Shortlisted for the Elyne Mitchell Award 2017

Bob Reynolds bought himself a dog. Bob was a farmer and the type of guy who preferred to work alone, but he’d always enjoyed the mateship of his dogs. His last dog was a blue heeler named Plod on account of his heavy feet when he was a pup, but he grew to be the best dog Bob ever owned. Bob never showedPlod but everyone said he should have because he was a beautiful looking dog. He had to put the old bugger down himself when the arthritis got so bad that he was in pain just getting up to walk. It was the hardest day of Bob’s life.

After losing his best mate, Bob couldn’t bring himself to get another heeler, so he researched the best dog to suit his needs and bought a Doberman Pinscher, the son of a State Champion from a respected breeder in Wilson Flat. It was an unusual choice of breed for a farmer, but Bob had never really needed a working dog. He wanted an animal that would behave in accordance with his breeding- predictable and loyal- and he began training him from a very young pup. 

Bob named his new pup Lydig, the Swedish word for obedient. Lydig was black with rust markings; perfect and sleek like his father. He grew to be a very intelligent dog who learned the basic commands quickly; capable of great aggression on cue and able to switch it off on Bob’s command. From the day he bought him, Bob insisted that no one else was to touch his dog. Not even his wife, Mary. 

Mary decided that the only solution for her lonely days at the farmhouse was to buy a dog of her own. With Bob’s permission, she bought a one-year old bitch from the local animal shelter described as a Labrador cross Cocker Spaniel, and she really did have a beautiful nature. Her coat was deep gold with a gentle curl all over and she had the biggest brown eyes that melted Mary’s heart from the day they met. Mary named her dog Shinko which is the Japanese word for faith. Bob wasn’t impressed that his perfectly trained creature would be subjected to the stupidity of Mary’s mutt, as he called it, but marriage is about compromise, so there it was. 

And the arrangement worked perfectly because Lydig spent his days with Bob at work on the farm while Shinko stayed back at the house with Mary. At night, the dogs would sit beside their respective owners near the fireplace or in front of the television. Lydig generally sat attentively at Bob’s side with his ears pricked upright, wary of any unusual sounds outside the house. That was part of Lydig’s nature because he was born to protect his family. Shinko would curl up on the floor by Mary’s feet. Whenever Lydig reacted to outside activity with a bark or growl, she lifted her head to look at Mary who would laugh quietly and pat her reassuringly. They both knew they were safe with Lydig on patrol. He would never let his guard down. 

That was, of course, until Bob and Mary went to bed. Night time opened the door to a world of freedom for Lydig who undeniably enjoyed having a female dog in the house. When he was around the one-year old mark, his natural instincts kicked in and the two dogs began to attempt the mating process. Lydig took some time to get the hang of things, but by spring the following year, the telltale signs were obvious that Shinko was pregnant. Mary was absolutely delighted and could not have been prouder of her little girl. 

Bob and Mary were unable to have children of their own, but Bob refused to be subjected to the degradation of any medical intervention, arguing that nature had its reasons and that was that. Mary had long thought that he was secretly relieved that there were no children to interfere with his perfect solitude. He was furious when Mary informed him of an upcoming litter of mongrels and vowed to destroy them as soon as they arrived. He wouldn’t even consider giving them away. He’d be a laughing stock for allowing his champion to be breed with a mongrel, so as soon as the puppies were born, he was true to his word and destroyed them. 

Mary, whilst deeply saddened, had become hardened to the realities of life and death after many years of living on the farm. And there was no time for her to grieve. An emergency forecast had been issued on the radio for one of the fiercest storms they’d ever encountered in the district. Heavy rains were expected which they badly needed, but Bob was struggling to prepare for the onslaught because the old farmhouse was starting to show its age. Several loose roof sheets had to be nailed down and the gutters needed cleaning.

By the time Bob and Mary went to bed, the storm was bearing its teeth, prompting Bob to lock the dogs in the kitchen so they wouldn’t keep him awake. Curled up in her box beneath the table, Shinko had been pining all day for the missing pups. Lydig paced around her, irritated by the constant sounds outside of banging fence sheets and tree branches knocking against the house. A gust of wind suddenly threw open the back door as lightning flashed and lit up the whole farmhouse. The thunderous Boomthat followed shook the floorboards.

Lydig panicked and charged straight through the fly screen door. Terrified and confused, he hurtled himself from one side of the yard to another, barking wildly at anything that moved. Amidst the frenzy, Shinko emerge through the tear in the screen door, shaken with fear and too weak to run. Lydig raced to her side and nuzzled forcefully against her neck, encouraging her to follow him away from the farmhouse. The two dogs made their way to a group of trees beyond the truck shed, when another flash of lightning lit up the paddocks. Lydig dove into an old firewood shelter beneath the low hanging branches of a stunted gum tree, and Shinko followed.

There, dumped and forgotten, lay the cold, dead bodies of their litter. Bob had been so busy preparing for the storm that he neglected to bury the remains. Both dogs were grief stricken by what they’d found. Shinko was confused, sniffing and nudging her puppies to no response. Bob’s scent lingered on their fur, and Lydig couldn’t control his anguish. Howling into the savage winds like a wild dog, his heart ruptured. The deranged manipulation of his human master had taken its toll.

Awoken by the distant sound of howling, Bob got out of bed and walked to the gun safe to grab his rifle. Obviously, some bastard hadn’t locked their dog up properly and he would have to destroy the bloody thing before it got to any of his animals. Bursting into the kitchen to get his coat and boots, he discovered that Lydig and Shinko were gone. And then he noticed a gaping tear in the screen door.

Mary!” he cursed toward the bedroom. “I told you to lock the bloody back door. That damn mutt of yours got out, and Lydig’s gone as well.”

“I’m sure I closed it, Bob.”

“I said lock it!Listen to the bloody words.”

Bob grabbed a torch from the shelf and ventured furiously out into the growing storm. He turned on the back porch light and scanned the yard from chicken hutch to garden shed, but the dogs were nowhere to be seen. Howling started up again from further out on the property, and this time Bob knew it was Lydig. He grimaced and stepped off the porch. Gusts of wind thrashed at his jacket, tossing him about as he crossed the dirt courtyard toward the truck shed. He waved his torch past a cluster of low trees by the wood shelter and caught a glint of animal eyes. Bob honed his light on the dogs. Lydig stared back menacingly with his chest puffed and teeth bared in a viscous rage. Shinko lay beside him with barely enough energy to look up.

