Thursday, December 31, 2009

#fridayflash: The Kiss

Looking around the room, Sandra tried not to let her face betray the despair gripping her heart. The party wasn't exactly kicking, neither were the fellas Jacinta had said would be there. There were guys there, sure, but the kind who wore jumpers knitted by their mums. As she sank another champagne, Sandra resigned herself to another New Year's Eve without a kiss.

She knew she shouldn't have built this night up; New Year's Eve parties often ended up far less exciting than anticipated. She could count on one hand the good times she'd had on the last night of the year, despite what all those Hollywood movies promised.

Grazing the buffet, Sandra's head was turned by a late arrival. The tall blonde man locked eyes with her as Jacinta greeted him at the door. Sandra sucked in her tummy and pulled her shoulders back as Jacinta guided the man over to where she stood.

'Sandie, I'd like you to meet Sven. He's the visiting researcher at work I told you about.'

Sandra blushed as Sven took her hand and kissed it.

'Hi,' she said shyly.

'Hello,' he said with a suitably Swedish accent.

'I'll leave you two to it,' said Jacinta with a knowing smile as she headed to the kitchen.

Sandra and Sven managed to find quite a lot to talk about. Both were research scientists, although in different fields, both held university grants and had worked overseas, and both were single on New Year's Eve.

Burning with the suffused glow of alcohol and welcome male attention, Sandra allowed Sven to walk her out onto the balcony as the minutes marched towards midnight. As the other partygoers counted down seconds to go, Sven pulled Sandra in close, wrapped his arms around her waist and shoulders and planted on her lips a long, slow kiss that stayed with Sandra well into the new year.

Friday, December 25, 2009

#fridayflash: Salivation


By Lily Mulholland

Ramondo sure liked Christmas. Stuffed turkey, lamb, chicken, all cooked to perfection. Slugs of ham with maraschino cherries cresting diamonds carved into fatty hide. Roast potatoes with homemade gravy. His mouth watered just thinking about it. Tummy rumbling, Ramondo began on the dessert menu. He adored his grandmother’s fruit mince pies, although he’d made himself sick eating them more than once. He loved plum pudding, especially the homemade ones containing pennies saved from his youth. He wiped the corner of his mouth with a handkerchief. It wouldn’t do to actually drool on his shirt. Ramondo sighed. His virtual Christmas feast had tired him out. Deciding a little lie down was in order, he swung his feet up onto the cot. He lay back and ignored the bars on his cell; he didn’t need reminding that it would be another twelve years until his next Christmas feast.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An Elementary Christmas

Merry Christmas to my lovely readers. Here's a Christmas tale for you. Enjoy! Happy New Year and I'll 'see you' in 2010.

------------------------
An Elementary Christmas

By Lily Mulholland


Feeling every one of his seventy-six years, Ellery Scott was at war with the world. Not the entire world exactly, just his sphere of influence. Well, not even that. He didn’t hold much sway these days. He’d never been a happy man. He’d had his successes, sure, but life had been one long series of failures and disappointments. The final and he thought most fitting was being placed in ‘care’ by his family. What there was left of them. That had been two years ago and none of them had paid a visit since. Ellery spent his days in a wheelchair looking out the picture windows at a garden that looked like it had been manicured by his sadist podiatrist. Everything had been Gillette-trimmed with a triple blade – he doubted the garden could survive much more shaving.

Ellery still shaved. Every day. He’d never admit it to himself, but he wanted to keep up appearances on the outside, no matter how far the inside had decayed. Ellery knew he didn’t have too many years left, and he didn’t give a dang about death. But somewhere, locked deep inside, was a flicker of hope someone from his family would come and visit him. He wanted to know someone, anyone really, remembered him and cared just enough to get in the car and make the trip out to Pleasant Gardens.

Some of this subconscious monologue was beginning to surface, like a submarine – slowly, stealthily and surely. Ellery didn’t want to have this conversation and was battling his inner demons, all the while maintaining his customary severe look. He didn’t want any of the inmates or staff to notice he was going a bit cuckoo again. Staring fiercely at the garden without seeing, Ellery got himself back under control. He reminded himself he didn’t care anymore and was simply waiting for death to seek out his company.

Catching movement in the inside reflection of the glass, Ellery’s eyes slowly refocused on the mirror image of the man coming towards him. Damn, it’s that goddamn annoying orderly again.

‘Mr Scott? It’s time for your appointment with Dr Skrynka.’

Ellery didn’t respond in any way that would let the man know he’d heard him. Perhaps he’d go away.

‘Come on Mr Scott. I know you saw me. Ignoring me won’t make me go away. And, since you’re in a wheelchair and can’t get away from me, I’m just going to take you to see the doc.’

Ellery swore quietly. He knew there was no point in resisting. He also knew the young upstart was much physically stronger and had orders to take him forcibly if he refused to go. One of the endless joys of being interned in this place.

The young man wheeled Ellery down the length of the gallery, a large sitting room filled with chesterfield lounges, ornate side tables topped with large floral arrangements in glass vases. It was a nicely fitted out place if you went in for that kind of thing and Ellery was almost grateful his family had not chosen one of the budget nursing homes. The thought made his skin crawl and he shuddered.

‘Are you all right, Mr Scott?’

‘Fine.’

‘You can call me Jake.’

‘Why would I want to do that?’

‘Well I do see you every week. It would be polite.’

‘You want polite? Make an appointment. I charge by the hour.’ Ellery knew he was coming across as particularly thorny today, but he didn’t care.

Jacob Marley laughed. He’d seen it all before. He’d been working here for four years while he pursued his medical degree. This was his last year and he looked forward to getting out and practising what he’d been learning. He wasn’t going into geriatrics – four years of looking after incapacitated seniors had taught him that wasn’t a good idea.

‘That an accounting joke?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well, you used to be an accountant.’

‘How the hell did you know that?’

‘I’ve read your file Mr Scott.’

‘But you’re a goddamn orderly!’ Ellery could feel the apoplexy rising. He knew he shouldn’t get openly angry, especially before an appointment with the psychiatrist, but he was pissed at the insubordinate attitude. He was a man used to respect. Not that he’d had much in a long time, but he never let go of his superior attitude. He was a professional. Not some schmuck wheeling oldies around a loony bin.

‘Actually I’m not. I’m a fourth-year medical student and I’m here working as an assistant to Dr Skrynka.’

‘Oh.’

‘Apology accepted,’ said Jake, not missing a beat as he wheeled Ellery through a labyrinth of corridors and meeting rooms.

Ellery was disgusted to see Christmas decorations taped to every wall and ceiling. He noted several Christmas trees, all with gold and silver baubles. Some even had those ridiculous optical fibre lights in their so-called leaves. Up on each pinboard, in addition to the mandatory emergency drills and safety notices was a number of small posters advertising all number of events. There was a full social calendar at Pleasant Gardens, designed to keep the patients occupied and distract them from their troubles and pain.

Jacob asked Ellery if he was in the choir this year, at which Ellery nearly choked on his saliva. He managed to splutter, ‘Over my dead body!’ before being overcome with a coughing fit.

‘Why not?’ asked Jake, ignoring the outburst.

‘To sing a bunch of Christmas carols with the nearly dead? Somebody kill me now.’

‘Now, now, Mr Scott, you know suicidal talk is reportable.’ Ellery couldn’t tell if Jacob was joking or not. He didn’t respond, choosing instead to glower at the floor as his chair was pushed interminably along the route to the professional suites on the other side of the building.

‘I can’t stand Christmas,’ he said finally.

‘Why not?’

‘Too many bad associations. And it’s just a commercial free for all. There’s no soul to it anymore. It’s all what can I get? with young kids these days. Parents spending too much money on crap their kids don’t need. I tell you, in my day we were happy with a stick and a jam tin.’

‘Well, Mr Scott, I don’t agree with you. Christmas should be a time to reflect on what you’ve been given and to celebrate with your family. Have you been in touch with your family lately?’

‘They’re dead to me,’ Ellery said, with a trace of venom entering his voice.

‘I’m truly sorry to hear it,’ said Jacob, as he wheeled Ellery in through Dr Skrynka’s door. ‘Perhaps you should reach out to them. You might be surprised what good could come of it.’

Ellery sat quietly while he waited for the doctor to arrive. He shook his head at the suggestion of talking to his son or daughter. They’d made the arrangements to put him here in the first place, without consulting with him. He’d had a fall at home not long after Margaret had died and had to have a hip replacement; the operation did not go well. When he did not recover full mobility the decision to move him into care had been made without him. He could never forgive them for that.

Dr Skrynka entered the room from an adjoining suite and sat down on a sofa opposite Ellery. He took up an electronic tablet Ellery supposed had replaced the old clipboard and paper sheets, with which he was very familiar.

‘A new toy?’ ventured Ellery.

‘Indeed.’ Dr Skrynka was a man without much humour. That suited Ellery fine most weeks, but this week, for some reason, he felt the need to needle the man.

‘Make sure you’ve got the right file there. I don’t want you to confuse me with someone who gives a damn.’

‘Indeed,’ repeated Dr Skrynka, effectively silencing Ellery. ‘Have you thought about what I suggested last week?’

Ellery played dumb. He didn’t want to talk about his past anymore. What had happened had happened and he didn’t see what relevance it had to the present.

‘I can see that you have not,’ said Dr Skrynka. ‘I am also informed that you have been moodier than normal since we last met.’

Ellery squirmed. Jacob. He must be Dr Skrynka’s spy. Damn him.

