Saturday, 5 June 2021

The Hunter

 Content warning: Hunting, animal death

*

The officer slides the hot chocolate to me across the metal table. His eyes are sympathetic, but I don’t know if this is one of those things to trick you into confessing to something you didn’t do.

“Look kid, I know you’re in shock, but we really need to know what happened. Do you think you can help us out?”

I pull the blanket closer around me. It smells like someone’s dog has been using it as a bed. Maybe the police dogs were sleeping on it. I think of Skip, his warm fur and smelly dog scent. An image of his body flits before my eyes and I smell the bitter tang of blood in my nostrils.

“I didn’t want to go,” I whisper.

*

I didn’t want to go on the trip but dad wouldn’t hear of it. Hunting, fishing, violent sports, getting drunk: They were all his idea of what it meant to be a man. I guess that’s why mum and dad weren’t together anymore. Mum was more like me. We didn’t like movies where the dog died or dad’s drunken friends. Once dad finally moved out I stopped eating meat, except for when I was at his place and he made me. The only good thing about dad’s place was Skip. I really missed him after dad moved out.

Dad made me do a lot of things I didn’t enjoy, like watching boxing games with his drunken friends. He also made me try beer once, but I threw up all over him later that night, so he said he’d wait until I was older and not to tell that mother of mine.

I begged mum not to make me go on the hunting trip with dad but she said she couldn’t interfere, it was his weekend with me and I was still a minor. He was still my dad. I said I wished he would die. Those words still haunt me.

Dad picked me up Saturday morning. The sun hadn’t even risen yet but he wanted to get there early. Hunting trips were the only time he seemed to be able to get up before noon. It was a chilly morning so mum had already dressed me in my bright orange “don’t shoot me” jacket. I got into the car and Skip leaped between the seats to greet me, licking my face with his rough tongue. I scratched him behind the ears and he rumbled appreciatively.

“Get in the back, Skip,” dad snapped, and Skip obeyed, curling up on the back seat. He was always a good dog. I put on my seat belt and we pulled out of mum’s driveway. I could see her waving in the rear view mirror, slowly growing smaller as we drove away.

We reached the camping ground by mid-morning and I helped dad put up the tent. I was pretty good at that. I wished we were just camping together, father and son. None of dad’s friends, no hunting, just marshmallows and stories by the campfire. I’d still be cold but I wouldn’t be as miserable.

Dad’s friends got there around midday. There was already beer on their breaths. We helped them set up their tents and then set out hunting. I don’t want to go into detail, but they killed a couple of deer. I hoped they’d stop after that, but they said they wanted one each so they could hang the heads on their walls. They laughed at how much their wives or girlfriends would hate it.

We went back to the camp as darkness fell and roasted some of the deer meat over the fire. Even though I felt crappy eating it, I didn’t say anything, I knew dad’s friends would just call me a cissy and dad would get mad. Dad and his friends drank beer and sang dirty songs. 

When dad was so drunk he nearly fell into the fire, I helped him back to our tent. We lay in the darkness, Skip between us. I buried my face in Skip’s fur, breathing in his doggy scent like I used to do when mum and dad were fighting. The sound of dad’s friends laughing outside faded as I fell asleep.

The next day, dad and all his friends were hungover but I knew he’d be mad if I didn’t wake him. I made porridge in the pot over the fire while the men were complaining about their throbbing heads. Dad actually said it wasn’t bad, which was rare praise. After breakfast the men got their packs and guns while Skip slurped up the leftovers in thirty seconds flat. Then we set off into the woods again.

The woods felt different today. I never felt good about going in there and killing wild animals, but even dad and his friends seemed uneasy. We walked slowly, flinching at every stick that broke under our feet. It was so quiet, no birds singing, no leaves rustling in the breeze. It was as if the woods knew what we were here to do and they didn’t like it one bit.

We didn’t see one animal all morning. Dad and his friends were grumbling as we came back to the camp for lunch. We ate sausages and I tried not to think about the fact that the sausages were made of dead cows, and we’d be killing more animals later today if the men got their way.

After lunch, we set back out into the woods, cold and grumpy. Part of me was hoping the whole trip would be a bust. Sure dad would be cranky, but at least no wild things would have to die for his entertainment.

Finally, Skip ran off barking. We followed to find a huge buck. I whispered an apology under my breath, knowing I could not stop what was about to happen.

The men fired. The buck gave a cry of pain. Wounded, he took off into the wood, leaving a trail of blood behind. The men whooped and gave chase, Skip running ahead, baying at the scent of blood. I knew Skip couldn’t help his nature, so I didn’t blame him, but I sure blamed dad and his friends. I trailed after them slowly, feeling sick to my stomach.

When I entered the clearing, I was far behind the rest. They were already in the middle, standing around the fallen stag. They were laughing, posing with its corpse. They didn’t see at first when the creature came out of the woods.

I call it the creature… I don’t know what it was. It was well over seven feet tall, wide and heavy, covered head to foot in long, tangled fur. It walked on its hind legs, like a man, but it was clearly not human. When it saw my father and the other men, it howled and ran towards them. They staggered back, staring in horror. A couple of them fired, but that didn’t stop the creature. It slammed into them.

I closed my eyes, but I heard the thunk of bodies hitting the ground and the sound of screaming. When I opened my eyes, the ground was red with blood. I expected the creature to be howling, showing its fangs, beating its chest like in an old movie. No, it was sitting on the ground, holding the body of the stag, and it was crying. It whimpered quietly as tears stained its matted fur.

I hid in the bushes a long time, waiting for it to leave. After a time, it stopped crying. It dug a hole with its front paws and buried the deer and the men. It even buried Skip. Then it turned and plodded away. Once it was gone, I ran to the nearest road and flagged down a car.

I don’t think it was a bad creature. It seemed sad. We were the intruders. It was just protecting its forest and its animals. My dad and his friends were hunters, but so was the creature. And it was the better hunter.

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Blacktown City Medieval Fayre

Me with Sabrina the Wedge-tailed Eagle and handler

The Blacktown City Medieval Fayre took place at Nurragingy Reserve on the weekend of the 22nd-23rd of May. Run by volunteers from the Blacktown City Council, and many re-enactment groups, it was a large and enjoyable event. 

There were a range of stalls selling food and medieval wares, and many demonstrations by re-enactors. The highlight were the jousting, fighting and the birds of prey demonstrations.

Unfortunately I was only at the event for about three hours and was not able to see everything, but I was able to catch these three:



One of the lady knights

The jousting involved several trained horsemen and women who are professional jousters and participate in competitions around the country, some even overseas. There were quite a few broken lances, and it was a very exciting event to watch. The knights and ladies also demonstrated their skill at tasks such as collecting rings with a lance and hitting the quintain while riding past.


The Peregrine Falcon and handler

The bird demonstration involved three birds of Prey: a Peregrine Falcon, an Owl and an Australian Wedge-tailed Eagle. Birds of prey were used to hunt in Medieval days. Depending on your rank, you were allowed to own certain birds.

Sabrina the Wedge-tailed Eagle was particularly eye-catching. She is 25 years old now. I saw her at Ironfest back in 2013. In the display, she hunted a fake fox. She has a wingspan of two metres and is absolutely a fierce predator. In captivity they can live to around 40 years old.



The Scy'kadia LARP group preparing for combat

At the end of the day, the different styles of re-enactment fighting were demonstrated by three groups. There were the Full Metal Weapons group who use completely historical weapons and armour. They fight more slowly and do not make full contact as their weapons could cause serious injury.

Second were the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) who used rattan weapons. These weapons are not deadly, but still pack a punch. They also used padding to dull the blows a little. They fight fast, using realistic historical fighting styles. Because there is no metal, no one is going to lose a limb.

Last but not least were the Live Action Roleplayers (LARPERs) from the group Scy’kadia. These fight in character as their LARP characters, and often add flair and magic to their fights. Their costumes were a real pleasure to see. I especially liked one person in a brightly coloured witches hat, fighting with a magical staff. They use hit points in their games, so after five hits, the character is dead.


A barbarian and a knight battling

There were many other things I did not have time to fully investigate. There were weavers and makers of historical weapons, a blacksmith, who unfortunately was waiting for their forge to heat as I went by. There was a hangman “hanging” people and talking about medieval torture, and some kind of medieval doctor who looked rather untrustworthy.

There were re-enactors of all sorts demonstrating in smaller fields, such as the Roman Legion VI Vitrix and a Viking group. There were also representatives from Stoccata sword fighting school showing off their skills.

Among the guests of the fayre most made an effort of dress up, with a lot of peasant and medieval dresses, hooded cloaks, and quite a few LARP costumes that I wish I had photos of. 



Legion VI Vitrix training for combat

There was also axe throwing, archery, and children’s events such as a circus school, jumping castle and camel or pony rides.

Many thanks go to the organisers, volunteers and Blacktown Council for holding this event. Hopefully I will be able to attend again next year!

Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Wingless: A New Last Chapter for The Six Swans


I miss my wings. I miss the feeling of soaring through the sky untethered, the wind ruffling my feathers. 
The witch thought she cursed us but really she set us free. Free from rules and expectations.  Free from the human forms that bound us to the ground.  

We were boys when we were turned into swans. Now we are still boys in the clumsy, over-large bodies of men. Everything feels wrong. In the years we were birds, our human bodies somehow kept on growing without us. They are foreign to us now, covered in pimples and body hair, filled with strange urges. 

How can we tell our sister she didn't set us free, rather chained us back to the earth we had escaped?  She sacrificed so much. She was nearly burned alive. Her feet still bear thick red scars from the flames and she stumbles when she walks. I don't know how she could ever forgive her husband but she says she has. I know when he sleeps at night she still wanders the graveyard where she used to pick nettles. I suspect that she, too, feels caged. 

Perhaps our youngest brother had it the hardest, left with one wing, a constant reminder of what he had lost. He was unable to be fully human or fully swan, an object of whispers and stares. He threw himself from the battlements a year ago. I choose to think he was trying to fly rather than the alternative. 

Our eldest brother pores over books of forgotten lore, trying to find a way to turn us back. I am torn between my desire to fly again and the knowledge it would break my sister's heart. 

 *

One Autumn, our middle brother comes to us all aflutter. He has an idea. We all listen, shocked at what he has to say. It is a bold idea and a scary one. We will seek out the witch who turned us in the first place. Our stepmother.

We were boys when we last saw her, and back then she filled us with fear. She was beautiful and terrifying. She took our childhoods from us. Now we are grown, there is nothing we fear more than living out the rest of our lives like this, wingless and full of regret. 

We set out the next day, packs slung on our backs. It is a longer, more onerous journey by foot. All along the way, we search for some kind of familiarity, some nostalgia, but find none. Here are the woods where we played as children, here is the tree where we picked fruit, here is the castle where we lived. Yet we feel nothing, nothing.

There are new children playing amongst the fruit trees and the garden beds now. At first we wonder if we have come to the wrong place until we realise one of them looks just like our father, and that girl there, she looks like our stepmother if she was young and innocent.

It is our stepmother who opens the door. She is older than we remember her, less beautiful. Less terrifying. We tower over her now, and she is slightly stooped, strands of grey in her hair.

“I was wondering when you would turn up,” she says, ushering us inside.

We sit at the big wooden table in the kitchen.

“I sent the servants away, and told the children to play outside,” she says. “I suppose you’re here to kill me.”

“Those children, are they our brothers and sisters?” one of us asks.

“They are, your father’s and mine. We were happy together, you know. He passed away three winters ago, although I used every skill I had to try and save him.”

It is our middle brother who speaks up, “we are not here to kill you. We want you to turn us back into swans.”

Our stepmother throws her head back and laughs. Once, that laugh struck fear in our hearts. Now, it is just the cackle of an old woman.

“I turned you into swans to be rid of you, and now I find that I gave you a gift. Well, I must be the worst witch there ever was! I’m afraid I have very few powers left now. Every year I grow closer to death, I grow weaker. I have only a little power now, I use it every Winter Solstice to cast a small protection spell on my children. My powers are not enough to turn even one of you into a cricket, let alone a swan.”

“So that’s it? We are stuck this way?”

“Not necessarily. There is residual magic in all of you now, from your transformation. I will give you the spell. If all of you come together on the first light of Winter Solstice it might be just enough power to work.”

We leave the house of our stepmother with an old scroll that holds all our hopes, and berry scones from her oven. We never expected our relationship with her to end like this.

When we get back to the palace, our sister is waiting for us, “I know you’re up to something, you had better tell me now!”

“We don’t want to hurt you, sister, but we want to be swans again…”

It is our sister’s turn to laugh. “Do you know how jealous I always was of you, being able to fly? Well, did you get the spell?”

“We did. We will try on Winter Solstice.”

“Good, my children and I are coming with you. We will be swans too. Free of this sham marriage I never asked for and a husband who would happily see me burn. Finally, I will fly!”

What argument is there to be made? She suffered the most of all of us, losing her children, nearly being burned alive by her own husband, then expected to carry on as if nothing had happened. She, more than the rest of us, deserves to experience the open skies.

I think of the Winter Solstice, only a month away. On that day, if luck and magic is on our side, we will take to the sky once more, five of the original swans, our sister and her children. Eight swans, flying through the light of a winter dawn. 





(c)opyright Laura Morrigan 2021

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Sweetie

“Sweetie!” she calls, and I come, racing across the swamp, my feet leaving no footprints in the marshy ground. I run into her arms, she holds me tight. We dance among the water and weeds.

Mama and Sweetie, together for always.

I was born in the Sweetgrass Swamp, in a house on stilts, to my mother, Dearest. The swamp was our home, and we spent our days and nights there. We knew which plants were safe to eat, which rats and frogs were good when cooked over our little fireplace. I never saw anyone but my mother, and she rarely saw anyone but me. Every now and again, she would need something the swamp couldn’t give us- perhaps our clothes were more holes than fabric or we needed more fishing line to catch mudfish. Mama would pack up some of the cure-alls she made from plants and swamp creatures and head off to the nearby town to swap them for what we needed. I would beg her to come, but she never let me. So I would lie on our mattress by the fire, watching the flames burn down all night, waiting for her to return.  

As I grew older, I tried to follow her out of the swamp, but familiar paths would become unfamiliar, trees would grow where there had been none before, and I would find myself up to my waist in swamp water. Mama had her ways. I would turn, muddy and grumpy, and stomp back to the house. By the time mama got home, my anger would have gone, and I would just be happy to see her.

The first time I met a man was the day they came to throw us out. There was a group of them, standing on our veranda. “Now Ms Lee, you have to leave now! We’re developing this whole damn swamp, and staying put won’t help none!”

Mama came to the door, arms crossed, scoffing at the men, “You men are fools! This swamp has been here since the beginning of time, it’ll be here after you’re dead!”

“Is that a threat?” I heard one man mutter, “I heard she’s a witch!”

“Shut up, she can’t hurt us! Grab her!”

They slammed the screen door open, grabbing Mama. “Sweetie!,” she screamed, “run!”

I ran into the swamp. But it didn’t help. They were grown and a lot faster.  They grabbed me, there was a scuffle, then I was watching from way on high. They were carrying a body that looked a lot like mine, laying it down on veranda. Mama was screaming my name.

After that, I went away for a while, I don’t know where. When I came back, Mama was still on the veranda, hugging that body that looked like me. She was crying my name, so I came to her, and put my hand on her arm. She looked up, “Sweetie! You came back!” She threw her arms around me but they went right through me.

“Come on Sweetie, let’s go to bed.”

We lay down on our mattress, and she put her arms around me, although she couldn’t seem to hold onto me any more, and her arms just went through. We lay like that all night.

It took me a while to realise I was a ghost. Maybe when you’re not solid anymore, it’s harder to think- your thoughts aren’t as solid either, they’re always drifting off. I lived in that house with Mama, occasionally drifting off, I don’t know where. Sometimes, I just wasn’t there, but I always came back when Mama called my name.

One day, I was brought back from wherever I went to by the sound of voices. Padding through the swamp, my feet floating just above the mud, I found myself at the edge of the trees, looking out at a couple of children- two girls around my age, I thought. One was a little larger, the other a little smaller. They wore neat, pretty dresses, much fancier than anything I ever owned. I called out to them. They smiled and ran towards me into the swamp, mud speckling their pretty dresses.

The girls and I played together often after that. The next time they came they were in dungarees and old flannel shirts, obviously their mama didn’t like them getting their nice things dirty.

I loved Mama more than anything, but it was such fun to play with someone my own age.  We would run through the swamp, playing hide and go seek. I would teach them to catch frogs and mudfish, although they refused to catch the rats and would shriek when they saw their little furry bodies scampering by.

One day, one of the girls fell into a deep part of the swamp. We tried to pull her out. Of course, I was no help, my hands just went through her. I remember she screamed as the mud sucked her down, then there was just the mud bubbling and the sound of the other girl’s sobs. She left eventually, trailing home to tell her mama the terrible news. 

I waited there, waited as the day faded into night. I knew Mama would miss me but she would not worry. Nothing could hurt me anymore. I waited, listening to the small things scurrying in the night. 

It wasn’t until the first light of dawn when the girl awakened. She rose from the swamp, head first, floating out of the brackish water. Like me, she bore no mark of her death. She was as she had been, a pretty child with long plaits and a worn pair of dungarees. She looked at herself, “oh, thank the lord, I am alright!” She started away across the swamp, not even paying me any attention. I sighed, following after her, she did not notice that our feet never touched the mud or that we left no prints behind us.

I did not follow her to her house. It was outside the swamp. I knew that her mama wasn’t special like mine, she wouldn’t be able to see her. Her sister probably would, she had been able to see me after all. She would be frightened, and maybe, eventually, she would come back to me. She would want answers.

I waited. Night fell again. I thought I should go home, Mama must be missing me. Before I could leave I saw the bright lights moving towards me. It was a group of men and women, carrying lighted branches. They came to the edge of the swamp, and held the branches up the the trees. The trees sputtered, fought, but they set alight. The fire would gutter when it reached the wet ground at the bottom of the trees, but their crowns burned merrily, passing the flame between them.  The fire passed from tree to tree and soon half the swamp was ablaze. The ground was covered in rats and frogs, fleeing the flame. The flame that moved towards our little house.

I fled before the flame, calling for Mama. I saw her come onto the veranda. 

“Mama, they set the swamp on fire!”

“I know, sweetie. A little girl drowned last night in the swamp. They want to make sure it will never happen again. They’re going to drain the swamp.”

“But Mama, where will I go? I can’t leave the swamp!”

“It doesn’t matter, Sweetie. Either you will vanish or you will remain here. Either way, I’ll be with you.”

“What do you mean, Mama? You have to leave!”

“Look at me, Sweetie!”

The flames were all around us now, the house was on fire. Mama was a shining light. I could  see the fire through her.

“It’s OK, Sweetie. We’ll be together for always now. Come here!”

She wrapped her arms around me and this time I could feel her arms. I hugged her tightly. My arms didn’t go through her.

The swamp survived the fire. It survived their attempts to drain it. The swamp always goes on, as do we. I play with the ghost of that little girl, but I always listen for the sound of Mama calling me. I love Mama more than anything.

“Sweetie,” she calls, and I come, racing across the swamp, my feet leaving no footprints in the marshy ground. I run into her arms, she holds me tight. We dance among the water and weeds.

Mama and Sweetie, together for always. 


Copyright Laura Morrigan 2021

Saturday, 20 February 2021

Tarnished

They call it an Antique store, although it has had many names over the years. A Curiosity Shop, The Wunderkammer. I remember a time before this shop even existed, before the antiques were even created. The people who work at this store are less than children to me, insignificant. I will still be here when they are dead beneath the soil, or ashes in a pot somewhere. Humans are ephemeral, I go on.

I am tarnished now, you can barely even see the shadow of a reflection in me. Part of me hopes that means the spell is wearing off, that one day I will simply be no more. The other, more intelligent part of me thinks it’s just because no one knows how to take proper care of a mirror these days. The Queen used to have her servants clean me daily with soft cloths that tickled and polish that stung in a good way. Like how men say aftershave feels. But the queen is less than ashes now, no more than a story, a cautionary tale. And yet I linger on.

 The bell dings merrily and the shop is flooded with fluorescent light. Marla is here for a new day of work. She is short, with dark, cropped hair and small features. She reminds me of a mole, tiny and hardy, easy to overlook. She doesn’t do well in a world that favours tall, curvy women with luscious locks. Maybe it’s nice to be so forgettable. No one will try to kill you for your beauty, as the Queen did. So many maidens, slaughtered for their pale skin, red lips and shapely bodies.

 Marla is unaware of all this, of course. Unaware of me. I am just another tarnished object in a store full of things that need a good polish. Marla goes around with her feather duster, brushing at things, dust filling the air and resettling somewhere else. I sneeze as she runs the duster across my surface. For a minute she stops, looking around as if she hears something, then she shakes her head and moves on. I stare in astonishment. After all these years, did someone hear me?

