Friday, June 5, 2009

[Fiction] Friday: The Rain

[Fiction] Friday Challenge for June 5th, 2009

“Don’t sit there,” she commanded. “That’s the cat’s chair.”

Benjamin stood looking up. Up to the top of the building and the turbines of the water mining units, capturing the moisture in the air, turning it into water. Water from the air running down pipes – not up pipes like it had once.

Propellers spinning round on the same trajectory. Turning, turning. Caught. Stuck.

As a kid he thought it looked as though the city was trying to escape. Somehow the buildings would gather enough lift and would fly away. Helicopter Buildings enmasse flying to Somewhere Else. Maybe somewhere it rained. A place the rain would wash away the sins of the city instead of allowing them to become ingrained. Where the wounds would be salved. A chance to heal. The building would take him and Clarice away with them and they would start again. A new beginning – in the rain.

Clarice had loved the rain. Always reminding him how cathartic it was to cry. Mother Nature cried and she never got it wrong. Even now, knowing the flood of good hormones which would follow, he could not bring himself to cry. To cry would admit it was over. And the battle was just beginning.

Clarice had never got over the fact it would never rain again. The atmospheric aqua mining had upset the balance of condensation and evaporation in nature. Precipitation became a thing of the past. A meterological relic. Clarice was 10 the last time it rained. The last time she pulled on her pink gumboots and jumped in puddles. Clarice had said she wished she’d stayed out playing longer. If only she had known it was the last time. Is she had playd on maybe it would not have stopped raining.

Benjamin knew all about last time regrets.

If only the City would cry it had a chance to redeem itself. That is what Clarice had said. But the City finally swallowed Clarice. She had been too good for a place like this. A job like her’s. Maybe if only he could cry something would move inside him. His heart might actually break so it could heap. Or the lump in his throat after years, choke the life from him. What life it was.

Benjamin turned his attention back to the street level. Hartog was haggling the fare down and finally allowed the flustered drive to scan the back of his hand for payment. Hartog stepped away from the taxi and glanced at the digital tickertape NewsFeed above the door of the bar.

“Slow news day.”
“Depends on what you call news I guess. Once it was meaningful. Now it just clogs up the brain with irrelevant details.”
“But you somehow still get stuff up there.”
“A drop in the ocean. Who cares anyway.”

Benjamin stepped into the bar, scanning the back of his hand, followed by Hartog how repeated the scanning routine.

“Hey you. You can’t come in here with that.”
The shout came from a middle aged woman behind the bar. Hartog turned to see what Benjamin was wearing which was in breach of the dress code. Looking about it didn’t seem there was any sort of dress regulation.
“No you pretty boy. You can’t come in here in that coat.”
Benjamin smiled. Two could play at Hartog’s game.

“There is a cloak room just off there.” Benjamin pointed to a tiny window with a red button beside it.

Hartog hesitated. He looked about the bar. Looking beyoond what people were wearing he saw the knives, guns, stunners and a few targeted biological weapons lying forgotten beside their owners as they argued, laughed and drank. Just another bar on the other side of town. One way to avoid a blood bath in your establishment. He was simultaneously annoyed and impressed.

Taking a deep breathe he pressed the button and divested the coat of the most important bits, stuffing his hologram badge into the back pocket of his jeans and the InfoCap into the front pocket.

The window shot up and a teenage girl snatched the coat before he could reconsider, scanned the back of his hand and slammed the barrier down.

Benjamin was surprised to see the Detective was well dressed underneath the tattered coat. A clean pressed white shirt clung with tailored perfection to his wide shoulders and narrow waist. No signs of creasing or sweat stains in the arm pits. The jeans looked new, no fraying at the pockets or hemmed and they too looked ironed. On closer inspection however Benjamin saw the shirt was perhaps just an inch longer and the jeans a shade or too darker than current fashion.

Hartog stripped naked strode to the bar and tried to park his butt on the nearest bar stool.
“Don’t sit there!”

It had been a long day and Hartog wanted to yell ‘Why the fuck not?’ On the other side of town the bar wenches knew who he was. They didn’t scream across the room to take his coat off. They came to him with smiles and his usual order.

He paused with his butt midair. If he had wanted to be ordered around he would have kept his posting in the Regular Army. As it was he wasn’t going to be pushed around by a woman with badly died orange hair and a lip stick smudge masquerading as a mouth. Fanta – Fan-fucking-tastic. He placed one cheek on the bar stool.

She lent over the bar. Her tuckshop lady arms taunted him. He tore his eyes away from the cussing mass of pale cellulite pitted fat.
“I said you can’t sit there.”
“No you said don’t sit there.”
“That is not your chair.” Come in Tokyo – the message was being received loud and clean. “That’s the cat’s.”

It was all the prompting he needed, twisting around to pull his badge. He didn’t care if there hadn’t been a single infringement of a health related nature since the Department of Civil Welfare consumed the Departments of Public Health in a hostile take merge. The by-laws were still on the codex though – a live domesticated animal on a premise where food preparation took place, including a bar, was illegal and punishable with large fines and imprisonment for repeat offences. Faded Fanta looked like a repeat offender.

Benjamin grabbed his hand before he could pull the badge and hissed into his ear, “Leave it. You want to go down as the first officer in 10 years to charge someone with a public health violation.” He got the irony and the rapid fall of grace which would accompany such an action.
Hartog made a mock display of tipping a hat. “As you wish ma’am.”

Benjamin walked off to the furthest booth.
“Are you always a prick?”
“Are you always so uptight?”

The same young girl from the cloakroom came to take their order. Mickey flashed the digital name badge pinned to her flat chest. Her mouth working hard at a lump of greenish bubble gum. She grunted something Hartog construed as “Can I get you something.” But it could have been anything. This side of town was not his side of town.

No smile. No whiff of customer service. Just enough metal pierced in every conceivable location as Hartog’s eye took in the proliferation of studs, spikes, rods, guessing the piercer’s showpiece waiting in other regions. It must hurt. Pain playing at being pleasure. Disfiguration traded as cool. Should he point out they had a way to fix her condition too? He’d be a cranky bitch too weighted down by all that hospital grade stainless steel.

“You got surly on the tap here. I reckon I could go a pint.”
Her hand moved as reflex to the old style tazer clipper to her filthy café apron.
“Excuse my friend. He doesn’t get out much. We’ll have two pints of your home brew.”

Hartog leaned back into the torn vinyl of the booth couch.
“You think drinking something brewed here, with animals on the premise is a good idea? I’m a bit of a health nut. I was thinking of an orange juice.”
“Freshly squeezed genetically modified … I’ll go with homebrew any day.”
“I’m on duty. I don’t drink on duty.”
“Then stare at the head and watch me enjoy mine.”

Hartog took the InfoCap out of his pocket.
“You know what this is don’t you. This InfoCap?”
Benajmin reached across to take it. Hartog closed his long fingers around it.
“It’s show and tell. Didn’t your mother tell you to look with your eyes and not with your fingers?”
“My mother died before I was old enough to have that sort of wisdom imparted to me. Our Aunt wasn’t big on moral education.”
“Let me connect the dots as I see them. You have a degree in neuroscience. Clarice had a degree in Engineering.” Hartog emphasised his point by drawing imaginary dots on the table top and dragging his finger between them. “I’m wondering - is this InfoCap the point where two sibling’s ideas collide – given one is now a feedo and the other is, I mean, was, a prostitute. Both in the information gathering business – one way or the other.”

The young waitress dropped the two pints on the table in front of them, grunted in the direction of Hartog who returned the social pleasantry with his characteristic disarming crooked smile. His face falling in all the wrong direction – probably in need of some of the waitress’s metal pins to hold it all in place. The waitress rolled her eyes and stalked away.

“How does it work?”
Benjamin took a long drink of the beer, licking the froth moustache away with his tongue.
“You’re the smart guy. Why don’t you keep connecting the dots. Or do you need new crayons?”

“Let me put it to you this way Benjamin. Someone likely killed your sister for something she saw, something she had, or someone she knew.”
“Well you’ve got a good grasp of the obvious there Detective.”
“And she had this. She saw something, had something and knew something.”
He took the InfoCap out and held it between this thumb and forefinger.
“And she was the favourite consort of the Minister of Defence. And into the pot you commented, “I told her not to.””
Benjamin drank on as if he was ignoring what Hartog said.
“Well it is obvious Clarice did and now she is dead.”
“And you probably will be too if you flash that thing around in public. You really have no idea Detective.”

Benjamin lent in. “See the guy at five o’clock. He just recorded everything you said and did. As I speak all of that information is being uploaded into the big NewsFeed databank, or if I was to be totally accurate, an off shoot of the databank where all types of information are stored and sold. You have just been placed with me and the InfoCap.” He paused and considered what to say next. “If someone killed Clarice for the InfoCap they would have cut it from behind her ear. I’ve seen the file and I know she was cut up badly. Whoever killed her knows there is more to it and they’re going to want to get the Cap back.”

He eased himself back and picked up the beer again.
“I don’t think I can trust you Detective. I suggest for your own good you give me the InfoCap and disappear out into the crowd in the street. Or else you might find yourself in a difficult situation. Find some thug to take the fall for Clarice’s murder and shut the file. Walk away.”
“I don’t accept bribes.”
“This isn’t a bribe Detective. I’m offering your life in exchange for the Cap.”
“Threatening an officer ..”

Benjamin slammed his fist down on the table.
“You don’t get it. This is big. This is so much bigger than you. I’m guessing someone in the Deparment of Civil Welfare purposely assigned you to this care to get rid of you. Think about that.”

Benjamin clambered out of the booth shooting a filthy look at the feedo sitting at five o’clock. Hartog pushed out and chased after him, stopping at the door, remembering his coat. He pressed at the button as he watched Benjamin cross two lanes of taxis and stopping a taxi in the fast lane. Benjamin was going to the end of the line and fast.

Hartog jabbed at the button again. As Benjamin climbed into the taxi the window slid open and Metal Mickey passed him his coat, adding “Have a nice day.” Pulling his arms through the coat, as he ran out the door, he knocked into an eldery man. He looked up to apologise and froze in recognition

“I’m s-s-so s-s-sorry Cardinal.” He hated it when we stammered.
“Detective Hartog.”
“You drink here?”
“You could say it’s my local. You looked shocked my son.”
“It’s just…”
“I’m a Catholic – not a Puritan. Nothing wrong with a cleansing ale or two. Will you join me.”
“I’m sorry Your Excellency. I’m..”
“Busy I’m sure.”

Hartog stood for a moment longer than necessary, watching Cardinal Ambrosius Tennyson exchange small talk with Fanta from the stool he’d been earlier barred from. Shaking his head, he stepped out into the fading daylight, his stomach growling, calculating the time it was going to take him to reach Dah-Jeerlings.

If you liked The Rain there is more. The first two instalments in the Hartog Series:

Hartog

Derby

Friday, May 29, 2009

[Fiction] Friday: Derby

[Fiction] Friday Challenge for May 29th, 2009:

Put this into your story – “Time out! Time out! We can call that, right?”