Bob needed to take charge. Light rain was beginning to drift across the fields and he wanted to get back inside before the heavy rain came.

“Lydig! Heel!”

Lydig flared his gums and snarled ferociously.

“I said, heel!”

Bob continued moving closer, shouting the same commands more aggressively with each step, but his dog was out of control, growing more enraged the nearer his master came. Lightning flash behind Bob’s head and Lydig could no longer hold his ground. He leaped forward with the full power of his rear haunches and ran straight at Bob. With no time to think, the skilled hunter raised his gun at an unwitting Lydig and took him down with a single, explosive shot, straight to the head. The sound muffled into the trees and the echoes disappeared into the wind like nothing had happened. Lydig collapsed to the ground with a thud and lay motionless in the grass. 

Looking down at Lydig’s limp, bloodied body, Bob was not so much remorseful as annoyed. It was such a pointless waste of training and money, all because Mary couldn’t follow one simple instruction. He spat at Mary’s stupid mutt, but the wind blew it back in his face. Saliva ran down his cheek and swung uncontrollably from his jaw until he wiped it off furiously against his shoulder. Bob raised his gun once again and pointing it at Shinko, knowing that if Mary hadn’t bought her, none of this would have happened. Their eyes momentarily connected. One was an innocent and powerless hostage. The other, a controlling and unforgiving master who preferred to end the whole miserable arrangement so he could start again with a clean slate. Moments later, Lydig, Shinko and their entire family lay lifeless in the old wood shelter beneath a stunted gum tree, as the rain clouds burst open.

Bob returned to the farmhouse as wet as a drowned rat and found Mary waiting nervously in the kitchen.

“What were you shooting at?”

All Bob wanted to do was get himself dry and go back to bed, so he didn’t answer. He closed the door behind him, placed his gun on the counter and took off his coat.

“Bob? I asked you a question. Where are the dogs?”

“I had to shoot ‘em, Mary . . . Shit! Lydig turned on me and I won’t have it.  What a waste. If you’d shut the door like I asked . . .”

“Don’t you dareblame me. If you left them out there, I’m sure they would have survived until tomorrow.”

“I told you, he turned on me! Don’t you ever bloody listen, Mary?”

“Shinko wouldn’t hurt a fly, Bob. You had no right to kill her.” Tears rolled down Mary’s cheeks. Her soul was shattered, broken by a man who threw life into the wind like it was dirt. 

“She was a stupid mutt. And don’t think you’re getting’ another one, either. Dogs aren’t bloody children.”

The back door flung open again.

“For Christ sake! What’s with that bloody door?” Bob slammed it shut and wedged a chair beneath the handle. “I’m going to bed. There’ll be a huge bloody mess to clean up in the morning.”

And for once in his life, Bob was right. The morning left him with a bigger mess than he ever could have expected. Mary was gone. She took her most treasured possessions, packed them in the car and drove away, because a life without promise was better than anything her husband could offer. Whatever hopes and dreams Mary held for their future had slipped through Bob’s fingers and blown away into the storm. Thirty-five years of marriage had taken more than its share of her life, and there was no love left to stay for. It was time for Mary to find herself again.

Ironically, Lydig and Shinko would lie together with their pups, holding the truth of love eternally in their hearts. Because love is not measured in days. Neither is life.­­

The Aboriginal people of Australia believe that to speak the name of an ancestor will disturb their spirit and call them back from the Dreaming. My own ancestors came to this country from England and Scotland. God fearing Christians. I will always respect my parents and what they stood for, but the one true love of my life was a woman of the Ngarrindjeri people. It is their custom that the name she was given in life remains with her in the Land of the Dead, so I cannot speak it to you with my own words. To those of us who loved her, she is now and forever, Kunmanara.

I met Kunmanara under the most unlikely circumstances. It was early December and I arrived home to an empty house, as usual. My life was a very solitary existence back then. Strangely, I discovered that my back door was unlocked. I have tendencies toward obsessive behaviour and usually check each lock ten times, so it was unlikely that I would have left it open by mistake. I was more cautious than ever in my entrance routine, watching and listening for any movement.

I checked each room methodically, turning on the light and checking behind the door. It was all clear until I turned on the lounge room light. Beside the television was a small, half-decorated Christmas tree and huddled in the corner behind it was an Aboriginal woman, not much younger than myself. Her clothes were dirty and her hair a mess, but she smiled the most beautiful, warm smile I’d ever seen.

“Hi,” she said, sheepishly. “I’m Kunmanara.”

“Hello,” I answered, reluctant to introduce myself until I knew why she’d broken into my house. “Why are you doing here?”

“I found this old Christmas tree and decorations near a rubbish bin down the street. I thought I could find a place to put it up and make someone else happy.”

“So, why did you pick my house?”

“I see you sometimes, coming and going. You seem lonely.”

“See me? Where do you live?”

“Around the corner . . . in the bushland”

Bushland? How long have you been there?”

“Don’t know. A few weeks, maybe.”

I was not usually inclined to spontaneous generosity, but Kunmanara seemed genuine in her attempt to do something nice for me, and she was right that I was lonely. “You could stay here until you sort something else out . . . if you want. There’s no one else with you, is there?”

“No. It’s just me,” she grinned. “I’m pretty hungry, if you’ve got enough food.”

“Sure.”

I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight, but we did make each other’s lives better from the first moment we met. Kunmanara slept in the lounge room that night so she could be near the Christmas tree, but the next morning she returned to the bushland. My new obsessive daily routine was to leave the back door unlocked so she could visit her little tree whenever she wanted to. Over the coming weeks we became friends and even spent Christmas together at my house. We started the day by going for a walk to where she lived in the bushland nearby, and that was the first time she showed me the golden kangaroo. It was a stuffed felt toy that her mother, Rose, had given her the Christmas before. When we got home, she hung it on the front of the tree, and it has been there every Christmas since.

In the new year after our first Christmas together, Kunmanara started sleeping in my bed and we became lovers. It almost sounds too civilised painting it that way because we really just felt natural being together. Lovers are beautiful French people who lie naked by a river bank and touch each other with perfect symmetry and cohesion. We were two ordinary looking people who enjoyed spending time together and looking into each other’s eyes while we were laughing. We found a lot of things to laugh about.

