Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Tag: short story (page 1 of 2)

Two Souls

A kiss. A heavy unmoving kiss. Like my first : open mouthed and no movement. A kiss that flowed over me and washed  me downstream.

I woke a little. I drew a breath. I held it. I threw up my arms. I pushed her away.

She didn’t want me. I wasn’t interested. I had other fun. Now all I could feel was soft down. Under a heavy weight. Then I couldn’t breathe.

But rather than the suffocating dark, I could see all of the basement. And smell its smell : antiseptic mixed with sweat. And her still over me, pushing the pillow flat over my face.

My car, her car now, washed and waxed last by me, was parked off to one side. Tools, another computer never to be assembled, motherboards, network and graphic cards, hard drives, memory cards and floppy disks were scattered across my bench against the front garage door. At the back, arranged in a circle, a new sofa-bed, a hairdresser’s chair, a table and the dentist chair. In the middle, on a raised table, cleaned and ready, sat the tattoo machine, ink wells ready for another day customer.

I hated the dentist drill whine it made. My ears, first, then my jaw, all hurting as if ready for another root canal. She made sure that each morning, her electric pen woke me up, clientele or not. Hence the industrial strength earplugs. Which is why I had heard nothing.

The sofa bed, extended and unmade, blanket over pillow. And me under it. Never to be woken. Unless…

“State your case!” The voice came from behind me. From the white light from where I had reemerged.
“Who are you?” I asked. Silence ruled the afterlife it seemed to me.

“Your testimony must proceed followed by our consideration and then any actions or sentence will be sanctioned or pronounced. This process will take some time”, belled the white light’s voice.

“I remember being told that in a previous life,” I snapped. “I just want to get on with this, get it over and done with. I want to make sure she pays for what she has done to me!”
“I want revenge,” I said, “Revenge for what she did to me.”

“And what would that be?” The sound enveloped me and the basement. Yet there was no echo.

I recalled my past. First the angry words, the hefty blows, the affair. The creation of an open marriage. Open until I was caught out! She said that if she can’t keep me where she wanted me then no one could! And this night I left her furious. I don’t know what provoked her. I turned around and her face was red. Her pupils were dots again. I stepped back quickly. I tried to stand beyond arm’s length. But I was too slow. And she did it again. She windmilled her fists at me. I tried to demonstrate but couldn’t.

I waited until she fell asleep. I left her in front of the TV. I walked quietly, no stomping when you’re angry remember, into the bedroom. I shut the door, got my nightclothes on, put away today’s clothes and prepared tomorrow’s.

Until she shoved me out.
Then I fled to the basement, hid under the camp blanket and my stolen pillow. And fell asleep. Until she woke me twice. And now this ghostly court.

“Isn’t this the next life?” I asked, “Isn’t this something you should already know?”

“Indeed that is true. But as Ghost Guardians we cannot let anyone back into the previous life unless they have a valid case!” There is no humour in the afterlife it seems.

“Isn’t revenge enough?” I replied.

“Under the appropriate mitigating circumstances,” was the reply.

“Which are?”

“We are asking the questions here,” they intoned.

I nodded. Although I didn’t have a body to do so.

“Why are you asking me this? You should know. Now can we just get this over and finished with. Let me do what I need to do.” I was furious.

“Have you considered forgiveness?”

“Forgiving her?”, I expostulated.

“Yes.”

“Are you, are you…After what she did to me!” I said.

“It would easier for all concerned,” they replied.

“You know this as well as I do. She has stated so that she would never forgive me nor accept my forgiveness.” I was turning out to be a better lawyer in the afterlife.

“Would that be appropriate and thus mitigating circumstances then?” I concluded.

“Indeed. You may proceed. But we must make you aware of the overarching and constant consequence of being granted revenge!”

“Which is?” I replied.

“That you forfeit your eternal soul to us until she relents!” Which was no different than in the previous world!

