With an exhibition coming up in April, I thought this cheeky little piece, a 100-word challenge might fit the bill, so to speak. The actual incident of imagined “water/wine-theft” took place several years ago, but I believe the gallery involved still takes their rules very seriously.
‘Where can we get some water?’ my friend asked.
I pointed at the casket of spring water languishing in the gallery. ‘There’s some just there.’ A glass wall confined the well-watered and wined gallery guests. We had been guests, but this gallery was devoid of seats. We wanted to sit. And eat.
‘Sign there bans wine not water.’
I stowed into gallery, collected cups of water and walked to the door.
‘Where do you think you’re going?’ self-appointed wine-police snapped.
I placed the stolen water back on the table and left.
Transubstantiation. My first virtual miracle; turning water into wine.
[Sharing experiences from our school days at writers’ group this morning reminded me of learning in the 1960’s.]
I Threw the Book Back at the Teacher
Mrs. Cranky (not her real name), our relief teacher looked like she’d stepped out of a Dickens’ tale—that’s what I remember of her from when I was in Grade 1. At the age of six, to me, she appeared so old, as though she were prehistoric; all skin and bone and a scowl fixed on her face.
Mrs. Cranky’s methods of discipline matched her looks; old fashioned and mean. I started school in the late 1960’s in Australia.
The regular infant schoolteachers were kind and gentle. I loved school. I loved learning. I came from a home that valued education. The regular teachers perhaps tired of my constant hand-in-the-air to answer every question and tried to dampen my enthusiasm saying, ‘Give someone else a go.’ But I experienced no trouble until Mrs. Cranky took over our Grade 1 class for a term.
Mrs. Cranky seemed to have been buried in the education system and then dug up. I reckon probably as a last resort and I’m sure the headmistress must’ve done an archaeological dig in search of a relief teacher and come up with this old fossil.
I mean to say, if the department had known what archaic methods this woman was using to control the class of us infants, surely, she would’ve been asked to retire.
As Grade 1 students, we submitted to her authority with fear and trembling, not to mention a few toileting accidents on the classroom’s linoleum floor. I guess Mrs. Cranky’s colleagues congratulated Mrs. Cranky on her class of obedient and quiet students.
How was I to know, as a six-year-old, that a teacher shaking, hitting and shouting at children was not appropriate? But I sensed something was off.
So, on one dull winter’s day, Mrs. Cranky presided over her class from her desk. She’d taught us our arithmetic lesson which seemed to make her particularly angry.
As we finished our work, simple sums where neatness was prized over correctness, we lined up at the desk, our work to be marked by Mrs. Cranky.
I finished my sums and joined the queue which by this stage stretched from the desk to the door. Now I was not the most observant pupil and as work was too easy, I tended to daydream. My mind wandered out the window and floated to the clouds as I waited.
A mathematics exercise book flew past me. My mind returned to my body in the classroom. I looked from the book, pages strewn on the floor, and then at the teacher’s desk.
‘This is rubbish!’ Mrs. Cranky screeched and tossed another book across the room.
As I watched that book land in the aisle, one more book whizzed past me.
‘Go pick it up!’ Mrs. Cranky said.
My classmate scuttled over to the book on the floor, picked it up and slunk back to her seat.
Mrs. Cranky was on a roll. ‘Rubbish!’ she cried, and I ducked yet another book-missile.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked the boy in front of me.
The boy shrugged.
Mrs. Cranky glared at me and said, ‘Go to the back of the line, Lee-Anne!’
I took my place at the end of the line. I checked my work. Yes, one plus one is two. Yes, all my sums neat and correct in my estimation.
A book landed at my feet. I went to pick it up.
‘Don’t you dare, Lee-Anne!’
I straightened up and watched another poor pupil pick up his book, bite his trembling lip and shuffle to his desk.
This is not right, I thought. As I waited my turn, I imagined my counterattack if the teacher cast my sterling efforts across the room. It seemed to me I’d wasted half a lesson standing in line and watching the Maths books fly.
My turn. Surely Mrs. Cranky would see my superior efforts and not throw my book.
She did throw my book. And with much demented screaming and ranting that my work was the worst she’d seen in all her years of teaching. Considering how old she looked, boy, that must be bad.
Her implications that I must be the worst student in the history of the world sank in. What? How dare she! No, that can’t be right. I won’t let her get away with that. She had crossed the line.
I paced over to my wreck of a Maths book, plucked it up and then flung it back at Mrs. Cranky.
O-oh, bad move. Very bad move.
I’d stuck my neck out, executed justice for me and my classmates, but had not considered the consequences.
Mrs. Cranky’s face flushed red. Her eyes bulged from her bony sockets. She bared her teeth.
My situation was not looking good.
I fled. First, I scampered down the nearest aisle to the back of the class. Mrs. Cranky armed with a twelve-inch ruler clattered behind me. She screamed and raged. ‘Why you little…!’
I ran along the back of the class. Mrs. Cranky followed. She swatted the ruler at me. Missed!
I weaved through the maze of desks and chairs. I searched for refuge from the teacher’s rage and ruler.
I dove under a desk. But the boy with red hair swung his feet.
Mrs. Cranky gained on me. She growled. She waved the ruler at me.
I fell to my hands and knees and scrambled under another desk. More legs, more kicking at me. I crawled along the floor. Mrs. Cranky chased me into a corner.
I had nowhere to go.
Mrs. Cranky cut the ruler into my tender thighs. ‘There, that’ll teach you for throwing the book at me,’ she said.
Education, I decided was not so much for gaining knowledge as to learn to submit to the control of authority. The system taught me that to be successful and get good grades I must behave, be quiet, don’t upset the norm or challenge the people who had power over me. So, I learnt to be a “good” student, and when I grew up, a “good” citizen, minding my own business out of fear of that wrath, that punishment, if I question or challenge the status quo.
However, recently, as I’ve matured and seen injustice and oppression, sometimes suffered by those close to me, I have been challenged and I wonder: Have I allowed evil to prosper because I’m too afraid to speak up?
This is why I write. My words can be used to promote God, His love and goodness. They can also be used to speak out against deception and injustice. Part of me is still afraid of retribution, that figurative “twelve-inch-ruler” ready to strike because symbolically I’m “throwing the book back at the teacher”.