By March, Kunmanara had fallen pregnant. It felt strange to me knowing that I would soon be part of a family again because I was an only child and both of my parents died before I was twenty. My notion of family was tainted with sadness, but hers was filled with love, tradition and magic. We spent many hours talking about our families over the coming months and it became increasingly obvious that our cultures were worlds apart. Kunmanara never explained why she was estranged from her family or the Ngarrindjeri people of her traditional home, but I knew from the way she spoke that her heart was still with them.

On the 24th of December that year, Kunmanara bore me a daughter, Myaree. She had brown eyes and dark hair, distinctly contrasting with my blue-eyed whiteness. The moment when Myaree first graced this life was to be both the beginning and the end of whatever physical connection she had with her mother. Kunmanara died soon after giving birth. The doctor said complications with her uterus had caused internal haemorrhaging, which was no one’s fault. Not everything is someone’s fault, but you can’t help feeling angry about it.

Kunmanara was fortunate enough to feel the warmth of Myaree’s new life against her cheek before she passed. For a few shallow breaths, her heart was full of hope, and to this day, I can’t understand how it changed so quickly. There was nothing in either of our cultures that could explain such a pointless waste of love. Myaree could never have known the joy she gave to her mother for fleeting moment, but I will never forget.

It was Christmas Eve. Christmas always brings back those memories like a solitary truck driving at me along an otherwise empty highway. The lights are almost blinding until it passes in a gust of wind that almost pushes me off the road, and then it’s gone. The road is empty again. Walking back into our house that first Christmas without Kunmanara was the hardest moment of my life. The Christmas tree stood quietly with the golden kangaroo in its place. Myaree was still at the hospital and I had never felt more alone. Loneliness is worst in the wake of love.

***

Myaree has now reached the inquisitive age of thirteen and carries many secrets for one so young. All she knows of her Aboriginal culture is what she has learned from her Grandma Rose. Rose chooses to have no association with me, and I am comfortable with that. I don’t belong in their world any more than a tulip belongs amongst the salt bushes around their community at Lake Alexandrina. The Ngarrindjeri tell many stories of giant snakes and ancient beings from the Dreamtime when the Earth was created. Myaree is always excited for a return to those stories at her ancestral home. At the beginning of every school holiday period, she catches a bus to their community beside the Lake and returns to me before the school term recommences.

Myaree and I rarely speak of her time at the community. I understand and respect that what she learns there is important to her, particularly in light of the tragic circumstances of her birth. But I often see conflict in her eyes when the two opposing cultures of her parents meet at a crossroads. As I previously explained, I do not ask about the secrets of her people, so all I can recount with honesty are my observations of her actions. Myaree’s thoughts will always be her own.

The most memorable of such crossroads appeared this last Christmas gone. Myaree returned from the community for three days to spend the festive season with me as she does every year. I am by no means a religious man, but without my daughter I would spend Christmas feeling alone and unwanted. I often wonder if the loss of my family created the loneliness that drew Kunmanara to me when we first met. We shared only that one Christmas together, and yet it is the one day of each year when I remember her with my deepest affections. There is something familiar about how Myaree admires our Christmas tree with the same air of wonder that Kunmanara did. Mother and daughter are so alike in that way.

Our poor excuse for a Christmas tree only reaches up to my hip. It makes me laugh to think about the joy Kunmanara felt when she found it and how much she wanted to share that joy. I never asked to what extent Christmas was recognised at the community, but strangely, she knew more about carols and the nativity scene than I ever did. All I knew of religion were the biblical stories my Grandfather told me, like Moses bringing the Ten Commandments down from the mountain or Jesus walking over water. It didn’t matter to me what Kunmanara thought about God or Jesus because Christmas wasn’t about that in my parents’ house. Christmas was a celebration of food, songs and me playing with my new presents. I knew Myaree would have to make up her own mind about what Christmas meant to her.

From the time she could walk, Myaree was infatuated with one particular decoration on our little tree. The golden, felt kangaroo. From two years of age she would stretch up on tippy toes and try to pull it down. At thirteen years, she still couldn’t stop herself from playing with it while she was supposed to be decorating the tree. Every year she would ask me where it came from, and every year I would decline to answer. Like my daughter, I too had secrets. I was always going to tell her the truth about the golden kangaroo eventually, but only when she was ready.

I awoke last Christmas soon after sunrise and, feeling restless, decided to wait in the family room until Myaree woke up and joined me. To my surprise, I found her standing in front of the tree, running her fingers down the golden kangaroo. She was deep in thought. My daughter is prone to long periods of contemplation, almost obsessively, when challenged by issues of life’s deeper meanings.

“Did Santa wake you?” I asked, jokingly.

“Very funny, Dad. I’m just thinking. That’s all.”

“What could be weighing so heavily on your mind that you haven’t looked at your presents yet?”

“Why don’t you ever have a girlfriend?”

“I . . . I don’t know. Why do you ask?” She caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting that.

“Just wondering.” She thought a little bit more. “When you die, will you go to the Dreaming?”

“I’m not Ngarrindjeri, Mya. You know that.”

“Why does that matter?”

“I don’t know. Where is all this coming from?”

“When I die, will I go to the Dreaming or Heaven?”

And there it was; the cruellest dilemma. Myaree was born into two entirely different cultures and left wondering whether she would share eternity with me and my ancestors in heaven, or Kunmanara and her ancestors in the Dreaming. The only way I could guide her to a reasonable answer was by taking her to the place where her mother once stayed in the nearby bushland. It was there that Kunmanara and I discovered our own truth that united us forever. I knew by Myaree’s questions that she was ready to know the truth about the golden kangaroo.

“Before we open the presents, Mya, I would like to show you something.”

She stood expectantly with her arms crossed. “Okay.”

“Not here, doofus. Throw on some clothes so we can go for a walk.”

I took the golden kangaroo off the tree and bounced it in my hand. How quickly time passes. Being a single father was so much easier when Myaree was happy playing with dolls and drawing butterflies. I slipped the kangaroo into my pocket and we stepped out our front door into the morning swelter. A blue tongue lizard slowly retreated beneath our privet hedge. It was too hot to rush. The sun was new and energised, spreading its hot breath across the brick walls and concrete paths. A magpie warbled in the gumtrees across the road, but our street was otherwise silent and empty. Most of the houses were filled with young children waking to the most exciting day of the year and opening their presents to We wish you a Merry Christmas. A few remaining houses carried the hopes of lonely souls sitting in their kitchens, waiting for someone to call. Hope can be such a desperate animal.

