What to do with that word?

Choices, made in the heat of the [writing] moment, can be rough, okay, good, great or fantastic. Not really. Generally, the choices made in the flash of inspiration can be either cliche (‘cos that’s the quickest to come to mind) or good/great. But to make it fantastic, to buff it to the greatest shine, takes work.

So, here we are at the crossroads. Shannon Hunter and I are working on Equine Neophyte of the Blood Desert (Title subject to change, like everything else at this stage), and we’re at the stage of choosing what works best for that event, scene, purpose, section, Act, etc.

We don’t actually argue [well, not too much], but there’s a lot to be said for wanting the best. The trouble is understanding the meaning of what ‘best’ is for the story. Is it the best word, the one that says it clearly and in a defined way, doesn’t take any effort to understand the meaning and context? Is it the one that goes just a little deeper and plays more than one tune? Or is it the [who said this?] $5 word.

Now, I don’t mind the odd $5 word. And I don’t even mind the occasional one. And I have been known to use a word no one else is likely to comprehend if it wasn’t quite clear from the context. And that’s where I like the $5 words. In a sentence or paragraph that makes the meaning clear, defined and absolutely no doubt about it – from the context created by the other words that surround it.

That’s me. I’ve learned this the hard way, and as a reader. If I was busy enjoying a read and then found a word that didn’t ‘fit’ the context, I’d stop and look it up, or skip it and huff. If I looked it up and found it didn’t make a lot of sense for being there, and could have been another word entirely, a simple one that wouldn’t have taken me out of the story – that creates a bit of angst. Do you think I’d search out that author again? So that’s what I consider now when writing my own $5 words.

What would be worse is the ‘skip it’ action. If I do that once in a book/novel/story because I don’t understand the meaning behind the use of the word, I am much [much, much, much] more likely to continue that action until I get to the end. You see, I like to finish books, but the more annoyed I get, the more I skip – just to get out of the journey. I’ve had enough of this one and just want to go home.

The lesson in all of this? Having a discussion about whether to put a word in or not is the most important decision you make as a reader, and there is no more important person in the world of story words. And if the reader can’t get the gist of meaning from what surrounds the $5 word, please put that word back in the bank and use one that’s more appropriate for the real reader.

Now, back to work!

cropped-header1-words

 

Chapter 4

Chapter 4

The house was dark and silent as Van looked back from the rear laneway. The only glimmer came from the small LED lamp she had left on the kitchen benchtop. The only sign of life in the house. The only sign of grief. The neighbours would give her space, and time. The opportunity to sneak out the back laneway.

She used the shadows of dusk and the street trees to disappear, making her way to the school where the first name on Olympia’s List worked – as a music teacher. How could he get clearance to work in a school at all if he was known to police, recorded on the sex offenders’ database, a PoI in an active case?

What did it mean to have a police clearance if the person was suspected of . . . criminal actions? Criminal thoughts? Did the person have to be charged and convicted of an offence? Or was it that they were free until caught, innocent until proven guilty?

Not in her book.

Now she had a way to get evidence, even though she knew her actions were also not quite within the law. Not lawful at all. Unlawful. Illegal. Criminal. She was working outside the law; in her information gathering exercise at work, and with the tools she had purchased for the physical information gathering exercise she was on now.

Whatever she got tonight would be given anonymously. Electronically. Direct to several sources at the same time: police, employers, newspapers, blog sites. From an anonymous morphing IP address – she had created an untraceable private server, a Virtual Private Network, that randomly changed access codes every half minute – and she’d linked it to the back-door of the server farm at work. The server farm that was her sole responsibility – to keep it secure; to keep access secure; to keep out the bad guys; to protect the data it contained. And now, to protect her.

What she had done should make it extremely difficult to trace anything back to her personally. She had also set up a trace-alert to send an alarm to her phone only. As an extra, she’d wrapped it all up inside another pyramidal VPN with a double-helix vortex pathway with passwords required at each level. Ha!

The heavy winter cloud added to the shadows, deepened the spaces. Only a fortnight away from the shortest day of the year – early evening and already dark. People were still at work, or getting ready to go home from work, or picking kids up from school, doing normal things. The streets were quiet, the light showers and cold wind hunched people up, held them silent and inside if possible, huddled up in warmth and safety after rushing home. She would look just like everyone else: warmly dressed, kitted up for the wet weather, hidden under layers of protective clothing.

Van’s dark clothing, black shoes, her dark hoodie, her dark backpack – they all helped keep her invisible. Not black, except for the shoes, but all the dark shades of shadows: dark blue, dark grey, dark brown, dark green. She would be a shadow within shadows, a shade of movement, not a black shape within shadows. Just another dapple.

She put her hands in the pockets, one hand on her phone, the other on the new gadget.

The audio-scope was a small object, and with the lens fully retracted, it fit comfortably inside her palm. The fold-down antenna made a ridgeline along one edge, just slightly sharp, with bumpy bits where that, too, retracted to be the same length as the miniature audio telescope. She could plug it into her phone to record both video and sound, but for the moment, all she wanted to do was see without being seen, hear without being heard.

Life had taught her how to be calm on the outside, to present a face that people didn’t notice. One of the invisible people. On the inside, her heart rate increased, sped up for the potential survival requirement. Van smiled. Her eyes widened to take in all the external data. This was her mission, her task. For Olympia.

If something happened, she could plug the audio-scope into her phone, record the evidence, give it to the detective, make it public. If nothing happened, if she got nothing, she would move on to the next name on the list.


An excerpt from Moordenaar Copyright 2017 Cage Dunn

 

Onward

Would there be a dream today? Rozi didn’t know, but there has to be one. If she looked under this tree, under the leaves fallen into heaps, under the broken log – would she find one? Just one, surely not too much to ask.

One dream a day – the price for her to stay at the School of Natural Magic.

All the other girls in the school were well-dressed, hair neat and tidy, and they all wore shoes. Rozi didn’t have nice clothes, she had to take what she was given by the people who came to her mother for help. And no one could do anything about her hair – at even the sight of a hairbrush it went more berserk than ever and wouldn’t come down for a week! So she’d learned to leave it alone. Mostly. Sometimes, she’d plait it, but when she slept all the little ties broke loose and catapulted around the room, stuck to the walls and lamps and window. Sometimes it was funny.

Not today.

She needed a dream to be able to stay here. With her mother gone and the local villagers no longer willing to support such a strange creature, she needed a home. The caves in the hills and the creatures of the forest turned her away, told her to seek her knowledge in the training of reality.

And that meant she had to be here, in this school, to learn about the nature of true magic. Rozi hummed and whistled as she turned things over, as she shuffled her bare feet in the deep carpet of autumn things, as she called out with her mind for the dream to come to her. Please.

The giggles from the windows of the upper levels of the school were clearly heard, and she’d have to ignore them if she wanted to listen for what she needed, but it annoyed her. All the things she’d need, all the lists of things they gave her to find and do, and all she wanted was to learn.

To laugh at a novitiate was rude, by any standards of magic.

The first sign of the dream drifted to her nose. Food smells, a feast of fairies with the dense, sweet smell of deception. That would do. A dream would be.

Rozi picked up the tendrils of the dream and put a small handful of it in her pocket. She dawdled back to the school and knocked at the huge iron door, and kept knocking with the heavy gauntlet onto the gong until the School Head opened it. She looked down her beaked nose at what Rozi lifted out of her pocket and held up.

The grimace shifted and softened. The skin pinked and flushed. The eyes glazed, the nose twitched, then the body began to shuffle and shake. The dance had begun. The door opened wider as the tiny lights of the fairy castellians forced the arms of the Head to do their bidding. They laughed in the tinkle of mischief they loved so much, and Rozi followed them inside to show them where they could do their best work.

The dream was here, and it went to work.


copyright Cage Dunn 2017 – a work in progress. Maybe.

leaf dancer

Chapter 3

An excerpt from Moordenaar, Chapter 3 ….

The street she’d once lived in, that house with all the memories. Her house, now. Van parked in the street. Mum’s rule: “only use the driveway if my car isn’t there.” It was there. Her mother wasn’t, but the car was there. In the garage. Silent. But it was there, a dark blob through the visi-panels on the doors.