This week's story follows on from last week, where we had Detective Hartog investigating the murder of high class call girl Clarice and the mystery of a a strange metal capsule known as an InfoCap.

“Zero one hour and fifteen minutes … and holding.” The bass thundered and the retro nineties dance mash up began, pumping the crowd, who needed no additional priming. But it was tradition.

The semi final bout had brought out a capacity crowd of fanatics and another record bidding match for the broadcasting rights. Hartog had pulled in some big favours to secure the two tickets. He was hoping the gamble paid off.

The ref’s amplified whistle shot outward from the centre of the rink like a line of gun powder racing towards the keg. A cheer exploded from all sides of the stadium as the Jammers, skating ten feet behind the main pack accelerated forward to make their first jam.

The Scarlet Penetrator’s Jammer in her diamante encrusted red tutu and black leather bustier nudged ahead with two huge strides. A naughty peek of ruffled black lace knickers showed, as she bent down. Her fishnet clad legs criss crossed as she cut directly across the path of her rival, tacking for the outer most edge of the pack. Hartog caught a split second flash of the blades on the hubs of her wheels.

His guest beside him remained unnaturally still, in the seething maelstrom of Penetrators supporters, hands folded in his lap, knuckles white in the roaming strobe lights.

The Betty Buster’s Blockers at the centre of the pack, in skimpy lycra nurses get ups barely containing their iconic large breasts, drove at opposing points in the centre of the pack, forcing open a rush space. The Buster’s Jammer hurtled through but was caught at the last moment as the Penetrator’s pivot threw herself against the Buster’s block, forcing both of them into the Jammer’s path.

The Pivot and Block won the battle to stay upright and the pack sped past the fallen Jammer. First blood! It spilt out onto the pristine floor and splattered the white uniform. The howl of protest at the opposite end of the stadium was reflected and amplified on their side by cheers.

“This should be interesting,” Hartog said, leaning into his companion’s ear to ensure he was heard..

The injured Jammer clambered to her feet and after a few wobbling glides, gained her equilibrium. The blood flowing down her leg pooled at the top of her boot and then down the sides, leaving red tracks as she sped towards the pack. The blood slick made the bout even more interesting.

“The lame duck flies again.” Hartog got to his feet and rooted with his arms in faux animation, taking the piss more than finding solidarity among the Penetrator’s fans.

On the opposite side of the rink a Penetrator was down and from the huge real time screen above the score board it was obvious she wouldn’t get up. The tide of blood beneath her was spreading quickly.

The fans were on their feet screaming out in protest and outrage, then in encouragement. Her injuries had the potential to be fatal. The seat beside Hartog was suddenly empty.

“Time out. Time out. You can call that?” He looked hopefully down to Hartog who shrugged his shoulders. “Surely you can call time out. TIME OUT.”
“Shut up dickhead,” the guy two seats up yelled, shoving Dirk’s visitor back down in his chair. “Our girls ain’t pussies.”

Hartog smiled a wry smile which made his mouth look like it was affected by Bells Palsy. He could have chosen to have it repaired – just like the roller derby girls who would be fixed up after the bout and ready to skate the following weekend, but he’d chosen not to have the nerve damage repaired. Gene manipulation, stem cell mechanics, accelerated skin grafting. It was a quick fix society who didn’t tolerate sickness or disfigurement. It meant guys like him could literally wash away the scars – on the outside. He liked to be reminded. And it made others uncomfortable.

Anything and everything could be repaired. You just had to keep the heart pumping long enough. Sometimes the ref’s whistle came too late and all the blood had drained away, the heart stuttering to a heroic end. Or the girls were caught out in the Danger Zone.

“Never been to the blood derby?”
BenJin shook his head with a violence more emphatic than any words he could have mustered. His pale face stood out amid the red faced sea of fanatics surrounding him.
“It’s barbaric.”
“Only if you go down in the first minute and your team mates can’t or don’t want to defend you before you make it to the Blood Zone.”

There had been two reasons to bring BenJin to the blood derby. Firstly he had a penchant for girls in short skirts, legs and big boobs. There was plenty of those here tonight. Secondly he was counting on the sight and smell of the blood to loosen BenJin’s tongue about his sister’s death.

Hartog kept smiling.
“You know they can fix that.” BenJin’s eyes strayed to the massive electronic bill boards encasing the inner fence of the rink, advertising the two major sponsors – leading biomechanical firms.
“I was going to say the same about our razorblade belles there. Just as long as you keep the heart pumping right?”
“I hear the fans show their loyalty in the number of pints they donate.”

Hartog was certain he heard BenJin snort.

The injured Penetrator inched her way across the rink, one hand pressed hard against the gash in her thigh, blood leaking from between her fingers and the other fist clenched, as she used her forearm to brace and drag herself towards the inner sanctum of the rink. The Blood Zone – where she would be able to bleed free of the fear of further injury. If she could make it before the pack returned.

Hartog imagined Clarice had employed the same manoeuvre trying to escape broken and cut up from her attacker. The finger tips on her right hand had been torn – down to the bone on one digit. Soft pink fingers scrambling to make purchase on the coarse grey concrete. Dragging herself away as she bled to a terrified death. Whoever had murdered her had meant her death to be a painful and undignified end.

BenJin shifted in his seat. Hartog was certain BenJin knew enough details of Clarice’s death to be disturbed. He had the technology and the expertise to find out if he wanted to. And Hartog knew BenJin wanted to know.

Hartog could not have shaped the bout more perfectly had he personally scripted it.

“She’s haemorraghing.” The Penetrator’s movements were slowing as the pack sped towards her, the pool of blood behind grew. “Why don’t her team mates do something? Shit.”

Hartog was pleased at how unsettled BenJin was – so early on in the bout too. Team mates, regardless of personality clashes and disparity in corporate sponsorships, kept each other safe in the finals series. The blood letting always happened in the opening rounds when scores were settled and sponsorships were still in flux.

Two Penetrators cut from the pack to run defensive sorties across their injured team mate’s path. There would be no sudden blood in the semi final.

“They both exposed themselves to an unwarranted attack to protect her.” BenJin’s eyes were fixed on the bleeding woman crossing into the blood zone. “You just don’t understand the intricacies BenJin.”

Hartog noted with satisfaction his guest flinched at the use of his name.
“It’s Benjamin. I’m not here in a professional capacity.”
“I thought this was the sort of thing you scum of the earth feedos got off on.”
Hartog put his hand into the inner sanctum of his trademark overcoat and wrapped his fingers around the InfoCap.

“That’s where you braindead coppers don’t understand the different between hype, voyeurism and integrity. Look at any of my news feeds and you’ll know I’m not interested in this -” waving his hands about at the rink “ propaganda of the irrelevant. It’s just another fucking Coliseum.”

Without shifting his eyes from BenJin’s Hartog lay his hand in the feedo’s crotch and allowed his fingers to open like a defiled lotus blossom.
“What the … Shit!” BenJin’s voice softened. “I told her not to.”

Hartog’s fingers closed around the InfoCap.
“Shall we go somewhere quieter to talk.”
BenJin nodded and was on his feet, forcing his way through the baying crowd.

Author's Note: all constructive criticism welcome!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fiction Friday: Hartog

[Fiction] Friday Challenge for May 22nd, 2009

"
A high-priced prostitute suspects that one of her best customers is falling in love with her."

Hartog stood at the door to the brothel holding the tiny capsule between his bent pointer finger and thumb. He turned it over allowing what little sun penetrated through the smog haze to bounce off what he guessed was titanium covering, then slipped it back into the inner pocket of his jacket.

It was too hot for the jacket but it was one thing Global Warming couldn’t make him give up. Hartog felt naked without it. Hot and smothered in it. Still he wore it. Good thing, he thought as he pressed the buzzer on the intercom.

He spoke before the receptionist could get a word in.

“Detective Hartog here to see your boss. She knows I’m coming.”
“Good morning Detective Hartog.”

So polite. He wondered what she was wearing. He couldn’t help himself. A French maid in vinyl - or leather. After all this was an up market establishment if his research was correct. A flimsy silk nothing with cheeky nipples peeking out at him or a gushing black creation of lace revealing a lush expanse of cleavage.

“I appreciate your enthusiasm for you work Detective, but I will just confirm your appointment with Miss Amanda.”

Damn it! The woman had summonsed him. And here he was loitering at the door like some common Joe. He pulled himself up again. This was an establishment, not a brothel and the door looked like any other door on the strip. He could easily have been waiting for his accountant or lawyer or style guru to buzz him up.

“Thank you for your patience Detective Hartog. Miss Amanda will see you now.”

He glanced at his watch and waited for the door to click. It was a good he’d never had an interest in getting on the Vice and Device team. His mind was too fertile, too active to allow sex and breasts and legs up to here to bleed into his thoughts. Cloud his judgement. Women were always his downfall. Dead was the only way he could cope with them.

The receptionist was waiting for him at the door, in a simple black suit, a flourish of scarlet beneath the jacket. Fumbling with his holographic badge, he mentally dropped kicked himself – caught up in his own fantasies. No lace or leather here. Purely business.
“May I get you something to drink Detective Hartog? Coffee, tea or perhaps something a little stronger?”
“Water will be fine.” He’d given up the hard stuff. His doctor telling him it was booze and an early grave, which for a while had seemed the better option.
“If you take a seat Miss Amanda will be with you in a moment.”

Ten minutes later Miss Amanda appeared in an almost identical black suit, this time with a violet blouse beneath, plunging to unbusinesslike depths beneath the tailored suit jacket. Hartog dragged his eyes from the cleavage and rose from his seat. She towered over him and that was saying something. Even without the heels she was a giant. And he knew, that she knew it.

“I appreciate your expediency Detective,” she said, striding down a corridor to a large, sun drenched office with lush tropical plants at strategic decorating points. “I was just tying up a loose end. I apologise for the wait.

It had to be a trick of lighting. There was never that amount of clean, clear sunshine in the city. Everything was painted in the tawdry shade of pollution – but in here, the den of iniquity it was bright. No shadows dancing in the corner.

Miss Amanda motioned to a spartan leather chair to the side of her desk and settled herself opposite him, a pitcher of water between them and two crystal glasses. No expense here. It was more comfortable than it looked. Many things in this place were more or less than they seemed.

Miss Amanda, the Madame was one point in question. She was neither young nor old. Her dark hair rolled into a timeless French bun at the back of her head and her long legs casually crossed. Neutral make up enhanced her simple beauty. She could have been stunning but she chose not to b.

“I am interested to know how the Clarice’s case is progressing Detective.” She poured and offered him a drink.
“It looks like the case of another whore being cut up.” He took a long gulp at the ice cold water and winced the pain freezing his frontal lobes for a moment.
Miss Amanda uncrossed her legs and lent forward. “My girls are not whores Detective. Let’s get that straight from the beginning. Clarice was one of my highest paid call girls. She has a Masters degree in Engineering and was studying for her PhD.”
“And her death is bad for business.”

