Tag Archives: short stories

Lockdown Fiction: Stand LIke Stone

This week’s prompt from Improbable Press made me think of Australian poet, Adam Lindsay Gordon, and how I’ve often wished there had been somebody to rescue him.

Gordon’s poems are generally much more glum than his most famous few lines suggest, but I’m glad he’s known best for the hope than the despair.

Stand Like Stone

Cal knew it wasn’t done to climb statues, but he did it anyway, there in the middle of a Melbourne night. The metal was cold – colder than the night itself – but Cal was so cold already it hardly mattered.

Being held, or at least holding someone, that’s what mattered. Months of alone, months barred from touch. Months in an inverted world.

His chest ached and his breath wheezed on the ascent, but he made it.

Some joker had attached a mask to the statue’s face. Adam Lindsay Gordon, bush poet, his noble features concealed behind the message: breath was dangerous, lately. Cover up, protect yourself, protect others.

Gordon’s statue depicted him sitting loosely in a chair, the accoutrements of his riding days underneath the chair, a pen in one hand, a book in the other, his index finger marking a page. On the verge of writing another poem.

Poetry had been the death of him. The printing debts, and the acquired brain injury of one fall too many from the saddle.

Cal sat in Adam Lindsay Gordon’s lap and leaned his head against the metal folds of his shirt. Cal was still cold on the outside, but he felt warmer inside, and he recited his favourite of Gordon’s lines.

Life is mainly froth and bubble
Two things stand like stone
Kindness in another’s trouble
Courage in your own.

Clumsily, Cal removed Adam’s mask and fixed it on his own face. It was a kindness in others’ trouble; it was courage in his own. Homeless, hungry, haunted. But he could do this. Protect others. Protect himself.

‘You all right up there, son?’

Cal, cradled in metal arms, looked down towards the face looking up at him. A man in a puffy coat, a beanie pulled over his ears. A big fellow, with broad shoulders and big arms. Masked.  Maybe like a bandit; or like a superhero. Hard to tell which these days.

Cal coughed behind the mask, a nasty, chesty cough.

‘Do you have a home to go to?’

Cal shook his head and coughed again, a terrible fit of it that left him exhausted. He leaned against Adam Lindsay Gordon’s solid torso and closed his eyes.

‘How about we get you somewhere warm?’

Cal was surprised the man was still there. Coughing fits were a sure way to clear a bench, a room, a whole fucking side street these days.

‘I’m sick,’ Cal said.

‘I’ve already had it,’ said the big man. ‘You shouldn’t be out here in the cold.’

‘Nobody wants me,’ said Cal, and wheezed again. ‘I’m not safe.’

The big man didn’t ask why, so Cal didn’t have to tell him about the shouting at home, the hitting, being trapped indoors with a father who hated the difference in his son, who was mainly only different to him. There were loads of people just like Cal, really, out in the world. There was nothing wrong with him, really, except, of course, for the obvious.

‘Come on. Let me take you somewhere warm.’

Cal peered over Adam Lindsay Gordon’s arms to the big man. His eyes had adjusted to the gloom and dear god, the man was huge. Like a bear. Like a statue come to life. His eyes seemed kind, but Cal had been fooled by kind eyes before.

On the other hand, here he was, sitting in the arms of a statue, waiting to die of cold and loneliness. Might as well take a punt. Courage, Adam Lindsay Gordon urged. Maybe the bear man would be kind.

Cal tried to climb down again, but a coughing fit seized him. The mask protected the Bear Man but made it harder for Cal to catch his breath.

But then the Bear Man climbed up the statue too, and helped Cal. Arms around that thick neck, across those broad shoulders. Bear Man was warm, the heat soaking into Cal’s chest and belly and it made him want to cry.

‘Hold tight. Here we go.’

The bandit/superhero reached the ground again and scooped Cal into his arms.

‘You’ll be safe with me, I promise,’ he said to Cal, walking across the park to the blocks of flats on the opposite side of the park. ‘We’ll get you fed and warm and work out if I should take you to hospital.’

Cal should have had an opinion, but all he felt was safe as this stranger took him home and wrapped him in a doona and gave him soup and pillows and paracetamol and care.

Then there was sleep, deep and long, and fourteen days in isolation, during which Cal learned he had a chest infection but not a virus, that some people really were as kind as they looked, and that the hero-bandit’s name was Adam.

Of course, Cal thought, smiling. Of course the strongest, safest arms he knew belonged to Adam.

Lockdown Fiction: The Only Daughter of Time

Here we are again, with a story prompted by the Improbable Press blog. It seems my mind lately is rather fixated on metamorphis.

The Only Daughter of Time

The sun blazed hot outside but within the colonnade the air was cool and fresh. Outside smelled of hot dust; inside of earthy stone and antiquity. Ruins, partially reconstructed for the delight of the tourists, made them all feel small in the scheme of time, large in their self-estimation. They had lived to see these sights, and had the gumption to travel far to places where habits, beliefs, language, all different.

Excited travel chatter faded and the group stood in the cool stone cocoon and gazed up, up, up at the paint that clung, centuries later, to the ceiling. Ochre reds and pale greens, the hint of yellow and, in one large, stubborn patch, a blue ground from lapis lazuli made a faux sky on the stone that blocked the real sky.

Ameenah sneezed into the silence, mucus membranes agitated beyond endurance by the colour blue. The floral origin was neither here nor there. Ameenah was allergic to blueberries, blue skies, the blue moon, the Moody Blues. Blue got right in amongst her cells and niggled till she sneezed. Every. Goddamned. Time.