In the good book, the Bible, 1 Peter 3:17 says: ‘It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer doing good than doing evil.’
True, as a Grade 1 student, it was not the wisest choice to make and “throw the book back at the teacher”, but as an adult, it is my hope and intention to “throw the book”, that is, my words into the world and community for good; right the wrongs, stick up for the oppressed, defend the victims of bullying and make waves to change attitudes and thus generate God’s character and values of justice, truth, responsibility and love.
Grandma rarely locked the back door; not when home or if she ran short errands. The only times she did lock the back door was when she went away on holiday. Ah! Those were the days! The 1960’s—Adelaide, the front door greeted strangers and salespeople, the back door welcomed friends and family who didn’t knock, but walked straight in.
Grandma lived a ten-minute walk from my home in Somerton Park. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I walked or rode the route down Baker Street, across “busy” Diagonal Road, and into Panton Crescent. Then I trod down her gravel drive of her Trust home to her back door; a door always unlocked and without any ceremony of knocking, I pulled open the fly-screen door, pushed open the wooden door, and walked into Grandma’s small kitchen. I still dream of Grandma’s place, “Grandma’s Lace” as I used to call it as a child, her huge backyard with fruit trees and hen house.
The same as her home, Grandma had an open heart with time available to be there for me. From the time I was born, she was there. She bought and moved into her Somerton Park home nearby, about the same time my mum and dad with my brother and me, bought and moved into our home.
Every Sunday all the family which included mum’s brothers and sisters and their spouses, gathered in her tiny kitchen dining area for Sunday roast. The home filled with laughter as we enjoyed Grandma’s roast beef and crunchy roast potatoes—the best ever! Dessert of jelly and ice-cream followed, topped with a devotion, then the Sunday Mail quiz. Holidays held extra treats of cousins from Cleve, all five of them and Auntie and Uncle. Grandma fitted us all in, albeit us younger ones sat at the “kinder tisch” in the passageway. Often friends from church or elsewhere joined us for Sunday lunch. The door was open for them too, and somehow Grandma made the food stretch and the table expand for unexpected guests.
One of the first times I took advantage of Grandma’s “open door policy” was at two years old. I’d dreamt my cousins were visiting and no one told me. My beloved cousins were at “Grandma’s Lace” and I was missing out.
So early that hot summer’s morning, I climbed out of my cot, dumped my nappy, and naked, I navigated my way to Grandma’s. I streaked over Diagonal Road, not so busy at dawn, and then toddled down Grandma’s driveway. I pushed open the back door and tiptoed through the kitchen and passageway. Then I peered into the bedrooms one by one. Each room was empty. Where were they? Where’s my cousins? I was sure they were here.
I entered Grandma’s room. The mound of bedding rose and fell with each puff of breath Grandma made.
I tapped Grandma and asked, ‘Where’s my cousins?’
Grandma startled and her eyes sprang open. ‘Oh! Oh! What are you doing here?’
‘I come to play with my cousins,’ I said. ‘Where are they?’
‘Oh, my goodness—no dear—they’re not here.’ Grandma climbed out of bed and waddled to the bathroom. ‘Now, let’s get you decent.’
After wrapping a towel around me, she picked up the telephone. I stuck by her solid legs while she spoke to my mum. ‘Marie, just wondering, are you missing a daughter?…You might like to bring some clothes…’
As I grew older, Grandma’s open-door policy included her home-made honey biscuits. My friends and I visited Grandma on a regular basis. We’d enter through the back door and make a beeline for the biscuit tin. Then we’d meander into the lounge room. With my mouth full of biscuit, I’d ask, ‘Grandma, may I have a biscuit?’
Grandma would always smile and reply, ‘Yes, dear.’
Grandma’s open-door policy helped as a refuge when love-sick boys stalked me. Mum and I arranged that when I rode home from school, if my blind was up, I was safe from unwanted attention. But if the blind was pulled down, I would turn around and ride to Grandma’s place.
Grandma was there also when I had trouble at school. I remember at fifteen, having boy-trouble of the unrequited love kind. Grandma listened. She was good at that. She sat in her chair as I talked and talked, pouring out my heart, while emptying her biscuit tin.
When I paused one time, after exhausting all my words, she said, ‘Lee-Anne, one thing that may help—you need to have Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.’
Grandma passed on from this life to meet her Lord and Saviour in early 1981, less than two weeks’ shy of her seventy-fifth birthday. Her old Trust home on the big block with the fruit trees and chook-yard were razed and redeveloped into four units—front doors locked and no easy way to their back doors.
The Sunday after the funeral, it seemed to me strange not to gather at Grandma’s. Then Christmas, the brothers and sisters celebrated separately with their own family or partners. I missed the whole Christmas connection with my cousins, aunts and uncles. Time had moved on and our family had evolved to the next stage of our lives.
These days, leaving one’s back door open, even during the day, seems an odd and risky thing to do. Times have changed—more dangerous, or perhaps we’re more fearful of imagined dangers outside our castles. And now in 2023…Well, Grandma’s life and her “open door” policy in a more trusting time, has made me ponder: How open and available am I to others? How willing am I to listen and value others and their world?
[After last week’s gross and gory post, I received criticism that this story was too horror-filled and disturbing to be published. They felt that the warning was not strong enough. The truth about Evil, is that it’s ugly, it’s confronting, it’s something we shy away from; our innate human condition dictates that we have a bias to satisfy our own selfish needs to the detriment of others. As it says in the Bible in Romans 3:23: “All have fallen short of the glory of God.”
Part 1 of Boris’ Choice may look like I, as a writer have fallen short of God’s glory. What I was exploring, though was the pure evil character that Boris is.
In this story’s conclusion, I endeavour to show the opposite of Boris in the goodness of Joshua, the answer to the destructive consequences of evil. Boris, being Boris cannot tolerate Joshua.
