Wednesday 30 December 2015

Whispering Woes

By Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga

I slowed to a stop in front of the sign and bit my lower lip. Passing an agitated hand through my hair, I decided to turn right anyway. Just to see, I told myself. On the side of the road, dry grass dipped into gorges where pond water used to dwell. I thought of kindling. Finally, I arrived at a semi-open gate where an ute was parked facing me. I braked to a stop. A portly man leisurely emerged, walking towards me as if he intended to go elsewhere. I rolled down my window, smiling uncertainly.
“Sorry, it’s closed,” he shook his head. “Tomorrow’s gonna be 38. It’s already 35 today.”
“Aw,” I pouted. “but I came all this way to see this place.”
He frowned a bit, casting a quick look beyond me. “Who were you gonna whisper to?”
“I’m hoping he’s still here,” I admitted.
Sighing a bit, he glanced back at the gate. “There are still two cars parked, but I have a meeting in a few so you all have five minutes.”
Thanking him, I passed into the gate and slowly drove down the gravelly slope to the unsealed parking lot. Three concrete posts welcomed guests to The Whispering Wall. Beyond them, steps led down to a landing next to one side of a parabolic dam. A walkway passed above it, giving the visitor a view of the sloping wall and scruffy bush on the right. On the left, water filled the reservoir to bursting. One could gaze at the scene and no longer thirst. As I exited the car, one of the remaining cars rolled out of the parking lot. One man stood on the landing at the other end of the walkway. I eagerly went down to the landing closest to me, mimicking his position.
“Mark,” I whispered.
He didn’t respond.
“Mark,” I said more forcefully.
“I heard you the first time.” His voice seemed to come from a space two metres in front of me.
“Isn’t this amazing?” I excitedly replied. My hands fidgeted, curling and uncurling into themselves as I leaned them against the railing.
No response came from the other end.
“Mark?” I questioned.
“Yes, it’s amazing.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. We were still on speaking terms, right? Surely that was what this meant.
“The man says we have five minutes,” I told him. “What have you been up to?” Again, there was no immediate response. “Mark?”
“Not much,” he said. “You?”
“I went to Mt. Gambier for a while,” I shared, “to see family. I tried to contact you but I guess you were busy. I climbed that old volcano there for the first time. It’s amazing. The sky was so blue...have you ever been?”
The quick response emboldened me. “Well first you climb the mountain, and those stairs, god they’re terrible. Once you get to the top you get this astonishing view of this massive bowl of bush. I mean you already had a view of the plains while you were climbing but now you’re staring at what used to be the inside of an active volcano. Crazy right? Then you have the option to walk down to the very centre. It’s a little tedious but once you get down there it’s like you’re in the centre of the earth.”
I cringed a bit. Exaggerating wasn’t going to make him more interested in what I did while I was away. Was he interested at all? Interested in me?
“If-if I were to go again, would you come with me?” I asked.
“That depends.”
I grappled with that response for a few seconds. “Well,” I finally decided. “Five minutes may have already passed. Do you wanna go have coffee someplace?”
“I’m not going anywhere with you.”
I froze. “What?”
“That’s what you said. Remember?”
I bit my lip. He can’t be bringing that up.
“That was ages ago,” I murmured.
“Well I remember.”
While he spoke, I gazed at his faraway figure. Like the closed sign, his shirt was bright red. I could only see his face in profile.
“You’d always laugh about me with your friends,” he continued, “and make a horror story out of the thought of going out with me.”
“I thought I already apologized for that,” I countered. “Look, I was young and shallow and really stupid. I’ve changed!”
“Because Tessa told me you recently said some terrible things about me behind my back.”
My chest tensed up.
“Not only that, but you’ve suddenly been very nice to my face. Is it because I’ve gotten better-looking over the years? Are you sure you’ve changed?”
I struggled to form the words. “Tessa...lied.”
“Is that all you’ve got?”
Biting my lip, I considered my options. Confessing my feelings here and now would get me dumped faster than sewage. (Of course she would tell on me! She had feelings for him too so she got crafty after I desperately tried to make her give up on him, the little…)The second option was to...was there no second option? My mind drew a blank.
“Wow,” Mark huffed. “Just wow.”
I ran up the steps and sprinted across the walkway. Wind whipped up my maxi skirt, reminding me of a sail. Did I look photogenic running next to that pristine body of water? Did I make Mark draw a breath? Out of options, I’d fallen back on physical appeal. Once I came close enough to his strolling figure, I stopped, chest heaving.
“Please!” I exploded. “You have to believe me! I-I really like you. I genuinely, truly…”
His elbow shoved me to the side. Footsteps echoed behind me, heading back the way I came. I stood there, dumbfounded and dumped. Forget about five minutes. My hands hurriedly wiped my face. They weren’t enough to reach my destination.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Madly in Love

© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2015

Jeanne Margit Revoir appeared to be glad to be now arriving home even though she had just stepped out onto one of the wards in Rozella Psychiatric Hospital, near the heart of Sydney, after being involuntarily committed. It wasn’t hard either to notice her arrival as she went straight out into the common area, as if she knew Rozella well, and asked one of the smokers for a lighter. I offered her mine as she looked like a young lady who desperately just needed to talk. For a long time.
     ‘What’s your name?’ I asked when she had lit her cigarette and handed me back the lighter.
     ‘Jeanne. What’s yours?’
     ‘Xavier. I’m back here for the second time because I stopped the meds for a while. I thought I was better. The voices didn’t. They’re still screaming in my head now but a lot more quietly. I can reason now. Which is good, because I’m a writer.’
     ‘I’m an actress and I’m back because I’m in another very big manic phase.’ She laughed. She had a very nice laugh, both deep and elfin. ‘My cup runneth over!’ She also had no idea how she had ended up in Rozella but suspected her boyfriend, as she vaguely remembered having just come from a drive with him.  
     Jeanne and I then clicked, both of us naturally having just fallen into each other’s young persons’ company. We were both scheduled involuntarily so we may as well make the most of it. We also liked flirting with each other, making lurid remarks about each other’s sex appeal, even though Jeanne said she was very happily seeing a young man, who wasn’t mentally ill. I guess it’s natural then, despite the fact that I was holding a candle for someone else (whom shall remain nameless), that on my part I began to take this flirting seriously. Despite the schizophrenia I’m just a regular guy involuntarily ruled by his gonads.
     When I confessed my adoration to her she responded enthusiastically, touching me and flirting, but could only promise me that I would be her next boyfriend if she and her present one, Dominic, ever broke up. She was also sure to point out that she owed him a lot over the past two years, whom had always been helpful, to the best of his abilities, with her bipolar disorder. As love is mostly loyalty I would have to wait and see. But don’t get too hopeful, she told me, she was going to start dropping hints to Dominic very soon about him asking for her hand in marriage.
     The good Dominic I did eventually meet, a couple of days later, and he certainly provided a lot of competition. He was colourfully dressed, with shoulder-length, slim, and clean, pale brown dreadlocks tied at the back of his head. He was clean shaven and his whole face seemed to be a smile. Jeanne seemed besotted with him, sitting spread-legged on his lap throughout most of his visit, her arms draped about his neck. Not that I was jealously studying them.
     But there was trouble in Paradise. Big trouble. Jeanne awoke me early the morning after Dominic’s visit to say that he had broken up with her. When I sat up in bed, blearily awaking, it was her red, swollen eyes that first warned me of the current disaster. She said she’d been crying all night and was now very suicidal. She showed me the razor she had got from one of the nurses, saying she was going to shave her legs. She had been on her way to the bathroom to open her veins in its warm, lone bath, and at the last minute had decided to say goodbye to me. I snatched the razor from her. She made no protest.
     ‘I think I was hoping you’d do that,’ she said, looking down at her bare feet.
     ‘Jeanne, no man is worth suicide. No man. Or woman either. Why did he leave you?’
     ‘He said he was fed up with my constant hospital admissions. He’d been recently talking with his last girlfriend about how I’m hardly there, about how high maintenance I am. He said he’s going to try and get back with her.’
     ‘Well, he’s definitely not worth suiciding over. You’re worth a lot of trouble.’
     ‘Because you’re a lot of fun.’
     ‘Yeah, but you haven’t seen me in my downer moods. I’m almost a vegetable.’
     ‘Do you handle your high moods a lot better than your down moods?’
     ‘A lot better. But I tend to do stupid things. Which reminds me.’
     ‘What’s that?’
     ‘I need your help, now that suicide isn’t an option.’
     ‘With what?’
     She then sat on the bed, grabbing my arms. ‘Show me how to be normal. Give me something, some plan to be normal, like a schedule or an instruction book, something I can always have nearby for guidance. That way Dominic is sure to come back to me if I can be normal. You’re smart, Xavier, surely you can help me?’ How could I ignore those pleading, clear, green eyes?
     ‘I’ll think of something,’ I promised.
     ‘Thanks, Xavier.’ She then left me to think about the problem.
     Surprisingly the answer came quickly, a plan to regulate her violently swinging moods. It was suggested by her mentioning ‘a schedule.’ What if Jeanne planned out the hours of each day, having a set programme all of the time, a diary of every day’s activities? That way she would have a greater sense of daily certainty, being able to channel her mood swings into appropriate activities. She would also need to exercise and eat really healthily, the base to this programme. When the mood swings become too much she should head out to a café. For the numbing depression she should treat herself to a hot chocolate or two, with marshmallows, and for the manic excitement she should have a camomile tea or two. The exercise and healthy diet should provide her the wherewithal to make it to the café when the moods are too rough.
     When I informed Jeanne of the plan she thought it brilliant, a physical manifestation of control over her moods. She began on the project immediately, borrowing some paper from the nurses and outlining the rest of that day as well as the following. Apart from that she was going to take life one day at a time.
     The regime must have worked better than expected for Jeanne was discharged from Rozella a week and a half after her breakup with Dominic. The doctors and nurses were keen to encourage the stability she had suddenly displayed, or so she told me. I was worried about her though. Sure she had her daily diarised events, a guide to channel her mood swings, but she had no backup in case of trouble. She had already come to me those times she felt the diary was useless, an inanimate taskmaster who didn’t care for her. Could she now resolve such problems without my assistance? Surely Dominic could help her there, if he didn’t get too jealous?
     The answer was, apparently not. She was back in hospital two weeks later, myself still waiting to be admitted into the rehab cottages. As I had been homeless for so long the hospital thought it prudent for me to go into the rehab cottages in order to relearn everyday living skills. Which was fine by me, I was fed up with being homeless.
     Jeanne though was back in hospital under false pretences, having faked a mild suicide attempt. She was back in hospital just to see me. She was back in hospital to ask me to marry her. She wished to marry me because the diary idea had really grounded her, setting out a clear path in which to control her wayward mind. She had also been eating right and had begun exercising regularly and was back here to claim the only real support she had ever received.
     ‘My cup runneth over, Xavier. You have given me meaning,’ she said, after her proposal.
     ‘Jeanne, yes, I will marry you, but we’re in a psychiatric hospital. Our vows have no legal meaning while we’re not of sound mind. Or at least while I’m not of sound mind since you’re here malingering.’
     ‘When are you discharged?’
     ‘Not for months at least. Three months I’d imagine.’
     ‘We’ll marry on that day. We have to marry. You’ve given me real direction, Xavier, and I just can’t let that go.’
     ‘Well, visit me every day, sweetie, while I’m in rehab. You’ll be out again soon so you can get things ready on the outside for us.’
     ‘You’ll really marry me, Xavier? Continue guiding me?’
     And so we were married four months later, on the day that I moved into the flat she had got for us, quite affordable with both our Federal Disability Support Pensions, albeit an hour’s train ride from the centre of Sydney. I’m writing this now from our reception and Jeanne says her cup once again ‘runneth over.’ She’s drinking camomile tea and tells me she has not the slightest desire for any of the alcohol intoxicants here. She also tells me that I intoxicate her enough. How have I been so lucky?
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Saturday 28 November 2015

The Sea in His Eyes

By Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga

Where the sea met the iron-laced rocks, great crashes of change echoed in roars as wave after wave of salty water cried and died. Slowly the impact and the salt had worn away at the existing structure until a gaping depression bore into the cliff in the form of a shaky alcove whose ceiling was unsteady under the jittery legs of Alexander Irvin.

