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Read Between the Lines

A spin on a well-known idiom!

Read Between the Lines

‘Reported demise of a lone visitor within the Chobe Wild Life Reserve. Early last evening, two rangers patrolling the reserve, came upon an abandoned vehicle. Alarmed as to the whereabouts and safety of the person or persons belonging to the vehicle, the rangers began their search. As daylight turned to dusk, they located a person, or more accurately, the remains of a person.
In the words of one of the rangers: We followed footprints along the central track leading back to the entrance of the park. Partway along, the footprints veered to the left along an animal path. Two old lions, fondly referred to as Grouchy and Grumpy by us rangers, patrol the territory either side of the track, Grouchy to the left and Grumpy to the right. They, the lions, meet daily at the divide of the path and roar insults at each other before sauntering back to their separate territories. Quite harmless, really.
The second ranger continues the story: First we found the boots bearing a few teeth marks, then a scrap of red bush-shirt material dangling on a thorn bush. Marty noticed the black-rimmed, thick-lensed glasses at the side of the path. With his back turned to me, he bent to pick them up. He jumped and kinda squealed. As he turned, I noticed his ghostly white face. His hand shaking, he handed me a set of dentures, upper case, I think. Scraps of paper, fluttering in the breeze puzzled us both, but piecing a few bits together, we recognised their origins. They were remnants of the map given to visitors on entering the reserve.
Marty concludes the story: Yep, that chap whoever he was, had obviously been caught reading between the lions.’

Wetamorphis

Recently, I experienced the joy of winning first place in a fantasy short story competition run by the Hisbiscus Coast Writers, a group I am a member of. Steff Green judged the competition. Following, are quotes from her comments: ‘so much beautiful, evocative language – you make the weta’s come alive. Very early on you establish the protagonist as sympathetic. This could be a great picture/chapter book. This piece is awesome.’
This posts offering is my story.

Wetamorphis

The impressive Giant weta, the Wetapunga, roamed the world long-ago alongside dinosaurs. Kings of the insect world, the Wetapunga grew to the size of a small dog with the capability of flying long distances. Razor-sharp talons lined their legs. The Weta from yesteryear leapt from tree to tree. Their antennae squirted poisonous venom, paralysing predators and prey alike, and their large mandibles crushed bones in one bite.

