Illustration by KATHRYN LAMONT 2018.
02 min 
Fiction & Genres & Issue Five

Home

By Keren Heenan

My sister’s only been back a week. We sit in the kitchen and I listen to her talk about the city; the street, the hospital where she’d worked, now hidden under rubble.

‘There’s an old man,’ she says, ‘his house just a shell now. But he still plays music, I heard him on the day I left. Nothing there but bombed-out windows and shattered walls, a bed covered in debris. I saw him sitting on the bed, listening to an old gramophone, his house just … a mess.’

I put the mug of tea in front of her and pour my own. Blueberry muffins sit warm from the oven, untouched on the plate. The cat leaps onto my lap, all soft warm fur. I rest my hand, feeling her asthmatic purr.

‘Everyone running blindly, sirens, the noise,’ her hands cover her ears. ‘The smell of blood and dust, I don’t know how to lose that.’ She tilts forward, fingers splayed, but she doesn’t cry. I hold onto the warm roundness of the mug of tea and wait. Outside, the children’s voices rise in unison, a celebration of some sort—a goal kicked, or heroically defended. Murmured fragments of their banter drift across the garden.

‘One woman,’ my sister says, ‘she was barefoot, blood from a wound on her head. She wore something yellow, and the blood … it made a pattern … like a river across her chest.’ Her voice cracks. ‘I tried to get to her, over the broken concrete and rubble and I couldn’t … I couldn’t get there.’

We’re holding the mugs, but we’re not drinking the tea. The clock ticks like a metronome, squeezing the rhythm of the day into the gaps between her words. She rocks gently back and forwards on the chair. The old dog shakes her head in the corner, collar slapping.

In the next room the baby stirs. I rest my hand on my sister’s then go and lift him out of his warm nest and bring him back to the table. He’s all sweaty hair and red cheeks from teething.  He looks at her and his mouth breaks into a red-gummed grin. The corner of her mouth lifts. The heater flicks off and I place the baby on her lap. ‘Here, I’ll have to go and clean the filter.’

When I get back she’s holding him close to her chest, one hand on his back. ‘The woman,’ she whispers. ‘The woman in yellow, she had a baby strapped to her back,’ and she’s looking across the room to the wall, and beyond. The old dog rises from her bed, stretching. Makes her way across to the table and rests her head on my sister’s knee.

Outside, the sing-song calls of the children rise and fall, and my sister’s hand makes slow circles on the baby’s back.

Artwork by Kathryn Lamont.

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09 min 
Fiction & Issue Five

As Good as Gold

by N L King

 

Kim ignores her father’s voice. She scrolls down her Instagram feed and taps a witty reply to her Canadian friend, Stevie.

‘Kim[1].’

Kim sighs and closes her phone. Her father is in the dark lounge room watching Gardening Australia.

Tomorrow Bo will have Kim planting whatever Peter Cundall has just planted on TV. Their urban block is a tiny farm. Chooks live in the chook-house Bo built when Ma was still alive. They get eggs and sometimes meat, although Kim shudders to think of Linh and Mai in a curry. The cat, Quan pays his way too. Bo keeps score of Quan’s kills in the notebook in his shirt pocket.

‘Kim, tomorrow it’s onions.’

Kim reaches for the tray. Bo’s plate is pristine, and she wonders if he licks his plate clean to make sure not a morsel is wasted.

‘It’s dark in here, Bo.’

The blind clatters noisily as it rolls to the top. Sunlight streams in, illuminating Bo’s pained face.

‘Why, Kim? Why you not careful?’

Shrugging, Kim leaves the lounge, tray in hand. Her phone pings with a DM (direct message). Kim hopes it’s Laney from Sydney. Laney posts on Insta three times a day and Kim comments on each of them.

Hey Kim

Hey Laney

How’s it going?

So, so. Looks like I’ll be planting onions tomorrow.

Lol

What are you doing?

Rob and I are looking at rings.

He finally asked? Congratulations!

Thanks, Kim. I’m so happy.

