Thursday 31 October 2013

The Two of Me

by Sarah Harvey 

Looking back now, I am sure that my feelings towards Claire were quite misplaced and unreal; I looked upon the world with such narrow eyes. She was just so incredibly confident and talented that I could have cried, even though she concerned herself with superficial and frivolous issues. She created her own self-styled biosphere, and chose to let the world orbit aimlessly around her seemingly sophisticated life. I refused to show any bitterness towards her though, and what I saw of her ‘perfect’ world was what I accepted.

I suppose I became most aware of her true presence at our school formal that year. All the girls lashed out on the latest lipsticks, nail polish, hair and clothing accessories; the guys agonised over whether to ‘colour co-ordinate’ their tuxedos with their partners’ dresses, and to make sure the aftershave they chose wasn't too flammable next to a naked flame.

‘Did he ask you? Did he?!’
‘Oh my God, I can’t believe he asked her...’

The evening started off slowly, with brilliantly-coloured strobe lights blinding us all from every direction. A constant glow of luminous eyes blazed in a multi-coloured kaleidoscope of hues, and I was happily lost in the rhythmic sea of dancing corpses that bobbed around me. I felt security and protection that night; my friends around me, the high ceilings of the old school hall that engulfed us, and the towering iron gates that wrapped themselves around the school grounds... The safety of knowing we were all in a ‘perfect’ world.

Ironically, I had not seen Claire at all that night. For the sake of my own self-image though, it was probably better that I hadn't seen her – I was number one, I was the centre of attention, and I was having a ‘perfect’ time. 
During the course of the night I occasionally left the electrically-charged dance floor to search for the nearest bathroom, which always seemed so far away at the most critical moment.

I blundered out of the hall with my friends in side-splitting fits of laughter, as we shared secrets of the night.
‘Ohhhh, so he did ask you!’
But at around 10pm, I made my way to the bathroom on my own.

The air smelt so pure and fresh outside; a brisk breeze murmured softly through my long black dress, and I shuddered from the cool presence of the wind. As I reached the bathroom, I was suddenly aware of a distinct smell that was vaguely familiar... A sickeningly foul stench threatened the night air as a wave of emptiness swept over my body, but I shrugged off the feeling and proceeded into the bathroom.

I stood and looked in the cracked mirror; the image was distorted, ugly and scarred. A numb sensation ripped through my core, as the cold razor pricked my snow-white skin. I lent against the sink to steady my balance and watched the colour of my ‘perfect’ world drip slowly down the drain. I couldn’t stop my legs crumple beneath me and a blood-curdling scream bounced off the slippery crimson walls and echoed out into the clear, ebony night.

I don’t know why my head hit on blood-coloured walls so hard before I struck the cold, tiled floor.
I don’t know why hoards of people soon flooded out of the hall and into the bathroom just to stand over me with their dull, vacant eyes.
I don’t know why they shook my listless body and yelled:
‘Claire, Claire! Can you hear me Claire..?’
I don’t know why it happened the way it did. I don’t know why I wanted to destroy such a perfect world.

I never asked her. 

Tuesday 29 October 2013

The Grass Is Always Greener Outside The Van

By David Allsopp.

A black van pulls into the alleyway between two office buildings, coming to a stop in a pool of shadows. Two men, Gary and Karl, settle into their seats in the back of the van as a row of monitors spring to life, showing a series of camera feeds of the office buildings.

Karl turns on his microphone. “Falcon Three, this is Bear Six. We are online and in position.”

“Bear Six, this is Falcon Three. I’m on my way to the roof.”

Karl checks the monitor showing a live feed from a small lapel camera attached to Falcon Three. “Roger that, Falcon Three. We have your visual.”

Gary finishes his start-up sequence and activates the main display screen. “All good to go from this side of things.”

Karl nods. “Falcon Three you are good to proceed with aerial transfer when ready.”

“I love this part of it – just before all the action starts,” said Gary.

“How’d the anniversary dinner go?” asked Karl.

“The dinner went fine. Classy French restaurant – nice and romantic. Gave Sandra that necklace I told you about. She loved it.”

“Sounds like it all went to plan then.”

“Well, not quite. The sitter had to cancel, so Sandra’s mother had to look after Molly instead.”

“I thought you got on well with your mother-in-law?”