“. . . condolences, dear.” That was the common thread. They were people she had known for more than half her life. Still, they could not understand the pain. No one could understand this pain. Murder and suicide. Her father had at least held on until the very last. His illness had dragged on for years. Pancreatic cancer – it was supposed to be quick; stage four was always a quick road to the end. He held on, in weakness and pain and greyness, for three years after diagnosis. The pain killers, the drugs, the sleeping pills – he was always fuzzy in his interactions with Van. Towards the end, the pain was so clear in his eyes, the colour faded from a deep, dark blue to washed-out grey. He stayed for her; he said that. He hung on for his little girl, his life. Yes.

She had to believe that, had to stop thinking that everything in her life, everyone in her family, died horribly. She had to move forward, take action, believe in herself.

How? Her father’s slow, painful death had caused her to withdraw into a world of her own. Years of counselling, of therapy, did not take away that pain. She decided to forget. And she did. She forgot everything. She forgot how to remember.

Only years later, in adolescence, did she realise she’d lost all her capacity for memory. One counsellor gave her a task – learn how to use her mind as if it were a house. Create rooms, hallways, purpose. Put away the things that hurt too much until she needed them or could deal with them. Put the too painful things into little boxes, or behind glass so they couldn’t hurt her; put them into a safe, where she could access them only when ready.

Van created her own space in there; not like a house, like a library, like a bank. She learned it well. Used it for the rest of her life.

Her father she put in his own safe place. She hadn’t been back there yet. Not enough years gone to ease that pain.

Her mother – why? Why now? Suicide was against her mother’s principles and religion. It was a sin. And she had an obligation to her other daughter – to Van. Olympia’s death, her murder, was horrific. It tore at Van’s heart. It ate at her soul. But she had to go on. Her mother should be there too, shouldn’t she? How was that fair? Who would help Van deal with Olympia?

And now – now Olympia was a cold case. And no one cared.

Except Van.

What did she need to do to get the case opened again? Evidence. She would find evidence – hard evidence. She would walk this path alone, no one to support her, no family. Only the past to haunt her, and a future that held nothing if she did nothing.

Van stepped out of her car.

“You poor dear,” Mrs Petty cooed from behind her border of yellow buddleias.

“Thank you, Mrs Petty,” Van said without opening her lips too far. “I appreciate your concern.” Now would be the time to set up concrete alibies.

“I was wondering if you could help me with the house – not with cleaning up or anything like that – when I get it ready to sell, I mean. Could you show people through? Could you be the contact person for the real estate? I’m just not sure I could cope with that side of it – and you used to do that, didn’t you? Didn’t you sell the house to Mum?” Van’s voice cracked. She hadn’t meant to do that, but if the look on Mrs Petty’s face was anything to go by, it served her purpose. Mrs Petty’s eyes sparkled with unshed tears.

“Of course, my dear. I’ll do whatever I can. We all will.” Her arm swept the neighbours into her bosom with a gesture of encompassment. “We’ll be here for you. Anything you want, you just ask – anything at all, any of us. We all loved her, you know.” A strange look crossed her face. “We all loved your mother, of course, and everyone loved little Olympia.” Now a tear dribbled along the bottom of her eyelid. She turned away, flapping her gardening gloves behind her back. “Just let us know.” Mrs Petty disappeared behind the arch of orange vine, bowing her back as she toddled up the stairs and into the Federation style house that was typical for the suburb.

The whole street would know inside an hour that Van was going to sell the house. Now she just had to make it look like she was doing work, or getting work done, to keep them interested, but distant. It was the community thing, to give a person space to grieve, to give them time. And Van needed some time, and some distance, and some good alibis.

“Thank you, Evelyn,” Van said into the phone, responding to the fourth offer of help so far. The cracked voice had worked well on all of them. The demonstration of grief was easier to do on the phone – all she had to do was picture the soggy roses drooping on her mother’s rain-soaked coffin, the lack of people at the un-consecrated section of the cemetery where the coffin went into the ground. There had only been two of her mother’s work colleagues, the un-ordained minister, Van, and the detective watching from a distance. And Van’s stepfather, Bob, on the other side of the grave. Why had he allowed them to bury her there? Her mother had her own plot, in Houghton, in the hills, where the summers were cool and winters sometimes brought snow. Where apples grew, and cherries, and pears and grapes and almonds. Where life after life might have brought some calmness.

