March 2014

  We got fish and chips on the beach and Camilla was there because she didn’t want me to be the only one having fish and chips with the boy she cheated on her boyfriend with. Freddy. That was the boy’s name. Every night she would come home and lie on the fish-scale mess of our floor, wave her arms around like she was making mold angels, and cry. Because she did something so wrong and couldn’t forgive herself. Because she wasn’t sorry. It’s like that, when you’re north with lust. She wanted to hold his hand. I wanted to hold his hand, too, but I knew that in the queue for his hand I was further towards the back. Except she was a terrible artist. And he shouldn’t have …

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You consider me a prude. Yes, I do have a fear of contamination. You will insist that it is a fear of contact, intimacy, eruption, and I will insist that it is not. How well paired we are. I rehearse what I am going to tell you, as I trip-skip across the road. I will have the whole course of conversation perfectly charted by the time I meet you at the café, as astrolabe courts the path of constellations across the heavenly dome. Am I romanticizing again? Put it down to the disquiet childhood I spent at my grandaunt’s house. Her house was choked to the brim with the resin, and I feel as trapped in that house as an ancient stinger in an ember. There, I am lying again. …

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  The man unfolded his hands. A mouse sat content in his palm, a grey mouse with small crystalline eyes. The two little sparkles shone with a black brilliance in his palm. ‘I started out with this one.’ He husked ‘I found it on the kitchen bench, years ago, eating from the fruit bowl, mangled little thing.’ The little boy, hardly 5 years old, nodded in awe. His delicate baby hands went for the touch, but it was out of his reach. The Dad put the mouse back on the wooden branch. ‘Ha, Benny when you’re older you can touch.’ And he ruffled his hair with, what felt like sandpaper fingers, before hushing him out of the room and locking the door behind him.   A mouse, small in stature, …

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Pete walked into the kitchen holding Fluffy like she was a dead cat. ‘What’s wrong with Fluffy?’ I asked. ‘She’s dead.’ ‘She can’t be,’ I said. ‘I saw her five minutes ago pigging down cat food.’ ‘Yeah. And two minutes ago she was sleeping under the front wheel of my car.’ ‘You’re joking?’ ‘Yes Jeff. I’m joking. This is a fake dead cat I got from the joke shop,’ spat Pete. ‘Of course I’m not bloody joking!’ I folded my arms and leant against the chipped Formica bench. ‘What do you think Kylie’s going to do you when she finds out you killed her cat?’ ‘She can’t find out.’ ‘When she’s back from holiday and yells ‘Fluffy, where are you?’ and a cat fails to ever materialise she’s going to …

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  Disordered and slipshod. Unprofessional and slapdash. Damien’s efforts were rooted in kindness as he pulled and jerked at the still warm skin of the kangaroo. Occasionally he paused to wipe the organic filth from between his fingers through his hair and over his thick side burns like a butcher’s apron. This carcass would be a lovely gift for his only mate Andrew and would look perfect sitting smack bang in the middle of their main room, domestically perched on the dining table. Since they ate on the couch the table was free for sitting, he reasoned. He had absolutely no idea how to peel the hide from a roo but he had practised with varying and gruesome success on rabbits, which he assumed were pretty much the same thing. …

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Ah, welcome, welcome, dear visitors. Welcome to the Hunter’s Lodge. So nice to see fresh faces again around this place. Let me introduce myself, I am Mo, Head of Decorations here. I’ve had this position for over fifty years already. Yes sir, that is a long time! I have seen the place change, seen the people come and go. Do you know I even remember the first TV brought in? It was one of those old antenna types, where you never got a clear image on the screen unless someone held it in one hand, balancing on the edge of the cupboard. I’ve also seen Mister make a tumble down from it. Of course, he would tell his friends he had a serious skiing accident afterwards. Don’t worry ma’am, there …

