January 2020 – Furious Fiction Submission

Hey everyone,

I know I’ve been a little less active over the last few weeks – it’s a combination of focusing on my novel, being busy with “life stuff”, and changing my treatment regime for my anxiety and depression that has kept me away from the blog. It has been rather tumultuous, to say the least.

Anyway, another month, another unsuccessful Furious Fiction piece. I like it though, and I hope you do too.

The criteria was:

Each story had to include a COUNTDOWN of some kind.
Each story had to include a character who SHARES A SECRET.
Each story had to include the word SERENDIPITY.




As Zahraa’s spacecraft rounded the icy Jovian moon, a gargantuan crescent appeared. Strips of white, orange, brown, and red crept into view, looming over Europa. For a moment Jupiter was framed on one side by the almost translucent blue of the planet-sized moon around which Zahraa’s ship, the UNRV Maria Mitchell sped in a low-orbit; and framed on the other by the abysmal void.

The combination really made Jupiter’s colours pop, and in her month orbiting Europa Zahraa had come to resent the gas giant for that. She was here for one thing and there Jupiter was, dressed to impress, clinging to the moon like a handbag chosen to show off a dress. Only Jupiter had been clutching Europa at its side for four and a half billion years.

Zahraa pushed off from the wall and moved towards the cockpit with the grace of someone who had spent the majority of her adult life in null-G.

“Maria, please check probe status,” Zahraa said, her tone soft and personal as if talking to an old friend.

“My pleasure, Zahraa,” responded the ship.

Data spooled down her screen. Most of it was technical information and as long as it was showing green, she needn’t worry about the minutiae. What was important was the number at the end: a countdown; the moment her probe would break through the kilometre-thick extra-terrestrial ice and reveal to her the secrets below.

“Maria, let me know when the probe is half and hour from breaking through. I’m taking a nap.”

“No problem,” said the ship, “and would you like to know if there are any errors?”

“Please don’t jinx this,” responded Zahraa, who continued after a short pause, “but yes, please do.”

For three and a half hours Zahraa drifted in and out of sleep, she worried to herself that she would find nothing, and even if there was anything intelligent or civilised below the ice, it would take a moment of absolute serendipity for her to have found it on her first expedition.

But in space, one expedition is all you get.

* * *

Zahraa woke with a start, an alarm blaring and the screen in front of her flashing red.

“Status,” she said, curtly.

As the information spooled out in front of her yet again, her stomach tightened. Red, across the board.

Except, no – it wasn’t.

The probe wasn’t digging anymore, that was true – according to the ship’s countdown there was still another hour of digging remaining.

But the probe still had power, it had a camera, and most importantly, it was transmitting.

“Visual feed,” she said, and Maria responded wordlessly, switching away from the technical data.

It took a moment for the camera to focus, but when it did Zahraa could make out a world that was both alien and very familiar: an upside-down world of constructed structures; of life and movement; of symmetry, intelligence, and contrived beauty.

A secret civilisation, hidden for millennia from the humanity, and hers alone to share.

Prologue and excerpt – YA Novel (trilogy?)

Hey everyone,

I am back with another prologue and an excerpt for a novel. A different novel. My other one has been on the back-burner after hitting a couple of creative snags, and as a teacher I feel that I may be able to engage with the voices of young adults pretty easily – so I thought I would give it a try.

My aim here is mid- to late-high school readers, so please let me know if you think I am getting the tone right!

I won’t go into too much detail in relation to the plot, but you should get a pretty nice idea of some of the setting. The prologue is obviously there as a hook to get readers in, and the excerpt will be part of a chapter earlier on in the novel, but I am not sure where yet. As far as my understanding is concerned, there’s a good chance that neither will actually end up in the finished piece.

I will also be asking my darling wife to do some drawings at the start of each chapter, and it’s nice to have her involved so I hope she will do that for me – I will update you!

Please give me some feedback if you feel the temptation come over you – either through the website, via email, or on Twitter or Facebook. Also, if you’re a publisher and you’ve found your way to the bottom of the barrel where I am safely nestled and decide you’d like to give me money, please let me know.

Happy reading!




Sometime in May, 2223CE

The perfect darkness weighed down on Anastasia, not only because it was so total that most people could go their entire lives without experiencing something like it; or because surrounding her strapped-down and laid-out body was less than ten centimetres of space at any given point; but because she knew that the coffin-like capsule was finally decelerating. The air which had floated carefully by her since they had left Earth’s gravity well now pushed down against her, making it hard to suck any in.

But being short of breath was the least of Anastasia’s problems, because if they were decelerating that that meant that they were almost there.

And if they were almost there, then she knew she would have to fight.

And if she had to fight, she knew she might die.

And that terrified her.

Anastasia had woken to the feeling of thrust gravity[1], and she didn’t know how long the capsule had been decelerating before she’d woken up, so she couldn’t be certain when the lid would open, but she was going to be ready, no matter what.

