FIRST 2014

An anthology of creative work by students at the University of Canberra

FIRST has come of age.

Pulse is FIRST’s twenty-first anthology; within these pages are subtle rhythms and sharp contrasts.







Each story is a ripple, a brief surge of energy that combined forms a single, brilliant pulse.

Go on: put your finger on the pulse.




Easiest Job In The World Alex Henderson

Emily Kieran Lindsay

on the beach Owen Bullock

Not A Toy Ashley John

Gordon Gulliver's Tavern Tales Brendan Hawes

The Archeological Dig Madonna Quixley

The Noose Rachael Vella

Night Walk Katherine McKerrow

Run Clare Brunsdon

Only Silence Leads To Salvation Niki van Buuren

Black and White Clare Brunsdon

As Early As Kindie Cat Cotsell

The Bringer Christopher Olalere

Ode To Murakami Gloria Sebestyen

Neon Snow Andrew Myers

Sunday Afternoon Madonna Quixley

A Fancy Feast Nathan Smale

A Unicorn and an Ophiotaurus Lee Mills

Nuts Cameron Steer

How Not To Write Nick Fuller

Love Song Katherine McKerrow

Memories of Chacas Tim Ginty

Canberra Marjorie Morrissey

Mellow Yellow Niki van Buuren

What's Inside? Catherine Lampe

Death's Apprentice Kaitlyn Wilson

Biographical Notes


First there were seven post-graduate editing students in search of a lecture theatre. Then along came a lecturer. She produced a tight schedule for FIRST, the University of Canberra’s annual anthology of creative work by writing and editing students. An Editorial Committee was formed. Posters were designed and displayed. Facebook was ignited. Voluntary submissions were sought. Pitches were presented to creative writing students. Sponsors were shadowed. The final date for submissions arrived and they were copied. Each member of the Editorial Committee read every word of every one. Weekend meetings appeared in our diaries. Coffee and brownies emerged at our meetings. Lively discussions around ‘what we were looking for’ ensued. A final list was produced from the marathon selection process. Authors were contacted. In association with the writers, editing of the twenty-six selected pieces was completed. Design students joined the writing and editing collaboration. FIRST 2014: Pulse was printed and launched.

This twenty-one item ‘to do’ list gave birth to FIRST 2014: Pulse, the anthology’s twenty-first issue.

Seven individual students emerged as the Editorial Committee which was particularly struck by the energy of the writing. Words like heartbeat, drum, burst, blast, spurt, erupt, surge, vibrate and beat arose in our discussions about finding the right title. We settled on Pulse because a pulse is a sign of life and the pieces selected for publication had plenty of that—a series of pulses which when unified became a single bright pulse of light.

It is fitting then that Pulse is a ‘coming of age’ edition. One of the markers of the journey from child to adult is the capacity to see beyond the individual and combine with others. The writers in Pulse have united with other writers; the editors on the committee have united with each other and with individual writers; and the design students have united it all to produce this beautiful whole.

We hope you will feel the pulse.

Marjorie Morrissey on behalf of the 2014 Editorial Committee

Back to top


The first time I had my writing published in a proper book was in an edition of FIRST. It was a long, long, long time ago: the first iPod had just been released, there were only five channels to choose from on the telly, and hipsters didn’t have a name yet. It was an essay I’d written as part of an assignment called Why I Write. When I ask that question of myself now, I believe I write to learn: about myself, about how people are, about how people will be. Most importantly, I think: I write to learn to write.

I was a bit of a dork about the whole thing, and bought three copies of FIRST that year: one for me, one for my mum, one for my dad. When I was alone in the quiet of my room on campus at UC, I stared at my name on those clean, white pages. I read my arrangement of words over and over. I had put those words in that order, and now my name was attached to them, and they were in a book that someone else had made. It was pretty thrilling.

A couple of years later, I was on the editorial committee of FIRST. We read all the pieces ‘blind’ and when my story was up for discussion, we talked frankly about it. Most weren’t aware I was its author. Some loved it, some were indifferent, one person in particular thought it was terrible. I sunk further and further into my chair, wishing for a fire drill, an earthquake, some kind of Planet of the Apes style takeover–anything that would take me far, far away from this moment. It was the first time someone had said they didn’t like my writing, using matter-of-fact language and without sensitivity. It wasn’t their fault–they didn’t know. When I recovered (probably after a few lofty threats to never write again), I realised that if I wanted to be better, I needed to be okay with this. I needed to be greedy for criticism. I needed to work out how to present my writing to the world and be able to say: the work is not me.

Now, in this anthology, I’m introducing a bunch of writers who I feel so close to even though I’ve never met them, because we’ve all written and rewritten and hoped and worked and talked and listened and despaired and wondered. We’ve all felt the pain of writing and the thrill of it, in equal measure. We’re all still learning to become better writers, and will always be learning in this way, even when we’ve published three hundred novels, even when we’re putting our false teeth into glasses of water overnight, even when we all win every literary prize on this earth. So long as we’re alive, with that pulse running through our bodies, surely, we’ll be learning to become better writers.

And Pulse is surely a fitting title for this wonderful constellation of new writing, as it’s so revealing of those big and small moments that pull us out of the everyday and remind us that we’re alive: when you’re told you have cancer, when you’re at the mercy of a local storyteller in a bar, when you’re on a walk in the grey of night, when you’re standing on top of a mountain. These writers give us close-ups of Sunday afternoons, bedrooms, birds at dawn, Facebook posts, the vulnerable position of love, the inner workings of poetry. There’s a gentle moment between a dog and its owner, and a dark moment between a mother and son. A couple argues about worm farms, another argues in front of their child, another about cat food. These stories and poems happen in the future, in a place where music is banned, in the kitchen drain of a TV show host. They philosophise about squirrels, death, (over)writing. Satan draws a red giraffe. Murakami is worshipped. A father gives a heartfelt pledge to his gay son. There’s magic, humour, hope, fear, colour, variety, simplicity and complexity in this, Pulse: FIRST 2014. I hope you learn something from it.

Brooke Davis

Back to top

Easiest Job in the World

Alex Henderson

‘Get into Energy,’ they told me. ‘It’s the easiest job in the world!’

I remember it pretty well, those grinning people from the government who came down to school and talked to us about careers in Energy. We thought it was great because it meant we got out of that afternoon’s lesson. And it was great, because what they said turned out to be true.

I know why they came down to talk to us, too. I figured it out as I got older. We were one of the schools on the lower tiers, almost right near the bottom—‘down with the old bones,’ my Nan used to say, because she can remember when she was little they were still putting the dead people in the ground. Anyway, the kids that live in the low tiers don’t usually grow up to be scientists and doctors and engineers, if you get my drift. That’s why they came and told us to get into Energy. They don’t want to go back to how it was in the old days where there were people all over the place who just literally didn’t have houses because nobody would give them any money to buy one because they couldn’t get a job. But anyone can work in Energy, they told us. There’ll always be room for good workers.

And sure thing, most of the kids I went to school with haven’t become scientists and doctors and engineers. One of my old mates owns a pizza shop on Fifth Tier, which is pretty neat, but out of my group of old friends I get to be the proudest. I have an apartment all the way up on Tenth, with a view of the gardens in the tier hub, and the easiest job in the world.

Every morning I walk out of my swish little flat and onto the landing, and I breathe in the fresh air and take in the view. The air is very fresh up here; I know because in all the ads telling you to spend your money on nice houses in the upper tiers, they talk about how they’ve purified it before they pump it through the vents. My neighbours are all very nice, very classy Tier Ten folks. A few doors down from me is a guy who works in one of the restaurants up on Eleventh, one of the ones that serves real meat. He said he’d get me a discount there if I ever wanted to go—how great is that? Sometimes when I walk along the catwalks, nodding to my neighbours, I wonder what it’s like up on Tier Thirteen where they actually have fresh fresh air, as in, straight from the sky, or wherever it is that air comes from. I’d never really thought about it much until I moved up.

I keep walking and see one of the electric billboards flicker and the picture changes to one of the Energy Department ads I know so well. The people grinning on the screen don’t look like anyone I know who works in Energy, but I smile to myself when the words fly across the board—Want to help your city your way? Join us in Energy!—because I already have.

On the monorail I flick through my morning download. There’s another article about anti-Energy Department protests. I don’t quite get these people who paint big paper signs and shout at the gates of the Department Headquarters or the workshops or government buildings or whatever. They say it’s dangerous. But the people who came to our school told us that in the old days we got light and transport and other stuff from burning black rocks and oil which people had to dig for, and people died when the ceiling fell in or they got sick from breathing in rock stuff and they fought wars over them and everything, and on top of it all the sky was polluted and people were scared the world was going to end or we were going to run out of sky or something. I wasn’t that good in history class. I just know these important bits because I like to know stuff about why Energy workers are so important. Which they are. They told us this a lot at the school meetings.

The monorail stops and I get off and head to my workshop. I say hello to some of the people who work with me. I sort of get to know some of them but we don’t get to talk that much. We have lunch hour, but we’re usually too tired to chat.

I know a few things about Gary, the guy I sit next to, because he always has a funny story to tell in the mornings before we start work. He’s got three little kids who are always doing things that end up in these joke-stories. I don’t have any kids. I’m not even married, though maybe I’d like to be. But I saw an interview on the community screens once about how people with partners in Energy were leaving them because they got fed up with the way the job made them. I think that’s a dumb reason to leave someone. I guess if they don’t see it from the inside they don’t get what it’s like to work in Energy, and how good it is to help the city.

Today Gary has a story about his youngest kid eating the tinned food that’s meant to be for their type 2 feline house pet. It’s funny, but I find myself shifting in my seat. I want to start work. I don’t like sitting around doing nothing. All right, I do a lot of sitting around in this job, but it’s important sitting around. I sit here, and people get their heaters to work, and their lights to come on at night, and can cook their dinners and put the leftovers in the fridge.

It feels good, helping out my city like this.

The clock ticks over and the nice woman’s voice, the same one we hear every day, tells us to attach ourselves into the system.

I stick the little pads to my arms and my temples and my chest, tucking them inside my shirt right over my heart, which has started to go pretty fast. I always get excited before work starts, like when I was a kid the night before my birthday, or Christmas, or Radiation Day when they used to have parties in the street.

The bell goes off, and I settle into my seat.

The buzz begins. I can feel it through all of my muscles, down my spine, behind my eyes, fizzing on my tongue and shooting through my stomach. It feels so good.

I’m getting tired already, but it’s worth it. I’ve just got to keep coming back every day because it feels this good. It really is the best and easiest job in the world.

Back to top


Kieran Lindsay

Being told you have cancer is the easy part. The doctor spells it out very clearly, very clinically. All the facts are laid out. The hard part is telling everyone else.

Mum and Dad reacted badly. Mum let out a weird sob and hugged me way too hard, and Dad went a peculiar shade of white and started washing dishes. I own a dishwasher. My little sisters both descended into hysterics, Sarah wringing her hands and Elle crying and joking at the same time. I was forced to comfort everyone. My friends were much the same.

Emily was different. When I told her, I got a punch on the arm and a glass of scotch. ‘We’re going to beat this evil weasel motherfucker,’ she grinned, and then we got wrecked on expensive whiskey.

Emily was upbeat on the day I started chemo. She came to pick me up after my first treatment, proudly sporting a freshly shaven head. I laughed for a full minute, I think for the first time since leaving that doctor’s office.

Emily would come to visit me at home, when I was stuck in bed and constantly spewing. She didn’t bring soup or grapes or romcoms like the others. She would rock up and play her music ear-blastingly loud while eating my care packages. She told filthy stories and played video games at the foot of my bed, and told me how sick I looked.