Miss Amanda lent back and recrossed her legs. Hartog took out tiny recorder and placed it on the table in between them.
“You don’t mind if I record this conversation.” He couldn’t bring himself to call her Miss Amanda and she didn’t fit the title of Ma’am. And he wasn’t really asking her permission any way.

“Clarice came to me about a month ago and told me she had a problem. It appears one of her clients had taken an unhealthy interest in her.”
“It’s a rather unhealthy business you dabble in.” He narrowed his right eye and looked hard at Miss Amanda – no surname that he could find on the City’s database.
“I told you Detective my girls are not whores. They are paid for services other than sex. They are sought after because they are intelligent and beautiful. Clarice was worried he was falling in love with her. That it would complicate things.”

“Don’t mix love and business hey?” Miss Amanda didn’t bite. She didn’t even twitch. “Who was this client Clarice was upset about.”

Miss Amanda’s eyes lowered and held the warp and weave of her suit pants in her gaze as she contemplated her answer.
“As you can appreciate Detective – my business is of a delicate nature and we normally protect the identity of our clients. But in this case..” she broke off and poured herself a glass of water. Long pale fingers curled around the crystal glass. She drank slowly. “Clarice had a number of high profile friends through our agency.”
“Miss Amanda,” the words fell out his mouth before he could catch them. He felt like he was addressing the old bitch who had taught him third form algebra. “Either you tell me now or I come back with a search and seize warrant.”

“Let me remind you Detective you were invited here for this discussion and that my friends sit in places much higher than you.”
“Touche.” Hartog stood, reaching out for the recorder and turning it off. “Strictly off the record, who was Clarice concerned about.”
“She told me Howard McClean was in love with her.”
“The Minister of Defence!” Hartog sat back down in the warm leather, allowing it to cushion and comfort his skinny frame. “You are telling me the Minister of Defence, the former leader of the Puritan party is one of your clients. That he’s implicated in the murder of a call girl.” Hartog laughed. “I’m sorry Miss Amanda, but I just don’t believe that.”

“Mr McClean has a penchant for smart, witty women. He likes conversation. Clarice was good at conversing. You only have to look at his wife to know he’d be seeking stimulation outside of his marriage.”
“Are we talking double entrendes here?”
Miss Amanda ignored him. “I am suggesting to you Detective that someone got to Clarice as a warning to the Minister. And I imagine that would be of interest to you and your colleagues at the Department of Civil Welfare.”

Hartog turned the recorder back on and placed it on the table between them.
“Was there anything special about Clarice?”
Miss Amanda reached out and switched the recorder off.
“You insult me with such a question Detective. Perhaps I called the wrong person.”

Hartog stood again, slipping the recorder into his deep coat pocket.
“Thank you for your time. I will keep you updated as to the progress of the case. And I do appreciate our little chat.” He emphasised the words, mimicking her faux politeness. Smiling a crooked smile and let himself out before she could get out of her chair.

As he rode down in the elevator he slipped an ear pod in and waited for the phone call. He sat further down the street drinking a bad coffee when the call finally went through.
“They have Hartog on the case.” “Did he mention anything about the InfoCap?” “He said nothing about anything found on the body and I didn’t want to venture with leading questions.” “Did you really think someone like Hartog would whip the InfoCap out onto the table and ask if you knew what it was?” “I did as you asked. I feed him the information. Now what?” “We wait and see. Did he mention Clarice’s brother?” “He’s got no idea. He never mentioned her surname. He thinks it is just another whore being cut up – quote unquote.” “The department would not put Hartog onto a whore slashing. Sit tight. You have done well Amanda.” “My pleasure sir. Would you like me to book you someone for this week.”

Hartog smiled and took the tiny capsule out of his pocket again. So it had a name. An InfoCap. He charged his coffee streaked mug in mock toast to Miss Amanda and waited while his notebook brought up all the information the City’s database had on Clarice, wirelessly programming the last known address for her neurologist brother Benjamin into the NavMan. It was only when the photo of Benjamin came up Hartog smiled with genuine heart for the first day. Benjamin, aka BenJin was the city’s most notorious feedo. The day was getting more interesting by the second.

The recently added part two in the Dirk Hartog series is Derby

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Unsent Letters #8: The Sun

Dear John,
The sun was out today. I took myself out with a book and lay there for hours. It was like I was a depleted battery sucking up the energy. It felt good to be warm again. I took a book out with me but couldn't concentrate. Which doesn't surprise me - I didn't think I would be able to concentrate, but like the sun, it felt good to just hold it in my hand.

Smal touch stones my mother would say. Small things that anchor us in the here and now. Who would have thought she would go all new agey.

I'm sending you some beautiful sun John - breathing the gorgeous rays of light into every word as I write them.

I hope it is warm where you are - somehow.
Love Sissy xxxx

Monday, May 18, 2009

Unsent Letters #7: Parents

Dear John.
I should have known that by some weird 6th sense my parents would have known about yesterday and descended. Which of course they did today.

I tried to assure them I was ok - which was pretty hard given I don't remember the last time I slept for more than two hours at a stretch - nor went to sleep before the small hours of the morning. It seemed I spent more time trying to ease their worries that the reverse. I didn't dare tell them about the police coming over yesterday. It would have really set them off.

What they have done - which hopefully will help with the worry and the stress - Dad will pay the rent until I am back on my feet. I wanted to assure him I would pay ever cent back once I got back on my feet but I just smiled and said thank you. I have no idea when I will get back on my feet.

Mum told me I need to take it one day at a time, one hour, one minute. Sounds like she's been reading some weird Louise Hays stuff - or Buddhist. That sort of stuff is Buddhist isn't it. So I worked at it while they were there. One minute at a time until they were gone.

Mum begged me to come home and stay with them - they were really worried about me and my safety. I told them I want to be in my home, surrounded by my stuff. I don't want to be fussed over. Just left to get on with it as best I can.

They were so careful not to mention you John. After the mail incident I took all the mail and hid it. I should have asked Mum and Dad to take it over to your parents - but I didn't want to put them in that position. I might ask Larissa if she will drop it over to your parents. They will know what to do with it. But at the same time - I don't want to make it any worse for them than it already is.

What would you do John? Would you're parents have fussed and carried on the way mine are now if our places were reverse. If you were here and I was there?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Unsent Letters #6: Anger

Dear John,
I'm angry. They say that it's cathartic. They say that it is good for me. Someone has even tried to tell me that it is a compass and I should look to where it is pointing to get my answers. To find some healing.

Well if my anger is a compass it is pointed squarely at the police.

Two of them turned up here today and stood at the door expecting to be let in. I looked down at the pile of mail growing for you on the table by the door and wanted to scoop it all up and hide it before they came in. But of course there was no time.

They of course stared at it and stared at me. No one made a comment though. It was like there was a huge pink elephant doing the macarena in the loungeroom that everyone pretended wasn't there.

They said they just wanted to ask a few questions. I told them I wasn't feeling up to asking any questions - perhaps they could come back another time. They told me they had been patient up until now and they really had to ask me the questions. I could feel the sear and the crack in my head.

Told them I had a head ache to come back another time but they insisted. So much for community relations.

I don't know why they bothered. I couldn't tell them anything they didn't already know. I don't know what they were expecting. Me to tell the truth or something? Assuming that I actually knew the truth? I have no idea what was going on in your head at the time. I thought maybe they were trying to pin it on me - given they can't get to you. When I kept saying I don't know they treated me like I was being obstructionist - that's the word I'm sure they used. As if I was purposely feigning a mental lapse.

So now they've got nothing more than they had a few hours ago and I've got a head ache which feels likea canyon is cracking open down the middle of my skull. The medication they've given me makes me puke - so it's have the head ache, or try and keep the stuff down long enough to have an effect then hope the vomitting doesn't bring it on again.

Wish I had have known what you would have done in my circumstances. Gone and hid somewhere quietly like when the Jehovah's came around. Remember the dude that knocked on the door the first Sunday we slept at the new place - before there was any furniture and the three of us just drank and passed out on the shag pile carpet? Who puts shag pile down on the floor in the tropics and thinks it's a good idea.

Remember the guy knocked on the door, 'happy first morning in the new house - as per the jehovah's' - he took one look at me and said 'a picture tells a thousand words and I bet you've got a good story to tell.' I don't remember now if I just shut the door in his face of tried a wise crack.

At least I'm smiling now - even though my head hurts!

We were good together - weren't we John. Bad, but so good at it!

Love you
Sissy xxxx

Life Is Sweet

In honour of Mercury Retrograde (active until May 31st) and on the heels of my Write Anything column this week 10 Writing Tips for Using Mercury Retrograde Energy here is some old writing I've dug up - circa 2001! Thankfully my ability is weave fact and fiction has become a finer art form rather than an act of being clobbered over the head with a sledge hammer. It is a first draft and probably littered with errors! Let the embarrassment begin ...

Lily was a mathematical genius she decided. One bottle of chardonnay, plus one bottle shiraz and a bottle of bubbly tossed in for good measure equalled one bloody sore and swollen ankle – even when the total volume was divided by two – half for Lily, half for Wil.

She looked down to the contortion of swelling and mulberry coloured bruising that had been a slender ankle five days earlier. They said that you learnt from your mistakes and she had learnt an important lesson – the consumption of large amounts of wine did not empower one to think that they could take the dog for a walk at midnight, if your mobile so chose to have no service in the particular area that you were partaking in these large amounts of wine .. and further more … if this midnight wander was for the quest of mobile service so one could ring a friend in England to track down one’s ex boyfriend’s new work number – then - one should just stay at home, crank the music up a little louder and start on the Black Label Bundy. The result may be one hell of a headache in the morning, but in retrospect a far better option than the consequences currently being endured.

Lily scribbled out for the fourth time that evening the sketch that she was working on for her dress for the Moulin Rouge party. The dull throbbing in her ankle was sweeping into a grand crescendo of pain. Mind over matter, she told herself … mind over matter. There was nothing worse than self-pity and she wasn’t going to wallow in that. It had been her own stupid, drunken fault and she would just have to endure the pain, the inconvenience – and – the loss of pay.

“Fuck off!” she swore savagely, as an obese ginger cat, grazed past the crutches neatly stacked against the utility bench in the eating area, behind where she was currently sitting – aimlessly doodling now.

The cat threw her a distasteful look and commenced rubbing against the crutches.

“Fuck off you stupid cat – are you deaf as well as fat.”

Screwing one of the discarded sketches into a ball she turned awkwardly and hurled the pink craft paper in the direction of the cat. It missed by a wide margin and the cat continued to rub its wide head against the crutches, pushing harder against them as they slipped further from it’s pleasure pressure until a moment later they clattered loudly to the off white coloured tiles.

“Jesus Fucking Christ!” swore Lily, pulling her injured foot from the chair across from her and preparing to hop after the much hated feline … and then …

“Is everything OK?” Wil asked calmly emerging from her room, an untidy longhaired Terrier trotting along behind her

“Eeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrr,”
“I’ll go get the cat and lock it out side.”