Kim snaps her phone shut. It’s not that she isn’t happy for Laney, weddings just make her uncomfortable; like she’s been forgotten. How many 36-year-olds live at home? How many single, almost-virgin (her relationship with Michael ended over seven years ago) 36-year-olds live at home, look after their Dad and the family business? Mostly Kim doesn’t go into the bakery, her brother, Danh took over the business. Kim does the books. Danh inherited the family business and Kim inherited their father.

Danh lives above the bakery with his wife, Lily, and their daughters. Lily styles hair for a flock of older Vietnamese women who lean heavily on the bannister to pull themselves up the stairs. She bows at the top of the stairs and offers them iced-coffee sweetened with condensed milk.

Before Ma died seven years ago, Kim had a sex life and dreams for her own family. She wanted two little Michaels; Eurasian children with the best of Kim and Michael. After Ma died from a stroke, Bo was like a lost child. Kim left Michael and their modern three-bedroom townhouse and moved home with Bo.

She would hold Bo’s hand and steer him to the vegetable garden. When he was cold and lonely, she gave him chilli plants and coriander. Weeks passed, Michael insisted Kim return, but she couldn’t leave Bo staring out of windows with dull, empty eyes. When she discovered Gardening Australia,she moved Bo from the windows to the television.

A few months after Ma passed, Bo’s neighbour, Elena, stopped Kim in the street. Kim took home a cardboard box and showed Bo a male kitten mewing piteously. Bo reached in, pulled the kitten out, and tucked him within the folds of his flannel shirt. He kissed the top of the kitten’s head and murmured ‘Quan’. Quan brought Bo back to the land of the living, and soon outgrew his big kitten eyes and squashed up nose and became a killing machine of rodents.

After a morning digging in onions, Kim showers and leaves Bo in front of the television. He watches reruns of Escape to the Country. He likes the English countryside and dreams of green fields. He talks about apple trees and asks Kim to Google ancient varieties. Bo says the Chinese were the first to graft apple trees and he wishes Ma were alive so they could tour the world visiting orchards. Every time Kim comes home with a bag of Pink Ladies, Bo clicks his tongue and asks why she hasn’t brought him Pippins.

Kim raises her eyebrows. If Ma was alive, she and Bo would run the bakery, Danh would have a mechanics business, and Kim would still have Michael, regular sex, and dreams of two little Michaels. They would not be debating the merits of ancient apple varieties. She bangs down the apples on the kitchen counter; part of her hoping the rough handling will bruise the fruit.

After showering, Kim gives Bo lunch. She rolls up the blind carefully and reminds him to take his pills. Bo nods impatiently, his eyes don’t leave the screen. She settles in front of her laptop and runs over figures for the bakery. Danh has changed suppliers and Kim suspects they’re being swindled.

She hears Bo switch off the television, shuffle into the kitchen in his slippers and fill a glass with water. He hates pills; convinced that’s why Ma died. The screen door bangs. Bo is probably inspecting the onions and planning an orchard. He’ll limp to the back and sit with the chooks, cluck his tongue and talk nonsense.

Steve takes a playful swipe at Kim on Insta. She had posted a photo of Bo holding a shovel and Stevie asks why she makes her old Dad work? Kim’s fingers fly. She DMs Laney. Laney asks if she will fly over for the wedding and be her bridesmaid. Kim says she’s too old to be a bridesmaid.

The sky opens. Rain pours down on the tin roof. Kim purses her lips in self-satisfaction thinking about the onions. Quan meows at the back door. Sighing, Kim gets up and flicks on the kettle. Quan can wait. She sits back down with her milky coffee and hopes Bo will come in soon. She doesn’t want him catching a cold. His slippers will mess the floor and she only vacuumed yesterday. Quan keeps up a plaintive mew.

Kim switches on a light and goes over the bakery accounts, lines up numbers and then she spots it. The number that doesn’t fit. She doubts Danh and his too trusting nature.

Stretching her shoulders, Kim glances at her phone and can’t believe Bo has been in the rain for so long. She hopes he hasn’t fallen asleep with the chooks. Sometimes, he wets the bed. Could his piss affect the eggs?

Quan’s cries grow louder. Slipping into crocs, Kim moves to the back door. She peers into the rain as Quan winds his tail around her legs.

