Monday, November 30, 2009

Crossing the Tarmac

This a response to a writing challenge. Mez told me to write a story about "the person you'd least expect to see in an airport terminal". I hope this very short story meets with her (and your) approval. Please rate this story below, and leave comments.

David walked in line with the other passengers from the plane towards the terminal. He adjusted his tie with his free right hand: he always felt like he was on show, walking on the tarmac. He remembered how, as a boy, his parents would take him and his brother Adrian to the observation deck to look at the planes. Adrian had been obsessed with planes, but David had been intrigued by the people walking between the planes and the terminal. Now he looked up to the observation deck and wondered if some other young boy was up there, dreaming about the destinations and motivations of the passengers below, as he once did.

David didn't know who was going to pick him up from the airport. Things were hectic at the family home, with the whole family converging on the town for his grandfather's funeral. In any case, he'd been assured that someone would be sent to fetch him. That could be awkward. There was a handful of people in David's extended family that he would loathe getting into a car with, and about the same number that felt the same way about David. Eventually, David decided that his sister May would get the job. Though they only talked on the phone a few times a year – life was just so busy – they didn't hate each other. How many kids did May have now?, he wondered. Four? Yes four, definitely; or five. David didn't mind his sister, and he could get on with May's husband (what was his name?), but he really couldn't stand his nephews and nieces. He hoped she didn't bring any to the airport. The small ones were screaming poo factories. The big ones had been hitting puberty pretty hard last time David had had the misfortune of crossing paths with them. That was about two years ago; maybe three.

As the glass door to the terminal opened, covering David with a gust of cold air-conditioning, he decided that starting now, he'd keep in better contact with his family gain. He knew it was guilt that drove him to make this secret commitment, but he didn't care. It was a promise he'd made, and broken, plenty of times before. It made him feel better, for a while.

Inside the terminal, David looked around for his sister. He couldn't see her. Instead, a tall, blonde bombshell that looked no more than sixteen or seventeen years old bounded up to him, gave him a big hug, and kissed him on the cheek. "Hello Uncle David," she said. "I'm here to pick you up. Did you check any baggage, or do you just have the carry-on?"

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ugly Duckling

This is the third of three (exactly) fifty-word stories that I wrote for the Brian Dibble Shortest Story Competition. I didn't win.

Sarah was a pimply, pudgy teenager. Her mother tenderly took her hand, and told her the story of "The Ugly Duckling".

"One day," she said, "you'll become a beautiful swan."

"You don't just think I'm ugly," said Sarah, between sobs. "You think I'm a whole different species!"

Sunday, November 22, 2009


This is the second of three (exactly) fifty-word stories that I wrote for the Brian Dibble Shortest Story Competition. I didn't win.

I broke down in tears when I tried to write a story in only fifty words. I threw my pen across the room and swore.

"That's not a story," I said to the scribbling on my notebook. "That's a paragraph!"

I went back to working on my novel.

Friday, November 20, 2009


A piercing shriek reverberates throughout the train carriage. It stings my ears, and I cover them with my hands. The muscles in my neck clench up and spasms shoot down past my shoulders. I stop breathing momentarily. The hubbub of conversation and laughter within the carriage stops cold, and an elderly man across the aisle clutches desperately at his hearing aid.

The apocalyptic cry came from a young boy, a toddler really, sitting two rows in front of me. I seethe as I fix my eyes on him. He's sitting next to a woman who I assume is his mother. She looks ghastly, though she would not yet be thirty years old. The woman doesn't react to the child, but continues to stare out of the window.

How inconsiderate! She should do something about that child.

The child hits the woman's arm and shouts at her, "Mummy!"

The woman turns slowly from the window, focuses on the boy, gives him a weak smile. "Yes, Danny?"

The boy says nothing, but turns around and wriggles backwards into his mothers side. She puts her arm around him, kisses the top of his head, and then turns back to the window.

The other passengers in the train return to their own books, newspapers and conversations. Minutes pass; we stop at Indooroopily Station, and then continue towards Ipswich.