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Eleanor analyzed the child as she plucked away at the threads. Stab, weave knot, pull. Stab, weave, knot, pull. Perfect precision. Her mother, Iza, brought her here three months ago after her father, Jer-ome (Iza put furious, consistent emphasis on “ome,” enough so that Eleanor wondered if this was indeed how his name was pronounced) disappeared. And Iza, having watched an episode of Immortalized on AMC, got an itch of inspiration and hauled her daughter, Mickala, from their Elmont home to Eleanor’s studio downtown. “I know how kids looked at people who go to therapy,” Iza had explained, “and I’m not letting her-“ she quieted, “be that kid.” Eleanor stared at Iza skeptically. Sable eyes. Rich, freckled skin. Flowery accent. Eleanor tapped her fingertips together. Spanish? No. Italian. “That kid…” …

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“It ain’t right yet. Seems like there’s something missing. I just ain’t worked out what yet. What do you think?” I shudder. “It’s gruesome enough. Does it have to be quite so…bloody?” A smile crawls slowly up his face, never quite reaching his eyes. “Hadn’t pegged you for squeamish. It’s only nature. You know…red in tooth and claw.” I look at the scene again, trying for the dispassionate art critic persona. Jorge is well known for his accurate reconstructions of predators and this latest work features a wolf caught in the act of tearing into a hare. Both animals are long dead and yet Jorge has somehow re-created the terror of the smaller beast in its last moments. Talented as he is, his artwork sends a shiver down my spine. …

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Step 6: Find a friend to support you as you go through the difficult process of overcoming your phobia. Having gone through WikiHow’s first five steps it is time to move on to working through my de-conditioning regiment list. I have been dreading this moment, but my outgoing, blond friend Joy is happy to have an excuse to escape her husband and kids for a while. The sun is falling beneath the snow crusted flat plain when we arrive to the solitary restaurant off the highway. Two rusted trucks are parked near the small eatery and hotel. Red, green, and white flickering Christmas lights clumsily line the shingled roof. The sight of a pair of deer horns visible through the horizontal blinds makes me shudder. I can do this. I …

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  Sitting in the back of the archetypical sunny yellow cab, hurtling down the Long Island Expressway, Harold took an inventory of his strongest opening lines. It was either the one about getting stuffed or the one about getting mounted. They were both pretty dirty—almost on par with the inside of the cab he was perched precariously inside, trying desperately to ensure his skin didn’t come into contact with the upholstery. Generally speaking, the filthier the comedian, the more laughs they received. Even among the taxidermists of the world. The cab driver stopped short of the covered entrance and waited. His position wasn’t ideal given the inclement weather. “We’ll be waiting all day to get any closer … ” he craned his neck to look at Harold sitting directly behind …

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First up a big congratulations to our winner… By a single point… Alayna Cole! Alayna’s only been entering for a couple of months and after making her first short list last time round it’s great to see her story,  Stolen Property, on the winner’s podium. Congrats! It was another tough contest with some interesting interpretations on the theme. Here’s what the judges thought of the other stories.   Letter from HW by Clarissa NG “I liked the parallels between the deteriorating landscape and his wife, and the way it was nuanced to sound like an older man.”  (Dis)Harmony by Dakoda Barker “I loved the ‘successful’ chunks of bitumen, and the irregular tune of the water and the dull knock of the boats” “Nice, clear descriptions which gave me a good mental vision …

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Jerry was in the driver’s seat, while Ian rode shotgun and the dead tiger lay across the back seat. They had covered it as best we could with an old blanket, but its legs, tail and snout stuck out beneath the patchwork, so the disguise wouldn’t fool anyone looking in. “You’re driving too slowly,” Ian said. “I’m at the speed limit.” Jerry was sweating. He couldn’t tell if it was from the heat, or from nerves. They had wound the windows down, because otherwise the stench from the dead tiger would have been overwhelming. The hot summer air blew into the car, but the smell of shit, blood, musky fur, and rot lingered. “No one drives at the speed limit. You’ll get us noticed.” The speed dial crept forward slightly. …