"Please," he pleaded. "I need this."

The one he addressed calmly took a smoking cigarette out of his mouth and dropped it over the precipice. Alexander resisted the urge to move towards him, so much closer to the edge this man was that at any moment he could fall into the bellowing battle below.

"I'm not sure you know exactly what you want, Irvin," he replied. Putting both hands into his coat, the man stood still as a statue while Alexander shifted his stance, making gliding motions with his arms.

"I've known I've wanted this since the time my path took me away from everything I love," Alexander maintained. "The only one hesitating is you. Do you know what you want?"

The man casually turned towards the horizon: a line between navy and candy flossed blue. "I know I want peace."

"So do I!" Alexander insisted.

Shaking his head, the man once again faced the boy, wondering why only thunder echoed from his maw. "No, Irvin."

Alexander gritted his teeth and took a bold step forward. A terrifying instant but nothing happened. The man's bushy eyebrows lifted in surprise for a moment before gravity returned to cloud the oceans in his irises. "I want peace more than anything," Alexander repeated. "I know your amulet will give it to me."

"Your judgement is clouded," the man stated. A brutal onslaught of smashing waves shook the ground underneath their feet. "Raging want will not be gratified by what comes from outside its source."

As Alexander took another careful step forward, another wave smashed in tandem with his intentions to break this man's defences, "I swear on everything I've lost that I will grant your wish for peace."

"You cry salty tears," the man replied, "the waves crash as you do, crying to be heard, never appeased, only eroding away at what keeps them steady."

"I swear!" Alexander roared over the ocean. "Why can't you believe that?"

The man shook his head again and stared out at the ocean once more, the boy's plight all but forgotten. Alexander hesitated for a few crucial seconds, knowing every step towards the man was a gamble on both their lives. Finally, he resigned to backtrack. The ground cracked where he slid his foot back and he cried with alarm, hoping the man would come running back to safety. He was the only one to leap back to safer ground. The greatest crash echoed as the alcove imploded and the cliff was no more. Alexander knelt on its new edge, unable to believe in death, until he noticed an object shining in his hand. An trapped ocean glistened beneath the surface of a glass iris encased in gold tied to a chain. Peace, the man had wanted. Alexander shook, gritting his teeth against his body's seismic tremors while slowly bringing the amulet to his forehead. His tears joined the waves, still crashing in a never-ending tantrum.

Thursday 5 November 2015

The Phoenix Amulet.

By: Michael Carta.

“Only in the absence of all things can we come to appreciate that what is life. The unforgiving nature of nature confines us to our fates; all are destined to die after a blip of meaningless life without purpose or hope. Time is a cruel vehicle spawning life, just to take it away relentlessly without hesitation! How can anything be meaningful or understood with life being temporary? What is music without the contrast of silence? This is why we must find the amulet. Its secrets can unlock the future we are entitled to find. Imagine the fruits of eternal existence! You are the chosen few that can be trusted with this information. Go forth into the frozen tundra and pursue the wanderer who just escaped, for he is a thief! He has stolen your eternal life and he has killed you if you fail; remember that only with the amulet can we achieve our destiny!” Barked the darkly clad man who stood and watched as nearly a hundred men rushed off in pursuit.

“Master, they will all probably die before nightfall. None have ever returned after nightfall. They say the frost creatures are out lurking and hunting in the night with pale red eyes, not to mention the temperature sucks life like a demon leech!” said the short deformed man.

“Tell me, if none survive where do the stories come from? Relax, it does not matter if any survive, we just need them to keep the wanderer too busy running so he cannot make a fire, then the cold will do its job. Tomorrow, when the sun is reborn into the sky, we will go scavenge what is ours. I know he has seen the amulet and carries parchment with details of its location. I received encrypted word from our brothers in the south that this man has a map and escaped their grasp ass well. Fate has smiled on us this day! Foolish for him to come here seeking shelter, but then again, there is no where else to go up here!” Said the tall darkly clad man.

In the tundra, the frozen air carved into the wanderer’s exposed skin that the torn rags failed to cover on his face. No matter how he adjusted them, the cold would always find a way to remind him it was waiting. Waiting for him to get tired. Waiting for him to slow down and rest. Waiting to creep in and take him. Death was always hungry and it’s cold fingers were prodding him. He ached to be burned alive to remedy the frost accumulating on his thin clothing. He gave up trying to imagine what warmth felt like and tossed aside foolish memories of sunlight. The wind carried the echo of war horns behind him. He replayed the following memory in his head constantly throughout the day as if it were a movie on loop:

He still did not understand the situation at all; he had carried her for three days straight without sleep after finding her unconscious and alone in the desert. His feet were bloodied and knees weak, but he could not leave her. Her white dress and dark brown hair were so strange to see, especially in a place where life was so sparse. Instantly, he had become aware they were being pursued by a death party; this he could tell since they consistently blasting their war horns to demoralize those they pursued. Why were they after them? What had she done? She was too small and seemingly innocent to cause any trouble or harm to anyone. The death parties were scavengers ravaged by the effects of cannibalism anyhow. He had reached the cliff’s edge where there was a hidden path leading safely down the to bottom. There they could follow the canyon east to the frozen tundra. No war party would be clever enough to track them there. It was there at the cliff's edge where she spoke and admitted to being conscious the entire time.