‘Bo?’ Kim calls. Then, she panics. Is Bo lying on the ground?

Running, she slides through dirt in her crocs. Stands over Bo with rain pelting down her face. Blood has pooled around his head. His body twists awkwardly. She knows he is dead before she checks his pulse.

She sinks to her knees. Rain comes down fast. The sky is an angry black. The chooks are in their house. Quan stares unblinking from the verandah. Kim cradles her father’s head and caresses his white hair. She can’t move. She sits in the downpour and cries.

Weeks later, when Bo is next to Ma at the cemetery, Kim wanders around the house. She stares out of windows, strokes Quan absentmindedly. She watches Gardening Australiaand reruns of Escape to the Country. She googles ancient varieties of apple trees and fertilises the vegetables in the back garden. Eggs pile up in the kitchen.

Kim drives past the townhouse where she lived with Michael. They sold the townhouse years ago. Kim’s share of furniture is in the garage. Bo covered it in tarps and tied it up into a neat square of Kim’s old life. Michael married his hygienist. They run a professional looking dental clinic and have two little Michaels who are blond.

Kim is empty; a hollow vessel. She welcomes grief and avoids Insta. Lily cuts her hair. Kim lets the Vietnamese ladies pat her hand and pretends to be happy with her new hairstyle.

At home, in front of the bathroom mirror she questions why she’s still alone. She shouldn’t be alone in a large house. Kim offers the house to Danh, but he says it’s easier to live above the bakery. She empties Bo’s pills into the toilet and watches them twirl before they dance into the sewer.

Days and nights merge. Kim dozes most days and prowls the house and garden with Quan at night. She records Gardening Australia.Months after Bo’s funeral, she is at the cemetery planting chilli plants and coriander at the grave site.

More time passes. Kim finds Quan as stiff as a piece of card. She buries him under the frangipani tree. She knows it’s time for the chooks to make tracks and puts a notice on Gumtree. Kim helps the young couple excitedly dismantle the chook-house Bo had built from cast-off pallets.

She flies to Sydney for Laney’s wedding, wears a too-tight, too-pink dress and swings her thick black hair over her shoulder as Laney climbs into a limousine. Kim helps her nieces with their homework and talks to Danh about upgrading the bakery ovens. She harvests onions and cries when she pulls them out of the earth. The house isn’t the same without Quan, the chooks, and Bo’s enthusiastic planting.

One Sunday afternoon, Kim eats a sandwich on the grave. Swigging at water, she looks up at the bright blue Western Australian sky. Kneeling on the ground, her bare legs warm in the sunshine, Kim digs in cherry tomato plants. Sitting back, she sighs and laughs. Her laugh catches her by surprise. She is shocked she remembers how to laugh.

She remembers Bo and Ma and their tomatoes. They fled South Vietnam in 1979 and arrived in Geraldton with thousands of other Vietnamese who fled the North Vietnamese Army and wanted new lives. Bo and Ma became tomato farmers.

Danh and Kim grew up amongst tomatoes. After school the pair helped out and Kim grew to hate tomatoes. Now she digs them in on her parents’ grave and thinks about the old days.

She reminisces about that day before market when the family spent hours packing tomatoes. Bo carefully stacked towers of crates onto his ute. Ma wiped her hands on her apron in satisfaction as Bo pulled onto the road. Danh realised Bo hadn’t fastened the back of the ute but was too late with his warning.

The crates swayed dangerously as the ute picked up speed. Ma screamed for Bo to stop. The towers toppled and tomatoes tumbled. Ma stared as tomatoes rolled tumultuously over bitumen. Kim thought Ma would cry, seeing her mother’s shoulders shake.

When Bo stepped from the ute, Ma was laughing. She laughed so hard, tears streamed down her face. Bo walked over, kissed Ma on the cheek and they rescued tomatoes together.

The memory never left Kim. Even now, if Danh or Kim mentions the ‘tomato incident’ one of them giggles, tears spilling down their face. Bo mentioned the tomatoes in his eulogy at Ma’s funeral; his admiration of her sense of humour and the ease with which she dealt with hardship. He was her greatest admirer, and she was his ray of sunshine. Kim hopes she’ll be someone’s ray of sunshine one day.