As we are leaving Oxley Station, the boy screams again. My nerves are still frayed from the first outburst. The noise invades my flesh like some demonic force. I feel a stabbing pain in behind my eyes, and my neck clenches up again. A tic starts in my right cheek. I glare at the mother with freshly kindled wrath, yet she continues to stare into the window.

It is just unacceptable to allow that sort of behaviour. How inconsiderate!

I continue to stare, hoping she will glance my way, so that my scowling scrutiny might communicate my intense disapproval. I see that she truly is a loathsome creature. Her hair is a mess. Her eyes are bloodshot, and there are dark orbs beneath them on her cheeks.

Probably on drugs. Calls herself a mother? Where is the boy's father? Perhaps she doesn't even know who the father is! Some people in this world are just trash; it makes me sick.

I look around the carriage. Some of the other passengers are also trying to stare the woman down. A few of them share a knowing look with me. The mother is unperturbed, however. She sits, vacantly drawn to the world outside her window, her head rocking slightly with the sway of the carriage.

Someone needs to tell that woman to bring her child into line. It's upsetting not just me, but everyone else on the train. She may be inconsiderate of others, but I'm not. I'm going to do something about it, for everyone's sake.

I walk over to the woman and take the seat opposite. I say, "Excuse me", but there is no reaction. I cough, and again say, "Excuse me".

She is completely ignoring me.

I reach out and tap her on the shoulder, and quite loudly now, say, "Excuse me!"

She turns her head from the window and focuses her bleary eyes on mine. "Sorry," she says, "can I help you?"

"Yes, I think you can," I reply, pointing at the child. "Your boy really is very loud, and is causing quite a disturbance to the good people on this carriage. I'd just like to ask you to show some consideration, and keep him a little more under control."

There: I said it.

The woman looks around the carriage, and seems to notice for the first time that every eye and ear in the place is on her.

The automated public address system announces to the hushed carriage, "The next station is Darra."

Tears form in the woman's eyes as she says, "I'm so sorry. Danny's having a lot of trouble coping; we both are, really. My husband – his father – we just had the funeral yesterday. This our station coming up right now. We won't bother you much longer."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Farewell Gift [Part 5 of 5]

Welcome to "Farewell Gift", a 2,500 short story I wrote earlier this year. I've decided to present it to you here on Surge Bin in five parts. Why not start with part 1, and work your way through? Enjoy!


Marcelle glanced at the clock: three sixteen. It was only two minutes since she had last looked. She went to the kitchen and asked Laura, "You want some tea?"

"Sure thing," she replied, "Why don't you just relax. We know he took the suitcase, we know he got on the plane, and we know the plane has landed. It will all work out. He'll be tied up with customs and the police for a while. You may not get a phone call for hours, even days."

But the phone did ring. Marcelle rushed to answer it, leaving the kettle in the sink.

"Marcelle speaking!"

"Hello Marcelle." The sound of Gary's voice made her heart jolt.

"Gary. You landed safely?"

"Yes, we're all safe in Thailand now. It took me an hour longer than everyone else to get through customs, but never mind. You'd think they'd never seen Prada before."

"You're through customs?" Marcelle's voice tripped over her words. She began to realise that the plan had gone very wrong.

Gary continued, "Look Marcelle, I've decided to change our plans a bit. After the sessions with the university, Cindy and I are going hang out in Thailand for a few months, and really get to know the place, and each other."

"Cindy? Laura's Cindy?" Marcelle only became more confused.

"I suppose that may come as a bit of a surprise. I did try to prepare you by getting Cindy to tell her mother I was in a relationship with a student. I knew Laura wouldn't keep her mouth shut, of course. And then you didn't seem to bat an eyelid. I wondered what was going on, until you gave me my farewell gift."

"Farewell gift?" repeated Marcelle, struggling to keep up with what was happening. Laura was now standing beside her, craning her head, desperately trying to hear Gary's voice on the phone.

"Yes, the farewell gift," said Gary, his voice still relaxed. "Given that you were fully aware that I was in a relationship with a much younger woman, who was also a student, you can imagine my surprise that you wanted to give me an expensive new suitcase. So I looked into it, so to speak, and good thing I did. Beware of jilted women bearing gifts."