“I just need some time to sort through the things here; go through the paperwork,” another sob, suck in a deep breath, “before I get someone in to do maintenance.” She listened carefully to the noises coming through the phone – was Evelyn holding her hand over her mouth? Probably.

“When you’re ready, Van, we’ll be here. All of us. We’ll be here for you.” The voice was muffled. It seemed she was trying hard not to cry. Now all Van had to do was hiccough, and Evelyn would cut the conversation. It was bad form to pester a grieving person. Van did the hiccough. A subdued stifle of sound came through the earpiece. Van clapped her own hand to her mouth, but something escaped. She couldn’t giggle now. Not now.

“Van, we’ll be here. Call when you’re ready. Bye for now. Bye. We love you.” Her voice was pitched high, like a child’s, the last few words the highest. Evelyn had responded with the expected empathetic response.

Worked like a charm. Van smiled as she disconnected the call. The half-laugh must have sounded like something else to Evelyn. How many else would call? The top five street mothers were in the know – surely, the others would leave it at that, get their gossip from the main arteries? She turned down the volume on the phone and got to work.

From the car boot she dragged in the folded packing boxes, rested them up against the miniature statue of Michael in the front hallway. The front room, her mother’s room, was large, airy, with the best view of the front garden – weeping trees and tall tree ferns. Van opened all three windows. The greenness in the front garden made the room so cool in summer, so fresh with the smell of lavender, rosemary, and sunshine brought in with the breeze.

A sour smell hit her throat. What was that? The smell seemed familiar, but wasn’t nice. She sniffed. Maybe it was from the house being empty of people, or locked up. Maybe a leak, or something mouldy somewhere in the room. Van walked over to the wardrobe and opened the doors – yes, the smell was in there, too.

All the clothes from the double wardrobes she pulled out. Her mother’s clothes she threw over the bed. The wardrobes were jammed full, and only about one third belonged to her mother. Bob’s clothes she threw on the floor.

Van sat on the edge of the bed. All the colours of the rainbow littered the multi-hued silk patchwork bed cover. She and her mother had made this quilt together, in the year after her father died. It held all her grief for him. She’d keep the quilt.

The clothes were bright, shiny, deep, glossy, dark, luminescent, twinkling, wavy, woven, patterned, plain, but not one piece was dull. Her mother had never been shy with colour. When she wore them, they were alive. Now all dead. Lustreless. Nothing but material. Van threaded her hands through the cold pile of colour.

It had been a joy to her, as a child, to be able to play with her mother’s beautiful things. Not allowed, certainly, but when mother wasn’t looking, little Savannah had played in the wardrobe of grown-up clothes and colours. Even when they had scrimped and saved on everything, her mother made her clothes into something magical, mystical, memorable. A hot tear ran down Van’s cheek, splatted onto the fabric, left a dark mark in the water-silk material. She dropped the dress, stood, staggered out of the room, left the windows open, but dragged the door shut behind her.

The cardboard boxes stood there, waiting.

Olympia’s room was silent. Oppressive. The bushes outside the window were too tall; the light was gone. Darkness invaded and stayed. The corners hid in the dullness. Van walked to the wardrobe and slid the door open. The clothes all looked the same colour, the same shape, the same size. This wasn’t like Olympia. She loved colour as much as her mother. When was the last time Van saw Olympia? What was wearing?

Grey. Why would Olympia wear grey? The school uniform was blue-grey with red markings. Where were her other clothes? The real ones. With colour.

Van reached up to the overhead storage, pulled down all the cases, flung them onto the bed.

The strange smell wafted up, stung her nose. Sour. There must be a leak somewhere. The maintenance program her mother held to would not have allowed a bit of damp to linger for even a second. She would’ve jumped on it.

Before Olympia . . . before all that happened, she would have. Now? Now, the house felt unloved. Empty. Dirty, somehow.

The walls closed in, the shadows crept closer. Van tried to suck in a breath. Couldn’t. Stepped back. Crashed into the wall. Where was the door? She felt with her hands. Nothing. Blackness crept in from the edges, closed in on her, closed her out. She slid along the wall to the floor. Sobbed.

It was too hard. She shouldn’t have come here. She should call someone else in to do this. The lump in her chest eased. Yes, she would call someone else to do this. To clean up. To fix the house. Get rid of that smell. To sell it.

