A New Story [Perhaps]

An excerpt from a new story in the paranormal field. Copyright Rose Brimson & Cage Dunn 2017 (of course).


Scene 1

“It’s a beautiful old house. Probably best described as original, ’cos it needs a fair amount of work, but I’m sure there’ll be someone to do work in the area – it’s a farming region, so lots of trades in those places.”

The words seemed to ring in Anna’s head as she sat in her car and stared at the house. Yes, it was beautiful. Once. A long time ago. Not now. Original. Yes. Raw timber because the paint had flaked off decades ago. That real estate agent was going to cop it when she found him. And the contract of sale would be withdrawn. She had three days left of the cooling-off period.

How long would it take to get the deposit back?

Hot sun streamed onto her denim-covered legs and she opened the door to get out. At least she could look around, and tell the miserable, low-down, rotten-stinking-lying pretty-boy prick that she’d inspected the place and found it to be not as advertised. That would be enough to ensure she could back out.

One of the windows glinted. A movement? From inside? No. Just a breeze. Were there still curtains? Or was it the casement falling out? She shook her head. Stupid, really, but she felt a need to look. To check. To make sure.

All her savings, all her money, was tied up in this. Her future. Hmmmppphhhh! If she were a bloke, she’d spit on it.

There were no trees to park under, no bushes, no shrubs, no green lawns – no grass at all, just dust and gravel and rocks – and so hot the black asphalt stuck to her sandals as she ticky-tacked across the road to inspect the house that should have been her new home.

One hand grabbed the veranda post as her foot landed on the first step and sank. And sank. She stepped back with a gasp.

Rotten.

Her fingers clawed at the soft timber of the post. Rotten.

She glared at the boards on the wrap-around veranda. Holes, warped boards, the hum of wasps from somewhere below the gaps. Rotten.

Nails stuck up at odd angles, lay on the surface, or produced rusty circles on the timber. Anna raised her eyes to the entrance. The door hung partly open, twisted into a shape that meant that’s probably where it’d been for decades. Rotten. Everything was rotten, rotten, rotten.

Her chest expanded with a gust of breath as she stepped backwards and turned back to the front gate. The long grass to left and right was too tall to walk through with sandals on, but she had to get around the back. She had to see just how bad it was, document it all and compare it to the photos on the web, so she could back out of the deal.

So far, her life hadn’t changed at all.

Puffs of dust followed her footsteps down the rutted driveway. The equally-spaced paths were well-tamped. Nothing would ever grow there, and it gave her a safer place to walk. But she stomped anyway. Just in case of Joe Blakes. That would really be the final straw.

The back door was open, resting against the torn-off flyscreen framed in curlicues of pink-painted wood. That would be worth rescuing. Except not by her. She wouldn’t be here, would she?

No.

Anna stepped up onto the concrete slab that passed for a patio or veranda. The timber that held up the roof was solid, but paint peeled in long scrabbles down to lay at the base. One fingernail pushed as hard as possible and didn’t sink in. She turned toward the back entrance, squealed as a spider web drifted down across her forehead. She swiped and slapped until she was sure it was gone.

Crap!

A grimy bannister brush lay against an old timber fruit-crate. She leaned down and picked it up, held it up in the air as she stepped through the back door, literally, when it crumpled to frothy lumps at the first turn of the old handle.

Crap!

More and more like her life, but with more dust.

The light was dim. The layers of dust and grime didn’t help. Ash and greasy yellow marks slid along the walls of the kitchen. Anna knew it was the kitchen because of the table, the chairs, the trough-sink, and the wood-stove tucked into the wall.

A wood-stove. She’d always wanted a wood stove. A dream, because she remembered the tales of her gran and the time it took to get it started, the time it took each morning to prepare, the time it took to ensure enough wood for the season. But it was beautiful. Solid iron, all the doors and lids, the lid-lifter hook, the green enamel doors, the black sliding grate. Two fingers caressed the cold enamel, ran along the full length of the old lady. Bits of ash drifted to the floor.