He chuckled at his own joke and then paused for a few seconds. "That was a lot of heroin, Marcelle. I've decided to return it to you however, as my own little farewell gift. It will be something to remember me by, until I come back to finalise my divorce. I really can't stay married to a drug dealer, you know. I'm sure the judge will see my point of view."

Gary hung up. Marcelle stood holding the beeping phone, reeling. What happened? She tried to explain to Laura, "Gary found the drugs. I think he's left them here with me. He's with Cindy, Laura. He's having an affair with your daughter Cindy. He's going to divorce me. What am I going to do? What are we going to do?"

Laura's face went pale, but she didn't reply. There was a thumping at the door. Marcelle went and opened it. It was the police – lots of them. They rattled through rehearsed phrases, showed some papers, and demanded her car keys. They went through her car, taking out panels and carpets. Very soon, small white packets began to appear. Marcelle and Laura sat down next to each other on the front steps and began to cry.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Farewell Gift [Part 4 of 5]

Welcome to "Farewell Gift", a 2,500 short story I wrote earlier this year. I've decided to present it to you here on Surge Bin in five parts. Why not start with part 1, and work your way through? Enjoy!


On Wednesday, they went to the Queen Street Mall and found a classy Prada suitcase that met their requirements perfectly.

Laura spent the rest of the day removing stitching and carefully packing the drugs into the walls of the case. She painstakingly resewed the linings closed.

When Marcelle came around to her apartment, she was impressed.

"Wow Laura, that's amazing!" she said, running her hands over the case, inside and out. She examined the stitching closely. "You can't tell that it's not just a brand new suitcase. It's perfect."

As they admired the farewell gift, Marcelle imagined the look on Gary's face when he saw the hidden contents, and laughed.

"This will be perfect, Laura. Thank you so much."

Laura smiled wearily. "That's okay, Sweetie. It was harder work than my paid job, though – which I'd better get back to tomorrow. The rest is up to you."

(To be continued...)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Farewell Gift [Part 3 of 5]

Welcome to "Farewell Gift", a 2,500 short story I wrote earlier this year. I've decided to present it to you here on Surge Bin in five parts. Why not start with part 1, and work your way through? Enjoy!


On Tuesday morning, Marcelle and Laura walked the paths and open spaces of the Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens with the wind in their hair and the Autumn sun overhead. They'd both phoned into work sick, saying she didn't expect to be in for the rest of the week. They had a lot of work to do.

"I just want him dead," Marcelle said firmly. "He deserves it. He has no right to throw me aside, after everything I've done for him. Over the last eighteen years I've sacrificed my career so we could make the moves to get him the promotions. I've lived my life through his success. He needs to pay!" She paused, then said, "I'm ranting, aren't I?"

"Well," said Laura, with a smile, "yes."

"How are we going to do it, Laura? How are we going to actually kill him?"

Unfazed by the directness of the question, Laura said, "For a start, you and I are not going to go around with knives and guns, or run him down with a car. We need to be really smart about this."

"Do you want to use a hit man?"

"I considered that," she replied casually, "but I don't think we want to bring someone else into this. Obviously there are lots of ways to go about it, but I think the best for our situation is capital punishment."

"Australia doesn't have capital punishment."

"Thailand does."

Marcelle felt her face flush as she realised, "Gary's going to Thailand next week!"

Laura nodded and smiled, then repeated softly, "Gary's going to Thailand next week."

Marcelle found Laura's cold and calculating manner reassuring. This should be freaking me out, but I'm just so glad to have her on my side. Then she thought aloud, "Why would Gary be given the death sentence? I don't think he's planning to commit any crimes over there."

"Gary? Didn't you realise he's a heroin smuggler?" said Laura, chuckling.

"A what?" Marcelle stopped on the path, astonished at the suggestion.

Laura explained further, "The Thai government executes drug smugglers – especially those that bring in heroin. Getting caught bringing that stuff into the country is a one-way ticket to death row over there."

Marcelle barely paused before she laughed, and then said, "So let's buy one of those tickets for my darling husband."