Thus, the war on Boris, the battle between good and evil begins…]
Boris’ Choice (2)
Days passed and the promise of barbequed Joshua eluded Boris. Worse, he sensed Maggie slipping from him, enticed by the weird teachings of the man with no shell. By the third day Boris curled up on his nest of droppings, sucking his top claw and sulking. Now, that Earth creature had a following, a rag tag clutch of disciples and had the audacity to preach from the front steps of his castle. Thoughts of love, peace, law and order filtered through the atmosphere. Boris folded his antennae under his helmet attempting to block out the infectious purity. Still the cleansing vibrations penetrated. Boris’ intestines boiled with rage. He rose from his bed and then slamming the door, marched through his home to the porch.
His whiskers recoiled at the radiating goodness. ‘No! Get out of my life!’ He stomped his needle feet on the ‘Go Away’ mat.
The monolith of pale flesh turned and reached out to him. ‘Please turn over your life, Boris. If we start now, your world will be a much better place to live. If you keep on killing and destroying, you’ll end up—alone.’
Boris bristled. He turned, his armour facing the crowd. ‘Don’t care. At least I’ll be free to do whatever I please.’ A dragonfly skimmed the water of the fishpond filled from last night’s rain. Boris shuddered.
‘No!’ Boris spun round and with a wing stiff, hit Maggie hard so that she curled into a ball and bounced down the steps. As she straightened, he raised his weapon-arm.
Joshua stepped in front of him, blocking his aim. ‘What are you doing? Do you not love her?’
‘Pah! Never did.’ Boris pumped venom into Joshua’s unguarded chest.
The giant creature sank to his knees and groaned.
Boris waved his proboscis. ‘You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to do that.’ The disciples recoiled and scattered.
‘Three days. He’s only been with us—’ Maggie raced to the prostrate Earth-being. She held his bulbous head and gasped. ‘What have you done, Boris?’ She looked up at him, her antennae twisting into an anguished knot.
He poised his needle-like mouth over the creature’s supple neck. ‘Only what must be done to survive.’
‘Kill me if you have to, but—’ the alien rasped, ‘—whatever you do, don’t touch my ship.’
‘You have a ship? Hmm?’ Boris said, his fangs twitched at the prospect of a crew full of large, tender, succulent prey.
‘Well, of course he has. How do you think he got here?’ Maggie combed Joshua’s fine white hairs. ‘But he said not to touch it, so—’
‘Shut up, female!’ Boris aimed and vaporized Maggie. He flapped his wings and cleared the cloud of particles from his prize, the alien. Sharpening his pincers, he examined the limp neck and shiny skin begging to be consumed. He lanced his fangs into the soft neck and chomped through the layers of skin, gristle and bone. By midnight, with his belly distended over his lower legs, Boris packed the last of the sealed bags of Joshua in the freezer. He gazed at his handy work stacked on the shelves and sighed. Then he nudged the door closed.
He patted his stomach and passed gas. ‘Well, nothing like the present. Before they get wind of it. And besides, I’m all fuelled up.’
Boris spread his wings and soared into the atmosphere. He banked higher, above the clouds lined silver with the moon. He closed the vents in his shell as he rose up into the icy stratosphere. The air thinned, not that it mattered to Boris as he didn’t breathe much anyway. He looked down, his hometown merged with the continent. He sailed with the solar winds, drifting with the rotation of the planet as he hunted for the alien ship. A speck glittered at the point where the curve of his world met the black of space. Boris powered up his rear booster rockets and charged towards the glint. As he approached the triangular-shaped chunk of metal, he magnetized his feet and plopped onto the frigid surface of the dark side. He set his weapon spike to maximum and cut into the hull.
Sharp spasms quaked from the surface through Boris’ legs. A shot of electricity jerked through his exoskeleton. ‘O-oh!’ Boris retracted the magnets and darted away. Boom! A wave of energy hurled him into space, rolling, flying, knocking against fragments of ship, and reeling like space junk towards the moon. As a ball he plopped into a lunar lake padded with dust. He straightened his body and watched as his world glowed red and vascular with lava and then in silence caved in on itself into a lump of coal.
Alone Boris orbited the moon, scanning the pock-marked surface. ‘There has to be a space station here somewhere. And when I find it, and get me a space craft, I’m going for Earth. That Joshua and his kind are not going to get away with what they’ve done.’ He watched his sun dim for a second. He knew he did not have much time.
[From my understanding about Gargoyles and a read of Wikipedia on the subject it would seem that Gargoyles from medieval times were used not only to drain water from the building, but their hideous animalistic forms were to remind the people that evil is all around, and that it’s in the church that one finds refuge from evil.]
Curious about what mischief and mayhem Boris will get up to?
Check out my new novel, fresh on the virtual shelves of Amazon Kindle—click on the link below:
[How the war on Boris began…on a planet hundreds of light-years away, and hundreds of years ago. Warning, this over-sized alien cockroach is not for the faint-hearted. The story is best to be digested away from meals. This story contains violence, gore and cockroaches.]
Boris crept towards her. She hunched over, back draped with a tattered shawl, picking rotting peel from the over-flowing garbage tin. Boris eyed the bundle of hessian rags and wrinkled flesh. She’s useless. Who would want her? She’s way past child-bearing age. Surprised someone hasn’t eaten her already. Old females were a specialty on his world, his favourite—boiled. Although he must admit, he’d never pass up the offer of a baby, cooked fresh out of the womb. Boris wiped the acid dripping from his crusty lips and scuttled closer to his victim. With his probe he stung this brown heap in the round of her back and she melted into a pool of oil. Boris extended his hollow proboscis and sucked the puddle, all of her black fluid on the pavement.
Boris thrust forward his abdomen swelled with this snack and waddled past his fellow Bytrodes. They smiled at him and nodded. ‘Well, done!’ ‘Ridding the world of waste.’ ‘I wish I had your guts.’
Boris grinned and with his surround optical vision guarded his armoured back as they moved behind him. No fellow Bytrode can be trusted.
Then Boris burped, lifted the flaps in his spine and unfurled his wings. A potent gust of gas enabled him to lift into the air and ferry through the ruined structures, once ziggurats with lofty peaks that vanished into the clouds, now a pile of broken stones. On a mountain over-looking a river of septic waste, his palace gleamed gold and white; his reward built on the shells of his competitors and any other Bytrode that got in the way.
