Janet Pates, Last Ride
He woke at daybreak, went out, saddled his horse and rode away, leaving his parents asleep. He rode with a loose rein for he and the mare knew and trusted each other. Along the track by the creek, waking birds twittered in the ti tree and two ducks slid into hiding among the rushes.
Obligingly he looked the other way.
Leaving the track, they climbed up through the pine plantation. He’d helped plant these trees. “One day,” his old man had said, “These’ll build you a house.”
He, being a boy, had grinned and asked, “How about a hut?”
Above the trees he reined in and looked out over empty paddocks. The stock had all gone last week. He lit the cigarette he’d filched from his mother’s pack and asked himself what he was feeling. The answer was, mostly, nothing. He was over raging at his father’s stupidity, the bank’s shortsightedness. Now, he wanted to take all this; the pink tinted sky, the creek, the birds, the mingled smell of horse and tobacco; to package them up and keep them with him for ever and ever.
He would have stayed longer but he felt the horse growing restless. He wheeled her with his knees and they took the long way back. At the last paddock, he leaned forward and spoke. Knowingly, she flicked her ears. He nudged her with his heels, she broke into a gallop and he let the wind pull his lips back into a grin.
At the house, he slid to the ground, unsaddled her then laid his forehead against the smooth, warm neck for he loved her as he’d loved no woman thus far. He wondered where they would be in a month’s time. One thing for sure. They would not be together.
Janet Pates is a member of the Franklin Writers group. Her work has appeared in The School Journal, and her second junior novel is due out shortly. For adults, she writes non-fiction as well as stories, short and very short.
Ann Webber, Peacock
“Better than guard dog!” argued Dad, swinging open the car door. From the back seat the peacock alighted, fanned its tail and strutted past us as if inspecting its troops. As it shimmied into our yard one hundred feathered eyes like one hundred ladies-in-waiting bobbed behind. I’d wanted a Labrador.
“What eat?” demanded Maternal-Grandmother.
“Uhhh… leftovers!” lied Dad. “Cheap!”
Maternal-grandmother looked pointedly at me, my mate Toby, eight siblings, Auntie Lin-Lin and Uncle Huang. Mealtime at our house was like a fancy restaurant’s — two sittings and a waitlist.
“Shagua,” muttered Maternal-grandmother.
“Dumb melon,” I translated for Toby. There’s no Chinese word for leftovers.
“You watch,” predicted Dad. “With the King, we never be rob again.”
And he was right. Enthroned atop our TV antennae, the King screeched the passing of legs, wheels and wind; of sunbeams, showers and shadows; of new moons, full moons and falling stars. No threat went unheralded. Between patrols he descended only to shit on the washing or ransack the garden. Maternal-Grandmother, brandishing bunches of bruised bok choy, shouted modified Peking duck recipes at the roof.
But on moonless nights, he roosted on my bedroom window sill. He would swivel his long neck to look me right in the eye before turning his gaze to the gate. Gravediggers were banished from my dreams. Robbers were thwarted at the gate. I slept the sleep of kings.
Three months later the King proclaimed the arrival of the council ranger.
“We’ve received complaints about your peacockm Mr. Chien.”
“Who?” demanded Dad.
“It’s unclear, sir. They’re written mostly in Chinese.” Maternal-grandmother retreated quickly to Countdown.
The King’s reign was over. Perched on the back seat, waiting to be chauffeured away, he unfurled his tail. As the car departed, the King turned and one hundred and two shining eyes quivered goodbye.
Ann Webber is an Australian currently living in Auckland. She writes short fiction and creative non-fiction, employing her research skills as a medical scientist for the latter.
Janis Freegard, Elephant
First Place Wellington Regional Prize
It was clear the elephant was going nowhere. For the third time that month, Granddad got out his tool box and started repairing the couch, this time reinforcing it with an old steel bed frame from the bowels of the basement. The elephant watched from a flattened bean bag in the corner.
Over the hammering, Grandma shouted, “Are you sure you wouldn’t like a biscuit?” and proffered a plate of afghans. But the elephant just looked at her dolefully before sucking the entire contents of Grandma’s largest Crown Lynn teapot into its trunk, then spraying the lot over its big, pachyderm head.
“There haven’t been any circuses in the area at all?” Grandma asked Bill when he showed up for his morning cuppa.
Bill helped himself to an afghan and settled into the one remaining armchair, opposite the elephant. It was clear he hadn’t shaved. Again. He slurped his Irish breakfast tea from Grandma’s favourite Temuka teacup. The elephant watched him.
“We had a postcard from Josie yesterday,” said Grandma, pointing to the mantelpiece. “She’s got a great job, Bill. And a fabulous new flat near the harbour. She’s in her element.”
Bill knocked back the rest of his tea before turning his cup upside down in the saucer as he always did. “Reckon that one’s a water elephant.” He headed for the back door.
“Is that so?” said Granddad to Bill’s retreating form. “Is that so?”
Grandma looked at Granddad. “I’ll give you a hand,” she said. The old Para pool in the garage was a heavy bugger. They hadn’t had it out since Josie left.
Janis Freegard’s work has appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Anomalous Press, Home: New Short Short Stories by New Zealand Writers, 100 New Zealand Short Short Stories 4, Landfall, the NZ Listener and others. A past winner of the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award for fiction, she is also author of the poetry collections The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider (Anomalous Press, US, 2013) and Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus (Auckland University Press, 2011). Janis was born in the UK and grew up in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. She lives in Wellington and blogs here.
Tracy Farr, Beer Goggles
It’s a long walk up between streets, a Wellington short-cut, past cabbage trees and damp, tightly-planted agapanthus. The steps are dark and steep, tricky to negotiate, and the two of them stumble against each other. They mug creeping up the steps, shushing and high-stepping like cartoon villains. The wind has dropped, the night turned still. Stopping to catch their beery breath, turning, they see the city below them. Closer, lights glow in scattered windows of the university buildings, patterning the sky.
As they pass a sternly-locked gate, a motion sensor clicks and a light comes on. They both jump, and stop. The light surrounds them, darkness cameoing them. In the halo of light, Warren looks pasty, but nicer, better-looking than he did in the pub. Beer goggles, Lola thinks. She reaches out to him, adjusts his collar. She spits on her hand and tries to flatten his hair. She wipes his chin, makes a joke of it.
“You’ll do,” she says.
“Your flatties got high ex-pect-orations, eh?”
“Shusssssh. You’ll wake all the Kelburn matrons.”
A dog barks, close to them, maybe a house or two away. The sound carries on the night air, and another dog answers it, then another, off into the distance.
“Woo-woo-rooo-roo.” Warren lifts his face to the sky, eyes closed.
“Is that what Dunedin dogs say?”
“Yep. What do Wellington dogs say?”
“They say don’t walk up my steps or I’ll bite you. And they eat Dunedin dogs for dinner.”
The light goes off, and the dogs stop barking. Lola and Warren stand still and quiet. The darkness pulls in solid around them. Lola closes her eyes, and feels the Guinness roil in her stomach, black and sharp.
Tracy Farr has been a scientist, a dramaturg and a researcher; she has worked in a health food store and in libraries, made short films and played (briefly, long ago) in a band. She grew up in Perth, Western Australia, but since 1996 has lived in Wellington. Her short fiction has been published in anthologies, literary journals and popular magazines, broadcast on radio, and been commended and short-listed for awards in Australia and New Zealand. Her debut novel, The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt, is published by Fremantle Press (September 2013). More can be found here.
Sally Houtman, That Night in Miri’s Kitchen
Runner-up Wellington Regional Prize
Don’t turn around. That’s what you said. That night in Miri’s kitchen. Me wrist-deep in sudsy water. You in your faded jeans. In the air, the smell of woodsmoke. The rise and fall of voices down the hall. Over nibbles we’d exchanged quick glances, my sister’s friends around the fire. Later, in the kitchen, you came to get a beer, then lingered. All movement stilled. My senses sharpened, aware only of my breathing and the rain. The rain the rain the rain, so hard against the window. You moved in close behind me, hands warm against my skin, your voice so clean and spare. Don’t turn around.
Fast forward. Four months later. You beneath a storefront awning. A woman waiting in a car. Overhead, the same old dirty, laden sky. And all that day, the rain. The day you told me you were leaving. Said it just like that. The rose you gave me in its vase at home, its head bent forward, heavy on its stalk, but still alive. I stood, feet planted on the footpath, neither here nor there, and you already gone. And I understood life’s fickle pull and slip, the way a thing could be so hollowed out of one thing, yet be filled with something else.
Now you are in another city, one that cracks and rattles underfoot. And me still here. With my fugue of memories. Foreshortened daydreams. The drumbeat repetition of regret. And the rain. I watch the drops which vein my window on their predetermined course. Each fixed to its task, its fate still ahead. And I think that had I known that night in Miri’s kitchen, that you were already knee-deep in someone else’s forever, halfway to someone else’s somewhere else, I would have never turned around.
Originally from the United States, Sally Houtman makes her home in Wellington, New Zealand. She is the author of a non-fiction book and began writing fiction and poetry in 2007. Since that time, her work has appeared in more than thirty print and online publications, received four New Zealand writing awards, and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. This story was previously published at Prime Number Magazine, here.
Gerard Winter, Constitution
“Malo e lei,” she cried softly as I looked down from deep Haatafu dreams
“Isha goodah idea you go quickly a tsunamis coming.”
“You go fast to the King’s hill.”
I didn’t go.
The old mango tree pregnant with fruit and night bats was ever my refuge and so it would be now. The rickety child’s fort high up over the fale gave vantage through coconut palms to the coral. Pita hung about, his sense of loyalty overcoming instincts for survival and a dash for safety upon higher ground.
“We need rope, food and drink; emi emi, hurry up, save what you can.”
We the people…..we the church…..we the Royal chosen few…the draft papers of a new democracy bundled together grabbed from a desk and stuffed in a kite without pomp or circumstance. Forbidden fruits nailed high in our tree and kept safe. A rich fruit fall for others to pick up.
Pita pointed out to where the dawn wind was coming and he told of the storms that visit and their names and the currents and the way the whales go. And he spoke about the thoughts in the heart of man. And as he spoke, we kept watch in that lonely place roped together.
In one tight screaming circle the bats took flight; then whirlpools in the bay sucked out the reef and in slow motion the seawater rose up and up and up again into a great green wall and as we sang hopeful hymns the waves surged to where we two abided under lofty words.
Waves gone, we sat in the unbelievable stillness unwilling to leave. And we munched on water biscuit and drank beer and listened to the church bells ring and believed in a new day ahead.
Gerard Winter CRH, a New Zealand born lawyer, academic and Jurist, is the author of far too many works of non-fiction on constitutions, parliaments and courts. A story teller, lyricist and sometime essayist, he has written for voice and visual media and enjoys the challenge of short tales told well. He returned home in 2010 from work in Geneva and the South Pacific. He now lives in Karaka with his wife, Katherine, and two of their five sons.
Jac Jenkins, The Possum Hunt
Northland Regional Prize
Yesterday, my tree was heavy with the suede softness of peaches.
Last night you feasted, leaving only corrugated husks and tattered flesh on the ground. Somewhere you are folded around your swollen belly.
Now, I hunt. The bush sheds the dappled light of day and fades to moonshine-deep. Soon the night will come. I am wrapped in the warp and weft of dusky shadows, tracing the threads of your passage from one totara to another. My shoes are as silent as whispers. The grizzled silver ferns brush me lightly as I pass – dew-drizzled ghosts in the billowing mist of my breath.
Steaming pellets rest lightly on the leaf litter; a scatological signpost pointing north-east, and the dubstep of my heart trips into triple step. The scent of musk settles under the weight of my attention; heavy, gamy.
I am still; the bullets are restless.
Jac Jenkins privately believes that her greatest writing accomplishment was the highly commended award for tidy writing that she won in primary school, as her handwriting is exceptionally poor. Luckily she writes all of her poetry and flash on the laptop these days. In 2012 she was awarded a mentorship through the NZ Society of Authors and worked closely with acclaimed poet Sue Wootton. Jac is a member of the Northland poetry group Take Flight and lives in rural Whangarei with her daughter, five egg-hiding chooks and two cats.
Chris Cole, Brush with Death
Whatever I paint dies. This is no delusion. I’m not crazy. It’s been true for a long time I think.
I only realised it after painting a portrait of my poor little budgie one evening and then finding him dead on the floor of his cage the next morning covered in crap and millet. I buried him in the garden under the apple tree and pinned an ice block stick tombstone to the trunk. There are five ice block sticks there now. The apple tree is dead too. It was alive and laden with fruit once but I painted it and now it’s a bundle of dead grey limbs.
Inside the house the hallway is hung with many of my favourite works. I thought once I was creating a gallery of life, but as I walk its length and remember each pet and each pot plant and each solitary tree I see that I doomed them all in paint. All of them are dead. All by my hand.
I cry when I reach the portrait of my mother. She sat for me a week before she was diagnosed with cancer. Then she died. We all cried together at her bedside and cursed the unfairness of it all. I know the truth now but I doubt I can ever bring myself to tell them it was me that did it.
I don’t paint any more. I sit and watch TV or stare out the window at life passing by. Sometimes I just sit and look at the wall where two of my favourite paintings are hung. A small watercolour of my husband who died in a car accident a year ago and a very fine self portrait in oils.
Chris Cole lives in Wellington. He’s a stay-at-home-dad who tries to find time during the day to write. In between nappies, stories, games, and baking bread, he’s writing a novel.
Timothy McGiven, Crack
He was once a fisherman and used to own a dingy called The Little Huia. He’d catch kawhai and snapper, but throw the cod back. Never bought bait — pipi and mussels did the job.
She was once an English teacher, listened closely to the wind and drew pictures of cats while she talked on the phone.
He was shorter than most people, due in part to posture. Primary school was tough; he was an ugly duckling which grew into an ugly duck and learnt contentment.
She was all smokes, smiles, and dribbling conversation. Had a face like leather and a heart like wool.
They were strangers, until a Tuesday afternoon, when they met on Main Street Otorohanga.
She was browsing the marigolds, outside the florist.
He was down on his luck and out for a stroll.
She decided to buy a few pots for the garden.
He decided to make off with a suitcase that an Armourguard employee had put down while refilling an ATM. It contained three thousand dollars.
She was heading up the street towards her ’74 Kingswood, pots in hand.
He was sprinting down the street, aiming to lose his pursuers in the park.
She cracked him on the head with $12.98 worth of hardened clay; it was more on instinct than intent.
He crumpled to the pavement, like a scarecrow floored by a hurricane.
She apologized incessantly for her un-ladylike behaviour. The police officer could not stop laughing, while waving the ambulance on its way.
He awoke in Accident and Emergency, head pounding and craving a beer.
She was at his side.
“Are you okay? I didn’t mean to hit you quite so hard.”
He didn’t know what to say.
“Mary,” she said, offering her hand.
“Stan,” he said tentatively.
They shook hands.
Timothy McGiven is from Otorohonga and a third-year Waikato University student, currently studying a bachelor of Science and majoring in Psychology.
Megan Doyle Corcoran, Queen’s Birthday
It wasn’t the year he said it was. But I’m not going to make a point of letting everyone know. It isn’t relevant.
To the party sipping margaritas warming in plastic cups, he announces: Last year. Queen’s Birthday. We had to work.
This is a war story to him. I’m the man who shared his trench. He needs me to verify his heroics.
I say, yeah I remember. They gave us beers from a bucket of ice.
The labels peeled.
They said one and done.
But the rationing sparked a panic.
You chundered on the footpath.
And you ended up in the harbour.
I did, I say. Ha.
And I saved your life.
I always meant to thank those fishermen, I say.
Well, he says, I anchored their rope.
I lost my shoe, I say.
Almost more than that.
Our cups were raised. To taking the plunge, he says. Everyone laughs.
It all happened two years ago. In the morning before I chucked myself into the harbour chop, she said—eyes closed, in bed—meet me on the waterfront. I remember her words: if clouds don’t throw a blanket on the day, she said, let’s drink wine in the sun. She talks like that. Like a fruit picker who knows what’s perfectly ripe. I kissed her lids and whispered, the sunrise is pink and blue and green. She groaned, stirred her legs in the sheets and said, sherbet. She burrowed in the blanket. She said, dessert comes later.
But no. I came home soggy—one shoe in hand and she said, really? And, you’ve had your chance. She said, I’m tired of disappointment. And, nothing you say will change my mind.
Two years later and nothing I’ve said, nothing, has changed her mind. My margarita is gone.
Megan Doyle Corcoran lives in Wellington. She recently completed her MA in Creative Writing at the IIML and is working on a novel. Please read more at Letters to the Weather.
Zoë Meager, Uses
Her father threw the first litter of kittens on the fire. He hadn’t thought that the smell of burnt fur and flesh would be worse than the persistent cries coming from inside the Mickey Mouse sweatshirt behind the couch, or that, with the pathetic flame the kittens would be noisier than pine cones burning.
They kept the second litter a little longer. Then her father hollowed them out and made glove puppets, small, so that only a child’s hand could fit inside.
Originally from Christchurch, Zoë Meager completed a Masters of Creative Writing at the University of Auckland in 2012. Her story ‘Things with Faces’ won the Pacific Region Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2013, and is published online at Granta. Other flash and short fiction work appears in Penduline Press, The Island Review and Hue and Cry. Her 2012 NFFD story ‘Uses’ was first published at Penduline Press, here.
Pat Rosier, Dadding
The fight to get the right to every second weekend with his children had been bad enough, now he had to figure out how to be with them, in his bachelor flat, or out and about. One way was to spend a lot of money—movies, Macdonald’s, all the predictable stuff—doing things he didn’t want to be doing. And he didn’t want to be that kind of father, though he was hard pressed to say what kind of father he did want to be.
This time he spent the week getting prepared. DVDs. Paper, coloured pens, child-scissors and all that stuff, food kids could get involved with like pancake mix and unpopped popcorn, children’s games on his computer. The real extravagance had been $200 on Lego when he didn’t even know if they would like it. He hadn’t asked, he didn’t want to ask. He wanted them to come to his place and do stuff without him trying to entertain them. He’d bought some storage boxes too, bright plastic colours that stacked, and put all the gear in them, in the spare room that was their room, at least until Jack got too old to be sharing a room with Minnie. By then he’d have his own house, with more bedrooms. Or something.
When they got to be teenagers they might like having a dad with a pad in the central city; very not Crofton Downs. But what if he gets a partner? Or a job overseas?
“Get over yourself,” said Jim in the pub after work. “Do now.”
Minnie and Jack ignored the Lego. When they went back to their mother’s he had to vacuum up ubiquitous traces of popcorn.
Pat Rosier has published four novels and is working on a fifth. A collection of short pieces, Stones Gathered Together, is available as an ebook on Kobo, Kindle and most other ebook outlets. She lives with her partner, Prue Hyman, in Paekakariki.