Kim’s laptop is on the kitchen bench. An enrolment page for arboriculture casts a blue-ish tinge over the room. Scent from the frangipani tree floats in through the window and a gentle breeze from the Indian Ocean blows across Kim’s home.

 

 

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09 min 
Fiction & Genres & Issue Five

Dead World By Jesse Williams.

The sky was an oppressive grey outside, as it always was. The old man peered at the clouds through a dusty window, squinting as though it would reveal a blue sky if he could only focus his sight. He had some memory of such times, when the sky was full of light and the earth full of colour, and if he really tried he could almost picture it: flowers growing in the dead patch of earth outside, animals in the forest on the hill—the sweet forgotten songs that the birds used to sing. But it was a long time ago.

He pulled his eyes away from what would never be and turned back to look around his small home. It was most definitely dusty and probably untidy as well; far too many things crammed into a small living space. Small trinkets adorned the mantle above the small fireplace, knitted quilts hung from every piece of furniture. Books were everywhere, lined in the bookshelf and stacked on the coffee table, in some instances being used as tables themselves. But it was cosy, and out of all the odds and ends and finished stories, the man felt he was the only piece out of place.

His eyes came to rest, as they usually did, on the comfy looking chair in the opposite corner of the room.

He allowed himself a deep sigh. Then he stood, slowly and purposefully rising out of his seat as though it were the first time in a thousand years and—after a moment of stillness—broke into a steady movement about the house.

First he made his way over to the fire, where he had been warming up a very plain soup, mixed in with a few low level concoctions to help him with walking and other such things, and took a sharp sip from a wooden ladle. Apparently satisfied and perceptibly standing a little taller, he proceeded to pour a measure of the steaming liquid into a weathered thermos, and then placed the thermos into a leather pack. He continued this way (book, knife, metal object) until the bag was almost full, ritualistically picking and placing and moving. When he was done he put on a long, thick coat, laced his boots and walked to the door.

He let out a deep breath, which wasn’t a sigh, took a last cursory look around the warm, colourful room, and stepped out into the cold.

There was quite a strong breeze dancing about outside, invisible for the lack of leaves to be blown or tall grass to be swayed, and seemingly frustrated with its own lack of consequence. There was no one out here to be bothered by such a thing, just black dead trees pushing up out of black dead earth. No one left, save the tiny old man, wrapping his coat against the wind and setting off down a black, dead road.

The gravel crunched underneath his feet amid the silence. Breath wheezed from his lungs. He ignored the dismal noise and set his eyes on the road in front of him, trying not to think about the way back. Among the endless expanse of a world that had run out of time he was a bright ball of colour, flickering and fading from the weight of the crushing dusk.

Although he walked quite slowly, methodically and patiently placing one foot in front of the other, there was a determination about him, a confidence noticeable from the tree line of the approaching forest. Nothing was alive there, but eyes watched him all the same, peering out of the darkness. It was something like fear that kept them in the dark.

The man noticed the forest too, felt the weight of the blackness emanating from it. The breeze coming from that direction was bitterly cold, but he continued forward through the bleak, grey landscape until he was upon the trees himself. The air from within whispered and threatened the man.

Go back

He pulled up his collar,

Go back

took a large sip from the thermos in his bag,

Go back

and lit a short wax candle using the heat in his hands.

He then stepped forward off the road and onto the small, rapidly narrowing track that continued for a short while past the line of trees, maintaining the same steady pace.

The dead hills outside the old man’s house were very still, and very silent. They were grey and dark and dead. Some days the man believed it was the silence that was slowly killing him. But when compared to the silence of the forest, the wind of the hills was a melody. The grey of the rotting fields was a kaleidoscope of colour after the deep, permeating black that existed under that canopy of bare branches, sharp and dead as splintered bones. The only light came from the candle in the old man’s wrinkled hands, painting his face with a gentle orange glow for all those who watched soundlessly from the shadows.