The day twelve-year-old Toby Jacobson announced to his classmates that if he was an insect, he’d choose to be a Giant Weta, his classmates scoffed.
“Why would you want to be a Giant Weta? Weta’s are so ugly.”
“Yeah. Wetapunga, the Giant Weta means ‘God of ugly things.’ ” Charlie Hamilton said
“Well, that makes sense. God of ugly things, that’s you, Tubby Toblerone, to a T!” Chloe Ash sniggered. “With your bulging bug-eyes and scaly-raw skin, perhaps you’re meant to be a disgusting weta, living in rotting leaves.”
Toby scratched the red welts on his arms.
“Yeah, scurry away and find a pile of damp leaves to hide in, Wetapunga, if you don’t want to get crushed under-foot,” Charlie jeered, body-slamming Toby into the wall.
Toby, straightening his thick-lensed glasses, retorted in a shaky voice. “The Wetapunga is a noble creature. They’ve been around for one-hundred-and-ninety million years.”
“Hah, he even speaks like a weta,” Chloe said. “Or is it ‘squeaks?’”
“Actually, it’s neither. Weta’s, like crickets, communicate by rubbing their hind legs together. And they chirrup, not squeak,” Toby braved, wishing he could just shut himself up, wishing he could shed the skin that was him.
“Chirrup, chirrup, chirrup,” his classmates chorused. Toby’s face reddened.
The morning bell rang. The students of room thirteen moved to their seats. As Toby pulled out his chair to sit, Henry Stubbs flicked the chair back with his foot. Toby fell heavily. Tears smarted.
“Sit down, boy!” yelled Mr Rathbone, entering the room.
Mr Rathbone, the maths teacher, – otherwise known as Ratty Rathbone both for his temperament and his rodent-like facial features – picking up a white-board pen, wrote an equation on the board.
Toby sat. Without looking, he sensed his classmates’ sneers. The welts on his arms pulsed with pain. The urge to scratch, to tear away his skin, to rid himself of this disfigurement consumed him. The real wounds, the real hurt is within, Toby thought, burying his head in his arms. Word-knives slice my innards, venomous snares (sneers) poison my blood, body-slams broil my brain. I am a decaying husk. Shaking the vision from his mind, he looked up.
Ugh, long-division. He rolled his dark, round eyes as Ratty droned on. Closing his eyes, he imagined wriggling free from his skin like the juvenile weta. My new skin would be an impenetrable armour, he mused, able to deflect barbs, dilute venom, dodge body-slams. Be the real me. He smiled as he slumped lower into his seat.
“Toby Jacobson! Wipe that smirk from your face.”
Jolted from his reverie, Toby gazed glassy-eyed at the thin-faced Mr Rathbone.
“Don’t think you can doze off in my class, boy. Get out here and finish this equation.” Ratty thumped his open palm on the whiteboard.
Toby’s classmates sniggered.
Nor did his day improve in Physical Education. Dodge Ball. Toby stood with his team in the circle, alone.
“Get Weta Boy,” Charlie shouted from the firing line.
Balls zinged through the air. They bounced. They pounded his body. He jumped, he ducked, he spun around, crouched and covered his head. The balls smashed into his body. Sprawled on the floor, the balls kept coming. His skin itched.
“Nowhere to hide, eh Weta Boy,” Henry chortled.
At three o’clock, Toby trudged towards home, wearily.
When he reached the tumble-down barn along the way, he stretched apart the wires of the fence and scrambled through. He entered the dark, derelict barn. Inside, throwing off his bag, he lay on the pile of hay in the corner. With his arms behind his head, he looked towards the roof. Dust motes flickered in the splinters of light seeping through the holes in the rusty iron. Outside, a wind began to annoy the flimsy iron sheets on the far wall, causing them to rattle, to complain. He wrapped his arms around his torso and snuggled deeper into the hay. Nestling into the warm mustiness of the hay, Toby shed the horrors of his day like an unwanted skin.
A rotting-damp smell assaulted his nostrils. Opening his mouth to breathe, the taste of decomposing vegetation imbued. He felt his body being squeezed and pummelled. He tumbled into gloomy darkness, landing with a thump on his back onto a soft carpet. A carpet of rotting leaves.
Toby looked up at splintered shards of light filtering between leaves on tall trees stretching skyward. He scratched his exoskeleton abdomen in wonderment. He heard a chirruping sound and then another. The chirruping grew louder, came closer.
“Oigh! Who are you and where have you come from and why are you here?” Toby, turning his head sideways saw himself reflected in a pair of large glassy eyes. He very much liked what he saw in the reflection. An armour-plated suit, two twitching antennae and six very sturdy legs.
He rolled his body and stood proud on his six legs. An assortment of Giant weta’s scrambled from under leaves and bark, forming a semi-circle around him.
“You can call me Toblerone.” Rasping his back legs together, Toby chirruped. “It’s difficult to explain where I’m from but the reason I’m here is to help you. I believe you lot are endangered, am I correct?”
“Yes. Hordes of rats have over-run this once safe haven, the island of Wetapungapu and decimated our population. Are you familiar with this cunning vermin?”
“Oh yes, very much so,” Toby nodded solemnly.
“No matter how carefully we choose our hiding places, those nose-twitchers manage to ferret us out. Our numbers have dwindled to a mere fifty.”
“You need a strategic plan and I am the man, ah weta for the job,” Toby chirruped. “First we must locate the purple trumpet flower and drink the nectar.”
“The what?”
“The trumpet flower. Suck the nectar before it’s petals close as day turns to dusk, and be transformed into the noble creatures of your forbears.”
“Huh?”
“Long ago, Wetapunga, the size of small dogs, with the ability to fly ruled the land. They leapt tremendous distances, paralysed predators with a venomous spray and crushed bones in one bite with their powerful mandibles. The barbs on their legs were lethal talons.”
“Ah, yes, I have heard such stories,” the Chief of the tribe chirruped, nodding his head.
“By consuming this nectar, we’ll transform into the weta of yesteryear?” another chirruped.
“Yes,” Toby’s glassy eyes sparkled. “But the powers last only ‘till the moon is at its height. You must complete your mission by this time.”
“And if we don’t?”
“Your exoskeletons will be shed for the last time and the nectar will poison you from within. You will die an agonising death. Your tribe will be no more,” he answered in a solemn tone.
“You mean extinct?”
Toby looked into the stunned eyes of his fellow creatures and nodded.
“Let the search begin!” the Chief, standing upright on his rear-legs, rallied. “There is no time to waste!”
The weta’s fanned out. They hunted under leaves, poked behind tree-bark, scuttled along fern branches, scurried over rocks and boulders, and scrambled through the undergrowth. Dusk encroached.
“It’s here, it’s here!” the Chief screech-chirruped.
The tribe gathered. The trumpet flowers drooped from a low lying bush on a mound, their petals beginning to curl inwards.
Toby held up a fore-leg. “You must suck every morsel of nectar. The taste is unpleasant and you will experience discomfort as your transformation begins.”
With antennae twitching, the tribe listened. Heads nodded, fore-legs waggled and reached towards the flowers.
“Wait,” Toby harrumphed, looking into those eager eyes before him. “When the battle is won, I will utter an important final order: Excrete, excrete! ”
“Excrete?” many chirruped in unison.
“Yes, excrete, poop. You must poop every last morsel of nectar from your body, squeeze out every last teeny-tiny droplet.”
“Ugh, that’s disgusting.”
“Disgusting it may be but totally necessary. If not excreted, the poison of the nectar will be fatal to yourselves. Now, choose your flower.”
With flowers clasped between their front legs, the weta’s slurped the nectar. Some grimaced at the taste, others squirmed in pain but they continued to suck and as they sucked, their bodies grew. Wings sprouted, barbs became talons, antennae plumped.
“Let’s do this!” the Chief exhorted.
“Take your positions,” Toby ordered.
With a mighty leap, all but ten ascended into the darkening sky. The flurry of flapping wings caused branches to bend, trees to sway and a deafening, swooshing sound filled the night air. In the light of the early moon, sharp-edged talons glistened from dangling legs as the Wetapunga Army took-up their battle positions.
The remaining ten, hiding under foliage on the mound, began their chirruping chorus.
From beyond, detecting the sound, furry, grey ears perked, trembled. Sharp noses twitched, gleeful eyes gleamed. The mass of sleek bodies surged through damp vegetation like a rushing, grey river. Around sharp stones and rocks, over humpy tree roots, the rodent-river flowed. They paused. They listened. They sniffed the air. They twittered. Their whiskers quivered, salivating the promised feast ahead. On and on they scurried towards the chirruping chorus.
Hidden, the front-guard ten, sensed the approach of the enemy. They listened. A rustle of a leaf, the clang of a rock, the padding of paws. They waited. They held their breath. Their antennae poked through their camouflage. Fear and anticipation pounded in their hearts.
The padding paws reached the mound.
A furry nose poked into the enclave. Sniffed and smiled a mean smile. A talon swiftly slashed the rodent from ear to ear. Blood spurted, a shriek pierced the quiet night. As one, the ten wetas threw aside their blanket of camouflage. A row of stunned rats, standing on their hind legs, squealed shrilly. Flashing talons tore at the bellies, at the legs and at the snouts of those front-row rodents. Cries of pain and panic swamped the forest. Entrails and gore spurted forth. Congealing blood pooled, caking the leaves, soaking the soil.
The surviving rodents fled westward. From the skies came a whooshing flurry of wings. The west guard wetas flew towards the grey torrent, unleashing venom from their antennae. A sticky syrup sprayed the rodents. The rodents collapsed, clasping their bellies. Writhing on their backs, their legs waggling in the air, they howled in pain. A foul-some smell lingered.
In a panic, the remaining rats scattered. From the east, from the north and from the south swooped the mighty Wetapunga Army.
The air sang with the whooshing of wings.
And echoed with the crunching of bones.
The sky glistened with the spraying of lethal syrup.
The forest sparkled with the silver glean of slashing talons.
And roared with the death throes and anguished cries of the rodents.
Rodent carcasses covered the land but still, the mighty Wetapunga was not finished. They searched every tree cavity, lifted every rock and boulder, pounded every rotten log until certain their former foe was no more.
Regrouping on the mound, Toby gave his final order. “Excrete, excrete!”
The great Wetapunga pooping began. Cow-patty splatters, elongated sausages, perfectly spherical marbles, boulder poops, mushy poops, squishy poops and pea-sized poops.
They moaned. They squirmed. They grunted. They squeezed and then squeezed some more. And as they pooped, their bodies shrunk, their wings disappeared, talons returned to barbs and antennae de-plumped.
Exhausted, Toby lay on a patch of vegetation, tucking a purple trumpet flower inside his exoskeleton. His body snuggled into the warmth of the leaves, he closed his eyes.