“I do, but having to drop Molly off in Scarborough on the way to the restaurant just put a real dampener on the evening,” said Gary. “Then Sandra got a little carried away with the champagne, so by the time we got back home she’d gone past the ‘tipsy and amorous’ stage to the ‘almost comatose’ stage.”

“So, not an ideal end to the evening?”

“Don’t get me wrong – we had a great time at dinner. It’s just I was hoping to enjoy some quality alone time with Sandra, which hasn’t been easy to do since we had Molly.”

“I know what you mean,” said Karl. “Tash and I hardly had a moment to ourselves once the kids came along.”

“Bear Six, I’m on the roof.”

Checking the monitors once again for signs of activity, Karl could see nothing of note on the security camera feeds, and their night-vision setup on the building opposite showed no signs of movement on the target rooftop. “Copy that Falcon Three. We have zero activity on the target roof, so you’re good for transfer.”

Gary and Karl watched the display screen intently as Falcon Three fired his grappling gun across towards the other building, the hook finding purchase and the cable going taught.

“I bet he feels like Batman every time he does that,” said Gary.

Falcon Three hooked his harness onto the cable. “I’m now crossing over.”

Sitting in the van, Gary and Karl watched on their monitors as Falcon Three slid down the cable to the rooftop opposite.

“How cool must that be, to slide down a wire from one skyscraper to another?” asked Gary. “On the monitors it looks awesome, but to actually do it? That high up…”

“He’s probably done it so many times that it must feel like crossing the street to get milk.”

Gary smiled. “Just once I’d love to be the guy who gets to do it.”

“You never did any Field Agent training?”

“No. Did you?”

“I applied once, but with my asthma I didn’t make it past the physical examinations.”

“Cable cut and secured. Moving into position for infiltration.”

Karl checked the monitors. “Copy that Falcon Three. Stand by.”

Gary worked to finish bypassing the building’s security systems to allow Falcon Three to enter undetected. Once finished he gave Karl a nod.

“Okay Falcon Three, you’re good to go. We’ll monitor your progress and keep our line open but silent. As always, give a yell if you need anything.”

“Roger that, Bear Six. Have a Dry Martini waiting for me.”

Karl turned his radio channel to silent receiving.

“Could this guy be any cooler? Not only has he got the quips, he’s got the looks and the swagger to match,” said Gary.

Karl watched on the monitors as Falcon Three entered the building and made his way down the stairs to a corridor on the 36th floor.

“And don’t forget the women,” said Gary. “Remember that Czech hottie from last month? I’d never get the time of day from a woman like that, and this guy seduces her in two minutes flat. ‘All in the name of National Security’ he says, as if it’s just another day at the office.”

“I remember that Estonian swimsuit model,” said Karl. “She must have been a perfect 10.”

“Sweep of 36 all clear. Proceeding down to 35.”

“How does he do it?” Gary asked.

“I don’t know,” replied Karl. “I wish I could say it was the training, but this guy is just a natural. What I wouldn’t give to just be in his shoes for half a day...”

“One hour would be enough,” said Gary. “Don’t get me wrong – I love Sandra, but if I was this guy, the things I would do… Is it wrong for me to wish I was him?”

“Now on 35 and proceeding to target.”

“If it’s wrong, them I’m guilty as charged,” said Karl. “I go to sleep dreaming about it sometimes.”

“He makes our lives seem so ‘middle of the road’,” said Gary. “Downright boring at times.”

The sound of gunfire rang out over the radio. Gary and Karl snapped out of their daydreaming and looked at the monitors.

“Hostiles on 35! Engaging.”

Karl switched his radio microphone back on. “Falcon Three, we have nothing on our scanners. How many hostiles?”

More gunfire rang out over the radio, this time mixed with shouting.

“At least six! Cannot proceed to target! Repeat, cannot proceed to target!”

Karl turned to Gary. “It’s like they knew he was coming.”

“There’s no way they could have hacked my feed,” said Gary. “This is a secure line! Triple encryption!”

“Well something’s gone wrong. If we could hack them, then they could hack us!”

The gunfire continued as the video feeds on the monitors suddenly cut to black.

Karl turned to Gary, who was frantically trying to find the cause of the interference.

“I can’t bring it back up,” said Gary. “We’ve been shut out!”