The two women walked and talked for the rest of the day, probing the plan from all angles for weaknesses. The final plan was simple: Marcelle would give Gary a new suitcase for his overseas trip as a farewell gift. Once the plane was in the air, the Thai authorities would be notified anonymously that there was heroin hidden in the lining of Gary's suitcase. The rest was up to the Thai government.

"I had a chat last night with an old girlfriend who made some different choices in life, and has made some very different friends. She can get us 120g of some reasonably pure heroin by tomorrow night. That's more than enough to buy his ticket to death row. Like I said Marcelle, this stuff is expensive, but it's worth it. Once Gary's dead and buried, you'll have all of his money anyway. I'll loan it to you out of my savings for now, and you can pay me back when it's all over."

"How much?' asked Marcelle.

"Fifty thousand dollars."

To Marcelle, it was just a number. She wouldn't enjoy her life again until Gary was gone, so what was fifty thousand dollars?

(To be continued...)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Farewell Gift [Part 2 of 5]

Welcome to "Farewell Gift", a 2,500 short story I wrote earlier this year. I've decided to present it to you here on Surge Bin in five parts. Why not start with part 1, and work your way through? Enjoy!

Marcelle was watching the end of Four Corners when Gary arrived home that evening. While Gary fetched a beer from the fridge, she reached for the remote, and turned off the television.

"You're home very late again today," she said. It sounds like I'm accusing him! Calm down.

"Things are pretty hectic, preparing for our meetings in Thailand," said Gary, opening his beer, and taking a long swig.

Marcelle sighed. Thailand. Gary was about to lead a delegation to negotiate a deal with one of the public universities in Bangkok. With both government and corporate funding drying up, this deal was essential for the faculty to remain viable. Marcelle had been very supportive of the extra time Gary had put into this project. If Gary was having a fling with a student however, then the time that he spent with her was probably under the guise of preparing for the Thailand trip.

"I just haven't seen much of you lately," said Marcelle, forcing an apologetic tone.

"I know." Gary sighed. A moment of silence followed, broken by the screeching of car tyres out in the street. Gary spoke quietly, "I think it's fair to say, we've drifted apart over the last few months, even years."

Marcelle wasn't prepared to talk about their relationship tonight. "I know," she said, "but you have a lot on your plate preparing for the Thailand trip, and you leave next week. Can we agree to work things out when you get back?"

Gary sipped at his beer again, seeming to contemplate the offer. "I think that's a very good idea," he said, and then with a little smile added, "Don't do anything rash before I get back, will you?"

Marcelle suddenly saw the truth in his smile, his eyes, and the way that he spoke. Now she was certain. He is guilty as sin and I know what I'm going to do about it. With the decision made, Marcelle found it easier to relax and take charge of the conversation. She asked, "So, how is the preparation going? How many people are going on this trip, anyway?"

"Half the faculty sees it as a junket, and now everyone wants to come along," said Gary. His voice had taken on that slightly patronising tone of his lecturing mode. Marcelle smiled: now that she'd got him started, Gary would simply blather on. Her smile appeared to encourage him, and he continued enthusiastically, "As Dean, and the one who initiated the whole project, I've been very firm on this. There'll be only the six of us. There's the heads of mechanical, electrical and civil, two students, and of course, yours truly."

Gary explained, "The students will give the Thais a bit of a preview of the kind of graduates we can produce. Cindy – your friend Laura's daughter – and Robert are our best two final year students. Their project presentations will really impress."

Marcelle let Gary chatter on about the trip for over half an hour, before she went up to her room, complaining of a headache.

To be continued...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Farewell Gift [Part 1 of 5]

Welcome to "Farewell Gift", a 2,500 short story I wrote earlier this year. I've decided to present it to you here on Surge Bin in five parts. Enjoy!

"Gary is having an affair, with one of his students," said Laura.

"My Gary?"

"Yes, Marcelle. Your Gary – your husband."

Marcelle sat at the kitchen table, not moving. She felt winded.

"Have some tea," said Laura.

Marcelle sipped the tea, feeling it revive her. "How did you find out?" she whispered. The words caught in her throat.

"Cindy told me, this morning. It must be one of her friends." Laura's daughter Cindy was a final year Bachelor of Engineering student in the faculty that Gary was Dean.

