A story a day for the Bayside Literary Festival

I’m about to begin (starting Thursday June 21st) a period of publishing a story a day as an online component of the Bayside Literary Festival, 2012. If you like what I publish here have a look and subscribe for a daily dose of very short fiction over the next four weeks. Go to the Bayside Literary Festival website and select the ‘Micro-blog project’ link. If you’re in Melbourne it’s a great festival program so check out what else is on offer.

Oh, and I promise not to neglect this site while the Bayside project is running. Expect some more poetry posts, audio versions of earlier posts and links to interesting sites over coming weeks.

The village square

They’re burning me now. Cheering the flames. The townsfolk wear their Sunday best to see it done. There’s Pastor James, who signed my fate, leaning against the well. The aldermen, upon whose heads the task of retribution fell, form a sombre line. They’re keen that all should see how heavily their justice weighs upon them.

Beside the Congregation Hall Lars Pierson sells hot buns and cordials to the thirsty crowd. Eldred Cole slouches nearby puffing on his pipe. It was he who first took the matter to the elders. His wife beside him, herding brats, wears the ruddy smile she wears on market day. The fire below me crackles in the straw and starts to lick.

Laura Cole heard the story from Lizbeth Holloway. She’s standing in the shade of the big elm. She’ll keep her cool. Lizbeth had the story first from Clementine Wilkes. Maddy Brown confirmed it soon after. Clementine and Maddy chat, as if about the weather, pausing only to crow and heckle as the skin peels from my shins. The pain is liquid white beyond imagination. Righteous cries ring out as my cotton dress flashes bright, turns to ash and drops away. My virgin skin, licked by the flames sends raptures through the square.

And there in the glow at the place where most recently my feet had been the Widow Pendlebury prostrates herself. It was she who, by her embellishment, condemned me. It was she whose innocence I invaded. I, the devil-taken girl, and she the hapless one. Yet in truth, if there is truth, they know her, all, to be a loose-tongued busy body. By my charity I am bound. Bound by the widow’s poison.The poison she’d described to Clementine Wilkes, which I’d made of the water in her jug. I cleared the empty pint-bottles from her hearth. I gave her water and I laid her to rest. Her twisted version got about. In the light of it she became more loved and pitied than she could ever have imagined. The lie became her.

The curls of my maiden hair flare to the crowd’s delight. Below me Widow Pendlebury writhes in sorrow. If she would have me evil then so be it. Perhaps there’s a flaw in the stake to which I’m bound. Perhaps the timber burns through more quickly there. Or could it be the harnessing of other forces. I know not. My final comprehension is of the pyre toppling. The widow looks my way, eyes so wide I see, in their reflection, my own eyes staring back, my pretty face half gone, ringed by the flaming mane that streams towards her as I fall.

The Shoals

Het and George saw it on-line. ‘Absolute waterfront’ got them excited. Photos of endless white sand and sunset pink water hooked them. Het’s arthritis ached in the city’s cold. The tropics beckoned.

Everything that couldn’t be sold or given away they packed inside the old caravan. They hauled it up two thousand kilometres of slick highway, misse the turn to Sandy Point and had to double back. The car bumped and shuddered the last two k’s of unmade road to their new home, far out on an exposed sandy spit. By the time George manoeuvred the van to the flattest piece of clear land its shockers were gone. They flopped it down in a windswept swale.

George pitched the tent nearby and set up camp while Het cooked chops on a portable gas burner. Neither wished the other to sense their disappointment. That was the kind of marriage that had survived the battering of their long years together. ‘A bit of work to do,’ said George.

Het looked at the sun, setting out over the mudflats, the smell of drying seaweed on the breeze. ‘But it is pretty,’ she said.

A bank of cloud rolled in and swallowed the last of that first day.

When it rose again the same tropical sun lit the acres of low-slung windswept dunes around them gold. As it drew upward the gold turned to a veil of harsh brightness that sucked the colour from the already salted greens of the shrubs that clung to the shifting sands. They sat on folding beach chairs looking at the distant line of the ocean. ‘Makes you think how big the world is, eh?’ Het sipped fresh brewed tea.

George stretched his toes in the sand. ‘Goes on forever.’

‘Yeah,’ said Het.

Then, at the same time, they both said, ‘beautiful,’ and laughed because to see each other so happy was as good as it could get. In this way they put aside things that had been in their hearts, the silent regrets and fears of their first impressions. The water crept in slowly as they sat. By dusk it had transformed into a pink wash stretching to the horizon.

‘Red sky at night,’ said Het.

As darkness fell their new hope distilled before them in that scarlet line bleeding along the horizon at the edge of their view. Way beyond it, above the islands of the outer reef, a tropical low pressure cell began to form and grow.