Eclectica: An anthology, p.5Publishing Portfolio
“Just empty the till and I’ll walk away!” he shouts.
The cashier frantically begins to pull the money from the register: $207.35 in total.
“That’s it? $200 bucks? All you have is $200 bucks? The criminal slams his weapon into the counter, causing the glass top to shatter upon impact. The cashier ducks behind the register.
“Please, don’t hurt me! Just go! Take the money and go!”
The criminal stares into the cashier's eyes. He contemplates attacking the man for telling him what to do. Luckily for the cashier, a sense of calm washes over him.
He snatches the money and shoves it into a shopping bag. Just as he is leaving, a raspberry slushy sitting on the counter catches his eye. It was about to be purchased by the petrified university student hiding behind the Doritos. He drops his bat, lunges forward and grabs it.
“Cheers,” he says to the student, who by now is cowering on the floor in a foetal position.
At 9.32 pm a man is seen fleeing down St Kilda Road with a shopping bag full of cash and a raspberry slushy.
At 9.33 pm he is dead. Witnesses say he just dropped to the ground, almost as if he was struck down from above.
“There was no blood,” said one old lady.
“An act of God!” one man shouted.
“No! An act of Satan!” said another.
The coroner was baffled. His official conclusion: death from unknown causes. There were no attendees at his memorial service; a couple of grounds-keepers were the only witnesses as he was lowered into his final resting place.
His parents visited the grave of the son they had already mourned years earlier, laying a single rose at the foot of his headstone and moving on.
The criminal awoke to unfamiliar surroundings. Everything was white, and a huge set of bronze gates stood ominously before him. The shadow protruding from the structure covered him like prison bars. Where the hell am I? Am I the only person here? he thought.
“No, Luke, you are not the only one here …”
A man with a flowing white beard was standing in front of him. His voice was so soothing, yet Luke had never been so petrified of anyone in his entire life.
“Welcome to purgatory, Luke. You will be assessed soon. Until then, please wait on that seat over there and do not speak.”
A solitary black chair appeared in the middle of the never-ending room of white. The contrast of the black chair on the white backdrop was extremely poetic. The black was the only evidence evil in this perfect world.
In a state of complete shock, Luke sat down and waited. Hours passed. He had been sitting in the chair for what seemed like a lifetime, yet he dared not move, and he certainly dared not speak. He hadn’t seen the man with the beard since he had sat. Questions buzzed through his mind at a mile a minute. What was this bizarre place? How did he get here? And why?
Just as he was about to crack, a mighty flash of bright light exploded into the room. His eyes had never stung so badly; it was like staring directly into 1000 suns. The man with the beard was back.
“I have been unable to come to a decision, Luke. You have five minutes to convince me either way.”
Luke stood, tried to open his mouth. It had been so long since he had spoken that all he could muster was an inaudible grunt.
He cleared his throat. “Where … where am I? What happened to me? Am I dead?”
“I already told you, Luke, you are in purgatory, the place for souls who could go either up or down. Speak now, Luke. You have wasted your first minute. Oh, and yes, you are dead … I killed you,” the man said.
“You killed me! Why? And how?”
“I decided it was time. You had been spiralling out of control for long enough. Now Luke, you can’t stay in this room forever. What will it be? Up or down?” The man’s tone was alarmingly casual.
Up or down? What did he mean? Then it all fell into place and a shudder went down Luke’s spine: he knew what he was being asked of him.
“I … I, if I can convince you I’m worthy of going up, well that means I’ll go through those gates, r … right? ”
“And if I can’t?”
“I’ll send you down, and you won’t return.”
His heart began to pound against his rib cage. He felt like throwing up; for him, eternity hung in the balance. So he began the plea for his life.
“Well I … I guess I’ve … I’ve lived how I lived because, well, I … I had no choice. My parents didn’t want me—they never wanted me! You must know that I had to fend for myself. What else could I do but steal? I didn’t want to be like that … it, it just happened, alright! There has just always been something inside me that made me feel all … Please! Just let me go up! I can’t go down, I don’t belong there! I never killed anyone, I never committed a serious crime. Deep down I’m sure you know I was a good person.”
“I know you were a good person, Luke. That is what makes all your crimes so much worse than all the lost souls down there. They didn’t know any better, but you, Luke—you knew better.”
“All my crimes? I only stole once … Just one crime!”
“Oh, you have committed more than one crime, Luke. Let me cast your mind back.”
The man snapped his fingers and Luke’s head suddenly exploded with memories, moments he had repressed from his past flashing before his eyes.
The night after he had been expelled from school, his parents opened the door to his bedroom after he had gone to bed and he pretended to be asleep as his mother began to cry.
There was the time his father spent days making him a cricket bat because they couldn’t afford to buy one from a store. He was so happy when his dad handed it to him, yet he was angry at the same time. Something deep inside him smiled as he smashed the bat against a tree.
There were all those times the police showed up at the front door. Whenever his mother heard that distinctive knock, her eyes grew a little duller, until one day that radiant blue became nothing more than sickly grey.
There were nights spent in silence at the dinner table, his parents struggling to hold back tears as they pondered where they had gone wrong. He just sat there, a sense of smug pride dwelling within. He knew he had broken them.