Marcelle nodded slowly. "I suppose she'd know," she said. "Who is it – do I know her?"

"She won't say," said Laura.

"She's got to!"

"If Cindy has had a friend confide in her, she won't breach that trust. I brought Cindy up to make her own decisions about right and wrong. Once she's made that decision, she won't move," said Laura. Before Marcelle could object, she added, "But I've been thinking about that. Does it really matter who the girl is? She's as much a victim as you are! It's Gary that's betrayed you and abused the trust of his position."

Marcelle sipped her tea and nibbled a Tim-Tam as she sat and pondered over the situation. After a few minutes, she realised that Laura was still sitting opposite her at the table. "Sorry, I zoned out for a while."

"Don't be sorry. Right now, you just need a friend. I'm here to help you through this, no matter what."

The women discussed how they should deal with the situation. While Marcelle knew that she wanted a divorce, she also wanted Gary to suffer. "He has abused his position of trust, and needs to be punished for what he did," she said, more than once.

Laura was certain a formal complaint about the affair to the university wasn't the answer. "Say we succeed in getting Gary the sack for taking one of his students to bed. He's not going to get another job in Queensland! If he's lucky, he'll find a position with some second-rate uni across the country, at half the salary. How is that going to benefit you?"

Marcelle frowned. She didn't want to find herself divorced, without a job, and with an ex-husband unable to maintain the lifestyle she enjoyed. She rested her head in her hands and groaned. She had to admit, "I can't see a way out of this mess."

"I can," said Laura.


"There is one way that Gary can be removed from being Dean, and be properly punished for what he's done. You would be left with everything. Everything."

Marcelle didn't consider herself a greedy person, but her heart quickened at the thought. "How?" she asked again.

"The same way that I got everything from my husband Ted," said Laura. She took Marcelle's hand in hers. "Just consider: if fate had it in store for Gary to just – pass away – wouldn't your problems be solved? Don't even think about how, for now. Just think about if. Do you want a future without Gary?"

"I don't want a future with Gary - I don't even want to see him again," Marcelle replied, her voice steadier then she expected it to be, "but I'm not certain I want him dead. That's a big call."

"Take some time and think about it. When you're ready, we'll talk again. To keep your options open though, you'll need to act as though you've heard nothing of Gary's affair, for the next few days or so."

Marcelle wasn't sure she'd be able to do that, but knew that she had to. She was glad to have Laura on her side during this time, not just for tea and sympathy, but for practical advice. Very practical advice.

"Look," said Laura, "How things go forward from now on is your decision alone. You will need to live with the consequences, both good and bad, no matter which path you choose."

To be continued...

Rally Car

This is the first of three (exactly) fifty-word stories that I wrote for the Brian Dibble Shortest Story Competition. I didn't win.

Shane punched the throttle as his Subaru entered the straight. In one beat of his heart he was slowing for the next corner; but he misjudged it, badly. Shane smiled as the car left the track and started to roll. He loved playing with his slot cars.

How to Get Published

What defines success for a writer? Most would argue, as I used to, that the aim is to "get published" (and consequently, get read).

But what does is really mean, to get published? Does it mean a hardcover novel deal, or is a blog-based literary journal okay? How about getting published in a newspaper? Let's not even mention self-publishing! (Yes, I mentioned it).

I've discovered just how much writing, and "getting published", really is more a journey than a destination. Getting stories published in a fortnightly magazine like Shift Miner is fantastic. I got a real buzz a few days ago, seeing two people reading Shift Miner at the local airport. Just knowing that these complete strangers were holding my story in their hands - whether or not they even read it - was great. Yet, I know I've only made baby steps on this great writing journey.

So, when in doubt, create another blog! I've recently started a blog called How to Get Published, located at I'm using it to share things that I've found useful - or not so useful - as I travel along. If you're a writer - or want to be - I'd invite you to go have a look. Please provide comments - and especially suggestions and advice to include. I'd really like to put some "guest blogs" up there, so get writing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Three Minutes

The flow of cars has been pulsing to the colours of the traffic lights; hypnotising me as I watch and sip my coffee and daydream. The lights turn to red again, and the cars slow, then stop. They'll need to wait exactly three minutes; I've timed it. The man in the first car turns towards me, and I look straight into his eyes. He is alone in the car. There is unflinching anger in his eyes. It breaks the spell of the traffic, and casts a new one over me.

