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.

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.

August 2019 – Furious Fiction Submission

What a surprise, it’s been months since I last posted.

I have been told it’s important to write every day – in fact one of my colleagues tells me that if I really want to get my book written, I will need to do so. I know it’s true, but like so many things in my life I find it hard to find the place where my good intentions and reality meet.

Anyway, I am very grateful for the Australian Writers’ Centre, who give me a reason to write every few months.

If I can write a piece for each month over the coming few months I will be proud of myself. Let’s see how we go.

The prompt for August’s Furious Fiction was as follows:

  1. Each story had to include, word for word, ALL of the following SIX descriptions:
  2. One of these six descriptions had to appear in the first sentence of each story.

It was tough, and I was pretty happy with what I created, although I am yet to end up on a shortlist.

I did title it for the competition, but I have since forgotten the title, so I will leave it title-less.

Typical me.

I hope you enjoy reading last month’s piece. Keep an eye out for this month’s once the winners are announced.




It was the last thing we needed to get rid of before settlement in a couple of days: an old, scratched and weather-worn bench that our father had perched himself upon, cigarette hanging pensively from his mouth. He had sat there watching the sun set almost every day of our lives. Until the other day, when he just wasn’t.

That’s not a euphemism – we’re sure he’s not dead.

It’s just that he wasn’t anymore.

* * *

“He hasn’t answered his phone in a couple of days.”

“I know.”

“Or tagged me in anything awkward on Facebook,” my sister said, smirking and brushing her shiny, silver fashion-statement hair away from her eyes jauntily as the video-call buffered.

“I know,” I responded again. Dad could go days without answering the phone, but this long without a problematic Facebook post was cause for serious concern.

“In fact,” she paused, clacking on her keyboard for a second, “his profile is gone. I’m worried – we should check on him.”

I sighed, “I know.”

* * *

The weirdest thing about the house wasn’t even the fact that the door was already unlocked, nor was it that all the trinkets, electronics, clothes, pictures, and even the bills were gone. It was that on top of all of those things even the sweet and pungent smell of Dad’s cigarettes had disappeared entirely.

It was a smell that we wouldn’t have noticed if it had been there.

It was the smell of our childhood, an aroma that permeated memories of a man we tried to love, and who tried to love us. The smell wasn’t masked or cleaned away but just like Dad, it just never was.

* * *

The old removal truck had let out a shrill, piercing wail when it had come to a stop in front of what was apparently unbeknownst to us a property that was owned by my sister and I since we were in our early-20s. As the weeks after our father wasn’t dragged on, we discovered that according to the collective memory of our family and friends our Dad had left suddenly just before we were born.

Now the truck sat idle, waiting for the final possession to make its way up the hill, ready to be taken to Vinnies.

“You know what?” I asked with a smirk, collecting a now cold and greasy chip from the take-away box and sticking it in my mouth while I stared at the same sunset my father had watched for years before me.

“What?” asked my sister, doing the same.

“His butt still made an impression.”

She looked at me, bemused, and then looked down at the worn-out space that he’d occupied on the bench. The house was cleared, and he was gone without a trace. In every other way our father wasn’t, but like an ink-stained page an indelible impression had been left on this old bench.

And that, it seemed, was enough.

“Let’s find him.”

March 2019 – Furious Fiction Submission

Hey everyone,

After a another lull, here is my most recent piece for Furious Fiction, which had to be inspired by an image of a laundromat, and had to had the theme of “curiosity”.

Again, I’ve tried a genre-piece which is noir-esque crime fiction, set (in my own mind) in a laundromat in Western Sydney’s Harris Park.

Again, I love the challenge of writing pieces like this in <500 words, and given my busy schedule it’s completely doable in the middle of the school term while I am planning my wedding in just over a month.




“I swear to God, this machine costs me more than it makes me.”

“Couldn’t you just buy a new one?” I asked. This question always annoyed the aging laundromat owner. I placed my tools on the ground and began to slide the familiar old washing machine from the wall so I could access the back.

 “Do I look as if I have enough customers to afford a new machine?” said the old man, slinking off into the back room, “The only person here right now is you and you’re not even paying me!”

I sighed, and began to remove the tarnished metal panel at the back of the machine, which came loose and clattered to the floor just as the door to the shop swung open.

“—never asked questions before,” I heard one of the two figures who stalked through the door say, the dim, flickering light from the laundromat silhouetting them against the street outside. The sound of rain was abruptly cut off as the door slammed shut.

They didn’t notice me, and moved determinedly towards the counter. The silent one – a tall, slender woman who seemed to be a walking with a limp – was gripping a garbage bag tightly. In fact, she was holding it so tightly that I could almost see the bones of her knuckles sticking out from her clenched white fist.

The first of the two figures repeatedly slammed his hand against the bell on the counter until the old shopkeeper bustled out from the back. At the sight of the pair his face dropped and his shoulders tightened. For a moment I thought he would faint.

The lady slammed the bag down on the table.

“Tonight,” she said.

“Okay, yes, okay,” the old man steadied himself on the counter, “No charge.”

The man made a sound akin to a laugh.

“Tonight,” the old man said, glancing towards me. I quickly looked down, trying fruitlessly to hide in plain sight, “but…”

He trailed off and the intruders spun around, seeing me for the first time. Now I saw them properly, I noticed the blood smeared on the lady’s cheek.

“I—” I said, before unconvincingly stammering in an affected accent, “No English.”

The man kicked the old machine I was working on as they stormed out of the shop into the darkness of the street.

* * * * *

“And that’s all you saw and heard, Mr…” the detective checked her paperwork “Goon-e-ward-hayne?”

“Gunewardhane,” I said, “and yes, that’s what I saw; that’s what I heard.”

“You’re certain?”


The corner of the detective’s mouth rose slightly as she slowly stood up, her shadow stretching across the interview table. She made a signal to an unseen person and in one swift movement my hand was shackled to the table by painfully tight handcuffs.

“You should have just gone home tonight,” the door behind the woman opened. Silhouetted by the light from the corridor outside, she continued, “What is it they say about curiosity and cats?”

September 2018 – Furious Fiction Submission

Yet another entry to Furious Fiction.

This one was fun to write, as I had the chance to play with the action genre in a really short space. Having said that, it was a pretty challenging task to create something original and not predicable given the parameters for this month:

  • Your entire story must take place in an AIRPORT.
  • Your story must include the word SPRING somewhere. (Plural is also okay.)
  • Your story must include the phrase: IT WAS EMPTY – it can be anywhere, in dialogue, as part of a sentence, or as a sentence on its own.

You will notice names popping up across stories from time to time. I just like them, and tend to stick to the same names unless I have a particular reason to change it. It’s just one less thing to think about.

After reading the story, most people who I have shown have mentioned that they are more aware of the existence of their tongue than they used to be.

You’ll understand when you get there.



Deal Breaker

“A metal suitcase?”

“No, a metal briefcase.”

“A metal briefcase,” the attendant paused, “nothing springs to mind I’m afraid. What kind of metal?”

“How would I know?”

There was an awkward silence.

“What was inside?”

“That’s none of your business, mate,” Zahraa said, and took a moment to take in her surroundings. White fluorescent lights shone off the polished tiles. People walked grittily around, trying to fumble their way out without losing anything or anyone. It was a standard domestic airport, and a quiet one even by domestic standards. And she was told that she’d be able to get through without hindrance.

Nevertheless, here was Zahraa arguing with a baggage attendant.

“Sorry ma’am, but I’ve got to get going,” the lanky attendant, ‘Grace :-)’ according to her name-tag, said as she gestured towards the customer service kiosk to the right of the two carousels and pointed to the older man behind the counter, “but maybe Mal can help you out.”

He did, and only moments after she’d described her baggage did she have it safely back in her possession.

She took a breath and made her way towards the exit.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~


“Where’s the money?”

The voice was a stereotype – deep, growling, and positioned much too close to Zahraa’s left ear. It was unbelievable that the owner of such a voice could have sneaked up on her so soon after entering the terminal lobby, but he had.

She shook the case, answering the man’s question.

Hadn’t it been heavier on the way over? she thought to herself.

“Turn left, and open the suitcase-“


“Open it on the counter there.”

A moment later Zahraa carefully placed the briefcase where the man had indicated. She punched in the code and clicked the latches open.

It was empty.

Zahraa ducked under the man’s hand as it came down to grab her shoulder and spun around behind him, swiftly kicking his right knee forward to bring his chin down hard on the countertop. Usually you would hear the teeth smash together with an impact like this, but this time the big guy’s tongue got in the way, cushioning the two sets of teeth as they came down on each other.

The man let out a dazed groan, and Zahraa brought the heels of her hands down hard on each of his temples.

He crumpled to the floor.

Zahraa looked around. No one had noticed. All the people that could have seen still had their heads safely buried in their phones.

It didn’t take long for her to find a hidden holster on the left side of his torso, and it took her even less time to unburden him of its contents. She tested the pistol’s weight in her hand.

Domestic security is great.

Zahraa put the pistol in the briefcase, clicked it shut, pulled her hood over her head, and walked quickly towards the terminal doors.

“Well,” she said to herself, “what now?”

May 2018 – Furious Fiction Submission

This is another entry for Furious Fiction run by the Australian Writers’ Centre, and I am happy with this one more because of the fact it has inspired me for my novel, which I’ll admit is only plodding along very slowly.

I am finding “very short” fiction is good for writing during the school term, as it usually only takes me a couple of hours to knock out, but I feel like I can work my creative muscles a little bit. In this story, I spent some time practising my development of character voice throughout the piece.

Not much else to say apart from that there were a few specific prerequisites that I needed to meet like in the previous one:

  • The story had to begin with the words “A long time ago”
  • The story had to include the words “star”, “war” and “force” (or a plural of those words).
  • The story had to feature something that flies.

Obviously it needed to be written in the 55-hour time-frame and could only be 500 words at the most.




The Kessler Effect

“A long time ago,” said Zahraa, “in an orbit not so far away, people just like us lived on another world. A dead world.” She paused dramatically, a habit she’d picked up from years of storytelling. But this story was different.

Zahraa glanced up instinctively before continuing, peering through the transparent dome overhead and scanning the sky for the blue-brown pinprick of light amongst the stars. She couldn’t find it, and when she looked back down at her children their eyes reflected the red of the landscape just beyond the glass.

“But we can never go back to that dead world now, and even if we did, we could never leave it. Around that world is barrier, or a dome,” she patted the thick glass beside her, “but that dome around the world was made by accident, and unlike ours it is not there to keep the world safe. The dome around the dead world is made of junk that moves so fast that it tears apart anything that tries to enter and, more importantly, that tries to leave.”

Zahraa noticed her son’s sharp intake of breath and continued before he interrupted.

“Before the Collapse it was a beautiful place, of blues and greens and yellows and purples. On good days or in the right places you could breathe the air and walk outside barefoot to feel the soft grass. But the planet was slowly dying, and everyone was leaving to the Colonies-“

“Like Mars?” Zahraa’s daughter managed to interject.

“Like Mars,” she answered, taking a breath. “Every day the Colony ships rocketed towards a future only a few could afford to have and we would watch exhaust streams cross-hatch the sky, reminding us that we could not leave. Not yet. But then we thought we had years, not days.

“Then it happened: a ship that was launched from a place called Woomera was torn up when it hit an old, defunct satellite in lower orbit, and that debris hit another satellite, and the chain reaction that had begun continued until Earth’s orbit began to completely fill with junk,” Zahraa did her best to force back the quiver in her voice. “Once they realised there wasn’t much time, important people from powerful countries started wars, using bombs that wiped out entire cities as they scrambled to get their own ships into the sky.

“I was too young to realise how bad it was. Even when my mothers sat with me as the car drove us to the launch pad. Even when the shuttle door closed behind me with them on the other side. Even as our only home faded into the distance as we scraped through the debris field and shot towards Mars.

“Like all that are left now, I was alone without a home, and in the end all the Colonies could do once the orbit was full was listen to the desperate cries for help as Earth killed itself, cut off from anything that could save it.”