Finally came the night he was kicked out of home after they had discovered the drug stash under his mattress. As he walked down the front path, a tattered suitcase under his arm, he looked back at his once-loving parents. The day he had been pushing for had finally arrived, and now that it was here he couldn’t bare it. His mother buried her head in his father’s chest when he met her eyes, and his father just stared at the ground.
The memories stopped.
The bearded man re-snapped his fingers and Luke awoke from the trance. A tear rolled down his cheek as the realization hit him. All that pain he had caused his parents, and for what? He fell to his knees and slammed the ground with his fist. He began to sob—for the first time.
“Well, Luke? Your five minutes is up. What will it be?”
He was wiped away his tears as he got to his feet. He knew what he had to do.
“Send me down.”
A second flash of light shone out.
Saturday 27 September 2012, 9.30 pm: a man is seen standing outside a lowly 7-Eleven, a baseball bat with a nail driven through the head in his right hand, a shopping bag in the left.
At 9.32 pm, he is seen running down St Kilda road, a raspberry slushy in his hand.
Later that night there is a knock at the front door of his parents’ house.
“Mum, Dad …”
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By Julie Sharp
The waves roll in behind me, rhythmic and deep, a drumbeat in the warm night air. The familiar scent of salt and sand fills my nostrils; I breathe deeply, the tang tingling on my tongue. Lights are strung out on the horizon before me, rising in constellations as the city climbs the escarpment. T
Ready for fire in the night.
My sister has always been the artsy kind: she’s good with her hands, can make amazing things out of junk, and loves getting dirty. Every wall of her house is filled with paintings and photographs and sketches and poetry—there is no such thing as white space in her world. Not even the toilet seat is sacrosanct. Last time I visited, she had decided to cover it with purple and gold metallic paint. Her artwork enthroned.
Because she was the artistic one, I never really considered myself creative. I was the analytical one, the academic one, who loved English and Maths and IT—any subject where I could revel in fine details. I can’t paint or draw to save myself.
But then I discovered the lens.
I find a good spot for the plastic milk crate and turn it upside-down on the sand. I take out my torch and carefully open my camera bag, paranoid that some speck of sand will leap up and lodge itself in my lens and kill it (like it did two summers ago), but also exhilarated by the clear, perfect night. I remove the lens cap, place the camera on the crate, and flick the switch to ‘on’. The LCD brightens and I begin adjusting: switching to Tv mode, lowering the exposure level, looking through the viewfinder to start framing the shot.
My sister has already started preparing. The pungent, acrid smell of kerosene fills my nostrils, and I grin. She flicks the lighter once, twice, three times, and then the end of the rod flares to life, like a little supernova here on the midnight beach. Moments later the other end awakens, and then she tosses the rod into the air; two streaks of light rising and falling against the blanket of the sky, humming, the dry roar of consuming flames creating a strange melody.
“Now,” she whispers, and it begins.
We have picked the spot perfectly. The two points of light begin to rotate, looping around her, dancing, flowing in endless arcs, filling the darkness with radiance and resonance. She moves slowly through the shallow tidal pool, back and forward, almost invisible against the backdrop, and all that remains is the flame. My breathing stills.
The shutter opens.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
I wait for three eternal seconds as the play of light moves from the sensor, from my senses, into memory. Then the screen flashes and I smile. There she is, a half-formed figure on an inky background, a halo surrounding her, the water beneath reflecting nothing but fire.
The lens is my window into the world. It is not just a utilitarian recording device: it is memory made visible, memory turned into something more.
Art, come to life.
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By Ray Wallace
The sun beats down on the sandy river bank. The glaring afternoon heat is only tempered by the broken shade of the eucalypts and the cool murmuring river. Above, the gum leaves sweat a mellow mist, filling the air with intoxicating fragrance. A swallow skimming low clips the water and sends a ripple over the surface.
It is holiday time on the banks of the Murray.
It is a time of peace. A time for a boy to bounce pebbles across the placid surface of the river. To lazily watch the ripples spread. It is a time to remember and to forget.
It is a long weekend for ANZAC day.
The commotion erupts inside the annex of the caravan. I scramble through the opening with my father in hot pursuit, swinging his razor strap. A short chase and he gives me a thrashing. While my mother and siblings look on.
I flee into the bush in tears and pause behind a tree trunk to look back and to hear Mum: “Norman, you didn’t have to do that,” my mother objects, as my youngest sister clings to her skirt, “he wasn’t causing any trouble.”
Dad, now unsettled by Mum’s lack of support, grabs his fishing gear and storms off along the bank, to be alone in the silence of the bush. I know from past experience that he will be moody and withdrawn for days.
Safe in the bush, I pick up a stick as I crash along and behead a scotch thistle of its purple crowning glory. Then I smash the stick against a sapling trunk, which bruises, but does not yield. Pieces of the broken stick fly off into the undergrowth, startling a brown snake sunning itself in the warm autumn rays. As it flees, I instinctively flick the remaining piece of stick, which chases the snake—end over end—until the stick hits a solid trunk and rebounds over the snake, which vanishes into a hole at the base. I pick up the remains of the stick and hammer at the top of the snake’s hole in a frenzy of indignation. Why? I haven’t done anything wrong. I may have been a bit tardy in moving, but I have done nothing wrong. Now, with only a stump of my stick left, my frustration calms down.