“Please, take this; you have a kind heart.” The woman said extending her hand towards him. In her palm was a strange golden amulet that caused one’s mind to be more curious the longer it was seen. Almost as if being controlled by a strange force, he extended his hand and received the gift. It was strangely heavy for its size and seemed to generate heat. He could not help but feel anxious and confused. There was a elegant and oddly shaped bird in the center of the amulet.

“It is a phoenix.” She said noting his pondering. “Have you no worry, in the end you will understand. Though, you mustn't ever show it to anyone, it is now a happy burden for you as it was for me. It will help you find what you are looking for, even if you did not know you were searching.” she smiled at him softly letting her words sink into his consciousness. She had practiced this speech countless times over hundreds of years yearning to finally give it to the right person. Tears of immense relief filled her face as she bowed to him and stepped backwards towards the cliff’s edge.

“I am truly sorry, they will hunt you endlessly. The greed of man is a wicked cancer that persists after death and takes many human forms, you will recognize all of man's treachery soon enough. Just remember; nothing is supposed to last forever.” She said. Then, without hesitation, she stepped backwards off the cliff with a graceful intent. He lunged forward to save her, but was too late. Instead, he had to peer over the edge in horror as her body fell. It was the most terrifying and beautiful thing he had ever seen. She was so calm and stunning whilst her body plummeted towards the rocks far below. She smiled at him briefly before she closed her eyes, transcending deep into her mind. “Set free at last.” her final words.  

Brought back abruptly to the frozen reality, he slowly realized that he no longer felt anything at all; not even the cold. He knew it meant the end was inevitably near, yet he was suddenly filled with vigor. It was his bodies final urge to survive; as if he only needed two more steps to cross the finish line. He almost grinned as he stumbled for a few more steps in the snow. The amulet around his neck began to glow a faint green hue.

The end was not as he had imagined. It was not like pulling out the power cord to a computer and having the entire machine be silenced instantly. Instead, it was like booting up a computer, but in reverse. There was a domino affect of processes shutting down simultaneously to reserve as much remaining power for the primary vital organ, the brain. The loss of his hearing was quickly followed by a gradual narrowing of his vision, as if the hidden darkness of the world was finally consuming him. His drive, concerns, and consciousness drowned in the overwhelming sensation of falling. All awareness and thought left him as time was forgotten. A single green dot in the vast emptiness glowed warmly like a beacon summoning all attention to it. It was so close, yet completely unreachable. “You must wait”. -Whispers in the dark.

Rebirth; it was an unimaginably painful, yet overwhelmingly satisfying sensation that engulfed his entire being. It was like being completely doused with ice cold water and burning over flames at the same time. Oxygen burst into his lungs as if he was the vacuum of space taking advantage of a leak on a spaceship. Neurons fired in his brain connecting pathways long forgotten. Light filled the darkness with intense momentum while electrical pulses drove the system’s startup. He was painfully alive, reborn, and gasping for air. 

“Where am I?” He wondered. He was positioned on hay, bound in tight cloth, and surrounded by chickens. “It is awake!” Snickered one of his captors.  

Sunday 1 November 2015

Puzzled at Himself

© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2015


Andrew Simon Phillips, a noted scholar at a prestigious private high school just on the outskirts of inner city Sydney, was puzzled at himself, very puzzled. He stroked his foreign chin in the reflection of his father’s shaving mirror, the common toilette mirror in the bathroom. Andrew had recently turned fourteen years of age and yesterday had felt the dire need to fully lather his face in order to shave three dark hairs that had sprouted on his chin. Today he had a very respectable growth all over most of his face. He viewed both profiles of the dark forest more to ensure himself that it was indeed his reflection he was studying and that it responded accordingly. Ah well, he thought, nothing I can do about it. He had a vague sense that the covering would naturally go away.
     Andrew’s mother, Chrissy, while making breakfast for him and his father, told him to shave.
     ‘But I shaved yesterday!’
     ‘Andrew, you obviously need to shave every day from now on. It looks like you’re suddenly a man. So shave. Instantly!’ Andrew, though, hid behind his novelty in using a razor regularly to wheedle permission to shave when he got to school. Mrs Phillips agreed and gave him some money for a packet of disposable razors. ‘But today’s the only day you’ll do such. God willing,’ said Chrissy.
     Andrew was true to his head and headed straight for the boys toilets when he got to school. He passed no teachers to pose comment on his untidiness but some of his friends tried to detain him and explore such sudden manliness. He parted from them with difficulty.
     He forgot to bring the shaving cream from home, which actually made him glad. He hated that artificial, sickly sweet scent of the foam. Anyway, thought Andrew while splashing cold water onto his face in reflection, shaving is probably easier without the foam, less stuff to cut through. Face now thoroughly wet he applied the razor to the tip of his chin.
    He paused. Why should he shave, now that he thought of it? What was wrong with a perfectly natural growth? Why must he inhibit himself in this way, curtail his full expression? Especially with such a lovely beard, a deep black, covering his face and flattering his manly features. Why indeed? He put the razor away and joined his friends, looking forward to being the undoubted centre of their attention. At least for a short while.
     His homeroom teacher noticed Andrew’s scruffiness at the morning Assembly and pulled him out of line to tell him to go and shave.
     ‘Why?’ asked Andrew.
     ‘Just do it,’ responded his homeroom teacher, Mr Villiers. ‘You look like a bum, not a model student of this fine school.’
     ‘But it’s natural, nothing to be ashamed of.’
     ‘Mr Phillips, if you don’t shave at once you’re marching straight to your form master’s after Assembly.’
     ‘Mr Phillips, you can make your way there now.’
     His form master was Mr Edgeworth, or ‘Edgy’ as his pupils called him behind his back, because he was patently crazy, beginning and ending every lesson with a story from his time spent in San Francisco during the sixties. Sometimes he smelt like he was still there. He was hired to be form master for the year nines two years ago, solely because of his assurance that his theatre training would make the blossoming teenagers all terrified of being yelled at by him and his massive voice. All students did indeed turn to jelly at his sparingly used and frighteningly loud tirades. Andrew was now almost jelly himself, waiting outside Edgy’s office, dreading the inevitable dreadful roaring when he told him that he had no plans whatsoever to shave his alluring, manly shrubiness.
     Surprisingly, Edgy didn’t yell. He just suspended Andrew when he was convinced that the boy couldn’t be swayed. Personally, he felt Andrew had a point, but rules were rules: ‘All boys must be clean shaven and with hair not to exceed collar length.’
     Andrew headed home.


