Indecision

I’ve thought long and hard about putting this one up. It was for my Experimental Literature subject at Uni, and it was . . .well, experimental.

Fair warning, it deals with some sensitive issues – drugs, suicide, violence etc.

It also gets kind of dark at times, and to be perfectly honest, it scared me away from my own writing for a bit. 

The experimental component was three-fold; timeline, medium, and charachter. Not sure if ‘enjoy’ is the right term for this, but see what you think anyway. It comes in several parts, al of which had visual components as well. For the parts in which the written words aren’t so obvious, the text will follow the visual. This is what it looked like as a whole project, and as a caveat – I’m not an artist please don’t judge me too harshly for the paintings!

Indecision Whole

Part 1

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(text)

Dear Dr Perlman,
I’ve thought about what you said, and I tried a couple of your suggestions. Back when she first died I never would have thought I’d be here saying this, but thanks, they’ve actually helped a bit. I even tried poetry, and you know, the ‘other’ one. It still feels like shit, and there will always be the ups and downs as you put it. But I can see the ups now, and I can weather the downs. I’m heading away to catch up with some of the others from the system. It’s been years since we all saw each other, and even without her there, I think it should be a good experience. They had a better time of it than we did, so maybe that might help.
In any case, the guilt remains, but it is what it is. Can’t help what happened. Can’t do anything about it at all.
Thanks, and I’ll see you when I get back.
PS Can you say sorry to Gina for me? Thanks.

Part 2

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Alternative therapy apparently. Trialled and fine. . . very fine from my limited experience . . . but can’t get approval. Too easy for dodgy fuckers like me to get to it. Drug addicts and degenerates. Never taken a drug in my life before this, had enough prescribed, no need for any more. But fuck it, right? If it helps? Can’t be any worse. Surprising, harsh, but. . .yeah. Is god. Is good, I mean. Or is it god too? Who knows? There is a peace to, is like a slowdown and. . and a floaty thing and isn’t that what heaven is like? But then again, who would know? Can’t know what heaven is like unless you die, and once you die it’s a bit late to tell anyone about it, unless you can find one of them spych syki psychic peoples and then you need to arrange the right people to be there to hear, an’ alert her to your presence, but to do that you’d need to leave heaven, and if heaven is anything like this, why would anyone want to leave? I guess it’s why there’s so much of the bad stuff associated with it. The only ghosts haunting us must be the ones trying to get out.

I wonder what heaven would look like? It would have to have this shit in it, this is. . .well, heavenly. . haha. . .hahaha. . . HAHAHAHAHAHA!! Punny, right? Hahaha!

But I guess that there’s no shit flying off the walls is a good thing then because it means she’s gone to heaven, it means she doesn’t want to stay here or get back here, right? So much for being a ‘tormented soul’.
She’s finally achieved what the head doctor wants of me! That’s it! She’s accepted and moved on with her life. . .or afterlife. . .or is that still a kind of life? Ah, fuck it. She’s in a better place now.

HAHA! DID I JUST SAY SHE WAS IN A BETTER PLACE? HAHAHA!

Wait, the doctor wanted me in a better place too. My head anyway, she says.

‘We need to get your thought processes to a better place,’ she said! I remember! Oh shit, my doctor wants my thoughts dead? Is that what she’s saying? Shit, that’s why she wants me on this shit, quick, put it out, put it out! Probably already called the cops on me, they’re at the door, I can hear them scratching, yowling, they want me scared, they want me to run, so they can shoot me like that guy on TV, they want me to . . .shit it stopped. Why did it stop? Why scratch and yowl? Was even Jules part of this? Fuck it, I gotta get out of . . .

The door is opening. Slowly creaking, the ominous. . . funny word, ominous. . . who’s been sent?

A cloud walks in, tail in the air, haughty look degrading me. What do you think you are doing here, human? I stare in relief at Mina, strolling and meowing through the room. Cats. They think they own the place. Even she looks at me like I am trash.

