Friday, February 26, 2010

#fridayflash: Act Normal

(Image: Ayena)

By Lily Mulholland

It was eleven o’clock on a Tuesday morning and Andie was lined up at the dispensary counter of a pharmacy at her local shopping centre, waiting to be served. Doing her best to blend in with the other customers, mostly elderly folk who cashed their pension checks each fortnight to do the prescription shuffle, she pretended to examine the merchandise crowding the shelving under a sign that read ‘Foot Solutions’.

Who knew there were so many kinds of dressings available? Or foot problems, for that matter? Bunions, corns, planter’s warts, calluses, in-grown toenails, heel spurs, fungal infections, hammer toe, chilblains – the list was seemingly endless. In her imagination she had a brief but lucrative career as a podiatrist. Gross, but a money-spinner for sure. Maybe she should look into it. She had good scores in Year 12 biology and they had mature age entry schemes these days, especially for battlers. Or something like that. She vaguely remembered hearing it on the radio the other day, the education minister banging on about getting more people into university.

With the old dears jostling for the few available vinyl chairs, Andie maintained a respectful distance, observing queue etiquette with patience and a poker face. It would not do to be drawing attention to herself. Getting ready this morning, she had chosen her clothing with care: neat jeans, not too faded, not too tight, a clean grey t-shirt, and a red wool coat, a hand-me-down from her grandmother. Fortunately it was a timeless cut and Nan had taken good care of it. Andie had even lucked out on a decent pair of shoes from the Salvos Store (although she told her husband she had bought them from a department store and pocketed the difference).

Finally it was her turn. She moved up to the counter and asked for four boxes of Mersyndol caplets. Eyebrow shooting skyward, the sales assistant looked suspisciously at Andie.

‘Are they for yourself?’


‘Are you taking any other medication?’

‘No,’ replied Andie. It was the truth. Mersyndol was the only drug she needed.

‘Any other paracetamol or codeine?’

‘No, none,’ she lied.

‘Have you discussed taking this medication with your doctor?’

‘Yes.’ Andie’s rising irritation levels were manifested by the prickle of sweat on the skin above her top lip.

‘I’ll have to talk to the pharmacist.’ The woman disappeared up behind the three-quarter wall separating the chemist from the massing hordes. A full-blown hot flush was sweeping through Andie’s body; she could feel her face burning as the heat ascended and tried to escape out through her hair. The sweat was making her wish she had chosen a lighter jacket, but at least Nan’s coat would hide the dark patches infiltrating her t-shirt. Gripping the edge of the counter helped still the tremors in her hands.

The disapproving saleswoman returned with the blue and gold boxes. Andie’s heart leapt while her head pounded. A headache was crashing down on her and fast.

‘You are not to take more than two at a time. No more than eight capsules in a twenty-four hour period. Do not consume alcohol while taking this medication. Stop taking them as soon as they start working then switch to paracetamol. Do not drive after taking this medicine...’

Andie zoned out as the woman sounded like a robot, reciting by rote the instructions she knew so well. She could have listed the side effects, in order too, but that would have been a dead giveaway.

‘I understand.’ Andie’s hand stretched out to take the boxes, but the woman with her cat’s bum mouth and bad highlights had not quite finished.

‘You must advise your doctor you have taken this medication.’ She glared at Andie through slotted eyes.

‘Okay,’ nodded Andie. Anything to get the woman to release nirvana from her garishly painted claws.

‘Pay at the front.’ With that, the magic boxes were placed on the counter and Andie was dismissed. Scooping them up, she threaded her way to the front of the shop. A long queue of pensioners was waiting at the checkout; no doubt their fumbling for small change in the bottom of bags was causing the hold-up.

Hit by a wave of nausea, Andie closed her eyes and leaned against a crown end display at the end of the ‘Sensational Skin’ aisle. The tabs ran out the day before and the withdrawal was already hitting her hard.

