Eclectica: An anthology, p.3Publishing Portfolio
He introduced himself as James Young and invited me into the bar for a drink, even though it was well past closing time. I started telling him about my car accident and was just about to ask for a bed for the rest of the night when we heard a loud crash in the men’s toilets. We both bolted towards the closed door, wondering what was going on, as everyone should have left hours ago. The light revealed a soap dispenser that had been ripped off and hurled against the wall. There was liquid soap everywhere but no one in sight.
“Bloody spooks.” James shrugged and wandered back to the bar.
I quickened my step to keep up with him. To say I was somewhat jittery was like saying snow is slightly cold. James explained that things often go bump in the night, nothing to worry about, a good way to stay on your toes. Things can disappear and then show up hours, even days later, back in the same spot where you left them. Ghosts have been around since the late ‘50s, James tells me, and as he does, venturing back into the cold night air becomes more and more appealing. James must have sensed my apprehension and reassured me that he has never been harmed, although they are high-spirited (I didn’t think this was funny at all), they don’t do any real damage and he often got a laugh out of their antics. They like to play with the lights in the guests’ rooms and if I can handle that, James tells me, I will have a warm, comfortable rest. Movement grabbed my attention in the next room and suddenly three boxes of TAB tickets flew off a high shelf and landed on the ground, and again James shrugged it off.
I began to weigh-up my options. Stay here in a warm bed, harassed by playful spirits who, according to James, mean no harm, or keep wandering around the deserted town in the freezing cold, praying to bump into a familiar face at this ungodly hour. I was so tired and everything was aching. My head would have hurt less if someone were hammering a four-inch nail into it. The decision was made. Please be gentle with me ghosts—I’ve had a hard night already.
James walked across the dining area and turned off the lights. As we were half way up the stairs, heading for the guest rooms, the lights went on downstairs. James shook his head and went back down and turned them off again. We continued on up the stairs, and again the lights came on. After about the fourth time, James yelled for the ghost to go to bed. As he approached the stairs, he lurched forward but just managed to save himself before he hit the floor. He steadied himself and rubbed the back of his head. It seems the ghost didn’t care for his tone, and slapped him fair on the head. The lights, however, remained off for the rest of the night.
James showed me to my room and left me to the mercy of the ghosts. Not wanting to give them an opportunity to play havoc with my nerves (anymore than they already had), I decided to rest with the lights on. There were a couple of books on the bedside table, including one that gave a bit of a history about Bacchus Marsh. I lay back on the bed and flicked through. The first article was about The Bacchus Marsh Express newspaper, which was founded in 1866. The second edition of the paper was produced by the local printing company, which consisted of a few locals, including one James Young. How coincidental to see the same name mentioned in an historical article as the person I had just met. Young is one of those family names that you regularly come across in a small town such as this one. On the next page there was more about James Young. He was born in 1816 and died in 1871 . He was a local benefactor and a businessman.
On the bottom of the page was a picture of James Young—the man I had met earlier.
Without a second thought I dropped everything and headed for refuge in the unsympathetic cold night air. How long had my old hometown been a haven for the departed? It’s hard to say what was working faster, my legs or my mind; I just wanted to be as far away as possible. My plan, well, I still didn’t have one. I found myself heading back towards Main Street at great speed. I decided to head for my car and spend the rest of the night there. At least I could lock myself in and hopefully get some much-needed rest.
Approaching the accountants in Grant Street, I felt very uneasy. It’s a very old building and I don’t know if my mind was playing tricks on me, but I was sure I caught glimpses of fast-moving shadows dashing from window to window. I quickened my pace, not wanting to confirm my suspicions. Soon I was in Main Street. Although there was not another soul in sight, I felt relieved by the streetlights and the wide, open road. I sat for a rest out the front of the Border Inn Hotel (although it’s now called Flanagan’s Inn, I’ll always remember it as the Border Inn). I saw one of the windows was open so I decided to climb in for some respite from the chill air. It was still a long walk back to my car, and the warmth and familiarity of the hotel were very inviting. Memories of meals and get-togethers came flooding back. I had spent some happy times in this place.
