More Free Stories

Here are four more free stories for you. Actually one isn't a story in the fictional sense; it's true. Well sort of. All men are liars, remember; particularly if it has anything to do with fishing.

The Dangers of Fishing

There are no pictures with this story. This is to protect the approximately innocent - namely me. The reasons will become obvious.

   It was September.

   We were tourists, a long way from home at a place called The Cascades. This is where LeFroy Brook takes a right turn out of south-west Western Australia’s Pemberton and stumbles down a series of granite steps. What had lured me there were reports of wily trout.

   The Cascades is a national park. We wandered. A wooden boardwalk skirted the lip of a pool and the track wound off up the hill, going I cared not where. I had eyes only for the pool.

   It was lovely. There was a rapid and its little tongue of white water swirled round a big drowned tree. I flicked out a rusty cast. I flicked out another and snagged the tree. A judicious pull from a different direction freed the lure. I looked up at my wife, who was watching with amused resignation.

   "It looks cold," I said. It had that heavy, viscous look that cold water gets.

   She nodded. "There's a lot of snags," she said.

   "You show a deplorable lack of faith in my casting," I said.

   "It looks cold," she said. She smiled and wandered off up the track. To nowhere.

   When she'd disappeared from view I bent down and put my right hand in the water and immediately lost contact with it. The air temperature was about 11 degrees celsius. I had no sensation left in my fingers so I couldn't say how cold the water was.

   A party of three tourists (all the locals were safely ensconced before fires at home or in the local hostelry) wandered in just as I'd snagged another log. I played out my delusion that I'd hooked an enormous fish but they weren't fooled; the stream wasn't that big.

   "Getting any?"

   I looked non-committal and they wandered off up the track. I reeled in a slimy branch and opted for a move away from civilization. Downstream, to be precise.

   I made my way around a dogleg bend and left the sight of the boardwalk behind.

   Ah, wilderness!

   The brook, cutting into the opposite bank, had excavated a gloomy grotto. The pool looked deep and a nicely sized, submerged log poked up through the surface. It only lacked a sign - `Salmo's Boarding Home.' The point of the bend was miraculously clear of undergrowth, with the sole exception of a slender sapling. I had otherwise unobstructed casting into that fishy corner.

   The first cast plopped into the current and disappeared from view as it was swept into the hidey hole. I engaged the gears on old trusty, started a slow retrieve and waited for the strike. It wasn't forthcoming. The second cast was treated with similar disdain by the trout (or trouts - why be parsimonious?) that lived in there. And so was the third. I tried a faster retrieve. I tried a different lure. Nothing.

   Finally it clicked. I wasn't letting the lure sink deeply enough - I'd been too worried about snags. To hell with it; fortune favours the brave.

   The cast did its neat little parabolic trick and the lure splashed down in the right spot. The current took it, away and down. I counted, and one, and two, and three. I started to retrieve and the line came taut. Water droplets started up from the line and it sang. Either I'd hooked a very large, inert trout or I was snagged.

   I said some silly things for a while and then my wife suddenly reappeared, downstream, on a brown, wooden bridge I'd simply ignored.

   I was a little brusque. "What are you doing here?"

   "It's a circuit track. Are you snagged?"

   I praised my wife's command of the vernacular and we made some ridiculous attempts to free the lure from this daddy of snags by her coming up the opposite bank and floating down small pieces, then bigger pieces and eventually quite large pieces of wood. Some of them even briefly caught the line but the current had them; they shimmied and waggled off downstream.

   "I'll have to go in and get it," I said.

   She offered some very sage advice. "Just break the line and leave it."

   Unfortunately, principles reared their ugly heads. There were, to the best of my knowledge, no crocs in this neck of the woods and I'd always maintained that a little swim for a lure was on, regardless of the lure's cost, so long as there was no prospect of being eaten. There may have been vicious marauding marron in this stream, it's true, but I tossed this aside as a wimpish cop out.

   I've forgotten to mention that I resembled the abominable snowman. We were riding a motorbike, and, as it was a tad cold, I happened to be wearing, from bottom to top, boots, explorer socks, long thermal underwear, jocks, a thermal vest, thick long sleeved shirt, a jumper, and my faithful waxed cotton jacket, not forgetting the pack on my back.

   "Anyone coming," I called to my trusty eyes.

   "Not a soul."

   I briefly wondered what had happened to the threesome and decided that they were enjoying the scenery at a leisurely pace. I could delay the inevitable no longer.

   I propped the rod against the sapling and began a sickening parody of hasty disrobing. I modestly decided to leave on the top half - the long sleeved shirt was long tailed and should protect my virtue, and the water out to where the line disappeared from view did not look that deep.

   The water was what Hemingway once called Moselle coloured. I stepped onto a barely submerged log that obligingly swung out from my stand more or less in the right direction. Even at four inches deep the water was cold. I didn't have feet any longer and my gonads were performing sumo wrestlers' tricks.

   The log took a wicked wrong direction. The water didn't look that deep and the bottom was clean white sand. I stepped off the log and went down. The water shot up past my legs, up past my waist and further. My shirt billowed and briefly opened around me and then was tugged on by the current.

   I beached myself back on the bank. I don't know how. My flesh looked waxy and dimpled, and my wife was beside herself on the bridge.

   I'm afraid I took the Lord's name in vain. I did a Spanish castanet version of "that's cold."

   "Bugger it," I said when I'd regained partial motor control, and stripped off all my clothing.

   My trusty eyes reported the all clear.

   So I flung myself back in, moondanced across the water, huffing and puffing, thinking warm thoughts, and duck-dove for the lure (all of two bucks worth). I flailed my way back ashore. I was beyond cold.

   A mournful hoot sounded through the forest and a tram hove into view. This was magic for the forest was thick and dense and damp with no room for a track, let alone a tourist tram marked Pemberton Rail. A red tram, packed with aged tourists. That should be pronounced age –ed. Was I hallucinating? No. I girded my loins with the first thing that came to hand (my sleeveless, thermal vest) and crouched behind the two-inch thick sapling. Keep going, keep going, I silently prayed.

   No one was on my side that day. The tram stopped, directly opposite me, about fifty metres up the other bank. The tourists sauntered out. They dawdled, they hovered, they moseyed. They sniffed the flowers, they admired the Karris and the Jarrahs. Then they were coming down the bank but not one of them looked at me. I was interesting native fauna and they were too polite to stare.

   They eventually found the path and wandered off in a slow group. I jumped for my clothing.

   Half clothed I risked a glance downstream. Two gentlemen were talking with my wife. They were pointing in my direction and there was a lot of laughter.


I haven't got any pictures and my wife was too broken up with laughter to think of taking one. I'm sure they exist though.

© Stephen Kimber, 2000

Head home

What if I Missed?

This story is  in Impact English 1, published by Nelson Thomson Learning.

When I was twelve I was kind of famous for a while for performing in a circus that had set up a summer season in our little town. Later on I was kind of famous for a little while longer for a different reason. It all boiled down to a question I asked myself one hot night in the circus tent in the Mullumbimby Showgrounds. I was holding a knife in my hand and the question I asked was… What if I missed?

   There were three of us in this circus act. We’d been hired to help hold the crowds by busking outside the main tent. Then we convinced the circus owner – Bill Hulls was his name – that we deserved a spot in the main show. It was good holiday money and we loved it. We called ourselves the Defoliants. Actually it was my old man who named us – he was a Vietnam Vet’ and people all over town knew there were times you avoided him, like any night he’d been down the pub, for instance, and that was just about most nights. It was my Dad who came up with our stage names for the act – he named us for poisons they’d used in the war. I was Agent Orange; my mate, Thera, was 245D and her cousin, Brett, was Glyphosphate. I gelled and coloured my hair a lurid orange and wore this orange G-string and an orange shirt with my stagename lettered on to it and an orange cloak. I looked bloody wacko and that was the joke, of course. You see, normally I’m a square, quiet, slide-away-into-the-background, book reading, find him in the library kind of guy. The kind of kids other kids look at and wonder how long it’ll be before they’ve been ‘initiated’. I had to be that kind of kid, given whom my old man was, having no mother, and a reputation as a brain.

   But there I was, every Friday night and weekend for nearly 10 weeks, acting like a geek, strutting around, and wolf whistling girls I wouldn’t have let my shadow fall on at school.  I don’t know, maybe a costume makes you feel like you’re immune to your normal self.

   What did we do? I swallowed swords to start with, Thera juggled, and Brett blew fire. Brett was pretty impressive and always got the biggest applause from the crowd and the biggest oohs from all the guys at the start, particularly when he bent over backwards and blew flames between his legs. But Thera and me were the ones that got the audience to stay in the end. I’d swallow a sword while Thera juggled three balls, then four coke bottles, then five flaming torches. Or I’d walk on my hands with Thera balanced on my feet and juggling knives. And all the time we’d be going on with what Bill Hulls called our patter. We’d start prattling on about death defying knife shows. Thera would drop a knife to me and I would flick out an underhand throw and land a quivering knife – drrrr-rr-rr – in a wooden barrel nearby.  Everything always went quiet for a second then, particularly if I’d been a bit risqué and someone was standing near the barrel. Anyway, people would listen to us gabbing away and we tried to be funny. We got a few laughs but the big thing was the knives. I got a kick out of watching their eyes follow that underhanded throw. 

   My Dad had made me learn to handle knives when I was four and he made me practise throwing proper knives every day. All the trees around our place up in the bush had gashes and puncture marks in them from having knives thrown at them most days. I was bloody good at it, too, even if that sounds big headed.   I could put a knife through the centre of a playing card at ten metres any time I wanted. My Dad said it was because I was ice headed. What he meant was I never really looked at what I was throwing at – it was all the same to me. No emotion. No asking – what if I missed?

   So Mr. IceHead Agent Orange would first of all toss knives at what Bill Hulls called an inanimate target. For a joke we sometimes dragged in ones that looked like, say, the Prime Minister or some smooth TV star. Next I’d get Thera to stand like a sucker with a watermelon or a Mango or an apple on her head and I’d put a knife or two through each one of those. Then Brett would hold a playing card very still against a post and I’d pin it there. Then he’d hold another and I’d pin that too, then he’d hold another and I’d pin that and then another, and another. We sped it up as we went– it was card, whish, thunk…. card, whish, thunk… card, whish, thunk - card, whish, thunk, card, whish, thunk.

  Then in would roll Thera, strapped to a wooden disk, being rolled along by Brett. As Thera rolled by…whish, whish, whish, thunk, thunk, thunk: a trio of knives thunked into the wood around her. Then another pass and another trio of knives. 

  Last of all we’d always ask for any brave members of the audience. For twenty bucks they had to stand and I’d make an outline round them with ghurka blades. They had to sign a paper saying they wouldn’t sue the pants off anyone if I made a mistake.

 

Then it was that night.

   When we asked for volunteers his hand went up. Dallas Thorn. I knew him straight away, though he’d been gone two years and he’d grown even bigger. Same leer, same ugly grin, same stupid expression. And I remembered all the times he’d haunted me – ducking my face in an unflushed toilet, blowing smoke in my face and calling my Dad names, the time he scribbled out my name on my exercise book in grade four and wrote ‘Vet Rubish’ in its place. The dork had misspelled it too.

  

The Ice shattered in my head. My hand started to shake and I noticed I was sweating. What if I missed? I looked at Dallas. He’d been crowing and raising his hands over his head like a triumphant boxer as he came up to the stand. Brett and Thera tied his hands and told him not to move but he was still yelling out to one of his mates that he’d not only win twenty bucks from this circus group but that his mate owed him twenty too.

   I felt icy again. I walked right up to Dallas and said – remember me? He had a blank look on his face. I said – I might look more familiar if I had my head in a toilet bowl. He said – I don’ know you. Vet Rubbish, I reminded him. He started to shake and I felt good.

   “What if I missed?’ I wondered out loud. I caressed his neck with a blade. ‘The Carotid artery lies close to this side of the neck. If you cut it clean you can bleed to death in under two minutes,’ I told him.

   He suddenly shrieked like a cut pig. He’s gonna kill me, he suddenly yelled. I’d started walking back. He is, he is… he blubbered. People had started to laugh. They thought it was part of the act. I hefted the first knife and made to throw. From close up I noticed a dark stain spread at the front of Dallas Thorn’s pants. I smelled his fear.

   Someone in the front row suddenly hooted. ‘Look at that,’ they cried, ‘ he’s wet himself.’ The audience went quiet. Then they laughed again, but this time it was at Dallas Thorn.

   I threw the first knife and it thudded into the boards close by his left eye. He fainted.

   I threw them all. All six, and made a lovely outline of a one-time bully. The audience applauded. I took a bow. I wondered if Dallas would pay up on his bet.
© Stephen Kimber, 2000

 

Shared Intelligence

This story is  in Shorts, published by John Wiley in 1999.

 

Dear Ms. Teichmann
I don’t want to seem impertinent or anything like that but I wish you had given me a chance to explain why I was late to class. You know: a “Come outside and tell me…” chance, instead you just held up a hand like a traffic cop and went ‘Uh-uh’ every time I tried to speak. ‘You can explain in a thousand-word response. On my desk before school tomorrow,’ you said. I am getting to that explanation, Ms. Teichmann, but I know you are a fair-minded person (I know I’ve been a minute or two late before, so you probably had good reason to suspect that I was going to attempt some wild story) and so I simply wanted to register that early protest. I could have saved myself an extra two hours or so after prep and saved you the trouble of reading this if you’d let me explain at the time. Anyway, here is the explanation, Ms. Teichmann and I just know you’re going to want to speak to me about it, anyway.

  I was, I’ll admit, running a bit behind schedule on my way to your class. The reason is ‘Looking for Alibrandi,’ which I needed for my English class that comes after biology. I would have been on time if I hadn’t been looking for Alibrandi. Someone had hidden it on me. That’s the honest truth,  Ms. Teichmann, and I had to find it. They’d dumped it in the bin at the back of E 10, by the way. When I reached in I caught the scar I’ve got on my right wrist on the edge of the bin and opened up a cut so I had to go and wash that. I mean, I wasn’t bleeding to death or anything but I didn’t want blood on my books. So into the loo I went. But at the most  I would have been maybe 3 minutes late.

 I was running, which I know is a demerit crime, but I didn’t want to be late, honest. I looked down at my watch and whammo; I crashed into this year niner coming down the hall from J Block. This is where it gets really crazy, Ms. Teichmann, and I know you’ll find this hard to believe but something about that kid spooked me from the moment he and I both said sorry at exactly the same moment. I’d never seen him before, not that I knew of, and I felt like he was someone I’d known all my life. ‘I was running late…’ we both said simultaneously. I felt my tongue choke my mouth ‘cause I hate people thinking I’m saying the obvious thing and the year niner laughed. God, that laugh, I knew that laugh. I was looking into his eyes and I was looking at a ghost, Ms. Teichmann. Honest, I knew I was looking at my younger brother. I shook my head. I thought I was going crazy.

 I know you will have looked at all your students’ records, Ms. Teichmann, and you’ll know I had a younger brother who was killed in a car crash three years ago. I know that those records probably tell you to watch me carefully because I went a little crazy after that, too. Honestly though, that laugh was my brother’s. The crazy thing is that he would have been in year nine now, too.

 And this year niner was looking at me as if he knew me. He knew that

 this was X files stuff too. So we had to talk, we had to suddenly spit it out.

 I told him about Benjamin. He’d been in the back of my Aunt’s car going up Punt Road and a  BMW had run the light. ‘Was it red?’ the year niner asked me, and I was blown out. Not only ‘cause it was a red BMW but also because Ben had always made a joke about red Bee Ems.  Anyway, they rushed Benjamin to the nearest hospital. He was coughing up great globules of blood. His insides had been ruptured but his head, his beautiful head; that was uninjured. That’s a very important thing to remember. (I’m typing this as fast as I can Ms. Teichmann because the complete amazement of it just spins me out still, so I might get a bit flowery.) The date was July 14. That’s Bastille Day. Benjamin died that night at 10:14 of massive internal haemorrhaging. I remember the way he used to laugh at lunatics in red BMWs. That’s irony.

 Now it goes completely off the planet. Danny, that was the year niner’s name, told me he didn’t remember anything before three years ago. He’d been in the hospital that same time. The very same date. He was dying and then, whammo, they whisked him into an operating theatre and suddenly he was on the road to recovery. The only thing was, they told him he’d have almost complete amnesia regarding his lifetime before the operation.

  Danny had strange dreams. He wandered around in rooms that weren’t in his parents’ house. He never recognized old toys and hated most of the games he’d used to like before he’d gotten sick. He said, and this will spook you, he said he never ever recognized the scent of his mother when she hugged him. He said he used to cry about it sometimes at night.

 You can see that this was a very intense conversation Ms. Teichmann. I mean, say this sort of thing to guys and most times you’d have a fist in your face. But I honestly felt like I was talking to someone completely familiar and so did he. Out of the blue I asked him some stupid questions.

 ‘What’s your favourite colour?’

 ‘Black,’ he said. That was Benjamin’s.

 ‘Ever fall out of a tree?’

 ‘Yep,’ he said. ‘When I was four.’ Then he swore, Ms. Teichmann, because he was completely amazed. ‘Hell,’ he said, ‘I just remembered that.’ You guessed it, Ms. Teichmann, Benjamin had fallen out of the apple tree in our back yard when he was four.

 He saw the scar on my wrist. ‘I remember how you got that sliding down that pile of rubbish at the tip and there was glass at the bottom,’ he said.

 He was exactly right.

 I won’t give you any more of the dialogue. I just wanted to establish what a crazy, fabulous thing this was. I mean, I knew I was talking to my long dead brother and so did Danny. And we worked out how too.

 You’re a biologist, Ms. Teichmann. Physically I’m sure it’s possible to exchange a brain. They exchange hearts and kidneys and so on, so why not the human brain. Everything inside Benjamin’s body was trashed by the impact with that car but his head, apart from a bruise or two, was fine. Remember. So was his brain. Danny’s brain was on the way out because of some disorder. He had a tumour, or something like that. The point was, well, I bet there was some brilliant surgeon in there with a theory that it could be done.

 So they did it. They had to lie to Danny’s parents and they had to lie to mine in order to do it and no doubt they probably lied to lots of other people too but I reckon that in that year nine boy named Danny you are looking at your very first brain transplant.

  That’s why I was nearly twenty minutes late to class, Ms. Teichmann. Honestly.   

(1271 words. Sorry, I’ve gone over the limit.)

© Stephen Kimber, 1999

 Head home

The Sun Rose in the West

A new story. Maybe it's a failure.

The sun rose in the west and coloured the hills. First they were velvet dark, not quite black, then burnt umber, flaming orange-red, limpid platignum. Light gathered. The hills became distinct, hard dry mounds that the sun reached from, taking hold of the day, making it hard and brittle too.

   A party of men came back into the landscape, carrying something wrapped in canvas. They stopped at a freshly dug hole. They laid the canvas bundle down, not too gently, and unwrapped it. It was a corpse, bones really, hard white chalky bones, a long-time dead. These the men put into the hole, one or two at a time. Then, using shovels and a mattock, they refilled the hole. It looked hard work. The last blows were struck with the mattock by the smallest – an Aboriginal - and the other men stood about, talking.

   They went out of the landscape and the sun sank into the sea in the east.

   Days unravelled. It became black or silver, depending on the state of the moon. The moon died and was reborn, any number of times.

    There was another man, dark skinned, suddenly there. He’d appeared as if by magic. He filled in a hole, using freshly turned earth. You could almost smell its age. He held his hat against his chest and may have been praying.

   The hole had been dug only a little while before. Another man had done it, white, lean, with a sandy beard. He said something to the coloured gentleman that made him wryly grin. Then the white man drank a liquid that made him lie down in the hole and sleep the last sleep.

  

If we could retreat with the man who lay down in the hole we’d find him in a number of different poses. He is American but not harshly loud like the stereotype. He often does not speak at all. He now lives alone. That wasn’t always the case.

   His name is Tom. Catch him on the jetty that obtrudes from his land into a river that is wild and teeming with crocodiles. He is wearing cut down jeans, unintentionally fashionably ragged just below the knees. He’d cut the bottoms off with rusty scissors because they kept picking up grass seeds. He is also wearing a tee shirt that falsely proclaims: ‘Don’t shoot me – I’m not American.’ He is a long way from home.

   He is fishing. An old rod and an Alvey reel and a live sardine Sisyphusing on the end, trying to entice a barramundi into striking. He’ll take a threadfin salmon. Or a grunter. His heart is in the fishing and nothing else matters for the moment.

   Behind him is a rammed earth house.

   Once you might have found him painting the eaves and window sills. If you did not know him you might have asked him had he built the place. He’d shake his head. Nah. He bought it; it needed some painting.

   He is not self-sufficient in the traditional sense. He has a good deal of money invested here and there from the decades he worked and from lucky stock options and from selling at the height of a real-estate boom in Cairns. If he needs something he buys it. There is a sizable boat (big enough to keep crocs at bay) pulled up against the jetty which he uses to cross the river to his car. He drives 12 kilometres into a smallish town where he can buy most of what he needs. Other stuff he orders on-line and has sent to the Post Office.

   Mostly he sits on the river. At the tag-ends of days he winds in his line. He cleans his catch, if luck was with him. If it wasn’t, he doesn’t.

   He isn’t self-sufficient but he is sufficient unto himself. His own company does not rile him and he fills the days.



Move him into the sun. He is rowing across the river. There is a great pain in him and he is going to ask about it. He thinks he knows what the pain is and where it came from.  His father died before he was fifty.



He has had no luck with women. You need luck, he’d once told someone. What’s the odds of one in a million meeting one in a million. Sure, there was always initial attraction. And plenty of women, don’t get me wrong. Tom is well read, quietly droll. He is a careful if uninventive lover. Considerate at one level. Though that fucking beard that he won’t shave off tickles.

   But there is always a shadowy sense of something not quite right. No hold on time, no… Aagh, she yells at him. She is grasping for what it is and this is all she manages: You just don’t fit somehow. I mean, I love the way you challenge the norm – I just wish you didn’t challenge it so much. With me. Is it too normal to love someone? At least to say it?

   Her name is Nellie. She is the woman he leaves behind when he moves to the house on the river. No, that’s not true. She has already left. There was another man. He offered more…what? Constancy? More conventionally temporal, less temperamental. Anyway, she goes, and though down the unwinding years she will think of what might have been she will eventually marry Mr Constant and not have too many regrets. And children; she has children with him.

 

So.

   He quits his job. He buys the rammed earth house across the river. He sets up a satellite dish and pays exorbitant fees for connection. There is no great drain on his finances. He designs a web site and names it Nada. He re-reads Hemingway. He wishes Nellie luck. No, really.



In the early mornings the sun makes mist on the river and he throws a circle of glinting raindrops from his net as he casts and seeks bait. Sometimes the pain sits in his chest like some crusty old relative threatening to write him out of the will. If it catches him mid cast he tries to convince himself that he is throwing the pain away. And… Sometimes this hippy trick works and he diminishes it. But… Sometimes he is too much the cynical Yankee from New York and he thinks he’ll go inside and have a joint.

   Lionel, an Aborigine, often drops in. Particularly when he’s smoking. Tom doesn’t know where he comes from. He’s just suddenly there. But it doesn’t bother Tom that Lionel is freeloading. They don’t talk much. Tom sometimes says something cryptic. Angered one day he rose on his haunches and threatened to hurl a machete – I’m fucking Gide and you’re my mother. Lionel smiled the smile he’d loaned to Mona Lisa.

   Lionel showed him how to throw a cast net and how to bait his hook with the small live sardines. Use a stringer, Lionel said. Tom found he loved to fish and he remembered the cold lakes high in the Adirondacks and his Dad fly-casting for trout before he finally went away when Tom was just eight.




The moon seems fatter and fuller over the river than anywhere he can ever remember. Curdled milk colour. The pain has taken up near permanent residence. He cannot throw it away with a circlet of raindrops anymore. He does not like what it is doing to him. Now he is permanently stoned.

 There are papers all over the desk. He has always been neat and methodical. He ties it all up, very adroitly, and says out loud that no smart-ass lawyer is going to punch holes in this. He has left something for Nellie and her future children.

 He walks out into the savannah and digs a hole.

   Time for one last cryptic remark. He drinks the liquid and tells Lionel: Sartre was right. I choose my moment. He lies down and then he dies. Lionel fills in the hole and goes away.

   The sun sets in the east.

  © Stephen Kimber, 2001

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