May 25, 2018

P1060463

New music from Passenger today, an acoustic version of a track entitled Hell or High Water, from his upcoming album. Always a good thing.

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Words written for the year: 75,394

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On Wednesday I had my first evening at home in over a week. A crazy and tiring but wonderful week that included a night on stage with my mates for the last episode of our podcast and a standing ovation that I will never forget. But on Wednesday I was at home, and even though I spent it catching up on house stuff that had been neglected due to aforementioned busy week, it was lovely. I cleaned and organised and finished the night by cooking a large cut of silverside (or corned beef if you prefer).

I quite love silverside, for a number of reasons. The first is that it’s delicious. The second is that it’s delicious but also cheap! The third is that you can make reuben sandwiches with it, which I suppose still ties into the whole deliciousness thing. And the final reason is memories of my dad cooking silverside on a weekend for the whole family. On those days just about everyone was happy. Dad because he got to put his energy into something that wasn’t work, something he could be proud of and share with people. Mum because she didn’t have to cook. And the rest of us because, as previously mentioned, silverside is delicious. Such a simple thing, but such a good one. And now I get to make it for me and my family, aka Holly.

Saying all that, we didn’t actually eat any silverside on Wednesday. The size of the cut was such that it needed three hours of boiling, and, because I didn’t start it until six, that would have meant we wouldn’t have been eating until nine. What I did instead was parcel it up into two person size servings and freeze them; as it de-freezes surprisingly well. I ended up with seven portions for both Holly and I. Seven meals featuring silverside. It’s an oddly appropriate number, because in seven weeks today the lady Holly and I will be heading overseas, and we won’t be back again for three months.

Yeah, I know.

Given the length of time I like to see it as travelling instead of holidaying. To me the distinction is that a holiday is a temporary thing designed towards recharging and relaxing. Whereas we’ll basically be paying ourselves to see, do, and experience things. Things that definitely don’t include being strapped to a desk looking at spreadsheets and emails; so that’ll be nice.

Saying all that this trip will include moments of relaxing. Of course it will. I don’t think it’s a good or wise thing to go hard on travel for a fifteen week stint. It will wipe you out, make you sick of airports and buses and eating out, while also making you miss your own bed (and toilet). No, instead, this trip will have mini holidays within it. Times where I can write and Holly can read. Where we can rest in the foothills of some mountain and just exist for a little bit. I expect it to be magic.

To add to this magic, this trip will have family included as well. Not only will I get to meet my nephew Eli upon our return (currently in utero) but while overseas I’ll get to see my best friend/brother get married off to the love of his life, in Vienna of all places. I never saw that one coming. Not as crazy for her family I’m sure, seeing as they’re all Viennese, but still. We also get to travel with family. Across Slovenia with two of my favourite people, going for walks and drinking whisky. We’ll pass through western Austria with my niece and nephew (and their parents) and get to share in their excitement and exuberance. Then on further, into Germany with my mum and dad, where we’ll visit fairytale places, drink beer and eat rich foods.

And through it all I’ll have Holly by my side. And when we get back, I’ll marry her.

Seven weeks.

Seven Fridays.

Seven silverside dinners.

Can’t wait.

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Talk soon,

Damian

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Wall Mounted

Octapus-tentacles-red

The wall mounted tentacles dominated the wood panelled room. Not just with their size–which was immense, groping their way through the space above his head–but also their appearance; alien and wrong. They hung, a trophy, extending out from above the wide fireplace, it’s crackling inferno causing shadows to flicker and twitch against the ceiling. The way the shadows moved made him feel as if they were a moment away from reaching down and pulling him into the lightless realm from where the creature had been spawned.

He sat in a lush chair in the centre of the room, facing the fireplace; the perfect vantage point for viewing the horrible appendages. He’d never liked this room. Not when he’d been a child, back when the walls had been lined with antlers and rhino heads and other pieces of creatures unfortunate enough to find themselves here, and certainly not now. His grandfather knew this. No doubt the reason he’d kept Denis waiting so long.

The heavy door opened soundlessly as the old man entered. He marched, straight backed despite his age, his body upright and rigid. An unlit cigar was clamped tightly between his teeth. He’d been all but forbidden from smoking the foul smelling things after having half a lung removed a decade before, but that hadn’t stopped him from chewing on them; gnawing away at the dense logs until piece by piece he ingested them. His lips had discoloured, small lumps sprouting from them, behind them teeth as rotten as the old man’s soul.

He stopped in front of the tentacles, looked up at them. The pride that radiated from him was suffocating. He took the sodden cigar from his mouth. ‘Do you know why our family succeeds where so many others fail?’ Denis stayed silent. The old man’s ego ensured he needed no encouragement. ‘Fortitude,’ he concluded.

Denis bit back the snide remark that burned at the tip of his tongue. He’d been hearing this speech since he’d first learnt to put on pants. It had impressed him at one point, back before he saw the old man for the narcissistic monster he was. Now it was hot breath from a stale corpse.

He turned to Denis, eyes piercing eyes, a typical turn in the speech, so much so that Denis could mimic the movements and intonations himself. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes in response. It was always best to give the old man nothing, not a scrap of reaction, positive or negative; he’d find some way to use it against you.

‘Courage in pain or adversity,’ he continued, moving on to the definition portion of the speech. Denis let his vision lose focus and blur. It was as bad to stare at the old man’s mouth as it was to look upon the monstrous tentacles. Worse, even. His eyes drifted upwards, taking in the finer details of the thick cephalopod limbs, while his grandfather droned on about how he expected more from a member of his family. How disgusted he was at Denis’s own lack of fortitude.

The first time he’d heard this edition to the speech it had torn the then twelve year old Denis in half. His grandfather had been his hero then, or close enough to. His only male role model and the dominant presence in his life. When he’d said those words, that he’d lacked the all so precious fortitude, Denis had felt his gut fall away, accompanied by a presence in his chest like a vice trying it’s best to squeeze the life out of him. He’d held back the tears for as long as he could, and when they’d come his grandfather had given him that look that Denis would come to know well over the years, the one that said he’d managed to find a new bottom to the pit of disappointment his grandfather saw whenever he looked at him. The ugly sneer had rolled up the left side of the old man’s face and he’d told twelve year old Denis to stop crying or he’d give him something to cry about. He waited a second, then, when Denis’s tears didn’t immediately stop, followed through on his promise, using his gnarled knuckles to crack Denis against the side of the head.

Now the words elicited no emotion in him, or so he told himself.

He let his eyes refocus and took in the length of the longest tentacle. They were hideous, to be sure. Pocked at parts with grids of miniature craters, bubbled at others with mutant suckers of all sizes bunched up against each other, and in between ribbons of ropey twisted muscle. There was something beautiful about the things as well, however. The colours. An oily mix of a dark shimmering rainbow. Used for camouflage, he suspected, now frozen in place, a stunning kaleidoscope of colour.

He ran his eyes towards it’s tip and found it almost impossible to follow the lines of the thing. They twisted up and around on themselves, looking like an M C Escher drawing, where one edge become another, creating an infinite loop. Trying to make sense of those images could drive someone mad. He suspected the same were true of the tentacles and the creature that owned them. More than one person had lost their mind when they’d come up against the beast, either taking their own lives immediately, or doing nothing as the creature did it for them. Not his grandfather, though. Not Frances Haigh.

Denis saw something move from within one of the tentacles craters. Something small and orange.

‘Are you listening?’ the old man barked. Denis looked back to see his grandfather’s diseased mouth curl up into its trademark sneer. ‘I demand your attention, Lieutenant.’

Denis had joined the military in an attempt to gain the old man’s approval, back before he’d learned such a task was impossible. He’d fought at the ocean floor with the rest of the grunts, taking out swarths of the pale, needle toothed monsters they’d come to call Anglers, due to the resemblance of their facial features to that of the angler fish. Their bodies were humanoid, which in many ways Denis found more horrific than their faces. He hated seeing a twisted version of his own species reflected back at him, albeit a human who’d spent a lifetime in the lightless depths of an oceanic trench. While they were terrifying to look at, they were also stupid, and completely undisciplined without the command of their godhead; who’s limbs now decorated the very study he currently sat in. The work had been slaughter, plan and simple, and after four years of service and a promotion to Lieutenant, Denis had left, much to the displeasure of the army, and the disgust of his grandfather.

‘I was saying they are organising again,’ the old man said, gifting a hate filled glare to the tentacles above him.

‘Who are?’ Denis asked.

‘Who? It’s pawns. Keep up, boy.’

‘The anglers? But, how is that possible? That would mean…’ Denis followed the old man’s gaze, and saw another flash of orange.

‘Exactly. It’s still alive, somehow. Or there’s a second one. Either way it’s time for you to stop lazing about and get back to work. I’ve told your old commander to expect you tomorrow.’

Denis looked into his grandfather’s penetrating stare. ‘No.’

‘It wasn’t a question, Lieutenant.’

‘I’m not a Lieutenant.’

The old man strode forward, quick despite his age. He stopped, a step from Denis, and leaned down to glare into his eyes. ‘You have a duty, grandson. To both this family and your country. And you will fulfill it. Am I clear?’

His fetid breath assaulted Denis’s nostrils, not helped by the close up view of his diseased mouth. Denis ignored them both, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the old man’s.

‘No,’ he said again. ‘Any duty I had is gone now, whether you acknowledge it or not. You don’t care about this country, and you definitely don’t care about our family.’ Denis thought of his grandmother, dead five years passed. She had been a victim of the old man for most of her life. She’d worn a constant smile on her face, sure, but it had been strained, and belied by the torment that never quite seemed to leave her eyes. Denis was sure the strain of being the old man’s wife for so many years had lead to her early grave. His grandfather had barely seemed to acknowledge her passing. And that wasn’t even counting for Denis’s own mother, the old man’s daughter.

‘You care about yourself. You want me in this fight because it gives you more leverage to have a grandson at the front of the action. Well I’m not interested in fighting, let them have the sea for all I care, and I’m not interested in being your instrument, not anymore. The only reason I came here today was to see the look in your eye as I told you so.’ Denis permitted himself a smile then, a small quirk of his mouth. It had the desired result.

The old man’s eyes bulged with rage as angry as any sea, as both sides of his lips curled upwards, baring his rotten teeth. Denis moved to rise from the seat. ‘Sit down!’ Francis spat, literally. Denis wiped the drops of spittle from his cheek. ‘You think you can defy me? You can’t. You’ll do as I say or I’ll have your limbs hung up on my wall alongside the monsters, do I make myself clear?’

‘Fuck you,’ Denis said. It may not have been eloquent, but damn did he enjoy saying it.

The old man raised his fist to deliver his patented backhand, as a drop of orange fell from the tentacle above, landing perfectly in between his discolored lips. He flinched back, and Denis saw him swallow instinctively as he looked up at the tentacles with confusion.

A shudder rocked the old man’s body. He turned back to Denis, who, for the first time in his life, saw fear on the old man’s face. Then his pupils dilated until his eyes were almost all black, and his face went slack.

The hand that a moment ago was raised to hit Denis moved to the old man’s cheek. Yellow fingernails dug into flesh and tore a strip off. The old man looked at it curiously with his too wide eyes, then smiled as he put the flesh in his mouth.

Denis stood, kicking the chair behind him as he did so. His grandfather looked back at him. An alien sound came from his throat, a rumble, wavering and watery. Denis took two steps backs and eyed the room for an escape. The old man was between him and the door, and Denis wasn’t sure if the curtained windows even opened. The sound changed, rising and falling as his grandfather’s mouth and tongue moved, struggling to work together. It changed again, almost becoming words. ‘D…D…D…’ he mumbled.

‘Denis?’ Denis asked, thinking the old man was trying to call to him. ‘I’m here. I’m right here, grandfather.’

‘Drown,’ the old man finished in a voice not his own. ‘You shall all drown.’ He blinked wet eyes and looked around the room, examining it as if for the first time. The wide pupils turned skyward and followed the tentacles to where they were mounted above the fireplace. ‘Proud fool,’ he rumbled, a wet laugh echoing from his throat.

Denis watched as the old man looked down at his hands. ‘Expiring,’ he said, picking at the flesh on the back of his hand. He turned to look at Denis, stepped towards him, eyeing him from top to bottom. ‘A poor replacement,’ he said, regretful, ‘but it’ll do.’

Denis didn’t wait. He attacked. He swept low, seeking to knock the old man from his feet. His grandfather’s leg squished sickeningly against the kick, bending inwards as though filled with jelly instead of sinew and bone. Denis looked to his grandfather’s face, his eyes now closed, then back down where he saw a yellowish liquid leak from the spot he had struck.

Whatever had taken over his grandfather curled in on itself, pulling his neck in and shoulders forward. The old man’s face began to swell and turn yellow. It bulged outward in waves, lumps rising and falling, disfiguring him almost beyond recognition. Not just his face, Denis realised, the old man’s whole body was roiling with some horrid internal flux.

Denis scrambled backwards.

The old man’s body mushroomed and exploded, releasing a sea of small orange pods. They rained down on Denis, an unavoidable and disastrous hail that smelt of salt and meat and age.

Any that found skin first burned then melted against his flesh. Denis screamed. They were inside of him before he could even attempt to sweep them away.

What was left of his grandfather fell to the floor.

The thing that was inside Denis opened his eyes. It breathed and coughed, and lost somewhere within, Denis could feel it’s thoughts squirm around his own. The thing found the idea of breathing air repulsive. It craved a dark and never ending pressure, a world made of water. It craved destruction and worship.

Denis tried to speak, and failed. He was a whisper, lost in a cyclone. Trapped forever in the lightless realm of his own mind.

The thing now in control of Denis’s body stood, stepped through the old man’s remains and out the door.

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Thanks for reading,

Damian

April 17, 2018

11_01_2018

Dermot Kennedy and his track Young & Free is our blog song for today.  He only has an EP out at the moment but with that killer voice an LP has to be on the way.

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Words written for the year: 62,493

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Hello, again.

I’ve been neglecting this blog for the last few weeks due to gaining a new position at work. The new position isn’t really all that interesting, but it is a promotion of sorts, one that’ll see me retaining my current salary while going down to three days a week…eventually. For now I’m actually working more, as not only have I already started my new position but I’m holding the fort for my old one until a replacement is found. Which is why I’m guilty of blog neglect.

To be honest, the whole thing’s made me pretty tired and grumpy for the last week, except for when I’m too tired to even be grumpy. As well as the blog, my daily word limit has taken a hit, as has my runs per weeks, and, because food = comfort, so has my diet. The snowball is rolling down the hill. However, it’s a snowball I’m aware of and so I’m putting my foot out and am going to try and slow the roll. Or, in other words, practice more self care. Work, while demanding, and probably full time for at least another month, can’t demand all my energy, and so I’m going to stop giving it to them. Likewise, I’m going to (try and) not beat myself up about hitting word limits. I was talking with Holly about this yesterday and she reminded me that I’ll have time later in the year to catch up on any missing words. I think the other thing that’s important to remember, especially for me, is that even when I’m on top of things, even when I’ve planned out tasks and set achievable goals, even when my self control is finely tuned and aimed at my target like an arrow to a bulls-eye, shit happens. Life will always get in the way at some point. Any control I think I have over events will prove to be false, and, like all of us, I just need to roll with the punches. Because really, that’s the answer; be fluid. Things will happen and when they happen it’s up to the individual to adapt rather than rally against it. So that’s what I’m trying to do. Letting some things go so I can complete others with the thought that time is long and fluid and will be mine again one day.

In the meantime other things have also been happening outside of work. The podcast I’ve been a part of for the last few years, Movie Maintenance, is ending…but will be replaced with something new. It’s exciting. We made the announcement over all the social medias last week and then something truly amazing happened. All these comments of commiseration for the loss of movie maintenance started coming through. But not just commiserations. Also, thank you’s, and heartfelt appreciation for the show. Comments from other emerging writers who listen and wanted to pass on their gratitude for the episodes on writing advice, and tell us how much we’ve helped with their writing. It was brilliant. It made my day and came in the middle of a week where a pick-me-up like that meant so much. So, for any fans reading this, thank you.

We also will be having a final live show in Melbourne to see us off, which you can get tickets for here: https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=372752&

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In other news, a few weeks ago I stumbled across a video among the dense jungle of distractions that is the internet. The video was a Photoshop tutorial that detailed how to create geometric versions of photos, specifically animal heads. You may have seen these around, but if you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s an example:

Loki

The process was surprisingly simple thanks to Photoshop’s amazing functionality, the complex series of algorithms running it all, and my own familiarity with Photoshop. Either way, the video went for about six minutes and by the time it was done I had learned a new trick. I gave it a go and had success. The image above being my first attempt.

Like I said, they’re not actually all that complex. It’s mostly just the usual combination of concentration, repetition, and a sprinkle of imagination that all creative endeavours require. I actually find the process really calming, akin to the adult colouring books that were very briefly all the rage. I’m now in the habit of chipping away at these digital art pieces in the evening with the TV on in front of me, clicking away at pixels until I carve out a finished product.

The whole experience has made two things very clear to me:

  1. That the internet is a treasure trove of learnable awesomeness – if you’re willing to dig through the not awesome parts.
  2. Creating a new thing, however basic, is genuinely amazing.

That second part is not news but it is a good thing to remember, namely, the fact that being creative means you are actually creating something. Something new. Something that didn’t exist until you put fingers to keyboard, or pen to paper, or paint to canvas, or combined ingredients, or threaded a needle through fabric, or, well, I think you get the idea.

What really amazes me about it, about creation in general–from a digital image all the way up to life itself–is that the process involves combining components that already exist in order to create something new. In this case photos and Photoshop, with just that sprinkle of imagination, and then the end product is unique from anything that ever existed before. The same is true of writing. Often stories are made up of a millions of different little sources of inspiration, that come from things that already exist out in the world. But that when combined (and sprinkled) create something new. Then even more fantastic, once than new thing is out in the world it too becomes an ingredient, a component to be used, and assimilated, and combined, to create some other new creation.

I think that’s what’s so great about being creative. Not only do you get enjoyment and satisfaction from the process, you also gain something. Something that didn’t exist but now does because you chose to put the time, focus, and imagination into it. Something that you can look at, and share, and put on a t-shirt.

Which is what I think I’m going to do with the geometric animals. I’ll let you know.

Until then. Here’s a few more I wanted to share with you:

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Talk soon,

Damian

Nemesis

depositphotos_33247949-stock-photo-classified-ad copy

The ad read:

Looking for: A nemesis. Preferably villainous. Happy to meet at your convenience. Call: 0431 684 229.

I had seen it last week in The Gazette, in the tiny half page section they still reserved for classifieds. I’d read it over a coffee from my usual seat in the cafe after completing my morning run. Something I did every Sunday. It had caused me to emit a small laugh–nothing more than a barely audible exhalation out of my nose–and to wonder at the weirdness of people, before turning the page and forgetting about it completely; or so I had thought.

I walked over to the adjacent supermarket and, while dawdling past the fluorescent lit shelves with a shopping basket in one hand and a shopping list in the other, the words of the ad came back to me.

It had to be a kid, I thought as I passed the shelf full of a seemingly endless variety of packaged water. But then, a mobile number was attached, and how would a kid know how to post a classified anyway? Why would they bother? Surly they’d just throw something like that up on their social media or on a forum somewhere. The medium of the advertisement alone signified an adult, as did the language. Which only raised more questions in my mind.

As I perused the vegetables I wondered who this person was. Where they male or female? At a guess, probably male. But then you never knew. I mean, I’m female and I’ve been reading comic books since I was eight. The poster of the ad had to be a superhero aficionado, surely. Who else would put a call out for a villainous nemesis if not a lonely comic book obsessed viglianti wannabe?

I saw my reflection in the glass of the supermarket freezers and realised I could be describing myself. Well, I wasn’t obsessed obsessed. I had my collection, sure, but I didn’t turn my apartment into a shrine to the genre like some people did. At the very least I knew the difference between fiction and reality, unlike the poster of the ad.

I told myself to stop thinking about it and focused on my shopping list. I had already walked past half a dozen items I needed while lost in thought.

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That night as I sat in front of the television I caught myself thinking about who would answer an ad like that. Someone similar to the person who posted it no doubt. Two nerds, likely out of shape, running around the city at night, pretending to play good guy versus bad guy. Not that all nerds were out of shape, of course. Look at me, I completed an iron woman last year and I still consider myself a nerd. Not that I would answer the ad, of course.

Which made me wonder if anyone had answered it yet. Unlikely. Right? Surely not. Not that it mattered. Not that I cared. It was silly. I was wasting my time wondering about it, and had missed most of what had happened on my show. I focused on the programming and let the thoughts about the ad slip from my mind.

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At work the next day I managed to forget about the ad. There was a warehouse to run, stock to load, people to talk to. I didn’t have time to think about a stupid bit of frivolity from the local paper. It was probably a joke anyway.

‘What’s that your whispering?’ Marcus had asked me while I was checking over the mornings order; some two hundred drums of gasoline to be shipped overseas somewhere, but which had none of the right permits.

‘Sorry?’ I responded, not realising I had been whispering anything.

‘That thing you’ve been whispering? Something about villainous, and convenience. You’ve been doing it for the last hour. It’s driving me nuts.’

I froze, thinking back. I had been saying the words of the ad. In fact, they’d been playing over and over in my head, like a song stuck on repeat. They were playing right now.

Looking for: A nemesis. Preferably villainous. Happy to meet at your convenience. Call: 0431 684 229.

‘Ah, it’s just an ad jingle,’ I said, covering. ‘Sorry, didn’t even realise I was singing it.’

‘Yeah? Haven’t heard that one. What’s it an ad for anyway?’

‘Um, you know. I don’t remember,’ I said. Marcus gave me an odd look, one I probably deserved, one I probably would have given myself had our positions been reversed. They were used to given me odd looks around here anyway. I knew they had jokes about me. I was the loner. The weird chick who worked out too much. The one to avoid unless you wanted to hear about comics for two hours straight. I didn’t mind, mostly.

‘Sorry. I’ll stop,’ I said, telling myself as much as him.

But I didn’t stop, at least not internally. The words kept swimming round my head for the rest of the day.

+

A day passed, and then another, and I had mostly managed not to think about the ad. Occasionally it would pop up in my mind, but I would squash the thought whenever it presented itself and get on with whatever I was doing. By Friday I think I had genuinely forgotten about it, losing myself in the usual routines of the week. On Saturday, I had busied myself with a triathlon, a trip to the movies, and then a dinner out by myself.

Then Sunday had come and with it my trip to the cafe to treat myself to breakfast.

It was raining again, the scene all but identical to the week before. As soon as I sat down in my regular spot the memory of the ad returned. I couldn’t not check. I went to the counter and got that days copy of The Gazette, then returned to my seat and turned immediately to the classifieds. There it was, slightly altered from last week. Today it read:

Looking for: A nemesis. Preferably villainous. Happy to meet at your convenience. Call: 0431 684 229. Serious enquiries ONLY.

So, they’d got some interest, but only by people who were looking to make fun. None by anyone who took it sincerely. Not like me, a small part of me thought. I quieted that part, and turned instead to the front page of the paper to distract myself. It didn’t work.

I turned the pages but I wasn’t taking any of it in. Instead I was asking questions I knew I shouldn’t be asking. Things like: what would make a good nemesis? Or, what would my first crime be? I knew the answer to the former. Decades of reading comics had instilled in me an appreciation when it came to a well defined villain. They were usually broken in some way. Whether by a unresolvable loss, or just worn down by the monotony of life. They were people with skills, often overlooked. Accomplished, but only to themselves. Unappreciated by anybody else. They were, if done right, real people with real goals. Mirrors of the hero, who just went about things in a different way. Often in a way that made more sense. They were, arguably, heros in their own right. Just, misguided.

As for the second question, I had no answer. Or, at least, I didn’t allow myself one.

I tore out the ad and put it in my pocket.

+

The next day at work I had planned to catch up on some paperwork. Instead I locked myself into my small office at the back of the warehouse and drew. I’m not an excellent illustrator, but I’m passable. Helped by years of tracing characters from the colourful pages of my favourite comics.

What I drew were outfits. Costumes. What I would wear, hypothetically, were I to become a super villain. I went with a charcoal colour spectrum. I had never liked villains that were as flashy as the hero. Plus, it couldn’t be too cartoonish. Something I could wear through a crowd without getting any odd looks. Something tight that billowed at the edges a little, with a hood that could be slipped on quickly. I’m willing to admit some bias, but I thought it looked quite good. Menacing. I decided to even have an attempt at making it, just to see what it would look like.

It was even better than expected.

+

That Sunday the ad was still there.

+

It became a mental puzzle for me; If I were to commit a crime, how would I do it?

The warehouse would be the ideal location, I thought the follow Monday while doing my early morning inspections. I knew the space, the schedules, the flaws. I still didn’t know what the crime would be, but that was less important than that it be explosive, a real performance. Something to draw the media, give them a story. A story about me. I mean, my alter ego.

I would need an alibi, of course, as my intimate knowledge of the place would also make me a suspect, but that wouldn’t be too hard. I had set up a camera outside my apartment over a year ago, and I knew how to edit the metadata. I could simply tell anyone asking that I had been home all night, and then show them footage from a different evening. I had plenty of nights where I had stayed home alone.

Probably best if I tell a few of my coworkers and neighbours that I was feeling unwell beforehand too. Perhaps store my costume at work, change when I get there. The fire escape to my apartment was rarely used. It would be easy enough to get down and up it without anyone seeing me. I could then ride a bike out here. It wouldn’t be very heroic but it would be discreet.

All the pieces were coming together. For the puzzle, of course.

+

I wouldn’t give myself a name, I decided as I was working out the following evening. Let the news outlets decide that. I wondered what they would chose.

+

I bought a burner phone the next day, just in case.

+

I called the number two nights later, just to see what the person’s voice was like. It was close to three am, but I couldn’t sleep. I placed the ad in front of me, although I knew the phone number off by heart. I had set the burner phone to private, and then slowly dialled each number, my heart racing. He picked up on the fourth ring. It was a he, as I’d expected. ‘Hello,’ he said.

My adrenaline spiked and I hung up the phone and dropped it to the counter.

My hands were shaking, and something like a giggle was coming from my mouth. I put one of my shaking hands over it to quiet myself.

The burner phone began to ring.

I stared at it, frozen, until it rang out.

Then it began to ring again.

I slowly lifted it off the counter and looked at the screen. The number was private, but I was confident I knew who it was. I told myself not to answer. To turn off the phone and destroy it, along my costume, and plans, and all the other steps I had already put in place. But my finger moved almost against my will.

Or perhaps with it. Could I really still deny my motivation? My desire?

‘Hello,’ he said again. His speech was deep, with a slight accent, perhaps Indian? I had expected the weasley voice of a stereotypical dweep. This wasn’t that.

‘I’ll be your nemesis,’ I heard myself say in a voice that was out of breath.

There was a pause. I could hear him breathing.

‘You’re responding to my ad?’ he said, and I let out an exhale, only then realising I had been holding my breath.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Yes, I am.’

‘And, this isn’t a joke? Because if it is I-’

‘No! No, I am very serious. Very. I already have a costume, and a plan, and, and I’ll be your nemesis. I want to be. I…I need to be.’

Another pause.

‘Okay. Okay. That’s…this is great.’ I could hear the smile in his voice, hear the excitement I felt in myself reflected back from him. ‘When are you-’

‘Thursday week. A warehouse down near the docks. On Grattan Street. Around midnight.’

‘Okay. I’ll see you then.’

The line went dead, and I smiled.

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The footage had gone viral.

We had fought hand to hand as the gasoline and warehouse burned behind us. He had been beautiful. A pure white outfit, stark against his brown skin. The strong brooding ghost-of-the-night type. I had slipped in a monologue about how I was going to save this city by destroying it. Not very original perhaps, but I’ll do better next time.

They’d called me the grey moth.

He, my nemesis, had said I’d deserved something more sinister.

I said I didn’t mind. I’ll make them fear it.

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Thanks for reading,

Damian

March 20, 2018

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Vance Joy’s new album, Nation of Two, has been burning a hole through my phone and the various bluetooth speakers I attach it to. That’s because it’s a joy of an album, one that surprisingly manages to be as good as his first; not an easy feat.

This one is called Lay It On Me and is today’s blog song.

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Words written for the year: 48,785

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I’ve been feeling sickness creep in at the edges of my periphery for the last few days. Nothing debilitating, just a general weariness and pressure that I’m currently carrying around like a backpack. It’s a bummer more than anything, because it makes even the usual stuff that little bit harder and that little bit less enjoyable. I’m reasonably sure it’s been brought on by overdoing it. It being life.

I started this year with a unspoken resolution to try and be more idle. Not in that I’d do less, per se, more that the things I’d do would require less energy. Read more, do a few puzzles, drink an inordinate amount of tea. On that level I’ve been successful, I’ve done all those things (although my tea quotas could probably still increase), but I’ve also still been filling my weeks with all the usual things; commitments, socialising, writing, podcasting, and work buried in somewhere amongst all that as well.

And so I’ve gotten sick. That’s usually the way it goes. Keep pushing yourself until your body cries out no more, or illness shuts you down. It’s not really a very healthy cycle.

However I know the cycle will soon be broken. That’s because my routine will soon evaporate completely. It will be replaced with airports and planes, hire cars and airBnB’s, sightseeing and exploration. In other words, I’m going on a holiday. The holiday is still around four months away, but, considering four months is also almost the length of the holiday, preparations are already well under way. Those preparations are probably adding to the feeling of being busy. Mostly mentally, because the Lady Holly is actually the one doing most of the preparations. She’s amazing. Which is why I’m going to marry her, which we’re also preparing for, as the happy day will come only six weeks after we get back from the holiday.

As you can see lots of cool things to look forward to, and that’s without even mentioning that while overseas I’ll be seeing my twin brother/best friend get married off to the love of his life (once I proposed he had to too, twin rules).

The weird thing is that I know all this wonderful craziness is coming, but life feels so normal now, complete with a background sickness and a feeling of being overworked. It can be all to easy for me to focus on the latter facts, to not be able to see out of the bramble of everyday problems to the bigger scope of it all; which only really serves to make me a simmering crock pot of grump.

On days like that it’s helpful for me to stick my head out of the brambles and look to the horizon, where the current everyday problems are long forgotten; and to remind myself that good things are coming.

And they are. They really are.

Talk soon

Damian

The Stars Were There

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The stars were there the night she was born.
          They shined above the highway as her Dad searched frantically in the trunk of the car for a picnic blanket he was sure had been floating around back there since the summer before, and her Mum laughed from the backseat of the car with just a tinge of hysteria in her voice as she repeatedly said, ‘she must be a keen one, just can’t wait to meet us.’
          The stars watched as in the field beside the highway she entered the world, red and wrinkly and perfect, on the old tartan picnic blanket. They heard as she let out her first cries, which were loud and high pitched, and her Dad whispered to her Mum what a great job she’d done, how proud he was, and how they’d be telling this story for years to come, and her Mum just laughed and sobbed, relieved and happy.
          On that night, the stars were there.

The stars were there when the thought first formed itself.
          They looked down at her, as she looked back at them and thought about what she wanted to do with her life — a young age to be making that kind of a decision, but then she had already proven herself not to be a usual six year old. It was the presence of the stars that sparked the thought, the one that would change the world.  As she looked at their bright burning bodies, it came upon her that if she stared at a single star for long enough it would disappear, only to then reappear if she turned her gaze ever so slightly to the side. Nothing other than an optical illusion, caused by the microscopic mechanisms of the eye, as she would later learn, but at six she couldn’t help but wonder where those stars went when they disappeared.

The stars were there when her parents took her out to celebrate.
          It was a clear summer night, the family took a table outdoors, ordered food, and raised a glass to toast her many achievements. Doctorate degrees in theoretical physics and astronomy, the publishing of her first scientific paper; The existence and breaching of alternate universes, and the multitude of grants she had received off the back of that paper.
           They clinked their glasses, and sipped. The wine ran down her throat, making her feel giddy and warm. She may have been only fifteen but her Mum had said she was allowed the drink because it was such a special occasion. Because they had so much to celebrate.
           Her father made a toast and they clinked glasses again, the crystalline sound waves traveled out and away from them.
           Out towards the stars.

The stars were there the day she first breached the divide.
          They hung in space, unseen behind the light of the sun and the walls of the building, as she stood, surrounded by grad students, most older than her, all dressed in gowns of white. They burned, light years away, as she turned on the machine. A mouse, dressed in its own coat of white, looked at her with eyes as black as space and gave a twitch of its whiskers. She smiled at it, hopeful, and pressed the space bar.
          The machine, known colloquially throughout the lab as the WHB (or wormhole box), hummed gently as it drew in power. A lot of power. So much power that the humming turned to a drumming vibration. The mouse and his cage shook, and the little animal ran to hide, but it had nowhere to go. The machine sounded a DING, like a microwave announcing the popcorn was ready, and the mouse was gone. The machine’s humming slowed, then stopped, until a charged silence filled the room; then the scientists began to cheer.
          She didn’t. She knew the job was only half done.

The stars were there the day it all went wrong.
          In the years since that first breach more mice had been sent through the WHB, which was now into its twelfth model. Hundreds of mice had heard the hum, then the shake. Each time she had been the one to press the space bar, and each time they’d ran to hide, and each time it had done little to keep them in this universe.
Now she knew how to bring them back.
          The stars, once more hidden behind a blanket of sunlight and atmosphere, were nevertheless where they had always been as she approached the lectern. She looked out at the crowded theater, at the representatives of the government agencies and independent research organisations, all the people who had provided her with money and equipment and support over the years. She looked to the cameras, where she knew people from all over the globe watched her on their laptops and tablets and phones. She looked to her parents, smiling in the front row.
         She introduced herself, although there were few who didn’t know her name, and told them what they were there to see.
          The chimp was brought out. It climbed into her arms, and she laughed as it kissed her on the cheek. With gentle hands she placed the humanoid animal into the exterior chamber of the WHB, stoked its head, and wished it luck.
           She pressed the space bar, and the machine began to hum.
           It continued to hum until it met an error in the machines programming. A section of code that should have contained a decimal instead contained a comma. A simple mistake, and one which caused the machine to draw in energy like a black hole drawing in gravity.
          The machine was well made and did what it was commanded to do.
          The stars were there when the world disappeared.

The stars were there when the earth came back.
          One moment their rays of light passed effortlessly through the dark of the universe, the next they were rebounding back off of the face of the world.
For twenty one days the stars had been alone. Twenty one days for her to rework the math, rewrite the code, and use the WHB to bring them all back.
          At first, people hadn’t believed.
          Then they saw that the stars were wrong.
          Then there had been panic.
          Days were shorter, nights longer, and without a moon the seas were eerily still.                  Energy remained, but with the satellites left behind, communication had been lost. Twenty one days of fear and quiet and waiting.
          Now, they were back, and the rebuilding was already well under way. Soon they would be reminiscing about the time the earth had become the largest transport vessel in existence. The three weeks they spent in an alternate universe. A story to tell the grand kids.
          She looked at the stars, all in their usual places, and breathed a sigh of relief; ignorant to the fact that something had come back with them.

The stars were there when the entity was first discovered.
          The spore, native to that other universe, had adhered itself to the ground in the middle of some rarely visited bush land in Western Australia. There it had grown, it’s tendrils rushing through the rich soil like a swarm of eels through water, spreading further and further. Then it sprouted. Giant strings of fungus burst from the ground for miles in every direction from where the spore had first landed. Heavy fruit quickly grew from the strings, then burst, letting out an a sea of spores to be taken by the wind.
          The owner of the land saw the white and spindly stalks on the horizon just as the first stars were appearing in the sky. News vans rushed to the site to be the first to capture the alien entity.
          They needn’t have bothered. By the morning, the spores had spread and sprouted across most of the state.

The stars were there when the fight began.
          Under their light she watched the footage on her phone. The alien flora tearing through the country had already started appearing in other parts of the globe. She didn’t need to guess where it had come from.
          She put out a call to the best and brightest from every field, and they’d come, through satellite beams and fiber optic cables, to help her form the plan of attack.
She’d talked with them through the night, as the stars twinkled above. They spoke of plant physiology and structure, ecology and genetics, life cycles and distribution models. They talked and she listened, collating it all.
          Then she spoke. She told each party what she wanted them to do. Where to marshal their attack. How to lay the specific type of defensive groundwork. What types of new bio-weaponry to create.
          For herself, she got on a plane and headed to where it all started. She wanted to meet the enemy head on.

The stars were there when she lost all hope.
           She wept under their distant light with no idea what to do next for the first time in her life.
          It had taken only weeks for the fungus to cripple the planet. It’s feather light spores had ridden slipstreams across oceans, finding their way to every part of the globe. At each point the fungus had spread and sucked the land dry. It’s growth rate was unheard of. It was growing still.
          As it grew it destroyed. It absorbed every drop of water, every mineral, every scrap of unwary life. The native flora either shriveled away to nothing or were simply smothered under the weight of the fungal growth. Herds of animals dropped dead due to starvation or dehydration. Now there were reports of the fungus making its way down to the ocean floor.
          She’d done everything she could think of. Attacked it with every form of chemical weaponry known to man. Invented new ones. Tore kilometers of the hungry infestation from the ground. Then, when nothing else had worked, set the country ablaze in an effort to eradicate it.
          Still it grew.
          It’s level of indestructibility would mean their destruction, she knew this now. It was only a matter of time.
          So, she wept. Alone, in a field, with the fungal stalks around her, and the stars overhead.

The stars were there when the new earth was born.
          She looked up at them as she stood beside the WHB, the device drawing in life from one of the few remaining power sources. She hadn’t slept for days. She’d been coding non stop since the answer had come to her; rewriting the settings so the WHB would only transport matter from within a very specific set of parameters.
          The stars watched as the humming turned to shaking, and the few remaining artificial lights went out. She looked at the stars, taking them in for the very last time.
The machine dinged and a new earth was born; green, and lush, and perfect.
          Technically, it wasn’t a new earth at all, simply an alternate one, but it was new to her, and to the rest of the previous earth’s inhabitants that had unknowingly made the journey with her. Through the new starlight she saw a flock of birds cross the sky. An insect buzzed by her ear. Good signs. They would have to rebuild everything. Start again from nothing.
But that was tomorrow’s problem. For now she fell to the ground, laughed and sobbed, relieved and happy.
          On that night, the stars were there.

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Thanks for reading,

Damian

March 2, 2018

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Music today comes from Mumford and Sons via my dad, who shared it with me. The song is called The Enemy, which is paired here with rain sounds from an app known as Rainy Mood. A quality combination.

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Words written for the year: 40,203

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A while ago, let’s say a year because I can’t remember exactly, I began a routine where, as I lay in bed ready for sleep, I would recognise four things I had liked about the day just passed. It’s a type of prayer, I suppose, although I’m not a religious person. What I see it as, is gratitude. Who I’m directing that gratitude towards is unsure, but it doesn’t really matter, it’s the act of gratitude that’s important.

I started this practice when, after a shitty day at work, the Lady Holly needed some cheering up. She was in the mood where she was unhappy, but also unhappy about being unhappy, ready to come out of it if I was able to throw out the appropriate stimulus.

‘Tell me four things you liked about your day.’ I requested. Four, because it’s my favourite number, D being the fourth letter of the alphabet.

We were cooking dinner, I was stirring something in a frypan over the stove and she was beside me, a drink in hand. She let out a huff that said, ‘four? From this day? Not going to be easy,’ and then raised her eyes skyward as she thought about the question. I think the first one was the hardest for her, since she had to look past the overwhelming negativity of the day to try and find the small gems of positivity underneath. After some thought, she told me about a small interaction with one of her students, usually a pain but who that day had been mildly pleasant due to Holly overwhelming her with determined niceness over the school year. The next one came quicker after that, although my brain fails me in remembering what it was, and then not long after came a third thing, and then a fourth.

The practice didn’t alleviate the horribleness of her day, the shitty things that had happened still existed as did their ramifications, but it did help change her mindset enough that their power over her diminished, and she seemed happier afterwards. I then ran through four things I had liked about my day, and our night went on from there.

That night as I lay in bed I decided I liked the practice, not only had it helped Holly, but saying my own four things had lifted my spirits as well, and gave me a general sense of, ‘yeah, the world’s an alright place and I’m a pretty lucky guy.’ And, so, I continued it.

There are days, of course, where I don’t feel like the world’s an alright place. It can seem full of craziness, and selfishness, and ignorance, and bigotry – ‘the world’ being a stand in here for the human race. But, again, ratting off four things I liked, finding things I am grateful for, however small and inconsequential in the big scheme of things, helps. It helps me remember that while there is horribleness out there, there is also good, even if I have to force myself to look for it.

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Not long after, I saw this video. It confirms a lot of what I thought and shows that there are actually physiological benefits to be grateful:

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Also, on the topic of gratitude, this comic is one of the four things I’m grateful for today:

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Talk soon,

Damian