Friday 31 May 2013

One Fateful Day

A short story by Adina West

Perhaps this was the moment my mother feared would come to pass when she wept against my shoulder the day I boarded ship and we set sail from Bristol. Perhaps she could see the danger in such youth as mine, and in a face that was as innocent as it was fair.
The crew I joined were kind, and accepted me without question. Our captain was a godly man, and I can say with certainty that no man on board that vessel ever made a move or gave a glance in my direction that was in any way untoward.  But my time of grace couldn’t last.
The fateful day things changed, I faced a truth about myself. I realised that I was not merely younger and softer than the men I had worked alongside these past months, but less brave too. I knew myself for the greatest coward that ever breathed, as the last burst of cannon fire rocked our ship, and the clatter of grappling hooks filled the awful silence, for I hid behind a coil of hemp rope and an empty barrel amidship. I did nothing but watch in frozen terror as men came swarming over the side and our bosun’s hoarse cry of warning was cut short by a vicious sabre thrust.
Almost immediately, I was discovered. Wedged in my rough woven prison, with hard board digging into my tailbone and spine, there was no possibility of escape. All around was the ring and hiss of metal blades as they slid and danced in battle; the shouts and screams and rattling final breaths of my fellow crewmen as they fell, one by one. But they seemed to fade away as I looked up at the weathered face above me. My heart stuttered, and my blood chilled. There was no hope to be had here, no kindness in the dark eyes that held mine. This was no man of mercy, no saviour or benefactor. Leading a crew of renegades and murderers like his called for a hardness, a calculating coldness that I’d never in my sheltered life met with before, and this man looked to be hard to his pirate core.
I shivered, and for the barest fragment of a moment there was something…something that softened those firm lips and brought an assessing gleam to dark eyes. And then nothing. Coldness again.
My attention was torn toward the staggering gait of Mr Blunt, our Mate, passing my hiding place as he stumbled aft bearing nothing but a shipwright’s axe with which to defend himself. Blood streamed from a head wound, and he collapsed to his knees only feet away.
My eyes returned to the pirate captain looking silently down at me. He paid no attention to the wounded man; took no notice as one of his own men ran past, and dispatched our ship’s Mate with a savage-looking cutlass and a blood-curdling cry.
The attacker turned, breathless and exultant in victory, and took in my cowering form and the man standing over me in a single glance. A flicker of emotion crossed his face. Was it understanding? Pity? “Cap’n,” he said with a respectful nod, and strode off to rejoin the battle.
The pirate captain had a sword in the scabbard at his hip, though he showed no sign of drawing it. Still, I could not help glancing in that direction. Why did he merely stand there, blocking my escape? Why did I still live?
“Do you…do you mean to kill me, too?” My voice was a whisper, a breathless shadow, my body as stiff and unmoving as the wood at my back. My eyes darted to his face once more. The signs of a hard life were marked on its planes and contours, but he was handsome too, with that faint smile curling his lips. His must have been a life filled with barbarism and cruelty, for a man did not last long in a buccaneer’s world without such traits. But at this moment, as he saw the fear etched into my still features, his gaze gentled. There was a strange light in his eyes, and I wondered if he was capable of kindness.
“I have another use for you,” was all he said.
The battle was soon won. The outcome, in truth, had never been in doubt. The clanging of swords and screams of anguish faded, to be replaced with a sickly silence. And then began the calls to and fro, as the pirate crew moved the bodies of the dead aside to clear a path to the hold, and began to remove everything of value in our cargo. Once emptied, our ship, my home for more than five months, was readied for scuttling. My belongings may have been meagre, but they were all I had. Soon, they would be at the bottom of the ocean, together with the bodies of many a man I had called friend.
The pirate crew skirted around our silent tableau as they worked, with a glance or a nod for their captain. And my terror steadily grew. Men I had laughed with, men who had treated me with kindness lay where they’d fallen, or were pushed against the railings, limbs askew. But I had been spared. My pretty face, my soft skin and my youth, had saved me. But for what fate?
Those dark eyes still played across my face in seeming fascination, as if this pirate king had not expected to find one such as I on board ship, and was wondering at his good fortune. I have no doubt he read in my eyes both my weakness and my fear, for he reached out to me with a hand that was long-fingered and strangely elegant. He smoothed his thumb across my chin, nudged my cheek with his knuckles.
“Fear will only make it worse,” he said softly.
“Cap’n?” came the call at last, and he turned away, to where a swarthy man with arms as thick as my thighs stood waiting by the foremast. “We’re ready to sink ‘er.”
He nodded once, a silent acknowledgement, and then swung back to me. He held out his hand, but I, mistrustful, would not reach out to him. He then reached for me, plucking me from my place of failed concealment with hands that I could have no doubt knew how to wield a sword, how to strangle a man in combat. Hands that on me, were firm and strong, but surprisingly gentle.
“Come,” he said. “There’s nothing here for you now, boy.”

All rights reserved. Please do not copy or republish in any way without the express permission of the author.

About the author
Adina West is the Sydney-based author of the Dark Child digital serial and Dark Child Omnibus. You can find her lurking online at the following places.

Thursday 30 May 2013

Captain of Industry

by David Stevens

Slam!, and he was on the floor, clutching his head, overwhelmed.

