Thursday, August 27, 2009

Simon's Novel

I just posted a six-sentence story called Simon's Novel here.

Simon was desperate to write his novel, but was caught in a creative paradox. He wrote best when his life was turbulent: when wife, kids and work demanded his time and his mind and his inner strength. This was when he really felt and understood life; themes and plots and words flowed like water amidst the chaos, hastily recorded on a notepad, or on the computer – when he could get the kids away from it. Occasionally a moment of respite came, when children were on camp, or with grandparents, and his wife was just wanted to read a book or visit friends.

"Go, write your book," she would say, "and enjoy the quiet; take advantage of it."

And so Simon would site behind the computer, trying to remember the emotions and words of the hectic times; watching the cursor flash and writing nothing.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Curse the Flu

I just posted the following six-sentence story at the Six Sentences website here.

The fever has returned; it is mocking me, shaking my aching body as I walk unsteadily to the bathroom. The night is cold on my hot, naked skin; but I am thirsty, and drink two full cups of water, before exploding into a coughing fit that leaves a big yellow blob of phlegm in the sink. My teeth are chattering now, and I cannot control the shivering in my arms and legs: I need to return soon the warm cocoon of blankets in my bed.

First, I need something for the fever, so I reach for the blister pack of Panadol on the counter, but I'm suddenly unsure when I last took it - I know that's important, if you want to keep your liver. I appeal to the face of the fool in the mirror for help: his hair a mess, his beard overgrown, his eyes bloodshot and wild. I remember now that I took Nurofen last; I take the Panadol, curse the flu, and go back to bed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Root Causes of Homelessness

"Got a few dollars to spare?" said the man on the bench. He held out a disposable coffee cup.

I'd been walking along the footpath keeping pace with the rest of the Brisbane rush-hour crowd. I stopped and came back to talk to him. "Are you homeless?" I said. I kept my money to myself for now.
"Yes I am," said the man. Then he added, "My name's Ralph."
Ralph had dark, weather-beaten skin. His hair was black and long; down to his shoulders. He had a full flowing beard that tapered off to a wispy tail just above his chest. His clothes were worn and filthy, and the odour of stale sweat on him was noxious.

I reached out my hand and said, "G'day Ralph. I'm Barry."
He took my hand, and offered for me to sit down; which I did. I sat as far away from him on the bench as I could without falling off.

Ralph told me that there weren't a lot of ordinary people who stop to talk to the homeless. Not just charity volunteers, but ordinary people. He said he appreciated it. I explained that homelessness is a real passion of mine; and that I'm doing my part to eliminate it. "Especially the root causes," I said. "If we can eliminate the root causes of homelessness, then the problem will be ninety-nine percent solved."

Ralph looked at me with his dark eyes. "And what are those root causes, Barry?"

I had spoken on the subject at length to community leaders and politicians; yet, the look in his eyes made my confidence wither. I said, "Lots of things Ralph, of course; but the biggest is a lack of education; and that's my background. Poor education itself has a number of root causes, including undiagnosed learning difficulties, physical and emotional abuse of children, drug and alcohol abuse of parents…"

Ralph was smiling now. I felt I'd struck a chord; perhaps even listed some of his own personal demons. Or I was talking way over his head, and the funny words didn't make sense to him.

"How did your own education go?" I asked. I wanted him to feel comfortable sharing his experiences with me. "Tell me about it."
"I graduated from my civil engineering degree with first class honours," said Ralph. "I declined an offer to complete my doctorate and went straight into industry. Now, how about a few dollars for a cup of coffee?"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

She was Immaculate

Click this link to see my six sentece story, "She was Immaculate".

Monday, August 17, 2009

Wisdom, Experience and Insight

Please have a look at my six sentence story called Wisdom, Experience and Insight which I've posted on the Six Sentences social network.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Khloe after dark, crooked jaw and lifebelt

"Khloe after dark, crooked jaw and lifebelt", said Brett proudly, as he sat down at his desk.

Brett was often cryptic, but this blew my mind. I turned from my laptop and looked him in the eyes. "What?"

"Those," said Brett, pausing for effect, "are the three most popular Google searches for today."

