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Bungled

Finalist

Newcastle short story competition

2023

Picture taken by Peter Lorimer

‘Just one more,’ he said. ‘We’ll go home then.’

     I gazed out of the large window on the fifth floor at storm clouds hanging low across the horizon. The sea continued pounding the rocks with increasing intensity. One more drink. One more party. One more argument. And I was exhausted by his empty promises, his drain on my bank account and energy. For hours, I’d inhaled second hand smoke while my retinas endured assault from strobe lighting and fog lights.

‘I’m going home,’ I placed my glass on the table.

     ‘Come on, babe. Don’t be like that.’

     ‘You stay John, but I’m leaving.’

     As I exited the building, a disorderly straggle of boisterous couples disappeared around the corner and headed towards the beach. In a few minutes the area became deserted. I breathed deeply, welcoming the fresh air, then I walked towards Scott Street.

     I just wanted to go home, have something to eat and lie down. My feet hurt because I’d worn heels instead of flats and my last snack was a mini spring roll at the party. I was finished with another crappy boyfriend, another crappy night.

     I paused on the corner at a row of shops. Cobwebs laced across the dust covered items inside. The entire block showed signs of neglect and disuse. A stray dog circled the rubbish bin, sniffing. The cat perched on the rim, delivered a territorial hiss. Newspapers and unopened letters strewn in the doorways were of more use to the homeless.

     The shadow in the doorway ahead morphed into a human. He stepped out, startling me.

     ‘Your bag,’ he gestured, jabbing a small, serrated knife in my direction.

     ‘Really?’ I peered at the youth dancing from one leg to the other to music I couldn’t hear. Knees poked through the frayed jeans and from the acne and sprouting whiskers. I judged his age as late teens.

     ‘Give. Me. Your. Bag.’ He switched the knife to his other hand and poked it at me.

     ‘Piss off,’ I said. ‘Go bother someone else.’

     He twisted his cap so it sat backwards on his head, then stepped back and forth in a patterned square. I resisted the temptation to add body percussion to the dance steps.

     ‘What are you doing?’ John said, hanging out of the window of his car on the opposite side of the street ‘Give him your bag.’  

     ‘What the hell? Have you been following me?’ I hadn’t heard him arrive. Worse, I hadn’t noticed him behind me. What a jerk!

     ‘Give him your bag,’ John repeated.

     The youth had added more steps to his jerky dance. He looked like a drunk prize fighter. When he added a couple of gun twirls with the knife it became absurd. I wanted to laugh, but this idiot was preventing me from going home. He turned his cap back around again. An anxious gesture. I wondered if he was a drug addict or an opportunist.

     ‘Lady, if you don’t give me your bag now, I’ll stick you with this knife.’

     ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ I stepped forward, and his dancing came to an abrupt stop and he leaned back.

     Two doors behind the youth, another stepped out. He anchored himself in a wide stance, crossed his arms over his chest and glared with as much menace as a disgruntled ten-year-old.

     ‘Oh, wonderful, ‘I muttered. ‘Backup.’

     ‘You want to re-think that, lady?’ said youth number two.

     ‘For goodness sake, woman,’ said John. ‘Give him your bag.’

     I pinched the bridge of my nose in frustration and sighed. I was annoyed, irritated and fed up and had neither the desire nor inclination to obey his demand. 

     ‘You want my bag?’ I removed it from my arm.

     ‘You. Want. My. Bag?’ I repeated, and with rising anger, stepped closer.

     Both youths jumped back. I turned and glared at John. He stayed in the car.

     ‘What the hell are you doing?’ John said.

     ‘Right. Enough.’ I said.   

     I opened my bag, took out my handkerchief, wiped my nose, then upended the entire contents of the bag onto the pavement. All in slow motion. The contents clanged against the concrete with surprising volume. I gave the empty bag a final shake then threw it at the youths. It plopped at their feet. They stared, eyes switching from the bag and me to the items strewn at my feet. Lifesaver wrappers and old shopping lists fluttered amongst my comb, tampons, eyedrops, pens, pencils, hand cream, wallet and coin purse. The few remaining coins scattered in opposite directions as the lipstick rolled unhurriedly into the gutter.

     ‘There. Have my bag.’ I remained standing, defiant. Hands on hips. ‘I’m not in the mood to be robbed tonight.’

     Both youths stood rigid, dropped jaws, wide eyed. This was not part of their plan.

     ‘Lady you are crazy!’ uttered the knife-wielding youth as they both turned and ran. I hoped the experience would deter them from future criminal pursuits. 

     ‘Get in the car,’ John demanded as I picked up my bits and pieces from the pavement.

     ‘You followed me. You stood there and watched me and did nothing.’

     ‘He had a knife!’

     Thunder rumbled overhead and a streak of lightening followed a few seconds later.

     ‘What the hell were you thinking?’ He fastened the seat belt and turned the ignition. ‘Anything could have happened. Now, get in the car. Let’s go babe.’

     ‘No. I think not.’ I turned and walked in the opposite direction. With the sea breeze picking up, I felt lighter with every step.

A Pelican Rescue

Non-Finalist

Newcastle Herald short story competition

2022

Picture taken by Simone De Peak

Pelican.jpg

“Not much of a crowd here,” said Syd, landing in a puddle on the rocks.

