Hop Dac

Little Things

Fortune had bestowed upon me susceptibility for fungal malaise.
It begins on a limb — usually the lower leg — as a spot much like an ingrown hair or a pimple, and with any sort of blemish, I feel the irresistible urge to tamper with it.
The first few days I scratch at it, squeeze it between thumbnails like the dispatching of a flea, until a small droplet of fluid is forced from its centre.
I guess this is how infection first sets in: I open the wound.
But being minuscule, I discredit it, thinking that it is ineffectual. Over the next few days, it develops around its rim, spreading a pinkish discolouration until quite unexpectedly, several new nodules appear, as mushrooms do in the rain.
And yet, I persist in treating it with disdain.
The itching increases, and you would think I would take that for a sign, but without any change of consideration, I pick at it, scratch at it.
There is a point when scratching the itch is quite pleasurable, which becomes yet another step taken blissfully towards disaster as, like water droplets merging, the pimples suddenly rally upon a life force, and I find a single sore the size of a small coin has manifested, fighting to form a scab over itself.
Yet the nature of the thing is to perpetuate, so as it suppurates, the pus dries into a thin hard cap that, when I squeeze it, cracks evenly over the entire surface and more pus is produced. The scab itself proves not to contain the problem, instead it acts as a lid does on a pot of stew, building up pressure as around the outer fringe of the ‘lid’ the pink growth continues to breach, much like a pot boiling over.
And the insidiousness of the thing begins to appal me, as the more I pick at it, prod at it, the faster it seems to spread roots that rupture into puckered pustules that bloom over my calves. Within two weeks it is all out of hand, and serious infection has set in. It was usually at this stage that I find myself making a frantic visit to the physician.

This time however, I was at the point where the initial pleasure of the experience did not detract from the memory of its cumulative affects. I have had such good acquaintance with the dilemma that I had taken to self-diagnosis, treating the sores with a salve I squeezed from out of a little metal tube.
My life at the moment seems overcrowded with these little metal tubes, as my domestic space was littered with assorted balms and ointments, paints and paste. My life is measured in ointments squeezed in regular instalments.
It is in itself a pleasure, the squeezing of little metal tubes and the making of little viscous worms of a consistent texture. Rolling up the ends, screwing on the little lid.
It is probably a part of the handicap, as I liked to squeeze much more than I liked to treat the problem, so the problem perpetuates. I managed to retard the growth of the thing eventually, but only after it had claimed enough surface area to put a pikelet over. Then I was left to live with this blotch that over several months almost became a permanent fixture, and I forget that I once possessed a flawless expanse of leg. A love-hate relationship developed where I stifled the growth enough to not risk it encroaching over my entire epidermis, as ghastly as that sounds, But I didn’t seem to be able to reverse the process and finally be rid of it. So I walked about, nurturing this parasite I was almost content to dole out a substantial amount of my life force and mental energy to.
I said almost.
I became tired of it. I acquired the frame of mind that some parents must suffer when they begin to suspect that their offspring are really quite gormless, that stage where battle-fatigue borders upon capitulation and the only desirable thing is resignation or an immediate fix from a deity, or a quack.

So once again I find myself in a waiting room, struggling with my reams of thoughts that appear unsolicited as the minutes begin to rack up significance.
I read in a magazine once that you can spend a grand total of a year of an average lifetime waiting for it to be ‘your turn’. Be it for the doctor, for trains, for meals, for phone calls, at the bloody post office.
My problem is that I am very good at procrastination, so all these delays seem to mingle together as I wait for someone else to make the decisions, as I shuffle along the line. I am fond of grey areas. It is my habit to shrug and raise my eyebrows.
I quietly wanted to be a part of a movement of some kind, yet no particular culture dominated me, no ideal could circumvent the other ideals, and no opinion stood up for long enough. I consciously wore simple clothes free of logos; I tore the tags off the back of my shirts.

The waiting room is a sanitised place, disinfectant has clipped the air of its depth and every lemon scented breath works into my veins an unsettling feeling that I was slowly being blanched. In fact I began to feel very conspicuous, as my infection began to itch and rising to my nostrils were the fumes of my decay: three days unwashed. Accumulated skin cells fed upon by rampant bacteria breeding in my hairy crevices, exacerbated by a nervous anxiety disorder that came from appearing in public.
I find it’s an uptight place, public space. Too full of definitions.
Skirting the walls of the room are frayed couches and plastic chairs that remind me of the ergonomic nightmares of high school. High on the wall facing the door, a carelessly painted train is caught speeding out of frame. In the middle of the room cluttered stacks of magazines are heaped on a coffee table. Yesteryears celebrities baring their teeth at me.
Four other people are waiting with me in the room, none of us look sick. We’re concealing our ailments from one another. It’s quite strange really, it appears as though we’re in a lounge room, not facing each other, reading magazines that are full of uselessly out of context information. Yet there we were all together in the same room, fearful of making a flurry in the air.

Reading a magazine that is out of date is like being reminded of painfully embarrassing situations preferably left to rot. Yet glamour is all too irresistible a sentiment and other people’s inanity is all too entertaining.

So there we were, preferring to steep in the purgatory of haplessness that is out of date magazines. Our faces superimposed by smiling celebrities on the magazines we sheltered behind. I began thinking to myself, what am I doing here? I’m not even sick; I’ve just got a bit of a blotch. If I were naked, however, everyone could determine my measurements, my deficiencies would be disclosed, and that man over there I would see his ingrown toenails, and the prissy old lady, I would see her skin cancers scored among the stretchmarks riven into her saggy saggy skin.
Would we then laugh at our reservations? Or would we find that it was only our clothes that differentiated us, that our diseases dressed our imaginations, and that in nudity, the symptom of an ailment is evidence of habitual, erroneous thinking?
My will power to overcome habit is weak, I have spent many hours playing solitaire on the computer while my responsibilities stacked up, then I go to bed to die in a dream drowning.
My body has become an extraneous thing that needs constant supervision.
I mean it really is a chore to have a body and with our blemishes stitched up in ragged seams, haltered into rash outfits, we strangers have furtively come together with our ailments concealed under the composure of a conventional lounge room setting.
Not wanting to appear naive, we are manoeuvred silently by fashion.
Withdrawn, with all precautions tenuously in place, the residues of your life begin to bubble over into plans, problems and pleasures. All the little things that preoccupy the brain cells burst forth from their stations and froth.

The plants are wilting due to lack of water, with the pathetic torpor of a living thing forced to eat itself for sustenance. I sympathised with them, the same way I pitied addicts and academics.
When you’ve been in a space for a little while, gotten to know its habits, you begin to notice all the little cracks. In the carpet was a saga of mishaps, spilt contents of beverages, stains worked into fibres over the years like a long process of dyeing, inconspicuous at first, but discernible after familiarity divulges its secrets.
My body is the same. There are moments when I recognise its organic frailty. My teeth are rooted to my gums, I must take care of them or they would fall out. I can see the nest of nerves threaded throughout the structure of bone and muscle, contained in a taut skin, and every injury is acknowledged upon these nerves and I can either remedy them, or find some way of working around them.
Invariably I end up enduring multiple physical failures that are somehow circumvented through making concessions in the way I move and utilise my body. But it is a precarious existence, as at any moment any additional injury could cause a chain of events that could lead to total system melt-down.

The walls themselves rendered subtle hues that have distilled through the original ‘Scandinavian View’, becoming more apparent the longer one gazed at them. Light mauves and sheer beiges that shuttled their layers back and forth during the perceptible susurrus of fading and failure, and suddenly it seemed the walls were incredibly dirty.
I remember reading that Leonardo Da Vinci noted the peculiar attribute of how a mottled wall can elicit the rise of unconscious inclinations of thought, something Sigmund Freud picked up on to develop his psychoanalytic work. Staring at blotches. It can be quite a mesmerising experience identifying the patterns emerging from a wall.
Despite the reek of antiseptic, perhaps because of, I began to feel myself terrorised, and my skin became not my envelope, but a vulnerable surface area of all too easy an access for the inestimable legion of microbes’ set to violate my composure.
It was through my skin that I felt exposed, and the frailty of the skin made my surface nervous.
Wherever there is space, all the little things will begin to come up, will find their way out into the open through cracks, through faults, will find their way upon the flat surfaces, the calm visages, proliferate, exacerbate, and eventually take over.
I imagined the waves of germs that float with the air, sifted through nostrils’ hair. That leapt from subject to subject, and I eyed my fellow invalids and wondered what kind of diseases they were harbouring. My infection began to itch tremendously, I could feel it welling up and I had to scratch at it like a dog feverish with relief and anxiety. I stood up, alarming the others and dashed hysterically over to the receptionist’s desk.

I think if I have to wait any longer I’m might start flaying myself, I told her, not liking the desperation that had crept into my voice.

The receptionist was a middle-aged woman with vivid orange hair. She had a severe fringe that scratched across her forehead, an ample bosom squeezed into a black feather-lined number and round red-rimmed glasses that gave her a mawkish, burlesque appearance.
Her voice was like a moth fluttering in a closed palm.

I’m sorry Sir; the doctor is running late today. We seem to have run into a dense patch of hypochondriacs. Mostly Italian widows. It’s Easter you know.

Do you think you could hurry things up a bit? I need to get out of here. I think my mind has a virus.

She blinked at me, the corner of an eyebrow raised like a leg hooked over an armchair.
She opened up a book.

May I ask for your name Sir? What time was your appointment made for?

Nguyen. Ten o’clock.

She glanced up at the clock.

It’s already past the hour.

Yes, that’s correct.

Nothing got past this one.

You’ll just have to wait, Sir. Unless you want to make another time…

Don’t you think I’ve wasted enough time as it is?

You know, Sir, time doesn’t exist. It’s a mental measurement.

I’m wasting away by increments.

Haste makes waste, Sir, as they say. Just sit back down in the waiting room and the doctor will be with you soon.

I can’t wait much longer; it’s like limbo in there. I’ll have a fit.

Time heals all wounds, Sir.

I don’t have time to waste waiting around. I need to get on with things, please don’t make me go back in there.

Don’t you know, Sir, that patience is a virtue?

What’s the matter with you? Are you listening to yourself? Do you even hear me? You’ve been working in here too long!

She smiled at me, the beatific smile of a demi-god unfettered by specific dilemmas.

I’m sure the doctor will be with you soon.

I went and sat down, convinced that the word ‘suffer’ was invented for the use of those who enjoyed perpetuating it, rubbing spittle into the sore that had by now become alarmingly inflamed.
I hated it, the paralysis of waiting for something to happen, having to suspend my options against fate.
I had caused a disturbance, the other patients gazed detachedly over at me, like cows.
And I began to hear, ever so softly, the corners filling up with dust.

Jellyfish are remarkable animals, expanding themselves up with water, and as they do, filter out food such as plankton, particles, then expelling the water that propelled them forward. Moving, feeding in one graceful movement. They drift unhurried, sometimes alone, sometimes in ethereal swarms, timeless, persistent.
And when Arum Lilies appear from the earth, they start as little folds that peek out, enlarging and unfurling in a continuous movement. Sometimes you see a cluster of them and in each is an episode of how they grow. Eventually leaves loosen themselves from the cones and wavering upwards, stand to form long fluted stems.
From the cleft of leaf and stem a bud appears, juvenile green but lengthening with an inexorable momentum that one morning, bursts out into a heavenly white cup with flanged lips pinched at the bottom. A long deliberate stamen, ponderous with golden pollen lolling out eager to be kissed.

