Other Posts

We’re moving… please re-follow

Dear followers,

I’ve decided to move to a self hosted site, combining my blog and website into one entity.

This means that if you are a follower, you will need to re-follow my new blog site!

You can still access it through the same address:  chalkymaclaan.wordpress.com or you can get to it via: www.chalkymaclaan.com

Thanks for following me!

Chalky

Standard
Other Posts

A New Internetty Thingy

Hello Dear Reader,

I’m back and I’ve been a very busy boy… No, I’m not telling you this to make excuses for neglecting my blog, but to tell you that I have been working on something all internetty and cool.

I mentioned in my last post that I had an idea that combined three of my passions: travel, my kids and writing. Well, that idea is very close to becoming a reality. In a month or two, I will be launching my new website called Dadelaide. It is an online resource which will hopefully inspire families to explore Adelaide (and, later on, other places too). I will write reviews of family activities in Adelaide from the perspective of a dad with three little ones in tow. There are a plethora of sites offering ‘what’s on’ listings, but not many that provide travel-guide-like reviews of more permanent family activities.

Dadelaide Screenshot

A screenshot of the Dadelaide home page.

Every Saturday, my wife works and I have the three children for the whole day by myself. I REALLY don’t like hanging around the house; everyone gets cabin fever and starts going a little potty. So, I take the kids on an adventure where we try to do something new and interesting each week. I love to post pictures of our adventures on instagram (dadelaidelm) and Facebook. I kept receiving comments from friends, amazed at how I knew of so many different places to take the kids. I have always taken it for granted that people just knew about all of the great things do to around our city, but it seems that I was wrong. There is a need for this type of information and that is what I hope to provide on Dadelaide.

O-Bahn

Watching the O-Bahn from Dunstan Adventure Playground

I want my site to be easy and quick to use, be down-to-earth and to provide the kind of information that parents want; for example, about pram accessibility, parents’ rooms, etc.

When I first had the idea for Dadelaide, I searched around for a WordPress-like web application that would meet my needs. However, with the complex requirements of my site, I could find nothing suitable. So, I decided to make the site myself.

Abandoned Gypsum Mine

Checking out an abandoned gypsum mine on the Yorke Peninsula

This posed a bit of a problem, because my web design skills were about 15 years out of date. I knew basic HTML and very basic CSS (the most basic web design codes) but did not know anything about making dynamic sites with PHP or databases. So, I decided to do some online learning with Lynda.com. In the one precious spare hour per day that I have, I worked my way through hours of courses on up to date HTML and CSS coding as well as responsive web design, PHP, MYSQL and many other things that if I went on listing them, your brain would bleed!

Finally, after two months of watching tutorials and practising, I started to put the framework of my site together. Another two and a half months later and I have now completed building 95% of the site. After this is done, I need to spend some time adding some content and… away we go!

When I started this blog, I wanted to stop wasting my precious ‘me time’ (gee, I hate that phrase!) and instead spend it being productive and creative. While I haven’t actually been ‘bliction‘ blogging much for the last half a year, I have been inspired to be self-disciplined (it’s a new concept for me) and have got my creative juices flowing (another slightly disturbing phrase) and learned some new skills along the way.

Hopefully, we’ll see each other a little more often from now on.

Chalky.

Standard
Man on a Wharf

Man on a Wharf – The End

All good things must come to an (abrupt) end!

For the last ten weeks, I have been working hard, spending my evenings drinking copious amounts of tea and writing my Man on a Wharf series. I have written five different stories in five different genres: tweenage, thriller, historical fiction, picture book and travel writing. I have thoroughly enjoyed re-engaging with the writing process and have learned a great deal. Thank you all for your support of this project! You never know, I may write a ‘Man on a Wharf: Series 2’ sometime in the future as I still have lots of unused ideas.

And now for the big question… No, it’s not ‘what tea am I drinking?’ (although I am happy to tell you: Ladurée – Jardin Bleu Royal Thé, bought for me in Paris by my brother). No, the real questions is: ‘what now?’

Firstly, I am working on an exciting new online project which I will let you all know about soon. I was inspired with the idea for this project through writing one of my Man on a Wharf stories. I am particularly excited about this project because it combines three of my favourite things: travel, my kids and writing!

Also, I hope to write more posts on this blog. I have a few ideas for some interesting topics, including: ‘How Eric van Lustbader ruined my life’ and ‘A prude’s per-sex-tive (sorry) on good and bad sex in writing’. I may even write another short story or two!

Along with a new found hobby of learning Spanish on DuoLingo (Hablo un poco español. Yo bebo mucho té. ¿Tú bebes té? ¡Té es muy bien!) and my family and day job, I should be quite busy.

Standard
Man on a Wharf

Man on a Wharf – Story 5

Castles, Swamps and Big Metal Beasts

by Chalky MacLaan

Squinting, my eyes being assaulted by the flying dust, we fought the wind across the drawbridge. The battlements towered high above as we entered the gates, my children by my side.

Ahead of us was a staircase and we ascended, following its upward curve. My third born was struggling, whining, trying to pull away from my grasp. I held tight, lest her tiny body be swept away on the hot North wind.

Reaching the safety of the tower, I looked out at the godforsaken surroundings. Westward lay the churning grey water. To the south, the mangroves grew like a fungus around the edge of a bay. In the east, the light shimmered on the salt pans and I could see the causeway which we had just traversed. In the north loomed a great wall of brown. I had to turn away as another strong gust blew more grit into my face.

Gesturing, my firstborn entreated me to follow her to the edge of the tower. From the eastern battlements, two great metallic snakes made their way down to the ground.  “Can I go on the slide now, Dad?” she pleaded.

So began our ‘Daddy Day Out’ at St Kilda, South Australia.

The castle slide

The castle slide

Because of family work arrangements, I am often tasked with looking after my three children for whole days by myself. I don’t like hanging around at home, so I often take them on a ‘Daddy Day Out’ to ward off cabin fever. In the recent holidays, a number of factors meant that I had many excursions to plan. The excursions have to be cheap and engaging for all of the kids (aged six, four and two).

Amongst my childhood memories, one place that I remember especially fondly is St Kilda. If my brother and I had been particularly well behaved and if my dad was not too grumpy, we would sometimes stop there for a few hours on our way back from Adelaide to our home in the country.

St Kilda lies between mangrove swamps; an unpleasant part of the Adelaide coastline; and some very stinky salt lakes. It is dry, dusty and completely flat. However, what it lacks in beauty is made up in bucket loads by three child friendly attractions: a mangrove trail, a tram museum and a massive ‘old school’ adventure playground.

St Kilda was named, not after a Saint, as there has never been a saint by that name (Buchanan, 1983) (see this clip from Qi for more details [from 11:30 to 12:03]), but after a part of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, which, like ours, has abundant bird life (Gunton, 1986).

St Kilda is an isolated community of 250 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007) and is served by one road, which passes over the salt flats. These salt flats are currently Australia’s only source of soda ash (Taylor, 2003), a very interesting product with many uses. Just beyond the salt pans is Adelaide’s sewerage treatment works whose miasma wafts steadily towards the town.

We arrived at the playground early to beat the crowds and chose the castle as our first port of call.

I soon discovered that the one parent to three children ratio was not ideal as each child wanted to do something different. I wanted to keep them in sight because despite many of the best equipment being removed over the years for safety reasons, it really is still an ‘old school’ playground: in one part of the castle there is a ladder that descends at least ten metres into the earth. My two year old thought that this ladder was fascinating and my time was spent keeping her away from the shaft.

After distracting her with slippery dip rides, I rounded up the others and headed for the pirate ship: three levels of splintery, wooden goodness, perched on the edge of the grey, sludgy bay.

A quick descent from the top level to the bottom was enough for the kids and they were soon running toward the flying foxes, the smaller of which was available. Never in my life have I been able to go on the flying fox here. The line was always huge and populated with bullies.

Each child had a fly before we set off to tackle Slide Mountain: The most exciting, fabulous, amazing piece of playground magic in the entire world. Spiralling down into its centre were two speedy slides. As a child, I spend hours deep in its echoing caverns.

As we approached the mountain, we paused, trying to contain our excitement. Ducking my head, we entered a tunnel reminiscent of a Wild West mine. After a zig and a zag, we emerged into a maze, its curving wooden walls no match for this cheater. Finding the gaps, we edged through, trying to find the magic portal.

We came face to face with the portal and to my disappointment, it was all boarded up. We scrambled up the rocks and looked to the top of the hill. The slides were blocked off too. My head starting to pulse with rage, I charged off towards the little wooden bridge that would take us across to the other part of the playground, but when we reached its edge, it was also blocked off.

Frustrated and with my youngest getting more bored by the minute, I resigned myself to the fact that they would probably get more enjoyment from the fairly standard, modern equipment designed for the younger ones. Ironically, they did. My eldest, however, decided to run off and try some of the more unusual equipment.

While standing near a small plastic slide, incrementally offering hand holding services to the two year old, I had some time to reflect. Opened in 1982 (Taylor, 2003), the St Kilda Adventure Playground was originally full of every piece of exciting, thrilling and downright dangerous equipment you could imagine. Feeling the unnatural concave curve in my front teeth, I remembered the thrill of climbing onto the metal giraffe: you sat three metres up in the air and it would rock so violently that if you weren’t careful you’d bang your chin. Those were the days! It really wasn’t the same anymore.

When I finally felt like my eye sockets did not have room for any more dust, I scooped up my offspring to move on to the mangroves.

The mangrove boardwalk

The mangrove boardwalk

We collected the electronic boardwalk access card from the local bait shop and set off for the self-guided boardwalk, my two year strapped, secured and safe in the pram.

We sped through the unmanned interpretive centre and out towards the mangroves. The first part of the walk took us over the low, flat samphire marsh. The green and pink expanse of this edible succulent was surrounded by pristine pools of still, saline water.

Despite the noise emanating from my rambunctious progeny, we started to hear the chirping of birds. Apparently, the mangroves are home to over two hundred species of birds (Waanders, 2004).

As we approached the mangroves, the dirt track was replaced by a narrow wooden boardwalk which quickly rose a metre in the air so we could view the mangroves from above. Mercifully, this section of the walk had a hand rail.

The wind still blowing strong, we descended into the mangroves. They enveloped us, their leaves blocking the wind and creating an eerie atmosphere. The heat and the moisture from the swamp gave the impression that we had just entered the tropics.

A little further up the winding trail, we entered the finger forest. Mangroves grow in the soil beneath the swamp, but send roots up to above the waterline. Because of the tidal variance, when we visited, these roots protruded significantly from the water, making it look like hundreds of fingers were emerging from the mud.

Number two child was quite amazed and was not watching where he was going. “Stop!” I cried, but instead, he turned his head, still walking towards the lip at the edge of the boardwalk. As his toe caught the edge, I stumbled forward, trying to scramble past the pram to catch hold of him. I realised, to my horror, that there was no way I would reach him in time.

He started to fall out towards the swamp, hundreds of spikey fingers waiting to catch his little body. He propellered his arms, flapping about like a startled chicken. After what seemed like hours, he managed to regain his balance and stepped back from the edge. Not knowing whether to scream, snicker or scold him, I took a deep breath and reminded him to look where he was going.

The finger forest

The finger forest

After posing for a few pictures and hiding in a couple of bird hides, we reached the lookout. Toddler was unstrapped and we made our way to the top. We had made it to the edge of the mangroves and could now see waters of the bay.

Before setting off on the four hundred metre walk back to the car, we peered through the mesh that blocked the onward stretch of path. The boardwalk, covered in seaweed and rotting in the darkness of the dense foliage could be seen disappearing into the distance. Once, this had been a loop path, but that half is now closed. I wondered why.

Walking back to the car, second born was vibrating with excitement. The most exciting part of the day had arrived: it was time to visit the tram museum.

From 1878 to 1958, Adelaide had a very large tram and trolleybus network. All but one of these lines were ripped up when the glorious car era arrived (State Transport Authority, 1978). Thankfully, many of Adelaide’s historical trams and trolleybuses have been preserved at the Adelaide Tramway Museum near St Kilda. The museum regularly runs tram rides along a two kilometre track to the playground and back. For each round trip, they usually run a different historic tram.

We paid our entrance fees to the dour lady in the office and headed for the trolleybus shed. Trolleybuses are electric buses that get their power from overhead wires. They are very strange looking creatures and the little ’ns enjoyed running laps, in through the front doors and out through the novel rear doors.

While perusing the vehicles, I realised how so often, things come full circle. Adelaide once had a fleet of double decker trolley buses which were diverted to Adelaide from Japanese occupied China during World War Two (Adelaide Tramway Museum, 2008). They disappeared well before I was born. To me, double decker buses were always exotic machines from magical London, even though they were once common here. Later this year, the government is once again introducing double decker buses to Adelaide’s streets. This little transport nerd is wetting his pants!

After some convincing, I was able to get the littlest away from the buses and move to the other sheds, where we were able to explore many different trams from various eras and

The tram on which we travelled

The tram on which we travelled

locations.

We took our seats in the historic tram that was slated for the first run of the day. It is always a bit unnerving waiting in a stationary tram as they make absolutely no noise. We chose our seats in the open section, where there were no doors; it’s more fun that way (I can hear all the mums fall sideways off their seats).

As we waited, I took the opportunity to admire the detail and artistry that went into the décor of these old trams. They even have colourful leadlight windows!

When the tram started rolling, we were the only passengers. I strapped the little one in a ‘daddy seatbelt’ (on my lap, my arms as restraints) so she didn’t go tumbling out of the door. The old tram rattled down the track at quite a speed. That, combined with the wind, meant that I was very glad we had left the hats in the car.

At the other end, we watched the solemn pole swapping ceremony. The electric poles on old trams must always trail behind; so, at a terminus, the driver must pull one pole down using a rope and raise the other. Modern pantographs have eliminated the need for this quaint practice.

After collecting a few passengers from the playground, we set back across the salt lakes. As we clattered along, the breeze ruffled my youngest daughter’s silky blonde hair as she snuggled into me, her eyelids growing heavy.

Returning to the car, I shut the doors and we were finally free from the dust, wind and heat.

 

Quick Reference:

castles-pg

castles-mg

castles-tm

Key:
P = Pram accessibility
0-4, 5-12, 13-17, 18+ = star rating (out of 5) for these age groups

Works Cited:

Adelaide Tramway Museum, 2008. Adelaide Tram Muesum At St. Kilda South Australia – Things to see and do. [Online]
Available at: http://www.trammuseumadelaide.com.au/01_things.html
[Accessed 8 May 2014].

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007. “St Kilda (State Suburb)”. 2006 Census QuickStats. [Online]
Available at: http://www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/census_services/getproduct/census/2006/quickstat/SSC42626
[Accessed 28 February 2008].

Buchanan, M., 1983. St Kilda: a Photographic Album. s.l.:W. Blackwood.

Gunton, E., 1986. Tracing Our Towns, Stories of Same Named Places in South Australia and the United Kingdom. South Australia: Self Published.

State Transport Authority, 1978. Transit in Adelaide : the story of the development of street public transportation in Adelaide from horse trams to the present bus and tram system. Adelaide, South Australia: State Transport Authority (South Australia).

Taylor, E., 2003. The History and Development of ST KILDA South Australia. Salisbury, South Australia: Lions Club of Salisbury.

Waanders, P., 2004. A birdwatching guide to South Australia: St Kilda tidal flats and mangroves. [Online]
Available at: http://members.dodo.com.au/~peteriw/birdingsa/sites-6.htm
[Accessed 21 January 2007].

Wikipedia, 2014. St Kilda, Scotland. [Online]
Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Kilda,_Scotland
[Accessed 11 May 2014].

Wikipedia, 2014. St Kilda, South Australia. [Online]
Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Kilda,_South_Australia
[Accessed 11 May 2014].

 

 Author’s Note:

This week, I decided to try my hand at travel writing. I love writing and travel, therefore this genre seemed like the perfect fit.

I am considering starting another blog dedicated solely to writing about my Daddy Days Out. I frequently have people ask me how I know what to do around Adelaide with my children each week. So, this week’s blog was an opportunity for me to test out this idea. Writing this piece was enjoyable, so I think I will write the other blog. I’ll let you know the link when it is set up.

I hope you can forgive me interpreting my writing brief in a flexible way – I am a man and I was on a boardwalk, which I think is close enough to a wharf… maybe?

Standard
Other Posts

Social (Media) Caterpillar

In the two weeks of holidays from my day job, I have taken the opportunity to become ‘au fait’ with the world of social media. I rediscovered my Twitter account, restarted my lapsed Facebook page and reconsidered the need for a LinkedIn account (what exactly is LinkedIn for, except to bombard you with emails?)

I have made a concerted effort to make regular postings and have been rewarded with follows, retweets, favourites and a few lovely conversations. It is somewhat surprising to me that anyone would find what I have to say interesting, so this experience has been quite an affirming one. I was even able to have a brief exchange with one of my favourite authors – David Morrell. As a fairly introverted person, being ‘social’ doesn’t sound that appealing; however, I can say that I am quite enjoying connecting with people from all over the world.

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank my followers on WordPress, Twitter and Facebook for your support. You are helping this social (media) caterpillar turn into a butterfly.

For those of you who like that kind of thing, and as compensation for a short blog post, here’s an inspirational photo I took of a butterfly…

image

Standard
Man on a Wharf

Man on a Wharf – Story 4

Author’s Note:

I have broken with tradition this week and am posting my author’s note first. This is because this week’s story is quite different for the other ones and needs some explanation. The story this week is a picture book designed for everyone over the age of five (not just for children). It is designed to fit the self-ended picture book layout of twelve two-page spreads.

As I am not an illustrator, and as the pictures are crucial to the story, I have included a brief description of each illustration. These descriptions I have indented, italicised and coloured blue to separate them from the actual text which is in black. I have intentionally left the descriptions brief because illustrators need to be given the freedom to explore their art on their own terms.

The inspiration for this book has come from two very different picture books: Window by Jeannie Baker and Where’s Wally (Where’s Waldo) by Martin Handford.

Window is a wordless collage picture book that shows the same view out of one window over a long period as the urbanisation starts to affect a formerly rural area. I loved looking at this book as a child and seeing the world change. The book raises many questions for the reader.

Where’s Wally is a book full of busy pictures in which the reader is challenged to find Wally. However, as you spend time finding the be-striped gentleman in each scene, you notice many other interesting characters whose stories make you wonder.

In this book, I have tried to combine the best elements of both Window (the structure and some themes) and Where’s Wally (the busy, colourful, detailed images) and have added a poignant narrative. In the narrative, I wanted to explore the themes of memory, nostalgia, imagination, change, disability and the passage of time. My intention is that families could read this book repeatedly and still find something new and interesting both in the pictures and the text.

The idea for this book was the first one I had at the start of the Man on a Wharf Challenge. However, I decided that I needed to write some more conventional stories first. Four stories into the challenge and I think I’m ready to share this one with you all. I hope you enjoy it!

 

Mr Marconi Remembers

by Chalky MacLaan

Every picture in the book shows Mr Marconi from behind, in the foreground, sitting on a park bench and looking down at the dock area from a nearby hill. On each page, the picture of the dock area changes, but Mr Marconi is always there, remembering. There are clear indications by posters, cars, fashions, etc. of the year in which the scene is set.

Pages 1-2:

Every day, Mr Marconi loves to walk to the docks. In winter, he wears his beanie and greatcoat. In summer he wears his wide brimmed hat. It is not too far and Mr Marconi knows the quickest way. When he gets there, he always sits awhile and remembers…

In the first picture, Mr Marconi is 90 and it is 2014. The dock area has undergone serious renovation and it is now a lawned promenade area. You can see tourists snapping pictures, children playing, families picnicking, young lovers strolling, young soldiers on parade, businessmen on mobile phones, young men working, some disabled people, some people happy, some sad. The old crane structures are still there but have been incorporated into the new modern environment. There is a slightly 1960s futuristic vibe about the place.

Pages 3-4:

He remembers holding his father’s rough hand as he stepped down the gangplank of the black steamship. He looked at all the people around him and listened to the strange new sounds. He asked his father when they would be going home. “This is our new home,” father replied, looking toward the city.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 5 and it is 1929. The dock area is a hive of activity. There is a passenger ship with many European immigrants disembarking. You can clearly see a little five year old boy, holding the hand of his father. They are quite obviously new to the country and know no one: no one is there to meet them. It is just before the depression, so the area doesn’t look too run down.

Pages 5-6:

He remembers running around cranes and jumping over barrels, searching for a hiding place. When his friends finally found him, they laughed. Shutting his eyes, he started counting as the game continued. They played all day. They only returned home when the stevedores started shouting at them.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 10 and it is 1934. The dock area is busy, but there are many signs of the great depression, including the edge of a shanty town in the park next to the dock (a ‘Hooverville’). The dock area also looks a bit run down and unkempt. A bunch of kids can be seen gallivanting around the docks, playing amongst the equipment.

Pages 7-8:

He remembers lining up with the other young men, ready to cross the sea again. The grey boat behind him loomed over the crowd, casting a long shadow. Would he ever come back? He patted his side. In his pocket was a letter and on that letter were three words which made him feel brave.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 18 and it is 1942. The docks look like they have been tidied up. A warship is docked and young soldiers are lined up ready to board. There are many family members waving goodbye to the soldiers. One soldier is staring towards the crowd where an old couple and a young lady are standing.

Pages 9-10:

He remembers the people cheering as the boat pulled alongside the wharf. Spotting someone in the crowd, he waved. He held on tightly to the railing so he didn’t fall over. He could almost taste his favourite meal and feel the warmth of a hug. He picked up his stick and followed the stream of soldiers.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 21 and it is 1945. The docks are a scene of celebration as another warship (looking a bit battered) is about to dock. On the ship are many happy soldiers waving to the crowds. Many of the soldiers are injured. One injured soldier waves at an older man and a young lady.

Pages 11-12:

He remembers lowering the crane hook. The round handle of the lever fit snugly in his palm. He concentrated to make sure the goods went in the right place. The toots of ships and trains rose to him on the breeze as he paused a moment and looked to the horizon. He felt like he was floating.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 22 and it is 1946. The dock is busy and orderly. There is a train in the siding being loaded by a crane. The crane operator is visible.

Pages 13-14:

He remembers taking her by the hand and leading her into the ship.  He put his arm around her shoulders and she smiled. She looked so beautiful. The scent of roses lingered around her. He was happy.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 25 and it is 1949. It is night time and a passenger ship is berthed at the dock. Passengers are boarding. One young couple are half way up the gangplank and the woman is peering back to the crowd on the docks. The young man is gently guiding her into the ship. They are dressed in neat clothes as they have just been married.

Pages 15-16:

He remembers strutting around like a king. He talked to everyone; everyone knew him; everyone asked him questions. On his way home each night, he looked at the crane and thought about the years he had spent working on the docks. His boy came running to him as he approached the gate.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 35 and it is 1959. The docks are busy. A foreman is talking to a worker. At the gate waits a woman and a young boy.

Pages 17-18:

He remembers his last day at the docks. The ageing steel structures creaked and groaned as he left his meeting. His feet felt heavy as he trudged to the gate. He had thought he’d work here forever.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 48 and it is 1972. It is an overcast and windy day. There are fewer workers on the docks and the whole area is starting to look quite unkempt. The cranes appear to be a more modern automated system. One man walks across an empty section holding a box in one arm and a piece of paper in the other.

Pages 19-20:

He remembers walking by on a dark, rainy afternoon, arm in arm with his wife. “They’re closed,” she whispered. They stood there and listened to the rattle of the raindrops on the new fence. He put his hand out and touched the wire mesh.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 62 and it is 1986. The docks are closed and abandoned and surrounded by a wire mesh fence. It is rainy and overcast and the docks behind are somewhat obscured. An old couple stand arm in arm in the rain, looking at the fence. On the fence is a poster with a design for the new docklands area (similar to the dock area on pages 1-2). There is also a ‘vote 1’ political poster.

Pages 21-22:

He remembers bringing his grandchildren here. He told stories of his childhood and laughed for the first time in ages. He could hear birds calling to one another and the distant swish of the sea. As his words flowed out, he felt lighter.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 76 and it is 2000. The docks are all fixed up (as on pages 1-2) but there are few people around. A man stands next to a younger man, obviously happy and telling stories. There is a young boy and a young girl nearby.

Pages 23-24:

When he finishes remembering, Mr Marconi picks up his cane and goes home. He smiles, knowing that tomorrow he’ll visit again.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 90 and it is 2014 again. Mr Marconi has stood up and it is obvious that he is completely blind as he holds a cane. The dock area is actually run down and unfixed since pages 19-20. For several pages, the scenes have been a combination of Mr Marconi’s memory, nostalgia and imagination. Some elements of the pictures in pages 17-22 (he has to retire from his job on page 17 because of his increasing blindness) are things which don’t really fit in the era of those pictures or are things from his own past. These shouldn’t be noticeable on first inspection, but should be noticed when the reader goes back and reads the book again, knowing the ending. There is also an updated poster on the fence, showing that the dock area will actually be redeveloped in 2016.

Standard
Old Stories

Old Stories – Play Café

Author’s Note:

When I finished my undergraduate Arts degree in 2004, real life started. From that point on, my time was consumed with my demanding teaching course, a stressful new teaching job, marriage and having three children. Because of this, until recently, I hadn’t written anything of substance in ten years, excepting one story: Play Café.

I wrote Play Café in 2009, only a year into being a father for the first time. After visiting a play café with my daughter, I started to notice the politics that existed amongst small children. At this stage, I hadn’t taken her to many playgrounds and I was struck with how young we are when we first experience brutality and inflict it on others. Whoever says children are innocent angels is wrong!

Writing this story marked my first experience of writing for the sake of writing. No one demanded it, I wasn’t completing a course and I didn’t necessarily think anyone would want to read it; I just wrote for fun. I enjoyed the process so much that I vowed to work towards writing  in the future. It took another five years, but I have finally reached a point in my life where I have the time and head space to be able to write.

It is not perfect and I have learnt a lot more about writing in the last five years, but I hope you’ll enjoy it!

If you like this story, it is available for free as an ebook from itunes and smashwords.

 

Play Café

by Chalky MacLaan

Jessica had only just learnt to speak, so she was chattering to herself, experimenting with the sound ‘eh’ as she lay in the ball crawl. She preferred the sensation of lying on the squashy plastic balls to that of lying on the sand. The absence of water was a benefit as well. As she thought about the beach, a shiver ran up her spine, her little hands started to shake and moisture gathered in the corner of one of her blue eyes. She remembered the way her feet sank in the soft sand and how she couldn’t stay upright.

She rolled over and came to rest on her stomach. She could see her mother’s safe smile through the fence, causing her to forget all about her past misadventures. Her mother nodded encouragingly just as something caught Jessica’s eye in the next section of the play café.

She rolled over on to her back, then kept going onto her front again and repeated this until she was at the edge of the ball crawl. She had experimented a little during her few minutes in the crawl and decided that this rolling action was easier than walking and more fun too.

She pulled herself out and onto her feet and waddled out of the enclosure, past her slowly-caffeinating mother and into the next enclosure.

Jessica was delighted with the sight that lay before her eyes. Cars lined up along the fence; cars that were the right size for her. She let out a delighted giggle and ran up to the first car, her arms outstretched at the ready for exploration.

“Go away,” were the words shouted at her as she was thrown back onto the floor. In the shock preceding the inevitable cry, Jessica had a chance to see what she hadn’t before. A large boy in a red t-shirt was looking down from the very car that Jessica had been investigating. He had small dark eyes that were narrowed in selfish anger, a long, narrow face and a chin that was as sharp as his words. “I said go away girl!”

As a mournful wail emerged slowly from Jessica, the boy decided he hadn’t finished. He slowly moved the little car away from the fence and as the startled Jessica was just getting to her feet again, he bumped into her, knocking her to the floor once more. He then turned his car around abruptly and trundled off to the other side of the enclosure.

The now very confused, upset and red-faced Jessica was still on the floor as her mother came up quietly and scooped her into her arms. Instant calm came over Jessica as she felt the warmth of her mother’s neck against her cheek. However, with this familiar feeling of comfort came a fresh batch of tears.

As she lay in her mother’s arms, listening to the comforting sound of her favourite nursery rhyme being whispered in her ear, Jessica saw an amazing sight. It was like a huge castle. It had slides, trampolines and tunnels. She was itching to go and climb on it, so she started to wriggle.

Her mother placed her on the ground and walked behind her as she made her way to the bottom of the ladder. This was like no other ladder Jessica had ever seen before. It was made of soft cubes placed on a diagonal across a slope. She tried to climb onto the first cube. It was a lot bigger than Jessica was expecting and she struggled madly to try and climb on to it. Eventually, after several seconds of pulling with her arms, wiggling with her bottom and scrabbling with her legs, she finally made it onto the first cube. She was exhausted and looked ahead to see that there were at least two more cubes to go to get to the top.

She then remembered that her mum was standing near by. She held up her hand and it was promptly wrapped in the firm grasp she knew well. In no time at all, Jessica was at the top of the ladder. She now was faced with a choice: would she stay near her mum, go down the slide and then have to climb back up again; or would she go through the tunnel to the left, away from her mum and deep into the castle with all its trampolines and other mysteries?

She stepped up into the tunnel and crawled her way through, stopping only briefly to look out of the port-hole. Soon, she could see the first trampoline, only it didn’t look like any trampoline that she had ever been on in the past. This one extended straight out from the level that she was on, which meant she didn’t have to climb up at all. It was also surrounded on three sides by nets, so Jessica didn’t have to worry about falling over.

As Jessica was just about to step onto the trampoline, she felt a dull thud at the base of her spine. She toppled heavily onto the trampoline. As she landed, she bounced back up into a standing position, just as a dark figure in a red t-shirt rushed out of view around the corner.

Jessica was about to cry, but then she realised that she enjoyed the feeling of bouncing. She walked back to the edge of the trampoline and recreated her bounce from before. She giggled madly and tried the same thing a few more times before she decided to press on with her adventure.

She turned the corner and was confronted with another tunnel. She felt a little apprehensive as her stomach gave a little nervous tickle. She turned back and looked for her mother. She couldn’t see her from here, but was sure that she was still nearby.

With a deep breath, Jessica plunged into the semi-darkness of the tunnel. About half way along the tunnel, Jessica realised that as she crawled, she was getting higher and higher. As she emerged from the tunnel, Jessica looked around through the nets, surveying the castle. Her heart gave a little jump when she realised that she was right at the top.

Immediately, Jessica dropped back onto all fours. Although there was plenty of room to walk upright, she felt much safer with her head closer to the walkway. She crawled slowly around the next corner and then stopped and remained very still.

In front of her was the biggest slide Jessica had ever seen. It went right from where she was standing, down to the ground. The slide was in a long, red tunnel that looked to Jessica like a long wiggly caterpillar.

Jessica was really scared. She had only ever been down little slides, and always when her mother was right there, holding her hand. She looked back towards the way that she had come and then back at the slide. Another choice had to be made. Two small tears began to slide down her cheeks as she pondered, when a small movement caught her eye. Her mother was waving to her at the bottom of the slide. She seemed to have a funny look on her face. Jessica couldn’t tell exactly what it meant, but the sight of her mother calmed her and she now knew what she had to do.

Jessica crawled up to the top of the slide. It was very quiet up here, only the faint murmur of voices could be heard. She sat, her legs dangling onto the slide, waiting for some sort of cue to tell her to go.

Footsteps came thudding up the structure behind her. She turned around quickly and out of habit sprung up, with her back facing the slide.

After turning, the first thing Jessica saw was a red splodge. Then the image of the boy formed quickly around the splodge and Jessica’s heart skipped a beat.

“That’s my slide,” roared the boy. Jessica couldn’t move. The boy’s eyes narrowed so much that they almost disappeared entirely. “Move!” The words thundered around Jessica’s head, but she couldn’t think of what to do. Her thoughts shifted to her mum. She started turning around to look for her mum when she was pushed in the side.

Thunder and tumble and a flood of red.

Round and over and crash and thump.

Jessica’s mum scooped her off of the padded floor at the base of the slide. Silent tears were starting to emerge from Jessica’s frightened eyes.

As she was carried towards the door in her mother’s safe arms, Jessica looked back into the café. She saw the boy get up from a heap at the bottom of the slide. He slowly rubbed his head. He looked around frantically until his eyes stopped. Jessica followed his gaze to a lady over near the back of the café. She was facing the other direction, leaning on a table and talking into a mobile phone.

The boy, after staring for a few moments started to howl. His tears were flowing down on to the foam mat. The lady didn’t flinch or react, but continued to talk to her phone.

Jessica and her mother had now made it to the door and the scene in the café was now out of sight. They walked outside into the bright sunshine.

playpic1

Cover image: Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Standard
Man on a Wharf

Man on a Wharf – Story 3

The Drums

by Chalky MacLaan

Pushing through one last dense wall of foliage, Harold reached the edge of the cliff. The escarpment fell away before him, its grey face covered in mildew and moss. He found a comfortable spot in the shade of a frangipani tree and sat.

Taking a long swig of brandy from a battered hip flask, he looked out at the harbour below. He tried to count the ships, but as usual, he lost count after thirty.

Harold sighed and leant against a tree. It was hot. The air was heavy with moisture and walking felt like swimming.

Wiping his brow with a hanky, he thought of home: dry old Adelaide. It was only two months ago that he’d said goodbye to his wife and boy to head north, but it felt like years.

Ever since the war had started, Harold had been desperate to join the army. His was a ‘necessary job’; “Keeping the lines of communication open,” was what the admissions officer kept repeating on his daily visits. When his old boss had told him about the position up in Darwin, he took it on the spot. That way he could be closer to the action, where his countrymen were fighting the Japs like heroes.

Peering out over the precipice, Harold could just see a group of soldiers heading towards the wharf on the road below. He shut his eyes as he felt the mute drumming of guilt in his chest.

Heroes! Harold was definitely no hero. He had been running from things all his life. Twenty-eight years ago he’d run. He’d hid. When he had been needed, he’d hid behind a thin veneer of an excuse: principles, pacifism; pathetic! He’d just been scared. Since then, the tickle of the coward’s white feather had been there to colour every element of his life.

Harold had been sneaking away from the office every morning since the new telegraph supervisor had arrived. He was supposed to be available during the day to fix the equipment if it failed but the new bloke liked to do his own repairs. Periodically, Harold would go back and check in, but he was never needed. Some of the day he spent chatting with the girls but he got the impression that he was getting in the way.

With the sound of bees buzzing in the flowers nearby, Harold looked at his watch. It was almost ten o’clock: time to go and reconfirm his obsolescence back at the office.  As he sat up, he snorted out a laugh. He really had thought that coming to Darwin would make him feel better, justified, something. Instead, the uniforms that surrounded him made him ache with rheumatism of the heart. Hell, even his new boss was a veteran.

The bees buzzed louder. Perhaps he had disturbed a hive.

Getting to his feet, Harold looked around to see if he could spot the source of the ever increasing sound. It was coming from the north, beyond the city. The buzz grew to a deep rhythmic thrum and then to a roar that echoed like a thousand thunder cracks.

Harold fell to his backside as a small aeroplane appeared from nowhere and whooshed by, close, overhead. He put his hands up and shielded his eyes as two more planes flew past. They were military aircraft.

The sky filled with planes which fanned off from the main group in all directions. Harold lay back, frozen in wonder, watching.

Then, he heard the drums – Boom! Boom! Boom! – A never ending syncopated rhythm that turned Harold cold and would forevermore fill him with terror every time he heard his own heartbeat.

Sitting up and looking out at the harbour, Harold’s face went pale. Several ships were burning: warships, fishing boats, even one clearly marked with a large red cross. People were running from the wharf, a great wave of bodies spilling out from the rising smoke, when, out of nowhere, a plane dived and the crowd exploded.

Turning away, Harold was sick in the bushes. He stayed bent over for a minute, trying to control his breathing.

A whistling sound woke him from his trance just before he was thrown forward into the foliage. With the cliff face crumbling behind him, Harold ran. He ran through the trees and then ran through the open. “I must get to the shelter,” he repeated to himself as he flew past government house.

Running onto Mitchell Street, he heard cries coming from a burning building to his right, but he kept running.

He could see the post office and the entrance to the air raid shelter. His chest constricted at the thought of safety and he ran even faster. Was that one of the girls waving at him from the door?

Without warning, the road rippled like some great being was shaking the wrinkles out of it and then it melted away. Brightness and heat hurled itself against him and he was thrown, tumbling backwards into a wall. Crying out, Harold rubbed his eyes, trying to clear them. All he could see was red.

Sirens and people wailed; planes and flames roared; and soldiers and bombs shrieked all around him as Harold scrambled to his feet and felt his way along a wall, taking shelter from the heat in an alleyway.

Panting, Harold brought out his hip flask. He drank every last drop and sank to his knees, tears streaming down his filthy face. The image of the girl waving at him, only a minute before, repeated in his mind. Opening his eyes, he squinted at the wall. Objects wavered in and out of focus as his vision started to return.

Maybe the shelter had survived? Maybe the others were safe? Pulling himself up and leaning against the corner, Harold peered out at the post office. Through the dancing flames and the clearing dust he could see nothing but ruins. It was gone; the office, the shelter: all gone. Ghostly remnants of brick walls framed a scene of utter destruction. A small tear meandered down his sooty cheek.

His leg throbbing, he crawled back into the shelter of the alley and hid. Men cried out, screaming, imploring, begging for help. The alleyway amplified and distorted their howls in a great cacophony of torment. His body shuddering, Harold put his arms over his head and blocked his ears with his shoulders.  He sank forward, his head hitting against the wall. There he stayed until the silence.

It was done. The plague that had filled the skies was going. The small strip of sunlight in the alley blinked as the last plane passed over.

He had to get out of here. Harold raised himself, his face twisting in pain as he put weight on his injured leg. He limped out of the alleyway, gathering determination with each step.

As he reached the road, he broke into a lopsided jog, pain shooting up his side. Dodging wreckage and debris, Harold headed North-West along Mitchell Street, towards the edge of the city. He kept his head down and tried to keep his pace up, praying that his leg would hold.

Spilling out of doorways on either side of the road, people threw their belongings into cars and onto trucks, shouting to one another. Others joined the growing crowd on foot in their exodus from the city centre, pushing into the flow.

Ahead, near the edge of town, a bombed building had spilled its walls into the street, narrowing the access. Trucks and pedestrians were all crowding to get past.

Harold pushed forward, bumping against a tall man. The man turned, his wrinkled face twisted in anger.

“Watch it mate!” he growled. Harold stumbled sideways and slipped on some loose stones. He scrabbled, trying to stand up, but the crowds pushing past made it impossible to get his footing. He reached out for something solid and pulled himself up onto a piece of wall. Sighing with relief, he turned to watch the crowd shuffle past.

“Help!”

The cry was only faint. Where was it coming from?

Harold looked around. He heard it again. It was coming from the ruins.

Looking between the road and the building, Harold was torn. He wanted to get away, but with his leg, he realised he was not going to be able to get past the crowd and rubble for some time.  With a sigh, Harold crawled over the piles of bricks and carefully lowered himself into the room.

“Hello?” he called into the darkness.

His call was answered by a moan. Moving further into the darkness, his eyes started to adjust, the light from the hole in the wall creating a ghostly twilight. He thought he could make out a bar and stools surrounded by a rippling sea of broken glass.

Ahead of him, in the middle of the floor, Harold could just make out a shape. As he approached, the shape started to take form. His chest constricted as he saw the lifeless, grey face of a man, blood seeping through his apron. Harold swallowed.

He could hear heavy breathing now. It was coming from the other side of the bar, under the collapsed section of roof.

“Are you alright?” he croaked, his mouth dry in the swirling dust.

“I’m stuck!” came the reply; the voice sounded foreign.

Moving as quickly as he could, Harold approached the source of the voice. He crouched down and peered into the tangle of iron and wood.

There he was. He was young and dressed in civilian clothes, but his haircut marked him as a soldier.

“Thank God!” he groaned, with an American twang. “Get me out of here!” His eyes were enormous in his pale, frightened face.

Harold squeezed into the confined space and moved next to the man. The American’s left arm and leg were pinned down under a ceiling beam.

Getting a firm grip, Harold braced to lift the beam. A sharp pain from his leg made him pause and then, his face pulled tight, he strained with all his strength and lifted the beam a fraction. The American rolled over and pulled his trapped limbs free. The way the man’s arm moved as he rolled, Harold could tell that it was broken, but the rest of him looked fine.

“Thanks!” said the American, his face twitching. He slid and crawled his way out of the pile toward the hole in the wall.

Anxious to get out as well, Harold started after him. He stopped suddenly as a bolt of pain shot up his leg, temporarily paralysing him. Breathing deeply, trying to rid himself of the pain, Harold tried to move again.

Creak! The pile of rubble above him groaned in expectation.

His heart racing now, Harold lurched backwards, bumping a beam with his elbow.

The pile shuddered and with little more than a scraping sound, fell inward. Harold shut his eyes as he felt the weight pushing down on his body.

Realising that his head was still free, he screamed, hoping the American could hear him. But his cries settled like dust to the floor of the empty pub, unheard and unheeded, as the drumming returned.

 

Author’s Note:

This week’s story makes quite a departure from the style and subject matter of the previous weeks’ work. I wanted to write a piece of historical fiction with a complex central character. This, I found quite a challenging task and until Mrs MacLaan read it, I wasn’t even sure it was good enough to publish online. She assured me that it was and I hope you’ll agree.

This story is actually the prologue to a novel that I would like to write one day. It would be mainly set in South Australia during the Second World War and would focus primarily on Harold’s wife and son. Ever since I came up with the idea for the story in the mid-2000s, I have wanted to start the story with the bombing of Darwin.

The events of 19th February 1942 are very important to Australia and its history as it was the “first and the largest single attack mounted by a foreign power on Australia” (Wikipedia, 2014). The bombing was melodramatically portrayed in Baz Luhrmann’s  2008 blockbuster Australia. However, as spectacular as the special effects were, I felt disappointed by the depiction; not least because I planned to show it much more accurately it in my story. For this reason, over the last few years, I have been doing quite a bit of research.

We visited Darwin two years ago and I had the opportunity to tour important sites and visit museums dedicated to the bombings. One photo I had taken at the military museum of a map of the bombing sites was particularly useful to me. During our visit, I was quite taken with the cliffs overlooking the harbour. I had never imagined Darwin to have such striking geography, considering the surrounding countryside is almost entirely flat. When I needed a spectacular location from which my protagonist could witness the destruction, it was foremost in my mind. I hope you will forgive me for keeping my character back from the actual wharf!

I hope my portrayal was as accurate as it could be. I apologise if I have made any mistakes. I particularly want to acknowledge the real postal and telegraph workers who died that day. Many of their relatives are still alive and I have tried to be respectful in my references to them.

I want to thank those who follow this blog and go out of their way each week to read my posts. Hopefully, you are enjoying travelling with me on my writing journey.

Happy reading!

 

Works Cited:

Wikipedia, 2014. Bombing of Darwin. [Online]
Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Darwin
[Accessed 6 April 2014].

Standard
Old Stories

Old Stories – Inside

Author’s Note:

This week, I’m going back to my high school days. I wrote a fifty word short story for a year eleven English assignment in 2000. All 250 of us had to write one and then a winner was chosen. To my great surprise, my story was the winner.

Little did I know that not only did I win the competition but I also won myself a nemesis…

Sitting on the other side of the gymnasium as the winners were read out was a tall, dark, slightly sinister looking student who had coveted the award for himself. “Who is this new-comer, this upstart, who has usurped my throne of literary greatness?” he snarled to himself, twisting his long fingers together. “I shall, from this day, call him Macklin… My mortal enemy!” A dry cackle was said to have come forth from his very depths, chilling many spines.

Well… something like that. I didn’t actually meet him until the following year, when we were in a year 12 English class together. We got along pretty well really. Apparently, he and his friends had built quite a mythology surrounding this ‘Macklin’ character and I was surprised that until he told me about it, I hadn’t been aware that I had a nemesis. However, I liked the idea and it stuck.

Anyway, the criteria for the story was simple: Write a short story in fifty words exactly. Here it is…

Inside

By Chalky MacLaan

She was alone. The huge walls surrounded her on all
sides. To the left, through a little door, was the future and
to the right was the past. The light faded as a crimson clad
man stepped forward and towered above her,
saying, “The museum will close in two minutes.”

Standard
Man on a Wharf

Man on a Wharf – Story 2

Camera Obscura

by Chalky MacLaan

My head was spinning in an alcoholic daze as I turned my van out of the pub car park. I switched the radio on and headed towards the back road that meanders between old dockside warehouses. Their great, crumbling edifices towered either side like the walls of a canyon.

As I entered the abyss, what was left of the moonlight was extinguished. I squinted ahead, trying to see the road, the van’s headlights barely reaching a few metres. I flicked the high beams on. As I did so, the stupid cheap-arsed reversing camera screen flashed on, its wireless transmitter mistakenly brought to life with the brief change in current.

The screen’s brightness temporarily blinded me. The van swerved sharply as I hit a pot hole. I over corrected and the van drifted as if it were on ice. I swore to myself as I regained control.

“Fricken’ camera!” I thought, as it flickered back to black.

I had installed the camera a year earlier when my first grandkid had just started walking. The missus was worried that I’d run over the little tacker when I was reversing, so I bought the cheapest one I could find and installed it myself – anything for a quiet life!

It kept turning on for no reason and sometimes it would randomly show footage from other wireless cameras that I drove past: an empty driveway, the inside of an Indian supermarket or the inside of a store room where a couple of teenagers were getting friendly with each other.

With the van back under control, I thought I’d better take it a bit more carefully. I was not likely to run into any cops out here, but it was not unheard of for a patrol to do a quick sweep of the docks. One more offence and I’d lose my licence. My days of delivering parcels on my treadly were long behind me.

A pain in my bladder suddenly made me wince. I really needed to pee. I pulled to the kerb, switched off the radio and killed the engine. Stepping out into the complete darkness, the silence whistled past my ears as if all sound were being sucked into a vacuum.

As my eyes started to adjust, I noticed an alleyway fifty metres or so behind my van. I jogged to it, the sound of my footsteps like the drumming of a heartbeat. As I turned into the alleyway, I felt the hairs on my arms stand on end as a cold sea breeze brushed my skin.

When I had relieved myself against a wall, I turned back to the van. I could just make out its white bulk against the darkness.

It was then that I heard a sound. It was a faint, high wailing…. moaning… screaming? What the hell was it? A cat? Or…

The sound faded, the last remnants of it being carried off by the breeze. I waited to see if it returned, but it didn’t.

Fear took hold of me and I sprinted for the van. Despite my gut and age, I made it in a few seconds. I swung myself into the driver’s seat and locked the door. I sat for a moment, hyperventilating, wondering what to do. Should I go and see what’s wrong? Should I call the police and risk losing my licence? I decided to just go home. “It was probably nothing anyway,” I told myself.

I switched the headlights back on as I reached for the keys. I started to turn the engine over when the monitor flickered again. Static filled the tiny screen and then, all at once, a scene appeared that made my heart skip a beat.

A man was bending over what appeared to be a naked body. Thick black rivulets meandered out in all directions like demented sunbeams, disappearing off screen.

The man stood up, his beanied head coming close to the lens. He blocked the body from view completely, but it was clear that he held a large, bloody butcher’s knife in his right hand. He seemed to survey his handiwork for a few moments and then he bent down, grabbed the body and dragged it off screen. I studied the screen, trying to see the body as it went past the camera but the picture was fuzzy and the contrast too bright. What I could see now was a trail of liquid smearing the tiles.

