Saturday, 18 June 2011
Tuesday, 3 May 2011
I totally came third in the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge!!
How did I feel? Bemused. Shocked. Bewildered. Shaken. Smiley. Shocked. Arrogant. Deserving. Smug. Shocked. Did I say shocked?
I'm told that of course I would do well. I'm told that I should now believe I'm what they call "a good writer". I still don't, of course. But perhaps that's what makes me one?
Here's to you, NYC Midnight!
Wednesday, 20 April 2011
Hello, dear friend. Come in and warm yourself by the fire. It’s cold outside, and you’ve travelled far. Come, sit by this lovely open fire. Watch as the logs crackle and crumble and cremate in the hearth, as the black smoke plumes dance majestically up towards the heavens in their stone cabin. Feel the warmth radiate through your weary bones. That’s it – take your boots and socks off. Sit down. Let the old leather envelop you. Feel its skin on your skin. Hear it creak as you settle in for the night. Settle in to drink your 30-year-old whiskey. Hear the ice clink against the crystal glass – that one is a family heirloom, isn’t it? Yes, once belonged to your old granddad. I remember your granddad. Yes, I do. I remember him well. I remember all of your family. I remember them going back many, many generations. I know you better than you know yourself.
Settle in, dear friend. Settle in and rest in this darkened room. The only light is coming from the fire, and it plays patterns on the dark green silk wallpaper which covers this rather masculine room. It’s been there for generations, too. Just like this chair. And that old mahogany desk. And the frayed Turkish rug. And the bookcases covering the walls, displaying the vast collection of books, none newer than your granddad’s childhood, all covered in dust, none opened in many a year.
Settle in and I’ll tell you a tale. I’ll whisper it in your ear. You won’t even know that I’m here.
It’s a tale that goes way past your granddad’s time. I mention him because you know him. I know him. You don’t know the boy I’m to speak of. I know him. I’ve been here a long time. I’ve been waiting for you.
Many years ago, there was a boy. He lived in this very house. He lived here with his mother, and his little sister. His father had passed on when he was very young, and he did not remember him well. His mother, though overcome with grief, had raised him. Raised him to the boy he was now, aged 10. Raised him, and taught him right from wrong with the back of a cane.
She was very harsh, his mother. Because she wanted the best for him. With his father gone and very little ready money in the family, she needed him to provide.
He was stupid, though. The boy was not bright. He would not be able to provide in the traditional sense. Even at that young age, it could be told he would not be a diplomat, nor a gentleman, nor represent his county at parliament. He certainly would not be a teacher. His options were limited. Perhaps the clergy? His mother had other ideas.
Her son, she decreed, would be a fine pianist. He would play concertas around the world, and mix with the very best of people. He would mix with kings and dukes in Europe. He would be the toast of not just the country, but the continent beyond it...
...but he could not play. Try as he might, he could not play. She drilled him. She shook him. She forcibly pushed his fingers along the keys. But still, he could not play. Tone deaf, dear friend!
She would not have it. The thought, once there, became stuck. Her son would play. And play well.
The daughter, she was indulged. She was embraced. She was spoiled.
But the son, he was thrashed. When he played badly, he was thrashed. Thrashed until he could no longer play, and then she would thrash him some more for not playing.
Do you see what a vicious circle we find ourselves in, dear friend? The more she thrashed, the less he could play. The less he could play, the more she thrashed. I know what you’re thinking, friend – why did she not just give up? This mother, she had become possessed. She would hear nothing more. She would think of nothing more. Her son would play.
And so her son, one day, to escape his mother, ventured to an area of the house he had never been. He was always forbidden to mount the stairs, and never questioned this. Since his father had passed, the family had been confined to the first floor. But he just could not face another thrashing on this day. The hour of practice chimed, and he ran. Ran up the stairs. Up the creaking, old wooden stairs he had never before looked at. Ran, and stood there, in the middle of the floor, panting, as the early daylight shone through the cracks in the roof and the dust played around his vision.