“Falcon Three, we’ve just gone blind. Abort mission. Repeat – abort mission! Get the hell out of there!”

The gunfire continued.

“Will try to make Extraction Point Two. Heading back up to 36.”

Gary and Karl sat transfixed in silence as they listened to Falcon Three retreat towards the stairs. There was sporadic gunfire until the radio suddenly went silent.

Karl checked his radio. “We’ve lost the signal.” He looked over at Gary, who was still desperately trying to re-establish the video link. Nothing seemed to be working.

An explosion rocked the 36th floor, shattering the windows on the eastern side. Gary and Karl stared at each other in silence until something fell onto the reinforced roof of the van with an almighty thud.

Throwing the back doors open, they rushed out of the van to inspect the damage and were shocked to find what remained of Falcon Three firmly embossed in the roof.

They looked at each other in horror.

“Let’s get the hell out of here!” Karl raced around to the driver’s side of the van and started the engine as Gary hurriedly closed the back doors before joining him back in the van.

Karl hit the gas and zoomed out of the alleyway and onto the street beyond, cutting across the oncoming traffic. “We’ll get to the garage over on Sixth Avenue, get this thing off the street and call in HQ from there.”

Gary was still in a state of shock, staring out the window at the night sky hanging over the city. “I think I better call my wife…”

Friday 4 October 2013

A Basic Desire

by Denis Fitzpatrick, (c) 2013

     Simultaneously splendid and utterly decrepit the half burned shell of 23 Lexitor Avenue, Standmore, in Aus’ usually sunny Sydney, was just the spot for the wandering Audric. Here was the much needed house, half charred, overgrown ruins, and with its other half well retaining the aspects of a modest mansion; a veritably perfect mirror to his opposing, clashing thoughts.

     ‘Yes, indeed!’ There was no-one around to tell Audric, only twenty-three, that he shouldn’t talk to himself. In fact, Audric had often to rely on his own conversations within this chosen life of wandering, vague searching. ‘Yes, indeed! We can solve this problem once and for all!’ Audric also tended to use the royal singular in these conversations with himself.

     Soon after M. Audric Dearl Beauchene had discovered this house he had come back often to wistfully stare at its two potent halves: one, a blackened destruction, the other, an open promise of easy living. This half had a leather armchair and the water in the adjoining kitchen still worked. He had checked once, the only time he had been onto the property. He didn’t notice the police station nearby when he was leaving, water refilled. It would be nice, thought Audric, to just cross the warning tape and sit on that armchair. Cook a little on the stove, listen to his radio or plug in his portable CD player, recharge his mobile the more easily. But no, the electricity is probably cut off. At the end of the evening he could head up to the only remaining room on the first floor, apparently a bedroom.

     ‘The fresh air! The view!’ Such were some of the possibilities he imagined in that distraught domicile, believing he could think from the prominence of that bedroom, think clearly and finally name that thing worthy to spend one’s life in striving for.

     Audric was once again outside this house on the first day of Sydney’s colder than usual 2012 winter, idly imagining its balanced possibilities, but this time he had his swag with him. He smiled, and looked around, preparatory to trespassing. It was then he noticed the police station. He continued his survey around him and decided to assume that because he could see no officers no officers could see him.

      He entered confidently and assuming himself to be still undiscovered he placed his swag in a shattered bedroom and had a good look around the place. He settled in easily enough then and read until evening in the perfectly good leather armchair, in his warm dark overcoat, a glass of water beside him on a small table, outside under broad, leafy banana trees, jacaranda trees, and tall, stately eucalyptus trees.

     He passed his first night without bother, and drifted off thinking that a large crisis had been averted. More likely though that it had just begun.




     Audric set about the final stage (or was it just the middle?) of his aim to wrest meaning from Life methodically, keeping track of, and keeping more or less equal, the amount of his time spent in the dark, listless half, and the alluring, elegant half of Lexitor Avenue.

     His plan was simple: spend the first twelve hours of the day in the charred, ruined section, the time spent in foreseeing an easy life, no commitments and absolutely no worries. His first whole twelve hours among the ruins he began with an expensive bottle of Shiraz, completely letting himself go.  