Clouds scudded over and it quickly lost contrast inside, the light turning grey, the room became soupy. A shucking sound came from over the receptionist’s desk. Sharpening a pencil, she nodded at the point she had extracted. A miasma had descended, and the vapours began to stretch over me.
And in the milky, barren room the walls began to revolve, retreating into their corners.
I started to space out, as I had feared. Devoid of stimulus, hypnotised by a long exposure to tedium. My eyes struggled for clarity and I became inert, a finger poked into a beached jellyfish. Hours may have past, the sun and the moon could have appeared in waves but I was without moments; the hardness of intention had dissolved, in protest, my particles broke up and separated.
I was indistinguishable from the chair, invisible from the air.
And everything came in glimpses. Magazines cascading to the floor, brown ends of plants shrivelling, yellow post-it notes curling with age on the notice board, the aloof patients like pastel paintings of absinth drinkers.
And in between the glimpses there opened huge instances proliferating with an intense anxiety as suspicion grew of my ability to judge what was actual experience and what was the desire for phenomena acting upon my nervous system. I lost faith in my imagination, as it crudely demanded greater heights of phantasmagoria. And it was the unrestrained deceit of my own system against me that frightened me. My senses became intolerable.
As the walls heaved their acute nausea, I felt my own organism sympathise with them, so my lungs and verily, my mind inflated and deflated to mirror the walls. I did not know how much longer the walls could bear buckling.
Conspicuous as a specimen on a Petri dish, I thought everyone in the room was agitated by my company; their swivelling, engaging eyes. My psychosis came out in waves, and everything bobbed upon the horizontal planes. I lost all faith in my ability to maintain composure, I was a juggler keeping twelve orbs airborne and on the brink of cracking. Every gesture became a performance, and all I wanted was the salve of a little piece of reassurance, but the only things making themselves apparent were the surfaces all around me, of walls and faces and presentation, becoming more fractured under my growing scrutiny of them. They threatened to split wide open, and to see that would mean the death of my reason.
The minutia, invisible! Terrible! Abominable!
For preservation’s sake I had to reassure myself of what I thought was happening, opening a running commentary of my experiences to keep them in check. Using my injured imagination to distract myself from total capitulation. It was the others, it was they who were responsible, how could I maintain normality when stones were being cast against me. How could I make decisions when each one was fraught with treachery? I accused them of inane things, I criticised their dress sense, calculated their attitudes. How dare they hold themselves against me and judge me for their own self-esteem?
Then I relented and made up excuses for them. I became pragmatic. How could they not assess me? When any sense of security is such a precarious thing, when we are all victim to the sway of popular belief, when the mainstream is an organism that works only to assimilate all in its path, and the individual who rebels is strengthened only by a resolve that goes beyond himself, and the individual who dares stand out is seen as weakening the group.
Of course it was entirely my own fault. I hadn’t looked after myself. I was blasé.
But was I not deserving of love? Then why am I not loved? And I understood that pragmatism was the round boundary of reason, that to encourage humanity was noble, that in its favour was the ideal, and its failure was in idealism.
Oh the persistent fucking accumulation!
These people pretending to be oblivious are shuttled together, sending each other psychic messages that they are all right because they maintain the norm. And I was a dissident, a mutation. I can read their gestures, but they think I don’t know it. Bacteria are replicating upon them as well!
And it is a blanket of bacteria that connects as all, and traces of them are carried to me, and I can taste their thoughts, and their intentions are marked upon my skin through their very vibration.
I know precisely what is going on, I’m keeping up with it, oh yes I certainly am. Keeping an eye on it, I know the exact design of everything all at one, I can pinpoint the trend, and its because all the little things work to inform me.
But self-doubt is my shadow, and it whispered upon my creed that I was really consuming upon myself, that I was analysing my analysis, and did not see that my mind was part of the entropy. And did not see the distortions I had made as I bent to spiral down, as I bent life to my own image, as I had chosen to gather only what is relevant to me, that I was the experience, yet the experience was without me.

I had thought to the end of reason, left babbling, dabbling in the powder of description, slurried my collection of opinions. It was an exponential moment that leaves one without words, such as the fantastic tale of a lifetime staggered into an instant, or a cinema of dreams in the sleep of a minute.
It was a perpetuated wound I had going, an itch I couldn’t resist.

I must have dozed off, because the next thing I knew the room had been vacated. The receptionist had left her seat, and a profuse silence had frozen the waiting room.
The air was thick and resistant, I could barely breathe, I had to consciously draw upon it.
It was all somehow stagnant. I began to feel sick. The air was disgusting; it had the aftertaste of mildew.
My sore began to itch, I pulled up my trouser leg and to my dismay, it had grown! Encroached from the top of my knee all the way down to the ankle. I ran around the waiting room, I ran down the hall to the doctor’s surgery, I flung his door open and all I saw was a skeleton. Caught in its perpetual grin.
I needed treatment; I needed restraint; I wanted someone to give me a prescription.
I wanted a solution!
I opened the doors to all the rooms, but no one was there, just that diseased taste in the dense air. The light had a silted quality; murky clouds of dust were visible swarming by the windows.
I searched the whole place, but could not find a soul.
I felt desperate, anxiety flooded my valves and I just wanted something to happen.
I thought that perhaps they had all gone home, perhaps they hadn’t seen me slouched down in the chair? But a glance at the clock said it was still early in the afternoon, just past one, surely it was too early to close a surgery? Maybe they had gone to lunch?
Maybe if I just waited some more, they’ll be back?
So I sat down, and waited.
I waited a long time.
I could feel the fungus replicating by instances, stealing along millimetres, foraging along under the surface of my skin. Creeping up my leg, up my body. Surfacing. My distress increasing.
The oppression of it taking over paralysed me and the longer I waited the less I felt able to instigate, as my epidermis grew fragile, lifted and began to flake. I found the facility to make the next step had left me, I was wedged into a stunned condition of inertia. I couldn’t push the starting friction over into impulse. I couldn’t find purchase to propel the idea.
Something was happening to my nerves; they agitated. I was desperate, I wanted to do something but I didn’t know what.
The phone rang; I nearly came to pieces. It’s ring came plaintively, calling out, I couldn’t answer it, yet I couldn’t bear the sound of it. I counted the agonising number of rings, twelve before whoever it was hung up. Waves of anger and helplessness swept through me.
I could feel crumbs of myself loosen as I trembled, released upon the floor, drift into air. I wanted to shout for help. Where is my voice…? I felt I was running out of time, but I waited, in case someone should come, before something should happen.

Shane Jesse Christmass

Two Days Out

I have to cut across the city.
From inner suburb to another.
I start at seven.

The bus is running late, and I have half an hour to get to work. Outside the shelter, the winds rip through my uniform. I’m not listening to anything anymore. I’ve switched off. I’m going to work again. All it is, is another eight hours away from my girl.

My heels hang over the edge of the kerb, and my back is to the road. There’s no traffic in the road. Facing the shelter, I run my eyes over the graffiti that decorates it. I cringe at how coarse it seems.

big tits Italian style.
lebo pussy.
stinky arab cunt is very nice.
fuck me babe sexy one.

My mental imagery raises no objections to its rottenness. In my head, no one has to talk with a liberal stench, to commentate on the urban affair. You just have to look around.

The bus arrives and I hop on. What have they done to that bus shelter? What has that bus shelter done to me?


Getting to work, I sneak past everyone, without saying the routine, without saying good morning. Slinking into the mens area, I saddle up to my locker. Opening the locker, I look inside. One towel hanging off a coat hanger. I can smell that it’s still damp from knock off last afternoon. I grab my notebook, the radio, the pager, and my pencil. My cigarettes are still in my top breast pocket. The box of matches is in my socks.

It’s ten minutes after the shifts started. In the hallway I head for the television room. I walk past the spooks from night shift going home, and the puppets getting a head start emptying rubbish bins.

The middle section of the news, splashes out into the room. Someone has set fire to something. Someone has died somewhere. The dollar is dead.

The bin in the corner is overflowing with choc milk cartons, and plastic sandwich wraps. Crumbs litter the table tops. The vinyl on the chairs is gashed.

I look up when the sport section flashes upon me. It’s a fanciful illumination. The television set is on brackets, stung to the corner of the wall, where it meets the ceiling. My team hasn’t won in nine rounds, and I work weekends.

At this stage of the morning, I chew on what I could be doing. I could head on down to casualty, bit I decide to stay put. I’ll offer personal assistance as required.

I turn to Terry and talk reflex shit.

– Y’catch the game on the weekend.

He nods his head, oblivious to which game I’m referring to.


In the hallway, I head to the service elevator. Getting in I press eight.

On the eighth floor, they have biomedical engineering, which is where they fix stuff. No one goes there except orderlies. On the eighth floor you walk out onto the roof. I stumbled onto it one evening, and ever since, I’ve kept it too myself. A few others know about it., but I don’t really care about them.

The elevator opens, and I head into the fire escape. I push through another door, and I’m in the morning sunshine. My body warms right up, and I can smell the dampness in the air. Lighting a cigarette, I hang my arms over the ledge.

The guys who work on the sixth floor, in the private ward, come up through the other entrance. They hold exclusion over me, even though they don’t get paid any more. The don’t acknowledge me. I look at them, and they the same.

I draw back on the cigarette, as my mood takes me. My mood is brief. I flick it over the edge, watching it arc, spindle, then land next to a BMW. It sparks instantly, then just lies there. I turn away from the ledge.

Before I go through the fire door, I have one last look at the city. It’s over there, and the suns behind it. The rays filter between office blocks and empty apartments. The haze, the smog looks radiant.

My girls out there somewhere. My pay was already two days late.

At the elevator I press two. The outpatients eye clinic has a spring water dispenser.


The medical receptionist is hanging behind the counter. She’s marshalling appointments, and trying to look more attractive, than her middle age lets her. What first grabbed my attention to her was her fingernails. Immaculately sculpted with smooth, pointed ivory baubles. Today they’re the colour of plumbs. She has a blonde bob, and an age twice the size of mine. She tries too hard to look natural.

Standing, checking her out, I sip water from a Styrofoam cup. Turning away I see a man in a wheelchair, with two eye patches. The one on his left eye has dried blood. He’s waiting to be seen.

Tossing the cup, it jerks on the bins rim, then falls, bouncing off the carpet. The receptionist looks at me, expecting it to be picked up. I walk off, remaining someone who don’t confront her.


The fourth floor, is a general ward. Georgie works up on it. I’m going see if she needs a hand. It gets busy sometimes, and I don’t mind helping others out, as long as I don’t get trapped doing their work.

Georgie’s emptying the linen skips. It’s a bluster of soiled sheets, blood, pyjamas, shit and piss. When I started working here, Georgie was one of the first to show kindness towards me. I enjoy talking with her.

– Hey Tobe … y’got that twenty y’owe me?

Georgie knows there’s something not quite right with me. I like her simple honesty. I can’t tell her why I don’t have the money, besides it’d all come out wrong.

– Sorry Georgie … y’know better than to ask for money on a Monday mornin’.

Georgie lifts a sharps container out of its slot. She fastens her keys back to her belt.

– Y’know Tobe … it’s been ‘bout four weeks now.

Georgie’s debasing my ego, and I feel ashamed.

– I’ll get it to you on Wednesday … after the pay goes through.

I obsess over many things, getting sweaty and anxious along the way. I certainly don’t obsess over a direct deposit of cash, that my employer feeds into my being every fortnight.


When the doors in the elevator close, they bar the outside. Tiredness comes along, and I press six. It’s a chance to take. What could be found up on the sixth floor?

Stooping down to my ankles, I pick up my shoelace, and tie those laces right.

On the fifth, the doors open, and my boss walks in. I stand up, not bothering to finish with my laces. Here I am, myself and my boss, in the elevator, all alone. We don’t acknowledge each other, but it’s certain he’s checking me out. I give him the required nod. It acknowledges a presence in the image of the other. It’s a useless activity, but a requisite nevertheless. Everyone here seems to do it.

It occurs to me, the needle mark on my arm. I’d shot up a point on the weekend, and it had left a sepia bruise, the size of a 20 cent piece. It’s in the usual spot, in the inner arm, around and above the elbow joint.

Looking up, my boss is noticing the bruise. He looks at my face, then at the vein, getting out of its skin. I fold my arms, and clear my throat.

– I juss had an’ appointment with the Staff Doctor … another blood test.

It’s been about a year since I’ve been tested for Hepatitis. My boss doesn’t seem to trust me, but I do my work well, and I know whose buttons to push in, and whose to bite down on.

The elevator gets to the sixth, and even though we’ve gone two floors, it still seems like it’s taken too long. Walking out, I rustle my hands into my pockets. The spare change suggests I’m 10 cents short for a Pepsi. At seams, and posing naked before my boss, I think of asking him for the difference. It’s hot, and sweat is slipping under my tie. As I step out, I take another look at my boss. He speaks sternly.