I don't recognise the man, though he obviously remembers me, and has rekindled his grudge in an instant. His face is vaguely familiar. I should know him, but time has been severe to both his face and my memory. He looks to be about my own age: mid fifties. He wears his grey hair long at the back, almost to his shoulders. His sideburns come down well below his ears, and flare forwards onto his cheeks. His black-banded white panama hat, his long-sleeved black shirt and his hair are the style of a man lingering in the seventies.

He continues to stare into my eyes. He has one hand flopped on top of the steering wheel, and his other arm poking out of the open window, resting on the door frame.

It is the car that triggers my memory. In an instant I remember both car and man. Neil was driving the same tan Kingswood when I last saw him, about fifteen years ago. He had had that same look of loathing on his face then too. I don't know why I didn't recognise him sooner.

I feel guilt return with the memories. Neil was devastated when his wife Sarah left him. What made him angry, was that she and I became an item. He and Sarah had been divorced long enough before that happened. Long enough, I thought. He didn't see it that way.

I tried to reason with him at the time, and begged him to accept us, and what we had: for Sarah's sake. Instead, he chose to keep his grudge and lose two friends. I think he was just too proud to let Sarah find happiness with someone else; especially his mate. It was the usual love triangle story, I suppose. Things were said in the heat of the moment, threats were made, and eventually restraining orders kept us apart.

I keep looking into those sad green eyes. I hope that my own eyes show that I'm sorry for the hurt I caused him.

The light turns to green. Neil nods at me, once, then turns forwards, and drives away. I shake my head, and feel goose bumps down my neck. Maybe next time I'll get him a cup of coffee, and we'll talk; maybe.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Promise is a Promise

Johann checked his bait and cast his line back in. He leaned against the rail of the jetty, looked over the deep, dark water, and sighed. He really did not want to be fishing today. His two boys, Nico and Pete, had blackmailed him at breakfast.

"But Dad, you promised," Nico had said, with tears in his eyes. Nico was the older of the pair. At twelve years old, he didn't cry easily any more. "You said you were going to take us out last Saturday; but then you went to work. Then you promised that you'd take us fishing next Saturday, which is today. A promise is a promise, Dad."

"That's all true," said Johann. "But do you still want to go fishing, after everything that's happened this week?"

The boys nodded in unison: slowly, but firmly.

They had gone to the jetty: their usual spot. The sky was overcast and small drops of rain were beginning to spit down on them. The wind bit through their jackets. The tide was all wrong, and none of them had had so much as a bite after a full hour; but, a promise is a promise.

Johann looked over at the boys. Nico was helping Pete thread a prawn onto his hook; explaining again the finer points to attaching the bait to make it attractive to the fish, whilst ensuring the hook protruded enough so it was able to do its job. Both boys had tears running down their cheeks and were constantly sniffling. They ignored their tears; however, and fished on. Johann smiled slightly, and shook his head again. While Johann watched, Pete cast his line into the water. It was a bad shot, and crossed over Nico's line. Without a word, they swapped places to fix the crossover and kept fishing.

An old man braved the weather and came out to the end of the jetty. His hair, combed over from the edges of his mostly bald head, folded over in the wind and flapped like a loose tarpaulin. With his voice raised against the wind, he asked, "Catch anything?"

"Not a bite," said Johann, shaking his head. He began to wind his line in.

The man turned to leave, one hand holding his comb-over down. He stopped and turned back to Johann. "None of my business, of course," he said, "but why are the two lads crying like that?"

Johann glanced at the boys and then back at the man. "We buried their mother yesterday."

The old man's eyebrows flicked up into his forehead, but he said nothing. Instead, he turned and walked briskly back down the jetty.

Johann checked his bait and cast his line back in.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Dying Young

"Look at your wedding photo," said Thomas, "there on the wall."