Our home is on the outskirts of Adelaide, only a short walk from the hillside bushlands. The magpies and other birdlife were in full voice as we followed a track through the stunted gums and yellow wattles to a small clearing where two large boulders jutted up from the cracked, red clay. Ants climbed from the cracks in search of food, marching in lines through a mess of dry, dead grass and black twigs that had fallen from the surrounding trees. A kookaburra laughed in the distance and the sound carried so far across the bushland that civilisation seemed a thousand miles away.

I turned Myaree to face the sun which poked up above the trees, slightly downhill from where we were standing. The sky was clear and blue. The bushland trees around our city are always so thin, dry and burnt looking that you’d think they are already dead. You can see for a mile around you, but the animals are so well camouflaged in grey brown fur that you can only spot them if they move.

“Hold this,” I said, handing Myaree the golden kangaroo from my pocket.

“Why did you bring that?”

“Just hold it. You’ll understand when I show you.” I took a deep breath and told myself I was doing the right thing. No one can help you with the most difficult choices. That’s what makes them so difficult. “Do you know where the Land of the Dead is, Mya?” I asked.

“In the sky.”

“And do you know where heaven is?”

“I don’t know. In the sky, I guess.”

“That’s what I guess, too. Well, the first Christmas I spent with Kunmanara, she brought me here.”

“That’s great, Dad, but why do I have to face this way? It’s really hot out here.”

“I want you to see the place where I believe my spirit will go in the afterlife. My place is different to Heaven and the Land of the Dead. It doesn’t have a name, but I like to think that every kind of animal has their own place when they die, just like this. It’s connected to the sky, but it’s also here in the bushland.”

“Well, show me then.”

“First, you have to hold the golden kangaroo up to the sun and look at it. I’m going to tell you what to say and then you look straight back down through the trees. But you must never say it again after today, and you can never tell anyone we did this. Do you understand?”

“Why? What do I have to say?”

“Promise me you won’t tell anyone. Especially Grandma Rose.”

“I promise, okay. Will the sun hurt my eyes?”

“Not much. Are you ready?”

“Yes. But this is stupid.”

“Okay. Go!”

Myaree raised the kangaroo to the sun and looked up.

“Now. Say . . .” I couldn’t believe what I was about to do. “Talia.”

She turned and stared daggers at me. I would have been disappointed if she didn’t because she had been banned from saying that word for her whole life. But I needed her to say it.

“Look up.” I insisted. “She would have wanted you to do this. I promise that I will never ask you to disrespect Grandma’s laws again if you just trust me this once.”

I searched Myaree’s eyes for some sign of compromise. Her young soul was still so filled with trust and unshakable loyalty, yet I was asking her to break the most sacred law in our family. Her mother’s name was now Kunmanara and I had no right to change that. I had no right to call her spirit back from the Dreaming. Guilt stabbed at my chest, knowing how confused and conflicted my request was making her feel, but I had to persist because it was too late to turn back. “She would have brought you here herself if she could have, Mya. I owe her this much.”

Myaree looked again at the golden kangaroo and then back at me. She was angry, but something inside her trusted me enough to know that I would never have hurt her like that without good reason. She held the kangaroo back up to the sun and raised her eyes but quickly turned away, unable to find her voice.

“Take a deep breath –”

She cut me off with a stubborn glare. Tears welled in her eyes as she steeled herself to try again. Myaree raised the kangaroo once again and stared into the sun. Her voice shook as she whispered her mother’s name for the first time in thirteen years of life.

“Ta..lia.”

She quickly lowered her eyes and looked through the trees into a world of shadows.

“Can you see anything?’ I asked, excitedly.

“My eyes are still seeing the sun,” she snapped. “What am I supposed to see?”

“Here. Give it to me.” I took the kangaroo and held it to the sun then followed my own instructions. “Talia,” I said, almost too casually. The name thing wasn’t my belief after all. I only went along with it for Myaree’s sake.

“Wait!” she said, grabbing my arm. “Look. There’s a huge golden kangaroo way down there through the trees. I can see it.”

I looked. My eyes were still adjusting from the sun, but the light did appear to be moving. “Yes. I can see it now, too. I told you, didn’t I.”

More animals appeared around us. Some were golden like the kangaroo, but there were other creatures of every colour. Translucent, glowing forms moved around us as though they had been there all along. Emus, wombats and bush mice on the ground. Koalas and possums in the trees. Flora that I had never seen before had sprouted in generous clumps all through the bushland, covered in fruits and leaves for all the animals to feast on.

“Why are the animal spirits here, Dad. Didn’t they make it to the Land of the Dead?”

“I don’t know how it works, Mya. Kunmanara discovered this place by accident. Grandma Rose gave her the kangaroo and it was always in her pocket. She was playing around with it one day, holding it up to the sun, and when she looked down again all the animals had appeared.”

As Myaree and I gazed in awe at the menagerie of life around us, the golden kangaroo moved nearer, stopping to graze on tufts of grass along the way. It was brighter than the other animals and more aware of us watching it.

“I think it’s coming to say hello,” said Myaree. “I wonder if it will let us pat it.”

“Maybe. There’s no harm in trying.” I was relieved to see her looking so happy. If my plan hadn’t worked, I’m sure she would have told Rose about it and I knew that wouldn’t have worked out well for me.

“It’s coming right up close.” Myaree’s breaths were getting shorter with every hop as the kangaroo neared. They were almost face to face with each other when she finally found the courage to pat it. “Hello, kangaroo,” she whispered.

The golden kangaroo’s eyes were fixed on Myaree as though nothing else existed around her. Its face possessed an almost human quality. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me because the more I looked, the more human it appeared. It raised its right paw and I was mesmerised by the magical transformation as Kunmanara suddenly appeared before us, running her hand down through her daughter’s hair. She leaned in and pressed her cheek to Myaree’s. It was that moment again, like when she was born.

I couldn’t control myself. The emotion of seeing them together like that tore at my heart and I started crying. I never cry. It had always been in my dreams that the three of us would find a place of our own for the afterlife and no one could tell us where it should be. The golden kangaroo was right there with us every year on our Christmas tree, waiting to show Myaree what I had always known. Our place was in the bushland.

Kunmanara lifted her head and held Myaree’s eyes for one last moment. She had come to let us know that she was happy and would always be waiting for us. She turned, and took the shape of a golden kangaroo once again. Myaree and I watched as she slowly hopped back to the edge of the trees. From there, her hops grew steadily into large powerful leaps and she bounded away through the bushland until we could no longer see her.

