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 And the contract of sale would be withdrawn.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.

We Get to Say Goodbye

A death, a departure, an overseas offer – some of the goodbyes said recently. Without the opportunity to say goodbye – what do we do? Pray, and hope they get the chance to hear?Leave the words unsaid? Write it all down, send it in a letter (email)?

Standing on the cold concrete and waving as the vehicle leaves the home base, that’s where the last one happened. Arms raised, mouths tight in the rictus of a smile, but the road moves on, people move on, life moves on – and we say goodbye.

Sometimes, it’s forever, and Granddad won’t be back, even though his voice lingers and his sounds linger and his smell lives on. Open the wardrobe and his clothes are still there, feel through the pockets and you’ll find the little notes for who wants what for Christmas or Birthday, you’ll find marbles that ended up on the roof of the patio (how?) that he kept as a prize, or the eye of the favourite doll that’s too old and delicate to play with, and the little piece of ruby that was lost from the ring/earring – but he found it and knows how to put it back together.

Never going to get done now, because he’s gone. Who gets to be the gramps now? Who gets to the the one with the big lap and the open ears and the wide wink? Who?

At least in the modern era, children are allowed to have their say at the farewell ceremony, they get to close the book with the words they can speak to him one last time. They see and they know and they don’t have to worry that’s he’s alone or cold or afraid.

That was the worst. Then came the departure, where it looks good on the surface, but just below is the rocky reef waiting to tear up the carefully laid nets of constraint. The wheels wait like a chariot as the belongings go in, carefully packed to balance and make the best use of limited space. The dark morning and cold air. The distant touch and words that reek of fear and pain. Goodbye, we say, we feel, we burn.

The wheels turn, the vehicle moves away, and part of the heart splits into little shards that pierce the lungs so sharply that it’s hard to breathe, but you can’t show it, can’t let it out. It has to be civilised.

Turns the corner, the last sight of the dark head that has been so familiar for so many years. ‘Goodbye,’ you whisper, hoping you’re wrong. Praying you’re wrong.

The final piece, the third thing – ‘cos it always happens in threes, right? – and the offer of a job in a country so far away they have lunch when it’s midnight here. The communication that has to wait for hours, that doesn’t have the zing of a conversation, that has a hollow sound over the e-talk. Too good to pass up.

So they go, and leave behind the scars. Some permanent, some fresh and deep, some self-inflicted.

We say goodbye.the rose

 

 

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.

 

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

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

Something

Wind blew a scatter of leaves across my path. The rattle matched the jangle of my reactions. Each sound caused a hitch in my step, caused my fists to clench, my head to turn – this way and that, check everything for movement, for shadows within shadows. For any black darker than the grey of Autumn. There’s something there, and close.

What does it want? What do I have? How can I get out away?

A dog barks, the hack of it bounds from the shape of the wind. I couldn’t tell which direction it came from. If I could, I’d go that way. A dog would be better company than …

A noisy gust lifts a dancer’s swirl of colour – leaves in browns and yellows and reds  and oranges combine and swing and eddy and twirl into a shape of a tall and elegant woman with auburn hair. It was in my way, and I wanted to reach out and brush it away, or burst through it, but I looked again – It had eyes!

My backside hit the cold, wet grass. The path was to my right. My left arm burned with pain and I lifted it, felt the pain that surged through a living body. Pain meant life. If I was alive, I could get out of here.

The useless left arm I tucked into the gap between two buttons on the long blue coat I’d taken from my mother’s cupboard. The arm held there, but it didn’t ease the agony. Life. Agony. Same.

I tucked my legs under my torso, pushed with my right hand on the ground. It was cold and wet. Where were my gloves? Wasn’t I wearing gloves? Who would be silly enough to go out into this sort of day without gloves? Not me. I always worse gloves, summer or winter, to hide it.

Now it was clear and visible and as bright as snow on the mountain. The red gash. The inch-wide scar of livid and proud flesh, one of the many that defined my life. The reason I was out here.