As usual the fat feline had not ventured far and within a minute it was duly banished from the house. Wil picked up Lily’s crutches and replace them against the utility bench.

“Are you sure you are OK?”
“I’m fine,” lied Lily in a strained voice, sneaking a look at the equally annoying Terrier out the side of her eye.
“Can I get you a drink?”
“Nope I am fine.”

Wil stood there taking in her friend knowing she was lying through her teeth and probably did want a drink but was so exasperatingly independent that she would rather forgo a drink than ask someone else to get her one.
“Well if you’re sure.”
“I’m sure!”

“Are you in much pain honey?” she asked, looking down concerned at her friend’s normally calm face that was forcing the fakest of smiles,
“I’ll be fine. I think I’ll go back to bed and put my foot up. Put some more ice on it.”
“That’s probably a good idea. Now you are sure that you’re fine.”
“YES!”

Lily dragged herself to her feet, gathered up her crutches and gracelessly made her way to the freezer for the ice pack.

“Hey Wil,” she called. “You know how fat cat’s name is Primrose Mary – and how Frank’s into his old boats and stuff.”
“Yeah.”
“Well what do you reckon that if Primrose Mary was a boat that - say sank – do you think he would see the funny side of me drowning the cat in the fish pond.”

Wilbur laughed heartily.
“I think it might be difficult to explain.”
“Yeah. But it was it would but it would feel so bloody good!”
“I know it would babe. Why don’t you grab the ice pack and go rest.”
“Even for medicinal reasons …”
“No Lil.”

At that moment there was an electronic bleep from the adjoining room – Wil’s bedroom.
“I’ve got mail,” Wil quipped happily and disappeared to her email program.

Lily rolled her eyes, slumped against the fridge door and resisted the urge to cry.

“It’s not for me?” Lily called, but she could already hear Wil’s fingers hitting the keyboard in response. “Never mind,” she mumbled, organised the crutches just so, then hauled on the door, got the ice pack and terry towelling cover and fumbled her way down the hall to her room.

The room was reasonably large for a spare bedroom, sparsely furnished with a single bed, an ironing board, a small ? table, a CD tower and a small beside table that held a clockradio-come-cd player. The floor looked like the after math of World War III in a Chinese laundry. Wil had laid a towel down over some of the clothes so when the dog came into her room it wouldn’t sleep on her clothes – just on the towel that was on her clothes. Grrrrrrrrrrr!!! Muffy the bringer in of dirt, grass and burrs.

Lily clamped her eyes shut, tightened her fists on the rung of the crutches and tried not to scream out in sheer frustration. The tiny taps of toenails on the cold ceramic tiles, snapped her out of her inner explosion. She glared at the small dog that looked up at her with big sad eyes from beneath long dishevelled hair. In an instant Lily believed in spontaneous human combustion and that was she about to be the next casualty, as she felt the pressure build up inside her. The dog tentively stepped into her room and look for a comfortable place to lie down.

“OUT!” Lily screamed. “OUT OUT OUT you stupid mongrel. OUT!”

“Muffy, c’mon Muffy” Wil called from her room, in a sickly sweet high pitched tone that just added fuel to Lily’s fire. “C’mon out of Lil’s room.”

The dog gave one last traumatised look and trotted back down the hall. Lily accidentally/on purpose let the door slam, then set about negotiating her way through the mess of clothes, plates, empty coke cans and books on the floor. She just wanted to go home! House sitting with Wil had lost its charm.

When she was an able bodied bi-ped capable of cooking, cleaning and hanging out washing, driving, showering standing up, putting her dirty clothes in the washing basket and generally just being normal (if that was a possible classification for her!) – it had been great. Now it was just a nightmare. She looked distastefully down at the plates on the floor from last night’s salmon risotto that she couldn’t carry back down to the kitchen – that was if she could find a square inch of bench in the kitchen that wasn’t covered in the after math of Wil’s cooking to put it.

With well skilled fingers, she strapped the ice pack to her ankle with one of Wil’s long woolly khaki army socks and propped it up on the mountain of pillows at the end of the bed.

Everything had gone pear shaped and she just wanted her own bed … and Mum.

Now there was a complete cock up if she’d ever seen one.

Saturday morning she had woken with an ankle twice it’s normal size and so painful she could barely move. Wil had still been over the limit to drive Lily to the doctors so in desperation Wil had messaged Lily’s Mum on the internet that Lily had hurt herself.

Like the dedicated and loving mother she was, Lily’s mother had driven the half an hour into house sitting and had then driven her another half an hour back out to her GP, waiting with her, driven her to the hospital for x-rays, back to the GP, to the pharmacy for a cold pack and then back to house sitting. It was three hours that seemed to be three days to Lily, especially as her hangover started to descend on her like an ominous black throbbing cloud. Yes, she had been less than pleasant to her silently suffering mother, and yes, she had snapped at her – but hell she’d been in pain – lots of pain.

Back at house sitting her Mum had wafted about the kitchen looking for ways to help. That was when Lily’s resolve broke.

“Mum – just GO HOME!” she had stormed.
Wounded, her Mum and turned and walked out the door.
“Mum, I’m just tired and in pain,” Lily had tried to explain to soften the blow of her words. “I just want to go to bed and I do appreciate you taking me to the doctors.”
Then her Mum was gone, hurtling down the road in her little Nissan Pulsar and Lily felt like a complete shit.

Sunday night, merry from State of Origin drinks, she’d rung to commiserate with her Mum on the thumping of the Maroons and got the answering machine. She’d left a somewhat garbled message, thought not a lot more of it and sat down to watch the end of “ET” which ended up being a more interesting and exciting option than the football. Monday afternoon it was the answering machine that greeted her and then she began to worry. Her Mum always rang back – fearing the worst she rang her sister.

“You’re an ungrateful and selfish person,” her sister had attacked. “Of course Mum is pissed off with you. You were so rude to her. She’s not talking to you and I don’t blame her.”
“What! I told her that I was tired and sore and that’s why I wanted her to go.”
“No you didn’t. You yelled at her to leave.”
“No I didn’t – what would you know.”
“She came home and told me how nasty you were to her. You’re so selfish.”
“You’re a fucking bitch. Fuck off.”
…….and down the phone had slammed, proving yet again that Lily and sister did not get along.

Lily had sent an offline message to her Mum that morning trying to explain without being a sap, what had happened and that she had not meant to offend her – and still there was stony silence from her mother. It made her feel violently ill – she was never on bad terms with her mother – never! Now all she wanted to do was go home and even that option seemed like a mirage in the current climate of family love.

The chill of the ice pack cut into the traumatised skin. Lily tried to relax, but the tension inside, combined with the morbid feeling from the falling out with her mother left her wondering at which point the bomb inside her would go off. Reaching behind her, she turned the CD on, fast tracked to song 6 and lay there listening the to surreal voice of Dido.

Where was her phone call that made everything better? A week ago she was almost over the broken foot she procured at Easter time, John was happily writing to her from Tennessee once a day, work was finally looking up and life was sweet.

The bottle was always half full in her opinion, but she had to admit to herself that it was becoming increasingly difficult not to see it as half empty – especially when you were now a tri-ped (one good leg and two crutches) your charming e-mailer was off screwing the recently moved in next door and divorced young woman – who was coming to terms with life – and you had no more sick leave to cover you absence from work.

With a rueful grin, Lily did admit all would be bearable if Wil would just give in and let her sacrifice Primrose Mary to the goldfish in the pond out the back.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Unsent Letters #5: I'm sorry

It's all my fault. I'm sorry John.

I was talking to Larissa today. You'd be proud of me - I actually picked up the phone. No screening calls and no procrastinating about calling someone back.

I told her it was all my fault. She drove straight around here. She says it is not my fault and I'm not to think like that. I'm suspicious though. Larissa hugged me. When was the last time she hugged me - ever?

I kept on though. I said it was my idea ... I encouraged you to do ... and this is where we ended up. She was quiet then. I know she wanted to say something but you know Larissa. What would she say. It wasn't something you could just joke about, fob off with a silly smile. She hugged me again.

It must be my fault. Larissa never hugs. It was like she was saying yes it was your fault but you're still OK with me.

Should I ask her if that was the case John?

I want it to be my fault ... but I don't want to have to be responsible for the guilt and pain. I want to say sorry - but first I have to admit I did wrong?

Help me!

Sissy xxxx

Unsent Letters #4: Toothpaste

John,
I'm tired!

How many times did we say that to each other. I dont' remember now what your record for the most number of days strung together without sleep. Mine was three I think - over that Christmas weekend with the English backpacker and the bouncer. It was when I was hanging out with the crazy girlfriend of yours while you were off back home sorting yourself out. Sad it never worked out you between you and Dallie ... but then again, in the end I didn't like her, so perhaps it was a good thing after all.

I was thinking on your name today. For some reason my body is tired but my mind can't be reigned in. I was thinking about all the Johns. The first one coming to mind was John in the colgate add. Remember:

*bash bash bash on the bathroom door*
"Let me in John I bet your using my colgate gel!""

I never asked you if you used colgate gel - or aim. We used Aim at home. How is it we never talked about toothpaste. Did we argue once about the toothpaste we used to get? I don't remember now - but I seem to remember so many other things? I remember we used to get Aim toothpaste and for some reason remember it was the toothpaste which first cracked the 'gel' market - before we knew gel was something you put in your hair to make it stick up like you had put your finger in an electrical socket. I remember when Aim toothpaste came in the pump pack for all the families who lost their lips. Yes - toothpaste once had screw on lids - not flip tops like they have now.

Just like cans of drink (and beer) had ring pulls - now they have the other sort. I remember Bill getting a ring pull can from the vending machine at the beach and us all howling with laughter and daring him to drink it - it was probably old and off. Actually it was everyone else howling with laughter and daring him ... I was just hanging back like always.

You weren't there - it must have been some other holiday other than Easter.

I don't even know what toothpaste you use now John?

Sissy xxx

Only My Heart Calling

This is the prequel to Fiction Friday's Summer Girl.

Rob stared at the photo in his hand, dogged eared and soft with age. He remembered the day they got together infront of the brick wall. Their friend Gordie with his camera and the black and white film they'd all chipped in for.

Four faces staring back at him. Four faces in various guises of cool, detached, brooding and goofing off. That was the four of them then. Before it all fell apart. Back in the days when they were going to be rich, famous, in the top 40 and together forever.

He shoved it into his back pocket and knocked on the door. When no one answered he knocked again. Behind the sage green door he could hear the mumble of Julia’s voice. He assumed it was Julia's voice. “Julia, it’s me Rob. I know you’re in there.”
He waited a few minutes and tried again.
“C’mon Julez, open up … please.”

The guitar felt like a lead weight in his hand. Coming down the hallway didn’t seem as good an idea as it did half an hour ago.
“Go away!”

His knocking became more urgent. “Don’t be like that Julez.
The door opened a crack. Instead of looking at him, she looked down on the floor and frowned when she saw the guitar.
“I’m not up for a sing along. Go to bed.”

