Tiny

“A teeny, tiny little house.”

“Just a Tiny House – that’s what they’re called. Tiny Houses. It’s a lifestyle choice.”

“What?”

“I can live here, be debt free, wander when I feel like it – and  my snail shell will be here when I come back – or I can be like you, do what everyone else does, and spend the rest of my life trying to ‘manage my money’ and not sink.” He frowned at the look of shock on Cassida’s face as she stuck her head inside. “Maybe you should look beyond your platinum credit card and see life for what it really is.” He shook his head as he walked down the track to check if the sign was still standing.

Was it a mistake to ask his group to come here? Did he think they’d approve of his choices? Was that why?

No. He didn’t need to get approval.

Matt was here because it freed him. He owned the tiny house, he owned the land, his bio-diesel vehicle was enough to get him around when necessary. He was free.

The house was tiny. Adobe-mud walls, rounded over so from a distance it looked like a giant snail – or a desert-style hobbit house – with a semi-circular door, two main windows – and the eye-spikes at the end of the snail-walkway were helical wind turbines. The water tank was hidden below the walkway. He had water, power, peace. He had a small income from his military pension.

It was enough. Almost.

The inner sanctum had an open space on the main level. What wasn’t immediately visible was the bathroom, hidden behind the door that looked like a half-pantry. The kitchen was a sink, plank shelving that followed the curve, and his two-burner electric stove top. The  crazy-pattern step-stair that followed the line of the helical shell went up to his private zone, the sleeping space. There was a barbecue outside, on the north side, near the vege garden.

It was enough. Except for one thing.

The small mound was the first thing he saw each morning on his daily walk. From the front door the rising sun sparkled on the granite. The rocks were laid in patterns of colour to reflect the spiral of the snail home shell home they’d built together. No marker.

The sign was still up, tall and clearly visible, despite the best efforts of the wind. Matt raised his hand over his eyes to check. Not many came this way, and the low roll of the hummocks of stony hills didn’t hide anything bigger than a rabbit. He’d see if a vehicle was within ‘cooee’ – nothing.

Maybe he’d have to tell Cassida it would be just the two of them. She wouldn’t like that, would she? If he didn’t tell her, and they sat down to start the work while they waited – to get ahead, he’d say – would she stay and not realise until too late?

No. She’d go. He walked back. She wasn’t outside waiting for him, so maybe she didn’t find it as claustrophobic as he’d thought she would.

He opened the door. Cassida sat at the slide-out table reading his work.

“This is so good,” she said. “And so sad.” She looked up at him with glints of tears in her eyes. “I didn’t realise Tiny wasn’t here. I didn’t realise he’d …”

“He died last month,” Matt said.

“Are you … do you … It’s just … there’s this person who went into a nursing home, and his dog … it’s going to be put down … do you …?”


Rose Brimson 2017 copyright

Gram’s Wisdom

“It’s a pumpkin, kid.”
“What’s a punkin, Gram.”
“It’s a big fruit that grows on a vine all summer until it gets so big that the vine dies off.”
“Why does the punkin kill the vine, Gram?”
“Because it spent all that time to make seeds on the inside, and when next Spring comes, it can make more vines with the seeds, can’t it?”
“But don’t we eat it? Are we eating the punkin babies, Gram?”
“We eat the flesh, not the seeds. We keep them for next year.”
“What would happen if we didn’t eat it?”
“The pumpkin grows until the vine is knackered. If we didn’t pick it, the thing would sit there and the flesh would rot over the winter, until it got warmer. Then the mushy, mouldy flesh would melt into the Earth, and the seeds would sprout, and new vines would grow.”
“So, shouldn’t we leave it to grow like it wants?”
“If we left it on the ground and all the seeds tried to sprout at once, then most would die. Of the two or three that survived, there wouldn’t be enough nutrients to grow a good sized pumpkin without a lot of care and attention. If even one pumpkin doesn’t get to a good enough size, there are no seeds. If there are no seeds, there won’t be a chance to sprout the following year. The end of pumpkins.”
“So, we eat them because it’s good for us, and it’s good for the punkin, and we take care of the babies and make sure there are more for next year, and that’s our job?”
“Close enough, kid.”
“Is that why I’m here?”
“Yep. So the baby can pop out of that big belly and grow into a proper person – like you!”
“Do we grow from seeds, Gram?”
“I suppose we do, kid. I suppose we do.”
“Do you think I should plant my brother or sister when they come out?”
“Do you think it’s wise to plant something that’s not grown to full size and doesn’t have time to make seeds?”
“No, I suppose not.”
“Don’t you want a brother or sister?”
“What would I do with one? It’s not like I don’t have enough toys. I don’t need more friends. And babies are so noisy. My friend Jack says his baby sister screams all night …”
“That’s like when the leaves wilt on the pumpkin, kid – it needs a water and a feed, that’s all. And she’ll grow up and -”
“I don’t want a new brother or sister, Gram. I don’t want to share. I want to be the only seed in the garden.”
“And that’s why brothers and sisters are necessary, kid.”
“You don’t make sense, Gram.”
“Nope. I don’t have to, because I’m almost at the stage of knackered, an20160722_130353d my vine is getting a bit wilted – and you are …?”
“A seed.”
“Of a seed.”