I wandered through to the poolroom but stopped short just inside the doorway. There was something circling the poolroom, an apparition of some kind. It looked like a cloud of mist tentatively patrolling the room, like a parent waiting for his child to return home after breaching a curfew. Trying not to be noticed, I tip-toed back past the piano. I was almost at the open window when the piano started playing a familiar tune. I spun around. Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker: Dance of the Sugar-plum Fairy was playing itself. I took a step backwards and the floor disappeared. The cellar door was open and I landed heavily on my back. As I sat upright I felt a blast of air across my neck and a light pressure, as if I were being touched on the shoulder. This time, instinct told me not to turn around and instead I bolted up the cellar stairs and out the window. Again, the cold night air was my saviour.
Back to the plan of heading for my car; probably the only safe sanctuary for me, and now I was running faster than I ever knew I could. I didn’t tire either; I was running on adrenalin, imagining the visions were all following closely behind.
As I come around the first bend, I notice flashing lights near where I’m sure my car was. I feel relieved: help at last. Getting closer, I can see a police car and an ambulance. They don’t notice me walking towards them. The paramedics are leaning over a body lying on the ground. They can’t hear me as I approach. The body looks just like me, only with blood seeping from the forehead. I scream for someone to tell me what is going on, but they all ignore me. This is not right! I must be dreaming. I pinch myself, but I feel nothing. I scream at myself to wake up, but I can’t.
And then I hear someone say, “She’s gone … bag her up.”
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Johnathon Paynter and the (Frightfully) Ugly Jumper
By Danielle O'Donnell
Jonathon Paynter felt uneasy. Should he have allowed Steph Scammell to walk home alone last Friday night?
Alone, in the dark, in the rain, a distance of 11 kilometres. A little rough? Maybe.
They had driven to the Mount Buninyong lookout in his late grandfather’s 1968 Pontiac Parisienne. It had a comfortably wide back seat, perfect for a passionate clinch. She had refused to take it far enough for him and he had pushed her out of the car. He did not know why he had reacted so badly.
Steph’s grandmother had rung on Saturday afternoon after she had visited Steph, who had been hospitalised with pneumonia. She said, “I have a special message for you from Steph, and I quote: ‘You are a tool, a complete arse.’ Young man, I could say a lot worse, even though we’re ladies.”
Old bag. He had thumped the table.
“He is so hot,” cooed the new girls in town as Jonathon walked into Oscar’s the following Friday. Two attractive girls wearing university hoodies made no secret of their admiration. Three local girls on a table near the counter glanced up and then looked away. Some guys he knew did not return his greeting. He went up to their table and asked, “What’s going on?”
His friend Mark got up slowly and walked with him to another table. “Jon, word’s gotten around about what you did to Steph. You’re being a tool. Shape up.” Mark moved back to the table and sat down next to the ot
He ordered a beer and sat alone, pretending to be sending text messages on his mobile phone.
On Saturday night he was home alone. Aunt Fay came to the door carrying a suitcase. “Jonathon”, she announced, “you’re in danger of being an outcast and you would deserve it! You need a complete makeover.”
He could see she was shouting and so he turned down his iPod. “What was that?”
“Jonathon, you need a makeover.”
Whilst admiring himself in the full-length mirror by the front door, he managed to look aghast.
His aunt said, “It doesn’t matter about your jet-black hair, turquoise eyes and god-like body when your intellect is like a goldfish, your emotional perception is like a blunt razor, and your spiritual insight is like a pre-school reader.”
“So, does my bod look like Ryan Gosling’s in Crazy, Stupid, Love?”
“It’s this film where Steve Carrell plays a father who——”
“Forget that. What I want you to know is how to treat people like you demand to be treated. I’m tired of you leaving people out in the cold or looking like they’ve been whacked across the bum with a stick.”
“Aunty Fay, are you saying you don’t like me?”
“No. For the sake of all Paynters, past and present, I’m saying that what’s likeable about you can be surveyed in a minute!”
“So I’m good-looking, right?” He smiled. It had been a whole hour since he had smiled at himself.
Aunt Fay sighed.
“I have something you need desperately. It’s a special heirloom left by your Uncle Harry.”
“Oh, the cranky dude that died raving about the magic of Rumpelstiltskin.” Uncle Harry was eccentric enough to have made an impression on Jonathon.
She entered the lounge room and lifted a box from inside the suitcase. When she opened the lid, Jonathon gasped.
“What is that?” he said.
“It’s a magical jumper. According to Harry, it was given to him by his Great-Uncle Hugh, who received it from the great, great grandson of Rumpelstiltskin.”
“And you have to be either desperate or crazy to wear the fugly thing, right?” asked Jonathon.
Fay lifted it out of the box and shook it so that he could see the garment in all its glory. The hand-knitted jumper was baggy, and an indeterminate shade between brown and orange. “It has threads through it that are woven from straw,” said Fay.
“Can we pull the jumper apart and sell the gold?” Jonathon asked. Fay shook her head. He examined the atrocious article of clothing. Someone had attempted to knit a rainbow into the right sleeve, and red and purple swirls into the left. Hieroglyphics in pea-green adorned the back.
Fay said, “It’s a wonderful garment. To quote Hugh, ‘It renders the wearer able to perform instances of remarkable intellectual and spiritual perception. Their social discourse is pleasant and interesting to all. They show thoughtfulness and wisdom that benefits their companions.’ It will make you a better person.”
She stood up and approached him, holding out the jumper.
“Get that thing away from me!” Jonathon jumped. “You’re a rotten saleswoman and you couldn’t get a homeless person to take the fugly thing.”
Fay went stiff as a rod and looked him in the eye. “You’ll be sorry.” She threw it onto the chair.
Later, Jonathon tried to pull the garment apart. It felt like straw. When holes appeared they were quickly filled in by mysterious weaving. The hairs on his neck stood up and he took it outside and threw it in the bin. When he returned to the lounge, it was floating above the chair. Agh! He slammed the door of the living room and hid in bed.
He didn’t know he had fallen asleep until he woke up suddenly. Something rough and thick was on his face. He gasped twice before falling back into a deep sleep.
The next morning, he inspected himself in the mirror. There was the jumper, covering him from his neck to halfway down his lean thighs. He tried to remove it and it clung to him. He fell backwards onto the bed in the wrestle that ensued. He gave up when he couldn’t get off the bed. He reached across to his phone and dialled Fay’s number. He got her answering machine.
“Aunty Fay, help! I can’t take off the jumper.”
A minute later, he heard the doorbell ring. He couldn’t get up so he called out, “Who is it?”
He was relieved to hear his aunt’s familiar voice, and then she appeared in the bedroom doorway.
“Where did you come from? You didn’t have time to get my message.”
She didn’t answer his question, just shook her head. “Jonathon, nobody but the wearer and us Paynters can see or feel the jumper. It reflects the inner state of the wearer. Just put your work clothes on over it.”
He stared at her and then looked in the mirror. “You mean, I’m really that ugly?”
She nodded. “Put on a shirt. I’ll drive you to work.”
Once they were in the car he told her that he had tried to take the jumper off.
“Don’t do that again,” she said. “It might hurt you. Wait until it’s pleased with you.”
Outside the art supplies shop where he worked she said, “I’ll pick you up at five.”
For the next six weeks, Fay was Jonathon’s constant companion. For two weeks they read and discussed Hegel and Thoreau on the equality of mankind, and read classics of literature: The Picture of Dorian Gray, Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein. It was the first time Jonathon remembered enjoying reading and considering ideas outside his limited experience. His new experiences included strange dreams the jumper evoked: dreams in which he was an ugly dwarf servant and Fay a beautiful young princess.