I searched the surrounding area for all the other animals, but they had disappeared with the golden kangaroo. I looked down at the toy in my hand, knowing how much of a risk I’d taken by asking Myaree to break her ancestor’s laws, but at least now she could move forward into life knowing that her two cultures would not divide her. That was all I’d hoped to achieve, but we had been given so much more. Myaree was able to feel the purity of Kunmanara’s love as I had witnessed it on the day of her birth. That was the most valuable Christmas gift of all.

We returned home in silence to the comfort of four walls and an air-conditioner. I chose to wait until Myaree was ready to speak. She hung the golden kangaroo back in its rightful place on the tree and ran her fingers down it for a while, thinking.

“Dad.”

“Yes, Mya.”

“Do you think Grandma Rose knows about the golden kangaroo?”

“I haven’t thought about it. What do you think?”

“I think she gave it to Kunmanara because she knew how hard it was going to be for her when she left the community. You know. With people all being so different.”

I chose not to discuss it any further. Grandparents have a way of sharing their beliefs in such a way that they are magical to young children. Who was I, Myaree’s father, to challenge Grandma Rose? One day, my turn would come to share my own beliefs with Myaree’s children as was my right. I would tell them the story of the golden kangaroo because I had seen it, even if no one else believed me. And I owed it to Kunmanara to never stop believing that she was waiting for me in the bushland . . . somewhere.

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There were two single beds on opposite sides of the room, both with brown bedspreads smoothed carefully and tucked beneath the pillow with a perfectly straight fold. It was a stiff material as far as bedspreads go with tassels that only just reached the floor, exactly as they should. His bed in front of the large window was meticulous, but that was to be expected as it hadn’t been slept in for almost two weeks. Mine was slightly ruffled from being sat on and used.

Identical brown bedside lamps sat on a white chest of drawers between our identical brown beds, and a green and yellow school cap sat beneath the lamp on his side of the drawers. His side was always perfectly tidy because he liked to keep it that way. My side was perfectly tidy because Mum and Dad made me keep it that way. I picked up his green and yellow cap and put it on my bed.

A red Kookaburra football sat on the floor, slightly worn along the stitches and tinged with green stains from the back lawn. As hard as I tried, I could never kick it as far as he did because I was too small, until he broke his leg. He thought Mrs. Campbell’s old crap-heap of a car was a school bus coming in from the dairy farms and assumed it would turn off into the teachers’ carpark behind him. Consequently, he rode out in front of her without looking and bounced off the front left panel into the bushes. I went to class without knowing what had happened because Mum always made me ride at the front, so he could keep an eye on me. I was so lost up ahead in my own world that I didn’t realise there had even been an accident. His plaster cast went all the way from ankle to hip with a metal pin somewhere through his leg. The Christmas photos did him no justice that year, especially with so much curly haired regrowth from the chemo. I put his football on my bed next to the cap.

I hesitantly slid open his side of the timber veneer wardrobe and scanned the clothes and possessions that I would normally have never dared touch. There was very little inside the wardrobe that I hadn’t seen before but living so close together required an inherent sense of privacy for the sake of both parties. I respected the unspoken rule that was never to be broken; Keep away from my stuff. The was moment was tinged with betrayal and guilt because I knew he would have hated me going through his things.

There was a large plastic bag full of stamps on the floor, some in albums and some in an old yellow margarine container. His bag of stamps was much better organised than mine and he would have liked it to stay that way, particularly having had the foresight to not deface the album covers with giant, clumsy handwriting using permanent markers, unlike myself. I never thought so clearly about things like that. Squeezed into the side of the bag was a flat piece of ply with The Magpies and a roughly drawn football burnt into it with a soldering iron. Hospital art for kids. Anything to fill the endless hours. I put the bag on my bed next to his cap and the football.

Wedged between his stamp albums and the piece of ply was a spiral bound exercise book, boldly inscribed on the front with the words Peter’s Encyclopaedia. It was a place for him to write his thoughts between Mum’s regular hospital visits. I opened to the first page and like everything else Peter did, his handwriting was perfect. It sloped to the left which seemed odd because he was right handed, but that didn’t make it imperfect to me because there was no smudging of the ink like you would normally expect. It was, in fact, not an encyclopaedia at all but a story my older brother was writing, the title of which captured my attention immediately. Adventure on the Ivory Coast. I was too young to even know where the Ivory Coast was, but it sounded mysterious, and if Peter had written it, I knew it was going to be seriously good because he understood so much more about the world than I did. It was a private story in his own private exercise book but I could not stop myself from reading it anyway.

The Ivory Coast adventure began like any typical day with three kids hovering about the kitchen table after school. Mum placed a bag of groceries on the counter and after flicking through the mail, she handed Peter a letter from Uncle Bert. He opened it with justifiable curiosity having only met our uncle twice in his whole life, both of them brief encounters as the enigmatic drifter was passing through from one adventure to another. Peter was surprised to find that it was an invitation for him to visit Uncle Bert in South Africa to go on a hunting expedition, and he described the moment he read the letter as the most exciting moment of my life.With all his heart, he desperately wanted to accept the invitation and Mum was on board straight away, knowing how rare an opportunity it was for her eldest son to spend time with her heroic younger brother.

Mum’s biggest hurdle was to get the idea past Dad when he arrived home from work. He and Uncle Bert never saw eye to eye on anything. Peter eavesdropped from the passageway as Mum read Dad the riot act behind the closed door of their bedroom, trying to convince him that Bert was not as irresponsible as he used to be and that Peter would be safe around the wild animals and guns. Dad finally emerged from the bedroom and cast a frustrated glare Peter’s way. It was just another problem he could have done without after a hard day at work. Mum followed close behind wearing a well disguised but triumphant smile. It was the only sign Peter needed to realise that the outcome had turned in his favour. He was bound for Africa.

After a succession of minor obstacles that followed; running late, forgetting what he was instructed to pack and managing to get Dad offside in whatever way he could; Peter finally found himself on board a plane to the Ivory Coast. The hostesses looked after his every whim on a flight that was long and boring, until finally, the plane landed at a small airport in the middle of Africa surrounded by a sea of sand. Chapter 2 ended with his plane sitting on the tarmac. I could see through the window to a small crowd waiting expectantly for people to get off the plane. Peter’s adventure abruptly concluded from his aeroplane window with the title of Chapter 3, The Disappointment. I could only assume that Uncle Bert wasn’t going to be there to meet him.