So, she closed her eyes and thought of her mothers holding her just months before – admittedly, she could not remember how many months before, now. She thought of herself, curled up on the living room couch watching an old-style LED TV, Mamma stroking her hair casually, without thought, while Ma called out from the kitchen that the Котлети[2] (Kotleti) were almost ready. They were always so delicious.

Despite herself, Anastasia felt hungry. Her mouth watered, and her cheeks were wet. Making herself sad wouldn’t help with what was to come. Even so, she missed her mothers and they’d been taken away from her, and that made her mad.

Her chest tightened as the deceleration intensified, and she clenched her fists to her sides.

They’d taken her away, and she didn’t know why.

In the kaleidoscope created by the pure black, she saw them reaching out to her, faces contorted. She saw the men strike them to the ground, hitting them in the heads with the butts of their guns one at a time, while she had a black sack shoved over her head.

She could smell the Котлети burning, abandoned on the stove when they knocked down the door. In the capsule she could feel place she’d fractured her rib as she’d fallen to the ground in the struggle, one of the men kicking her until she stopped clawing at the wall.

Echoing in her mind she heard the gunshots. Two of them, in quick succession. She would never know for sure what they signalled, but she knew what they probably meant.

For a long time, remembering that day made her sad. And then it made her desperate. And then she refused to believe it – it was her imagination, a dream, she’d wake up.

Now she knew it was true, and it didn’t make her sad.

It made her angry.

And for that reason, in the last stint of this long trip since the coffin had been closed on her struggling, living corpse, she’d slipped out of the restraints, and done her best to move and make sure that her muscles didn’t atrophy completely.

Anastasia would fight back, and if that meant she died then that’s what it meant.

Those mobsters would regret taking her life away from her.

[1] A kind of false-gravity created by a change in velocity – sort of like the way you might feel like you’re being pushed into the seat while an aeroplane takes off, but much, much stronger. Thrust gravity can make it possible for people travelling long distances in space to feel like they can walk around, take showers, or cook food – the catch is that you have to be either steadily speeding up, or steadily slowing down. The gravity created by planets is different, and the feeling of gravity created when things start spinning around is different still.

[2] Kot-let-i – a crispy, juicy snack which can be made from beef, pork, or chicken. The meat is mixed with spices and egg, and then breaded. Котлети is often thought of as a comfort food, and is found in Russia and areas surrounding it.


Chapter # – The Holy City


June, 2223

It had been a long, heated, and sometimes vicious debate well before anyone from the Arab Interplanetary Exploration Coalition had even set foot on the Red Planet, and it was an issue that was still vigorously debated even now, decades – more than half a century – since the colony had been formally established, first as a research station and now, like the other two colonies that came before it, a permanent settlement.

Here’s the problem: on Mars, which is an average of two-hundred and twenty-five million kilometres away from Earth, how does anyone pray towards Mecca?

Now, the easy answer is, “It doesn’t matter, if you don’t know where the qiblah is, then you make your best guess and pray that way.” But nothing is ever easy. For instance, if one were to pray towards Mecca from Sydney, Australia, you would assume that you would face north-west – and you would on Earth, of course you would. However, if you think of Earth as a planet, then the qiblah is below you, and if we put ourselves on Mars, then the qiblah can be above you.

You can know where Mecca is. You can look towards it. But if prayers are sent around the surface of a planet, rather than through it, how does one pray up or down towards Mecca?

Not so easy now, is it?

To many all this seems trivial, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that religion can make the trivial seem catastrophic. No matter what, people have found ways to get angry at each other about religion, especially if they ostensibly believed the same things. Nothing would ever solve this problem, but when everyone was all squashed into a cramped habitat on a hostile, alien planet tensions tended to get high, and quickly. Luckily though, just as the former, now late leaders of the various sects of Islam had seen past their millennia of conflict to come together and build themselves an alliance and a space program to rival that of China, India, and the US, their current leaders expertly wove the strands of their cultures together, creating a society so tight-knit that they could withstand conflicts that would have torn them apart in the past.

All of this Laila thought about which she prayed, and she hoped that the fabric of her society would withstand the challenges of the time to come.

Unlike her friends, Laila wasn’t born on Mars. She wasn’t even born in the Middle East. No, she came from the sprawling megalopolis of Sydney, which now filled the natural basin that had stopped European explorers centuries prior, and more recently forced the city to build up instead of out.

Laila didn’t remember the disorganised network of trains and mega-highways. She didn’t remember the heat, or the constant summer that meant that fires were always threatening to bear down upon the ghetto-like suburbs that had emerged as climate change pushed people off the islands and coastlines on which they had resided for a significant chunk of human history. But she did remember the gravity, and the free air. The sun shining down on her skin.

The pale blue sky.

As she raised herself up and turned to the right she snuck a glance at the sky, directing her prayers upwards towards where Earth was meant to be and being met with the void-like stare of a cold and uncaring universe.

“Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah[1],” she said, her voice joining the crowd of people mirroring her.

She turned to the left, trying to focus on the task at hand and having trouble doing so in the knowledge that her prayer may not even be valid. After all, she thought, drawing breath for her next phrase, how do you pray upwards?

“Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,” she said again.

Over the next few minutes, people picked up their mats, returned those that were hurriedly rented from the automatic vendors that dotted the city, and moved off. Some moved quickly, and Laila knew that the prayer, for them, was just an obligation – a time a compulsory event that they had to adhere to. For others, the ones that moved off with more contemplation, she knew that their prayers had meaning, that they were asking for help for a loved one, a friend, or maybe just some inner peace which seemed so rare in this harsh environment.

Even though some of the people dwelled in place they all eventually moved off towards their business, and Laila was left all alone to make sense of a place on which God never intended us to be.

[1] Peace and the mercy of Allah be on you.

December 2019 – Furious Fiction Submission

Another month goes by, and another Furious Fiction entry appears on my blog.

Usually things calm down at work around November/December, but not this year. Reports, marking, writing assessments, a pay new Award to be voted on, whole-year assemblies, Christmas ridiculousness, my annual Year 10 Short Film Festival (and I mean mine because I organise it, curate it, and run it by myself every year), and a whole bunch of other things all got in the way of actually having proper time to write at the start of this month.

In fact, I got myself in a little bit of trouble with my wife this year, because I had the choice to either help with the Christmas tree, or write a story.

I gave up on this story about five times on Sunday, and has just set up the tree with my darling wife, having given up on actually submitting for December, when I was compelled by the writer in my to just get something on the page. So I did.

An hour and a half later, I had a story finished (although I just realised I had read the last prompt incorrectly, which is unbelievable). It’s not particularly good or particularly interesting, and it’s honestly a little saccharine for my taste, but I managed to write it and that, I feel, is what matters.

This is what we were asked to do:

  • Each story had to include the following words: JINGLE, CLICK, BUMP, SIZZLE (plurals or -ing variants are allowed).
  • Each story’s final sentence had to contain exactly THREE words.

I thought that final prompt said “first”, not “final”. Silly me.

I don’t think it would have changed anything though, and you all still have a story to read.

Merry Christmas, or whatever you celebrate even if it’s just having some time off.

I will aim to read the prompt properly next month, and maybe have a shot at the getting shortlisted!


Dear Eugene – A Christmas Tale

It was bumping.

The package was bumping.

Back and forth, never stopping, ever since I’d brought it in from the summer heat. I could almost hear the sizzle of the asphalt as I opened the door to collect the damn thing from the footpath and I wondered how the post-person walked the streets without their shoes sticking to the road and holding them there while the sun beat down and their skin started to blister and crack and their hair turned bleach-blonde and their tongue dried out and-

I took a breath.

And who in the name of all things holy could convince Australia Post to deliver on Christmas Eve when they couldn’t even deliver anything I had actually ordered on time when I needed it delivered?

Another breath.

Outside the familiar jingle of an ice-cream truck beckoned and lured me from my panic, if only momentarily.

I breathed deeply again, and turned to focus on the problem at hand. The package sat restlessly on the table, rocking back and forth.

I had to do something – I couldn’t just leave it sitting there.

I lunged at it, tearing its brown paper with a kind of manual dexterity that would have made any PE teacher smile approvingly, and propelling the package’s contents onto the ground next to me. I stood, frozen, not sure of what to do next.

Breathe, I thought, and complied.

Look down.

I complied again.

Laying on the floor was a little golden cat, its eyes swinging one way and its tail the other.

The cat reclined, bumping from side to side in its clear plastic box next to the torn packaging I had dumped on the floor and a little folded note.

A note. A note in a box with a golden cat inside, dumped on my doorstep on Christmas Eve could not be a good note because unexpected notes are always-


Reaching down to pick up the note, I noticed the paper was silky to the touch. It was folded twice, deliberately and precisely with all the sides lined up perfectly. I liked that. I knew where I stood with nicely folded paper.

The paper opened smoothly, and on it was written a message. I recognised the handwriting, and a feeling of relief washed over me like a cool shower after a hot Christmas lunch.

“Dear Eugene,” the note read – and I could hear the composer’s soft voice in my head despite her absence, “I hope you’re well. I am sorry I can’t be there for Christmas this year. I really don’t want you to be lonely.

“But I hope this will brighten your day just a little. It’s a cat, from Japan of all places! Sent express just for you!”

I reached down and took the cat out of the box clicking off the little switch on its back. The cat stopped and sat serenely on the table, smiling softly.

“Anyway, I’ve got to run. Merry Christmas Eugene – I’ll be thinking of you.


Microlit – “Into the Clouds” and “To Ashes?”

