Bird Watching

Ten metres away the elderly pair walked slowly, steadily. Each movement was precise and calculated. The man and woman were not holding hands, but even so you could tell they were a couple. The man wore a wide-brimmed cream hat that kept out the sun. Shadows danced on his wrinkled brow. Light tickled his large pair of glasses. Behind the glasses were deep set eyes that looked tired but content. He wasn’t smiling. Instead he had his mouth open taking in each breath as if he was sipping on a bottle of liquor. Beside him the woman had no hat. Her grey hair was neatly tied into a pony tail. The sun’s light lapped up over her wrinkled cheeks. The woman had no glasses and she squinted through the brightness. Her lips were pursed together in a sort of pleasant smile.

The elderly pair walked in union past a 30-something man sitting on a park bench. The man switched his gaze from the pair and looked over to the playground where a young boy had just fallen over. He sat on the bark chips stunned just for a moment. He glanced at his knee as blood started to form, and then he began to wail. His mouth warbled, and his eyes leaked a certain liquid. His cries caught the attention of the mother hovering nearby. She dropped her things and raced over to the boy. She was most likely a first-time parent. The mother kneeled on the bark and held the boy’s shoulder whispering reassurance. She pulled out a hanky from her trouser pocket and dabbed at the wound. The boy continued to cry, but at a lesser pitch now that he was being attended to. The mother stood up and pulled up her son along with her. She held him by the hand and walked him past the occupied park bench. The mother picked up her things with her free hand and continued with the boy and the tear-stained cheeks, until they too were out of sight.

The man on the bench scanned the area for activity. In the shadow of some trees were two girls and a boy sitting on a picnic blanket. High school students most likely. The brown-haired boy munched on a cheese scone, taking out huge chunks until it was demolished entirely. Crumbs dived into his plate and bounced off onto the blanket. The boy looked sheepishly at the two girls, but they weren’t paying attention. The blonde-haired girl pushed her hair out of her eyes and poured a raspberry fizzy drink into three little plastic cups. The red-headed girl moved her face down closer to the cups, squeezing up her nose to examine if they were in fact equal portions. A tennis ball suddenly hit one of the cups. It toppled over and the red matter poured out consuming much of the blanket. The three teens scrambled off the blanket in both horror and amusement.

A Golden Retriever sprinted past and picked up the ball in its clenched jaw. It performed a U-turn and rushed on back from whence it came. An apologetic 40-something man ran up to the startled trio and expressed his deepest remorse for the offense. The boy wiped crumbs from his mouth and waved the man and his dog onward. The girls bit their lips. They were okay with the incident as long as the man would just leave them to it. And he did. The man picked up the slobbery tennis ball dropped at his feet and threw it in the opposite direction. The dog, all too happy to be moving again, chased after it.

The man on the bench scanned his surroundings once more. There tucked behind the playground was another park bench, this one occupied by a 30-something female. Her dark hair cascaded down her shoulders and she sat relaxed with both hands in her lap. The playground was empty now. She didn’t seem to be with anyone, just sitting alone. That was when he realised she was watching him back. The woman’s face broke into a delightful smile. She extended an arm and gave a gentle wave in his direction. Hesitantly, awkwardly, the blushing man on the park bench extended an arm of his own and waved back.

The Attic

The floorboards sighed as Neil slowly stepped into the darkness of the attic. It was dark for several seconds before Neil’s eyes adjusted to the lack of light.

The room was windowless. The only entry and exit point were the drop-down stairs Neil had used to get to up. It was a moody, silent place. Neil could sense the room contained a lot of history, and not just by the many artefacts hidden away under sheets of plastic.

Neil spotted a large photo frame of his twenty-something grandfather smiling beside his newly wedded. This was the first time Neil had entered his grandfather’s attic. Neil didn’t like him very much. He smelled of old tomatoes, and he always dressed in that pale yellow shirt tucked into those grey slacks. Granddad would ignore Neil on his visits. He would stay out in the garden tending to his tomatoes, only speaking to Neil when it was time for lunch. Neil would’ve rather stayed at home, but according to dad, granddad was more cost effective than a babysitter.

