18 February, 2013


Ten minutes later, I’m revving in a cloud of dust, heading eastward toward some small hills in the distance. Grains of sand whip at any exposed skin. I can imagine the skin being whipped raw and bleeding, although I know it’s not that bad yet. The air smells of hot dust and bike exhaust. I can barely see Jack through the dust, although I can hear him revving his engine to my left. His dusty silhouette is of a giant trying to ride a toy bike and it makes me laugh. I skid my bike to a stop for a moment, coughing.

Shut up, lungs. You’ll be fine.

“You ‘right, Tia?” calls Jack from where he’s stopped some way ahead of me.

“Yeah,” I reply, kicking the bike forward.

Grainy red dust, little hills, scraggly bushes and scrawny grass, this place isn’t exactly what I’d call friendly or even welcoming. It gives of the sense of independence – tough, self-mindedness and strangers had better beware.

There’s a cave in a hill, under an outcrop of boulders that look as if they’re going to tumble down any moment and Jack points me in. He’s going to go lie in the shade on the opposite hill overlooking the cave entrance. I get to lie in wait in some unknown cave to play ambush. There’d better not be any giant monsters living in there. I feel at least 10 times smaller than usual just entering the huge yawning mouth.

I switch off the engine and back myself as far into the big cave as I dare, not wanting to reach the point where the dark shadows overwhelm the weak light. If there are any monsters who might want to eat Tia for lunch, I’d rather not wake them up. I fish out the tracker bug and toss it into the dark behind me. Although I strain, I can’t hear it fall through the heart beat throbbing in my ears.

Leaning forward on the handle bars, chin propped on my hands, I stare at the light at the end of the tunnel, waiting for Jack’s shout or the bounty hunters to come creeping into the cave. I hope those boulders poised above the cave entrance aren’t going to fall with the bang of a gun.

‘Let me know when they turn up,’ I message Jack on my phone.

My phone pings about half an hour later.

‘They cum,’ Jack’s messages are often full of hidden innuendo and I shake my head.

I see two shapes peer down the tunnelled entrance of the cave and hope they’ can’t see me hiding in the shadows. They make unintelligible noises. One of them suddenly falls. Likely snipered down. The other leaps up and disappears out of my line of sight. Tunnel vision can’t be helped when you’re in a tunnel.

My phone pings again.

‘More cumming. Too many. Hump yourself. Be back for you with back up.’

More figures appear in the entrance and drag away their dead comrade. Then there is a boom, a rumbling and a tumbling of boulders blocking up the cave entrance. A whoosh of air, blasts cold dust in my face and I cough.


Sit tight, my arse. What else can I do?

Boss had better get me out of here before those bounty hunter dudes.

It’s funny how noises in tunnels and caves seem a lot louder than usual. It’s funny how echoes can amplify noises until you feel like you’re surrounded. It’s even funnier when you can feel warm air being breathed down your neck and there’s a thumping-swishing sound interspersing the distant drip-drip of leaking water. The most funny thing is when you freeze and forget that there’s such thing as a headlight on your bike, because something furry is brushing against your cheek.

I told you there were monsters in here.

I’m not really one to scream, but now would be a good time.

There’s an itch in my throat. The sort of itch that makes you want to cough and that you can’t ignore, no matter how you try. You can hold your breath, swallow or bob your adams apple up and down, but whatever you do, there is no way you are going to hit that spot without coughing.

In my case, I had a sneeze coming at the same time as that itch was tickling my throat. I desperately tried to hold it in, but in the end, I exploded and hurt my throat, sending me into a bigger fit of coughing.

Kablooey, that hurts.

The big furry monster behind me has a fit of coughing as well – or at least, that’s what I think it is. Perhaps it got a fur ball stuck in its throat or has a dry throat. It doesn’t seem to be afraid of me at all, because one moment I’m sitting on the bike and the next, the air is whooshing by my face and I’m plonked into something leathery on the inside and furry on the outside. If I didn’t know better, I’d say I was in a giant marsupial pouch. Also, from the way I’m being bounced up and down in this warm pouch, I’d say I’m in the pouch of some sorta giant kangaroo.

Hopefully they’re not giant carnivorous kangaroos. I have no desire to become somebody’s lunch. Please, God. You seem to be looking out for me. Keep me out of any monster’s stomach. Thank you.

Every time I start coughing, there is an answering cough from my host that makes my bone vibrate. They must have some nasty lung problems to be coughing that badly.

Bounding through the dark isn’t so bad. It’s a bit like some sort of fair ride. One moment you’re flying and hoping you won’t crash into a rock wall that wasn’t there before; and the next moment you’re falling and afraid that you’ll fall out the pouch and get ground into dust by giant feet. The thump-swish of these creatures echoes off the walls. It feels as if there are hundreds in here with me. The thought of that many giant creatures holding me prisoner isn’t very cheering. At least they won’t be cooking me alive. I hope.

