Monday, June 27, 2011

Green Machine (short story)

Finally, it's about time I pasted something, right? Here's a new short story, entitled "Green Machine".


‘Well, this is it.’

The old woman turned around to look at the couple. Militant vegan. If anyone ever had epitomized that phrase it was this couple. Of course, she was vegan too, and one of the first back in the day. But these guys were something else. Clothes, made of hemp, no doubt. Home-cut hair with natural dyes. A freakish paleness from a lack of iron. Their eyes, beady, rimmed with organic black eye-makeup, roved across the house-front. She had to suppress a shudder at the look in their eyes, a look they shared, as if they were one entity. A look that said MINE

Interestingly enough, they had a small dog with them. Its coat was a golden-brown colour, flecked with darker and lighter shades, short and shiny. It regarded her with tranquil, intelligent eyes. The old woman almost wanted to ask, what did they feed it? Meat? Because if they didn’t, then surely that was animal cruelty. But if they did, what about the animals who made the meat? It was a dilemma she couldn’t reconcile. This is why she had only ever kept herbivores as pets.

‘I, ah, didn’t catch your names on the phone?’

The couple shared a glance. How typical and small-minded of the woman. Who was she to ask names? They were above names. They were destined to rule the world. 

‘So,’ the young man said, eyes flicking back to the house, gazing possessively. ‘You say you built this? Designed it yourself?’

‘Sure did. I was unhappy with the restrictions that conventional houses put on me. I would have needed to pull one down entirely in order to make it over. So I built up, instead. Better that way. That way I could make sure the place was sound from the ground up. I mean, good for the ground. Good for the earth, of course. Breathable foundations. My own design.’

She smiled weakly and sought in those dark pairs of eyes for a smile, admiration, anything. But all she could see was a harsh disregard for her existence. They didn’t even look at her. Didn’t seem interested in what she was saying. She looked down at the dog, which was standing now, tail wagging slowly. Its eyes were much kinder, much easier to talk to. Maybe she should introduce the house to it instead?

‘Well, why don’t you come in?’ the old woman asked, and then started walking ahead of them. It was good to turn her back on them. That way she could very nearly forget about those beady eyes behind her, and focus on the thing she loved most: the house. Leading them up the steps, she narrated, more for her own sake than theirs, since being old, she needed to tell her story: ‘You might wonder why I’m selling, after putting so much work into it? Well, she and I have had a god run, we have. But I’m just getting too old to live alone. My children won’t live with me, and I don’t want to live with strangers – no offense, of course. I’ve found a commune that’s quite eager to take me in. They’ve got chores to do that aren’t too hard on the old body, and they want an “elder”’ – she paused to laugh self-deprecatingly at the term – ‘to, you know, chat with the young’un’s and such. Of course, the communes not so eco-friendly as my house, but still, when you’re my age, you’ve gotta be happy with what you get.’

Behind her back the couple rolled their eyes at each other. The blabber of the elderly. Didn’t they know how much oxygen they wasted? A nod passed between them. Their views on the elderly were a much-discussed topic between them. Don’t worry, their eyes told each other. She won’t be around much longer.

The little dog barked and wagged its tail for all of two seconds, trotted in a circle, then sat down at the heel of the young woman.

The silly old bat was tapping at the windows right now. ‘Triple glazed,’ she said brightly. As if they didn’t know.

“Their eyes look triple glazed,” she said to herself. She nearly shook her head and clicked her tongue, and then she nearly laughed at herself for thinking like such a typical old grump, putting down the youth. ‘And nice heavy curtains too. All natural, renewable materials too, of course. Throughout the whole house, naturally.’ She led them through the door. ‘Feel that,’ she indicated to the floor. Their bare feet came off the porch and in to the house, and they felt it. ‘Central heating, of course.’

She led them past the sitting room, the bedroom, only briefly looking in – these places were fairly run-of-the-mill, and she wanted to get to the bathroom, where she showed them the grey water systems and the composting toilet. But more exciting than that was the piece de resistance, the kitchen. The place where society had become so terribly lazy, with all its excess energy consumption, and all its packaging, and all its cruelty to animals. The faces of the couple hadn’t changed much since they’d entered. They spent most of the time looking rather bored. But this, she was sure, would change that.

The house came around like the shell of a snail, though square. Inspired by the Fibonacci Sequence. The kitchen and the sitting room were a wall apart, but the kitchen she saved for last. In the corridor before it, she pointed out the window. The little dog leaped up and put its paws on the windowsill. ‘Of course, there’s a veggie garden out there. The tomato vines are growing exceptionally well.’ And indeed they were. Whatever kind of fertiliser she was using, the tomatoes were growing impossibly large, and their vines were as thick, almost, as fairytale beanstalks.  And still the couple were not impressed. She led them through to the kitchen.

She opened her arms wide as she entered her domain, and breathed deeply. ‘We’re getting up to the really exciting part,’ she said. ‘The oven,’ she introduced. ‘The fridge.’ ‘The sink.’ All the innovations, all the attention to detail, and still their faces did not change. They looked thoroughly unimpressed. Perhaps she should have left it there. But her pride in her house meant she had to show them one last thing. 

‘All right, I see you’re not convinced. However, I think this next room will seal the deal for you. Come.’ She opened a door that lead deeper into the house, right in the middle, where the only window was a skylight above. Three steps lead down from the kitchen door to the foundations of the house. ‘Look at this.’ In the middle of the room, encased at its base by the foundations, was something rather like a vat. The couple waked down the steps behind the old woman, and their dog came, lolloping down after them. It circled the vat curiously, then came back to the heels of the young man. 

