The Raven

2016

Spring

Medium Rare

Andrew Burvill, Year 11

Today was a special day. Berty was filled with that bountiful energy that only a six-year-old could possess. He was seeing Daddy.

It was one of those rare sunny days in London where the city flocked to the outdoors to bathe in the sun’s warmth. Hyde Park had never seen so many people on its lush carpet of green. Berty eagerly sprinted down to the banks of the Serpentine and curiously peered at the drama unfolding between the majestic swans. An elegant mother pen had been caught by the father huddling next to another cob. The father snorted explosively unfurling his magnificent plumage and coiling his neck back to strike as the cygnets watched in fear. Berty turned to his mother and noticed her calculating eyes focused directly on the mother and cygnets; a brief flicker of fear flashed upon her face. The two males locked necks and wildly flapped their milky wings, an awkward dance of twists and turns that made the once elegant creatures look foolish and clumsy. Berty suddenly felt his mother’s icy grip on his neck as she determinedly led him away from the performance, her body immune to the sun’s kiss.

She quickly led Berty up to the crest of a hill where a jet-black food truck was conveniently perched so that its sizzling meaty aroma wafted across the park. Queues snaked through the grass as the perspiring workers madly rushed inside the steaming, cramped oven. Berty’s eyes drifted towards the truck in search of his father. Finally, he spotted the handsome, ebony-haired man donned in a lightweight business shirt and pants. He was swiftly making notes on his clipboard without a hint of stress. Berty squealed gleefully as he ran up to the back door of the truck and clambered up the stairs. Mr Robertson’s eyes lit up as he saw his child bounding up into his arms.

Penelope Murson watched from afar with a slight tinge of envy; Robert had always been great with kids. His charm and charisma were as sweet as sugar cubes to sparrows and were the reasons he could win customers over in his businesses. Her, less so… Penelope’s years in court had built up a distant wall between herself and her peers and the wall had grown even higher since the divorce. She impatiently checked her glistening Gucci watch; she wanted to get this dirty business over with quickly. After a minute, Penelope inhaled deeply and approached the steps to the truck.

Robert’s gleaming smile faded as he saw Penelope striding across the grass.

“Ah Penny, my dearest condolences for your loss,” Robert said with a forlorn bow of his head.

“Don’t act like you care, Robert… You always hated him,” she retorted scathingly with the venom of a lawyer.

“True, it does tend to happen when a man has an affair with your wife,” he beamed and spoke in the effortless, casual tone he had spent years mastering.

“Anyway, what brings you outside of your little cage? Why isn’t Susan looking after Berty?”

“Wednesdays are her day off and I actually came to see you.”

“Ah, always a pleasure, Penny. I’ll get some food for us.”

Before Penelope could object, Robert had already darted inside the truck. She was not going to be ensnared in his radiant allure that she had so much difficulty escaping from.

The small family descended under the cool embrace of an oak tree.

“Berty, why don’t you go play on the playground sweetie?” Penelope asked with a false enthusiasm.

Berty nodded and ran off to the nearby playground to join in a game of tag with some children while Penelope braced for battle.

“I can’t believe you would accuse me of this! Look, we may not have got along towards the end of our marriage but do you honestly think I’m a murderer?”

“Robert quiet please; we’re in a public space!” she hissed.

“Penny, it’s been incredibly difficult for you, I understand. Losing a lover; remember, I’ve been there myself.”

Penelope had completely forgotten. Of course. Robert had lost his high school lover in a car crash. Unknowingly, her wall was starting to be picked apart by the only man in the world who could do so.

“But please don’t let your anger get the better of you. We’ll bring justice to this crime.” His dark, chestnut eyes conveyed the entirety of the world’s sadness for a brief moment. Cracks started to form in her wall, leaking out her neglected emotions and building pressure behind the wall until it finally came crashing down.

“Oh Robert…You’re right. I’m sorry. Forgive me, I’m just in such an emotional state at the moment. The police can’t find the body and…” Penelope’s usually coherent sentences gradually turned to a deep sobbing. Robert offered her a handkerchief from the depths of his pockets. Penelope devoured her meat roll in a feeble attempt to rid her tears. The result was a broken woman, a once pretty face now tarnished with mascara and meat sauce. Robert hugged her comfortingly, his warm body clutching her dainty body tightly. It had been a long three weeks since her lover’s disappearance and she was yearning for affection. Her presence had turned frosty and she frequently snapped at Berty. Penelope hadn’t realised how much she had missed Robert’s reassuring embrace. His intoxicating warmth flowed through her body and melted her stress away. She reluctantly broke the hug and murmured something about needing the bathroom and trudged off.

Berty came out from behind the oak and gazed at his father staring at the swans in the distance. The father swan had returned victorious from his battle to his doting lover that curled up beside him ever so innocently as if the previous events were a faded, forgotten memory. He was no longer a thrashing, clumsy fool but a proud, graceful creature.

“Oh look Daddy, the father swan won.”

Robert’s eyes revealed a cruel chill that Berty had seen occasionally towards the end of his parents’ marriage.

Absentmindedly, he remarked, “Us fathers always win Bert.”

Almost instantaneously, his mask returned and his eyes glimmered back to life. He plucked Penelope’s meat roll from its greasy wrappings and offered it to Berty. “I specially prepared this roll for us. Wouldn’t believe how hard it is to get good quality meat around here these days… Your mother loved it; here try some.”

The two ate in silence as they bathed in the pleasant air with the tangy flavour of the odd tasting meat on their tongues.

Remote

Lewis Weeda, Year 11

The paddock of wheat seemed to spread forever; a sprawling, living brown carpet that moulded seamlessly with the blue sky. It would be time to harvest soon. Reluctantly, I tore my eyes away from the kitchen window and looked at Mike who was still reading the newspaper with his dirty jeans spread wide. His eyes, partially hidden by his thick brow, aggressively interrogated the newspaper. He hit it to straighten out the broadsheets. His gut pushed out his brown, worn polyester shirt and his gleaming buckle shone like a trophy. His eyes, bloodshot from checking the fields of wheat, moved from the newspaper to mine.

“What’s for supper?” he barked in his gravelly smoker’s voice.

“I was thinking that it would be nice to have a bit of a change. I was going to try that sweet and sour pork dish you liked at the Good Fortune Chinese Palace.”

“Uugh, crap.” He lifted himself from his chair and his leather boots stomped angrily out the back. “Make sure you’re out in the west paddock by ten,” he growled through the flapping, rusted fly-screen door.

He’d been roughly pleasant that night out in town with Bill and Jan. I thought he’d like me to try some Asian cooking. What was I thinking? Of course he’d be angry. I should have just done steak. Now I’d upset him, I thought as I drove the troopy out to the west paddock ensuring I was there just before ten. The sheep that grazed in the lot next to the paddock of wheat looked up in unison as I came to a halt. Mike was fighting a section of fence around the water trough that had collapsed.

“Lucky we didn’t sow canola like you’d said; it’s been a shit year for canola. The other blokes are kicking themselves that they didn’t do wheat like me. Imagine if I’d listened to you,” he guffawed dangerously as if he’d been ruminating over this thought for hours. I took some hay bales from the troopy for the sheep, while he began to vigorously air the dried up manure with his sharp iron pitchfork. He thrust at the earth in silence.

A ping came through on my phone and I pulled it out of my pocket to look who had texted. It was Jill, Mike’s sister, asking if she could come over this afternoon. Mike didn’t like his sister.

“Who’s that? Who’s texting you?” his eyes tried to read the message on my phone from its back.

“Oh, it’s just one of those messages from Telstra. They’re trying to monitor coverage in remote areas.” I wasn’t going to make the mistake of upsetting him again.

“Well…don’t stand there like a bloody stunned mullet, there’s still a load of work to be done.” He rolled his eyes and plunged the pitchfork back into the pile of manure. I quickly busied myself with picking up the hay bales, dragging them over to yesterday’s pile.

Jill knew that every Tuesday after lunch Mike took the almost 150 kilometre drive from our isolated farm to town for supplies. They just couldn’t afford to pass each other on the road.

“Don’t drag the bales; you’ll damage them. You have to pick ’em up, or are you too weak? And do up your top button.”

“I’m sorry.” Why can I never think – of course he wouldn’t like me dragging the bales.

Jill timed it impeccably. She knew how to, thank goodness. I opened the thick wooden door and she was on the porch in her trademark jeans, t-shirt, chewing gum, work boots and her anomalous thick vermillion red lipstick. She gave me a careful look. “Glad you’re still in one piece,” she said with a twisted smile on her face.