Unless she is a part of it too. Trying to send me to my ‘better place’. Death by a thousand scratches. Maybe it would be better if I just let them take me there.

‘Take me! Do it!’ I scream at her. She looks at me raising a paw as if ready to strike, pauses, turns away. Of course I’m not worth effort. I’m a fucking disgrace. I don’t deserve a better place. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to go there.

Part 3

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A connoisseur of funerals and remembrances. I’m thinking of becoming something of a professional attendee, been to that many.

The eulogies are the strangest parts though. For all its apathy and weirdness, this one gave me the most comfort. A disgusting, selfish kind of comfort, but nonetheless. . .

They usually don’t hit me, but I guess with Jules, she was special. Even if she didn’t know why.

It wasn’t much of a home where we came from, a torturous security I guess. The outside world was terrifying, but then our ‘home’ had other things. Him. Meant to be a father figure. Clothing, feeding, schooling us. But also the source of the terror. Our family, for the short time it was one, was as fractured as the building. Barely remaining in places, but remaining nonetheless. A burnt out husk that would collapse at the smallest encouragement. It started small, things were added here and there, not quite within what was familiar, but not enough to change the core of it.

‘A heart of warmth,’ the eulogist had told us, ‘that inevitably was both the reason for love, and the reason for ultimate demise.’

But the heart of it, that soft glowing fireplace that kept the family huddled together, warm and thankful, that didn’t last. Bricked up and denied the ability to follow’s it’s nature by the very ones it provided for.

That was another analogy the eulogist used, though I don’t think he meant it the way I took it. All I could this was that when that warmth is taken away, what is left but a husk?

And who is to blame for it? Is it the workman who finally put the bricks in place? Or the person who paid them to do it? Or is it the one who first put the fire guard in place to stop logs rolling out, starting the whole process?

To be honest, it’s probably all and none. After all, isn’t it coming down anyway, at some point?

Depressing, nihilistic. That was how some of the others described it.

But maybe, just maybe, that was what I needed. I can’t hold myself to blame for a husk that was going to fail anyway. It’s not my fault she burned out. It’s not my fault she was hurting so bad she couldn’t get past it. It’s not my fault she didn’t have an outlet.

Please Jules, just tell me it’s not my fault.

Jules?

Part 4

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(text)

Oh god, she did it. Everything she told me. I thought she was drunk, I never even considered she would actually go through with it. I’m so sorry Jules, I could have stopped you, I could have saved you. Ha! Saved, makes me sound like I could’ve been some kind of hero. All it would’ve taken was some human decency.

Oh god, it’s still. . .I can’t believe it, no, they’re has to be a mistake, you wouldn’t have, a coincidence. Please don’t go like this.

I can’t believe it. You gone and me here crying like a bitch. You know they keep trying to tell me you’re in a better place now? That you were a troubled girl, a tormented soul, and you never meant to kill him too?
But you did, didn’t you. We both know it. I know he probably deserved it, that no-one would believe us. Hell, I tried to tell people and they just moved me on and you got him. But still, you killed him, Jules! What the fuck?!

But even if you did, why’d you have to go and take yourself out too? I miss you. There, I said it. I got all emotional for you. Yeah, it probably sounds all self-centred, but you were the only person who got it, the only person who understood, even if we never spoke if it.

Shit.

I just realised.

We never spoke of what he did. After I spoke up, I never brought it up again. We never spoke of it. How the hell were you meant to know?

I’m so sorry, Jules, please forgive me, where ever you are better place or otherwise, I’m sorryimsorryimsorryimsorry.

‘Don’t stress buddy, nothing you can do about it now.’

Her voice. Perfectly her. And all in my head. Add hearing voices of the dead to the list of things they can tell me are wrong.

I want your forgiveness, Jules, but you’re to here to give it. And even that’s my fault. Every time you used to ask why the hell I keep putting up with you. It makes sense now, fuck I am so bloody thick! You were reaching out and asking, but all I could ever muster was some smart arse response about ‘you know, it’s ‘cos you’re such a great wingman. . .woman, whatever’, or ‘too much effort to replace ya’.