I didn’t know where to begin. "Why?" I asked, hoping I wasn't making a mistake. Leaving the room could possibly have been a better option.

"Who knows why people search for stuff," said Brett. "It's driven by the Yanks mostly. They search for some sick and crazy things. The Indians too; and the Chinese. It's a population thing…"

"Stop," I said, raising both my hands. "Why are you telling me the three most popular Google searches for today?"

Brett gave that look he gives when he's very disappointed with me. Like a father who can't believe his son is such a simpleton. "For our blog," he said, slowly. "We want money from people clicking ads on our blog. Ergo, we need site traffic; ergo we need to appear on Google results."

"Ergo we need people to find our blog by searching 'Glow in the dark with a crooked jaw and a lifebelt?"

"Close." said Brett. "Khloe after dark, crooked jaw and lifebelt."

"Our blog is about short fiction and poetry," I said. "Those words and phrases have nothing to do with either."

Brett didn't let that stop him. Perhaps I should have tried harder to stop him myself. The damage is done, now. The ad revenue is improving, though. In six months I'll be able to buy a cup of coffee. Regular, of course; not large.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Withered, Useless Vine

Most of the passionfruit vine was dead: broken, dried and withered. Joel hadn't torn it down yet, because it always seemed to have enough green leaves, shoots or unripe fruit to give him hope of a better future.

Getting rid of it would be quite a job anyway, so he was happy to have just cause to procrastinate. Besides, he wondered, wasn't a withered, useless vine to be preferred over no vine at all?

Planting a new vine and tending it to maturity would be far too much work entirely. He was too old for that now, anyway.

Joel stood and watered the vine a little longer, and laughed aloud when it occurred to him that some of his friendships had become very much like his passionfruit vine. When he had finished laughing, he cried a little too.

Dilute Solution

This story is a response to a challenge by Mattrozi. His challenge was to write a story with a maximum of 300 words that had the word "dilute" in the title, and the following words at least once within the story: "dilution", "legacy", "river" and "red".

How well did I meet the challenge? You decide. Have a read, and then add your comments.

Thanks to Mattrozi for his challenge. Mattrozi writes a poetry blog called Cleveland Thomas.

Tara's red t-shirt was tight on her. She liked that. Even though no-one could see her down here at the river, she still felt proud and powerful. Her mother had left her a wonderful legacy, and she was glad for it.

She removed the shirt and her shorts, and stood for a moment in the shade of the gum tree in her black one-piece swimsuit, before going into the water. The water was cold on her skin, and felt fresh and exciting. The way her body reacted to the cold still intrigued and excited her. She drew out the swim for a few minutes, holding out on herself, making herself wait. Her breathing was fast and shallow from the cold and the anticipation.

Back on the shore, she took the plastic drink bottle from her backpack and drank. She finished almost half of it in one go, and then gasped for air. She felt the effect of the vodka in the cordial almost immediately. Tara smiled, and finished the bottle. She lay down on her back on the rough sand with the afternoon sun on her face, and enjoyed the feeling of the alcohol as it warmed her belly and her cheeks. Soon her legs didn't even feel attached to her body.

The vodka was easy to get. She took it from the Smirnoff bottle in the liquor cupboard, and then made up the volume with water. The vodka was used only for mixing with orange juice for Tara's mother. She would never notice the dilution. There was usually a fresh bottle every week or two, allowing Tara a good supply.

Tara's next big project was to find a husband to provide her with a house, car and other necessities.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hint Fiction Anthology Competition

hint fiction (n) : a story of 25 words or less that suggests a larger, more complex story.

If you'd like to write, why not enter this competition?

The guidelines are here. Really, it won't take long to think of something. You'll spend more time thinking of which words to remove to get to twenty-five, rather than which words to add.

Blatant Intolerance

I just posted a six-sentence fictional piece to the Six Sentences social network called Blatant Intolerance.

My aim, based on this discussion thread, was to create a six-sentence short-story that is right-wing conservative, yet friendly, reasonable and non-venemous.

I'd like to know if you think I came close to that: leave a comment.


