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.”

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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!

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Old Stories

Old Stories – Sticks and Stones

Author’s Note:

While you wait for the next instalment in the Man on a Wharf series, I thought I’d share an old story that I wrote nine years ago. I wrote Sticks and Stones in 2005 when I was taking a creative writing course at Flinders University as part of my Bachelor of Arts.

As I’m sure will be the case with the stories on this blog, some of my stories are better than others. Of the ten or so stories that I wrote, this story received the most praise from my classmates and tutor.

I think what made this story special was that it was autobiographical. I grew up in country South Australia and was an outsider for many reasons. Like the child in the story, I was bullied frequently. While the bullying was quite horrendous at times, I was blessed to have amazing parents who taught me to forgive my enemies and who created a safe environment at home.

Bullying and its potential negative consequences is such a big issue these days. Everyone has a theory on how it should be handled: From retaliation through to reporting. Unfortunately, you can’t change other people. Bullying, while it can be improved, will never be completely eliminated.

I wanted to show how, despite the terrible things that others can do to you, you don’t need to wear that all of your life. If you have a safe place to go to, loving friends and family of your own, then you can cope with just about anything.

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

Sticks and Stones
by Chalky MacLaan

I pick it up quickly, my bag that is. I look around the room at my classmates, they are all talking. Talking, talking, talking to each other in groups. Groups of monkeys, they seem like. Monkeys, picking each other’s nits. They are so involved in each others’ lives, so interconnected with one another. It makes me sick to be here on the outside of the group, looking in and wishing that I was not here, on the outside. It makes me sick, so sick I’m leaving now.

I walk through the porch of the old, wooden classroom that has been here, in this school, for decades, gradually wasting away in the scorching outback sun. I walk outside and feel that same scorching sun hit my face. It feels like someone has just thrown me into a furnace and dropped an anvil on my head at the same moment. I shake my head to throw these images away and scamper to the bike shed, where I need to be before the older boys catch sight of me. I scarcely look around, but I’m pretty sure that the boys aren’t there, because I can’t hear their taunts. I can’t hear the taunts that I so often think about, dream about, cry about. All I can hear is the birds; the whistle of the north wind in the tall, deformed trees that have been growing in asphalt since forever; and children, younger than myself, singing as they are being led towards the line of yellow school busses, beyond the staffroom. I long for the sound of cars, busses, motorbikes, trains, planes and every other sound that represents a place that is not this town, this prison, as I like to call it.

I unlock my bike from the bike shed. No-one else has to lock their bike up, only me. And still a bike lock does not guarantee that my tyres will be fully inflated when I ride home in the afternoon. Today, however, my tyres are fine. I sometimes wish that I could fill my tyres with a gas that, when let out by one of the older kids, would magically transform them into a person who is different than the norm, like me. Or at least expose the fact that all of the other kids are not clones of each other as they pretend to be, but individuals.

I start to ride. I ride fast, I ride hard, I ride home. It’s not far to home, only down this street, around the corner and down that street. It seems easy enough. I turn the corner, only to be confronted with a nightmare: A nightmare of red. Their red, sunburned necks fade into the red of their short hair, with no distinction. I’m scared. It’s the older kids. I can see my house, I can see it. But the way is blocked. I have to ride on. Ride on through the red sea.

They’ve seen me now. I can’t turn back. They bend down to the ground, down to the dusty, dirty ground, as I ride past, fast and at last they’re behind me. But wait for it. Thunk. It hit my wheel. Thunk. It hit my bag. Thunk. It hit my head. The rocks came flying. And so did those taunts.

Thunk. “You fat wombat.”

Thunk. “Go back to the city.”

Thunk. “That’s for your dad, you freak.”

The bike kicks up the dust and it mixes with the tears that start to fall down my cheeks. The responses to these taunts, flow freely around my head, but I’m always going to be too scared to voice them. I am now out of their range, until the time comes when they devise freak-seeking missiles. I turn into my drive and dump the bike on the lawn. I wipe the mud from my cheeks, take a deep breath and go inside. As I enter, I step out of the furnace, and the anvil is taken from me. It is cool, and there is a nice smell of biscuits or cake or something in the air.

The assault continues as I walk to my front door. I look out the window and see the older boys still hurling rocks. But it is quieter now. Muffled by the walls of the house, I only hear a soft: Tick. Tick. Tick. My mum comes up behind me. She puts her hand on my shoulder. I smile. From here, through the window, they are exposed as the buffoons they are. Their red faces, their red necks, the red dust that makes them cough. They look ridiculous. I laugh. They can’t get me in here, this is my house, this is my zone. Here I am not different. Here I can be the city-loving, slightly overweight, son of a teacher that I am.

The tick, tick, tick of the rocks dies down as the boys get bored and walk off. It’s over for today. I shut the curtain and get on with my life.

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Cover image: David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Other Posts

What I read:

What I read:

While you wait for my first story in the Man on a Wharf series (I promise I’ve started), I thought I’d let you know a bit about what I like to read and my literary influences.

I read quite widely for both entertainment (mainly) and literary fulfilment (occasionally). Some of my reading choices are quite embarrassing and others I am very proud of and would recommend them to others.

I also really enjoy listening to audio books and reading aloud as the beautiful nature of spoken language really becomes evident. I commute for at least two hours per day, so have plenty of time to read and listen to books.

Here are some of my favourite authors. As an Australian, I particularly recommend getting a hold of some of my Australian suggestions (Markus Zusak, Arthur Upfield, Shane Maloney, etc.).

I hope you enjoy reading books by these authors as much as I have.

Highly Recommended Influences:

  • James Lee Burke – He is one of the most poetic prose writers on the planet today. He kills the first person narrative style with his subtlety and haunted characters.
  • David Morrell – He is the master of the thriller. He weaves amazing plots; however it is his well rounded and developed characters that makes him stand out from the crowd.
  • Arthur Upfield – He brought the Australian outback to the world through the mystery pulp novel. He captures time and place expertly.
  • Raymond Chandler – One of the most witty writers of his era. His first person narrative jumps off the page from the first line.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald – Gatsby is a novel I can read over and over and still gain something new. Restrained and poetic writing.
  • Markus Zusak – The Book Thief is my favourite book in the world… Ever! Unique techniques, captivating characters, poetic language… It has it all.
  • Shane Maloney – His novels are simultaneously hilariously funny, great satire of the Australian political environment and very well written murder mysteries.
  • Lee Child – This man finds a new and mind-blowing premise for every book. A prolific and successful writer, his main character hangs around in your mind long after you’ve finished the novel.
  • Roald Dahl – Deliciously subversive children’s stories that were a staple of my literary upbringing. I love exploring his unique perspective with my school students.
  • John Steinbeck – Of Mice and Men is one of the most brilliantly crafted pieces of literature. He exercises restraint whilst using many techniques. I love teaching this book to my students.

Embarrassing Influences:

  • Clive Cussler – He spins a good yarn. I particularly like the Isaac Bell stories. The historical and transportation oriented plots of these novels tickle my fancy. Plots are Cussler’s strong point.
  • Dan Brown – Causer of much controversy, he can also spin a good yarn. I like the use of conspiracy theory to capture people’s imaginations.
  • Matthew Reilly – I admire how he is able to write a book of solid entertainment. Many people come to reading through Matthew Reilly. No literary value, but a very important writer none the less. He’s also Australian.
  • Ian Fleming – Who doesn’t like a bit of sexist, misogynistic but action packed bondiness, eh?

PS – A ‘yarn’ is a term to describe a long and rambling (and often implausible) story. In Australia, it is usually a complimentary term. We use this word a bit in Australia, but I’m not sure how widely it is used everywhere else.

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Man on a Wharf

Man on a Wharf Series – Introduction

For quite a while now, I have had in my mind a very vivid image from one of my dreams of a man in a coat and hat, standing on an abandoned wharf at night. There’s nothing more to this image that that, and I do not think it is particularly profound; however, recently, it got me thinking…

Perhaps, this image would be a good starter for my first short story series. After all, the image poses a series of questions, including: Who is the man? Why is he alone on the wharf at night? Who is he meeting? Where are the docks? Why is he wearing a coat and hat?

In this series, I also want to experiment with a variety of different genres and techniques in order to find the style to which I am most suited as a writer.

Here is the brief:

  • Each story must feature a man in a coat and hat on a wharf
  • Each story must be no longer than 2000 words
  • Each story must be written in a different genre
  • A new story must be posted fortnightly for the next 10 weeks
  • A variety of writing techniques must be used

I hope you’ll find my stories interesting and engaging. Feel free to comment on these stories and suggest a genre for the next one!

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Other Posts

Welcome to Chalky’s Blackboard

I have wanted to start writing seriously for a while now; however, my old enemies – laziness and procrastination – have been all too willing to hamper my efforts.

So, instead of wasting my free time on pseudo creative but ultimately unsatisfying city-building computer games and other time wasting activities, I am going to attempt to write at least one piece of writing a week.

At my school, we have a new guy in charge of ‘student development’ (read behaviour management). He started off his tenure with an encouragement to the often lackadaisical student body to pursue self-discipline as it is both a biblical idea (I work in a Christian school) and one of the proven factors in being successful in one’s pursuits.

This got me thinking about my own failings in the area of self-discipline. Without some sort of external check, I very rarely get unessential but creatively satisfying things completed. My wife, who is a blogger herself, suggested that to give me some sort of accountability, I should aim to post my practice prose to a blog weekly (and perhaps [but hopefully not too] weakly).

So, here goes…

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