Rose Brimson copyright 2017

A Move to the Country

A Short Story by Rose Brimson

The way they wrote about it, Anna thought it’d be easy. Well, at least easier. It always went the same way – they waltzed into a country town, bought a run-down place, got it all fixed up real schmicko – and all while they completed novel after novel. Because of the peace. Because it was country. Because that’s how it’s done when you’re a writer.

It hadn’t worked for Anna.

She’d bought the house – a run-down old place that would once have been a queen, and could become one again. The list of tradies in the window of the one and only shop that sold any type of food product was so old the paper wasn’t just yellow – it had gone crackly and grey at the edges, softening off to baby poo yellow-orange in towards the centre, but the actual centre was unreadable – a dark urine brown-yellow that hid the letters as effectively as solid matter.

When she spoke to the proprietor, he’d laughed. Not a bit of a giggle laugh, a big and hearty from the bottom of his soles laugh.

“What? You wanna tradie? ‘Round here? That’s a good one, that is.”

The stamps of dust she’d created on the march home sat in the still air. When she turned around she could clearly see her path laid out. No breadcrumbs required in this town. A small group of locals stood outside the shop, all roaring with laughter and pointing her way. She sucked in a breath.

She’d sell it and move … somewhere else.

The real estate agent tried hard not to laugh; Anna tried not to snap at him. A question niggled at her until it popped out.

“How long was it on the market before I bought it?”

“Eight years.”

The thump of her body as it hit the floorboards and caused a rolling creak in the old timbers was the only thing that told her she’d fallen. She felt no pain. The words rang in her head like a bell plummeting from a belfry. Hit her on the head. Gong. Again. Gong. Again. Eight years. Eight.

If she had to live in this place for eight years – no, the place wouldn’t last that long, it’d fall to pieces; she used her fingernail to scrape away a layer of soft timber from the floor. If she just left it and walked away? Could she start again?

How many times would that make it? The first time she’d ended up living on the streets and barely survived. The second time she’d lived in a shed with only three sides until … The third time was after the bushfire and the house she’d built and all the things – everything – she owned gone to ash. When she’d been allowed back to check on things, there was nothing. Nothing. She didn’t recognise it. And no insurance, no heart to do it all again. Walked away. The fourth time she’d left with nothing and changed her name and the way she looked (and carried a hidden weapon for a long time) until she got used to the new person. The fifth time was another fire, not a deliberate fire, an accident, bad wiring. All gone. Everything. That time there was insurance, but that was worse than walking out with nothing. They didn’t give her the choices she would have made for herself, and because she didn’t like what they offered, no payout. No recompense for the loss of everything. Again.

Now. She was here to begin again. To do something with her life. To follow her dream. And it had all turned to shit. Again.

Why? Why did she keep going? What had she ever done – in this life or any other – to deserve this again? What?

Her feet stamped up and down on the old floor as she lay on her back. The disembodied voice of the agent gurgled for a while and then stopped. The screen went dark. The room went dark. Anna lay there, her torso still, but hands and feet smacking against the wood in a rhythm that matched her thoughts and the pound of her racing heart.

Again and again. Over and over. Everything gone. Everything. Everything.

A small amount of cash, but not enough to buy another house – not even in this town! No wonder the place had been so cheap! Another lesson learned the hard way!

A single hot tear slid down the side of her face. It plopped onto the floor and raised a blob of dust as heavy as oil. Something hit her cheek, scratched.