Rob forced his foot between the door and the jamb.
“Get your foot out or I’ll go and call security.”
“Can’t I come in for a few minutes and talk.”
“There’s plenty of time to talk tomorrow. You’re drunk. Go to bed.”
"You think I'd have to be drunk to do this?"

Rob threw his weight against the door catching Julia off guard and took a couple of steps into her room. The first thing he saw was the bottle of gin.
“You brought gin with you?” Rob glared at her.
“It’s not what you think.”

Her face was red but her eyes sad. The flash of anger gone leaving a wash of melancholy in it’s wake.

Rob leant the guitar against the wall and snatched up the bottle of gin, screwing the lid off as he strode to the bathroom and poured it down the shiny stainless steel plug hole. He thought about the first time he’d done it to Julia – her screaming like a banshee, lashing out at him with her finger nails and biting him. He knew she was an alcoholic even back then. He thought she would have got herself sorted out by now.

This time she leant against the door frame watching him, resigned and tired – a once graceful yacht with the wind taken from its sails. Rob held the empty bottle over the sink longer than necessary, rescrewed the metal lid on and handed it back to her.

“As I said, it’s not what you think.” She dropped it in the bin and folded her arms. “I’ve been on the wagon for ten years now. I was on the phone to my sponsor Marty while we were banging on the door to get in. It was a dumb thing to buy coming in through customs. I just thought … So you got in.” She smiled at him, the first smile he’d seen in an eternity. “What do you want to talk about at midnight?”

Rob was silent. He didn’t really want to talk. He wanted to stare at her face – look for the familiar contours and quirks – the face he once knew like the back of his hand – which like the back of his hand was now older, wrinkled. The youthful glow gone and a hard determination left in its place.

He had sat in his room a few doors up and remember what it had been like once to hold her in his arms, their naked bodies pressed together. His finger winding the russet strands of her hair. Remembering the way she would look at him when she pulled her sunglasses down on her nose, eyes twinkling. The way she looked in his PJ top, her long legs gorgeous beneath the striped flannelette. But he couldn’t tell her that.

“You brought your guitar. You planning on serenading me?”
“I never serenaded you. It was more like you caught me in the allure of your voice. Like a siren.”
“Poetic Rob.”
“What do you think a song writer is …. Jim Morrison was a poet first and foremost in his mind.”
“And dead now.”
“He was dead when you worshipped him.”
“You grow up. You live and learn.”

The room was chilly. Even though it was June, Julia had the air conditioning cranked, pumping out frigid air.

They stood staring at each other, Rob trying to work out where the hell the girl he had once loved had gone. Julia trying to fight the old pull towards him. She understood now why she had exiled herself on the other side of the world. Desire. Guilt. Regret.

She shouldn’t have come. But she didn't have a choice.

“I’m sorry for being snarky.” She unfolded her arms and walked across to where the guitar hung out by the door – like a groupie, watching and waiting. “Play me a song. You could always put me in the right mood with your guitar.”

Rob took it reluctantly now, and sat in the door way of the bathroom, his back braced against the frame. He remembered the moods he could get Julia into with his guitar, but he hadn’t bashed down her door to seduce her.

She sat across from him, sitting as she had always done, kneeling with her feet neatly tucked under the bum. He picked at the strings. He knew what he wanted to play, what he wanted to hear her sing. But now sitting with her across from him, her face unreadable he wasn’t sure he had the guts. It seemed stupid, petty - so long ago.

Twenty years ago, after she’d slept with Zac she had just disappeared from his life. Cleaning out the meagre savings she had, boarding a plane to London. No note, no good-byes. No nothing. Then a message a month ago from Jason saying UQ were holding the 20 year anniversary of their Battle of the Bands – wouldn’t it be fun to all get back together a play again.

Maybe for Jason, thought Rob who had always just wanted to be up on stage with legions of nubile girls adoring him and inviting him back to their place. After the band busted up Jason had tried stand up comedy – he’d gone to his first couple of open mics but couldn’t bear any more. Jason had no sense of keeping face and Rob could only cringe so much on his behalf. Then he’d tried acting – unsuccessfully so and finally gave in, after dropping out of uni, tried carpentry and ended up as an agent. He's seen his name occassionally. It would be impossible not to be owning the biggest digital indie music house. The Australian music industry wasn't that big.

It wasn’t Jason’s harebrained enthusiasm for the band’s reunion – but Jason’s assurance that Julia was flying back home from London to play with them again. And Zac.

As Rob’s mind wandered, his fingers picked out the tune they had come to play and when he looked up, he could see the tears, cold and wet on Julia’s face. He pushed the guitar aside and crawled across, taking her in his arms.

“I’m sorry Julia. I …”
She cried and Rob held her tightly until the shudders died down and all that was left was his damp shirt and a few sniffs. She looked up at him through her puffy eyes and asked, “I never understood why the fascination with Margaret Urlich. Seems so – so Un-Cureish.”

Rob laughed and squeezed her tight.
“It’s not Urlich – it’s the song. It was the first thing I ever heard you singing. Up on the stage in the refect. You must have been a first year.”
“Seems a million years ago but somehow appropriate now." She wiped a finger under her nose. "My heart’s been calling to you for twenty years but I’ve never been brave enough to come back and face you. That night with Zac…”
“That night with Zac was twenty years ago. Let’s just be happy in the here and now.”

“But…”
“Twenty years in London seems like penance enough.”

Fiction Friday: Summer Girl

[Fiction] Friday Challenge for May 15th, 2009:

Four college bandmates who haven’t seen each other in years travel back to their former campus for a reunion.

Jason looked terrible – prematurely grey, wrinkled, over weight and still pretending to be young, beautiful and cool, when he’d never been any of them in the first place. The picture on Facebook had either been photoshopped or was a good ten years old.

Rob didn’t want to judge him, they had once been brothers in arms, if not friends in a weird musical kind of way, but he couldn’t help but stare into the face of what he may have become. Hanging onto a dream that died years ago.

The small talk dragged on as the three of them tried to find common friends, common incidents – anything in common to talk about. Anything but the band.

“Fuck – this is so middle aged,” Jason said, with an over exaggerated sweep of his arm. They were sitting in the Coffee Club on the Queen Street Mall. “When did we ever have a band meeting in a café. I remember getting together in that fucking dive you lived in Robbo – up there on Petri Terrace. Flagons of port and goon. Pissing the old ladies off next door jamming until all hours. Man – those were the days. Now we’re doing lattes. There must be somewhere open at 10am for a beer.”

“You really think that going into a bar at 10am in the morning is a good idea when Julez is a recovering alcoholic.”
“Shit Julez. Sorry man. I had no idea.”
“It’s cool.”

Jason’s phone went off, blaring “We Are the Champions” and he picked it up.
“Yeah babe, sure. Yeah yeah. I’ll pick you up later on.”

Julia grabbed his hand under the table and squeezed it. He could feel her rubbing the indent in his finger from the wedding band.
“Sure. Later babe.”

He tossed the mobile across the table and lent back in his chair. “She’s a babe. Leg’s up to here and just 23 years old. Half your age and add seven years. That’s the formula I go by.”

Julia shot a look sideways at Rob – he’d seen it before. Rob pulled his mobile out of his pocket and sat the brand new iPhone next to Jason’s battered Nokia, as a waitress stopped at their table.

“I’ll have a corona? You don’t mind do you Julez honey?”
“Go right ahead. I’ll have a macchiato please.”
“What the fuck is that?”

Rob looked down at his watch.
“Make that two.”
Zac was meant to have joined them fifteen minutes late. Julia squeezed his hand and forced a smile that looked all wrong on her face.

“So you guys together again. That’s sweet. That’ll knock Zac’s socks off.” Julia pulled her hand out from under the table. “You know I never understood Julez – why’d you knock me back .. I mean first Zac, then Rob, then back to Zac.”

Rob’s chair squealed as he pushed back.
“I’m not sitting here and listening to your shit Jason. You know what – I’m sorry you didn’t get to be a big rock star, or movie star and you haven’t managed to find the next big someone -“
“Rob!” Julia reached out and grabbed him on the arm. “This is tough on all of us. Sit down.”

Rob stared down at her and then across to Jason, lowering himself back in his seat looking as if at any moment he would just stalk off.
“Cool it Robbo – I was out of line. I was always pissed that she did everyone in the band except me.”

He reached across the table to shake, but Rob didn’t move.
“Shake his hand,” Julia said, forcing a smile that didn’t suit her face. ‘We’ll drink our coffees-“
“Beer!”
“We’ll drink our drinks by which time Zac will be here.”

They sat in silence until the waitress brought their drinks. Jason took a long swig of the beer – draining almost half of it before he slammed it back down on the table.
“Hair of the dog man. Gotta do it!” He winked at Julia and Rob rolled his eyes. “I gotta say I never thought I’d see us all sitting around shooting the breeze. Hell if it weren’t for you ringing Julia I would never have come along.”

“You Julia?” Rob looked at Julia and then to Jason. “Isn’t this something you sorted out Jason?”
Jason shrugged his shoulders.“Shit no! This is lady luck here’s idea. Get us all together.”
“But you rang me and told me about the Battle of the Bands.”
“Battle of the bands – what the hell are you talking about?” Jason said, picking up his beer, letting it linger on his bottom lip. “Has your brain gone to mush with all the techno shit you do?”

Rob leaned forward. “You rang me a month ago and told me UQ were having a battle of bands reunion.”
“No way man. This is the first time I’m talking to you since the band split.”
“Actually since you were doing stand up down in the Valley.”
“Fuck yeah – I’d forgotten about that.” He took another swig of beer. “I couldn’t care less if I never saw the hairy motherfucker again. He promised he’d take me with him to Sydney when the band split – going to make it big. Fuckwit lied.”
“You knew he was planning on busting the band up?”
“Fuck yeah – he wanted to go to Sydney. Said he’d need a good drummer.”

“Did you steal them?” The chair screech backwards again, followed by Jason’s. “You stole my songs. You had a key to my place? You did it so Zac would take you to Sydney with him. And he doubled dealed you.”
“I didn’t know anything about your fucking songs Robbo. I didn’t steal them.” But neither Rob or Julia were convinced.
“You knew they were good, you knew they were destined to make us famous. All you wanted was to be famous. So you stole my songs.”

The table fell to the side as Jason lurched across the table, grabbing for his shirt.

“Stop it,” Julia yelled, forcing herself between them, where the table had been.
“And as for you. Zac fucked you to break the band up. And you couldn’t wait to spread your legs for him. He was right when he said it would be easy.”

Julia slapped him. “You take that back!” Tears stung her eyes. “It didn’t happen that way.”
“Of course it did.”
“I was drunk.”
“Weren’t you always.”

Rob held Julia back, putting his arms around her.
“Fuck off Jason. You’re a waste of space.”

“Is there a problem here?” Rob turned to face the manager. “It’s all good. He’s just leaving.”
Jason spat on the ground and picked his wallet and mobile up from among the broken crockery and the smashed salt and pepper shakers.