‘Well, Ellery, I cannot help you. You must help yourself. Write a letter to your son-in-law, I urge you. Do not go to your grave with unfinished business. You might not care, but he is the one who will be left wondering. What will he tell your granddaughter?’

Ellery’s head shot up at the mention of Maggie. Although he had not seen her since she was a babe in arms, the young girl held the only soft place left in Ellery’s heart.

‘Why don’t you invite them to come and see you? It is Christmas after all.’

‘I told you. I never want to see that bastard again.’

‘I remember. You hold him responsible for your daughter’s death. Ellery, you must find a way to forgive him. He has surely suffered enough.’

‘He could never suffer enough. He killed Ellen. On Christmas Eve.’

‘It was a car accident. An accident, Ellery. You know that.’

‘He killed my Ellen. She meant everything to me. She was the only one of my children who understood me.’ Ellery stopped speaking. From somewhere unbidden, emotion arrived in a rush, strangling his throat and making his eyes water.

Dr Skrynka played his final card.

‘Do you want to see the child before you die?’

Ellery did not respond. He bowed his head and withdrew his mind from the conversation.

‘And so.’ Dr Skrynka got up and went to his desk, where he picked up the phone and spoke into it, requesting an orderly to take Ellery to his room.

‘I cannot help you any further Ellery. I don’t want to see you again until you call Peter. You know what you need to do.’

A young woman in jeans and a sparkly top came into the room and reversed Ellery’s chair around the furniture and out the door. Her Christmas earrings chimed as she walked. The sound was like a knife stabbing deep into Ellery’s brain. His knuckles whitened as his grip on the chair’s armrests tightened. Mercifully the trip to his room wasn’t far and he only had to put up with the torture for five minutes.

‘There ya go love,’ said the woman. ‘You want me to help you up onto the bed?

She was chewing gum, a habit Ellery found most distasteful.

‘No. I can do it myself, if you position the bar over my chair.’

‘As you wish,’ she said. ‘Did you see a letter came for you?’

Ellery’s head whipped around. The woman was holding a white envelope in her hand.

‘Just put it on the bedside please.’

‘Okay love. Enjoy your dinner. Plum pudding tonight!’ she said as she sailed out the door, taking her jingling ears with her.

Ellery heaved himself up onto the bed. It took most of his strength, so he had to rest against the pillows for a minute before reaching for the letter. He knew he should let the staff help him, but he was a pig-headed man and couldn’t bring himself to ask. The envelope had no return address. He wondered who it was from and slid his gnarled thumbnail under the flap to lift enough paper to be able to grasp it with two fingers and rip the envelope open. Inside was a single folded sheet of writing paper. He opened it and saw with surprise it was from his son-in-law. Ellery throbbed with instant rage. He screwed up the unread paper and threw it as far from him as he could.

‘Damn him, damn him, damn him!’

‘And damn that cursed interfering fool of a psychologist. I’ll have him for this!’

The other patients and staff heard his outburst the length of the corridor. Hurried footsteps echoed as one of the staff rushed in to his room.

‘Mr Scott! Are you okay?’

‘NO I AM NOT ALL RIGHT!’

‘Please calm down Mr Scott. You’re scaring the other patients and we’ll have to sedate you unless you can control yourself.’

The nurse patted her pocket and Ellery knew that was where she kept the tranquiliser. He’d seen the staff jab patients before and he’d seen the instant slump that followed. He had no intention of being similarly dosed and strapped to his bed. It was undignified and he was determined to die a dignified death, if nothing else.

‘Now what has happened?’

‘Nothing.’

She wasn’t convinced. Ellery gave in.

‘I received a letter from someone I wish to never see or hear from again. He ruined my life and I refuse to let him be a part of mine.’

‘I can see why that would upset you Mr Scott, but you need to calm down. Now, I am going to give you something to help you settle down. Don’t look so worried, it’s a mild relaxant. It will help you sleep.’

Ellery submitted and swallowed the two round pearly white pills.

‘The drowsiness should kick in not long after dinner. Enjoy your Christmas turkey and try not to think about the letter too much. I’ll be back later to check on you. You had better be asleep, Mr Scott.’

Ellery watched her leave the room and leant his head back against the pillows and closed his eyes. Immediately images of Ellen danced before him and, as always, he welcomed the memories and the feeling of peace they bestowed. Ellen on her sixth birthday, missing a front tooth, gazing at him over the birthday cake, the candles reflected in her eyes. Ellen at her confirmation, in her little bride’s dress and veil, suddenly looking all serious and grown up. Ellen graduating from university, her graduand’s robes swamping her tiny frame, but the same high-wattage smile and shimmering eyes peering out from under her mortar board. Ellen on her wedding day. Ellen with her new baby. Ellen, his Ellen, his special Ellen.

Tears rolled down Ellery’s cheeks as the memories ran out and the one he was left with was Ellen lying on a trolley at the morgue. He’d had to identify her. Peter and Maggie were in hospital and Margaret was in no shape to view the body. He knew Ellen was dead; what he wasn’t prepared for were the injuries, the bruising. The image of Ellen covered in welts, her skin a livid purple, had haunted him every day since. He could not get it out of his head.

The squeaking wheel of the dinner trolley shook him from his reverie. The Filipina lady who brought in his dinner tray never spoke to him, nor he to her. But tonight, he said thank you. She didn’t look at him, but simply placed his dinner on the table, wheeled it over to his bed and left the room. Ellery looked at his plate with its lonely piece of cheap tinsel and felt something snap deep inside his body. He pushed his dinner away uneaten and succumbed to the sleep that tugged at his eyes.

Despite the tablets, Ellery did not sleep well. He dreamt vividly of Margaret and Ellen, and of Michelle and David, his older children. He finally fell into a deep sleep around dawn and did not stir until breakfast arrived. Waiting for the plates to be cleared, Ellery was fighting a very personal battle. He longed to see his granddaughter. Maggie, named for her grandmother, would be six now. He wondered whether she had lost her first tooth yet. He had missed so much. All because of his stubbornness and belligerence. He felt an unease settle upon him; he did not want to die without seeing her, but that would mean talking to Peter. He hadn’t seen him since Ellen’s funeral five years earlier.

With the effects of the sleeping pills sitting upon him heavily, Ellery allowed himself to doze for another hour. He fell again into a dream-filled sleep. This time he was in his bed at the nursing home, his head turned toward the door, which was backlit by the streaming morning sunlight. Suddenly the aged-six Ellen materialised in the doorway, smiling that unforgettable grin. Ellery held out his hand to her and the little girl came forward. Ellery returned her smile. When he awoke, Ellery felt a strange sense of peace deep in his bones. He rang for the nurse to assist him with his toilette and made a decision. He would write to Peter asking to see Maggie. It was time.

The nurse arrived and helped him walk slowly into his bathroom. She expertly removed yesterday’s clothes and helped Ellery shower and dress. She laid out his shaving gear and leant on the metal railing that ran around the room while Ellery shaved. His hand was still steady enough to scrape away the white hairs that insisted growing on the lower part of his face, despite having refused to grow on his pate for the past forty years. As he shaved the nurse spoke to him.

‘You had a visitor this morning. Two actually.’

In his surprise Ellery nicked his neck. He ignored the pain and the small trickle of blood to look up at the nurse.

‘Visitors?’

‘Yes, a man and a little girl. They came while you were asleep after breakfast.’

Ellery stared at her in amazement. He tried to stand up.

‘Where have they gone? I have to go after them!’ The panic was rising and propelled him into action despite his body’s protest.

‘Please! Sit down Mr Scott. It’s okay. They’ve gone for a drive and they said they’ll come back this afternoon after lunch.’

Ellery sat down. He took in what the nurse had said and realised he was holding his breath. He released the tension and took a great shuddering breath. It was then that he asked the nurse to help him finish his shave; his hand had started shaking.

‘Make sure you do a good job of it please nurse. I have some very important guests arriving and I want to look my best. It’s, it’s my granddaughter. My Maggie.’

The nurse smiled at Ellery. She thought he looked different. Younger. Happier.

‘Merry Christmas, Mr Scott.’

‘Merry Christmas, my dear.’

___________________


This story was first published in the Soft Whispers Magazine 2009 Christmas Special.

Friday, December 18, 2009

#fridayflash: Frozen

This is a reworked version of the first piece of fiction I wrote this year.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Frozen
By Lily Mulholland

Jo froze on the inside as the target emerged from the train and walked past the newsstand where she was waiting. She sucked in her breath and regained her composure. Sliding her hand inside her coat pocket, she found the paper-wrapped gum she kept for moments like these. She unwrapped it with one hand and slowly moved the stick up into her mouth. It used to be cigarettes she used to give her a reason to loiter, but since the cancer scare she'd given them up. Jo started chewing and made her move.

The target was walking quickly. If he was checking for a tail, Jo couldn't spot it. That meant one of two things: either he was unaware of her presence, or he was on the grid. A fellow spook. Shit. That would make this morning's work all the more difficult. She knew there couldn't be any cock-ups today. Spartan was counting on her.

Jo was maintaining a good distance from the black-coated man, while at the same time making it look like she wasn't in a hurry. A tricky balancing act, but one she was confident she'd mastered over the past five years. She was just about to contact Control when her target stopped dead and spun around. He peeled off his glasses and his eyes threw down a challenge as she faltered.

'Hello Josephine.'