Anna smiled and looked around. The small door on the left, between the stove and the trough, showed a pantry. Things were set up on shelves, too dust-covered to see what they were, or had been. She closed the door and turned back to the large kitchen. Sun glowed into the window on the far side. No curtains, just dust and webs. And one or two egg-sacs. It was a good home for spiders and such. But not her.

The double door had to be persuaded to move in the grooves. She’d have to change this to a top slider, and get rid of the bottom bit; that’d make it easier to maintain. The room behind the doors must have been the living room, lounge room. The fireplace was huge, but with a small central grate. Blocks of wood lay in neat piles to either side, and the hearth was swept clean. Except for the dust, the fire was ready to be lit. A small triangle of kindling sat in the grate waiting for the spark.

The two chairs, overstuffed and overworn, sat at an angle to the fire. One had an antimacassar over the back and one on each arm. The other was unadorned, dark and stained, but the rose pattern – red and white and green – was dimly visible. She ran a hand over the arm. This one hadn’t been used. It was just one of a pair. She touched the antimacassar chair. Body grease, a deep indentation on the seat, the shape of a body almost outlined. This chair had been well-used. Maybe there were two for symmetry.

She looked around. An ornate bookcase with glass doors hid objects with shapes that were indiscernible, but she wasn’t going to open it to see what it was. Not with that amount of web to fight through.

Two doors led off the main room. She shoved at the door nearest the front window, but didn’t budge it. The other one slid open to reveal an iron bed-stead, wardrobes that spoke of art-nouveau designs. The rug on the timber floor was a hunters design, an original, probably hand-woven if the tie-offs on the upturned corner were any indication.

Anna didn’t lean down to check. She felt a tickle at the base of her scalp and turned around, expecting to see someone.

Nothing.

She walked back to the lounge room. Empty. Still. She looked out the windows. No one out there, so sign of movement. As she walked up to the front door, she noticed the lack of window coverings. No curtains, no blinds, no mosquito or fly screens.

If she believed in ghosts, now would be the time for her to consider that what she’d seen from outside came from the other realm, but she didn’t.

“I don’t believe in ghosts,” the loudness of her voice was shocking in the echo of empty space as she retraced her steps through the kitchen and out the back door.

“I didn’t take any pictures,” she said. The stillness of the air and building remained. Nothing moved except her breath.

The open area to the south of the concrete block outside the back door had a double trough and a hand-pump. It was irresistible. She pushed on the pump. Rusty red water gushed into the concrete trough. Maybe this place had been empty longer than she thought.

She stepped off the veranda and walked the length of the ruts to the back fence to get an overall view of the house.

The double chimneys on the south side were stone and brick, grey and red, in a design she’d never seen before. The roof was square, even if the iron was rusted and lifting like wings in several places. The gutters were gone; the hooks remained and she could see the internals. No rot in the roof that she could see. It was fixable.

Her phone peeped. She pulled it out and checked the message. Deleted it. Skimmed to the website for the house and enlarged the pictures as she compared the real with the e-real. If she put a gauze in front of her face, it looked the same. A dusty, sort-of block-out effect that blocked nothing but the worst of the decay. The house looked just like it was advertised.

She wouldn’t get her money back. Wouldn’t be able to back out of the contact.

The only choice she had was to make the place liveable.


Unedited, so subject to change at no notice at all (until publication). Title: something about a Ghost …. and Gold …. and a Country Town ….

the house

 

A Privacy Issue

Logging on was easy now. Van’s mind seemed to work better. The pathways to the vaults were clear. The new connections worked as expected. The work on the server farm was complete. The rack wasn’t as large as some she had worked with, but large enough for her purposes. She could store ten Zettabytes, which meant how many bytes? Couldn’t remember: One thousand Mega was a Gig; one thousand Gig was a Tera; one thousand Tera was a Peta; one thousand Peta was an Exa; one thousand Exa was a Zettabyte. Still too hard to visualise. Big.