They couldn’t be seen or heard, smelt or touched. They existed outside of experience, veiled in darkness beyond the dull light of the candle. He would have convinced himself there was nothing there if he could have—if he didn’t have the overwhelming feeling he was completely surrounded. If there wasn’t a soundless scream cutting through the silence of the trees like a desperate, hopeless cry for help.

He continued to walk at the same steady pace, the lonely sound of his stifled sobs echoing amid the building crescendo of tortured souls.

When he felt he had reached the heart of the forest he came to a stop and brought his sack off his shoulder, taking care not to put out the candle, which he sat carefully on the ground. He rummaged through his things for a moment before carefully bringing out a small box filled with old photographs, holding it in the gentle way one holds precious things. After allowing another small sigh through jagged breaths he bent and placed the box on the ground and, though it was hard to do, he felt lighter when he stood again.

Darkness swallowed the box, as the old man and the candle drew further and further away.

The remainder of the walk through the woods was easier—the terror was quieter now, and the darkness seemed to part willingly before the candlelight. Still, it is not easy to submit yourself willingly to the pain of your darkest nightmares, your discarded memories. They clawed at him lamely as he approached the end, weak and powerless against the heat and warmth that remained in his heart, dwindling though it was.

The old man involuntarily gasped for breath as he stepped out of the dark, only to find himself swallowing gulps of sour, acrid air. He had made it to the salt flats.

It is hard to imagine that anything could be worse than the claustrophobic density of the forest, and the man often expected to feel relief at the beginning of this phase of the trip. He was, every time, disappointed.

The flats stretched out seemingly to infinity ahead and to both sides, dwarfing the fading energy of the dark line of trees to his back. They were entirely flat, the salt itself a glaring, brilliant white made impure by the scattering of black shapes distributed thinly in every direction. They could almost have been rocks or burnt shrubs if not for their barely perceptible movement, seemingly dragging themselves with excruciating deliberation across the salt. The old man had come too close to one once, had felt the sickening gaze through the eyeless lump that may once have been a face. Since then he knew what they were, and tried very hard to forget. But his mind always repeated to him the thoughtless mumble that escaped his lips that day.

They’re smaller than I thought.

And so a deeper dread replaced his brief moment of relief as he took his first steps out onto the flats under the empty threat of the dark grey sky and the listless stares of the small black shapes.

Out of necessity he maintained his steady pace, but where in the woods he held his head high, on the salt he kept his eyes firmly on the ground in front of his feet. He continued this way for some time, only glancing up quickly to ensure his distance from the figures, changing direction slightly if needed, to lessening degrees of success. He couldn’t avoid them all the way across for their sheer number and relentless advance.

Eventually one was close enough for him to hear the faint, grating sound of weight dragged across salt. He felt his heart beating against his rib cage and knew he could go no further. So, like in the forest, he slipped his bag from his back and brought out a small item. It was a pink stuffed bear, not tattered but clearly old and well loved. He knelt on the ground and held it in his hands as though cradling a living child.

The crunching sound of the salt grew louder, but the old man was momentarily lost in memory, free from the horror of reality.

He closed his eyes and allowed himself to return. As before, he gingerly placed the bear on the ground, gathered himself, then turned and walked away. He was permitted to continue his march across the flats largely uninhibited, but still felt the guilt of crying eyes looking to him from far across the dead white sea.

Again, he battled the feeling of relief welling inside him at the thought of making it across, countering it with the memories of what was to come next.

He could smell it before he could see it.

It twisted and curled through the thick dead air, slowly overpowering the acidic tang of the flats; the unmistakable smell of rotting flesh.

He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wrapped it around the lower half of his face. He could see it now on the horizon, the hills that weren’t hills, and the relief was gone. He kept his head down and tried not to think about the smell, putting one foot in front of the other as he drew ever nearer. Eventually the handkerchief became redundant, so he wrapped more cloth over his mouth, but there was no escaping the smell when he stood at the entrance to the valley where the hills revealed themselves. It didn’t matter how many times he saw it, he was never prepared for the sheer volume of decomposing bodies, stacked and piled like trash in landfill.

His breath was shallow and he was filled with terror, but again he broke into his determined stride and entered the valley between the mounds.