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009

#fridayflash: Release

Olivia let the warmth of the sand envelop her and tried to ignore the ticklish sensation as droplets of sweat rolled slowly over the contours of her body. It was hot and she liked it. A long way from home, where the weather forecast had been for ‘cold and dark’. The massage lady approached. Olivia squinted through pretend sleeping eyes. She didn’t want to give her interest away until she’d had a chance to check out her would-be torturer. Having heard stories about permanent neck damage, overly amorous masseurs and being generally unused to having strangers’ hands on her body, Olivia was understandably nervous about undergoing this Thai holiday ritual. But, she was here. She’d finally mustered up the courage to come alone. That took some doing. She hadn’t had much self-confidence since her marriage fell over so spectacularly. The massage lady had somehow sensed Olivia was watching her.

‘Massage?’

‘ Yes please,’ said Olivia in a forced, over-cheery voice.

And, she realised, too late, that she’d come up into Cobra, exposing her bare breasts to the rest of the tourists lazing on the beach. While her cheeks coloured a little, she remembered that she was far from home and knew no one on this beach – she’d patrolled it twice before dumping her stuff on her little patch of sand, just to be sure. The woman dropped her cushion at Olivia’s head and sat down.

‘300 Baht okay?’

Olivia quickly worked out the exchange rage and figured this equated to about ten Aussie dollars.

‘Okay’, she said, managing to hand over some well worn notes to the lady without further exposing herself.

How old was she? She looked ancient. Olivia didn’t get another look at the woman, as her face was pushed gently down into her towel. Olivia heard the flick of an opening bottle. Warm sticky oil pooled in the small of her back. The smell of coconut reached Olivia’s nose, reminding her of her teenage years back in Melbourne. She and her friends had slathered themselves in oil at the Ashburton Pool, trying to outdo each other in resembling a hazelnut by the end of summer. Reminiscences were cut short as surprisingly smooth hands started working the oil up and down the length of her torso. Olivia remembered to breathe. It had been a long time since anyone had touched her bare skin and she tried to suppress a shiver.

‘You okay?’

‘Yes,’ mumbled Olivia into the sand.

The smooth stroking turned into firm and then hard pressure along her back. The lady found the knots in Olivia’s shoulders and neck. She didn’t hold back, using thumbs, knuckles and even her elbows to knead and pummel Olivia’s muscles and fibres. The pain levels were increasing but Olivia resisted the urge to shout stop.

Stop it did, but then the woman rearranged herself and her hands, either side of Olivia’s head.

‘Roll over.’

Olivia did as she was commanded with as much grace as she could muster, which wasn’t much, considering she held the untied strings of her bikini top in her right hand and was using her left elbow to try to gain some kind of traction in the subsiding sand. Finally she made it onto her back and straightened up the triangles affording a small degree of modesty to her boobs.

‘Okay?’

‘Okay,’ echoed Olivia, wondering what was coming next. The woman cradled Olivia’s head in her hands. She rocked it slowly side to side, like a baby. Olivia was lulled by the sensation and thought it reminded her of warm summer days sleeping in a hammock. Crack! Olivia’s neck popped audibly as the woman wrenched it first to the left and then to the right. Two more gentle movements and Olivia’s head was once again on the towel.

‘Okay?’

‘Fuck yes! GREAT, THANK YOU!’

Olivia was finding it hard to control her voice, which had gone all loud and squeaky. The lady beamed a smile around her broken teeth, nodded and stood up. She placed her hands together, bowed slightly and farewelled Olivia with a gentle khob-kun-Ka. As Olivia watched her disappear down the beach she realised she felt fantastic. Her body was loose, relaxed and calm. All those years of therapy hadn’t done a damned thing. Ten minutes in the hands of a stranger and she felt like a new woman. She felt released.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Flashing at Bewildering Stories

One of my flash fiction pieces, 'Dental Check', is now up at Bewildering Stories. Head on over for a chuckle if you haven't seen it before or if you'd like to read it again.

Friday, November 27, 2009

#fridayflash: The touchstone

By Lily Mulholland

The doorbell rang, startling Eleonor, who was asleep on the couch, feet tucked under her bottom, magazine across her chest. The magazine slid to the floor as Eleonor swung her feet down to the Persian rug. She anchored herself before standing up; she’d been having dizzy spells again and wondered whether her blood pressure was dipping. Not having had time to get to the doctor recently, Eleonor was self-diagnosing – something she was becoming quite good at these past few years.

Peering through the peephole, Eleonor recognised Jules, her neighbour. Eleonor was relieved; she hadn’t been expecting visitors and knew her hair looked dreadful, not to mention she was still in her pyjamas and it was well past lunchtime. She unlocked the door and pulled it open, remembering to focus on Jules’ face and give her a smile of welcome. Eleonor didn’t like having visitors, even if it was Jules, who, in addition to living next door, was her best friend. Actually her only real friend; the others, from before the change, had faded away, becoming more acquaintance than bosom buddy.

‘Hey Eleonor! How’re you going?’

‘Oh, pretty good thanks Jules. Um, do you want to come in?’ Eleonor was focused on the doorstep by now.

‘Well, I think we’ll both be more comfortable inside,’ Jules said.

Eleonor ushered Jules into the front room and bade her sit on one of two highbacked sofas she had in there. The light inside the room was dim, although it was a bright sunny day outside, but that was the way Eleonor liked it. She knew Jules was becoming used to her foibles, so didn’t force herself to open the blinds the smidgin she conceded to on rare occasions when she had other guests.

‘Can I get you a cuppa?’

‘No thanks Ellie, I can’t stay long.’ Jules was the only one who had a pet name for her. Not even her parents had called her by any name other than Eleonor.

‘I’ve got some news. Fred and I are going to Japan!’

Eleonor’s face told the story. She looked devastated. Jules, knowing each one of Eleonor’s looks, picked her up on it immediately.

‘On a holiday, you silly! Fred’s work is sending him over to attend a conference and partners have been invited. We’re staying on an extra week to see Tokyo and Kyoto and a few other places we’ve wanted to see for ages.’

‘Oh...that’s great,’ Eleonor managed.

‘I’ve come to ask if you’ll be right to get the mail while I’m away.’

Eleonor looked at her friend to see if this was some kind of prank; Jules’s sense of humour was pretty well developed. She was looking pretty serious though and her body language wasn’t giving anything away. Jules jiggled a little when she was up to something.

‘I’m not sure Jules. Can’t you ask someone else?’

Looking at her friend, the blonde girl tried very hard not to show her frustration.

‘Eleonor, it’s your mail. I’m not asking you to collect mine – Ethel from across the road will do it. But I can’t ask her to get yours too. Come on, you’ve made a lot of progress over the past three months. You only have to take a few more steps down the path to the letterbox. I have confidence in you Ellie. You can do it.’

Looking doubtful, Eleonor acceded. Jules had been so supportive after Max had died. She’d visited Eleonor in hospital every couple of days, looked after her house during the coroner’s investigation and taken charge of repainting and recarpeting the room where Max died. None of Eleonor’s family had come until Max’s funeral and they refused to stay with Eleonor, not wanting to ‘intrude’. Eleonor retreated mentally and physically from her old life and refused to leave the house; she was connected to Max and couldn’t bear to leave the last place she had seen him. The months ticked by. She had her groceries home delivered and paid her bills online. In the Internet age she had no need to leave the house. Work had given her indefinite leave and Max’s life insurance payout was keeping the roof over her head.

‘Listen, I’ve got to go. We haven’t packed yet and the cab is booked for five tomorrow morning – we’ve got an early flight.’

Jules stood up and gave her friend a kiss on the cheek.

‘We’ll be back in ten days. I’ll look in on you as soon as we get back. Your letterbox had better be empty!’ Jules’s admonishment was half in jest, but Eleonor didn’t want to let her down. She owed a great debt to Jules.

* * *

Eleonor stood on her doorstep, meditating on the tilework that led to her front door. She did her breathing exercises and, on the fifth breath out, lifted and fixed her eyes on the edge of the veranda. She took the four steps she knew would take her to the top step leading down to the concrete path. She paused and breathed. So far, so good. She had made it to the bottom step the day before Jules had visited and she was confident she could make it as far again. She took them one at a time, trying to keep her eyes focused on each new step, not daring to look further in front of her. The shimmering haze that threatened to overwhelm her was building in her peripheral vision. Eleonor took a deep breath and looked for her next milestone. The letterbox. She remembered the counsellor’s advice. Channel your energy into a touchstone. Set your inner mind on reaching that touchstone. Focus and move. Don’t think about anything else till you reach it. Then, when you’re there, breathe, take stock and find your next touchstone. It’ll be slow going, but you will succeed if you persist.

Eleonor looked to where she knew the letterbox to be. Touchstone.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Short story published!

If you fancy some Christmas-themed reading, why not grab yourself a copy of Soft Whispers Mag's Christmas special? At USD$6.25 for a print edition, it's the perfect stocking filler. Or you can grab a PDF for only $2.25. In it you'll find my short story, 'An Elementary Christmas'.

Friday, November 20, 2009

#fridayflash: The prisoner

Some readers will recognise this piece as my entry in the 2009 MicroHorror Halloween contest. It didn't win, but I like it enough to want to post it here for my #fridayflash friends.

* * *

The Prisoner

By Lily Mulholland

I am awoken by a noise I do not understand. I am wet and cold, mortally so. Enough light trickles in through cracks around the door for me to see that the floor is made of stone. Hand-hewn rock with deep channels between has been my bed for hours unknown. I do not know how it happened that I am here. I draw myself up from my erstwhile mattress and every fiber of my body screams its protest. I have been transported, although I do not recall from where or by whom. What I know now is that I am prisoner in this frigid cell. I lift my hand and the sound of chains accompanies the resistant pressure on my wrist. I am shackled. The distant rumbling that woke me sounds again. This time I feel it in my bones. What is that noise? So loud, so inhuman?