   “I followed Nigel,” said Pete. “He can hear the splash of a fisherman’s line from Nobbys.”

   Syd lifted his wings and waddled over. “I see Nigel’s procured pole position again.”

   “With age comes privilege,” said Nigel, adding a sideways glare and muffled humph as he shifted his feet, lowered his head, and continued observation of the human.

    The human stood, anchored his boots against a rock and leaned back. This action triggered a bout of beak tapping, low grunts and wing flapping from the rest of the pelicans waiting nearby.

    “Don’t get excited,” said Nigel. “The line’s stuck.”

    Muttering from the human confirmed this as he opened his tackle box and rummaged. He grabbed a knife to cut the nylon.

    “I hope he doesn’t leave any hooks lying around,” Nigel added.

    “My cousin from Nelson Bay had an unfortunate encounter with discarded fishing paraphernalia. It was nasty,” said Pete.

    “Is this a designated recreational fishing area?” asked Syd.

    “Good point,” said Pete. “I spotted a patrol further down, checking permits and compliance.”

    “Yeah. Their cracking down on illegal fishing,” said Syd. “It’s good for us birds.”

    “Syd, have you been reading the Newcastle Herald again?” said Nigel.

    “I like to keep up with the fishing news.” Syd gave an indignant rumble and shook his wings.   

    “You have to admit,” said Nigel. “We do feature quite often.”

    “Remember when Ellie ventured into a fish and chip shop?” said Pete.

    “Caused quite a stir,” said Nigel. “It ended up on YouTube.”

    “What about you, Nigel? Someone tried to shove you in the boot of their car,” said Syd.

    “Yeah,” said Nigel. “Tight spaces give me the creeps.”

    “Do you think this fella knows how to fish?”  said Pete. “We could starve with fishermen like that.”

The human flipped the lid on the bucket, grabbed a prawn and jammed it on the hook. The group surged forward.

    “Get back!” yelled Nigel. Pelicans flapped and scattered across the rocks as the human cast into the frothy water. He held the rod high and steered the line away from the shallows.

    “Can’t be too careful,” said Pete, maintaining a safe distance from the human.

    “Would you look at that,” said Syd.

    The human had neglected to replace the lid on the bait bucket. The aromatic fusion of prawns and salty air was irresistible. The unruly mob of pelicans rushed forward and knocked the bucket over. That precise moment coincided with the human’s realisation he had hooked a fish. As he began reeling in his catch, the pelicans made a desperate attempt to seize any of the strewn prawns. All failed to notice the breaker approach.

    The human gritted his teeth and frowned. He knew it was a big one. The line jerked and the rod bent.

    “This looks promising,” said Pete.

    As the human lifted and prepared to swing his catch up, the swell began to lap at his boots. Seconds later, the wave crashed. The force of the water knocked him over and both fish and rod sailed into the air. They plopped at Nigel’s feet, only to immediately disappear. Spray blasted into the rocks and the pelicans scattered. Pete, Syd and Nigel flew to a nearby ledge and watched.

    “What a disappointment,” said Nigel. “Appeared to be a decent mouthful.”

    “Feel your pain mate,” said Pete.

    “We should move to a more desirable spot,” said Syd. “This place is for the birds.”

    When the foam settled, the other pelicans abandoned the rock and lunged into the water to search for the prawns. The human was gone.

    “Crikey,” said Nigel. “Where’d he go?”

    “Did he have a life jacket on?” said Syd.

    “I didn’t notice,” said Pete.

    “You know that’s the problem, these days,” said Syd. “Nobody bothers with the rules.”  

    “We should take a look,” said Pete. “I don’t want a drowning on my conscience.”

    The remaining pelicans had already departed in disgust. Some distance away, a cap bobbed, dancing over the waves towards the open sea. The three glided down, shuffled over to the edge and scanned the surface.

    “I’m going in,” said Pete. “He can’t be far.”

    “There he is!” said Nigel.

    Clinging to an outcrop ten metres away, the human spluttered and coughed. He struggled to pull himself up, but the weight of his clothing dragged him back.

    “Wait for the wave,” called Syd. “Ride it up.”

    “Hang on, we’re coming,” puffed Nigel.

    At the sight of three animated pelicans charging towards him with beaks banging, the human became alarmed. He struggled to gain traction on the rock, but weakened limbs prevented it. With the relentless pull of the water and overwhelmed by fatigue, he closed his eyes and released his hold.

    It had been two days since the incident on the rocks. Already forgotten, Syd, Nigel and Pete had been sauntering along the shoreline scanning for discarded snacks left by untidy tourists. Underneath a park bench they discovered a half-eaten fish burger and a generous serving of chips spilling out from torn newspaper.

    “Shove over,” said Pete, as Nigel flipped a chip and gulped. “Leave some for the rest of us.”

    “Move your foot, Nigel,” said Syd. “Hey Pete, that’s you.”

    “What are you talking about?”

    Syd pointed. “Look. Check out the photo.”

    “Well, I’ll be…” said Pete. “So, it is.”

    “What’s it say?” asked Nigel.

PELICANS SAVE FISHERMAN

BIZZARE ENCOUNTER

Fisherman fined for expired licence, no life vest, and attempted assault of a pelican.

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