Alan looked at the picture and smiled. Two days back from their honeymoon, he and Wendy had picked up the picture from the photographers earlier in the day. He turned back to Thomas. "Do you like it?" he said, then added, awkwardly, "Dad?"

"You sure look a lot like the boy in that picture," said Thomas. He took a tentative sip of his coffee, then eased back into the armchair.

Alan felt his face flush. He knew he looked young, but he didn't need the old-timer to rub it in. He wondered whether Judy would mind if he grew a goatee. Of course she would, he thought. Maybe I'll try in a year or two.

"Have I lost you?" said Thomas.

"Sorry, I was daydreaming."

"I said, 'You sure look a lot like the ...'"

"Yeah," said Alan, "I heard. Look, it's our wedding photo; of course I look like myself."

"Of course you do," said Thomas. He took another sip of his coffee. The temperature seemed more to his liking now, and he took a longer drink.

"Sorry," said Allan. "I just don't know what you're driving at."

Thomas nodded. His eyes showed something like patience, or pity. "Look at that photo over there," he said, pointing to a smaller picture on the bookcase, taken on his own wedding day. It was a studio photograph, with Thomas standing rigidly behind his wife, who was sitting on a straight backed chair. The colours had faded over the years, and insects had left dubious deposits behind the glass. "I don't look much like the boy in that photo now, do I?"

Allan stopped the sarcastic reply that came to his mind before it got to his mouth. Thomas was right, of course; it was a boy in the photograph. Allan looked back and forward between the two pictures to compare them. "You've come a long way," he said at last.

Thomas laughed. His laugh was loud and hard, and shook him all over. He spilled coffee into his lap, but he either didn't notice or didn't care. "That," he said, wiping a tear from his eye, "is a very kind way of saying that I'm an old coot now; and that I really look the part."

Allan smiled.

Thirty seconds of silence passed. Thomas sighed. "It creeps away from you, you know," he said. "Time. Days, weeks, months, years. Decades. Soon you'll have one of those small, trendy beards – though not quite as grey as mine – and then your belly will bulge out from too much food and beer – though not quite as big as mine. And every day you'll look a bit less like that boy." He pointed up to the picture again as he spoke.

Allan recalled how his own father had often said, "It's better to learn something about life from somebody else's experience. It's quicker, cheaper and less painful."

Allan smiled at the memory. The smile seemed to encourage Thomas to go on.

"Getting old is a strange feeling, because you don't feel it. Sure, when you run up stairs you feel it; but when you're sitting down, drinking a cup of coffee, it doesn't matter if your eighteen or eighty-one. On the inside you're the same."

Allan was sceptical, but kept this to himself.

"I always thought they were mad," said Thomas, "when old men said that." He shook his head. "But it's true; it's so true."

Well, I still think you're a little bit mad, old-timer, thought Allan. Aloud, he said, "I thought getting old was all about aches and pains?"

"Oh," said Thomas, "that's true. Getting old is not for sissies: it really hurts. But the aches and pains are in your body, not in your mind. It is a pain to grow old; but consider the alternative."

Allan looked into his father-in-law's eyes. "What's that?"

"Dying young."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fancy an Espresso?

I've had a few more Espresso Stories published. I don't seem to rate very high in the popularity stakes over there, but I can't seem to stop myself trying to write a twenty-five word story that wins hearts and minds. It's a big ask.

The new stories:

My full Espresso Stories catalogue can be found here.

So, do you think I'm wasting my time? Be honest, I can take it.

You Miners Get Paid Too Much

My latest contribution to the Shift Miner Magazine is "You Miners Get Paid Too Much". I reckon that'll get people's attention. It appears under the "5 minute fiction" heading on page 21 of edition 74, downloadable as pdf for the next two weeks at the Shift Miner Magazine website.

The purpose of "5 minute fiction" is to publish flash fiction stories that appeal to coal miners working on shift in Queensland. This is my second story to appear since Alex Graham, the editor of Shift Miner Magazine (SMM), agreed to trial this new column.

I'm keen to hear what people think, especially the men and women working in the industry that have stumbled across my stories in SMM. What did you like? What didn't you like? What issues, themes and situations would you like to hear about in future "5 minute fiction" stories.