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Second Wave 2: another guest post by Cam Beatty

“If you can hear me, open your eyes,” the voice says as I come to with a sharp breath. My head is spinning, lying here on this bed in a room that immediately fills me with the frustration of not knowing where I am. Everything hurts. The woman tells me that she managed to get me back into the car before we escaped.

I glance over my arms to see bandages and gauze blotted with seeping blood. My cheek is swollen too. She tells me not to move. I’m breathing heavily and my eyes begin to dart. “Breathe”, she says, “breathe”. It’s happening again but I know it’ll pass. I don’t know what’s happened to me this time. All I can remember are glimpses of my former life, a house, a job, an existence that was somehow leading me to this point now with the outline of a woman I don’t know telling me to take it easy. It gets worse and my eyes squeeze themselves shut. A few other memories flash in front of me before my breathing starts to slow. A few more breaths and then it passes.

“You’re safe,” she says, but I want to know where I am. “In my house,” she answers. “No one knows we’re here.”

I try to get up to get to the window, but she raises a hand.

“We’re well off the track. No one can see us for miles. It’s thick bush out there. We’re safe.”

I lie back down. She stares at me for a moment and moves to touch the bandage on my arm but I pull back. I look at her in a way I’m not used to.

She tells me that she doesn’t know much about me. I don’t answer. I killed my best friend not so long ago.

She’s removed my boots, which I don’t like, and I fumble to put them back on. She tries to stop me, but I react. This bothers me because I used to be a different person. I tell her I’m sorry, I’d just like to put them back on. I don’t lie down again, but I thank her anyway.

“You’re welcome.”  

I can see a dim light squinting through the blind. It’s either early morning or late afternoon. I ask her if she has any food and she hands me a tin of beans. I’m careful to not eat any more than half for now. I can see she notices.

“Do you have any family?” She asks.

I tell her no.

She’s silent, thinking something over. “We were building this house together,” she says, “when it happened.”

I nod a few times.

“I was a school teacher. I used to love my job.” She has dirty hands and she wrings them. She adds that she doesn’t like seeing kids treated that way. She says she’s not happy with herself that she had to leave them like that, but everyone has had to let go of everything normal.

Before this everyone liked to think that they’d always do the right thing. Everyone worked so hard to find meaning, to live a life that would seem complete, to be noticed, to be respected, to be taken seriously, to be liked and loved. But most of those people are dead now, with nothing left behind but a memory.

It’s easy to think you’re one of the good guys if you’ve never been challenged, but with a gun at your head you’ll find out pretty quickly where your strengths lie. The blood and guts wash away, but that moment will stay with you forever.

I’ve lost touch with who I used to be.

I realise the woman and I have been staring at each other in silence. She barely flinches when she hears the car approaching in the distance. I keep looking at her until eventually, she says that we were followed.

I’m already halfway to the door when I tell her she needs to come with me. But she doesn’t move. Her voice is shaky when she says, “Maybe they’ll reconsider.” As I exit the door I catch one last look. I see her slowly turn her head to the sound of the car and then I’m gone.

They pursue me for three days. I don’t stop running. I take them through the thick bush, into the hills where they can’t follow me by car. It rains one day, thunderstorms the next but they stay close. I can hear them moving at night and it scares me.

By the third day I need to stop. I find myself on the edge of a cliff where I prop myself down against a tree. They’re behind me somewhere but I haven’t heard them in a long while. I don’t know if it’s over yet or not. The wind on my face calms me. It’s strangely peaceful.

I stare out over the cliff, emptiness and beauty, loneliness, and hope. I start to drift off and I let it happen. Wind and trees. Another time in my life long ago.

When I feel something touch my face I don’t have the energy to jump. I open my eyes to see a dog sniffing my cuts. I brush his snout with the back of my hand. Good boy. I had one just like him. Slowly he sits down next to me and together we watch the sunrise.

Cam’s bio:

Cam’s a very good friend of mine and a great writer. He has a dog called Mickey and he gets up at 04:30 every morning to run 37 kms. Cam’s strength of character is an inspiration to me. One day he hopes to have a Peregrine Falcon, called Patrice Mersault.

Flogging a dead horse with Teddy (2007)

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Photo compliments of Nadine Ross

The taxi ride home from the civil court was civil. Emma sat in silence, wringing her hands while I stared out the window at homes, I would never live in. It was my second trip to the civil court in six months and I vowed never to return. But when you’ve just taken restraining orders out on each other, a trip to the civil court is in order.  Three months in jail if we’re caught together. Three months of Dostoevsky and sexual enslavement. Emma picked a piece of loose skin off her thumb and flicked it out the taxi window. Sometimes she’s so beautiful I can’t look at her.

Back at our house, I poured us both a large vodka and soda with ice and real lime. Emma retreated to the backyard for a smoke. We had rats. One of them had eaten an entire tube of Berocca and I imagined him freaking out in the walls doing chin-ups ‘til, he collapsed and puked his rat guts all over the plumbing. When I was a kid, we used to wrap rats in electricians’ tape and throw them off my mate’s 6th-floor council flat balcony. He’s now a famous parasitologist in America and he denied my friend request on Facebook because we grew apart and he’s ashamed of what he did. People do that.

I went out the back to join Emma. She was crying again. The first time I saw her crying was on a bench next to a drive-through bottle shop. We’d been together for two weeks after meeting in a writing class called Writing through trauma. She was crying because she’d dropped the bottle of gin we’d just bought. I wasn’t that bothered because the bottle shop was still open. I asked her why she was so upset, and she said something about a guy called Liam and a trip to Sydney. She was incoherent, so I bought another bottle of gin and called a taxi. Always taxis with us.

This time, as I went into the backyard, I knew why she’d been crying. It was my fault. Her cigarette butt was covered in red lipstick. Emma reminded me of the women I worked with at the Royal Hotel when I was fifteen. They all smoked cigarettes in the kitchen and left lipstick marks on cigarette butts and glasses. I find it reassuring, like the click of pool balls or heavy traffic when I’m trying to get to sleep. I sat next to her and put my hand on her right shoulder. Emma would never survive in this world if she stopped being a victim.

Later that night we watched House of 1,000 Corpses. We were drunk by this stage and used the film to avoid talking.

Teddy’s love muscle

Emma used her teddy bear’s nose to masturbate. She’d been doing it for years, but the bear’s nose was ok. I’d been suffering from acute psoriatic arthritis, so I was glad the bear was around to fill in the gaps. The bear was threadbare, and ochre and his eyes looked like they’d witnessed a genocide or two. I was never surprised by the bear’s sexual function because that’s the way Emma had always been. Idiosyncratically tragic. She was consumed by psychoanalytical interpretations of fairy tales and I was the limping, well-read thug. Every week her mother rang to plead with her to break up with me. Emma called her Mummy and promised to break up with me, but it only brought us closer together. I asked Emma why she didn’t follow her mother’s weekly wish. She told me that her mother was lonely and out to get her.

I came into the bedroom to find Emma in bed, eyes closed, knees up and Teddy’s nose gliding up and down her rock-hard clitoris. I was holding two cups of Lady Grey tea. She opened her eyes and told me that she and Teddy had already started and that I should join them immediately. I put down the teas and explained that my arthritis was painful and that I would not be joining in tonight, but I’d be back in the saddle in the morning after the anti-inflammatories had kicked in. She closed her eyes and kept rubbing Teddy’s nose into her clit.

I got into bed and picked up my book.