I searched every page in the book, bursting to know what happened after that, but they were all blank. It couldn’t end like that. Nothing should end like that. I found a pen in the bottom of the plastic bag and set myself to begin writing an ending that lived up to the potential of what Peter had written so far.

So, where was Uncle Bert?I thought to myself. Maybe he had a crash on the way to the airport. It sounded like a good idea for a continuation of the story, but I had no way of knowing if that was what Peter would have written. What if his idea had been more interesting. Maybe Uncle Bert arrived late because he was riding to the airport on a grumpy old elephant that sat down and refused to walk any further until he had a banana. Or I could turn it into a story about a magical friendship that developed between Peter and the elephant. They would disappear into the jungle and never come back. Or, what if Peter’s plane landed at the wrong airport and he was going to be captured by monkeys from The Planet of the Apes. The plots seemed to be getting worse.

After thinking my ideas through a little further, I realised they were all wrong because I couldn’t have known if Peter would have written any of them. I flicked angrily through the remaining blank pages of that book knowing they would never be filled. His life, like the story, began with so much promise, unveiling an adventurous spirit that for so long had been dependant on the books he was reading in hospital. I wanted to finish the story for him but I couldn’t. His adventure was not mine to finish.

I looked up and noticed Peter’s clock still ticking on the wall above his bed. Tick.. tick.. tick.. tick. Time’s cowardly face was hiding in the shadows, discarding Peter’s unused seconds into the silence of that empty room like they were nothing. If I waited a minute or I waited an eternity, it was all the same because I knew I would never see my brother again, not for one of those wasted seconds. I was too young to carry so much weight, but time doesn’t consider those of us left behind any more than the ones it takes away.

“Ian.” I turned to see Dad standing behind me in the doorway looking tense. He was always tense back then. “Have you picked out what you want yet?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, what are you doing with that pen? Concentrate on what you’re supposed to be doing.”

“I just wanted to finish this story-”

“Put it down! There’s always just something with you, isn’t there? It’s time to go over to Nick’s so get a move on and put the pen away.” Nick was my best friend who lived across the road and for some reason, Mum had arranged for me to spend the day at his house. Dad walked back to the living room as I put everything back in the bag, and I heard the tension finally boil over.

“Why do you have to speak to him like that, David?” Mum asked angrily.

“He needs to wake up and get his head out of the clouds. You can’t wrap him up in cotton wool forever.”

“He’s just a boy. How could he possibly understand what’s going on? It’s only been a week, David. One week.”

I walked past them on my way to the front door, trying not to interrupt. Mum looked toward me with tired eyes, holding a tissue in her hand. Dad refused to look up. He was the kind of person who always needed to control what was happening around him, but some things can’t be controlled. Dad wasn’t set up for that much grief and he chose to deny it for the rest of his life. Maybe he was right to. He certainly couldn’t keep facing it.

“Just come back before it gets dark, sweetheart,” Mum said.

“Okay, Mum.” She was right that I didn’t understand what was happening. I don’t think either of them did either.

I jumped from the porch outside our front door and landed awkwardly on the gravel beside Mr Fishlock who was parked in the driveway. “G’day Ian,” he said pensively with a sideways nod of his head. He stopped what he was doing and placed a bundle of rope on the wheel arch of his trailer.

“Hello,” I answered, loitering uncomfortably on the white gravel as I tried to think what I should do or say next. The moment seemed to require further conversation but neither of us could think of anything worth saying because the situation was obviously beyond the old guy as much as it was me. We were two abiding passengers in the wake of Peter’s tragically short life and all we could do was try our best to help Mum and Dad get through it. I didn’t even know why Mr Fishlock was there until I got home a few hours later. He helped Dad take away Peter’s bed leaving an empty space in the corner and six indentations in the carpet where the castors used to be. They took away every piece of my brother’s life except those few things I put aside on my bed.

The boys’ roomhad become Ian’s room, just like Pauline’s room at the end of the passage where she sat alone, happy with her own company and the dolls. I had always considered it strange that she was like that until I was faced with having to learn how to exist alone in my own space. The room seemed empty. There was nothing left in Peter’s side of the drawers and cupboard, and a lone picture hook poked from the wall where his clock used to be.

Peter had been coming and going for a couple of years which seemed like normal life at the time. I thought things were supposed to go back to normal when he got better, but it was over. There was nothing left. His football had become mine but there was no one to kick it with me. Nick didn’t like football that much. The stamp album was better than mine with stamps from all over the world, but it was just a bunch of stamps.

All I had left of Peter was his exercise book. I picked it up and read the story again, but it always ended with those last words; The Disappointment.

I don’t think Peter knew what he was doing when he decided to write the Adventure on the Ivory Coast, but he inadvertently left behind a piece of his youthful enthusiasm for life. He became a bookchild; one of the untouchable young spirits crafted into fantasy worlds that allow writers the freedom to live beyond their own limitations.

I recently found and reread Peter’s Encyclopaediaduring a routine clean out. For all that I wanted the empty pages to have been magically filled with every missing year of his life, they were still empty. It was not until I began to render my own scattered thoughts into words that I realised what I had always been empowered to do. I could craft him into my own stories rather than destroy his grand African adventure. The end of that story had already played out in his imagination and would remain unknown and perfect forever.

After forty years of hiding on a shelf with school reports and bank statements, Peter finally found his way back into the world with a spirit of adventure as powerful as it has ever been. He may never meet up with Uncle Bert or hunt wild animals on the Ivory Coast, but he will play his part in other stories that no one may ever read. Whether he falls in love or gets his heart broken, becomes a priest or a ruthless bounty hunter, I will know that he is there in every chapter as it comes to me from wherever stories begin, because that is where he has been waiting all along. The bookchild has found his way home, and now he will always have his cap, his stamps and his greatest love of all; the red Kookaburra football.

Armageddon shrunk

It has always intrigued me that humans love before they learn to speak. Sadly, that divine privilege is too often wasted on promises of something greater. How reckless a poison promises can be.

Fortunately for young Mary, she has yet to learn a single word. Everything she knows of love emanates from the big people who feed, clothe and protect her. She has no concept of life’s promises as she stands in her cot, one hand grasping at the pink prison bars and the other clutching her teddy bear, jibbering stories to herself in sounds that mimic the colour of words. Mary is safe, and Mary is happy, but Mary is beginning to wonder if the big people realise that she is waiting.