‘Next please!’ Andie’s eyes snapped open. Lurching forward like a learner driver missing first gear, she fumbled the box onto the counter and handed a twenty-dollar note to the cashier. Andie took the proffered change and receipt and stuffed everything into her bag.

Escaping into the chill air was like diving into a deep, cold pool, invigorating and cleansing. Almost as good as the dreamy post-pill slide. But that would have to wait. She had her rounds to complete: the other three pharmacies and their scrutineers to withstand before she could abscond with her bounty.

If she timed it right, the first tabs would kick in before the children arrived home from school.

Friday, February 19, 2010

#fridayflash: Ravine

This is the sixth and final instalment in the Jo Carter series, Betrayal, which I've really enjoyed writing and I hope you enjoyed too! Click here for previous instalments.
(Image: Kate Webb)

By Lily Mulholland

Taking a deep breath, Jo pressed the intercom buzzer and waited, eyes centred on the one-way camera. A beeping noise signalled the frosted glass door had been unlocked, so she pushed it open and entered the safe house.

Waiting for her was the caretaker who kept the place humming and looking normal from the outside. Jo smiled at the plump, middle aged woman she had never met before.

‘You look just like your file photo, my dear,’ said Marjorie, giving Jo a hug. ‘You must be starving. You’ve been off the grid for four days. I don’t suppose you’ve had anything to eat?’

‘Not for a while, no. But what I really need is a shower and possibly a change of clothes,’ said Jo, looking down at the crushed white doctor’s coat and red flip flops. ‘How long have I got?’

‘Spartan will be here in twenty minutes. Why don’t you go and freshen up? I’ve laid out some clothes upstairs. Just head up there,’ she said pointing at a staircase leading up to the next floor, ‘and aim for the first room on the right. I’ll let you know when he arrives.’

The shower was heaven. Jo placed her palms against the tiled wall and let the hot jet cascade over her face and rain down her back. She closed her eyes and breathed.


Dressed in black pants and a black top, Jo was pulling on socks and a stylish yet sensible pair of boots when there was a gentle knock on the door.

‘Jo, he’s here. Please come down into the conference room when you’re ready,’

‘Be right there.’

Jo tossed her borrowed clothes in a laundry basket and checked her reflection in the dresser mirror before opening the door and heading downstairs. It felt like weeks since she’d last seen her handler, yet, according to Marjorie, it had only been four days.

With an encouraging nod, the older woman directed Jo to a large room down the end of a passageway that ran alongside the stairs. Knowing the clacking of her heels on the tiled floor would announce her arrival, Jo adjusted her posture, swung open the doors and entered the room.

Seated on the opposite side of a large wooden boardroom table was Spartan.

Jo smiled. He didn’t.

‘Jo, it’s good to see you back.’

Jo stood there, not knowing what to say. Suddenly feeling very young and inexperienced, she wondered what she had done wrong – his demeanour was anything but reassuring.

Spartan indicated the swivel chair in front of her and, as she sat down, he picked up the handset of a telephone on the table and spoke quietly into it.

Hearing the door open behind her Jo turned around.

Jeremy entered the room, followed by the man she had last seen sprawled unconscious on a concrete floor.

‘Hello Josephine.’

Fighting the urge to vomit, she slowly spun her chair back around as the two men took up positions at either end of the table. Betrayal, shrieked her brain as it tried to assimilate too much new information. She thought about the scalpel and syringe she had left upstairs. Too hard, too far. She was checkmated. Face set with stone, Jo locked eyes with the man she knew only by his code name.

‘You must be feeling a little bewildered, Jo.’ He was Spartan to her Athena. Someone at the agency had a sense of history, if not humour.

‘Not really, but you could say I’m feeling a little PISSED right now.’

‘What do you think is happening?’

‘Honestly? I have no fucking idea.’

At this unexpected answer Spartan’s face exploded. It was the first time she had ever seen him laugh.

‘Good girl. That’s why we selected you.’


‘Jeremy, why don’t you explain?’

Jeremy rocked his chair back and rested his left ankle on his right knee as he locked both hands behind his head, bent arms framing his well coiffed head. The prick looked very relaxed.

‘Josephine, George here recommended you for my unit. I wasn’t sure you had it in you so he suggested a little challenge.’



‘Yes, Stephen and I are recruiting for a special activities branch.’ Stephen, so that was the good doctor’s real name, after all.

‘You mean this whole thing was a set-up?’

‘We prefer to think of it as a recruitment test,’ said Jeremy, sarcasm curling his lips.

‘You bastard.’ She was trying to calculate possibilities and permutations in her mind, but the conversation was moving too fast for her to cross-check the facts as she understood them ... if she understood them at all.

She looked at George, wondering if she had been wrong to trust her mentor unquestioningly. ‘And you were in on this for how long?’

‘We’ve been planning it for a couple of months. Relax, Jo,’ he said, seeing the livid look on her face, ‘we’re the good guys. We planted that ID card in Stephen’s wallet deliberately. Think about it.’

While still not convinced, Jo was beginning to get a handle on the situation.

‘Gentlemen, we need to wrap this up. I have to be somewhere.’

Jo shot the third man a fierce look. He wasn’t smiling either.

‘How’s your arm, Stephen?’

‘Careful now, Josephine,’ warned Jeremy, ‘he’s your new boss.’


‘Yes. Congratulations, based on your test results, you’re our number one pick for the position. You're moving up in the world, my girl.’ He was still a smug bastard, good guy or not.

The three men stood and began making their way to the door. Jo remained seated, head reeling from information overload.

Stephen stopped next to her and flipped his Attorney-General’s Department business card onto the table, his sleeve riding up slightly, revealing a bandage.

‘See you in my office, 9am Monday. Don’t be late. We’ve got work to do.’

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

FLASHSHOT story up: 'Nellie's Web'

I have a nanofiction up at FLASHSHOT today. Called Nellie's Web, it's my sequel to a well known children's favourite!

Friday, February 12, 2010

#fridayflash: Reprieve

(Image: Antonov14)

This week's #fridayflash is part five of the Jo Carter series. For previous instalments, click here.

By Lily Mulholland

Hunkered down in a booth, Jo scoped out the room from beneath her cap and sunglasses. She was ravenous and inhaled the carbohydrates and sugar without tasting them. It was the first food she had eaten in she didn’t know how long. She had been on the road for a couple of hours, taking the back roads to Canberra, staying away from the highway monitoring cameras that would be sure to pick up the purple van she’d escaped in.

With the fuel gauge nearly on empty, Jo had taken a risk and pulled into the roadside services just outside Yass. The hundred or so vehicles parked outside gave her pretty decent cover. She had found a pair of thongs and an obviously pre-worn pair of lacy ladies underpants in the back. Flipping them inside out, she had pulled the knickers on, conscious that the doctor’s coat only just reached the top of her thighs. Jumping out of the van, she had shut the door behind her, not sorry to leave behind its fluffy dice dangling from the rear view mirror.

Wolfing down a second burger and fries, Jo dismissed the family seated at the table nearest her. She didn’t want to leave them stranded. A trio of insouciant young guys slouched in the next booth along. Jo could hear them bragging about sex, quietly confident that at least two of them were probably still virgins. The third, a quiet one, she wasn’t so sure about. It’s always the quiet ones. They looked like P-platers and young blokes tended to drive shit boxes, so she wasn’t game to lift their keys. Then she spotted a couple canoodling in a booth along the opposite wall. They looked like they were eating each other instead of their decidedly unhappy meals. The guy’s keys were on the table next to his wallet and phone. Perfect.

Licking the salt off her fingers, Jo stood up, adjusted her makeshift dress and belt and headed toward the ladies toilets – a quick pitstop before she grabbed the keys and located her new car. Checking herself out in a speckled mirror, she understood why the girl behind the counter had given her an odd look. Jo looked like a homeless person who’d ransacked a charity bin for clothes. She went into one of the cubicles, put the cracked lid down and sat on the toilet.

Opening Dr Engadeen’s wallet, she pulled out the remaining bills and put them in her coat pocket. The credit cards went into her pocket too, as did his Medicare card. It was the identity card that made her stop cold.

Stephen Mackenzie
Attorney General’s Department

With his photo on it. Yet the credit cards had Engadeen on them. Were they a plant? Or was the ID card a fake? A sudden headache descended upon Jo like an avalanche. A metallic taste roared into her mouth and she felt faint. Was he a double agent? Who was he working for? Who was Jeremy working for? Jo’s train of thought was interrupted as a pair of girls giggled into the toilets. She waited for them to bang their doors shut before she tossed the doctor’s wallet and the van keys into the sanitary bin and hustled out of her cubicle and back out into the restaurant.

The canoodling couple was gone. Shit. Plan B.

Jo took a side exit, crossed the car park and headed into the service station. She grabbed a magazine from the rack and started flicking through it, surreptitiously watching the customers in the inside reflection of the window. She spotted a guy in a nice suit wandering through the toy section, talking animatedly on his mobile phone. His keyring was swinging from the little finger on his left hand, punctuating his sentences, with the BMW badge making an occasional exclamation.

As the man wandered toward a row of refrigerated drinks, Jo ditched the magazine and made her move, deliberately bumping him hard as she opened one of the doors. He dropped his phone, the newspaper that had been tucked up under his arm and, most important, his keys. Making a pretence of being shocked and sorry, she helped him pick up his paper and phone, pocketed the keys and walked out the door.

Aiming the remote at the nearest Beamer she pressed the switch. The black sports coupe rewarded her with a flash of orange; she opened the door, jumped in and started the engine. From behind her sunglasses, Jo could see the man run out of the shop just as she whipped out of the bay and hightailed it down the service road and onto the highway.


Jo had plenty of time to think in the forty minutes it took her to reach Canberra’s outskirts. She thought through every possible explanation for the doctor’s double identity – if he really was a doctor. Was he was an agent, like her, with Jeremy his target? Maybe he had been sent to free her and she had attacked him? Or, was he working with Jeremy and had infiltrated AG’s? It all came back to Jeremy. She needed to access more information before she could work it out and that meant getting back on the grid. Priority number one was to set up a contact with Spartan. Cursing herself for not grabbing the car donor’s phone too, Jo trawled the northern suburbs for a pay phone. She finally found one that was working and still accepted coins. She dialled the number for Control.

‘Control this is 3-2-1-5-niner. Patch me through to Spartan.’

‘Wait one...connecting you now.’


‘It’s Athena.’

‘Jolimont safe house. One hour.’ The line clicked dead.

Jo placed the handset back in the cradle and climbed into the car. It felt like a cocoon. With her forearms draped across the top of the steering wheel, she rested her head on her arms and closed her eyes for a few seconds. The tears came faster than she expected. She was almost home.

Friday, February 5, 2010

#fridayflash: Adrenalin

This week's #fridayflash is part four of the Jo Carter series. For previous instalments, click here.

by Lily Mulholland

Jo inhaled deeply as the doctor prepared to inject the barbiturate into her neck. She felt the sharp point of the needle prick at her skin and breathed out. Relax, don’t panic. Wait.

As the needle started its slide into her vein Jo took another deep breath, flicked her head to the right, at the same time lurching violently toward the doctor. Before he could react, she opened her jaw and clamped her teeth down on his wrist with the force of a bear trap.

The doctor screamed and tried to shake her off. Like a dog with a bone she held on tight and bit down harder. Dr Engadeen backpedalled, dragging Jo and her gurney with him. He crashed into the trolley holding his instruments and they showered around him down onto the concrete floor as he careened backwards, pulling Jo down with him.

Landing with a thud that knocked the wind out of her, Jo lay on the floor panting, still strapped to the sideways gurney. Dr Engadeen, she was pleased to see, was out cold.

‘Right, let’s get this show on the road people.’ Jo was talking to herself but she didn’t have the time to care. Jeremy would have seen everything on the camera feed and Jo knew she had only a couple of minutes before the cavalry arrived.

Jo kicked her legs as hard as she could. Nothing. She tried her hands and felt the bindings give a little. She heaved. A little more give. This is it Josephine. You either break it or Jeremy’s going to break you.

Drawing on her inner strength, Jo gave one more heave. She was rewarded with a great rending of metal as the buckled legs of the gurney broke. Jo unfastened the straps and released her wrists, chafed and bruised. She could taste salt on her tongue and knew the blood wasn’t hers. She looked down with distaste at the sprawled body of Dr Engadeen.

‘Mate, you’d better not have bloody Hep A.’

Jo looked around for something to cut the straps still holding her legs. One of the doctor’s scalpels glinted under the industrial lights. She grabbed it and sawed through the leather. Freed at last, she was able to sit up and take stock of the situation.

‘Well I need some clothes as a starting point. And a weapon. But first I’d better do something about that door or I’m toast.’

Jo pushed the trolley over to the door and flipped it on its side. She jammed it up underneath the handle and hoped to god it would make opening the door from the far side a tricky enough proposition that it would give her a few extra precious minutes to escape.

Jo moved as quickly as she could, stripping the coat off the body. She was shivering now – the adrenalin was dissipating. Next she whipped off the doctor’s tie and retrieved his wallet. Thrusting her arms through the lab coat sleeves, Jo looked around. She spotted a door in the far wall she hadn’t been able to see when she was horizontal. Please don’t be locked.

She wrapped the tie around her waist and cinched it tight. She popped the doctor’s wallet into the coat pocket and snatched up the scalpel and the loaded syringe. Heading towards the door Jo took one look back at the carnage and noticed the gurney legs lying on the floor. As she moved back to grab them she heard running footsteps coming. She could hear Jeremy’s voice, strident and authoritative.

‘Open the door and get the fucking bitch. NOW!’

Jo bolted for the second door and tried the handle. It popped open and she slipped through, closing the door behind her and thumbing the latch.

Groping around the doorframe she found the light switch. Christ! A fucking janitor’s closet. No wonder it wasn’t locked. Tears threatened to overwhelm her. Not yet! Hold it together for fuck’s sake. Cry when you get out of here. Now think!

Jo looked around. Chemicals in plastic containers filled the shelves that lined the walls. Mops, buckets, cleaning cloths and a bunch of other crap took up most of the floor space. The ‘Hazard 2’ placards on the boxes on the bottom shelf caught her attention. As did the bleach on the next shelf up.

Working quickly, Jo heaped a bunch of cleaning cloths on the floor and doused them with the bleach. She ripped open one of the boxes and pulled out a couple of bottles of ammonia. Removing the tops as carefully as she could, she placed the bottles against the door.

The commotion on the other side of the door was getting louder. They’d be on her in seconds. Jo clambered up the shelving and popped the air vent in the ceiling. She climbed in and began leopard crawling as quickly and silently as she could, with the scalpel and syringe clenched between her teeth. She came to a T junction and turned left. It was dark, but Jo could see a feeble light up ahead. Behind her she could hear the sound of wood shattering. The closet door.

Jo moved as fast as she could – she knew her gas bomb wouldn’t hold them for long. Finally she reached another intersection in the ducting where there was a large intake vent. With great difficulty she squeezed her body around in the small space so she could kick out the vent. She dropped down and was relieved to find herself in a vacant room.

She opened the door; no one was visible in the corridor and she could see a set of glass doors leading outside. She was about to dart towards the doors when she spotted a guard’s room – empty. She stuck her head through the door and spotted a set of car keys, a cap and a pair of sunnies on the table. Grabbing all three, she raced outside, pressing the button on the keychain remote. A purple van bleeped at her. Jo wrenched open the door, started up the engine, threw the gear shift into drive and gunned it.