Category Archives: #FridayFlash

Going North

It’s been a few weeks since I completed one of my stories from Chuck Wendig’s challenges. I hope this will be one I get back on the wagon with…

Carly sighed and stretched her legs. The humid air wrapped her like a cloying blanket, the damp spicy earth and salt air mixing in the almost non-existent breeze. Sitting in the slightly cooler shade, Carly looked out at flattened wave after wave rolling in off the muddy ocean.

She looked over her shoulder at the car, filled to the brim with her belongings. The little green Mazda was covered with unlucky insects and travelling dirt, but that little car had always helped her get where she needed to go.

Cold drink was a glacier, crawling down her throat. The bubbles made her burp. As she drove, the wind down, her hair whipping her face, she felt fit to burst. A yell came pushing it’s way out and rode out the window on the wind. She tingled all the way from the head to her toes.

The sun rode low on the horizon, and she was driving into the pinks and oranges. She took a side road to a national park, threw up her tent with no fly and lay looking at the stars. Forgetting to get groceries, she’d just eaten the last chips and a banana. Her stomach rumbled but she felt full in a way she hadn’t in a long time. It was nice to be alone.

It was still grey when she woke. She crept down to the rocky pool near the campsite, diving in, the breath sucked out of her and into the cold depths. She broke the surface gasping, her body on fire. Floating on her back, she watched the lazy spirals of leaves falling, the skitter of wind across the silvery pond. The water drowned out the sounds, except for the sloshing on rocks, at the edge, far away from her.  The water rocked her with a gentle, cradling hand and she let her mind drift away.

When the sky had regained its blueness, she swam to the edge and put her clothes back on, tramping back up to the campsite. The coolness of the morning was quickly burning off, the birds a harsh cacophony overhead, and she packed quickly.

Back on the road again, she watched the greens fade into dusty yellows and rust and the ghostly skeletal grey gums by the side of the road reached toward the sky. She drove on, the straight road all merging into one, the twists of a undulating snake she was riding northwards. She like to imagine in the heat shimmer that she was riding the rainbow serpent, back to the beginning, to a clean slate of a world.

That night she slept on a white sandy beach, tying a mosquito net to a tree, sleeping on top of the sleeping bag. The waves crept up onto the sand with a hiss, and the mosquitos head-butting the mesh and whining angrily outside. Carly wriggled her toes and sighed, her thoughts drifting away into the night.

There was a dusty sign swinging on a wire, which declared with spidery handwriting: Help Wanted. Carly turned down the dusty road, passing the trees hanging with greening mangoes. She smirked as testicles came to mind. She scooted in beside a big shed, parking the car beneath a scrap of shade from the shed.

“Hello?” Her voice echoed around the heavy machinery and the dirt floor.

She walked around and spotted a house, white-painted besa block with a tin roof darkly hinting at rust around the edges. The house had a few spindly trees casting some shade on the concrete verandah, on the white wooden steps leading up.

She knocked on an ancient screen door that banged loudly in its frame. “Hello?”

Out of the darkness inside loomed a figure with heavy steps; an older, slight man. “G’day.”

Carly stood back, suddenly nervous. “I’m here about the help needed. My name’s Carly Green.”

The screen door squeaked as the man stepped onto the verandah, the battered old Akubra resting about an equally lined face. “Don’t get too many women wantin’ to do farm work.” He stuck out a broad hand. “Jack Leary, pleased to meet ya.”

She shook the hand as she looked at the palest blue eyes she’d ever seen, crinkling at the corners. He regarded her with a wry smile. “You’re not from Bowen, are ya?”

Carly shook her head. “I’m…on a bit of a tree change, you might say.”

Jack nodded, and took of his hat, a hesitance plain in his stance. “It’s hard work on a farm Miss Green. I don’t have time for lollygaggers here.”

“I’m not a city softie, Jack.” Carly smiles. “I’m from out Armidale way originally.”

Jack nodded. “Wage innit much, but it’s enough to get by.” He looked past her to the car filled with junk. “I’m guessing, you might be needing somewhere to stay.”

When Carly nodded, he said, “Let me show you our old bungalow. Most folks get a place near town these days, but you may have to share later in the season.”

Carly worked hard for the Learys. Mrs Leary was the very picture of a farmer’s wife that Carly had in her head, until she was called out for a grief counselling session. Invited into the house most nights for meals, Carly browsed the bookshelf, learning that Mrs Leary had left an academic city life after falling in love with her once-young man.

The rhythm of farm life was easy for Carly. Up with the sun to a big breakfast, walking amongst the plants looking for the dark spots on leaves that signalled a proneto anthracnose outbreak. Jack had showed her the dark sunken craters of the advanced disease on fruit in the pages of a dusty and discoloured farmer’s magazine, reminding her of flesh eating diseases she’d seen from distant places.

She sprayed the trees with a fungicide, covered head to toe, fully protected. Jack hated the stuff, but he wasn’t going to let anyone else risk their health. She got good at throwing the net, covering up the shortened trees to protect them from the sneaky fruitbats and possums. At night, she would listen to them screeching with rage, unable to get at the fruit with the intoxicating aromas.

Picking time came, and that was what Carly began to love best. Her skin was brown, and she had a muscular frame from the heavier work. Other hands arrived to help; many new immigrants. To hear them sing in their own languages and chatter. She helped Jack organise them all. She loved the acidic tang of the sap as the stems were cut, that rolled down her arms and got sticky. Up on the ladder, with the leaves scraping together with their papery sounds, and the soft hum of others, she found the industriousness peaceful. Sometimes when the rain poured and the thunder rolled overhead, she’d take off to the beach and watch the ocean change, grow full of rage and thrash at the sand. She’d come back soaked, but feeling the ocean’s fury and the wind whipping around her made her feel alive.

The season finished, the other hands trickled away, returning to some other work, and she helped Jack pare back some of the trees for their next growing season. After a day of hard work, they reclined in wooden deckchairs beneath a tree, enjoying a cold beer, and Carly could feel the weight of a conversation coming.

“Jack,” she turned to him, catching a guilty look on his face. “It’s alright. I know the season’s over. It’s time for me to move on.”

That weekend, she packed up the car, took the last pay, and hit the road again. She looked at the photograph of her family, stuck to the dashboard, a little bit discoloured and faded from 6 months in the Queensland sun. She sat at the entry to the Leary’s farm, looking at the Bruce Highway in front of her, and tried to decide. South was back. North was…

She turned left. Home Hill…..100km. Carly smiled and wound the window down. She was still looking for herself, and for the moment, she still needed to be free.

This story is inspired by a favourite song of mine by a great Australian artist Missy Higgins, Going North. If you’d like to hear it, here it is!


Outside, the world rushed by, graffiti streaking the motion blur of grey. On the seat beside my friend, I was bored. Where was the adventure? Wearing multicoloured dots, a girl is destined for a wider world than the back and forth, the nine to five.

When my friend pushed her way to the door, her grey coat quickly lost in the crush of commuters, I couldn’t help it–my skirts trilled with excitement. The adventure begins! As the train pulled out from the station, now mostly emptied, I sat by the window, unobtrusively watching.

There was an elderly man looking my way, but I could already tell that he wouldn’t risk getting up. A few seats over, a young Asian woman in an adorable pleated skirt and high sock combo looked down at her phone giggling. She looked liked fun. Despite my repeated efforts of subliminal suggestion, the girl’s head remained bowed, her ponytails bobbing as she laughed. Ah well, her loss.

What do you mean I’m in a huff? All that from a rustle of my raiment? The indignant is all in your interpretation.

It’s just…I have to be invited along. I’m no unwanted tag-along.

After riding around for several hours, a woman got on her with her young daughter. Swinging her feet shyly, the girl looked at me. Trust me, adorable with a capital A.

“Look at the pretty umbrella Mummy.” I liked her even more. The child clearly had good taste. “Can we take it?”

The mother turned from her book, focusing through her glasses on the other side of the seats. “Hmm. I guess we do need an umbrella. Sure honey.”

Gingerly sliding from the seat, the little girl gently picked me up. Her hands smelt like honey and were sticky. I was placed reverently in the little girl’s lap. I could get used to this treatment.

When we disembarked, I was swinging by the little girl’s side.

“The zoo!”

Even I flinched at that supersonic squeal. The smell of the animals was certainly a giveaway. I love the zoo; all those interesting animals.

The sun was struggling through the clouds and I knew I would be put away.

Gently pushing at the edges of the mother’s conscious mind, I made her think of the sun on her darling’s tender skin.

“Why don’t you open the umbrella Madeline? You can keep the sun off.”

Good to know my powers of persuasion weren’t failing.

We walked around the zoo, admiring the beauty of all the animals. I liked the orangutans best; they always look like little furry Buddhas to me.

Madeline got really excited at the baby elephant. “Look Mummy. He’s really small and hiding.”

In all that excitement, she forgot to pick me back up again. As it was getting late in the afternoon, I was ignored. I didn’t mind.

It was almost closing time when she arrived. Pink, spiked hair and a smartly cut leather jacket. The twinkle of all her piercings caught my eye. But it was the sharp awareness in those grey eyes that made me like her. She didn’t miss a trick. With her long lens, she was taking shots of mother and baby, completely focused.

I almost thought I was going to have to trip her, so powerful was that focus. Eventually though, she picked out the polka dots. “Oh, you poor thing. Left behind.”

She brushed my dust off and tucked me into the side of her backpack.

Suddenly, a rock song blared beside me. With deft maneuvering, she flicked it into her hand, and started packing up her gear.

“Hey Jen!”

“Oh, that’s ok sweetie. I go tomorrow. But listen; I’ll be back from New York before you know it.”

New York! That was where a stylish girl should be. Now this would be the start of a grand adventure.


Prompted by the Cooperative Cliffhanger challenge at terrible minds. An original story with these characters was published with Readwave (read about my first experience here).


There was the click of heels on the floor, preceded by the creak of a unhappily yielding lock and the echoes of timid knocking. In the silence of the house, there was just the clicking of the clock hand and the scrape of shoes on tile. James followed the dark footprints on the cream carpet, his heart beating wildly, unsure of the emotions but riding the surging adrenaline. The tip-tapping coming from the kitchen was the staccato of impatience.

James turned the corner and stood, his beefy arms folded and head tilted with an attitude of disbelief.

“Well look what the cat dragged in…”

Liesel brushed back the long strands of her blonde hair, resurrecting the warm smile she’d been practicing for the last hour.


“How did you get in here?”

This was not the welcome she’d been expecting. Flippantly, she gestured at the key sitting in crumbs of dirt on the tabletop. “The spare. In the place we always left it.”

James grunted. He always forgot that damn key. He looked away, swallowing the rising upset, or the rising anger, he wasn’t sure which was winning the battle at this moment.

He turned back as Liesel, who at that moment wrapped her arms around him. He narrowly dodged a kiss aimed at his lips, and Liesel planted a kiss on the upsweep of his bristly cheek. A little miffed, Liesel stood back, crossing her arms defensively.

James stood looking back at her. She looked well, kempt and healthy. Not like she’d been living rough. Someone had cared for her. He was both gladdened and angered by that.

“Where have you been Liesel? We’ve been out of our minds.” Muscles reflexively twitched in his arms. James was thinking of all of the tearful phone calls he’d shared with Liesel’s mother, Jane; the way his heart rent every time, Jane could have been his own mother. Useless frustration at being unable to find her. Police officers who remained unhelpful and distant. What could they do with no leads and a history of disappearances?

“I can’t really talk about it,” Liesel cast her eyes down, a flash of silver and blue against her neck. “Didn’t you get my note?”

“Fat lot of good that note did.” His words were spat from his mouth with a violence that scared them both. Shaking, James backed away, balling his fists by his side. He could smell the musk of his own sweat.


“You were gone for three years Liesel.” The dull thud of his hand on the wall made her jump. The fever pitch of his voice . “Three years and not a word. We thought you were dead.”

Liesel’s eyes were big and blue looking back at him, like she always did in the situation where she’d done wrong. A child who never knew that her actions hurt other people. James was trying to breathe slowly, to stop the jittering of his nerves.

“But I couldn’t James. If I could show you what I’d seen. There are places in this universe

Harsh laughter caught her off guard. James’ expression was not sympathetic or engaged by her story. He was bordering on hysteria and his face was mottled with red spots. “Spare me your fairytales, Lis. I am done with your versions of truth.”

It was the odd ring in his voice, the bright hardness in his dark brown eyes that held her. This was not the man she had left. He was sharper this time, his bitterness honed on the years he’d wondered at her fate. All the time, she’d been gazing at all the wondrous beauty of the galaxy, of quasars and stars burning for thousands of years, of little green men and the ponderous shapes races took in worlds beyond their immediate solar system.

She had been chosen, and answered the call, not really counting on the personal toll of gallivanting across space. She had thought her James, with his seemingly endless patience and vast love for her, she had thought he would get it. And he’d been here. With all of the questions, and none of the answers.

“James, I am sorry.” Matching the sincerity of her feelings by attempting to connect with him, she lowered her head, tried to reach his eyes. “I didn’t think about you in this.”

His head shook sadly; this admission was far too late to make any difference to him.

“But you have to believe me,” she pleaded. “This was crucial, and beyond us as two little people.”

“It wasn’t to me.”

A slight tilt of his head. Liesel turned to see what he was looking at and James began to scoop up her items from the table, swiftly, angrily. “I need you to leave.”

As he loaded them into Liesel’s arms, she scrabbled to catch falling loose bits. “We need to talk.”

He spun on his heel and looked directly at her. “Yes. We do. Not today.”

His hand large and warm on her shoulder as she remembered, he guided her towards the door. Plaintive sounds came from her, but they weren’t forming coherent sentences, and Liesel was getting really frustrated with the way this was going. She wasn’t expecting the greatest homecoming, but she thought it would be better than this.

With a creak, the key turned in the lock, and Liesel looked up, catching the slump of James’ shoulders and his hissing sigh. For a brief moment, it was just a woman’s silhouette in the doorway, bright light from the outside flooding in. A soft click of the door lock and the three faced off in the dim, deathly quiet hallway.

“James?” Her voice was rich and questioning.

“Ella,” his reply was wary, “this is Liesel.”

The curls bounced as her head tipped to the side. “Ah. Liesel. A pleasure.”  Her hand, encased in an elegant suit jacket, extended in a gesture of warmth.

“And you are?” Liesel’s smile held, perplexed, as she returned the warm shake.

James cleared his throat, shifting uncomfortably. “Ella is my wife, Liesel.”

A steam clock stop

20130802-20130802-IMG_1638It was a quiet little street, until shortly before the clock was to strike the hour. People would be begin to gather, collecting in little pockets, creating eddies and disrupting the flow of traffic. Someone would dart across to the clock, caressing its brass casings lovingly, before posing so that a photograph would be taken. Some would climb to get a better look at the twisting balls that were the clock mechanics, this one here dropping to mark the minutes. Others would look to the lovingly hand-crafted face, at the delicate petals of flowers about the dial.

The loud explanations of the homeless guide drew in others as he went through the motions of explaining the steam clock and directing people to the steam vents; his voice lured those on the fringes, those curious to see what the fuss was about.

All around the clock, they would build, this solid wall of admirers. Excitement builds in them, flowing out, infecting the people around them. Like little lemmings, they stand at the foot of the clock, gathering to worship at the altar of beauty. Hopeful faces would turn upwards, looking to capture the first steam-powered movements of the whistles.

Around the corner, dressed in what once was finery but now bore the tell-tale fringing of wear, a man in vest and unravelling bow-tie waits, watching the deepening colours of the gathering energy cloud with puffy eyes. His hair is streaked with grey and unkempt, as if he has been sleeping rough for many days. He focuses on the guide in his shabby, lurid orange safety vest; his jumping about lighting up the cloud with flares of energy. The man watches, one hand restlessly fiddling with the handkerchief in his waistcoat pocket, the folded tip no longer stiff and fresh.

He waits for the swirling energy to peak, the strike is but seconds away now, the crowd waiting with baited breath of the first whistling note. At the first larger swirl of steam, the man whirls into action.

Moving faster than the eye can see, he whisks through the crowd, weaving between the clusters, gathering the glowing golden energy in his ballooning handkerchief, stuffing it in handfuls into his mouth. He leaves only as much as he can spare to keep the clock ticking and to time. He is not greedy and knows that next time he comes, it will be better if the clock chimes on the hour.

As the Westminster Quarters issue from the clock, the man walks away, his hair curling softly and glowing gold in the sunshine, his eyes bright and clear. His whole attire is immaculate and looks brand new, while a little old-fashioned. Under his arm, a large handkerchief is tied in a bundle which squirms noticeably.

A small child, holding onto her mummy’s neck notices and opens her mouth in a perfectly astonished O. The man winks at her, tucking his bundle more tightly under his arm, stealing away with the glut of energy that will fill him for days.

He muses as he walks away, that maybe he will stay in Vancouver for a while. After all, he hasn’t dined like this for many centuries, on a food so pure. He smiles. Perhaps the quiet life is the one for this energy eater.