“Ow!” Anna sat up and felt her face. Wiped. Looked. Just dust. No. Something sparkled. She shook her head. That little spike of hope was something she’d have to learn to ignore. Nothing good every happened to her. Ignore it.

“Hello in there!” The deep voice rolled like thunder through the hall of the tomb of a house. She chose to ignore it. They’d go away. Eventually.

Thump, thump, thump.

Anna leapt up.

“Hey!” she yelled. “I didn’t say you -” she stopped when she saw him. Huge. So tall he had to duck to get under the door frames. Deep blue eyes that looked almost black with a silver twinkle as he looked down at her. A half-smile hid in the cracks of a face that laughed a lot, if those lines were any indication. Glimmers of grey in the whiskers on his chin. He leaned his long arm towards her, hand open, palm up.

“I’m Bud – Rod down the shop said you’d be needing a hand.” White teeth peeped out from the full lips when he flicked his tongue out to lick his lips. “I’m the local fixer-upper – can do anything you want.” He leaned down. “Just don’t tell the Council that.”

Anna realised she’d slid to the floor again. She saw her hand lift into the air and grab his, felt her body as it rose like a zephyr into the space of the real world. His skin was hot, his hand was firm but not ragged, not hard. Not what she expected.

“Don’t dig up the floorboards,” Bud said. “Ol’ grump used to own this place is ‘sposed to have buried all his gold dust under there!” He laughed, the sound a warm rollick of gentle waves.

Anna dusted herself off.

“Hi, I’m Anna,” she said. “And I think I could definitely do with some help.”


copyright Rose Brimson 2017

The Wall

A way through the crowd opened up. Issa kept her eyes up and stared straight ahead; she walked into the gap between the scrabbling, stinking bodies. If she didn’t get out soon, it would be too late. Lunch would end up on the shiny, slippery linoleum. Then there’d be a gap, wouldn’t there? Maybe she should go through the motions, see what happened. That was something she wouldn’t do because every face in the whole mall would turn towards her, would make sounds of derision, laugh or pity or … attract their attention.

No, keep going, get out into the wide spaces, where no opacity existed – not to her view. The people who walked the malls, who shopped ’til they dropped, who took up the air she needed with their perfumes and frowns – they stayed inside, in the cool, air-conditioned controlled environment while she needed to get outside to smell the dust, and the eucalypts, and the way home.

Each week the court-assigned counsellor exhorted her to go to somewhere that held these ‘others’  so Issa acclimatised. The escort took her into the concussive crush of people who had no mind open, no eyes to see what stood before them. People who consumed, but never became. Issa could have objected, she could have fought the control, but …

Their plans had yet to work on her. Issa hadn’t even touched the devices she’d been given; she wasn’t blind. She could see through them all, in the mall and in the offices, as if they were pieces of glass. The outer coverings, the layers of labels and colours and aromas didn’t cover up the inner core.

What lay inside each of the shells was an emptiness that lit up with a little spark of light only when the plastic card was offered to the line of AI. A tiny spark, but it was an addiction no other living soul seemed to see.

Issa couldn’t even touch the plastic. She felt the links it had into the very hearts of all these people in her community. Links that manipulated and pushed, that rallied to a cause – or not, that shone guilt or shame on some things and not others. The little pulses that created pleasure or pain – whatever floated the boat – for the shortest time.

How many people walked in the mall with their accessories glowing with a connection to that thing? No, wrong question – how many people did she see who weren’t connected to it?

Her eyes blazed along the lines in the air – millions of little zings of energy zapped through, in, around, over, under – she felt them on her skin when she had to walk through them – millions, even if there weren’t millions of people there were millions of connections. Never turned off. Never out from under the influence of the over-brain that no one knew existed.

And she was the last of the no one tribe, wasn’t she?

Copyright Karel Jaeger 2017.

Cat’s Eye

“Put it back!”
“What for? It’s just a rock.”
“It’s not a rock, it’s a cat’s eye!” Punched the arm.
“More like a lizard-eye, if you ask me.”
“Put it back. Now. Before the wizard gets ya!”
“It’s just a story! There are no wizards, ya dumb bugger!”
“Are, too. And if’n it’s not a wizard, it’s a dragon!”
“Ya mad, and so’s ya da!” Thump.