Flying spent the fuel that was the old woman, and hunger gnawed at his ribs. He spied a neighbour, Gavin basking on the roof of a satellite wreck close to the foamy shore. He plopped onto the carcass of yesterday’s breakfast and sidled up to Gavin’s shiny black back. The heat of the metal roof stung his many feet, so he stood on the tips of his pointy toes.
‘Do you want a little something to help you on your trip?’ Boris purred.
His fellow rotated his bald head. ‘Sure. What have you got?’
Boris reached into the pocket of his armour and pulled out a plastic bag of white powder. ‘Here, try some. It’s fresh and clean.’
‘Thanks.’ With whiskers twitching, Gavin positioned his snout over the bag and absorbed the contents.
‘There, that will make you happy.’ Boris chuckled. ‘And me.’
Boris drooled and waited as the goo that was Gavin fried on the metal in the searing afternoon sun. At the crisp and bubbly point, Boris reached underneath the wreck, and pulled out a plastic spatula. ‘Ah! Neighbour biscuit!’ His tentacles wriggled as he snapped off a piece and munched. ‘A fitting entrée to dessert and the object of my lust—Maggie. A perfect end to a delicious day.’
Boris climbed the mountain of victim waste his shell splayed as a force field to protect against the attack of scavengers. His belly bloated, and home too close to wing it, he lumbered up the hillside of rotting corpses to his castle, his numerous eyes like surveillance cameras scanning for any movement of the enemy pretending to be dead. A hiss. Boris froze, antennae vibrating. In the crimson rays of the setting sun, a shell rose defiant. Boris charged his weapon arm and fired a stream of fusion energy. Puff! Ash of foe added to the mountain.
Boris folded his weapon prong into his scales, and exhaling, curled into a ball of hard silicon, rolled the final leg of his journey home. At the titanium steel door, he unfurled his body and then tapped the musical security code, using four of his six legs. The door Bytrode-body thick with reinforced steel and telephone directories, creaked open.
‘Were you successful, my lust?’ Maggie projected her thoughts to Boris. Her shell glowed auburn, as she flicked her long scales and caressed Boris’ aura.
‘Yep,’ he said waddling past her, and then brushing against her waiting claws. He sailed to his throne, the recliner rocker, inherited from yesterday’s breakfast, and planted his thorax on the leather seat. While his peripheral vision traced his female’s scuttling steps to his side, he aimed his proboscis at the shag-pile rug and regurgitated the mashed contents of his stomach, decorating the cream shag with a lumpy pool of umber.
Boris burped. ‘Gavin.’
‘That’s nice, dear. Never did like him,’ Maggie said. She extended her trunk, groping and fusing with his. She dug her hooks into his scales.
Boris quivered as the fermented juice of last cycle’s enemy pumped into his gullet. ‘Ah! Tyrone! That was a good victim.’ Swelling with victory, power and the ether of Tyrone’s spent life-force, he thrust his favourite female onto the shagpile and Gavin goo, his thoughts and intent on more pleasurable pursuits than feasting.
‘Boris, dear…’ Maggie retracted her spikes and slid from under him.
Splat! Boris’ raw flesh grated on the shag fibres, while is face kissed the blow-fly flecked stew that was Gavin. He lifted his head and sucked in a fly-flavoured morsel. ‘What?’
Maggie’s antennae twitched. ‘We have a visitor.’
Boris straightened up and smoothed his scales. ‘Why didn’t you say something before?’ His abdomen purred with the delicious thought of food killed and prepared by his be-lusted.
‘I was overcome by the moment, I suppose.’ Maggie picked at the bugs in the shag-pile stew. ‘He’s an alien, from a far-away planet.’
‘Mmm! Even better!’ Boris rubbed his stomach. ‘I haven’t had an alien in ages. Where is he? In the kitchen boiling?’ He used his eyes to zoom his focus into the kitchen.
‘But, dear, the lust of my life,’ Maggie said, her voice warbling, ‘this alien is different. You can’t eat this one. I won’t let you.’
Boris’ scales bristled. ‘What? You can’t stop me! I eat everyone.’
A slug-like creature twice the size of Boris, who was big by Bytrodian standards, emerged from the hallway and filled the living room. Boris studied the biped from the antennae-free head that scaped the ceiling, to his massive extensions of legs that disgraced the rug.
‘Okay, I guess it would be a challenge,’ Boris said, ‘although I’d like to know how he got this far without being harmed. He’s got no shell.’
‘Insect spray,’ the biped conveyed while making sounds through one of the holes in his face. Then with one of two hands, he covered this pink face hole and made low pitched grunting noises.
Boris and Maggie stared at the alien, their eye whiskers twitching.
‘Oh, pardon me,’ the alien said through his thoughts and vibration of the airwaves. He extended a thick rope-like limb to Boris. ‘I’m Joshua, by the way. I’m from the planet Earth.’
Maggie clasped her middle legs together and shimmered with an orange hue. ‘Oh! How wonderful! We’ve never had someone from Earth for dinner before.’
‘So you mean you’ve changed your mind, my dear Maggie?’ Boris beamed red as he stroked Joshua’s jelly-like hand and sniffed his salty skin.
‘No!’ Maggie snapped. ‘Why do you have to kill and eat everyone, Boris?’
Joshua tore his hand from Boris’ claw. He rubbed the scratches and wiped scarlet ooze on his white robe.
‘I’m a Bytrode, that’s what I do,’ Boris said, splaying his wings and then prancing around the room. ‘I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t trod on a few shells.’
‘But I’ve been talking with Joshua and he’s shown me another way, a better way to live.’ Maggie scuttled over the rug and Gavin puddle to her mate. ‘If we could be friends, and stop destroying each other.’
Filing his external fangs Boris fixed his beady eyes on this over-sized amoeba. ‘Friends? And end up like Gavin here? What planet are you from?’
‘A better one than yours. Seems like this one’s messed up,’ the alien said as he pointed a stubby tentacle through the window at the wasteland of crumbling shells, and the screams of Bytrode souls in conflict.
Boris planted his six hands on his scaled sides, his limbs akimbo. ‘Well, if you don’t like it, you can go back to where you come from.’ He wished this creature would stay, just long enough for him to execute a plan to over-power him, chop him up, bag him and store him in the freezer.
‘But dear, we can learn from this Earth-being.’ Maggie licked Boris’ feet. ‘He’s from the other side of the galaxy. Surely that must count for something in getting ahead.’
Boris rolled his thousand mini eyes. ‘Very well, then. He can stay in the garage.’ He rubbed his abdomen, and in a part of his mind blocked from scrutiny, rearranged the shelf space to fit bags full of Joshua flesh; so much of it, keep them going for weeks. He purred in anticipation.
“Phew! Pooh! What’s that smell? Rob! You’re disgusting!” Tania revived by the potent fumes fanned the stale atmosphere with a spare cushion.
“Who me?” Rob shifted his skeletal frame and adjusted his pillow.
“Ugh! That’s foul! I’m opening a window.” Karen yanked at the sliding window and stuck her permed head into the stiff breeze.
“Looks like we’ll have to stop,” I said.
“Are we there yet?” the brunette whined.
“I’m hungry, can we stop? I have to visit the ladies,” the afro blonde said.
“No, and we’re not stopping, we have to keep on going, or we’ll be late,” Tom said and then swerved. A kangaroo skittered off onto the embankment and into a clump of bushes.
“Aw! I’m bored! I want a break!” Tania said.
“Are we there yet? This is so boring! How far north do we have to go, anyway?” Karen flung empty chip packets around the cabin.
I jabbed Tom on his skinny arm. “The tribes are getting restless and we are running out of fuel, or haven’t you noticed.”
The two girls chanted, “Are we there, yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”
I turned the map bought in Orange around in my hands. The signs seemed unfamiliar and did not fit the expected location. “I hope this is a shortcut.”
Screech! In a matter of seconds, Tom slowed the van to snail’s pace and eased into some northern New South Wales town. At the Shell Roadhouse, we piled out into the icy air, and milled around while the sleepy attendant filled our tank. I shuffled to the kiosk, but I was jaded with the nausea of no sleep and exited with nothing.
Bill had another go at Tom. “Isn’t it time to let someone else drive?”
Tom anchored himself in the driver’s seat and refused to budge.
As I loitered by the plastic-coated restaurant, the smell of cheap coffee and stale hamburger grease made me queasy. I contemplated quitting the tour of terror. I filed through the meagre number of notes in my purse. I’ll get a bus home. Anything but get in that van again.
Bill hailed me. “You coming?”
The girls scuffed in their “Ugg” boots towards the Toyota armed with packets of fantails, cola and salt-and-vinegar chips. So innocent.
I sighed and made the decision to trail after them. My minimal influence was better than none at all to get us to Brisbane alive. All aboard and plugged in, on my insistence, Mad Tom Max revved up the engine and the van like a bullet shot out of the station and into the moonless night. I strained to keep my eyes open in the hours of imminent death, singing, praying and talking, willing myself not to fall asleep. Bill sat beside the driver, rambling in conversation to a young man focussed on one thing and that was to get us to Brisbane dead on time.
The grey light of dawn crept over the horizon to our right. On the side of the road a truck burned. Bright yellow flames leapt and danced within the cabin. Tom slammed on the brakes and the van screeched to a halt, skidding on the gravel. We jumped out to inspect the bonfire of truck metal. A man stood behind his truck shaking his head and watching the monster “Mack” melt and burn. I lifted my camera.
“Don’t!” Tania glared at me. “That’s not appropriate.”
My cheeks prickled with humiliation; the shame of it, a 16-year-old girl telling me what to do. I spent a few minutes’ vigil observing the truck driver’s unrecorded misfortune.
Not to be outdone in true and noble acts that show up their leader, me, Tom hopped from his seat of privilege and targeted the forlorn truckie to comfort. He asked if he was alright. He was. They nodded and commiserated over the loss of a magnificent vehicle. The truckie indicated that help was coming in the next half-an-hour. Tom turned and strode towards the van. As he passed me, he tipped his pointy nose up at me, and the smug smile pasted on his mouth read: Look what a good a virtuous guy am l!
Ready to step into the driver’s seat, his smile switched to a scowl. Bill perched in the coveted seat, a wide grin spread between day-old stubble. “I’ll take it from here, mate.”
As we passed a shimmering green sign with the name “Brisbane” in silver on it, Tom brooded in the back of the van. Couched either side of this red-faced man, the girls soothed him, whispering schemes of revenge. Rob rocked and rolled in slumber in the middle row under a pile of patchwork quilts.
We wound through the Great Dividing Range, and I rested my head while viewing the lush green hills and the white timber houses on stilts that grew and multiplied as the out-lying townships morphed into the suburbs of Brisbane. We arrived at the Conference centre 23 hours after departing Melbourne.
Bill reclined in the row of seats in front of them, making no comment. Rob in the front passenger seat, dozed as he rested his curly mop on the passenger window.
Petrol at Orange and the youth filled their tanks with lollies, chips and soft drink.
I found the “ladies”, a grotty dive around the corner. Tania ignored me as she primped her ebony bob and patted her round cheeks with blush in front of the scratched-metal excuse of a mirror.
I sauntered back over the cracked pavement of the service station to the van crouching by the pumps. Tom sat there, in my seat, hands hugging the steering wheel and a grin on his lips.
“Right, we’ve wasted enough time, I’m driving,” Tom said.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” I asked. Tom was 18, full of testosterone and a sense of immortality. “What about your P-plates?”
“Pff! Who needs them, we’re in the country,” Tom replied. “The cops won’t care.”
My manager’s warning echoed in my mind. Don’t let the youth drive. This was a company van. “l think it would be better if someone else drives.”
Bill stretched out, comatose on the middle bench seat, while Rob leant against the bonnet, eyes averted and licking an ice cream.
“Rob?” I pleaded.
“It’s alright.” He bit into the cone. In a languid tone, he said, “I’m sure Tom’s a good driver.”
Tania planted herself in the front passenger seat. She curled her lip and snarled, “Better driver than you. At least we’ll get somewhere.”
“Fine then, I hope you know what you’re doing.