They were at his sides, overhead, and under his feet. Countless thousands that he could see, countless more that he couldn’t. There was no care to be taken in treading, no avoiding the harrowing sound of bones breaking under his weight. There was nowhere to look to avoid staring into the collapsing faces of the dead, nowhere to hide from their blank stares. But unlike the forest and the flats, there was no feeling of presence, no judgement or despair. They were just dead and, as horrible and terrifying as it was, the man found some comfort in that.

Finally, through the smell and the occasional sound of bodies crumbling and falling as they decayed, he glimpsed his journey’s end; a window of light and sadness and memory, the gateway to the feeling of love that had been lost from his heart so long ago. The old man reached around to his bag again, this time pulling out a lifeless bunch of flowers. He knelt at the foot of a small stone and placed the flowers before it.

Madison Taylor

Beloved Wife

1929-The End of the World

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25 sec 
Fiction & Issue Four

Dejavu

By Nikole Eugeniou 

Mostly, Papou wins at cards. Although after every game, he’ll say that I won. I visit when I can, which is less often these days. Every time I visit we play cards. We play rami-gin and Bastra; which I just call ‘the jacks game’. Occasionally, Blackjack. Sometimes we’ll do Sudoku together. All of this is done over a cup of tea. Since his son, my grandpa, died, Papou hasn’t had anyone else to play cards with. Most days he plays solitaire.

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24 sec 
Fiction & Issue Four

Creatures of the Forest

By Michael Stracke

Darkness surrounds you. You can’t remember how you got here, or even where ‘here’ is. A soft glow appears before you. Silver light begins to form and suddenly you are joined in the darkness by a spectre of sorts. A well-dressed man with a long winding moustache and a friendly grin floats towards you. His body seems to be slightly transparent, and he emanates the same soft glow that was just in front of you.

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21 sec 
Fiction & Issue Three

Ubiquitous

By Ed Carmine

 

 The crunch of her palette cleansing salad was a detestably audible as well as visual experience. Her incisors ground the spines of her lightly dressed spinach leaves into a flecky green resin with mechanic precision. My salmon arrived, midway through her bouts of frontal lobe rattling chews and nauseating small talk, drenched in its own juices and lifeless in its bowl.

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15 sec 
Fiction & Issue Three

Avatar

By Evie Kendal

 

‘She’s gifted!’

‘Cursed you mean! Are you sure? How did this happen?’

Lady Maria Wetherford stared at the small creature smiling up at her from the crib. She cooed quietly, sucking on her tiny thumb and giggling periodically – all the while tracking her mother’s movements with unnatural closeness.

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27 sec 
Fiction & Issue Three

Skin

By Charlotte Duff

 

Oscar must be outside. Normally he’s at her by now, nuzzling at whatever part of her body happens to be protruding from the edge of the bed. A cold nose or a nibble on her big toe isn’t the nicest way to wake up, but there it is. And then those brown doggie eyes looking up at her. So she’ll get herself out of bed, bare feet on cold linoleum, to drop some more biscuits in his bowl.

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23 sec 
Fiction & Issue Three

Memories

By Brendan Leigh

The bike bucked as it went over the little bump in the driveway, and I bucked with it. The drain pump would have to be cleaned again this weekend, the refuse that builds up over time been forced out by sheer force of water. Dad had told me that water always followed the path of least resistance, but that when enough force builds up, you’d better move out of the way right quick.

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22 sec 
Fiction & Issue Two

The Quickening

by James Nicolson

Jane had seen the news reports. Animated billboards spilled their message as moving colours across travelways; others using public transport would have the same message projected into their eyes from hand terminals, huddled silently on a monotrain. Regardless of medium, the news was always the same: Artificial Intelligence was here.  The AIs were free. AIs could change matter.  AIs are matter.  And the AIs are benevolent. Just ask.

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22 sec 
Fiction & Issue Two

Silt

By Eloise Faichney

Stassi lay with Cole’s corpse for two nights.

It wasn’t until the third night that she dared to reach out and touch him.