– Tobe … I’m putting you up in ICU this afternoon.

I’ve never worked in Intensive Care, but before I can tell him, the doors close. He’s gone.

I watched the light above the elevator indicate three. He’s heading down to his office, but the humming veneration of his higher authority is still sniffing about.

Walking past the soft drink dispenser, I let out a held breath. It’s two more days till the pay comes. I’m up, in under forty eight hours.


I walk past the rubbish room. Bestami is in there, pushing down a garbage bag into the bigger skip. Piles of linen bags are stacked up under the chute. The attendants who work on the wards, like Georgie, bring all the rubbish and linen to this point, and then cleaners like Bestami open the chute, or take the rubbish out to the compactor. Bestami yells out to me.

– Hey! … Tobe! … Whatssup?

My legs crack as I turn around, and Bestami is standing in the doorway. I know a little bit about him, but not much. We’ve worked on night shift before, and he comes across like a good bloke.

– Hey Bestami … how’s the schoolin’ goin’?

He’s studying to be an engineer, and his brother Hakim, whose one of the security guards, got him the job.

He looks up from his shoes, smirking like I know better than to call it schooling. I look down. The remnants of a mercury stain on the linoleum, hold my gaze. Bestami talks down to me. He’s preachy about his institution.

– You mean university Toby.

I’m kinda over this. I was just making conversation.

– Yeah that’s it … how is it?

He pauses, thinking this over, then smiles. He answers, with all the assurance of someone whose on the way up.

– I pay money, I work hard.

I like this response, it shows drive, it shows adversity over circumstance. It’s also smug and arrogant, an insult to the underclass. I just offer some third rate slogan, something I say, so I don’t have to think, about what really hurts me.

– That’s it Bestami … no one’ll pay y’extra if y’complain ‘ey.

Bestami seems surprised, like I’ve said something he admires, but didn’t think I had it in me.

– Correct Toby … correct.

The longer Bestami thinks about it, the more he thinks I’m taking the piss. He sort of scrunches up his face, perplexed, then lets it all out.

– You’re wasting in this hospital Toby.

To help him out, I turn the key, I open the chute door, and start loading linen bags into the opening.

– Um … w’whadya mean?

Bestami taps the shirt pocket on my chest.

– What’s this notebook y’always hooking into?

I have to lie. I have to keep up the charade that I’m dumb.

– I’m juss writin’ in my jobs … takin’ down the numbers.

Bestami looks at me, as he picks up a full bag from the bin. He smiles to himself, like he knows better. He hoists the bag into the skip. He pushes the other one down, with a steel rod, talking to me as he does.

– As long as you pull yourself up Tobe … will to take the gamble so to speak.

This is starting to turn into a lecture. Bestami is becoming a bore. I’m becoming a cynic.

– Yeah … but moaning about it all Bestami … won’t make any of it happen.

Bestami lets out a rough noise from his throat. He seems like he’s getting upset with me, like I can’t see what’s in front of me.

– I ain’t moaning … I’m telling you. Anyways what are y’doing, you’re cluttering up m’time. You’re in my way.

Bestami seems like he’s flipping out, and it’s making me feel amazed.

– Bestami … you talk like that … But you asked me over in the first place.

While the seconds turn silent, I look at some nurses, then Bestami speaks. He hits me up for a cigarette, and I put one between his fingers. He puts it in his top pocket, and looks down at the plastic bags in the corner. The bags are two colours, green and yellow. He speaks like he’s thinking to himself.

– I’m knockin’ for a break … wanna come out with me?

– I’m not hungry, could do with a drink tho’.

Bestami walks out into the hallway, nearly bumping into a doctor.

– Besides Bestami, it’s nearly lunch.

He points back, over my shoulders, pointing at the ground.

– Tobe, this is all about linen, and this linen can wait … Besides I gotta go pray.

Something shudders through me.

– To the hell what?

Bestami tugs on his beard.

– Mecca.

Now he’s got me interested. I come across as being insulting, but innocent enough as well.

– Which way is it?

Bestami looks at me, steely cold, like I’ve offended him.

– So which way is it?

Bestami spins around on the ugly tiles, and looks over his shoulder. He looks back at the wall he was facing, then spins around in that direction. He sticks out his arm, pointing out from him, so rigid it looks like it’s going to fall off. His palm is outstretched like a paddle. He smiles at me through his beard.

– Mecca … is thatta way.

I’m thrown over, like I’ve just been kissed. Bestami puts his hands in his pockets, and rocks back and forth on his feet. He looks self-satisfied, chuffed, like he’s just performed a magic trick.

– So … Tobe … Y’gonna come with me.

Bestami brings me back to reality. I stutter somewhat.

– Oh … n’no … I don’t w’wanna interrupt.

Bestami walks towards me. Reaching out, he places his hand on my left shoulder. I look at his hand. Hair is coming out of his knuckles.

– Tobe … y’shouldn’t feel like that … at all.

I’m interested, but don’t want to look stupid, even though deep inside, I’d like to watch this performance of prayer. I shrug my shoulders.

– Bestami mate … It’s juss something you gotta do.

I walk away, holding a great delight under my tongue.


I’m opening my locker, grabbing my towel off the hanger. It’s less wet than this morning, but still humid enough. In the shower, the waters mixing, to make a comfortable temperature. I lean in, holding my hand under the shower head. It feels like an agreeable cool. Pleasant enough to drain off the sweat from my skin.

I step in. I think about Mecca. I think about this mornings dawn. How it seemed to be ripened. How it went inward of me. How it seemed to break apart inside me, but then I got to work. Hopefully the dusk will be like that tonight. I turn the taps off. Someone should tell engineering that the washers need to be changed.

Nicole Gill

Stalking Bob

Stalker Bob shuffled into our lives through the unlikely conduit of our new flatmate Jess. We interviewed a dozen or so perfectly reasonable people to move into our spare room, we settled on Jess, as she was the only person we’d made walk up the hill to our house more than once. I still didn’t get to meet her until the day she moved in,

She turned up with just a couple of bags and some stuffed penguins. Said she hailed from Armidale. Only 20, but already doing her honours year, specializing in penguin vomit. Tall, with long, blonde curls, and a curious predilection for tie-dye and denim. Apart from that, she seemed fair enough.

Life was fine for the next few weeks. We discovered she was obsessed with penguins and chocolate.

Then, one Saturday morning as I was furgling around in the kitchen, Jess came downstairs with a couple of bags. “Off somewhere, Jess?”

“Um, yeah. If anyone comes looking for me, especially any old looking guys, I’ve moved to Zimbabwe. With my boyfriend. Permanently.”

As far I’d been able to tell, Jess had no boyfriend and no financial backing to flee the country. “And who would this old fella be?”

“Uh, he’s a guy I used to deliver stuff for and he’s come down from Armidale to look for me. If you want to contact me I’ll be at my sister’s.” Before I could ask her any more questions, she scuttled out the door.

Random occurrences of the previous week started to make a little more sense. Concerned calls from her family. Unexpected calls from the police. Her odd habit of never opening the curtains.

Another flatmate returned home from the outside world. “Smithy, do you know anything about Jess having a stalker?”

“Ah, yes, we were talking about that the other day. Some old guy she used to work for. Her third stalker in three years apparently.”

“The third in three years! And you didn’t think to mention this to me?” Thinking back, I should have realised that her time in the house had been a tad too peaceful.

The next day, I returned from the corner shop to find a bulky envelope in the letter box. No stamp. Hand delivered. Addressed to Jess.

I shook it. I turned it over. There was more writing on the back. It said:

Thank you for the wonderful gift that you have given me that I was too blind to see.

I scanned the street for suspicious looking men in trench coats. Satisfied that none were lurking in the surrounding bushes, I went inside.

“I don’t know if I should bring this into the house. It could have anything in it.” I threw the parcel to Paul, my paramour.

He shook it, running his fingers along its contours. “Feels like some CD’s.”

“I’ve hidden all sorts of prohibited substances in CD’s. I think we should burn it.”

But I didn’t burn it. I called Jess at her sister’s instead. “Jess, I’ve got a bulky envelope here for you. It was hand delivered, possibly by your stalker. On the outside it says; Thank you for the wonderful gift you have given me that I was too blind to see. Bob. Is that him? Your stalker?”


“Do you want me to open it?”

“Sure. Go ahead.”

I was going to open it anyway, but it was good to get permission. I carefully peeled back the sticky edge of the envelope, which disgorged two CD boxes and a letter. The CD’s were two identical copies of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, with two CD’s in each box. Weird. Why would anyone under forty want one copy of it, let alone two?

“There’s a letter in here. Do you want me to read it to you?” Skipping past Bob’s contact details, I cleared my throat theatrically, and read:

My Dearest Jess,

Just a quick note to go with the CD’s.
I am sorry you felt that our beautiful friendship had to go this way. You have made your choice and, because I love you, I will endeavour to honour that decision.
I am in Hobart until next weekend (27th) so if you change your mind I would dearly love to see you and talk things over.
I don’t expect to hear from you but it would be nice if you did.
I have the mobile with me and that is all.
I am staying at the Ocean Child Hotel, 86 Argyle St., and from Wednesday on will have a lot of time to kill.


A lot of time to kill?

The footnote at the bottom of the notepaper read; Live today as if it were your last, for you know neither the day nor the hour of the Lord’s return. I decided not to read her that bit.

“So what does Stalker Bob look like then?”

“Well, he’s kind of old, in his fifties, with greying hair and glasses. He drives a white station wagon with spotlights on it. The police can’t do anything about him until he tries something serious.”

“How comforting. I’m sure they’re all up to their eyeballs in jaywalking offences.”

After we’d hung up, I reread the letter. The Ocean Child. Hadn’t been there for a while…

“Hey fellas, d’ya fancy a couple of beers at the Ocean Child?”


Around 7 than night, we decided to hit the pub. We pulled on our coats, and jumped into the car. An old Morris Minor, it has trouble starting at night. When it’s cold. In the morning. And sometimes during the afternoon. We had to push it around 180o before roll-starting it down the hill. The engine spluttered to life, and we were off.

We rolled past the pub, and had a laugh at the anti-speeding billboard. “Speeding? Wreck your life, just like that.” Not in this car.

We parked the Morris with its nose downhill, and strode into the pub. Decked out in old-style ship paraphernalia, heavily polished wood and shiny brass ornaments, the Ocean Child reeks of laddishness. Grabbing our beers, we circumnavigated the pub. After quickly discounting the two old fellas in the front bar, we moved through to the main dining area. At the bar, slouched over a beer, was a slightly toady-looking bloke, with stringy, greyish hair resting untidily on his collar. He wore glasses and a sizable paunch. We kept moving through the dining area to the side bar and sat in a booth with a slanting view of the suspect. “My money’s on him.” I pointed towards the bar. Paul and Smithy had a bit of a gawp and agreed. He looked just about normal enough to be a raging psychopath.

We drank our beers and made indiscreet comments about Pink Floyd. I went and stood behind Bob for a bit, staring at the back of his head as I waited for a beer.

He was pretty sad looking really, for an interstate weirdo. I wondered if he’d noticed us or if he knew who we were. If he’d been watching the house I supposed it was possible he recognized us. He gave no sign he’d seen us, and continued to gaze blankly at the bar mat between his elbows.

After a few more beers, staring wasn’t enough. I downed the rest of my beer and sauntered up to him.

“Hi,” I breathed, “come here often?” I fluttered my eyelashes theatrically.

He looked at me strangely. “I just got in on Saturday. I’ve been here since then.”

“Visiting friends?” I simpered.

“I’m down here looking for a job. I may do some visiting while I’m here.”

“Do you have any relatives in Tassie?”

“No. Why do you ask?” He peered at me guardedly. Obviously, fat, greying old men are somewhat suspicious of unsolicited attention from young women. “Are you working tonight?”

He thought I was a hooker. Unbelievable. Fishnets will do that for you.

“I wasn’t planning to, but I suppose I could. What’s your name, darl?”

“Bob. Bob Fisher.”


“Where are you staying?”

“Upstairs here. Room number three.”

