Eclectica: An anthology, p.4Publishing Portfolio
The forest was still; at least it would be, to a human. But the dark tom that was as still as a statue was aware of everything. There was prey scuffling around just in front of him. There was an owl somewhere to his left, enjoying its own feast of mouse, and his hunting partner was behind him, so close that he could feel her breath on his flank. His ears pricked forward and his partner’s breath stilled. His muscles bunched underneath him, and he leapt forward on strong back legs, gliding silently through the air before landing on a fat bird before it could dart away.
The female trotted up to him and flicked her tail. It brushed against his shoulder, a way of congratulating him on a successful kill. The tom was large, and his coat was black and shiny with health.
His face, however, was white. It was often a giveaway when hunting at night, but he had learned to work without being spotted. His skills as a hunter were well known.
The female wasn’t quite as stocky, instead lithe and fast. Her pelt was a soft blue-grey colour, and her wide eyes were dark and calculating. She too was a fine hunter.
Her mate offered her the first bite of the fresh kill, which she took after swiftly licking his ear in thanks. They shared the bird, then shared tongues, grooming each other as was the custom. These wild cats were loners—save for each other—which was rare in these areas, where cats lived together for safety.
They had to be careful. Hunting on another cat’s territory could be dangerous, as there was rarely enough food to go around. They would have to cross the territory anyway, to get to the barn that they were hoping to live in. Proceeding with caution the two headed off, staying away from clear scent markers.
The silent night was pierced by a melodious howl. The thin grey she-wolf perked her ears forward, listening for a reply. It came a moment later and she took off through the snow, ignoring the cold that seeped into her legs and concentrating on the scent she followed. It was a dark night, with clouds hiding the stars and the moon. But it was also still, no breeze to work either for or against the pack.
Her muscles rippled under her thick pelt, driving her through the snow to the rest of the pack.
She stopped suddenly, causing a spray of snow. Her ears swivelled, and she turned off the hidden trail and into the trees.
After silently stalking, she spied them. A herd of moose; some grazing, some sleeping. She wasn’t fooled, however; the creatures could be up and gone at the first hint of danger.
A sudden flash of movement on the other side of the herd caught her eye and she spied the Alpha Male, a thick brute of a wolf, heading into the group of hoofed animals.
There was another howl, as well as a warning bellow from one of the male moose. The others were on their feet in an instant, and the female darted into the fray. They were off, moose surrounded by wolves, dashing through the snow and kicking it up everywhere.
There was a snarl as a female leapt and brought down a young buck. It kicked and screamed for help, but in sheer terror the rest of them fled.
The pack helped keep the moose down, avoiding its small antlers, their bellies rumbling as the thing died in the snow. Hot blood gushed into their mouths as they tore into the carcass.
For the first time in weeks, the pack would sleep with full stomachs.
In a paddock with only a tree for shade, a herd of horses was grazing. A young colt was chasing a filly in and around the herd, playing its childish games with whinnies of delight. He managed to nip her gently on the neck, and she darted away again, flicking her tail.
As they played, an older mare with a grey muzzle was resting under the tree she had lived under her whole life. She had seen foals born and elders die, colts fight and mares gossip. She had been a favourite of the man who came to care for them, and she had even let him ride on her back in her younger years. But now she was old and weary, her bones were weak and her hooves couldn’t hold her weight anymore.
She rested her head on the ground and closed her old eyes, and with that, the old mare died.
Moments later, a dapple grey mare was at her side, gently nudging her with her muzzle. She gave a little cry of alarm, alerting the whole herd to the old one’s death. One by one, they touched noses, even the little foals, although they needed coercing. Then together the group knelt on the ground, and didn’t sleep throughout the night, in a silent vigil.
The old breeder had never seen the horses do this, but he got the feeling that he had always just missed it. And he too sat on the fence that night and kept vigil for his old friend.
In the morning they took her body away, and the herd seemed back to normal, so the breeder didn’t worry. But he didn’t miss a vigil after that, until the day he died.
The scent of blood had been in his nose for days, so he had powered on, desperate to find it. If something was already dead, it saved him the trouble of having to kill it. And this pleased him. Very much.
He had not yet run into any of his kind, though there was no doubt that he would eventually. They were a greedy breed, he knew it. But he was also aware that he was probably bigger and stronger than most of them. Big enough and strong enough to deserve the kill.
The water in these parts was warmer, and it gave him the extra strength he needed to push onwards, his nose trained on the scent, his beady little eyes on the lookout, and his mouth open. Always open. With jaws like these, why wouldn’t he want to show them off? His pride would surely be the death of him, he was sure. After all, he was the most powerful predator in the sea.
Humans called his kind ‘man-eaters’. There was no doubt that his kind had in fact killed humans in the past, but they always struggled with those extra limbs of theirs, so he rarely bothered with them. The sight of his dorsal fin alone was enough to send them scurrying away.
The blood scent was getting stronger. Something caught his eye, and he spied another young male, fit and healthy. His skin was not yet marred with scars of life, but if he tried to touch the prey the older male would surely let him have some.