Fay smiled when he told her in the third week, “I’m really enjoying this.” He had just brought her a cup of tea, made the way she liked it, and her favourite biscuits. She gazed into the china cup, musing, “There’s a lot to like about this jumper.”
Jonathon asked, “Is it okay if I read about and listen to sport now? I feel like it.”
“You may. I want you to learn all the AFL game statistics from the last two years and the background of all the players. Don’t forget to take special note of your boss’s team, Essendon. And I have an idea.”
Jonathon was about to protest about having to research Essendon but he thought better of it. He was becoming cooperative since he had put on the jumper.
That night he noticed that the jumper felt softer, less like straw. It looked shinier on the front, but on the back the larger hieroglyphics were darker than ever. His palms became sweaty; he’d come to respect the jumper’s power.
The fourth week, Fay invited Jonathon’s bosses, Mr and Mrs Stanley, to dinner. Jonathon was on his best behaviour: opening doors, pulling out chairs. First they discussed Mrs Stanley’s favourite composer, Tchaikovsky, and then Mr Stanley’s beloved Essendon. Mr Stanley shook Jonathon’s hand vigorously when he departed. “Wonderful evening!”
“The boy’s really growing up,” Mrs Stanley remarked to Fay.
At twenty-four it really doesn’t hurt, thought Fay.
In the fifth week, Fay arranged a blind date with the niece of a friend of a friend.
Nobody who knows me too well, she thought.
Jonathon thought it would impress Fay if he said that he would take very good care of Lucy. He protested, “I ought to see a photo if I’m to meet her in a public place.”
“Lucy will be wearing a bright purple cashmere jumper, and she’s blonde. You’ll make the perfect couple.”
Jonathon felt smug. She must be attractive and intelligent, he thought. The jumper immediately felt tighter and itchier. What the hell?
The blind date was to commence at Walter’s Wine Bar in Southbank. When he saw Lucy, he nearly ran back out onto the thoroughfare. She was short and a size 16 at least. Her facial features were coarse and plain, her blonde hair was pudding-bowl style, and her smile nearly split her face in two as she displayed large, horse-lik
“Good evening, Lucy. That’s an attractive jumper and you have a melodious voice.”
“Thank you, Jonathon. I recognize you from the photo your aunt sent me.”
You got a photo? he thought.
Lucy turned out to be an interesting date. She was knowledgeable about everything that intrigued him, and barracked for Geelong Football club too. Most of his dates had involved (younger) girls gazing adoringly at him while he recited a Jonathon monologue. Was that lame? he wondered. When they parted, he said, “You have gorgeous eyes, Lucy”, and he meant it. They were almost violet, with thick brown lashes, and they seemed to deepen in colour when she enthused on a subject.
When he told Fay that he had enjoyed Lucy’s company, the jumper felt as light as a feather.
“Why, Jonathon,” she said, “you sound sincere and grateful.”
Looking into the mirror, he smiled a friendly smile he hadn’t seen before. “Who are you?” he wondered out loud. Fay clapped her hands.
The seventh week came and Fay said, “Go out and live your life, but I want a report every evening.”
The next morning Jonathon noticed flab around his waistline. Weight gain over the last six weeks, he thought. He went to the gym. While warming up on the treadmill, he noticed a guy who was a body builder. Bulked up to the max.
The body builder didn’t take his eyes off his reflected image. He pumped away, staring at his biceps and triceps with a smile on his face. Wow, he is up himself, Jonathon thought.
Suddenly Jonathon’s chest felt constricted. He got off the treadmill and walked doubled-over to the door. A couple of people asked what was wrong but he just waved them away. He staggered out the door, across the car park, and flopped into his car, gasping. His mind replayed the past few weeks. He made a decision.
As his breathing eased, he reached into the glove box for his mobile. “Aunty Fay”, he said when his aunt answered. “I’ll keep the jumper. I need to change.”
He finished the call and, feeling like he had just woken, realised the jumper had gone.
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By Maury Brown-Daniels
Eclectica: An anthology by Publishing Portfolio / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes