A bastard act

Papa had always enjoyed walks, especially the long, head-clearing kind.

Though he tolerated the meanderings we used to take together as a family, he was at his best after having lugged a heavy backpack over forest trails for days, tracing mountains and beaches with his hiking boots, drawing from the source of perfect solitude and silence.

It was only later that he began enjoying walks of a different nature: the unplanned, unattended, and unencumbered by compos mentis kind. On these he’d turn up at the side of highways with an axe, scratching his head and asking the responding constable where that expletive tree he had to fell was hiding, or asking for Nancy, my mother. Once he’d wandered off, leaving the tap running on the 22,000-litre tank. Days later he called to complain both about the lack of shower water and the length of green patch that had erupted on the paddock. Such things attract snakes, he’d said. From the cottage to the closest shop might have been seven kilometres, but he walked it. Blazing heat, not so much as a bead of sweat, not even when he commanded that responding constable to mind his own expletive business.

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A Welcome Visitor

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.”

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The Face of the Leviathan

‘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.’

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The Ghost of Brompton Cemetery

The accountant’s wife has seen ghosts before—Bhut they are called in her home country—and she remembers the very mischievous one who would come crawling down from the mango tree, her bangles clanging in the night, and slip through the crevice in the wall at the foot of her bed; the one her mother insisted brought luck, though it often caused the young girl to wet the sheets. At times the apparition resembled her father, featureless and bloated. On other occasions it was a witch with black teeth and a pulsating, red bindi. No more than pedestrians passing through the nightly imaginations of a child, her mother had said. But to the wife, they were real.

As real as the one for whom she is now preparing tea. Continue reading “The Ghost of Brompton Cemetery”

The Bubble – My first and befittingly ignored entry to the 2015 Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story competition

The Bubble is frothing at the edge of cataclysm. Debt-starved zombies roam the streets of London, desperate to feast on the fresh credit ratings of the financially unburdened.

Sam and Laney are planning their getaway. Will they manage to avoid the malevolent plague and escape the city before it’s too late?

This was my entry to the 2015 Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story competition. Someone good won it. They always do.

Frame one of The Bubble Continue reading “The Bubble – My first and befittingly ignored entry to the 2015 Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story competition”

Alcatraz Dolly (The New Guy)

Alcatraz Dolly

As soon as the new guy arrives, he gets the bed and I’m on the stool with my back to the wall, a lightening rod up my tail.

The warden’s jammed that book in my face again – the one about Mesopotamia, “land between rivers” – the only one in the whole damn library. And on account of my broken shoulder, my hand’s stuck in the air so it looks like I’m throwing the new guy a friendly wave, or waiting for an eventual high-five. As if I care. I don’t even get a chance to complain before it’s lights on.

There’s some interest though. There was bound to be. After all, there are two of us now.  Must be some kind of damn precedent. Continue reading “Alcatraz Dolly (The New Guy)”

Why rejection letters are the new Xanax

14-rules-of-storytellingI was hay making through the chaff in my inbox recently when I stumbled across a curt email from [enter not-so-prominent journal name here] informing me that my piece entitled [enter short story title] had unfortunately been rejected.

I can’t remember my precise reaction – it may have involved scratching my behind, or sucking out the remaining juice from the Tetley bag stranded at the bottom of the teapot – but it went along the lines of, ‘whatever’. Continue reading “Why rejection letters are the new Xanax”