Animal Cruelty

This story was originally read at Confession Booth, which was an absolutely hilarious and wonderful night and you should go. ALSO, I read it again at Story Club with a host of talented, talented people. Thanks for having me!

The cars were packed with case after case of cheap beer, rolled up mattresses, cans of beans and a lonely, holy coffee plunger. But before our caravan of courage could even disembark, the word arrived via text message that actually, our host didn’t want a horde of undergrads descending on her parents beach house, in a decision that can only be described as poorly timed and eminently understandable.

It was in this moment that the classic ‘Sliding Doors’ scenario was established. On the one hand, we could simply unpack the cars, go to our respective homes and listen to Bright Eyes albums, or whatever it was we did in 2004. Or we could, as our friend Mike generously suggested, go and stay in his parent’s vacant house in the middle of suburbia for a week, an option which took the concept of beach house holiday, and subtracted the words beach and holiday. Imagine the scene – Gwyneth Paltrow standing on the platform, deciding whether or not to enter the sliding doors of the train. That song by Aqua comes on – if you can’t remember it, just substitute ‘Barbie Girl’ in your head, because that’s a song that deserves remembering. But instead of taking either option, Gwyneth repeatedly bludgeons her weird flat face against the trains ‘sliding doors’, blood splattering in large starbursts. Imagine that, and you’re halfway to understanding how bad the decision was when we said yes to Mike’s modest proposal.

Mike is like a beautiful hothouse flower, grown in a greenhouse made of cheese. That’s a weird way of saying that Mike is one of the loveliest, stand-up guys I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing and that also his family is fucking batshit insane and their house a manifestation of all that is wrong with them. Imagine former US President George Bush Senior riding a giant bald eagle and instead of arms he has flags bearing the star spangled banner, and instead of legs he has guns and also the eagle is carrying a collection of teapots shaped like Rosie O’Donnell’s skull, and you’ll just have discovered the inspiration for their interior decoration.

MIKES HOUSE

The other thing to remember about this house, is that nothing opens from any direction without the use of the master key. So you couldn’t open the door of the house from the inside, if you didn’t have the key. You couldn’t open any of the windows. You couldn’t open the sliding door to the balcony. There’s no way out. Drums, drums in the deep.

Somewhere over the next four nights, the terrible event to which I am confessing occurs. On its own, the deed seems inexplicable and unforgivable. But before I am tried by my jury of fashionable peers, I need to weave the story of other shitty things that happened, to maybe promote an understanding of why I did this thing. This terrible, terrible thing.

The first inkling that our thrilling urban getaway was less holiday and more horror-day (that’s a difficult pun to enunciate) was on the first night when we decided we should do a booze run. My mate Bob, not able to fit into the car, but still wanting to go along on the expedition, decides that he’ll just walk the two blocks or so to the local shops. Around four hours later, people start to realise that nobody has see Bob since that fateful moment. We call him, and through an inexplicable static, as if we are on walky-talkies, we hear him yelling that he is ‘lost in a swamp’. We are in Oatley, a suburb bordered by yet more suburbs. There are no swamps in the suburbs. It is known. Then, using logic usually reserved for horror films, we fan out in a drunken search party, separately exploring the side streets and mysterious cul-de-sacs of Oatley and greater Mortdale. The rest of the night was literally spent finding missing people, like the worlds stupidest game of Marco-Polo. At around 3am, I found a tennis court, and sitting under the bright lights was Bob, looking extremely relieved and also covered in a strange amount of mud.

It was during the days where the absence of beach or any activities besides drinking became noticeable. We played Pictionary and drank Bloody Marys, and also succumbed to a group panic attack when Mike went to buy lunch, and took the key with him, effectively locking us in the house. The cloud of cigarette smoke was so dense by that point, you could actually effectively duck underneath it and hold conversations with it. And that night, when we went to sleep, the house next door burnt down. We were woken by the sirens and the crackle of flames, but had to rouse Mike’s brother before we could open the door and check it all out. It was about 3am by this point, and when he opened the door, sitting on the stoop, illuminated by the burning building was our friend Anna, smoking a cigarette. To this day nobody knows how she got out of the house, or more importantly, how the house next door burnt down… But this is not my confession. I did not burn down that house. Anna may have. A fun fact: on the same night as the house fire, Mike drunkenly chose to come out of the closet to his older brother, meaning that it wasn’t only the next door neighbour’s earthly belongings that were going up in flames, it was perhaps also Mike’s parent’s expectations of an all-American, gridiron loving, vagina-frequenting son.

My confession, unfortunately, involves animal cruelty. I need to establish that I really like animals. I like dogs more than people. I like cats more than civil liberties. I like big cows more than big-faced titties. The other day I spent two hours diverting a stream of ants out of my house, using blu-tac and lumps of sugar. I would never knowingly hurt an animal. Unfortunately there are two allegations of animal cruelty made against me on the last night of our Oatley adventure.

Sensing that our enthusiasm was waning, and also we kind of all hated each other, on the last night instead of beer and other lay-varieties of alcohol, Mike broke out some bottles of tequila and also some genuine Czech absinthe. We drank the absinthe in the traditional style – dripped over sugar, passed over with a flame, and then shotted like frat boys. After the first shot, Bob immediately vomited. The rest of us pushed on. I have no real memory of anything else that happened that night, but two things definitely did occur. Like a sick cat, I took myself into the backyard, picked a palm tree and then spent the next hour hurling on it. After I was finished, I went inside and like a sick cat passed out on Mike’s cat’s bed. The crime scene is now set – for after we left the next morning, two shocking things were discovered by Mike’s parents, recently returned from the US.

The first was that their cat was now violently opposed to its bed. With great concern, Mike’s mum repeatedly threw the cat onto the bed, where it would proceed to freak out. After discovering from Mike that I had drunkenly slept on that very bed, Mike’s mum made the following accusation. That I had sexually molested her cat. Just like an episode of Law and Order: Wild Accusations Unit, she calmly reviewed all the evidence, and then jumped to the most disturbing and weird conclusion she could think of. This was not a joke suggestion – Mike’s mum was seriously convinced that I had done this. Ladies and gentlemen, I am so very happy to tell you that I really, really didn’t.

Then, and I say this with multiple levels of shame, when they went outside to check on the pet tortoise, all they found underneath its favourite palm tree was a disgusting pile of vomit with a tortoise underneath it. I had vomited on Stanley the Turtle, a sentence which can only be followed by a thorough hanging of the head. The only defence I can muster here is that I was not aware of the fact that I was vomiting on a tortoise. I am sure there are people in this world who seek to carry out the very action I am describing with a degree of foresight and intent, and those people are monsters – but I am not one of them. It was dark, and tortoises have chameleonic properties. But apart from the fact that I yakked in someone’s backyard and didn’t even clean up after myself – the story gets a lot grimmer. You see, apparently tortoises have a layer of natural varnish on their shell, which keeps it waterproof. A varnish that is incredibly susceptible to things like stomach acid, which it had spent the night marinating under. A series of events that meant that if that tortoise ever wanted to swim, it would actually die, having lost its waterproof layering. Which is the grim knowledge I’ve lived with for years – the fact that I’d doomed Stanley to an existence without swimming, which is probably like flying for tortoises. Or I’d killed him. That is,  until I decided to run this confession by Mike at a Game of Thrones themed dinner party, where he was dressed as a ravishing Catelyn Stark. I wanted to make sure he was fine with me bad mouthing his family, and by the light of roaring sconces, around a mouthful of honeyed goose, Mike told me that in fact Stanley was alive and well, which is exactly the most unexpected twist you could think of at a soirée devoted to Game of Thrones.

Stark Raving Mad? Some thoughts on Sansa Stark.

An article where I point out that Sansa Stark might just be the hero we don’t want, but the hero we need. Or something. Spoilers if you haven’t read the books/caught up with the show.

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A while ago, I posted this silly article on Junkee. In it, I refer to Sansa Stark dying from a never ending menstrual cycle, because my referential comedy is of the highest standard. There was one comment which I haven’t been able to stop thinking about as I (finally) got enough time to watch the new season. It was this:

“Funny but i gotta say, the hatred and dismissal of sansa stark is really grating. Out of all the awful humans in GOT people hate sansa, because shes a teenage girl with *ew* periods and stuff.”

To begin with, at no point did I mean for that to be an attack on Sansa – if I had to look for some kind of source for my lame jokes, I’d say I was particularly tickled by Cersei’s constant need to remind Sansa she was bleeding from the crotch, particularly in that battle scene. I mean, c’mon, it’s the girls first period, do you really need the Queen bringing it up in public situations constantly? And personally I find Sansa one of the more fascinating characters – in the books there is this very much the tension of discovering if she really has renounced her Stark background. She’s lost her wolf – has she lost her honour too?

In the show however, things are a bit more cut and dry. Yes, she was a brat at the beginning of the show, but you know, also preteen. Did people on the internet really still carry the hate for her? Turns out that yes, Sansa is widely hated, and another comment on the article pointed out, it’s because she’s ‘so insipid’. What got me is that a lot of the people keeping the Sansa hatred flame alive aren’t your run of the mill sexist wankmaesters, but actually some intelligent, well informed types. I mean, there’s a bunch of that too. You don’t see nearly as much venom towards Samwell Tarly, who is actually a character who does insipid things. He is cowardly. But he’ll find his courage and save the day, blah blah blah, classic trope. People expect that, and wait for it to happen. Why don’t they let Sansa have that chance too?

Where does this supposed insipidity in Sansa Stark come from? Because from my point of view, it simply doesn’t exist. Let’s have a look at some of the POV characters which Sansa has to measure up against: Arya Stark, Cersei Lannister, Brienne of Tarth and Daenerys Stormborn. One of the things I love about this show is that there are these kickass female characters. That scene where Brienne roundly thumps Jamie Lannister? Actually had me pumping the air. Daenerys begins the show sold as a sweetener for her brothers imperial ambitions – but is so kickass she ends up leading an army and melting said brothers face off. But we have to remember that in this world, this is not the norm. Women do not hold the same power as men.  Cersei is perhaps the most stunning treatise on this – she constantly questions the fact that her power must be authenticated by her attachment to powerful men. She may not be a particularly likable person, but in reality she deserves the throne just as much as those other rich psychopaths, who had the luck of being born as penis wielders. Instead she can only hold the throne  for her husband or her son.

Sansa is barely more than a child, held hostage in the camp of the people who murdered her father. Ostensibly, in this show she has the least power of all. Even Jamie Lannister, in manacles, is in less constant danger than her. Every day that she manages to stay alive and not raped and murdered by the tiny evil king on the throne or any of the hundreds of powerful men around her is a victory for her. So is she insipid?

In my opinion, I think we hate seeing her in this position. I think it is seat-squirmingly uncomfortable to see an intelligent woman being as powerless as she is, not even having the liberty to speak her mind, let alone go where she wants to. I hope we find it abhorrent the amount she is beaten up by Joffrey and his knights. I think on some level we don’t want to have a powerless woman character. Do we wish she could draw a sword like Arya or Brienne? Yes. But she’s not a warrior. Or plot her way out? Perhaps. Or give birth to some dragons. But that  isn’t her. She has no skills or bargaining tools. She’s powerless, but not insipid. She’s naive. She may not even be particularly brave yet – but maybe that’s what’s in store for her. I know some of the things that lie in wait for her from the books, but even those aren’t finished. Sansa is a character nowhere near finished.

So while ethically I’d love for Sansa to stand up to Joffrey, maybe in a knife fight on a bridge, I also respect the internal realism of the show. She doesn’t have that opportunity. She didn’t get the chance to escape like Arya. She has to stay in the castle of sociopaths and be brave in different ways. So hate her situation, but don’t hate her.

To the Frighthouse

This is  story I read at Penguin Plays Rough at the State Library earlier in the year. PPR do the most innovative and fun events in the literary world. You should give them your first borns.

To the Frighthouse

The lighthouse squatted over steep cliffs like a drunk woman in high-heels peeing in a gutter. Years of high winds and crashing waves had shattered the once proud architecture, until it looked like nothing more than an old cupcake. Thick mist curled around the grounds, obscuring the horizon and seeping into the lawn. Walking through the fog was like being licked by a giant ethereal tongue. Somewhere in the distance echoed the call of ravens suddenly taking flight.

A lesser man might sprout goosebumps like a fertile box of cress. A weaker man might feel that squirming sensation deep in his gut, like a tiny cat was trying to get comfortable in his stomach, but which was actually fear. But not I – for if there’s one thing a writer of the genre of horror can withstand, it is the puny emotion known as fear. If fear was fire, then I would be a fireman, able to stride through the roaring flames, chuckling madly and rescuing fistfuls of babies, completely immune to the burning heat. As a horror writer, I would routinely face terror unfathomable to others, and also knew enough to identify the tropes and cliches with ease.

Which is why I have chosen to write my next book – ‘Night of the Living Sled’ about an innocent sled ride which swiftly becomes less innocent – in an abandoned lighthouse in Maine, USA. I’ve found myself able to save bucketloads of money by taking my writing vacations in places that others, who are not lords of the chill, would go mad simply to behold. So as the storm clouds roll in over the foreboding architecture, and lightning flashes illuminate the tracks of giant dogs and velociraptors, I only laugh. Because it’s nothing that I don’t automatically expect. I even think I see, for a split second, a pale woman’s face staring out of one of the top windows. Amateurs.

Later that night, I am writing by the light of the open fire. ‘“There’s no such thing as a cursed sled” screamed Molly, the chambermaid, blood streaming from her eyes and pooling in her frilly little apron and staining her feather duster.’ I dipped my quill into my inkpot, and finished the line. “Oh really” rasped Grandpa Jonathan, the racist ex-banker. “Have you ever seen a little film called… Citizen Kane?”’ I am interrupted by  a rapping at the window. I open the door to discover a dripping wet elderly gentleman, covered in a large raincloak. Thunder cracks and in the distance a wolf howls.

‘Boy, ye must leave this place, for ye are in grave danger.’

I sigh, and identify him. ‘You must be the caretaker.’

‘Nay, boy. I am the caretaker, and let me tell ye, this place is host to a spirit malevolent and      spiteful, that has plagued humanity since -‘

‘The dawn of time’ I suggest, cleaning my glasses with my cravat.

‘Nay, the 1970’s.’

I fixed the caretaker with a stare, and packed my pipe with more tobacco. The old man had skin like an unfashionable leather purse, and stringy grey hair like the pubic thatch of Beelzebub himself. He lifted a shaky arm and scratched at his neck with his hook for a hand.

‘The old hook for a hand’ I chuckled. ‘Classic caretaker.’

‘I’ve got two!’ the man exclaimed, brandishing his other hook wildly.

‘Tis why I don’t use an umbrella.’

‘So what’s the story. Indian burial ground, terrible murders? Are you a ghost? You’re the ghost, aren’t you.’ I started prodding him in the face, his skin as dry as the inner sole of a shoe.

‘I am not a ghost’ the caretaker said, somewhat sullenly.

‘Well, prod me then.’ I told him.

‘What?’ he answered, slowly.

‘Prod me, and then we’ll know that neither of us are ghosts. It’s called the Shyamalan Protocol.’

Reluctantly the old man prodded me, and I gave him a satisfied nod. None of us were ghosts. Although, I was now bleeding, thanks to being prodded by a hook-handed monstrosity.

‘If ye really want to learn the truth, ye must follow me into the basement. But I warn ye, everyone else who has even gone into the basement has…’

I finished his sentence. ‘Died horribly? Gone mad?’

‘Gotten wet shoes. The plumbing is none too sturdy. You tool.’ he mumbled the last part, and I asked him to repeat what he had said.

‘Uhh, I simply said – you fool!’ and chuckled malevolently as we descended into the bowels of the lighthouse.

The basement was indeed uncomfortably wet, and apart from hosting a mixed family of raccoons and cats, there was nothing strange about it. That is until the caretaker opened up yet another set of stairs.

‘Another basement?’

‘Yes, this basement has a basement!’ and cackled wildly. ‘Spooky’ I said glumly, starting to recognise there was a little more to this place than the same old tropes and idioms that I was used to.

Holding up a flickering lantern which barely illuminated the mould covered walls, the caretaker began speaking in a long monotone.

‘They say that one night the devil came here and gave birth to a dog, aye, but not just any dog, a devil dog from Hades with glowing eyes and a preternatural ability to do sudoku puzzles. Did he do them well? Nay, but better than most dogs. And others say that something, something unknowable crawled from out of the ocean and nested in the roots of this lighthouse, and now it’s working on Mitt Romney’s campaign staff, and yet others claim that this is the lighthouse where Virginia Woolf wrote her story ‘To the Lighthouse’, yet the original title was ‘To the Frighthouse’ and in the end of that manuscript someone got stabbed all up in the vagina, but then the editors changed it.  Oh aye, they say a lot about this place. They have a lot of opinions.’

In the third basement of the basement, we ran smack into a group of teenagers and a dog.

‘Let me guess, you guys are here solving mysteries?’

The youths, a lot skinnier, tattooed and pierced than the Original Scooby-Doo gang, gave each other shifty looks, until one said.

‘Umm, yeah.’

The caretaker was trying to pat the dog, a mangy German Shepherd with bloodshot eyes and tattered ears.

‘Old man – I probably wouldn’t pat Scooby over there, he looks fairly rabid.’

‘Not to worry’ said the old man, through a locked, frothing jaw. ‘I’ve got me own rabies to worry about.’

‘So, kids, what’s your verdict. Is there really a ghost, or is it just old Mr Jenkins in a monster mask?’ I asked.

‘Umm, dude, have you got any meth?’

I was starting to think they weren’t mystery solvers at all, unless the mystery was how much meth they could take. And I was also starting to feel… uneasy. There was something about this entire situation that didn’t quite add up. Was there mystery and suspense? Yes. But the clues were more baffling than illuminating. Sometimes I regretted this foray into the realm of horror – my first book had actually been some Australian Literature, a novel called ‘Secret Rural Family Town’. It was a prize winning tale about a young man who seeks to understand the meaninglessness of it all but instead finds out a series of secrets about his family and the small town that he finds so suffocating. But then I was drummed out of the lucrative Aust. Lit market by Peter Carey in a violent fistfight in a small Melbourne pub. David Malouf gambled on the fight and won fifty dollars as a result. Ever since then i’d been forced to earn my coin in the world of spooky thrills.

‘Through this door, master, lies the answers that you seek. The dark shadow that lies over this lighthouse.’

I hesitated, mind racing furiously like an angry horse. Now was the climax, the twist at the heart of every ghost story. What could possibly be beyond the door that I wouldn’t be prepared for in some way. The ghost of a tiny girl, banging her fathers dismembered head against the door of a car. Or something more literary, perhaps, like the ghost of my own humility, which takes the form of Jim Belushi from either Ghost Busters or Blues Brothers, or a strange mashup film called ‘Ghost Brothers.’

I pushed open the door, and discovered a tableau that I will never forget until my dying day. At a table, playing a robust game of Dungeons and Dragons, was Stephen King. He was rolling a handful of dice and staring down a forlorn looking George R.R. Martin. Terry Pratchett was making margarita’s. Stephen King looked surprised at my entrance, and then shamed. He scuffed his foot against the floor, looked me in the eye and said ‘Happy Halloween.’

'Wooooooooo' - Stephen King

‘Wooooooooo’ – Stephen King

I looked back at him and said ‘It’s not Halloween, Stephen King. Halloween was last week.’

10 Potential Spinoff Shows from ‘Game of Thrones’

 

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I’ve decided that since Game of Thrones is the best show ever, HBO has to capitalise on its success and create a spree of spinoffs from the same world. Here is my pitch to them. Now I just have to wait for the money to come rolling in.

 1. How I met your Mother of Dragons

Fun and sassy sitcom about Daenerys Stormborn, living in New York and falling in and out of love. Jorah Mormont played by Neil Patrick Harris.

 2. Jon Snow’s Feelings for Snow

Jon Snow solves murders in the cold wastes beyond The Wall.

3. Melisandre’s Puppy Rescue

Because the night is dark and full of terriers.

 4.  Seventh Devan

Davos Seaworth’s second youngest son struggles to raise a respectably R’hllor fearing family. “I don’t care if it’s senior prom, you’ll join your mother and I in burning the icons of false faiths!”

5. Suddenly Cersei

Life’s tough for a gal in the big city – especially when her hunky twin brother is in town!

 6. Stark House

A more Dickensian Winterfell, with bleak servants and starving orphans. Hodor is just sad, instead of comic relief.

7. Ramsay Bolton’s Kitchen Nightmares

Roose Bolton’s legitimised bastard son helps failing restaurants survive via methods which mostly include flaying.

8. Seaworth Change

Davos Seaworth leaves behind the cut-throat world of monarchist politics and becomes Sigrid Thornton in a small town. Will he discover love with the hunky and mysterious Diver Dan?

9. Lysa Arryn’s Aerie Tales

Settle down for a night of spooky tales in the eeriest aerie in Westeros,  told by a crazy woman breast-feeding her preteen son.

 10.  Two and Halfman

Tyrion Lannister, Charlie Sheen and a pack of barbarians would actually be a fairly amazing show.