Gus woke up suddenly and sat straight up in bed; sweating, heart pounding and stomach queasy. It was the recurring dream again; the one in which he had forgotten something very important; vital. It was as though completely missed an appointment with the prime minister, because he'd been playing computer games or watching movies, or something. He'd not only missed the appointment, but would have been unprepared, even if he remembered at the last minute.

That was it, thought Gus, stared into the dark, waiting for the adrenaline to wear off, it's less about forgetting something, and more about being unprepared.

He tiptoed out of the room to get a cup of water and relieve himself, glad he hadn't woken his wife like he often did. She always asked about the dream and it's meaning. This only distracted him from catching pieces of the fragile dream memories as they dissolved, once again. He tried to catch them now, in the dark. What does it mean? What am I unprepared for? What is so important, so urgent?

It wasn't until the next morning that Gus's wife found his body on the toilet; and then she understood.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wanted: Experienced Scaffolder

On my first day on the job, I was in awe of Jack Bier. He embodied that combination of skill and confidence – no, fearlessness – that made a scaffolder the king of the trades. I wanted to be like Jack: he would walk across a one foot wide beam ten stories above the ground, without even looking at his feet. In those days scaffolders didn't work from walkways and handrails – we worked from beams and girders – and blazed the trail of planks and walkways for others to follow. Jack stayed back for some overtime when I left for the pub, feeling on top of the world.

On my second day on the job, Bob, the foreman, showed me the pool of blood where Jack had landed on the ground. All it took was for his foot to slip on a fresh pigeon dropping. A few of the blokes saw him fall. Bob pointed out the beams that Jack had hit on the way down.

I felt sick, and spewed up breakfast onto the dirt; but Bob wasn't finished. He took me with him to visit Jack's wife with his final pay-cheque. Bob wanted me to learn something that day, and I did. Jack was an old generation scaffolder: skilful, fearless and a little cocky. I became one of the new generation. I don't disrespect Jack, or what he did; but, I don't think a man needs to die putting bread on the table.

SD Harvey Short Story Shortlist

The SD Harvey Short Story award (part of the Ned Kelly Awards of the Crime Writers Association of Australia) short list has been announced:

  • Fidget's Farewell, Scott McDermott
  • Farewell My Lovelies, Chris Womersley
  • Fern's Farwell, Bronwyn Mehan
  • Farewell to the shade, Cheryl Rogers
You will notice two things here:
  1. Each story has "farewell" in the title. This was a requirement of entry. The word "farewell" had to be included in the title, and be reflected in the story. Each year will be a different word.

  2. I'm not on the shortlist. This is not for want of entering: My entry was called "Farewell Gift". I won't be posting it to surgebin because:

    1. It's a bit long; and

    2. I want to tweak it and then resubmit it to more open short story competitions.

Single Mother

The baby is happy riding on her mothers hip; and very cute. Liam smiles at her, and she smiles back. It's been four years since his own daughter was that size, and he wonders at how fast time flies.

The young mother walks past Liam, behind him, while he stands at the doner kebab shop, waiting. The girl behind the counter is just taking the kebabs off the toaster and squeezing them into their foil packets.

Liam turns to sneak another look at the baby. The child has turned to look at him, but so has her mother. The mother is smiling at Liam as she walks away, but something in her look jolts inside of him. It takes a moment for him to realise, She thinks I'm smiling at her; checking her out.

He walks away with the hot kebabs in his hands, feeling a guilty for smiling at a baby. The feeling evaporates once he finds his wife and they enjoy their lunch together, planning the rest of the day. By tomorrow, the incident will be forgotten; by Liam, at least.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Going on Holidays

I'm about to go on holiday for a week. I'll be getting away from just about everything, that includes the internet (ergo, this blog). Apparently, you can live without the internet; for short periods. I don't intend to stop writing during this time, and expect to have a lot of material to post when I return.

Random Acts of Kindness

Nothing is as confusing as a random act of kindness. You lose your mental balance for a moment when, for no particular reason, a lady in the office walks past your desk and gives you a Mars bar. When someone lets you change lanes in a traffic jam just before the lights, long held beliefs in "cause and effect" and "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" lie shattered and redundant, even if only for a moment.