“Revenge once granted allows you freedom of action. You may haunt, appear as a vision, you may even speak to her, speak to others, appear or disappear at will, even rearrange or reanimate objects. All within the constraints we set. In the meantime, we ask that you show the proper respect for due process.” said the Ghost Guardians.

“And if she doesn’t relent?” I replied.

“Then she and you are both doomed for eternity!”

“She will never relent, she will never forgive,” I replied. “But you know her soul better than I ever did.”

“Perhaps if you spoke to her?”, the Ghost Guardians said gently. And their voices were like silken music.
I nodded again. Perhaps two souls for the price of one?

And now I’m lying on the bed under that pillow waiting for her to stop killing me so I can start gently haunting her back to another afterlife.

 

 

Write, Rewrite, Then Don’t Rewind : Writing Out Loud #4

I paid my money didn’t I? I should be able to take my choice then?  No, not when NYC Midnight have their flash fiction competition.

One thousand carefully chosen words,  a genre, a scene and an object chosen at random. Forty Eight hours to write it.

And on Saturday 15th July, the email arrived. Genre: Ghost Story, Scene: A Basement, Object: A Tattoo Machine.

I had to find out what a tattoo machine is, didn’t I?  That was the easy part.  A quick Google search and I found one.

I even listened to recordings of tattoo machines. Which reminded me of the dentist’s drill. That at least ended up in the story. But after listening to that, there was no way I was going to be inked in the name of research.

But me? A ghost story? My first reaction was:  I haven’t written any. I was wrong. I’ve written two. One fact. One fiction.  Still I researched my genre. And read some ghost stories, some great, some indifferent. And brought to mind my secret love of Edgar Allan Poe.

But a basement. I really don’t know what to do in a basement…Self doubt occurred early. But I persisted…

I scrabbled and scrambled for thoughts. Then came the flood of nefarious ghost-like events. I wrote them out. Then…

I revised what I had written. And threw it all away. Somewhere, somebody is looking at my lost notes and saying, “I wouldn’t write that either.”

Then the premise arrived. The idea was a ghost requesting permission…But I won’t add to that otherwise it would spoil the story.

And I wrote it. And I was pleased with it. But there was a problem…

The rewriting. The last time I wrote a short story (The Great Blow), I went on a re-writing frenzy. Eight or nine rewrites until I could take it no more.

This story (called Ghost Tattoo) was rewritten about four or five times.  I only realised it when I posted it on the competition forum. Some of the feedback was similar. And when I read the story, I realised they were right. A few more rewrites…Still when I receive the judge’s feedback, I will rewrite it. And post it. And learn my lesson. Otherwise I will have to take the test again!

 

 

 

 

Why I Write:Writing Out Loud #3

If money is the measure of success, as a short story writer and poet, I have little chance.

So why do I turn up? Why do I fill notebooks with words? Then copy and rewrite it in Evernote. And then again into Scrivener?

I now know I’m borrowing a talent as it were, but that doesn’t explain my motivation to write. Especially when the story or poem is demanding to be written.

Why do I do this?

Much like a poet who expresses those thoughts best unsaid, the author, Natasha Lester answered for me in her blog Success as a Writer: What Does it Mean? Understanding.

And she speaks for me. I was joyfully surprised by the feedback I received for the Great Blow. I wrote a poem called The Unravelled Heart , then attended a meetup. Two people had read it and they understood.

But the first time I really found out why I write occurred when I wrote a story called Medicine Woman.  A few days after publishing it, I received an email containing the French phrase, “On Ne Peut Sauver Celle Qui Ne Veut L’etre.” My school French could not suffice and I googled the phrase and also checked with my French teacher friend.

The phrase meant, “One cannot help those who cannot help (themselves).” Which is what the story really was about. Which is why I really wrote it.

Which is why i write.

 

I am Andrew and I am an OverResearcher : Writing Out Loud #2

Messy Desk

Messy Desk

You over-research too much,” she said to me.

I looked up from my desk, covered in academic papers. Then down at the floor, strewn with textbooks, references and more academic papers.