He stood there for none knows how long. Motionless. Eyes tightly closed. If he could see none, none could see him. Trying not to attract the attention of his mother, who he could hear calling him, and moving around below. It was because of his perfect stillness that he felt the presence behind him, and then in front of him.
His tightly shut eyes snapped open. In front of him stood a figure. A man. In a hooded cloak, black velvet. A man. A faceless man. In the hood, there was none but black. But from within the nothing came a voice. It asked him: do you want to play? He replied that he did not. The voice asked him: your mother wants you to play? He replied that she did. The voice asked him: would you like to please your mother? He replied that, more than anything in the world, he wanted to please his mother. The voice asked him: because you want to avoid the beatings? He could not reply; he hung his head in shame.
The voice from within, the faceless man, and the boy set upon a pact. The faceless man told him he would help him with his talent, if the boy would promise one thing. He must promise that he would stay with the faceless man for all time. The boy, being, at the age of 10, too young to understand the concept of “for all time”, hastily agreed for the sake of the thrashings. And the voice said: then it is done. And the voice said: you are mine; anything you want you must only ask. And the voice said: I will always be with you.
And the boy was pleased.
He ran down the stairs, taking care to avoid his mother and her cane. And he walked carefully into his music room – which was, at the time, a music room, complete with a scratched black Silbermann piano and lovely large window overlooking the gardens outside, but is now this very room we sit in, dear friend – and he stretched his fingers out in front in that grand tradition of pianists, and he began to play. And the faceless man, as he had promised, watched over him.
And the boy played well.
The boy played more than well. The boy played like a genius.
His mother, at once hearing the piano and thinking an intruder had entered her home, stopped searching for her son and ran to the music room. And found him there, at the stool, playing Bach like a prodigy. And she ran up to him. And she thrashed him. The boy asked: what was that for? I am playing well, mama! And she said: because you should’ve been playing like that all these years!
And so the relationship continued. The boy, bearing the scars of his mother’s thrashings and thinking they were finally over, continued to receive the thrashings. And the faceless man would make the boy play better, like someone well beyond his years. And still it was not enough for his mother. And so the faceless man would bring to the door a noted European talent finder, who proclaimed the boy the best he’d heard and asked if he could take him to play at Court. And still it was not enough for the mother.
I have said, dear friend, that she was a woman possessed. She could not hear the genius in the boy’s playing. Still she thought it not good enough. Still she favoured the daughter over the son.
Months into the arrangement between the boy and the faceless man, the boy began to wish away his sister so that his mama may stop favouring her and perhaps stop thrashing him. And the faceless man made it so. His sister contracted the consumption. And she died. And her mother was in hysterics again, like after papa had passed. And she thrashed the boy even more. She still was not satisfied with his prodigious playing. Nothing he could do would please her. She had him playing 12 hours a day to improve. She had him up before the sun and playing well into the night. She was unhappy with his ability to hear what he was playing, and became convinced if he could not hear, he would need to merely read and move his fingers, and he would play better. She burned his ears in the night. She then became convinced if he could not see, he would need to feel the music, and he would play better. She gouged his eyes as he played. And still the faceless man watched over him. And the faceless man did not intervene. The pact was done, and he made the boy play better.
Deaf and blind, the boy soon came upon a new wish. He began to wish away his mama. He did not know why this had not come upon him before, but he knew with certainty one thing: his mama gone, he would surely not have to play. And the faceless man heard this wish.
It took several weeks, but it did happen. Just as that day had happened when the boy had run to hide from his mother, another day came when he could take no more. He was up before dawn to play. His mother was thrashing his fingers as they ran along the keys, black and white. She was shouting that he was not doing it right (though he was). Of course, he could not hear her shouting, only feel her thrashing. And that told him where she was. And the faceless man gave him strength. And he reached up and grabbed her by the neck, and he placed his mama’s head among the piano’s wires and hammers, and he slammed it repeatedly, and he broke her neck.
She had gouged his eyes, so he did not see the blood. She had burned his ears, so he did not hear her screams, nor the snap of her neck as it came away from her spine, nor her dying breath.
And the deed done, he continued to play. And the faceless man continued to watch over him. The pact was still in action.