Neil looked at the young thing that was supposedly his dad’s mother. It was hard to believe it was her, but there was a slight resemblance. When Gran was alive things were different. Granddad would still ignore Neil for the most part, but he didn’t spend all his time in the tomato patch. And although he didn’t speak much, Neil knew he was warmer, more happy. Not like he is today.

Neil heard a creak, and he turned sharply to the noise behind him. He wasn’t supposed to be up here. Light peeked through the attic entrance in the floor. Neil froze like a hedgehog under security lights. No other noises were made. The entrance stayed closed.

Must be the attic breathing, thought Neil. He moved on from the photograph to an old typewriter, and removed the plastic wrap in a single pull. An inch of dust now swirling in the air. Neil sneezed. His grandfather wasn’t a war veteran or anything of the sort. Just a plain old boring accountant. No exciting stories of chasing down Nazis and hiding in trenches. Boring granddad and his smelly tomatoes. Neil’s fingers lingered on the keys of the typewriter.

Life must have been rather difficult back then, pondered Neil. No computers, no printers, no scanners, or digital cameras. Underneath the typewriter were a wad of pages neatly stuck together with a rubber band. Neil lifted up the typewriter and retrieved the paper. The pages were yellow in colour, and Neil took out the first page rather carefully. The paper felt extremely frail in his grasp. The words ‘Autumn Song’ were written centered at the top of the page. Neil read the first few sentences and gasped. This was a story! It started with something about a hike through a forest and a sudden romance.

Neil grabbed the entire wad of pages and went to sit in one of the attic’s corners, his back up against the wall. There Neil read his grandfather’s story. Without pausing or taking a break Neil finished off the last page. He put the pages back together with the rubber band, making sure it was in the exact same position as he found it, neatly tucked under the typewriter.

Neil thought he heard something from down below. There it was again, but louder.

It was unmistakably the voice of his grandfather growing more and more agitated. “Neil!”

Neil ran to the attic entrance only to slip on the plastic wrap and graze his knee on the floorboards. Pain shot through his leg, but Neil got up and opened the door and lowered himself.

“Neil!”

Neil climbed down the metal rungs of the ladder, jumped to the floor, and hurriedly pushed it back up. The attic door closed with a mighty thud. Neil stood hunched in the hallway breathing rapidly.

Down the end of the hallway was his grandfather. His jaw clenched and eyes piercing.

Neil’s grandfather didn’t say a word. He simply turned and left through the lounge’s sliding door, out to the garden.

Neil broke into a grin. His grandfather was a writer.

2 Minutes To Live

“So what are you waiting for?”

“Excuse me?”

“I gotta get home and put on the spuds.”

“Go home then.”

“But I can’t until you’ve made up your mind.”

“What business is it of yours?”

“None, you’re absolutely right. But let me tell you —

“– You’re not going to talk me out of it.

“Oh so you have made up your mind then?”

The blue eyed boy peered over the top of the railing to the tracks below.

“It’s not very high up y’know,” said the white-bearded man. “You will most definitely be conscious and in quite considerable pain.”

“Can’t be as bad as what I feel now.”

“Why, what do you feel?”

“Nothing,” said the boy, his eyes following the tracks into the distance until they disappeared from view.

“So err.. when’s the next train?”

The boy glanced at his watch, “2 minutes.”

“2 minutes of your life left. What are you going to do in that time? Streak down the street? Kiss a random stranger?”

“I’d like to not talk to you old man.”

“So why do you feel your life is worth ending?”

“There’s nothing…” the boy trailed off. “There’s nothing left for me here.”

“And you think the Afterlife might be a better choice? Grass is always greener so they say.”

“I don’t believe in God.”

“Well then what do you believe in?” The old man furrowed his brow.

“I believe I was put here to suffer.”

“What—you’re parents died in a horrible car crash? Your cat choked to death on a fur ball?”

“No, but –”

“– You fail college?”

“No, I –“

“A girl dump you?”

“Fuck! Would you stop interrupting me?!” the boy’s face turned red. A horn blasted in the distance. A light was drawing nearer.

“I don’t have anyone or anything keeping me here. I’m a stranger to even my family. No girl would even look at me let alone be with me.”

The old man stayed silent.

“Don’t have anything else to say huh?” spat the boy, just missing the old man’s shoe.

“You asked me to say quiet. So why haven’t you done it already?”

“I’m doing it goddamn now alright!”