‘This is my invention,’ the old woman told them proudly. ‘Can you guess what it does? I bet you can’t.’ She waited a few seconds, watching the dull lack of expression on the faces of the couple. She gave up and addressed the dog instead. It tilted its head to one side, as if it were truly curious to hear what she said. ‘It can recycle anything,’ she whispered loudly to it. 

‘Anything?’ the young woman suddenly asked. Her tone was not curious, but instead cynical and almost aggressive. 

But the old woman was ready for this. ‘Most certainly, anything.’ She had been prepared, at least, for this part of the tour. ‘Behold,’ she said, giving into her desire for the dramatic. On the edge of the vat was a collection of items, from the soft milk bottle, to a glass bottle, to a metal canteen. The couple came closer and peered inside the vat. It contained countless metallic teeth, and they whirred so fast they blurred together into a series of wavy lines, down, down in concentric circles. Above the vat was a cone that seemed to match these wavy contours, and its tip was flat, pointing down into the dark hole in the middle of the sharp metal teeth. 

The old woman knocked the plastic milk bottle into the recycling machine. The cone descended and, with a surprising lack of noise, the bottle was chewed up and disappeared into the darkness of the hole. ‘Where does it all go, you ask?’ the old woman cackled, beginning to enjoy herself and stop caring about the reticence of the couple, who were obviously too dumbstruck to comment on her genius. ‘The house uses it. Wherever it might need. The house uses everything.’

She knocked the glass bottle into the vat and the cone came down once again. If they had thought a glass bottle would make more noise, they were wrong again. ‘Of course, you do have to be a little careful. When I say it recycles everything, I’m not lying. It does recycle everything. Or, it would, if it were strong enough to crush diamond. So don’t put anything too hard in there. The metal is titanium, so it should withstand most things. But not diamond.’

As she knocked the metal canteen in, the dog behind her started to growl. But it was such a little growl, and from such a little dog, that she took no notice. The cone descended once more. ‘And, also, watch out with computer chips. It might seem a little strange, but chips are dangerous in the machine. That goes for cellphone chips too. Don’t put any kind of chip in the machine. As I say, it will use it. And you don’t want to see what happens when you do that...’

The metal canteen was gone, utterly disappeared. The old woman wiped off her hands, even though there was no dust, and she turned.

She lived for a brief second to see the gun aimed at her head. Then it went off. 

The dog barked and kept on barking while the couple lifted the body of the old woman into the vat and started the machine. The cone descended, and between that and the teeth of the circular vat, the machine struggled to get through the mass of the old woman. Though she was wiry, she was an awkward shape for the machine. The couple were only briefly and slightly distressed at the idea that, like a sink waste disposal, the recycling machine might get clogged and then what would they do? But soon enough the body of the old woman disappeared into the darkness of the fist-sized hole at the bottom of the vat, chewed up bit by bit. The little dog did not stop growling until its owners banished it outside.

The militant vegan couple left the room with the vat. The young man shut the door on the humming, churning machine, and the young woman went over to the fridge and picked out a slice of vegan cheese. It was flat and floppy, and she laid the whole thing on her tongue. Then she retracted her tongue into her mouth, taking the square of cheese in. It was a small victory celebration. The old were a waste of space, oxygen, resources. The couple had been over this in private many times. The best thing to do for the world was to quietly get rid of the elderly – and how good was it that they had put her in a recycling machine? That sure would speed up the process.

The young man came to sit at the table. The dog sat at his feet. The young man finally managed a smile, and shared that with the young woman. Their smiles had edges, had too much teeth in them. The dog tried to imitate the smiles, but its smile was naturally like that. Toothy, sharp. 

At least it suited the dog.

Though it kept that smile for a while longer its eyes darted around nervously, its face too earnest, its eyes too wide. Its expression stayed that way all day and into the night, as if it sensed something its humans did not. The couple went out, brought in some of their belongings from their electric van. They stood staring at the walls for a long time, an old, plastic phone in hand, and the dog stood behind them, wagging its tail. Was it some kind of new game? Would they play with the dog?

‘Where are they? The things –‘

‘The phone thingies, yeah. Does she even have them?’

‘Wait, remember, when we called to see the house her number was a long one? Like, a mobile phone number?’

‘Oh. Maybe she didn’t have phone cords in her house plan.’

‘I guess not. Well, this thing’s useless. Let’s take it to an op shop or something on our way to get the rest of our stuff.’

‘Weird for such an old woman to use a cellphone. Where would it be? We should get rid of it, in case anyone tries to call.’

The couple left the dog in the new house. It stared at the shut door for a moment, and then ran to a window and looked out. They drove away, leaving the dog with the house. The strange house. It could hear strange clicks everywhere. It lay down, head between its paws, whining. The house confused the dog. It smelled so clean, man-made, and yet the stench of decay so prevalent in human dwellings was oddly absent. Instead, many parts of the house smelled as if they were close to the ground, like something growing. 

The dog yelped ecstatically and leapt up, running to the couple when they arrived back at the house. They carted more stuff inside, giving the dog a chance to explore some more. It looked at the vines in the garden. They were indeed huge. The dog felt a little safer in the garden, despite the freakishly large vines, and it spent as much time as it could out there, until the sun went down and the young man called out to him. 

Dinner was on the kitchen floor, in the wooden bowl. Vegan dog food. The stuff was vile and many a time the dog had left it and gone hunting for vermin instead. But tonight the dog was tired from exploring, and unsettled not only by the newness of the place, but by the strangeness too. Looking up from its bowl, eyes swivelling around in their sockets, the dog watched the walls carefully. Something was going to happen. 