For many years, and many generations, those walking along these moorlands, walking past the ruins that had become of these walls and gardens, would hear the strains of Bach echo along after them. The boy was at his piano; his mother decomposing alongside him, the faceless man watching over him. Of course, those outside did not know any of that, nor what had happened between these walls. The family was forgotten, the years passed on.
And the boy continued to play.
He did not age. At all, the boy did not age at all. His pact with the faceless man had ended that privilege. He had promised the faceless man he would stay with him for all time, and that he would – exactly as he was. Aged 10, gouged eyes, burned ears. A piano prodigy. He would pass eternity in the hell he had been trying to avoid – playing piano from dawn til dusk, playing well, and still not pleasing his mother. Oh yes, he could feel her there, still. He could not see her thanks to her own hands, but he knew she was there. In his head, she was telling him faster, louder, slower, pianissimo you delinquent boy. She was there, with the faceless man, in the old music room, listening to him play.
For all time.
And so, dear friend, we come to present day. Your family has been attached to this house for centuries – did you know that? No, I fear you did not. You only inherited it from your dear old granddad. Yes, I knew him. I knew them all. I have watched them grow. I have watched them born, live, die. I have become intimate with every member of your family. Until they moved away, that is. Your grandmamma, she could not handle the playing.
The old music room had long been boarded up. The house had been found abandoned by a distant relative who came to visit, unnerved by the lack of contact, and, this house being larger than theirs, they moved in. And so began the constant stream of people. Generations won and lost, all through these walls. But never these walls – these particular walls. No, this room was off limits.
Until you arrived.
The others, they couldn’t be in here. They knew the story. They knew what had happened. They felt what had happened. They saw the books be thrown across the room. They saw the glasses drop. They saw the fires light and unlight themselves. Electricity came in, and they saw the lights flicker and dim.
They heard the playing.
They heard my playing.
Yes, dear friend. I’m still here. I’m still playing from dawn til dusk. And I really don’t like to be interrupted.
I wish you’d stayed away. The others did. The others, they knew the stories. Does no one believe old family tales anymore? You should’ve known. You should’ve stayed away.
But here, let me play for you. I’ll play some Bach, and you can listen. You can hear my playing – it’s really very good. Mama doesn’t think so, do you mama? She doesn’t know anything. And she knows what happens when you criticise my playing, don’t you mama? She’s been here, and will be here, with me for all time. Listening to my playing. Did you know Mr Haydn complimented me on my playing? But mama would not let me go, would you mama?
No, dear friend. Sit down and rest your weary bones. Warm yourself by the fire. It’s cold outside, and you’ve travelled far. You really shouldn’t have bothered.
Settle in, dear friend. Settle in and rest in this darkened room. The only light is coming from the fire, and it plays patterns on the dark green silk wallpaper which covers this rather masculine room. It will soothe you as I play.
And meet my old friend, dear friend. Do not let his faceless nature disturb you. Look into his darkness. It will make the end come sooner...
“Darl? Would you take a look at this?”
I hand over the envelope to Barry, although what I expect from him I will never know. Gord love ‘im, he’s a couple of snags short of a barbie. Thirty years we’ve known each other and he’s never been a bright one. Aussie Rules football, now that was Bazza’s strong point. Tinkering with the car. The cryptic crossword was not.
The note’s quite clear – the note, stuck to the receipt, stuck through the letterbox of our two-storey palazzo (pool out back, eucalyptus out front, rumpus room by the carport) in Largs Bay, along with the K-Mart catalogue and the latest deals from Sprint Auto Parts.
“What’s this, love?”
“I dunno, darl.”
Barry takes a look in the envelope, takes the note and the receipt out, screws his face up in confusion.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I dunno, darl. Maybe it’s some newfangled advertising thingy? You know how clever these marketing blokes are getting.”
“Yeah, maybe. Who would think a receipt makes good advertising though? It’ll just confuse the poor sods round here. Chuck it. Love, I’ve just gotta pop down the bottlo to get ready for the boys coming round this arvo. Saints v Swans. It’s a big one – it’s the finals!”
I fake enthusiasm (something I do a lot with Baz these days) and push him out the door. I call after him.
“Make sure you take the Cortina, darl – I’ll need the Commodore. I’ve gotta get groceries!”
Crikey, Barry’s gone downhill. Twenty-two years I’ve stuck by him, watched the belly grow and the hair go and the legs get skinny. But today I can really notice it – maybe it’s the way his gut is hanging over his Stubbies or the fact the sweat of this 40C day shows under his arms. He’s never been the sharpest tool in the shed, but he’s good to me, and I’ll stick by him as long as that continues.
But this thing– I’ve got no idea what this thing is. A note: Seek and ye shall find. A receipt for a movie at Tea Tree Plaza. One of those big action flicks that Sly Stallone used to star in. Ahhh Sly... now there is a man who knows how to age well! We always loved gonna see Rocky at the Gepps Cross drive-in; Barry would shadow-box his way between the cars to get us more popcorn. Those were good times.
There’s Tracey, coming up the drive in her new little Honda. (Bit flash, I thought, when she bought it.) She might have a clue about this receipt thing – that university education’s gotta be doing her some good. I call out to stop her going straight to her room; if she gets up those stairs she’ll have the Acca Dacca blasting and we’ll hear no more from her til she leaves for the pub. It’s that age where all they want to do is get pissed and root. I miss those days...
“Darl – would you take a look at this?”
“What’s this mum?”
“I dunno – would you take a look at it?”
Trace takes a look at it.
“Christ! Those ad agencies are getting a bit cryptic these days.”
“So you reckon it’s one of them newfangled ads too?”
“Who else said that?”
“I thought it might be. Yer dad had no idea.”
“Let dad stick with building rumpus rooms and let the marketing student tell you something: those ad blokes these days, they’re dead clever. Remember when we got that newspaper through the door and the personal ads had been circled? Turned out to be for the Connections service. I reckon this is a teaser for some movie.”
“Right you are, darl. You always were the smart one, Trace.”
“I’m gonna go up and try on my new dress. I wanna make sure it’s not too tight and just short enough. It’s Chezza’s birthday. We’re gonna hit Hindley St and get pissed. She reckons the footy team will be there!”
“Right you are, Trace. Have a nice night. Have a nice night, love.”
“Darl? Would you take a look at this?”
Baz is rushing down the stairs in his best stonewash.
“Not right now, love. I’ve got to meet Dave, sort out the shockers on his Hilux.”
“Oh, right you are, darl.”
“I’ll talk to you tonight. We’ll head to the footy club too so it’ll be a late one.”
“Righto. Bye, darl.”
I hold my cheek out for a peck, then Barry’s on his way. That’ll be the last sense I get out of him today, what with them two hitting the club later. To think I got my perm done and got that new frosted pink lippie hoping he’d take me out. It’s been so long since I had a good night out; Barry’s always running off somewhere these days.
I look back down at the envelope in my hand. Jeez but those movie ad blokes are really pushing it. I don’t give a pig’s arse about their movie and these receipts are really starting to get my goat. I’ve now had four of ‘em.
‘Cept, not all the receipts have been for movies. The first one was. And today’s is a Blockbuster receipt – someone rented The Castle. But in between has been dinner (that fancy new Eye-talian on Salisbury Highway) and booze. Each one has had a note, told me to look or seek for something. “Seek and ye shall find” – that’s a bible quote I think. Maybe Shakespeare. Well, it’s very old. My nan used to say it all the time. “Nan, why won’t Neville (my then-boyfriend) leave my knockers alone?” “Seek and ye shall find.” Silly old bat. It didn’t make sense then, either.
“Love, I’ve gotta go. The Cooper’s patio roof caved in with that hail storm, and they’re blamin’ me for shoddy workmanship! Can you believe the fuckin’ liberty of that! Gi’s a peck, love.”
The best stonewash are today paired with his favourite flannie shirt. And he’s shaved. I think last time I saw him looking so suave was when we were heading to Dave’s engagement party. He got himself one of them Thai brides, had a big do in Munno Para. Baz spent most of the night chatting to Jono’s girl Lisa; hadn’t seen her in a while and she always did have a bit of a thing for my Baz growing up. Such a smart girl, and talented – always doing some play somewhere. She ended up in Japan teaching English and drama.
So I didn’t get a chance to ask him. That’s what this one says – ASK HIM. The note, I mean. Another envelope through the mail! There’s got to be something to this. This can’t be a coincident. There’s got to be a meaning here. I asked around. I went down the street and knocked on the doors and chatted to all the girls. Deirdre hasn’t got any, or Tammy, or Maureen, or the camp bloke in No 23. None of them had seen anything like it. If it was advertising, they’d be dropping them in every letterbox in the neighbourhood. I know that much.
Deirdre pointed out that they’re all look like the same handwriting. Each of these notes, they were printed in such beautiful hand that I thought it was done on a printer – you know how the fonts they use these days can look so much like handwriting. But this was done by a real human with a real pen. You can see where the ink blotted on the third e in yesterday’s “seek and ye shall find”. No computer printer would blot that way – only a fountain pen. Jeez, I didn’t think anyone used them anymore.
I took it down to Nev – he runs the newsagent these days. He reckoned it wasn’t a pen at all, but instead done with this type of East Asian ink made from soot and binders. You’ve got to rub it with water on an inkstone until the right consistency is achieved, Nev said. Seems like a lot of effort to go to just to do some advertising – and handmade too! That’s what Nev said and I agreed. I didn’t tell him about my suspicions it wasn’t an ad anymore. He only broke up with me in the first place coz I stuck my nose in, that’s what he said.
This latest note and receipt, the note says “ask him”. Him who? Someone’s been to the movies and rented The Castle and had a posh dinner and got pissed. Good on them. Who gives a toss?
Ask him, it says. And a receipt. For a pregnancy kit, from the National Pharmacies.
Fuck me, it better not be Jase. If that little...
“Jase! Get your bony arse down here right now!”
The stamping on the stairs, the plodding on the floor. Then my darling teenage son appears with his Port jersey on and his inability to look up through his long greasy hair.
“Jason Gough Hawke. What is the meaning of this?”
The envelope. The note. The receipt. All shown to the randy little shit.
“Well I don’t know what it is.”
“But it says it – right there. Ask him. So?”
“So, mum, not me. Don’t know anything about it. Why would I write a note like that? And what’s with that ink? My handwriting’s not that neat. Mrs Cook always says-”
“I don’t think you’ve written it, you dill. Someone is trying to tell us something. You haven’t got Doreen into any trouble have you?”
“What?! Mum! No. What?!”
“Because you’re too young, Jason.”
“But I’m 15!”
“Yes, but that’s too young. Keep it in your pants until you at least graduate.”
“Mum, I’m going now.”
And he trudges back up to his blacked-out room to masturbate.
I look down at the receipts again. An action flick. A fancy meal. Drinks at the footy club. Renting The Castle from the Ingle Farm Blockbuster.
The Castle... that’s Barry’s favourite movie.
Right, I'm really getting sick of these receipt-notes. Three came yesterday, one during the night at god knows what time, then one with the post, and another at dinner time. I took to waiting by the window to see if I could see who was putting them through, but nothing. I asked the old bat across the road to keep an eye out for me – after all, she spends her days staring out the window anyways – but she saw nothing as well. I felt a right busybody peering out the curtains all day. Y’see some sights though...
Yesterday's offering really did get the old noggin working overtime. No more are the notes telling me to seek and showing me the good times someone has been having. Now it's turned sinister. I'm not looking hard enough, apparently. I've had enough time. And now: “Time's up”.
The one that came with the post yesterday, its receipt was for the local hardware store. I know Daz, the bloke who runs it, quite well – after all, my Barry is one of his best customers. So I got meself dolled up and made sure there was plenty of cleavage and I went down and played the dumb blonde with him. I found this receipt with Baz's stuff, I told him, but he can't remember buying the darn thing and I'm worried he's been using the credit card drunk again, I told him. Would he mind helping me look up his CCTV from that time, so I could check it out? It says the time purchased on the receipt here – see, two days ago at 3pm – so it should be quite easy.
A bit of cleavage and a wink goes a long way. Daz cued up the video.
“Looks like he might've had his card number stolen, love,” he said to me. “It's been happening a lot lately – a real epidemic of card crime, says the Mail. I mean look here – the only person in the store was this young blonde chick, and I don't think Barry has a liking for women's clothes.” He winked at me then, cracking on to me. I played along, put my hand on his arm and giggled.
“What is it she's buying with my hubby's corporate credit card, Daz, love?”
“Looks like a nail gun. What would she need with one of them?”
“Maybe she's a carpenter or something.”
“A carpenter you say? Who'd have thought we'd get sheila carpenters...”
I made the appropriate noises, asked him if he minded printing out her picture for me to take to the cops – which he did, on account of the cleavage – then I wiggled out of the store and blew him a kiss as I left.
So I've got receipts of good times – very good times, considering the pregnancy kit – and now the most recent lot - receipts showing purchasing of wigs, stage makeup and various prosthetics. Then there's the CCTV footage of some blonde buying a nail gun. Or a real gun?
What this has all got to do with me, I’ll never know. What’s it got to do with anything?
I hear the sound of the brass mail slot banging back into place. It makes me jump. I don't even need to know what it is – I run to the window to see a figure running down the street. I run to the door, pull it open and reach the street just as the figure disappears down the laneway running alongside next door's fence.
Barry interrupts me, calling out to the street.
“Love, what's going on?”
I run back up the drive, notice he's picked up the envelope. I rip it open and see. See the note:
He should've done the right thing. Now he'll pay.
No receipt this time, though. Just a photo of a blonde girl at a stage mirror – the sort with lights all around it – putting on a prosthetic nose. She's smiling the most horrible smile I've ever seen – a sort of maniacal grin.
She's clearly pregnant.
I hear the pool fence's gate clip shut, and run to the kitchen. The floor-to-ceiling windows were a major selling point for us – gives us a good view of the whole backyard, the decking, the pool, the shrubbery... the lane at the back...
I can see a figure, dressed in black, staring at us from behind the pool gate.
The first time we notice the gun is when she raises it. I wonder if it's the nail gun, but the shot that rings out tells me it's full of bullets.
A warning shot.
She calls out. “ASK HIM.”
I hear Baz drop the rest of the mail behind me. I look around and he's lost all his colour.
I turn to look at Barry, and hear the glass shatter behind me.
I wonder who in Japan taught Lisa such a beautiful script.
This here is the first story written for the 2010 Flash Fiction challenge: 1,000 words, 28 hours. I was assigned horror/a wishing well/a baby stroller. I struggled with this a little; I realised after the first draft that I'd actually written a ghost story, not a horror, and so had to re-work the ending. I think you can tell. Keen to hear thoughts...
It was hotter than usual in Oodnadatta; the town’s weekly delivery of supplies from the big city hadn’t yet arrived, and the pub was running dangerously low on beer. Its lone ceiling fan creaked away, threatening to dislodge itself from the exposed beam at any minute. The tin roof made the run-down local akin to an oven, but the whole town was in here today. Today, of all days. Because it’s happened again.
The baby stroller has appeared at the old wishing well.
The well, now disused but once a focal point for the thriving wartime community, has stood in the centre of town since the late 1800s. At its dark and dank bottom, coins spanning a century contain the wishes of generations. And, it is said, the bones of Jack Thompson, the newborn son of Alice and Jack Snr. Local legend goes that young Alice, distraught at the news that Jack Snr had gone MIA along the Oodnadatta Track after setting off in 1952, went crazy with grief and threw Jack Jr down the well. But she immediately regretted it. She refused to be moved from the well, cooing to soothe the cries of her months-old son. Late the next day, the cries ended, and Alice disappeared.
Plenty of those in the pub remember the Thompsons. Oodnadatta’s population has steadily declined since then, partly due to economic reasons, partly due to the legend. Those who have left along the dusty track have always been young’uns. The stroller is the reason; the stroller, and the spectre. The stroller, the spectre, and the tragedies.
The stroller has appeared at the well at daybreak the day after a local lass announces a pregnancy; it’s done this for the last 40 years. Yesterday, Kayleen and Craig Wilson, newlyweds and new to town, revealed their happy news. Craig is a truck driver; he’s away at the moment. They had been waiting for him to return before announcing the pregnancy, but Kayleen’s elderly neighbour, Madge, had guessed. The announcement was made at the pub last night. This morning, the town awoke to see the stroller.
Kayleen heard about the legend for the first time last night, and went home ashen-faced. Spooked. She heard how the stroller appears. She heard about the exodus of procreating-age residents since the ‘70s. She heard how those local lasses who do stick around, and get pregnant, don’t stay pregnant for long – not once the stroller appears at the well. Tonight, the cries of a newborn will ring around the town, and the spectre of Alice Thompson will be crouched by the well, singing to her dying son at the bottom.
Perhaps in a peace offering, Kayleen was seen at lunchtime by the well, laying flowers for young Jack; Madge was with her, a protective arm around the newlywed. It was the only time she was seen today.
Now, the town is abuzz, but the sun is setting, and the residents don’t want to encounter Alice. The pub empties, and everyone is locked up in their houses.
And, as the sun sets, the cries ring out. Alice can be heard soothing young Jack. “Hush-a-bye baby, don’t you cry...”
Kayleen can hear the cries. She’s locked herself in her bedroom, drawn the curtains, locked the doors and windows to her small house on the main street. It’s a basic house; the bedroom, sitting room, bathroom and kitchen all come off the central hallway. There’s a veranda running all the way around the outside; in the dusty backyard, an old swing set creaks in the wind. Kayleen has been trying to get hold of Craig all day, but he’s been out of range. She can hear Alice calling, and Kayleen is frozen with terror. She tries Craig again; no luck. She’s never been one for ghost stories... But she can hear it! She can hear the baby crying!
She tries the police, but: “Sorry, love. We can’t get involved.” No further explanation. She’d be angry, but now the whispering is getting closer. And Alice is no longer calling for Jack; she’s calling for Kayleen.
There’s footsteps on the veranda; a rattling at the door, then at each of the windows. Alice is trying to find a way in. Kayleen mentally checks the locks on each of the openings. The bathroom window!! Too late... Alice is in the house. She’s calling for Kayleen as she moves slowly down the creaky hallway. Kayleen is frozen in terror, too scared to breathe. She finds the strength to move to the window, and climbs out.
She runs down the street, towards the well. Alice’s spectre is no longer there; probably because the white figure is stepping from Kayleen’s veranda, heading towards her, calling for her. Jack is still crying at the bottom of the well.
Kayleen runs to the Maguires’ house, knocking in panic on the front door. She calls out for help, but Col appears at the window, and shakes his head.
She runs to the well. The figure is closer now. But Kayleen can see it’s not the spectre at all.
Kayleen breathes a sigh of relief.
“It’s only you. I thought Alice had come to get me!”
“Oh, but I have, Kayleen dear. I have.”
“Madge, what are you playing at? This isn’t funny!”
Kayleen begins to remember Madge’s story. She’d been away from Oodnadatta for years, and returned a while back. Around 40 years ago... Around the same time that pregnant women began to be harassed.
The moonlight glints on the edge of Madge’s knife.
“I lost my baby; why should you get to keep yours?”
Madge is now facing Kayleen, across the well. Kayleen remembered the stories; all those girls, no longer pregnant, and with the name “Jack” scrawled on their bedroom walls in their own blood. Some of them had survived, some of them hadn’t.
And then she heard it, a town full of voices, in unison, started to sing.
“Hush-a-bye baby, don’t you cry...”
Yeah, I totally killed it.
Wrote 50,000 words in 29 days, thank you very much - one day to spare.
Think I've gone back to it? Naaaah.... That's the plan for post-holiday. For my umpteenth attempt at this writing malarky.
I would say wish me luck, but I think I've probably used up all my luck-wishes.