He bared his teeth and the male fell back but continued on his way, silent in the water and gliding through it.
King of the Oceans, sharks were. They had been since the dawn of time, and they would be until the end of time.
Back to Contents
By Courtney O'Neill
Everyone surrounding her was moving on, doing things with their lives; important things. At the age of 24, Lauren had achieved the following: finishing high school and getting her degree in graphic design.
Now she worked at Kmart.
Parties are usually the situations where people realise just how unimportant their lives are.
“Oh my god, I haven’t seen you in ages, what are you doing now?”
“Yes, we’ve just done a two-month tour of Europe. Have you done any travel?”
“We’re expecting our first baby, we’re beyond excited. What about you? Any exciting plans?”
“No,” Lauren would say, “just the usual.”
It wasn’t that she didn’t want to do these types of things, make her life something that was worth re-telling. It’s just that she was scared. Her upbringing, her small, insignificant rural town had made her too comfortable.
“You’ve got so much potential,” her mother would praise, “use your talents.”
She tried though, and she felt like a failure. At uni she had been one of the best in her class, a typical teacher’s pet. When she graduated it was expected that she would go and work in that particular field. This, however, wasn’t the case. She loved graphic design, but there were no companies in her home town. She didn’t have the discipline or the confidence to try freelancing, so her teacher helped her set up some interviews in the city.
This overwhelmed her, petrified her even. She was too embarrassed to ask someone to accompany her on the long train ride and help her navigate the city centre. So she went by herself.
There were so many pe
Her interview was at 2 pm on Victoria Street. It was 1.30 and she had no idea where she was or what she was doing. Asking for directions was just out of the question, and she couldn’t understand the tram and bus system.
Rushing back the way she came, she got to Southern Cross and jumped on the next train home.
“How did the interview go?” her mum asked eagerly.
“Yeah, it was good,” she lied. “They’ll let me know within the week if I got it.”
Two weeks later with no word, she hoped her parents just assumed she didn’t get it; she never found out about the conversation her mum and ex-teacher had about her not turning up to the interview.
Lauren continued to work at Kmart, never even discussing the possibility of another job interview.
She’d been there since the end of high school. Her best friend Kate had helped her get the job.
“C’mon, it’s a great, easy way to earn a bit of extra cash, and we’ll be able to work together. It’ll be heaps of fun.”
And it was heaps of fun. After work they’d go and get coffees; if their shift ended early enough they’d shop away all their wages. Kate would discuss, at length, her plans for the coming weekend, she always had something to do and people to see. Lauren would be invited the majority of the time—unless Kate was with her boyfriend Max—and she would love it.
Kate made her feel at ease. They’d been best friends since grade four. Lauren felt like she could only do certain things if Kate was with her: drink, go clubbing, interact with certain people. Partying was never really her thing, but with Kate it was fun, safe—she never made her go beyond her limits.
But after a while, their time together diminished. They were doing separate uni courses, and when they graduated Kate quit Kmart to teach English at a private high school in the city. Soon enough she moved there with Max, and Lauren’s social life consisted of movies with her mum. They still spoke every week and caught up whenever they could, but Kate was becoming busier.
At 24, Lauren had never felt more like a child. Everyone she knew from high school had moved out, gotten ‘grown up’ jobs; they were planning big things.
At dinner her mum would fill her in on the latest news.
“That girl Ashley you went to school with, her mum told me today that she’s bought a block of land with her boyfriend.”
“And Tracey, that girl who used to sing at assemblies, she’s opening up for Thirsty Merc on their next tour. Isn’t that exciting?”
Lauren was sure her mum did this on purpose, to try and give her some encouragement. But really it just made her feel like crap, which would make her feel less motivated.
It was the day Kate rang her with her ‘big news’ that threw her the most.
“Max proposed!” she squealed down the phone. “Last night I got home and there were rose petals everywhere, I mean everywhere! When I got to the bedroom he was wearing this awful suit, but he looked adorable, then he got down on one knee and proposed!”
“Wow, I’m really happy for you. Congrats.”
Lauren tried to sound as sincere as possible, and she was genuinely happy. But she couldn’t help but think about the annoying clean-up of the rose petals.
Of course, Lauren was asked to be in the bridal party; maid of honour, in fact.
The nuptials took place a year later.
The ceremony was beautiful; a large crowd gathered at Royal Park in the city. Lauren wore a long, lilac dress and did her best to act as normal and confident as possible.
The reception was held not far from the park. Lauren’s family was there, as well as friends from high school. But in order to cope fully, Lauren kept as close to Kate as possible—mingling with guests at dinner and dancing with friends was easier if she was there. Thankfully, she didn’t have to make a speech; Kate let her off the hook. So the bride’s parents and the best man were all that people had to endure.
She was having a surprisingly good time, despite the usual ‘What’s happening in your life?’ questions and the same old ‘Nothing’s changed’ answer.
Lauren found herself enjoying the party. She got to laugh and talk with Kate like old times, she felt like nothing had changed.