On my birthday, Emily kidnapped me (not a particularly difficult task, I resembled a day-old kitten) and took me camping in some stretch of bushland. We got very, very high on some truly excellent brownies, and shot guns at birds. I never found out exactly where that was. I’ll never find out now.

The chemo didn’t take (apparently I was vomiting myself to death for nothing) and the next step was surgery. It was risky, but apparently it was my only option. Fuck cancer, right?

Mum (weeping) and Dad (uber tense) picked me up from Emily’s on the morning of my surgery. As I left she kissed me full on the mouth before grinning and slamming the door in my face. Mum looked shocked. I laughed. I was still smiling as the anaesthesia kicked in.

Emily died while I was under. Car crash. I guess she was blowing off some steam and took a corner too fast. It happens. Turns out she left all of her shit to me, and all her money to the Cancer Council. Seems out of character. I was expecting some grand prank.

I’m fine now. Clean bill of health. Mum and Dad are happy, my life is back to normal. I’ve never been more miserable.

Back to top

on the beach

Owen Bullock


drops stick

sniffs fish carcass

picks up


till master appears


stick into the surf

dog leaps waves

like a young rabbit

over stones in a field

collects, returns

master pauses

like a scrumhalf

behind a ruck

teasing the opposition


studies him

Back to top

Not a Toy

Ashley John

‘We can’t afford another one of your toys,’ said Sarah.

‘It’s not a toy,’ said Ben as he eased the box onto the kitchen bench. ‘It’s a worm farm. And anyway, it’ll pay for itself.’

‘Really?’ said Sarah, moving the box to the table. ‘Like the socket set, the angle grinder, the welder and the 90-piece drill kit? You haven’t used any of them.’

‘They’re investments.’

‘Anyway, how does a worm farm ‘pay for itself’?’

‘It turns organic waste into compost. Food scraps and stuff. We can start using it straight away.’

‘And how much did it cost?’

‘Only ninety bucks. Plus worms.’

She felt she had him now. ‘Plus worms. And how much did they cost?’

‘Only fifty bucks, but that’s for a thousand. And you can’t have a worm farm without worms.’

‘Fifty dollars for some worms! You can dig them up for free.’

‘These are special worms,’ said Ben. ‘You can’t use ordinary earthworms in a worm farm. They only eat soil. These worms are from the rainforest. They live in leaf litter. They eat all sorts of stuff. Anything organic. And the guy at the store did me a deal. Said these ones are extra tough. Extra hungry, too. Special batch from a mate of his, works in the industry.’

‘What ‘industry’?’ asked Sarah. ‘The worm industry?’

‘Look, he just said they were extra good eaters. And they breed up in no time. Sells them as fish bait. In a few months we can start selling them ourselves. Think of that. Fifty bucks a go, just on our scraps. I’m telling you, a worm farm pays for itself.’

She let it go. He’d bought it now, it was no good trying to get him to take it back.

Ben started opening the box and pulling out black plastic trays and bits and pieces.

‘At least do that outside,’ said Sarah. ‘I don’t want that muck in here.’

‘They’re very clean,’ said Ben. ‘And they can’t be outside, it’s too cold.’

‘Too cold! You said they were extra tough? Even Jessie doesn’t get to sleep inside.’

Hearing her name, Jessie looked up and wagged her tail.

‘They are tough. But they’re used to the rainforest. The frost would kill them. Jessie’s got fur, and plenty of blankets in her kennel.’

‘Well, they can’t stay in here. Put them in the garage.’

‘We want them handy so it’s easy to feed them. I’ll put them on the back veranda. Beside the kennel. The north-facing wall will keep them warm.’

Ben started gathering up the pieces and Sarah grabbed the car keys.

‘I’m going to the market to get some things for dinner.’ She left him to his ‘investment’.

As Sarah stirred the minestrone that evening, she started to concede that this time Ben might be right. He had taken away all her vegetable scraps, which normally filled the kitchen bin. The worms’ first feed.

He’s gone gaga over those worms, she thought. But the kit had come together neatly enough, and the black box now stood discreetly at the end of the verandah. She had to admit she was not averse to having some green cred with her girlfriends. The box had a spout at the bottom with a small bucket underneath, which Ben said was for collecting the liquid it would produce.

‘Great for the garden,’ he’d added. ‘It’s like a tonic. Bigger lettuces, sweeter tomatoes, all from our waste.’

‘But won’t the worms fall out?’

‘They’ll be fine. They’ll stay near the top, where the food is.’

What surprised her most was the behaviour it had brought out in Ben. He’d vacuumed the whole house, swept up the dog hair from the sofa and the biscuit crumbs in her study, and emptied it all into the worm farm.

‘They’ll eat anything organic,’ he assured her. ‘Paper, fluff, hair, dead flies, the cardboard box the farm came in.’

He’d even emptied the grounds from the coffee pot, which he never did.

So if they didn’t end up selling for fifty dollars a batch, thought Sarah, perhaps it was still worth the ‘investment’ if it made Ben tidy up.

Next morning Ben brought her a cup of tea in bed.

‘Sorry, no coffee. We’re out.’

‘But I got some yesterday. Don’t tell me I left it at the register.’

‘Wonderful, your precious organic coffee that costs twice—’

‘Don’t start that again, Mr We-needed-a-welding-torch. I can pick it up when I’m there next. I’m sure Maureen will have kept it.’

‘No, I’ll get it. I’ve got to take Jessie to the vet.’

‘What for this time? She hasn’t cut her nose again, chasing the rats from next door? I knew those chickens would bring rats.’

‘The fur’s gone patchy on her back. Probably just rubbing with fleas, but better get her checked to be safe.’

‘More likely she’s been gnawing herself again. You know we can’t afford more counselling for that dog.’

‘Jessie doesn’t need counselling. She’s a very laid-back dog. There’s only one stresshead around here.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘Nothing. Just relax, okay? I’ll deal with it. And I’ll get the coffee after.’

‘So what’s the verdict?’ Sarah asked when Ben returned.

‘Just some fur loss, that’s all. Some sort of insect. I need to spray her kennel, and there’s a cream to rub on twice a day.’

‘Did you pick up the coffee?’

‘I dropped in on the way back. Maureen was sure you took it with you. Anyway, I bought some more.’’

‘Fantastic. So now we’ve paid for two lots.’

‘Well, we needed some, and I couldn’t find the first one.’

‘What are you accusing me of now? That I lost it? That I’m some stress head that can’t keep track of things?’

Ben sighed. ‘I hate it when you get like this. Always the same. Whatever I do I always come off as the bad guy. I can’t so much as close a window…’

‘Don’t start that again. Fresh air’s good for you!’ Sarah stormed out, slamming the door.

That night, as Sarah sat in the bathroom, she was still angry. She was angry because Ben was right. But that didn’t prove PMT. That just proved he could follow a calendar.

She wrapped the pad and placed it in the empty bin. Ben had already cleaned it out—the cotton balls, nail clippings, hair from her brush. She could imagine his smug little catch cry ‘all good, all organic’. This obsession of his was getting out of hand.

She made her way to the bedroom and saw he’d shut the window again. She slid it partway open, breathing in the fresh night air.

Getting into bed, she lay on her side, facing away from the door. She heard Ben locking up and switching off the lights. When he got into bed he lightly touched her shoulder, but she shrugged him off and rolled over further, pulling up the blanket.

When Sarah woke, she could hear Ben already in the shower.

Her head felt cool against the pillow. She reached up to pull back the sheet and recoiled. Her hands! She stared at them. The nails were gone. No blood, just strange, shapeless pink flesh at the ends of her fingers.

She reached to her head and that’s when she screamed.

Ben rushed in, naked, dripping wet.

He froze at the sight of her shiny bald head. ‘What happened?’

Sarah looked at the pillow. It was clean.

She jumped up. Pushing past Ben, she ran to the bathroom.

The bin was empty. ‘What have you done with it?’ she cried. ‘Where is it?’

But she knew the answer.

Back to top

Gordon Gulliver’s Tavern Tales

Brendan Hawes

Hiya, you’re Terri Shellingham’s boy, right? I know your Mum from a while back. First time in the pub? Well pull up a seat, let me buy you a pint. You like the football? Course you do! What’s not to like. Game’s pretty ordinary today, but we’ve had worse.

There was this one match day, Corningthwaite Town versus Crew Alexandria. It was a fair while back, ’68 I think. We had Bobby Johnson upfront, great fucking player, local boy. The lads were all here. The beer was flowing and we were all in our football jerseys of course, our great orange and white. The place was packed. I reckon your Mum might even’ve been there. Back then strangers were scorned upon. Everyone knew everyone. If you weren’t from town, you weren’t welcome.

So these two chaps entered, pinstripe suits and all. Bowler hats and suitcases—bit of a shock to the regulars. You can imagine the looks they received as they made their way to the bar. Ordered a gin and tonic and an alize and lemonade. Not appropriate drinks. Now, if the local lads weren’t insulted enough as it was, one of the gents had the nerve to ask, ‘Who’s playing?’

Fuck me.

Who were these jokers? They barged in suited up like clowns, ordered piss girly drinks and had the bleedin impudence to ask who was playing. Absolute muppets! What followed was a barrage of stupidity. In a sea of orange and white, the other knobhead wondered if we were the blue team. No. Then Crewe went up one nil early on. The place was dead quiet and in a small state of despair. Then knobhead pipes up to his mate, ‘That was a good goal.’ The other one agreed, and all eyes turned on them, again. Utterly clueless.

Then they asked who Bobby Johnson was, and if he was so good, how come he missed his chance. Could they have a martini, they said. We didn’t make martinis, how come? How was that offside, what is offside, what’s the manager’s name? Are the orange team normally better than this? Gee, that was another good goal.

The match was a drubbing. Six nil. Bad enough, it was made far worse by those twats. Harry is the town’s handyman, a giant with trunks for arms but he’s usually a quiet, shy guy. He was closest to those two the whole match. But even a gentleman like him can only handle so much. The referee blew the final whistle, the first of them said what a good game of soccer it was, better luck next time. Harry turned around, clocked him square in the nose. He crumpled to the floor. The other knobhead looked up, Harry’s big mitt of a hand grabbed his head, nearly lifted him off the ground, and tossed him out of the door onto the pavement. His mate scurried after him. Paul the butcher chucked their hats and suitcases onto the street, barking ‘Its fucking football’, and off they went, bleeding nose and all.

This pub has seen plenty of dramas in its time, let me tell you. I remember the bar owner’s son trying his hardest with a lass from town. It’s a more than cheeky tale if you catch my drift. A few years back now, it was mid-summer, a typically dryish season for the pub since hardly any football graces the idiot box. It’s mostly cricket or the odd fight night. Anyway, the lad was a tad under age, but hey, he was only short a few months and his Pop owned the bleedin thing. So who’s to stop him from having a good time?

Right, so he’d had a few pints with his girlfriend and it didn’t take long for them to head upstairs. They obviously got a bit randy. But it seems as though the young lad may have pushed too hard, no pun intended. Cause pretty soon after they went up, she came hurtling down. Screaming profanities as she dressed herself and bundled all her womanly goodies back into her jacket. She bolted out the door and shot up the street. By this time the boy was down at the bar, rosy cheeked and all. Clear embarrassment.

I called the lad over. As an almost surrogate father to him, I felt the need to offer some timely and helpful advice on women and relationships. He was clearly a tad upset that things didn’t go exactly to hand, or the way he might’ve foreseen it. But that’s life. So I told him, ‘Son, you can’t go beating yourself up about women or failed attempts for relations with a woman. Simply put lad, they got minds of their own. Here’s a fact for you: a woman makes up her mind whether or not she’ll sleep with a man within the first eight seconds of meeting him. It’s some subconscious thing or whatever. Point is, in my experience, there are only three reasons a girl might do the rumpy pumpy with you:

1. Because you’re a nice guy, and you know how to talk to a girl, to be polite and a gentleman.

2. Because you’re good-looking. Doesn’t matter how much of an arsehole you are, if they like the way you look, you’re in.

3. Simply put, they have no standards, and all they want is your cock.’

I like to think the young chap learnt a valuable lesson that night, and has since prospered in his search for conquest.

That wasn’t our only underage mishap though. Sure you sometimes get the young lads coming in from the around the village, but we just turf them out. Blimey, we had a strange one though. This Mexican-looking kid, would’ve only been about twelve, fourteen at the most. Now, I don’t know too much about foreign places, so for all I know it could be perfectly normal for the boy to rock up to a bar back home. Anyway, he sat down at a stool casual as you like, didn’t say a word to anybody. He imitated the motion for drinking a beer to the waitress. She bluntly refused him and walked off. The boy stayed there, picking away at the brackish nuts. Eventually the publican, Bruce, came up to the young fellow. Said to him that he couldn’t be there without an adult and could he please leave.

The boy didn’t move.

The barman said it again, louder and slower. Hoping that he’d get the message. He did not.

Bruce incorporated some actions and hand movements himself. Finally he said, ‘Sod it,’ and went out the back. Couple of minutes passed and he returned with a great big shotgun. He pointed the barrel at the boy and said to him, ‘Right, you got three seconds to pick yourself up, pump one leg after the other, hightail it out of my bar and make your face scarce, or I pull this trigger and blow a hole the size of London’s Eye in your fuckin forehead.’

Now, I’m not gonna lie, that was harsh. Actually, it was way over-the-top—Mary-Poppins-flying-the-Cliffs-of-Dover over-the-top. But, needless to say, it worked. That kid bolted right out the door.

We get a few internationals coming in every now and again. Once we had an Australian, clichéd good looks—tanned, blonde hair, blue eyes. One of them real surfer types. Lots of Irish, Welsh, Scots, Yanks, even a Lebanese once. Then there was the time a Rabbi and a Priest walked into the bar…nah, I’m just joking.

Well lad, I’ve told you a few stories about the place—maybe you’ll add a few of your own over time? Now, I believe it’s your round. A pint of the black will do.


Back to top

The Archeological Dig

Madonna Quixley

Called ‘my side of the bedroom’,

it bears imprints of

geological and metaphorical

layers; not necessarily

related to years, or epochs.

Books, almost categorised,

files, letters, pretty pieces of

paper that wrapped

gifts, now unclothed,

lie strewn throughout the sediment.

There are attempts at organisation

amongst the dust.

Photos, layered on bookshelves—

me with short hair, long hair, longer hair,

babies, children, adolescents.

Friends’ art cards, all sorts

of representations—

a big red ball to help me bounce back

after I had my gall bladder removed,

a dancing green Valentine-frog,

yellow teddy of my stillborn child,

pictures of our wild

sky-diving plunge—me and son no. 2.

A desk overwhelmed with precious

stuff that defies unloading—

Cambodian cloth, Hawaiian lei,

crystal angel; pray

for me that I will excavate further.

I find carpet in one spot.

See, I have a floor!

The kids come in,

witness my work,

deposit more artifacts.

I begin again.

Back to top

The Noose

Rachael Vella

He stood still, waiting for his pupils to adjust to the darkness. He could just make out chipped furniture, shabby, faded curtains, and finally the bed pushed up against the other side of the room.

He took cautious steps towards the bed. His hands twitched as he saw her underneath the covers, sleeping.

She was a fleshy bag of crackling bones, fraying white hairs and varicose veins. Her breath wheezed through her nostrils and cracked mouth. The sound was foul, and the stench of her was not much better.

He carefully sat himself on the edge of the bed. His anxious hand reached out and found her neck. The flesh was rough beneath his fingertips, but he found himself stroking it.

He remembered the first time he had thoughts about killing her.

He was ten, drawing his ‘family’ with oily crayons on yellowing paper. A crayoned noose around her neck, and the thin, grey, crayoned line of rope between his stick figure hands. He wasn’t repulsed by the picture, nor by the thoughts behind it.

Thinking about it he buried his nails into her flesh. His hand was the noose, his arm the rope, and his mind the hands that held on to it. He suppressed an urge to tighten his grip on her neck even further. He wanted to savour this moment a little longer.

When her eyes rolled open he nearly flinched away from her. Her gaze found his immediately. She wheezed out a puff of air.

‘Are you finally going to do it?’

His chest tightened. ‘Mother.’

He felt her neck muscles tense as the word left his lips. Her eyes rolled away from him to the ceiling. She opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came. His gaze fell back to the hand around her neck. He could kill her now. She was completely defenceless. All he had to do was tighten his grip on the right points. It wouldn’t be difficult.

Against his will, his fingers loosened. He thought he saw a brief, bitter smile flicker across her lips.

Familiar anger boiled up. He remembered being pinned against the wall as a boy by two hands. Her hands. Countless times. He ground his teeth together and tightened his hold.

‘Come on, you piece of shit,’ she snarled. ‘Get it over with.’

He swallowed, feeling a chill run through his body as he moved the hand further up her neck. No longer was he the predator and she the prey. He slowly withdrew his hand.

She sneered at him as he turned to leave. ‘Fucking coward.’

He stopped in the doorway. Turning back to her, he held everything in. ‘I only care about your wellbeing, Mother,’ he said.

As he left, his fingers itched with the impression of her skin.

Back to top

Night Walk

Katherine McKerrow

We have banished darkness

almost entirely from our world

and so this night is not black

but grey, cloud-shrouded

warm and specked with rain.

The scents are stronger

than daylight allows; the reeds

are thick and marshy

against the clinical eucalypt, and I need

not tell you of the smell of rain on hot pavement.

Smeared across the unrippling lake

lies orange streetlight

graced with sparks of green

and blue; the houses still wear

their LED garlands for Christmas.

Restless waterbirds splash

and squabble with the rainsong,

clustered on the water, their white heads

oddly luminescent in reflected light,

that ignores their darker feathers.

The traffic is distant, a susurrus

not unwelcome, almost as steady

as the shrilling cicadas, the frogs’ commentary

and the graceless squeaking

of my feet in plastic shoes.

The path is polished

in the rain sheen, a mirror

of curving branches against the sky,

trembling slightly

or dissolving around my steps.

The world

holds me gently at its centre

for a precious hour, boundless

wet, quiet, true

before I return

to the limits of a small and yellow space.

Back to top


Clare Brunsdon

Ella was dreaming of digging up worms in the garden. She didn’t hear the click of the lock or the creak of the back door as it swung open in the wind. She slept through the groan of the floorboard on the fifth step and was oblivious to the whispers that passed her bedroom door.

She didn’t wake until she heard the sound of her father’s voice. It was still dark in the room.

‘Sweetie, wake up. We have to go. Mummy’s packing your things.’

He smiled weakly at her, his eyes drooping. Slowly he lifted his still drowsy daughter from her bed. He dressed her in a warm jumper and track pants and her favourite shoes.

Ella’s mother came in carrying a small pink backpack, full to the brim. ‘Here’s those things, Shaun. Hurry up.’

She handed it to her husband and took Ella from his arms. Swiftly they made their way downstairs. Iggy lifted his head lazily from his basket as they passed. Ella’s father unlocked the front door quietly and they crept across the yard to the car. The rumble of the engine seemed too loud in the still twilight as they pulled out and drove away.

The sun rose over the city. Light filtered through the curtains of Ella’s bedroom, falling softly onto an empty bed and an empty wardrobe. Meanwhile the previous inhabitant slept quietly in the back of a car a hundred kilometres away. Her small hands lay limply in her lap. Her pink ballet shoes shone with glitter and her matching backpack sat on the seat next to her. In front, her parents bickered quietly.

‘I told you not to do it. You never fucking listen.’

‘Karen, you know I had to. I would’ve lost the job.’

Karen pursed her lips and stared straight ahead. ‘I’m so sick of your bloody excuses. We’d have been better off without—’

‘Don’t start with that shit again.’

Karen turned to the window, resting her head on her hand. Her breathing was loud. Shaun switched on the radio. The tinny voices woke Ella and she yawned, stretching her limbs slowly. Her father glanced at the rear-view mirror.

‘Hiya, kid. How was your sleep?’ he said, suddenly cheerful.

Ella smiled sleepily. Karen turned around, grabbed Ella’s backpack and began rifling inside it. She pulled out a pop-bottle of water and a packet of biscuits.

‘Eat these, sweetie. They were all we had.’

‘Thanks Mummy.’ Ella took the bottle and the biscuits and chewed them distractedly. Occasionally her father glanced at her with concern in the rear-view mirror.

Outside the roadhouse it was getting dark. The room was filled with a sickly scent of maple syrup and body odour. Ella fidgeted uncomfortably on a hard plastic chair while her parents murmured to each other unhappily.

‘Wouldn’t bring a dog in here,’ said Karen.

‘You’re just making everything worse.’

They looked angrily away from each other. Karen turned to Ella. ‘Do you know what you want?’

Ella stared at the laminated menu. She tried to find something healthy. That would make her mother happy.

‘Eggs on toast please, Mummy.’

Karen nodded absently.

‘I’ll get them.’ Shaun rose and pulled his wallet from his back pocket.

When he was gone, Ella asked, ‘Where are we going, Mummy?’

‘We have to go somewhere, sweetheart. I don’t know when we’ll come home.’

Ella saw her mother’s lips tremble. She began to pick at the plastic table top despondently until her father returned with the food. He placed the steaming eggs in front of Ella.

‘Those look good,’ her mother said, eyes widening.

Ella looked down at the powdered scrambled eggs and soggy toast. She picked up a plastic fork and began eating slowly.

‘Ella was asking where we’re going, Shaun,’ Karen asked sarcastically.

Ella noticed her father’s jaw clench.

‘Is Iggy going to be there?’

Her father looked at the table.

‘No sweetie. He, erm, he’s going to another home.’

Ella stared miserably at her father. His face seemed more wrinkly than usual.

‘But we’ll get another dog when we get to the new place. Promise.’

Ella wiped her nose and continued eating her bland eggs.

‘So tell Ella more about this new place, Shaun,’ Karen prodded. ‘What’s it like?’

‘It’ll be perfect,’ Shaun replied quickly. ‘It’s a big, new house and the neighbourhood is great.’ His voice trailed off.

‘Better than our big old house that was perfect already?’

Shaun’s eyes narrowed. ‘I’m going outside.’ He rose abruptly and pushed past his wife.

Ella and Karen watched him walk out to the empty carpark. Ella could see the outline of his body against the last of the sunset. He was standing near the car, talking on his mobile.

‘Eat up, sweetie, we need to go soon,’ Karen said softly.

Ella finished the food and went outside with her mother. The night air was cold and she pulled her jacket tight around her face.

‘C’mon Shaun,’ Karen called as she buckled Ella into her seat.

He didn’t move despite his wife’s call. Ella called to him then, but he didn’t seem to hear. Her mother had moved around to the other side of the car and was muttering angrily to herself.

‘Daddy!’ she tried again. ‘Daddy!’

At last he turned, putting his mobile into his coat pocket, and came over looking more relaxed.

‘It should be okay now,’ he said as he opened the car door.

‘Really?’ said Karen. ‘Are you sure?’

‘I’m sure. It’s all sorted.’

Two cars drove slowly into the carpark. Shaun strolled over to meet them. Ella watched her mother biting her fingernails as they tried to make out what the muffled voices were saying.

Without warning, two loud gunshots reverberated in the still night. Twisting in her seat Ella saw her father’s body crumple onto the gravel. Cars screeched away.

Ella shut her eyes tightly, but she couldn’t shut out the sound of her mother screaming.

Back to top

Only Silence Leads to Salvation

Niki van Buuren

Our Modern History class has started a unit on the Silence Revolution. Today we’re watching the old propaganda doco, the one that the government used to make everyone watch in schools and at work when they first banned music. It’s about as interesting as watching paint dry. Even our teacher looks like she’s struggling: she stands at the back of the classroom shifting from one foot to the other. I don’t blame her really—she probably sat through the same doco when she was our age. It looks about fifty years old. Beside me, Hamish stares at the screen intently with a small frown.

On the screen a woman dressed in black walks down a deserted, blackened street and spouts nonsense like ‘Before the Proclamation of Silence, the world was on a collision course with certain annihilation.’ Apparently, this is supposed to mean that music, whatever it is, is the devil and anyone who engages with it is going straight to hell. Or at the very least, a prison cell for a few years. They used to put musicians on trial and everything.

Once, films like this were an important reminder of the consequences of breaching the Silence Act. Now it’s just something we have to get through; a brief reminder of an Act that’s nearly as old as my grandmother. These days we hear the odd rumour about black markets that deal in music items, but nobody takes that seriously. Nobody except my grandmother’s generation cares about music anymore. I stopped caring while I was still in primary school.

I nudge Hamish and whisper, ‘Ugh. And since the Proclamation, the world is on a collision course with certain boredom!’ He continues to stare at the screen and doesn’t give any indication he’s heard me.

The doco ends with the image of an old propaganda poster. It hangs in mid-air on the screen. It’s the only part of the whole thing that makes me crawl inside. I think this is because the first time I saw this poster my Nan scared the pants off me.

‘Nanna, what’s music?’

My curious six-year-old mind knew nothing of my Nan’s experiences at the beginning of the Silence Revolution. She’d taken me on a trip to the museum to give my mum and dad a break. I had spotted an old propaganda poster in a gallery devoted to the early days of the Silence Revolution; the kind of poster that was apparently once plastered on the streets throughout the city centre; torn and faded and printed in red and black and grey. I was suddenly wary of the scary-looking figure, holding some sort of object with strings on it, accompanied by the message:



The slogan contained many words that I didn’t understand, and only two that I did. Silence. Sinner. The latter, because I heard it so often in Church.

I had expected Nanna to give me a knowing smile and tell me not to be worried. I had expected Nanna to laugh and tell me the music thing was just make-believe. I had not expected Nanna to go pale and hustle me out of the Silence gallery.

‘Dellie, you must listen to Nanna carefully. Music is a very, very bad thing. Only very wicked people do music. If you do music the policemen will come and take you away, and you will never see me or Mummy or Daddy again. Do you understand?’

I nodded. I wasn’t a wicked girl and I didn’t want anyone to take me away for doing music, even if I still didn’t know what it was.

Looking back, I think Nan took me there on purpose. Mum and Dad keep telling me not to upset her by mentioning music. We don’t really get Nan’s paranoia about something that nobody’s done for fifty years, but since that day I’ve never liked that poster.

The history class is over. We file out of the classroom into the corridor. I turn to Hamish and give him a playful shove.

‘So, you were pretty interested in that doco, you think the chick on it was hot or something?’

He doesn’t answer and doesn’t look at me; he keeps walking with his head down. I try to ignore the sting of rejection and we walk in silence through the quadrangle. I wish they’d plant some trees around here. This place is too grey.

At the far doors I turn and say goodbye to my oldest friend with a cheerfulness I don’t really feel. He responds with a curt ‘Bye, Adele’ and walks off without looking at me.

How have I upset him? I start picking apart every moment Hamish and I spent together over the past few days, trying to pinpoint the moment where it went wrong. I imagine a future in which my best friend never speaks to me again and it hurts more than anything. By lunchtime I’m convinced that I’m the worst person in the world and I still can’t figure out why.

I briefly toy with the idea of spending lunch hiding in the library, but think better of it. Since the idea of vat-grown beef and canned mashed potatoes doesn’t appeal to me either I skip the cafeteria, but go in search of Hamish instead.

I find him in the upstairs corridors of the History Studies block. He’s sitting slumped against the concrete wall fiddling with something in his hand, directly under a tattered copy of that old Bad Man poster that some history teacher stuck up for display. I can feel the figure glaring suspiciously at me.


I hesitate.

‘Hamish.’ He looks up, then quickly puts his hand over the thing he was playing with so I can’t get a better look.

‘Hamish,’ I try again. This time he pockets the object and looks up at me.


I try to choose my words carefully. ‘Umm, yeah. Is everything okay?’

‘I’m fine.’ His words cut through my shaky calm exterior and hot tears sting the corners of my eyes.

‘Are you sure? You’ve barely spoken to me all day. Have I done something wrong?’

‘No, you haven’t. I’m fine!’

‘So it’s not me?’

He rolls his eyes and suddenly I feel like the silly girl he probably thinks I am. I let go of the breath I have been holding. ‘Ok, well you know where to find me if you need me. Catch ya later.’

He doesn’t reply and I walk away.

After a week of awkward silences I can’t take it anymore and confront Hamish. He has spent every lunchtime in that grey concrete upstairs corridor, under that awful poster, cradling that same unknown object. Something about the way he looks at it makes me uneasy. This time he doesn’t hide it in his pocket, but instead cups it between his palms like it’s unimaginably precious. When he stares up at me, I think I see a certain resignation on his face.

‘Just tell me what’s going on. Whatever it is, I can’t just stand back and watch and I don’t know how to help you. Please, just tell me.’ I look pointedly at the thing he is holding.

In reply, he holds out his hand. In it is a small electronic device. I’ve never seen anything like it before. I sit down next to him to get a closer look.

‘I don’t know that I’m ready to share it with you, but if you hear it you might understand. It’s bullshit, Del.’

‘Huh? What is?’ I’m not sure I want to know.

‘The Act. I don’t get it, why they banned it.’ He trails off with a barely discernible shake of his head.

I pick up the little device and examine it. It’s such an innocuous-looking thing. It’s barely half an inch thick, smooth and metallic and no bigger than the face of my watch. Its shape is square, its face enigmatically blank. The red aluminium casing seems too bright against the dull grey of the corridor and the flat black of my friend’s clothes.

I ask where he got it from and he doesn’t answer.

‘What does it do?’

Hamish pulls a tangle of wires from his pocket. ‘You plug these into the hole in the side and put the buds in your ears. But you’ve gotta be quick, Del, because the battery’s nearly dead. Once it goes, I don’t know where I’ll get another one and I don’t know how I’m gonna deal with that. I had no idea any of them escaped the Purging.’

I nod, a suspicion beginning to form in my head about this little red device. I have a feeling this might be the biggest thing I will do in my life.

‘Aren’t you worried about someone seeing us?’ I cast an involuntary glance at the poster above our heads.

He gives an apathetic shrug. ‘Nobody cares about it anymore. You don’t. Neither did I.’


The Bad Man is looking down at us. Suppressing a shudder I fumble with the wires and put the round ends into my ears. After that I can’t hear a thing except my own heartbeat, unnaturally loud.

Hamish points out a tiny button to push on the side of the device. The screen comes to life, displaying lines of what appear to be titles. I raise an eyebrow at him. He makes a swiping movement in the air with his finger. I mimic the movement on the screen and the words move upward. I scroll through until a ‘LOW BATTERY’ warning flashes. With an unexpected sense of urgency I choose a title at random.

Nothing happens. I look up at Hamish sceptically. He motions at me to be patient. I wait.

Then, a sound begins.

Back to top

Black and White

Clare Brunsdon

Black, white. Black, white. Black, white.

The satisfying click of the chocolate chips soothed me as I dropped them methodically into their respective piles. Black, white. The slow hum of the radiator buzzed in the back of my brain. The cold rose from the cement floor and penetrated my thin suit. Black, white. I looked down, suddenly noticing my horrendously long fingernails.

‘No good. No good at all.’

I leapt up and ran to the metal sink. I pulled out my nail scissors. They glinted seductively in the light that slipped through the bars. Slowly and carefully I trimmed each nail down to a respectable size. Half a millimetre from the tip of the finger. I washed my hands thoroughly in the sink. Oh! But I’d forgotten the choc chips.

Black, white. Black, white. Black, white.

The piles were growing large now. Stray choc chips began to roll mischievously onto the hard ground.


I scraped them back up and organised the piles.

There was a knock at the door. It opened to reveal a six-foot-three man with burgundy hair.

‘Here you go.’

He slid a dinted tray onto the metal table beside me. The scraping sound made me cover my ears.

He grinned. ‘Crazy bugger.’

He chuckled and left, pulling the door shut and locking it. What did he mean?

Black, white. Black, white. Black, white.

Oh no! I noticed them at once. My fingernails were horrendously long. I leapt up to get my nail scissors. Slowly and carefully I trimmed each nail down to a respectable size. Half a millimetre from the tip of the finger. Oh! But I’d forgotten the choc chips.

Black, white. Black, white. Black, white.

Back to top

As Early as Kindie

Cat Cotsell

‘You’re starting a bit early with this one, aren’t you?’ God asked under her breath.

Satan, in a green chequered dress, swung her legs. A wide grin was her only reply.

Between them at the colouring table sat Chloe, who didn’t look up when God leaned in towards her.

‘Can I see?’ God asked sweetly.

Chloe shyly fingered the edge of the paper.’S’not done yet.’

‘I drew a dinosaur,’ Satan said cheerfully, holding up a red and black scribble with teeth. God pulled up the knee of her pink overalls and kicked Satan under the table. Satan shrugged and slipped a clean sheet of paper from the pile, this time selecting a red pastel.

‘Can I join in?’ God asked Chloe.

Keeping her eyes firmly on her picture, Chloe pushed the cheap container towards God and continued colouring.

God sketched out clouds and began colouring the sky in between with broad sweeps of blue pastel. Satan tapped Chloe on the shoulder, and proudly lifted up a drawing of a giraffe that she had just finished.

‘Do you like it?’

Chloe stared for a moment. She tilted her head, then took the picture and turned it sideways.

‘Giraffes are meant to be yellow and brown,’ Chloe said. Her tone was bossy. Satan knew that tone well, and shot God a pointed look. God stuck out her tongue.

I like red better,’ Satan said. ‘And Miss said it’s good to think outside the box.’

‘That’s stupid,’ Chloe said, and went back to her colouring in, positioning her forearm at the top of the page to hide her picture. God looked smugly at Satan, who blew a raspberry and snatched her red giraffe back.

‘Can I see?’ God asked again, leaning in to try and catch a glimpse. Chloe glowered, and bopped God on the nose with a green pen. Satan laughed.

‘It’s not done yet,’ Chloe said.

‘I think you should leave her alone,’ Satan said, immediately forgetting Chloe’s criticism of her picture. God pulled a face and kicked Satan again.

‘I’m going to tell Miss if you keep doing that,’ Chloe said, looking sternly from God to Satan.

‘I didn’t do anything,’ Satan wailed, pulling up her shin to inspect the damage. Her glittery sandal left a burn mark on the plastic chair.

Chloe looked at God. God raised her eyebrows, her shoulders and then her palms, as if to say, What can you do?

‘You two are silly.’ Chloe picked up her unfinished picture before God could get a proper look, pushed back her chair and crossed the room to sit next to Miss.

God glared at Satan. ‘That was your fault.’

Satan said nothing, and winked.

Back to top

The Bringer

Christopher Olalere





Back to top

Ode to Murakami

Gloria Sebestyen

Gulped down cheeseburgers

buzzed thoughts

too much cola

I trapeze through Murakami’s bars, dorms

follow his characters up seven floors

where neon flashes outside windows.

I bop inside the belly of jazz lounges they frequent

down sake like friends in misery

inhale morning miso

chase sheep men into elevators.

I wander through their minds

unstable as a kendama.

And when I’ve leafed

through the temple of his words,

I bow humbly by the feet of the master.

Back to top

Neon Snow

Andrew Myers

What do you mean they called you a faggot? Bastards, the lot of them. There was this story in the paper last week about a young man—barely older than you—who was tortured and left to die. In Wyoming, if I recall correctly. He was gay, too. I can’t believe here we are on the verge of the twenty-first century and this kind of thing is still going on. It’s madness!

I worry for you, son. I really do. Listen, I know you think I don’t have a clue but in the eighties, I, well, I knew people. I watched them go. There was this friend of mine. Terrence Whitfold? Nah, you wouldn’t have heard of him, but he was my best friend. At high school we were inseparable. I was thirteen when we first met. Christ, we got into all sorts of trouble. One afternoon we stole from his mother’s swear jar that she kept on top of the kitchen fridge. She saw us committing the robbery from across the hallway, the pair of us on each other’s shoulders like a circus act. The fear in Terrence’s eyes! I never met his father but Terrence swore he was the devil incarnate; a heavy drinker with a cracker of a temper.

I smoked my first cigarette with Terrence at fourteen, and the only time I was ever arrested was with Terrence, too. Later we both worked at the automotive dealership in the city. He worked in the garage and I was a salesman. We would punch our cards in at eight each morning, punch them out at five and drown our lungs in liquor.

He was a wild child, a real Jim Morrison rockstar type. He was the one who introduced me to your mother, one afternoon after school before a house party we snuck into. He had girls throwing themselves at him, but he never kissed even one of them. I always knew Terrence was a bit, well, curious. He had this very softly spoken voice, as if he was constantly in hiding. At high school there was a rumour that he kissed the art teacher’s son one lunchtime. I never saw it happen so I never believed it. Never asked him about it though.

Terrance told me he was gay one night after work. It was 1982. I didn’t know how to act, what to say. The days of us being wild were over, that was for sure. My best friend was a goddamn homo.

He changed his name to Terry Wilds in ’84. Fuck, only he would come up with that name. It was such a tongue-in-cheek thing to do. And he started dressing like a woman, too. I never really gave up on him but—I’m not gonna lie—it was tough. It was as if he wanted to cause a scene, strutting through the shopping centre, smirking at all the open mouths. Especially, oh shit, get this, there was this one time when your grandad was invited over for dinner and Terry, as he was officially known by then, showed up in full drag—a purple pleated dress, long painted nails and heels as high as stilts. Your grandad referred to Terry as Mrs Wilds all night. Ha! Just before dinner he took me aside to ask me why ‘Mrs Wilds’ had such large hands!

Rumours had been going around the dealership that Terry was transsexual and had embraced this whole ‘feminine’ thing. Then one morning in the March of ’84 I was at my desk when I heard the clicking of high heels followed by raucous laughter. ‘Hey Terrrry!’ one of the mechanics called. I watched as the manager—uh, what was his name? Cliff Rogers, that’s it, a burly man with a moustache, always in a maroon suit—I watched as he eyed off Terry. Now, Terry, he had no uniform, no overalls, no suit. Instead he had on a cocktail dress and permed hair and a smirk. ‘Fuck,’ I said as I stood up from behind my desk and saw Cliff approach Terry. A small circle of employees gathered around like hyenas. ‘You think you can come to work in a fucking dress?’ Cliff snorted. Terry didn’t move, he began to lose his smile. ‘You’re not welcome here until you fix yourself up, fairy.’

Terry’s eyes caught mine as I looked on from behind the safety glass of my office. Terry shook his head at me and left. I stayed where I was, listening to the hisses of ‘Get lost, pansy’ and ‘Fuck off, queen’. I’m not proud of myself for being a coward, son, believe me. I should’ve done something.

It was more than a year before I saw him again. Terry visited me after work. I didn’t want to see his fucking pampered face with his standard blue eye shadow and neon lips. But he looked completely different. His eyes had shrunk up into his skull and he was sickly skinny. I didn’t say a thing. ‘I’m ill,’ was all he said. I invited him inside, hoping this was a quick visit. He smelled of hospital waiting room and bourbon. He fell against the couch, and I caught him as he nearly toppled over my dinner tray. ‘It’s AIDS,’ he said then. I saw the same emotion in his eyes that time we were kids and stole money from the swear jar.

He told me dying was like drowning in quicksand. I swallowed my so called pride then and there. I visited Terry every week while he was getting treatment. I’m telling you now, that AZT shit they gave him was placebo material. You might as well eat sugar and call it a painkiller.

Outside the hospital Terry defied all medical advice and drank himself into a stupor of alcohol. I’d often discover him the next day, barely inside his apartment doorway, bruised from fights he’d gotten into at the bars for being, well, Terry.

The hospital tried to have him admitted because his health was diminishing, and the self-medicating wasn’t helping either. There was this one afternoon that we were standing by the hospital doors. Terry was withered and pale. ‘You should stay here,’ I told him. He pulled his fur-collared coat around his shoulders. ‘Death is for beginners and I’m going pro,’ he said sarcastically and strutted off to his room. I let him go, hoping he would stay the night.

It was bitterly cold the next morning when I went to visit Terry at the hospital. I peered through the curtains around his bed. No Terry. I stuck my head into his bathroom. No Terry. I ran down the emergency staircase towards the smokers’ bay. The echo of my running feet sounded like a marching army.

I found Terry lying face down in the snow, an open packet of Malboro’s by his side and bloodied spit on the snow. I lost my balance and slid down the wall of the building. I noticed a messy set of foot prints leading away from his side. Fucking homophobes jumped him as he had one last cigarette during the night. I gathered myself enough to turn him over. His trademark neon lipstick was smeared across his face.

I know you think I don’t know anything about what you’re going through, son. But I’ve seen the worst. I’ve been there. I don’t want you ending up like Terry, or that boy in Wyoming. I’ve lost before and I’m damned if I’m going to lose you, too. I’m always here for you. Never forget that.

Back to top

Sunday Afternoon

Madonna Quixley

Sunday afternoon, Italo-Australian Social Club Canberra

reminiscent of childhood enforced ‘free’ outings

museums, art galleries, Brisbane Town Hall ABC concerts

classical music and popular renditions

of what-he-wished-he-had-that-he-was-barely-given.

He was not gracious

Git some cultcha into ya—

aggressive educative input.

The gift of music temporarily spoiled by fears

of trouble when we get home.

We were still transported.

Memories redolent of what Dad stood for

recall of alive blue eyes and invitation and expectation

mixed with meanness and mongrel and menace and exploitation

some savageries, converted, survived as simple appreciation

that elongated into restoration

then flattened out into conservation embellished with

the sparky things, the energy that enlivened

when it didn’t electrocute, that valued elocution

when it didn’t shoot you down, lower teeth exposed,

eroding one’s self, causing core-deep doubt.

Dante, recited lovingly—the fifth, seventh and ninth circles of hell.

Back to top

A Fancy Feast

Nathan Smale

The bag dropped onto the bed with a dull clank, the sound of metal on metal. The bedroom light was off, but the red-shaded lamp on her side table was on. She watched him from the head of the bed, her cat on her lap.

‘It’s as hot as you outside.’ Dad said compliments would help.

He took his shirt off slowly and swung it around, winking at her.

She pulled the covers up to her chest.

‘What? You’re still mad?’

She raised an eyebrow before reaching into the bag, bending in such a way that she avoided disturbing the cat. He moved to his side of the bed, trying to hide a smile.

She frowned at the small tin can.

‘You got the wrong one.’

His smile fell.

‘Hey, no, I got you the good ones, these are the best and it’ll save you—’

‘I told you. John West. Spring water.’

‘What’s the difference?’

‘You eat it then.’

‘What? That’s stupid.’

She stared at the cat on her lap, its tail flicking.

‘Do you do this deliberately because you don’t love me?’

‘I—’ he trailed off.

The room went quiet. The covers twitched and she began to sob.

‘Babe, I’m sorry, I’ll make it up to you.’


‘I’ll do anything.’

He reached over and touched her on the shoulder. She pulled away. The cat hissed as it flew off her lap, bolting for the front door. The cat flap jingled in the distance.

‘I knew it,’ she breathed. ‘You don’t.’

She’d caught him out. She rolled over to face him. Her tears were obvious in the red light of the lamp, its glow giving her a sinister appearance that she used to full advantage.

‘Eat it then.’ A smile.

‘Anything but that.’ Surely she was joking.


He started to shake his head.

‘You would eat it if you did.’


‘Eat it or get out. I don’t want you here.’ She rolled over to face away from him again.

He crossed his arms in front of his chest and sat down. He pulled out a can from the bag and stared at it.

‘I’ve got a spoon,’ came her voice from behind. She was half leaning, half sitting up. She nodded at the spoon on the bedside table. How bad could it be? He read the ingredients aloud.

‘Crude protein,’ he said, wincing. ‘Seventeen per cent.’ Her expression hadn’t changed. He mouthed the word crude. She coughed into her hand.

‘Crude fat,’ he continued. ‘A minimum of two per cent.’ Minimum. It could only get worse. He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.

‘Crude fibre. One point five per cent.’ He stopped without taking his eyes off the tin.

‘Moisture? Seventy-eight per cent. What the hell is moisture?’ Was that a burp in his chest?

‘Ash. Maximum three per cent.’ He shook his head. Each object on this gourmet recipe compounded his doubt. Prime fillet pâté. Fillet of what? It was definitely not a burp in his chest.

‘I understand now,’ he said.

‘No you don’t. Spring water tuna. That’s what you were supposed to get.’

He rolled his shoulders, trying to clear some of the tension in his back, or in the room. His stomach clenched as he cracked the can open. He choked a cough.

‘Will you eat it?’

He picked up the spoon and stuck it into the food mound. There was no wobble.

Dad said relationships were built on compromise.

He moved the can around in front of him, sniffing it and realised what an idiot he must look. It definitely didn’t have the attributes of a fine wine, not that he’d know. She watched him. She smiled but it didn’t touch her eyes. He started to say something, then stopped. There was no turning back now.

The spoon came out with a chunk of the pâté and flew into his mouth. Her composure broke, mouth agape.

‘No—’ she breathed.

The taste was unlike anything he’d ever experienced. The slimy gelatine preservative slid across his tongue, the gooey jelly mashing between his teeth and around his gums. He tried to force it down and gagged. This time he didn’t suppress his cough and a globule flew across the room.

‘This isn’t working,’ she said slowly.

He closed his eyes and opened them again.

‘You’re pathetic.’

‘But I—’

‘Just go.’

He sat for a moment.

‘We’re pathetic,’ he said, trying to smile.

‘Go,’ she repeated.

He stumbled out of the room still clutching the can of cat food.

The evening’s air was hot but he had goosebumps. His tongue explored the bits of pâté wedged between his teeth. The cat was waiting for him. He bent down to pet it. It rubbed his hand before sniffing the food he was still holding and with a small hiss it darted away, disappearing out onto the street.

He waited for it to come back. It didn’t.