I’m so sorry. Knowing you’d been through it too was pretty much the only thing that kept me alive all these years. You didn’t even have that.

I want your forgiveness. I want you to come back, even for just a moment to tell me it’s okay.

But you won’t, because it’s not.

You’re dead and it’s my fault. I’m so sorry.

You killed him and it’s my fault.

And I don’t think I can live with that.

Part 5

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KAVANAUGH, Jacob Cole. 18/09/1994 – 12/09/2018. Aged 23 years. Died in tragic circumstances. Greatly missed by all the residents of Ferdinand Foster house. He will always be remembered for his kind heart, quick wit, and his tenacity through tough circumstances. Personally missed by all staff.

 

 

KERIMORE, Julie-Anne Stacy. 06/15/1996 – 12/03/2018. Aged 21 years. Died in tragic circumstances. Greatly missed by all the residents of Ferdinand Foster house. She will always be remembered for her kind heart, quick wit, and most of all, her tenacity through tough circumstances. Personally missed by all staff.

 

 

Unwanted – Furious Fiction June 2019

Another 55 hours, another 500 words. The tight schedule was even more compressed this time by two day trips to Sydney – one for work, the other for the So You Want To Be A Writer Live event – but I managed to get it done, and I’m cautiously optimistic this can be expanded into something else.  There was a bit of experimentation with second person I don’t think I’ll continue with though.

Conditions: Had to be at a party, had to contain the phrase ‘The air was thick with. . .,’ and had to include a button. Enjoy!

 

Long, yellow fingers reach towards you, close enough to smell the nicotine that had stained them over the years.

“It used to be a giant fishbake, once a jacket got it.”

You slap the offending fingers away, the Cursed man barely noticing.

“Sarge, don’t engage.” Snider. You scowl darker than a Cursed life at your partner. You’re no rookie, you know how to deal with him.

“Get out,” you order him. Georg, you tell yourself. He has a name. You knew him, before the Curse and Gift. He was a cop too. Your squad. Before.

“Where is it?”

“Out,” you repeat. He doesn’t move. Blank eyes stare back, innocently expecting help. You stare back, looking for a semblance of the old Georg behind them.

Nothing.

“Curse did a number on him.” Fuck’s sake, Snider, it did a number on us all, you think. She’s Gifted though. Almost indestructible, she only sees him as Cursed, the price of her unwanted Gift.

“What can’t you find?” you ask.

Georg’s eyes light up. You’re probably the first to take him seriously in years

“Sarge!”

You ignore Snider.

“My button! Where is it?”

“Out there.” You point to an exit, and the man follows, babbling gleefully to himself.

“Sarge! Time!”

She’s scared. Understandably so. Your mission is critical to her as much as other Gifted. The fact she has to work with and Un – Ungifted, Uncursed – must irk her. After all, only an Un would plant a bomb so highly engineered to harm Gifted as well.

“Let’s go.” She’s perturbed but follows you to the stairwell anyway.

“Where to?” Her tone’s light, but you hear the background seriousness. She’s in mode. Hyper-alert and tense.

“Third floor. Main ballroom.”

“You taking me to a party, Sarge?”

Funny.

“We can dance later. Look for a trigger. It’s an Un bomb, they’ll want to detonate remotely.”

She grunts back.

You climb the stairs, ensuring you stay behind her. For a moment you wonder if the Curse was worth it – no armour could match the protection offered by Gifted. What about the price though? Does it make it okay because you aren’t Cursed?

You enter the ballroom to find music, dancing, and Gifted generally celebrating their underserved talents.

“Police,” – you show your badge – “Please evacuate in an orderly fashion, we need to sweep for explosives.”

Some hear, some laugh. All of them ignore you.

“Told you they wouldn’t listen,” Snider mutters. Of course. They think they’re invincible.

“The air was thick with light and juices.”

What the hells?

“Sarge! What’s he doing here?”

Georg?

“Hey! Your button is outside!” Get out! you plead internally.