The cellar! The smell probably came from the cellar. The dark curtain across her eyes faded, allowed light in. Of course. There was a sump-pump down there. The power was off, so the auto kick-in was off. That was it! She could do something about that right now.

The handle to the cellar door didn’t turn. Locked. When was a lock fitted? Not in the time she lived here. A good lock, too. Top of the range. Why would that type of lock be on a cellar door? She looked carefully at the door. New. She tapped on it. Solid core; this was a fire door. Her experience in security said this type of door was used only when there was a third party risk – usually a business or warehouse or manufacturing site – or to protect items of high risk or high value.

She’d call a locksmith if she couldn’t find a key during the clean-up. Another thing to add to the long list of tasks.

The door to her mother’s room had swung partly open. Van stepped in, looked at the mess. She walked to the bed. Her mother’s clothes she would leave until later. All Bob’s stuff she shoved into garbage bags. Donations to Vinnies, or dump it? Dump.

Her mother’s clothes she wrapped carefully into long-term vacuum bags and laid them across the bed. Shoes – where were her mother’s shoes? One pair stood alone in the shoe rack designed for dozens of pairs. Her mother loved shoes. Beautiful shoes, all the colours of the rainbow to match her clothes and bags – bags? Where were the bags, the belts, the brooches? Jewellery?

Why was she just noticing these things? Had someone stolen them? No. The house was secure. She should check the floor safe on the far right of the wardrobe, hidden under the ratty carpet.

Van shimmied in close so she could see the dial, and opened the safe. She had always been trusted with the her mother’s collections.

One box was in the safe. One. There should be at least ten folders – all the important paperwork – and four carved wooden boxes for the jewellery pieces. Most were costume with little or no value, but there were some things – the emerald ring, the parti-coloured sapphire triple set of earrings, ring, and necklace. An unset pink diamond, Olympia’s favourite colour, set aside for her eighteenth birthday.

She inched her hand around the box and lifted it out. The outer rim of the box had glue overflow set hard. The box was sealed. Why?

This box she added to the pile of things to take back to her unit.

The pile was small. A few books, two paintings done by Olympia, one of the pair of Persian rugs she and her mother had bought together. Van had the other rug in her unit. Two vases that had originally belonged to her paternal grandmother, which she didn’t like, but couldn’t leave. And the quilt. Her mother’s red beauty case sat on the carpet beside the dresser. She picked that up and added it to the pile. And the box from the safe.

Van packed the pile into a cardboard box, rolled the rug, and had to make two trips to put the lot into the backseat of the car. The curtains fluttered at the main window across the road. Good. They saw her. She slammed the door and went back inside.

Now that the watch was in place, and the day was almost night, she was ready.

 

That [swear-word] schedule!

Earlier in the year – it might have been about the time people make resolutions – I made up a schedule. And I stuck to it. For a while. Things happened, and I tried to incorporate those things, and sometimes it worked. Sometimes not.

The qualms set in – how can I do this? that? keep up? keep going?

After the first issue of timeline slip, I let it go. After all, these things happen, and even if I don’t catch up at the very least I can slog on.

Then the second thing happened – more serious. An injury that kept me off the chair for [they said 3 months; I tried coming back after 2, and now it’s 4 months] a considerable part of the year.

The schedule is shot, blasted out to galaxy M31 to drift in the waves of space debris, wandering further and further from my grasp.

I think I’m starting to understand that nothing is ever truly within our control. Nothing. Ever. The more we try to control things, the easier they slip away, disappear.

But …

The Equine story isn’t finished, and I have to wait for feedback before going back in there. In the meantime, I put together two anthologies and published them. I’ve completed two pieces for a competition (worth money, so worth pursuing). I’ve worked on ways to improve the through-rate of beast-sheets (no error in my word there – they can be monstrous things if you want to get it fully complete and ready to roll in a story sense before the fingers hit the keys), and finally, I’ve created a short-cut, cheat-sheet to share with a group of young writers at the local library (next month – already?).

And the other things? Family in distress when the ol’ Pa gets crook (91yo) and ol’ Ma (90) stresses out about him. Takes a lot of time away from work when you have to babysit the oldies (not me, fortunately; the other half does that, but it means our time is severely constrained because I have to do the things he would normally do as well as the things I normally do). Two new babies – no, three! – and now there’s (how many?) so many new names and birthdays and reasons to celebrate (spend money) that it takes a [what do you call those things to put all the important personal details and reminders into?] personal planner (and not electronic, because we know what happens when they fail and you forget a birthday and no one speaks to you for months/years because, I mean, that excuse about technology?) just to keep up with obligations.

It’s all too much. Too much. And the most important thing in the world – those stories – have to wait their turn for my attention. Do you think it’s the stories suffering?

No, me neither. I need my sanity back. Now, thank you very much!


In case you don’t know, I use these moments to ‘warm up’ into my writing day, and it’s all of the cuff, so take the mistakes and guff with a pinch of salt (or sugar) and let it all go in a deep breath. Now all I need to do is listen to my own advice – and act on it!

the-hole-of-the-eye

Min-Min

A short story, copyright Rose Brimson 2017


“Down; look down – don’ look at the light,” Colly said, as he held Mibba down by the head – it hurt!

“Uncle! Uncle! Leggo – you hurtin’ me!” Mibba scrabbled in the dirt, tried to get purchase. Colly gripped him tighter at the back of his neck; ripped out hair, tore strips of skin with his ragged nails.

“You shut your mouth, boy, an’ keep your head Down.” A thrum in the ground settled in Mibba’s ankles, rattled his bones. “Don’ you let them min-min lights see us.”

“What? Uncle – Colly! Lemme go! You hurtin’ me!” Mibba kicked Colly in the shins – the only thing he could see – and darted forward.

The bright light thrummed through his bones; a skirr of sound spun his ears in the wrong direction; wind with no sense of touch sang words that lifted his heart and burned his soul.

No shadows. Mibba could see no shadows. Only lights – two, no – three lights, that bobbed and danced and held his soul in thrall. Dance. He had to dance. It was what was required. To get inside. To be with the lights. The Min-Min lights. The lights that were the true soul of the Ghost Gums. The souls of all the People who had gone before. For him. They were here for him.

“Come away, boy.” Colly’s voice was a distant star, barely a speck of dust in time.

The lights danced away. Mibba had to go with them, had to follow, had to be one with the spirits.

“Don’ mess with it, boy – is sacred, but not for you. Not this time. Come back, boy – wait a while, make your own song first.”

So slowly, the lights moved on, away – gone.

Mibba opened his eyes. Dirt rubbed at his skin – harsh dry grit. The desert. He was in the desert. Learning. From his uncle. Why? He looked up, pushed himself off the dirt to a sit, then squat. Where was his uncle? Why was he alone? In the desert? He would die.

The lights were gone. The Min-Min lights. A scientist from the other world might call them bits of ball lightning, but Mibba knew better. The lights had touched him, spoken to him, shared their world – for a moment.

“You can’t muck about with country, boy,” his uncle’s voice was close, but Mibba couldn’t see where he was. “It’ll bite ya if you don’ know how to sing back. You gotta learn your own song-story before you mess with Naji.”

Flames flickered in the distance. A fire-pit. Mibba stood. He would walk to the fire. His uncle would be there. Had to be there. No one else was out here, in the middle of dark country; in the middle of traditional dark country.

Had it been only weeks since he had found his blood family? Since he found out he was one of the People? Such a short time; so many things had happened. He was in the middle of the middle of nowhere, and he had a song-line to learn. Or die.

His People, the blood of his People, were the custodians of this place. And its song. The story of the dark country, of the lights of lost souls, of stories and songs to hold the world in a solid piece. He knew none of this before. Did he really want to know? If he learned the stories, would it kill him?

It had killed before. He knew it. Saw it in the lights. The ones who ran from it; ran from shadows of shame and guilt and smoky dreams of honey stolen from children. Mibba could not run. The lights had left him empty of his other life, the life that didn’t have need. Or consequence. Or love. It had stuff that wasn’t real, wasn’t needed, wasn’t necessary to spirit.

Tears burned down his cheeks, touched the slip of leaf held in his lips. Eucalyptus drifted in tiny spirals of pain up his nose, ran out again in more heat, more salt.

The fire-pit loomed up, large flames burst with pops and roars and sizzles. The small stem bits of a grass tree exploded with spirals of colour and life.