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At first, the road snakes into the valley, a narrow stream trickling down the mountain. Then it flows into a larger river and the road begins tracing the edge of the lake. Great forested hills stand all around, as if they were seats in a football stadium, but the hum of the engine and whoosh of wind rushing past are all that can be heard. The car slows and turns. The gravel lot, empty save for two other vehicles, gently slopes towards the water. At its mouth, the bitumen has spread, slowly clawing its way toward the water. More successful chunks of bitumen sit among the gravel like chocolate chips, trekked in on shoes or tyres. Atop the manicured grass—too neat and too green to be natural—sits a weather-worn brown …

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Roma has a particular kind of dryness that will crack your skin, burn your eyes and dry the washing on the line in the underside of an hour. The parched, clay soil—infamous to the region—will shift the foundations of your house, devour your veggie garden and stifle your livelihood … if you let it. The Queensland countryside can be raw, dangerous, authentic and celestial, all at once and in fluctuating quantities. Yet amid this harshness, strikingly beautiful sunsets highlight the screaming gum trees, awaken the otherwise bleak creek beds and paint the flattened horizon in soft hues of purple, orange and pink. Occasionally, the wet season will grace the ravaged region with a beauty of a thunderstorm, bringing hope on the tail end of a cool breeze. Nevertheless, if it …

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Most people know the White Cliffs from the song but I know them because I grew up next to them. Not admittedly the famous ones at Dover but the Seven Sisters, the cliffs in Sussex that stretch eastwards from Brighton and are a brilliant white background on a sunny day when you walk almost anywhere along the coast, except of course if you are looking out to sea from on top of them. I consider our Sussex cliffs superior to the Kent ones which are dirty and rather ragged looking in comparison to the Sisters, although I dare say the soldiers seeing them on the way to or back from war would not have been that particular. They were a sign of home and worth protecting. In fact, the chalk …

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The untrampled leaves made it apparent that only the most light-footed of creatures had ventured near the house in years. The hint of a path still remained, leading to what was left of the front door, but the stepping-stones, stolen, polished and placed here years ago, were cracking in the harsh sunlight and sinking into the earth. Dancing strands of overgrown grass did not discriminate, twisting themselves around the house’s supports just as they did the trunks of the surrounding trees. The dirty green paint on the panels was flaking away to reveal the brown hardwood beneath; in places the wood was splitting and splintering as the trees of the forest showed the house its quiet, patient rage at how many of their kin were destroyed for its construction. The …

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The air is crisp and cold wind whips my face. The cool rock face beneath my feet is slippery and covered with moss, leaving behind squelchy mud and lush green trees with intertwining roots; natural and fierce. We’ve left our mark on the earth during the climb; this battle between earth and man. The only way is up. If I glanced around, I would see thick white haze and the distorted shapes of those ahead of me. The fog engulfs us. Apart from the scream of the wind, there is silence. The earth’s surface has become too steep so I creep to my hands and knees and crawl further. Ahead is a segment of flat terrain with muddy crumbling stone. It begins to rain and I have to squint to …

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The rain and sun make everything sweat and quiver; the plants, tar roads and women’s bare thighs, that are fat and glistening with perspiration. The rainforest grows dense and casts dark shadows on cinder block homes. Trees and vines copulate and choke one another: blushing Ixora flowers gasp for breath between green razor blades, palms spew up purple banana flowers, canopies drip golden Datura trumpets and in the underbrush Lantana knit webs and burgundy Sorrel bells bloom. Everything is humid and sticky and drips. Jamaican mummies mop their necks and brows with rags they keep in apron pockets. Everyone is passionate and boasts that they will murder you and make love to you, before the pale moon sinks into the sea and the mandarin sun rises. Men swing machetes and …

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22nd July, 2002. Dear J, How’s everything? I hope that my sudden disappearance didn’t cause you too much trouble. I know you can handle the company by yourself, though you’ve got to work double hard. Who knows, you may be mad at me. So I decided to write a letter instead of calling. One-way communication is always a safer bet. As you may have already guessed from the postage, I send this letter from my wife’s home town. She was always fond of the sea. Don’t come looking for me. I am only going to be around for a couple of days, to scatter her ashes. This town is an eight-hour slow train ride from the station near our office. The journey is hardly picturesque, industrial buildings and warehouses amidst …

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