He walked down the driveway and stopped at her car. The window was lowered from the day’s heat; she must’ve forgotten to put it up again. He half-smiled as he considered emptying the can into her car. She’d never be able to get the smell out.

He put the can on the roof of her car and followed the cat into the night.

Back to top

A Unicorn and an Ophiotaurus

Lee Mills

The mythical beast raised his head and roared. I stood there, looking rather stunned I imagine. It is not every day that a mythical beast rises up from the drain of your kitchen sink and roars at you.

Hmmm, I thought to myself after he had subsided. I walked to the bathroom and peered into the toilet. No luck. I checked the shower and the laundry. No mythical beasts. Shame. That had been interesting.

Perhaps it had just been my imagination. Was I going crazy? No, of course not. I had too firm a grip on reality. I was, after all, a famous television show host and I had sound advice to offer the many folk who wrote in to me or came on my show asking for help.

I wondered why the beast had revealed itself to me. Why had it come to my kitchen? Had it sought me out? Perhaps it had to with my self-appointed role—of mentor and guide to society’s down-trodden. After all, as everyone knows, mythical creatures have secret knowledge. Perhaps my destiny called him forth from the great beyond to help me solve a problem I had yet to encounter.

The very next day, during my show, a man stood and asked for help. He had lost his unicorn and didn’t know the where to find it. ‘Aha!’ I said, instantly realising why I had seen the mythical beast. ‘I actually met someone the other day whom I am sure can help you.’ I arranged to meet the man after the show. His problem was not like those I dealt with daily.

Such dull problems, comparative to the unicorn. It was a beauty.

As we opened the door, I was hoping I had not been too foolish bringing the fellow home in hope the mythical beast would show itself again. But truly, I thought it must be fate. I could not recall even one other occasion when I had been asked to find a unicorn.

At first we were unlucky. We peered down all the drains and failed to find anything unusual. The gentleman from the audience was beginning to lose hope. I could tell by the disbelieving and despairing looks that he began to throw my way. Poor fellow. Playing my part, I patted his wrist and offered him a cup of tea.

As I put the jug on to boil, the mythical creature slithered again from the drain of my kitchen sink. I heard the needy fellow gasp and, turning, saw it. I found it impressive, having a chance to really look at it this time. It had the body of a serpent and the head of a bull, and its ghostly form wavered between its own reality and ours. A splendid example of an ophiotaurus, I was sure. Not that I had seen another.

‘Shhhh!’ I motioned the fellow back behind me. I faced the monster bravely. ‘I have need of your knowledge,’ I said. ‘This poor fellow has lost his unicorn, and we know not where it may be.’

The ophiotaurus looked me in the eye and a strange sound echoed from its throat, resembling a mixture of a roar and a hiss. I took a step back as the putrid breath reached me. ‘Come on old fellow,’ I said. ‘This man needs to find his unicorn. Do you know where it is?’

Again I felt his breath, and then he spoke, his harsh, sibilant voice sending shivers through me. ‘I’ll reunite them,’ he said, most helpfully.

Then leapt from the sink and gobbled down the chap from the audience.

I took a step back, and nodded my appreciation. Another problem solved. Nothing was too much for me to deal with. The ophiotaurus moved toward me.

Back to top


Cameron Steer

Leaning up against

My white wall

I like to sit and ponder


And wonder

How life would be

If I were

A squirrel.


If someone referred to me as


It would be a compliment.

Back to top

How Not to Write

Nick Fuller

A canorous ectophony, a strepitous tintinnabulation, rose above the habitual fremitus of the city. In cacophonic counterpoint came the bombastically borborygmic retort. Halitotic eructations and hyperemesis from above, while erumpent from the fundament, crepitations, graveolent and mephitic. At last, emanation, to the accompaniment of a plangent pungency, produced a mucilaginous myxo.

Although the clerics may consider this acroamatical and altiloquent vocabulary to be superlative logodaedaly, the ephectic reader is apt to consider it epidictic and euphuistic, inenubilable and sphingine synchysis, a mere mantissa that venditates not the writer’s acumen, but his possession of a thesaurus. This literary hamesucken will, if persisted in, either render the reader cacochymical, furibund and frampold, or turn him into a mattoid, sunk in dysphoric coenaeshesis.

The paved peruser, in fact, prefers the pauciplicate—and loathes this literary algolagnia. But I, featous, galliard, omnifutuant and ludibund lad, am guilty only of philonoetic hebephrenia.


Canorous : swellingly melodic.

Ectophony : an external sound.

Strepitous : noisy.

Tintinnabulation : the ringing or sound of bells.

Fremitus : dull roar, murmur, continuous noise.

Cacophonic : a discordant and meaningless mixture of sounds.

Borborygmic : having to do with the noise produced by a rumbling stomach or gurgling guts.

Halitotic : having bad breath.

Eruct : to burp, belch.

Hyperemesis : vomiting excessively.

Erumpent : bursting forth, breaking out.

Crepitous : farting.

Graveolent : strongly fetid, heavily odoriferous (graveolent eructations).

Mephitic : malodorous, stinking.

Emunction : the act of picking/blowing the nose.

Plangent : loud, striking.

Mungency : nose noise.

Mucilaginous : gooey, gluey, viscous, slimy.

Myxoid : snot, mucus.

Clerisy : a group of scholars; a contemptuous term for the intelligentsia.

Acroamatical : esoteric, arcane, abstruse.

Altiloquent : superior/lofty in speech.

Logodaedaly : word-skill.

Ephectic : sceptical, unconvinced, dubious.

Epidictic : showing off, ostentatiously displaying.

Euphuistic : speaking/writing in an elevated, affected style.

Inenubilable : incapable of being made clear.

Sphingine : oracular, enigmatic, delphine.

Synchysis : mingling, confusion; jumbling of words in a sentence so as to be incomprehensible.

Mantissa : addition of comparatively small importance, especially to a literary effort or discourse.

Venditate : to advertise flagrantly, to display ostentatiously.

Hamesucken : archaic legal term for an assault on a person in his own house.

Cacochymical : foul-humoured, bad tempered.

Furibund : incensed, enraged.

Frampold : peeved, agitated.

Mattoid : partly insane person.

Dysphoric : anxious, vexed.

Coenaeshesis : a general numbness/paralysis.

Pavid : frightened.

Pauciplicate : simple, unsophisticated, uncomplicated.

Algolagnia : masochism, sadism, or both.

Featous : handsome, good looking.

Galliard : lively, vivacious; stouthearted; gallivanting.

Omnifutuant : all-fucking.

Ludibund : playful, frolicsome.

Philonoetic : intellectual.

Hebephrenia : a condition of adolescent silliness.

Back to top

Love Song

Katherine McKerrow

There’s an inevitability to it

I’d like to think

that one day

you and I will surely meet,

learn who we are, and gradually

teach each other love.

Maybe I’ve seen you already

hidden amongst other faces,

or the imprint of your thoughts

just another group of letters,

their meaning, like yourself,


Perhaps we missed our chance,

if we are given only one: a moment

strangled by the words I didn’t say,

a failure

to look up at the right time

or a passing distraction

might have been enough.

I don’t know.

The truth

is, I don’t know your voice

and its cadences would be strange to me

I wouldn’t know your face, your eyes

don’t haunt my dreams

and I’m hiding,

not from you


but from all the busy world

with its clamour and fierce promises

its vocal desires.

It’s quiet here, safe

in my little space of mild greys and peace.

Love, I’m told,

is not so simple, and it might hurt

if you came to me

in all your difficult colours.

I’m not sure you should

look for me.

Try someone made with more

reality, brave enough to sing with the world

or maybe

behind the face of a stranger or a friend

I’ll see you tomorrow,

and accidentally

shatter your silences with music.

Back to top

Memories of Chacas

Tim Ginty

There is a village at the heights of the Peruvian Altiplano, in the region of Ancash, where the highest sublimity of the natural world grates against the deepest injustices of the social world, where the ceaseless grinding of the tectonic plates beneath the Andes is mirrored in the human lives above, and where there exists a community stronger than any other I have seen.

In that village, Chacas, I was introduced to Daniel, an out-of-work labourer who agreed to guide me around the district during my two-week stay. I was introduced to him by an Italian migrant who had come to Chacas in the great tide of altruism which had been swelling since 1976, when Salesian missionary Padre Ugo De Censi came to the valleys of the Cordilleras to help reconstruct the villages following the disastrous earthquake of 1970. The earthquake, which struck an 8.0 on the Richter scale, shattered even the side of the giant Nevado Huascaran, triggering a landslide that killed some 100,000 people in the neighbouring villages. Chacas escaped the landslide, but did not escape the shockwave: the village church was destroyed alongside countless homes and shops. It was to this scene of rubble and pain that Padre de Censi and his disciples came, and it was from this rubble and pain that the new Chacas was built as a palisade protecting the community from the prevailing winds of exploitation blowing from Lima all across the deserts, sierras and rainforests of Peru.

Knocking on the door of a white-washed brick building, I was greeted by one of Daniel’s daughters and welcomed inside by her father who was coming downstairs to see his children off to school. I waited in the front room while Daniel finished preparing a pack for the day’s ride through the valley. His home was modest, and nothing decorated the walls but for a small picture of himself, dressed in a mountaineer’s clothes, standing on a mountain-top among jagged white peaks that ringed the horizon and shrank below wide blue skies. The photograph seemed impossible, entirely out of place in this home of clay floors and hessian ceilings. Daniel noticed me looking at the picture, so he took it off the wall and told me how, as a young man, his lungs and legs well-trained on the sides of the 6,700-metre Huascaran, he was invited to travel from the Andes to the Alps and take part in an international mountaineering expedition. For a second there, looking at Daniel’s photograph, I thought that maybe it is true what they have always said: that one day the meek shall inherit the Earth, the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Because there, in that brief moment captured in the photograph, surely the meekest had inherited the Earth and the last had come first; because there in that photograph Daniel, with reddened cheeks and frosted gloves, was standing on top of the Earth feeling the energy which makes the alloy of snow, sky and summit the intoxicating blend that it is; where awe mixes with fear, beauty with fragility, immensity with insignificance; where in a moment the slightest slide of rock or slip of grip can take away all that you have ever known.

After Daniel had prepared the day’s pack and saddled the horse he had borrowed for my visit, we set off to explore the valleys around Chacas. Riding through the village in the early morning mist, I was struck by the strength of the community—a community that insists on living with dignity in spite of the indifference of the modern world and all the injustices that history has heaped upon them—a strength smelt in the baking of bread before dawn, heard in the laughter of the children walking to school and seen in the labours of the campesinos working the fields. This is the self-same strength seen throughout all the valleys of the Altiplano.

Leaving the village proper, Daniel and I veered onto a new mountain highway still under construction. Daniel had worked here not so long ago, and he told me that when the government switched its contractor, the new company demanded a cut in wages and an increase in hours. Others accepted, but Daniel refused, so he lost his job. As we trotted down the muddy road Daniel greeted his former workmates, though there were some faces he didn’t recognise: the company had brought in cheaper labour from across Peru to work on the roads of the Cordilleras, displacing local workers like himself who demanded too much, with their many children to feed.

