A battered car door leaning against a highway sign announced in spray-paint letters Hugh Singh’s arrival in the EXTRATERRESTRIAL OUTBACK.
After crossing the invisible border, he eased his foot off the accelerator, lowered his window, and gazed across at the ochre and khaki ensemble of hillocks and flats, low bushes and grasses. Nothing in the landscape moved.
The town was a collection of one-story buildings and windless treetops huddled along a single, tarred road. Heat shimmered from the roofs of parked cars, a bright sun offered no respite for shadows. Hugh stopped outside the pub, consulted the map, checked the time, ran his hand over the ventilation outlet as he leafed through a loosely-bound folder of photos and hand-written notes. He threw the folder onto the back seat as a man approached the car. The man’s eyes were lost in his dark face, and his lips were blistered.
“Welcome, brother,” the man said, revealing a trio of milk teeth. He wiped a patch of dust from Hugh’s bonnet with his hem of his shirt. “Nice to get visitors in town. Wash your car for five bucks.”
Continue reading “A Welcome Visitor”
‘Such heat!’ said the Commander, fanning himself with his hat. The two uniformed men at the front of the bus made a panicked show of fiddling with the air-conditioning levels and redirecting the fan grills. ‘I’d forgotten how searing the heart of this country is. Positively Hadean. What can we do about this heat, Dickie?’
Dickie put down his pen, twisted the top off a bottle of sparkling water, and handed it to the Commander.
‘No, no. I mean this,’ the Commander said, and tapped on the window. ‘The dying trees, if you can call them trees. The red dirt. I say, it is little wonder that so few of our citizens care to venture this far inland when the whole place burns like a kiln. They say they used to come in droves, by the millions, to tramp around an unadorned slab of rock, and eat flies by the dozen. Spend their own monies to do so! And now the railway line we built from the capital lays dormant and warping under the sun. How much did it cost to build?’ Dickie opened his mouth but the Commander held up his hand. ‘Never mind. Don’t remind me.’
Continue reading “The Face of the Leviathan”
When the tyre blew, there was no explosion of rubber. No extended hiss.
No sudden slump in the cab, or grinding of rim on rock. Nothing to indicate that the wheel had put up a fight. Only an unsatisfying and noiseless wobble, an deflationary apology for having left me perched perpendicular to the descending mud track, and enveloped tip to toe in mountain forest.
It was eleven past midnight. Continue reading “Hang in there”
Short chapters inspired by my new, coming of age novel, Sandbanker, available at no bookstores near you (yet)
The bell at St Christopher’s was not a real bell, made of brass or anything, but electric — it droned, like the torpedos in River Raid. (I didn’t actually have an Atari 2600 to test the theory, and didn’t really know anyone who did, at least someone who I could ask, but that’s what I’d heard.) Whoever they’d gotten to ring the school bell on that Friday afternoon had morsed-coded ‘S-O-S S-O-S’, and everyone had a good laugh about it, but I would’ve bet a case of chocolate frogs they had no clue what it meant. Continue reading “Tales from Shelley Beach – The Bus Ride home”
There I was: cloaked in Victorian coat and tails, in thirty-five degree heat and waiting for my sausage dog to finish squeezing one out under a tree.
All around me, thrashing like a school of tuna in a whirlpool, were makeup artists and their assistants, camera crews and their assistants, boys chasing tangled cables, girls driving racks of plastic-wrapped suits between trucks, small men in yellow caps who seemed to do nothing but run up and down the set with coffee cups; and us – the extras – standing helplessly in the broiling sun, waiting for instructions from the loudspeaker. Continue reading “Take 24”
When I pulled into the street, I saw him leaning against the ash-grey trunk of a eucalyptus tree in front of the courthouse—faded collared shirt and jeans wrapped loosely around his hunched frame, a cigarette cupped in his hands.
He was following the progress of a ute in the middle of executing a reverse parallel park, calling instructions to “swing harder” and “back out”. The driver seemed not to hear him. I pressed and held the horn until he, and everyone else on the street turned to face me. Another stranger in town, they said with desiccated squints and open-mouth scowls that suggested limited access to dental hygiene.
He rubbed his cigarette into the tree trunk, waited, then crossed the street, scraping his sneakers on the road as he approached the car. Continue reading “Waterfall Way”