Kate Bush’s Wuthering Height’s soared from Julia’s hand bag, lying on the ground. She broke free from Rob and riffled through to find it. The screen came up with ONE MISSED CALL. ZAC. It beeped and she accessed her message bank. When she stood up, clutching her bag and her mobile she saw Rob handing the manager and fifty dollar bill and picking his iPhone up from the mess on the ground.

“Let’s go,” Rob said. He took her arm firmly and led her out the door, into the cool morning air. She shook free and stood blocking his way.
“It’s not what you think it is.”
“Who called me?”
“A friend of mine. I had to make it look like I wasn’t the one organising it or else you wouldn’t have come.”
“I only came because Jason – whoever – said you were going to be here.” Rob shook his head. “At least it explains why you had no gear in your room last night.”

Julia hooked her arm through his and towed him into the flow of the Mall.
“If I called and said Zac wanted to see you-“
“I wouldn’t have come. Not even for you. He screwed me. I can’t forgive the prick for what he did.”
“You never sued.”
“I had no evidence those songs were mine. I can’t believe Jason stole my songs and gave them to Zac. Explains why he was so damn cagey around me back then.”

They walked on in silence.
“I admit I lied to get you here.”
“And Jason?”
“He’s beside the point. I needed him to make it look like a band reunion. Zac felt bad about lying to him, using him, he wanted to say sorry – but it was you he wanted to see.”
“I don’t understand Julez. Are you saying you’re in contact with Zac?”

Julia looked away.
“You are?”
“I’ve always been in contact with him. He got me my first singing job in London. You’ve got no idea how it was when I got there Rob. His star was rising and -”
"He stole the song I wrote for you. You are Summer Girl. And all these years he's sung it. Made a name for himself with it."

Rob pushed her hand away and started to walk fast. Julia grabbed at him.
“Twenty years with no word from you but all the time you had Zac.”
“I ran away for 20 years and I’m not letting you run away now. This is important.”
“Were you sleeping with him?”
“Last night it didn’t matter to you what happened between Zac and I and now it does.”
“So you did.”
“You’re putting words in my mouth.”
“I’m over this Julez. Go back to London, go back to wherever just get the hell out of my life.”

“He’s dying,” Julia called as Rob strode off. “Zac’s got pancreatic cancer and he’s not going to last the month out.”

Rob stopped but didn’t turn around.
“He was coming this morning to sign the rights of Summer Girl and all the other songs to you. He wanted to do what was right. When he dies you’ll own the copyright of all your songs and all of his … and the royalties that come with it.”
“I don t believe you.”

Julia stuck her hand in her bag and pulled out some folded papers, tapping Rob on the shoulder with them.
“He just brokered a deal with Coke. A multi-million dollar deal.”
“I don’t want his money.”
“You’re money actually.”
“I said I don’t want the money. I don’t need the money.”
“But you want your song back – don’t you.”

“You say he’s dying?”
“They wouldn’t let him out of hospital to come this morning. He wanted to do it in person – but –“
“He sent you as his messenger. Always the go between. Saint Julez of the Arseholes.”
“Don’t be a stubborn bastard. Don’t let your pride get in the way of granting a dying man his last wish.”

Julia pulled a small card from her bag and handed it to Rob.
“Go to him. Go make things right. Then you and I can try and make things right between us."

The prequel to this story is Only My Heart Calling. Decided it was too long to post as the one story.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Unsent Letters: Affogato

Dear John,
It's better here today.

Larissa came over and dragged me out for coffee. You know what Larissa is like - I couldn't say no and she agreed to just walk around the corner. She also "made" me try something new - says it is time to live a bit and I didn't even take offence at that. How can you ever be mad with Larissa?

So I had an affogato - expresso and icecream. Weird and wonderful all at the same time. It made me think of the night we went to the casino for my birthday and you "made" me try a Black Velvet. While coffee and icecream go together (though technically the temperature difference makes it a bit wrong) - I have to remind you that the Guiness and champage did not.

I thought about global warming as I watched the icecream melt. If I can grok the whole icecream melting in my expresso metaphor of global warming - why can't others. We need someone to come down and slurp up all the excess water. But then we'd probably just have a drought and it would be worse than a 6m rise in global sea levels. Guess there's no easy answers.

Larissa found out I'd never had take out coffee before - meaning she "made" me go and get a long black to take away with us. I have to admit I felt just a little bit cool wandering out with the coffees in a carrier - Larissa ordered a caramel latte just so I could carry them all out. Like I was some office wench doing the coffee run. Why I would think being the office wench would be cool I don't know. How is it we never took coffee out? I guess coffee always meant sit in - why would you want to waste good coffee rushing around between point A and point B in life?

We walked around the block, then people watched at the bus stop for a while. Larisa can be so filthy at times. It took forever for the coffee to cool which meant having to listen to more of her comments than I would have otherwise chosen to. She thinks it's funny whenI blush uncontrollably. It must have been the expresso.

The hits of expresso were just what I needed - though now I'm feeling a bit shakey and wired. Remember when we drank five short blacks and then went to see Romeo and Juliet? It feels a little like that - only I didn't return home to discover I'd been wandering around the street with a huge rip up the back of my dress and my bare arse hanging out. Thankfully I was wearing jeans and the seams are pretty sturdy - well at the moment.

Larissa says I need to speak to my folks about money. I don't want to bring it up if they haven't offered. You'd think they'd have offered to help. As if there isn't enough to deal with already. I want to see if there is another option before I ring them for help.

I got out Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness and played the rat in a cage song over and over again. I wanted to feel angry but there's nothing. No sadness, no regret, no guilt - just emptiness. And at night - fear? Maybe I'm not a lost cause if I'm afraid.

Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage.

Do you feel like that rat John? Is it like being in a cage?

I miss you.

Sissy xx

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Unsent Letters: The Darkness

Dear John,
It's dark. So dark. They tell me it won't always be like this - but how would they know. They tell me that like night, day finally comes ... but really, what's the point of day. It's just walking death.

I wish I could hear your voice - something tangible, something real to hold onto in the darkness. You'd think I would have grown out of my fear of the dark but it seems more real now than when we were kids.

I'd blame you - but it's not your fault. I'd give anything now for you to be hiding around the corner from the toilet door - ready to spring out and scare the shit out of me.

Well I am scared. More scared than I have ever been.

Are you scared too John?

Sissy xx

Monday, May 11, 2009

Unsent Letters: Dear John

Unsent Letters is a writing exercise I started over at Write Anything. For the next 21 days I will be posting a fictional letter from one character to another.


Dear John,
I can’t help but think that one day it might be ‘one of those letters’ every time I scribble those two words at the beginning of a letter. So ingrained in the cultural vernacular those two words are. Perhaps I should change your name – could you be Johnny – Jon? Jim Jude. I wonder if Jude is a shortening of Judas?

I’m sitting here listening to the Rolling Stones as I write this. Anything to fill the void up with. I can’t stand the silence. I once thought the silence was lonely – now it just feels like a terrible vortex that will suck me in if I let it through the door. So I fill the flat up with noise. Guess it is not terribly nice of me to call the Stones ‘noise’. Guess also that anything turned up loud enough becomes noise?

Is it quiet where you are?

What are you listening to John?

It’s getting late. I should try to get to sleep. I never seem to be able to drift off before the CD ends. If only there was enough money for an iPod and I would have a week’s worth of music at my disposal. Maybe then I would actually sleep.

Hope you are sleeping wherever you are John?

Yours,
Sissy

Friday, April 17, 2009

[Fiction] Friday: Lea

[Fiction] Friday Challenge for April 17th, 2009:


Include this line somewhere in your story: “I’m never doing that again.”

The drums pounded in Lea’s head. An impatient finger jabbed at the elevator button as the rhythm began to build, from a quiet throb easily ignored to an insistent pounding. An hour earlier she’d washed down a handful of aspirin with the warm dregs of a bottle of mineral water in an attempt to quash the pain in the early stages.

How could I have missed the warning?

Lea understood now, staring defeated across the empty office space she had left it too late. The only light left on her floor was the single energy efficient bulb at elevator landing. Lightning flashed and Lea imagined the boom following closely behind – the plate glass windows absorbing the sound.

So focused on completing the evenings wires, tidying up all the lose ends Lea had failed to see the storm building out to the west until the final transaction was going through. A month without rain had made her blasé.

A month had passed since the impromptu visit with the healer at the psychic show. She’d wandered in passing the time between talks at an International Monetary Conference – treating herself to a walk through the freak show only to be compelled to actually speak with the woman in the simple white pants suit.

She’d pushed it all into the back of her mind. Committed the unsettling conversation to a mental strong box and piled it with the rest of them, where they could not touch her.

Lea jabbed unrelenting at the elevator button again, as the drumming in her head built.

Where the hell is the elevator?

According to the numbers above the doors the elevator hadn’t moved from the ground floor, despite her best efforts to rouse it from its slumber.

She lent her fevered forehead against the chill of the metal elevator door. Now was not the time to panic, even though she recognised the cold, winding its way through her bowel and up to her stomach. Screwing her eyes shut she hammered on the elevator door. She could risk a guard – after all it was Friday, she was leaving work late, as she always did and no one would consider asking difficult questions. All anyone ever asked her on a Friday was whether she’d join them for drinks at the Jade Buddha.

The answer was always no.

She had not come this far to choke, but as each second past and the drumming grew more insistent, pounding on the backs of her eye balls, the possibility grew. The cold had reached her stomach and was groping around the edges. The squeeze would not be far away.

It was her own damn fault for not pausing for a moment to stare out the tenth floor window and see the storm building. For fucks sake she’d paused long enough to force the Panadol down her throat.

Why the hell did I not look up - look out?

Looking down at the overnight bag at her feet, Lea seized it in a shaking hand, her lap top still strung across her shoulder. She couldn’t wait. Giving a final stab at the button she moved unsteadily towards the fire exit.

This was the first time she’d lost her balance. All the other episodes had been mild in comparison.

“Miss Lea.”

The voice seemed to come from impossibly far away. She turned and found a security guard striding across to her. It looked as though he moved through a fun house of crazy mirrors. Lea rubbed at her eyes. She needed to be able to see straight.

“I’m not feeling so well,” and the guard caught her as she swayed on her feet. “I’m having trouble with the door.”

“Your security tag Miss Lea.”

The security tag!

The guard swiped his tag and the numbers began to light up above the elevator door.

“Are you joining the rest of them down at the Jade Buddha?”

“No.” Lea didn’t even recognise her voice.

“Probably best to go home. My wife and kids have had what you’re coming down with. Make sure you take yourself off to bed love, warm chicken soup and lots of water.”

Lea was certain that the guard’s wife and kids did not have what she had.

The doors slid open and inside the elevator, away from the prying eyes of the guard, Lea slumped against the wall, dropping the over night bag. Her episodes had never been this bad. In the past there had been a disconcerting disconnection from reality – as if viewing the world through a telescope, or on a TV screen – other times the resistance that comes with moving through water. A sickening feeling of deja vu. And there was always the drumming, pummelling her brain into submission. Then the rain would start to fall.

This time the drums were louder, and the rhythm had shape and cadence. It was as though the drums were singing to her, beckoning her forth.

It was irrational. She knew it and the healer – she would have to have known too. She could not really believe the drivel she imparted to the unsuspecting. Lea didn’t believe in clairvoyants and their sisters.

I'm never doing that again - putting faith were none deserved to be.

Lea had been caught off guard and sought answers where there could be none. Suspending logic. Mistrusting her rational calculation and understanding of the world.

Lea didn’t believe in past lives much less energetic patterns reincarnating looking for resolution. She was not caught in some psychic scratch – like a record needle getting caught on vinyl.

“A door once open can not be closed. It is up to you if you wish to cross the threshold.”

It was as though the woman with her braided hair, heavily highlight with grey and her intense green eyes was in the elevator - so clear was the voice.

She was tired, over worked. Stressed. Living every day on the brink of losing everything. She could feel the kiss of the gun muzzle on her space between her manicured eye brows.

“A door once open can not be closed. It is up to you if you wish to cross the threshold.”

No wonder she was hearing things, seeing things. She rubbed at the space between her eye brows, wishing the drumming would stop.

Lea ran her hands through her short hair and turned to look at her pale reflection in the mirrors. The image swum and for a moment her auburn hair was braided – like the healer’s, with white flowers threaded through it. Lea blinked, rubbing at her tried, dry eyes. She looked into her red rimmed eyes, dark circles encasing the lower part of her eye sockets. Her olive skin seemed to have a deathly pall shimmering just below the surface.

Dead woman walking.

But hadn’t she always been?

You grow up the way I did and you know life is cheap and death is even cheaper.

She stared closer at her forehead, at the red spot between her eye brows where she tapped unconsciously as waited for wires to finalise. Manoeuvring money in the ether – making illegal money, legal, but dirty money could never be clean.

The healer had said her third eye was closed – the space she nervously tapped with her pointer finger. She had lost her ability to tune into her intuition – her higher knowing. But Lea was more in tune to her intuition and her higher knowing than she had ever been. The nervous tendency was testament to that. You never forgot a gun pressed to your forehead.

But the door was closing, regardless of what the healer said – doors do close and new ones open. The end of this chapter of her life was so close. It didn’t need to rain. It was hard enough without struggling through another episode to get to the airport.

This time tomorrow I’ll be in the Caymens.

“Ground floor.” An impeccable English voice broke through her thoughts as the elevator doors slid open.

Author's Notes
This is the second part of a story written a few weeks ago The Stamford ... and there will be at least two more installments to come.

Please feel free to leave constructive criticism. I will be going back to tweak the oncoming weather and removing all the word repetitions :)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Belgium Beer Cafe

[Fiction] Friday Challenge for April 10th, 2009:

A dentist is stabbed while he waits in line at the movies.

Roly’s face paled and his jaw dropped a degree, giving him the hang dog look he was so famous for at university. To Lawrence it just made Roly look brain dead and he’d often imagined a silver line of drool escaping the corner of his fleshy mouth.

“Seriously dude, that’s bad.”

Lawrence wondered if Roly spoke to his clients like that–looking up from an income tax summation which revealed a client owed thousands to the tax department. No matter how hard he probed his imagination Lawrence could never see his chartered accountant speaking or behaving like Roly. Lawrence didn’t joke about impacted wisdom teeth and he expected the same professional courtesy of his accountant.

And that was just it. Roly never took anything seriously – except for bad mouthing Gloria. Lawrence felt like he’d finally caught Roly on the back foot and pressed it to his advantage.

“I can’t listen to any more of your paranoia. Your paranoia is giving me nightmares and I have to sleep at night. I can’t turn up to surgery half wacked from sleep deprivation. I have to have steady hands."Lawrence twisted the platinum wedding band on his finger. "If you think that Gloria is a gold digger, if you think that she’s not trustworthy, if you think that she’d never go for a guy like me, much less marry me, if you think I should hire a PI, if you think I should go through her phone records, her diary, her lingerie drawer… I want you to keep it to yourself. No more …. I’m serious Roly.”

The nightmare had sealed Lawrence’s decision to take Roly to task over the diatribe which accompanied their Friday luncheon’s ever since Roly had first introduced Gloria to Lawrence and they'd fallen head long into what Roly called a shot gun wedding.

How it had taken Lawrence so long have the Roly epiphany he didn’t know - was just be glad at 4:26am this morning, recovering from his nightmare, he realised with friends like Roly he didn’t need to covet enemies. Most people after all were terrified for dentists.

While mild mannered for most part and in no way into metaphysical weird shit, like his twin sister Lorraine, Lawrence could not ignore the obvious meaning of his dream.

Standing in line, with tickets for the three of them, waiting for Roly and Gloria to see “This is Your Life” and the shattering blow from behind – the knife blade penetrating between his shoulder blades as he sank to his knees sobbing, groping behind to pull the knife free of his flesh.

Well he was pulling the knife free now. The back stabbing would stop.

“Sure, sure. I get it. No more stuff about Gloria.” He took a long draught from his black frothy pint. “Hey remember when you ripped your biceps working out to look like the dude on the Oral B add.”

“Yeah only to discover that he wasn’t really a dentist and that’s why they didn’t show his face on TV. I couldn’t write and no doctor would give me a medical certificate to cover my stupidity and I flunked scientific principles of surgery and lost my perfect grade point average. Yeah I remember it. And I remember that it was your idea that I work out. You said it would do me good to no longer be perfect. I had to go back to uni for an extra semester to do the subject again while you were doing the horizontal tango with girls in London.”

“Hey dude. I’m sorry. And for all the other shit that I badgered you with at uni about being a feeb. Look at you – you turned up to be the one who snared the girl huh?” He took a long drink of his Toohey’s Old. “No hard feelings.”

Lawrence had the unsettling feeling that Roly was being genuine – though he couldn’t be sure. There had never been single moment in their friendship when Roly had given any indication he had a sincere bone in his body.

“You’re not off to have open heart surgery of something Roly?” Lawrence looked down at the overnight bag at Roly’s feet, snuggled compactly under the table, wondering at the subdued tone in his best friend.
“Just a boring CPA conference in Canberra. Heart surgery sounds like a blast in comparison – at least they knock you out. You know what I’m saying.”Lawrence nodded and drained the last of the mineral water from his highball. “What you got planned for the weekend?”
“I’m going to take Gloria up to Mooloolabah. One of the other surgeons I know has an apartment up there he’s lending us. It’s a surprise.”
“Sounds like an action packed weekend.” Lawrence didn't need to see the wink to know that the sentence was punctuated with one.

Lawrence looked at his watch and remembered the cheques in the inside pocket of his suit jacket.

“I gotta run. I did mates rates for a friend and have to bank the cheques. The girls refuse to go to the bank since everything is done by electronic transfer now.”
“I'd love to see that Olivia tottering up the Mall on those three inch heels.” The lewd look on Roly’s face made Lawrence cringe – especially considering Olivia was yet to reach her 20th birthday, making Roly almost chronologically challenged enough to be her old man.

Roly rose and extended his hand. Lawrence grasped the bear paw in his long elegant surgeon’s hand, grateful Roly wasn’t taking the opportunity to emphasise his power and strength in a single bone crushing squeeze.

“Take care bud.”

As Lawrence walked off he stopped to look back at Roly, beer in one hand and a client brief in the other, the manila folder destined to soak up either errant grease or beer from the table top. Lawrence kept on, through the swirling menagerie of the raucous Friday lunch time crowd; he felt seven foot tall – viewing all the banality from afar, having finally risen above it. Stepping out onto the pavement at the Mary and Edward Streets Lawrence was relieved for having spoken his mind to Roly, for putting his foot down. For being a man!

For too long he’d allowed Roly to run rough shod over him, belittle him and his relationship with Gloria. Too late, as usual he remembered the joke he’d intended to use at some stage over lunch to attempt to put Roly back in his place, “What do accountants use as a contraceptive …. Their personalities!”

Lawrence smiled to himself and whistled a nameless tune, as he made his way to the ANZ branch in Queens Street, along Eagle Street for a change, flowing with the tide of pedestrians rather than fighting his way through them. There was a moment when the sun peaked out from behind the heavy steel grey clouds that had been crowding the skies for days – doing nothing but threatening rain.

Standing at the Eagle-Elizabeth-Creek Streets intersection Lawrence thrust his hands in his pockets and discovered they were empty except for a few silver coins – he’d left his keys on the table in the reverie of having won against Roly. The cheques would wait until Monday. He rang Roly, but his call diverted to voice mail after three rings. Lawrence stepped up the pace, back tracking to the Beer Café and in through the side door directly into the beer garden.

At first he told himself it wasn’t her laughter, there were plenty of women patrons, wine glasses in hand, designer handbags slung over designer shoulder pads. Gloria was spending the day at the Japanese Bath House in Newstead. As he neared the table he’d recently vacated, leaving Roly to his chips and his half drunk pint of Old, he knew it was her. Her neck, her gym sculptured shoulders and arms in the sleeveless sundress he’d bought her last week. Her platinum blonde hair recently retouched at the roots. His Gloria sitting in his seat with the gorgeous red Manzoni carry on at her ankle.

His legs felt dead, like they had in his dream as the unseen assailant drove the knife between his shoulder blades.

And he understood now, as he saw Roly’s hairy paw clasp her French manicured hand and kiss it, why he’d been left waiting in line in the dream. Gloria and Roly were never coming. The knife wedged between his shoulders twisted and he felt his legs threaten to collapse.

This is your life Lawrence Pehngilly, said a voice none too like Morgan Freeman’s, that swirled in from the ether. If only you had actually listened to what your best mate had been telling you all along.

Author's Note: please feel free to give constructive criticism!!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Light Years

This week's challenge: "A married couple sets out on a six-month adventure, living on their boat while sailing from port city to port city. By the fifth city, they are thoroughly sick of each other and their relationship takes a serious turn for the worse."

Liv gasped, “faster” and pushed her new body to keep pace. Wind cooled her sweat drenched body as it swept past, leaving faint traces of crushed grass and dew laden earth. She looked up and saw the clouds parting above her and the path in front of her lightening in the weak dappled light. Every nerve in her body screamed, she’d long ago hit the wall and had the rush of endorphins that followed. She needed to stop but she ploughed on. Running was the only thing that kept her mind clear, that gave her a sense of freedom. It allowed her to use the boundless energy that youth infused her body with.

This time it was so different and she was struggling to cope. She didn’t want to think about why she wasn’t coping. Jarred told her that she thought too much - she needed to relax. After all the intention of this trip, was to have fun. The last hurrah.

But it was all false.

“Stop!”

The word was barely audible but the running simulator recognised it and the treadmill came to an immediate halt. Liv ran two faltering steps and then hunched over, each gulp of air searing her throat and her lungs.