The new compression algorithm worked well as long as the data was unstructured. She just had to restore it using the same method that sent it to store – exactly. Otherwise, it was junk. The labels for each packet were individualised in a standalone db with a locking variable related to only that download. She could unload using the concurrency procedure, but each packet had to be specified by that variable.

It meant she could store most of what was already out there on the web – both dark and light, on her own cloud farm and no one would ever know, because it would only ever be turned on when she wanted to use it. If there was no power from the grid to the source, the source did not exist in the electronic world. She wasn’t on their grid unless she was hunting – where had that word come from? – working; unless she was working.

If someone wanted to trace her actions, they would need a minimum amount of time while she was active and on-line, and she had calculated to a nanosecond how much time would be required, and a shut-down process would initiate thirty seconds prior to redline. The layers upon layers of security protocols would have been appropriate for a large enterprise.

Why was she so concerned, so paranoid, about anyone finding her? Everyone was out there, on the web. It was all around, all the time, and it never lost a byte of data. Her shadow would be there, too. But it would be elastic, easily missed, and as a last resort, her shadow would become a mirror for the searcher.

What she was doing was illegal: unauthorised access to private data; unauthorised access to private networks; system penetration; theft – oh, yes, she was stealing; misfeasance; unauthorised modification; and possibly the worst – with the intent to commit or facilitate the commission of an offence.

Yes, she was paranoid. She’d broken the law, invalidated her security rating; her professional career in IT security was over.

It didn’t matter. She was working. Her mind buzzed as she went through each step in each procedure. She felt at home. Constructive. This was her world. A faint hum seemed to linger on her skin, energise her body.

She outlined the process for the packet compression task. Each stream compressed as it came to her server in plackets of packets. The compression algorithm meant she could store the whole internet, but she wanted only the dark side, and of that, she wanted only the sites with data that met her requirements. The spy code searched for key words, images, or patterns – the links they had with each other – that indicated any form of ‘hit’ on the chart she’d drawn up.

Van wondered where she had written it down, recorded it, and why she wanted it this way? Why had she done this task at all? Was she doing it for the detective? For herself, to keep busy? Was she going to hand over the information? Why was she doing it on her own?

Did it matter? She was doing something constructive. Something other than grieving. She had to do something, anything, and she could do this, at least. She had the skills and experience and knowledge required to get the job done, to get results.

The links where she could determine location that was not local, she forwarded to another site – when had she done that? It must be hers; it was her style, her pattern – easily searched, that notified authorities in the local phone region of a suspect site. Sometimes, her site was attacked. Not always by her targets. The code in the worm she sent back to the source of the attack always confirmed the physical IP and the country code. The Trojan horse delivered the worm that killed every attacker. It wiped out the start-up location, filtered down through all their hardware, firmware and software, all the linked infrastructure, and sent her their most personal details. Once the collection was complete, their motherboard went into a meltdown process that took milliseconds.

Their computer became a casualty of the war on the monsters from the dark side.

Van knew it would take time, a lot of time, but she could be patient. For each confirmed site, there were hundreds of links to examine. The dark net was more than ninety percent of the internet, but no one knew for certain. Van knew how to search now; she had taken the information from the first name on the list. She had his contacts, his lists, his patterns; she looked for the similarities, and she found them. A lot of them.

She knew how people would try to penetrate, the weaknesses they would look to exploit, and she knew how to combat those strategies and tactics. She had plans to block, she had plans to defend, and she had plans to attack. This was her system, and she was the only one writing the protocols and procedures. She could play as hard and heavy as the black-netters, the spark-wizards and cyber-guerrillas. She designed her system to kill trespassers. Well, metaphorically.

The shed wasn’t quite a black zone, but it didn’t get good coverage, and she didn’t want to set up an easily seen phone tower. It would be too traceable if she did have one, and she had her own way of doing things. The dongle. And using the double-helix wind generators as backup to the high-density PV cells and the new zinc bromide-gel deep cycle battery bank for storage meant she could be up and running the whole system for at least four hours each day.

When the system had been through a full round of maximum capacity and boundary tests, she would consider the addition of a lightning rod with a trickle feed-in to another set of batteries. As back up.

She set up the server farm to connect remotely – through dongle as aerial; no dongle, no connection – and the link on the trig point to the east of her farm. The trig was well above the tree line, and had perfect line of sight down into the flat plains of the city. The link would use an alternate laser-driven chaos pattern – one she devised – to connect to the world through the existing phone towers, but never the same more than once in ten to the power of three cycles, and never using the same pattern more than one in eleven to the power of four times. And every path had an access red-light process that required not just a password, but a password generated for each side of the cube in the right pattern and with the right time lapse between each entry. Four dimensions of protection.

 

The LED lantern shone blue-white against the sandstone blocks of the path. Her feet slapped against them as she strode toward the door. All her hardware was functioning within parameters; all the security activated on the server farm alarms. Time to go to work.

Van had to watch her step. The tractor was backed in closer to the stairs than she liked. The implements and attachments laid about or leaning up against the wheels were death traps. The shed was cluttered, over-crowded. Things piled up and in the way. She had rules about planning and preparation and consistency; about work patterns for productive outcomes. She hated having to look for things because someone didn’t put them in their appropriate place.

The boots lined up against the timber rack next to the door caught her attention. Redback boots. She didn’t have Redback boots. Where had they come from? Her boots were Rossi. A dirty Akubra hat – not hers; she had a stiff canvas hat, well-shaped. A black Drizabone. Hers was brown. Rubber Wellington boots, one pair red with a black trim, the other pair black with a red trim. Several shirts, red and blue checks. Not Van’s. She wore fine-woven cotton, or a cotton-silk. Van cleaned and brushed her work gloves after every use. Two pairs, not hers, curled in the shape of a hand and sprawled on the wheel arch of the tractor. Someone had been in her space.


An excerpt from a novel, copyright Cage Dunn 2016.

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

 

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.

 

Caged

from Dogs N Cats N Us

One dog came to the front of the cage as he walked past. He’d walked and scanned each occupant for suitability. Only this one came up. One dog. Tiny. A tiny, little dog with deep dark eyes and pointed ears and an upright tail.

Drago flipped up the face of the ticket on the cage. Timid? Not this dog. Not suitable for children. Was she a biter? Breed: Tenterfield Terrier. Terriers were smart, weren’t they? Noisy, yappy, diggers? He didn’t know enough.

Such a tiny little dog. Too small. If he held his hand out flat, it could stand there quite comfortably. It would be – like everyone else – intimidated by him; afraid. He needed a big dog, a man’s dog, a real dog.

Drago continued down each aisle. Dogs of so many different shapes and sizes and colours. They all barked and ran and jumped up at other people, but not for him. None of them came to the front of the cage when he walked up. Not one.

It took a long time, but he walked back down every aisle, looked into every cage on his way through, then turned around and went back. He reached the cage where the tiny dog was. Where he thought she’d been. A young girl was in the cage with a hose and a broom, cleaning. No dog.

He checked the ticket. Right place. The same tag.

The dog was gone. He was too late. Someone else had got it.

Drago fell to his knees. He didn’t realise until the crack of bone on concrete. A big lump stuck in his throat, sank down into to his chest, froze on the way down to his belly to sit like an iceberg.

“You okay, mate?” the young girl stood with the hose in one hand while the other twirled the water off. “Mister?”

Drago looked up. He felt dizzy, drained.

“The dog,” he managed through a mouth that didn’t work properly. “The dog?”

“Yeah, here she is – just scared of hoses and water, so she hides under there.”

The large bundle of blankets at the back of the stall moved, slid down as the pointed nose emerged. Ears erect, bright eyes open as she tilted her head; one second and she ran to the front of the cage and licked at his hand caught in the wire.

