Inferno

Up to her shoulders in the muddy water of the dam, Claire shields her face from the falling ash; all that remains of her bushland home. The sky is grey with smoke, glowing red at the horizon where the flames are roaring with the prevailing wind; the same wind that wreaked devastation on her beloved home.

The house is gone; she can see the remains – glowing and charred – from the safety of the water. The horses are gone; they bolted as the flames roared down the hillside toward the property, right on top of them before Claire had the chance to do much more than grab the dog and dive head first into the dam. She sat in the shallows now, streaked with dirt and ash as she hugged Baz to her as he panted and struggled.

Everything, her whole life – gone in a rush of heat and crackling flames. Baz was all she had left; Baz and the smoking, black remains of her house.

Think I’ll just sit here a while longer, she thought blankly,  eyes still taking in the devastation. Me’n Baz will just sit here til someone finds us. Or until the flames burn what’s left of the place…

Eighteen – An Open Letter to the Birthday Girl

Eighteen years ago, I gained a sister.

A brat who stole my teddies, tried to give me a concussion, and once as a toddler, refused to walk for two weeks because of a grazed knee. A sister that followed me around in primary school, her and her little posse of five year olds. Who tormented my cat got away with it. Who stole my love of Disney and Harry Potter and took it for her own. Who was, and remains to this day, incredibly gullible. Up until this morning, she was convinced I hadn’t bought her a birthday present. That I wasn’t going to buy one at all.

Eighteen years ago, I gained a sister, and a lifelong friend.

I beamed with pride as she put on a school uniform for the first time, protected her from the torment of our teasing brother. Stayed up chatting and giving advice late into the night, rewrote her English essays and held her together before she left overseas for the first time. Teased her mercilessly over boys and her unending gullibility. Laughed until I cried and my ribs ached at her impressions, her accents and her dance moves. My sister is a weirdo, but maybe that’s why we get along – like attracts like, doesn’t it?

Today, that weirdo turns eighteen. So, Happy Birthday, bitch – you’re a pain in the arse but I promise I don’t hold it against you!

Fictional Homicide

‘As Anna watched, flattened beneath the sorting table, her coworkers body shuddered once more before falling still. The slick, ferrous tang of blood filled the air, and the horror of her situation dimmed somewhat as the footsteps of the homicidal customer moved away from Anna’s hiding place.

Averting her eyes from the horribly bloodied body of her coworker, Anna tried listened desperately for signs that the killer was returning. She had no idea where anybody else was, whether they were even still alive. It was possible that Bec was the only casualty. Guess if it had to happen to anyone -‘

The clack of keys paused.

“Can I write that? I mean, she’s an idiot, sure. But do I really need to off her in fiction?” mused the writer to herself.

She snorted, fingers tapping away on the keyboard once more. “Of course I can!”

***

Anybody else guilty of this?

Trapped

Uncontrollable laughter bubbled up inside him, bursting out from behind clenched teeth and clamped hands. Pete shook with it, eyes scrunched shut against the building moisture, hysterical as he sat with his back to the wall of his cell.

Biting down viciously on his hand, the pain broke through the hysterical laughter, and he hiccuped as the last few giggles dissipated into aching ribs, streaming eyes and stinging hand. I am so totally fucked, he thought, hysteria threatening to rise again at the thought. Told him this was going to happen.

Suddenly exhausted, Pete slumped against the padded wall of his white cell, scratching idly at his heated skin, inhaling the sterile scent of the padding. White. White walls, white floor, white ceiling. It even smells white. White, white, white. I wonder how they’d react if I scratched hole in my leg so I could add some colour? Red would look so nice against the white. Macabre, violent, beautiful.

Pete sat on his hands. None of that.

Frustrated, he threw himself to his feet, pummeling the padded door and shouting. “Hey!! Hey! I’ve had enough now! Hello? I need to piss, arseholes! I’m gonna take a leak against the door! Right now! Hey -“

The door swung open, and Pete dropped his hands away from his scrubs as if burnt. “About time! I’m mental, but I’m still human you know! A little bit of -“

He stopped. Standing in the doorway, stood himself. Or someone who looked exactly like him.

And then, Pete’s eyes snapped open, sweat-drenched body twisted in his sheets, face mashed into his pillow.

Just a dream.

Neophilia – A ‘Word Fiend’ story

The mall was swarming with shoppers, all eager to grab a bargain in the mid-season sales. Marie bustled from store to store, credit card flashing and bags accumulating. Cotton sheets were fondled, the scent of expensive candles inhaled, chocolates sampled, all in the pursuit of something new, something different.

Marie’s neophilia knew no bounds. Her house was filled with novelty candies and toys, kitchen implements from the mundane to the unnecessary, cushions in every fashionable colour from the last ten years and every appliance known to man. She couldn’t help it; they were all just so beautiful and new, full of potential and promising a better, easier, tastier product.

The latest arboreal arrangements sat amongst a riot of flowers and gift balloons in the florist, the tankini was back in fashion in the swimwear store, and Marie paused at each before moving on, fresh flowers and new bathing suit added to her purchases.

‘UP TO 70% OFF!’ screamed a sign in her favourite shoe store. Oooh, I could use a new pair of sandals! And oh, look at those heels – I have to try them on! Swinging into the brightly lit store, Marie made a beeline for the mint platform heels, admiring her foot in the mirror as she tried the sample size on.

Ten minutes and a positive steal later, Marie left the store with three pairs of brand new shoes, the mint heels among them. Blissfully happy and thinking of all the money she’d saved, she waltzed down to the supermarket, trying not to crush the fresh flowers nestled in the crook of her arm.

