Behind Closed Doors

This piece has been chosen to be published in Deakin University’s Verandah journal v.32 due out later this year.  It will be available in either print and epub version or just the ebook depending on edits required.  Woo-hoo, can finally call myself a published author. Go me.  Not only that but it’s been chosen as the recipient of the Deakin Literary Award for best piece by a student in the issue this year! (2007). Go me. 

 

‘It was a balmy afternoon in mid-January. Just before the heat of summer really takes hold. We were invited to a pool party at the house of one of my cousins.  Richard was being his charming self. My family – well, most of my family – were impressed. I’d finally landed somebody ‘worthwhile,’ as if my previous boyfriends hadn’t cut the mustard because they didn’t make six figures. But that was my family and I’d grown resigned to it.

‘Anyway, we were having a dip in the pool before dinner when it happened. For no reason at all, my fiancé decided it would be funny to hold my head underwater. He was a strong man, too. Fit from years of cycling and going to the gym before work. I tried to swim out from under his hand but he pushed down on my shoulder as well. My lungs were starting to burn, because I hadn’t taken a very big breath before going under. I heard echo-y sounds of laughter – his laughter – and other voices, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. I clawed at Richard’s chest and shoulders until he had to let me go.

‘It was such a relief to fill my lungs with oxygen. I backed away from him, hurt; unable to believe he’d do something like that. He didn’t think it was a big deal. Actually, he thought it was hilarious, even given the fact that I’d told him about the time I nearly drowned when I was five. It was why I tend to stay close to the side of the pool in deep water, and why I never go swimming at the beach.’

‘Tell me about that,’ the doctor said, looking up from his notes.

I shrugged. ‘I barely remember it, really.  I was standing on the wet sand, and I liked the way the water rushed forward around my ankles, sucking the sand from under my feet, so I kept walking forward. My father and brother were playing cricket further up the beach and my mother was in her deck chair, reading Peyton Place. I guess she thought my father would be keeping an eye on me, if she thought about me at all.  Next thing I knew I was in water up to my hips and the breaking waves were very strong. I was only little. I couldn’t keep my feet and wound up falling on my bum. The waves kept crashing over my head, and every time I tried to stand up one would knock me over again. I felt like I was in a washing machine.’

‘Sounds like you remember it just fine,’ Dr Burroughs observed. ‘Go on.’

I took a deep breath, as if I was worried that just by recalling the memory I’d run out of air. ‘Anyway, the pain was crushing, like somebody was standing on my chest. And then it wasn’t. Suddenly everything was calm. I opened my eyes and could see underwater.  Not that there was much to see. A bit of litter: a Coke can; a flattened cigarette packet. Shells, seaweed, pebbles … anyway, it was very peaceful. I often wonder whether it was some kind of self-defence mechanism on my brain’s part, or whether I was actually dead. Next thing I knew I was on the beach, laying on my side. My father was slapping my back to get the water out of my lungs. My mother was having a panic attack. Or putting one on. I never could tell with her. My father actually yelled at her to get herself together and pack up our stuff, they were taking me to the hospital. I’d never heard him raise his voice like that before.’

I stood up and walked toward the aquarium built into the wall across from where I’d been sitting. It was a beautiful room, as shrinks’ offices go. Not that I’d been in that many. But it had an old world charm, like a study or library in a grand old mansion, with bookcases set into one wall and the aforementioned tank in another.

It was not at all like the cold, clinical rooms of my previous doctor. I couldn’t venture toward the floor-to-ceiling windows there without feeling an acute sense of vertigo.

‘Go on,’ he repeated.

‘I know what you’re going to say,’ I said, finally.

‘Really?’ he asked, with a chuckle. ‘What am I going to say?’

‘That my childhood in an emotionally stunted household led me to choose the man I’d eventually marry. I’ve heard all the theories. “People who grow up around abuse or neglect never know any different. It’s a vicious cycle. Blah, blah, blah”.’  I stared into his aquarium, transfixed by the tiny electric-blue and neon-yellow fish darting around the plant fronds and various other decorations.

‘There’s more than an element of truth to that. Evidence backs it up.’

‘So I’m predisposed to choose abusive relationships over healthy ones. Is that what you’re saying?’

‘You can break out of that cycle, Sylvia. You just have to work on your self-esteem. It’s that – or the lack thereof – that stands in the way of meeting someone worthy of you.’

Worthy of me. Someone that was worthy of me; not the other way around. The concept was alien. I’d been brought up to believe that that my husband would choose me and I’d have to prove myself a good wife. Something I clearly hadn’t managed to get the hang of or I wouldn’t be here, in this beautiful, stately old room talking to a virtual stranger about things I would never bring up in polite company.

‘I can see you’re having trouble with that idea.’

How did he manage to get inside my head like that?!  I turned toward my newest headshrinker. He wasn’t like the rest. That should have been a clue that perhaps this time things might be different. He was younger than myself, possibly mid-forties, and had a quirky way of dressing that I picked up on – and liked – right away. His purple paisley tie matched his socks. Black suspenders held up his charcoal pants, and the sleeves of his white business shirt were rolled up to just below his elbows. When I’d entered the room, he had his feet up on his desk and was chewing the end of a pencil. Now he was swinging in his leather swivel chair like a teenager bored in class.

‘Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly praised and put on a pedestal when I was growing up. I always felt as if I had to earn my parents’ love.  Dad would have been happy if I’d gone to university but Mum wanted both my brother and me out of the house at eighteen. I was expected to get married and have babies. So at least I satisfied that requirement, even if it was almost a decade later than she would have liked.’

‘Tell me more about this Richard. When did the abuse start?’

I watched a large tropical goldfish chase a smaller version of itself around a clump of reeds in the huge tank. ‘My husband had a fish tank,’ I told Burroughs. ‘But he only had a couple of fish in it. And it wasn’t fixed into the wall.’ I knew I was procrastinating, avoiding answering the question, but I couldn’t help it.

Thankfully, he played along. ‘What kind of fish?’

‘Sharks. Small ones, obviously. Don’t even ask me what breed. They just looked like miniature versions of the Great White in Jaws. When he’d feed them their cubes of meat they’d rush to the top of the tank. I was waiting for the day they’d take his fingers off in the process, they were so grabby!’

‘All right, so, apart from the sharks – which tell me more about your husband than you’d think – what was he like?’

I sighed. I knew he’d get to that but I’d wanted to put it off as long as possible. ‘Charming on the surface, I suppose. He was good-looking – everybody said so – and I always felt like they wondered why he picked me. I mean, I’m no Angelina Jolie, let’s face it.’

Burroughs laughed. ‘Neither is roughly 99.99% of the population, but do continue.’

‘Anyway, he was tall – six two in bare feet – and strong. From good stock, my grandmother used to say. Physical stock, that is. The personality left a bit to be desired, as I soon found out. Almost before we were married he was belittling me in front of his friends. He didn’t try it in front of mine, though, which is probably why he accepted a transfer and we moved to Geelong after the wedding. It was his attempt to isolate me, and it worked.  I saw less and less of my friends and had almost no support network when I had my son. My mother wasn’t going to commute back and forth so she was useless. Dad hated Richard from the word go. So unless I called them to talk to them, I was all by myself.’

‘That’s a major red flag, right there. Abusers always try to isolate their victims, whether by distance or by controlling their movements, not allowing them to visit friends and family and so on.’

‘I know. Believe me, I’ve read all the books. I even read Fifty Shades of Grey. I guess I was curious, because one of my friends said Richard reminded her of Christian Grey. But it triggered me too much, so I stopped.’

‘What part of it triggered you, specifically?’ I could see his reflection in the glass of the tank. He’d stopped swinging in his swivel chair. I guess I’d won his attention.

‘How he tried to control everything she did, even before she signed any contract. Everything had to be his way. It was the same with Richard.  I had to look the way he wanted, dress the way he wanted … hell, I even had to like the same music! I remember thinking that if I was so woefully inadequate; that if I had to change so drastically to be the woman he wanted, why on earth did he pick me?’

‘Because guys like him almost have a kind of radar for people who they think they can manipulate. This is my theory, anyway. It’s in the body language. For instance, look at how you’re standing, now.’

Almost instantly I corrected my posture. Removed the slump in my shoulders; lifted my chin.  My reflection in the fish tank looked several kilos lighter, instantly. Burroughs chuckled. ‘See, that’s better. Your husband would never have zeroed in on a woman who looked like she was going places. He needed someone who needed him, in all ways you can need somebody.  So … I only got the Reader’s Digest version of how you came to be here. Care to fill me in?’

I swallowed but my mouth was bone dry. ‘Believe it or not, I didn’t get the right potatoes for a recipe he liked. The waxy ones don’t mash properly, he said. Called me a fucking idiot and said I was good for nothing. Well, I’d had enough. I’d already had a terrible day, although I won’t get into that. I just was in no mood to put up with his trivial, controlling shit. And it was always trivial. Anyway, he’d tired of me. He’d turned to his beloved fish, as he always did.’

I was shaking by now; literally trembling at the memory. I had to take a breath to try to calm myself down. ‘Normally I would have meekly turned and gone back to the shops to get the right potatoes, but on this day I stood firm. I don’t know why. My mood, maybe? Whatever it was, it took control.

Made me pick up the ridiculously heavy ornament on our coffee table, walk over to Richard, who was feeding the fish, and hit him in the back of the head, as hard as I could. I’m not that strong but I think my anger and adrenaline must have kicked in, because I damn near caved his head in. He slumped forward, his face in the tank. I don’t know if he was dead at that point, but I sort of hope so, because the water turned red real fast. The sharks literally tore his face off.’

I turned to my psychiatrist. ‘I think our hour is over. May I go back to my room, now?’

The Stowaway

This story was conceived as a creative work based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, written during my second year of my writing degree. It received a high distinction (86%) for my Genres: Horror to Romance unit. 

Captain’s Log 16th July

The woman has to go. I told the crew thus; though they would not listen to me. The First Mate has taken a liking to her. He will not hear any disparaging remarks about her. This is strange, as he is one of the most superstitious men on board. When she was found amongst the cargo on the second day since setting out from Varna, I reminded my crew that women are traditionally bad luck for men and boats, citing instances where ships with women aboard have run aground, sank, or went missing. At this she said nothing, only glaring at me with her strange dark, almost beady eyes. The eyes of a basilisk, I imagined. I half expected her to hiss at me.

But despite my misgivings, the woman remained. Uneasy about this, I tried to keep her in sight as much as possible until we reached the next port, at which I would insist she disembark. This proved difficult, as she and the First Mate would disappear together for hours at a time, after which he would reappear looking like the cat that got the cream. When I reminded him of his duties, he merely brushed me off, as if my title of captain of this ship no longer meant anything to him.

Yes, the woman had to go.

18th July

A storm whipped the sails and threw the ship fore and aft, so we needed all hands on deck. I gave the woman, whose name was Abigail, the task of ship cook. She didn’t take too kindly to that, and it appears that she has never set foot in a kitchen before, as the fare she offered us was stodgy, half-cold, tasteless porridge. Slamming my bowl down on the table in front of me, she flipped a curtain of blonde curls over her thin shoulder and muttered something in her native language, which sounded vaguely Scandinavian to my well-travelled ears.

‘What was that?’ I asked, grabbing her by the wrist.

She in turn grasped my wrist in a vice-like manner, forcing my fingers open. Her strength astounded me. A couple of the crew who were in attendance rose, presumably to help me, but with a single glance from Abigail, sat back down, watching the scene with unease clear on their faces. I winced, and she let go.

‘You will eat,’ she demanded, pointing at the bowl before me. ‘Captain needs to keep his strength up.’

 

19th July

Petrofsky is missing. The crew searched the boat from bow to stern, and nothing. The wind was icy fierce, and words were whipped from our mouths and thrown out to sea so nods and frowns had to suffice. But I couldn’t ignore the feeling of foreboding hanging over the ship.

Abigail and the First Mate are by now inseparable. At supper last night she sat so close to him that a deckhand joked ‘Are you going to cut his meat for him, too?’ receiving a fearsome glare for his troubles. Everyone else laughed, but I was too distracted by the disappearance of Petrofsky to join in their mirth. Had he fallen overboard? In this weather, even if he’d called out for help we wouldn’t have heard him.

 

24th July

Morale desperately low. Petrofsky still missing. Another deck hand, Stan, is found in his bunk, deathly pale and delirious; rambling about bats and wolves. The ship’s doctor gave him a tonic to help him sleep and recover. As he turned his head and drifted off into a fretful sleep, I noticed twin holes in his throat. The doctor was dumbfounded, admitting to not having a clue what had befallen the young man. ‘He seems to have been bitten by something,’ was his only attempt at a diagnosis.

I take my turn to steer the ship later in the evening. The wind had died down and the lapping of the water against the sides of the boat was almost a lullaby. I began to feel weary – weary of mind as well as body. This trip was taking far longer than it needed to. Or was I so anxious to relieve the ship of Abigail and her paramour that arrival at Biscay Bay couldn’t come soon enough?

Sighing, I gazed out over the water, still for the first time and silver in the moonlight. I was so deep in thought that I didn’t react to the creak in the floorboards behind me until it was almost too late.

Spinning around, I spotted a shape bound toward me in the dark. All I saw for sure were its red eyes, which glowed in the dark like twin flames. I froze in terror, unable to find my voice to alert the others as it loped closer, on all fours. Suddenly Stan’s words came back to me. A wolf – how on earth did a wolf come to be on my ship?!

Just as suddenly as the wolf had appeared, Abigail was behind it, holding a sword aloft. She looked beautiful and regal even as the blade cut a swathe through the night air, separating the wolf’s head from its body and drenching her in its blood. The wolf’s head hit the deck with a hideous squelching noise, and rolled toward her feet.

She dropped the sword and hefted the wolf’s head by a single ear. Before I could utter a word of gratitude, she turned and flung the beastly object overboard. The splash seemed terribly loud considering how high above the water we were.

The wolf’s body lay at our feet. Blood stained the foredeck. I gagged, spun around and brought up my dinner. When I recovered, Abigail stood resolute.

‘We must get rid of the body,’ she said, in her strange accent. ‘I am strong, but not strong enough to heave it over the edge of the boat. You must help me.’

‘What ARE you?’ I asked. I had to know.                                                                                                              ‘I am a hunter,’ she told me. ‘My name is Abigail Van Helsing. I have been after Count Dracula for a long time. When I heard he was sending cargo to London I guessed what he was planning. I had to get to him before he reached the mainland. I tried to open the crates but it would have taken the strength of ten men. So I had to wait and see if he got hungry while still on the ship. Luckily for me, he did.’

Suffice to say, I no longer believe it is bad luck to have a woman on board any ship I helm.

13 Miller’s Court

One of my first pieces, written for Writing Craft in first year. Don’t ask me what I got for it, I don’t remember although I think it was a mark in early-to-mid ’70’s range. 

Content warning: murder, gore. 

It was a tiny room, even by the standards of the day.  Dark, dingy; with peeling gold embossed wallpaper and flaking beige paint on the door and window trims.  There was a pervading smell of rising damp beneath various other more obvious odors, the evidence of which you could see starting to seep through the pattern on the wallpaper, appearing as several darker gold patches here and there, around waist level.

The window treatment was a light, wispy scrap of patterned lace, fraying terribly at the hem. The single pane of glass had been broken recently during a loud argument between the tenants, and the landlord hadn’t gotten around to replacing it. Or more likely, the tenants hadn’t been able to afford to pay to have it fixed.  That was the way of things here, at the poorer end of town.

As was also the way of things, outside, the world went on as if nothing had happened – at this time of the morning, the milkman was making his rounds, the sound of glass bottles clinking together as he deposited them on each doorstep.  Wives bid goodbye to husbands as they set off for work. A dog barked in a yard somewhere close by.

Inside the tiny room, none of that mattered.

She lay on the bed facing the door. Her left arm lay by her side, the forearm resting across her torso. Or what was left of it. Her killer had hollowed her out, arranging the viscera around the room like a series of grotesque exhibits. Most notably, a breast appeared nailed to the wall.

What the killer was going for there was beyond the imagination of normal, sane people. Perhaps it was his idea of art? The inspector in charge of the scene didn’t want to guess.

The small black fireplace at the end of the room appeared to have been added as almost an afterthought, as the brick hearth didn’t match the gold wallpaper or the dark floorboards. Inside the mouth of the fireplace a black tin kettle hung from a hook. The fire had gone out sometime during the night, but the acrid sting of smoke was still perceptible provided you stood close enough. The lid of the kettle was missing. The Inspector leaned in; then took a step back, his face no longer an imperceptible mask of professionalism.

It contained a human heart.

Had the killer tried to cook it?

Had he intended to eat it?!

Whatever his motives, they were in vain, because the heart was at best, slightly singed. The Inspector remembered something he’d been told at the beginning of his career – the human heart is a muscle, very difficult to burn, as was discovered when Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Reaching for his trusty notebook with a trembling hand, he quickly made a sketch of the scene in his own words.

When he was done, he tucked it back into his pocket and gulped down a mouthful of vomit. It wouldn’t do for his subordinates to see their fearless leader lose his breakfast.

It was obvious to him who’d done this.

‘Bloody Jack,’ he muttered. ‘I will discover you. I promise.’

 

All research on Jack the Ripper is from www.casebook.org , a site run by dedicated Ripperologists around the world, some of whom have published acclaimed books on the case.

 

Hello, out there!

Let me introduce myself. I’ve been writing for most of my life, and am completing my third year of a Bachelor of Arts in Professional and Creative Writing.  I’ve had a couple of things published: an article about Christmas in my local newspaper in my final year of high school and a story about my high school being demolished, which was published in an online journal, funnily enough, called Imagine.  I have created this blog as a means to publish stories and essays I’ve completed while at university as well as fan-fiction derived from TV shows, books and movies I enjoy. I will also strive to provide links for other emerging artists, including some authors who were involved in a group anthology project we recently completed. I may even, if I gain permission, post the anthology once it has passed the final marking stage.

My favorite topics to write about include murder, social justice issues such as criticisms of the Australian justice system and issues that effect the LGBT community, as I am the parent of a transgender teen, so I live this stuff every day.  Other subjects I intend to cover are: domestic violence, erotica, reviews of well-known books and movies and just general musings on the world and my place in it. So welcome to my writing space and feel free to comment or provide feedback on my posts.