I hear footsteps. They echo within my rocky room and I cannot discern whether they approach or recede. I tuck myself as far back toward the wall as I can and draw my knees up under my chin. I am freezing. The footsteps grow louder and a key is inserted in a lock. Twice it turns before I understand that it is my door that is about to open. The light that floods my cell is blinding. I try to shield my eyes with my hands, but the restraints pull them tight. I bow my aching head and offer up a prayer to the gods to spare me from torture.

The guard does not speak as he comes toward me. I shrink back into myself and will my heart to stop beating so fast. A surprise. A tray with food and drink is placed in front of me. The guard leaves and locks the door without a word. I am ravenous. I feed like a dog, on my hands and knees, my head low to the floor. I tear strips of meat with my teeth and swallow them without tasting. I wash the food down my throat with what I discover to be beer. Sated, I push the tray away and rest against the wall.

Although still wet and cold, the beer has warmed me and the food has quenched my hunger. For the first time since I awoke I wonder to the future. Where am I? Why am I here? Although the light is still dim, I can see bruises on my arms and legs. I must have been tied up. And then I remember; I was sold.

A new noise startles me. A terrible howling reverberates through my cell. The sound is animal and unmistakable: mastiffs. Fighting dogs. I shudder.

I hear the sound of footsteps again. This time there is more than one person coming. The door opens with a clang and a guard kneels before me and unfastens my manacles. The two men lift me to my feet and march me out into the passageway. I ask them where they are taking me but they do not answer from under their headgear.

I am tossed into a new room with the door locked behind me. This room couldn’t be more different. It’s full of people. Full of men; naked, semi-dressed and robed. I am escorted to a table, my stinking clothes cut from my body. Oiled from head to toe, my skin is sloughed clean. My hair is washed. I am dressed in clean white robes. I ask the slave why such care is being lavished upon me. He will not meet my eyes. I am shown into the next room. A deafening roar fills my ears and I see the other men in the room shudder with fear. Before I can ask any questions, the roar is answered by tormented howling.

My knuckles grow white gripping the seat. I know where I am. Roma. Il Colosseo. I am to fight to the death with starving dogs for the entertainment of the people.

Friday, November 13, 2009

#fridayflash: Special delivery

By Lily Mulholland

I screw the lid on the flask, being careful not to spill the contents. It took a lot of effort to fill it and I didn’t want to waste a drop. Wrapping the flask in foil to keep it warm, I place it securely in my messenger bag.

Skipping down the stairs, two at a time, two at a time, two at a time, I descend to the basement where I store my bike. The apartment is too small to hang even a hook on the wall. Fortunately no one else in the block seems to ride. They all take a bus or walk. A lucky few have a car. Well, I sometimes think they’re lucky, but they pay for the privilege, that’s for sure.

I carry my bike up the stairs to the foyer and wheel it out the door. Making sure my messenger bag is sitting in the middle of my back, so it won’t swing around when I mount my bike, I push off and dive out into traffic. As I dart between cars and zip around buses, I can’t keep the stupid smile off my face. I’m wondering if anyone else threading their way through the city is carrying millions of sperm on their back. Then I think of possums – the way they carry their young, clinging tight with a concrete hold to the folds of their mothers’ skin. Then I feel silly. I’m not a possum. I’m a guy hoping to make a buck from tossing off.

I pedal faster, knowing I only have fifteen minutes to get the little fellas in the door and processed. I make it to the clinic with a couple of minutes to spare, park and lock my bike outside and head in to the collection counter.

Damn. There’s a hot chick behind the counter and I feel my cheeks start to ping. That’s not all that’s pinging either and I’m wearing cycling pants. I slide my messenger bag around in front of my crotch, like a shield.

Making eye contact with the clerk, I retrieve the flask and place it up on the counter.

‘Been here before?’ she asks.

‘No. I registered online and this is my first time.’ I feel like an idiot when I realise our conversation sounds exactly like an RSVP first date.

I give her my details and she looks me up on the database.

‘Fine. Your blood test and initial sample results are here. So you received your donation kit?

I nod.

‘Did you fill the flask up to the line as specified?’ she asks me.

‘Line?’ I ask.

One plucked eyebrow ascends and she looks at me the same way Mrs McGurk looked at me in Grade Three.

‘We can’t take your sample if it’s not up to the line.’

‘Oh,’ I say, ‘I didn’t notice a line. I filled it.’

She stares at me.

‘To the top?’

I look at her, unsure what to say. The moment is rather awkward, as we continue to stare at each other. I look at my watch. She fixes me with one last look, trying to work out whether I’m pulling her leg or in earnest.

‘Yes, and I worked really hard to get it here within the fifteen minutes,’ I say, trying not to let my embarrassment strangle my epiglottis. It wouldn’t do to be talking like an eight-year-old, as well as feeling like one.

Her eyebrow descends; she’s made up her mind.

‘Okay Mr Scott, thank you for coming in today. If your specimen meets our criteria, you’ll receive your cheque in the mail,’ she says in a bored tone. She places my carefully wrapped package on a turntable and spins it round so it disappears behind the partition. My little fellas have begun their journey.

Understanding I’ve been dismissed, I head back out to my bike. A little tear forms in the corner of my eye; I feel like I’ve just waved off a child on his first day at school.

Friday, November 6, 2009

#fridayflash: Dog's best friend

By Lily Mulholland

Max headed into the bar. Rocky was already there, three sheets to the wind. Max nodded to the bartender, who knew to send down two of the finest. He poured the shots and whizzed the glasses down the well polished bar. It was a neat trick. One glass stopped in front of Max, the other in front of Rocky.

‘Max,’ grunted Rocky in greeting.

Max saluted his friend with the glass before downing its contents and signalling for another.

‘Wassup?’ asked Rocky.

‘Lemme just get this into me. I need it after the day I’ve had.’ Max slugged the second shot and slumped down on the barstool next to Rocky.

Rocky raised an expectant eyebrow.

‘Got the vet’s bill today.’

‘And?’

‘Five hundred. For a freaking teeth clean.’

‘Jaysus. That’s more than my kid’s orthodontist’s bill.’

‘Aint that the truth.’

Max signalled for another round.

‘Yeah, and that isn't the worst of it. Vet tells me that I’ll have to bring him in twice a year for a teeth clean – that’s ten thousand over ten years! I should’ve got me some of that pet insurance.’

‘Jaysus.’

Max and Rocky stared at the TV above the bar.

‘Who’s winning?’ asked Max.

‘Dunno.’

‘And,’ continued Max, ‘the vet tells me that I’m likely to have to fork out for a full tooth extraction after about ten years. That’s another three freakin’ thousand.’

‘Jaysus mate. Is that normal?’ asked Rocky, dragging his attention from the game.

‘Yeah, the vet says it’s normal with this breed.’

‘Shoulda got yerself a smaller pet. Like a goldfish. They don’t have nearly as many problems,’ said Rocky, with just a dash of irony.

‘Yeah, I reckon I was sold a pup.’

‘You gonna get it put down?’

‘What’ll I tell the kids?’

‘That it’s gawn to live on a farm?’

‘That oldie. Don’t know if they’d go for it. They know humans were kicked off their farms after the Overthrow.’

‘Damn. They teach kids too much at puppy school these days,’ said Rocky.

‘Yeah, not like the good old days where all we had to worry about was chasing balls and catching frisbees.’

‘Ah well, dogs rule the world now. We’d better get used to the responsibility, I spose.’

Rocky checked his watch.

‘Well the missus will be wondering where I am. Best head off. It’s bath night. My job to make sure the kids haven’t picked up any fleas at school this week. There’s been an outbreak apparently.’

‘Righto mate. Give the missus a sniff for me. Tell her Princess says hi and we’ll see you on the weekend.’

‘Save a snag for me,’ said Rocky as he shrugged on his leather coat and padded out the door.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Poem: Herbaceous Heart

A little poem I wrote for a competition at Positive Words was short-listed! I took a few risks with this poem, as you will see. The challenge was to write a poem of ten lines or less and it had to contain the word "vegetable". I give you "Herbaceous Heart".

Herbaceous heart

Peel me like a vegetable, pare back my dirty skin
Reveal the juicy flesh that is hiding deep within.

Strip away my outer leaves, slough off the grains of dirt
Grasp me with your farmer’s hands, but not so tight it hurts.

Sink your teeth into my pulp, caress my pithy core
Taste my juices sweet and sour, always wanting more.

Put me down then pick me up, it’s me you know you’ll choose
Handle me with care my love, you know I always bruise.

Friday, October 30, 2009

#fridayflash: Compulsion

This week's #fridayflash is the final installment of a three-part story. While each has been written so it can be read as a stand-alone piece, you might want to read Immersion and Emergence before you read Compulsion. On the other hand, you might just like to dive straight in!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

By Lily Mulholland

Tom stretched like a cat and thought he might start to purr any minute. A pleasurable shudder hummed through his body as he remembered last night. He rolled onto his side and brushed Caroline’s cheek with his lips. She’d called him five minutes after he’d walked her home from the restaurant and asked to see him again the next day. He cleared his afternoon meetings and they’d spent the afternoon and evening feasting upon each other and rediscovering the unbridled bliss that awaits two perfectly compatible lovers.

He had wanted to dive deep inside Caroline as soon as he’d spotted her drinking champagne in the theatre foyer. He had noticed the empty seats around her and took his chances that no one else would arrive to claim their seat just before the play started. She’d disarmed him with her smile and he wanted to know everything about her. And after she had wept in his arms yesterday afternoon he wanted no other man to have her. She’d started sobbing, her face contorted and turned in on itself, as they fucked for the first time. He stopped, thinking he was hurting her somehow, but she’d managed to convince him, despite her distress, that she was fine and he kept going long enough to bring them both to a frenzied climax. When she’d composed herself, she told him that it had been two years since she’d made love and the built-up stress had opened like a floodgate as she’d started to orgasm. He was amazed he could have such an effect on her and that she was so open to him. He felt so protective. He wanted to hold her in his arms and never let her go. He did let her go, but only so that they could get inside each other again. And again. He was exhausted, but in the nicest possible way.

‘I have to go,’ he said. ‘I have an early meeting today and I can’t put it off, as much as I’d like to. That, and I think I need the rest,’ he said, smiling at Caroline.

‘When can I see you again?’

‘Well, I’m back next Tuesday. Shall we have dinner?’

‘I’ll cook for you. I want you here,’ she said.

He kissed her deeply, his dick betraying him and rising again to the occasion. He tore himself from Caroline’s lips and made a dash for the shower before he changed his mind.

Caroline stood on her tiptoes to kiss Tom’s cheek as he left. He bent down and buried his head in her neck and her hair. He took a deep breath and inhaled her scent. It drove him crazy.

‘I’ve got to go. See you Tuesday night.’

She watched him walk to the lift and closed the door gently.

***********

It was a beautiful day. The sun was lighting up the new leaves on the oak trees that were the knockout feature of the park. The red tiled roof on the rotunda took on a new lustre and the pathways cut through the verdant grass like shiny white snakes. Children were playing, couples were strolling and all Tom could think of was Caroline.

She was extraordinary. He’d never met anyone like her and could feel himself falling for her in a way he’d never thought possible. He longed to feel her smooth legs wrapped around his back again as he pushed deeper inside her tight, warm flesh.

‘Tom!’

He was jolted out of his reverie by the sharp tone. He looked up and Clare was standing in front of him, hands on hips, blocking out the sun.

‘Sorry. What is it?’

‘In case you haven’t noticed, it’s going to rain. We have to get the kids into the car before they get soaked.’

He looked up at the sky. She was right. She was always right. The gorgeous day was being swallowed by a dangerous sky and they were about to be chased out of the park by a sudden spring deluge. He jumped up and started tossing the picnic things into the basket and shaking out the blanket.

Clare and the kids were already at the car when Tom saw Caroline. She was in running gear but was standing as still as a statue on the grass near the rotunda, shoulders slumped, looking toward him. He was paralysed.

‘Tom! C’mon!’

It was Clare calling for him to hurry. As he gathered up the basket and blanket the skies opened and heavy rain pummelled the skin on his head and arms. He looked over to the rotunda. Caroline was gone.

He turned and headed for the car. The drenching rain washed the tears from his cheeks but not the sudden grief that tore at his heart.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Submission accepted!

I'm so excited that one of my flash fiction pieces, 'Book Club', is going to be published in the Soft Whispers Magazine Halloween special. The magazine is a free PDF-only edition that will be released at 12:00am on 31 October. Don't forget to grab a copy for some spoooooooooky reading!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Reading: Runaway

I read/heard somewhere someone raving on about Alice Munro's short stories and recommending her 2004 collection, 'Runaway'. I ordered it from the Book Depository and it arrived a month or two back. I read the first story, also called 'Runaway', and wasn't exactly blown away. I put the book down for a couple of weeks, but then the 'New York Times Book Review Best Book of the Year' gold sticker on the front kept calling my name. I figured if they thought it was THAT good then, perhaps, I should give it another go, so I did. The next three stories are fantastic. They're all linked through the central character and present different slices of her life. I am starting to see why Ms Munro is so highly esteemed. The world she has created in three 'chapters' is deep, layered and totally believable. I do, however, find the writing style to be a little disconcerting. The narrator seems to know too much, and sometimes I hear the author's voice coming through, which bumps me right out of the story. That being said though, the characters pull you back in. You want to know more. There are four more stories, not linked, from what I can tell, to those I've just read. If they're as good, I'll be very happy indeed.

Friday, October 23, 2009

#fridayflash: Emergence

By Lily Mulholland

Checking her teeth in the mirror, Caroline saw that, once again, her slightly protruding front right tooth had caught the lipstick. It didn’t matter how hard she tried, there was always an echo of colour where there should only be white. She carefully wiped it off with her finger and cleaned it on a towel. She ran her hands over her hair to tame the flyaways.

‘Not too bad’, she thought, ‘for someone who’s had three glasses of bubbly. No, make that four! I forgot the one I had before the play.’ She giggled nervously to herself and stopped. This was no time to be silly. Tom was waiting for her at their booth and she had been in here ten minutes already trying to calm herself down. The night was going well. Too well. Then the bombshell.

‘So, which part of Canberra do you live in?’ he’d asked her.

‘Actually I live just a couple of blocks down.’

‘Oh really? Do you work in town too?’

‘Well, sort of. I’m a freelance writer so I work from my apartment. I have lots of government clients who keep me busy, but my passion is fiction.’

‘Had anything published?’

‘Only a couple of short stories. I’m actually writing the first draft of a novel right now.’

‘Right now?’ he’d asked with a smile. ‘Does that mean I’m going to be in it?’

She laughed. A funny guy. That made her relax a bit. She’d been sitting bolt upright for the past two hours, trying not to speak too quickly as she felt the seductive tentacles of the champagne stealthily travel through her body. They’d been discussing the play and she’d tried not to be too obviously female in her criticism of The Taming of the Shrew’s storyline. Fortunately he’d said it for her and had agreed that the cast had done a great job of keeping contemporary such an anachronistic storyline.

‘And which part of Canberra do you live in?’ she asked Tom in return.

‘I don’t. I live in Sydney but commute here most weeks for work. I run a change management consultancy and most of my key clients are here.’

She’d tried to hide her disappointment.

‘So how did you come to be at the show?’

‘One of my clients, who’s also a mate, was supposed to come with his wife, but they’ve both got swine flu. He gave the tickets to me. I had no one to bring with me, hence the empty seat next to me.’

‘Oh.’

She must have looked disappointed, as Tom reached over and placed his hand over hers.

‘I do fly into Canberra most weeks.’

She smiled. That was something. It was at that point in the conversation that Caroline had realised she really needed to go to the toilet.

‘Will you excuse me a minute? I have to go and powder my nose.’

Tom had stood up as she’d left the table and watched her walk to the ladies’ room.

‘Right, Caroline, get a grip.’ She was talking out loud. ‘The man of your dreams is waiting for you. Get your butt out there and be interesting!’

Tom stood again as she sat down. He pushed her chair in for her and sat in the one next to her, rather than across the other side of the table where he’d been earlier.

She could smell his aftershave and see the pores on the skin of his neck. She tried to concentrate, but had an overwhelming urge to snuggle her face into him, as she had done for the second half of the play.

‘May I walk you home?’

Caroline looked up, startled.

‘Well, you live so close, it’s the least I could do.’

‘I, er, um, yes, that would be lovely.’

Her mind was racing. Was this goodbye, thanks for coming, see you later, or was this can I come back to your place? She tried to remember if the place was a mess but her train of thought was cut off by Tom standing up and placing two fifties on the table and nodding to the waiter. The waiter brought Caroline’s coat and Tom helped her into it.

‘After you,’ he said.

Outside the restaurant, Caroline was grateful she’d worn a coat. It was freezing. Tom saw her shiver and put his arm around her shoulder. She was enveloped by his scent and did her best not to actually swoon.

‘Which way?’

‘Down Constitution and two blocks up Allara.’

‘Which building?’

‘It’s called The One. Pretty pretentious, but it’s got a killer view.’

She winced. Perhaps she shouldn’t say ‘killer’ to a man she’d just met. A man about whom she knew very little other than he lived in Sydney and worked in Canberra. And he liked Shakespeare. A man she should probably not be inviting back to her apartment. But it had been so long since she’d felt attracted to a man, and so long since she’d had sex. She didn’t know if she could hold out if that’s what Tom was escorting her home for.

They walked along without saying much, and Caroline decided to just enjoy the moment. Before long they were in the foyer of her building. Before she could ask him if he wanted to come up, Tom reached into his pocket and pulled out his business card.

‘I would like to see you again Caroline. Here’s my mobile and my email. Please call me. Soon.’

With that he pulled her into an embrace and kissed her gently on the forehead. He walked her to the lift and pushed the button. Caroline was incapable of speaking as she stepped into the lift. Tom gave her a small wave and a big smile. She felt warm and wonderful inside.

Friday, October 16, 2009

#fridayflash: Immersion

By Lily Mulholland

The ‘new items in your inbox’ reminder flashed up on the screen and Caroline tried to ignore it again. She was immersed in writing her novel and, after a slow start, the narrative was finally starting to take shape. The tension was building in her neck and she realised she hadn’t taken a break for a couple of hours. Caroline straightened her shoulders and uncurled her fingers from the keyboard. She decided a cup of coffee was in order.

After a quick trip to the loo and to the kitchen, Caroline sat back at her walnut desk and placed her ringed coffee cup on its coaster. She didn’t want to mark the golden brown wood she’d so lovingly restored after rescuing the desk from a second hand furniture store.

Before picking up the thread of her story, Caroline remembered she had email to check. She skipped over the one from her mum; she knew it would be the same old story. Her eyes went to the ACT Writers Centre email with the subject line ‘Re: Shrew’. Her heart jumped and she double clicked as quickly as she could to open the message.

Dear Caroline, congratulations! You’ve won a double pass to The Taming of the Shrew at 6.30pm on Monday night at the Playhouse Theatre. Collect your tickets from the box office 30 minutes prior to the performance. Enjoy the play! Regards, Sassafras.

Caroline laughed. She never won anything, but had entered the competition anyway. And then she remembered she had no one to take. Mike was becoming a memory and her girlfriends were knee-deep in offspring. She didn’t think any of them would appreciate the start time anyway. Caroline sighed. She’d have to go by herself. If she went at all.

Monday rolled around and Caroline had made a lot of progress on her novel. Not that it was any good. She’d been trying to write it for years, but had always found an excuse to not start. But this year she’d signed up to NaNoWriMo, a crazy annual novel-writing concept where writers attempt to bash out fifty thousand words during November. This was the kind of stress she could handle, but only just. If she failed, the only person disappointed would be herself. She hadn’t nominated any writing buddies – that would be too much pressure.

Nonetheless, Caroline had dived in and started writing. She was half-way through, with two weeks up her sleeve. She decided to go to the play as a reward for being so good. She planned to get there fifteen minutes before show time so she’d have enough time to swallow a glass of champagne and get herself warmed up. The confidence that came with alcohol would be enough to suppress any embarrassment she’d feel at being there alone.

**********

Caroline drained her glass just as the bells started ringing. It was time to go in. She held her tickets in her hand and realised she had two just in time to rip one off and ditch it before the usher could see she was on her own. As she slid into her seat, Caroline fought off a wave of humiliation. She was front and centre, six rows from the front. Everyone in the stalls and the balconies could see she was on her own – her neighbours hadn’t yet taken their seats. She studied the program furiously.

Engrossed as she was, Caroline didn’t notice the man trying to squeeze past her until he was almost sitting in her lap.

‘Sorry,’ he said.

Caroline said nothing but her cheeks coloured. She again found something very important to read in the program. Within minutes the lights dimmed and an actor strolled out onto the stage. Caroline eased her shoulders back and relaxed. She loved Shakespeare.

The champagne had done its work and loosened her up nicely. Before long she’d forgotten she was on her own and was laughing out loud at the antics of Petruchio and Cambio (also known as Lucentio). She didn’t laugh quite so hard at The Shrew. The unmistakable scent of misogyny perfumed the air and her feminist sensibilities refused to just enjoy the show. Caroline was pleased to see that the actress playing The Shrew was delivering her lines laced with sarcasm – surely a pointer to the cast’s understanding that the play, while hilarious, was an undoubted anachronism?

It was while Caroline was wrestling with these thoughts as well as trying to keep up with the machine-gun-fast dialogue that she felt the unfamiliar contact of flesh against hers. Her arm burnt at the touch of the man seated next to her. Caroline fought against the urge to whip her arm away. It had been so long since a man had touched her that it had shocked her. More shocking was that he did not remove his arm from her space; in fact he seemed to press it harder against her arm.

She snuck a look at him but he did not seem to notice; his eyes were sparkling as he followed the action onstage. Where her arm had been on fire moments earlier, it now seemed to be warm and felt good. Caroline dared to let her left leg move imperceptibly closer to the man’s. Soon they were touching. Caroline felt excitement course through her body from her toes to her crown. After a few minutes more the man placed his right arm around Caroline’s shoulders and gently pulled her in close. She laid her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. She knew how the play ended.

Friday, October 9, 2009

#Fridayflash: Dental Check

By Lily Mulholland

Eddie eased himself back in the chair. The squeaking noises coming from under his backside took him back to childhood, when his mother had literally forced him to come. She had peeled his fingers from the car door one afternoon and tanned his hide with such emphasis that Eddie never did it again.

‘Comfortable?’ peeped the dental assistant.

‘Ah, yeah, sure,’ he said. He was clearly uncomfortable – his nails were digging trenches in the vinyl armrests.

‘Great,’ she chirped. ‘I’ll go and let Dr Ron know that you’re ready. Back in a jiffy.’

‘Okayay.’ Eddie found himself unconsciously mimicking her singsong voice.

He stared up at the ceiling, taking in the thoughtfully placed laminated pictures of waterfalls and beach scenes. He realised he was holding his breath and made an effort to try to breathe normally. That made him think of the time Fiona had tried to teach him one of her new age breathing techniques she’d picked up at yoga. Or was it pilates? He couldn’t remember. She’d tried to convince him to meditate before he went to sleep. He’d rather have just fucked her – his favourite stress relief technique. Fiona, on the other hand, loved sex but it didn’t put her to sleep. It got her thinking, usually about what Eddie was thinking about.

‘You have to breathe in through your left nostril and out through your right,’ she’d said.

‘Are you pulling my leg?’

‘No Eddie, I’m trying to help you. Now concentrate.’

Eddie tried and to his complete amazement he found that he could actually do it.

‘I’m doing it Fiona!’

‘Good boy, Eddie,’ she’d said, her voice tinged with the slightest hint of sarcasm. ‘Now keep it going for the next ten minutes.’

Eddie was asleep in two. Fiona had pretty much given up after that. He hadn’t seen her in a while. He tried to remember how long it had been.

Eddie’s reminiscences were interrupted by the arrival of Dr Ron, in whose wake followed Chirpy and possibly her sister, Tweety.

‘Hello Mr Andresen!’ Dr Ron spoke in exclamation marks.

‘How are we today?’ And the ‘royal we’.

‘Fine thanks,’ mumbled Eddie. He wasn’t one for small talk.

‘So, we’re in for a root canal, eh?’ asked Dr Ron.

‘Apparently.’

‘Well, I’d like to say it won’t hurt a bit, but I’d be lying!’

Eddie watched on as Tweedledum and Tweedledee buzzed around Dr Ron, fitting him with new gloves, a mask and goggles, laying out equipment on trays, and filling two large syringes with what he hoped was the good stuff.

Dr Ron seated himself and spun around with a flourish towards Eddie. He pulled the light down close over Eddie’s face.

‘Open wide!’

Eddie opened his mouth and closed his eyes. His fingers were interlocked across his chest, a tight bridge of knuckles. He tried to think of something relaxing as Dr Ron stuffed several cotton wads into Eddie’s right cheek. He settled on Fiona’s breasts. They really were something. That creamy white skin with two perfect little strawberries. He felt a familiar warm feeling in his pants until the prick of the steel needle in his gum killed it dead.

He’d already had a root canal on the left side, performed by a no-nonsense army dentist last year. Since he’d got out he’d had to pay for his own dental work. That had been a shock. So here he was, subjected to the blindingly white smiles of Dr Ron and his two bimbettes.

The smell of anaesthetic was overpowering and making him feel sick. Eddie watched as Dr Ron withdrew the needle and asked Chirpy for the second one. Dr Ron hovered the needle over the insertion point on the inside of the gum.

‘Are we okay?’

Eddie tried to say no, but with a face full of cotton and half a fist already in his mouth, it came out as a tortured kind of assent. Dr Ron pushed the needle deep into the gum. Eddie passed out.

**********

‘Welcome back Mr Andresen.’

Eddie heard Chirpy’s voice.

‘You’ve been asleep for quite some time.’

Eddie tried to open his eyes, but the lids felt so heavy.

Eddie’s tongue felt its way along the teeth on the bottom right side of his gum. Everything felt normal, apart from the inevitable bruising. He tried to bring his hand up to rub his jaw, but he couldn’t lift his hand. Either hand. Eddie tried again and realised that his four limbs were held fast in restraints.

‘What the fuck?’

‘I’m afraid you’re in no state to go anywhere Mr Andresen.’ The voice had taken on a different tone.

Eddie tried to open his eyes again. He half succeeded. Enough to see that he was no longer in Dr Ron’s rooms, but was in a large oval shaped room devoid of any furniture other than the bed he was in.

‘What the hell is going on?’

‘We’ve harvested your X chromosomes Mr Andresen.’

‘My what?’

‘Your sperm Mr Andresen. But only those carrying the X chromosome. We require them for our breeding program.’

‘Breeding program?’

‘We have completed phase one of our absorption program and taken sufficient breeders for our start-up requirements. A major undertaking, but suitable young women were easily sourced by Dr Ron.’

‘We are now in phase two. We require human X chromosomes to mate with ours. Once mated, the embryos will be implanted into the breeders, creating the perfect beings.’

Eddie’s head was spinning.

‘Perfect beings? What the fucking hell are you talking about?’

‘It’s not important. You have served your purpose. Once you are fully recovered, you’ll be returned to your apartment. Don’t bother talking to the authorities. Your army medical file has been altered to show you were discharged due to paranoid delusion.’

Eddie stared at Chirpy with her sickening white smile. It was only then that he was struck with the terrifying thought of how exactly they’d stolen his sperm.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Story accepted at MicroHorror

As part of my experimentation in genre, I've written another dark fiction piece and submitted it to MicroHorror for its 2009 Story Contest. It's up on MicroHorror now. Click here to read 'Prisoner'.

Friday, October 2, 2009

#fridayflash: A Reservoir Dog

- Why am I Mr Yellow?

- Because you’re a faggot! All right?

- Why can’t we pick our own colours?

- No way. Tried it once. It doesn’t work. You get four guys all fightin’ over who gets to be Mr. Black.

******************************

- I just don’t think we’re gettin’ our cut, all right?

- But we’re not the lead act. We’re just the support.

- So you think I’m getting a big head then, do you?

- Nah, I just think you should realise that this isn’t about you.

- Yeah, but you’re gettin’ your own show. Bet you’ll get paid a lot more now.

- Well you need to pitch your ideas for your own show – that’s what I did. I’ve been working my backside off, brown-nosing Mr Blue for years.

- I don’t think he’d go for it. Mr Blue’s got it in for me.

- Well try Mr Purple. You know he’s got Mr Blue’s ear.

- Mr Purple? He’s a lightweight, always smoking ‘herbal’ cigarettes. Maybe I could have a go with Mr Red. He’s kinda goofy. Might be more prepared to listen to me.

- Well just don’t come over all aggressive. You’re a bit like a dog with a bone sometimes, you know.

- I know, I just can’t shake this off. I feel like we’re being stiffed. You know what I saw the other day? Our faces – yours, mine, Henry’s and Dorothy’s – on toddler wipes. Toddler wipes I tell you! That’s what the skivs think of us. They think we’re shit – literally!

- Well that’s what you signed up for when you got the contract.

- Sure, but –

- Hey Henry, you happy with your gig?

- Bahreebop Wags! Bahreebop Cap’n. What’s going on? I thought we were supposed to be rehearsing.

- Old Wagsy here reckons the fab four are scrooging him

– Dude you’ve gottta chill out. You get plenty of bones and there’s plenty of bitches in the crowd. I gotta tell you, I’ve got my eight hands full with those yummy mummies backstage every afternoon! Maybe you should get Dorothy to make you a cup of rosy tea – that’ll help settle you down.

- Henry, you’re such a fag. I’m outta here. You pussies can keep kissing those Wiggles’ butts, but I’m gone. Ciao ciao fellas.

Before Wags can get any further, Captain Feathersword unsheathes his blade.

- Have you lost your fuckin’ mind? I’m not gonna let you make a terrible mistake.

Wags, sensing a challenge, turns around and bares his teeth. Henry tries to intervene.

- Come on, guys. Nobody wants this.

Wags snarls at Henry. Henry starts to fidget and his trademark giggle consumes him. Wags advances on Captain Feathersword, who turns his sword on himself and attempts hara-kiri. He doesn’t get far; his sword is a fuchsia feather.

Dorothy, who has been watching from behind the scrim, rolls her eyes and worries for the future.

‘We’re supposed to be fuckin’ professionals.’

************

With apologies to Quentin Tarantino. The dialogue in italics is from the Reservoir Dogs script. The rest is mine :)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A leap of faith

Posting our stories on our blogs is taking a big leap of faith. We trust that whether our readers love or loathe our writing, they will respect the author for putting it 'out there' for the greater good.

What we don't expect is for someone to steal it.

Unfortunately, there are some unscrupulous bastards out there. Here's one of them, exposed by a very good and diligent writer. Richard Ridyard, reap what you sow.

Friday, September 25, 2009

#fridayflash: Book Club

By Lily Mulholland

Fran ran her white-gloved right hand along the smooth spine of the book she held carefully in her left. She couldn’t believe she was holding a very rare first edition imprint of a Henry James. She loved his work and had coveted The Two Magics but knew she couldn’t afford the asking price for a first.

‘May I open it?’ she asked its owner.

‘If you wish. My interest is in the covers. I don’t much care for the contents.’

Fran paused for a moment, taking in the man’s expression. He was looking at her quite strangely, with a faraway look in his eyes. She remembered to keep her face impassive, recalling the feedback she’d had at work recently. They’d had to undergo the torturous process of a three-sixty degree review and several of her co-workers at the library had commented – anonymously of course – that they felt Fran looked down on them. That she often wore a look of contempt on her face when they were talking to her. Fran’s cheeks burned with embarrassment at the recollection. She didn’t think badly of her colleagues. She just often couldn’t hear them properly and had to concentrate extra hard to understand what they were saying.

When she realised she was blushing, she felt even more uncomfortable, knowing the man would think she was blushing because of what he’d said to her.

‘Get a grip, Fran.’ And now she was talking to herself. And all the while the man was watching her. She carefully opened the book and quickly read a few lines of her favourite James story, The Turn of the Screw. She closed the book and placed it carefully back on the stand.

‘It’s in wonderful condition,’ she said to the man, avoiding his inscrutable gaze, as she removed the cotton gloves.

‘To the untrained eye, perhaps. When I purchased it the cover had been water damaged. If you look closely you will see that the leather is perishing and beyond repair. Refinishing my collection is my greatest passion.’

At the word ‘passion’ Fran looked up at the man. His face had taken on a different appearance. A new visage. He looked entirely different. Younger.

‘Would you like to see some of the other books I’ve refinished?’

‘Oh, yes please.’

He beckoned to her to follow. She did as she was bid and walked through a series of interconnected rooms. Her eyes opened wider as she was transported through each room, for every wall was lined floor to ceiling with shelving – each filled with books. When they reached the farthest room, Fran gasped audibly. Before was a room whose four walls were full of rare books, each covered in creamy leather embossed with gold. The effect was almost overwhelming.

The man turned and looked at her.

‘You have a good appreciation of beauty. These books form the heart of my collection. I keep them in this special room which was built especially to house them. It is climate controlled, moisture controlled and sound proofed.’

‘Sound proofed?’ Fran thought to herself.

‘I like to read in peace. I do not like interruptions,’ he said.

It was as though the man could read her mind. A chill ran from her head to her toes and back again.

‘Are you cold, my dear?’ asked the man.

‘A little.’

‘Come, let us have something to drink and get down to business.’

‘When will the others be here?’

‘Others?’ His response to her question trailed off as he led the way back through the series of rooms and down the stairs to what she supposed would be called the parlour. It was that kind of house.

‘Here, have a sherry.’ The man offered a small cut crystal glass to Fran which she took obediently.

‘And you must try this panforte. I had it imported from Siena. I discovered it on one of my book buying visits.’ Again, Fran took the plate that was offered to her without demurring. He spoke with an authority she did not question.

‘So,’ she tried again, ‘Who else is coming this evening?’

‘Who else?’

‘Yes,’ she said, a whisper of exasperation entwining itself around her words, ‘to the book club meeting?’

‘You’re it, my dear.’

‘Oh. I thought...’

‘Drink your sherry.’

Fran was starting to feel a little light-headed. ‘I really don’t think I should.’

‘Drink.’ It was more a command than an entreaty.

‘I don’t ...’ Fran’s voice faded as she slumped back in the couch, her plate and glass tumbling towards the hand-cut silk rug that spread across the room like freshly spilled blood.

*****

Fran awoke. She was cold. She tried to move but her head felt heavy and her body was leaden. Unconsciousness reclaimed her.

*****

‘And now, my dear, let us get down to business.’

Vincent turned the girl over onto her back and slit her shirt open from hem to neck. He parted the fabric and ran his hand over the skin of the girl’s ample back. He was pleased. The girl’s back was unblemished. He had chosen wisely, a librarian devoting her life to books and reading. No freckled flesh, no tattoos. Young women these days were often disappointing.

Holding his scalpel aloft for a moment, Vincent took the time to ensure he made his first incision in exactly the right place. The new leather for his precious Joyce had to be absolutely perfect.

Friday, September 18, 2009

#fridayflash: No Sanctuary

By Lily Mulholland

‘Is the padre here?’ I ask.

The old man nods.

‘Can we see him?’

We landed on Suai beach yesterday to find a gutted village. Only one or two buildings still had a roof, many were burnt to their foundation. Now we were looking for the priest, hoping he’d speak enough English to tell us what had happened.

The man leads us across the busted concrete quadrangle that runs adjacent to the cathedral. The building wears the unmistakable imprint of war. Bullet holes puncture the facade in a poor man’s filigree. The charred remains of the doors swing from their hinges. Chunks of masonry are missing. Of the congregation there is barely a trace.

Stooped and bent, the man takes us past the cathedral entrance and down its far side to the original church. Its walls look like the jagged teeth of a dinosaur, the frame like the ribcage of a rotting whale. The roof has been torched. Outside the small church three timeworn women are singing a dirge in low but strong voices. They do not look up at our approach.

‘Estes soldados querem ver o padre,’ says our guide. One of the women acknowledges the man and stands slowly while the others continue singing. The woman looks at us, turns and enters the burnt out shell. We follow her and I feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in protest. Fingering the trigger of my Steyr, I step through the charcoal doorframe, followed by Sal, my cameraman, and Bob, who is doing audio.

The woman stands in front of large piles of debris that litters the building’s floor.

‘Está aqui,’ she says. She points to a mound at her feet. I look and see human bones, ash, burnt timber and other detritus.

‘Militia?’ I ask.

‘Sim, a milícia disparou no padre,’ she answers. The militia had killed the padre.

‘Obrigada senhora.’ I thank her and motion for Sal and Bob to follow me back outside.

‘Do you want any of this on film boss?’ asks Sal.

‘No, we’ll leave it for the news crews – they’ll get here this arvo if the intel’s right. Let’s get back to HQ and see the int guys. I reckon the special ops guys went through here too fast to get this level of detail.’

I don't mention this is an international media story waiting to happen. More evidence that the Indonesian-backed militia were ruthless in their killing spree. Not what the fledgling peace process needs. We have a matter of hours before this story hits the wires.

We nod to the old fella and start heading back on foot to HQ, just up the main road in what had been the Indonesian-run court house. We don't get far before we notice a young man watching us from the trees beyond the church compound. We head over to where the guy is squatting.

‘Bom dia. Você fala o Inglês?’ Right now I’m glad I’d memorised the basics from the Portuguese conversation guides thrust at us on our way out of Australia. No doubt my accent stinks, but the East Timorese seem to get the gist of what I am saying.

‘Yes, speak English senhora.’

‘You want to tell us something?’

‘Sim. Have you in catedral?’ he asks.

I shake my head.

‘Yes. Need you see,’ he says as he stands up. ‘Come.’

We follow the man back toward the cathedral. My neck hairs are dancing again. I signal the boys to look lively as we enter through the broken doors, wondering what the hell we are going to see. We’ve already found a dead priest.

Once inside, it became clear why the building appeared so war-ravaged from outside. It wasn’t finished. What looked like explosives damage was incomplete masonry. Rudely constructed bamboo scaffolding sections the nave, with platforms of varying heights blocking the apse from view.

The man hovers at the base of a bamboo tower, looking pale, ghostly. I look at him and, though he says nothing, his eyes travel upwards, along the line of scaffold. My eyes follow and, as I become used to the dim light, I make out a dribble line of what looks like dried paint coming from one of the platforms. I check out the other towers and they too are painted red. I realise it isn’t paint, but blood. Lots of it.

‘How many?’

‘Fifty, senhora.’ My guts drop.

‘Who killed them?’

‘Militia. Found them in church, hiding. Santuário,’ he says, tears tracing rivers down his cheeks.

‘They were seeking sanctuary?’

‘Sim senhora.’ This wasn’t a fight. It was slaughter.

‘Where are the bodies?’

He crosses himself at this question. I know it was blunt, but I had to get answers and fast. We are overdue. They’ll be prepping a search team back at brigade headquarters and the last thing I want is for my guys to cop the embarrassment of being ‘rescued’.

‘Militia took them. Burned them.’

‘In the church?’

‘Yes.’

I thank him and we walk out blinking into the sunlight. Bob and Sal don’t speak as we head back. I understand. Families who’d been living next door to each other for generations had turned upon each other. How could the East Timorese coexist peacefully after this? While our peacemaking force has brought an end to the killing, it can’t resolve the real issues. The Indonesians were gone, but they made sure all they left behind was a divided people.

As we pass the HQ perimeter guards, a boy, no more than eight years old, calls out to me.

‘Hello missus! Lolly?’

I toss him a muesli bar. It isn’t what he wants but it won’t rot his teeth either. He grins and gives me a cheeky wave.

‘Tankoo missus!’

I smile. After all that has happened around him he can still laugh. Can that be enough?


********************


This story is based loosely on memories of my time in East Timor in 1999. You can read about the fact behind the fiction here and here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Learning the craft: short story workshop

I had a fabulous couple of hours out of the house sans children yesterday, attending my first writing workshop. Hosted by the ACT Writers Centre, the short story workshop was run by Australian author Craig Cormick, who took us through what elements constitute great short stories. He also talked about the difference between stories that win competitions and those that are published by literary magazines and journals. He had some great writing exercises for us to do, as well as some excellent examples of short stories that exemplified the points he was making. I think all participants got something out of the workshop - I certainly did. I look forward to putting some of what I learned into practice. I have no doubt it will make my writing stronger and more real.
Something else that will help me learn the craft is the Sleepers Almanac. Or almanacs, as I ordered not only the current edition from Sleepers Publishing, but also the previous three editions. The almanac is an anthology of emerging Australian writing talent. I know what I'll be reading for the foreseeable future! I just have to remember to read as a writer as well as a reader :)

Friday, September 11, 2009

#fridayflash: The Waiting Game

By Lily Mulholland

Ellen felt ridiculous worrying about her crowning glory. She had only just started to like her hair, which was silver with blonde streaks and had somehow lost its irrational kinks as she’d mellowed into her early 60s. Now she was fretting about the possibility of it falling out. Not strand by strand as it had after her three pregnancies, but in large, undignified, unstoppable chunks.

It had all started with a visit to the blood bank. Being a good nurse, she knew how important it was to give blood and had only missed one or two appointments over the past thirty years. She’d left home in plenty of time to make the drive across town, circled the block only four times looking for a spot, parked the car and walked back up the street to the donation centre. Ellen sat in line, moving up the plastic chair snake as it came closer to her turn. Having already filled out the paperwork, she had a magazine ready to go as soon as she could be seated comfortably in the blood donation chair.

Before she could get comfortable her haemoglobin levels had to be checked by a nurse in one of the interview booths. ‘Just a little prick’, Ellen said to herself out of habit – it had been one of her well-worn nursing jokes – as the lancet was pushed into her finger and a solitary drop of blood squeezed out onto the test strip. The nurse inserted the strip into the scanner and pushed the button. After a few seconds she pursed her lips and said with a slight frown, ‘Nope, you won’t be giving blood today Ellen – your Hb levels are too low.’

‘Oh blast,’ said Ellen, ‘I wonder what’s going on. My iron levels have been up and down over the years but my haemoglobin is usually fine.’

‘Best get yourself checked out by your GP, love. You want to nip any problems in the bud, eh?’

Ellen had taken herself into town to do a spot of shopping as consolation. After she’d worn herself out sufficiently she headed back home. She made an appointment with her doctor for two days’ time.

‘I’m sure it’s nothing,’ Ellen said to the doctor as she sat down in his office. ‘But I guess I’m getting to the age where bits start to fall off, so I thought I’d better come and see you anyway.’

Dr Martens raised an eyebrow at Ellen. He’d been Ellen’s doctor for at least twenty years and knew she didn’t make frivolous appointments.

‘Good idea. I don’t like the sound of your haemoglobin levels, so I’m sending you off for some blood tests confirm the reading. Also, we might as well check your iron levels while you’re there. Now, depending on how the results look, I think we’ll be sending you off for a gastroscopy and endoscopy just to check things out.’

Ellen grimaced. She knew this meant a general anaesthetic and a camera up/down each end. ‘Hopefully not simultaneously,’ she thought.

The tests had come back. While Ellen’s Hb reading was slightly low, her iron levels were well below normal. She’d made a booking for the procedures at a local clinic, pleased that she didn’t have to go into hospital. She didn’t like hospitals much – she knew she’d spend the whole time scrutinising the old equipment, harried staff and peeling paint on the walls knowing that nothing much had changed in the ten years since she’d given up nursing.

When she’d awoken and recovered – proud of her body’s ability to bounce back from surgery so quickly – the specialist had come to see her and tell her the news.

‘We found a lump I’m afraid. In your upper right quadrant, just under you ribcage.’

Ellen heard the words ‘lump’ and ‘afraid’.

‘How big?’

‘About the size of twenty cent piece. We can’t tell if it’s benign or malignant, so we’ve taken a sample and have sent it off to pathology for testing.’

‘Oh,’ mouthed Ellen.

‘You’ll need to have a CAT scan tomorrow just to see if there are any other problems, and then you’ll need to see a surgeon.’

‘Oh,’ said Ellen again. She somehow remembered to speak. ‘Thanks.’ She had nursed oncology patients.

Her husband arrived shortly after the specialist had moved onto the next patient. Russell listened with a worried face as Ellen relayed the conversation with as little emotion as she could. Ellen placed her hand on his and told him not to worry.

‘There’s no point in worrying until we have the test results. We’ll listen to what the oncologist tells us and, whatever happens, we’ll work through it.’

Ellen was glad she was made of tough stuff. Every time her mind started reeling, she told herself to get a grip. ‘I will not worry until there’s something to worry about.’

After Russell had taken her home, Ellen took a gin and tonic into the sunroom along with the phone. She rang each of her children and told them the news. She felt like she was describing events happening to someone else, but knew she couldn’t stay in denial forever. Come Monday, she’d know either way: benign or malignant. Single or spread. She took another sip and enjoyed the warmth of the sun as it bathed her body in light.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Short story submitted - 'The Dan experience'

I've submitted a second, longer piece for possible publication in the forthcoming Eve's Harvest anthology, to be published by Lip Magazine. The theme for the anthology is 'one'. 'The Dan experience' is about the disappointing emptiness of first love.

Submissions are being accepted via email or through WEbook. As I posted mine to WEbook, it's available for your reading pleasure here. You can also leave feedback. It's a bit scary submitting material that exposes bits of yourself, don't you think?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Playing with metre

Whoa Nelly! As I get a bit more serious about writing poetry and learning about prosody, scansion, metre, etc, as opposed to just writing what I think sounds good, I'm realising how much we didn't learn in school! I remember 'iambic pentametre' from my Shakespeare days, but I didn't ever really grasp what it meant.

There are some great resources on the web for helping numpties like me come to grips with the technicalities of poetry:

Wikipedia entries on metre, prosody and scansion
Interactive quiz on metre
AllPoetry
Discovering the iamb and the trochee

(I'd be delighted if anyone would provide further relevant links)

You need to know them in order to use them to your advantage, to break with tradition, or to use traditional constructs to create something purposely formal or constrained.

The below poem is in 'iambic trimetre', meaning there are three 'feet', each of which comprises two syllables, the first unstressed, followed by a stressed syllable, except the fourth line, which has an omitted unstressed syllable. I wrote it after a shocking night last night, where I was febrile and delirious in turns. Noice!

Through my delirium
I can't get past 'I can't';
The words they will not budge.
Tears escape my eyes,
A sleep of toss and turns.