At the same time, he was standing, thrusting upwards with a great shard of perspex, a handy sabre grabbed from the rubbish strewn across the squat.

Felt the press of humanity, the closeness of so many bodies, their stink, the smells of cooking flesh pressed down by the low ceilings, the psychic shock of change to a mind not admitting to the first flush of middle age.

Simultaneously he was alone with the stinking fat bastard.  Ducked, weaved, feinted, then he slashed, and watched as the man looked down with disbelief at the contents of his gut discharging, the purple and grey slippage making its way down his front.  Felt the tremor along the plastic.  Don’t believe it, then.  Makes no difference.  This is where it all ends, an eleven year old boy sending you into the darkness.  A thought crosses the face, the eyes change, but before the man can yell and bring death swarming upon the boy, his throat is torn out, and the boy is down his rat hole.

Where did that come from?  The man stands as though he had never fallen.  His face shows no turmoil, no sign of confusion from his sudden fall, no emotion at living again his first kill.  Brushes his knees, shoots his cuffs and strolls on like he owns the place.  He doesn’t, but he owns so many places he is used to it.

Chinese faces everywhere, so different to the multi-racial slum he grew up in.  He didn’t care.  There was money to be made in Shanghai. Always money in a port city.

He scanned the scene about him as he walked.  No disturbance, everyone going about their business.  No signs of violence, no sounds of shots.  But there was something very wrong.  He was alone.

How had he fallen behind?  How had his men pulled ahead?  He wasn’t part of a crowd.  He owned a crowd.  They were all there to serve him.  He didn’t get forgotten. 

So many people.  He had said it to Chen.  “You’re crazy.  What does China need with extra people?”

Chen had done his angry head shake, like everyone was a fool, trying to annoy him.  He was fun to bait.  None of it was real.  Nothing from the depths reached the surface in either man.

“You know the old stories about labourers dragging ships, swarms of them like ants?  I don’t want them, I want boat designers and captains and technicians.  I want the right tools for the job, not interchangeable ants.”

“Look at them Chen.  They’re like ghosts.  White people like brown servants.  They like little caramel people cleaning up their shit.”

Chen dismissed him with a wave.  “Colour I can change.  They are like Monsanto stock.  People want clean.  Free from disease.  TB resistant.  Servants are just a tiny part.  This is the future.  We don’t need robots or AIs if we can impress skill and talent.  Take a servile personality, and graft on stolen skills and knowledge, in a strong GM body.  Knowledge does not have to die.”

“Where do you get the root personality?”

Chen laughed, a deep rumble from a large chest.  “Google.  The trucks they send around for the ground view of the maps.  They copied and digitised a lot more than they knew in the back blocks of India, Eastern Europe.  When it gets out, google trucks will be as popular as polio vaccinators in Pakistan.”

“So what do you want me for?”

“This is huge.  I need partners in other countries.  People smuggling.  Visa rackets.  We need to get the stock rolling.”

I’ll think about it.  Don’t call me, I’ll call you.  It’s a pipe dream Chen , but I’ll give it to you, when you dream, you dream big.  Stock phrases flowed out as he left, while yuan signs were rolling behind his eyes.  Chen was right, this was huge.

“And don’t fool yourself my friend.  Everyone likes seeing white people cleaning their shit.  Until now, mostly they could not afford it.”

He strode on.  His men could not be far ahead.

When the jihadists had beheaded President Clinton and her cabinet, he had not understood the reaction of an English industrialist, watching the newsfeed as their conference was interrupted.  “How could they?”  the man kept wondering, bewildered.  He knew the man was not referring to their audacity, or the reprisals that would follow, or what the man no doubt perceived as the awfulness of the deed.  (Impressed despite himself, his main reaction had been, how bad for business.)  He had been saved from his confusion when a crass Australian caused an uproar when he remarked “That’s a pity, I’ve always been a Chelsea supporter”. 

Only later did he realise the remark was directed at the physicality, at the brute action.  He had realised again his advantage, that his competitors were not men who had spent their childhoods beheading beasts and cracking open carcasses.  If you had spent years drawing blades across throats and severing spines, the only question was the appropriateness, not whether you could do the deed.

They could not be far ahead.  There -  he caught a glimpse of Randall’s shock of red hair.

Something was wrong.  He could smell his mother.  The scent of her burning, her uncoffined body on the pyre.  Though he reeled inside from these memories, he did not break his stride.  The stink of burning flesh and scrounged broken furniture, didn't that signify something?  What was that a sign of?  A stroke or cyanide poisoning?  Bitter almonds or burned pencil shavings.  Didn’t matter.  He forced the random thoughts away.  Something was very wrong.
That was when they came at him.

He killed the first man in an instant.  Reacted to him as he sprang.  He ducked, lifted his shoulder, grabbed the man’s head, and with a pop separated the vertebrae.  The man lay still, front down, face staring at the ceiling.

Acceleration was instant.  He ran towards his body guards.

He froze.  Chen had been right about the colour.

He watched himself walk away in the middle of his entourage, saw himself as no mirror had ever shown.  Peacock jacket.  Wrap round neck ruffles.  Crush orange hat.  His clothes duplicated.  Though he could not see them, no doubt they had got it right, right down to his ostrich leather boots.  A tenth of a second to admire himself, then he wondered how they had done it.  Had they got to his stylist?  He thought about where he was.  There’d be someone in this complex who could knock up a duplicate of any garment in 15 minutes.

Chen had copied him.  Spliced him with some serf personality and set him loose, easily dominated.  Chen ready to run the empire he had built, by remote control. 

Yet he had escaped.  He couldn’t be kept back.  Their plan had failed.  The second man reached him, and had his arm dislocated, his cheekbone crushed, but he would live.  Then the third, whose hand would never work properly again.  He ran.  He would catch them, see this usurper face to face.

The seventh, eighth and ninth held him.  He assessed the situation, and relaxed, stopped wasting energy.  They dragged him back.  He had escaped once (though he could not remember how), he would do it again.

The tailor’s.  The tailor himself standing at the front of the stall, watching the excitement as they dragged him by.  Perhaps the very one who had duplicated his clothes.  The full length mirror at the front of the shop.  Not placed there by accident.  He saw the reflection of his face, emotionless, giving his enemy nothing.  His fish white face, translucent jelly features.  The veins almost showing through.  Watched the face change.  Recognition.  Understanding.  Dismay.


He collapsed into their arms, all resistance gone. 

Not even real.

There had been no escape.  They had just let him out on a stroll.  Gave him hope in order to dash him when they took it away.  Set him up so that he could see exactly what he was.  Showed him precisely how much control they had, the risks they could take without fear.

Dragged like a dead weight through hidden utility doors, into the centre of the building, away from windows.  The core that was the real point of everything around it.  Pulled across a gangplank into the tower that stood separate from the rest of the construction, hidden from view by a real building that existed only to camouflage.  The walkway receded after him, leaving a moat of air forty storeys deep.

He was the copy.  A model, a tool for problem solving.  They’d use him to keep a step ahead in negotiations with the “real” him.  Test out strategies, see how he responded.  Role plays.  Work shops.

He was not grafted onto any peasant stock.  There was no servility bred into him.  It would skew their results.  He felt the strength inside.  He was an important investment.  They had copied him into a premium body.

His face gave out the hopelessness they sought, that they had predicted.  He was totally theirs.  They had broken him.

Morons.  Idiots.  His pirated personality, implanted into a premium body. 

He had no intention of escaping.  He wasn’t going anywhere.

Fucked if he wouldn’t be running this place within a month.

The Pirate at Dusk

By Hannah Begg.

Darkness was falling
. Bats swooped high overhead; the water was beginning to fade from a clear, welcoming colour to a dark, quiet shade of mystery.

She crept forward, careful to stay hidden behind the twisted branches, her gaze never leaving the spot in the distance where the river turned the corner and disappeared from view. As the sun dropped further from the sky, and the cicadas began to sing into the night, she waited.

With steady, sweeping movements, the man appeared in the distance, slowly moving across the surface of the water, balancing precariously on the small wooden raft. In complete silence, the long paddle sliced through the water’s glass-like surface; an almost invisible ripple of water shimmered behind him for a moment before disappearing, leaving no trace of the path being created. She let out a sigh of relief and her muscles relaxed; she smiled as she watched the figure move silently down the river.

To her own surprise, as each day passed, she found herself creeping closer and closer to the water’s edge; her curiosity grew more and more each time she saw the man appear in the distance, paddling slowly down the river. Now, every afternoon, she’d creep to the water’s edge with an increasingly hopeful anticipation, waiting for the moment when he would appear in the distance and drift silently past...

Originally, she had come here to escape. Once upon a time, the occasional bruising around her eyes had been easily explained away as clumsiness, accidents, faults of her own. But once they became an almost daily occurrence, and the lies poured from her mouth thick and fast in an attempt to dissuade those around her from acting on instinct, she realised it had gone on for too long. Terrified that she might not survive another beating from her merciless partner, she fled.

The small, dark cottage she’d stumbled across had initially been somewhere to sleep, cry, and hide. Every small sound from outside made her freeze, fear shooting through her veins, sure she had been hunted down and was about to face a horrifying, violent death. But, as the weeks went by, her terror gradually eased, and she found herself peering out the dusty windows, curious about her surroundings. Hiding from the rest of the world, she began eating berries and fruits that hung heavy from thick vines outside the windows. Using a splintered broom she found behind a creaking door, she began sweeping the cobwebs and dirt from the bare concrete floor; finding a small cloth beneath the ancient sink, she scrubbed every surface until it shone. Months passed; the sun rose each morning on a gentle transformation - an old, abandoned shell made of timber and brick was soon something warm and clean, full of hope and optimism.

Shivering as the night took hold, she continued to watch the man drift by. Smiling, she remembered the first time she had seen him. Collecting water in a small bucket, his sudden appearance in the distance had made her blood run cold; dropping the bucket and stumbling backwards, she had run as fast as she could, tearing her clothes and skin on thorns and branches as she blindly ran for the safety of her small home.

Now she sat each evening, waiting, watching, imagining what wild, wonderful, vivid possibilities might account for his presence; adventures he might be embarking on - nightmares he may be running from...

He’s a pirate, depositing another bag of stolen treasure into an underground bunker further down the river, guarded by gremlins and warlocks.

He’s a widow who lost his wife and his mind in a shipwreck, and now sails oceans and rivers in search of her ghost.

He’s visiting the unmarked grave of a relative he brutally murdered.

She shivered as this last thought crept into her mind.

