This year, I was fortunate to be commissioned by the Booranga Writers’ Centre to create a collection of short stories as part of their stimulus funding from Create NSW‘s initiative to support regional writers.Continue reading “short story collection: [project zed]”
It shouldn’t have been hard to miss, but Jeremy still managed.
The garish rug stretched across the department store floor, covering the power cord for the string of lights coiled around the Christmas Tree.
“Didn’t you see the sign?” The shop attendant asked, pointing to the A4 cartridge paper stuck to the wall, emblazoned with the words WATCH YOUR STEP in bold Ariel font.
Jeremy gathered himself up off the floor. He eyed the girl in the festive elf dress behind the counter as he dusted imaginary dirt from his ugly sweater.
“I’ve always been pretty good at falling over things most people don’t,” Jeremy said.
“Strange thing to be proud of,” the elf girl said with a shrug. Her name tag read ‘Bianca’.
“We all have our talents.”
Blood splashed on the white sheet I’d thrown over my head in a last minute costume. A few drops, nothing major, but I’d still need to find a way to bleach it out before putting it back on the bed at Grandma’s.
My little sister stared at me, mouth agape in comical disbelief. She was fourteen now, and I half-expected her to be ‘too cool’ to go trick-or-treating this year, but the annual outing was something we enjoyed religiously with our parents and apparently she wasn’t ready to give that up yet.
I blinked, unmoving, as I regarded the middle-aged man clutching his bloodied nose. My sister’s boyfriend promptly dropped her hand to go check on his father.
‘Jesus, Merlinda!‘ My sister shrieked. Guess I ruined her date.
‘He was touching my arse!’ I shouted back.
‘I was brushing dirt off your costume!’ The man whimpered in defence.
I looked over my shoulder. Several dried autumn leaves clung to the sheet over my bum where I’d sat in the garden waiting for my sister to finish collecting her treats from a friend’s house.
‘Sorry,’ I mumbled. The shrug was half-hearted—I’d been groped by far too many Casper the Pervy Ghosts at uni Halloween parties to feel truly apologetic.
Sebastian set himself down on the window ledge and started to clean his face. His black hair had been preened to a lustrous sheen, his nails trimmed and tidy.
“The time?” He asked, looking towards Stephanie, where she reclined on the bed.
“11:56pm,” she said, a slight tremble in her voice.
“Almost time.” Sebastian glanced back out the window, at the moon partially hidden behind the clouds. His tail swished. “You know I’m naked when I turn, right?”
Stephanie’s grin was coy. “As if you have need for clothes!”
Sebastian purred. “Well, with only 24 hours to be human, we had best make the most of it.”
“You selfish bitch,” she managed, jaw still gripped in rigor mortis.
Natalie stood, shocked, silent and shaking, as she regarded the mud-covered figure in her dining room. Charlize had returned to her.
She took two quick steps forward, tears in her eyes and joy in her heart; Charlize backed away.
“Why did you do this to me?” Charlize choked. “Why did you bring me back?”
“I wasn’t ready, Charlie,” Natalie whimpered. “I couldn’t—”
“But I was!” Charlie reached for the steak knife laid out beside Natalie’s dinner. She tightened her death-stiff fingers around the handle. “I was done! At peace. Resting.”
“Charlie, please.” Natalie’s tears soured, no longer revelling in a miracle but drowning in shame. “I couldn’t live with you gone.”
“That’s why you’ve always been the selfish one.”
Charlie took the blade to her throat and slashed.
Loretta Lynch spends her mornings grinding bones and it’s not to make her bread. She’s not a giant, or a witch, or any other of those silly creatures you might have read about in your fairy tales.
Loretta Lynch is an alchemist, and she knows how to live forever.
It hadn’t been easy, finding the recipe. A life time of work, quite literally. She’d poisoned herself once or twice and quit much more often. But just days before her fifty-third birthday, Loretta tried one last formula. She clutched the phial to her chest and said a prayer to the nameless gods.
Down her throat it went.
That was many years ago now. I was but a boy then, you see. And you were likely not even born.
Yes, you can buy her panacea, if she happens to like your face. But visit her store with care, good child: she charges more than coin.
Selina had a habit of drawing pentagrams on the soles of her shoes. A habit that started as an edgy facade and soon became an obsession.
‘Aces high,’ Deb exclaimed, turning out her hand to reveal a three-of-a-kind windfall.
Jack threw his kings at the couch.
‘Sssh,’ Selina barked; she was getting nervous. The tip of the Sharpie bore deep grooves in the soles of her turquoise Connies where she traced the five-pointed star over and over again. Now her teeth bored grooves in her lower lip, too.
‘Chill out, Sel,’ Deb shrugged. She reached for a bag of marshmallows buried amongst the pile of junk food they’d assembled for the sleep over. ‘Nothing’s going to happen at midnight.’
‘Why midnight anyways?’ Jack crunched a mouthful of Pringles.
‘Because that’s what he told me,’ Selina muttered through clenched teeth. Told being spelt-out on the crude, hand-drawn Ouija board last weekend. ’12. 12. 12 — 12 o’clock on December 12.’
‘How d’you know it wasn’t noon?’ Jack asked.
‘Because it’s dinner time and I’m still alive.’
Gunfire and smoke — that was all there was. Laynee sheltered her head with her arms and shook. There was hay up her nostrils, in her mouth, her ears; diving into the haystack wasn’t the brightest idea she’d ever had but it’d kept her safe and out of the hitman’s sight.
There’d never been a hit in her village. Noelyn Downs was the smallest township in the whole fiefdom and they rarely drew the interest of the high lords much less their ire. They were farmers, after all. They spent their days breeding horses and baking bread without the slightest concern for the happenings in the capital.
And yet … someone had ordered old Len Tomlin dead.
Laynee poked a tunnel through the hay, just wide enough to catch a glimpse of the hitman in his long black coat. A wisp of smoke snaked from the barrel of the flintlock cocked over his arm.
Len Tomlin was at his feet. He bent down and searched for something inside the collar of the old farmer’s shirt. With a tug he pulled the necklace free, stepped over the corpse and carried on his way.
Nathan didn’t mind detention when Simon was there too, even though it meant he missed kicking the footy around with his mates and his usual sneaky ciggy behind the bike sheds with Taylor.
They’d played up in fourth period maths, and now the two of them were alone in the classroom until Ms Dean returned at the halftime bell to check if they were done. Nathan would’ve been finished ages ago if it weren’t for his too frequent glances at Simon, who had slid so far down in the chair his butt was on the edge of the seat.
‘Aren’t you going to do anything?’ Nathan asked.
Simon shrugged. ‘She just said we had to finish, not that it needed to be correct. I’ll scribble down some numbers when the bell rings. I’m in no hurry.’
A ghost of smile.
Nathan closed his book.
Face pressed to the pine needles, Stephanie willed herself invisible. Her breath was little more than a shallow necessity, her only movement as she willed her quaking limbs still.
Footsteps crunched by.
Heavy boots paused by her face. They stunk of sap and kangaroo shit.
The felled tree hid her shadow. Even with the full moon and starry night sky above, the thickness of the forest distorted the light penetrating the world below the trees.
The boots moved on.
She could breathe again.