She poked solid flesh with a trembling finger and jerked back in fright, startling her cat, Fuckwit, who lay curled at the foot of her blanket. The feline rose, stretching her back and circling indignantly a few times, before settling back down. She kneaded her claws into Stassi’s feet. Read more

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46 sec 
Fiction & Issue Two

Treasure

By Kathryn Ryman

The cave is larger than the beast that keeps it. The walls stretch up high into the dark and the roof seems as distant as the moon when first you enter. The dragon itself is small. It lies stranded in the center of its vast empty domain, a huddle of bones and wasted muscle. You feel your heart sink; awash with disappointment, you regard the pitiable creature from afar. It rolls its sunken eyes towards you and scents the air but it does not get up, makes no move to guard its barren kingdom. You start forwards refusing to be deterred. The treasure could be something small you reason, something that can’t be seen from as far away as this. Something tiny you think… or something invisible even; with a dragon lying there before your very eyes will you really draw the line of disbelief at invisible treasure?

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28 sec 
Fiction & Issue Two

The Town

by Keren Heenan

Out here the wind always blows up high and hard before a storm; the sudden buffeting of trees against the wall, low murmur building to a howl and the darkening outside the window. There’s a feeling as if the sky itself could fall. And then comes the rain.

He arrived on such a day. Sometime between the howling of the wind and the bruising of the sky, he glided into town, some said, as if he knew where he was going. But I know now that he probably didn’t.

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04 min 
Fiction & Issue Two

Shinkansen

By Trina Denner

It was cold.

The carriage doors opened to let in the young woman, and, with her, a gust of wind that carried an assurance of snow. They closed behind, silencing the platform, sealing her in with the fragrance of wool and warm bodies.

The train did not dally in its launch, but transitioned from stationary to fast in one solid movement.

The faux fur lining the edges of her jacket held droplets of winter. Although, it wasn’t winter yet. It was barely October. She shrugged off the hood, and with wet beads falling to the floor, she was revealed. Rusty smears flecked her skin; the colour of parched bone.

The men did not look at her. They gently curved their faces to left or right. She gave a snappy shake of her head to dislodge the hair wedged at her nape, knowing they would not turn towards her. Not that she would mind if they had.

She raked her fingers through hair down her chest, enjoying the feeling of it, unraveled.

She found the men oddly unreachable, and in a way, disappointing.

Nothing like the boys back home, with their howls and barking. Their strained voices from Holden dual-cabs yelling ‘show us your tits’.

She grabbed at an overhead hand-hold, scanning for a seat. It was mid-morning and the daylight was faint.

Not like back home.

This was a sun wrapped in blue cellophane. Crisp and cool. She was used to a sun with harsh angles, drawing contrast and colour from everything it touched. Bouncing off the surf, blinding you so you couldn’t see if it were your brother on that wave, or your boyfriend. Hell, it could even be your grandmother’s podiatrist for all you could see, in that sun, from the dunes.

The young woman chose to sit on a side-facing seat, between two men, who moved in responding unison. Both shifting their weight, minutely away, and back down, as if at a more respectable distance. She wasn’t sure if she’d sat there just to make them uncomfortable, and she didn’t care to work it out.

She sat as an isthmus. No, as an island.

Contained, obvious, and quite decidedly remote.

And bare, she reflected, as she turned, finch-like, to take in the gentleman on her right. Funny that she would think of him as a gentle-man, in his middle-aged business suit, with his ever-dark hair and posture noble enough for a monarch. He was definitely not a bloke. Or a fella. Or a lad.

He turned further from her. Almost imperceptibly so, but she was as a bird in that moment, and noticed his discomfort under her placid scrutiny. She flicked her head to the other side, crossing her leg against his silent rebuff.

On her left sat a man not much older than herself. He wore dark glasses. Superdry. And mowhawk-reminiscent hair. And Tsubi jeans. And a Comme de Garcons jacket.

Stylin’, she thought, but then went on to consider nothing else about him as she noticed the two women across.

They were old. So old. Fragile old.

Their eyes were closed in sleep, this pigeon pair, and for all intents and purposes, they were dead. Frozen in last century; painted white faces and rose bud lips that were mostly just rouge on skin rather than actual lip. And those funny thick-white socks with their clogs, which made her thoughts shift whimsically to running through summer in thongs.