“Sit, boy, an’ we’ll talk about it.” His uncle’s voice was hollow; the black skin that glowed in the reflection of flames was striped with white and yellow ochres. The sticks rapped out a rhythm that kept his heart beating. Feet folded under, collapsed Mibba’s legs to the warm ground; his arms flopped. He would die if the sticks stopped. He knew it. Big brown eyes watched him, kept him in this world, but only just – a bare breath of desire, of knowledge, kept him where he was.

Did he desire life? This life, where he had nothing – except the blood family who’d finally found and claimed him? Or the other life? Beyond the lights, part of the lights, part of country. It would take him for Guardian, close his past from him, make of him Other.

Honey mixed with bottlebrush whispered hot fluid onto his tongue, opened his physical body to the surroundings. Huge trees whispered to his ears, asked him to wait, to sing their song back into life. Shrubs that hid ants and crickets and snakes and lizards asked him to speak their story, tell of their lives, bring them back to the world.

Flies and hornets and wasps droned and blitzed, chorused and crackled, asked him to speak the words of life and journey, sing the chants for life and death and significance. Mibba cried for them. He was not what they needed. He was only a boy. A boy without knowledge, without story. He knew nothing of this life, of the words the Naji needed to stay alive. He knew nothing.

“Look into the smoke, boy. See which way the smoke leads you. Watch the trails to see where your story leads. Watch, boy, and learn your words. Learn your country”

Patterns waved in the still air. Smoke curled and drifted and swayed into the night. No moon or stars lit the way, only the smudge of oily smoke showed the path.

Mibba opened his eyes wide, tried to see to the sides of the path. Nothing. Blackness hid everything from him. Darkness was all he saw. Eyes darted back to the smoke, fearful of losing his way without it. Followed it. Found where it led.

The moon opened its face, brought light into the deep hollow in the ground. Water glistened at the bottom, a long way down. Marks in the dirt showed many different tracks.

This was the place of life. This was life. This was the Naji of this place, this moment. The smoke drifted up, coiled into a spring and unwound a new path. Mibba followed, looked up when it went up, looked down when it went down, spun in circles when it spun spirals around him.

The entrance to the cave swallowed the smoke. No light, no smoke. Should he go in? Was this his journey? If it was his journey, was it beginning or end? Did it matter? He would not go in if the spirit of this place didn’t want him to enter. One foot lifted, drifted in the air. Wind swirled and lashed at his head. Mibba turned away, walked back down the path.

Now he knew. This was the end path, the end of story. Life came from water and spirit of country and the lives of the things that came with it, were both from and in country. Death came to all, but the path of life was a circle, and always led to the end.

“Look into the flames, boy, see the whole story.”

Flames lit the deeply lined face on the other side of the fire. An old man; his uncle had become an old man with grey hair and long legs painted with orange and yellow and white stripes of country. Shadows and light danced and swung and moved in the air behind his uncle. Mottles of trunks endured and lived in the spirals of light; spiders and feathers and furs and barks shone for a moment. Their moment.

“Is this my place?” Mibba asked. “My country?”

“Not yet, boy. First, you have to sing it into being. You have to have story of place, story of you, and sing them into you. You sing the words of the sacred place and you become part of country.” Sticks cracked in the fire. “You become People when you sing yourself into the story of people in your country.”

Shadows became long and twisted. Time became short and crippled. Mibba’s eyes became dry and scratchy. His mouth opened. Words came out. Not ordinary words. Words of power, of country, of magic – words of home. He sang; the words became one long word; the place became his place in the world; the story was tomorrow, today, all times before now and all times before time. He sang his whole history as if it were happening now. It was. He became. Whole.

 

Sun shone on the shiffle of grass tree. Kangaroos scratched at dusty fur from the shade of scrubby shrubs. Insects droned and buzzed. Birds called and chattered and sang. Mibba opened his heart to place, opened his eyes to life. His uncle lay asleep on the other side of the cold coals in the fire-pit.