The train was closing in on the bridge now. The light shone brighter, and the sound roared louder with a clickety-clack of the rails underneath.

“See,” said the boy as he climbed up onto the rail. The old man stayed still.

“Okay, looks like you’ve made your mind up,” said the man as he retreated.

The boy turned to see the man walking down the ramp, “Hey! Come back here!”

“Hey, I’m talking to you!” A gust of wind hit the boy and he slipped. He fell, catching himself with one hand on the railing. The boy dangled precariously above the tracks, his fingers red and hurting. The train almost upon him now.

A wrinkled hand grabbed his own. “So you do want to stick around then?”

“Oh god, oh god, shit, shit, shit!” the boy started to panic.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” The white-bearded man pulled up the blue-eyed boy.

The boy fell to the ground, sweating and panting. The train thundered underneath them.

“So what now?” The boy looked up. Nobody was there.

The boy rushed to the ramp; nothing. He swerved his head around to the ramp on the other side; nothing.

The old man had vanished.

When There’s No Silver Lining

Cars rushed by the house. Just by their sounds 16 year-old Luke could tell what type of vehicle each one was. Whether it was a truck, a bus, or a 4-wheel-drive with a trailer, Luke could hear just about everything from the little deck out front. If he he could focus Luke could hear birds chirping and rustling in the trees from his neighbour’s garden. Inside the house he could hear his dad preparing dinner. The clatter of trays and the odd curse were a dead giveaway. A siren approached, an emergency vehicle. Luke knew it was a police car. It zoomed past the house at a greater speed than all the previous traffic.

Luke opened his eyes to see the cop car, but he could see nothing. Nothing at all. Luke reached for the cane to his left and stood up from the deck steps. Carefully Luke climbed to the top of the steps, and paced along the deck to the front door, poking the cane at the ground in front of him as he went.

Two months ago Luke was at a party at Becca’s house. Becca invited Luke along with a big group of six formers from school.

Standing near the sofa, Luke found himself talking to Liz from his English class. Liz stood there listening as Luke talked about his goals and ambitions, including how he was going to join Police College after seventh form. She couldn’t help but feel engaged at Luke’s animated gestures and expressions. Perhaps the six beers Luke had guzzled over the last few hours had heightened his usually well reserved demeanour.

At around 1am Luke stumbled out from Becca’s house needing to get home. He was only a few blocks away and so he started down the footpath. A crescent moon shone overhead through dark greyish clouds. Before crossing the road Luke looked in both directions for cars. He was drunk, not stupid. There were no cars in sight, but suddenly Luke felt sick in the pit of his stomach.

He was being followed.

A group of three hooded individuals were right behind him. Luke kept on walking, not wanting to show he was afraid. The gang followed Luke to the footpath across the road. Luke didn’t look back, but he could hear the footsteps getting closer and closer together.

Finally Luke turned to face his stalkers, “What do you want?”, he cried out in desperation.

One of the three took a step forward and pulled a crowbar from the inside of his jacket. “We want your money,” he snarled. A scar that stretched from his mouth to his cheekbone twitched as he spoke.

“I ain’t g-got any money”, Luke stammered.

“What else do you have then?” the scarred leader was right on top of him now. His warm breath hitting Luke in the face.

“I ain’t got anything,” said Luke and he started to turn. But the leader wasn’t having any of it. He grabbed Luke with one hand and with the other belted the crowbar down onto Luke’s face.

There was a sickening thud of the crowbar as it hit bone.

Luke screamed out in pain and fell to the pavement. Blood trickled down his cheek.

Before Luke could touch the wound the leader was upon him again. Another whack in the face. Blood filled his eyes, he couldn’t see.

Luke could feel the other two kicking him in the side as he lay helpless on the concrete. But soon he couldn’t feel anything. Even the sounds of the beating became distant as everything faded to black.

It had been a long month in hospital for Luke. Confined to a hospital bed with ongoing reconstructive surgery, he was either out on a general anaesthetic or so out on pain medication he couldn’t move anyway. The doctors told him he would never see again. His father visited him every day. One day he thought he heard Liz — nothing but a gentle sobbing at his side. The police investigating the assault asked for a description of the assailants. Luke described the leader’s distinctive scar, but couldn’t recall anything else.