 

 “Good morning, Mary. Mummy and Daddy will be awake soon. There’s something very different about the sunrise today, and you can feel it, can’t you? Hold onto Teddy and never let him go.”

 

How simple a thing it must seem that I should lift Mary into my arms, to share her joy of life and absolve myself in her innocence. Oh, how I envy those who can. And how it pains me that I must now impose upon her father, Fabian, a choice that may deny him the chance to ever feel his daughter’s love again. Conflicted by my own selfish desires for immortality, I must leave young Mary and take to the final shadows of her father’s slumber, for I am the Painter of Dreams, and Fabian is the greatest dreamer of them all.

 

Why is it so dark?…Where am I?…And what the hell’s happening to my legs? I can’t feel anything. Someone, help me. Please!

Don’t panic Fabian. You are asleep and the lack of sensation in your legs is merely an illusion.

Who are you, and what’s going on?

Please forgive my intrusion, but you must try to breathe and stay calm. I am the Painter of Dreams. Time is against us, so I must hasten to present you with a series of images before you awaken. The first is a story of war which begins here, on the muddy battlefields of France. Night has fallen to the darkness of a new moon and you are surrounded by corpses- ally and enemy alike- in the manner of a last rat squirming through the foul stench of dead rodents in a poisoned sewer. But one other man lies only metres away holding on desperately to his own life. It was your bullet, Fabian, that ripped through his chest, moments before your own legs were taken by a hand grenade. Both of you will most likely die within the coming hours.

Are you here to help me? Don’t let me die here. Please.

First, I ask you to think of your victim’s family and consider what you’ve taken from them. Then think of your own daughter, Mary. Time will surely reveal that she is too young to remember you, but your wife, Jessica, will always remind her how much you loved them both.

What are you talking about? I’ve never even thrown a punch.

Look up, Fabian. The Angel of death descends upon you in her golden light. “May all men rest in darkness when their souls no more shall dream.”

The whole battlefield’s lighting up. Is that the guy I shot over there? He looks dead already. She must have come for him, not me. And there’s hundreds of bodies scattered everywhere so maybe it’s some of them, too. I’m not even a soldier.

Who amongst these men is any more of a soldier than you? I have painted all their dreams. Dreams of mountains that will never be climbed and innocent lips that will never be kissed.    

Oh shit! She has come for the guy I shot. I’m so sorry, mate. I can’t believe I killed a man.

Who could believe such a thing of themselves, Fabian? No one is born a soldier until the Angel seduces them with promises. I feel her lies in every dream I paint, and the poison is spreading.

You gotta get me out of here. I’m not ready to die.

Then close your eyes. I think we have both seen enough of this place.

Okay. They’re closed. But please don’t hurt me.

 

Poor Fabian is understandably confused. The last thing he would remember was lying down beside his wife, Jessica. It is important for me to acknowledge that whilst he is a hapless dreamer, Fabian is basically a good person and a devoted husband and father. He is not on trial here.

 

Are you starting to feel your legs again, Fabian?

Yeah. But how are you doing all this?

Anything is possible with the magic of dreams. You can open your eyes now.

Woah! What the hell? How did I end up on a horse?

I wanted to provide you with the best seat in the house for that battle up ahead. I thought you may prefer to watch from a distance.

Are they using swords? Is this one of those mediaeval re-enactments?

They’re not acting, I’m afraid. Those men are dismembering each other in the most inhumane possible ways, and their only motivation is a desire to increase the wealth and power of your Kingdom. Or, perhaps, the Kingdom of that knight in the distance, mounted on his own horse amongst the red and white flags. On this occasion, neither of you will be lying on a battle field waiting to die because hundreds of men are falling in your stead.

This isn’t better. How can it be better to watch?

Because the safety of you as a leader is paramount. In the grander scheme of things, don’t you feel so much more important than those foot soldiers? You have the power to decide when enough men have died and suffered. And it’s painless for you this way, Fabian. You can watch as they hack at each other’s limbs with those steel blades and axes. You can listen to the arrows whip through the air and pierce the flesh of all who stand in their way whilst you decide upon your next move. This is power, my friend. But, how long will you watch before you use that power to call an end to it?

I wouldn’t order anything like this to start with. I thought they were actors. Hey you over there! Stop those archers. STOP! And you. Call our men back.

It’s too late for that. Most of your men are already dead. The Angel bestowed upon you great responsibility with the promise of equally great rewards. Can you not remember that I painted you a castle filled with gold? And great feasts of endless food and wine, with beautiful, naked women waiting for you in every room. How could you give up on those dreams while there are men still able to stand and fight?

I don’t care about that. I have to do something before any more of those men die. How do I make this horse move? Go! Gee up. Come on, stupid bloody animal. Move!

You can’t stop it, Fabian? It is war, so people must die.

No one should die for another person’s dreams. And I can’t work out who’s fighting who because they all look the same. They might as well come from the same place.

Well, I’m quite happy to move forward if you’ve had enough. Is there some other scene I can paint for you?

Absolutely anything else. But no horses and no wars.

Sure. Let me see.

 

The funny thing about dreams is that no matter how frightening or real they become, people cannot seem to leave of their own accord. Waking up is more of an involuntary thing, so they just keep flicking from one dream to another without any control of what comes next. Perhaps I should lighten the mood with some inspiration from mother nature.

 

Hold on tight, Fabian. And don’t look down.

What now? Oh, wow!… Are we at the top of the trees? This is more like my kind of dream. I can see across the whole jungle to the mountains. And look at all the birds and cute little monkeys around me. I’m not much of a climber but at least there’s no fighting here. Hang on! I can swing between the branches just like the little monkeys; and look how hairy my hands are. No way! I am a monkey. Oo-oo-oo. This feels incredible. I never imagined how small everything on the ground would look from up here.

Good. I’m glad you’re finally enjoying yourself.

Enjoying myself? This is the best dream ever. And look! There’s Jessica over on the next branch? Mary’s on her back and she’s laughing at me. Watch this Mary. I can hang upside down. Oo-oo-oowwwait a minute. What’s with all the movement in those trees? Hey! You down there. Something’s coming up behind you. Oh, shit! They’re chimpanzees and they look like they’re going to attack. JUMP!

Too late again, I’m afraid, Fabian. They’ve caught him. Look at them tearing at his throat and limbs with their teeth. Who’d have known that chimps eat other monkeys? The Angel’s reign has already begun. Battle lines have formed before a single human word has even been spoken.