Hey all,

So in late September I submitted two pieces of Microlit for the Joanne Burns Award over at Spineless Wonders. Unfortunately, like all of my writing so far, it was not accepted for publication. Even so, I am proud of it and I am going to post it here.

The theme was “Scars”, and each piece could only be 200 words in length. Being a lover of short fiction, how could I resist? One piece is called “Into the Clouds”, and was written in the aftermath of an anxiety attack and a depressive episode one after the other (always fun to get both extremes in one night!), and the other is called “To Ashes?” and is a bit of a reflection on my family and their relationship with me.

I only submitted two of a possible three pieces, and I was – shockingly – feeling pretty down when I wrote them, but I do hope you enjoy having a read!

As always, let me know what you think. Any feedback is appreciated.


Into the Clouds

He was curled up below me, crying, and I just watched, circling above, unable to help.

“I just want to be loved,” he said, desperate sobs choking him before he could get the words out properly.

“You know I love you,” said another voice. I couldn’t see who owned it.

The man sobbed again, but nodded softly, and the other voice continued, “but it’s just so much pressure, being the only one.”

I could see her once the man looked up – emerald-eyed and golden-haired. Her hand touched his knee softly, beckoning him out of his cage. I saw from his eyes again, and we whispered when we spoke this time, “but it’s not my fault everyone left.”

On saying that, we curled up together inside the cage we’d almost escaped, and I couldn’t see her anymore.

Who was this damaged man, and who could save him?

I floated away, into the sky, and while he sobbed, I escaped to the clouds. He can’t hurt me up here, and I can’t help him down there.

So he sits in his cage without me, and she tightly holds the space where I was, hoping I’ll come back soon.

To Ashes?

I don’t remember Dad’s Dad, but at his funeral I wasn’t allowed to go in and see his corpse – I had to sit outside with my sister and wait until my Mum and Dad had seen it. Apparently I was too young to see Death then. George was burned up and scattered on the Chatswood Rose Garden. That rose garden is a train station now, and his ashes are gone.

I’ll never forget Mum’s Dad. When I hugged Grandad for the last time all that was left of his organs were a lung and his heart. He told me it would be okay and that he loved me. He’d never said that before, but I always knew it. He’s with Gran now – for him that means heaven, but for me it just means the wall outside St Matthew’s in Windsor, next to her ashes and covered with a rusty plaque.

I too want to be burned, then sent into space in a little capsule that opens up in a hundred years outside the gravity well of Earth and our little solar system and spreads to the corners of the universe unnoticed until the end of time.

November 2019 – Furious Fiction Submission

Hey all,

This is a busy time of the year, with reports and other nonsense – hence the lack of posts and poems. Even so, I managed to get a Furious Fiction story complete for a super difficult prompt. I was proud of myself for just getting it in. Here’s the prompt:


I am about to collapse with tiredness, so enjoy the story. As always, feel free to comment or give me feedback.




The Crossroads

Susurrations, soft and sensuous, filled my ears as I stood staring at the tranquil moonlight that was filtering slowly through the canopy above. I could almost feel the breeze on my skin, the patchwork projection on the ground – shimmering, silver spotlights merging and splitting, a web-like network of photons shooting out from the sun, bouncing off our largest satellite and settling serenely on the autumnal detritus beneath my feat.

This Earth just looks so damn real.

I chuckled to myself at the thought.

“Not that I’d know the difference anyway,” I said, to nobody.

“Silence in the VR chamber,” a soft, androgynous, slightly tinny voice said over an unseen speaker.

“Yeah, zip it, mate,” said a male voice from his own world.

I sighed, not having realised I’d even spoken out loud, and continued to stroll through a virtual forest that had been constructed from the memories of the ones that left a long-abandoned world.

* * * * *

People handled The Thaw in very different ways. Some shook their old friends’ hands, happy to be alive again, and lied about how long it had felt since they’d seen them. Others slinked off into the far corners of The Crossroads – a Generation Ship that clutched the hopes of human-kind precariously in an artificial gravity well created by a combination of centripetal force and constant thrust – and mourned the planet they’d never see: the one their ancestors had promised them. Some checked the DNA roster and sought out the mate an AI had strictly allocated to them, so as to ensure genetic diversity for the entirety of the long voyage, and with whom they’d raise a child for 30 years. And a desperate few went to work to find a cure for the ruptures, in the hope that one day our feet would touch earth for the first time.

But despite their efforts, now and years before, and the state-of-the-art technology that filled the ship from the crown to the toe top-full of the best humanity had to offer, we could not stay suspended forever. Our biology just wouldn’t allow it. Over time, cells rupture and mutate. DNA is snipped, severed by the sheer length of the cryogenic suspension. Despite the best efforts of our Gen-5 scientists – propped up by the four generations that came before us, hundreds of years ago – no solution could be found before we had to go in for our one chance at a long sleep.