His parents couldn’t sway Andrew to shave either and they all spent the first night of his suspension in trying to dissuade Andrew from ‘expressing his fullest self.’ They gave up when it was bedtime, and Andrew was still adamant the next morning, a Saturday. Daniel and Chrissy Phillips had no chance but to put up with his stubbornness.
     They didn’t have to put up with it long though, for Andrew shaved after a quiet lunch, none of them finding use for conversation. He shaved because he couldn’t stand the itchiness. His parents were magnanimous in victory and let him spend his two week suspension however he wished. He spent the time reading philosophy, curious now as to exactly what constituted correct behaviour, and what rationale decided what was acceptable and what was not. It was the best two weeks he had as yet experienced.


On his first day back at school he put up notices wherever he could announcing a new club, ‘Thinkers Unlimited’, a group he intended to discuss a chosen philosophic text each month and how it directly applies to their own school enforced lives. Naturally, he copped a lot of teasing about it but the first meeting, a month after he returned to school, was respectably attended, and all of his own friends were there. Mind you, there was a high portion of students who came along expecting to partake in a revolt against the teachers, a hazy expectation that Andrew was going to make school a lot more interesting from now on.
      Andrew eventually brought the meeting to order. There were twenty-one attendees.
     ‘So, who didn’t read our first book, Plato’s Republic?’ All except three raised their hands.
     ‘Bloody hell!’ exclaimed Andrew. ‘How can we have a serious philosophy society if we don’t even read the assigned text? What are we supposed to do now?’
     ‘We’re Thinkers Unlimited aren’t we? We can just sit around and think.’ This was said by Andrew’s best friend, Tim. ‘We could probably come up with a way out of doing homework. If we try.’
     ‘Tim,’ said Andrew, ‘we’re not here to learn how to bludge. We’re here to learn how to improve our school and teacher dominated lives. How to get what we really want and to be taken seriously. Who says the teachers know best? We know best what we want so let’s aim for our claim.’
     ‘You’ve got to be kidding, Andy.’ This was said by Rogerson Irvine, the form bully. He was there with his small band of followers, some of the several students who sensed insurrection. ‘None of us can even vote. This is all pointless.’
     ‘I know something that we’ll all like.’ This was said by Dexter Ambrose, a pupil who spent all his time by himself, reading. He was genuinely happy with Dickens or Hardy for company and the other boys eventually learned that they couldn’t ruffle his feathers for his constant reading, no matter how hard they tried.
     ‘What? You know who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays,’ said Rogerson.
     ‘Even better. I seen Edgy naked and he doesn’t have a dick.’ Everyone then burst out laughing. But yes, when they all collected themselves, Edgy had no penis. Dexter had been reading in bed all night earlier this year at the form’s camp and had heard Edgy outside the dormitory door talking to someone, even though all the students were still asleep in bed. Dexter got up to investigate.
     Edgy was indeed talking to someone, someone who wasn’t there, explaining to him the importance of knowing trigonometry. He was completely naked and obviously sleepwalking. It was when Dexter was gently guiding him back to his room that he noticed his dreaded form master had no penis. He, or rather she, had instead a Brazillian shaved vagina. A very nice Brazillian and accoutrements. Dexter had told no-one because he had no proof, but if they all came up with some sort of plan they could easily out Edgy. Who knows, maybe they could make some money out of their secret. Rogerson was certainly keen and they all set to their purpose with a will.



The Thinkers’ plan backfired. They sent Edgy an anonymous note, revealing their knowledge, and asking for weekly payments of two hundred dollars for their silence, to be left at an abandoned house near the local train station. Edgy’s response was to call an extraordinary Assembly and to out himself. He explained he was born a woman but had always thought of herself as a man. She was in the final stages of changing her sex. She revealed the attempt to blackmail her and not knowing the individual(s) responsible she was going to discipline the whole school, with the Principal’s blessing.
     ‘So, gentlemen. Every student here is to give to their homeroom teacher at least two dollars today, or face detention, and all such monies collected will be used to buy four amulets of distinction, one for each year nine prefect. An amulet, gentlemen, is simply a gem with properties to ward against evil and these prefects will wear these amulets openly to constantly remind you, and protect you from the bigotry that is a serious evil, from all exploitation that is a sin, and to remind everyone that the natural world thrives on diversity, and you will all be constantly reminded of all these facts through your year nine prefects. Dismissed!’
      The year nine boys were now awed the more by their form master, and when the prefects eventually received their amulets they soon learned to wear them with pride. The amulets, in the shape of a Celtic cross, were indeed stylish and “of distinction” and the boys soon became jealous that only the year nine prefects could wear them; they glittered and shone so well in the bright Aus sun. The prefects themselves took pride in the fact that they had become more popular because of the rare gems, albeit unwittingly, and indeed took their role as prefects more seriously. None of Edgy’s fellow faculty complained of him, and only a handful of parents made a complaint to the Principal. Edgy’s monstrous ability to yell the skin from a wayward boy is now used even less and they have even changed his nickname. They now call him Changer, ambiguously respectful on the part of the boys.