“Relax! I know what I’m doing. We’ll be at the conference in no time,” Tom said and turned the key. The engine puttered contented with its new master. “Anyway, we’ve wasted enough time with you stuffing around.”
I gritted my teeth and crawled into the dark recesses of the Toyota. I chose not to fight this battle. I needed a rest, but had an uneasy feeling about the next few hours.
Our new driver, engaged the gears, and catapulted the car onto the highway. Tyres spun on the bitumen. I smelt burnt rubber.
Bill rolled off his seat and woke up with a start. “What’s happening?” He rubbed his eyes, and then batted at the wads of sleeping bags, sweet wrappers and lemonade bottles. He craned his neck peering at Rob and me each side of the back three-seater bench with Karen holding her duffle bag in the middle. Confused, he pulled himself upright using the driver’s seat and eye-balled Tom. Then he looked back at us, eyes wide. “What’s going on?”
“Don’t ask!” I said. Reflector posts and shadows of trees flitted past. In the dim light, the whites of Bill’s eyes glowed. “You’re letting him drive?”
He jerked his muscular arms. “Do you know how fast he is going?”
“What?” I peered at the speedometer. The needle hovered between 160 and 170 kilometres per hour. “Oh, crap.”
The vehicle mounted a low rise and flew for a few seconds. The floozies strapped into their respective seats screamed as if they were on a roller-coaster ride.
Bill gripped my arm. “You’re in charge, do something.
I tried. “Hey, Tom, I think you’re going a bit fast, could you slow it down a little.”
Tom ignored my pleas and we watched the needle creep up to 180 km/h. “Tom, slow down,” Bill urged. He patted the lad’s arm. “You’ll get a speeding fine.”
“No, I won’t,” Tom said.
“We have to make up for lost time. We’re already three hours late,” Tania whined.
“So what if we are late?” I begged. “Better that, than dead on arrival.”
Tom’s Teutonic features hardened like flint, eyes staring through the screen, mouth a thin line set in grim determination, and his jumbo ears deaf to our pleas. The more we urged and begged, the more resistant he became and the more he pumped the accelerator. The more we feared for our lives.
“Come on, Tom. We don’t want to have an accident.” Bill put a strong hand on Tom’s shoulder. “The angels jump off when you go over the speed limit.”
“No they don’t.” Keeping his sight fixed on the road, Tom flicked the hand from him. “We have three hours to catch up. I want to get to Brisbane by the four in the afternoon.” The needle pushed up to 190 km/h.
Bill, Rob and I withdrew, accepting our fate and praying that the angels will hang onto the van for our sake. I was not sure how much time had passed. For a moment, time seemed irrelevant. All was clear, all was calm. I forced myself to stay awake. We pelted along the highway in the dark countryside.
Somewhere along the stretch of Tom’s speedway, we rearranged ourselves. Bill moved to the front passenger seat, and Rob and I sat in the middle row. The girls curled up in the back of the van, putting their full trust and unbelted bodies at the mercy of Tom’s driving. Titan-size trucks, sympathetic to our driver’s need for speed, waved us on and we passed the road-trains of travelling tonnes of steel.
“The angels jump off at this speed, Tom,” Rob said and then yawned.
Tom laughed and made the whole van wobble and swerve into the gravel. He then swung the van to the wrong side of the road and stayed there.
“I’m not happy Tom! What do you think you’re doing?” I batted him. Blinding lights bore down on us. “Watch out, Tom!” I pressed my foot on an imaginary brake-pedal and screamed.
“Calm down, Grandma!” Tom laughed as he slipped back into the left lane with only millimetres to spare. The van shuddered with the slipstream.
“God! That was close!” Bill wiped beads of sweat from his forehead.
“That’s nothing!” Tom pressed the throttle to the floor and relished the roar of the speeding engine.
The needle on the fuel gauge sank into the red zone. Hope. We would have to stop for petrol. Using my finger as a signal, I alerted Bill to the need for petrol.
2023 and it seems road safety has become a thing of the past…Or has it. the road toll, so the news states, is the worst it’s been in 10-years. I’ve noticed other drivers taking more risks, and becoming impatient with little old me who tries so hard to keep to the speed limit. After all, I don’t want to upset “Karen” our Toyota Corolla’s GPS guide. She’s constantly reminding my hubby of what the speed limit is.
Anyway, in light of the danger ever-present on our roads and the desire to be safe, I am reminded how close I came to disaster on a road trip to Queensland in 1989. The following piece is part 1 of a 3-part series of that trip.
When Angels Jump Off
I considered my new leadership role a breeze, but I had yet to encounter mutiny in the Toyota.
Up the Creek and Behind Time
My boss, called me into his office. “I want you to lead the group traveling with you in the van.” He glanced at me, wise hazel eyes over silver-rimmed spectacles. “Are you okay with that?”
“Sure.” As a former secondary school teacher, I imagined a straight-forward venture; an uneventful hike up the Highway to the Conference on Queensland’s Gold Coast. All that the leadership required of me was a slight detour into the countryside of Wagga Wagga to collect Bill.
“Who else will I be taking?” I asked confident to handle anyone in the Toyota Van with me.
“You’ll have Rob,” my manager said. I pictured tall, scruffy Rob, in his early twenties as the quiet observer. My boss cleared his throat. “And three youth.” Their ages and quantities of either gender remained fuzzy around the edges until I met them. “I’d advise that you don’t let them drive.”
On the morning of my maiden journey to the Conference, Rob, with Karen (17), Tania (16) and Tom (18), stood gazing out the window of the unit my husband and I recently bought. I mentioned the tall eucalyptus trees out the front of our home would have to be chopped down. My young visitors condemned the soon-to-be slaughter of trees. The group seemed harmless enough, if they loved nature.
By the afternoon we bounced along in the trusty Toyota van, through the magical high country, a blur of misty mountains, crisp green pine trees and miles of white line on the grey bitumen. We powered northwards through Bright, wending through Wodonga, and over the river through to Albury. As we approached Wagga Wagga, the sun cast dusky orange over the fields and rolls of hay.
“Where are we meant to turn?” Tania, the chubby brunette of the youth-trio asked. A melted puddle of red in the west was all that remained of our natural source of light. I turned on the head-lights.