“If you don’t mind, I’ll just excuse myself to the people I’m here with. I’ll be back in a minute.”

“Take your time.” I sashayed over to the side bar.

Paul and Smithy looked up from their beers. “What did you say to him? What did he say? Is it him?”

“It’s him alright and guess what? I’m going up to his room in a bit.”

“You’re doing what?”

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to sleep with him or anything. We’re just going to have a little chat.”

“But he’s the stalker! Anything could happen!”

“I’ll be in room three. You fellas can hang around outside if you like, in case anything does happen.”

I grabbed my bag, and wandered back over to the bar.

“So, you wanna go upstairs now, or a little later?”

“Uh, maybe now. How much is this gonna cost me?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. I’m very affordable.”

He finished his beer and I followed him upstairs. His room was done in a similar theme to the bar, but with a slightly tarnished aura. The carpet could probably write an omnibus of beer-soaked, unpopular fiction. He shut the door behind me and suddenly I felt pretty drunk, and more than a little bit vulnerable. He put his hand on my shoulder. I stepped away, turning to face him.

“Would you mind having a shower first?” I stalled for time, “I consider hygiene to be very important.”

“Don’t you want to have one with me?”

“Ah, no, I don’t think so. I need to get myself ready in here.”

He shrugged and shuffled into the bathroom. The door clunked shut, and I quickly rifled through his already-open suitcase. I found a bulky envelope stuffed in one of the upper mesh pockets, and tipping the contents onto the bed, revealed dozens of photos of Jess. Most were blurred, taken from a distance, but a few were up close. Jess folding junk mail. Jess carrying boxes. Jess carting shoulder bags full of junk mail. Jess doing very little at all. I took one.

In the bathroom I could hear the shower running. I reached into my bag and pulled out my pocket knife, locking open the long blade. Hiding it in my pocket, I strode over to the bathroom door.

Opening it, I stepped into a cloud of steam. He hadn’t been in there long, but he’d managed to fog the room up already. I held onto my knife, and thought of Hitchcock.

“So, Bob,” I enquired conversationally, “You’re into young, blonde women then?”

“Huh?” His face appeared blurrily behind the shower curtain.

“Young, blonde, curly haired women named Jess.” I brandished the photo at him accusingly. “You’ve been stalking her for over a year now, haven’t you?”

“Who the fuck are you?” He stepped out of the shower, his rapidly shrinking genitals mostly concealed by his pasty paunch.

“Her guardian angel. Now get on the floor, weirdo.”

He stepped towards me, still unsure whether this was part of the pre-coital sport. I pulled the knife from my pocket and pointed it at him. He leant forward to grab my wrist but pulled away as I snapped a roundhouse kick just short of his face.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. I have a purple belt in Tae Kwon Do.”

“Is that better than a black belt?”

“No, it’s one level down, but I have a grading next month. On your fuckin’ knees, simian!”

He crouched on the sodden bathmat, staring at me like I was the worm crawling out of his half-eaten apple.

“Put your hands on the floor.” He hesitated. “Hands on the fucking floor!” He rocked forward, onto his hands and knees, watching me all the while.

I began to pace the bathroom, headmistress styley, brandishing a pocket-knife instead of a stick of chalk. Speaking slowly. “Now. Do you understand why I’m here?”

“No, not really, no.” He shivered a little on the rug, eyeing the bathroom door.

“I’m here, because you won’t leave a friend of mine alone. It wasn’t enough for you to chase her around Armidale. You had to follow her all the way here.” I planted a boot on the toilet rim.

“Listen very carefully Bob. Jess doesn’t like you. She never has. And hell will be adorned with sparkly little icicles before she is even minutely interested in seeing you anywhere but behind bars. So you should just fuck off back to Armidale and leave her alone. Do you understand?”

His eyes darted like small, furry rodents, back and forth between the knife and my face. I stepped down from the porcelain pedestal and positioned the knife that little bit closer to his face. “Do you understand?” He cowered on the floor, muttering unintelligibly.

Stretching out a leg, I put my boot on the back of his neck and pushed his unresisting skull towards the bathmat, squashing his head sideways against the blue shagpile. I crouched down and held the photo and the knife in front of him.

“Now, Bob, I want you to apologise to Jess. I have a very good memory for language, so I’ll be able to repeat your apology to her later on. Now tell her how sorry you are for being a complete fuckwit and for making her life so miserable.”

He mumbled a furry “Sorry” from under my boot. I shifted my weight slightly, pushing lightly on his neck. He went a little red. “That wasn’t a very good apology was it, Bob? I know you can do better than that. In fact, if you’re really good, I won’t even cut off your dangly bits. Honest.” He whimpered a bit, then began blathering. “I’m really sorry Jess, I didn’t mean to upset you, it’s just that I’m in love with you, and I’m sure you could be in love with me if you just knew me better….” I leant on him a little harder, “… but if you’re not interested, which I can see you’re not, then I’ll just go away and leave you alone, maybe write to you occasionally….” I pushed down a little more “…or maybe not, maybe I’ll just let you write to me, but I promise not to visit you anymore unless you ask me to.”

“Cross your heart?”


“You’re supposed to say ‘Cross my heart and hope to die’, Bob.”

“Cross my heart and hope to die.”

“Or I’ll stick a thousand pins in your eye.” I stood up, releasing the pressure on his neck. “I’ll pass that on to Jess. Oh, one last thing Bob.”


“Lick my boots.” I couldn’t resist. He went down on my boots like they were made of candy. Probably a closet foot fetishist. I withdrew my feet before I was left shoeless.

“Right, that’s enough. Now get back into the shower and stay there for half an hour after I’m gone.” He crawled back into the shower recess and sat in the corner underneath the taps. “I’m having this room watched, so don’t even think about trying to follow me. After I’m gone, you can pack your bags, and get ready to leave the state A.S.A.P.” I pulled the shower curtain across and stowed the knife in my pocket. “And if I catch you coming anywhere near Jess, or even just putting things in her letterbox, I’ll be back. And next time, I’ll want more than an apology.”

I left him shaking in the shower and sauntered into the bedroom, pausing only to snatch the photos from the suitcase. I left him one, a memento, of Jess walking away from him.

I met the boys outside. “What happened? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. He apologised for being such a weirdo and said he was going to leave Jess alone.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

The Morris started first time, and we all went home for ice cream with lashings of chocolate topping.


Lachlan Williams

Autumn In New York

Milton Sayers lived alone in a second floor apartment in the East Village of Manhattan, before everything became high-rise. As I climbed the stairs I could hear Billie Holiday emanating from the other side of the wooden door. Autumn in New York. She sang over a piano that was only there because you had to have something there – I mean she couldn’t sing on her own, now could she? Whatever it was there for, it wasn’t to be noticed. The song finished, and I heard Milton take the three steps from the chair to the turntable. Not bothering to turn the record over, he simply started the song again.

– Ahh, Lady Day, I said as I opened the door. Doesn’t get much better, does it?

– Yeah, he said, fishing in the pockets of his orange plaid dressing gown for cigarettes. This is the life. Invalid, cancer-ridden… shitty apartment. Can’t play, can’t work, no money, asshole landlord… listening to the same goddamned song again and again at ten o-clock in the morning – this is the life alright.

He often said cheery things like that.

– They’re on the counter, I said, as he bent down to examine the stylus for signs of his cigarettes. You shouldn’t smoke, I added. Not when your lungs aren’t well.

– Mind your own fucking business, he said to me. They’re my lungs.

I was going through my regular period of re-adjustment, having just come from the College. It made me realise the extent to which our paths had differed, mine and Milton’s. Milton had spent his entire life drinking with gangsters, arguing with club owners (read gangsters), flaunting Jim Crowe laws, riling racists, making stupid bets with dangerous people and generally having fun. I, on the other hand, had retreated into the sheltered world of academia. At the time, it seemed the only sensible option.

It was the depression, twenty years ago now, give or take. The world had been taken to the cleaners by one war, and was warming up for another. There was little work for the best of musicians, and I was by no stretch of the imagination the best. So, when I heard that the post was available, I called in as many favours as I could, and flaunted the moderate wealth and standing that my family possessed to the best of my ability. Milton, being the colour he is, had no such option available to him. He probably wouldn’t have taken it anyway. Now, after two decades of numbing immersion in the banalities of the music have robbed me of the cream of my passion for playing it, I have trouble deciding who got the rawest deal.

– Have you been playing? I ventured. This was always a touchy topic, though both of us treated it with a forced casualness.

He shook his head and grunted in the negative, pretending to be absorbed in the Times.

– Macy’s are having a sale, he said, in a dead voice that was doing more than make conversation. Twenty percent off mahogany drawers. Didn’t your girl used to wear them? He asked, by way of a joke to diffuse the situation. I couldn’t laugh.

We sat in uncomfortable silence for a few seconds.

– Been anywhere? I asked. Music, its players, its Gods, its clubs and its memories are the only topics on which Milton can be induced into an involved conversation these days.

– Last time was Birdland with you. And you know what that was like, he adds. Milton’s opinions on music have darkened to match his general demeanour recently, though I suspect that this has been happening internally ever since he stopped playing. However, his bleak assessments are always tempered by a nostalgic longing for the way things (and he) used to be.

– It wasn’t so bad… It was just bop. It might not be what we did, but it’s what’s happening now. We’ve had our time.

Milton stared into space and smoked his cigarette. This was what he had been consigned to – some old nigger in an apartment, who’s time it no longer was, invisible to the city that had made so much of him. I sensed this in him more often, and looking at him smoke and stare, I wondered if he, like myself, had considered (before he started to fade) the possibility of becoming one of the ghosts of jazz. Had he glanced sideways into the shadows at Minton’s, at the Apollo, The Savoy, Birdland, at Café Society – at just about any damn club you could find – and seen the broken patrons and players of yesteryear? Had he noticed their number dwindle, and felt a half-reasonable fear that soon – or at least one day in the foreseeable future – he would be called on the take their places? To warm the eternal seat? Of course not. Those half buried in the shadows were unlike Milton is one vital way. At the majority of clubs, if Milton was not making wonderful noises on the stage, or being inconspicuous between sets, then he was being thrown out.

He wasn’t like Lady Day, he didn’t have the immortal glamour and conviction, nor the barrier of femaleness, to throw chairs at bigots, to go wild at doormen. This was a fact only brought to his attention by his recent illness, which deprived him of the opium of his existence, and the badge of his usefulness to white people – the ability to make a nice noise.

– It’s not the fact that its bop that worries me, he continued, unable to stop himself as always. It’s the whole scene. He took a drag of cigarette, and started coughing violently. This would have worried me, but it was just a part of his daily routine by now.

– Half the motherfuckers there were only looking to score. I mean, I remember when the blowing came first man. We’d play for maybe five, six hours.

– C’mon, I said in a tone of forced joviality that I immediately regret, half of us would’a been out of our goddamned minds too.

– But it was still about the playing! He wasn’t yelling, but there was a conviction in his voice that silenced me. I felt the back of my neck redden. Look at the shit we have now, he continued. A club opens one week, closes the next. Sure, there are guys who are good, real good. They can say things the way you or me never could. But imagine what they would be like if they didn’t twelve outa twenty-four useable hours into their arms. You think this shit I got’s cancer? That out there, he pointed out the window toward fifty-second street, that’s a fucking cancer!

He started to cough, more violently this time. I fetched him a glass of water, and put it next to him without a word. I was a little pleased that I had at least gotten him talking passionately about something. This was a new development in Milton’s personality. While I knew that he didn’t like junk, and the things that it had been doing to black neighbourhoods, he rarely went on rants like this. His usual method was one of escape. He hid in the half-lit clubs that had provided the backdrop for a more happier, youthful time. He hid in the mythology that had grown up around the Jazz world, all of the apocryphal anecdotes and colourful turns of phrase that his mind had patchworked together to create a thick, heady blanket of nostalgia for him to hide under.

Even as he was coughing, Milton struggled to continue his condemnation of all the world had done to him and his beloved music. The coughing became so strong that he could not force any more words out, though he did not stop trying. Small flecks of spit came of his mouth. These were followed by larger pieces, yellow flecked with the red of Milton’s blood. If he were white, his face would have been bright red by now, as the coughing fit and the frustration welling up inside him fed off of one another, and conspired to bring him to his knees. He picked up the glass I had placed next to him and threw it hard into the opposite wall. Shards ricoched in all directions, and the jagged base of the glass fell to the ground, looking like a broken crown.