Do I? I suppose I do.” My wife shook her head at me.

My name is Andrew and I am an over researcher.

My affliction isn’t confined to my studies, now discontinued, it overflows into the workplace and most recently into my writing. I’m insatiably curious. My excuse, as was said to me is “But I want to know everything.”

What I don’t do is approach a topic seeking facts to satisfy a decided point of view. I can’t actually. I do have a question that needs answering. But I don’t know all the answers, even when I’m finished.

Which means the strangest things happen to me when I take this journey.

As happened when I entered the NYC Midnight Short Story competition. I was one of 3000 writers who compete in three rounds. Each writer is placed in a heat, allocated a  word limit, a period, a topic, a genre and a character. The first round required a 2500 word story in a week, then 2000 words in 3 days, then 1500 words in 24 hours. The winner was Sarah Martin’s The Undertaker. It is a gorgeous and touching story.

My first round genre was historical fiction, my character a Train Conductor and my topic was a Bushfire. I was daunted. I have never written historical fiction before. What I do know as described by Natasha Lester, author of A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald, was that it required immense and accurate research.

Not really knowing where to start, I choose an Australian angle. Surely, in a vast country, often riven with bushfires, spanned by an extensive rail network, surely there would be such a story. Surely the 1977 Blue Mountains bushfires would have such an incident. I found much about how bushfires are fought, how the technology has changed and how the railways do deal with bushfires. Surely not.

My searches kept turned up another disaster, the Great Hinckley Fire of 1894. I ignored that. I didn’t want to write about that. Meanwhile the days dripped away. But I found nothing that could start a story. My over research was now becoming an over reach.

With only a few days left, I surrendered. And found my story. In fact, two stories. One was the well-known one of  the Canadian engineer James Root and how he led a rescue train to safety. The conductor, I felt, only had a peripheral involvement. The second story is more obscure involving a rescue under the supervision of a train conductor named Powers.

Finally! I had found what I was looking for. But I had not yet completed my journey.

Then I became immersed in this story. The newspaper reports, several books and a chronicle written afterwards detailed an apocalyptic horror. The fire, or rather fires, were too extensive and fast to fight or flee. There are stories of impossible survival, people sheltering in ponds, creeks and cellars and pure tragedy where people standing side by side survived or died. Clearly, there are many, many stories that can be told of this event.

Mine went like this.

Hinckley in Minnesota was a logging town and the junction of  two railways. After two months of drought, September 1, 1894, was a hot and oppressive day. While fires were common due to thoughtless forestry practices,  a temperature inversion (cold air above hot air), resulted in two major fires becoming a firestorm. Ultimately, the town itself and a large area burnt until the fire stopped.

James Root’s train was approaching the town and had to turn back, picking up survivors until they reversed to safety. Unfortunately, not everyone survived. Powers, however, was the conductor of a train that was trapped in Hinckley when the fire struck. They couldn’t leave. Their route out was blocked by a recently arrived goods train. A decision was made to join the two trains together and flee the town. As they began, buildings and house started exploding around them. They waited, then took as many people as they could. They then backed the train at speed through the fire. They picked up survivors as they ultimately crossed a burning trestle bridge to safety.

The Suicide Express

The Suicide Express (from https://westerntrips.blogspot.com.au/2011/06/hinckley-minnesota-1894-fire-with-no.html)

That was my story. I detested it.  I had written a third-person newspaper report summary. This happened, then that happened, Powers did this, his crew did that and they made it to safety. Yes it was a story. But all the while another story was unfolding itself to me. I just was refusing to listen to it. The deadline drew nearer. I started to despair. It looked like the story would not be submitted.

I thought about my dilemma. I then looked for what surprised me. It was the incredibly strong religious beliefs of both the immigrants (mainly Scandinavian) and the first settlers. The Native Americans’ stories sadly weren’t chronicled in much detail. In recounting the disaster, every person described it in apocalyptic terms using Nordic or Christian metaphors. So often people described the fire as appearing from nowhere rather than approaching from any distance. My over-research was about to become useful.