He cocks his head to the side, looking amused.

“My button? But I found my button!”

Delighted, he opens his hand to show a small cylinder with a red button.

“Georg! Give that here!” You and Snider simultaneously lunge for the trigger.

“My button!” Georg sings as he dances out of reach. “My button,” you hear as a long, nicotine-stained finger slowly presses down.

The functional power of Nostalgia

Or: Making The Past Great Again

I’m at that stage of parenthood that has way too many sentences that start with ‘Back in my day’, or ‘When I was growing up’, or something similar.

Now, I’m not that old. Early thirties. Cars that were of the same vintage are only just getting the ‘classic’ moniker and only half the movies of that year have been ruined by remakes. But was life any better back than it is now? On that, can I even call it ‘back then?’ – after all, it was less than three decades ago.  But the world has changed plenty in that time, and there are elements of the past that I miss – like certain TV shows, a distinct lack of responsibilities, and not being almost entirely reliant on a mobile phone for pretty much every job I have had.

 

Back To The 90's
Not related or sponsored, but a fun video for some 90’s nostalgia

 

 

There is a really good conversation on the Troll Bridge bonus episode of the PratChat podcast about the nostalgia of the young, on how it’s brought about by recognition that we are a remnant of an unrecognisable world. It’s an interesting line of thought, the idea that a pre-digital age just a couple decades ago has changed so much, and it brings a certain element of nostalgia that really seems odd. But then again, everything about nostalgia is kind of odd, and the unique nature of it can be used to great effect (much as (P)Terry Pratchett did so well in Troll Bridge). In fact, it’s so powerful, in just a few pages Pratchett is able to use nostalgia to bring about full and complete emotional growth.

I won’t go into a spoiler-filled summery, but like most Pratchett stories Troll Bridge is both hilarious and poignant. It expertly used nostalgia as the connection between the two main characters resulting in a positive change. It’s used as both a facilitator and a pathway. But importantly, it can be used for many other functions, and much of it related to a character’s reaction to the nostalgia.

Nostalgia has a long history in fiction (as well as being a huge part of modern politics) because of that emotional pull. The standardised beginnings of Once upon a time, or A long time ago (potentially followed by in a galaxy far far away) show how that pull of the past has become so embedded in storytelling. They immediately take us to the past. It has many other functions though. As discussed it can facilitate dialogue and emotional change, point to a way forward, and it can also provide simultaneous internal and external conflict. What it doesn’t provide through, is an achievable destination. When characters believe it can, we get some interesting results.

The reason it is not a destination (at least my theory – which works for stories) is that nostalgia relies on a disconnect. It relies on a memory and an impression, not the reality of a place or situation even though a character might believe it does. The disconnect is unique and the basis of what makes it both internal and external.

What I mean by this is that nostalgia inherently drives that yearning for a past ideal. Internally there is a desire for something unattainable, and externally there is a dissatisfaction with how things are and an inability to fix it. It leads to frustration, clouded views, and despair in some cases – but also familiarity and connection.

Looking at some of the classic fantasy characters, I always come back to David Gemmell’s Druss. He is a character who epitomises a time of a great hero, who inspires purely by name, and brings about the nostalgic view of when the fortress city of Dros Delnoch was an impenetrable emblem of Drenai strength.

 

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One of my favourite strategies – get a big axe, and swing fast and wide. Solves all sorts of problems.

 

But he’s also a realist. He knows that time is past and he knows his time is past. His reaction to the nostalgia is to see it for what it is and use it to guide a way forward rather than reaching back. It’s one of the reasons he was one of my favourites as a young reader.

Conversely, look at one of the greatest bad guys of the century – Sauron. Ultimately, he wanted to regain what was lost; personally regarding an actual body, the power dynamic through the One Ring, he wanted to return to the war-torn world he knew. It isn’t explicitly stated, but if we saw the world from his viewpoint, I imagine there would be much angry yearning for the past. He never sought another way forward because he didn’t want to move forward – he wanted to take the world back to where it was when he left it, and only change it from that point.