I pause to lick my hurts while I clean my tear-stained face and wipe my nose with the back of my hand. Then I wipe my hands on my dusty shorts.
It is not smart bush craft to pound through the scrub in bare feet. Picking up another stout stick, I move on quickly, trying not to disturb any ground litter and leave little puffs of bull dust where my feet now softly tread. My progress deep into the scrub is as silent as my heavy breathing allows. Ahead, another brown coils in a clearing, collecting the late sun’s warmth. To avoid its strike range, I judge with precision where to place my foot. I am past as it rises with menace to defend and strike, leaving it to seek the cause of the threat in the disturbed air. I have no desire to kill it. I long ago ceased liking the thrill of arriving in a rush and breaking an unsuspecting back.
Within twenty minutes I am trotting along the bank of the Ana branch of the Murray with its deep pools of water. I loiter briefly, to test my skill with a stone lobbed to the centre of the billabong and to watch the ripple spread; a test to see if it will touch all the banks simultaneously. Then I circle back to the river bank up-stream from the camp site. Approaching with caution, tree trunk by tree trunk, I observe my father settling down to fish. His gear neatly laid-out around him.
This is his favourite fishing spot. He has clambered out onto a fallen tree trunk. A place where he can surround himself with the silence of the bush. The river in autumn is low and most of the river snags lie exposed, giving access to the deep holes in the middle. He settles down, leaning back against an upright branch. He rests the fishing rod along the trunk and tensions the line on a strainer. Hands now free, he pulls out his tin of Log Cabin and Tally-Ho papers from his pocket and begins rolling a cigarette.
A fish breaks the surface and the ripples spread until the river is flat again.
I lean against the massive old gum and my thoughts reach out. Out of my body, my being is free to engage in a world we do not feel. What made my father explode on occasions like he did? I feel detached, as if my body is left clinging like a dried cicada shell onto the bark of the tree trunk. Like a dream, I feel my free self mingle with his thoughts, his senses, as he withdraws into himself.
It was coming up to ANZAC day and he did not respond to the drinking comradeship of his work mates. He did stop at the pub and join the school with some of the blokes, but a couple of drinks stirred up memories that he wanted to bury and he slipped out early. His thoughts turned to his small blue case which housed his treasured knick-knacks, cuttings and letters of past friends that now invaded his envelope of solitude.
From Mrs K. Waters
Auntie May happened to have this piece of paper.
~ ~ ~
Spotlight on Sport
REALISES AMBITION, THEN KILLED
Twenty-nine-year-old Fremantle cricketer and footballer Billy Roach realised his greatest ambition only ten days before he crashed to death in the sea after leaving England in a Beaufighter on his second operational flight.
When he called to say goodbye to President W. F. Samson of Fremantle Cricket Club before going overseas Roach said, “My greatest ambition is to play at Lords; do you think I will get a game?” As he walked out Samson said, “You are a certainty,
On May 29 this year (1943) Roach opened the innings for Australia v. England at Lords. He was bowled by Grubby Allen after making seven …’
~ ~ ~
He tugged at the fishing line, wound it in, re-baited and cast it into the hole alongside the tree trunk. He puffed on his cigarette as his thoughts continued to wander.
Along with his mate they stopped at the pub for a couple of drinks. He cannot remember who suggested enlisting, but they walked down the street and together they signed up for the air force.
Medical checks, intelligence quizzes, basic aircrew training and then some were posted to their units: Roach to Coastal Command, Southern England. Dad’s next posting was to navigator and wireless operator training for another eighteen months.
Training had been good. It was a real buzz to be in the air flying around eastern Australia, in the slow old Ansons. And there was glamour in the uniform on the ground. Stationed at Ballarat was great with the Saturday trips to the Flemington races. The nights were parties at Mary’s, fuelled by drink and high spirits, which were loud and riotous. The local girls were great fun, when they let their hair down.
Then came the Vultee Vengeance dive bombers. Sitting back-to-back to the pilot and falling out of the sky stressed every muscle in his body. The casualties mounted, as pilots made errors and machines failed in the steep dives. On the ground there was now a brittle edge to the camaraderie of the aircrews.
From K. J. Grace
I received your letter about a week ago and I’ve been going to answer every night, but …
I can quite understand the way you would feel after Stan’s death and I was the same way for about a week. I just couldn’t seem to believe that he had been killed. I happened to be flying at the same time as him and when we landed, I asked if Stan was down. Then some one told me they had crashed. It appears they pulled out of a dive too low and they cleaned up about a half a mile of trees.
Every one of the boys were [sic] pretty cut up about it, still accidents will happen. We all went to their funeral and it was a pretty sad affair. I drowned my sorrows in drink for about a week. Still Stan will be forever a main part in my thoughts. On the Saturday night before he went in, I was paralitic [sic] and he was O. K. He took me home and put me to bed, so I owe him a debt, which can never be paid …
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