Rejuvenated by his metamorphosing experience, Toby announced at the dinner table that evening that he is now a herbivore.
“A herbivore, dear? Don’t you mean vegetarian?” his mother commented.
The boy smiled.

Toby woke refreshed from his deep, peaceful sleep. His skin glistened with droplets of early morning dew. A soft chirruping chorus sang. The dawn light trickled through the curtains. He wriggled his toes, bent his legs, rubbed his stomach and stretched his arms wide. Throwing back his bed-covers, Toby bounced out of bed ecstatic in his new skin. Renewed.
As he bent to pull on his socks, he noticed the exoskeleton on the wooden floor by the end of his bed. Gently, he picked it up and sat it on his dresser. From the glass of water on the dresser, he took the trumpet flower and carefully wrapped it in a tissue, placing it in his back-pack.

On arriving at school, several of Toby’s classmates loitered on the steps leading to the main hallway. He leapt up the steps two at a time.
At the top, Charlie Hamilton stuck out his foot. “Hey, Weta Boy’s here. Let’s all chirrup for Weta Boy.”
Toby swiftly swirled, avoiding Charlie’s foot. “Ah, Charlie. You have to be quicker than that to catch-out Weta Boy.”
As the morning bell rang, room thirteen students entered their classroom. Maths was the first period. Ratty Rathbone was not there. The class waited. They noticed Toby’s empty seat at the back of the room.
Tick-tock, the minute hand ticked to five past nine. Still Ratty didn’t appear. Not like Ratty to be late.
Tick-tock. Ten-past nine. No Ratty. The students, becoming restless, squirmed in their seats, fired paper darts across the room, shouted insults at one another.
Charlie Hamilton swaggered to the white-board, picked up a white-board pen and began to draw.
“Guess what I’m drawing,” he laughed, swooping a long black line across the board.
Tick-tock. Twelve past nine.
Charlie kept drawing, chuckling to himself.
Tick-tock. Thirteen past nine.
The brass knob door-handle squeaked, turned. All eyes swivelled from the board to the door. Charlie stopped drawing, erased the marks from the board with his sleeve and slunk back to his seat. Slowly, the door opened. A leg appeared. A bendy-thin leg with a claw at the end. Mouths dropped open. The door edged open a little more, another leg appeared. The students at the front clung to their desks and lent forward to peer around the door.
With an almighty thrust, the door swung fully open. Hands flew to faces and bodies dropped to the floor, huddling under desks. Gasps, shrieks, screams then stunned silence. Frightened eyes shot around the room, assessing escape possibilities. The students whimpered.
The large armour-clad figure strode to the front of the room. His glassy-round eyes glowered behind thick-lensed glasses. Wings, folded across his back, flickered. His large mandible clicked alarmingly as his head slowly swivelled from side to side, surveying the snivelling students.
His antennae twitched as if sensing a foul smell. The creature snorted. His eyes alighted on Charlie in the second row. He took a long stride towards the cowering boy.

A Stream of Yellow

One place I try to avoid for obvious reasons such as noise and general mayhem created by such places are shopping malls. Sometimes, however, shopping malls can be a great source of entertainment!

A Stream of Yellow.