While walking back from the bathroom she spotted Kate and Max sitting cosily in a corner, everyone else was dancing. It was getting late, the party would be winding down soon and Lauren’s parents would want to start making the long drive home. She started walking towards them and soon realised that they were arguing. She stopped to turn around but caught her name being mentioned.
“Lauren hasn’t left your side all night, you haven’t mingled properly. I’ve hardly spoken to you,” Max stressed.
“I know, I’m sorry. But she needs me, she’s shy,” Kate whispered back.
“No, not shy, Kate. She’s weak and she’s clingy. You need to stop holding her hand through everything.” “But she’s my oldest friend.”
Immediately after this Lauren left, telling her parents she was feeling sick, and silently cried all the way home.
Kate had said ‘oldest’ friend, not ‘best’ friend. She had always known the way that she was frustrated her parents, but she didn’t realise it affected her friend. She didn’t want to be anyone’s friend because they felt obligated.
Lauren avoided Kate’s phone calls for weeks, she was angry and upset. She felt hatred towards Kate and her new life, one that she wasn’t a part of, and she was sad because she knew that what Max had said was true. She was very weak; she couldn’t function without someone familiar being with her, she was scared of stupid things like people and new places. She’d known this all her life—she was always anxious, and it had always annoyed her that she was this way. But ever since the wedding she’d been furious at herself for letting it go on for so long.
After work one afternoon she thought about her day in the city, how stupid she’d been and the opportunity she’d missed out on.
She walked past the travel agents and saw an old school friend walk out with a huge grin.
“Oh, Lauren. Hi, how are you? I can’t stop sorry, I just bought a one-way ticket to London—spur of the moment thing. Anyway, I’ve got to go start organising things. I’m so excited, I leave next week!”
She ran off to her car and Lauren was left to stand there, utterly perplexed with the idea of a ‘spur of the moment’ overseas trip.
Later that night she started to worry about what would happen to the girl; would she have enough time to find somewhere to live? What about money? Was someone going with her? London was one of the biggest cities in the world, anything could happen.
She decided to Google ‘Living in London’ to see how this girl was going to cope, what it would be like for her. While doing this research she stumbled across all these different programs, ones that helped people from overseas live in the UK.
They organised work and accommodation, they gave you a small sum of money to help get you started. She wondered if that’s what she was doing.
It sounded amazing, but not for Lauren. She knew she wouldn’t be able to cope. But with that thought, she remembered Max. She had barely spoken to Kate since the wedding. She was too busy. Lauren was never busy, why not start? There was nothing stopping her from doing this, except herself. She was tired of it, determined for the first time in ages, and angry at everything she’d let herself become. She clicked the ‘apply’ button on the website.
Over a month later, after all the paperwork for visas, passports and so on had been organised, she finally told her parents. For weeks she had felt like she’d been keeping a big secret—she hadn’t spoken of her plans out loud to anyone. Saying it would make it more real.
“Umm, Mum, how would you feel if I moved out?”
“You don’t have to do that, sweetie,” was her automatic answer.
“Well, I’m 25 now. You and Dad must want the place to yourselves.”
“Don’t be silly, we’re fine. We’re used to having you here … besides, you need us.”
This pissed Lauren off, but it also upset her. Had her parents resigned themselves to the fact that she was going to live at home forever?
“Well, I’ve kind of found somewhere.”
They both looked up at this, her dad from the paper and her mum from the potatoes.
“Where?” her dad asked.
She sat down and explained to them what she’d signed up for, reassured them of its legitimacy and tried to convince them that she’d be fine by herself.
Next up was Kate.
“You’re doing what?” she screamed.
“Are you mad? You can’t move to London, it’s you.”
The lack of confidence people were showing in Lauren only fuelled her determination. She would do this, she would prove them wrong.
Last but not least was the ticket. This was the scariest part of the finalising process. Once she spent all her hard-earned Kmart dollars on that ticket, there was no going back.
She sat down with the travel agent and arranged it all. She paid and they printed everything off.
She left, for the first time in so long, feeling proud of herself. She was absolutely petrified, she felt sick, but she felt good. She stepped out on the road and was able to see her future, to see a new and exciting life; one she wouldn’t feel ashamed to tell people about.
Unfortunately, she didn’t see the bus.
Back to Contents
By James Taylor
Saturday 27 September 2012, 9.30 pm: a robbery is taking place at a lowly 7-Eleven on St Kilda Road, Melbourne.
A look of sheer terror envelops the cashier’s eyes as a baseball bat, pierced with a rusty nail, is swung agonisingly close to his face.
“Please just empty the till! I have to get out of here, oh God, just hurry!” The criminal pleads with the cashier to obey his demands. There is a tremor in his voice that suggests he doesn't want to be in this situation, almost as if something is forcing him to be there against his will.
“Okay, okay! Please, just don’t hurt me. I have three children, my wife is very sick, my children, they need me,” the terrified cashier says shakily, looking at the criminal like he is the devil himself.
Eclectica: An anthology by Publishing Portfolio / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes