This year I am gearing up to take NaNoWriMo on for the first time. I found out about it last year but I was blogging rather than working on a novel at the point. Wanting to find out more about it I met up with a local Geelong group, which was an encouraging experience. Having had a pretty big break from working on my novel after homeschooling my oldest son for a term and then moving house, I am keen to see if I can make make up for some of the lost time. In order to maximize my chances for success at NaNoWriMo I have devised the following action plan.
1) Get up earlier
Set an alarm so that I get up half an hour to an hour before the kids do and designate this as me time. Use this time to pray, meditate, stretch, or just stare out the window and sip my coffee while enjoying the serenity (and smelling the two-stroke.)
2) Do the housework in the morning and stop at the stroke of ten. I find that doing a few hours of housework in the morning is great for me because:
* I can get quite a bit of cleaning done while my brain is still asleep.
* It helps me to wake up.
* I am able to keep on top of things just enough so that I don’t go crazy and need to binge clean, which is often just my way of procrastinating from my writing.
3) Clean only one room or do one big job per day and leave it at that.
I don’t think I’m excessively tidy but I do find it hard to function with a clear head if the environment around me is too chaotic. I also like to feel that I’m setting a good example for my boys to look after what you have and to be considerate of the people that you share space with. It’s not possible to have your house look like a better homes and gardens magazine and find the time to write, unless you can afford to pay someone to clean, but it is possible to strike a balance.
By sorting out one room or picking one big job per day (like vacuuming or putting away that enormous pile of laundry)
*I find that I’m able to stop things getting too out of hand.
*I’m able to get that high that comes from having achieved something, it’s a little bit like finishing a short story, Okay so it’s not a whole novel, but it's still complete within itself and that feels good.
*I can hang out in that clean space and feel good about it. If the parlor is wonderfully clean with the silver candlesticks shining and the chandlers sparkling, then I’m quite happy to have my tea and crumpets in there, even if the rest of the manor is in a shambles.
4) Prepare the evening meal in the morning.
After school times in my house are kind of crazy, my oldest son needs help to do his homework, while my youngest seems to suddenly want more of my attention and the two of them want to play/kill each other. All I feel like doing by this time of the day is putting my feet up and watching something mind numbingly trashy while sipping a dessert flavored cocktail (not what I actually, do of course). About this time I start doing the “five more minutes and I’ll start cooking thing.” Before I know it my poor hardworking husband is home and is tentatively asking, “Um honey, have you given any thought to dinner?” Which is always frustrating because blood is hard to clean out of the carpet. If I cook dinner ahead of time I can have it reheated and ready to dish up the moment hubby comes home. Everyone is much happier and it means we don’t end up fat and broke from living on takeaway.
5) Have a two week meal plan.
Plaining what I am going to cook for the week saves me a lot of time when it comes to shopping, it also means that when it’s time to prepare dinner I don’t get stuck with no idea what to cook. It’s a bit of extra effort upfront that makes life much easier in the long run. I started by brainstorming a list of things that my family like to eat and things that I am confident to cook, because it’s much more realistic than coming up with a list of fancy meals that may be hard to cook and the kids might spit on the floor. It’s also easier to be motivated to cook if you have everything you need on hand.
6) Do the grocery shopping online and have it delivered.
This is something I do all the time now, but I only started earlier this year because I wanted to give myself more writing time. I recommend that you sit down and do step four first, as it will provide you with a shopping list. It’s also a good idea to clean out the cupboards and the fridge and get rid of stuff that you bought on a whim or for a one off dish that if you will never actually make again. Cooking is much easier with organized cupboards, partially if you don’t have a massive walk in pantry like some ahh, lucky people. Setting up an account and doing the first few shops can take a bit of mucking around and take it can take time to get the hang of it (you might order ten bags of oranges when you wanted ten oranges.)
Shopping on line:
7) Exercise at home.
You already know that exercise is good for you and that it will help your writing. But why use time and money going to the gym when you can do it at home? Plus you don’t have to be embarrassed if you are still in your PJ’s and Ugg boots at lunch time. Although it is useful to be set up to watch Youtube on your TV, you can always get hold of a few exercise DVD’s. Or just set aside half an hour to whack on some music and dance around the lounge room with the kids and do some stretches, (just watch out that they don’t body slam you, like a WWF wrestler, the instant you get down on the floor, the little darlings love doing that.) I a play list of exercise videos and some dance music that always helps to get me in mood for exercising on my Youtube channel which you can find at this link, exercise play list (there is a little bit of strong langue in the dance music play list .)
click here for Part one
and here for Part two
“Won’t hear of it,” Sawney said with a gap-toothed grin. “There’s always room for a stranger at the table. Oh, hold ya horses there love,” he said, as she stepped towards the passenger door.
She stopped obediently and watched in surprise as he trotted briskly around to her side and held the door open for her.
“Why, thank you.” She beamed, feeling warmed and reassured by this unexpected display of good old fashioned manners.
The inside of the pick-up was warm and clean. The sickly sweet scent of vanilla wafted from an air freshener disk hanging from the rearview mirror. Holts farm supplies, the best in the country, the disk proclaimed in red and blue letters. Voila remembered those disks from her childhood, her Pappy must have had a box of them, because he always had one hanging in his battered old Chevy. A wave of sadness and longing swept over her and she felt the prickling threat of tears in her sinuses.
In middle school she had felt humiliated by that rusty farm truck, which once been a brilliant red, but was now a washed out shade of orange. Humiliated by the truck and by the shabby sun-wrinkled man who had driven it. In St Louis, that truck had stood out like teats on a bull among the shiney new BMW’S and the dodge and Chevy sedans. It hadn’t belonged there and despite her best efforts neither had she. Things would be different now that she was in the country, she would fit in here, make this place her home no matter what it took.
“Holts farm supplies?” she said reaching out and giving the scented disk a little tap which sent it swinging merrily.
“My Pappy always had one of these things hanging in his truck. He was from around these parts, grew up on a farm just outside of Claud, I’ve still got a bunch of cousins there and a few in Stockton too.”
“Is that so? What’s his name.” Sawney asked in a slow, uninterested way.
“Hochstetler, Ethan Hochstetler, he passed away four years back.” Voila answered, daring to hope that he might recognize the name.
“Common enough name round here I reckon,” He said laughing nastily, as if amused by some private joke, beyond the understanding of the likes of her.
Sawney made a sudden lunge in her direction and Viola shrank back in her seat, the stench of tobacco and decaying meat on his breath making her want to gag. For one sickening moment she thought that he was attempting to do something indecent to her, but instead he flipped open the glove box and pulled out a liquor bottle wrapped in a brown paper sack. He waved the bottle in her face, grinning sardonically, as he steered one handed down the dark bumpy drive.
“Sheesh,’ you're as jumpy as a cat in a room full a rocking chairs.” He laughed. Enjoying her discomfort a little too much. “Would you like a slug darlin,” he offered.
“Don’t mind if I do,” she answered, snatching the bottle out of his hand, quickly removing the lid and taking a large swig. Viola wasn’t much of drinker, watching Pappy slowly drink himself to death had been enough to put her off. He’d been a real son of bitch when he was drunk, but she didn’t want to think about that, not now, not ever.
The truck ratted over a pothole and liquor dribbled down her chin. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, grinning broadly at the startled look on Sawney’s face. Stick that in ya pipe and smoke it shit head, she thought bitterly.
Swaney might have good manners but his social skills left a lot to be desired. She gulped another mouthful of the foul tasting brew before handing the bottle back, reclining a little in her seat and enjoying the warm relaxing sensation of the alcohol spreading through her tense body.
They bumped along the rutted drive, to Violas dismay Sawney continued to drive one handed, sucking down the harsh liquor like a thirsty baby with a bottle of milk.
The bouncing headlights illuminated the autumn yellow corn stalks, their feathery tops waved in the breeze, while their elongated leaves pointed towards the dry ground like accusing fingers.
“Looks like it’s been a good season, corns nice and dry, guess you’ll be harvesting soon?” Voila commented, trying to break the awkward silence.
“Yup.” Sawhney replied, tossing the empty bottle at Violas feet without looking. The bottle hit her left ankle bone and she let out a small cry of hurt, a trickle of warm blood run down her leg and into her sock.
Sawhney, either unaware or unconcerned by her pain began to fiddle with the radio, filling the truck with loud staticky music, This is how we roll, This is how we do, We're burning down the night shooting bullets at the moon, baby, This is how we roll...
Son of a bitch! Volia bit her bottom lip, hot anger rose up in her like bile, the truck was suddenly too warm and the coying scent of vanilla was making her feel light headed.
A dark shadow sprang out of the cornfeld and darted onto the road.
“Look out,” Voila shrieked, involuntarily.
Sawhney only laughed, a deep sadistic cackle which made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up, and steered the truck toward the dark shape. Voila recognised the sound of madness when she heard it.
Thud! They hit it with wallop and Sawhney slammed on the brakes. Viola's body flew forward and then snapped back again. A terrible high pitched squealing split the night.
Shit, shit, shit! he’s hit a girl, her mind screamed desperately and suddenly she was out of the car and looking down at the broken creature on the side of road. No not a girl, not a girl at all, a huge wild hog, screaming with a sound that was all too human. It’s shiney black eyes seemed to look up her pleadingly and she watched with horror as it tried to raise it’s broken back legs off the ground.
She looked around for Sawhney and saw him coming around behind her with a rifle in his hands. She knew what was coming and had to swallow quickly as the sour taste alcohol and vomit rushed up in her throat, burning her esophagus.
“Mind if I do the honors?” she asked, her voice coming out shaker than she had intended.
For a moment he just looked at her. His head cocked to one side as he looked down his beaky nose at her, his dark beady eyes curious and calculating, an expression which reminded her of a bird of prey.
He spat out a large yellow gobber that landed on the tip of her white tennis shoe.
“Sure why not?” he said handing her the gun and flashing his crooked tobacco stained teeth at her.
It felt right in her hands and she aimed it steadily, carefully at the back of hogs hairy thrashing head.
A single blast and the horrible screaming stopped instantly. With one swift movement she swung the barrel upward and pulled the trigger a second time. Sawhney fell backwards, the top of his head gone. His thin scarecrow body bounced of the side of the truck before hitting the ground in a way that Violet found almost comical.
“Serves you right, you creepy little redneck leprechaun, these shoes were new!” Voila said, bending down and relieving him of his wallet and keys.
Click here to read Part 1
My bowels spasmed and rumbled like angry storm clouds. Let’s cross now to the lovely Keeley Donovan for today’s forecast.Thanks Ted, as you can see from our chart we can expect office wide slaughter, followed by strong arse winds and torrents of diarrhea, which will give way shortly to bloody agonizing death. My advice to the ladies and gents out there, say inside and keep the bathroom door locked, we’re in for a real shit storm. Oh and if you do have go out, don’t forget your umbrella and your toilet paper. Thanks Keeley.
The thing was still close, too close, not in the VP’s office thank God. No, it was probably waiting just outside in the hallway letting me know it was there with that ugly noise, taunting me like Jimmy Rodder and his friends had in primary school. I’m gonna kill you, fat boy just wait till school gets out, I gonna beat you up real good… and why not? It wasn't like it had anything better to do with it’s time, not with everyone else on the floor being dead and surely they were, Oh god the screams and the blood so much blood! Best not to think about that, best just to think about Myara and the girls. But how could I get to them? With that thing out there waiting for me, it had to know I was in here, why else would it have tried to force it’s way in earlier? Not like it would have been throwing itself at the lavatory door because it really had to go number two.
My bowels twisted again and I dropped the belt and the porcelain lid, doubling over and clutching my stomach with both hands, sweat dripped down into my eyes and I was sure that I was about to go number two myself, right there in my tighty whities. Like the situation wasn't bad enough. After a few terrifying moments the sensation passed and I managed to straightened up, eyes fixed on the open office doorway expecting that thing to appear there, it’s crazed eyes full of hate and rage and predatory cunning. Those eyes that would have me waking in a cold sweat for years to come, if I was to live past the next few moments that was.
I recovered my strange weapons and continued to watch the door barely daring to blink, standing like a statue listening to the loud thump of my heart. It looked like that ugly pee soaked carpet might have just saved my life, if I had dropped the cistern lid onto a tiled floor then it would have made one hell of racket. To think I’d been wondering earlier about who in their right mind would put carpet in a toilet, now I was just extremely grateful that they had.
It looked like I had two choices, I could either tiptoe quietly and slowly towards the door hoping the thing wouldn't realize what I was doing or I could sprint for it with everything I was worth and try to get it shut and locked. Deciding on option one I took two tentative steps into the room.
Now it was a race! I charged for the door and slammed it shut activating the lock on the knob, before sliding onto my backside with my back pressed up against the door, puffing like an old steam train. Not bad for fat old git hay Mr monster?
It threw itself against the door repeatedly while making those insane sounds. It’s assault this time was longer and more ferocious. Just when I was sure it was going to smash the door off it’s hinges all the commotion stopped and the thing took off down the corridor grunting and snarling and making that horrible hissing sound.
Something, or more likely someone had gotten its attention. Looked like maybe I wasn’t the only survivor after all, who ever it was must have realized their chance and now I needed to do the same thing.
I got unsteadily to my feet and opened the door into empty corridor, the entrance to the stairs was just across the way, I could make it. Then the screaming and the sounds started again. It was too much, all too much, my mind and my bladder gave way.
When I came too I had no idea where I was, then the nightmare came rushing back, battering my fragile mind like a hurricane battering a small boat. All I could do was shake and cry in a curled ball on the Mr Kennard's sofa. My pants were soaked with piss and at some point I’d vomited down the front of my blood stained shirt. I must look like some miserable old geezer who’d been on an all night bender after his team had lost the FA cup by a goal.
Sitting up and looking around the room I realized that somehow I’d managed to stack a heavy bookcase and a filing cabinet against the door, in my crazed state I’d even added a potted plant on top of the pile, the sight was so ridiculous it almost made me laugh. Today on sixty minute makeover, Ted from Faversham makes over the vice president's office.
I pushed myself slowly up off the sofa, my whole body feeling stiff and sore and shuffled towards the window. A bowl of fruit sat on Mr Kennard’s desk along with his phone, a wooden pencil holder, a thick stack of post it notes and a framed picture of his wife. What was her name? Jenny, Jemma something like that? A pretty women with overly bleached hair and a fake orange tan, smiling wide for the camera and showing her white even teeth, now she was a widow. I hadn’t liked Kennard, but I wouldn’t wish his fate on anyone. I placed the photo face down on the desk.
I pulled the cord on the venetian blinds to retract them all the way up to get a better view of the street below. To the right a barricade had been set up where Church road intersected with High Street. A fire engine, two ambulances and several military trucks were parked behind the barricades. Across the road St Anne's hospital was on fire, three fire trucks were parked out front and several firefighters were working hard to get the blaze under control. Standing along side of the firefighters were about a dozen heavily armed soldiers. Had that thing escaped from the hospital and ended up in the building?
Suddenly all over the floor telephones started ringing, including the one on the desk behind me. With a trembling hand I reached over and lifted the receiver.
“Hello, this is sergeant Lisa Wilson, to whom am I speaking?”
Click her to read the ending
“Honey, honey, he’s out there again!’
“Huh?” Might as well be talking to a brick wall.
“That kid from number eleven is in our yard again, he’s just standing there in the doorway of the shed looking at me.” I let the curtain fall back into place leaving behind a small collection of soap suds where my hand had been. The sound of creepy music and even creeper pig squealing gets louder as I approach the lounge room. What is he watching? I pause just inside the doorway.
“Honey?” This time he doesn’t even answer. On the screen a terrified woman is lost in an ominous forest in the middle of the night, dry ice mist swirling around her. Watching horror movies in the dark, I couldn’t think of anything worse. The top of his head is sticking out just above the back of the couch. If I snatched up a handful of hair, that might get his attention.
“Honey, would you PLEASE turn that rubbish off and come and look!”
“Oh sure, sorry babe.” I’ve got him worried now, I hate it that I have to be such a dragon to get his attention but, sometimes it seems like the only way. The screen freezes on the image of a bare chested man with a pig’s head, nice.
“That shed looks like it could fall down at any minute, plus it’s got to be crawling with spiders, he could get seriously hurt playing in there.”
“Okay I’ll go out and have a talk with him, try to scare him off.”
“Don’t scare him too much, I don’t want the new neighbours to hate us.”
Back at the kitchen window there’s no sign of the kid, could be he’s in the shed. I watch Rodney wading through the tall overgrown grass, I hope he wipes his shoes well before he comes back inside. We should go to Bunnings on the weekend and buy a lawn mower, how much do lawn mowers cost? He’s sticking his head just inside the door, even he’s reluctant to go in there. Why would a little kid want to play in such a sinister place? The one little window at the front is so filthy and covered in cobwebs that hardly any light gets in even with the door missing.
Rodney is reaching around trying to find a light switch, there isn’t one, I should have told him that. He gets out his phone and starts using it as a torch, he flashes it around for a few seconds then turns around and gives me an exaggerated shrug followed by a head shake.
Okay drama boy I get the picture the kids not in there. He must have gone home. I drop the curtain as he starts walking back. While he’s out there I might as well give him the latest pile of flattened boxes to put in the recycling bin. I meet him at the back door with the boxes.
“Here you go, you can put these in the bin for me while you’re out there.”
“No problem, there are lot here.”
“I told you I finished unpacking the spare room today, have you even looked at it yet?”
“I’ll look at it as soon as I come in. I hope you haven't been overdoing it, remember what the doctor said.”
“How can I relax when the house is in chaos? I just want this place to feel like home. I think I’ll have an early night though, hopefully I won't have nightmares about that weird kid.”
Shutting the screen door I head for the bedroom. I’ll have to stop by number eleven in the morning and have a word with the boys parents, let them know I didn’t want him coming into our back yard. Maybe the people who lived here before where okay with it but I’m not.
Kids too young to wandering around by himself anyway, he must only be about six or seven, though it’s hard to tell with kids. I hope his parents aren't on ice or something, I’d have to be careful.
The door opens as I’m slipping between the sheets.
“I just wanted to come and say good night. The spare room looks great by way, thanks for doing that.” Rodney bends down and gives me a big wet good night kiss.
“You're not coming to bed?"
"No I’m going to stay up and watch a few more episodes of American Horror Story.”
“Okay.” I reach over and turn the lamp off.
Thumping and scratching noises are coming from the ceiling directly above me. A family of possums most likely.
“Honey, do you hear that?” I roll over. The other side of the bed is empty.
Muffled voices drift down the hall from the lounge room. Rodney must still be watching his horror series.
I throw back the covers. “Honey? Are you awake?”
Apart from the voices coming from the TV, there’s no reply from the lounge room.
Rodney’s not on the couch. I pick up the remote and switch off the TV. The house creaks and groans and the stupid possums are making a racket. The fridge chimes in with a hum. The crickets in the long grass outside add to the suburban symphony. I’m used to hearing inner city traffic, sirens, and people yelling at all hours of the night. I don’t know how I’m ever going to get back to sleep.
I check the rest of the rooms in the house, making sure the windows are locked as I go. I start with the spare bedroom I turned into a home office, then the one we’ve designated ‘the nursery’. At the moment it holds most of our boxes of junk and a spare bed for guests. After eleven rounds of unsuccessful IVF, we aren’t rushing to set it up as a proper nursery just yet. I’m betting this round won’t stick either. I’m too stressed because of the move. Right now, I’m also irritated with my husband.
After a full check of the house, I’m back in the lounge room and most of the lights are on.
“Honey? This late night game of hide-and-seek isn’t funny.”
A cool breeze caresses the side of my face. The outer screen door at the back of the house creaks on its hinges and bangs gently against the frame. Partially open, the inner wooden door swings wider. I grab hold of it and peer outside. The crescent moon doesn’t emit enough light to illuminate the yard, but I can make out the outline of the rickety shed. A dim, blue haze appears in the dirty window. Yawning, I rub my eyes. The haze is gone and the shed has returned to darkness. Am I seeing things?
“Rod? Honey?” My heart pounds and the milk I drank before bed sours in my stomach. I lean against a dining chair and stare out the kitchen window. The shed is full of that weird blue haze again. It even spills out the doorway. It flickers before going out once more. Is Rodney in the shed? Why would he go out there now? Did that kid from number eleven come back again?
Before I can talk myself out of it, I grab a flashlight out of the bottom drawer and head outside.
The clothesline spins and creaks in the wind. I pull my dressing gown around me tighter and shine the flashlight across to my right. My red hatchback sits under the carport, five meters away. The shed is three times further from the back step in the other direction.
A neighbour’s dog takes to barking and I jump, stumbling off the step into the long grass. I try not to think about the spiders, ticks, and other creepy crawlies lurking underfoot.
“Honey, are you in here?” I aim my flashlight through the door of the shed.