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Thursday 1 October 2015

Lighting Shadows

By Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga

“Don’t be like this.”
The wind whipped her braids to her face. Whatever he’d just said had lazily reached her earbuds and evaporated into the trance track booming through her skull.
She sighed and languidly took an earbud out.
“I’m sorry,” she stated.
Placing the earbud back, she watched through drooped lids the way his mouth took on a warping ellipse, growling, snarling. Then he touched her, and she lost it.
She was alone on the roof when it happened, she’d say.
But when what happened?
She was truly alone on the roof.
“These disappearances have happened more frequently over the past month,” the news anchor read.
Kira impatiently flipped strands of her ink black hair over her shoulder, “What are we supposed to do about these?”
Sabine shrugged, taking cashews from a bowl on the kitchen counter. “Exactly what the letter says?”
While her friend groaned, Sabine wiped her hands free of salt and again reached for the lavender-scented parchment paper.
You must think like her.
“We know it’s a she,” Sabine offered hopefully.
“Out of the thousands of women and girls in Kelsey!” Kira switched off the television. “I’m dying. This is ridiculous. I’d actually rather do homework.”
“We could meditate,” Sabine retried, “make a list of the clues the media has shown us.”
“Males have disappeared,” Kira sighed.
“In and around the southeast.”
“High school juniors to college freshmen.”
“Students of Kelsey High and Kelsey Tech.”
“We don’t know Kelsey High kids!” Kira whined.
“Kira,” Sabine wheedled, “yes you do.”
“Can’t we just end on, ‘Those boys deserved it?’” Kira crossed her arms.
“No one deserves to disappear.” Sabine paused, frowning, “Disappear…”
Kira’s phone rang, jolting Sabine from her thoughts. After a few minutes of nodding and yessing, Kira hung up and gave Sabine a tight smile.
“Guess who gets to do work experience at Kelsey High for spring break?”
Magician’s Rite Academy’s Work Experience Program was basically a week of torture that Elite Scholars kids endured by silently counting volunteer hours like crosses against the soul-sucking remarks of spoiled rich kids, according to Kira. It didn’t help that Kira and Sabine were among the few that wore impressive, albeit overly formal uniforms for the occasion of trying to show the world that Magician’s Rite wasn’t the rough, shady school that the Kelsey High kids so readily wrinkled their noses at.
Sabine smiled easily, hoping her dark face would be further obscured by blindingly white teeth. Kira levelled an even gaze at anyone who dared to size her up. Meanwhile, their student ambassador giddily showed them around the school before stopping in front of a door labelled 1A.
“These students really need your help and I mean really,” the ambassador hushed.
Sabine frowned slightly before replying, “Do they get enough support from their teachers?”
“Of course!” The girl squealed. “But even they can’t help them. I was going to mention that you have Mrs. Wilson as a supervisor, if ever you guys need help,” she slyly added.
Suddenly, a girl bumped past Sabine’s shoulder and reached for the door, knocking past the student ambassador as well.
“Hey watch it!”
She ignored the warning and entered the room, black earbuds embedded in her ears. Sabine’s shoulder felt hollow where she was touched.
1A sprawled out like a computer lab with various circular tables scattered around where students in similar antisocial gear including headphones and bangs concentrated hard on their notebooks or snickered at their laptops. Once Sabine and Kira were introduced and started checking up on each student’s work, Sabine patiently gathered her courage for an opportunity to approach earbud girl.
“Hello, what are you working on?”
The girl’s heavily mascaraed lashes never lifted. Sabine had to concentrate hard on her physical presence, for fear her all-black garb would turn her into an inconsequential shadow.
“Are you trying to disappear on me?” she asked.
The girl’s hand, wielding a felt pen that steadily coloured black streaks against the margins of her paper, paused then resumed.
“If you ever need help,” Sabine finally offered, “just ask Kira or me.”
Meanwhile, Kira made the mistake of sitting next to a blast from the past, literally, judging by his air blown fro.
“Hey good-looking,” her ex-creeper-admirer grinned, “you gonna be my teacher for the week?”
Kira’s smile froze. “Yeah, call me when you’re actually doing work.”
“Aww, come on, don’t be like that,” he pouted.
Resisting the urge to groan, Kira zeroed in on an opportunity. “Know any of the guys who’ve disappeared?”
The guy’s smile faded. “No, but I know who’s done it.”
Kira raised an eyebrow, “Really?”
“Ms. Emo over there,” he whispered, jerking his head in the direction of a table that Sabine was leaving.
Kira narrowed her eyes. “Why do you say that?”
“All the dudes that disappeared,” he replied, leaning closer, “she was playing them.”
Kira rolled her eyes, getting up from the table. “Don’t you mean they were stalking her?”
At night she wandered the city. The wind whipped through her braids. Adrenaline pumped a healthy pink across her sallow cheeks. Again, she visited the roof. Again she wasn’t alone.
“Hello,” a shadow detached itself from a chimney wall, dressed in a black skater dress, boots and fingerless gloves, a mask below the odd cat ears. “My name is Sceptre.”
Another shadow crouched in the moonlight, lit by a white jester’s cosplay resonating with the bells on her three-pronged hat as she grinned beneath a white mask. “Jester at your service,” the figure bowed.
Again, the girl lost the words they said, except for a snippet that finally reached her ears.
“We’ve come to help you disappear,” Jester announced.
Suddenly, the girl’s cheeks drained of pink and she shook her head. An earbud fell out and she tried to put it back in, but this proved unexpectedly hard as the earbud slipped and slipped again.
“Ms. Emo needs to go,” Sceptre confirmed, spinning her namesake in one hand. “Played too many boys to stay.”
Jester slipped cards from her sleeves. “Time to play our game.”
The girl lost it.
In a second, the roof was enveloped in black ink and Sceptre and Jester tumbled in its darkness.
“Now what?” Sceptre snapped, unable to glimpse her partner.
“We think like her,” Jester swept her gaze around the darkness, searching for a way out.
“Help!” A voice shouted.
“We’re gonna die,” another whined.
“So this is where the losers went?” Sceptre frowned. “Is this a pocket dimension or…?”
“Yes,” Jester nodded. “It’s like she’s been filing them away…”
“Well obviously she hates the thought of others thinking she played them,” Sceptre deduced, “but why did she pay attention when you said we’d make her disappear?”
“It’s a defence mechanism. Naturally she doesn’t want to, and those boys must have provoked her somehow.”
Sceptre paused, deep in thought.
Jester pondered, “Scared her into thinking they’d make her disappear…”
“But how?”
“I’ll kill you!” A voice shrilled. “I swear!”
“They touched her,” Sceptre realised.
“Really?” Jester frowned.
“Trust me, I know.” 
Taking a deep breath, Sceptre advanced in what she hoped was the direction she last saw the girl.
“They won’t go away,” she stated matter-of-factly, then raised her voice, “They will never go away.”
The darkness tremored. Jester’s heart fluttered, suddenly wary of shifting ground.
“You haven’t let go of them you know,” Sceptre continued. “They’re still here, inside of you, closer than ever. You’ve just pushed them deeper into you.”
Jester tripped as the ground became a wave that heaved her up and dropped her.
“Let them go,” Sceptre calmly ordered. “Let yourself go.”
The air groaned like a beast in a cavern.
“It’s the only way you’ll grow from this. You need to cut loose, pull out the weeds.”
She reached forward and wrapped her arms around the space in front of her.
“And for that you need to rely on someone other than yourself for once.”
Suddenly the darkness became peppered with shimmering dots until it blended with the Kelsey skyline. Sceptre withdrew her arms from the girl’s shoulders, allowing her to dry her tears with her sleeves.
Glancing at the five boys who either lay prone on the ground or blinked in bewilderment, Jester gave the signal and the three of them disappeared behind a screen of smoke.