“I think she’s yours, mate. She hasn’t come to the front for anyone else. Most people scare the life outta her. She’s had a tough life.”

That meant she was the perfect dog for Drago. Two peas from very different pods, and now pack.

The girl opened the cage gate and Drago leaned over and scooped her up.

“We’ll go home now, shall we, friend?”

pepsi-oct-2010-shed


 

Copyright Shannon Hunter 2017

The Things They Do For Us

All my life has involved one, two, three and sometimes many more animals, either as pets, or working animals, or farm animals, or friends. And one or two (many) were the healers.

The dog who showed a young boy how it was safe to be touched (just a little, and with rules!), the cat who slept by the head of the young girl and purred and comforted until the restless and terrified mind could drift into sleep, the old horse who protected chickens because her friend in the wheelchair wanted it – it goes on and on and on.

The things they do for us, and only because it’s what we want or need.

At the same time I was a foster carer for humans, I was also a foster carer for non-humans: dogs, cats, pups, kittens, rabbits, horses, chickens, goats, sheep, snakes, birds (got the scars to prove the sulphur-crested – and so has the white cat), even some non-approved animals who decided to live in a burrow under our house [as an aside, when I got the builder in to strengthen the foundations without disturbing the wombats – he did it for cost only]. It’s possible I’ve missed some out. There were lots.

And there were times when we couldn’t save them – too much pain and harm and damage – but we did what we could to make their life feel as safe as possible. We didn’t give up on them – the foster humans saw the need in these abused animals and connected. Sometimes, this is what saved the human; sometimes, it was enough to also save the animal (I’m speaking mind here; we didn’t ever put an animal down or get rid of it for the sole reason of being difficult or afraid or unsocial).

Because if an animal has been through that and can learn to love again, learn to trust and hope – we all can, can’t we? And if it takes a long time, that’s what it takes, isn’t it?

And the issue of fostering – well, I didn’t get to give them back, did I? If one of the kids bonded with that animal – well, that’s pack, and pack doesn’t get booted out. Packs stays. Do you think there was ever a foster (animal) that didn’t bond to one of the fosters (there were a LOT of fosters)?

The fosters learned through contact with others who’d been through the same terror. They learned that the life they left behind wasn’t normal, even if it had become normalised while they were in it.

With the love of an animal who’d suffered, they learned how to heal, not only in themselves, but in the giving of healing to others.

They learned about pack, about family; that blood is only blood, and pack (family) is loyalty, protection, safety, and love without obligation. So they made their own pack family, and they made the rules of pack (some safe zone discussion involved in creating those rules).

That’s all it took to heal. Connection.


As an aside [another one] the short stories in dogs n cats n us is NOT from the foster times – I promised to never reveal any of their stories unless they approved, or the owner of the story was [  ], or I did it for myself only. The short stories I put into it are all from other areas, and semi-fictitious.


efrontDogsCatsUsv1

New Volume of Short Stories

efrontDogsCatsUsv1.jpg

 

Dogs have Masters, Cats have Staff – isn’t that what they say? But it’s more than that, and we who love them know all it can be, and all it was, and all it will be. And we shall never forget.

Saying Hello, Saying Goodbye; the things they do for us, the love they give, the lives they share. In the Beginning, and at the End, they will be there for us.

Here

Stories in Shorts

Due to the delay on Equine Neophyte of the Blood Desert, we are dishing up a new anthology:

What’s in there?

Stories Written by:
Cage Dunn
Shannon Hunter
Karel Jaeger
Rose Brimson
Cisi De

Cat’s Eye                                        The Old Man and His Desert
The Truth About RumpledStiltedSkin: A Very Ugly Old Man
To Tell it How it Really Is               The Garden of Souls
Shrine                                               A Quiet Night
Practical Issues                                The Storm
A Thought                                        Was it a Light?
Gone                                                 Someday, or The Day After
Maneki Niko                                    Survive
Cat Whisperer                                  Burglar!
Baban                                               Tones of Dawn
Min-Min

 

How it all comes together …

The last few months I’ve been trying out a new process (yes, yes, yes – a process is the way it’s done [before the procedure of outline], and I’m talking about from Idea to Concept to Premise to Beat to Balance Sheet to [finally] Outline) and it’s proving a little difficult at certain points.