Push. Lift the body.

It was harder than I thought. One arm held in tight to the body, the other weakened by the lack of solidity. Push. Push. Use the legs, use the thighs. Push. Lean into it. There. Up. Looked around.

I saw the gloves on the gravel path. White gloves with the blue pattern of skeletonised leaves. I’d made them for my mother, but she was gone now, and I needed them.

A roar of wind as my foot lifted to move me forward. My left arm came loose of the coat as I leaned into the wind. Hair blew across my face, blocking my sight of the path. But I hadn’t turned, I hadn’t changed direction, so it was directly in front of me. Keep going.

One step. Another. Lean down and into the wind. Hold that left hand steady. Ignore the pain of the left, ignore the bite of cold on the right. Move to the path. Safety lies on the path. With the gloves. See them, see the glow of something there, on that brown path?

I stepped onto the brown, but it wasn’t a path.

I wasn’t walking in the park.

The parapet on the rooftop of my building looked like this. The ledge. One step would take me … away.leaf dancer


Copyright Cage Dunn 2017 (an idea for a Part 2 scene).

 

That Itch

It was a curse. A gypsy thing – to keep looking beyond the next moment, around the curve, over the next hill. To always be looking beyond where she was now.

Binini had two things: the backpack with all the hooks and catches; and the roll-up doona, otherwise known as a mountain-grade sleeping bag. Oh, and a third thing, the pillow. A bit mangy now, but still the best pillow she’d ever slept on.

They were laid out on the desk, ready to pack. There were very few possessions. Clothes were the easy part – and easily replaced if necessary. And the essential things like water bags and the multi-purpose cooking utensils, the fold-up knife-fork-spoon. A cup that fitted inside the food bowl with a clamp down lid. A place for all these things so she could walk all day and feel balanced and alive. And moving. Going somewhere.

The pictures, though, were like rocks. If she took them, she’d always remember, always feel the tug to come back. Just to see, not to return. Just to look. At what could have been. Just to be sure they were safe.

One hand reached out to pick up the top painting. Stammered to stillness over the bright colours that almost resembled something that might have been an animal with four legs – or maybe it was two people. Her eyes blurred.

What Binini saw was his bright upturned face, the golden eyes glistening with joy as the paints were splattered over more surfaces than paper and wall and floor. His face a multi-hued striation of attempts to dip the end in pots that flipped up every time he got too close with his clumsy appendages.

She saw his tiny little body as the legs tried to keep up with the speed of his need to be here and there and everywhere – all at the same time. A breath hooked in her chest. The fingers clamped shut as the arm pulled the hand back to her body, held it there.

The young girl, older than him, who tried to slow him down, be the mature one. His sister was the one who understood what it was to be left. Alone. Who recognised the signs.

The sadness in her eyes over the last few days were mirrored by the look given by the overlord. No, she shouldn’t call him that. He was their carer. Their foster father. He was trying to be an example. Of stability. Of security. Of … normal. He was trying to not hold Binini back, not force her to do anything she didn’t want to. All he wanted was for Binini to talk. He thought she’d stay if she spoke.

But Binini couldn’t do it. Her dreams drew her further and further each night. The cries that woke her called to her soul. She had to go, had to find out … had to leave.

One picture. She’d take one picture. Her hand leaned in again.

The door banged behind her. She looked around. The young girl with dark brown eyes, the golden edges of pain and loss that glowed in a direct echo of the pain in her heart, closed to evade the answer she saw. She turned away from Binini, closed the door again.

The back pack slid under the bottom bunk. The sleeping bag went on the top bunk to make a smooth cover. The pillow got plumped up and laid against the wall. The picture got blue-tac on the back before she hung it on the wall.

Tonight. Binini would stay tonight. Tomorrow was another day. She’d stay and see what it brought. If the pack stayed out of sight.


Copyright Cage Dunn 2017