We turned off the highway and followed a minor road for several kilometres as it snaked through the misty valleys leading away from Chacas. We were aiming for a Quechua ruins site that sat on top of a steep ridge. To get there, we would have to find the path which led up from the valley floor; but the mist was so thick that we could hardly see beyond our horse’s nose. And to reach the path we would need to cross a narrow footbridge suspended across a fast-flowing stream. From the first trot the horse had been infinitely patient with Daniel’s demands and my inexperience, but now it positively refused to test the bridge. After several attempts we decided to let the horse rest on the near side of the stream while we scaled the ridge on foot. We hid the saddle in the brush, crossed over, and began navigating the hillside, which was by then covered in even thicker fog. Trying to find the old track that Daniel had helped wear down as a boy, we searched blindly through wet bush and slid across lichened shale for the rest of the morning until, half-exhausted, we stopped to break some bread on the hillside. By now the fog was turning into drizzle, so with disappointment we returned to the stream where our horse stood patiently waiting, his chestnut hide satin-shiny in the wet. My body was aching in exhaustion, unused to the thin air of the Cordilleras, the strains of horse-riding, and the demands of scaling such a steep ridge.

Slowly plodding back towards Chacas, with each of us walking and riding in turn, we decided to take a different route, which Daniel said would be drier than the muddy highway and higher than the cloudy valley-floor. This track took us past an old Quechua cemetery on the peak of another steep ridge. There, standing among graves marked only by mossy wooden crosses and broken rectangles of pebbles laid out on the ground, Daniel explained some of the history of the Quechua nation—a people who, after being subjects of the Inca Empire, were then subjected to the immense theft and slaughter of Francisco Pizarro’s conquistadors, and later ignored and exploited by a new national and international elite, an elite no less intent on gold and glory than Pizarro himself. Daniel told me how the people in the Quechua villages hid their treasures so deep within huge dirt mounds (previously used as ovens and kilns) that the Spaniards never found them. He later showed me one of the few remaining artefacts from those times—a perfectly preserved clay urn painted with black leaf-like patterns, as precious and fragile in my hands as a newborn baby. The urn no longer carried water or food, but it carried for the Quechua people a thousand stories of old, a thousand years of history and more value than if it had held a thousand carats of gold. As we descended the hills to Chacas, Daniel tried to teach me some Quechua words, and while I forget the particular words he said, I will never forget the sound they made, the following Sunday, in a half-built chapel full of young boys and girls singing the old psalms made up of verses in four different tongues: Quechua, Latin, Italian and Castellano.

Finally we were back in Chacas. Cold, exhausted, my legs bowed like a horseshoe by the horse’s belly, I returned to the parroquia—the parish cooperative—for a warm meal and a deep sleep. Daniel had shown me the valleys and hills of Chacas, but he had shown me much more. He had shown me the significance of his people’s history, which is as present and tangible in their collective memory as that ancient urn was in my hands. I saw that while capitalism is relatively new to Chacas—carving its way through Ancash in the form of a half-built highway—it is but a particular form of the general rule that has commanded life there for so long: that of the naked exploitation of one by another—of Quechua by Inca, conquered by conquistador, labour by capital. And yet I also saw in Chacas the true meaning of community—a latent thread of history, language and culture all made tangible in those hymns sung by the children in the half-built chapel. In Chacas there is a community which is in many ways powerless, but in so many more ways it is strong; it is both tragic in its poverty yet heroic in its humanity, poor in goods but rich in spirit.

Back to top


Marjorie Morrissey

At dawn

a heaving sulphur-crested canopy

in my trees.

Smiling, laughing.

Gushing, gnawing.

Delighted, excited.

It’s the party after party.

Yellow and white.

Screech, bite, drop and flight.

Back to top

Mellow Yellow

Niki van Buuren

Facebook: 27 January at 4:34 PM

Frankie posted: Fucking seaweed.

Sam smirks at me as I attempt to pick seaweed from my hair. The sand from the beach sticks to his legs. His bare torso glistens wet in the dying sunlight. It’s beautiful in an entirely non-sexual way. This coast trip is the finale, the last hurrah before we begin our new lives as adults. We will no longer be kids at high school, but grown-ups with HECS loans who sit in cafés discussing world affairs. He’s moving into a share house close to his university; I’m not moving anywhere. I still feel like a kid, a kid in Chuck Taylors playing at being an adult. At least I don’t have to do another maths test ever again.

Sam drove me and my little sister to Bateman’s for the weekend. I can’t help but think there’s something they’re not telling me. Part of me is horrified. Arianne is only fourteen, just a baby. Part of me is glad that it’s Sam that she’s chosen and not some dodgy wannabe thug from school. We’ve both known Sam all our lives. I can trust him.

Arianne is still playing in the surf; her bikini is a size too big, the small buds on her chest hidden behind wrinkles of hot pink lycra. She giggles as a wave slaps her from behind. Sam’s gaze never wanders far from her. I am stuck, neatly caught between wanting to discreetly leave them to it, and wanting to watch this scene play out. I put on my headphones and try not to think.

Facebook: 2 March at 12:54 PM

Frankie posted: Coffee is Red Bull for Grown Ups.

Art school is not like high school. The teachers are friendly, but standoffish. I find myself having adult conversations with them. Two equals, discussing the affairs of the art world. It feels surreal.

There’s this guy in my life drawing class who has these incredible red dreadlocks. We call him Ned Dreads. This is what we do, we give each other nicknames. They call me Mellow Yellow because I am good at appearing completely chilled out when everybody else is stressed to the eyeballs. I don’t get it; maybe it’s an ironic nickname. Maybe I haven’t been here long enough to understand.

Ned Dreads is a beautiful man. He has this way of looking right into you, this blue gaze that holds you immobile while he speaks. I think he’s about twenty-five. I haven’t even had my eighteenth birthday and I have to suppress the urge to snigger inappropriately when we have a male model in class. We spend hours recording every wrinkle, every curve of the nude human body. Eventually it becomes almost clinical.

I’m surrounded by beautiful people here. They make beautiful art. They wear beautiful clothes and speak beautiful words. We hang out at the Lonsdale Street Roasters because that’s where all the beautiful people go. They drink double-shot-skinny-soy lattes while I’m still yet to graduate from hot chocolates. I’d never touched coffee before I started university but the taste is growing on me, slowly.

Facebook: 19 March at 7:28 PM

Frankie posted: I just found a bunch of songs I wrote when I was 13. This is heavy stuff.

I’m known at work as The Kid with the Headphones. In the world of secondhand records, having headphones means you know something about good music. The bigger the headphones, the better your taste in music. A lot of Billie Holliday gets played in the store. The teenagers who come in scrunch their faces at the music we play and ask if we have anything by Rihanna. Why would you buy Rihanna when you could have 50s jazz?

Sam likes to tease me about the stuff I’ve discovered at school. Last week someone was playing The Doors and I fell in love. I played the record for Sam but he didn’t get it, couldn’t hear the tragic undercurrents in Jim Morrison’s voice. He just laughed and asked me when I was going to start listening to music from this decade again.

You can tell a lot about people by the music they buy. A former high school teacher came in yesterday and bought a pre-loved copy of Roxette’s The Ballad Hits album. I expect she put it in her car and drove home with the stereo blasting, singing along. I expect she knows all the lyrics. She isn’t that much older than me. I envy her self-confidence.

She smiled when she saw me and asked me how I was going. I told her that everything she said to me about university was right. High school really doesn’t prepare you.

Facebook: 30 April at 10:21 AM

Frankie shared a link: “New Zealand MP’s Gay Marriage Speech Goes Viral”

I invite Sam out for a coffee at the Roasters. I don’t get much chance to see him these days. He sees more of Arianne than me. I ask him how uni’s going. He shrugs, and changes the subject. He seems uncomfortable in this environment. He wants to know why we’re sitting on milk crates instead of chairs. I tell him it’s ironic. You pay five bucks for your latte and you sit on a milk crate while you discuss topical social issues like boat people and gay marriage. You sit on a milk crate because it gives you a sense of solidarity with the social minorities.

Sam looks at the menu, confused. I understand that look; that look was mine not so long ago. What is the difference between a macchiato and an affogato? What the hell is so great about soy milk, anyway? I come to his rescue and order two chai lattes.

Sam sniffs his chai suspiciously as I tell him about what I’ve been doing at school. I tell him how this week we have been discussing modernism and postmodernism. He raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t ask me to elaborate. I try to get him talking about random stuff—last week’s pro-refugee student demonstration, how Twitter went nuts over his favourite band’s tour announcement, even the rumour I heard that Sophia from school is hooking up with some old guy she met at Moose—but it doesn’t take long for Sam to make his excuses and leave. He hasn’t touched his chai.

Facebook: Yesterday at 3:21 AM

Frankie posted: Go away essay. Nobody wants you here. Your mother didn’t want you either.

Postmodernism in the visual arts is

Postmodernism is defined as

Postmodernists questioned the notion of hierarchy and the principles of organisation, preferring instead to explore the nature of ambiguity and interconnectedness (Weston, 2011).

The works of postmodern artists became a vehicle for social comment and protest.

Postmodernist artists were just plain-out weird.

I sit at my tiny desk, sandwiched between a pile of texts on postmodernism and a haphazard tower of records on the other. It’s 3 am. The combination of the desk lamp’s spotlight and my fifth cup of instant coffee makes me lightheaded. I feel like I’m floating near the ceiling looking down on myself. My laptop is whirring, the fan working overtime to keep the machine from overheating. The sound echoes inside my head, a tiny jet engine attempting to take off over and over.

I switch between Facebook’s online messaging program and the bare bones of a two thousand-word essay on the ideologies of postmodernism in the visual arts. The topic itself is fascinating. Writing about the topic is not. Sam went offline hours ago. I sent him a message asking how he was going. He didn’t reply.

Ned Dreads is online. He has been there all evening. I typed a message to him at nine o’clock and have been editing it since then. It will more than likely stay in the ‘unsent’ box when I give up and go to bed.

I’m not sure which message is the most depressing.

Facebook: Today at 23:34 PM

Frankie posted: Night.

Too worked up to sleep, I have been tossing and turning for hours. My bed is becoming more and more uncomfortable. Things always seem worse at 2 am; it’s the curse of the insomniac.

Sam told me today that I’ve changed. He said it without emotion, and I think that’s what hurts the most. As if he doesn’t care. Lifelong friends aren’t supposed to feel this way around each other.

I wish I could go back to the beach and pretend that these confusing grown-up feelings aren’t really there. At the beach, we were still kids. At the beach, there were no beautiful people with red dreadlocks and no double-shot-skinny-soy lattes.

They say that things always seem better in the light of day. I guess I’ll find out in the morning.

Back to top

What’s Inside?

Catherine Lampe




and you

will find,

ragged flesh

bare bones


a cup

of marrow


on the


Back to top

Death’s Apprentice

Kaitlyn Wilson

There are a few things to know about Death, none of which are all that pleasant for you to admit.

The first: death is inevitable. Not uncommon knowledge, I know, but a fact nonetheless. I’ve seen plenty of mortals try and outrun death, outsmart death, out-everything death, but it is all for naught. It is inevitable so please stop trying.

Some people handle this better than others. Sometimes, Death takes me with him for collection. It’s a long and difficult task and he likes the company. The reactions of those he carries can take a toll on him, which brings me to the second thing: Death looks different to everyone.

For me, Death looks like my grandfather. He’s old. Really old. With white hair and a short beard. He smells like tobacco and the peppermint candies that were always in the front pocket of his shirt. This is only my perception of Death, and he tells me it’s a common reaction. He looks different to everyone and because my grandfather was the first death I had ever seen it was a simple connection to make. Many people see their relatives too. I know this because when we go to collect I see Death change into what they see.

The last time we went to collect, Death turned into two little girls. The woman we were collecting was alone in a hospital room and she was old. She cried (a lot of them cry) and stroked their hair gently, whispering out her little girls’ names. Death sat there for a long time with the woman and let her cry. He likes to do that. Time doesn’t really mean anything to us. We can alter it, freeze it, speed it up. In your mortal time we were only there a few seconds but with us the woman cried for hours. When she was done and had accepted it was time to go, Death scooped her up gently and carried her home with us.