Suddenly she realised he was looking in her direction. Holding her breath, she stayed still. Slowly, the man lifted the paddle and held it aloft, as if not sure which way to paddle next. Remaining motionless, her heart beat faster, her hands began to tremble. He continued to gaze towards her, and suddenly swept the paddle through the water so the raft spun gently forwards and started to drift in her direction. He approached, the stretch of water getting smaller and smaller. His gaze - deep, dark, endless - was piercing through her soul, slicing through her fear, her breath catching in her throat. Slowly, she stood, and carefully stepped out from behind the branches. She began to move towards the edge of the water. He was now only metres away, gliding gently forwards, his eyes never leaving hers. She caught her breath again as she stepped into the water, the icy chill sending a shock through her legs. The raft drifted closer and he stretched out a hand, reaching for her.

She hesitated. The pieces of her life, her world, her existence, crumbled away and left her standing there, trembling, at the edge of a black and white precipice. To step forwards, she would be leaving behind her tattered existence; she would be releasing her pain and despair and leaping into the unknown, without a fragment of expectation or knowledge about her future.

Smiling, she reached out; her hand slid into his and he lifted her onto the raft. Sweeping the paddle through the water, they moved silently into the night, the riverbank disappearing behind them. The wind was cold on her face; she breathed deeply, and looked forwards, the river stretching endlessly into the night.

Monday 27 May 2013

The Digital Pirate

by Wai Chim. 

The green glow of the screen hummed in the blackness of the room. Numbers and symbols scrolled upwards, spewing nonsense. John gazed on, his eyes vacant, twirling a pair of scissors around his fingers.

There was a bright green flash and a pixelated box rose up and spread out across the monitor. ‘UPLOAD COMPLETE’ it said simply. A wry smile crept across John’s face, first on one side then the other.

‘It worked,’ he murmured. The softness of his voice didn’t quite mask the sense of excitement that was rising in his body. He leaned forward and peered at the screen as the cascading rows of nonsense trickled down to reveal the pleasant blue hue of a desktop screen.

John’s fingers moved swiftly, striking keys with marked precision as he quickly navigated through his options. In and out in two minutes and 13 seconds flat, that was his method. Not a second more or less to avoid arising suspicion. Just long enough for any typical user to log in and open an email program. Or to pull a file from a remote machine. Or in John’s case, just enough time to gain access into the main network and upload his homemade weapon.

It was packed into a neat 25 byte file that would sit harmlessly on the system’s mainframe, copying files a single byte at a time, sending them through the stretches of fibre optic cables that ran under the city’s streets until that single byte of information travelled up the five stories of copper wires and telephone lines and reached John’s personal old school wireless router – still just an N generation as he hadn't bothered to upgrade to the newest model when it was released two months ago. And that single byte of information would be beamed through the airwaves of  his tiny studio and somehow be set into a marked place on his hard drive, like a single wedge of a jigsaw puzzle that went up to millions and trillions of pieces.

It was a simple idea but a complex enough feat that not very many attempted it, which explained why John’s services were in high demand. Companies from all walks of life were willing to pay him hundreds of thousands to break into the rival’s secure server system and draw down top secret files, formulas, schematics, diagrams, mailing lists, customer information - anything that John managed to  get his  hands on. Most of the time, he didn’t really know what sort of loot he would get, whether it was the information equivalent of gold bullion or cheap trinkets, trash and rubbish – but more times than not he managed to plunder something worthwhile enough that his services were retained for another go around.

Two minutes and 13 seconds later, John tapped a final key stroke and the screen went black. Perfect, as usual. Too easy. Sometimes, he wondered about going further, about changing permissions, maybe going into password protected firewalls just to see if he could. But he knew it was too risky and he'd left those amateur hacking days behind. He'd done it all once. Just to show that he could.

It all seemed like a lifetime ago.

A blue bubble bounced eagerly on his screen, interrupting his thoughts. John swallowed and put on a nervous smile as the video screen crackled to life.


The connection was bad, her image staggered but she was still a beauty to behold. He sucked in a breath and she leaned forward towards the screen, her dark silky hair cascading smoothly off her shoulders as she frowned into the lens. ‘Jonathan? Can you hear me?’

‘Yeah, babe.’ His voice cracked and he swallowed and quickly readjusted the camera above his screen. His room was too dark so he was sure she would see nothing more than a grainy green silhouette, nothing like the lightness and beauty that lit up his monitor. ‘I'm here,’ he called out to her.

She laughed a little breathlessly. ‘It looks dark. It's late. You sleep no?’

To his ears, her broken English was musically sweet. It had taken him awhile to get used to her turns of phrase and funny ways of pronouncing words - her 'dark' sounded more like 'dork' at first but he had persevered, every giggle and blush of apology spurring him on. He wanted to encourage her, to lift her to beautiful heights so that she would be ever grateful.

And be his.

‘Not yet babe. I've been working.’ He put a hand out to the screen, yearning to brush the pink cheek that he knew would be soft. ‘How are you? I've missed you.’ It had been almost 5 days since they'd last 'talked' and John had been a little worried that maybe she was really cutting him off this time.
She batted dark eyelashes and glanced down shyly. ‘You so silly boy. You make funny of Natalia.’
‘No, of course not. I'd never make fun of you.’ His heart soared as he did his best to reassure her. She needed that a lot, it seemed, which he was always happy to oblige. ‘I just was worried. That you weren't going to come and see me anymore.’

She dropped her gaze and he could hear a quick sharp inhale of breath.

A cold fear gripped his heart as he leaned forward, his voice raspy, accusing. ‘You’re not coming are you?’ He swallowed the rage that was building up inside, churning a fire in his belly.

She looked into the camera, her eyes wide and frightened. ‘No. Jonathan. I want to come. I want to see you. You believe me no?’

‘I thought we’d settled this. You were going to buy tickets yesterday.’ His hands seized the edges of the monitor as if to tear the image from the screen. ‘I gave you the money. You said you’d go to the travel agent. You promised.’

‘Of course I go!’ her voice rose to a feverish pitch and he could see the blush creeping up her neck in little red splotches. She placed a hand over her throat as if she could sense their presence. ‘I go. I buy ticket yesterday. But,” she hesitated and her head dropped. ‘It’s Papa, Papa is old. He is old. I cannot leave him.’

‘Natalia,’ John’s voice softened. ‘Natalia. You don’t need him. I’ll take care of you. I promise.’
She nodded eagerly. ‘Of course, darling Jonathan, of course. I know, I love you, you love me. We will be very happy together. But Papa, he is alone. Mama, she is gone and Papa is alone. And he has a store. I have to help him run the store. He is too old.’

Natalia’s doe eyes were melancholy, her brow slightly wrinkled and she pouted at the screen. His heart melted. Even though she was adorable like this, all feminine and demure, John realised he would do anything to make her smile.

And then her face brightened and her perfectly shaped eyebrows lifted. ‘Oh Jonathan, I have the best idea.’ Her voice was breathy with excitement as her thoughts took form on her lips. ‘My cousin, Darya, she no work now. She can help Papa at the store when I go. She is a good worker. She work very hard.’

John heaved a sigh of relief. ‘That sounds like a wonderful idea, Natalia. I’m sure your cousin would be happy to help.’

Her nose crinkled. ‘Yes. Yes. Only trouble is, she need money to work but poor Papa cannot pay. He is old and the store not so good but is his life.’ She cocked her head to side, her look playful and wanting as she bit her lower lip, feigning confusion and trouble.

John nodded, used to the game now.  There was only ever one thing in the way. He sighed deeply and heavily at the cute pixelated girl on the screen. ‘Yes, of course. I’ll help her, my dear. I’ll help her.’

Natalia squealed in delight, clasping her hands together and bouncing up and down so that John couldn’t help notice her ‘assets’ strapped in the tight ribbed singlet that she wore. Her eyes were shining as she gazed adoringly into the camera.

‘Oh that is such good, good news. I tell Darya and Papa right away. You send money for her work. Then I come - to Australia!’ She held her arms out to a virtual hug.

John smiled sincerely. ‘I can’t wait, sweetheart. It’ll be magical.’ He brought his fingers up to brush her face again.

Natalia bent over and gave the camera a big sloppy kiss. ‘You are my knight in shiny armour.’

And with her sign off, the screen faded to black. And John smiled to himself as he sat silently in the dark.

Image Credit.

Saturday 25 May 2013

The Pirates

By Emma Legg.

They were known as The Pirates. And if you'd grown up on the estate you knew about them. Not that you'd ever be stupid enough to say their name out loud, you'd have to have a death wish to even mention them in passing conversation. Jono had learnt this at a very early age, when he'd watched a couple of the members break his best mates jaw over some throwaway comment. He'd stood and he'd watched it unfold and he'd said or done nothing and that wasn't the sort of thing you forgot easily. Once, at school when they'd been studying the Second World War, their teacher had read them a poem written by a Pastor who had stood by as the Nazis slowly wiped out their enemies. The last stanza read something like; 'Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me'. Funny how he always thought of that when he remembered that afternoon. There really was no one left to speak for him now, except his mum and dad, and they were useless at best. Nathan had joined the gang soon after, telling him that it was 'kill or be killed' and if you'd spent a month in hospital having your jaw reconstructed Jono supposed you probably would see it that way.  Once Nathan was in it was only a matter of time before the other boys followed, Phil had held out the longest and Jono appreciated that, always more of a follower than a leader, it must of taken him some restraint to say no for so long. Not that you ever really said no to The Pirates, it was far more complex than that, a drawn out perfomance of desperate, floundering avoidance that would ultimately fail.  Jono had it down to an art form, out of the flat before the sun came up and back in before it went down. School was easy, The Pirates weren't exactly A star students so as long as he went to lessons and spent his breaks in the library he was okay. But still, he could see it, in their eyes; the look of the hunter sussing out the prey. An approach was on the cards and once that happened there was no turning back, he'd be in whether he liked it or not. 

It wasn't so much the idea of being part of the gang that scared him, he could see the attraction in that, how the idea of a solid brotherhood would appeal to all of them coming from the shaky and unreliable family trees that they did. No that wasn't the issue, it was what he would have to do to become one of them that scared him, his Iniation. This was what kept him awake at night. Nathan had stabbed a boy from a rival gang in the leg for his, the kid had almost bled out and it took a major blood transfusion to save him. Jono had asked Nathan about it once, when he bumped into him on the stairs of their block. He'd refused to look Jono in the eye and kept his cap pulled down low. That had made him sad, they'd been friends since pre school, sharing everything, including their most private thoughts and feelings. But what had bothered him most, what had really stuck with him, was the fact the Nathan didn't know the boy's name. He'd nearly ended his life, but couldn't remember his name. As he lay in his bed most evenings, his mind racing, he imagined that there was another boy out there, going about his daily business, probably a lot like Jono himself yet unbeknownst to him one day Jono would hurt him, really hurt him, maybe even kill him. And all because The Pirates told him too. It wasn't right, that you exstinguish a life like that. Take all the hopes, dreams, worries, thoughts and habits that made up a person and just wipe them out, as if they'd never even existed. But try as he might Jono couldn't see a way out of it. 

The approach, when it came, was totally unexpected, and he had to give The Pirates their due for that. It was 7am on a freezing morning and Jono had cut down the alleyway round the back of the park hoping to get into school quickly and without being noticed. Hunkered down against the cold and with his headphones blasting music in his ears it wasn't until he was near the end of the alleyway that he saw them and by then it was too late to turn back. Jack, The Pirates unofficial leader, was slouching against the wall smoking a cigarette and as Jono drew to a halt he stepped out in front of him and ground it under his foot. Leaning forward, close enough that Jono could smell the nicotine on his breath he whispered "Got a suprise for you mate" and another boy who Jono didn't recognise stepped out onto the path. He looked young, probably around fourteen and his fear was obvious. Jono felt his stomach drop. So this was it, here was the poor bastard he was expected to hurt, really hurt, in order to be one of the gang. "Go on" goaded Jack, "You know what to do" and Jono looked at him in suprise, no weapon? He'd expected them to hand him a knife or a crowbar or something but it seemed he was expected to beat this kid up with his bare hands. Jono's palms began to sweat, in truth, he'd never really been in a fight  (and this was definitely something you kept to yourself on the estate) unless you counted the scraps he'd had with his big brother when he was a kid, but he'd buggered off and abandoned him years ago. 

As he stared at Jack in suprise the other boy began to move closer to him, lifting his arms as if he meant to hug him. As the boy pulled him in close to his suprise Jono felt his body jerk, he heard Jack jeering "You're meant to stab him not fucking cuddle him!" and when he looked down there it was, the knife. He'd read stories in the papers before about people being stabbed and how they always said they'd never felt the initial hit, he'd laughed at that thinking how if someone stuck a knife in him he was certain he'd bloody know about it straight away. But it was funny, he couldn't feel it. He put his hand to his stomach and when he held it up it was covered in blood, red, red, blood, darker than any he'd seen before. Out of the corner of his eye he was aware of Nathan turning away, unable to witness what was happening to his one time best friend. Maybe I deserved this thought Jono, maybe this all comes down to that one moment, where I should of helped my friend, where I should have stood up and I didn't. He would of liked to have travelled further down this philosophical road of thought but all of a sudden his legs buckled beneath him and he became very aware of the cold hard gravel under his cheek. He sensed there was something wet and warm on the ground and when he put his arm out he realised it was his blood. There was so much of it, all draining away like it was nothing, like it was old bathwater. He wondered what people would say about him after he was gone and in that moment he wished that he had just joined the gang. There was no reward in being noble or moral, look where it had got him, a gravel strewn death bed in a cold, filthy alleyway.

In the stories he'd read as a kid he'd always rooted for the pirates to triumph, to find the gold where X marked the spot or to steal away with the beautiful maiden or the King's finest galley. Jono could see the irony in that now. As the world around him began to go dim, and the figures  swam before his eyes he was aware of Jack rifling through his pockets telling the other boys "Lets take what we can get and get the fuck out of here before the pigs show up!" Jono thought of buried treasure and he would of laughed if he'd had the strength left. Then the world went dark.

Monday 6 May 2013


By Reg Elliot

In my families six years at Leverton Street, Ponsford, I learnt three things about my seven year old next door neighbour Robert Hedges. Firstly I recall his extreme allergic reaction to animals, dogs in particular. His allergy meant that my family were the recipients of a black Labrador that I subsequently named Rufus. Rufus was for three days a birthday present for Robert’s seventh birthday. During those three days Hedges nearly stopped breathing twice. Hedges sister too was gifted a cat for her fifth birthday only for Hedges again to have a reaction to the cat which was subsequently palmed off, this time to the neighbours of the other side of the Hedges house. There were no more pets for birthdays for the Hedges children.

Secondly, Hedges was a thief and a bad liar. His lying improved with time as I recall and his thieving was in decline as our years at Leverton Street drew to a close. I myself thought Hedges was in reality just getting better at not getting caught which of course went hand in hand with his lying improving.

Lastly anyone that remembers Hedges from those days will recall the constant wearing of Pirates outfits from a very young age. He was all eye-patches and rubber swords from an early age and his mother constantly wore pink welts upon her legs courtesy of said rubber sword. Hedges thieving ways were uncovered early and in keeping with his pirate-persona, he buried his spoils. My father came to my rescue after I had misplaced my favourite yellow toy earth-mover confronting Robert and cleverly tricking him into showing us where he kept his buried treasure.

Those days were a million years ago, still through an old friend I recently learnt Hedges and I have a little in common. Hedges, still apparently on the wrong side of the law and me, supposedly upholding it. He probably hated the Police, from the outside. I’d been in the force too long, so I hated it from the inside. Truth be known I hated myself for not having the guts to leave. Recent events had me thinking I was playing a dangerous game in staying. Still If I had not given a ticket to most of the female drivers I’d slept with that probably would be a crime. Assaulting a motorist was much, much worse but highly enjoyable at the time. But pocketing some evidence from a crime scene was pretty dumb even by my recent standards. Still, in my defence I had a mates buck weekend coming up and it was my job to arrange the gear. Since I was policing soooo hard and diligently recently I’d had no time to contact my normal source. It was justified.
I was kind of waiting for something very bad to happen really. Something that would force my hand and have me leave the force. Probably in disgrace. My conservative middle-class upbringing meant I was concerned for my parents if this was to be the case.
In my spare time I was working on my daring escape from the NSW public sector. I likened it to digging a tunnel to the real world. I now had various pieces of Painted art, stained glass and even some sculptures all forming a body of work that might sustain me if I made the leap to full time artist. I had my eye on a metal-work course as well. But after three years my tunnel was getting long and a break-through to the surface had to come soon.

I thought of Hedges a lot. His misplaced birthday present caused an incident that altered the fortunes of my family forever when my father tripped over the jet black dog in the dark of night to fracture his back badly ending up in a wheelchair and jobless. The ramifications were untold. Hedges had his freedom and independence. My mother brother and I all had to work like slaves to help the family. Mostly I felt for my mother. It was an existence none of us had envisaged.

Mid way though my twenty ninth year and on an otherwise unforgettable day on the job, I was en route to deliver a hand written apology to the victim of my assault (a condition of the settlement) when my Squad car was diverted to assist in a routine arrest. Arriving moments after the suspect was apprehended I was chatting to colleges in the high end kitchen of an obviously wealthy family home when a family photo caught my eye. There was Robert Hedges, unmistakable as an eight year old Pirate, holding his fucking rubber sword so high it nearly defied the laws of one dimensional photography and stuck me in the eye. Next to it was Hedges as a leather-clad biker perched upon some great dark beast of a motorbike a shit-eating grim plastered across his face. It was a grin of a man getting away with something. I looked around the house stunned to reach the top bedroom floor and seeing his sumptuous rear garden and pool. It was immaculate right down to the carefully presented headstone-like cross stabbed into the dark soil of a well manicured garden bed at the rear of the yard. The cross was at the head of a tiny grave. The whole house and garden were incredible. I guess Hedges had made it.

I left felling empty, cheated and angry. I hope Hedges was found guilty of whatever it was he did to get arrested. I was crossing the sandstone threshold of his front door reflecting on all manner of things when I thought of the grave. You don’t burry people in gardens? Well Hedges might? Most people would bury pets. Hedges and pets didn’t mix.

By 5:45am the following morning I had left the grave as it was, washed my shovel and was seated at my kitchen table. I had drafted my resignation and counted out eight hundred and thirty nine thousand dollars in cash. I guess Hedges wasn’t the Pirate after all.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Violetta the Pirate Queen

By Sarah Begg

The audience went wild with applause as the cast completed their encore piece and each of the main actors stepped forward to take their bow.
Violetta was last, of course, sweeping forward in her pirate queen costume. The audience jumped to their feet in a standing ovation, some even forgetting themselves and letting out loud cheers and screams as she bent forward in an elaborate bow. Relishing the attention and catching one particularly lovely flower as it was thrown towards her, she blew kisses to the audience and smiled coquettishly at the rich potential benefactors sitting in the front row until the curtain fell and concealed her fans.
Ignoring the fawning cast members that tried to approach her, she left the stage haughtily and returned to her private dressing room, closing the door firmly once inside.
“What a charming performance,” a deep and foreboding voice came from behind her.
Violetta started and spun around, about to demand that the intruder leave her chamber immediately. But the words caught in her throat as soon as she saw the man standing behind her.
At first, he might have been mistaken for a cast member – his waist-coat and breeches were impeccably clean, he had a crimson sash tied about the waist and a matching crimson feather in his hat. But Violetta spotted the rich gold chains about his neck and jewel encrusted rings on every finger. He also wore an eye patch over one eye and the scar that Violetta could see running out from beneath this and across his cheek made her blood run cold.
She had learnt all she could about the dreaded Captain Mordensa when she was preparing for her role on stage – he was, after all, the most fearsome pirate the country had known in hundreds of years. So ruthless and deceptive that his crimes were well known even when the Captain himself was never to be found. His reputation for appearing and disappearing without a sound was told to small children to frighten them.
Violetta swallowed, drew herself up straight, and tried to make her voice steady when she spoke.
“What do you want?”
Captain Mordensa chuckled and took a step towards her.
“My dear, do not fear for your safety. I have not come here to harm you, I have come to employ you for the night.”
“Sir, I am an actress!” Violetta spluttered her outrage. “I am not available for hire in the evenings!”
Again he chuckled, and stepped towards her again. She tried to back up as far as possible, but already she was pressed against the dressing table.
“No, my dear, that is not what I meant. I require your skills as an actress. There is a scene already taking place not far from here, and one of the main characters has yet to arrive. That is where you come in.”
“Oh,” Violetta was frantically casting about for an escape from the room. Why had she been so insistent on not allowing visitors into her dressing room after a show? “Well, I am under contract to this theatre. I am not allowed to perform anywhere else.”
The pirate grinned, displaying an array of golden teeth. “Do not worry, darling, this will be a private performance. And don't worry about trying to escape before you have played your part – if you do not perform as I expect, I will kill you. If you perform properly, however, you may return home later this evening and forget that you ever had dealings with Captain Mordensa.”

An hour later Violetta sat nervously in the back of an ornate carriage, as it bumped along the cobbled roads of the city. The carriage had been locked from the outside so that she couldn't escape – not that she would dare try after Captain Mordensa's repeated warnings about her imminent death if she did not cooperate. Closing her eyes, she focused on the character she would be playing for the night as a way to calm her mind.
Her name was Countess Valova, a young but wealthy widow of the city. Captain Mordensa assured her that the gentlemen they would be meeting that night had never been to the city before and so would not recognise her, but even so she had been given a wig of tightly wound golden curls and a trembling maid had painted her face expertly so that her features seemed altered from their norm. In fact, she was completely unrecognisable from Violetta, star of the Royal Bibalski Theatre.
She had been briefed very carefully on the role she would play that night, the lines she must say, and despite the fear she had felt earlier, a small glimmer of excitement began to uncurl itself in her belly. If she pulled this off, not only would she survive the night, she was sure it would also be one of her greatest acting achievements.
Suddenly the carriage pulled to a halt, the door was thrown open and the play began.
Countess Valova swept from the carriage, clutching her rich furs about her chest.
“Where is he?” she demanded in a loud and piercing voice. “Where is the scoundrel?”
“This way my lady,” a fawning servant bowed and ushered her into the dingy and rather dangerous looking bar they had stopped in front of.
She did not have to act in her disgust for the place, but she did make a careful point of glaring haughtily at every filthy patron in the room, as she had been instructed to do.
“If you please, my lady,” the servant was ushering her towards the back of the dubious establishment where a door led to a private parlour.
“Yes, let us make this quick, before my slippers become soiled in this detritus.” She pitched her voice so it would carry.
When she entered the parlour her character's facade did not drop, but she felt her heart skip a beat. Aside from Captain Mordensa sitting in a luxurious parlous chair and dressed even more luxuriously than he had been earlier, there was a group of three exotic men seated opposite him.
She surveyed the strangers with the slightest flicker of her eyes and felt a small trill of excitement – from the looks of them they were part of the notorious Black Sailors, a gang of merciless pirates from across the seas whom she had also researched extensively.
Lifting her chin in a commanding manner she addressed Captain Mordensa in her most cutting voice. “If you have brought me here on a wild goose chase, Captain, I will ensure that you never set foot in this city again.”
There was a pause as everyone in the room surveyed her and she glared back at each of them, hoping none could see the drumming pulse in her neck.
Captain Mordensa cleared his throat.
“Gentlemen, as mentioned previously, Countess Valova is willing to pay a hefty price for the return of her late husbands amulet.”
The leader of the Black Sailors, as Violetta was sure he was, stroked his beard as he surveyed her.
“Show us the gold,” he spoke in a clipped accent.
“Not before you have shown me the amulet,” Violetta countered, stepping forward menacingly.
The leader chuckled, then glanced with amusement at Captain Mordensa.
“As you wish, my lady,” he replied and reached slowly into a pocket of his coat.
A small parcel was produced, and from within an exquisitely carved, ornate medallion on a solid gold chain.
Violetta played the next part to perfection, falling on the amulet and weeping, pressing it to her cheek and muttering affectionately. She even put in a believable swoon, practically falling on the table before recovering herself.
“The gold, my lady,” the Black Sailors had become agitated during her performance, concerned with their reward.
“Oh, oh of course” Violetta pulled the coin purse that Captain Mordensa had given her earlier from her skirt and threw it carelessly on the table before making a pointed attempt to recover her composure while still clutching the amulet to her chest as if she could never part with it.
“Well then, gentlemen, I certainly have what I came for and I believe you have too.” She said, drawing her haughty composure back again. “Now, I pray that I never have to set foot in this establishment again. Good evening sirs.”
And with that she was gone, sweeping from the tavern as quickly as she could, climbing back into the carriage and flopping down on the plush seat as the carriage pulled away.
The journey back passed in a heartbeat and soon they were pulling up out the back of the humble Royal Bibalski Theatre.
When the carriage door opened Captain Mordensa was standing there waiting, hand outstretched to relieve her of the medallion.
She felt lightheaded as she climbed out of the carriage, not quite believing that the ordeal was over. She handed the medallion to him as she passed, and made for the door to the theatre.
“You did well, my dear,” the Captain caught her arm and whispered in her ear as she went to push through the door. “Who knows, perhaps I will have need of your services again.” He grinned at her, then pressed a small coin purse into her palm. “For your trouble.”
Stunned and frozen to the spot by the payment, by the time she spun around the Captain had already vanished into the night, the carriage just seen disappearing around the end of the street.
Violetta turned back to the familiar theatre door and paused before pushing it open, weighing the purse in her hand as she considered. So used to playing exciting characters on a stage had she become, that she had forgotten how exciting real situations could be. Perhaps it was time for her to start her life afresh as a real life pirate instead of a pretend one.
Smiling wickedly, Violetta pushed her way into the theatre, the heavy stage door closing smoothly behind her.