“Should be soon. What does the map say?” At the helm, I flicked the switch to high beam and peered through the insect-splattered screen hunting the sign.
Karen leaned her bird-like frame through the gap in the front seat, her blonde fuzz tickling my cheek. She asked, “What map?”
Behind me paper rustled and chip packets crackled.
I pointed behind me. “It’s there somewhere.”
The lanky Tom rolled his blue eyes. I dared not admit that the road map had become the latest casualty in the rush to depart. Left behind! “Anyway, don’t worry. I’ve been to Bill’s farm before.” The turn-off must be around here somewhere. A sign shrouded in darkness flitted past. Too late! On I go.
Rob stared out the window at the fading shades of blue sky.
We charged along the highway, in and out of Wagga Wagga, I was sure that the turn-off was the other side of the town. “Not too far,” I said.
“What road did you say?” Karen asked.
“I’ll recognise it when I see it.” I hoped I would. In the dark. Strange how the road I want always has the sign missing. I sped onwards, white posts every tenth of a kilometre, their red reflectors winking at me.
But none of the road names seemed right. With Wagga half-an-hour behind us, each kilometre of searching for this elusive road ate into our time. “Are you sure you know where you are going?” Rob’s question annoyed me.
“It’s just up ahead.” I wasn’t about to admit that I had no clue. I’m good at navigation. I follow my nose.
“l think we should turn back.” Tom’s deep voice boomed from the rear seat. “We should call them and get directions.”
“It’ll be a waste of time, but if you insist,” I said and turned the van around and tracked back to Wagga Wagga. These were the days before mobile phones, so we hunted down a working telephone box. I climbed from the driver’s seat and into the crisp September night. While the others waited in the van, I phoned Bill and received directions. With the precious piece of paper detailing the road to Junee and subsequent route to Bill’s block, I marched to the driver’s side of the van, hopped in and turned on the ignition.
“Stop! We have to wait for Tania and Tom!” Karen yelled.
We waited. And waited. Half an hour later, the pair strolled up the Main, cradling fish’n chips in newspaper and nibbling at steaming Chiko rolls.
As they climbed into the cabin, I said, “We could’ve been there by now, Bill’s waiting.” However, Bill had some more patience to exercise. His directions were not straight forward and an hour dragged by as we meandered through the farm blocks, one false turn after another on our tour to Junee in the dark. Tom, the young man of Aryan features, sat between the sniggering Tania and Karen. They doted on him and while sipping Coca-Cola, he lapped up all the attention slathered on him. After occupying their mouths with greasy food, the smell of which lingered, the youth tribe grew bored and simmered with repressed rage.
Acid comments spat and floated around the cabin. “Aren’t we there yet?”
“Sure you know where you’re going?…We’re two hours behind schedule…This rate, we’ll never get to Brisbane.” Under pressure, my fine skills of navigation evaporated.
In the mist, a pin-point of light appeared on the side of the road to Junee. As we approached, a white ute emerged from the fog. Beside the truck, we saw a man waving a torch. It was Bill.
With Bill and his gear bundled into the van, we sailed onto Orange.
Some three hours late, Tom was not happy. “We’ll never get there in time.”
The girls cuddled each side of him and chorused their support. “Yeah, if our leader didn’t get us lost!”
[to be continued next week, same time, same website…]
Recent events have reminded me of this little gem I posted way back in 2016. Still relevant today—maybe even more so, as it was back then…and way back 45 years ago when I was in high school. And it seems, while many of us have matured and have an open mind when it comes to opinions and how we view others, there are some who believe that if you tell a lie often enough, it must be true. The recipients who have no backbone who believe these lies are just as guilty. Need I go into detail with examples? Not here. But I may explore this issue in some of my future novels.
NOW YOU KNOW…
Year Ten at high school, and you could say I went to school each day with a big virtual sign on my back that read, “Kick Me”.
Don’t get me wrong, I had my close friends; friends who valued me for me and who saw through the prevailing attitudes of the crowd towards me. I assumed my lack of popularity was spawned from a rocky start in Year Seven—new kid when all friendship groups had been established in a very small school. And then there were those who had made it their mission in life to persecute me. I assumed they spread the rumours about me. Or maybe it was my buck teeth, and awkward way of relating to people…When you are told by your peers over and over again that you are ugly, unloved and no one wants you and you do regularly get picked last for the team, I guess you start to believe what people say.
What kept me together, were my real friends; the ones outside of school, and my friends at school. I also belonged to a fantastic youth group that met every Friday night. A close-knit, loving family helped as well. Most of all my faith in Jesus got me through those difficult early teenage years.
Anyway, at fifteen, my teeth had been almost straightened by orthodontics and I’d perfected the enemy-avoiding strategy of spending lunchtime in the library. I loved learning and my best friend and I spurred each other on in academic excellence. My goal, a scholarship. I had heard rumours that some kids thought I was not so intelligent, a fool, in other words.
At my grandmother’s place, after Sunday lunch, I helped Grandma with the dishes. As I scraped away the chicken bones, I discovered the wishbone.
‘Can I make a wish?’ I asked Grandma.
‘Well, why not?’ she replied. Although a godly woman, some superstitions from our Wendish (eastern European) past had filtered down through the generations. So wishing on wishbones was no big spiritual deal.
Grandma and I hooked our little fingers around each prong of the wishbone. We pulled. The bone snapped in two and I won the larger portion. I closed my eyes and made my wish, a scholarship. Dad had promised that if I studied hard and won a scholarship, he’d buy me a ten-pin bowling ball. So in truth, my aspirations for academic achievement were less than pure.
A month or so later, we lined up for assembly. I suffered the usual torment from a certain teacher who was obsessed with the uniform. ‘Pull your socks up!’ she snapped.
What was it about socks? I wondered as I dutifully began to pull up my socks. For our summer uniform which we had to wear in first term, we wore blue cotton frocks down to our knees and long white socks. Woe betide any poor soul who did not pull their socks up to their knees. The length of our uniform dresses, was another issue that kept certain teachers occupied. And don’t get me started on hair. I tell you, if all the students had worn their uniforms correctly, I think the teachers would’ve quit out of boredom.