Don’t get me wrong – I love how it works, and I can see how (in the end) it will make my life so much easier (and the novels so much better), but when undertaking a new way of doing things, it is sometimes difficult to retain the focus to the new way. There’s always something that pops up its head and says ‘I’m much more juicy to chew on than that silly thing! Come play with me.’ Or: ‘That’s so hard – come play with me the way you used to.’

But the power and passion that comes from understanding the new process is (well, can be) All-Encompassing. I can feel the bits that lack the full gamut of story; I can stand up and walk around the picture I create with these things; I can feel the life of the characters as they do their thing (always remember: character in action [yes, still a weak point that has to be considered when outlining each scene]). It is power, and once I get my head around how to turn that switch on for each and every idea that compels the passionate embrace of a story unfolding, it will be worth it.

For the moment, I struggle through each section, each scene, each character arc. I put words in the final outline that sound like a good journey – and then I see how it could be made much more dramatic, with much higher stakes, and an outcome that evokes a full-body response in terms of emotion.

Well, that’s me – if by the time it’s finished and the context of that connection is still there, I’ll be the happiest chappie (writerly type) in the world (kitchen).

So, back to work (where’s that cat – he’s supposed to do this editing task?) to discover new things about how to make it betterer, gooderer, and uber-interesting (compelling, in fact).

And that brings me to the apprenticeship of writing. I’m the person who’s been doing the story thing since I was a kid, but when you have a life in the country, when you do country school stuff and have limited access to resources and personnel who could point the way – what is there to do [pre-internet, but even now internet is a variable thing out there]? And when you finish school, life insists you need to earn your way (and writing? who does that? layabouts, that’s who – get a real job!) by enslaving your soul to the multi-national (or worse, government).

But now that’s over, and I’m free (sort of, still have to pay taxes, etc.) to put my words in the proper order to make them into stories that become novels that end up out there in the world. And it’s been a long and hard path, because first I had to learn things:

1. Everything’s changed, and the rules of novel are mucho different;
2. Most of the resources (books and tutors) are as much in the dark as everyone else;
3. The people who do know what they’re doing and talking about don’t talk to plebs (the ones who do are very hard to find – gold dust in the river of muddy life);
4. The words used are vague and wobbly – and big! – to make it harder to break through and in (and hide their vagueness of comprehension);
5. The young writer/s suffer the condescension of published author/s (yes, it happens).
01. One thing hasn’t changed: People still have the passion for putting story together.

BUT …

Now my apprenticeship is over. Last year I wrote several novels (yeah, a bit rough, or even a bit worse than rough) and what I learned through the process of doing that practical work, of keeping my eyes and ears open for what worked and what didn’t, and the act (verb) of continually seeking (see, my own journey) the Way. And I found it.

This year, I will write (and co-write) at least the number of books I wrote last year, but these ones will be not only be good, they will be better, and by the end of the year, I want to have the concept of Best in there.

Next year will be the Best Story I Ever Wrote (unless I get to it this year, of course).


So, back to work … … …

 

 

 

 

Oh, A Schedule?

Apparently, it’s a good idea to have a specific and defined schedule to avoid going off-track (or off-tack, as I would be more wont to say).

So, a schedule. Very specific . An outline of the efforts to achieve something.

Hmmmmmmmm.

Write a new post for this site each Sunday; write a blog post for 5bayby14u each Wednesday.

The books? Okay, I’ll start with the books I want to put out this year. But some (most) of them are co-author projects . . . Same deal? Okay, here goes:

Complete and publish ‘The Third Moment in Hell’ [specific?] In January 2017.

