. Alicia had just fitted into that category by 6 weeks.
“Why?” Alicia said.
The small four person runabout spacecraft hurtled through space towards Alicia’s home planet. One of the disadvantages of modern technology was that it had ‘advanced’ ways of fine tuning itself. The craft could read the combined thoughts of its passengers – on any number of parameters. If the combined reading from all passengers calculated a value of “we’re feeling too cold” the temperature would rise, to a new averaged out acceptable setting. The temperature had shot up by several degrees. It felt too clammy.
“You’ve made them turn cold towards you, so the craft’s misreading their thoughts and raising the temperature!” Neuleighah explained. “Wipe your forehead or something. Pretend you really can’t stand this heat anymore.”
Alicia laughed. “What?” But she did it anyway when she saw that Neuleighah meant it. And the temperature did come back down to ‘comfortable.’
“‘Why?’ you ask, Alicia.” Neuleighah’s parents spoke in unison. “Haven’t your parents taught you the truth about subversive works like that?” the father added.
“Uhm, I’m not sure …” But they cut her off mid-sentence.
“Look, we’ll still allow Neuleighah to spend the week at your place,” Neuleighah’s mother said. The craft was now only two minutes away from Alicia’s home. “But, well, I want a word with your mother.” She turned to her husband and said, “I blame the parents.” He nodded.
Her father said, “This will be a test for you, Neuleighah. Just remember The Truth we’ve given you! You’re fourteen now. That’s old enough to practice resisting those who would dismantle Known Scientific Reality … only to reassemble it in any haphazard, uneducated way they see fit, like that fool of a so-called ‘thinker,’ the author Lewis Carroll. This is the 25th Century after all, not the dim past!”
The craft landed outside Alicia’s home. Her mother was waiting outside to greet them all. The girls hurried ahead of Neuleighah’s parents towards the house.
“Hi Mum, thanks for the gift!” Alicia said as she scurried past her.
“What gift?” Alicia’s mother said.
Neuleighah smiled at her … then followed Alicia inside.
2. The Gift of Truth
Word count: 499
On the way home from school Ben and Jed are there waiting for me. They’re huddled together, whispering and plotting what we’re going to do next. Jed carries the tools in an old school bag. They’re older than me; they skip school and hang out in the mall until school finishes. Jed hands me the gear; I know what I have to do. They’re my friends so I go along with the plan. As I’m the smallest they heave me up and I jemmy open the window, climb through and unlock the doors. It’s easy. We grab the stuff, bolt down the back streets laughing and, for a while, it feels great being part of the group. But as I head home, it doesn’t feel so good anymore.
When I get home mum is angry, ‘You’re late; where have you been?’
I don’t look at her, just shrug as my stomach tightens.
“What have you been up to?’ she demands, frowning.
I turn away and head to my bedroom, slam the door and lock it. Pulling out a box from under the bed I shove the stuff inside and jam the lid down tight. I don’t want these things, don’t want to do it anymore; don’t know what to do. I lie on the bed, pull up the blankets, and try to block it out. I just want it to end.
Mum calls out, ‘Tea is ready.’
‘I don’t want any.’
She rattles the doorknob. ‘You need to eat something, what’s wrong?’
‘I’m not hungry. I’ve got homework to do.’
I hear mum and dad arguing in the kitchen. I know it’s about me. I can’t tell them about Ben and Jed, they’d never understand. They don’t know how lonely it is at school; how the other boys tease me, call me a midget.
Dad knocks on the door. “Marty we have to talk.’ I cover my head. ‘Please undo the door.’ With a groan I let him in and flop onto the bed. I don’t want him here, don’t want to talk. He sits beside me and holds a packet of cigarettes in his hand. I grasp in surprise.
He asks me gently, ‘Where did you get these?’
I shrug, ‘They’re not mine.’
‘Marty, we know you’ve have been stealing things; people have seen you in the mall with a group of older boys. You think they are your friends but they use young boys to steal for them all the time. Sometimes people get hurt and they don’t care. Do you want to be part of that?’
‘They’re not like that,’ I snap, angry and confused. I think back to the mall – shoving an old lady as they snatch her bag, laughing as she falls. I turn to help her, but they yell ‘run Marty run,’ and I take off.