The next day, Julie waved Kira over to her table, shyly murmuring for help with Maths. Beneath the black colouring of the previous day, the words ‘Thank you’ sprawled in generous cursive.

Born of Necessity

© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2015

“Death is an old joke but it comes like new to everyone.” Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons

It is no doubt entirely reasonable that Death should have a very high opinion of himself. You too would have an immensely high opinion of yourself if you were the sole sentience responsible for ushering departed souls into the netherworld. To his credit though Death never let his very important role go to his head. He simply saw himself as an ordinary worker even though he was almost always at work. It’s also probably a good thing that he had no time to think as then he would question his origins. Death had neither childhood memories nor anticipations of growing serenely old. No, Death just worked every moment and enjoyed each such moment, revelling in the fact that he was at the crux of Reality, ushering out the old to bring in the new.
     Death’s high opinion of himself though took a slight hit when he met God. He was returning to his one bedroom flat in Chippendaille to have a quick break and a wee tipple of some choice ale. He did not expect to be accosted by his real name when entering his apartment block.
    ‘Death! I say, Death! Over here!’ Death turned around. He was being hailed by an old Man, casually Dressed and with a fulsome Beard.
     ‘I’m not Death,’ replied Death when the old Man was close enough to hear. ‘You must be crazy, old man.’
     ‘I’ve never been saner, Death. And I Know you’re Death because I’m God. We’re both in the same business, more or less.’
    ‘You’re God,’ Death asked incredulously. ‘Then I’m Santa Claus.’
    ‘I am indeed God, or the Maker as I prefer to be called, and I can Prove it simply.’ God then Passed His Hand in front of Himself and Death felt all of his bones separate. He remained conscious, in no pain, and looking at his separated skeleton. To Enforce His point God Clenched His Right Hand into a Fist and Death watched all of his bones except his skull suddenly become piles of powder. He was now only a hovering Death’s mask.
     ‘Do you believe Me, now,’ asked God. He had a smirk whilst asking.
     ‘Maybe,’ replied Death. ‘Put me back together and you will have made your point.’
     God once more Waved His Right Hand in front of Himself and Death found himself hale and hearty.
     ‘Okay, so you’re God. I’ve been wondering where You’ve been throughout eternity, but You’ve probably been too busy to make Yourself Known.’
    ‘Exactly. But I have recently very happily Acquired a Sabbath and Plan to take things a lot easier from now on. Which is what Brings me to you.’
    ‘I don’t need a Sabbath, God, I’m far too happy in my work.’
    ‘No, but all work and no play does eventually make Jack a dull boy. Which is why I want you to take a short holiday. My Own Sabbaths of late have been very, very enjoyable and I Wished to Share the experience with the uninitiated: I instantly Thought of you.  My Son and I will reap the souls whilst you’re away and your job will still be here when you return. The Truth is is that I can’t do without you.’
    ‘And if I refuse?’
    ‘Then you’ll eventually wind up a very a dull and unhappy person, with nothing more than your job to make you happy, completely reliant upon it for your sense of self. Trust me, Death, a break from your work will do you the world of good, as it has Done for Me. Although the First One, or rather the Second One, was somewhat mournful, having lost a new lady friend. But, get out, Death, see a bit of life, before life passes you by and the Universe has eventually torn itself completely apart, leaving you with nothing at all. I don’t Think I shall Create a new one. And to Make the Request all the more tempting you may reside in Paradise while you’re off work.’
     That temptation Death found sweet, very sweet, always having wondered where his harvested souls eventually ended up.
    ‘How many weeks off do You Want me to take?’
    ‘It’s up to you. But I Think four weeks is just the right amount.’ Death considered God’s offer. He soon decided.
     ‘Okay, God . . .’
     ‘Call Me Maker.’
     ‘Well, okay, Maker. Consider me officially on holidays. How do I get to Paradise?’
     ‘Just say, “homeward bound” and you’ll be there in a jiffy. You’ll arrive in a flat I’ve Created for you.’
     ‘Thank you, G…, Maker. I think I’ll start the adventure in Paradise.’
     ‘Suit yourself.’
     And after the invocation Death did indeed find himself in Paradise and in a well-appointed one bedroom flat. He began to plan his holidays.