Despite the chill, sweat started to drip from my brow. I leant down to the ignition, thought again, and grabbed for my phone. I held it for a moment in my slippery palm, went to press a button and stopped. I couldn’t ring the cops, they’d never believe me. I couldn’t leave either. Suppose the murderer heard me start the van and came out brandishing a shotgun or something? My hands started shaking.

On the screen, the man could be seen walking back through the room, his gumboots distorting the black ooze on the floor. Then, the screen went dark as the light in the room was extinguished. Maybe the man was leaving? I froze with horror, “What if he came outside and saw me here?”

As silently as I could, I pushed the door open and staggered to the asphalt. As I squinted across the road, looking for a hiding place, two beams of light appeared from a side street a hundred metres ahead of the van. “It’s him,” I told myself, “run!”

I ducked around behind the van, and using it as cover, ran back to the alleyway. I threw myself around the corner, the stench of piss hitting me as I crouched down.

I could hear the engine of the vehicle as it came nearer. I held my breath and prayed to the god of shadows that the murderer wouldn’t see me. Even though the corner hid me from sight, I looked down, afraid my eyes might reflect a stray beam of light.

After what felt like hours, the vehicle roared past and shot off into the night.

I exhaled and leant back against the wall with relief. He was gone and I was safe. Feeling the dampness of piss starting to seep into my windcheater, I stood up and strode to my van.

When I had almost reached it, I stopped and looked up the road toward the spot where the headlights had emerged. What if the body was still alive? It had only been a couple of minutes; there could still be a chance. Now that my initial panic was gone, I was starting to think about the poor bugger in that warehouse, in agony and alone.

Shutting my eyes and taking a deep breath, I gathered my courage. I went to the back of the van and retrieved an old torch. It wavered slightly as I switched it on and then it settled into a steady glow. I turned its beam up the road and followed it. The darkness at its edges was total.

Just up the road and around the corner, I found a set of double doors standing slightly apart. I put my ear to the cold corrugated iron and listened. I could hear nothing but the creaking of old wood and the distant splashing of water. I pushed against one half of the door. It opened with a sharp creak.

I stepped through the gap and shone the torch around. The warehouse was huge. It was so big that the torch beam couldn’t penetrate the gloom. Running my hand along the wall, I turned to my left and, stepping carefully over rusted machine parts, made my way to one end of the building where I found a row of doors.

I shone my light inside the first door, pushing the door open with my foot. It was an empty office.

I tried two more doors and they were both empty too.

The fourth room was different. Its door was open wide. From the darkness inside wafted a metallic odour carried on cold air. I felt like I was being brushed all over by invisible fingertips as I stepped into the room. I kept my torch down low near my feet, fearing to lift it too soon.

With every footstep, time seemed to slow and it felt like an eternity until my torch fell upon the tiles at the opposite end of the room. “Maybe there‘s nothing in here after all,” I considered, lifting the torch with new found confidence. I shone the spotlight to the left and… It was like some grotesque parody of an abstract painting. Blood smears, sprays and stains covered the floor and wall.

I stepped forward and quickly scanned the torchlight back and forth across the room, my breathing quick and light. Where was the body?

In one pass of the light, near the door, I noticed a table covered in objects. I moved closer to inspect them. At one end was the butcher’s knife. At the other were various tools, one of which looked like a power saw. My bowels turned to water. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t.

I tried to think, to decide what to do, but a persistent humming sound was making my mind shaky with confusion. I did another sweep of the room with my beam and in the furthest corner saw a steel plated door, a trail of red smears leading to its base.

I froze as a roar of creaking metal filled the air. The double doors were being opened. The murderer was coming back!

As two blinding headlights tore into the black insides of the warehouse, I decided my best chance was to run for the double doors. As I went to leave the room, I was knocked back by an assault of bright white light as the warehouse lights were turned on.

I dived for cover behind the door frame and, trying not to breathe too loudly, considered my options. The warehouse was so light that I had no chance of escaping unseen. “Maybe he won’t come in here,” I assured myself.

I listened intently for his footsteps. There they were, coming straight towards me.

I followed the blood trail towards the steel plated door. I found myself sliding and my torch skidded away from me. I heard the man’s footsteps pause and then break into a run. I scrambled to my feet, opened the door, threw myself in the room and, with a small hiss, the door shut behind me. As I stood there, trying to quell my panting, I was cold with fright. My hands out in front of me, I carefully felt my way along.

I stopped… My hands felt something cold, something sticky, something wet. I felt like chucking as I slowly backed away. I knew that texture. That was skin: Cold, clammy, dead skin.

Hiss!

The door opened. I turned to face my executioner; I had nowhere to hide.

He came towards me; I flinched. The light fell on his face as he came and suddenly I saw, not the cold eyes of a killer, but something softer.

“What are you doing?” said the man, appearing confused as I was.

I took a step backwards, bumping into the body and setting it swinging. I yelped and swung around, the light coming in the doorway illuminating the object. The beheaded pink-skinned carcass hung from a big silver hook. Behind it hung a row of other dead pigs waiting to be dissected.

“If you don’t mind,” said the man, “could you kindly bugger off? I have to get the whole lot of these ready for deliveries tomorrow.”

“Sorry mate,” I said and I slunk off to my van.

As I pulled away from the curb, my heart only just settling back into its old rhythm, I thought about how nice a cooked breakfast would be right about now.

Author’s Note:

This week’s narrative was inspired by a true story… well, at least in part. No, I don’t drink and drive (Hey, I barely drink!) nor do I go wandering around creepy old warehouses at night.

I did, however, install a ‘cheap-arsed’ wireless reversing camera in my mum’s campervan. Sometimes, when she is staying with us, I borrow her van to get to work to give myself a precious extra half an hour’s sleep. At various points on the journey, the reversing camera screen will come alive with footage from people’s wireless security cameras: Someone’s driveway, someone’s television feed, an empty room, an Indian grocery store. I even received a feed from someone’s in-card baby monitor camera one time. This experience gave me the premise for this story.

In this week’s story, I really wanted to experiment with a first person narrative. In the past, my least successful stories have been from a first person perspective and I wanted to give it another go. I always had trouble sustaining a voice different from my own. With the help of the wonderful Mrs MacLaan and her editing prowess, I think I was able to created an interesting and consistent voice.

Also, at school this week, I introduced my year eleven students to the concept of the ‘unreliable’ narrator. I had a lot of fun using this technique to help make my story and its twist reasonably credible.

The ‘mystery/suspense/thriller with a twist ending’ genre is one of my favourites, so I was really looking forward to writing this story. I found my method acting skills from drama school helpful when I was trying to create suspense and build fear and panic into my character. So much so that when my mother in law walked past the window while I was writing one night, I jumped a mile and almost needed a new pair of underpants. She thought it was hilarious.

Happy reading!

Standard