For it was then that the story revealed itself to me. Through Power’s eyes, this would be the end of the world exactly as described from the pulpit and the Bible. And worse, he had delayed the departure of the train to gather more stragglers. And his point of decision was at the burning trestle bridge.  And it only had immediacy if I wrote it in first person.

Fifty minutes later it was written.

The story didn’t go beyond the first round. However, the judges’ feedback was deeply appreciated. And I had learnt immensely.

Here is the Great Blow.

My name is Andrew and I am an over-researcher. I’m also a curious and reflective one.

 

 

 

 

Drenching Human Sheep

“All rise!” The Court Clerk brayed in a tone of bored authority. The words echoed and then died against the wooden paneling.

There was a pause. The door to the left opened. A short bobbing woman entered robed and wigged even though convention didn’t demand it anymore.  The pause followed her and held its breath.

There was a scraping and shuffling as lawyers, defendants, witnesses and audience rose. And bowed their heads. The judge sat down, her head hovering over the bench above. She feathered her hand at the crowd. With a more respectful scraping and shuffling now, all resumed our seats.

“Even to its practitioners, there are things about anaesthesia that remain a mystery – such as – where exactly it fits in the spectrum of consciousness.”

Thirty seconds in and he was already uncomfortable. He started to shake his head slowly from side to side. His hands were no where to be seen. Like children of a past generation, he was seen and not heard. Short, shorter than the judge by a half head, he bowed his head over the stand in boredom. All that could be seen was a brown shiny bald patch circled by a patch of hair. In another life, he would be bowed over a pew at prayer, held to a vow of silence.

“A state of general anaesthetia is not rendered not by a single drug but by a lights-out cocktail.”

“We don’t care for such pseudo-academic twaddle,” the anaesthetist growled.

“We put people under, hold them under and then bring them back. It’s a simple occupation really. You’re making it far too complicated.”

Unbidden, unusual and unhelpful even if he was being tasked with giving expert testimony. Which in fact he wasn’t. Especially considering this was a coronial inquest.

“Yes, they’re all a secret society, even when I put them on the stand as expert witnesses,” thought the cross examining lawyer in exasperation. But he set aside those thoughts as well as the academic treatise he was reading.  Unlike his interlocutor, the lawyer was grey of hair and of skin too, tall and spare with an economy of movement that belied his age. Only the twisted folds of skin under his chin marked him as ten years later than he looked.

“What about accidental awareness?” his soft voice filled the courtroom.
The anaesthetist stirred. His face peered over the edge of the witness box, red cheeks, centred by the pasty nose of the heavy drinker or worse topped by two monstrous eyebrows.

“It happens,” he said impatiently. “But you make it far more serious than the situation warrants. We monitor the patient closely. We take the action required. Like I said, yesterday,” he drawled with emphasis,”we’re not surgeons. More like farmers,” his tight mouth fluttering at his joke,”drenching sheep. It’s really straightforward, nothing to worry about.”

His voice now which was a dull monotone, more suited to calling out blood pressure, respiration, pulse and blood gases now was a bellow.

“Yes I can see why now. How all those nurses and junior doctors complained. Yes I can see too why he kept being exonerated, without even a reprimand, all those complaints dismissed as mere professional differences rather than personal ones. Sheep dip indeed.”

The anaesthetist didn’t react to the lawyer’s unspoken thoughts. Had they been spoken, his clever counsel would have interjected anyway and dismissed them as irrelevant. But clearly too, he hadn’t been fully briefed.

“What if there’s a incident?”, the cross examination continued.

“We’ve procedures in place. Should it happen,” he said gruffly.

“Thank you for your testimony,” the lawyer concluded. The anaesthetist shrugged, relaxed and almost smiled as he stretched back in his chair waiting for the judge to discharge him.

The silence at first inviting and expectant, continued. For the lawyer was still standing.

