Monday, August 30, 2010

The Legend of Larry

Have you ever told a ghost story to scare the wits out of the gullible? Who hasn't? Perhaps you pass on the legends of the spirits that roam a place you've lived or worked. In any case, I hope you get a buzz out of this piece. The Legend of Larry was published yesterday in Issue 94 of Shift Miner Magazine.

The Legend of Larry
It was Damon's first tour on the crew when, at smoko on the first night-shift, Wazza began to tell him the Legend of Larry.

"Who's Larry?" asked Damon as he took his crib from the microwave, wincing at the heat.

"Larry was a rigger," said Wazza, then took a sip of his tea. "He worked on the construction project for this plant, back in the eighties. He died on the job." Wazza took a bite of his toast.

Damon's eyebrows shot up, and he sat down eagerly across the table. "How'd he die?"

Wazza kept his face looking serious. The young bloke was taking the bait nicely. "He fell, from the top, to the bottom."

"No harness?"

"Not in those days, kid. No harnesses, lanyards, EWPs. Too expensive, and slowed the job down. Riggers walked straight out on the I-beams, 30 metres in the air, no problems."

"But he fell?"

"Yeah. They pushed poor Larry."

Damon's mouth opened. "They pushed him off a beam?"

Wazza chuckled. "No, they worked him too hard. The project was behind schedule and over budget. So, they started a night-shift, and gave everyone the hurry-up. Larry had already worked the whole day-shift, but they were short on blokes, and offered him double time. On top of that, the lighting on the job was terrible, because they hadn't planned for night-shift."

Wazza took another sip from his tea, drawing the story out, and shook his head slowly. "They found where Larry slipped. A patch of grease had been spilled on the beam. It was left there, because of all the rush."

"Wow," said Damon, who'd been so rapt in the story, he hadn't touched his crib. He took a mouthful, and swallowed. "I'd hate to be the one that left that grease!"

Wazza stared hard back at Damon.

Damon's eyes opened wide. "It wasn't … you, was it?"

Wazza shook his head. "No, but I knew him. He fell apart; became a real mess. Still in jail, I think."

Damon went back to eating his meal. Wazza studiously ignored him while he finished his toast and tried to finish a sudoku in the newspaper someone had left on the table.

"Thanks for telling me about all that," said Damon. "I've always been real careful with working at heights, but that's a real good safety share."

Wazza shook his head slowly. "It's not a work-at-heights safety share, kid. You need to respect Larry, and look out for him. You need to let him get to know you."

Damon looked confused.

Wazza said, "He knows the rest of us, but he'll come visit you soon. New blood."

"Didn't you say he's dead?"

"His body is dead; saw that myself. But, his spirit will never rest. Can't be sure why, but I think he stays around to look after us."

Damon laughed. "You're telling me Larry's a ghost? That this is a haunted wash-plant?"

"I don't use those words," said Wazza, keeping his tone serious. "But yes, Larry's spirit wanders around this plant – especially on night-shifts. There's no other way to explain some of the things that have happened here, over the years."

Wazza rinsed off his cup and plant and went back out into the plant.

At about three in the morning, when Damon was hosing in on the ground floor, Wazza set up Larry on the floor above, beside the reject conveyor. He could barely keep from laughing as he tied lengths of thin rope through holes in the shoulders of an old high-vis raincoat.

He got in position where he could see Damon, his head down, watching the spray of water from the hose. Wazza dangled the raincoat over the edge and lowered it on the ropes so it came up just behind Damon. He reached out and swung the rope so the raincoat brushed against Damon's back.

Damon turned slowly, and faced the raincoat. He stood dead still. Then he looked straight up at Wazza; but Wazza didn't see Damon's face. Instead, of Damon's face there was a ghostly-white skull.

Wazza dropped the ropes and ran.

Damon took the mask off and stuffed it in his jacket. He smiled contentedly as he went back to hosing.

Edit: Typos as per John Wiswell's comments. Thanks, John.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

People Need to Know

My flash fiction story People Need to Know has been published by Every Day Fiction. Click here to read the story. Please take the time to rate the story out of five, and leave a comment at the Every Day Fiction site. This story is relatively controversial; I'm interested to know what you think.

Many thanks to the Every Day Fiction editor, Camille Gooderham Campbell, for taking this story on.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Farewell Speech

No matter what industry or field you work in, you'll be familiar with the typical farewell morning tea. It's an interesting little ritual; a tradition that has caused me bemusement, amusement and weight-gain during my career so far. So, this got me thinking…

This story was published today in Issue 93 of
Shift Miner Magazine.

Brad smiled politely and stood with his hands behind his back while Jim, the General Manger, spoke glowingly of Brad's achievements, his wonderful example, and the hole he would leave in the organisation when he left.

Inside, Brad was laughing; and he struggled to keep the laughing on the inside. It was all so beautifully ridiculous: Jim had been hunting Brad out of the mine for months. Their arguments were the stuff of legend. They had disagreed – often publicly – on almost everything: safety, production, costs. Despite all this, this little ceremony of Brad's farewell morning tea was a time of fond farewells, mutual admiration and back-slapping.

It was a bit like funerals, thought Brad. If you went to every funeral in the country for a whole year, you'd think that no bad people ever died. In life, people are hated, vilified, bashed, even killed; and yet, there's never a bad word said at a funeral. Maybe, sometimes, the deceased was "rough around the edges", "misunderstood", "unconventional", or a "larakin"; but few eulogies ever described someone as a completely useless, lazy prick who would rob his own mother if he could, and won't our lives all be better now that we're rid of him. Maybe at the wake – but never at the funeral.

Farewell speeches at work were like eulogies, thought Brad, except for a few added benefits. First: you're not dead – which is always a good thing – and you get to witness the whole farce. Better yet, the person forced to stand in front of anyone interested in you leaving – or at least interested in the free cakes – and talk about how wonderful you are in your boss. And Brad's boss was the one who despised him more than anyone. Watching Jim humiliate himself like this was pure joy.

"Now Brad and I haven't seen eye to eye on every issue," said Jim. Brad didn't snort, though someone up the back did, which cause a ripple of nervous laughter through the group. They had to stay and work for Jim; they hadn't found other jobs, yet.

Jim continued, his face a little redder. "But that doesn't mean I didn't respect a man like Bad who has the integrity and the passion to stand for what he truly believes in."

Wow, thought Brad, that man should got into politics. He's wasted running a coal mine. The coal mine's wasted with him running it, in any case.

Brad looked around the group while Jim rambled on. He had few friends left here:he'd had few to start with. Then those he'd liked, respected and enjoyed working with had moved on to greener pastures.

For many, greener pastures didn't mean bigger numbers on payslips, but more satisfying roles, or less stress, or living near a university for the kids to attend.

Now, it was Brad's turn. Greener pastures for him meant going back to the Hunter Valley, were he'd come from. He'd only come up here because his wife had wanted more money. The divorce had been quick – surgical – and now there was nothing left to keep him up here in this hot, dry, hell, working for that thick-headed egomaniac.

"Brad?" It was Jim.

Brad realised he'd been day-dreaming, and it was time for his response speech.

"Sorry," he said. "I was lost in thought."

And suddenly, he didn't have the strength for all this crap. So he smiled, took a piece of carrot cake, and walked away.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Part of This Australian Society

This is my latest story in edition 92 of Shift Miner Magazine. The online version of this edition is here. Enjoy!

"Have you been in Australia long, Dr Ramji?"

"Please Mark, just be calling me Ramji. I have been here twelve years. I came first to study medicine at UQ."

"Wow." Mark was lying face down on the examination bench, waiting for Ramji to remove a mole from the back of his leg.

"Can you feel that?" said Ramji.

"Feel what?"

"Good, the anaesthetic is working just fine. I was poking your leg with the point of my scalpel."

"Well, I didn't feel a thing. You can start now, I suppose."

"I am already starting, Mark. Please be lying very still."

Mark lay very still. The pulling and tugging as Ramji cut into his leg felt weird. "Can I ask you a personal question, Ramji?"

"Sure. Normally it is I that is asking the personal questions."

Mark laughed, and relaxed a little. "Are you a Muslim; is that why you have that … your head covered?"

"No, Mark," said Ramji, "I am not a Muslim. This is a turban I have on my head. I am Sikh."

"You're sick?"

"No, I am not ill. I am a Sikh. It is a religion, from my native India."

"Fair dinkum?" said Mark. "I though it was mainly Muslims in India."

"Actually, Hindus are by far making up the biggest Indian religion. Then there are many others, like Muslims, and Christians, and us Sikhs, and many, many others. I am ready to start your suturing now."

"My what?"

"Your sutures. Stitches."

"Cool. I suppose you have a lot of people ask about your turban?"

"Actually, no. You are the first in about one year. I am thinking people are scared they will be offending me."

"Have I offended you?"
Good gracious, no."

"That good."

Ramji laughed. "Yes," he said. "Especially as it is I that is having the scalpel."

Mark laughed too.

Ramji said, "May I ask what are your religious beliefs, Mark?"

"I've got to say, I don't like religions, myself."

"It causes so much conflict."

"That is true; there is much religious conflict. But then, people are always finding some things to be fighting about. Stopping the religions is not enough to be stopping all the wars. Your leg is all finished now Mark."

Mark sat up on the bench and looked at the dressing on his leg and poiked at the skin around it, feeling where the anaesthetic had deadened his leg. "So what's your answer?"

"To make world peace?"

"To stopping religious violence, and conflict."

"Respect, and freedom, and not taking revenge. I have the freedom to be a Sikh without fear; and my neighbour, a Christian, and my other neighbour, perhaps like you, with having no religion at all."

"But aren't people always killing each other about religion in India?"

"True, it is happening sometimes," said Ramji, his head rocking from side to side. "That is one very big reason for why I am loving Australia. I did not stay here for the taste of the food."

Mark laughed, but he wasn't convinced. "But doesn't people coming here, and keeping their own religions, stop them from being part of Australian society?"

Ramji made a tut-tut sound. "Mark, my friend, I am a doctor, here in Emerald, removing a mole and maybe cancer from your leg. Am I not right now being a part of this Australian society?"