 FuckFace

Emma had a little white fluffy dog who she loved more than me. His name was Snuffy, and he had a red collar. I used to take Snuffy to work. The dog adored Emma to the point of morbid obsession. He used to frame me for things I didn’t do, like broken glasses and piss on the bathroom floor. I’m a very careful urinator. Snuffy also had a dubious relationship with Teddy. The two had co-existed on Emma’s bed for eight years without incident. Snuffy was like the friend who’s giving and compassionate when it’s one-on-one but turns into a prick when other people are around. He reminded me of myself. The relationship was harmonious.

We were drunk again watching more TV to avoid more pressing issues. Drinking and TV are a wonderful combination for the couple who are not meant to be together anymore. My own parents have based their entire relationship on this ritual, and I have a feeling that Emma’s parents followed the same guidebook, locked into their mud-brick fantasy on the hill, a cigarette burning in the breezeway.

Snuffy had been gone a long time. I assumed he’d gone outside to do a quick perimeter recon or stepped into the bathroom to set me up for a fall. After some time had elapsed and Emma was nodding off on her Chesterfield, I got up to have a look for him. I checked the backyard. The toilet.  The side of the house. The spare room. I even tried calling his name and shaking his chain but to no avail.

I walked down the corridor, the big red door getting more and more Jack Nicholson.

I opened our bedroom door. Darkness. I switched on the main light. Snuffy the dog wonder had chewed Teddy’s face-off, leaving only the precious nose, which he was now attempting to extract from Teddy’s mutilated face. I shouted at him and he stopped and stared at me like I was interrupting an ancient sacred ritual, foam, and splinters of wood smeared around his mouth.

 I shall fear no evil, for I am an evil motherfucker 

Emma insisted that her ex-boyfriend take Teddy to the doll hospital to have his face sewn back on. His name was David and he lacked social skills. Emma liked to keep him around to perform tasks like this. He was her plan B.

 ‘Let me present, FISH BOY!’

Work had been hectic. I’d taken on too much again, mainly to avoid thinking about my life. Work, TV, and drinking were my salvation. If they’d been taken away, I’d have stripped naked and plunged a screwdriver into a tram driver’s neck. I sometimes pictured myself after killing the tram driver, crouched on a seat like a psychopathic Puck, knife in one hand, erection in the other and probably fantasizing about Monica Bellucci in Irreversible. I spend so much time keeping my shit together by imposing banality into my routine. One sniff of freedom and I’d be famous for at least two weeks.

When I arrived home, I could hear loud, forlorn music from the 80s. I opened the door and the noise shifted the skin on my forehead, slightly to left and maybe half an inch upwards. Emma was standing in the middle of the lounge room swaying with a glass of red. I shouted her name. I turned off the music. Nothing.

Over dinner Emma abruptly stopped eating and told me that the best thing ever had happened today. That today was the best day of her life. She told me to go to the bedroom. My arthritis had cleared up, so I was hoping this meant we’d fuck like normal on a Wednesday night in the most livable city on earth. I left her staring at her last piece of steak and went to the bedroom.

I have seen some fucked up stuff in my life. It all started when I pulled a nail out of Douglas Boag’s foot and blood sprayed all over my neck. Or when I shot a raven, smashed it with a brick and its guts flowed from its arse and into my face.

Teddy was back. He was sat against the double pillows on Emma’s favourite white Egyptian linen. His face had been sown on again but it was lopsided, like a victim of Bell’s Palsy or that Teddy had murdered another Teddy, carved its face off, and attached it to his own as a vehicle for poetry.

My breath was trapped in my throat. The only part of Teddy that was still part of Teddy was his nose. That round black marble surface, glinting under the chandelier. The piece of Emma’s childhood that allowed orgasms to flow through time, colliding with atoms and nova stars and airborne disease. The best part intact. I removed my clothes.

 

Second Wave: a guest blog by Cam Beatty

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It was pretty much as I expected. When the apocalypse came he was a liability …

And when things got bad, he came to me because I was his friend. He trusted me. I’d always looked out for him I suppose. When you’ve already had experiences together you get a good sense of what they’ll be like, whether they’ll panic, stand their ground or run away maybe. Whether they’ll do the right thing or take care of themselves. The coward’s way or the right way.

