Members Stories from May

A New Beginning

(an intended first chapter to a potential(?) novel)

By Olivia Masterfield

 

Welcome to Rosenfield- the sleepy town of mysteries and harbinger of adventure.

 

She had read the pamphlet’s slogan over and over again, the catchphrase now gibberish in her mind. The images placed below indeed matched the aesthetic of a small, rustic town one may see in a slasher film from the 1970s or a village where witch hunts took place hundreds of years ago. It was almost hard to believe this place would be where she found her fresh start.

 

She only found out about the place recently from her great aunt Maude. Or at least, found out about it at the funeral and at the reading of her will. To her shock, Silvia herself- the bastard daughter of an affair and shame of the family- was given her home in Rosenfield and a delicate amulet with a tourmaline at its centre. crafted by her husband on their wedding day.  This did cause issues of course but Silvia did not care; she needed this.

 

She looked away from the pamphlet to look out the coach window, admiring the vast countryside and the scattered cows and horses of small farms and estates. The trees she saw fly past in a blur were thick and sturdy with age, and the hills stretched out into the horizon as if to hide the sun when it rose and fell.

 

The tranquillity was hypnotic and soothing on Silvia’s consciousness. For once she felt no stress or anxiety about the world and her life. For once she felt free of the weights that clung to her back and drowned her in sorrow and exhaustion. The sensation grew satisfactory at last when the coach came to a steady pace and in the corner of her eye she saw a rustic, wooden sign.

 

“Welcome to Rosenfield!” it read in large, gothic font over a painting of a large stag walking through what looked like mist as a maiden rode on its back.

 

At last, Silvia felt like she was home.

 

The coach drove slowly through some more country before finally reaching the small, sleepy town streets. As expected the homes and buildings looked as if they were from another time period entirely while also having some modern touches like small computer repair shops and a small stage used by local performers adorned with lights and metal steps.

 

When the bus stopped, almost all of its fifteen passengers were eager to step off and experience the town beyond the confines of the coach. Silvia however took her time when unloading her carry on bag from the compartment above and stepping off the coach. The moment the cool, autumn air hit her skin she was hypnotised again by the smell of wet wood, almonds and pumpkin spice from a nearby cafe.

 

She had only been in Rosenfield for less than a minute, and already she was in love. Had she known country towns were so rustic and soothing, she may have left the city the moment she turned eighteen.

 

“Silvy? Is that you?” a soft voice called from the crowds. She turned in the direction of the voice to see a woman around fifty with short, curly strawberry blond hair and an oversized, peach coloured sweater. Sitting beside her was a small dog on its leash with fur just as curly as its owner’s hair.

 

The woman jogged over to Silvia and embraced her tightly- overwhelming her with the smell of her jasmine perfume. “Oh how you have grown! Last I saw you, you were a little baby with the chubbiest cheeks I have seen! Of course, this was a photo and- Oh goodness you have no idea who I am do you? I am so terribly sorry!”

 

“It’s okay,” Silvia said, shyly patting the woman’s back. “You must be Beatrice? My first cousin?”

 

The woman- Beatrice- nodded and released her at last from the embrace. As she did the dog quickly jumped up onto Silvia and licked her hands. She smiled and pet the dog, her fingers almost tangling in its fur.

 

“I am indeed she,” Beatrice beamed. “Although personally I prefer Bea. I am so sorry I didn’t see you at the funeral. With so many relatives and grief weighing me down I often don’t think to reconnect instead of wallowing.”

 

“It’s okay, but how are you doing?” Silvia asked.

 

“As well as I can be,” Bea replied, hugging herself. “I’m just happy she is at peace, and that she reached out to you before she died. It’s bittersweet really. Despite the whole affair thing with your dad and his coworker she adored you and always wanted to know you even after disowning your father.”

 

Her words brought an ache to Silvia’s chest. To know she was wanted and loved by someone in the family, but never getting to meet them, broke her heart. But rather than show it she smiled at her before pointing at the coach. “So, I should probably go grab my luggage before the coach drives off?”

 

Bea smiled back at her. “Of course sweetheart. Go grab what you brought and I’ll drive you to the house, Heck I may even give you a tour of your new home.”

 

Silvia returned to the coach and began to dig through the lower compartment for her suitcases. But as she turned to return to Bea, a figure in the corner of her eye caught her attention. She couldn’t make it out exactly- but it was tall and moved jaggedly as it slithered through the crowds of people.

 

She looked around for it, hoping to find an answer to what she saw. But by then it was gone, vanishing into thin air. She shook her head, in turn shaking it from her mind, and returned to Bea’s eager side. The moment she returned, Bea was quick to take one of her suitcases from her and led her toward a small beetle parked by the cafe.

 

“We should get going,” Bea said as she loaded both the suitcase and the dog into the car. “There is so much I need to show you here, and honestly I am excited to show you the magic of our small village.”

 

Silvia chuckled and placed her suitcase in the back as well. “Magic? Isn’t that a bit of an oversell?”

 

At that Bea laughed and opened the driver’s side door, slipping in with ease and gripping the wheel in anticipation.

 

“You’ll see what I mean,” she teased. “And you too shall realise that Rosenfield is very different to other small towns you know.”

 

 

 

The Shadow Eaters – A Chip Relic Adventure – Part 1
By Stu Pemberton

 

  1. 30 am – The National Academy of Shadow-Cleaners and Trainee Yeomen (NASTY).

 

“Shadow Eaters look quite normal on the outside’. ‘Chip Relic, Leader of the Shadow Cleaners informed his class of eager young students, known informally as SCY (pronounced SKY) – Shadow-Cleaner Yeomen.

“Shadow Eaters come in all shapes, sizes, colours and gender,” Chip began. “But beneath the false skin lurks a beast. They have no bone structure which enables them to go anywhere they please. We, Shadow Cleaners, must wear a shape-shifter suit, which enables us to follow them no matter how tight the space.” A murmur grew amongst the apprentices until Chip gave them the death stare to end all death stares and the lecture room fell silent.

“Fully grown creatures are so ferocious they can devour an elephant shadow in 50 seconds and a Shadow Cleaner in 20 seconds; or less. Identifying a Shadow Eater is incredibly difficult – but not impossible.” Chip was addressing the class, but was staring at his own earnest apprentice, who he had nicknamed ‘Likely,’ because he was always likely to do something wrong.

“Likely, give me four defining features or behaviours which, if careful observed will reveal a Shadow Eater.

“First sir, if I may be so bold, my name is ‘Kevin,’ not ‘Likely.” The timid young novice stammered.

Never mind that ‘Likely,’ just answer the question.” Chip shot the youngster a look which made his skin break out in a rash, which his mother had christened ‘Relicitous.’

“Well Chip, erm, Sir Chip, erm……Sir, the most obvious feature is they don’t have a shadow. Theirs being devoured by a Shadow Eater which made them turn into a Shadow Eater too.” He stared at Chip for confirmation, but his mentor remained Poe-faced.

“The second clue. If you get close enough, their breath is a noxious mix of dead rodent and rotting vegetable matter – which is a biproduct of failing to drink enough fluids between shadows. Not waiting for a confirmatory nod, he rushed on.

“Third, they have five unusually long fingers, but only three work. Spotting this is near impossible unless you catch the beast shadow eating, when they use the three working middle fingers to pin the shadow in place.

Lastly,” he began, feeling he was doing well, “they pass wind, which is more deadly than their breath and fatal to animals and humans if they get too close. Only our esteemed lecturer, Chip Relic, has ever survived the wind-passing phase and saved the shadow and caught the eater.”

Likely stared at his teacher, desperate for a word or two of affirmation or a simple well done, he received neither, just a cursor nod as Chip continued his lecture.

Later that day:

The combat had lasted several ours already and Chip didn’t mind admitting he was flagging. “Age catching you up,” he heard his father’s voice.

“No Father, I’m just a little restricted in this space and finding it difficult to breath”.

“Concentrate on catching the beast Chip, everything else is of secondary concern.”

His father had always been a strict disciplinarian who never allowed second best from his only son.  Childhood had simply been a precursor to becoming a Shadow Cleaner and following the family tradition. “Except for Great uncle Elgar” he mused.

“Concentrate son, concentrate.”

Chip heard a noise from the house end of the pipe and immediately knew it was Likely and he was likely to do something wrong. “Likely!” Chip shouted, his voice echoing from beyond the S Bend,’ where he was in a valiant struggle with a particularly slippery Shadow Eater. “Do not touch the handle on the cistern.” A thunderous rush of water confirmed that his warning had been too late. Chip sucked deeply on his breathing cannister and checked that he was firmly attached to his harness which was anchored in the bathroom above.

Moments later, a tidal-wave of water struck Chip and forced him further along the piping until, despite his shape-shifter suit, he could be squeezed no further as water began to build up behind him. He felt like a toothpaste tube squeezed to its last drop, in a particularly frugal household.

Don’t panic, you’ve survived worse, he told himself, and mostly at the hands of your apprentice, he added caustically.

Slowly, hand-over-hand Chip squeezed himself back up the pipe, pulling himself towards the toilet bowl.  Breath, climb, breath climb, all the time making himself smaller to allow water to get past him.  Breath, climb, rest, then on again. After what felt like a millennium, Chip could see a meagre flickering of sunlight ahead and moments later he was laying, gasping for breath in the white ceramic toilet bowl. He didn’t mind admitting he felt quite flushed.

“I’m so sorry sir,” Likely stuttered, “I just rested my arm on that handle, the next thing I heard your voice, and then I levered myself up using the handle, which flushed the toilet. I’m so sorry sir.” Likely said, his face losing colour by the second.

“Don’t worry Likely,” Chip said his mood more buoyant than Likely had expected. “I’m safe, and look what I brought back with me!”

The apprentice stared in disbelief as Chip Relic, Shadow Cleaner ‘par excellence’ pulled his string shadow eater capture bag out from behind him, containing, to Likely’s amazement’ one very unhappy and incredibly smelly Shadow Eater.

“Why me, why me!” the soaked beast moaned, as Chip clambered out of the toilet bowl dragging the captive with him.

“What is yes gonna be do wid miz?” The shadow eater asked in a sweet voice, which didn’t fool Chip.

You’ll be transported to Shadow Zone X where you’ll have all your teeth extracted before going to Night Zone 2 – which I’m sure you know is the zone of perpetual night; where you will never see a shadow again.

The Shadow Eater cried and screamed and rolled around in the bag, like a footballer who’d broken a finger nail, and only succeeded in tangling himself further.

Likely stepped forward and was about to begin untangling the bag when Chips four-fingered left hand clamped onto his shoulder.

“Do you remember me telling you how I lost my fifth finger?” Chip asked.

Likely racked his brain but found nothing and shook his head.

“It was bitten off by one of these creatures when I tried to help my master by entangling the bag, in a scene very reminiscent of this one. You can never trust a Shadow Eater, not for a second.”

And in the wet tangled bag the Shadow Eater sulked.

 

Sneak peek at the next instalment of Shadow Eaters – A Chip Relic Adventure

Chip was having a well-deserved rest after a very busy night catching a Shadow Eater who was loose at a rock festival. He had left Likely in charge and given him clear instructions that if anything at all happened, he was to wake him.

The electronic piano music of the fax machine woke Likely from a dream about the great deeds he would achieve when fully trained. He yawned and stretched as he levered himself off the desk seat and walked slowly to the tap-tapping machine which was spewing out several sheets of paper.

Chip – we need your help. . . Mum…

 

“Will Likely wake Chip and show him the fax or let him sleep on thinking his mother needed a hand with a repair job, as had often happened in the past.

 

Read the next instalment of Shadow Eaters – A Chip Relic Adventure – Part 2: coming soon.

 

 

The Old Man Builds A Campfire

By Susan Schrader

 

I can smell the fire, that smoky scent of eucalyptus logs dried by the on-going drought. I had watched the old man build it, urging us as he did, to find and collect scattered browned leaves and twigs for kindling and larger pieces of fallen branches to build the fire higher. It was a game, the fun of being outdoors and in his company.

Large trees provided shade across the old man’s back as he squatted on his haunches, folding his lanky frame with an easy movement that belied his years. He squatted like this, beside the fire, poking sticks into it and prodding it to life. Then at a certain point, he let the flames die down leaving behind glowing, red coals. Watching his gnarled hands had always fascinated me – the rough look of skin with those patches of pink and dark brown, caused by a condition I did not know the name of, but something so very distinctive of him. Now, if I see someone with that condition, the old man’s hands are immediately before me.

But, on this day, as he builds the fire, the air is stiflingly hot and dry. Flies buzz relentlessly and the old man swats them away effortlessly. There is a carpet of moving black specks on his back which he ignores.

It is only a small campfire, built within a circle of stones, the old man being ever mindful of errant sparks that could catch on the dry ground. Over the fire, he has rigged a frame to hold the billy which is coming to the boil. I watch as he lifts the billy with a stick and drops two large handfuls of tea leaves into it. He adds a couple of eucalyptus leaves and with an old cloth he keeps for the purpose, he grabs the handle of the billy and tells us to stand back while he swings it. His arms whirl in a practiced rotation, round and round, three times, and even now, I wonder at this skill – his strong, beautiful arms, deeply bronzed from constant exposure to the sun – swinging that billy and not one drop is spilt.

Mum is sitting on a blanket on the ground, her white pedal pushers outlining her slim figure as she reclines leisurely in the shade. He pours her a cup of tea, adding a little milk from a jam jar they had brought with them for this picnic. She smiles up at him, her bleached blonde hair a golden halo in the filtered sunlight. She opens a Tupperware container of sandwiches and we, eager and hungry, gather around, relishing the cheese and pickles on the soft bread, now warm from the heat of the day. The soft drink is warm too and she pours each of us a drink from the bottle using the aluminium cups that had their own leather storage pouch for ease of travelling.

After the meal, when he pours them both a second cup of tea, the old man retrieves his pipe from his pocket and knocking the wad of tobacco from its bulb, he carefully makes a fresh wad from the yellow tobacco pouch that is always in his possession. He strikes a match and before tending to his pipe, he holds it for Mum who has a cigarette held ready at her lips. She lights up and begins to puff smoke into the fresh air. He then holds the match over the bowl of his pipe, sucking to draw the flame into the tobacco. Alight now, there is a faint glow and he leans back, savouring the drug and blowing lovely rings of smoke, a clever parlour trick he does for his children.

Dad does not say much. He has always been a man of few words except when the Black Dog bites and his days at war seem to overshadow his gentle nature. Then, anger rears and he is fierce against something I cannot understand. But today is a good day. He is in his element amongst the gum trees with the flies buzzing around and a cup of billy tea cradled in his big hands. He sits on the blanket stretching his long lean legs out and crossing them at the ankles.

This is how I remember him. This is how I would like to remember them both. But life threw them curve balls and they were not good at playing catch. Thinking now, I wonder what they had to fight about – all those bitter arguments inflicting vicious, emotional wounds. I don’t know why they could not have been happy.

After they separated, it was better. The old man left. He had to go. There could never be any peace for him living under the same roof as Mum. So he went. We did not know where in the world he was at first. My brother ran into him one day a year or two after and finding him thin, drawn, and extremely unwell, took this news to Mum who asked the old man to come home where she could look after him.

This was not a reconciliation by any means. Dad moved into a caravan in the back yard and Mum cooked meals for him which he ate at the dining table. I still recall the loneliness of it. Him sitting there, eating the meal she had prepared, nothing between them in the way of conversation, just sadness. The deep, miserable irony of this was how much they loved one another. They could never even consider divorce or moving on with someone else. And yet, I think the only true kindness she ever showed him was asking him back when he was so ill.

It was not enough. He moved again. This time into a weatherboard cottage, he purchased in a small country town and here, he finally found his peace. I visited a couple of times, much to Mum’s disapproval. And he would come back to see her as often as his heart could stand it. They were better apart and almost affectionate when they met up in those later years.

But his health would claim its toll and he passed alone in a hospital far from any of us at that death hour when so many souls yield to the Reaper’s call. He was 67.

When I smell the smoke from a campfire and swat at the myriad of flies buzzing on a hot dry day, I see him and am happy to know there were times in his life he was truly content.

 

© Susan Schrader                      9th May 2023

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