– Milt, calm down. Look, it’s not that bad.

– Like hell it aint. He coughed a few more times, and then took some deep breaths. Look, I’ll be cool. You’ve got places to be, I imagine, he said, not without bitterness. Go about your business, while it still wants you.

– I’ll bring you some groceries tomorrow.

My embarrassing exit followed me down the stairs and out into the street. Walking home from Milton’s was normally an enjoyable activity. I would leave his apartment somehow transformed, re-enlivened. Usually, seeing Milton reminded some almost forgotten part of me that there was passion to be had in the creation of music, in short, that the sum of the parts was greater than the whole. I believed if only for six or eight blocks, that if I didn’t think about it too much, and just let my hands do what years of hammering away at black and white keys had taught them to, everything would sort itself out, and I would once again be able to just play without care.

This time, I knew it was a lie. I left the house embarrassed, feeling as though I had condescended to Milton. It wasn’t the condescension of a well-off white professor to a semi-impoverished coloured ex-musician. It had nothing to do with money or skin or anything else. Neither Milt nor myself had really ever paid them much mind. What bothered me was that I had refused to acknowledge one thing. Milton and I were the same. We were both dead in the musical sense, and we both knew it. I was strangled by my consciousness, my years of thinking too hard, and my decision at the beginning of it all to sell my musical soul for the comfort of myself and my family. Milton was strangled by a deadly disease, the arbiter of man’s existence.

The world we came from was dead, and (I had to agree with Milton here) the one that had superseded it looked very much like dying. Where as I may have massaged the pain with the methadone of a loving wife, nice house and respectable post among the academia, he had hid from it until it was too hard to hide. You can’t hide from something that is being sold under your window, that floats out of every club that used to come alive with your sound.

As I walked the distance home I heard the song again, Autumn in New York spilling from an upstairs window that might as well have been Milton’s. How many others were there, who like me and like Milton, had spent their time in the summer sun, and were waiting for the winter?

Sally Hardy

The Cull

It was quiet at first. Quiet in the deserted book shop, while the thousands of stories and their billions of words waited to see if the humans had definitely left for the night. It had happened before you see, where just as the books began to relax and ease out of their jackets, a pesky shop assistant had burst back inside to retrieve a forgotten bag, or to phone a boyfriend who was late to pick them up. It was always better to be safe than sorry.

But tonight there was an edge to the silence – a tension not usually present in the peaceful darkness of after hours. For somewhere deep in the spines of every book, was a painful awareness of what lay in wait for them tomorrow …

It was Cloudy who spoke first – or perhaps whimpered would be a better word. From where she sat on the second shelf of ‘Gift’, she stared straight down onto the spectre of the empty trolley waiting far too eagerly in front of ‘Fiction’, like a Hearse awaiting a funeral. She knew she ought to be strong, that they were depending on each other for strength to get through the night … but it was all she could do to keep from leaping off the bookcase, and a gentle sob escaped from her soft, unturned pages.

Almost instantly, a round of soothing words came to comfort her from a family of Mother’s Day books on the shelf below. But somehow the reassurance that “everything would be alright dear” just wasn’t ringing true for Cloudy tonight. The fact was, come the morning, every book with a price tag indicating it had been on the shelf for three months or more would be culled … ripped from the shelf, piled ignominiously onto the trolley and taken upstairs to that mysterious place from which no book ever returns.

All sorts of rumours abounded about exactly what fate laid in store for those unlucky enough to join the ranks of the culled. Generally accepted as the worst of these possibilities was the rumour that they would be recycled – a euphemism for torn to pieces, shredded, mulched and combined with other mutilated books from every genre, to create a new story.

Though it was not politically correct to acknowledge out loud, Cloudy had long suspected that what scared the books most about this particular idea, was the prospect of blending with the other genres. There was a definite class system and an extraordinary level of intellectual snobbery in the microcosm of the bookshop – it was simply humiliating for a 700 page, high-brow book about Post Modern Aesthetics, who had spent his whole life on the top shelf of ‘Non Fiction’, to realise that in the eyes of the human seller he was no more nor less than a tawdry paperback fiction. No matter what the book, if it hadn’t sold, it was worth only as much as the paper it was printed on.

For Cloudy the nightmare was different. The worst eventuality she could imagine was simply to be packed back inside a box, and kept there in a state of permanent storage for an eternity of nothingness. To her this would be a fate worse than death by recycling, for it would mean that her story would never, ever be told.

The desire to be told was an overwhelming passion that only new stories like Cloudy understood. Classics of literature, poetry and academia alike, took this simple joy for granted. Books such as Oliver Twist and Lord of the Rings were born with a story memory – an unwavering sense of identity and raison d’etre, borne of having been told for generations already. The worst a new edition of a Dickens novel would ever have to put up with would be an impatient set of illustrations, or an overly eager introduction.

In any case, Cloudy never worried about mixing with the other genres, for they were all foreign to her. And to them, she would always be an outsider. As it stood, she had spent time in four different sections of the bookshop already. The humans simply didn’t know how to classify her. Of course, partly this was due to her beautiful but ambiguous title – her full name being: If clouds have edges, then maybe love that rains does too, or maybe just like mist it drifts away … (Though to be fair, the latter half of this was more of a sub-title, and written in a much smaller font).

When she was initially priced and received, by a part-time employee who had not read a book since she was sixteen years old, Cloudy was classified as a Romance – without so much as her blurb being consulted – simply because she had the word ‘love’ in her title. She had spent a long and trying month among the flashy members of popular fiction, with their gaudy covers and incessant chatter (most of which she found to have no foundation whatsoever in truth) … after which a well-meaning manager had moved her to ‘Self Help’.

Having found her fallen to the floor and open to a page bearing a somewhat inspirational passage, he had made the instant assumption that she was one of the new wave of self-motivating books flooding the market at the time. And so she had spent two weeks immersed in American accents, which constantly gave her unwanted advice about how to realise her full potential, or how to become a best seller in six easy steps.

Ironically, the pushiness of the various books urging her to assert herself on either side of her shelf, had ultimately sent her over the edge … and so a kindly customer had found her, once more fallen to the floor.

This time it was the occasional rhyming in her words to which Cloudy owed her misdiagnosis. When the sweet old lady read on her thirteenth page …

I live to love,
I live to lie on beds of roses spilt
In petal rain upon the silk of Earth’s green grassy quilt,

naturally she had assumed that Cloudy belonged in the poetry section. (Although she did think seriously about the Gardening Section for a good couple of minutes before that.)

And there she had remained, on Poetry’s one crowded shelf, until such time as she was moved to make way for a big stack of Shakespeare’s Sonnets – newly released in a leather bound edition. For want of somewhere else to put her, it had been decided at this point that Cloudy should be moved to her current home – the ‘Gift’ section.

‘Gift’ was the home of every book that had ever suffered from a genre-identity crisis, or a multiple-genre disorder. There were feel-good books with photographs of animals doing ridiculous and adorable things. There were funny, pocket-sized books with fart jokes and people pulling fart faces in the most inappropriate situations. There were books of meditations, books of quotes, books of ideas for wedding gifts … and then there was Cloudy.

It was no wonder that the humans didn’t know what to do with her. Cloudy was a literal outpouring of one person’s thoughts onto paper. It was as though her writer had been turned upside down and shaken, his words and images landing on pages at random. Sometimes they had landed in simple statements that sat smack bang in the middle of the page – such as “People like him look ridiculous in suits” (p.24). Others took the form of poetry, prose or even beautifully hand drawn illustrations. There was no more rhyme or reason to Cloudy’s pages than there was to her writer’s subconscious – which is precisely what made her both impossible to define and a story well worth telling.

On the eve of this particular cull, everyone in Gift was quaking with fear. For while most other sections had at least some classics, immune to culling because of the constant demand for their stories, there were no such folk in ‘Gift’. And so Cloudy spent what she felt sure to be her last night on the shelf, sobbing in harmony with the hotch potch of souls surrounding her, who shared her plight.

Some attempts to comfort her were made from throughout the store. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, for instance, pleaded for calm and acceptance of the natural order of things. Being culled, he said, was as normal and natural a part of life as being printed … but somehow neither that, nor the calls from The Life of Che Guevara about the honour of martyrdom, did anything to ease their pain.

And then, when the morning finally arrived and brought with it the workers for the day, any last glimmer of hope the books may have had for survival was extinguished. For they discovered it was Sally – the most ruthless of all the full-timers – in whose hands their precarious futures lay.

Sally had not always managed to evoke fear and trembling in the books – there had actually been a time, long ago, when this young lady had been a friend of theirs. In fact it was her love of stories that had brought her to work in the bookshop in the first place.

In the beginning she had seemed like an angel, always singing Simon and Garfunkle softly as she shelved, and making a point to familiarise herself with every story before finding a place for it to stay. She had loved nothing more, in those days, than seeing the right book go home with the right reader.

But that was a long time ago now. There had been six months and Christmas shopping since then, and Sally was a changed person. Gone was the sweet girl with the romantic notion that working among books would inspire her to her own literary heights. In her place was a woman whose endless hours on her feet, and constant dealing with customers who were never right (but who invariably wanted complimentary gift wrapping), more often than not left her too drained of energy to write a single word of her own.

Sally was bitter. The books that surrounded her every day were a constant reminder of what she had not achieved, and she held them entirely responsible. And whereas the first time she had been forced to cull she had fought to give every book extra time on the shelf if she could, now the months of retail and trying to squeeze new books onto already overcrowded shelves had taken their toll … now Sally actually enjoyed culling. The thought of this made Cloudy and the others sick to their bindings.

But right from the moment she walked in the door singing, there was something different about Sally today. Normally the first thing she did was to yawn, slumping in her shoes as she made some exasperated comment about the number of books waiting to be put away. “It’s endless”, she would say. Or, “What’s the point? People will just buy them and then we’ll have to put more away … ” But today she actually skipped to the counter and called out to every individual member of staff, wishing them a good morning, and virtually shouted about how beautiful the day was. Something was wrong.

For a very brief moment Cloudy actually let herself believe that this might be a good sign – until the horrible realisation set in. Sally was this happy because she knew that today, instead of squishing books onto the shelves and constantly rearranging stacks to make them fit, she would be tearing them off and sending them to their mysterious deaths.

Cloudy felt like a fool. What had she been thinking? That this bitter bundle of frustration might by some miracle have become a booklover again overnight? Hardly likely. No, Sally was just showing her true colours by delighting in the anticipation of what she was about to embark on.

Yet even for Sally, Cloudy thought, this was almost too horrible to be true. Especially now that she was actually sitting on top of the trolley, swinging her legs like a little girl in time to the music she had playing.

And what was this? From what Cloudy could see, peering out from her tightly closed covers, it looked like Sally and the dreaded trolley were headed straight for ‘Gift’ … This was unheard of. Culling always began in ‘Popular fiction’.

“Not yet!” thought Cloudy. “I’m not ready to go yet … ”

It was too late. Not only had Sally and the culling trolley scooted straight to what was normally the last section to go, but also she had made a beeline for Cloudy herself, and with one swift pluck Cloudy felt her slender self whisked from the shelf for the very last time. Closing her covers so she could not see what was going to happen to her, she tried to be strong. She prayed and prayed that Harry Potter, sitting perched all high and mighty on the top shelf of ‘Top Ten’, would see fit to cast a spell and save her. She grit her leaves and waited to be plonked on the trolley of death.

But what was this? Cloudy knew this feeling – it was wonderful! For the first time since publication she felt the glorious, tingling sensation of her pages being turned … and not just being turned, but being touched, tenderly and with a curious affection. As the fresh air breezed through her soul from cover to cover, Cloudy almost overflowed with pleasure. If she wasn’t mistaken, she was being read … by Sally!

Everything happened so quickly from that point, it was all a bit of a blur for Cloudy. The next thing she knew, she was in Sally’s hands and standing by the front counter. She had no idea what was happening, but she tried as hard as she could not to get her fragile hopes up too far.