So, half an hour and a hundred years later, I paced gently from the VR station to the observation lounge. I passed the spectrum of humanity in the sterile, curved halls and found myself in company in the domed, couch-filled space. There were 11 souls in the observation lounge today, eyes glistening in the starlight, and with them I stared solemnly through the glass dome, and out into the void as we plummeted towards Planet B – the bastion of hope perched perilously among the trillions upon trillions of ruinous stars.

October 2019 – Furious Fiction Submission

Oh man!

I thought I was in for a shot with this one for at least getting long-listed. Alas, it was not to be.

I couldn’t think of a title for this, but it’s a nice little horror piece that I am quite proud of, which draws on H.P. Lovecraft in a modern kind of way. The prompts for this month were:

  • Each story had to take place in a LIBRARY or BOOKSTORE
  • Each story had to include AT LEAST SIX of the following 20 words – each taken  from the openings of the previous 20 Furious Fiction winning stories:

I managed to use nine of the words in my story, which I am quite proud of.

Happy reading!



“How much is this one?”

I looked up from my phone to see a customer standing in front of me, flicking nervously through the pages of a book. It looked old, as if it had been left untouched for years and as she ruffled the brown leaves specks of ancient dust crossed the room and were struck by the stream of light that sneaked in through the front window as it always did at that time of day. The pungent aroma wafted towards me, and smelt – like all old books do – of cake.

“Hey, how are you today?”

When no answer came, I continued, my retail instincts leaving me unperturbed by what I thought must be a shared rudeness between customers the world-over, “I’m not sure, let me have a look.”

I put down my coffee and gestured for her to hand the book to me.

“I-” she said, “I can’t. Can you just tell me how much it is?”

I hadn’t noticed how drawn-out her features were becoming and it occurred to me then that she wasn’t blinking. Her empty stare was burning a hole in the bookshelves behind me, her shaking hands gripping the sacred tome.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t even know what book you’re holding,” I said, the exasperation in my voice barely concealed. I wiggled the store computer’s mouse, clicked out of the browser game I had open from earlier, and opened the stock-list, “But if y-”

She was already halfway across the counter when I noticed her diving at me, and in slow motion I saw the black-gold of my freshly-brewed coffee propelling itself towards a box of unreleased pop-fiction hidden from the customers’ view. When time started to move again, a number of things seemed to happen all at once: she grabbed my wrist with one hand and pulled me forward; my chair jettisoned itself from below me, unprepared for the sudden movement, and was propelled backwards; and she swung the book with her other hand, losing her balance and glancing the computer with her now broken finger.

We both watched as her treasured text tumbled spine-first towards a glass display cabinet, travelling through the case and knocking over expensive figurines with a level of accuracy would have impressed any professional bowler. Glass tinkled melodiously as she slumped to the floor, no longer spell-bound, and I awkwardly struggled to pull myself off the counter.

“What the fu-” I started, before I heard the door to my store slam shut.

My wrist hurt, and the adrenaline that would have been useful a few seconds earlier made it difficult to walk steadily, crunching past the miniature heroes, and over to the culprit that had seemingly displaced my would-be customer’s sanity.

It lay closed on the floor, and twelve letters glowed ominously on the front, fading quickly: Necronomicon.

I picked up my phone and keys and left, locking the door behind me, never to return to that now cursèd place.

Writing of the Past: An untitled mini-memoir told by my father, remembered by me

Hey all,

here’s a piece I wrote a while back for a competition. I didn’t finish it in time, but having tidied up a few elements I thought I would post it here.

A year ago, I thought this piece was actually unfinished, but I like where it ends now. Something about these fragments of my life are just itching to be told, so I am reconciling myself with the fact that I should probably tell them and let them be free.





He didn’t often smile – it was one of those things about him. Never in photos, not when he was laughing, and only occasionally to me.

But he smiled when he told this story, and I couldn’t tell you how many times he’d told it to me.

“… and when he left,” he paused a little too long like he always did, making you feel like you needed to ask him to go on. I have never been sure if he intended to make people feel off-balance when they spoke to him, or if I was reading into it too much. He tapped his cigarette on the half-full ashtray, just as I drew breath to ask him to go on, falling for his trick again, “we put an alarm clock in the space behind the chalkboard.”

“Behind the chalkboard?” I had asked, the first time he told me the story. My father went on to tell me that in the ‘50s and ‘60s you could bump the chalkboards up and find a little cavity behind them, where you could hide things if you were a troublemaker.

“And, of course, the fuckwit never knew that we could do that,” he said though a smirk – he was coming up to the good bit.

He always told me that he was the one who rewired the clock to go off every ten minutes, for ten seconds, and I always believed him. Even if I couldn’t if I’m honest, I still do.

“So when he came back, we just waited while he said dictation, and we quietly copied our notes into our books, until-“

I don’t think he’d ever made the noise when telling me the story, but in my mind I could hear the sound of this old-fashioned alarm clock going off – the kind they would strap to bombs in cartoons.

