fictions

Co-Vid App

Unable to give a return address, I cell the tale of my successful Co-Vid application. On the dawn of the Ιός-era, I attended the birth of Corona, a name chosen in homage to my favourite beer. We clinked glasses over replays of Men in Black. The baby was quarantined. I interviewed in front of a panel of three who deemed my status as Other my best credential. The evolution of the Other is one we have all observed in recent times in sequential order from behind desks. As a non-permanent resident, I got the job of reporting on the future. No pay. Just the guarantee I won’t be deported. I should feel transported, but ground myself in the immediate future: fights over toilet paper, racist slurs, an emptying of department stores, cinemas, concert halls, cricket grounds, football ovals and swimming pools. In the foreseeable future I see bodies shutting down, schools closing and frontiers erecting electrified fences manned by machine guns. In the unforeseen future, I see Corona blooming into multiple metamorphoses past makeshift morgues and mass graves. My vision bears the mark of a sinister facsimile machine. It fails to encompass the global perspective requested of me so far.
– Dominique Hecq

Offensive

I sat at the table in the park alone. I had to be quick or I’d get in trouble. There was no one around, so I was being responsible-ish, but this was officially loitering and I’d heard the police were stopping and questioning people in the park. One woman and her kids were out exercising (a walk was within the rules) and they stopped to skim some stones across the surface of the lake. The police were on them in seconds. Executed, I think. Or perhaps deported, because someone had survived to tell the tale, after all.
The noises of the road and those of nature blended together. A random car. The sound of the waters gently lapping up against the lake’s shore. The flock of corellas that had settled back into the park. All the noises reached me and brought with them a sense of peace. I had been surprised to see the corellas. They had stripped this park bare a few years back. Most had left, some had splintered into smaller flocks. A bunch were killed when someone poisoned them. I read an article pinned to a local vet’s corkboard, where outraged citizens shrieked out, “Why would somebody do this?” and my first thought was, “I fuckin’ know why somebody did this”. The bloody things had nearly killed all of the trees, they shat on everything for a block east and west of the park and they were so goddamned noisy. They’d swept like a virus through the community. Until they were stopped.

I opened the crisp paper bag in front of me and removed the two containers. Chicken and sweet corn soup and salt and pepper squid.

Yum.

At the sound of the bag and the opening of the containers, the heads of a small army of seagulls turned my way. Now they had a dilemma. Two ten year old boys had ridden their bikes into the park and brought with them hot chips. Seagull heads whipped back and forth.

Chiiiiiiiiiips.

But then… Squid?

They could smell the fishiness.

Several of the little bastards broke away from the troop in the hope that I would be as generous as the chip boys.

They surrounded my table making little questioning sounds.

“Squ-ark?”

“Nah, mate. Mine.”

“Squa-aark…” That one wasn’t a question and sounded a little sad.

“Sorry, buddy.”

One of them glided up to the table and cocked his head at me, looking at me with one eye.

“Squaa-aark?”

“Let me ask you something,” I said. “How do you feel about being related to dinosaurs?”

He let out a low disapproving sound, turned his head all the way around so that he could look at me with the other eye and then turned away completely.

He hopped off the table, fluttered down to the ground and walked off to the boys with the chips.

From the ground another seagull looked up at me and made a noise, shaking its head.

“Was it something I said?”

– Luke Evans

I close my mind …

I close my mind to
the tsunami of deaths,
ask my breath
to triumph over
thoughts of loved ones ̶
now grains of sand on
Earth’s beach of history.

As I breathe my denial
into the leaves scattering
across my yard,
a butcher bird
snatches
a random bee
in my sightline.

– Elizabeth Colbert

Well Who Did?

My name’s Hawk. DCI Hawk, Homicide. Just a few questions to help us with our inquiries, if you don’t mind, sir.

Who did kill Cock Robin?

That confession from the Sparrow about his bow and arrow. Something fishy about that. According to our investigations he couldn’t hit the side of a brick proverbial at ten paces.
And the Fly who claims to be an eye witness. Load of cock and bull. We’ve turned up a whole flock of much more reliable witnesses who swear that Fly was buzzing around a pile of sheep poo all day. Nowhere near the scene of the crime. I smell a rat.

We’re still waiting on the final results of the autopsy, but our lovely Jen, Dr Wren MD (Pathol.) to you, is pretty sure that the arrow was inserted after death. So the actual cause of Cock Robin’s demise is still a mystery.

We had hoped to keep the whole thing quiet until we had more to go on, but somebody let the cat out of the bag and the media got wind of it. We’re well aware that the birds of the air are a-crying and a-sobbing because they’ve heard of the death of Poor Cock Robin, but that’s no help to us.

Now it seems, the whole thing’s gone viral and my team’s flat out taking calls about dead dickies from Hobart to Darwin. But that could just be a wild goose chase.

It’s a tough nut to crack, but we’re hoping you can help us. Sure as eggs is eggs we’ll get to the bottom of this case and the file won’t be closed until we do.

I am a freelance writer living in a small, but vibrant, town in southern Tasmania. Most of my writing is for children and I am published by Scholastic, also under contract to Hardie Grant Egmont. Every now and then, particularly now I’m in lockdown, I love to play around with new ideas and genres. Thanks for the opportunity!

– Ann Martin

Cover

I’m looking, with a kind of wonder, at two figures. They stand beside each other but at a distance marked by taped ‘X’s on a supermarket floor. One wears the crumpled loose pants and top of a hospital employee. She could be a nurse, a specialist or a cleaner, but right now she is a shopper – a plastic grocery basket on her arm. The other, also with a full basket, bares a strong resemblence to the politician who saw the bird virus as only an inconvenience until it was too late. Both figures are turned towards me. The distancing separates them. Separates them except for their wings, exuberantly coloured, which cross, appearing to touch, in the space between them. Frozen in that moment, they adorn the latest edition. The New Yorker’s cover artist has nailed it again.

– RH

World Wire Web

the wire web is humming
bringing stories from the world

bringing songs of
love and laughter
sorrow and pain
new and old
loss and gain

tight and taught
wildly woven
twisted tresses
tales of woe

staves of safety
poles of peace
parallel lines
of the lives we lead

tangled knots
distort and drain
muffled message
foggy brain

clear as clouds
soft and grey
this too will pass
one day

2.5.2020 : inspired by day 2 #keepwriting image

– Christine Goodman

Don’t Tell You No Lies

Doc lifts his banjo, clears his throat and thumbs a ringing chord. Next moment his right hand is flying, claw-hammer style across the strings. ‘The cuckoo,’ he sings, ‘is a pretty bird’…

Doc’s seen plenty in his time. His country has been at war with others and with itself. People against people, and against the world. He’s known famines brought by nature, and poverty brought by greed. He’ll take this bird thing in his stride. Come what may. Come what may. Doc’s banjo does his talking, with the lyric an extension of the humble slap and twang. He can’t sing without the instrument – comes out wrong. Though the words flow automatically with the strumming, he notices enough meaning in between delivering the lines, to chuckle to himself.

Come what may. Come what may.

The cuckoo song is old English. It tells a shifting story. It’s that elusiveness, maybe, allowed it to travel, and be reinvented, so many times in so many ways. But for Doc it goes no further back than the uncle who taught it to him one warm afternoon, when the crops were in, and the family had gathered to celebrate. Young Doc half forgot it, too, after that, then re-found it, so this version is his alone.

The bird of the song – the cuckoo – is both loved and reviled. Its call is the sound of the European forest, and said to be the first birdsong of spring. But it forces others to nest for it. As a species it achieves survival at the expense of others. Life’s a strange beast. Winners and losers. Come what may. ‘…I’ll bet you five dollars,’ sings Doc, ‘I’ll beat you next game…’

Doc finishes with an upstroke on a minor chord. His audience is the hedgerow. His roadside is dusty. Sun’s going down slow. He’s a long way from where the worst of the crisis is unfolding.

– Richard Holt

Beware the Ides of March

Crepe myrtles flare in the street. A flyscreen screams shut. The heat hangs around like smoke. Thunder rolls. Hallucination? There are no clouds. Day of reckoning. I walk the darkness of my mood, snatch a red rose from a smouldering bush, a bottle of straw-coloured wine we won’t drink in the other hand. Jasmin veils. A passion fruit vine bursting with blooms. Clouds cover the sky. Sheets of rain. The word apocalypse derives from the Greek ἀποκάλυψις meaning revelation. While end of time millennialism promised an irrevocable accounting of good and evil, what is to come will not supersede the chaos of revelation. What is to come is a looming absence. A glowering fire hidden from view.

– Dominique Hecq

Little corella: Cacatua sanguinea

Little corellas are ubiquitous birds we simply take for granted. They have greatly extended their range (the long-billed corella has not fared so well). Much maligned, especially where they have invaded suburbia, they are highly intelligent, exist in close knit, co-operative flocks and pair for life . During Covid-19 I have greatly enjoyed stories of wildlife reclaiming human territory all over the world – from the goats of Llandudno to the cougars in Santiago. Who knows, Covid-19 could have been a corella plot…

So many of you hated us, mocked us, shot us. Now we rule your universe, gathering more and more of you to our flock as every day passes. The baleful blue-ringed eye, the stubby crest, the hooked beak with the flash of pink above – now you regard your newly won avian features with pride. You preen in your mirrors, you shuffle on your perches, you flock at sunset, joyously squawking the miracle of your survival.

How you have suffered to become like us. First the coughing, fighting for air, clawing at the sheets. That gave you your dexterous claws, viewed with horror by the operatives in their PPE. Hastily banned to secret wards no-one could visit, coughing then destroyed your voices. As a consequence, gone were your dissembling words, no more lies and spin. You no longer needed lips to speak so they keratinised, becoming hooked beaks, perfect for digging roots and bulbs. As you lay dying, the chosen amongst you were visited by one of our viral ambassadors, conferring upon you wings and the power of flight. You revelled in the power of that first joyous flight from the hospital window, thermals holding you up, marvelling at the power in your muscled breast and flight feathers.

Who were the chosen ones? Those of you that saw us for our worth, as part of the bigger picture. You recognised our intelligence, our charm, our ability to live a co-operative life and our faithful, life-long partnerships. We had observed for years how humans were losing those attributes.

Like you humans, we too loved to travel long distances, but we weren’t always welcomed on arrival. In your eyes, we made a mess, we defecated, we stripped trees. For years we had watched you in the desert, doing the same. However, you had the power to develop management strategies, moving us on with lights, clappers and worse – poisons and guns.

But we wanted to escape the desert heat and fly to the coast, before the reef bleached, the oil companies took over and the sand scoured away. We wanted to see the forests that fringed the turquoise ocean before they burned. So we launched our viral plan.

A year it has been now. Our numbers grow exponentially. The air is clear, the streets are empty, the humans that survive live quietly, simply. They take delight in the important things and see nature all around.

– Sue Aldred

Dispatches from Solitary

Day 4

Over the back fence, Neil is stacking enormous cardboard boxes on his verandah. Large black letters labelled “Acme Quarantine Company”. Through the bifold doors of his new extension I have a panoramic view of more boxes and no furniture. It’s late and dark but his house blares with electricity as he unpacks. Dishes accumulate in my sink. I should wash them.

Day 5

More boxes on Neil’s verandah and now on his lawn. He appears to be constructing something quite big. I can see long metal struts laid out on the floor in the back room, and a chair-like thing in play colours, bright and unapologetic. He’s at it day and night. More dishes.

Day 6

Neil’s building a ferris wheel! It must be awkward for him, with those yellow shoes on, shoes bigger than flippers. I can see him clearly because the red nose in the middle of his pale painted face has a flashing light. The ferris wheel is high. Its top disappears from view into some other realm. Where did he find the extra space? Did he order boxes of extra space from the Acme Quarantine Company?

Day 7

I’ve been hearing whoops and hollers from Neil’s house all day. The ferris wheel came with a calliope, and a cacophony of tinny organ music spreads through the neighbourhood. It competes with his whoops and hollers as he travels in circles, disappearing from view into the mysterious realm and then falling towards the floor to repeat. Neil has an endless supply of motivation.

Time for bed, after I water the wilting pot plant on my book shelf.

(Written as a response to the various things people are doing to keep themselves occupied and in good spirits during isolation. Some of us are better at it than others.)

– Beth Kirkland