     The times amongst the sheltered and fairly intact reign of the nightly twelve hours was spent without alcohol. He used part of the twelve hours to write in his journal, and in drawing. In his journal he would often suggest goals, aspirations that had always inspired him as a child, in an attempt to reawaken this prior motivation. To no avail. The entries invariably ended on a hollow note, promising him something that should really already be here.

     Audric had been at Lexitor for a little under three weeks when the local police paid him a visit. Audric was cross-legged among the charcoal and soot drinking a coffee, black, when they called over.

     ‘Need to have quick word with ya, mate,’ said the lead officer, lifting the warning tape.

     ‘Sure thing,’ replied Audric, standing up from the rubble. They met on the veranda.

     ‘You know you’re trespassing, mate.’

     ‘Yes, officer. I’ll leave now.’

     ‘Hang on a minute.’ The officer waited until his partner returned to his side after a quick survey of the premises.

     ‘Would you like to stay here, mate? Free?’

     ‘The place is helping me think.’

     ‘Think about what?’

     ‘If there’s a purpose to my life.’

     ‘Well we can give you as long as you need.’

     Audric looked at him sceptically.

     ‘My partner here, Laura, spotted you here yesterday and after informing the owner of the land he’s offered you a deal.’

      ‘What’s the deal?’

     ‘You can stay here rent free as long as you act as guard.’


     ‘The owner, a Councillor, plans to develop the site into a boarding house and wants someone onsite to ward off the inevitable protestors.’

     ‘I can’t keep them all off.’

     ‘If things get bad he’s given me a number for you to call. Do you have a phone?’


     ‘Well, mate?’

     Audric considered for a short while.

     ‘Can I think about it,’ Audric asked the officer.

     ‘Sure. We’ll be back in three days either to evict you or to give you that number.’

     ‘Thanks, officer.’

     The Police left him and Audric returned to his pile of ash.

     ‘Yet more to think of,’ he said to himself, sipping his still warm coffee.




     The immediate benefit of this newly offered job, often thought Audric over his next two days of wandering from one side of the house to the other, is that it would give him a palpable sense of certainty. He could then afford to sit back and give the matter of his life’s goal the serious deliberation that it deserved. And when he had finally achieved his revelation he could just pack up and set off in the suggested direction.

     He  had decided by the time he awoke on the third morning of his bequeathed grace: he would take the job. But only on the proviso that he was free to leave at any time. Thus, after begging up the morning’s two dollars for some hot chips, he headed off to the police station in search of Laura, the other officer’s name not being offered and he wearing a badge with a number instead of a name. He duly received the phone number quickly, enthusing him unexpectedly.  

     Upon returning home he instantly headed for the bright half of the house and made himself a coffee. He was still enthused. Maybe it was time to clean up the other half of the house, bring some semblance of order into it? The place really just needed a good sweep and some furniture here and there. It’ll shine up a treat in the summer; a splendid place to sit and read of an evening.

     ‘Yes, it does need a clean. We’ll have the coffee first.’

     And when he was sweeping up (the house already having a broom) he realised that his life was not that bad after all. He too will assuredly come up shining if he sets his mind to some noble goal. In fact, from now one he would spend all of his time in the bright half of the house. He would choose several goals, to be a painter, a sculptor, maybe finish off his Science degree, and try each out for a few days. He would by sheer elimination, and sheer steadfastness, come across a vocation, a calling, which he was just naturally good at.

     The protestors never arrived and Audric spent the next six months in attempting a lot of careers, starting off by busking his own canvasses, all of which he painted in the bright side of Lexitor. He enjoyed the novel experiences of all of his experimented careers, usually done through volunteer work,  and also enjoyed having to shower more regularly now that he was more engaged in society.

     His ‘lease’ ran out, naturally, the Councillor’s personal assistant telling him that the house was to be demolished in a week. That was three weeks ago today and Audric had packed up and left early. He hasn’t found a worthwhile life-goal yet, is still searching, but his searching has brought him many unexpected achievements. He is currently volunteering at the local vet’s. He has also often told friends that Lexitor was his favourite squat despite it being a husk.

     ‘It was the perfecting sounding board for my angst.’

     He has also now taken up meditation and spends such time in imagining himself continuing to be comfortable and motivated forever. He invariably smiles while doing so and that same smile comes back of its own accord throughout the day, the days which he now spends fruitfully.