There is a tragic parallel within the Tolkien universe in Thorin Oakenshield. Again, his downfall was his idyllic version of the past and his desire to return to it. It drove him to the brink of madness, and arguably lead to the Battle of Five Armies – arguably a battle made more tragic by the utter unnecessary nature of it, and the refusal of any party to withdraw. However, in this we see another function of nostalgia in fiction – motivation.

Characters faced with something challenging their worldview do drastic things. They make bad choices, and bad choices make great stories.

One of the most fascinating organisational arcs of this is the Red Ajah on Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. At the start of the series doing all they can to prevent a magic-capable male from becoming The Dragon Reborn. Their whole reason for existing is pretty much to maintain the status quo and ensure he doesn’t come to exist.

 

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A Red Ajah Aes Sedai depiction from the WoT Fandom page

 

Then, because otherwise there wouldn’t be a story, he does come to exist and it is clear that the Red Ajah have categorically failed. Yet instead of this recognition, they plot against him, try to prove he is a danger, and try to bring him down – all to the detriment of their own order.

Why this always fascinated me is because we see the time they want to go back to, we see the events that make that an impossibility, and we still see their efforts and understand their motivation, despite the fact it’s self-defeating. They have their view of their perfect world and their ideal role, and can’t get out of it. It drives conflict, political intrigue, and creates a whole new arc for the Ajah as well as a massive obstacle for Egwene.

It drives bad decision after bad decision, divides the Aes Sedai, and effectively supports their enemies. Yet they still think what they are doing is right. They still think they are the good guys (some of them, anyway). There is a disconnect induced by the nostalgia of a known world in which they fit, and the refusal to accept their inability to return to this idealisation a great subplot.

If there is one thing that Troll Bridge brings it is to show the hope and comfort that nostalgia can bring to characters, and it also shows the value of just sitting down and reminiscing about the past can help leave it as exactly that – the past. But on the other side of the coin are characters like Sauron, Thorin and the Red Ajah. Characters who see the past as a destination, as some desirable place to reinstate. But when our idea of the past is based so much on a glorified version that only ever existed in our memories, this is a self-defeating exercise, which tends to make characters make worse, more outlandish decisions. Which is great for the story, even if a little more tragic for the character.

Overall though, regardless of what function you use nostalgia for, the biggest feature comes back to that memory and impression. Essentially, it’s a very specific emotion that almost every reader can understand on some level. Every paragraph, every sentence, every word we use in writing should be aimed at having some kind of function. But nostalgia gives the emotional tie in as well. That ability to do both makes it worth considering how we, as writers, can incorporate it to full effect.

Also, if you enjoy Sir (P)Terry’s work, check out Ben and Liz on Pratchat. The puns alone are worth the listen.

~Nathan

 

 

Finding my Ko – or How Nearly Getting Kicked Out of the Military Made Me A Better Writer

December 2005 – I had just been pulled off training early and recalled to the office of the Commandant of the Australian Defence Force Academy. At any moment now I would be called into then-Commodore Goldrick’s office to explain exactly why I should not be booted from both the military and the university.

I had failed half my classes that year. I also had – and still have – a ton of respect for now Rear Admiral (ret’d) Goldrick, so it was a pretty horrible feeling waiting to be called through. I didn’t have a particularly good excuse, though I did have a bit of an idea of why I had failed.

I hated every class I was in. Not the lecturers or the students, just the content. The only reason I had chosen Aeronautical Engineering was because I wanted to prove to everyone just how smart I was. Which I did, ironically, when I failed.

It’s also why I feel pretty damn good about getting a High Distinction for the most recent subject in my Master of Letters, Creative Non-Fiction.

In that meeting, the Commandant was calm, reasonable, and offered some sage advice that I didn’t fully recognise until years later. Perhaps I still had something to offer the military. Perhaps I could contribute something significant. Perhaps I was just in the wrong place to do that. Perhaps he didn’t want to boot me after all, but wanted to nudge me towards a more appropriate career path.