There’s a hint of a stale, metallic odour. Rusted hooks and nails stick out of the wooden walls to support tools we don’t own. Two splintered and rotting benches run the full length of the shed on either side. Empty milk crates the previous owners left behind sit under the benches. Multiple footprints have been left in the dusty, concrete floor – some big and some small. Black spots are spread across one side of the room and over the dirty window.
My foot makes contact with something and it skids across the floor. Rodney’s phone slides to a stop against one of the crates. It’s covered in dust and those strange black spots. I crouch down and pick it up. The screen is cracked. The spots aren’t black like I first thought. They’re a deep crimson, and they smudge.
I angle my flashlight upwards, running the beam over the corrugated iron and roof trusses. There’s nothing there. Even though I should feel relieved, I feel more anxious than I did before.
Shuddering, I leave the shed. I trip over something soft and warm lying in the grass. I manage to hold onto the flashlight and the phone, but when I look to see what I tripped over, there’s nothing there.
A lump builds in my throat and my chest tightens. Tears fill my eyes and I’m close to panicking. I push myself up and sprint back to the house.
I reach the back door, but it’s shut. I grab the handle, and push as hard as I can. Nothing happens. I’m locked out.
“Rodney!” I bang on the door. “Let me in!”
I give up on the door and tap on the phone. The touchscreen lights up, but it doesn’t respond to any of my other commands. It’s too slick with blood. I try wiping my hands on my dressing gown, the phone too, but it doesn’t seem to help.
The door opens and I fling myself inside.
“Meg. Where the hell have you been? I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”
“I was looking for you. I thought you were in the shed. I found your phone.” I hold it out to him.
He examines me, frowning. “You’re bleeding.”
“No, I’m not, I…” I look down at myself. My hands, pyjamas, and dressing gown are covered in blood, much more than the original few drops on Rodney’s phone.
“If you’re not hurt,” Rodney takes a step back, “then whose blood is that?”
I stare at him, confused.
“I thought it was yours.”
I'm happy to say that the ending of the story has been picked up by a Mozette and you can read it by clicking this link. Mozette's ending
This story is a three part collaborative flash fiction challenge set by Chuck Wending. The beginning was written by myself and the middle by Kira Jessup, who has done a wonderful job of continuing the story, in a way that I think is tense and scary and has an enjoyable Aussie flavor to it.
I pick the phone up on the second ring. It’s one of those ancient old-school beasts, from the eighties or something. Big and chunky with rotary dial and a ridiculous length of extension cord, which I had a habit of stumbling over, usually while carrying a full tray of coffees.
‘Hello, the Twisted Twig, Rose speaking.’
‘Bloody hell, Rose don’t sound so enthusiastic.’
‘Screw you Olli, you don’t know what I’m dealing with.’ Crap, did I just say that out loud?
‘If it’s that bad you can always come home you know.’ His tone is cajoling and I am reminded of the way that Twiggy looks pleading up at me with her big yellow eyes and tries to lure me into giving her a second helping of cat food, even when I know Thaneth has already fed her.
A deep sigh escapes me, and I sag against the counter suddenly exhausted.
‘Ollie, we’ve been through this, even if I did come home... I wouldn’t be coming home to you.’
My voice comes out a whisper. My throat feels like it’s contracting and my body is suddenly aching like I have the flu. I want to keep talking, tell him that he shouldn’t keep calling, instead I just hold the heavy weight of the receiver to my ear. The silence stretches out between us, a fine strand of spider web connecting us together despite the distance, despite everything….
‘I guess I’m just having trouble getting it though my head that it’s really over this time. You know I miss you Rose.’
A jolt of anger courses through me. If you hadn’t done what you did then we would have still been happy together. Now you're playing on my feelings and making me feel like crap instead of just letting me move on.
‘Sorry Ollie, I’ve got to go, a customer has just come in.’ I’m so pathetic, I have to make up excuses to get off the phone.
‘Oh okay then, um Rose?’
‘.... never mind.’
I slam down the receiver.
My boss, my great writing idol is asleep in one of the old brown leather armchairs by the open fire. Her cloud of grey curls sticks up a little over the top of the chair. Every now and then she mumbles a little or snorts in her sleep. I can’t see from here but I’d be willing to bet my signed copy of Willows Wish, that Twiggy is curled up asleep on her lap.
Bitter gale force winds and battering rain has kept even the regulars away today, so there is no harm in closing up early.
Reaching behind me I undo the knot in the back of my apron, wincing in pain as some of my hair has gotten caught up in it. I end up holding a collection of long strands, which I throw into the bin. Maybe I should cut it really short and dye it platinum blonde, finally say goodbye to the mousy colour I’ve always considered boring. Despite myself I imagine Ollie's reaction to seeing me with short hair. I feel sad and angry rather than triumphant.
Slipping the apron strap off over my head, I hang it on one of the tree branch wall hooks. Gazing at it for a moment, I remember the day that Alison gave it to me. I’d been ecstatic then, even the crap with Olli couldn’t ruin my happiness. Finally I was one of the select few who had been offered a place at the two thousand and sixteen Tanith Lancer writers retreat. Having the opportunity to meet my writing muse and learn from her was a dream come true. The opportunity to spend three weeks in the adorable little township of Chesterwick -about two and a half hours drive out of the city Melbourne- could not have come at better time. Back then I’d been oblivious to state of my favorite authors health issues.
A gust of wind rattles the front door, like a ghost who has lost their house keys. The edges of the front awning flap manically. I can hear creepy howling sounds even over the Stevie Nicks album that Tanith has perpetually playing in the background. I long to turn Stevie off, the first time that Tanith had fallen asleep in front of the fireplace I’d done just that, she had woken up instantly and thrown a frightening tantrum. It was so traumatic for all involved that I’d never risk it again.
Locking the front door, I turn the open sign around and stare through the glass into the rain drenched street. The sky is so overcast that it feels much later than it is. I flick the switch beside the door frame, turning the lights on along the front of the building. It does little to push back the darkness.
The gutter across the way has overflowed and a deep puddle has formed almost to the center of the road. Dark fingers of water seem to slowly reach towards me as I watch, transfixed. Goosebumps form on my arms despite the warmth of the fire lit room.
Better check the locks a second time just to sure.
Suddenly a pale face appears on the other side of gass. Instinctively I let out a high pitched scream and drop the keys.
‘Willow, what’s going on is the spider back?’ Great, I’ve woken Tanith.
‘It’s Okay Tanith, it’s just me Rose, there is a lady at door, she gave me a fright that’s all.’
As I bend down to retrieve my keys Twiggy appears and rubs up against my leg, decorating my purple tights with her hairs. Straightening, I notice that the woman is smiling apologetically. I can feel my cheeks flame. It takes several unsteady attempts for me to get the key in the lock.
How could she have materialised out of nowhere like that? I was looking out on the empty main street, I should have seen her coming.
Finally I get the key in and open the door.
‘Sorry to give you a fright I know you were locking up, but I’ve come a long way and I was wondering if would still be possible to get a hot drink, this weather is just abysmal.’ Her accent is upper class English.
‘You’re in luck I haven’t turned the coffee machine off yet.’
It’s been such a dead day that I don’t see how I can turn away a paying customer, even if I I’d like to.
I open the door and she steps in, bringing a blast of cold air with her.
‘Rose, Rose what’s going on is everything alright?’
‘Yes Tanith everything is fine I’m just with a customer. I’m just going to make her a drink would you like a cup of tea?’
‘Yes dear that would be lovely.’ The thought of bringing her tea has me flashing back to this morning. I had just put her cup on the coffee table when she had leaned forward and taken my hands in hers. She had said “My darling Rose you really have been a Godsend these past few weeks, I want you to know how much I have appreciated having you here and James has too, although he might not say it. I’m not going to be around forever and I want you to promise that you’ll take care of James and the twisted twig for me when I’m gone.” I’d just stood there with my mouth open too shocked to know what to say, all I could do was to shake my head.
Today had been emotionally exhausting, all I wanted to do was go home and crawl into bed, but now I had this customer to deal with.
Looking at her I realize that the woman's face is familiar, I rack my brain but I can’t think where I have seen her before, since she isn't a regular I figure I had better give her the warning talk just incase.
‘That’s the manager over there,’ I tell her quietly, ‘her memory is impaired, so she sometimes get’s a little confused.’
‘Oh, I see.’
‘What can I get you to drink? A pot of earl grey would be lovely thank you.’
‘Willow, Willow, oh my darling sister, I always knew one day you would come back and see me.’ Tanith rushes forward and embraces the women, while I watch in red-faced shock. To my relief the stranger seems to take Taniths hug well enough and doesn’t freak out. Tanith was having a particularly bad day.
‘Look Rose, it’s Willow, can you believe it?’
‘Um, no.’ I shake my head, giving what I hope is an apologetic smile to the customer. Should I play along with this or should I try to convince Tanith that this woman isn’t her sister? Tanith looks happy and the women seems comfortable with her. I hurry off to get the drinks, not wanting to leave them alone too long. Tanith takes the women by the hand and leads her over to the couch by the fire.
Setting the tea things on the tray I notice that they seem to be happily engaged in conversation. I make a large pot, knowing that Tanith will want to serve the tea. I slip a few pistachio biscotti onto a vintage plate and take the tray over to them.
‘Thank you Rose, would you mind popping out to the office and bringing my photo albums Willow would like to see them.’ I look at the women feeling doubtful, but she just smiles and gives me a tiny nod of consent. I browse through the book shelves that line the walls of the small room and quickly locate the stack of old albums. Entering the cafe to the warm sound of Taniths laughter. It seems she is getting along well with the women.
I place the albums on the table.
‘Why don’t you join us Rose.’
‘Ah, I’d love to but I’m just going to unload the dishwasher first, I’ll leave you two to catch up.’ I’m just putting the last of the cutlery away when the dinosaur rings again. Please don’t let it be Ollie again.
‘Hello the twisted twig Rose speaking.’ I attempt to make my voice seem cheerful.
‘Hi Rose, It’s James how you holding up?’ The sound of the familiar husky voice sends a pleasant little tingle through me.
‘I’m good, but the place has pretty much been empy today with this nasty weather.’ Glancing across the room I notice that Tanith and the blond women are sitting with their heads together looking through the photos looking like close companions. Picking up the phone I retreat into the relative privacy of the little office.
‘I expected as much, infact that was partly why I was calling, I wanted to remind you that it’s alright if you want to close up early.’
‘Thanks. I was planning on doing that, but then as I was locking up this woman appeared at the door and frightened the crap out of me. I screamed and woke your mum up, she had fallen asleep in front of the fire again. Tanith thought the women was Willow come back for a visit.’
‘Really?’ I can here the concern in his voice and I feel guilty for telling him.
‘The women was fine about it, I warned her about Taniths memory and the two of them have been happy chatting and looking through the family albums.’
‘It just really worries me that mum seems to be getting worse so suddenly. I should be there with her and not dumping so much on your shoulders.’ Again I am reminded of my strange conversation with Tanith this morning. I decide not to mention it.
‘Honestly it’s fine you know I adore your mum and your meeting with your editor was important, speaking of which, how did it go today.’
‘Much better than expected actually.’
‘See I told you were worried about nothing.’
‘Why don’t you come over for dinner tonight and I’ll tell you all about it then.’ There is eagerness in his voice despite his effort to sound casual.’
‘Sure I’d love to.’
I replace the phone on the counter and am so caught up in my own thoughts that it takes me a moment to realize that something is different, then it dawns on me that I can't hear any talking. From behind the counter I notice that the couch is empty. The photo albums are piled on the coffee table next to the tea things and the biscotti is untouched on the tray. I spot the familiar tuft of curls peeking up above the chair turned towards the open fire.
‘The lady left did she? That was James on the phone he said his meeting with Annabelle went well. He’s invited me to have dinner with him tonight.’ I direct my voice towards Taniths chair as I begin loading the tea things onto the tray. She must have fallen asleep again.
I take the tray to the kitchen. Singing along quietly with Stevie as I go through the ritual of closing up for the second time that day. I gather up the photo albums and return them to the office. Twiggy meows at the back door, I unlock it and let her into the little enclosed yard. It’s raining steadily outside, water cascading noisily down the edges of the gutters and collecting into little sandy streams in the yard. Twiggy dashes though the rain and disappears into the little out building where her litter tray is kept. I grab our coats and my umbrella, slipping mine on as I wait. Putting my hand into my coat pocket, I fiddle with my keys while I watch for the cat.
‘Hurry up Tiggy I want to home.’ At last she sprints across the yard and slips through the door.
She attempts to dry her wet fur on the bottom of my coat and almost trips me up as I make my way through the sleeping cafe to Taniths chair where she dozes by the fire.
She has fallen asleep with one of the photo albums spread out on her lap.
‘Tanith, wake up it’s time to go.’
My hand rushes to cover my mouth, the floor becomes an elevator plummeting me to the depths of the earth. I realize I have taken a step back when I trip on twiggy. She lets out a startled wail and streaks away. I stumble against the coffee table hitting my leg hard. The pain registers in my overwhelmed brain even though there is only room for one profound all consuming thought, TANITH IS DEAD. The image of her sitting in her chair, eyes open staring glassily into oblivion, body frozen, has burned itself into my brain. Scooping Twiggy up I nestle my face into her soft fur and retreat to the back office. It’s cold in here. I put twiggy down on the chair and switch on the tiny electric heater. I find myself just standing there listening to the noisy fan, feeling the useless heat against my shins eyes fixed on the red power on light.
In my mind I hear Taniths voice as clearly as if she was in the room with me. Welcome to the Twisted Twig I named it after my sister Willow, it was a little joke between us. I’d smiled at her words, warmed by the brightness of her smile. I’d known all about her sister of course, how she had disappeared when she was nine and Tanith was ten. It was common knowledge that Taniths best selling novel Willows Wish had been inspired by her sister's disappearance, it detailed her sisters adventures in a magical realm that she had been transported to.
Whenever Tanith had been asked if writing the novel had been a sort of therapy for her. A way of coping with her sister's loss Tanith had always given odd answers as if she actually believed her story to be true.
Inexplicably my eyes are drawn to a photograph on the desk. It can’t be. I lift the frame up to get a better look, for a moment I’d mistaken the women in the shot for the customer who had so recently sat talking and laughing with Tanith. Looking closer I could see that the women in the photo had a long fringe, a slightly smaller mouth and a pointer chin, still the resemblance was striking. It was the same portrait of a twenty something Tanith which appeared on the back inside cover of Willows Wish. I could feel the tears building up behind my eyes. I took a deep breath and tried to steady myself, I some difficult phone calls to make.
Standing in front of the class, the instructor pulls a family sized packet of cheese puffs from a shopping bag. She squeezes the packet.
Pop! I feel myself jump, even though I knew it was coming. Feels like every member of the class reacted to the sound in some way. We are a jumpy bunch.
There is shuffling and mumbling while looks of puzzled amusement are exchanged.
Are we going to have to stand here watching the teacher eat an enormous bag of snacks in front of us, more importantly, is she going to share?
Her hand dips into the foil bag and comes out with a single cheese puff. She holds the worm like puff, up for all to see. Claps her hands together, reducing the puff to orange powder.
Her serious eyes rove across the room, making contact with each of us in turn as she rubbes her palms together, sprinkling orange crumbs on the wooden floor.
Reaching into the bag she pulls out a handful of puffs and scatters them at her feet, like she’s feeding invisible birds.
Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang! Her boot slams down pulverising the puffs.
There are smiles now and some quite nervous laughter.
The large gap-toothed black lady becomes animated and shouts enthusiastically, ‘You go girl, show dem chips who’s boss. Yeah.’ There is laugher.
‘Thank’s for the encouragement, Queenie, I will.’
Bang! She grinds the last puff into powder.
‘Okay everyone, now it’s your turn. I want ya’ll to do what I just did. Each take a cheese puff, but don’t do anything until I tell you to and no you can’t eat it.’
I watch her walk around the room holding out the bag to each of them in turn, until she comes to me. My hand shakes a little as I reach in. Please don’t let her notice.
She has orange cheese puff powder on her boots, the laces are tied in double knots, her red hair smells like flowers.
We all have a puff now, so she returns to the front of the class.
‘Ok on the count of three crush the sucker with your hands like I did. One, two, three.’
Loud uncoordinated claps eco around the gym. I crush my cheese puff along with the others. Letting the crumbs fall to the floor. I rub my hands together trying to get the sticky orange dust off, but my hands are sweaty and gritty pieces stick to them. I didn’t like the way it feels.
Some other people are rubbing their hands together too. A few have even wiped their hands on their clothes, transferring orange crumbs onto their backsides or down the front of grubby sweatshirts. One guy is licking his dirty orange fingers. Yuck.
‘This time round I want y’all to take a hand full, and drop them on the floor like I did. Once again we will all do it together. Oh and don’t worry too much if your hands get dirty, I have a packet of wet wipes so you can clean them when we are done.’
Once again she walks around the room holding out the packet.
I wouldn’t want to eat out of it, not after some of those hands have been in there.
Rocking a little on my heels I wait for my turn, rubbing my sticky palms together and longing for one of those wet wipes. She smiles at me she as approaches and I feel myself blushing. She’s so dainty and pretty, I’m elephant sized and ugly.
I grab my cheese puffs quickly, drop them on the floor and stomp on them with everyone else when she tells us too. It’s fun but I keep expecting someone important to walk in and say, ‘what are all these street scum doing in here, stomping cheese puffs into our nice gym floor?’
When we are done she hands out the wet wipes and returns to her place at the front of the class. She holds up another cheese puff. Her look is serious enough to silence the room. Even the big lady, Queenie is paying attention.
‘We are all cheese puffs. Bullies, thugs, drug addicts, gang members, pimps, rapists, thieves and corrupt cops are all waiting out there to crush us into nothingness. This is a self-defence class. I’m not here to teach you how to beat these people or how to stop them. Because we can’t beat them and we can’t stop them. Instead, I’m here to teach you skills that will help to keep you alive.
I can show you how to stand up to a bully and how to put him in his place. You could walk away thinking that you have won. But a week later you might be walking down the street when he spots you and puts a bullet in your head.’
There is muttered consensus, some people are nodding in agreement while others shake their heads, seemingly expressing their disapproval at the state of the word.
‘Think of the most precious thing that you own, a wedding ring, a photograph, a shabby old cap. All these things can so easily be lost. The ring can slip off your finger, the photograph can burn up in a fire, your cap could be stolen. I know what it’s like to have nothing but my life. That ‘item’, that you think is so important is nothing but a weakness. The most important thing that you have is your life, and I’m here to show you some techniques to help you to preserve it. That includes knowing when and how to ask for help and knowing when to run like hell.
Our lives, as fragile and as cheesy as they might be, are the most precious and important things that we have. Every morning I thank God, because I have to thank someone, that I am still here and still breathing. There have been plenty of times when I felt that my life was the only thing I had to be grateful for. I believe that everyday is a new adventure and a new opportunity, and everyday that we don’t let the bad guys crush like a cheese puff, means that we win! Now lets run a mop over this floor and get started.’ I clap my hands along with the others.
“And one two three four, and lower ladies, really push those booties out there. Come on Silver, lower, that’s it really work it now, and pivot, turn, hair flick, up, down and a big sexy smile for the camera, just like you did in rehearsal. Now lick your lips. Stop stop stop! Okay, let’s get make up in here real quick, where is that stupid little...?
“Here I am Mr Z.”
“Make it quicker next time…don’t just stand there! Fix her lips, they are supposed to be wet and shiny!
Silver, try not to lick your lips until we are doing the close up K’ babe?”
Arsehole! Another one who thinks he’s Don Draper, don’t they all? And look at her, up there girateing for the camera in her underwear and six inch heels. Is she truly naive enough to think she’s just selling her music, wake up princess that’s not all your selling...
“Yes Z, do you think we could have a break after this, these Louie’s are killing me?”
“Sure thing, just one more time from the top and really thrust those hips hard this time K’ babe. Think of all those fat stacks you’ll be making when your new single hits number one on the charts.
Fat stacks? The guy thinks he’s so gangster. The sad thing is that this one can actually sing, but a great voice is only ever enough if you're male. Which may be just as well for me since I don't do guys.
Ok, lets go people, we only have access to the tigers for another twenty minutes.”
I’d like to chop him into little pieces and feed him to those tigers, If only I wasn't bound by this contract, unfortunately those Illuminati had been smart and thorough. One of these days they were bound to mess up, make a mistake with one of their rituals and then they’d understand the meaning of the name Fearce.
“Here’s your low fat soy latte Sir.”
“Thank’s doll. can you tell the boy’s it’s time, Silver’s just not getting it, we are going to need Sasha's help.”
“What about queen B?”
“Shit Sharon, keep your voice down, what about B? Do you think she has exclusive rights to demonic help? What about Iggy and Katy and Silver over there don't they deserve Sasha’s help too? ”
“Oh um, yes, yes of course sir.”
“Just do your job with no questions and you’ll be fine. Do I make myself clear Sharon?”
“Yes sir, sorry, sir.”
Ahh, looks like it’s show time. I never get tired of this, watching those greedy little men with their black hoods and their pentagrams. I do so enjoy letting them think they are playing God, thinking that they have all the power. Soon enough their pathetic lives always end and then my friends and I show them who’s really in charge.
I had braced myself for his drunken ranting to continue after lunch. But when I walked into the lounge room I found him asleep in his chair in front of a cricket match. A couple of blowies zigzagged crazily around the room buzzing loudly. Cricket and blow files, the sound track of the Australian summer. One of them landed on the old man’s big toe and he twitched in his sleep.
Years of repressed love and anger rose up in me like bile. Silly old bugger. One day your liver will give out and you’ll die in that chair. Then those damned insects will lay their eggs in you and their babies will feast. Even in sleep his leathery brown face wore a mask of disapproval.
I walked over to the mantel piece and picked up an ancient photo of him and mum. The glass was covered in dust and little black fly spots. I wiped it on the hem of my shirt. He had been handsome once. Hard to believe looking at him now. All those years spent working in the unforgiving Queensland sun and too much booze had sucked all the goodness out of him. Now he looked like a walking corpse. All wrinkled skin and sharp bones.
Cockies didn’t wear sunscreen. Sunscreen, that’s for hippies and poofs, it was something I could imagine him saying. I smiled thinking of my flatmate Gavin back in Sydney and his vast collection of lotions.
Gavin and Denis had been beyond good to me. I owed them my life. They had helped me escape from Philip and his drunken rages. They had supported me as I picked up the pieces of my shattered life. Dad would never understand, he believed marriage was for life. It was lucky for him that mum did too or she would have left him years ago. For all his toughness he would be useless without her. He would starve to death for a start.
I looked at the photo of him and Mum. They were standing in front of a white Holden. Probably on their way to a dance. Dad had a protective arm around mum, there was a look of pride on his young face. Mum’s eyes were excited and full of hope. It was a hope I couldn't remember ever seeing. Perhaps it had died back when I was a child. With a deep sigh, I put the photo back in it's place. Life hadn’t been kind to my parents and now that I was an adult I knew how that felt. I said a silent prayer that things might be different for me. Bending down I kissed my sleeping father's forehead.
The White Palace apartments were, predictably enough, located at the cul-de-sac end of Palace Road. Palace Road when viewed from above was a denim colored ribbon laid down on a sheet of green velvet. As you approached the two story rectangular building it did indeed have the appearance of being white. However, once you hit the concrete crescent drive -that endless flat sided loop running between the building and it’s row of six flat-roofed car shelters- you could see that it was in fact the palest shade of blue.
On the outside the Palace was as plain as a new sheet of paper. Outsides however are not what’s important. The inside of the building was eight little shoe boxes all stacked neatly in a row. Four on the bottom and four on the top. Any child could tell you the importance of a shoe-box. It is where you store your treasure of course!
Coincidently three princes, two princesses and one queen lived at the White Palace. Three little piggies, a witch with a B, a big brown toad and sweet little old lady also called the White Palace home.
Prince number one was a pot-bellied, bad-mouthed, white and tan terrier with who lived on the ground floor, with the witch with a B, in apartment three Mrs Delanie. Okay so Mrs D wasn't all bad. She did love her Princ'y-winciy and she was good at baking. But she was always complaining and she was a racist. As for Mr Delanie well... he'd been a serious piece of work and nobody really could blame her. But this is not her story.
Princes number two and three were the Palaces most popular residents. Brothers Jackson and Leroy Prince. Ironically or perhaps just annoyingly. Jackson and Leroy lived in the very last apartment. As you might guess, number eight was at the end of the top row. Access to the Princes’ apartment was via an external concrete staircase open to the elements. Meaning that when it rained, which was every other day and twice on Sunday’s, any upstairs residents or visitors venturing in or out were forced to dash as fast as they could with one hand holding an umbrella, a piece of broken cardboard box or a newspaper over their heads while keeping a firm grip on the thin metal handrail. Those worn steps could get very slippery indeed!
For safety’s sake there was a rusty pull down fire escape located at the rear of the building. However it was so ancient and flimsy that it was doubtful that it could even support the weight of one tiny lady and her guitar. And a song, my Huckleberry friend, partially a weighty one -like say Moon River- could undoubtedly send the whole thing crashing to the ground.
Being the Palace’s most popular residents meant that these particular Princes, had many many visitors, coming and going at all hours of the night and day. The fact that Jackson and Leroy’s callers had to travel so far to knock on their well worn door was only a problem for the travellers themselves. Oh, and the Palace dwellers who had to put up with the parade of Joyville’s most interesting and colorful residents traipsing noisily past their homes at all hours.
It was not a problem for the Princes, they were carefree young fellows who were happy to spend their days at home watching TV, listening to music, playing computer games and answering the door. But this isn’t the brothers story either.
Oh yes I know what you are thinking, of course the black guys are the drug dealers, but no this is not at all about race. Drug dealers can just as easily be white, like the skinny freak who used to live across the hall. Jackson and Leroy like half the town happened to be black, they also happened to be drug dealers, the grass happened to be green, the big brown toad happened to live under the Palace’s foundation stone, it’s just the way things were.
Princess number one was a white fluffy persian with a dainty pink nose and big golden eyes. She was soft as marshmallows and twice as sweet, at least that’s what her owner, the nice old lady, Miss Gander in apartment one was always saying. And yes, you're getting warm, but this is not a story about a cat, or even a sweet little old lady with a funny surname.
The queen, or to be accurate Queeny, was a yellow and green budgerigar of unknown gender. He/she belonged to Little Jimmy Diggery. But you and I are too refined to call him that. We would just call him Jimmy, well, because that’s his name and to a person of short stature ‘Little’ is a bit of a derogatory term. It's not easy to tell the sex of a budgie, when you're no bird expert, at least that was Jimmy’s claim. But the truth was that to Jimmy gender had always seemed nothing more than a flat circle that went around and around and around. Or was that time? No matter time/gender, gender/time they were both unstoppable unfeeling bitches taking us for a ride in spin dryer of life.
Could we have come to the end of our list of royals with out finding our stories star?
Not quite. I'm sure you noticed we skipped over a princess and went straight to a queen. We have one last princess up our sleeve. She was sweet too, but in a luscious dark haired, prom queen kind of way, rather than a white cloud with flat faced way. This princess was the Palace’s newest resident and she lived high off the ground in apartment number six. Unlike the Persian, princess wasn’t actually her real name.
Her name was Ebony-Joy Rosethorne. Princess was just what everybody had called her since she was two seconds old. And yes, big boys and girls, Princess Ebony-Joy Rosethorne was born to be the star of any and all shows.
There was no doubt that Ebony had been the Princess of Nowhereville High, where her daddy still reigned as King, although he was happy to be called Principle Rosethorne. Her mama was a nurse and her boyfriend was none other than football star Johnny Millhone. But high school was over and she was now the queen of the Walmart perfume and cosmetics counter, a role that suited her well.
Ebony was always one to get strange ideas in her head. Now that she had graduated and gotten a job she wanted her own little treasure box. Away from the ever prying eyes of her proud protective folks. Once she had made up her mind and loaded her clothes into the back of her little red sports car and her bedroom furniture was in the back of Johnny's truck. Her unhappy parents knew they had no choice, they could either support their beautiful, stubborn daughter or they could lose her for good. Mrs Rosethorne took her shopping at Home Depot and they managed to make her shoebox quite nice. In fact in Ebony’s eyes her little home was close to perfect, apart from the front door which needed a good hard push or the lock didn’t properly click shut.
She had asked Little Jimmy, who was the building's super to fix it. Ebony wasn’t mean she was simply naive and she just figured that’s what the kids at school had always called him. So she never did understand why he didn’t show up to fix it.
Ebony was a charming girl. She was popular at work and she had been popular at school, now she made friends in the Palace too. She listened politely to grumpy Mrs Delanie complain about those no good black boys in apartment eight and their unsavory visitors and how she had a good mind to call in the law, while she rubbed Prince’s belly under the table with her foot. She took Prince for walks along the forest trail that ran from the back of the apartments and into the thick Greensville woods all the way down to the deep blue river.
Ebony had nothing against Jackson and Leroy, in fact she quite liked them and had on more than one occasion sat on their comfortable old sofa watching TV, listening to music or playing computer games with them. So what if her parents or Johnny or Mrs Delanie didn’t approve, she had moved out of home so that she didn’t have to take orders from anybody.
Ebony also enjoyed visiting with Miss Gander and Princess in apartment one. She loved listening to Miss Gander’s strange stories and crazy ideas about the little folk who lived in the woods behind the Palace. But her favourites were the tales of the two exquisite River Nymph sisters with whom Miss Gander had swam, played and sang as a child. Light-bright-Larunda, pale, slippery, silver moonlight and Dark-deep-Lethe, every blue, iridescent dragonfly, glacier cold, warm sun-kissed rockpool. Miss Gander suffered from arthritis and occasional nightmares which she said were caused by the fat brown toad that lived beneath the building. Her prediction was that until that toad was gotten rid of the residents of the Palace would face hardship and misfortune.
Time went by as it’s want to do. The hardworking single mother with the grubby triplets, in apartment four, won some money in the Lotto. She bought the boys shiney new trikes, so they now spent their days riding in the front yard. Ebony leant on the balcony rail and sucked on her smoke. The three boys went around and around and around.
A hot breeze ran dirty fingers through her long black hair. Lately she had had trouble sleeping and her and Johnny had been fighting. Word around Shadowville was Johnny had been drinking and playing around. Word was he might be cut from the college team.
Crickets sang. A windchime tinkled. The boys were called to supper. A restless dark eyed princess took a swig of vodka and watched the sun go down.
She rolled and turned on the hot mattress drifting in and out of fitful sleep. Waiting, desperately waiting for golden Johnny. He could arrive at any time. Let himself in with his hexagonal key. Miss Gander arrives instead. She has come for tea with red red roses in her snow white hair.
‘Make yourself at home, I’ll be out of bed soon. Don’t forget to push hard on the door.’
But Miss Gander is gone, did she close the door? Sleep now, sleep, sleep, sleep, down, down, down. Kick off the covers, dive in deep but come up again, you need to breathe.
Footsteps on the floor, Johnny’s key in the door? I’ll be out of bed soon. It’s all right Johnny’s here. His weight’s on the bed. She’s face down on the mattress glowing softly in the moonlight, a puddle of spilt white milk and black coca cola. It’s all right it's only Johnny and she is Johnny’s girl. Johnny’s medicine to take. He slips her panties off and pulls her into him. They rock together on the bed. In her dreams she hears a stag bellow at the moon.
The glaring afternoon sun kissed the sleeping princess into life. She awoke in her big messy bed alone. Where had her golden Johnny gone? She couldn’t have dreamt him being here. Her black lace panties were gone, her thighs felt sticky and her mouth was dry.
She filled a glass from the kitchen faucet gulped it down, refilled it, drunk it down again. Her eyes went to the open front door. The Palace plummeted into a black sinkhole. She threw her shoulder at it again and again till wood splintered from the frame. She sat against the door and shook for days.
Her daddy put three new locks on the door the next day. Mrs Rosethorne went in and cleaned. The hollow eyed princess stayed with her parents for three weeks. When Johnny came to the house with flowers and candy Mrs Rosethorne invited him in. Ebony and Johnny sat on the front porch talked. She forgave him. College was a struggle. It was hard being apart. Mr Rosethorne was going to advise on tutoring and football wasn’t the only thing in life.
When the princess moved back to the Palace there was an apology letter and a disco ball keychain from Jimmy, a bunch of yellow roses from Miss Gander, a plate of ginger cookies from Mrs Delanie and a fat joint from the brothers.
Three boys circled around and around and around. Leaves turned from green into copper. Ebony’s black hair was soft and shiny and her belly grew more and more round. Word around Murmurville was Johnny was doing better at school. Word was he would make a good daddy, word was the prince and princess of Murmurville High were still drifting further apart.
By the time Larunda Lethe Rosethorn greeted the world, golden Johnny was out of the picture. Larunda had her mother's midnight hair and full lips. Her eyes came from somewhere else. They were too large, almond shaped and an odd pale yellow, not that unlike those of Princess the cat. But they pulled you into their golden orbit and made you circle there forever like she was the sun.
Her laugh was the tinkle of silver bells and her smile was summer rain. She was beloved around the Palace where no one minded that she never spoke a word. She could tell your more with those strange eyes then you could ever want to know.
The boys rode their skate boards around and around and around while Larunda rode one of their hand me down trikes. She always held her mother's slender hand when they took Prince for his evening walks. Miss Gander worried about the girl's name and referred to her, my little changeling.
One hot summer's day Larunda skipped off into the forest with the little old dog. The big bad wind huffed though the trees and set her raven locks circling.
Two hours later Prince came trotting back alone, his red leash dragging along behind him.
Ebony ran blindly through the woods screaming for her daughter . She called and called until her voice was gone. Mrs Rosethorn wrapped Princess in a blanket and led her home while most of Doomville spent the whole night and the following day searching. No trace was found.
The paramedics came and sedated Ebony, they took her away with them and kept her for three months. Ebony insisted on returning to the Palace. So Mrs Rosethorn let herself in with her key and packed up her granddaughter’s things and took them away with her.
More time went by and Ebony spent her days in silent watch for her daughter. Wherever she was her eyes had a way of drifting towards the woods, as if she could see for miles and through walls. She was always looking to see her daughter come walking along that worn earth track from the woods.
Late one night, princess Ebony awoke to hear the old brown toad singing. She ran downstairs and drove her hands into the soil. She dug and dug until her fingers bled and at last she lifted the fat old toad from his earth bed. Gripping him tight she followed the path bare foot down to the deep blue river.
Word around Strangeville is she was found just hours after she was reported missing. Word is she was lying face up in the river surrounded by dragonflies in every shade of blue. A crown of woven green reeds was on her head and her long black hair was decorated with water lilies. The clear water flowed across her face like a mask.
Word is the princess was a vision of loveliness and the truly odd thing... she was smiling.