Eventually the leader was found by the police, and locked up. But Luke still felt empty inside. He would never see another flower, another sunset, or another human face. He would never see the things he never got around to seeing, like the Grand Canyon, the Great Wall of China, or discovering a girl’s body. He could never watch another movie, or play another videogame. It would be brail and audio books from here on out.

He couldn’t go back to school. Police college was completely out of the question now. Every police siren would bring back feelings of regret. If only he hadn’t gone to the party that night. If only he hadn’t drunken so much. If only he didn’t prattle on to Liz McHardy for so many hours.

If only he’d run.

Although Luke was often told he was lucky to be alive, he just didn’t feel that way. He couldn’t. Luke felt like the unluckiest kid in the world.

The Killing Moon: A Short Story

The wind soared around the boy. His hair and the back of his sweater ruffled as the air blew through him. The boy remained still, looking up at the night sky. The whitest moon was stuck there amongst the stars like a golf ball caught in the rough. If only sand could twinkle. The boy knew that none of this was real. He could do anything, anything he wanted. But for now all he wanted to do was stare at that moon.

As he focused on the sky it began to draw closer and closer. That was when he looked down and saw his city beneath him. The lights, the streets, and the cars whizzing along all looked like they belonged in a child’s toy box.

The boy felt like he was standing on solid ground when really he was suspended in mid-air. “Take me to the moon,” he said, and his feet unstuck themselves. The boy flew towards the moon, the wind increasing in speed now. It was almost deafening. The boy closed his eyes for just a second.

And then… silence.

The boy opened his eyes and the creamy white surface lay before him, craters and all. It felt so real the boy thought. He wondered about the gravity, and instantly the boy felt lighter. He took a step forward, and another, and another. Soon the boy was running in slow motion, leaping over craters. A gigantic crater took up the boy’s entire field of vision. Across the other side he could see a parked spaceship, and an American flag not too far off. There were no astronauts in sight. “Hello?” the boy echoed across the crater. “Is anyone over there?”

“Help,” a voice whispered. “Help me.”

The boy could not see who the voice belonged to, but he knew he had to get over there. So he hopped back a few steps to leave enough of a runway. And he took off. Still in his jeans and sweater the boy left the ground once more, his feet and arms flailing as the crater lay mockingly beneath him. He was only half way across, and he started to have doubts. He felt himself falling, right into the crater.

His fall was soft and yet he still managed to slip over and scrape a knee. He rubbed it, wondering how he could be feeling pain. Looking up he could see the black sky above him, and the towering walls of the crater. The boy searched for foot holds he could use to climb up when he heard the voice again.

”Help me,” the voice was louder now, but still a whisper.

”Where are you?” the boy glanced around the crater. Nothing. And then he turned to see the owner of the voice standing right behind him.

It wasn’t human. A slimy looking creep of a thing, it was a green and half the size of the boy. It looked an awful lot like a bogey. The boy thought about picking his nose to compare, but he didn’t want to offend the thing, whatever it was.

It had no eyes, only a mouth, a human mouth. Human lips, human teeth, human tongue.

It spoke again, “Help?” more of a question this time.

The boy was only an arms length away from the creature. A putrid stench filled his nostrils. The boy tried his best to remain calm, hoping the thing wouldn’t see him scared. The boy reached out his hand to touch the top of the slime, presumably its head. It was cold and sticky. The boy withdrew his hand along with globlets of a snot-like substance.

”What’s the matter?” the boy asked. His fear now being replaced by concern.

”I’m hungry,” the slime moaned.

”What kind of food do you like?” the boy asked.

The slime remained silent for a few seconds.

“Human,” said the slime, matter-of-factly.

The boy gasped as he put two and two together, it all began to make sense. The spaceship, the missing astronauts.

The slime slid slowly towards him, growing in size until it towered over the boy. Its gaping human mouth came crashing down upon him, and the boy closed his eyes wishing to be back home. Wishing to see his parents and his two little sisters.

The boy opened his eyes again to see the glow in the dark stars on the ceiling above him. The boy felt the blanket tucked up to his chin, and he could hear the snoring of his dad from the next room.

The boy pulled down the covers and felt the urge to pick his nose. He pulled out a bogey and there it lay innocently on his finger. The boy imagined it with a tiny human mouth, right before opening a mouth of his own and swallowing the creature whole.