I cough and cough and cough.

Coughs echo around me.

And then there is a distant rumbling from the directions whence we had just come. It sounds as if the tunnel is collapsing behind us.

We stop and I’m tumbled onto the ground where giant paws pat me gently all over. There appears to be more than one set and from the radiating heat coming from different directions, there’s definitely more than one monster in here.

Help. I’m in a nest of giant, furry, marsupial, kangaroo-like monsters.

I cough.
They cough.
We all cough together.

I’m so scared that my gassed lungs are struggling to keep up and I know I’m losing control.

Something whumps me in the back and I’m sent sprawling on the… what is this stuff? Grass? Moss? Whatever it is, it feels soft and has a marvellous fresh smell. The whumping hasn’t stopped, but now I realise that the whumping isn’t hitting, it’s more like having my back patted/stroked. There’s a soft musical humming. Different harmonies all around me. It’s like a rainbow in music form. A pleasant poem spoken at the right time. It’s like a mother’s lullaby when a baby is to be sent asleep.


I bolt upright. Coughs ripple all around me.

They just want me to fall asleep so that they can eat me. I haven’t lived this long as the Boss’s baiter to be eaten now. I’m not about to succumb –

A gust of grassy breath is blown in my face and a pair of paws gently lay me back down. Wait. Grassy breath? These guys are vegetarians! Just my luck. Thank God. I’m not going to get eaten tonight.

Another thought assails me before I can fall asleep beneath the relaxing pat-strokes and humming.

What if they’re omnivores? Opportunists?

The thought sends me into a fit of coughs, but the pat-stroking doesn’t cease. Neither does the pleasant humming. There are a few coughs nearby and something that feels like a rough blanket covers me.

It’s made of something coarse and prickly, reminding me of those grass woven mats my mother used to carry into the fields during summer picnics or during autumn harvest. We would lie on those mats and eat freshly picked berries or sit on those mats under the shade to read. The same grass mats were used as kindling by my father when they got too worn out and my sisters would weave newer fresher ones, using a different pattern. I never got the hang of the weaving. Mother used to hold my hands and help my fingers move the prickly straw over and under, over and under. But when she took her hands away, my clumsy fingers would tear the grass or muddle the pattern up. Sometimes, when we had found special plants that could be used for dying, we would dye different grass bundles in a variety of yellows, browns, pinks and greens. We used those grass mats for fly swatters and as curtains. Once in a while, we’d even go sledding on the sandy dunes out beyond the river fields.

There’s a smell of freshly mown grass and sunned bed sheets. The smell of summer days and the wet earth after the first rains. There’s the feel of a flickering fire, fighting back the damp and cold. The feel of close family near and friends who care, the safety of togetherness.

There’s the sound of running water, deep and cold, bringing life to all it touches. There’s the sound of singing like a choir in an acoustic hall, grandiose and yet a sound like mourning for the lost. There’s the heat of beating hearts, yearning for a dream. Seeing a vision, reaching for it and yet failing to attain.

I see a land in coloured lay spread out like a blanket. Across it creatures great and small peacefully go about it. I see the mountains, cold and grey, as ancient as the sky, throwing up on icy wings, a heavy storming eye. I see the ground in muffled white, the rivers turned to ice. I see waves of snowy fright compounding as caterpillars pay the price. I see the trees laid bare and people running, screaming everywhere. I see an airplane falling, a chasing car burnt black. I see a giant monster rising and dominating until all I see is black.

13 February, 2013

Try again

You try and try and try again, but somehow, all you end up is with sand in your face.


By the way, this has nothing to do with flowers. It's just the working title.

The first time I try to kill someone – or rather, people, and my gun dies on me. It doesn’t work. Serves me right for trusting one of Zack’s new untested inventions. I wish he’d hurry up and make those stun guns, or that the boss would let me use a tranq gun instead. She knows I’m not one to kill, although I am very good at being the bait or distracting rivals. I’m a good shot, I just can’t sum up the guts to shoot someone dead. I had always hoped that if it came down to it, something would happen would stop me before the life is taken. And it has. I guess Providence has got His eye on me. The problem is, once the bad guys realised my gun wasn’t working, they were quick to jump me and now I’m trussed up at the bottom of a giant plastic bin, in the middle of a leaky gas refinery. I reckon if Boss and Co don’t come save me soon, I’ll be a suffocated, trussed Tia at the bottom of a giant plastic bin. It’s already getting hard to breathe and I don’t like the sound of my cough.