Dr Mason, back home in London, insisted the allergy was psychosomatic. Ameenah insisted that her imagination had never been that vivid, let alone powerful enough to actually manifest sinus pain, irritated nasal passages and actual snot.

Ameenah, sneezing, as remarked, into the silence, and the explosion of it bounced off the marble walls and around the pillars and from the stone floor to carved ceiling and all in all, there was nothing discreet about it.

A tiny flake of blue split away from the ceiling, and another, and a third: drifting down like falling ash.

Sl
  ow
      ly
          do
             wn

                 onto Ameenah’s red-eyed face. A flake into her left eye, a flake onto her lip (and licked unconsciously away) and a flake below her nose so that when the next sneeze began, she inhaled it sharply into her sinus cavity.

Blue. Right there. In the centre of all the trouble.

Ameenah, who was not a believer in crystals, was not aware that lapis lazuli was associated with self-knowledge, with intuition, and with past lives.

Well, not to begin with.

But as she stood on the flagstones, blue in her nose, in her eyes, on her tongue, a much older part of her self turned over. The blue that invaded her body woke up sleeping knowledge and woke up the blue in her blood and the blue of her skin.

The sleeping part of her blinked, took a deep, deep breath and …

Maat, Goddess of Truth, awoke.

Ameenah was not, it turned out, allergic to blue.

Truth had just been waiting for the right blue to rise up.


La verità fu sola figliola del tenpo.
Truth was the only daughter of Time.

~ Leonardo Da Vinci, from original manuscript “Moto, colpo

New Anthology: Oz Is Burning

B Cubed Press’s fundraising anthology Oz is Burning has been released, just a little behind its original timing to coincide with the NZ Worldcon!

B Cubed commissioned the stories as a response to the devastating bushfires of February 2020 (how long ago that seems now) and a portion of the proceeds will be going to WIRES.

Australian and New Zealand writers were asked to submit stories of a post-apocalyptic world. My own contribution, Harvest, has a little fire, a little water, a few seeds and a certain amount of mindful weeding. (My Patreon supporters got a sneak peek of the story earlier in the year).

If you read the ToC reveal in April, you’ll see that Oz is Burning contains stories by some of ANZ’s best writers of specfic and horror, including Gillian Polack, Kyla Ward, Lucy Sussex, Jack Dann and Jason Nahrung (who recently won an Aurealis Award for his PhD thesis!)

Oz is Burning – edited by Phyllis Radford – is already available for Kindle and is likely to be on other platforms soon.

Help to support the writers and WIRES by getting a copy!

Lockdown Fiction: Chrysalis

My mind is definitely taking a lot of apocalyptic turns when I write to the Improbable Press prompts – but then I try to make them less grim. I’m not too sure which one this story is.

Pop over to Improbable Press to read what others have done and to try out your own prompted fiction!

Chrysalis

Nobody survives Chrysalis. That is to say, no body does. Everyone who ingests the tricky little amoeba responsible for Chrysalis emerges from it different to what they were before.

It doesn’t affect the other animals, only the primates. Monkeys, apes, and us. Enough of a dose of the little single-celled animals, and our bodies alter. We grow sleepy and sluggish, we grow cold and stiff. We grow little crystals all over our skin.

We hibernate.

Some awful things happened at first, when loved ones and medical professionals tried to remove the crystals, to peel the sleepers within out of the shell. A lot of people bled and died, and the ones that didn’t were horribly scarred and never properly woke up.

When people first found out what was happening, they put all kinds of measures in place to identify where the amoeba was breeding, though maybe breeding isn’t the word. Fluoride in the water wasn’t touching it, so everyone boiled their water or drank it bottled. Then it turned out it was in the bottled stuff, and in soft drink and any manufactured beverage, so ubiquitous that the bottled drinks industry collapsed overnight.

Entamoeba histomorphia, they’re called. Single-celled agents of change.

Most mutagens are cancerous, but not these little creatures. They change everything, but if left to their lifecycle, they don’t’ kill everything. It’s human intervention that does that.

The people who emerge from Chrysalis have slower hearts and stronger muscles. They have tougher bones and softer skin. Their altruistic impulse is more highly developed and their sense of self is more robust. They speak more but shout less; they sing more, do more art, too.

The biologists and behaviourists are still discussing how histomorphosis acts on the brain. They don’t argue about it, except in a purely debate-team sense.

Oddly, aggression hasn’t disappeared entirely. But with our new soft skin and greater sense of community, it’s directed differently.  Righteous anger fights for the community, though not for conformity.

Post-Chrysalis people are sort of like the better angels of our nature.

A few conspiracy theorists try to sell the idea that Entamoeba histomorphia were developed in a leftist lab by snowflake hippies. E. histomorphosis resulting in the kind of thing snowflake hippies like, apparently. Others think it evolved from the cell-eating Entamoeba histolytica. Most scientists have concluded it was an accident of circumstance, because of how we’ve changed the climate on the planet, and all chemical soup we pumped into it.

Generally, climate change and poisoning the environment were meant to bring an end to humanity, so I guess it did that, though not in the ways we were expecting. Those little critters coat us and imbue us and change us, and we emerge from Chrysalis a new species.

I have crystals on my throat today, on my cheeks and eyelashes. They are coming in little pretty waves over my shoulders and inner elbow and the soles of my feet.

About time. I drank three litres of unboiled, unfiltered water yesterday, inviting them in. All the best monsters have to be invited in, and all the best monsters are just the heroes of their own stories too, and that’s what we’re truly becoming.

The term Human 2.0 was first bandied about on Twitter, but the Science Side of Tumblr stole a march on that with Pan narrans. They borrowed the name from Terry Pratchett. The story-telling ape.

And now, today, into the future, Pan narrans is telling a new story.