I pretended I hadn’t heard this comment as I was already walking down the hallway towards the kitchen. I offered her a coffee. We talked about the farm and her and Mike’s parents’ property further down south and how irritating it was that all our farms were still in their parents’ name. Mike texted me a few times asking me where I was and what I was doing. Jill rolled her eyes each time he texted but I told her I thought it was kind of caring that he was checking in on me. Jill placed the empty mugs in the kitchen sink and she left driving down south to see her parents. No chance of meeting Mike en-route. The house seemed especially empty after she had gone. I looked out to the wheat and it seemed to be waving and whispering a strange type of song. I called Bud, our border collie, in for company. I’d have to make sure he was out before Mike got home as I know he’d sink his boot into the side of any dog found inside. I began to make dinner, deciding to stick to the routine steak and potatoes.

I heard the wooden door thump open as a box of groceries announced his return. He dumped the large box on the kitchen bench and walked straight past me into the lounge where he slumped in his easy chair. “What’s for dinner?”

“I thought steak would be quite nice.”

“I thought you were making that Asian dish?”

“I just thought you’d like steak better.”

“Hmph,” he groaned loudly and I heard the newspaper rustle against the callouses on his large hands. We didn’t talk much during dinner. After dinner I collected the plates and took them to the kitchen as he followed heavily behind me to get a beer from the fridge. In the kitchen I saw him standing with the fridge open and his neck twisted over to the two coffee cups in the sink. My heart pounded as the black rubber of his boots screamed on the white kitchen tiles. He picked up the left mug and his breathing increased as he saw the distinct red lipstick on the lip.

“What’s this?”

“It’s nothing.”

“Who?” he cut me off loudly as his thick neck snapped in my direction. “Was it my sister?”

I felt all the blood drain out of my head and sink to my feet. “Well, she just stopped in as she was going down to see Mum and Dad…”

A blur of movement saw the mug smash against the wall next to my head and little shards of ceramic fell on my shoulder.

I should have washed the mugs. I know it makes him angry to know I speak to Jill. I know I am a fool.

Plastic Soup

Hamish Watson, Year 9

In deep crevices of coral

Lurks a deceptive devil.

Gentle creatures among a minefield

Judge, Jury and Executioner,

The Great Barrier Bin.

Throw it in, “Hey look! It can swim!”

Careless leads to lifeless,

They suffocate, choke, drown.

Body bags as a floor,

In the plastic soup.

The Woodsman’s Son

Lewis Orr, Year 9

A yellow wood.

Da would say the

Thickest of eight counties.

When dawn split down its middle

One could well sense the maudlin caw of raven-song and watch of

Shaven eagles, their talons locked like fishing hooks.

The glow was mottled in hemlock-white, a gauze

Trickled thin of spruce-fir cinnamon

Twixt the flux of underbrush. Browning. For some-

Thing lay untouched in this cut-flower morn.

Perhaps it ran through leaves, or grouse-blather,

Or in the runnel-scars that burbled fatly –

On this I bow to not yet fathom.

 

He was of tall and broad-set figure. Years on hunt

Do that to folk. On kind occasion,

I’d take his wended way

To aid the craft and learn hunt’s song.

‘Come lad! See your Da’s jack-hunting-knife. Taken

All trips, swaddled in cowhide musk. With its

Iv’ry-guard Da cleft game and whit his sapwood.

I dreamt of this blade, of wielding its point to

Carn some shameful beast.

But ‘twas his Da’s afore him, and thus mine in

Consoled waiting.

 

For there it stood. Its loins

Iron-wrought beneath the loam.

Here it endured in epoch-spell – a mute sentinel.

By oath, it stood guard like an ably built man!

 

He entered at bark, hewing lumber-rind with

His woodsman’s axe in a spatter of timber-grit.

Upon the outer break he plunged his axe-heft

Deep into the heartwood. The pine rent whilst sap

Streamed as though a puncture of satcheled claret.

With the giant toppled he roared, exulted.

Now out from under the threadbare jerkin came

His jack-hunting-knife, hacking in spry at the

Wafery log face. But did that codger stab!

Carving half-moons through the tea-blanched paper like

He was born to. Before an hour’s pass we’d

Procured a week’s haul of lumber and spruce-fag.

 

The man-pillar was palsied, fixed in the sod.

 

As night fell we journeyed back.

Whilst we walked, Da primed the jack-hunting knife.

To feed we skinned hares and tracked woodland game

For Ma to griddle. Then forked out from the left jacket-

Sheath would come the glass mini. Demon rum.

Precarious nights when he knuckled those rings.

 

And as I spade the weighted clod

Upon that scowl, familiar once

I recall in fondness

Such times in these woods

On kinder days and youth long past

 

The silent light

Wrapped like muslin cloth

Over gorse garbed knolls

And wheeling eagles with tufted stubble

The bone hilt, now lodged snug

Blade point nestled and sharp.

 

I look down, then up, to breathe at ease

The hunted returned the hunter.

The Reign is Over

Angus Arts, Year 9

Faded blue eyes flashing,

The ruthless yet expressionless stare.

Its thick coat fit for an unforgiving winter,

It rolls up its lips as it snarls aggressively.

It reveals a set of large white, intimidating teeth,

It is confronting the alpha-male to a joust.

 

The mighty beast squares up towards the alpha,

It straightens up and digs its dagger-like claws into the snow.

The challenger starts charging towards the alpha,

How could a creature with such elegance

Hold such a savage creature within?

The alpha and challenger both slash each other,

Both shake it off; could it be

An even match up?

 

Each strike is just as powerful as the other,

Each and every move reflected between the alpha and challenger.

Each and every move rejected by one and other,

Boxing a mirror of the same talent and skill,

Until…

 

A connection too powerful to shake off,

The beast collapses to the ground.

The victor lets out a confident howl,

The alpha’s reign is over.

Quid est veritas?

Jack Logan, Year 11

They said the sun never set on the Roman Empire, but that night Jerusalem bathed in the deep red hues of dusk. The Messiah had been condemned and crucified, to endure hours of pain and torment atop Golgotha’s solemn crest, and now the sky bled to show the Lord’s disapproval. Or so the preachers would have the people believe. Pontius Pilate was not a pious man. Pontius Pilate was not a holy man. Yet even he, a man who could look to the heavens and be blind to the Lord’s presence, could feel regret’s bitter taste when he supped that night, while Jesus of Nazareth hung upon the cross amongst common swindlers and thieves. The Jews had followed him, the Jews had forsaken him and the Jews had condemned him. No doubt on the morrow they would weep for their King, as Pilate’s mind wept now. When he had taken office as Fifth Prefect of the Roman province of Judea, he had vowed to rule justly and fairly. Yet that day he had tried a man and found him innocent, and delivered him to his enemies all the same. What is truth, when men only hear what they wish? When the Sanhedrin had first delivered the Nazarene to Pilate’s court, the Prefect had thought it wise to send the man to the Tetrarch of Galilee, where the Nazarene had been most active, as a show of good faith. Instead, Herod Antipas had thrown the courtesy back in the Roman’s face. The Nazarene had been returned with little more than a, “No, thank you”. Had a man died an agonizing death in front of those who despised him because of one man’s feebleness? Neither Emperor Tiberius nor the Roman Empire was noted for feebleness, and Pilate would sooner fall upon his sword than cement a legacy of weakness and injustice. His advisors whispered that the Jews would do well to remember they were no longer rulers of this so-called ‘holy land’. That perhaps they ought to be reminded. Perhaps, the Prefect thought, mulling it over as red dusk turned to blackened night and Jerusalem slept. Would he answer blood with more blood? Questions to answer questions? A son of Rome ought to be decisive and firm, particularly with his lessers.

 

A knock came at the door. It was well past the hour for Judea’s Prefect to be accepting visitors, but company would be welcome in these troublesome times. By now, the full moon hung high in the sky, casting a dull light across Jerusalem.

“Enter,” Pilate commanded, in a tone that came out hoarse and shaky. The visitor complied, and revealed himself to be Gaius Antonius, Captain of the Guard in Jerusalem. Stepping into the prefect’s quarters, he bowed in his superior’s direction before speaking.

“Prefect, the Nazarene has died,” he said, simply.

“I should think so,” Pilate replied. “How long was he upon the cross? Four hours? Five?”

“Six, sir. The men… well, they…” The words seemed to hang in Gaius’ throat, his gaze wandering across the barely furnished chamber.

“What is it? Did the King of the Jews jump off the cross and march back to Nazareth?” The idea was not as ridiculous as he may have thought when he first took office. The Nazarene was said to have performed miracles; even raised a man from death.

“It’s just that we had to be sure, sir. That he was dead. After we removed the corpse from the cross…”

“You stabbed him with your daggers half a hundred times to ensure his heart had stopped?” Pilate was growing weary of this account. Sons of Rome were not unsettled by Jews, however holy they declared themselves to be.

“No, Sir. Just the one time, Sir. One of the men buried a spear in the Nazarene’s side. He looked so scared we thought he might drop dead.”

“How thorough of you. Ensure the Sanhedrin hear nothing of this. I will not have the Jews think that we are feeble.”

The Captain of the Guard bowed and turned to leave, before reconsidering. “That reminds me, sir. There was a man asking to see you as I entered. The one called Caiaphas.”

Another Jew, Pilate thought. Will I not sleep tonight?

“Send him in,” the Prefect commanded. “The sooner I hear what he has to say the sooner we can all get some rest.”

 

Caiaphas, the high priest of Jerusalem, carried with him an ill repute, a foul odour that gave his fellow priests pause. Pilate was not surprised. The Jew offered none of the courtesy displayed by Pilate’s previous visitor, instead presuming to stride in and gaze upon his host as if they were his own quarters, stroking his course salt-and-pepper beard.

“Priest. Why do you enter my chambers?” Pilate said, breaking off the silence with a firm tone befitting of a city’s governor.

“It is Jesus,” the Jew said, his scowl appearing to occupy his entire face, “His corpse has been acquired by some aristocrat to be entombed amongst the city’s honoured dead.”

“What of it?”

“When you gave in to the people, you promised them the man would be punished. Stripped and disgraced, like the pretender he was. And now you have robbed us of our justice, just as your Empire has robbed us of everything else.”

Would that every priest in this wretched city had but a single neck, Pilate thought with loathing. “Do not speak to me of justice, Caiaphas. This farce has severed every agreement and sacred tenet under Apollo’s sun. One more should not trouble you.”

This only incited Caiaphas further. “Roman fool. Do you mean to return the False King to his supporters?”

“No, I mean to return him to the ground. If you wish to keep him company, that can be arranged.”

The high priest left without another word, though his mood was clear enough. It did not bother Pontius Pilate. The King of the Jews rested. High time he did, too.

Owl

Holden White, Year 9

In the shadows lurking high,
With eyes as large as the sea,
In his eyes he sees his prey,
Preparing to have a feast.

He fiercely swoops to the ground,
Closing in on his prize,
A flash of light, a thunderous blast,
He turns to fly away.

Now the hunter becomes the hunted,
And cowers away in fear,
For now he knows the troubles of prey,
He blares away his fears.

Section 57

Liam Vaughan, Year 12

The cleric’s booming voice reverberated throughout the small, dimly lit mosque. Within the four cracked walls of the dilapidated room in northern Dhaka, Bangladesh, a small but fanatically radical Islamist group congregated in order to hear the preaching of their cleric. It had been rumored that some of the members of this group had fought with the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, perhaps informing and shaping their hatred of Western liberalism and the values perpetuated by the secular world. Dozens of men knelt on a worn and browning carpet before their hate preacher, each attentively listening to what he had to say. “Islam, and the word of Allah, is under attack,” he yelled, to which his followers nodded in agreement. He continued, “This kufar, named ‘Tomar Nazir’, has dared to question the word of the prophet Mohammed,” the cleric roared, before lowering his tone and reciting, “Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.” His beard and loosely fitting clothing shook as the nearby fan blew relieving air his way.

The atmosphere in the room was charged. The cleric wiped a bead of sweat off his forehead before continuing, “This unbelieving kufar is attacking our righteous beliefs in his, his…” he cleared his throat, “Atheist blog.”

No one spoke but a sense of resentment could be felt radiating from the seething men.

“He is the number one enemy of Islam.” The cleric stared down his audience. “He must be dealt with.”

Tomar Nazir worked two minimum wage jobs in central Dhaka to pay for his Law degree at Jagannath University. Although he was of modest means and could afford only a small apartment in the city, he was satisfied with his existence. He felt that his studying of law had enlightened him to the injustices that he perceived to exist within Bangladesh as a result of ultra conservative religiousness, and thus he took it upon himself to maintain a small blog in which he criticised various religious beliefs, despite a worsening spate of attacks by religious zealots on people who advocated for secular liberalism.

Tomar walked along the path that lead him to his job at a nearby clothing store, taking him through the local market. The smell of exotic spices and tea diffused throughout the square, mixing with the fumes of newly lacquered furniture, car exhaust, animal manure, and everything in between. Squealing children darted out in front of him as people bartered for goods and car engines revved on a nearby road. To an outsider, this may seem chaotic or even confronting, but Tomar felt a strange sense of belonging as he trudged through the streets. He was often denied of this sense of belonging due to his atheist beliefs, which were still heavily ostracised. Tomar eventually reached a quieter area and took the shortcut through an alley that he had taken hundreds of times before.

But something felt off.

Without warning, a man wearing a balaclava threateningly jumped out from behind an overflowing bin, holding a machete in his hand and a clenched fist in the other. Tomar glimpsed a look of fury in his confronter’s eyes, and noticed the man’s arms shaking with anger. Tomar threw his bag off his back and turned to run, but was met with three other men behind him. They charged, each with similar knives. He was grabbed from behind and stabbed from full arm’s length in the stomach.

Once.

Twice.

Three times.

It at first felt like being punched, but searing pain soon gripped his entire body. Tomar lost count and felt his consciousness slipping away. Through blurred vision, he saw what looked like the recognisable green of a Bangladeshi police officer rounding the far corner of the alley. He yelled something Tomar didn’t quite catch before drawing his gun. The injured Bangladeshi’s assailants promptly scuttled away.

Tomar’s attackers had miraculously failed to damage any of his vital organs. Days before he was due to be discharged from hospital, several glowering and heavily armed police officers barged past a nurse and marched into his room, informed Tomar that he was under arrest, and slapped a pair of hand cuffs on his wrist in what felt like a matter of seconds. As he was humiliatingly escorted out of the hospital and into a waiting police van, he continued to plead with his detainers as to why he was being arrested; however his questions fell on deaf ears. After what seemed like mere seconds, the van screeched to a halt outside of the police station.

“Get out. Now,” an authoritative voice demanded from the rear opening of the van.

Tomar continued to stare at his bound wrists in frustration and confusion. Without hesitating, the man grabbed one of his arms with a firm hand and yanked him forcefully out of the vehicle.

Several corroding motorbikes and police cars stood about the entrance to the decaying police complex. A sun-damaged Bangladeshi is there hung limply and without purpose, below whom two rifle-toting officers in military uniforms glared at him intimidatingly. Upon entering the building, he was sat down in a small interrogation room and sized up by a senior looking officer, who Tomar assumed to be his interrogator. Several other officers in the room frowned, watching him closely.

The man spoke, snapping Tomar out of his daze, “Do you know why you’re here?”

“No,” his voice trembled.

“You have been found in breach of Section 57 of our Information, Communications and Technology Act.” The officer stared at him for a few seconds, before continuing, “Many people have been quite offended and upset about what you and people like you have been saying about the true faith on your so called liberal blogs. We know that you are trying to incite hatred and unrest in our country.”

Tomar was stunned, without words. He became numb with frustration, sorrow, pain, and anger. He was once again snapped out of his trance when the officer angrily slammed his fist onto his desk and barked, “We know that you want to start violence in our country. Admit it!”

Tomar spat at his interviewer in disgust, to which he was thrown out of his seat and onto the concrete floor by one of the officers standing behind him. His shoes were torn off and his face pressed firmly against the ground, and the souls of his feet were mercilessly beaten with a wooden cane. Agonised cries escaped the bashed and beaten boy, over which his interrogator could be heard roaring, “You’re against our country and our religion. You’re guilty! Admit it!”

Birds of Myanmar

Jordan Bowling, Year 10

Old. So old.

The creaking of the swing under my weight echoes the creaking inside me. The creaking of my weary joints, my eyelids like lead, pleading for rest. But if I sleep I may never awake. So I keep my days busy, tending to the garden in the day, finding refuge among the clean aroma of rosemary and thyme, dreading when I will succumb to the weariness that so utterly fills me. But a part of me longs for the rest; longs for an end to the pain I have endured. But that sickens me – so I keep it hidden beneath smiles and a merry face: a mask, hiding from others, and sometimes myself – so that I go on.

I have many memories of this garden, most of them pleasant – some of them not. It is a place of memories; a place I can sit and think and that, if nothing else, gives me peace.

This was my birthplace. I was born in the old red cottage at the top of the garden, but spent most of my early childhood years among the herb gardens and the swing where I am now. Hide and seek with my older siblings was my favourite game.

“Aya. Shhh! Don’t talk. They’ll hear us. I’m going to get you out.”

“Whaa…?” Aya rubs her eyes, squinting in the dim half-light of the torch hanging in a bracket on her stone cell wall.

“Yannik? What is..?”

“Shh! I told you, don’t talk. If they hear us they’ll kill me as well as you.”

A pause, as Yannik stuffs his hand down his shirt and draws out a small bundle of cloth.

“Here. I got you some food. Be quiet!” He hushes her in response to her gasp.

Yannik hands her the dirty cloth and pauses for a second, thinking. “Tonight. It has got to be tonight.”

Aya’s eyes widen, but she can’t talk through the mouthful of Yannik’s stale bread. Yannik takes this as agreement.

“Good. Here – I’m going to unlock your cage. How many times do I have to tell you? Be quiet!” Aya closes her mouth over her unvoiced disagreement.

Yannik opens the lock on the cell door. He winces at the click of the rusty metal. “Those bushes over there. Wait for me there. Go!”

Aya runs over the uneven, wet earth. She turns to look behind her, trips over a pothole, and falls flat on her face in the mud.

THUMP.

Shouting in Burmese. A yell of alarm. More shouting. Angry this time. No, not angry: furious. And another voice, trembling, pleading.

THUMP. THUMP. THUMP.

A piercing scream. More thumping. The scream breaks into sobbing. Deep, terrified sobs, and pleading, begging; begging for them to stop. But no, they don’t stop. Will not stop until the early hours of the morning. Then: a short bark, a command, a click, and a gunshot. Yannik is gone. My only friend gone, because I didn’t look where I was going.

Legacy

Jack Banfield, Year 9

Our home, our earth, our horn of plenty.

The land that feeds us all we need.

We love her, we need her,

the salvation she brings.

We are bound to her, through eternal concord;

all we need, we want, it comes from her.

 

Yet still we taint her splendour,

we rape her land and poison her water.

We are a plague upon this world,

that spreads and kills and spreads again.

Like the parasite that kills its host,

we’ll have nowhere to go.

We’ve raised an empire,

but razed the earth,

and soon, this will be our legacy.

…and Asilah

Denver Quantrill, Year 12

“Please… I want to speak to my lawyer.” Her voice bounced off the cold concrete confinements, echoing into the rattling purr of the fan overhead. She spoke softly, but with fervour, like she was teaching a dog to sit. Her eyes circled the room, bouncing from wall to wall, only interrupted by the captivating faint red light blinking in the top right corner of the room: blink, blink, blink.

“Answer the question Asilah,” the man responded.

A bead of sweat dribbled from her brow, narrowly missing her left eye. She re-adjusted her hijab, which was now darkened by the moisture, pulling it forward to cover her hairline, and tucked in the loose strands of hair that had escaped. She shifted in her seat, unable to find comfort. The face she saw reflected in that intimidating, impenetrable window shocked her. Her eyes were rimmed with worry and her lip quivered like an excited string on a harp.

“I want to be taken back. I have done nothing wrong.”

“We can’t do that.”

“Why not? What time is it?” she demanded.

A man whistled in the crowd.

Her fingers made a heavy thud on the table. She reflected over the normality of how her morning had begun: A bowl of Weet-Bix, a cup of coffee, the Sunday Times. She remembered standing in her wardrobe, sifting through her hijabs, eventually deciding on a light pink and white combination that she had set aside for special occasions. Identical to the favourite of her twin sister. After all, it was their birthday.

“When was the last time you visited Iran?”

“I haven’t.”

The man hesitated. “When was the last time you were in Iran?”

“I haven’t been back since I left.”

“You seem rather well-adjusted to our society.”

He pulled out some paperwork from a sturdy leather briefcase and laid it on the table. He flicked through the papers, reading them aloud. “A single bedroom apartment in the CBD, you have a Siamese cat called Basinah and you frequent the coffee shop down the road. However, despite the fact that you don’t seem to go out very often past the hours of 6pm, nor do you invite any friends around to your cosy accommodation, you do seem to make an unusual amount of phone calls.” He looked up at her, locking eyes.

He paced the stage, almost tripping over the microphone cord. The crowd erupted in laughter and he couldn’t help but let out a giggle himself.

The colour drained from her face. A drop of sweat escaped from the rim of her hijab, lingering over her brow. For a brief moment, the room echoed in silence.

“Not only do these calls reoccur throughout the day, everyday, they also happen to be with the same person. Every single call.”

She said nothing.

“Who is it?” he insisted.

Still nothing.

A taller man in a suit and tie emerged from a corner behind Asilah, his eyes masked with a pair of reflective sunglasses, like his own personal impenetrable window. She watched as he slowly, measuredly circled the table, his heavy footsteps replacing that haunting silence. Calmly, he revealed a gun from the inside of his jacket and set it down on the table, loosely in his hand.

A man offered his date some water, before leaving his seat to buy another bottle. He noticed two seats in the front row that were empty, thinking about how he would have died to get those seats.

“It’s my sister,” she looked down at the table.

Neither of the men flinched.

The other man spoke: “Tell us about your sister.”

“What do you mean?”

“Where does she live?”

“Too far from me to see her.”

“And why were you making such regular calls to her?”

“She is family.”

“I also have a family. But I don’t call them sixteen times a day to tell them I love them. Why were you calling her so often?”

He examined his watch, withdrew his phone from the inside jacket pocket, clicked it on, and clicked it off. He began pacing around the room again, this time taking shorter steps, eyes darting from his own reflection to Asilah’s exposed eyes.

Two men opened the door for a lady walking in. She was an hour late but had already bought a ticket online. She thanked the men and continued on to find her seat.

“We were planning something,” she responded, still looking down at the table. Her hands were now in her lap, her mind elsewhere.

The two men both stopped what they were doing to look at her. “What do you mean?”

“We were planning something for my birthday.”

“But… your birthday is -”

“Today,” she interrupted.

The man on stage couldn’t help but notice the woman, reasonably short and wearing a pink hijab, arrive late and sit in the front row. She nervously glanced at the lonely seat next to her.

A look of consternation arose on each of the men’s faces.

Her hand trembled. Her mind raced. Her heart pounded.

There was a thundering knock on the door, and before she knew it, the door was locked and she was alone.

She sealed her eyes shut, and waited, mind racing, heart pounding, for the heat to engulf her.

And as she sat there, with the little red light blinking, the fan purring, and her eyes wandering, she couldn’t help but grin.

The Mysteries Lake

James Todd, Year 9

Summer comes, no life at the lake.

As quiet as a mouse the lake seems dead.

The mud turned into a concrete floor, it’s cracking crumbling and crunchy. The turtles that were once there are now gone, apart from some that are dead and dried out almost like someone has burnt them with a flamethrower. The trees almost have no life in them.

The leaves as yellow as a lemon. The lake seeming to have gone away.

The rain starts to pour down like Niagara Falls. The life sucked back into the lake, it seems to have a smiling face. The mud turns from concrete into slimy, slippery slop. Thinking the turtles were gone, now they roam around in silence and the yellow trees are now green. From summer to winter what a difference it makes, from dead to alive is what it seemed to be.

For now, the lake can be like heaven again.

Shield and Sword of the Party

Peter Cooke, Year 12

Missing person’s report: Jan Winkler, missing as of 5th of June 1991, Geheimnis, East Germany

Mr Winkler was reported missing after fleeing a town hall meeting leaving his prized camera equipment behind. Since he was missing one year ago today, members of his town have found him not to be a Stasi informant after the Stasi files were opened to public use earlier in 1992.

***

I crunched down the gravel pathway toward the town hall, carrying my brand new Hasselblad DB 4000 1991-model camera in its well maintained case over my shoulder. It was June, and the flowers and trees were in full bloom as they surrounded the creek running behind the Geheimnis town hall, blanketed with the pale light of dusk. Warm light spilled out of the town hall, making it through the vast wooden doors, constructed over 50 years ago, making intricate patterns on the gravel outside. The Tudorbethan style of the building contrasted with the concrete, covered with red dust, a remnant from a mural of working people that had previously adorned it. As I got closer, sounds of revelry could be heard from the building as people chatted with neighbours and close friends, who waited for their traditional town photos to be taken then archived in the hall.

I entered the doorway and the sound lulled as townsmen, seated at tables, turned to look and then went back to their conversations, faces lit by hanging lights similar to those found in a German beer hall. Heavy red lacquered wooden beams supported the shingle roof above and the lights below. Women moved around the hall, tending children and carrying trays of assorted food and lager. Volkssänger played their horrible music across the hall while I made my way to the backroom and began to set up my camera. Then I went out into the hall for a drink. The beginning of that evening was quiet; I met with friends, drank, ate, but many of those around me were subdued, though I did not pay it much thought. At around 8:37 as the musicians began to quieten down I set down my empty glass and started to walk over to the camera room. When I reached the table where the Mayor of the town, Sasha Schneider, held court, I was stopped by an ominous slap of paper on the table and the sound of a chair toppling. The hall grew silent; there was no music, no talk, no laughter.

It was a silence of one hundred people waiting for their fears to be confirmed, the silence of a hospital waiting room, of anticipation, of the grave.

I ceased walking and turned towards the sound. There, the mayor stood in front of a red upturned chair, his suit jacket and freshly starched brown shirt immaculate in the light of one hundred faces. He indicated for me to move towards him and look at the newspaper, lying on an empty Dresden-styled plate.

It was Die Uber Geheimnis-mensch, the local newspaper, with the headline: Stasi Ring Cache Found: Geheimnis Citizens Spied Upon.

“I don’t understand,” is what I was going to say, if after the first syllable was uttered Sascha did not seize the paper from my hands like the communists seized the means of production from the bourgeoisie.

The hall was silent as Schneider moved past the fallen red chair and began to walk up and down the length of the table, reading loudly from the paper:

“On the eve of June the 3rd 1991, local constables from the town of Geheimnis in South-East Germany moved upon a suspected Stasi hideout. The Stasi police, who had terrorized the lives of all German men until the collapse of the German Democratic Republic in 1989, had been collecting information on the entire German race. While almost all of the Stasi files were captured in their headquarters in Berlin, many regional caches were squirreled away in the countryside. Fortunately, the police were able to seize the cache without any being destroyed, as there were no Stasi members with the photos and files. Evidently, there is still a Stasi operator at large in the region. In this reporter’s humble opinion, all those who live in the Geheimnis area should look out for suspect secret members of the Stasi police. While the police report has not been given to this paper, reporters on the scene of the seizure have said that there were cases the size of cameras and tripods and photo cylinders were also seen. You must be vigilant to the menace of the Stasi and protect your freedom!”

I turned around to look for a sympathetic face and was left lacking. Bakers, women of the cloth, children, the termite exterminators, printers, bookkeepers, friends, and family, all looked back at me with eyes hard with fear, anger, and loathing.

“Why would you accuse me of doing such things?” I pleaded. “I have done nothing but be a loyal and noble citizen of this town.”

“Who else could have taken photographs of us all for the Stasi!” Schneider retorted.

“I am just a humble photographer – ” I began.

“HA! Of course, it is the perfect cover,” expounded Sascha and there was a murmur of agreement from behind me.

“Who else could move through the town, and take photos of the men of the Geheimnis without being noticed?” With this a few ‘hear hear’s arose from the crowd.

“This man is a communist spy and he deserves to be put to justice! I call for a vote to decide if we should put this man in jail and arrest him for infringing on the freedoms of all in this great town! All those ‘for’ raise your hands!”

As I turned around a sea of raised palms greeted me, committing me to my fate.

I could do naught but flee.

Men in Blue

Henry Hallam, Year 9

Baking sun, sizzling sand,

Bodies spread out across the pale white sand.

Across the beach you see the men in blue,

Those men that risk their lives for you.

 

The men in blue they watch,

Crystal clear water, sapphire blue sky.

The cooling crisp water cools the overheated tanners,

splashing, screaming and laughter is all you hear.

 

The men in blue they watch,

Waves crash on the shore.

Beach-goers come and leave,

The temperature rises.

 

In the blink of an eye,

The hand goes up, frenetic movement on shore.

She goes under,

The board goes in.

 

All eyes turn to the men in blue,

The swimmer is spent.

Applause proceeds around the beach,

But the men in blue keep watch.

 

The men in blue they watch,

As the sun goes down.

The beach never stops,

The men in blue they watch.

Left Foot, Right Foot

Tom Krantz, Year 11

Lustrous, eager globules of dew hung fervently to the brilliant greens of the grass blades beside me. The light impatiently angled through them, radiantly refracting into my raw, lethargic eyes.

Morning.

I could tell from the disconcerting lack of the city’s typical Hustle and Bustle. The air lay tranquilly still against my dry, throbbing face. I hated it. It was times like these when I felt the most soul-wrenchingly and whole-heartedly alone.

Groggily, I gazed around my apparent bedroom for the night. An intimate, somewhat cozy park. At its center, a knotted, gnarled, wooden bench stared knowingly across from me, as if judging me for my conspicuous sleeping arrangement. Its warped wood stood out from the immaculate garden surrounding it. And more importantly;

From the city surrounding it.

Sharpeville, South Africa, March 21st 1960.

I propped myself onto my callused, bare feet, stiffly maneuvering my way around the weeds and shrubs surrounding me. I took specific caution to leap over the broken liquor bottle that had lain beside me, oozing out its ruddy brown innards. A distant memory of last night’s blurred activities.

As I approached the bench, a gilded gold inscription glinted at me from its uppermost panel. It read:

SLEGS Blankes.

                                               (Whites only.)

A pang of real fear jotted through me. I did not belong here.

Desperately, I scrambled for an exit, running through the park and thrusting myself out into the cool, Autumn air. The sun had only just breached the tip of the horizon.

Yet I was late.

I hurried downhill, my feet beating at the cracked cement, a rush of adrenaline soaring through my body. I knew how lucky I’d been. ‘Dirtying’ the ground of a white-only park with my presence was grounds for severe punishment and imprisonment.

But we were going to stop that. Together.

I could feel the tension inside me all but disappear as I cascaded down the empty streets. Running was the only antidote to my impenetrable solitude. It filled me with an ineffable sensation of tranquility I barely ever experienced. I could completely detach body from mind, concentrating only on the thud of my feet on the ground before me.

            Left foot. Right foot.

That was it. And that was all I needed.

I careered down into Zwane Street, where I could hear a noise already start to swell across the township. I slowed to a walk, glancing my eyes across the uneven skyline around me…

Most immediately noticeable were the jagged angles that swept across the city. Slanting roofs met haphazard walls that lingered, as if expectantly, (and somewhat gravity-defyingly) in place. Waiting. As if fortified by the building’s ever-present emanation of perseverance and vitality, clearly battling the indigent, necessitous reality seeping deep into their inhabitants’ being.

A teeming, bustling mass of people filled the street. A tide, ebbing and flowing in the clear March morning. Handmade signs flapped in the morning breeze, preaching for our freedom, for our equality. A demonstration for our independence.

I looked around hesitantly. No way I could see her here through all these people, I thought. No way…

In an instant, even with the thick mass of people surrounding me, the isolation returned. Just like that, hitting me; a brick-wall of incomprehensible woe. Alone.

The her was Siphephelo, although she hated that name. In Zulu, it meant refuge, the most fitting description she could ever hold. She was the only other thing that could dampen my worries, the only place I could go to escape.

But the drinking and nights strewn across lawns had gotten to her, pulling her from me. It’d been months since I’d even seen her, yet I stupidly thought that Today might’ve pulled her out here. Towards me.

            I was wrong.

I snapped out of the stream of self-pity I’d found myself in, reminding myself that Today was not for me. Today was for Us.

And so I joined the crowd.

We pushed forward, a wave of humanity and hope, towards the station. Thousands of us, all united in the spirit of liberation. And that’s when I saw her. Her eyes shone out across the flood of bodies before us. Her skin as smooth and flawless as a summer lake at dawn. Dark, impeccable, cool.

Our eyes met.

Whether it was the months apart or the indescribable positivity flowing around us, her mouth contorted into the most brilliantly white, gleaming smile I’d ever seen. Magnetized, we rushed towards each other through the surrounding chaos, meeting in a firm, paradisiacal embrace. Although our words couldn’t reach each other over the crowd’s roar, they weren’t needed. Just us, together. That was it.

After an eternity of her in my arms, we broke apart, pushing through the teeming crowd. A warmth filled my core, something I had never really felt before. True Belonging.

And that was when it happened.

Roars, louder than before, burst from the parade’s frontline. The policemen yelling at the march, shouting at them to fall back. Looking, scared, at the encroaching group. Behind us, people pushed us towards the barricades, wanting to find the turmoil’s source. Suddenly, belonging was replaced with a pang of unease and fear. I held Siphephelo tight as we pushed closer and closer together, compressed from both sides. The police screaming at us to stop.

But there were no warning shots.

Bullets cascaded through the advancing rally. The police, cowardly aiming their guns into the mass of approaching people. And then they started. Ear-splitting, soul-wrenching cries for help.

The march was over.

We struggled backwards, a maelstrom of body parts, of pushing and shoving, of true, unadulterated fear. I tried to grab Siphephelo, to pull her to me, to reassure her that we’d be all right.

To run from this wretchedness.

            Left foot. Right foot.

But it wasn’t enough.

I saw her fall. Saw the blood. Her head hit the ground as she collapsed, lifeless, onto the roughened cement. The bullet had entered straight through her back, tearing through her and out again, ripping through her left breast. She gasped at me, breathless, helpless in my arms, my falling tears blemishing her otherwise perfect face.

And then I was pushed away.

And she was gone.

 And I was gone.

Swept into the desperate, clambering escape.

*    *    *

I walked back up to that park. My shaking fingers desperately clawed at the gate’s latch, my body falling down the pathway to its centre.

Grasping a piece of glass from the bottle’s shattered remains, I scraped away that gilded gold inscription.

And I sat, upon that knotted, gnarled, wooden bench. Alone.

Regret

Jimmy Cameron, Year 12

“No, no, no,” Mitch said, chuckling. “I’ve got to quit while I’m ahead! Never should have challenged you to a game of pool!”

Mitch stepped out of the ‘Pay ‘n Play’ pool arcade and out onto the wet Northbridge sidewalk. He looked up and around; the dirty neon lights and meandering trickle of hunched passers-by. At this time it was bordering on freezing out on the streets; Perth had scorching summers but just as you thought you’d had enough, the adjacent winter made you miss every last ray of sunshine.

Jumping out of the way of a determined commuter, Mitch checked his watch. “Damn! We were playing for hours!” Mitch remarked to himself. His black digital watch read 10:45pm. It was well and truly dark; however the neon lights and occasional street lamp provided just enough light to see.

Mitch sighed, slightly sad that the night was over; every Saturday night was cherished when you were a primary school teacher, especially seeing as Mitch helped coach the local footy team who coincidently played on a Sunday morning. Pulling his collar up around his neck to battle the icy wind, he started walking down the street. Left – straight – cut through the alley just before the tattoo parlour – left after three streets. Mitch often played pool with his mates so eventually knew the way to and from quite comfortably. Although often dirty and dark Mitch actually quite enjoyed the walk back from the arcade. Aside from the refreshing cold wind – Mitch loved winter – he enjoyed just watching the people walk past, some happy, some sad, the homeless man and his dog who Mitch made sure to give five dollars to every time he passed. It was satisfying to watch these people; it made Mitch appreciate the world – sentimental but true.

Just as Mitch came to the tattoo parlour and began to turn the corner down the alley, he caught some movement in his peripheries. He glanced up and saw two people, a woman and a man, about 100 metres away standing outside the tattoo parlour. At first glance it was just your usual couple, and Mitch began to turn away, however after a moment’s thought something just hadn’t looked right about the two. He looked up again and noticed it; the woman seemed to be in distress. It wasn’t obvious at first as she was almost completely covered by the large build of the man she was with. Although she wasn’t making any obvious signs of discomfort, her eyes were darting about like a fly dodging a cat’s claw. Her eyes were what definitely gave it away. Mitch began to walk towards the couple and intervene; there could be a perfectly normal explanation for the discomfort, but there was no harm in trying, right? And yet as Mitch thought that to himself he questioned whether that was indeed true. He had seen so many situations in the paper and on the news where someone had intervened in this exact same situation and had been the one prosecuted! He pulled back slightly. The woman did seem in distress. But what if he was simply reading too much into the situation? He checked his watch again. 11:02pm; it was getting late. Mitch shrugged, “I’m probably just overreacting, plus, no need to get prosecuted.”

He turned and walked down the alleyway. The rest of the walk went by quickly as Mitch reached his apartment and climbed the spiral stairs. He unlocked his flat, dumped his keys and crashed on his bed. Sighing, he pulled off his shoes and got into bed. He milled over the night gone by. It had been incredible fun but he couldn’t seem to shake the thought of the woman. “Ah well,” he thought; his mother had always said he needed to let things go and not dwell on the past.

Mitch awoke to fur in his face. “Atti, I told you not so close to the face!”

Atti simply meowed a lazy protest as Mitch rolled out of bed. He walked out into the bathroom and turned on the shower, yawning as he washed. He stepped out of the steam-clogged bathroom and got dressed in his coach’s attire, simple black pants and a white polo, with his dark blue raincoat of course. Walking into the kitchen, now slowly waking up, he clicked down the toaster and fired up the coffee maker. While the two machines worked away diligently he went outside to grab the Sunday newspaper. The machines finished in tandem and Mitch grabbed his coffee and buttered his toast.

Sitting down with his coffee and toast at the kitchen bench, Mitch folded out the newspaper and almost dropped his coffee cup. He was immediately filled with dread. His heart skipped a beat as his lungs seemed to stop working momentarily. The front-page headline read:

SHOCK: WOMAN BEATEN AND KILLED

All Mitch saw was regret.

Until the End

James Hills, Year 11

Lyudmila chipped away at the pack ice with her pickaxe as the freezing wind and voices of the guards whirled around her. The chilling wind cut right through her coat, chilling her to the bone, but on she kept swinging the pickaxe, lest she miss out on what little rations the prisoners would be given that night. She was one amongst thousands in this camp, subjected to unpaid, back-breaking work by the ever vigilant NKVD officers, who would not hesitate to lash out at the labourers, the fruition of their frustration for being assigned here. This particular camp, or “gulag”, was centred in the Northern wilderness of the Russian SSR, the largest republic in the Soviet Union. Lyudmila was a very long way from her home, the Belorussian SSR capital of Minsk, and found that she constantly thought over the decisions that had led to her imprisonment in this frozen hell. Her decision to stand by her beliefs, too loyal to the culture of her parents and their parents before them, beliefs they had lived by all their lives.

In 1917, when the revolution overthrew the Tsar, the empire was firmly behind the rebels who had promised them all peace and bread. Lyudmila, and almost everyone she knew, were members of the Russian Orthodox Church, a denomination which was rooted in the the culture and history of the Russian Empire, but had backed the revolution to end the war that was killing thousands of men. The communists appealed to exactly what the Empire was yearning for – peace, and food for the starving who had been neglected in order to support the war effort.

Once the revolution succeeded, these promises were made good, and families like Lyudmila’s all began to adjust and change to the new ideas and policies of Vladimir Lenin and his Communist Party.

But in the 1920s these changes began to encroach upon sacred ground; the grounds of the Orthodox faith had been challenged by Lenin. Soon, all church property had been expropriated by the state, 28 bishops had been murdered, alongside twelve hundred priests in the communist crusade against religion.

Lyudmila lifted her pickaxe for one more swing, and brought it down with half-hearted effort. The NKVD did not care how hard they were working, so long as they were working. A piercing cry went up from the siren located in the distant camp barrack, signifying the end of their labour for the day. The sound cut through the wind and the cries of those being beaten into Lyudmila’s absent consciousness, telling her she could put down the axe for now and move to the main camp. She shuffled off to the hall, lost in the memories of what had been, who she had been before this place, the things she had believed in.

Late autumn snows fluttered slowly to the ground, heralding the tide that would carpet Minsk’s tight streets and alleys. Smoke rose from the chimney’s surrounding Lyudmila as she trudged through the thickening blanket back to her home. Lyudmila gripped her heavy garment close around her body, fighting off the cold as she hurried home, bearing grim news.

She hurried through the door and met her mother’s and father’s worried, questioning eyes. They looked at her expectantly, shivering in their clothes, equally from fear and the cold.

“What news do you have of Mikhail?” Lyudmila’s mother asked, worry evident in the tone of her voice.

Lyudmila swallowed back tears before answering, “Mikhail… Mikhail is dead. They gathered up all the holy men and shot them, proclaiming that if the Lord would not protect his own priests, then this was evidence enough of his non-existence.” This was the communist government’s method of imposing state atheism.

Her mother broke into tears, her father holding her head against his chest in comfort, tears shining in his own eyes though his were tears of fury.

Such scenes played out all over Minsk that night, as the religious and the families of the deceased heard the news of the attack on their faith. To these people, faith was not just an aspect of their life, it was their life and to attack it so viciously warranted revolt.

Lyudmila trudged into the mess hall, caught up in the memories of what had been. All around, those inmates who had the energy to converse readily discussed the war that was raging on in the west, dubbed the Great Patriotic War. This was of no interest to Lyudmila, she knew no world outside the camp anymore, only that which was kept in memories and her prayers.

The door closed behind the last people to enter the wooden hall, taking up what little space was left as they shuffled in to see the bishop. He stood upon the table, face red with the exertion of the passionate words that he spilled towards the crowd, Lyudmila and her father Oleksander included. These people had gathered in retaliation against what had transpired only days before, the events still raw in their minds, whether they had witnessed them or not. Just as the Bolsheviks had risen up to resist the Tsar, and his war, the religious of Minsk would do to resist the suppression of their faith. They planned revolt.

Days later, thousands took to the street, makeshift weapons in hand. The Gornagovski family marched with them, against the government of the Belarusian SSR, intent on revenge. For many of these people, religion was one of the only things they knew, a lifelong devotion. Those who challenged this had to pay.

Lyudmila smiled sadly as she remembered. They marched with their anger to quell their fear, believing God was on their side and they were slaughtered like animals. Those who survived were sent to gulags all over the union, to live out their days working. But their faith stayed with them and only upon death would it be driven from the deepest recesses of their hearts and very souls. Lyudmila and all those who had marched swore it. They would stay true until the end.

Direct Me

Jesse Witts, Year 12

Help me, save me, somebody direct me,

I’m helpless, hopeless, please someone notice;

I won’t grow into who I want to be,

I’m helpless, hopeless, please someone notice.

 

Directed by what popular culture defines,

Too afraid to venture out on my own.

More afraid to commit the unwritten crimes,

Of the social void than venture alone.

 

Help me, save me, somebody direct me,

I’m helpless, hopeless, please someone notice;

I won’t grow into who I want to be,

I’m helpless, hopeless, please someone notice.

Uninhabited

Connor Meerwald, Year 12

The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.

-Muhammad

It was just creeping past 2am as Hasan hurriedly paced along Aşgabat Street in the shadows of flickering streetlamps, his bag bouncing along his hip. This part of Ankara had once been a thriving ecosystem of colourful fruit and spice stores, swelling with both native Ankarans like Hasan as well as tourists from across the world – even at this hour. Tonight there was only the sound of Hasan’s shoes crunching on the broken concrete footpath to keep him company. He could feel it in the air; an immense pressure seemed to be caving the city in. Walking past a decrepit newspaper stand he glimpsed a yellowed headline “TERROR GRIPS ANKARA”.

Not only was the city gripped with fear, so was Hasan; however not with a fear of terror. Prime Minister Erdogan had proclaimed the emergency counter-terrorism laws in response to a suicide bombing near the border in neighbouring Syria:

Section 24: (ii) No persons without government authorisation are to be present in public between the hours of 1AM and 4AM. Those who are found to be in breach of this law will be detained indefinitely pending trial.

Hasan, a pest controller, had worked late that night trying to control a roach issue at the local hospital. Just as he let out a sigh of relief on rounding the corner of his home street without being caught by authorities, yells and bright flashlights left him frozen on the spot. Before he could even think, he was tackled roughly to the ground by a masked police officer and handcuffed.

***

He awoke, dazed and bruised, handcuffed to a cold metal chair in a concrete interrogation room. As he tried to recollect how he got there, he was interrupted by a fat balding man forcefully opening the door to the cell. He sauntered across the room with Hasan’s bag in his left hand, the swing of his right arm gave brief glimpses of the oblong sweat patch under his armpit with each step. He slammed the bag onto the bolted-down desk and sunk back into his seat across from Hasan, exhaling deeply out of his nose. Hasan tried to explain how it was all a mistake and he was a contractor of the State Health Service but it all came out in one unintelligible coagulated mess of words. As his panic echoed around the room he noticed his rapidly rising heart rate and the sweat beads coming down his forehead.

The interrogator then spoke his first words, “Admit to what you are planning; we have damning evidence but you will suffer until you admit yourself.” As clichéd as it felt, Hasan replied, his lip trembling, “I don’t know what you are talking about.” The interrogator then unzipped Hasan’s bag, pulling out a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, a pair of bolt cutters and a gas mask and placed them on the desk. “Explain this then,” he spat at Hasan.

Viewing this through a two-way mirror was the Counter-Terrorism Commissioner Safdar Bilaal, as well as a representative from the state-run media outlet Haber, Qambar Haani, who furiously scribbled down notes.

The next day Hasan awoke at his flat in the early afternoon. Although the events of the previous twenty-four hours had become a homogenised blur, he remembered the permit he should’ve had the night before, being delivered by the Hospital Secretary to the Police, who reluctantly released him. Hasan dragged himself out of bed and put the kettle on, flicking on his small TV as he walked past. The Haber Afternoon Report flickered on with the bright heading “Ankara Extremist Walks Free” while the reporter outlined what was allegedly found in Hasan’s bag by the police, “The chemicals and associated equipment are perhaps explainable; however the bolt cutters, alleged two kilograms of nails and pressure cooker tell a different tale altogether. The young man’s university lecturer this morning described him as “brooding, with eyes of insanity.” More news later on Haber Evening Report, where you get the unadulterated truth.”

Hasan stood trembling in his living room, his bag, nowhere near big enough to fit a pressure cooker, taunted him from the corner. He could barely breathe as his apartment closed in on him, unable to stay, unable to leave.

He barely moved for three days, sitting in the dark with the Haber, now just increasingly loud pink noise to him. On the TV around the clock, each exclusive report pushed him further into his mind’s deepest, darkest corners; accusations and false facts began to pool up in his mind, until he could contain them no more and they began to overflow, muddling his conviction with falsity. He suddenly jolted up and hurled the remote at the television, fracturing the glass into thousands of tiny pieces that scattered across the floor. He was left alone briefly only then, accompanied by the shuddery sounds of his breathing. However voices soon began to claw away inside his head until he could take it no more.

He ripped down his blinds to get a breath of sunlight into his apartment, but was instead startled by a massive media brigade who jostled to try and get the best photo of Hasan, Ankara’s most famous terrorist.

Reeling back from the window and with trembling hands he frantically emptied his hydrogen peroxide into a large glass water bottle. He then went and found some nails in his cupboard and poured them into the bottle as well. He soaked a cloth by rubbing in alcohol and placed it into the top of the bottle. On his way out of his apartment he grabbed a lighter, as well as his gun that he kept hidden at the front door.

He paused for a second, his mind blank, before opening the door to exit the building, lighter poised over his homemade bomb. The wick flared instantly, and the press, too engrossed with taking photographs, couldn’t even react as he hurled it into their swarming mass. It was the happiest he had been in four days as he watched those who had drained his body burning on the ground, their screams drowning out the voices in his head. On that note he went to end it all, the trigger clicked near his ear and – nothing, the gun jammed.

To this day that empty man rots in a Turkish prison cell; to this day Aşgabat Street remains silent; to this day Ankara crumbles under the grip of manufactured fear.

Hill Crest

Angus Cullen-Falconer, Year 9

Atop a hillcrest

When the night is dull and at its best

Where the winds bite and scratch at the smooth brown sands

Soaring in strong rolling bands

The white orb set in obsidian sky

Barely breaching the mountains high

Small white dots sparsely spread

Like grains of salt across the dark and dread.

 

A lonely figure treads the night

Whilst no birds are a flight

Soft and red, fur gently rolling

The creature’s legs slowly strolling

Tail long and wide

Softly swinging side to side

Paws swiftly scattering

Sound a peaceful pattering

Nose direct and long

Picks up scents, never wrong

A mane of long white fluff

Amidst a world for the rough and tough

Abilities alarmingly stunning

For it’s the fox, smart and cunning.

Smokey Mirrors

Flynn Robertson, Year 12

“Come on Bibi, pick up!” I chanted to my phone, finally consoled by the distinct two tone pickup sound. “Bibi, you to have a look at this.”

“I’m on the toilet Adonis. Can’t it wait? You need to chill out for once.”

“No, this is important! There’s a Facebook event for a group of girls. They’re going to oppose a white rally at the Cape Town Uni this arvo. I tagged you in it.”

I pulled up the maps whilst listening to her muttering the post out loud.

 Adonis De Waal Feeling excited with Bibi Steenkamp

Girls, who’s going to make the signs?? We need to secure our spots in our uni! We’ve worked hard to get ourselves here; we can’t let them take that from us! I’ll see you all down there.

There was a short pause on her end of the line. “You don’t mea—”

“Yes stupid, we’re going. I’ll meet you at the bus stop in an hour.”

After a notable delay followed with a deep sigh, I finally heard a faint, “Fiiineee.”

I couldn’t resist but to indulge in a victorious fist pump. I felt the blood rushing through my head as excitement flooded through me. My chance to make a change has finally come, I thought.

The warm breeze and blue skies made for fabulous scenery, but I remained diligent as always, occasionally running my hand across my hip to check the pepper spray my mother gave me was still there. I even had a narrow miss with a tree as I watched a group walk hastily past on the other side of the road and then cross back, their skin betraying their stature. Red as a lobster.

I almost walked into a tree, my attention too fixated on a group I saw hastily cross the road in front of me and then cross back when they were behind me.

As I basked on the grass near the bus stop, something in the corner of my vision caught my eye. I craned my neck, watching as a hooded figure walked towards me, head low. Checking my hip once again, I began to get up, until I noticed the figure’s petite stature.

“Bibi! What the hell are you wearing?” I shouted.

“Adi, shut up!” she hissed, looking behind her, “There were police on my usual route so I went around, right past one of those stupid fenced-off housing areas with bloody armed guards outside.”

“Oh shit, you get in any trouble?”

“Nah, it was ok, I just put up my hood and kept walking. Besides, I’ll take on those wit ous[1] any day you hear?” she joked, her eyes sunken.

Boarding the bus was always interesting. Buses are surprisingly long when you walk them end to end, especially with wide eyes following your every move. Fortunately, I was used to the wide eyes, although the mothers grasping their handbags and children alike was new. But nonetheless, there was business that must be done. I heard Bibi chuckle as she watched a woman move away from us, her hand swiping her hip as she did so, as though she was scared she might accidentally lash out or something.

Running to join my crowd right outside the main door was exhilarating; the air was electric to my skin. At first I was slightly perturbed, all eyes on us up on the stairs, but then I saw the smiles and cheers, along with the TV crews, police and even the Uni officials there to help our cause, and the feeling eased.

Beneath us, at the bottom of the stairs behind the police barriers, I could see the defeated look on their faces, the realisation that they had neither the right nor the means to reckon with us. My fellow resistance felt it too, our collective voice made my ears ring. The only thing in that moment was passion. You could see it in the crowd, the veins on our necks, the white knuckles and balled fists, the spittle flying from our mouths, our eyes searing holes through their audacious self-labelled ‘counter rally’. To really twist their age-old knife they had down our throats all these years they were claiming victim to racism, as if they genuinely believed it to be possible. It was hard not to laugh while their voices were carried away in the harsh wind, and their numbers a mere fraction of ours, as though they were snowflakes falling on steel.

The brick came as a shock really, seeing it fly over my shoulder. I’m sure it wasn’t deliberate but it caused quite the ruckus nonetheless. It flew straight through one of their signs. “We Need Jobs T—” it read momentarily before hitting the ground along with its creator. There was a little blood but none to cause any real concern, after all Bibi never had the best throw. In the end it was a bummer really, the police begrudgingly decided to break it up – well, planned to. The next few put them on the back foot too, we were only doing what we had to in order to perpetrate justice. Most would say that the fact that they were claiming victim was reason enough to take far more drastic action; they are lucky WE exercised restraint.

Bibi stood by that every time I visited, which is fair enough, we had the nation on our side. A murder charge was atrocious considering that it was virtually self-defence, and the court needed to recognise that. Three of our people were put in jail for defending our rights and our nationhood. Sure, things may have gotten a little out of hand, and we felt for the children of those who stood in the way, but as true owners of South Africa we did what we had to in order to prevent them from weaselling their way back into the gated skirts of our nation. For all we knew they might have tried to bring back the apartheid that started this all.


[1] Wit Ou = South African slang for ‘white fellow’

The Devil from California

Brendan Croft, Year 11

He was going to die. He knew it. Their bunker couldn’t hold forever and they were trapped. If they left, they would be a sitting duck to shooters and if they stayed, they would eventually be crushed or bombed or suffocated. It was hopeless. Dry, fire-orange sand was slowly pouring through the ceiling like an egg timer. Each bombshell blast sounded so close, yet was so distant. He had a saying through times of hardship which now was of the utmost applicability, “In the seasons of wither, we’ll stand and deliver, be strong, and laugh and…” It was merely a song line, but usually it pulled him through. Usually. This time was different. He knew he had to be strong, for the sake of himself, and for the sake of his comrades. They had relief waiting in Turkey, but that was miles away. Thud. Again. The walls, the ceiling and the earth all shook with terrorising force. He could see all four of his comrades. They were good friends. Over the past few months they had become closely knit, but only knew each other by the states they came from. Maybe it was a way of remaining connected to their home. Maybe it was just a little game. None had enough room to stand, though one was shuffling back and forth. Another had his eyes closed, seemingly praying for good fortune. The other two, quite sensibly, were periodically sticking their heads above ground level, desperately looking for an opportunity to flee. He just sat there.

An hour passed. Nothing much had changed, except the state of their shelter. A pile of sand was forming next to him from a leakage in the ceiling. The leg of an ant was protruding through. It was waving frantically in all directions, like a drowning swimmer. Abruptly and mercifully, a finger paved a path to freedom, allowing it to crawl away. What if I died? he thought. Where is the end? Is it over once it’s over? Am I just another one or am I a servant of the greater game? After several minutes of glazed-eyed thinking, he came to accept his fate. Some things in life weren’t meant to be.

He looked at his watch. Ten to two. Not that the time mattered though – it was a gift from his daughter. Her last gift to him. No. He wanted more than anything to make it back to his family. He would do anything. An invigorating feeling began to rush through his veins, rising up and giving him strength. He could feel the lustrous Californian sun kissing his lips. He could hear wind gently whistling through the palm trees. He could even smell his wife’s perfume. A thunderous bomb brusquely brought him back to reality. It was close. The ground shook ominously. There wasn’t much time left, and he had to survive.

He told his comrades that they had to escape sometime soon or the bunker would collapse. Their varying levels of distress and courage led to responses ranging from, “It’s no use” to “get out ‘n’ gun,” but there was one thing everyone agreed on; they were in this together. A plan began to hatch. The man referred to as Florida wanted a quick escape. “We’ll slip out in the wake of a bomb,” he said coolly, “Single file, quietly and quickly. Head north and use any cover you can get.”

“What if we’re seen?” countered California. “We’ll be dead in an inst-”

“There’s no option. We all have a life to get back to but if we wanna go home, we gotta get outta here sooner or later. And sooner’s the better option.”

“Alright.”

It was ground breaking. It was earth shattering. Time stood still for a moment, as the blistering hot air filled his lungs and the sand fell through the ceiling like a thunderstorm. Though, as soon as the shock came, it was over. The blast couldn’t have been more than a few yards away. Slightly dazed, it took him a few seconds to take in his surroundings. The manhole at the top was still there, but the bunker looked smaller. No time to waste, he thought. Remembering what was said earlier, he began to make his dash.

He was just about to exit when he heard a muffled noise coming through a wall. It was like a drowning baby. A flailing arm followed. Despite the heavy smoke, he could tell what it was. His mind was torn. It was like choosing between fascism and communism. He had sworn an oath to protect his country. To fight with, and for, his comrades. He knew that if he tried to help them there would be a high chance that he himself would not make it out. To his family. He had a duty. But he couldn’t, he just couldn’t leave his wife and young daughter behind. The thought of losing them was crippling. His pain was monstrous. It was worse than his smouldering skin. Worse than being impaled by a dagger dripping with acid. And it was all in his head. With a grim face, he turned his back to the wall and ascended to hell.

The smoke gave him cover but did not shield his guilt. With a firm grimace, he pursued north. The searing heat dried up his tears and wilted nearby plants in seconds. He had betrayed his friends, his comrades and his country. Each one of them would have helped him out. But he didn’t. His desire to reunite himself with his family had made him a murderer. A murderer. The sand, the sweat and the sorrow blinded his way. As if guided by the devil, he ran straight into the fire of the enemy. The bullets riddled through his body like meat in a mincer. His wife, daughter and soul slipped through his crooked fingertips, leaving him twisted in agony as the earth drew away his last stream of life.