The lawyer paused and continued,”Your testimony regarding the science of anaesthetisia.”

Then he intoned, “Now I want to walk you through the incident at hand, the incident that happened on the 28th December, the night of the emergency.”

“What?” He growled. The eyebrows fluttered in time with his silent mouth as he sought his lawyer. But she crossed her legs and folded her arms. And avoided his eye.

“I answered that fully and frankly in my statement tendered to the court.”

“Yes he is his own lawyer! And his counsel knows it!! He’s had enough experience too!” the cross examiner nearly laughed to himself. But his task now required complete absence of all expression: the perfect listener!

“Indeed that is perfectly true,” the lawyer countered. “But the court wishes to hear your story in your own words for the record.”

“It’s all in my statement. There’s nothing to tell. I anaesthetised a patient that died during the subsequent surgery.” Another lost look at the defence lawyer.

“You knew she was dying.”

“No. Her vital signs were all falling. BP dropping, pulse down,breathing shallow, blunt trauma and she had lost a lot of blood.”

“That’s correct and that’s in accordance with the medical records tendered. However, according to Accident and Emergency, she had been stabilised, prepped and ready for surgery.”

“No, not from where I stand.” Came the reply.

“She had deteriorated before you administered the first part of the anaesthetic,” the lawyer continued.

“Yes.”
Then the lawyer stood and unwound himself to his full height.

“Why didn’t you call it? Why didn’t you at that stage abort the operation?”

“Why did you administer the second part of the anaesthetic?”

“I put it to you that without authorisation you carried out an act of involuntary euthanasia on a dying patient.”

“Just like drenching human sheep,” came the reply.

The Last Selfie

The last moments are the scariest, he thought. As he had been told. Apparently you first bob like a cork. Then you are swamped. Then you stretch your arms out to push yourself out of the water. And giving up, your arms and legs climb upward. Then downward. Thus overloaded you sink to the bottom faster than an anchor. So much time to contemplate, he thought.

The wave had already broken and the spray filled the sky. So much power, so much grace, how fortunate to witness. He reached for his phone. But there was no coverage. There’s no one to tell it to now. No photo, no text, could he break into the internet using his thoughts? But there, there was so much bile, cat videos, fake news that would overwhelm his story. Although it might go viral he thought, the last selfie of a drowning man. The channel between him and the point was now frothing green and white. Apparently once you sink to the bottom, it’s like falling asleep and drifting off. He really was annoyed now. He was never going to get his few seconds of fame on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram now. He looked and now the trough was full and flowing towards him. And then the water started building up again. He looked up and saw the spray over arch him again.
A second wave. He assembled the new facts of his predicament with studied detachment resolving to record and relate it for another time. The wave fell and crushed him silent.

Baby Crush

A bald head crowned by a few curls peeks out. Two eyes large and watchful wait and see what I might do.

I’m not moving. I stand silent. I’m a daddy statue.

Tiny hands cover her eyes. She tries to catch my gaze.

No way. I’m having no part of it. Not yet.

She opens them. She peeks carefully at me. Then covers herself with the blanket.

“Peep bo!” The blanket speaks.

That’s my moment. My eyes close. Although I keep the good one only an eighth open. Enough to cheat. Enough not to get caught.

Each time she closes her eyes, I open mine. Each time I see her open her eyes, I close mine!

Blanket on. “Peep bo!”
Blanket off. Blanket on. “Peep bo!”
Blanket off. “Peep Bo!”

“Peep bo!” I say again. Before the blanket went on.

I chuckle as the blanket giggles and rolls on the floor. Then smile at her laughter while she wriggles her way out. Usually she beats me to it. Then as she unwravels…

“Peep Bo!” She got me that time.

The blanket again wraps itself up. It giggles and rolls on the floor. Then she crawls out. And stands a little taller than this morning. Now her jumpsuit is too small for her. But that’s no matter now.

Two arms stretch to the sky. She starts to waggle her fingers. Twinkle twinkle? Yes i’m happy to sing that with her. But no peeking. Otherwise she’ll catch me lip syncing.