He knew me pretty well in that sense. But soon we were playing by different rules and he just wasn’t cut out for what was to follow.

We spent the first wave at my place. It was still busy and there was lots of confusion. It wasn’t too dangerous back then. He showed up on my doorstep with a backpack, a torch and a box full of canned food. I could see there was a part of him that thought this would be an adventure, but I knew better than him, and that’s why I was worried. Keep away from the windows, I told him, and never leave the door unlocked. Not even for a second. Not even if you take only five steps outside.

But the writing was already on the wall. He wasn’t cut out for it and he was going to cause problems.

When the second wave came we had to leave town. The killing had begun and it was too dangerous to stay put. We moved only by the night, sleeping whenever we could during the day. He was already starting to struggle then. Weight loss, sleep deprivation and threats of ambush. The first man I killed only got near us because he fell asleep during his watch. I told him not to fall asleep. Never fall asleep during your watch.

Sorry, he told me, I’m so sorry, I only closed my eyes for a moment.

It wasn’t long before he became desperate and brought a group of survivors to our camp. He wanted food and they had some but you can’t trust people anymore the way you used to. I stayed calm and let them sit down. They told us how they’ve been moving about, not staying in any one place for too long.

Yeah, I said, looking them over. I tried to press them for some answers of where they’d been but they wouldn’t tell me.

“Just around,” they said, and I nodded back. Before long they took what we had and tried to kill us.

“You can’t do that,” I told him afterwards, “Not even if they look like good people.”

He just cried and said he was hungry, but now we had to move on. I was angry at him for that. Everyone is scared of what’s out there but the real danger comes from within. People aren’t good when they’re confronted. I was tired of being the one to pick up the pieces and I was tired of being right all the time.

We walked for days. We’d hear gunshots, distant screams, a car revving somewhere and then silence. We came across a plane wreckage, we saw a house burning on the horizon, signs of muted horror we’d never know.

We’d both lost things since it happened. I know I can keep going, but it will get worse. No one gets to live like this and keep on being the person they wanted to be; or thought they once were.

Three more times we came across survivors and each time we had to fight, the first two as night ambushes, the third when he let slip that we knew of a nearby stash of military rations.

The writing had been on the wall for a long time. We’d find bodies hanging from trees or lampposts and he would just look at me silently.

I said goodbye to him in my own way, and then I let it happen. I looked out to the distance and held on as tight as I could. It was over quickly.

There are no more barriers to cross. I’m a passenger in my own body now. But I’m glad it was me who did it and not one of the others. I wouldn’t want him to go that way.

I’m alone now, and I’m a different person, but somewhere down there I still exist. My purpose is survival but it brings no or less meaning than it did before. The hunger distracts me from the danger, the pain numbs the loneliness. And the sky still turns blue from time to time.

Perhaps people will come across the scene at the top of that hill and maybe think of what happened there that day. But they’ll be busy fighting their own battles which I will never know. And I know mine is no more important.

Bio:

Cam’s a very good friend of mine and a great writer. He has a dog called Mickey and he gets up at 04:30 every morning to run. Cam’s strength of character is an inspiration to me. One day he hopes to have a Peregrine Falcon.

Searching for joy in the pandemic

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The supermarket is now a dangerous place to be. People who might be sick move up and down the aisles searching for hand sanitizer, pasta and a way to wipe their arse. It’s a depressing sight, watching people navigate their way through a human obstacle course. However, today I’m not going to dwell on the doom and gloom of a pandemic, instead, I’m going to write about something that brings me joy every day at noon, high noon.

There’s a coffee shop, well a window, down the road from me that sells coffee, cakes, and muffins. And yes, it’s an open window right on the pavement that’s part of a residential property. Apparently, it used to be a DVD nook at the east end of their lounge that’s been converted into a takeaway coffee shop. You’d never know.