Monis Glinker – Priestess Unburdened Feb-Mar 2017.

Monis is the eldest of the priestesses; her last remaining daughter will take the role of Highest at the next summer solstice, but . . . the Beast takes her daughter, and now Monis has nothing. Unless . . .

She uses the secret magic and takes the body of her daughter, puts her own soul inside the dead body. There is now a task to complete – defeat the Beast. Vengeance for the lives it has taken. No other priestess has the secrets of the ________ – because IT kills them, as it would have killed Monis if the ceremony had gone ahead. But now she has a purpose – and nothing to lose.

The Mirror Portal: Book III of The Narrung Sagas. March 2017.

The Once Lost: An Anthology of Ideas. No idea – work on it as it comes.

The A-Z of Short Stories (the title will be amended one day) – work on it as it comes.

A Woman’s Footprint in the Stone of Time – Mar-April 2017 (Title needs some work?).

One small footprint, been there in that stone for 40k years. An ancestor – how does she know – cos she puts her foot in the solid stone and it fits her foot and leaves no gaps and brings a piece of story to her song. So she sings it, at that special time, for the young women to hear of how it all came to be.

Permission to be Human – Apr-May 2017 (with Rose Brimson )

Cover that up!  Nan and the id tag – show it when required on the street, in the market, in the houses where she works as a cleaner.

Always, she’d look wide-eyed up and down, no one must see, no one must know who doesn’t already know. The tag quickly tucked back in the hidden pocket – ‘til the next time it’s needed.

Then the burglaries started. No smashed windows or doors, so the cops said an inside job. They go to Nan, search the house, go out back to the shed, find the gift from old Mrs Marsh – just a simple and useful tool to help with her work because her hands were so sore, so painful from the arthritis. But old Mrs Marsh doesn’t understand how people are, so Nan has to hide it.

Too good for a half-caste – revoke the permission; revoke the right to tenancy – kick her out! Take her to jail to wait for the judge, then boot her back to the bush – where she belongs!

No clothes, no money, no tag to give her permission to be human.

Country Gonna Bite Ya – May-Jun 2017 (with Rose)

It’s about a BOY who HATES that he has to be responsible for his girly tagalong sister – she’s even scared of horses and can’t help with any of the REAL jobs – she’s a PAIN.

Silence is a Lie – Jun-Jly 2017

Annandan, Land of Dragons – Jly-Aug 2017

Dream Slider (unknown, cos I still don’t have a BS or an outline, but if it’s on the list, it gets looked at occasionally, and notes get added, so it’s in there, and maybe for this year).

Dream Walkers (ditto)

Cat Whisperer (ditto)

Dragons and Beer to Go (ha, ha – we’ll see what happens, shall we?)

And [because the focus group liked the idea and humour of it {Harrison and Olivia}]

Pick, Lick, Roll, Flick – 2017 (YA, humour [yeah, yeah, yeah – how can you write about something funny if you don’t have a sense of humour? We’ll see, shall we?].

3 boys find a recipe for a lozenge/lolly – it makes them smart – but they stole the only copy from the guy who paid $1m for it (now lost – and they made amendments to the original due to lack of ingredients) – and he not only wants it back, he wants payback for the camel snot they left him covered in.

_________

Other Stuff:

SpecFicChic Anthology – Submissions due for completion by July – have yet to decide what to do for that, but I still like the idea of Monster in the House-Horror-Scary works. New ones.

Write up a proper plan for structure, using all the things I’ve learned – and have the blanks up and ready to roll (end of Feb at the latest).

__________

And there you have the specific list for 2017 – an impossible task to complete it all, but I’m more than one person now, so with the help of Rose and Karl (and maybe . . .?) it will happen. The stories will be completed; they will be good; they will be read and enjoyed.

Oh, and the path that leads to the track that might provide some small level of cash benefit might appear on the map at some stage. [See, sense of humour.]

Slim big yawn

The Writer Hard at Work