“The clock went off, and then,” he said, drawing from his Dunhill Red, and spoke the next line with smoke filling the air, “he just stopped, mid-sentence, before saying: ‘Who did that?’, and we just sat there, looking confused, and not reacting.”

Another smirk, and another pause. Another puff of smoke into my eight-, ten-, fifteen-, eighteen-year-old face. Maybe a sip of scotch or wine, or morning coffee.

So, my father’s history teacher went on with his lesson for ten minutes before it went off again, for another ten seconds. Another question more aggressive this time, followed by bewilderment from the class, as if nothing had happened, and then another ten minutes of class. It happened twice more before-

“The fifth time he just stormed out, and ran off to get the headmaster – the principal – and in the few minutes he was gone the alarm clock came out of the wall, was turned off, and was safely hidden in someone’s bag.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“They’ve done something to the chalkboard,” the teacher had said, storming into the classroom, “every ten minutes. Just listen! They are pretending not to hear it!”

The teacher had gone red, and was sweating like a pig. 

They all sat in silence for the next five minutes, waiting to see what happened. And then it did.

There! Did you hear it? They’ve done-“

“Hear what, John?” the Headmaster was confused – he hadn’t heard anything. The clock was off and packed away.

“The alarm clock! Didn’t you hear it?” John was desperate now, because he knew he had.

“Boys,” said the Headmaster, “is there anything you should be telling me.”

“No, Sir,” they replied in unison.

It was then that my father, fifteen at the time, spoke up and gestured towards the flustered teacher, “But he has been going on about a ringing sound for an hour.”

The other boys nodded in agreement.

As their teacher was led out of the room he was almost yelling at the Headmaster, telling him that he’d been set up, framed by the students.

Once they were out of earshot, and the door had been carefully closed, a quiet cheer erupted from the boys in the class, and they shut their books for the day.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“He never came back after that. I think that was the last straw for him,” he said, and chuckled at the thought. I always laughed too, it was one of my favourite stories. He took another long pause before, in almost every telling, he continued. 

“He was close to going nuts anyway, but this time I really think he went mad.”

The first few times I asked my father how he could have kept hearing the sound, and he told me that if something is repeated often enough, and if you are sure it is there, you will hear it. And that’s what happened to my father’s teacher – another had been found wanting, and had paid the price.

Sometimes Dad would tell me that if his teacher had gone mad then, he may have heard that same clock for the rest of his life.

In the last few years, I always imagined my father saying, with the same glee, that he hoped he had.

Writing of the Past: Ten-Metre Rock

Hey all,

Just a couple of points to go with this piece:

  1. I wrote it when my depression and anxiety were at their height (depth?) in April last year (not the first or last time since then that that’s been the case, might I add – just ask my psychotherapist). It’s not pretty, and there are many things wrong with it, but it is a reflection of what was going on for me back then, and I feel far enough away from it now that I think I can post it here (just to note, my “partner” in the story went quickly to fiance from there, and is now my wife)
  2. know it’s full of clumsy self-reflexivity and self-reference. I know it’s not good. It’s not a reflection of where my writing is now. I just want the damn thing to be able to breathe, because stories should be able to breathe.

Judge me if you want. I don’t care really. It’s not the me now you’re judging anyway, it’s me from 18 months ago.


Ten-Metre Rock

He remembered on that day he sat and watched the sun fall below the horizon. In his mind, the rock stood ten meters tall – if he had known what a meter was – and he could not get down. This was reinforced by his big sister’s words, said sternly in such a way that made him freeze in place.

“Stay there and don’t get down, we’ll be back for you.”

She was seven at the time, and he was only three. To him, her word was the law, and the fate that awaited him if he broke that law was worse than what would await him if he stayed on that rock in the bush as the glaring summer heat turned into a humid summer night.

As the sun continued on its transit past his line of sight, Richard thought he saw a monstrous, dark, and menacing shape on the horizon but before he could figure out if it was real the shape had gone and twilight had arrived.

* * * * *

How many things could weigh him down before he sank? Richard sat in front of his computer monitor, head in his hands, trying to figure out what was wrong with him.

His hands felt heavy on the keys as he wrote – his readers would never know of the drivel he just deleted, only to be replaced by equally angsty, self-reflective nonsense. There is a great chance that none of this would be read, and even if it were, for how long would it be remembered. What is the point? Where can we go? How can we build ourselves into monuments that will be forever-lasting? Why does it even matter?

All he knew is that he had to write. In his writing he would find his meaning, and when he found that meaning he would be free.

* * * * *

Back on the rock, Richard felt free – although he didn’t really know the feeling.

The thing about freedom is that we only have it while we are ignorant of it, and once we know it we chase it forever, constantly held back by our need to have control. Freedom was the zip-tie that held our hands behind our back, while we tried to grasp what was just in front of us.