Dad sighs, ‘You know you’re not like those boys Marty, and so do we.’
I feel his arm warm around my shoulders, and stare at the floor.
3. The Gift of Truth
What lies is he telling her now? I hate him so much when I know he’s lying to Mum just so he can go and shag Mr Kirby’s wife. Only 3 weeks and 2 days left at school and I can expose them both for what they really are. Will I ever stop hating him, I wonder. I didn’t always hate him, especially when he coached my soccer team last year. And thanks to him we won the grand final. I was so proud of him, so proud and so stupid. Why did I say “I love you Dad”. I hadn’t said that since I was a little kid, and now I wish I’d never said it at all.
I need to see Jeremy today, I need to plan every last detail to make sure that I have all the facts so that he can’t lie and worm his way out of what he’s done, not only to our family but to Mr Kirby’s family as well. Apart from wishing that my father wasn’t the cheating lying rat that he is, the second worst part is that Mr Kirby has been my favourite teacher since I’ve been at Henderson College. I reckon he’s even better than any of the other teachers at this college who haven’t taught me. It’s not that I love Physical Education more than any of my other subjects it’s that Mr Kirby is just the coolest teacher.
Jeremy will back me I know he will. I also know we shouldn’t have been there, my parents have told me, over and bloody over, there are all sorts of weirdos and druggos that hang around the Creek once it’s dark so make sure you stay away. During the day is not so bad to go for a fish with Jeremy but I always had to be home before dark.
It was just too good an opportunity to miss. With Jeremy’s parents away in Sydney overnight it was the first time we were allowed to sleepover at his place on our own. With the thrill and anticipation of what we might come across at the Creek that night, we couldn’t ride fast enough. We weren’t stupid though, we would hide our bikes in the scrub a bit further along the Creek so nobody would see us coming. We’d then sneak along the bank till we got to the clearing.
Nothing could have stopped us that night, but bloody hell I wish it had. There was my father’s car, windows steamed up, back window open. What was he doing here? Parked next door was Mr Kirby’s wife’s car, nobody in it. The car was rocking and I could hear them. They disgust me. Every time I look at him he disgusts me. How could he?
Well only 3 weeks and 2 days to go until he and Mrs Kirby get the best end of school year present from me – the gift of truth.
4. The Gift of Truth
I can still recall the night when John called me and said his girlfriend had just made him watch this movie and there was a photographer in it that had been to Naples and maybe it might be my Nonno. Now I’m sure hundreds of photographers had visited Naples the year before my mother was born but I had followed down dead ends before so what was one more. The first thing to verify was that the movie wasn’t a complete work of fiction it wouldn’t have been the first time John had told me something that he hadn’t verified before telling me. He was a great mate but sometimes..
My Nonna had always been very vague about who my Nonno was. I grew up knowing he was a foreign photographer but that was all I knew. It wasn’t until after her death that I found out a few more details. I still don’t know why but her passing created a yearning in me more intense than ever before. It’s somewhat understandable as she was the only family I had, yet I’m still perplexed at the intensity in which it came.
Within weeks I was rushing to the airport after a farewell night out with John, and three flights later, I was in the heart of America.
Travelling on the bus through so much open countryside had me feeling very alien. I wondered how many Italy’s one could fit inside America. It truly was like I was on a desolate movie set after everyone had gone home. Even now years later as I write about the journey that forever changed my life I can still close my eyes and feel that landscape so clearly.
As the bus pulled into town it stopped right in front of a diner which looked like so many movies I’d seen with John. Ordering a cheeseburger fries and a coke felt so American. I’d eaten burgers and fries before but this felt like a different experience. I didn’t even really like coke but I ordered one anyway.
The waitress didn’t know who Alister Jones was but pointed me in the direction of Samuel at the photo shop across the road just one block down.
Samuel knew exactly who I was looking for but the little known truth as he recalled it was he was actually Australian not American so I’d come to the wrong country.
It would be another year before I could save up enough to travel to Australia but I wasn’t going home empty handed. Not only did I now have a solid lead as to who my Nonno could have been. Samuel had given me a framed photograph Alister had taken while visiting his county which had hung on his wall so long there was now a faded mark on the wall outlining where it used to hang. Alister had given it to Samuel all those decades before and decades later it still hangs on my wall a most treasured gift.