Why does this Angel hate us so much? I thought Angels were supposed to be good.

It is me that She hates. Like all things, the Angel is neither good nor bad. She merely exists. Before humans learned to dream, sleep was a place of darkness where She fed on the energy of living souls. But an Angel’s light must remain pure, and dreams are filled with colour and light. No one knows that better than you, Fabian. Her old feeding ground had become laced with poison, leaving Her to scavenge from departing souls of the newly dead. What better way to feed such hunger than to start a war. On that note, I think the chimps are still hungry. You should leave now.

Jessica. Hurry. We’ll have to go across the trees. Don’t let go of Mary!

You’d better be quick. There are more of them coming. You must have entered their territory.

Where can we go? This jungle’s huge but there’s chimps everywhere.

That’s what happens when you’re so small. You have to find a way to fight back.

I already told you that I don’t want to fight. Why did you have to paint my family into this? Just take us back home, or at least somewhere safe.

Ah, yes. Home. I wondered when you would ask.

 

Home is where all dreams begin and end. What better place for Fabian to take his family than a world of their own creation; unspoiled by the dreams of others. A place where love exists without promises, and time exists without words.

 

So, here you are back at home, Fabian. What will you do now?

Well, you got the right era for once, but this isn’t my home. Why are you so obsessed with painting war zones, anyway? It’s kind of morbid. There’s nothing but mounds of bricks and bits of metal as far as I can see, like a whole city was destroyed. Hey! Where are Jessica and Mary?

Have a look around you. Are you sure there’s nothing familiar?

I guess that does look like the park by my house. And…that could be my letterbox. Oh, no way. What the hell? Why would you paint this? There’s someone under those bricks. Help me get them out.

No one could possibly survive this level of destruction. I really am very sorry, Fabian, but the human race has destroyed itself. It was inevitable, I’m afraid. The Angel made too many promises to too many different people. Even if I paint every dream that is asked of me, very few of them will ever come true.

Just stop talking and help me. JESSICA! MARY!”

Are those tears? The wars have finally ended and there are no people left to hurt each other. Shouldn’t you be happy to see so much cruelty finally come to an end, or are you only concerned for your own sacrifice?

Shut up! Just shut up! Oh, Jesus. It’s Mary’s teddy. Where is she? No! No! No!

You’re on top of her bedroom, aren’t you Fabian? I think you know where she is. You’ve seen this happen on the news a hundred times, but it was always another country or another time. How is this any different? And why have you never cried before?

Because it never felt this real, okay! Tell me you can paint us sitting together in that park; that I’ll wake up and forget I ever saw any of this.

I’m sorry, Fabian. But life doesn’t always work that way.

What life? Mary hasn’t had a life yet, you arsehole. She wouldn’t hurt anyone.

I tell you what. I’ve painted something else that may help you get through this. Come over here.

What now? You’ve already destroyed everything.

By what reasoning could you possibly blame me? I have done nothing but give your species whatever dreams you wanted. Now, I have one last thing to show you that is of my own choosing. Look at the sunset. Can you see how beautiful it is? Try to understand how the end of a day is such a wonderous thing? The end of humanity may seem sad to you, Fabian, but from a distance, don’t you think someone else will see the beauty of it?

I can’t look at humanity from a distance, can I? I’m a part of it. How can I watch everything I love with all my heart as it turns into nothing? Who or whatever you are, surely you can understand that.

Strangely enough, I may be the only one who does understand. I’ve been painting dreams since the beginning of humanity, but no one ever dreams of bloodshed until they’ve seen it. No one dreams of wars until they are over. I’ve painted a million sunsets, but I’m the only one who ever considered that I would eventually have to paint this one. I couldn’t bring myself to watch it alone, Fabian, no matter how beautiful it is.

So, that’s why you brought me here? You wanted me to see how hurt and lonely you’ll be when there’s no one left to paint for. Well, point taken. My heart is completely shattered, and I know how you feel. Can we get out of here now?

No! You’re still missing the point. This is real. I’m showing you the future and I’ve shown you how humanity found its way here. The Angel of death turned your own words against you by promising more riches than this world could ever sustain. The reason I brought you here is to ask you to stay with me, and I promise that I will paint you a world beyond anything you’ve ever dreamed. You could be a King and a hero. You could fly over mountains as a giant eagle or hold the moon and stars in your hand. I need your dreams so I can continue to exist, Fabian. Together, we can create a new world without war. Please! Take a minute to think and watch the sunset.

What about Jessica and Mary?

You cannot save anything of your old world, but you can have more than you ever dreamed possible, and we can live forever.

Then, I don’t need to watch the sunset. I already know what I want.

Finally. Tell me, Fabian? Tell me what I can paint for you.

Don’t paint me anything. I’m not a kid anymore, and I don’t want to live in dreams whether they’re wars or not. I can’t stop what people did a thousand years ago any more than I can stop what they’re doing now, so just let me wake up and be with my family. At least while I’m alive, here and now, I can do the right thing by them.

 

As you wish.

 

I cannot deny my disappointment, but I envy and admire Fabian as he walks into Mary’s bedroom to find her awake and waiting for him in her cot. Even my promise of eternal dreams cannot deter him from the magic of this one moment with his daughter. As he lifts her into his arms, she swings Teddy up onto his shoulder and her other hand slaps playfully against his cheek to feel the curious wetness beneath his eyes. Mary does not need to say a thing because her smile says it all. She loves and needs him. What I would give to feel such magic, if only for a moment. Heroes rise and fall in search of immortality while their children die alone, but Fabian is a dreamer, so Mary will die knowing that she is loved.

Fabian carries his beautiful daughter to the kitchen where Jessica is serving breakfast and she looks across curiously, noticing that her husband is fighting back tears. He reassures her with a smile. What else can he do? Mary laughs and kicks her chubby, little legs excitedly as she slides down into the high chair, never letting go of Teddy. Glorious light shines through their kitchen window as the Angel of death hurtles toward the earth, a burning crucifix of blue crystal flame, daggering into the poisoned fires of a rising sun. Behold the Queen of Hell as she falls, leading Her battalion of one thousand nuclear warheads hammering into mountains and plains, destroying everything that stands upon this earth.

 

“May all men rest in darkness when their souls no more shall dream.”

 

As the last breath of humanity falls to the ravages of war, I paint my soul in giant wings that lay upon Fabian and his family, so the warmth of their love will stay with me for all of eternity.