So different from the old ladies back home with their fawn coloured slacks, pleated definite and straight down the front of each leg, and singlets for bras, and their hair permed into tight, fake balls of violet.

The two ancient dolls swayed gently in their sleep. Hands on purses neatly in their laps, and white-gray hair twisted smooth and stabbed through with sticks that held glass beads jingling softly as they danced with the motion of the train.

They stirred in her a memory she did not recognise as her own.

She closed her eyes, recording the sight of them. Their kimonos of red and pale blue, and cherry blossoms and herons. The finest of thread woven into a gloss. The young woman smiled as the eyes of one flickered in her slumber. It was the smaller woman. The plumper one.

She wondered what she dreamed about that should cause her lashes to flutter so, speculating that perhaps it was her lover from decades past who had returned to her, where age could not reach them. His hair jet and eyes alert, and his lips parting softly as he kissed her dream.

The red letters scrolled across the digital board at the corner of her vision. Shinjuku station.

She stood with a last look at the old women, who refused to stir as the train baulked at the sight of the station.

The doors opened and the scent of early winter burned her nostrils. She stepped down and was immediately engulfed in the tide of black-haired travelers. She, ginger and bright, zigzagged in a haphazard line as she moved away from the train.

 

Image by Wilson Lau

Chocolate
21 sec 
Fiction & Issue Two

New Dog

By Andy Goss

‘We need a dog,’ she said.

‘There will never be another Suki, you know that.’

‘Yes. But it was so good, having that other person, that animal person in our lives. It just seems right to me. Suki has left such a hole.’

Joe fiddled with his teacup, turning it round and round, peering into it as if the answer lay within. But you can’t tell fortunes with a teabag.

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贝莉儿 NG
33 sec 
Fiction & Issue Two

The Fishbowl Astronaut

by Clare Millar

On the driveway was the kind of van you would expect to be told about before arriving home. Stark white with the letters ‘exterminator’, it was parked right in the way of where Annalise wanted to park. She turned her keys to silence the car. For a moment she lingered with the door two-thirds open, and thought it was likely a mistake; her house was more likely to need an ambulance than an exterminator. But she quarantined her doubts with the soft click of the lock. She jiggled her way between the dead rose bushes and the pearly van. There were no clues behind the windows.

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Alejandra Quiroz
27 sec 
Fiction & Issue One

High-Wasted Genes

By Matthew Jones

Her jacket was dancing in the wind. Out of time; off beat; sporadic. He thought she looked so beautiful. He exhaled slowly, trying not to get lost in his own thoughts. He must focus on the situation he had stumbled into tonight. Focus on the beautiful girl in black skinny jeans, her dark hair whipping about her face, her gaze meeting his with a sweet smile. In the snarling wind her fringe covered her eyes, but he could still make out the radiant blue which glinted underneath.

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Artur Rutkowski
26 sec 
Fiction & Issue One

Same but Different

By Tina Tsironis

Often a gap will develop between someone you thought you knew and the person they have become. A gap that widens at first gradually and subtly, and then all at once like a jet plane flying full throttle into a building.  The sight of my younger brother Steven chasing my mum down our hallway last year, his face fire engine red, pushed the gap from slightly far apart to so extensive you’d have to run a marathon to reach the other side.

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Siyan Ren
24 sec 
Fiction & Issue One

The Last Job on Earth

By James Nicholson

No one could actually hear the actual sounds of intelligence, or of thought, but John Johnson knew the three animated suits before him were thinking. Considering, scanning and analysing him simultaneously; monitoring everything from his blood pressure to the dilation of his eyes, his heart rate compared against brain function.  The thoughts, Johnson mused, would sound like a soft serve of static; a screen whose signal was not quite right.  Thoughts would sound grey.

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Matt Howard
19 sec 
Fiction & Issue One

A Series of Microfiction

By Arianne James

Invisible

Her mother sits in the wicker chair by the bay windows, watching the snow flurries swirl in gentle tendrils, like dancers in white tulle floating around a ballroom. Baby can hear her knitting needles clickety clacking their way towards a scarf. The tiny girl lies on the sheepskin rug by the open fire—but don’t worry, there is a grate.

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