Then she stops stock still.

No. I was lucky there. Then not so lucky.

“Jump game.”

Oh no! Daddy workout time.

Arms stretch high. “As high as the sky.”

I squat down. I waddle towards her. I put my shoulders under her arms. Then my hands around her waist.

I lift her up. Until her head is level with mine. Her eyes are already laughing. Daddy’s doing the heavy lifting now.

I stand up and throw her high into the air.

Giggles, then laughter.

I stop just before I let her go. I’m not a dad, I’m an astronaut trainer. Besides she’ll never get vertigo from me!

“Again. High as the sky.”

More deep squats. More overhead presses. My knees ache. My shoulders sing. I sneak a glance at my burden.

She’s frozen in time!! One arm up, one arm out, frozen in a ballet pose.

Carefully I shift her to my stronger arm. I lean forward, most weight pushed backward and draw back the coverlet, sheet and blanket. Then i place her in her bed as if one false move would be the last. She slumps flaccid in her bed. I cover her up. I start to lightly leave…

Her hand finds my finger. And crushes it. I hold my breath. I listen to her breath slow and deep measuring eternity one second at a time.

Captured By An Audience

You never really wanted to go out there. You’re outnumbered for one thing. You know that any false move in front of them will be the last and final one. You’re thinking that the light is too bright, your  voice will be too soft, your tread too heavy, your stance too awkward. You’re really scared to death, deep down. You don’t know why what starts you on those first steps out there. You shuffle tentatively at first. Then you’re puzzled as to why you then confidently stride forth. It’s as if you’re already a success. Like you’ve already been applauded and called back for more. And then you meet.

 

You’re all alone, just you and them. You never expected them to listen, even for a moment. You start as you always do. You focus on relaxing yourself. Or you’re trying to look relaxed. Or acting as if you already are. But now you don’t have time to be confused. You’re already speaking. And listening to your tone, your rhythm, your timbre and your breath.  For it’s as if to your great relief, at the very last moment, someone far more confident than you’ll ever be has stood in for you. And saved you. And for that you silently give great thanks.

 

But in all of that you kept on speaking. And you never think that ten seconds in, they’re looking you in the eye. And that after eleven seconds, you can look straight back at them. And that after thirty seconds in, they’ve stopped fidgeting, all of them. You watch extra carefully and realise you’ve never seen so many people sit so still for so long, ever. You start to become aware that perhaps these people may have started to listen to you. You’d never think that there could be such a thing as an inviting silence. And you’re in it,far too involved now to realise how rare and precious is the privilege they have extended to you. And you meditate upon that and think perhaps you really do have something far more to say than your trite rehearsals. And you keep on speaking amazed and astonished.

But you were waiting for the whisper, the voice too loud, just  enough that will silence you and your words forever. But it never speaks. It is struck silent by the silence.  It never speaks because there’s nothing for it to say. Yet you say it just the way you’ve said it before. And in the reality, it’s better than you’ve ever heard. You never think the pause for breath, which seemed in practice so short and now is an everlasting chasm of time, is perfect comic timing.  You make the joke that you’ve heard far too many times before. You know they’ve heard it for the first time. As now do you.

 

You find yourself unexpectedly relaxing and experiencing that joy of the endless moment. And you’re left wondering why you ever were afraid in the first place!

The Glass Slipper (4) : She Met Me First

It was too dark to film in the pre-dawn twilight. And too hazardous to set up cameras and lights. Or send over their dumb drone in case it crashed and couldn’t be retrieved.

Occasionally, rarely, reality TV did have its benefits and now was one of them. Lonely at last, I thought. But, of course, only for a short moment. For I had to be back ready for the the morning feature. Me splitting wood bare chested (ugh!) for my fans.
I crept softly and slowly still hidden in the night. My torch picked out the sleeping shapes of cows not yet interested in me or milking just yet. Blades of grass reflected their sheen much like shards of green glass. And then the dark swallowed my light. For I had stopped at what looked like a fallen wall.
The last trees I had cleared.  I had left those broken remnants to season and dry. And now I was sawing them into logs and later kindling for the winter. And to boost my sagging ratings.
Behind me in the grey twilight, I could faintly see the camera crew near the house. They were trying to keep warm like ghostly puppets that were losing their strings.