So with my socks pulled up, I waited in line to troop into the assembly hall. A tap on my back. One of my friends smiled at me. I remember her simple bob of straight blonde hair; no fancy flicks or curls like many fashion-conscious girls in the 1970’s. Farrah Fawcet flicks were all the rage and drove the teachers to distraction.
‘Good luck,’ my friend said.
‘Why?’ I asked.
Miss Uniform-Obsessed-Teacher glared at us. She had those bulging blue eyes, mean pointy mouth that forced us to slouch into submission, and for me to check my socks again.
One of my foes snaked past and muttered at me, ‘Dumb idiot.’
I shook my head and concentrated on not getting glared at by the teacher. Really, I thought, he’s at the bottom of the class and he’s calling me dumb? What is it with that guy? In his defence, he did come out with a gem once in English class when the students were rioting and so reducing the first-year-out teacher to tears. He said to me, ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ So true for my home town.
Once inside the hallowed halls of assembly, we went through the ritual of the school assembly. The principal delivered the talk. There’s a lecture I recall he made, don’t know if it was that particular one—how we were a bunch of jellyfish and we must get some backbone. When he said backbone I thought of the wishbone, and then that guy and his cohorts. I thought of how people believe unquestioningly what others tell them, even if it’s not true. They go along with the prevailing attitude, even if it’s wrong and harmful to others. In some ways, like at school, I was a victim of these jellyfish, and in other ways, I was a jellyfish too. I had an attitude, an aversion against those who bullied me. Did I have backbone enough to get to know them as people rather than continuing to avoid them as enemies?
The principal began to hand out the awards. Ah, yes, that’s what my friend meant. Today was the day of the awards. I watched as various students marched up the front and collected their scholarships. That won’t be me, I thought.
‘And for Year Ten,’ the principal said, ‘the scholarship for high achievement…’
I looked up. What? Me?
I walked to the front, shook the principal’s hand, collected the award, then head down and with a tug of my pig tail, I walked back to my seat.
Afterwards, my friend patted me on the shoulder. ‘Congratulations! Well done! Just like you to win an award and then pull at your pig tails.’
I nodded. The whole deal of winning a scholarship seemed unreal. ‘I’ll be able to get my own bowling ball, now.’
That guy slid past me. ‘Ooh, what a surprise—we all thought you were dumb.’
‘Well, now you know I’m not,’ I replied.
Sometimes we carry our hurt from the persecution from others like a big heavy bag on our backs and the truth is it influences the way we see the world. I realised being a victim had become my narrative and I didn’t want it to be so. As a jellyfish, I had no backbone to stand against this view of myself and how others viewed me. I feared speaking out and going against the crowd in the cause of truth, justice, mercy and compassion. I kept my opinions to myself. Then just recently, when again the baggage of victimhood crept up on me, I read the following passage from the book of Matthew in the Bible. The words encouraged and gave me the backbone to stand out and for the sake of Jesus Christ make a positive difference in the world.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me (Jesus). Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”—Matthew 5:11-12
[In answer to today’s prompt, I have never been to Kangaroo Island.So close and yet, so expensive to get there.One day I hope to travel there. In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy the beautiful beaches of Adelaide and down the Fleurieu coast.]
Sensational Sellicks Beachat Sunset
[Part 2 of the K-Team’s adventure on the Fantastic Fleurieu.]
‘Let’s see Sellicks Beach at sunset,’ I said, ‘it’s a perfect day for a sunset on the cliffs.’
This time, like sheep, the K-Team heeded my voice and followed Hubby and me out from Hallett Cove, and then by car, we made a convoy up Lonsdale Road to the expressway heading for Sellicks Beach.
After the expressway, on South Road, we passed the turn-off to Victor Harbour. I looked back. ‘Um, I can see P1’s car, but where’s your other brother, M’s car?’
‘Behind P1, I think,’ Hubby said. ‘Can’t you see the car?’
I glimpsed something resembling M’s car. ‘I think so.’
We reached the road leading to Sellicks Beach and turned. P1’s car turned too. ‘I can’t see M’s car.’
‘Maybe he went to Victor Harbour,’ my husband said.
‘I hope not.’
Hubby sighed as we neared Sellicks Beach. ‘Now where do we go?’
‘Down the ramp.’
‘What ramp? I don’t see a ramp.’
‘Right there.’ I pointed. ‘Turn right.’
He who argues with Sat Nav’s and ignores their instructions, didn’t turn where I told him to, but kept driving on the road above the cliffs. ‘Where do I turn?’ he bleated.
I indicated behind us, but not in a smooth-calm voice that the Sat Nav would have. ‘Back there!’
‘What? Why didn’t you say so?’
Huffing and puffing, Hubby manoeuvred the Ford around making a U-turn. Then he detected a car park on the same level as the road. ‘We should park there.’
The thought of trekking up the steep slope to our car after the descent to the beach didn’t appeal to me. ‘No, let’s go to the lower one.’
‘Fine then,’ Hubby muttered and then drove down the ramp to the lower car park. P1’s car followed.
Parked in the lower car park, we waited for M.
‘I think he took the road to Victor Harbour,’ P1 said. ‘He seemed to disappear around the time of that turn-off.’
Hubby pursed his lips and shook his head. We waited and observed cars parked on the beach. Waves already lapped at the ramp leading to the beach. Seemed some drivers had left it a little too late to escape the beach and rising tide. Perhaps the owners planned to camp the night and fish. One four-wheel drive vehicle drove through the surf to climb the ramp back to the road.
‘Let’s have some afternoon tea while we wait,’ I said and then opened up the back of the station wagon. Before I’d finished serving coffee and hot cross buns, M’s car rolled down the ramp and parked beside P1’s car. We gathered around as M and his Swiss passengers stepped out.
‘I took the road to Victor Harbour and had to take the scenic route to get here,’ M said.
The K-Team watched the sunset on the Sellicks cliffs; a regular paparazzi of K-clickers with their cameras captured the sun sinking on the horizon.
Then, with the sun gone, the K-Team wound their way back to our place for a roast chicken dinner.