Death decided to start his adventures in Melbourne, a city that he had always preferred above all others in the world, a mix of the artistic and the relaxed and easy going. He had dressed in his most expensive suit and entered the Arthouse Café, a pub in North Melbourne, feeling glad that he had acquiesced to the Maker’s wish and surprisingly enjoying have his own time completely at his own disposal.
     ‘A schooner of Carlton Draught,’ he said to the barman. The barman though looked at Death with his mouth open, having no intention of pouring Death his schooner.
     ‘You don’t need a schooner, mate,’ he said to Death, ‘you look like you really need a good feed. You’re all skin and bones. When was the last time you had a decent meal? How many years? You look like you’ve been living on schooners.’
     ‘Fine,’ said Death, ‘just give me a midi.’
     ‘Sorry, mate, can’t do. You look like you’d die over the drink. Man cannot live by wine alone. If you buy a couple of pies beforehand I’ll probably give you a midi.’
     And that was how Death started his vacation, being constantly refused intoxicants on the grounds that he was all skin and bones and that a beer was the last thing he needed. He eventually left each pub when they offered him a pie, gratis. By now Death had become fixated on having a beer to celebrate his freedom from work and eventually succumbed to the plethora of bar staff refusing him service. He found a Chinese BBQ place in Brunswick and ordered half a roast duck. He ravenously ate all of it but doing so was perhaps unwise as he soon ejected the masticated bird in a secluded alley. Once having recovered himself he thought tenderly of the pies he’d been offered and the ensuing ale he’d been promised. Ah well, he thought, he’ll go back to one of the pubs that had refused him and take up their offer of a free pie before a drink. The duck had taken the last of his money though and after checking to make sure he had an ATM card (which he had very rarely used but was miraculously always activated) he found an ATM and entered his PIN.
     The machine, after Death had only entered his PIN incorrectly twice, swallowed his card.
     ‘This freakin’ vacation is a freakin’ nightmare,’ he said to himself. But it was the thought of his free access to Paradise that made him stick with it and not return to the saner world of reaping souls. But without money there was no holiday, and he couldn’t ask anyone in Paradise for a loan as he knew no-one there. He was also unable to ask the Maker for a loan as he had absolutely no idea on how to contact Him. He was in a fix.
     A busker outside a supermarket in Brunswick gave him an idea as to how to get the needed money. He could simply use his small sickle, which was always on his person, to perform tricks for the needed cash. He would reap souls for small change, slaying a volunteer and then returning them to life the next instant. It seemed like a great idea. Thus he took up a station outside the Brunswick Library, removed his coat and placed it by his feet, addressing the passing crowd.
     ‘Good people of beautiful Melbourne, witness the impossible!’ Some people turned to stare at the madman and Death approached one at random.
     ‘Madam, may I impose upon you for a small bit?’ The young lady replied,
     ‘I’m sorry, but . . .’ Before she finished her sentence though Death drew his sickle across each of the carotid arteries at the sides of her neck. She reached up to stem a flow that did not appear, even though she had felt keen, stinging cuts, and felt the arteries close under her hand. Some young men approached the damsel in distress but she held them off with an upraised hand, looking enquiringly at Death.
     ‘Be not surprised, young lady, this plain golden sickle has the power to take or give life at my choosing. It has been wrought with ancient magicks and a spare dollar or two will go far in keeping its edge keen.’ The lady felt her neck again. Completely healed.
     ‘Do that again,’ she said to Death. He obliged and when once more she had confirmed that no harm had been done she left a five dollar note on his jacket. One of the young men who had come to her assistance placed a couple of two dollar coins on top of it to stop the note floating away, and asked to examine the small sickle. Death naturally obliged.
     ‘Do that to me,’ said this young man. Death slashed the man’s arteries and he was likewise unharmed, leaving the presence of the mad busker with the conviction that life was indeed a greater mystery than he had given it credit for.
     Death plied his trade for an hour, at the end of which he had a small stunned crowd around him and $150 piled atop his jacket. It was time to call it a day.
     ‘Good people of beautiful Melbourne, your generosity has been a great boon but this secret sickle must return to obscurity. Fear not though, its magicks will continue to do no harm, giving pleasure instead.’ Which was in a sense true: Death, upon resuming his work, would continue to ease others into their respective eternities.
     After escaping his fans with some difficulty he headed back to one of the pubs that had offered him a free pie before a drink. He asked for and received the pie and a beer shandy midi, with lemon squash instead of lemonade. The barmaid however would only give him his shandy after he consumed the pie. That done he chose a table near a window and sat back luxuriantly, surprisingly satisfied at having had to earn his ale. When it was finished he ordered another pie and shandy and ate the pie under the barmaid’s supervision. His second ale was even finer than the first.
     This then was how Death spent his holidays: performing his tricks for about an hour at which point he had enough money for two or three days. He spent it in pubs all over inner city Melbourne alternately eating and drinking. Near the end of his vacation his favourite pubs allowed him the shandy without first forcing him to eat something. He was looking forward to his next holidays and upon returning to Paradise for the final time he managed to track down the Maker who gladly Granted him permission for a vacation each year. Next year he plans on visiting the Northern Territory, a far warmer clime than Melbourne and thus a more relaxed locale. He plans to busk once again even though he usually has plenty of money on his ATM card: the busking was half the fun of the vacation. He expects to make a lot more money, his potential audience being even more easy going than in Melbourne.
If you have been enjoying Fitzpatrick's stories here you may also enjoy his other books, available at as both Kindle books and paperbacks. Click this link to view them - Other ebook options are available through; go to -