The third point: Death is not cruel.

Despite what your opinion on dying is, I assure you that Death is not at all like the cloaked, scythe bearing skeleton most people associate him with. He doesn’t take anyone until they’re ready to go. It can take days, months, or even years for them to accept his invitation. It’s difficult for them in the final moments before they have to leave, but Death is merciful. He sits with them and listens to them talk until they know that it’s time.

The fourth point: Death is silent.

At least to you. He talks to me all the time, telling me stories. To you, he’ll never say a word. It’s better that way. It’s also why it can take so long for them to leave. They don’t hear Death telling them it will be alright, or assuring them that they’ll be in a better place. They have to come to that conclusion themselves. It’s easier when they’re small and trusting, or old and accepting. The most difficult ones are the youthful. They haven’t fallen in love yet or made more mortals. For some reason skydiving comes up a lot, too. Eventually though, they’ll have talked themselves dry enough or told the silent stranger enough that they’re ready to leave.

I suppose, being mortal, you’d like to know about dying. It’s not painful. In fact it’s quite euphoric. Like when you were a child and you fell asleep on the couch and woke up in your own bed.

That’s all I can tell you about dying. It’s all I remember about my own experience. I can’t tell you much about my own life as a mortal. It was such a small breadth of time and I had hardly begun to learn much There myself. I’ve spent much more time Here than There.

What could I tell you of Here? An infinite amount, most of which you wouldn’t understand. Don’t take it personally, it’s not an insult to your intelligence, it’s just that things are very different Here. I can’t explain things that don’t exist for you. It would be like asking you to picture colours that your eyes cannot see. So I’ll not waste my time.

Also, like Death, Here alters almost constantly, just based on what you want it to be. Sometimes I want Here to look like my bedroom from the mortal world. However, Death likes to change the décor to his preference, which is usually just a large sitting room with a giant fireplace. I don’t know why. Then other times the new arrivals want everything to look like puffy clouds and it takes us an eternity to change it back. Again, much like the skydiving thing, I’m not sure why you all want Here to look like the sky.

Heaven? No. That doesn’t exist. Or it does, depending on who you are.

Like I said, Here changes depending on what you want it to be. The puffy clouds thing gets annoying. The imaginings of Hell are a bit more interesting, simply because a new arrival thinks they deserve it, thinks they’re going there anyway, so that’s what they create. Basically, they get here, burst into flames for a second, decide they don’t really like the feeling (go figure) and stop. Unfortunately, they then start with the clouds.

Not everyone does this, just the very imaginative.

I like when the other children get here. Death lets me play with them before they have to join the others. I get to see their toys and the parents they left behind. It only lasts a little bit but it’s a lot better than the spontaneous combustors.

Where do you go?

I knew that would come up and I’m sorry but it’s a bit awkward.

Usually, after Death carries a new arrival home, he takes them straight away into a—well, it’s kind of like a vat. Don’t worry. Don’t worry. It sounds a lot worse than it is. It’s the vat that scares some people, which is why Death lets me play with the children, so they’re not scared before they have to go in. But we have this vat and it’s where we put everyone. It’s okay, it’s not crowded or anything. You’re very small when we carry you. You don’t need much space anymore and once you’re in the vat you get to have wonderful dreams.

You’re still not convinced. I know. It’s not an easy job convincing people to die.

Would it make you happier if I told you that some go back? Not home. Not to their old life. But they go back to There as someone else. Sometimes, they even look similar.

It’s not something we do, before you ask. We’re not in the business of Life. That’s the other guy. We don’t really know much about him, but then again we really have no reason to meet. I guess he’s into recycling sometimes. His job must be a lot easier than ours. All he has to do is take a soul and put it in a new body. He doesn’t sit with you like we do. Still, you all seem to like Life a lot better.

It’s not a competition or anything. I’m just saying.

Who am I?

That’s complicated. I had a name back when I was mortal, but that was so long ago and it doesn’t matter now. Death calls me Apprentice. So you may call me that, too, should we ever meet. People don’t seem to see me when I go with Death. I’m not sure they can. But maybe when it is your turn I’ll be ready.

Ready for what, you may be wondering.

I haven’t been Apprentice for very long, not in your mortal time anyway, but I’ve spent so long studying Death Here. It’s a hands-on job and it requires a lot of patience. I try to be like Death every time we go collecting. I’m very silent like him and very still. When Death goes without me, I stand by the vat and look down at them all without speaking or moving. Don’t worry, they’re all asleep, and I won’t wake them.

It won’t be long now before I am no longer the Apprentice. I guess I’m excited about that, but Death tells me not to be. He warns me how lonely it can be. We can’t take anyone out of the vat once they’re inside (again, that’s the other guy’s job) so it’s just us. For now, I have Death to keep me company, and I have my studying to keep me busy, but should we ever meet, I will be alone.

What about Death? Of course, I do have the tendency to forget sometimes. Well, it’s like I said in the beginning, death is inevitable.

It’s all a bit complicated so I’ll try to explain carefully. If it helps you, just imagine that you won’t actually die until we put you in the vat. Now realise that I have never been in the vat and neither has Death. When I left There Death made me Apprentice. The same thing happened to him a very long time ago, and Death before him, and so on and so forth. I think the same thing happens to Life, but like I said, we don’t keep in touch.

If he wanted, Death could have lots of apprentices. One Death did that before, but it was all a big mess. Something about a flood. Death doesn’t like to talk about it. That’s why he only has me.

It’s not an easy choice, taking on an apprentice. You see, there can only be one Death at a time. Once my training’s complete then the current Death can no longer exist. He must go to the vat and that’s why I’m needed.

No one can just climb in. It takes one of us to carry you. Death, despite all the notions of the job, cannot die without someone to carry him.

We go out collecting, only this time is different and I know what has to happen. I’m not sure now how excited I am but Death is calm and quiet. When we come across the person he’s in a bed with tubes and monitors attached to a tiny body. It’s nothing new to me. Plenty of our guests are in the same position, only this time it’s different because the body is mine. Or at least it was mine.

Again, I’m not surprised. Death told me all about what would happen beforehand. When I became Apprentice, it was because my body was back home while my mind was gone. It’s complicated. Like I said, I haven’t spent long in your mortal time away.

Right now, my body is an empty shell while the rest of me is standing beside it.

Silently, Death places a hand on my shoulder. Then he moves to my body and disappears inside. I sit down and don’t say a word. My own eyes flicker and I’m staring into them. Staring into Death.

Death has to go into my body so that I can carry him away. We can’t leave my body here forever and we can’t keep altering time to the few seconds before I slip away. It’s time for us both to leave.

I place my hand upon my own shoulder, ready to take my master away.

‘Not yet,’ Death says and my eyes blink in response. ‘I have so many stories to tell you.’

And I sit there. And he talks.

Back to top

Biographical notes

Clare Brunsdon is 21 and studying a Bachelor of Communications in Journalism. She grew up in Tumbarumba and attended high school in Wagga Wagga. After experiencing a gap year, Clare mainly enjoys writing about travel but also experiments with sci-fi, fantasy and crime.

Owen Bullock has published a collection of poetry, sometimes the sky isn’t big enough, two books of haiku and a novella. He has edited a number of journals and anthologies, including Poetry New Zealand, and taught students of all ages. Owen is a PhD candidate at the University of Canberra.

Cat Cotsell is a short, white, vegetarian, female student. Her mum was in this anthology first (hi Mum). She also has a nephew and a niece who are keen on picture books (hi Xavier, hi Annabel). She doesn’t have a pet, but her muse is shaped like a shark (hi Francis).

Brooke Davis is an Australian author. She holds an Honours degree from the University of Canberra and a PhD from Curtin University, both in the field of creative writing. Her first short story publication was through FIRST, and her debut novel Lost & Found was published this year by Hachette. It has already been sold into 25 countries and translated into 20 languages.

Nick Fuller has read too much and too widely. This piece was influenced by the infamous description of dogs barking in Michael Innes’s Stop Press! (1939)—‘a pandemonium of sound, latrant, mugient, reboatory, and beyond all words’—and by George Stone Saussy III’s The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Words (Penguin Books, England, 1986).

Tim Ginty completed a Bachelor of Arts and Communication and Media Studies at the University of Canberra in 2014. He travelled to Chacas, Peru, following an exchange semester at ITESM Mexico City in 2011.

Brendan Hawes is a young up-and-coming writer from the ACT. He currently studies a Bachelor of Writing. Brendan holds a love of comedy and hopes to combine both creative writing and acting to forge a long and prosperous career.

Alex Henderson has lived in Canberra her whole life, leading to an exploratory imagination but also to a patriotic crankiness when people leave it off maps. She was a regional finalist in the Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer of the Year 2012 and is studying a Bachelor of Writing.

Ashley John has been writing poetry from an early age. Telling, then, that it is a short fiction piece that has been selected for publication in this anthology.

Catherine Lampe hasn’t written poetry for many years but once she started writing and rhyming again, and seeing the world from different perspectives, she wondered why she’d stayed away for so long.

Kieran Lindsay is a writing student from Canberra with a passion for fantasy novels and comedy. He is an Olympic-level procrastinator and has a chronic addiction to the television show Community. He is also a Horcrux.

Katherine McKerrow is a first-year nursing student with a love of words, arranging words, and reading words that other people have arranged. She avoids clichés where possible, but does love taking long walks in the rain. She hopes that people enjoy reading these word-arrangements as much as she enjoyed making them.

Lee Mills writes poetry, stories, scripts for stage, film and radio, novels, articles and essays. She lives in Canberra with her husband, four of her six children, three cats and three turtles. Lee has almost completed her Bachelor of Communication in Journalism.

Marjorie Morrissey is a full-time student of the Graduate Diploma in Professional Writing. She was born and bred in Canberra and has recently returned after 16 years living in the Northern Territory where she was a senior public servant. 2014 is her year of living creatively.

Andrew Myers is studying creative writing and enjoys the challenge of experimenting with different genres such as horror, drama, science fiction and thriller. His interests include film scripts, graphic novels, and the works of Stephen King, Jack Kerouac and HP Lovecraft. Andrew wrote ‘Neon Snow’ in support of the LGBT community.

Christopher Olalere is a third-year architecture student who spends his free time drawing and writing. He enjoys hip hop music and is an avid manga and anime fan.

Madonna Quixley , businesswoman and mother of six children, is studying for the Graduate Diploma in Community Counselling. In 2008, at ANU she won first prize in the literary component of the Premio Italia award, and several other literary awards while studying Italian.

Gloria Sebestyen is a recent writing and linguistics graduate of the University of Canberra. She frequently travels by hot air balloon.

Nathan Smale , 23, is a writer with a fascination for short stories and uses them to explore interpersonal relationships. He is currently working on a collection of young adult short stories that deal with identity and school life.

Cameron Steer may contain traces of nuts.

Niki van Buuren is a Canberra-based writer and high school teacher. She writes regularly for the RiotACT, and far less regularly on her blog Holy Shiitake!, which can be found at holyshiitake.net

Rachael Vella is a second year Psychology and Arts student who, when not writing, drawing, or watching anime, has a habit of developing an interest in the peculiar, morbid, historical, and artistic aspects of humanity. She hopes that one day she can finally start writing the novel she has been planning since she was 10 years old.

Kaitlyn Wilson is a third-year student at Kansas State University in the United States. She attended the University of Canberra in 2014 as an international exchange student. This is her first published work.

Back to top