I used to think, for some reason, that these occasional random acts were about me. I assumed that despite me not being aware of any reason for someone being "nice", there must have always been some underlying reason within me anyway. Somehow, subconsciously, I must have exuded irresistible charm, leaving the other person overcome and unable to restrain their own generosity.

About a week ago I suddenly realised: it's about them. It's about their power to confuse. They use this potent power to throw others into a king of stupor, while being in complete control themselves. I realised that we all have this power, and are able to unleash it with a simple, undeserved, random act of kindness.

I was onto them, and decided to join them, immediately. My cousin Margaret - Marg to those who'll talk to her - hates the world and everyone in it. She is forever complaining about lots of things: from world politics to the fact that her knives are blunt, and her kitchen draws get stuck.

Marg doesn't lock the doors of her house - funny for a someone who thinks the world is out to get her - so I snuck into her house. I sharpened her knives, oiled her kitchen draws and all the doors and even fixed a leak in the toilet. I left Marg's house on a high, knowing that she wouldn't be able to figure out who or why these kindnesses had been bestowed upon her.

Apparently, Marg came home in a foul temper: something to do with a bad experience at the Woolworths checkout. She decided to get straight into cooking dinner, which involved chopping onions, which involved a knife. She keeps these in the second drawer. Marg wrenched hard on the drawer; which, being unexpectedly well oiled and jam-free flew out of the runners and across the kitchen. I heard later that it took her about ten minutes to get everything back into the drawer, and the drawer back onto the runners. It certainly didn't appear to help her mood.

By the time Marg was ready to use the knife on the onion, she was livid. I'm not sure exactly what her onion cutting technique is, or exactly how sharp I got those knives. What I can say, is I didn't realise that a simple kitchen knife, well sharpened, can cut a human finger clean off. Let alone two.

Anyway, the microsurgery went well, apparently, and Marg should be out of hospital within another few weeks. Needless to say, my random act of kindness remains a secret, and I've since arranged an alibi. Was my random act of kindness a failure, then? Good question. With the amount I've laughed just thinking about Marg, her drawer, her knife and her onion, I'm not sure I can call it a failure.

Dead Red Rose

I've submitted a story to the Six Sentences social network, called "Dead Red Rose". Please click the link to have a look.

Click here for the main Six Sentences site.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Preacher

As he walked towards the top end of the Queen Street Mall, Ralph noticed a street preacher. He stood there and did his thing, just like a busker. He looked forty-ish, was taller than average and had flaming red hair. His enormous beard was the same colour, so that his face seemed to look through a ring of fire. Fire and brimstone were in fact his favourite themes. Occasionally though, his voice would smoulder down to become a soft ember as he tenderly spoke of the love of Jesus and pleaded with the passers-by to save their souls.

Ralph noticed that although the preacher was a lot like a busker, he was different to the others. He was the most enthusiastic of the buskers; certainly more so than the old man sitting down playing the same old riffs on his saxophone. He also seemed immune to the disinterest of the passing crowd. This was fascinating, really. The other buskers fed off even a small gathering of the idly curious, and became visibly despondent when that their audience dwindled away. The preacher, however, had barely anybody stop in front of him. Ralph supposed that people were afraid to encourage him.

The biggest difference that Ralph noticed between the preacher and the other buskers however, was the most disturbing. It stayed with Ralph for days as he pondered the meaning of it. The preacher didn't have a hat, or a bowl, or a guitar case for people to put money in. The preacher didn't do it for the money. Clearly then, he was just plain nuts. Clearly.

Ralph couldn't dismiss the preacher that quickly. The fairest test was to listen to him. So Ralph stopped by one Friday evening, and listened. What he heard cut him to his heart. He took the preacher aside and bought him a cup of coffee to drink while they talked. The preacher introduced himself as Stewart. Stewart worked as a salesman at a menswear shop in the city as his day job. This surprised Ralph; but he wasn't sure why.

It was about another year before Ralph was ready. He was nervous but determined as he took his Bible and some notes he'd written and found himself a good spot at the bottom end of the mall. And then he began to preach.