But my work was in front of me, the latest pile of logs. I squatted, bent down, leant forward and drew each log into my arms. Once filled, I slowly stood up and started my trek back to the house.
Still, like the twilight, the other inhabitants paid me no attention. They’d wake soon and the routine would begin. Another day in the life
of “Down on The Farm” : the spun (and slowly unravelling) spin-off show. Featuring the recently separated husband of everyone’s favourite reality star, Ella who was doing I don’t know what.

I stopped.  I thought I saw something. But it was too dark. There is was again. Behind me, I saw a glimpse of curls, followed by a giggle.

“I’ll catch you,” I thought carelessly. I turned ponderously to follow. “Looks like she’s run around me,” I thought again. I finished my sedate circle. Nothing. I couldn’t see or hear anything. I kept on.

Surprised by my thoughts, I said to myself, “It’s nothing,just your imagination running wild in the wild.”
To keep my load steady, I stopped and crouched slightly. I raised left arm and then right and the logs in my arms settled heavily and made a pile yet again. I trailed my way back towards the house. It was still cool and grey and I was a shadow in the twilight. I saw the green roof turn olive-grey in the approaching dawn. The water tanks : squat and silver like oversize 44 gallon drums.
I trudged slowly. As far as I was concerned I had all day. But in the morning silence, I heard the whisper of a smile again, sent to me on the breeze. “A voice too young yet to laugh.”

I stopped again. I took small goose steps as I rotated trying to see the source of my audio dream. I didn’t want to drop my load yet. Still nothing. But something, it must be something. Perhaps…
There it was again. A whisper, now a laugh, curls and a glimpse of a cornflower dress.
To confound my pursuer, I stopped again and turned the other away.
“She’s quicker than me,” I thought carelessly. “Or will be.”
Ignoring the watchers, who had set up camera and microphone, I reached the woodpile and bowed down : a supplicant making his latest humble offering. I threw my arms forward and stepped back in reverential awe. A clump of logs flew forward, thudding and clunking as they hit the altar. Now for the fun part. I took off my shirt and threw it carelessly away. They’d like that, I knew. Apparently it was worth 20 points each time on the ratings.
Next to the stump was my favourite weapon of destruction. A green triangular headed wood splitter. I balanced it in my hands like I was buying a rifle. The head and handle were still smooth yet to be scarred by combat. That would be years I thought. And I had years now. I waited and felt the presence. A watcher ready to ask me a direct question. But she had years too. I heard the camera crew shuffle nervously, as they moved to keep me in view.
Even though the log pile was just the right height, I still leaned down, forward and across. I picked up log number one. I took its weight, squatted and placed it on the stump. Grey silver bark, wood core like cracked ochre. This one had finally seasoned.
I reached down to take the splitter again.
“And how long does it take to season?”
“As long as it takes,” I replied to myself (I thought). I looked up and around. The crew were motionless. They hadn’t seen or heard anything. Otherwise they would ask for another shot.
So I stilled myself, ignored the voice in my head and swung the splitter. Back above my head. I cocked my wrists and swung it just above the small of my back. I waited until it was just about to fall backwards and have no weight at all.
Like the string holding the arrow, I let go, timing turned into power. I struck wood, felt nothing except the tip tapping the stump. “No effort required,” I thought. Turning logs into kindling is the easiest part. Sure beats cutting down trees and sawing up logs. The dark held its breath and watched silently.

Except it wasn’t the dark.
Two more swings. The rest of log number one split into five pieces. I kicked the kindling away. That one done, I began again. Then I stopped. Someone was still watching me. It wasn’t the cameras. Being watched by them was like being stared at and then ignored as uninteresting.