It’s run by a young couple who make the best coffee I’ve ever had (I write this with conviction). They’ve secured the beans, the good stuff, the primo brown gold and I’m one of their caffeine disciples. At noon every day, I walk 100 metres to pray at the altar of their divine brew. I order a strong piccolo, and after a wee chat with the barista, I respectfully maintain my distance from the other disciples on the pavement and attend to my phone.

After a couple of minutes, the barista gives me one of the highlights of my day, a strong piccolo in a tiny cup. Then I walk home slowly enjoying each sip until I reach the stairs that lead me to my place of isolation, where The King of Queens seems to be playing on repeat.

But those 100 metres to the window and back keep me sane and I’ll always remember that walk and the life-affirming coffee, as something that got me through this thing.

We all need something like that walk I do every day at noon because it’s those slivers of joy that give us something to look forward to. And when this is over, I’m going to give the barista a big hug, hail a taxi and get the fuck out of dodge.

If you want to post anything on my blog about your experiences of the coronavirus pandemic please send it to: callumscot@gmail.com 

Love in a time of coronavirus

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And just as the zombie apocalypse kicked in, I quit my job. I’ll tell you why later in the piece. So, now I find myself unemployed at 50, in the middle of a pandemic. This is a concept that should scare the shit out of me but I’m strangely calm about my state of affairs because hysteria only leads to anxiety and anxiety ends up leading to expensive counseling sessions, with somebody who speaks softly and does a lot of nodding.

For the first four weeks of unemployment, I was holed up in my flat because I went over on my right foot and stretched a few ligaments, meaning I spent a lot of time sitting in my IKEA chair with my foot up on the coffee table, watching depressing stuff on the telly. Just what you need when you’re unemployed and injured. I also drank a lot of wine even though I have the word ‘Sober’ tattooed on my right wrist. Meanwhile, the coronavirus was seeping into our collective unconscious around the world, and I was already self-isolating.

Self-isolating, when you’re not sick, is fucking awesome. You don’t have to deal with the ocean of idiots who exist beyond the front door, endlessly bumping into each other while they stare at their phones like cretins caught in the headlights. Why the fuck should I be responsible for their spatial relations? Every day I suppress the urge to knock their phones out of their hands and explain the laws of physics to them. The other upside of self-isolation is that you have time to reflect upon your life.

However, in the wrong hands, self-reflection can be a dangerous venture. It can lead to suicide, a mental breakdown, and the agonising realisation that life is meaningless. Not so for me. I had a great time picking through my ‘reason to be’. It was an existential holiday in my wee flat. I worked out that my life was meaningless because I’d made it that way. In short, I’d spent the last two years hating my job, which was akin to having somebody take to your soul with a potato peeler. Hence, the decision to quit.

I live in a state of chaos and my workplace could no longer accommodate this. A sense of order had been installed by top brass – project management software called Slack, the worst kind of corporate mind control. There was even a stream called #wheremyhomiesat, where you had to let ‘the team’ know where you are at all times; cue Orwell and that cage with the rat in it. So, in short, dishes were done. Plus, I have recently diagnosed PTSD (PCL-5 – 63), so something like #wheremyhomiesat is about as helpful as dropping me in a K-hole and telling me the paranoid hallucinations are all part of my new reality.

But let’s get back to being unemployed at 50, amidst the zombie apocalypse AKA the Coronavirus AKA Covid 19. What’s next? Will our hero ever ride again? Every once in a while you have to make a stand in this life and tell the people who don’t add value to get fucked. That’s what I did. I quit my job in the middle of a pandemic and strode, sorry limped, into the unknown. Now, I’m going to concentrate on the things that matter to me, the things that don’t make me feel like I’m an injured hamster on a wheel, spinning recklessly into a void of chocolate-coated diarrhea. In essence,

To love oneself is to truly understand the secrets of the soul.

#wheremyhomiesnot