But it didn’t, at least not yet. The couple washed and put away the dishes, played a war strategy board game for a few hours, and then retired to bed.

It was as if the house had been waiting for this moment. At the foot of the bed, sensing the humans beginning to wind down to sleep, the dog was the first to hear the sounds. A gentle tapping became a steady thump-thumping on the walls, until it grew so loud that the couple woke up.

‘What’s that?’

‘Go check.’

The young man was the first to get up, and the dog, restless, jumped to its paws and followed. There, out of the window, in the moonlight, the vines appeared to be thwacking the house. Then, just a moment after they had glimpsed it, the vines stopped. The dog was not fooled. The dog knew what it had seen. But the man was sleepy and dismissed it as a tired trick of the eyes. 

He got back into bed, and after about a minute, the silvery sound began, tracing through the walls of the house.

‘Is that... water?’

‘You get up this time.’

The woman got up and in her natural fibre socks and nightie shuffled to the kitchen. The sink was overflowing. She cursed loudly, which drew the man out of bed too. They fought with the taps to stop the water flowing, yet could not stop it in time – it flowed over the floor, leaving puddles between tiles. Then, just as soon as the taps were off, the fridge made a loud buzzing noise and then a puff of smoke erupted from the back of it. 

The young man opened the door. The light didn’t go on inside, and there was no whirring of electricity – not even the low-cost energy they used – inside. ‘Damn... it broke. The water on the floor might have got into the circuits somehow...’

‘Don’t be stupid,’ the young woman snapped. The water hadn’t even reached the foot of the fridge. It was nothing to do with the water. But she didn’t say that, she just stood in the middle of the cold tiled floor, holding her head and yawning.

The dog whined and started moving towards the door. But as if was about to reach it, a dark, straight silhouette slammed into the door, visible through the glass. The couple jumped into each others arms at the noise. The dog barked, confused, and then barked louder as it realised what the silhouette looked like: a giant tomato vine. 

The humans didn’t even have time to process that, for next the most awful gurgle echoed through the hallways. They ran towards the bathroom, the dog close at their heels. The awful sight of a regurgitating self-composting toilet met their eyes on one side of the bathroom, and on the other, the grey water system seemed to have reversed itself, and old, used water rushed out of the shower head. The shower head was a special eco-friendly one that let out minimal water, and so it was not equal to the task of keeping this enormous flow at bay. It burst off the wall and ricocheted into the young man’s forehead.

The dog barked as the young woman grabbed the man to stop him from falling onto the messy floor of the bathroom. She almost screamed at the sight of the blood on his forehead, but the sound came out more like a war-cry. Looking down, this time she really did squeal, and with a rush of adrenaline she had never before experienced, she leapt out of the bathroom, taking the half-conscious man with her. The slush of grey water and composted human waste was coming after them. 

She slammed into the wall and then, dragging him, took off down the hall. The dog stayed till the last, barking at the oncoming sludge, and then ran away, but in the opposite direction from the humans. It ran through the corridors and to the front door, which had burst open. If the dog had stopped to wonder about that, it might have noticed the massive vines that had pried the door open and were now wrapping themselves in and around the house. The dog sat in the front yard and turned back to look. Then it shuddered and turned its back on the sight. It was all too much. Loyalty to masters was all very well, but whatever this was, it was beyond the ken of this little dog.

Meanwhile, evading the trail of human waste erupting from the bathroom, and pushed down the hall by vines towards the kitchen, the humans burst in to find the taps had started again and the kitchen was flooded. Not only that, but the fridge was back on, and the oven too, and electricity pulsed through the water. Jumping almost to the ceiling, screaming at the sight of the poking, prodding vines trying to force the windows open, the couple ran towards the only door that didn’t seem to be surrounded.

They slammed the door behind them and pushed up against it, panting. Then they turned, and understood.

‘That’s where the cellphone went.’

‘Must’ve been in her pocket.’


‘No. Common sense. We are the parasite. I’ve said it all along. This house recycles. This house does what is good for the earth.’

‘Then we’re meant to die.’

They had discussed this too. Amongst all their other discussions: how they were above names, how they were meant to rule the world, how old people should just go and die... amongst all that, they had paused to discuss their own unnecessary existence. Humans were the parasite. Humans were bad for the earth. But they couldn’t take that idea to the next step. It was always someone else. We should kill everyone else, they said. Genocide, they wanted. But never themselves. Both of them would have rather killed the other than destroyed themselves.

They looked into each others eyes, and they knew it.

The rattling and knocking of the vines finally burst through the door. Vines wrapped around ankles and wrists. Screaming heads were dropped first into the whirring of the vat, and the screaming stopped abruptly.

Outside the dog winced, and turned to face the house again. It knew it was over. But what now? The strange house would not stop, surely. What would happen next?

For the recycling machine it had been a long and eventful day. First the old woman, with all her ideals, hopes, dreams, and not to mention, her cellphone, with its little computerised chip in it. The machine took everything about her, as well as this chip, and the machine realised – if ever a machine could realise – that the couple in the house needed to be eradicated. And now that they had been eradicated, they were inside the system too. All their hopes, dreams, and their ideals. Oh, those ideals of theirs.

The house thought. The house questioned its purpose. The house came to some quick decisions. That all of nature was sacred. That it was above names. That it was meant to rule the world.

The house dug deeper. Suddenly, around the little dog, appeared a little house. It appeared to be made of wood, but it was made of earth. And there, in front of the dog, was the carcass of a large rodent, heated in the deep crust of the earth. Warm, delicious. It forgot all its cares and happily dug in. The house continued.

It seemed to stay the same, and not change. But the house had roots. And that night, the roots of the house spread all over the world. Every pipe in the ground was replaced with a natural synthesis of a pipe, resilient, eternal. Every house was replaced by an identical house, but these houses were organic, and when they were unoccupied they sunk back into the ground, and when more were needed they sprung up like seedlings. 

And the house killed that night. More than just the couple. It killed exactly seven more people, until the balance was right. So that the pessimism, the fatalism, the selfishness of the couple was balanced out by the hopes, dreams and ideals of other young people, and that of the old woman, who was young at heart. And then it never killed again.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The rain would not abate (short story)

Hi everyone, sorry it's been so long. I've been working on another novel that will go up here once it's finished and edited, it's a very strange one and I'm up to a difficult part, so it's taking me a while. But I thought I had better update since I haven't in about two months. Claire still writes good stuff!

Anyway here is a short story that's been sitting on my computer for a while with nowhere to go... It was inspired by that funny old tale about Walter Mitty, an old man with young dreams.

The rain would not abate

The rain would not abate. The corn was soaked through, the wheat beaten to the ground by the repetitive pelting; even Mrs. Walters’ pansies were drowned, their petals floating about as if the insubstantial stems were stripping, piece by piece. Even for the not-very-successful Mr. Walters, this sudden onslaught from above made this the worst season yet. But the rain had always fallen, and it would continue to fall no matter how idealistic Mr. Walters was.

“Harold Walters, do something!” screamed Mrs. Walters. “This is the worst season yet! We’ll be ruined!”

‘Damn it,’ thought Mr. Walters.

“Harold, why didn’t you listen to me? I told you we should go for livestock this year. I told you!

‘Damn it,’ thought Mr. Walters.

“Harry, I’ve had enough! How are we going to live? We’ll be bankrupt! Get out of that armchair you lazy slob, and do something!”

“Damn you!” exclaimed Mr. Walters. He had shot up out of his armchair, compelled by the impetus of the swearword (for Mrs. Walters, despite popular opinion, still considered ‘damn’ a dirty word, and forbade her husband the use of it). But even so, this sudden gain in height did nothing to intimidate the rotund mass that was Mrs. Walters. Now, as ever, she looked more than capable of squashing her tiny husband.

“Sit down you fool.”

And he did. “I’m sorry dear. Look, everything will be all right, we’ll pull through like we always do.”

“Did you know Mrs. Andrews next door went on a shopping spree last week? When have I ever gone on a shopping spree? When have you ever treated me to anything?”

“But we never have enough money.”

“Exactly. We never have enough money.”

“But dear, money isn’t the most important thing in the world. We live on a farm. We live the pastoral life! Do you know how many people envy us?”

“Harold, read this.” Mrs. Walters passed Mr. Walters a newspaper. Highlighted, run around in circles of ink, was a job advertisement. “The B.I.G. Company is looking for employees. You’ll have a steady income, one that’s not dependant on the whims of the weather,” Mrs. Walters said, in what was her attempt at a persuasive voice.

“I won’t do it,” announced Mr. Walters. “I am not a sell-out to corporations. I am a farmer. I am one with the earth.”

“Why, because you’re so close to it?”

“I’m serious, I will not do it.”

“But darling,” began Mrs. Walters, fluttering her eyelashes and stroking her husband’s arm with her short, chubby fingers, “In the city you can build your way up. Just think, you’ll be a nameless, faceless employee to start with, but then you’ll work your way up – you could be the boss, just like that!” She exclaimed, clicking two fat fingers together.

‘Yes…’ thought Mr. Walters. ‘I could be the boss.’ “All right dear, I’ll do it.”

“Good boy,” crooned Mrs. Walters, and she patted him on the head, stroking back and forth as if her were her cat or her dog.


The rain continues in the city. It runs through gutters like you wouldn’t believe. There have been hailstorms and a lot of the trees have lost their leaves, which were all too young to withstand the forces. Mr. Walters is dressed in his suit and for once in his life looks like maybe he could amount to something. He has been working for the B.I.G. Company for three months now, and the work is dull and time-consuming but at least Mrs. Walters is happy with the money. She is also happy that she gets to see much less of her diminutive husband.

Mr. Walters drives his car into the employee car park, which luckily is under cover so he does not get his new suit wet. He carries his briefcase through the lines of cubicles. He smiles at the unsmiling faces of co-workers. He cannot tell why they are not smiling. But he smiles nonetheless.

It is a smile which is worn down over the course of the day. Hammond keeps coming in. He is younger than Mr. Walters but he is his supervisor because he has been there longer and he has the right credentials. Hammond keeps giving him work, and he keeps checking on Mr. Walters, and he has a very snooty and smarmy way of doing so, as if he thinks Mr. Walters will go off-task the minute he turns his back. Mr. Walters does not particularly like Hammond, but he puts up with the young upstart because he knows that one day he’ll be the boss and then he can be snooty and smarmy and check on Hammond to see if he is snoozing. And the worn-down smile grows back fresh at this thought.

Hammond has just left the room after checking on Mr. Walters and telling him to do some report or other by the end of today. Mr. Walters is smiling at Hammond’s turned back, smiling because one day he’ll be boss, dreaming one day he’ll be boss, falling asleep now because he’ll need to be well rested for when he’s the boss…

Hammond wakes him up with three sharp taps on the shoulder. This is the fifth time I’ve caught you asleep he says. Pack your things he says. You’re fired he says.


Mr. Walters woke as if from a bad dream – but he had been awake the whole time, awake and working like a slave for a company which he hated, faking a smile everyday just in the hope of that promotion. The rain was still falling and Mr. Walters was driving home to the farm. The drive was uneventful, ‘much like my life’, thought Mr. Walters.

He got home. He drove his mini into the car port, slowly cruising in. He stopped the car and sat for a minute, listening in anticipation for the weather report. More rain. Slightly disappointed, he took the keys out of the ignition, got out of the car, and walked into the backyard because he noticed the gate was open. He shook his head and closed the gate. He noticed the back door was open. He went in and closed that too. ‘That’ll attract the thieves,’ he thought. He traipsed weary through the rooms, dropped his briefcase somewhere he couldn’t remember afterwards, and went upstairs to his bedroom.

There was Mrs. Walters heaving and sighing under some man. Mr. Walters never saw his face because his eyes were fixed on his wife, while the man grabbed his clothes and jumped out the window all in one swift movement, reappearing later in the view out the window, a pasty figure receding into the fields, buttocks shivering in the rain.

Mrs. Walters stared back at Mr. Walters, unashamed at her nakedness. ‘You fat old cow,’ thought Mr. Walters. But he did not say a thing. He never did say a thing. He took one look at her, covered with the sweat of another man, and went back out of the house.


I’m going to find me a lover. I’m going to go back to the city and get my job back. Demand a promotion. I’m not listening to my wife anymore. I’ve been shortchanged by life and I’m sick of it.

The rain is still falling! I’m on the motorway and this storm has not stopped. Maybe it will flood the world. I should build a boat and collect a menagerie.

In front of me, behind me, surrounding me are the other insignificant people all alone in their cars, gridlocked on the road by the coast. The sky is grey, the cars, even the coloured ones, all are grey, the sea and the sand is all grey. We’ve all been shortchanged, me, and you, the people in the cars, the sand, and the sea – we’ve all been shortchanged by the sky.


Suddenly the sun tore a small hole in the sky behind Mr. Walters, just peeping, but sending out a ray or two, rays which were visible as beams of light on the backdrop of grey. The light bounced through raindrop to raindrop, and a rainbow arched over the motorway, putting one foot far off on land and the other just next to the motorway, dabbling in the waves.

Mr. Walters could see the end right there before his eyes. ‘The end of the rainbow – the gold is in the water!’ he thought. ‘But everyone will be there before me!’ He looked around. Nobody had even raised their eyes from the dull red glow of brake lights before them. “You fools!” Mr. Walters shouted out loud, maniacally. He got out of his car, not even bothering to stop the engine and take the keys. He began to walk away, ignorant of the beeps of horns protesting, accompanying his brisk steps.

He arrived at the barrier and crossed it, onto the hard, slippery rocks, his shiny black shoes squeaking in fear, then onto the sand which recorded his shoeprint for posterity. He walked into the water, suit still on, and swam towards the end of the rainbow.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

True Tales from University: Final Chapter!!!

That's right! I have finally reached the final chapter of True Tales! I hope you enjoy the finale...

(Remember, if you've just started reading the True Tales, it begins with 'My Friend June', then 'Patrick Finnegan Lloyd', then 'The NICHE', and then this one...)

True Tales from University: The Girl with Green Hair 
Sometimes it is permissible to give even the strangest of tales a happy ending.


It was the first week of a new semester. It would be my last.
Semester, that is, not last week. Yes, I am dying, but not that fast.
That reality had dawned slowly on Patrick. I had come into university as many times as I could during my holidays, but it had made me feel sick, especially with all the bus riding I had to do. Eventually he realised this wasn’t going to cut it. He had to be able to come to me, not having me always come to him. He could visit me in dream, but I couldn’t sleep all day. And when I got put into hospital, he would have to come and see me. So he came up with an idea.
We had gone over it many, many times, but no matter how many times we went over it, I didn’t think I would be ready.
We did it in the last week of the holidays. It was night, and the music school was mostly empty. But not closed. The alarms were not on.
Patrick waited outside on the entrance while I stood inside the door of the music building. ‘Patrick Finnegan Lloyd,’ I said seriously, ‘I invite you in. You can hereafter come in the music school whenever you want to.’
Nervously, he stepped towards me. He wasn’t sure if this reversal of his expulsion was going to work, but it needed to. I reached out my hands to him. He stepped over the threshold, and took my hands, sighing with relief. He raised my hands to his face and kissed them. Touching me never lost its novelty for him. I was the only person in the world he could touch.
I knew now that he could talk to other people. People like mediums and stuff could hear him. He had told me the story of Amber, one of his agents, a medium and a lecturer who had a group of secret agent students who fought to defend the university. He had argued over something with Amber, and had been upset with her for a while, but whatever it was that passed between them, it had resolved itself before the holidays.
In the holidays, when his argument with Amber was over, he had said to me, ‘I can leave the university now.’
‘What, just like that?’ I asked, misunderstanding him.
‘No, I can’t physically leave yet. But my duty as protector is finished.’
‘But...’ I was confused. ‘But there will always be crime around the university. Surely you can’t leave.’
He shook his head gravely then, and told me, ‘I was holding a very dear secret for the university. I have just passed that secret onto Amber and her disciples. Now I can leave the university with my conscience free. And I can stay with you, while you’re in hospital.’
I hadn’t been thrilled about that idea, but as I stood here, now, on the threshold of the music school with him, I knew it couldn’t be any other way. He would never want to leave me, even after the chemo had started and my hair fell out again and I was too sick to want to see him or anyone else. My anger would grow again, anger at life, at my crappy destiny, everything. And he would try and quash it. Maybe it would destroy him. But he would try. And if I died, then perhaps we could finally be together.
With the barrier of his expulsion from the music school now crossed, the time for the mission was at hand. He stretched out his consciousness, as he put it, so he could sense anyone walking down the corridors. ‘It’s safe,’ he snapped back into himself to tell me. I skipped towards the desk, looking around needlessly, and dove behind, retrieving the master key set out of the top drawer. Predictable.
He walked down the corridors before me, reassuring me that there was no one around. We reached RECORDING STUDIO ONE and I unlocked the door.
There, on the wall, was his literal soul. He had said to me once that music was his soul, and so his guitar was his soul. On further reflection, we had realised that maybe the reason why he couldn’t leave the university wasn’t just that he had died there, but that his soul, in the form of his guitar, was trapped there forever. So, although we would upset many people by doing so, we were going to take it.
There was a soft guitar case in the corner. It had been something I hadn’t thought of before, but seeing it here was a kind of fortuitous sign. I grabbed it up and prised the guitar carefully off the wall. I held it so preciously. After all, it was the physical soul of my beloved. He surely felt the tenderness as I carefully zipped the rainbow-painted guitar into the black guitar case. He gave me a quick kiss before we walked out of the room that he was murdered in.
‘We’re doing the right thing,’ I reminded both of us. I felt terribly guilty about stealing the much loved guitar, the mascot of RECORDING STUDIO ONE. But it had to be done.
He walked ahead of me on the way out, but no one was around to stop me or reveal my crime. We headed out of the school, and Patrick cast about for a place for us to go where we could finish the job, alone. He directed me to a steep hilly park just behind the university, a smaller park than the one we used to meet in. Besides the rush of cars going past the park, it was deserted.
‘Okay. Forgive me, Pat,’ I whispered.
He laughed. ‘Don’t be silly. I’d never forgive you if you didn’t do this.’
‘One last strum for the old girl, don’t you think?’
He frowned. ‘I don’t think I can touch it.’
‘Have you tried?’
He hummed quietly, and then reached forward. He touched the strings and brushed them gently. They reacted, vibrating and producing the sweet tones they had been wont to produce so long ago. ‘Still in tune,’ he mused, a delighted smile on his face.
I passed the guitar to him and we sat down on a square slab of concrete in the middle of grass, which was only there to accommodate a manhole. He played me one of the songs he had written for me, all those decades before. The cold air of the night surrounded me, but I felt nothing but warmth as the music he had written for me filled me and echoed, unheard by anyone else, into the night.
When he finished, I was crying. ‘Must we really, Pat? It’s so beautiful.’
He looked down, sad too, but he nodded. ‘Yes. It must be done. You could never carry this around with you all the time. People would find it. People would know you took it, and if you ever told them the reason, they would think you crazy.’
He handed the guitar to me. ‘Look away,’ I demanded of him. He shook his head, and stood with me. Standing behind me, he wrapped his hands around mine.
We both held the neck of the guitar, and smashed it against the cold, hard concrete.
I fell to my knees, crying freely now. I gathered up the fragments of the guitar that had fallen onto the grass. I couldn’t possibly miss any. Pat could sense all of them, so it was impossible to miss them even in the dark. We gathered them into a small pile and smashed the main body of the guitar again. It affected me more than it affected him. He was resigned to the fact that he would have to be with me always. I, however, felt as if I was actually assaulting him.
Eventually the guitar was so smashed up that it was time. Only the strings and the metal tuning pegs were left. I put them in a pile of their own, separate from the wooden parts.
I met Patrick’s eyes. He squeezed my hand gently, and guided it to my satchel. I retrieved the lighter. He held my wrist as I set fire to the colourful jumble of broken guitar.
He held me as I cried, my eyes stinging as I watched the smashed pieces burn. In time, they were only ashes, with a few little metal fixtures left over. These I picked up with tweezers and put them straight into the little velvet pouch I had reserved especially for this sordid business. I also put the strings and tuning pegs in there. All that was left was the ashes. I got out the little hand-vacuum from my bag. It had been so heavy, carrying this in to university, but it had been necessary.
I vacuumed up the ashes of Patrick’s soul. Then, when he was satisfied, sensing that all parts of his soul were together, I opened the vacuum, took out the little bag, and folded it up, stashing it with the other mangled parts of the guitar.
He closed his eyes for a few moments. ‘Yes. I think that’s it.’
The real moment of truth would be when we passed his usual threshold. I walked towards my bus stop, the pouch under my jumper and tied around my neck. I clutched it with desperation as we came closer and closer to the street which was usually the boundary of Patrick’s domain.
I held his hand tight and started across the street. I half expected him to vanish before my eyes. But he stayed with me the whole way. As we reached the pavement on the other side of the street, I burst into a cheer. I threw my arms around Patrick’s neck and kissed him. Anyone who was nearby at the time just passed by, totally disregarding the mad girl kissing the air.
This meant... this meant everything. That night he came home with me, for the first time. He got to meet my parents for the first time, even though they couldn’t meet him. Finally, for the first time, we were able to be completely alone from the world. Before this, we could only meet on university grounds, where we could never truly be alone.  It was a night of many firsts for us.

That was last week. This was now, the first week of the new semester.
We sat outside the music building, down an alley not often used. The wall behind the bench we sat on was white, and the sun was so bright against the wall that I could see through Patrick, just slightly. The thought did not disturb me. I knew, if I touched him, he would be perfectly solid to me.
I ate lunch while he talked to me.
‘They haven’t found your fingerprints, Mary. They’re thinking about installing cameras now, though.’
I laughed, covering my mouth. ‘Oh no... I feel so bad...’
‘I feel good. I feel great. Don’t you?’
I rested my head for a second on his shoulder. ‘Yeah. Yeah, all right, I do. I’m glad I did it. But I’m sad for them.’
‘Oh well! They had the building blessed so I couldn’t enter. They mustn’t have loved me very much. Certainly not as much as you.’ He wrapped his arms around my waist.
I kissed his forehead. ‘Stop being silly. Look, there are people coming.’
 Down an alley perpendicular to ours, two girls were coming. Both were blonde, but one of them had the ends of her hair dyed green. I noticed that they had noticed me. I heard the shorter of the two look at me weirdly and say something to her friend, something about me being crazy and talking to myself.
The green-haired girl stopped. She looked at me. She looked at her friend, said something. Then she looked at me again.
No. She wasn’t looking at me.
‘She’s looking at me,’ Patrick said softly, amazed.


I left class and found June standing outside. ‘Hey,’ I said softly and fell into step with her. I was in a bit of a crappy mood, but I was ready to be cheered up. If anyone could do that, it was June.
‘What’s wrong?’ she asked. ‘You look down.’
‘Oh, I’m just really annoyed at all the work I’m going to have to do tonight. I thought first lot of classes were supposed to be easy. But I have a huge amount of readings to do before next week. It sucks.’
‘Come on. Let’s go eat. Eating always cheers you up.’
‘Shut up,’ I retorted, poking my tongue out at her.
The sun was shining brightly as we walked through a raised alleyway between some old buildings used by various faculties. I looked at the bright white wall ahead. A delicately thin girl with blonde, curly hair in a short halo around her head was sitting on the bench opposite us. She was... talking to herself.
‘Ugh,’ I said, and stopped walking. I wanted to walk the other way.
‘What is it?’ June asked, concerned.
‘Let’s turn around. There’s a crazy there. That girl’s talking to herself.’
I looked at her. She glared back at me. I looked away, kind of ashamed. June looked at her. Then she turned back to me. ‘What are you talking about? She’s talking to her boyfriend, who’s hugging her.’
I looked at June. I looked at the girl on the bench. There was no one else sitting on the bench, let alone hugging the girl. ‘June... what the hell? There’s no one else there.’
June looked at me. ‘Wait, what? You can’t see him?’
I shook my head. Spurred on by the mystery, she charged forward. ‘Hi. I’m June,’ she introduced herself to the girl... and to an invisible entity slightly to the right of the girl. ‘Um... so... I can see you, but my friend here can’t.’
The curly haired girl regarded June with eyes so wide she looked like a cute little animal in the headlights of a car.
‘Did you hear that, Lou?’ June asked me after a moment.
‘Hear what?’ I demanded of her, hands on hips.
‘Patrick says he’s a ghost.’
‘No, I didn’t hear that.’ For some reason I was feeling pissed off again. So... so what? June and this weird girl were seeing someone who didn’t exist? Was I the only sane person?
‘Patrick, this is Louise, and I’m June.’
There was a pause, as if someone should have been speaking. As if someone was speaking. Finally, the girl piped up, speaking to me. ‘I’m Mary. Sorry.’ Why was she apologising? Oh right. I could only hear one quarter of this conversation.
June was cottoning onto the fact that I was missing out on the information necessary to hold a sane conversation, and so she began to repeat Patrick for my benefit. ‘Why can I see you?’ she repeated from his words, looking at me before turning back to the invisible man. ‘Well... well Patrick, I feel I should tell you, and Mary here, but... but you must keep it secret. Mary could be killed if she tells people this information.’ June stared at Mary seriously here.
‘I won’t tell, I promise,’ Mary said quickly. She seemed very eager to know whatever June’s secret was. I felt even more pissed off. June was going to reveal to Mary, a girl she had only just met, a secret that I could have died for finding out. It wasn’t fair.
‘I’m an alien-zombie-droid from the planet Xartex.’ She spent a few minutes explaining to them how that worked. In the meantime, I got more and more pissed off. Eventually, I screamed in frustration and waved my hands in the position that the invisible guy would have been sitting.
Mary screamed and stood up. When I finally stopped my childish rebellion, she stared at me with a face like thunder. June looked at me, shocked. ‘Lou!’ she cried. ‘Have you any idea how offensive your actions just now have been?’
‘I don’t care!’ I cried out. I had to admit to myself, eventually, the real thing I was pissed off about was still Silas. It had only been a couple of days since we had finally broken it off with that spectacular argument. But this weird situation was breaking point for me. ‘Have you any idea how frustrating it is to be part of a conversation where I can’t see or hear one of the participants?!’
I ran up the alley, feeling embarrassed and angry. Damn, I had really let my temper get the better of me, but still. Ghosts existed. And June could hold conversations with them. Freaky. Way too freaky.
That pissed me off immensely. I was tired of being just human. I wanted to be a Xartexan. I wanted a soul, a real, physical soul, so that no one could ever say again that I was soulless.


I had been spending the week trying to find the girl with green hair. And finally, down an alley between the history department and the music school, I found her.
I pushed past a girl, running with a red face, and approached the girl with green hair. She was talking with another girl, small and blonde, but I was past politeness. I was going to interrupt their conversation. I needed answers, and I needed them now.
I took the key out of my pocket and walked up to her. I stood in front of her. She did a double take when she saw me standing in front of her. She looked down. She saw the key. She sighed. ‘Ah. You must be... Andrew, yes?’
‘Yes. I’m Andrew. Who are you?’
‘I’m June.’
‘Okay June. No funny business. Tell me everything about the key. No lies, no deception.’
She squirmed uneasily. ‘Okay, if you’ll just come with me...’
‘No. I’m not going anywhere. You tell me, here and now, in front of your friend. You have no idea how much I had to personally go through to save this damn thing. You have no idea how much my friends went through. So damn it, android, start speaking.’
It worked – she had been surprised by my use of the word “android”. She looked at the other girl, and then began, while looking me seriously in the eye. ‘Okay. I don’t know how much you know already. But when we came here from our planet, we had been trying to find others like us. Others who, like us, live forever. Not one species in the universe had presented physical souls, like us.’
This was all new to me. The androids were aliens? They were immortal? They had physical souls? It was a lot of information to take in at once, but I had to keep up, as June carried on. ‘But some of our scientists were working on a process to perhaps... manufacture, I suppose, physical souls in other species. Nothing was working. Until finally, they came up with the theory that one actually would have to visit our home planet in order to kind of... “grow” a soul. Working with an engineer from this very university, over a century ago, some of us created a ship that would be capable of sustaining human life over the extreme conditions of the journey to Xartex, our home planet. The plan was to get some human subjects in the ship and take them back to Xartex, where we could work with the elements of our planet to see if souls could be manifested there. We were, of course, not completely sure that universal geography was the key to immortality, but there is a source of power in our planet quite unlike anything here on Earth. It may be the key to producing immortal, physical souls.’
I nodded slowly. ‘But the engineer backed out.’
‘Yes. He told us that he realized God had never wanted this for humans. Even though he knew about us, and our physical souls, he still stuck to his old religious beliefs. I think it hurt him to realise his own mortality. He cracked, in a way, under the burden of the knowledge.’
Yes, I could understand that. Many a time over the last few months I had cracked under the pressure of knowing that, even after I died, Adrianna might still be alive and well. But now, she was gone. Forever.
The other girl, who had been silent up until now, stood up, and began to talk very fast, excited. ‘You have to take us to Xartex, June! Could you give Patrick a body? Could you cure my cancer?’
I had no idea what the small girl was talking about. But the gigantic June nodded her head slowly and thoughtfully. ‘Yes. Yes, we might as well try to do that. There are three human survival pods on the ship. This key is the fuel tank. This small amount of fuel will be enough to take us all the way to Xartex, and the journey takes only a few days in Earth time. So, three places… that’s one for you, Patrick and I won’t be needing one… and I think, after all that’s happened, I should take Louise. There’s one more place left.’
‘I’ll take it,’ I said, hardly thinking before I spoke.
June looked at me. I felt as if she was actually looking through me. Her look was so knowing. After one awful moment of introspection, she finally smiled on me and said, ‘Yes, I think after all you’ve been through, you deserve it.’


Like always, infuriatingly understanding, June understood perfectly why I had gotten mad. It was because I felt soulless. But then she offered me a place on a journey to Xartex. A research journey, for a few Earth months. To see if humans could “grow” physical souls.
I jumped at the chance. It was what I always wanted. I would get into space. It was perfect. It didn’t matter that I’d miss out on the rest of this semester. I couldn’t skip the chance of a lifetime.
Besides, I eventually realised that, if June and this Mary girl could see a ghost, then humans really did have something like a soul that they left behind after life. So maybe this crazy plan might just work.
So I told Leigh and my parents that I’d been given a chance to study abroad. June told me that it was possible to call my parents from Xartex. The technology did exist. I just shouldn’t tell them where I actually was.
Andrew used the same excuse for his mother, but I believe he told his flatmate and some of his friends the truth. That amazed me. How could June let so many people know about her? But soon, as I got to know Andrew and his story, I realised why he and his friends were allowed to know.
Mary told her parents the truth too. They were all too happy for their daughter to go, if it meant that she would be cured of cancer. June and Detective Julie visited Mary’s parents to prove to them what Mary said was true, about there being androids with immortal souls in them.
I still didn’t quite believe in Mary’s invisible boyfriend. Andrew and I shared many sceptical looks when we saw Mary kissing the air and holding one-sided conversations. It became a bit of a joke between Andrew and me. We even started making out in front of Mary just to piss her off. But I think there was a little more to our kissing than just a joke. Time would tell what developed there.
The ship had been stored under the park the whole time. When the key was inserted, the fountain in the park stopped, drained itself, and was slid aside, just like on Thunderbirds when the buildings came apart to let the Thunderbirds out of their docks. The surprisingly small ship, octagonal from a bird’s eye view, rose to ground level.
We climbed in, all five of us. Take off was rough, but no one was sick. Soon, we were in space. Space, the place I had always wanted to be. Now that I was there, it just felt like a dream. I couldn’t believe it.
We had to spend several hours a day in the human survival pods, and there we got a restful sleep, and our nutritional and other needs were serviced there. The rest of the time we could spend looking out of the small windows of the ship, marvelling at the wonders of the universe we all shared.
It didn’t matter in the end whether or not we got souls, I had decided. Silas couldn’t have that hold on me anymore. I believed in my soul, non-physically speaking. Xartexans had a gift that no one else shared. That made them different to us, but not superior.
They were the observers of the universe. We were observers too, though without their abilities. But now, they were going to share their abilities with us.

I felt as if I was fulfilling the very purpose of my existence.