“Scintillate your senses.” The girl behind the make-shift perfumery stall proffered gleaming bottles of scents to shoppers. The shoppers, clutching bags or clenching cell phones to their ears or tugging quarrelsome children, surged past. They didn’t pause. They didn’t glance at Molly-Rose or her wares.
Strains of orchestral notes from the home-ware store feebly competed with raucous rock music booming from the sports store. A red-faced infant howled from its stroller. The infant’s mother frantically searched in the folds of blankets. Harried shoppers stepped around her and the stroller, scowling, sighing, glaring.
“Got it,” the mother triumphantly held a small item aloft, relief on her face. As she popped the pacifier into the child’s mouth, she caught Molly-Roses eye. The girl hopefully waggled a scent bottle towards the mother. The mother smiled apologetically and joined the throng.
“Nail polish, lipsticks, mascara, discounts today only.” Molly-Rose, desperate to make at least one sale on her first day, fluttered her gleaming purple-bloom polished finger-nails, smiled her shiny ruby-rose lipstick-smile and fluttered her mid-night blue mascara lashes.
A woman and a small boy in T-shirt and shorts cautiously approached the stall. Molly-Rose flashed her shiny smile. The woman, picking up a bottle, unscrewed the lid.
“Dab it on the paper.” Molly-Rose offered the woman a strip of paper. The woman sniffed, wrinkled her nose.
“Maybe this one,” the girl offered another bottle.
“Mum,” the boy tugged his mother’s sleeve. “I need to go,” he whined, jiggling from foot to foot.
Ignoring her son, the woman picked up bottle after bottle, dabbed the paper, sniffed, returned the bottle and moved to the next one.
The boy jiggle-danced on his crossed-over legs. “Mummmm. I really, really need to go.”
With dismay at the thought of losing her only possible customer, Molly-Rose extracted a lolly-pop from her pocket and lent towards the small boy. A look of alarm clouded his face. He cast his eyes towards the floor. Molly-Rose looked at the floor. She looked at the stream of yellow urine running down the boy’s legs, puddling on the floor.
The mother and the boy hurried away.
A large red-haired woman in spindly high-heels, cut across the stream of shoppers towards the stall. “Do you happen to have… ” then with a whoosh, the woman slid. She wobbled, flung her arms wide and landed spread-eagled on the floor.
People paused. Stopped. Pointed. Giggled and continued on.
“Isn’t that Zelda Merryweather, the mayor’s wife?” A shopper, munching on a salad roll, nudged her friend. Thick mayonnaise oozed from the roll.
As she struggled to upright herself, Zelda Merryweather reached out and grabbed the cloth hanging from the stall. She tugged the cloth. The bottles rattled, clanged. Zelda, with gritted teeth, yanked harder on the cloth.
Bottles clattered. With a mighty yank on the cloth, the bottles flew through the air, scattering at the feet of the scurrying shoppers. Mayhem ensued as shoppers, scrambling on all fours, swiftly swooped those bottles into bags and pockets.

Poise

Nearly June. Nearly halfway through this ‘new year,’ the year of twenty-nineteen. Did you make new year resolutions? Myself, with an appalling record of breaking new year resolutions early in the year, prefer lists. The main character in this story also prefers lists, however, that is no reason to assume my story is autobiographical – well, not entirely!

Poise.
New. A new bladder, that’s what I need the most, Josie thought, feeling a warm trickle sliver down her inner thigh. I’ll add ‘new bladder’ to my New Year list, she mused, desperately squeezing tight her pelvic muscles. She imagined a damp blotch forming on her fluorescent shorts and fought the urge to race past Cynthia plodding along in front of her.
As the running mates entered their street, Josie could hear Cynthia’s laboured breathing. On reaching her home, Cynthia stopped, clung to her gate-post and holding a hand to her chest, spluttered, “Am I getting faster or are you getting slower?”
Stringy damp hair stuck to the sides of her blotchy-red face. Without pause, Josie half turned and continued running backwards towards her own home, giving a half-hearted wave.
She tore up her steps and flung open her door. Then it happened. With a mighty whoosh, her bladder emptied. The ammonia smell teased her nostrils, her skin smarted as the urine gushed down her legs. The yellow liquid soaked her socks and shoes and splattered the door. In horror, Josie observed the puddle forming on the welcome mat.
She yanked off her shoes and socks and shorts and dashed inside to the bathroom.
Showered and dressed, her soiled clothes, including her trainers, dumped in the washing machine, Josie fetched a refuse bag from the shed and shoved the sodden door-mat into it. She splashed a bucket of soapy water over the door-step.
With her twenty-nineteen to-do list and coffee mug in hand, Josie plonked onto the rickety cane chair on the porch. Not a believer in new year resolutions, having failed so many times in the past, Josie preferred lists.
She scanned the list:
New combination fridge freezer.
Birthday present to self: winter holiday somewhere warm!
Establish flower beds around the water tank.
Abstain from deserts.
She added one more.
The first four were all doable, but the fifth? Internet shopping didn’t cater for new bladders and she’d never seen money back guarantee television info-commercial for one hundred per cent reliable bladders.
A memory of the time she had first bought that personal product for her ageing mother, flashed through her mind. Unable to find this discreet product in the personal care aisle, she sought assistance.
“Women’s personal product?” The young shop girl queried. “Oh, you mean those pads women wear for incontinence,” she said in a voice too loud. Heads turned. One shopper sniggered.
“They’re for my mother,” Josie had muttered.
She remembered her mothers’ tearful protestations when she graduated from pads to adult nappies. From that time, her mother slipped into her own private, impenetrable world, lost to those who loved her the most.
Josie wandered the supermarket aisles aimlessly, trying to remember the final item. Then in the personal care aisle, it came to her. With the poise of a ballerina, she stretched on tip-toes and nudged loose one of the pink packets from the top shelf.
Josie smiled. All you need is poise!

Feeling Pumped

A clash of loyalty to family and friends and the brutal consequences of ill-advised actions. A pleasant day at the beach interrupted by the unexpected.

Feeling Pumped.

JIMMY

My eyes scream with pain. Everything is blurred. Syd pulls against me, as I yank on his collar and struggle over the dunes. Bloody dog! He’ll get a right kicking if he doesn’t start behaving, and my so-called mates, deserve the bash too, running off like a pair of sissy’s.
As for that fat cow and her lethal spray, I’ll get her when she’s least expecting it. No-one shames Jimmy Rankin, and gets away with it.
As I reach the roadside, Syd jerks free from my grasp and bounds across the road.
Outside the dairy, the two sissy’s kneel down and pet Syd. “You dumb-arse dog,” I shout, rubbing my eyes furiously.
“Thanks for the support, you pair of weasel-arsed sissy’s,” I shout as I stomp across the road.
“Yeah, sorry mate. That cow meant business and I didn’t fancy getting sprayed.” Jono mumbled.
“You ain’t no mate,” I snarl. “Maybe you fancy this,” and I pop Jono right on his hooter. He clutches his face as the blood spurts out.
“Wow! Jimmy, steady on. It wasn’t Jono’s fault.” Stevie says.
“You want one too?” I sneer, clenching my fist. He holds up his hands and backs away.
“Nah, sorry Jimmy,” then he points to a water-tap on the side-wall of the dairy. “Splash some water into your eyes. It’ll take the sting away.”
I squat down, turn on the tap and splash water into my eyes. The pain eases.
“My nose, I think it’s broken.” Jono groans.
“Shut it or I’ll whack you again.”
Springing to my feet, I pull out Syds lead from my pocket and clip it onto his collar. “Tie Syd to that post,” I say to Stevie, pointing to a lamp-post a hundred metres away. “You and I are gonna do over the dairy. Bozo here,” I jab a finger at Jono, “Can stand guard.”
“Jimmy, that ain’t a good idea, not in broad daylight.”
“Do it!”
Stevie takes the lead and drags the dog, snarling and growling, to the lamp-post. Tied to the post, Syd Vicious goes into a barking frenzy. Bloody dog, he sure is gonna get one hell-of-a-kicking, later.
“And you, you useless bag of shit, when we’re inside the dairy, bang on the door if anyone comes along. You got that, pea-brain?”
“Yeah, I got it.” Jono mumbles, spitting a gob of bloody snot onto the pavement.
Stevie returns and I fling my arm around his shoulder, “Let’s do this!” Visualising the smack seeping into my veins, I feel pumped as we enter the dairy.

TAMMY

Soaking in the rays of the hot summer sun, at the far end of the beach, away from the Sunday beach crowd, Bethany and I listen to the latest drama in Carla’s life.
“I woke to a noise coming from downstairs. I crept down the stairs and along the hallway to the kitchen. The door was half open, and I could see a figure beside the bench. I couldn’t see his face properly, because he was wearing a hoodie. He was searching through the messy drawer, the one where everything gets dumped, including dad’s wallet when he’s not got it on him.”
“Weren’t you frightened?”
“I was absolutely petrified. I stood frozen to the spot, too frightened to move. The back door was open, and the porch light glowed into the kitchen. I could see the meat cleaver on the bench.”
“Oh my God!” Bethany shrieks. “What happened?”
“I must have made a sound because the intruder grabbed the cleaver, and spun round, facing me. I got such a shock when I saw the face inside the hoodie. Sunken eyes, hollow cheeks and red-raw scabs around his mouth. It was my brother, Jimmy.” Carla pauses, her eyes watering. Bethany, reaching for Carla’s hand, squeezes it. “I haven’t seen him since dad and he had that big blow-up when dad caught him burgling the house. Dad threatened blue-murder if he ever dared to come back.”
“Did he say anything?” I ask.
“No, but I did. I was shaking all over and my voice sounded weird, not like my voice at all. None of it felt real. It was like I was on the outside, watching someone else. I told him to leave before he woke mum and dad.”
“And did he?”
“No. He took a step towards me and raised the cleaver over his head. I screamed like I’ve never screamed before, and shouted, ‘get out, get the fuck out’. That’s when the car pulled into the driveway. Mum and dad had come home. He dropped the cleaver and took off out the back door.”
“So your parents weren’t even in the house?” Bethany says.
“No.”
“What did they say when you told them he’d been there?” I asked.
“I didn’t tell them. I just said that I got up to check if I’d locked the back door.”
“Carla, are you crazy? You should have told them.”
“He may be a loser, but he’s still my brother.”
“He’s a psycho, Carla. What would have happened if your parents hadn’t come home when they did?”
“But they did come home and nothing happened and no matter what he’s done, he’s my brother and I care about him.”
“Will you still care about him, when he’s wedged a meat cleaver into your skull?”
Carla’s body stiffens, and her eyes burn with anger. “I’m going for a swim.”
She scrambles to her feet, sprints to the water and dives under the waves.
“Wow, that was a bit brutal, Tammy. He wouldn’t have hurt her. He’s her brother.”
“Don’t be naive, Bethany. He’s an addict, desperate for a fix with a meat cleaver in his hand. It wouldn’t matter to him who it was standing there. She should have told her parents.”
“ ‘Spose,” Bethany shrugs.
“You want some crisps?” I offer, taking two packets from my tote bag.
“Thanks.”
A fat bulldog, coming from the sand dunes bounds towards us and rushes straight to Bethany’s open crisp bag, gobbling the crisps. Drool dribbles from his meaty mouth. Bethany squeals. Three yobs appear from the dunes, laughing at the dog’s antics.
“No need to be afraid of Syd Vicious, girls. He just wants to be your friend,” says the skinny dude, dressed in black jeans and hoodie, with chains hanging from his belt.
Holy shit, it’s Clara’s brother, Jimmy! I look towards the waves, trying to make out which swimmer is Clara. The dog, circling us, growling and snarling, is eyeing up my bag of crisps.
Jimmy approaches. “What juicy little flesh-pots have you found for us, Syd?” he smirks, crouching beside Bethany, who has huddled herself into a tight ball.
“I’ll have this one,” he says rubbing her leg. “I’ll do her in the sand-dunes and then I’ll do her again. You two can fight over fatty there!”
Grabbing my tote-bag and jumping to my feet, I screech, “Get lost, Jimmy Rankin, and take your low-life mates and your smelly dog with you.” I swing my bag wildly at him.
“You gonna make me, fatty?” Jimmy, on his feet, steps towards me. Stepping back, I nearly trip on my towel. His mates laugh.
“You tell her, Jimmy,” one says.
Bethany whimpers. Holding my bag to my chest, I frantically search for the small, cylindrical tube. Finding it, I aim my hand and squirt Jimmy Rankin in both eyes.
He screams an anguished cry, “You sadistic cow!”
Rubbing his eyes, he splutters, “Get the bitch!”
The other two look towards me. I point the cylinder in their direction and take a step towards them. They turn and run back over the sand dunes. With one hand rubbing his eyes, Jimmy grabs the collar of the dog with his other hand and stumbles over the sand dunes.
“Wow, that was amazing Tammy,” Bethany hugs me. “I was so scared.”
“What was amazing?” Clara returned from her swim, dabs her hair dry.
“Nothing, it was nothing.”
“It wasn’t nothing, Tammy,” Bethany continues. “These three yobs and a savage dog came out of the sand dunes and were saying vulgar stuff. Tammy yelled at one of them and sprayed him with pepper spray.”
“And they left?”
“Yep. They ran off. You knew him, didn’t you?” she says to me.
“Yeah, no, not really,” I stutter. “Anyone want a coke? I’m going to pop over to the dairy.”
“No thanks,” they chorus. I tie my sarong around my hips and pull on my T-shirt. As I scramble up the first dune, my heart thudding against my rib-cage, I clench the cylinder in my hand, fearful they’ll be lying in wait. Reaching the roadside, I see the dog, Syd Vicious, tied to a power pole, barking madly. Outside the dairy, one of the yobs is standing beside the door, blood streaming down his face. The door flies open and a black figure, half turned, yelling something over his shoulder, dashes out onto the road. A car comes speeding down the hill towards the dairy. Brakes screech.
WHAM!

One Would Be Enough

Karma. Destiny or fate. Most of us would have heard or spoken the phrase: That’s Karma for you. This phrase came to mind when my Dad, an avid fisherman, told me a fishing story, many years ago.
Fishing, a calm and passive past-time, right? Not always.

One Would Be Enough.

One big fat salmon would be enough. Vincent manoeuvres his chair along the zigzag track. One salmon would keep Doris happy. He reaches his favourite position, a flat platform of ground above the canal below, wide enough for his chair. He yanks hard on the brake and begins to prepare his rod.
The early morning sun warms his face as he gazes into the calm water of the canal. Will today be the day he’ll catch a salmon and break the drought? He replayed the early morning conversation he’d had with his fretful wife.
“I can’t help but worry. What if your brake failed and you went hurtling into the canal, trapped beneath your wheelchair? What then?”
“That won’t happen, Doris. The brake is sturdy and Harold is there with me if anything should happen.”
“Even Harold would struggle to pull you out of the canal if… .”
“Stop worrying, woman. It’s not going to happen. Every week we have the same conversation and every week, I come back safe, don’t I?”
“You haven’t caught any salmon for weeks. All you’ve caught is that nasty sniffle. You’re just a foolish, stubborn old man.”
The catch on the gate clicked open.
“Morning Doris, morning Vincent,” Harold, striding up the path, waved.
“Morning Harold.” Doris bent and tugged at Vincent’s woollen scarf. “Promise you’ll keep this on. I don’t want that sniffle spreading to your chest.”
“I promise, sweetheart,” and he pecked his wife of fifty-four years on her cheek.
As he prepares his rod, Vincent wonders if Doris is right. Perhaps he is losing his touch. Perhaps his fishing days are over.
He cast his rod, the sinker plops into the water. He wedges the rod firmly in the side of his chair, praying for the knowing jerk.
Melodic whistling drifts from the top of the embankment. Howard is making a brew.
Howard doesn’t fish, he sketches and paints vivid landscapes. An odd pursuit for such a big, rugged fellow, Vincent ponders.

***
As the kettle sings its wheezy tune, Howard contemplates the spiral of steam curling into the air. A warm tingle seeps through his body. Perched on the easel in his garden studio at home, is the half-finished portrait of his dead wife, Olivia. Her slightly crinkling lips and glistening blue eyes, captured in bold brush-strokes. As he paints, Howard hears Olivia’s laughter, imagines she is with him once again. He sees her gentle smile dances in the vapour.
His reverie is broken by voices coming from the canal bank. He fills the metal mugs. The voices grow louder.

***

Stuart Agnew is steaming mad when he arrives at the canal to find his favourite spot taken by some old codger in a wheel-chair, halfway up the bank. That morning, he finished his night-watchman job at the depot, late. Donaldson, the foreman, had caught him napping, and made him do another round.
“Yer paid to patrol not sleep, you lazy sod.” Donaldson roughly kicked Agnew’s boot, waking him.
“I wasn’t sleeping. Just resting my eyes for a bit.” As he stumbled to his feet, the near-empty whisky bottle clanged to the ground.
“And what have I told yer ‘bout drinking on the job?”
Agnew shrugged. “I just had a nip to keep the cold from my bones.”
“You’d keep warm patrolling the yard as you’re paid to. Do another round and take that bloody bottle with you.”
Then he had a confrontation with the missus when he got home, thrusting him into a worse mood.
“If you think you’re going fishing today, think again.” She met him at the door, her arms folded across her ample bosom.
“Oh jeez, mother of God,” he attempted to push past her. She, a solid woman, stepped deftly to the side and blocked his passage.
“Don’t blaspheme, Stuart Agnew”
“Give a man some peace, woman. I’ve been up all night.”
“Sleeping it off, more like.” she sniffed. “You’ll get all the peace you want once them lawns are mowed and that damn gate’s fixed.” She snorted, turned and closed the door in his face.
Defeated, Agnew went to fetch the mower from the cluttered shed. His beloved rod, leaning against the back wall, beaconed him.. Why the hell not? He sprung into action. Bait, chilly bin, fold-up stool, then his rod. Furtively, he strode to his car. He could see the missus in the rear vision mirror as he drove away, waving a spatula, shouting. He couldn’t hear what she said and cared even less.

***

Vincent watches the short pug-faced bloke walking along the canal’s edge below him. In one hand, he’s carrying a beat-up chilly bin and fold-away stool and in the other, an impressive large rod.
The bloke sits his stocky body on the stool, snaps open the chilly bin and prepares his rod.
“Hey mate, could you move along a bit?”
“Nah, this is my spot and I ain’t moving.”
“But my lines already in,” Vincent wriggles his line.
“But my lines already in” Pug-face mimics back.
“Come on mate. Be reasonable, just move along.”
“What, you gonna come down and bash me with that wheel-chair of yours?” Pug-face laughs and lights a cigarette.
“Nah, he ain’t but I will,” swivelling on the stool, Agnew looks up as Howard steps from behind the car.
“But I always fish here, this is my spot.”
“Not today it ain’t. Now move along or I’ll come down and help you.”
Agnew scowls and gathers his gear. He tucks the fold-away stool under his arm, and clutching the chilly bin in one hand and his rod in the other, he glares at Vincent and Howard.
Vincent’s line jerks. “You beauty!” He begins to wind his rod.
A large, silvery salmon emerges through the water surface, thrashing at the end of the line. Agnew draws deeply on his cigarette, drops the chilly bin, and grabs the taut line. He holds the cigarette against the fine nylon. The salmon plummets into the canal.
“You rotten swine,” Howard strides down the embankment.
Agnew picks up the chilly bin and hurries along the wet, grassy track in the direction he came, chuckling. His foot slips. He trips over his rod. The rod rolls into the canal. He kneels, plunges his upper body into the water. His arms flail desperately.
Vincent, forgetting the salmon, rocks with laughter.
Howard hears Olivia’s laughter. She is with him once again.

Pulling Up Daisies

There was a knock at the door. An unexpected knock at the door offers countless possibilities as to who and what awaits on the other side.

Pulling Up Daisies

There was a knock at the door…
Under the bougainvillaea on the front verandah in light coloured chinos, stood a stranger wearing thick-rimmed glasses.
“Yes?” I asked tersely, annoyed that my morning crossword had been disturbed.
“Mr Harris?”
“Yes? Can I help you?”
The fellow introduced himself. “I’m from Olson and Carter in the city and we have been contracted by our client to make you an offer on your property for… .”
“There’s been a mistake. We’re not selling,” I interrupted, attempting to close the door, his extended foot preventing me.
“There is no mistake, Mr Harris,” the chap continued earnestly. “My clients are willing to offer…” quoting a substantial figure.
“What? How much?” I stammered.
Repeating the amount, he assured me that his clients were genuine and it was a cash offer.
About to lose my composure, I barked, “As I told you, we’re not selling.”
He held up his hand and looked me steadfastly in the eye. “Take time to consider, Mr Harris. I’m staying at The Holiday Inn.” He flourished a fancy, gold-embossed card. “Call round in the morning. I believe there is room for negotiation… .” he trailed off.
“I’ll think about it,” I wanted this fellow gone before Evelyn returned from her morning walk.
The chap nodded and left.
I returned to my crossword dismissing the idea of selling our home of sixty years for any outrageously crazy amount of money. My concentration lost, I discarded the crossword.

When Evelyn hadn’t returned from her walk by her usual time, I went looking. On many occasions, I’ve searched the streets in the village for my wandering wife. That morning, I found her in Mrs Greys garden, pulling out daisies. “Daisies are lovely but they do tend to take over,” she said when I walked up the path.
Amongst the discarded daisies, I got to thinking. Perhaps the fellow was right. Perhaps I should consider the offer. I called on Mr Earnest of Olsen and Carter, the next morning.

A month later and the deal is done. We leave the island on the ferry tomorrow. We leave forever, though Evelyn doesn’t know it’s forever.
“I hate that smelly old ferry,” she grumbles, wiping the bench in angry strokes. “And I don’t want to go to the city.”
I embrace my agitated wife. “Do it for our girl, Caroline. It means a lot to her.”
“I didn’t ask for this, in fact, I specifically said I didn’t want a fuss. Caroline’s got no right.” Clinging to my chest, her body quivers. Tears will follow.
Had I done the right thing?
“Sweetheart, sixty years married, is a milestone few people reach,” I say, looking into her moist eyes. “We’ve got to celebrate. It’ll be a small gathering of family and close friends at Caroline’s house. No fuss, I promise.”
She sniffs loudly.
“I’ve an idea. Let’s wander down to the beach and ca-noodle in the sand dunes, just like the old days?” I suggest.
“You old rascal, you,” playfully punching my chest.
“I’ll slap some sammies together, you make a Thermos of tea, what do you say?”

At the end of the path, I place Evelyn’s faded denim hat on her head. “There, got to look after that peaches and cream complexion of yours. Can’t have my beautiful lady burning in this hot sun.”
“You silly old romantic, take another look,” she answers. “A wrinkled prune is what this face is, just as our granddaughter Samantha says.”
“It’ll always be peaches and cream to me, like the first day I met you on this very beach. You racing into the surf, jumping the waves, swimming so far out I thought I’d lost you even before I found you,” adjusting her hat. “You were reckless that day, and fearless.”
She chuckles, “That was a long time ago. I’m not that person any more, just as you are not that gangly, awkward youth, standing on the beach, scanning the surf. I knew you were there when I rushed into the waves. I wanted you to be watching, waiting.”

Snuggled in the sand dunes with the toe-toe standing sentry, raucous seagulls dipping and diving on the breeze, I watch the waves lapping the sand, swirling then retreating rhythmically.
Swirling like my thoughts. Have I done the right thing?
“It’ll be better for everyone, dad,” Caroline assured me a week ago when I confessed my doubts.
Caroline has scoured the city for a suitable retirement village. Sunset Gardens promises assisted living, facilities for the active, weekly outings, pleasant manicured gardens and best of all, it’s within walking distance of a beach.
“A penny for them,” Evelyn tugs my arm.
“What?”
“A penny for your thoughts. You were miles away.”
“I was remembering the times we brought our young ones here. Throwing them into the waves and them shrieking but always coming back for more.”
“And the sandcastles we built with moats and turrets and the waves rolling in and sucking our castle into the sea.”
“Crab hunting in the rock pools.”
“Collecting driftwood, making a fire to cook sausages.”
“Remember the time Ben got caught in the rip, the day of Tom’s birthday? The day we’d walked to the point?” Evelyn points to the distant sliver of land.
I nod. “Like it were yesterday.”
That day, nigh on fifty years ago, we’d ventured to the spit on Tom’s insistence. It was his tenth birthday. Tom raced ahead, with Ben, two years younger close behind. No amount of shouting would slow them down. The boys galloped into the churning waves, diving under and coming up again to dive some more. Then only one head popped to the surface. The small body turned, turned again thrashing at the waves, yelling. Dropping the chilly bin, I sprinted into the waves.
“Yep, we nearly lost Ben that day. A sobering lesson for all of us,” I shudder.
“What was it you said to the boys? Never underestimate the force of mother nature?”
I grin. “Yeah and how often did the pair of them quote that back to me over the years?”
“The big wind of eighty-six when the hen house got lifted and spirited down to the beach, the chicken’s left behind, bewildered, clucking wildly in their cages.” Evelyn smiles.
Yep, can’t underestimate the force of mother nature, eh Dad? The boys had chorused that day.
“Time for a sandwich and a cuppa?”
“Better not be too long, Julia’s coming home today on the afternoon ferry, remember.” I jolt at the mention of our dead daughter.
“She’ll have so much to tell us about her adventure, you know how she’ll be, talking non-stop twenty to the dozen. Her first Girl Guide camp and, she’ll be hungry. I’ll make Shepherd’s Pie for tea, her favourite.” Evelyn begins to pour the tea.
“Julia’s not coming home today, sweetheart.” I sigh. “Julia is never coming home again.”
Her arm shook, spilling some tea on the rug. “Of course she’s coming home today, Frank. It’s the twenty-seventh. I’ve marked it on the calendar. And it’s on her postcard.” She passes me a cup. “How could you forget today’s the day she’s coming home?”
“Julia’s not with us any more, sweetheart. She died last year. Her heart problem, we were lucky to have her as long as we did.” I wipe a tear from my cheek.
“Oh, silly you! That was Aunt Doris. Old Aunt Doris died last year and not from a heart problem. Simply old age. She had a good inning.” Evelyn sips her tea.
Putting down my cup, I embrace my wife. “Aunt Doris died many years ago and her Albert, a year later.”
“Sure do miss her scones though. Nobody could make date scones like your Aunt Doris.” Evelyn looks pensively to the swirling waves. “Wonder what will become of Uncle Albert? He’s a bit lost without her.”
Its me who is lost now, as lost as Evelyn’s memories.
Diminished capacity, the doctor called it. It’d gotten steadily worse since Julia’s death. A severe shock can have that effect, the doctor said.
“That’s it, Frank.” Evelyn broke from her reverie. “That brochure, that one that came last week in the post about the retirement village only they didn’t call it that.”
She continued eagerly, “What did they call it?”
“Assisted living.”
“Yes that’s it, Sunset Gardens. That’s what your Uncle Albert needs. When he gets back from visiting his girls down south you could talk to him, Frank.” She patted my leg triumphantly.
“Sure, I’ll have a word with him.”

Uncle Albert lived with us after Doris died. I recall the old, shrunken man sitting on our verandah, as I strolled up the path after a day on the fishing trawler. I’d ask, “How are you, Albert?”
“Just fine, waiting for my Doris,” he’d reply. “We’ll get our teas when she comes back.”
I never corrected him.

Evelyn suddenly scrambles to her feet. “There’s the ferry. Time to go. Got to get home and get that Shepherd’s Pie made.”