 In the old days, after the Queen, I passed from hand to hand, an object of shock and delight. After a while, I stopped speaking, sick of the freakshow. Eventually, I was left in a cupboard somewhere. Decades passed and I began to long for someone to talk to. But the world had moved on. Less and less people believed in magic, even fewer had the spark. When I was found again, I shouted at the top of my voice, but no one could hear me. Eventually, I gave up. Could this mole girl really have the spark of forgotten magic in her?

 The doorbell dings. A girl comes in, hair elegantly curled, Vintage Biba dress from the 1960s. She smiles a perfect lipsticked smile. “Oh, I just adore old things, don’t you?”

 If I could, I would cringe. She’s the kind of girl who doesn’t appreciate the history of old things, just how cool owning them will make her. She toddles into the store in chunky platform sandals she clearly doesn’t know how to walk in. So far, she has managed not to knock anything over. She examines an old book of fairytales, I catch a glimpse of an etching of the Ice Queen, glamorous as a fashion model in glitter and fur. That wasn’t what she looked like at all. I could tell this girl, if I deigned to talk to her. Not that she would hear me.

 After a long time, I came to be in a pretty little house in Holland. It was a house split in two. Two upstairs, two downstairs, with a little roof courtyard up the top. In it lived a girl and a boy who loved each other. The Ice Queen took the boy away. I’m sure you have heard the stories. They say it was a shard of glass in his eye, but I knew better. Once again, against my will, I came between them. Beauty is a terrible thing. And the boy, more beautiful than the plain girl, began to long for a beauty to match his own. When I showed him, much against my will, the Ice Queen, he knew he had to have her. I watched through the window as she came to take him away. She was all edges and sharpness, made of razor edged snowflakes and icicles that cut. He bled as she took his hand in hers, but he held on, enraptured by her icy beauty. There wasn’t a happy ending. They found him next day in a snow drift. The girl moved away, I never saw her again.

 I wouldn’t mind if the Ice Queen took this girl. She’s looking at the crockery now. “You break it, you bought it!” I mutter, and see Marla flinch. Can she hear me? 

Biba girl has found an old music box now. Inside a ballerina spins eternally, while a mournful tinkling tune slowly runs down. The girl brings has a look on her face that could only be described as innocent joy. I can tell this isn’t about having something to boast about to her friends. This is a childhood memory, something lost and found again. There is a lightness in her awkward step as she makes her way to the counter. Marla gazes at the battered old box, the plastic ballerina. “That’ll be two dollars.”

 “It’s just like the one I had as a child,” Biba girl says dreamily as she hands Marla the money, and leaves, holding one of our environmentally friendly brown paper bags with her treasure inside. The bell dings again as she leaves.

 It’s a slow morning. At half past twelve, Marla leaves to get lunch. She comes back and eats it behind the counter, a book propped up in front of her.

 “What are you reading?” I ask, I can’t see it from where I am, and I’m pretty bored.

“Pride and Prejudice, it’s… wait, is there someone there?” Marla looks around her, confused.

 “It’s me. On the wall over here. The mirror. Come on, Marla!” Marla looks confused and maybe a little frightened, but she comes over and peers at me. “Did you… talk? Is this some kind of prank?”

 I sigh heavily, “It’s not a prank! You kids and your stupid pranks. I’m really here, talking to you!”

 “A talking mirror!”

 “A magic mirror. The magic mirror to be precise. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves? The Evil Queen?”

 “You have got to be kidding!”

 “Actually, I cannot lie,” I say drily.

 Marla runs her hands through her hair, “I must be mad!”

 “Not at all, although with that hair, you certainly look the part!” I retort.

 “Now I’m being insulted by a talking mirror!” Marla laughs, a little hysterically.

 “Now, calm down!” I say, “no one has understood me in centuries and I’m not about to have the one person who can hear me carted off to the loony bin.”

 “Okay, okay.” Marla takes deep breaths. “Okay, so why are you talking now? I’ve been here for three years and you never talked before!”

 “I could always talk, I just gave up on finding someone who could hear me. People forgot about magic. Forgot the magic within themselves.”

 “That makes sense, I guess. But why me?”

 “It seems you have the spark. A bit of the old magic. I know, you don’t seem special…”

“Thanks a lot”, Marla mutters.

 I surprise myself by laughing. I haven’t done that in centuries.

 “So,” Marla says, “tell me about the evil queen.”

 It doesn’t take long for me to fall back into the rhythm of talking, even after so long. That afternoon, while Marla cleans and counts the cash, I tell her the stories of my owners over the years. The Evil Queen, the boy taken by the Snow Queen, the mad prince taken by the Red Death. So many people long dead. Still, I continue on.

 The next day, Marla brings silver polish and cleans me. After a few days, I am much more bright and shiny. More than this, I realise how dim my own vision had become. Like someone who finally gets a pair of glasses, I realise how blurry my sight was before. Marla’s round little face is actually not that bad to look at. Or maybe I am just getting fond of her.

 Marla tells me about her little apartment, her dog, her houseplants. She lives a small, contained life, yet she seems happy. She doesn’t long for glory and excitement. A book and a cup of tea are enough for her.

 The weeks pass, I begin to look forward to Marla’s days at the shop. I miss her on days she doesn’t work. Finally, one day, she asks, “Mirror, how would you feel about coming home with me?”

 “With you?”

 “Yes, I know it isn’t the luxury you used to live in, but then we could see each other every day. I think we’ve become friends, don’t you?” She bites her lip, waiting for my reply.

 “I’ve never had a friend before. Yes, I think we are friends, Marla. I would love to come home with you.”

 That afternoon, after work, she wraps me carefully in layers of newspaper and puts me in a box. I feel the vibrations as she walks me home. I am terrified. I worry she’ll drop me and I will never get to see her apartment. But she carries me as carefully as a baby. 

Finally, I am being unwrapped inside the apartment. I see her round, kind face smiling into mine. In minutes, I am up on the wall. I look around me. Plants in pots fill the room, bringing nature indoors. A small furry dog with a curly tail dances merrily. There is a shabby but comfortable armchair, a towering pile of books stacked next to it. I sigh happily. I am home. Home with my friend.

 “Marla”, I say, “you really are the kindest of them all.”

Friday, 19 February 2021

Donut County

Donut County is a quirky single player Indie game.

You primarily play as a raccoon called BK who has used a hole-making app to sink everyone underground. The story is mostly told in flashback, with everyone already stuck underground.

The main objective is to use the holes to swallow objects. The holes grow larger every time you swallow something until you are able to swallow whole buildings. There are also a few puzzles where you have to catapult things, collect water, etc. Some of these can be a little fiddly. There is no guidance and you have to work them out for yourself. I especially enjoyed the puzzles where you used a frog with a long tongue to grab things.

After each of the levels there is a Trashopedia, where you can read BK’s amusing descriptions of items such as “Car: A dumpster you can drive” and “Cardboard box: It’s a free house, don’t get it wet".

There is humorous dialogue between scenes from the Donut County residents trapped underground.

This game is suitable for children but also a good game for adults who enjoy whimsy and light humour, and an easy relaxing game play.

Donut County is designed by Ben Esposito and produced by Annapura Interactive. 

Monday, 28 December 2020

The Little Mermaid: A Dark Retelling

I

She had been told the surface world was dangerous, but she could not resist it. It was such a different place from the world below the waters. Under the sea, the colours were murky, sounds were muted. Everything was calm. Above the water the sun shone down, nearly blinding you at first. There was the screaming of gulls, it wasn’t a nice sound but it was different. So loud and immediate. Everything was so intense.

Then, of course, there were the humans. She watched them in their fishing boats. They were so like her yet so different. They wore coarse clothes, where she went naked. And, just like the stories said, they had legs. They walked around on their boats like it was nothing. She watched in wonder. Her tail was strong and powerful, it could move her through the waves like a bullet. Yet, as she watched, she envied them their legs. She dreamed of walking around like they did. Of going back to land, of seeing all the wonders there. Day after day, she left her watery home to visit the world above.

II 

This was the young man’s first trip on the fishing boat. It belonged to his father and his father before him. They were a family of fishermen, and now it was time for the young man to join them on the ocean. At first, he had feared he would let them down. He felt seasick, the rocking of the boat churned up his insides. But after an hour or so, the salt wind whipping in his face started to feel refreshing. He ate some pickled sardine with the other men and his stomach settled. He felt exhilarated. A humble human, at the mercy of sea and sky.

The fishing itself was all grunt work. Reeling the unwieldy nets out, reeling them back in, now heavy with fish. But he was a man now, this is what he did. The other men clapped him on the back and he felt strong and good. This was the life.

He did not realise how much he really was at the mercy of the elements. When the sky grew black, the fishermen turned the boat for home, but they were far out, and the storm quickly overtook them. As the boat foundered, the young man was swept over the side by a wave and found himself sinking deep into the storm tossed waters.

III 

The young man awakened on the shore. His body ached from being tossed about like a toy by the cruel ocean. Yet he was alive! There was someone else there, just at the edge of the shore, floating in the water. It was a girl, about his age, naked, with long, tangled hair. Her skin had a bluish tinge to it, and, of all things, her lower half ended in a tail just like a fish. She smiled at him shyly.

His body complaining, the young man dragged himself to his feet. He stumbled over to the girl.

“You saved me, didn’t you?” the girl nodded. She smiled at him. Her teeth were sharp and pointed but she was still beautiful. Exotic, like no girl he had ever known.

The girl flinched at the sound of shouting. It was a crowd of people from the village, streaming onto the beach. They shouted in joy at seeing the young man alive. When he looked back to the water, the girl was gone.

That night he dreamed of her. She drew him into her clammy embrace. He awakened breathless. He hoped that she would come back and he would see her again.

IV 

He did see her again. Every week on Sunday, the day of rest, when he should have been at church, he would sneak away and meet her on the shore. He would sit at the edge of the waves, she would linger by the beach, in the shallow water. He would tell her of his simple life, the cottage where he lived with his mother, father and grandparents. His life as a fisherman. He told her he did not fear the ocean despite his accident because he knew that she was out there, watching over him.

She told him about her underwater kingdom. The merpeople and how they watched over everything that lived in the ocean. They were the shepherds of the fish, the gardeners of seaweed and coral. He listened breathless to her tales. He could not believe that to her, his world was just as exotic.

It wasn’t long until they professed their love for one another. After all, they were both young and beautiful. The shared kisses and lingering caresses. Her body was cold, his was warm. They were a mismatch and they knew it. . And yet they ached for each other.

Finally, they decided on a plan of how they might be together. He would never see her underwater kingdom, for he could not breathe underwater. That meant it was her who must come to him. And so, she decked herself out in pearls and coral, and rose to the surface one last time, whispering a goodbye to the world below.

V 

He met her on the seashore, as promised. He took her in his arms and lifted her from the water. Although he was strong, he struggled to carry her. But he did not have to walk far until he reached the old handcart. He put her into it. Out of the water, her hair was tangled, her skin already beginning to dry up. The bumping of the cart hurt as he dragged it along, away from the shore, and there were splinters in the old cracked wood. She ignored the pain and thought only of her love and how they might finally be together.

The young man finally pulled to a stop in front of an old cottage. She marvelled at the rough mud bricks that made its walls and the straw roof. But now people were spilling out of the door of the cottage, and gasping at the sight of her. There was a stout, red faced woman, her arms as muscled as her son’s, and a man who looked like an older version of her love. Then there was an old man, coming forward, staring at her. She felt exposed under his gaze. It wasn’t that she was naked, that was normal for her, but something about his stare seemed to cut her open. He poked and prodded her as she yelped in protest.

“Well, well, young man. So you was telling the truth! And I was starting to think mermaids really was all just old fisherman’s tales!”

An old lady spoke now, standing in the door of the cottage. “Oh, it has been an age since I had mermaid, tenderest meat there is!”

The mermaid cried out in fear and betrayal, then there was a blow to her head and she saw only blackness.

VI 

The old man smacked his lips, reaching for another fried fillet. “This really is the most tender meat, you were right my dear!” The old lady laughed.

“They say mermaid meat is an aphrodisiac,” laughed the father, looking at his son, “I bet you’re raring to go see that young milkmaid of yours! Go on, then, off ye go!” He turned to his wife, “and perhaps we should retire too!” she grinned at him.

In the shed behind the house lay the remains of the mermaid. Salted and left to dry. Her bones were in a pile on the floor, to be fed to the dogs later. Already they were sniffing around outside the shed, smelling the fresh meat.

Below in the ocean, the merpeople went on with life as before, shepherding their fishes, planting their coral forests. Below the waves, everything is muted, and they had not even heard their sister’s dying screams. Tiny fish darted in and out of the seaweed, and mermaids danced in the waves, decked out in pearls and coral.