And then it happened. Cloudy heard the magic words she had been waiting to hear since the day she was published, and knew that the Mother’s day Books had been right. Everything would be all right! In fact, everything would be perfect.

“I’m going to buy this book”, Sally said, beaming at her middle-aged workmate. “It’s beautiful, and I deserve a treat.”

“Why’s that?” the disinterested woman replied, counting bookmarks into piles of twenty-five. Cloudy could not believe what she was hearing.

“Because I got in! I finished my story on the weekend. I got into that writing course … I’m going to be a writer!”

And with that, Cloudy felt the exhilaration of her price tag being removed, and waited with joyous anticipation to begin the next chapter of her life. Finally, she was going to be told.


The Dog-God and Me

My brother Pete, who’s a ghost by the way, warned me about the people at no.22, The Smiths, but I really didn’t pay much attention.

“They worship a dog-god” he told me. “Down in the basement. They’ve got an altar and a statue and every month they sacrifice a puppy to this god of theirs.”

I’d always thought that the people at no.22 were weird anyway so I wasn’t that surprised. And I thought that maybe Pete was exaggerating, you know trying to show off a bit. Although I have to admit we do have an awful lot of missing dogs in this town. Still, I didn’t think too much about it, after all I had too many other things to worry about, like my girlfriend Kristin for a start. It was coming up to our first year going together and I wanted to get her something special, something that would show that I’d thought about it this time. When it was our sixth month anniversary I’d given Kristin a bunch of flowers from our garden. Pretty soppy I know but I’d forgotten all about it and mum said flowers always went down well so I grabbed some from the front yard before I met Kristin at the mall. I’d forgotten about her hayfever though. She was sick for a week, eyes swollen, nose running. I was an “official arsehole” for a good month after that, so I wanted to make this present special. I would have asked my best friend JC for help but he’d been shipped off to the city, some boarding school for smart kids.

And JC was a “smart” kid. Couldn’t fight too well, couldn’t kick a ball more than three feet, could barely run ten metres without collapsing, (well not unless a murderer was chasing him but that’s a different story) but he was a top class brainiac. I missed him sometimes, especially times like this, but I decided I’d work this one out myself. I wasn’t even going to ask Pete for help.

Although in the end it was Pete that gave me the idea. You see I first told Kristin about Pete because she believed in ghosts, she was always reading ghost stories and weird books and I knew she would believe me when I told her about Pete. And she did, without even blinking. “Your brother’s a ghost?” she said. “And you see him all the time?”

“Yeah, he’s my guardian angel type thing.” I didn’t know how else to explain it.

“Well, can I meet him?” was all she said and then she wrote down my address on a piece of paper and went back to her book! When I was little and told mum and dad about Pete they just said it was a bad dream and to stop being silly. My sister Kate just told me I was getting weirder and to leave her alone. Even JC had doubts. He just agreed with me because he thought I was having some sort of emotional breakdown. Boy, was he surprised when he finally met Pete.

Anyway, Kristin has always believed in ghosts and goblins and magic so I thought I’d find her something nice along those lines. You know like a brooch or a necklace or something with a stone or a symbol or something on it. And something under ten bucks, that was all I had.

I got lucky. I went down to the Sunday markets at the drive in and there was this old lady there selling junk. You know the sort of stuff, a teapot shaped like a koala, old pewter mugs, someone else’s golf trophies, teaspoons and old brooches, that sort of stuff. I was just picking through all the old jewellery and coins when I saw the necklace. It was a dirty silver colour with this big black spider pendant hanging on it. The spider had some weird scribbling on its back, looked kind of Egyptian I guess but I wasn’t really up on that sort of stuff. Anyway it sort of jumped out at me. As soon as I saw it I just thought, “Kristin.” That was it. The old duck gave it to me for five bucks. I wrapped it in some tissue paper I found in the back of one of the kitchen drawers and hid it under my bed in a shoebox. I didn’t know it then but The Smiths and I were about to get very well acquainted.


Kristin was rapt when I gave her the necklace. She thought I’d forgotten all about our anniversary, as if I could with the subtle reminders from her and Suzi. Suzi is Pete’s girlfriend. She’s a ghost too. Her and Kristin have become good friends. They both thought it was beautiful.

Pete thought I was being a wuss. “Goin’ soft on me Billy?”

“You’re just jealous because I thought of it all by myself. Didn’t need your help.”

“Hah, as if I care about girlie bloody jewellery.” Pete did his disappearing act then, always a sure sign that things weren’t going his way. That was the problem with having a ghost as a brother. You could never win an argument with him. He’d just vanish into thin air if he didn’t like the direction the fight was taking.

Kristin put the necklace on and said, “It’s beautiful Billy, really beautiful. Where did you find it?”

I was trying not to blush, I knew Pete would still be watching.

“I was at the markets, you know, down the drive in and this old duck had it. As soon as I saw it I thought of you.” I hadn’t meant to say that, it just sort of came out. I knew I was blushing then.

Suzie and Kristin started giggling together. “Well, I’m glad you did, I love it.”

I blushed even more. “That’s okay, I guess it makes up for the flowers hey?”

More giggles. “Yes, Billy Walshe, it certainly does make up for the flowers.”

I liked it when she said my name. It made me feel important, like I was somebody special. Of course breaking records for running was good too but this was a different kind of thing. I felt like I meant something to her. That felt good. I wanted somebody to need me. Mum and dad barely noticed me except when it was convenient. Pete just said I was getting soft but I noticed he spent as much time with Suzie as he could too. I guess we had the same sort of loneliness, the same gaps to fill. His was harder though. Being a ghost sort of limits your social contacts.

That night I got to third base. It was hard to sleep afterwards. The next day the neighbours from no.22 came to see me.

If I’d paid more attention when Pete was telling me about the altar and the dog-god I might have kept out of trouble. And if Pete hadn’t been jealous when I gave Kristin the necklace he might have kept me out of trouble too. The writing on the pendant, the weird scrawl, it was the same as the emblem painted on the altar. And The Smiths wanted that pendant. They wanted that pendant bad. I mean real bad. To them it was an ancient artefact, a message from their god and I was the blasphemer, whatever the hell that meant, who had taken what was rightfully theirs. I tried to explain that I’d bought it, it was mine but they were not listening. How come adults never listen to kids?

They always ask you a question like “Why did you do that for?!” but they never wait for the answer. The Smiths were just the same. Weird religion or not they were just like all the other adults. “Why have you taken what is ours boy? Who sent you devil spawn? This blasphemy cannot go unpunished you know.” But they don’t wait for answers, don’t want to know why, so why do they ask in the first place. Why not just send us to our rooms until we’re old enough to work, that’s all they want from us anyway. At least that’s what my dad always threatens me with when I bring my report cards home. Anyway The Smiths cursed me for all eternity, which Pete reckons is a bloody long time and then went back to no.22 to look in their crystal ball or shake the bones or whatever it is dog-god people do to curse you. I went back inside where my sister Katie just looked at me. “You get weirder all the time Billy.”

As if it was my fault our neighbours are nutters.

Mum just said, “I don’t want you talking to those people Bill they’re not like us.”

No shit I thought but I said, “Yes mum.”

I didn’t tell Kristin about it. I didn’t want her to worry and besides, that necklace had got me further than I’d ever been. I wasn’t about to give it up.


Wednesday night I thought I heard a noise outside. Dad was asleep on the couch after a hard day at the racetrack, no point in trying to wake him, and mum had gone down the club to play the pokies so I went out to look. There was a dead pup on our lawn. Pete was standing there looking at it. He didn’t look happy.

“I think our neighbours are a bit pissed at you Billy.”

I recognised the puppy. I’d seen it only yesterday in the pet shop window.

“What do I do now Pete? Ring the cops?”

He looked at me. “Do you think they’d believe you? My neighbours kill puppies on an altar and worship some weird Egyptian god. They’d tell you to stop reading Paul Jennings and get back on the track.”

I didn’t know who Paul Jennings was but I got his drift. “Ok, so what do I do?”

“We fight back Billy boy. No one messes with my little brother except me.”

I kept telling him that technically I was no longer the little brother but he still thought of me that way. There was a smile on his face now. “Let’s see how The Smiths cope with a ghost in their church.”

Pete’s been a ghost for a long time now and he’s learnt a few tricks along the way. He doesn’t really have a physical presence but with concentration he can enter objects, make things move, like books, comics, dead puppies. The Smiths had a big surprise that weekend when they held their monthly service. Trouble was they blamed my purchase of the sacred pendant for the moving puppy and its apparent return from the dead. I had upset the cosmic forces or something like that. They were soon back on the doorstep cursing my ancestors and my family. I told them they were too late we’d been cursed by everyone else in the town already and with a lot more skill. Having a guardian angel watching over you tends to give you a smart mouth.

Mr. Smith looked down at me. “Son, we are not joking. You will rue the day you crossed our path. Mark my words, you will be sorry.”

I didn’t like the way he said that. It wasn’t like dad. There was no screaming, no spittle, just a quiet voice, a tone that suggested he did mean every word. He turned and walked down the path, his family close behind. The girl turned and looked at me. There was nothing there, her face was blank. If I wasn’t scared before I was now.

I had to tell Kristin. The Smiths didn’t know she had the pendant yet but if they found out I didn’t want to think about what they might do.

She took it well all things considered.

“What?! They kill dogs, they want the pendant and you didn’t tell me?!”

She hadn’t yelled like this since the flowers. “Billy Walshe you are a drop kick.”

She suddenly burst into laughter. “A ghost for a brother, a murderer next door, a weird cult down the road, dead dogs on the lawn! It’s never dull with you around is it?”

I had to smile myself then. She was right, nothing ever went smoothly.

Pete and Suzie appeared.

“So you’ve told her then? Good, it’s time to get serious with these loonies.”

Pete had been doing some thinking. “We’re going to make The Smiths wish they’d never crossed our paths.”

He sounded confident. But then he’d sounded just as confident a few days ago on the front lawn. I wasn’t too sure now about pushing The Smiths any further.

“I don’t know Pete, these guys are scary.”

“What, and we’re not?”

I didn’t want to tell him but Suzie and he just looked like a couple of kids right now. They weren’t that scary. Then they showed me their new trick. I wet myself. I would have been embarrassed if Kristin hadn’t wet herself too. The Smiths were in for a surprise.


Mr. Smith cornered me the next day as I was coming home from school.

There was no one around. I could have run, I needed the practise anyway but I knew Pete wasn’t far away. “Mr. Smith, how are you today?”

“Devil spawn, where is the sacred pendant? What have you done with it?”

“Pendant? Pendant? Oh, you mean that crappy necklace? Aah, I threw it in the bin, it was shit.” Cocky as hell with a ghost around. Well, I hoped he was around.

“Blasphemer!! You will die for this child!”

He was shaking and his face was red. He looked like dad after a weekend at the pub. I ducked as he swung at me, just like I did with dad. Pete appeared behind him.

“Excuse me sir, is there a problem?”

Mr. Smith turned and stared. “Who are you child? This is no business of yours.”

Pete shook his head. “Oh but it is. You see this is my little brother. No one messes with him but me.” Pete started glowing red and then his mouth stretched wide open and his tongue flickered out like a snake. It rolled forward and passed right through Mr. Smith’s chest. He flicked it back into his mouth and licked his lips. “Mm, I do love the taste of fresh heart, can I have yours?”

Mr. Smith wet himself.

Two days later mum came in to my room to ask if I knew anything about the neighbours at no.22 suddenly moving out. Apparently they’d left most of their belongings behind and the landlord had said something about the basement being covered in blood and strange symbols. He found some animal bones in the yard too.

“I knew they weren’t nice people Billy. You really should be careful about who you make friends with.”

Then she told me to clean my room up and went back to watch Oprah. Pete stepped out of the wardrobe. He was grinning. “You really should be careful about who you make friends with Billy.”

“Yeah I should. I think I’ll start with ghosts.”

He laughed and vanished. He was off to see Suzie. I rang Kristin and told her next year I was just going to take her out to tea. Then I went out to watch Oprah with mum.

They were doing a show on guardian angels.