“Tia! Tia, where are you?” I hear Boss calling.

“Here, Boss!” I struggle and kick as best as I can, knowing that she likely won’t be able to hear me. I’m told I have a rather soft voice and my shout is the equivalent of Jack’s normal voice. Since it’s worse at the moment due to my voice starting to fade, I thump my feet on the plastic wall of my prison with all my failing vigour. The entire bin begins to tip.


“There you are, Tia,” says Boss, dragging me out and cutting the cable ties. “Good job. We got it.”

“I had a bead on both of them,” I say, glaring at my gun, “but it malfunctioned on me.” I point at another plastic bin some distance away and shoot.


Oh, now it decides to work.

I thump it into Zack’s hand, glaring at the big melty hole in the distant bin.

“Fix it, Zack.”

“Come on, Tia,” Boss puts her arm around my shoulder and waves to April who is standing on the other side of the field of plastic bins to say all’s well. “Maybe a tranq gun would be a better idea for you.”

“I’ve been telling you,” I say and start coughing. I guess you could rather call it hacking and wheezing. It’s not much like a normal cough.

“The air’s not so good around here,” says Boss. “We’d better get you in the truck and seen to.”

“You think?” I cough. “I’ll bet those pipes leak more gas than they carry.”

“If they did,” says Boss, “you would have blown us all up just now.”

“Good point,” I say, my voice getting hoarser and hoarser, “but there was a strong breeze. Cold too. Boss, I’m losing my voice…”

“You’d better stop talking,” Boss says, gesturing to Zack to help support me on the other side. “I think you’re having a reaction to the gas.”

I think of how carbon monoxide can kill silently by taking up all your red blood cells so that there are none left for oxygen to take a ride in. I wonder what the gas in the plant is. My stomach turns and I feel like throwing up, but can’t, because my lungs appear to have stopped working and I’m choking.

“How you feeling?” April leans over me in the truck.

I blink at my blurry vision and the oxygen face mask obscuring half my vision. I give her a half-hearted thumbs up, glad to be able to feel the cool oxygen filling my lungs. I have yet to go on a mission where I haven’t almost died. One day. Maybe one day, there’ll be a mission where I’ll be the Boss’s dependable one, like the others and I won’t almost die.

“She’s feeling better, Boss,” April calls to where Boss is driving. “We’re relocating the critter to a more suitable environment,” April says more softly. “We reckon the Emerson Foothills should do the trick.”

I nod.

Plenty of caves and rubble there for the monster they caught to play hide and seek in. Plenty enough rabbits and other creatures for it to prey on who aren’t human and plenty far away enough into the wilderness that humans aren’t likely to disturb it for several decades. We hope.

“Who were we up against?” I ask.

“What?” April asks.

“Who were we up against? Competition?” I try to enunciate through the mask, but aren’t sure how good a job I’m doing.

“Sickels Society,” April makes a face. “Bounty hunters.”

“Why didn’t they kill me then?” I ask, looking at the giant carnivorous insect sleeping in the cage. “Why take the time to tie me up and stuff me in a bin?” I take the mask off so that they can hear me more clearly. “If they were bounty hunters, they would have killed me to get me out of the way. Boss, something ain’t right.”

“Search her,” Boss says to April, flicking her eyes at me in the mirror.

“Zack, turn around and shut your eyes,” April snaps, slapping Zack’s face around, “and Jack, if you so much as dare to peep through the mirror, I’ll ask Boss to put your eyes out.”

April and I search my clothes, hair and shoes. We find the tracker bug tucked into the tongue of my runners.

“Boss, we’ve got it,” April says. “They must be following us.”

“They must’ve known who we were beforehand,” Jack boomed. “April, can I open my eyes yet?”


“Tia, you feeling better?” Boss asks, looking at me through the mirror.

I take the oxygen mask off, knowing what she’s asking of me and suppress a cough.

“Yeah, Boss,” I say. “Shall I take a bike?”

“Yes,” she says, lifting an eyebrow at me. “You sure you’re ok to do this?”

“Sure, Boss,” I grin. “It’s my job, ain’t it?”

“All right,” Boss shrugs her shoulders. “We’re coming up to a petrol station. We’ll split up when the tanks are full.”

“Sure thing, Boss,” I try to supress a cough and Boss’s eyes narrow at me through the rear view mirror.

“Jack, you go with her,” Boss says. “Find a good position and sniper.”

“Shotgun the dirt bike,” Jack hollers, making me clap my hands to my ears.

“They’re both dirt bikes,” I mutter, suiting and gearing up. I tuck the tracker bug back into my shoe where we’d found it. Jack can be such a - a... I don't think there's any word for it. For now, I'll stick to 'ass'.