No I was being observed. Closely and carefully. But not uncomfortably.
This time, I slipped and dropped the splitter mid swing. I turned right then left to catch whoever it was unawares. I saw nothing.
I felt her peer over my shoulder as I fell into the rhythm again. Pick up log, balance, pick up splitter, balance, pull back, let go, split log, split, split and kick kindling. Occasionally, I missed the mark, self-consciously. I would have to repeat the blow. Occasionally, too, I knocked the log over instead of straddling it. And steadfastly, I kept ignoring her.
And in the silence, her presence grew in my mind. I could see her curls, and hear her voice, even when she said nothing. I felt her read my thoughts, turn them over in her mind and read them back to me with another question. And slowly, the dawn crept through and the day began.
Much like the parent I wasn’t and had no intention of being, I more and more hoped that she would go away. Every so often, I would turn around to say it out loud. But I was deterred by the media presence.

I forced myself silent. I knew I would be thought mad muttering to myself in the middle of the bush away from my estranged wife.
And every single time I looked for her, she wasn’t there. She was enjoying this game I knew. She knew where I would move and what I would say before I did it.  I senses that this knowledge would not be used maliciously, however, rather playfully and ultimately patiently. For she knew that I would come around. Every so often I would hear a giggle and then a stifled laugh. I knew that she knew. As she knew I knew.
“Who is she? A haunting?” I had heard stories like this. Lost children haunting the place where they had died, waiting for their parents to return. But at dawn? In front of witnesses?
I stopped splitting and looked across at the crew.
“What’s happening?” I asked. No-one replied. “See anything this morning?”
No reply, neither nod nor shake of the head. Maybe they haven’t seen anything. If they had they weren’t saying, they were professional like that. Besides I knew these questions would be edited out.
I still sensed her listening to me. Much like the child I really was, I decided to scrunch the bed covers over my face, hold them close and feign sleep until she left me. I really hoped that she would slip away and find something else to take her attention, as little girls are supposed to do. Well, as far as I knew anyway.
I continued. Pick up log, set it on the stump, scythe the splitter through wood and hope for sparks,  kick the kindling away, dodge the odd shower of splinters, the rhythm continuous and all-encompassing despite the warming day and its hardening light.
In the silence between logs, I finally took my chance.

“Are you a fairy? A tree-nymph? A gumnut baby fleeing the evil banksia men?” The smile whispered into a giggle, then she laughed. At her giggle.
And while she looked over my shoulder, she beckoned the silence with more questions. “Who are you?” I asked (silently) in exasperation.

Her reply was familiar. “Why are you chopping wood here?”

“Instead of elsewhere,” was the implied thought I heard.

“Instead of where you’re supposed to be,” she thought at me finally.
I sensed that she was patient. And insistent. She knew I would answer her questions eventually. She seemed to have years to wait.
The sunrise rose above the green roof. And with it, the cold post-sunrise breeze washed over me like ice water. And then I knew where I was supposed to be and why.
I said, “Ella doesn’t want me anymore. I’m not in a fairy-tale anymore.”
But still her silence called to mine. She reached forward to take my hand.
I knew that I could send her away. But she would keep returning until I returned to her now pregnant mother.
The cameras kept rolling as I carried the kindling up to the house.

I Can Talk To Strangers

I like to talk to strangers. It’s fun. But my mum and dad don’t like it. They told me not to.

When I asked why, they said bad things could happen to me. When I asked what the bad things they wouldn’t tell me.

I didn’t like that. I kept doing it. They kept stopping me.

Then I found out how smart my mum and dad are. Everybody still tells me not to talk to strangers. Well almost everybody. Mum and Dad stopped telling me.

I still talk to strangers. I still like it. Strangers say funny things. I ask them questions. Sometimes they tell me stories.

Sometimes my mum and dad laugh too. When I’m grown up I’ll know how to talk to strangers when mum and dad aren’t around.

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