Years later, I recognise the meaning of his words- what he was actually saying, in the undertones of his wisdom, was Know Thyself.

Knowing who I am, how I operate, recognising my own patterns of thought and how to convey those thoughts, as well as identifying my own strength, weaknesses, and passions helped me immensely in the latter stages of my Navy career. But it also helped me find areas of study I could simultaneously enjoy and excel at, become a better writer, and most recently, helped me find my Ko.

The first time I ever seriously sat down to write a novel – working title Ko – I hit about 80k words before I realised it wouldn’t work. Or at least, it wouldn’t work yet.

Still, I pushed on to about 130k, and even that was rushing the climax and conclusion.

But back then, I couldn’t make it work. I tried everything I could think of and I couldn’t make it flow.

Then I tried something a little bit crazy – and reached out to a writing mentor. I owe a lot to Chris Andrews of Creative Manuscript Services who helped me not only in my writing, but also by intorducing me to the wider writing community.

I haven’t looked back since. But I also haven’t finished that first manuscript.

Ironically, the thing that got in my way was also the thing that kept me writing. Through podcasts, conventions, courses, and writing groups, I had become intimately aware of just how terrible my writing was. Of course, as a result, I tried to fix it.

I tried new stories. I tried changing genres, different lengths, and different styles. I tried reducing the complexity of a story – and completed a manuscript for Bardling, I tried going into a more contemporary setting and wrote about 20k of Unforgettable, which has a premise and characters that I love. But in the end there were too many sensitivities that I want to get right rather than pushing forward for the sake of getting progress.

I tried sci-fi and cli-fi with SoulSteel, a Mulan meets The Departed meets Dresden Files action novella, and an unnamed story kind of like The 100 in reverse; the remnants of humanity stuck on a storm-ravaged planet and trying to escape skyward with tech never intended for aeronautical use. Like the subject matter of the engineering degree, none of them really stuck though.

Surprisingly, the most success I had was in the shortest form. One of my 2019 commitments was to entering the Australian Writer’s Centre’s Furious Fiction competition for twelve months straight. Most of my entries are on my Writing page (except one – to be perfectly honest, I just didn’t like it, and didn’t want it out there in public with my name attached to it) , and it was through these that I noticed a bit of a theme. Not an overarching message like a thematic metaphor, or a similar plotline or characters, but when put under the pump, when working to a short deadline, everything came out darker.

I tried to write more positive stories, tried to write something more hopeful, but it just didn’t feel like my writing. I didn’t enjoy it, and if I don’t enjoy it I can’t expect any readers to do the same.

So, like my conversion from studies more suited to my passions and interests, I’ve made the decision to embrace that darker style of writing. Coincidently, and completely unrelated, I also took out Ko for the first time since 2017.

This title comes from a particular belief in the story. The idea that everyone has a Ko. A core truth to which they hold. The only way to reach Ko though, is for an individual to externally be and represent what a person is internally. For a person’s rhetoric to match their true nature. Someone who knows their Ko acts to reflect the nature of that truth.

Now, that might sound all nice and wonderful – but what if the true nature of that person was not anything positive? What if a psychopath was raised in the worst situations, abused, and then given near ultimate power? What if everything they learned of the world was wrong? That fear was the same as respect, that a mother’s love set him above all others, making them lesser beings, and that power existed only for self-gratification?

His Ko is the action of these beliefs. It is about as far from positive as can be reached.

Then what if his Ko could not – or would not – be changed? Meet Rogath, my long-term antagonist that allows me to see just how much of ‘dark’ also equals ‘interesting’.

When I went back to this manuscript, I saw that this question had been introduced and I hadn’t even realised. I read it with the separation of someone who hasn’t spent every day neck deep in the words, trying to fix a bunch of little issues to try and make it better.

Then I looked at my uni work from previous subjects. Again, both dark (side note, the Creative Non-Fiction piece was about family, and was anything but dark – it can be the exception).