Okay; milk, bread, tampons…don’t think I need anything else. Oh! They have a new flavour of chocolate! I’ll just buy a little bar…

Dumping her last few purchases on the counter in the express lane, Marie fumbled for her purse as the cashier scanned them, pulling out the credit card one final time.

“I’m sorry, but your card’s been declined,” the cashier said apologetically.

“What? That can’t be right; let me try it again.”

The card declined again. And again. She’d emptied her credit account. And her savings account was empty until pay day; three days away. The line behind her was building up, fellow customers frowning and tapping their feet impatiently as she grew more and more flustered.

“I’m sorry ma’am. Perhaps if you contact your bank and come back later?” The cashier ushered her on, and Marie could see judgment in every expression on her professional, smiling face.

Mortified, she took her bags and her flowers and left, leaving behind the groceries she needed. Suddenly the lustre of her beautiful shoes, stylish bathers and crisp new sheets wore off, the adrenaline of a good bargain dissipating.

Sale items were non-returnable. The kids wouldn’t have any milk for cereal tomorrow. Or bread for school lunches.

But the shoes are so pretty. And I did need new sheets. Maybe I can borrow a few dollars from the kids for groceries. Marie scrunched her nose, disgusted at herself. I’m going to hell.

Cheeks still burning, Marie set her jaw determinedly as she left the mall. She was freezing her credit card when she got home. Once it was paid off, she was getting rid of it.

Shoes can wait. The kids can’t.

***

Words taken from Merriam Webster’s October ‘Word of the Day’ archive:

Neophilia

Tankini

Arboreal

Judgment

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) – A ‘Reading List’ Review

Book: Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell

Reading List Number: 8

A book that scarcely needs any introduction, Nineteen Eighty-Four (or 1984, if you prefer) is a classic dystopian novel that describes an eerie totalitarian society under the keen eye of Big Brother (well before the term became synonymous with the ultimate ‘reality’ television show by the same name). Nineteen Eighty-Four follows the story of Winston Smith, an everyman who keeps an illicit diary where he shares his dissenting anti-government thoughts.

As Orwell’s most well-known work, Nineteen Eighty-Four weaves an eerily resonant story, and the faceless antagonist of Big Brother echoes modern concerns over how much of our information and activities is recorded and analysed by faceless governments and criminals alike (especially in an increasing online society). Orwell’s political musings litter this novel, providing excellent commentary on totalitarian societies, especially as a post WWII piece of literature.

Bleak and simply written, Orwell’s famous tale is a combination between a dystopian horror and a political commentary, revealing a society under the thumb of authoritarianism, its people blank and slavish in their government-fed beliefs. Rightly considered a modern classic, Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is a political thriller of the highest order, worth slogging through the spare prose to reach the core of its prescient vision.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

***

The next novel to be reviewed is Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton. To see the rest of the Reading List, and to see more reviews, click here.

Crime Pays

They rocketed out of the atmosphere, orange fading to the black of space between one moment and the next. Whooping and grinning triumphantly as their pursuers dropped away, Cade and Almira eavesdropped shamelessly on the intercepted radio transmission, as it crackled with cursing and shouting from their former ‘clients’.

Glancing back at their stolen cargo, Almira double-checked the proximity alert before turning to Cade.

“We’re free and clear, Cade. Lets bring this baby in.”

Cade flipped a bunch of switches, throwing a grin in her direction. “We hit serious pay dirt this time, man. This time tomorrow, we could be livin’ it up on that resort planet in region Delta – you know, the one with the sweet as waves?”

Almira rolled her eyes. Cade had spent too much time watching old Earth vids again. The ones with the drawling, bleached-hair ‘surfers’, apparently. “Our biggest heist yet, I think. We can go to the resort planet after we’ve got the ship overhauled. And paid off the rest of that loan you owe Jantu. Don’t think he’ll have forgotten that, Cade. After that, then yes, you can go and catch some ‘sweet waves’.”

“Wicked!”

Launching the hyperspace sequence, Cade leant back in the captain’s chair, satisfaction in every inch of his lanky body. As the planet below them disappeared, light years away in no time, Almira couldn’t help but slouch down in her own chair, utterly relaxed as the adrenaline of the heist wore away.

Honestly, sipping cocktails on the beach under twin suns while her idiot brother tried to surf might not be so bad. Especially on someone else’s money. Crime really did pay, sometimes.

Five Sentence Friday

Steve was bored. In the middle of the night, there was only one thing to do.

Sliding a questing hand over the warm skin of his girlfriend’s hip, he shuffled in casually behind her as he murmured, “You awake, babe?”

There was a pause, then, “You have approximately ten minutes before I fall asleep again. After that, it’s up you to decide whether I’ll be okay with you having sex with my unconscious body; hint – I’m not okay with it.”

How does your garden grow?

The roses were flourishing this year; a riot of colour and delicate perfume.

Must be this new fertiliser I’ve been using, Helen thought, cheerfully forking over the new patch of dirt she was preparing in her backyard. The new rose bushes sat waiting in their plastic pots, thorny and with gleaming dark green foliage.

Leaning the garden fork against the fence, she grabbed the secateurs in her gloved and grubby hands, using the sharp edge of tear the tough plastic of the fertiliser bag. The sharp, loamy scent of fertiliser filled the air as Helen tipped the bag upside down, emptying it onto the dirt.

A blockage stopped the flow of fertiliser; Helen jerked the bag, and a flood of fertiliser spilled onto the ground.

A human hand lay amongst it, grey and roughly severed. The fingers were shredded, shards of bone poking through the ruined flesh. Like someone had tried to feed it through a wood chipper.

Helen scrambled backwards, stomach rebelling and a scream rising in her throat.

Suddenly, her flourishing garden didn’t seem quite so beautiful.