But none of that was important to Richard at that moment. Of course, he was a prisoner on the rock. And the sun had set. And he was feeling a little hungry. And if he moved his sister would be mad and even if she wasn’t he was sure that the fall would hurt and Richard did not like the idea of getting hurt.

But here had been no moment in his life so far in which Richard had been truly alone, and in the true quiet of the bush at the end of a fire-trail, at the end of a road in the mountains. There was no reason to walk here, no way to drive here, and no way that anyone in their right mind would come out here by choice at this time of the night.

Hell, Richard wondered – such as he could at his age – whether his sister had gotten lost on her way back to the house herself.

Richard felt truly free, and so he did the only thing he knew to do.

He stared at into the Milky Way, lost in the light and dark, and he cried.

* * * * *

That’s a relief, our dear author remarked to himself, for days I have been wondering what to write, and it was right there in the depths of my mind the entire time.

He pushed down the anxiety, the self-doubt, and the ever-present sense of depression that had plagued him for years now, as he continued to write his life, for his life, hoping the readers might find something in it that he had not and hoping that they could remember him for what he was.

If only he could figure that out as well.

* * * * *

One of the things Richard thought about while he sat on that rock was his father. He looked down what he thought was the path and imagined he would see him walking towards him with open arms and a smile on his face. Richard imagined being embraced, picked up from the prison to which his sister had bound him, and carried to his bed for a hot milk and a nice sleep.

There were a few things wrong with his image of the future though: firstly, it was too dark to tell where the path really was; and secondly, when help did arrive what felt like an hour later it was not his father, but his mother that walked stoically down the path, who picked him up and embraced him, and who freed him from his prison, taking him to the hot milk and bed. His father merely trailed behind, feigning a level of capability and endurance that he had never had.

* * * * *

The real question is not “should I write this”, the real question is do I have the right?

It was a fair question, and Richard wasn’t sure of the answer. There were a number of major issues.

The first and foremost was that if he was honest with himself – and let’s be honest, that was not a skill that Richard had yet acquired nor, he imagined, ever will – no one would care about what he was writing. A sub-par writer, if you could ever be called that, writing a mediocre story about a boring life: who cares but you? And let’s be real mate, why do you even care about it?

The second issue was that of memory. Richard’s memory of events twenty-two years ago was less than clear. He had even started to question if they had even happened, and if they had, what about the details? Who could really know?

And the third issue was one that he felt he could deal with here and now: his father did not deserve a story.

Is this really a story about him? Isn’t it about me?

* * * * *

Grandad was a great man.

Mum used to tell stories of how he would get so angry at her, my Aunty, and my Uncle that he would wordlessly punch a hole clean through the dining room’s fibro wall into my Uncle’s bedroom which, as a teenage boy, I’m sure caused a great deal of frustration for my Uncle. Of course, Grandad would fix the hole a week later, the fist-size opening a reminder of a good man pushed too far. He would then sit back down at the table, having made his point clearly and concisely, thank Gran for the dinner she had made, and eat in silence. It was on those nights that my Uncle ate his greens without complaint.

Grandad was great, considering what he went through. I remember proudly telling people about the “Local Hero” award he won, much to his displeasure, not for doing any one thing but just for being Grandad. He didn’t want to give a speech, and he never spoke of the award again. For the rest of his life the award sat meekly on the shelf in the corner of an unused room.

I remember asking who his brothers and sisters were and getting no response. It was only years later that I found out that he had left his home and gone to live with his Grandmother at the age of ten. I met them at his funeral and understood why he left.

I don’t remember when he found out about Mum and Dad. I’m sure that he wished he had a fibro wall to punch then, but instead he just created a new hole within himself that opened up whenever he had to see my father and smile at him, wondering how one person could destroy the lives of so many others.

Before Grandad went into hospital I remember working on the old mower with him. He showed me the park plugs and how to replace them, and we tried to get the “bloody thing” working. We managed to get one more run out of it before it died again. Mum put it in the skip when we sold the house.

I remember when Grandad died. He lay in his bed, skinny and emaciated and he smiled when he saw me. Before going in, Mum had told me that his organs were failing, and that he wasn’t going to last. We talked about university, and he held my hand. As I left he said to me that “It’s okay, my time is up. I’m going to see Gran. I love you,” and hearing that for the first time I knew I would never see him again.

I didn’t look back, and I didn’t cry for months.

* * * * *

That section reminded Richard why he pushed back the sad memories. How was he supposed to function when all he had was the sadness of the past and the sadness of the present?

He took a breath, cracked his back, and tried to channel the numbness that he managed to inject into his life in almost every moment.

Maybe this is why I have a hard time writing, he thought to himself, numbness is good, but how are you meant to write anything worth reading without any emotions?

He chuckled to himself, then again, who wants to read that emotional crap anyway? Real literature is written to make you think. Look at Orwell, Asimov, Wells, and Clarke – they didn’t pen this nonsense, and if they did they’d have cursed themselves for wasting paper and thrown it all out. If you want to write feelings write poetry. Don’t waste people’s time with this. At least poetry is short.