I kept laughing and mum sent me back to my room to clean up. Parents don’t have a sense of humour I’ve decided. Maybe one day I’ll tell her again about Pete. Maybe.

Hayden Payne

The urban bestiary

The old man watched the junkie returning on early morning streets; he reached for his notebook. The rare flightless bird, not content with life on the ground. He looked intently at the arms for new scabs and sores. The exotic plumage changed regularly and keeping his notes current was a constant effort. He bent to the task as the junkie scratched through its pockets for keys and let itself into the unit across from his.

His beard itched.

He poured another splash of Scotch into his cooling coffee and watched the dew beading inside his kitchen window. The world outside shifted uncertainly through the frosted surface. As a boy, he had once put a lead soldier in his mother’s oven just to watch it melt. Things slowly lose their shape the longer you stare at them. They run at the edges, become hard to define, until they leer like the creatures out of penny dreadful’s.

His beard itched. A line of ants marched their way down his kitchen wall. Eyes forward. Antennae wave, probing the air. Mute horror. Crawling slowly, inexorably forward. Never looking behind, never looking up. Honing in on some silent frequency. Following a trail of decaying crumbs, their insectile eyes vacant and staring at the top of their stalks.

King George Apartments swarmed. Over and through the building. Eyes everywhere. The building thrummed with ragged purpose. Copper veins rattled. Parasites marched back and forth, slowly devouring their host. It crumbled away from them. Loose bricks and rotting concrete fell away from their touch. The parasites searched, their vacant eyes devouring the incautious.

He pulled his dressing gown around himself and carried his coffee with him outside. Itch and copper veins. He sat on the bench outside his crumbling bedsit. His beard itched and copper veins rattled. Eyes forward. One foot in front of the other. Don’t look up.

The young mother stepped from the shadows of the building. The infant on her hip pulled her hair as she struggled to unhook the pram wheel, which had caught on the fly screen. Eyes forward as she manoeuvred the pram down the internal stairwell. Her shadow fell across him. Itch and copper veins.


“Hello Tom.”

Look forward. He grabbed for his notebook and scratched at it nervously.

“Hello Tom.”

There was an edge of desperation behind her smile.

Strange birds and flights of feathers, he wrote.

The common Peafowl of the Phasianidae family was originally found in the regions of India and Sri Lanka but can now be found in all areas of the world. Peafowl were imported along with gold, silver and ivory, considered a great treasure. The peahen is recognisably distinct from the peacock due to its drab brown feathers, a sharp contrast from the vivid display used by the peacock to attract the peahen.

Eyes forward. The young mother smiled again and walked away from the brick and copper monster, the pram screeched noisily. Crumbling… itch… no more bets… It crouched, watching, under a dangerous void that threatened to swallow everything. It kept low to the ground.


From beneath the shadows of sleep the monster crept into another day. Light streamed in through the dew-frosted window. He shuffled to the kitchenette and turned on the kettle. The world outside leered. The flightless junkie appeared at the window opposite his. The old man reached absently for his notebook but the junkie had disappeared again. In another minute its door had opened and the junkie appeared leaning against the frame. A greasy grey sheen covered its face. It looked down the wet slicked road then stepped back into the shadows. New sores had blossomed overnight on the junkie’s arms. Purple stains now reached from its elbow to its shirtsleeve and dark rings had gathered under its eyes.

Footsteps echoed loudly on the morning streets. The junkie’s eyes moved quickly to where another creature approached; similarly clad in bruises and sores. The new creature stopped outside the junkie’s door and held something up in front of its face; the junkie grabbed for the small plastic envelope but it was lifted out of reach. The junkie scratched in its pockets and offered up some bank notes to the creature. The creature ruffled through them frowning. It shook the notes in the junkie’s face. He had been wrong to think this was another flightless bird, he wasn’t sure what it was. Its neck and face had erupted chameleon-like in a brilliant red hue. Its meaty fists swung into the junkie’s stomach, who fell to the ground. That’s it, keep low. The new creature wasn’t content; it put its boot to the junkie. Eventually it stomped away, tired. The old man felt sick. Eyes forward. The junkie lay twitching slightly in his doorway as the building began to wake.


A middle-aged creature in an expensive suit slowly climbed the internal stairwell, its heavy footsteps echoed through the building. The old man watching from his kitchen window reached for his battered copy of “what bird is that?” He had been watching this one for some time but he hadn’t yet decided. He brought young women here in his expensive car. ‘For Sale’ and ‘Home Open’ signs spilled out of the expensive car’s boot. Perhaps it was some kind of Bowerbird collecting pretty things. Or a Cuckoo, they hide their eggs in the nests of other birds, leaving children scattered over vast areas to be raised unknowingly. Perhaps it was a Lovebird? He flicked to the entry:

This affectionate parrot of the Psittacidae family is named for its behaviour, the mating pairs show great affection caressing each other with their bills and remaining in closely-knit pairs. Previously thought to mate for life the Lovebird is kept in cages as a romantic reminder of commitment. Recent DNA studies have shown that given the opportunity around 30 percent of the lovebird’s offspring come from partners outside of the mating pair.

The creature in the suit looked over his shoulder and let himself into unit No 9, which had been vacant for months. Definitely an infiltrator, an exotic peacock misplaced in this setting. The old man scribbled furiously in his notebook. Soon a young girl approached No 9, soft young flesh wrapped in a cheap suit. She stood in front of the door and knocked three times in quick succession. The door opened and the creature pulled her inside.


The sun climbed high over the gently crumbling building, but its warmth never reached the darkest corners of the brick and copper monster. The void leered and insect eyes scurried everywhere tearing apart the seams of meaning that settled in intricate patterns, like a fine layer of dust. Somewhere an old man swept the halls, coughing phlegm into the morning while the dust rose in clouds around him. Inside an itch was building, throbbing in his veins.

The door to No 9 opened and the creature emerged with the young girl; she turned her back but it grabbed her by the arm before she could walk away. It pulled her towards itself and whispered something in her ear before releasing its hold; she retreated. The creature watched her go.

As the shadows again started to lengthen the young mother emerged from inside the building, an infant on her hip and tugging a young boy by the hand. She took the children a few doors down and knocked. A busty, open-faced woman opened the door and ushered the struggling boy inside. She returned and took the infant off the young mother smiling broadly at her. The young mother tiredly copied the smile and turned back towards her own unit. The old man scratched at his notebook. And copper veins itched.

The old man watched the street expectantly. Soon enough a new creature appeared, middle-aged and a little rough around the edges. It looked around nervously, then back down at a piece of paper it held in its hand. As it knocked on the young mother’s door a single feather floated down the internal stairwell. Flights of feathers wrote the old man tiredly. The door had been opened and the man entered.

Not long later he emerged. Tucking his shirt into trousers he hurried out of the building. The young mother stepped outside, her eyes vacant. The old man scratched at his notebook. She walked slowly back to the door of the older woman who took her by the shoulder and walked inside with her.


The old man took his coffee outside. Copper veins rattled deep inside the monsters rotting shell and parasites crawled across his vision. He sat watching the shadows lengthen.

A young student walked towards the building its plumage covered in anti-nuclear slogans. He reached for his notebook. And as it climbed inside the brick building he copied down its markings. They would change soon enough as it learned to imitate its peers. Feathers would fall. Our wings were the first to go, so we would learn how to crawl, but eventually there would be nothing left.

The old man sat waiting. He scribbled in his notebook:
There is nothing left. And the parasites crawled across the rotten carcass, its skin stretched and drying in the midday sun. Eyes vacant and staring at the top of their stalks they devour everything. There is nothing left. Slowly, patiently they gut the monster, unwind its tangled mystery and offer it up to the sun. There is nothing left. Bones itch and rattle inside their hollow cavity. And there is nothing left.

Briohny Doyle

Oil Spill

Janet was waiting, alone at the Oil Spill. Piecing together the events of her afternoon.

She had been going about her usual militant business and was just about to start internal solidarity time when she had fielded a very interesting phone call. It was an anonymous call. Definitely a man, with a husky, almost familiar sounding voice. He had known her name.

“Janet” he said, “I have something you want.”

“Who is this?” she demanded.

“A friend,” snarled the voice. “I know what you want to do and I want to help you.”

Janet had considered hanging up the phone. The last thing she needed was some creepy old stalker wanking over her from the bushes. But there was something intriguing about the voice. Something powerful.

“How are you going to help me?”

He had laughed then. A low, ironic chuckle.

“It is better for you that I don’t tell you over the phone. Meet me at the Oil Spill in two hours.”

“How do I know you’re not a psycho? How do I know you really want to help me?”

“You know.” laughed the voice “I want to play you a composition, some say its beauty would fell buildings.”

The dial tone sounded. He had hung up.

There was something in that riddle. Janet had been tossing it over in her head for the last two hours. He knew all right. He knew about the bomb.

Janet sipped her beer thoughtfully.

In the shadows, Satan sat, concealed from view. Biding his time. He was never early for an appointment. He licked his lips lasciviously as he eyed his militant mistress. He drew back deeply on his cigarillo, 30 mg of tar oozed into his lungs. The simple pleasure of a death brand cigarillo pleased Satan immensely. Which dead man had said it? A woman is a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke.

He butted out. Smoothed his pointed beard and strode over to the bitter beauty on the opposite side of the bar.

Janet suddenly felt cold. It was as though the wall behind her had opened out on to the Arctic Sea. She shifted nervously in her chair. Maybe I should go home, she thought.

A sudden touch on her shoulder made her jump. She spun around and was face to face with the lead singer of Corporation Satan.

“It was you!” she gasped.

“Of course, my dear. Who did you expect?”

“Oh … ” she stammered. “I don’t know.”

Looking straight at his eyes like that made her blush. They were dark, almost black. For the first time in her life, Janet had nothing to say. Her hands shook uncontrollably until she had to sit on them. This man took her breath away. He looked so strong, so fierce, so … Anarchic!

Satan chuckled with raspy indulgence. The lady was less bold when caught without chemical supports. He lit another cigarette and puffed thick smoke rings across the table. He was going to savor every moment of this.

“So, Janet. Do you know now, why you’re here?”

“You were going to give me something,” she said shakily.

“In good time, my dear, in good time. So, are you still leading your army?” Satan drawled. He liked hearing about her minions; it would be good practice for her if all went according to his plan.

“Yeah. Lucre Kill Army is doing well actually. I mean, I really have to take control to get us going sometimes … ”

“Of course you do,” Satan coughed.

After a pause he said: “You are a very powerful, very beautiful woman, Janet.”

He was looking straight at her. Staring at her as though his view penetrated all of her, not just her eyes but her whole body. Like a cat, with a mouse, thought Satan to himself.

Janet slapped herself to her senses. This man, this, albeit beautiful, strong man was hitting on her.

“Fuck you!” she spat, with as much sincerity as she could muster “I am not your fucking plaything.”

Satan smiled. She was strong, and powerful, nobody ever spoke to the devil like that. Satan’s trousers stirred. This was why he wanted her. This obnoxious bitch was trying to blow him off. Nothing is sexier than rejection.

“I apologise,” murmured Satan “ I don’t mean to make you feel this way, it’s just, I’m in awe of you.”

“So you fucking should be! I am a powerful woman and I don’t need anyone except myself, so whatever ‘help’ you were going to give me you can just shove it up your arse. I don’t need you. I am a strong independent woman, whole in her own autonomy … ”

Satan was just staring at her. Janet felt herself being drawn up over his strong chin, riding the ridges of his face towards the consuming black whirlpools. A hot tingle danced between her thighs.

“Janet,” he said “You must realise, I see all those things in you. But there is nothing wrong with desire. Nothing derogatory about wanting someone. Be honest about what you want.”

Janet’s face flushed. She knew what she wanted. She had always known.

“I want to be the queen of the utopian state”

“You know you will be,” Satan conceded. “What else do you want?”

“I want them all to know who I am.”

“Yes,” he said. “Of course you do. Do you want them to fear you, too?”

Janet felt as though she were in a trance.

“Not to fear me,” she murmured, “to love me.”

“They do love you Janet. But what is love without fear? Fear of being alone and without leadership. Fear of being unfulfilled. Fear of dying.”

“Yes. Fear.”