The two boys fought; in the scuffle the stone fell to the ground, and they ran. Squeals and thumps and scattered stones followed them. Gone.

Pity. If he had a mouth to sigh, it would have been gutteral. Only a few minutes absorption of warm blood would be enough to reinvigorate, to be reborn. Even a weak thing like a human boy could be a vessel of life, and he could adapt from the initial life form – become once again what he truly was – given enough time. Always a matter of time.

The witch and her curse – when the day came, when the life returned, when he had a body – what he was going to do to that witch! Vengeance would be all the sweeter for the wait. He could keep her alive and screaming for centuries; use her screams to help him sleep, as he had not slept now for millennia. Rocks do not sleep. Rock eyes do not close.

The mind was aware; dulled, but aware. His eye could see the things around him, but not sense them any other way. No smell, no taste; the occasional sense of touch when he brushed up against a living creature.

The beasts left him alone; walked around his place; seemed to sense his mind. But the children – no; they came to tell each other stories of the ghost, of the beast, of the terror of being seen by the ‘eye’ – his eye. He just wanted one of them to be curious enough to put it in a pocket, to hold it for a few minutes, to give him enough time to breach the veil between stone and blood.

The dream. He dreamed it often. Food; fresh, tangy blood on his tongue, salt water on his skin as he cleaned the kill. A dream, not reality.

If the witch were here, still alive – he wondered if she would be, after all this time – he’d dream of her and the torments he could impose, but his dreams were of food – hunt, chase, kill; the preparation, taste, the sated sensation when sun-basking after.

The zoom on a glide through the air, to zone and cut the quarry, quarter the ground, herd until the beast was in the best place for the grip on its neck and back, the gnash of the teeth on the throat, the  . . .

If a rock could sigh, it would create a wind to blow all the rocks from the mountain as far as the ocean, the tiny blue speck that was visible on a clear day, so far away.

Wind! Of course. Movement. Here to there. More warm blood moved along the coast – did it have to be warm? It could be any living creature, he was sure. Almost sure. He could try. What harm could it do? Could he wait another millennia? No.

His mind was beginning to warp, changed with the solidness of the stone, with the rigidity of rock. Soon, his thoughts would become as still as the rock that imprisoned him. Already, his thoughts were slower, otherwise he would have thought of this escape sooner, much sooner.

The small stone with the eye of a lizard rolled a little, listed until other stones and loose earth moved it, or rolled it, or caught it up in the flow – and he moved, little by little, down the mountain, into the stream, and from the stream he flowed with the spring melt into the ocean.

Home.

Time and wind rolled him, ever downwards, to the sea.

The young woman held his hand, sang a sweet melody. Her body was lithe and strong, unlike the young man.

He sent his wish to her, showed her his bright side; the glint of gold and green. Enveloped her mind in a rush of warmth and lust as she placed the stone in the pocket of her skirt. He wasn’t close enough to the skin yet, but soon. Soon.

Heat and pain forced the touch of his cold stone against the pulse of her warm blood. The young lad only too eager to take her up on the offer. Hands groped and grasped; skirts lifted and spread – skin! He touched skin; hot, inflamed, lustful skin. The hearts beat, a rhythm of life. The eye merged with the beat, reached out with this new power, sucked on the juice of life – the young man’s body jerked and flopped.

She sat up, shoved him off. The blue eyes wavered, became green, glinted gold as she sneered at the weakling.

Akarta looked at the world through his new eyes. He exulted, lifted his arms to the sky and yelled – the world would know the true ruler was back. The young girl walked to the ocean. The body was not under his full control. What was wrong?

She dragged the body of her young man. She tossed him to the waves; would she leave him to the fish?

She did not. The water came up to her waist, up to her chin. She pushed the body in front of her as the feet came free of the sandy bottom. Akarta tried to exert his mind into hers. His mind met stone harder and colder than his own. He met the mind of . . .

 

The jagged reef captured the two bodies; small fish nibbled the flesh. The shiny glint of a stone with the eye of a lizard fell to the bottom, slid down the embankment, sludged down and down and down until the hot magma met him, absorbed him; claimed the rock that held his soul.

Copyright Cage Dunn 2016

 

The Old Man and His Desert

The beard is long, too long for sensible grooming so he has it plaited in three separate strands and looped over; through it all, holding it together, is the leather strip. My leather strip.

“You still have it,” I said.

“Aye. Useful.”