Richard took a breath, sighed, and pressed on as his inner demons pounded at the door.

* * * * *

He was not averse to poetry. Quite the opposite, he loved it.

A poem could capture a heart – and in his case, it had – or start a movement. A song was a poem with melody, a rap a poem with beat. Take a short story, add some line-breaks and there was your poem. But in its freedom, poetry felt like a cage to Richard, and quite early on he made a decision – no matter what he did he would become an author.

He would be remembered, he would be analysed, and he would find his own meaning. So, he sat down and started a book. It was going to be the new Brave New World, the new Time Machine, he would capture the world with his characters and landscapes. He would show them the Australia of the future.

For months he wrote: he showed drafts to his friends and they showered him with praise. His partner loved it. He even considered showing it to his father. But then the well ran dry and the momentum was gone. Not a word was written for months and the book lays unfinished – a series of binary digits etched into a hard drive on a computer, only existing so that Richard could claim that he is “writing a novel.”

* * * * *

Richard looked at the page again and wondered if there was anything else to write. He thought about his mother and his father, his Grandad, and his partner.

For the first time since starting, the words appearing on the page didn’t seem to fit. He could feel them flowing like gum tree sap from his fingers, oozing over the keyboard while he tried to fix an image in his mind with which to end, but he felt trapped again, held in place by his mind – more afraid of the punishment than the fall.

And through his older eyes he saw the twenty-two-year-old view of the sun setting on the horizon, the ominous shape in the distance, and the stars appearing one by one until they formed an endless universe in which nothing could be done, but anything was possible. And as he looked at himself staring into the unknown, free for the first and final time, he began to cry.

September 2019 – Furious Fiction Submission

Hey everyone,

Furious Fiction rolled around again at the start of this month, and I wrote something for it. My wife’s comment, at 11pm on Sunday night, when I needed to submit the piece, was: “Richard, you are a good writer, but this isn’t good writing.”

I would tend to agree, but I will leave it for you to decide.

This month, we needed to meet the following requirements:

  • Each story had to include the name of at least ONE element from the periodic table.
  • Each story’s first and last words had to begin with S.
  • Each story had to contain the words TRAFFIC, JOWLS and HIDDEN.
  • And finally, each story had to include something that BUZZES.




Neon Lights

“Sentimentality,” she said, “that’s the reason I did it. I wanted him to remember.”

“Remember what?”

“I wanted him to remember what it was like to really fear,” she paused, “I didn’t expect him to die.”

Alessia sat across from me in an orange jumpsuit. She looked both twenty-five and fifty-five all at once: beautiful blonde hair, made frizzy by the humidity of a crowded holding cell; day-old make-up that once covered and now accentuated the bags under her eyes; her streamline jaw tensing and releasing over and over as she replayed the events of the last twenty-four hours.

Even though the lower half of her body was hidden from me, a faint tapping suggested that she was nervously shaking her leg. I watched her face carefully as her jowls tightened and sagged.

“Why are you telling me this now?”

Alessia’s leg stopped tapping. Her face settled.

The silence was punctuated only by the buzzing of the neon lights, suspended perilously from chains that were bolted to the roof.

I smirked involuntarily.

It all created a nice bit of symmetry. Above, the noble gas was trapped in its tube, its electrons excited by a current, lighting up the room. And just below it the noble woman, dressed as brightly as the light, in chains and bolted to the floor.

Neither had chosen to be here, and the only way either would leave was broken.

“Why not?” she said, “What do I have to lose?”

* * * * *

It’s not like Alessia had never seen a dead body. As a good Catholic girl, she’d been dragged to open casket funerals, and she’d only vomited once. She’d never understood why they’d made such a fuss about her Nonno’s suit when he was going into the ground soon. Anyway, she’d said to her mother, I bet he’d find it funny.

There was a difference, however, between seeing a dead body, and causing one.

Years later and just yesterday, while Alessia’s mother cradled her in her arms for the last time, she’d said that “the police will understand. After all, you were defending yourself.”

“No Ma, I wasn’t.”

“Then what happened?” her mother’s voice caught as she asked.

“I remembered his eyes.”

* * * * *

Traffic roared across the bridge overhead and Jacob repeated himself, thinking Alessia hadn’t heard.

She had, but it bought her a second.

“You owe me, Al,” the affected sweetness in his voice making the situation even more threatening.

“I don’t owe—“ she trailed off and looked down the path home, blocked off by his arm. Her heart was in an adrenaline-fueled frenzy.

“Oh, shut up,” he pressed himself closer to her, “you don’t need to—Ah!”

The taste of iron filled her mouth as she unclamped her jaw, and even though the pounding of his feet behind her had died away well before she reached her house, a part of her had stayed there, under that bridge, and it hadn’t survived.