The lights flickered on and she was standing in a small bare room. Like everything else on the ship, running was just a replica of the real thing; an expensive fake.

Liv crumpled into a sobbing heap, her tears merging with the perspiration to flow in thick rivulets over her flushed cheeks and down her neck. Tears she had tried to run from. Tears she had to hide.

Running was no longer a salve for the imprisonment she felt. You couldn’t simulate freedom – no matter how hard Jarred had tried to make it like the real thing for her. The dream had died and she didn’t have the heart to tell Jarred. He was busy ensconced by day in his book lined den and by night in the home theatre.

She wanted to go home.

But she was never sure. After almost 400 years she could not be certain of her own mind any more and it was disturbing. She had read voraciously about the Methuselah Method before they had agreed to take it for the first time and she had made it her responsibility to keep abreast of the latest developments – not just the scientific research by also the anthropological studies. She knew in the final stages that there was often significant degeneration of the mental faculties before physical deterioration began. That was why she kept her anxiety, her disenchantment and her yearning for home from Jarred. It was uncharacteristic and it would make Jarred suspicious first; then he’d worry.

Jarred deserved better from her.

This was their last time together. Finally they were perusing the dream they had had so many centuries ago conjured, wrapped in each others arms spent from making love and working 18 hours days between uni and part time jobs. Fantastised of when they were living on two minute noodles in run down share houses. They had dreamed of having the money to travel in style around the world. But almost four centuries the world had expanded out into the solar system and beyond.

The body could only take six treatments. Despite the technological advances in her extended life time, age regression therapy still only opened six windows of opportunity before the body rejected the manipulation. The body held stasis for a shorter period each time and the aging process hastened.

She and Jarred had six months maximum enjoying the youth and vigour of being 21 before they would slip into an accelerated aging process. They would both be dead in two years. Liv had always liked the idea that she would not live forever that biology would always put science back in its place. Now she wished for more time. She’d never imagined she’d be wasting the last of her youth like this.More and more she was preoccupied with how long it would last; days wasted stuck on the luxury interstellar cruiser Catalina.

Jarred laughed and dismissed the end with a churlish grin. He took it in his stride, like he did everything. Every case was different. There was no set forumulae to determine individual deterioration. Even the two year cap was a pie in the sky mark, with many patients dying well before the two years and many more after.

But they had wasted no time after the final treatment. Jarred suggested a six month voyage, taking in eight different space ports and without giving it a second thought she’d agreed.

Liv picked herself up off the floor of the simulators, grabbing a towel from a hook by the door and wiping her face and arms as she walked back to the sumptuous bedroom suite. It was all a masquerade though, the canopied four posted bed, the dresser and its accompanying ornate mirror, another chaise lounge and the immense wardrobe that took up one whole wall.

Punching a code into the wall a concealed door opened to the side of the mirror. The safe housed the holographic passports and travel documents of Carole Lombard and Clark Gable, the marriage certificate of Lombard and Gable and the identification chips of Liv and Jarred Greene.

On the black market outpost of Sinope, a tiny moon of Jupiter, they’d had their identification chips removed and refitted, and passports and travel documents procured. Liv remembered the thrill of doing something illegal at her age – it was the same rush as smoking pot for the first time at uni with Jarred. They stayed on Sinope long enough to indulge in some cosmetic changes before jetting to Elara to be remarried as their Hollywood idols on a dramatic outcrop over looking the largest crater of the tiny moon..

It seemed insane now, to do have allowed herself to be swept up in the romance and spontaneity, without giving any thought to what six months in space would be really like. And it was crazy to do what she now intended to do, if Jarred found out there would be day’s long argument. But she had to know.

Right at the back was the tiny Methuselah chip.

In a drawer, beneath piles of bright, expensive lingerie, Liv found her hand held computer and eased the minute titanium chip into the dock at the rear, waiting as the computer accessed the chip. She touched the screen and brought up her treatments, transferring the data into a mathematical modelling programme. It was only then that she saw the discrepancy.

There were only five treatments logged.

Liv reverted to the original screen and stared in disbelief. Beside each treatment was the date, the name of the processor and the clinic and an estimated return date. Beside the latest entry was a return date seven years into the future.

Leaning into the mirror above the dresser Liv searched her face. Tracing her finger around the smooth skin around her eyes, where a month earlier there had been deeply etched crows feet. Her tawny eyes were bright and clear – gone the shadow of age. Her lips were full and plump and the flesh around devoid of laughter crevices; the skin on the back of her hands and throat tight and clear of liver spots. She had thought this was the last time she would be 25. Jarred had told her this was their last time.

Accessing Jarred’s information Liv wasn’t surprised to find the same discrepancy. How was it possible that Jarred, as meticulous as he was, had made such a grave error?

Returning the Methuselah chip to its protective covering and replacing it in the safe Liv tried to keep her mind focused on logic; the irrational threatened to run the gauntlet of her mental processes and destroy any hope she had of thinking, rather than reacting. While she had the wisdom of someone nearly 400 years old, she had the impulses of a 21 year old. It took all her self control not to fly into the library and slap her husband, demand an explanation.

She needed time to process her discovery before she confronted him.

After a hot shower Liv dressed and made her way down the long central corridor to her study. She paused at the portal of Jarred’s study to find him sprawled on his back across a chaise lounge with an ancient paperback copy of The Brothers Karamazov clutched in one hand and his other arm folded under his head. He was the yang of her yin. Without saying a word she continued on.

At her desk she pulled out the fountain pen, heavy grade paper and bottle of green ink Jarred had given her on Europa as they’d both laughed that writing had come back into fashion after falling out of favour 350 years earlier. The retro revival of every 21st century made it a good time to be young again.

Liv wondered now if Jarred had not sabotaged the Com Deck and purposely but them out of contact. She scribbled a quick note to her best friend Marla and sealed it in the off white enveloped, then locking it in the top drawer.

They were headed for Reitsema, the exotic capital outpost of Larissa. Liv’s head was clustered with conspiracy theories about the trip, and counter conspiracy theories. She saw Jarred’s aloofness in a whole new light. Cold dread ran down her back. Three hundred and eight one years of marriage, one of the longest recorded nuptial arrangements and she felt like she didn’t know her husband at all.

How foolishly she had slued off her identity, readily disappearing into the shady genetics lounge on Sinope to have her thick lustrous black locks converted to the honey curls of her idol Lombard. And Jarred with his slicked black hair and dashing moustache. She’d been caught up in the romance that she’d missed the details.

She wondered about their hasty departure from Europa, then the sudden destination change from Phoebe to Hyperion. Then there was the moment on Pandora where she was certain the woman sitting at the bar had been taking more than a casual interest in them. Finally there was the decision to abandon the rest of the scheduled trip to strike out for the next solar Perseus arm of the Milky Way.

Warm lips caressing the throbbing carotid pulse on her neck snapped Liv back to the present. She contained the impulse to shudder realising she hadn’t heard Jarred enter the room.

“You seem stressed darling.”
“Cabin fever. How long until we reach Reitsema?”
“If the conditions hold up we should be docking in time for martinis at the Pelagus Bar.”

He pulled her to her feet and wound his arms around her.
“I’ve been elsewhere since we left Phobos. It’s a bit of a shock to the system to be retired from Greene Environments so suddenly and I’ve treated you abominably in the process. Let me make it up to you. We’ll drink martinis and dance until the sun comes up. I’ll buy you a new dress and a string of diamonds. And we will go to Ceres. I’ll take you horse back riding, we’ll camp out.”

He flipped her back into one arm and looked deep into Liv’s eyes and in his best Gable impersonation. "You're a woman after my own heart. Tougher than wagon leather, smarter than spit, and colder than January." Liv tried not to recoil when she remembered that line was from The King and Four Queens.


As Jarred slept off the martinis, Liv pulled a red trench coat on, stuffing a packet into an inside pocket. She hurried through marina, scanning the back of her hand at the gate and stepping out into the busy street.

The internal argument continued to rage as to what she should do, even though the letter in her pocket to Marla outlined exactly what she was going to do. The post office was easy enough to find and Liv lined up with other early morning customers, tapping the envelope against the side of her hand. The line moved slowly and she cast an eye over the paraphernalia that was straight of out a 2009 post office, back when she and Jarred were first dating.

When it was her turn she smiled and placed the envelope on the counter. I’d like to send this to the Moon please?
“That’s cute. Which moon love?”
“The Earth’s moon.”
“Ahh yea, the Moon. Sorry love, just had to double check. We get lots of smart arses in here.”

The elderly woman processed the transaction, scanning the back of Liv’s hand before she threw the letter into a bag behind her.
“How long will it take to get back to the Moon?”

The old woman laughed.
“Love this ‘aint a real post office like in them old days. We take your letters out the back, open, scan and send a digital impression to the recipient.”

The NewFeed screens above the counter had caught her attention as she was leaving.

CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY CHARGES JOIN CORPORATE AND ECOLOGICAL NEGLIGENCE AS HUNT EXTENDS FOR GREENE ENVIRONMENTS BOSS JARRED GREENE IN THE WAKE OF HELLAS PLANITIA DISASTER.

A man beside her muttered under his breathe as Liv pushed past him in the narrow isle between the kids books and the game CDs. Her eyes were glued to the screen as she stumbled along in disbelief. Numerous photos of Jarred through the last three centuries as the building and development magnate were flashed up on the screen.

MISSING ALSO IS GREENE’S PHILANTROPIST WIFE LIV GREENE.

Shocked, Liv saw a current shot of her, appear next to one of Jarred was her photo. She was old in it. There was a moment of animated suspension where she could not will her legs to move and she braced for someone in the post office to knock her to the ground and perform a citizen’s arrest. Then the man beside her said, “Terrible business that.” “How so?” She turned, immediately defensive and then getting a hold of herself. He looked at her bemused, then smiled into her gorgeous face.
“You been livin’ under a rock? The entire residential dome development at Hellas Planitia imploded killing more than two million people at the start of the month. They say it was substandard building…”

But Liv didn’t hear anymore as she turned away from him and propelled herself out of the claustrophobic shop and back into the flotsam of the street, sucking in huge lung fulls of the sweet atmosformed air. She wished Jarred had a secret lover, even a lover in every port. She even wished that the trip had been a plot to kill her.

The vomit caught in the bottom of her throat when she thought of all the dead refugees and the work that she’d done to bring them to the safe haven of Hellas Planitia from war zones across the galaxy. Jarred - he had personally backed the project - bankrolled and built it from the ground up. She stopped walking for a moment. Jarred had lent his support despite his protectionst beliefs and his long abiding distrust of the galaxy’s jetsam.

So much for believing in a love that could ride out several life times.

Liv wasn’t going home to Phobos, like she had planned, too late to retrieve her letter to Marla. She wasn’t going back aboard the Catalina either.

Carole Lombard knew she’d be OK eventually - she was tougher than wagon leather, smarter than spit and colder than January.


Author's Note: Please feel free to offer up some constructive criticism as this is a piece I will be reworking for magazine submission.