As eloquent as always. Should I try to draw a few more words out of him? Or should I sit here on the upturned timber bucket – not comfortable at all – and watch as the sun settled into the red and orange and vermillion slashes of colour as the night fights its way onstage.

It’s the best time of the day out here. In the morning the sun begins to sizzle from the moment it breaks free of the horizon. During the day, the whole day, you could cook eggs – no, bugger eggs – you could cook steaks on the single concrete paving slab. He wouldn’t let you, though, because that slab is his front veranda. And the overhang? That’s his version of bullnose.

“The roof still holding up?” I ask.

The grin reaches one side of his face, but the blue-white eyes sparkle with the memory of days and conversations that started that way before.

“Aye. The bullnose still looks good, don’ it, kid.”

That’s my name. It’s the only name he’s ever called me: Kid. Or Hey, Kid. Or Oi, Kid. But always Kid. Even now, it seems, when my hair is grey – okay, it’s white – and his is still that gun-metal blue shimmer. The same colour it was fifty years ago when he rescued me from the ill-conceived notion that I could cross the desert. On foot.

Not a deliberate or planned excursion. My family was on the way from the west of the country to the east, and in the middle of that journey is a long – very long – stretch of flat desert. No trees. Almost no shrubs. In summer, no grass and no animals. Everything else was more sensible than I was. A disagreement, heated and dramatic. I decided to go my own way. I was old enough to make my own decisions.

Fifteen year-old boys always know themselves and the world better than anyone else.

I took a water bottle. Not a metal canister bottle that could be tied to my belt. A plastic one, two litres, from memory. And the first time I drank from it and burned my lips, I cursed my stupidity and turned around to go back. In my head, I planned the words I’d say to make them see sense. That was my focus. How to show humility while not being humble.

And I walked. And walked. And discovered that this flat land wasn’t flat. Each slight rise led to another rise and another and another. Not a desert of sand. Stones. Pebbles. Rocks. All held the heat.

No trees. No shade. No grasses except the sharp spinifex, and the first time I tried to dig under a group of these tussocks and disturbed the snakes and lizards and other things … I won’t tell you how that turned out, but I wasn’t there for long.

I could work out east and west; easy enough given time. I assumed north was … north – but of course, I’d been turned around and it wasn’t north. I was trying to go south to get back to the road, but my mind wasn’t aware of the tracking of the sun from east to west. It just saw the sun in one position and the halo effect of hallucinogenic mirages that gave me the idea that north was south, and south was north.

When it got dark, I looked up from my scuffling forward movement. That was when I realised I’d been going the wrong way. I also realised I wouldn’t make it if I turned around to go back. The plastic bottle that had once contained hot water was nowhere to be seen. It must’ve been too heavy to carry. Like my shirt. Like my jeans. Gone.

Red skin and black sky. I sat down on the only rise that gave a view of the sun as it fought off the darkness. Noises I didn’t know, had never heard before, arced up around me. I didn’t move.

A very faint thought of food was quickly dismissed. It would be quicker without food. Or water. Not that I had the energy to dig. Or a tool. Or the knowledge.

I curled up in a small ball. Slept.

But the desert doesn’t kill you right away. You have to earn it.

I woke up when the sun rose. Animal tracks surrounded the place where I slept. I looked east. If I headed that way, my eyes would burn. No hat – don’t remember if I’d had one to start with. If I walked west, my back would burn – I reached back and discovered it was already blistered. I didn’t feel the pain.

A dingo slunk past, just a shadow among the tussocks. A shadow with teeth. At least I would be of some use when …

Why go anywhere? I sat down with my right side to the east, faced north, drew my name in the sand.

“Here lies the kid who …” Couldn’t think of anything else.

Good name. It was what he saw when he threw me over his shoulder and carried me all the way to his tiny shack in the rocky hollow.

 

“Hey, Kid. You gonna do somethin’ useful, or you gonna dream it all away?”

I got up to make tea with the fixings I brought. The only thing in the world he missed from the life he’d known as a kid. I did it every year. Once I brought my wife, once my son. Now, I come alone. It is our world.

The dark sky lit up with the millions of pin pricks of light – not white; silver and pewter, blue tones and azurines, greens in avocado and olive and teal. Yellows, too, in many accents. A single tear rolled down my face.

Home.

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Copyright 5bayby14u 2017.