Through writing the shortest stories I’ve ever done, then looking across my most successful short story The Safe Place, and reading again through The Survivor, Indecision (not posted), and Ko, which was and continues to be a story I just love writing, I came to realise that my natural writing – my ‘happy place’ – was writing dark. Maybe they’re not as dark as they could be, but definately trending that way.

The external expression of the stories I want to tell come out best, most coherently, when knowing that truth, knowing myself as a writer, and knowng that Ko.

So I’m setting this as a bit of a challenge to myself; I’m going to work on that original manuscript – the prologue (and probably least dark section) of which can be found here – and I’m going to embrace that dark twist on the themes, plots and characters and see where they go.

There is every chance that the story may yet change – the joys of being a pantser – and may yet turn more positive again. But after trying a bunch of different methods, genres, and styles, I think I’ve found my Ko.

So, I guess the take away from this is twofold. First of all, as a writer it is important to know yourself. Knowing what you write, why you write, and finding the stories that come naturally to you can only help your writing.

Secondly, if you are here for the reading instead of the writing, prepare for future stories to replicate my coffee habits. . .and keep getting just a tad darker.

And third, a special take away just for me: when you finally get a decent grade at uni, celebrate the proper way with the drink of psychopaths – a summer-y lime and mandorin infused G&T. Cheers.

~Nathan

 

 

 

 

 

Furious Fiction – May 2019

Alright. Dark Fantasy. Back on brand this month.

As usual, 500 words, and a bunch of conditions. This month is was . . .strangely enough. . . a May theme!

Aside from starting with an eleven letter word and having something running, it had to contain the words ‘Mayor’, ‘Mayhem’, ‘Dismay’, ‘Maybe’, and ‘Mayonaisse’.

Enjoy!

 

The Banality of a Job Well Done

“AAARRRGGGHH!”

It’s truly a unique symphony– each time a cry leaves the choir, another joins the aural mayhem. Hundreds of voices have joined and left. Hundreds of desperate voices creating a matchless harmony. It is a work to be proud of.

I lick my lips, the heat of the fire pits cracking them like boots over autumn leaves. The contract set by the mayor was difficult.

“This place is infested! Liars, thieves, crooks; they’re everywhere in this town! I want it cleared by morning! No trace is to remain!

The task is impossible. No trace not realistic. But as the pits rage, I’m satisfied. I’ve achieved more than most could have done.

I lick my lips again and lift the pipe, joining the exquisite sound. A couple of sharp notes punch the air and a chill runs over me, a welcome sensation among the fires. Another few notes. I can feel it now. A tune flows, more of the pipe’s accord than mine, louder and faster until the thrill reaches right into my bones, the melody engulfing me and I too must dance! Leaping, spinning. . .it’s running through my limbs. I must keep playing! Keep dancing, keep moving, keep running. . .

Aargghh! Burning!  I slap at my coat sleeve, putting out the flame and step back from the pit. How close had I been to following the melody in? Another chill runs through me. My coat is damaged, but it could’ve been worse. I pry my fingers off the wooden instrument, force myself to separate from the melody. It does not control me.

I will not follow the music.

A sharp, acidic odour burns up my nostrils. Smoke, burning hair and skin. The wind has changed. Or maybe I just danced into the path of the smoke. It can be disorienting inside the melody.

I look around – there are still a few left dancing towards their fate, screaming their only defence against their own actions.

One stares back though. I watch as he leaps into a pit, watch as his body turns black, his eyes bubbling and boiling.

But there is something else in his eyes too, before the sclera bursts from the socket, flowing thick and gooey like mayonnaise. Before they turn to ash. Anger. Confusion. Dismay. I hear his questions as clearly as the roar of the flames that consume him.

He wants to know why I did this, why the town is no more.

The answer is simple. Because it was my contract. The town was full of liars, thieves and crooks. Leave no trace.

The pungent odour is still here – I taste the bile it brings, and I need to leave. But as I carefully put some notes through my pipe, I watch with pride as the final few townsfolk find a pit and throw themselves in.

By morning, there should be no trace of the town at all. As per the contact. A job well done.

 

A Hazy Memoir

I’m coming to the end of my Creative Non-Fiction subject at the moment, and while it might not be ‘on brand’ for my usual style, I’ve been feeling a bit guilty about not posting my April Furious Fiction story. So here is my replacement. It is two things; first of all it’s a story on speculation in non-fiction (hence the hazy). It’s also the story of how I met my wife, Roslyn.

Its also the story of why I will never understand why she spoke to me again after that night. But I’m glad she did.

Also as a side note, I don’t condone the irresponsible behaviour I exhibited this night. It may have worked out on this occasion, but that doesn’t excuse it. It just means I was lucky this time.

The task was to write memoir on an event we don’t have all the facts for. To speculate, but keep it in non-fiction.

 

Perhaps one such time for myself is the night I met Roz, my wife. I can only speculate on the details because to be perfectly honest, there was a considerable amount of alcohol involved.

At least there was from my side. She tells me she didn’t touch a drop that night, and I prefer to believe her after she drove me home through the remnants of a cyclone.

In fact I still blame the cyclone for my state of being. Six weeks on Border Protection with increased shifts to try and get qualified had left me somewhat fatigued. Some poor decision making leading to no rest and a big night out led to getting in around five am, and getting a call from the ship at six.

A cyclone was coming. Half the crew was already on leave. We need to sail. Despite the commonly held belief that ships are safer in port, cyclonic winds smashing aluminium hulls into concrete wharves tend to disagree. A bucket of KFC, plenty of glasses of water, and some sobering hours later, we were ready to go.

Thankfully the cyclone missed us. But the extra shifts again and the lack of recovery from the previous night out had taken its toll.

Unfortunately for my health, though very fortunately for my future, I had not learnt my lesson from the last time I went out. I got in to port, and was immediately convinced to head out again.

I don’t know much about what happened, but I remember meeting a girl that one of the other guys was very interested in. The problem was that she was not into him, mainly because she found him an arrogant, self-obsessed creep. Much of which was justified.

But I digress. He was creeping on to this girl. This girl was a friend of one of my sailors that I got along very well with, and I really didn’t want either of them having a night ruined by my collegue’s behaviour.

I have vague memories from here on. I think I bought her a drink. Actually, I think I bought Creepy Guy a drink and gave it to her instead. But either way, we sat down a chatted. I have no idea what about. But I guess I saw her drink was empty, so I must have bought her another. Then it was empty again, and I must have said something entertaining because she remained at the table, grinning and laughing when I bought a couple more.

Eventually, she must have said something about driving home. Of course, no matter how impaired I may have been, some semblance of responsibility remained.

I told her I’d call her a taxi. She couldn’t drive after however much we’d had.

As I recall it, she just sat back and laughed.

‘I haven’t had anything. You’ve been drinking my beers all night.’

Well, I felt pretty stupid at that point. I mean, I had probably seemed pretty stupid most of the night. But I had a moment of clarity and called my night then and there. Turns out she was done too, so I offered to walk her to her car. When we got outside, it was absolutely teeming with rain. Cairns in January usually is, but this was more so thanks to the cyclone that had just passed the coast.

So we ran. We paused at a couple of pizza stands – I think I ate some, I can’t imagine Roz would have had anything in her entirely sober and responsible state – and we talked Wolverine, guitars, and knives.

When we eventually got to her car, I said goodbye and tried to call a taxi. She took the phone from me and told me to get in the car. Her mum still tells her I could have been an axe murderer.

I wasn’t.

After another weird, nerdy, conversation later, she dropped me off at the Navy accommodation, at which point I declared her awesomeness by saying, ‘I’m gonna [expletive] marry you someday.’ She laughed, and I wouldn’t have blamed her for giving a fake number and driving off, never to be seen again.

I don’t know what happened in her mind, and I barely recall the details of the conversations. She tells me I just seemed like a nice guy.  Something must have stuck anyway. Because three years, she let me follow through on that promise.

I’ve also never gone out on the same night we get into port, and never will again.