The lights were in him, now. They were part of his journey. If that was not how it was supposed to be, it would not have been. He smiled. It was not the end of his journey. It was not the beginning. It was simply his journey, and he would choose his path with help from the knowledge that came from his song-lines, his story of country. And the Min-Min Spirit-lights that lit up his soul.


tripletrunk

About Food …

It’s like this: try anything new at least twice. That’s Nan’s rule, and her reasons are simple. She was born in a time where supermarket wasn’t part of the vocab; a world recession made it impossible to do more than survive with what you had (and you needed friends as well); food came from your own endeavor. Yes, she survived the 1920’s, with a gaggle of kids, and to her it wasn’t that long ago. The lessons stuck. Hard, because people died, people wandered the dusty trail looking for something, anything to do, just so they could eat.

At least she lived on a small landholding – not a farm! Just enough for a few fruit trees (watered from the once a week bathwater and fed by the almost-wild chooks), two small patches for veges (fenced in to stop the plague of rabbits and thieves of the two-legged variety), and many insects. People look askance when she mentions some of these things. Crickets – good food, she says. They are. Excellent food.

Always try something new at least twice, she says. Why? These are her reasons: The first time it may have been too different for the taster to truly accept; it may have been the ‘one’ with the bad bit; it may have been cooked improperly (she always looked at me when she said that!); it may not be representative of the best (green, or under-age or over-ripe/age/etc.). That first taste may not have been the best option. Make your first opinion the temporary one.

So, try it at least twice. That became my motto. Always give it a second go. And the things I’ve eaten when we were hungry as kids? Snails (you do have to prepare them for at least 10 days before you cook ’em), and they’re okay. Crickets (you catch them during the swarms with the same tools people use for butterflies, but bigger), they’re great, especially fried in butter (crunchy!). Frogs (with the local kids, and only at a particular time of year), and I didn’t like it because I like frogs in my garden keeping the other insects at bay (mozzies!). Lizards – only the bigger ones – and cooked like the local indigenous people. Good tucker, and worthy opponents because they can run, they can scratch and bite, and they’re pretty smart. ‘Roos – a very rich and lean meat, and one ‘roo fed the whole family for a month.

There’s lots of other stuff, and a warning never goes astray: never try something unless you know it’s not toxic or downright poisonous. Some flora (and some fauna, and some insects, and some reptiles, and some funghi, etc. etc.) shouldn’t be eaten. Ask the locals, ask the indigenous peoples, ask the specialists. But don’t look down your nose at the things you haven’t tried. At least twice.

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And that’s the warm-up writing practice for the day – now to work!

The Down

“It’s a lifestyle thing,” I say, hoping that will be the end of it, but it never is.

“How can it be a lifestyle thing – lifestyle? Think about that word for a ‘sec – lifeSTYLE. This isn’t anything to do with style. What you’re doing is disappearing!”

“Crap. I’m just getting rid of stuff. Stuff – look at it! So much stuff it suffocates. So much stuff I need a huge house and a huge mortgage and a huge garage and a huge credit card and … and …” but I can’t continue. It’s too much. Too much to deal with her, too much to deal with all this stuff, too much.

She stayed for the rest of the day, sighed each time she looked at me, each time I let go of something for a pittance. My friend helped me with the crowds of people who came and paid money for my stuff and took it away to add it to the piles in their own houses.

When the day was over, there were still a few things left, but then the big truck rolled up the driveway.

“Wanna get rid of the rest?” the burly-bearded bloke guffed.

“How much?” was my question as he wandered around and touched everything.

“How about this much?” He passed over a slip of paper with a number on it.

I nodded and exchanged the slip for wads of cash that I slipped into the money-sac around my waist.

After he left, the garage was empty. No stuff. No people. No ties.

It took a while to finish the cleaning, to evict the spiders into the garden and the dust into the compost. Dirty water – no chemicals, my life-long rant at the world – on the lemon tree.

The new owners would be here in a few days. The chain around my soul would become theirs, and I would be gone. It wasn’t a home to me, just a house. I never felt the nest instinct so many other people profess to. A house is a house is a house. That’s how I feel. It’s only what you bring into it that makes those walls any more.

And I don’t mean stuff. Stuff isn’t what matters. Stuff won’t take you beyond the realm of your one chance at life. Stuff doesn’t go with you when you die. Stuff doesn’t swell your heart or …

I had to stop. She was gone. Not buried in a place where I could visit her and pretend that it was her place. No. She was gone, her soul lifted into the sky as ash, to return to the space of dreams.

And I was gone.


Cage Dunn 2017