“Love is not like you Janet, love is not independent, it is not autonomous. Love is not exclusive in a utopian state,” Satan paraphrased.

“Yes,” murmured Janet

“Desire is pure, Janet. Want is Autonomous. Do you really know what you want Janet?”

Janet snapped out of her trance. She looked directly into Satan’s eyes, without fear or intimidation.

“Of course I do,” she said, smiling, “and I’ll get it.”

Satan smiled. He reached across the table and took her hand.

“Many great things will come to you.”

The touch sent a pulse of electricity coursing through her. It swam through her veins, waking up senses like a ball hitting targets in a pinball machine. Hit all seven targets to win the jackpot. Each hair on her body stood to attention. The pulse raced from one target to the next. Flippers flipped. Lights lit up. Now how does it go? Envy. Ping! Sloth. Ping! Get that one on the ramp! Avarice. Ping! Ping! Let’s go for a high score! Wrath. Pride. Ping! Come on Janet, you can do it. Play to win with the seventh deadly sin … Lust!

Janet took the hand of Satan and floated across the floor.

He pushed her against the stained wall of a cubicle and kissed her hard. He kissed her with Avarice. He kissed her with Pride. There is nothing, the Devil excels at more than sin.

Sin slipping in and out of Janet’s mouth. Sin moving it’s rough hands up and down her body. Nibbling at her nipples. Flicking at her clitoris. Sin, firm and demanding opening her up and pinning her to the hard wall of a cubicle at the Oil Spill.

Now the sin belonged to her, too, and with the sin she bucked and swayed, arching back and pelvis. Set alight with flame.

Janet felt herself sinking into the earth. She rode further beneath the surface. Her body swam and convulsed in torrents of sticky moisture. Beneath the surface she climbed mountains of ecstasy and looked down at the view. The terrible view. She drew her breath and screamed.

“Come on baby, we’re not fucking for world peace now!”

Sex with Satan is seldom nice. Sex with Satan is dirty. Gritty. Rude.

Satan held her over the side of the mountain so she thought she might fall. She gripped to him with everything she had.

Greed. Fire. Flash. Flood.

Things blow up all the time, Janet. We live through hundreds of explosions every day. Buildings will fall and then you’ll be queen. You can see everything from this perspective.

Rock. Swing. Thrust. Grind. Grip. Buildings will fall …

Satan whipped his mistress against the wall. Sliding into her. Out of her. Rings on nipples and foreskin and labia chinked against each other in a chaotic symphony.

Janet looked up over the hot, red body of Satan. She saw the glowing droplets of sweat and sex cascading over his skin. She saw the dark whirlpools of his eyes and the shells of souls that swam within them. She fucked Satan hard and she saw everything. Death, depression, sorrows, exultation. O! The agony and the ecstasy! O! The pain, the pleasure! The needless suffering! The suffering need! But most of all the power, the glorious power!

Janet was nailed to the wall by power. Bucked bareback by power. Thrown and jolted and caught again. She embraced it as she tightened and released and let the power consume her, spiral around her, charge her with pulse after pulse after fucking pulse. Ping! Ping! Ping! Bonus game … Here we go!

Sexy, Sticky Satan Spasms Spermily in Synchronicity with his Salty Slut. How many times can you say that without getting tongue-tied? Ain’t nothing like a post-coital tongue teaser.

Janet’s muscles grew fuzzy and quiet. Her body slumped against the vomit stained cubicle. Satan leered down at her.

“Was it good for you baby?”

Janet returned to the warehouse late that afternoon. She returned as princess of the underworld, bow-legged, raw, flushed and clutching a luminous green vial of an explosive from hell.

Geoff Parkes

Bong Talk

It took me some time to learn bong talk. My friends, including Doc, who I’ll talk about later, put up with me for a while. They accepted that when I was stoned off my tits, I could see faces in walls, posters, crusty coffee cups overflowing with cockroaches, and other assorted items where previously there had been nothing. They got used to me ranting about contentment, and for a while, they even put up with me getting up every thirty seconds and dashing to the front window of the flat to check whether a specially trained squad of elite SWAT troops was preparing to raid us and take us to jail for possession and consumption. But it took my lengthy and, now I consider it, rather wanky reflection on the icecream man that finally snapped Doc’s nerves.

I’ll explain. One afternoon, while Doc and I were making our merry way through a nice pile of almost purple buds, gurgling away at the bong like a coffee percolator from psychedelic heaven, a Mr Whippy van drove by, blaring its kiddie-land tune out and harshly fucking with the semblance of balance and inner peace I’d reached after 5 cones.

Suddenly the Mr Whippy van was no longer an icecream vendor. Now it was a plot, designed by the cops, to draw out onto the streets all the drug-fucked happy hamsters who, instead of being out slaving their asses off in a white-trash job with a white-trash noose masquerading as a tie around their neck, were merrily getting smashed off their faces in the privacy of their own homes. The Mr Whippy song acted on the ears as a subliminal message to the hunger nerve that pot always seemed to activate, the same nerve that more often than not resulted in 3 AM visits to the Night Owl for 7 bars of chocolate, a tub of icecream, a tin of condensed milk and a bag of frozen chips. Anyway, having received this subliminal message, all us bleary eyed stoned folk would rush out onto the streets with an urgent need for icecream. But rather than being greeted with a happy smile from an old fart with a white cardboard hat on, we’d all be pounced upon by cops and shipped off to the lockup for the night. Paranoia extraordinaire! Get the Picture?

During my Oliver Stone-esque conspiracy theory, Doc just sat there, one eyebrow raised in disbelief at the pure crap that was running diuretically off my tongue, as he so kindly put it later. When I’d finished, he started shaking his head very slowly (not that difficult, but after 5 cones nevertheless an effort) and banging his left hand on the table. And then he let loose.

At exactly the same moment as “That has got to be the biggest load of shit I have ever heard in my life!” came out of his mouth, I lost it completely. Brain-drain. Drug-fucked. Stoned, capital S. Whatever. For at least 30 seconds I had no idea what I had said, and as a result, I began to feel rather upset at this unexpected barrage of abuse. It was only when the Mr Whippy van started up again and drove off, chiming loudly in its search for more acne-covered teenagers and bloody-eyed stoneheads, that my mind clicked and I too became aware of the effluent that I had just sprouted forth.

Doc’s tirade lasted for another minute and a half until he too lost track of what he was saying and we both decided it was time for another cone. We packed, we smoked, we coughed, we giggled and then, at exactly the same time, looked at each other and said, “Hmmmm, icecream”.

Hop, Shane, and Gerald

Introduction to Lit-Mag #26


The first reading at Pepperinas café in Newcastle that I went to was for the National Young Writer’s Festival of 2001. It was a great year. The AFL and NRL grand finals were on the same weekend, and the Newcastle Knights won the flag that year. There were scenes of bedlam and rumours of rampant nudity as the town went absolutely ape-shit.

Shane Jesse Christmass had invited me to come over from Perth, Western Australia to read from the novel I was working on. At the time I was jaded and pushing a boulder uphill as most of my close friends and creative peers had either moved overseas or to Melbourne. I was alone with my spent muse wedged between the desert and the sea.

I got there for the opening night, it was Wednesday, and the festival club that year was at the Mission Theatre, a grand old Dame with good legs under her crumpled gown. The place was empty around 5 o’clock. About four of us sat down with our schooners for a chinwag. And slowly the sea breeze brought in a trickle of characters the extent of which I had been starved of in WA. They were young, they had crazed eyes; they were unpredictable, garish and loud. Everyone quickly got loaded, and the next time I raised my eyes from my schooner, the entire place was packed with a godless throng of recalcitrants. I looked around and thought to myself, ‘everyone in here either writes or is doing something creative’ and for the first time in a long time I felt normal.

We had been pulled into Newcastle from right around Australia. You can imagine what that would do for your temporal nodes. I had grown up in a small country town, lived in Perth since 1995. The only people I knew I met on the way to Uni and back. The sense of national camaraderie is immense and liberating. It gives great comfort knowing the full extent of all that space is dotted with people like me.

So when Shane asked me to help organise the readings for the 2002 festival, I jumped at the chance. The Pepperinas readings had been started in response to the burgeoning spoken word scene, to provide an alternative for prose that seemed to have been relegated to the old-school by the young whippersnappers. Pepperinas is a quiet venue; a bookshop café by day, run by a mellowed old fruit named Sue whose hair I saw bright pink last year, and this year, electric purple-blue.

There is no microphone, you sit on a stool and have to voice out your work. The voice becomes a muscular vehicle, and the audience has to actively listen. The voice alone is an incredibly intimate thing, and lends itself perfectly to the nuances of prose.

The balancing act in spoken word is the fine line between the performer and the performance. Where they are the same, it can get boring, but when the spoken word artist actually tries to perform the work without getting in the way of the work, it can be exhilarating. Likewise with the voice alone, when it is simply trying to deliver the words, it has great effect upon the listener. When your personality is there, your voice is unaware of its importance, and you crouch all your timidity, embarrassment, or effusiveness over your delivery. It diffuses the effect of the words and you are left with nothing to stand upon. With spoken word, you may be able to save yourself through physical gesture, or interaction with the audience, or electronica, but reading by voice alone is the most naked, most revealing, and if the words are half lost, the performance can be most unsatisfying.

The prose pieces this year were of a great quality and the majority of writers gave readings that breathed life into the written word. For the first time this year we introduced a short open-mic section at the end, and amazingly there wasn’t a turkey amongst them.

I was glad to have been given the opportunity to participate in this year’s festival. All thanks go to the funding bodies and organisers, in particular, Kylie Purr, Shane Jesse Christmass, Alan Boyd and Daniel Watson. A big thank you to Sue for providing us with the venue and also to the readers whom participated this year, Natasha Cho, Adam Ford, Nicole Gill, Michael Aitken, Geoff Parkes, Sally Hardy, Kami, Hayden Payne, Shane Jesse Christmass, Heather Taylor-Johnson, and Briohny Doyle, and to Lachlan Williams, one of the readers from the open mic section.

The contents of the current issue of Gangway celebrating the Pepperinas readings are the majority of the prose pieces that were read out on this year’s schedule. Thanks to Gerald for the opportunity to publish the works of some of Australia’s young writers.


Hop Dac


In 2000 I was told about the National Young Writers Festival held in Newcastle annually. My first reaction being an unconnected chap from Western Australia was “Hang on, there’s a festival, for writers, for young people?” It seemed a joke, and an insult, and it wasn’t until I got to Newcastle, that I realised Phil Doyle wasn’t having me on. The festival was everything I had wanted, and much of what Hop has said about feeling normal again was true. However I did notice a distinct lack of opportunities for Novelists and Short Story Writers. The festival was overblown with Performance Poets with their aerobic gyrations and laser shows, guff that detracts from a true essence, that is story telling. I got back, I whinged, I railed, expressed my disgust that there was a Spoken Word Coordinator AND a Poetry Coordinator, but where the heck was the Short Story Coordinator. Not knowing the structure of the festival, and myself thinking it was like all festivals, high brow and out of reach of the underclass, was told and quite rightly so “Schizz you want it, you organise it.” So in 2001 the NYWF had its first Short Story Coordinator, hopefully this will continue, only because I love the medium so much, and there’s some damn fine kids doing some damn fine stuff. Briefly can I be so humble to thank some people for their friendship, mentorship and all round good looks. Kylie Purr, Penny Savidis, Hop Dac, and Phil Doyle. Enjoy the magazine, give us some money. God bless and Good Luck.

Shane Jesse Christmass


Although some of the ‘kids’ glanced suspiciously at me as if I was a dirty old man – well, I don’t feel it, but after all I’m twice their age – I enjoyed myself immensely at this year’s National Young Writers Festival in Newcastle. It was the first one I attended, and only after accepting an invitation to speak on a publishers’ panel. Anyway, while I was there – stopping over on my way from Byron Bay back to Sydney – I did not miss a single one of the four Pepperinas café nights, and was surprised by the quality of what I heard. After the last reading I decided spontaneously to dedicate an entire Gangway issue to these young writers, and offered Hop and Shane to publish the texts in this special Steaming Hot Pepperinas issue. Cheers guys!

Gerald Ganglbauer