claiming frontiers

 

by Milieah Brett

They said we had it all figured out. That it was our duty to take our message out there. To expand. Look outwards and forwards. But my dispatcher hasn’t contacted me for days, and no one even knows my name out here. How can I keep track of any message, how can I keep a hold of who I even am. I’m too far forward. I’m too far out.

The crash was 6 cycles ago now. Lt. Fifteen had transported us through the Lumin Sector of orange Lepidoptera lights and purple gas collectives. The second half of that sector is still uncharted, blackspace, but we’d pushed out further than that, past the C-boundary. He had pointed us down to the first Silver Class planet, just Twelve and I, after all the rest had been assigned to earlier celestial bodies, and we took the shuttle out as instructed, direct through orbit.

The Mothership was barely a dot in the sky when the engines malfunctioned and zapped our external vis. Gravity kicked out the landing gear and crushed the hull into surface debris — a solid landing if ever there was one. When we crawled out of the shuttle, it was clear the damage was enough to impede a journey through the outer atmosphere.

All the surface of the Silver Class was grey sediment, scattered with smooth circle formations formed by water movement from centuries ago. Twelve had to date it with a torchlight on his helmet and shaky hands on his line-laser, barely illuminated. A dark sun in the sky makes us feel unbalanced, untethered, despite any training.

‘It’s been too long,’ I’d said to him through comms, ‘There’s no life.’

Twelve’s sigh caused crackly feedback as he’d looked to the black horizon, our torches glinting perfect beams off the flat surface of the rocks.

‘We’ve been assigned to here,’ he’d replied. ‘There must be life.’

Three days we spent camping in the blackness, conserving our torches. We used them only to set up the sleeping dome on the first day, then to observe our equipment every morning. There was no sun cycle to adapt to.  A dark sun means no mornings and no nights, so we followed the Mothership time-loop on our suits, and used our sensors to navigate in our small radius. There was no sense in expanding exploration, not without a functioning exit off the planet.

I’d expected to see the fire-shine of another shuttle breaking through the atmosphere on the fourth day, after Mothership had registered the loss of the comm link, but there was nothing in the sky.

There was, however, something on the ground. It being so dark, the light in the distance was not hard to miss. It lit up the horizon as if the air was solid and concaved, amplifying its colour across the surface, turning smooth rocks to glowing stars. I pushed Twelve’s shoulder where he was sitting beside me, to alert him to look up from the data log he’d lent against the dome’s frame, and he did. I heard his breath halt over comms, the static crackling gone for a beat, my ears enveloped by the silence of the air around us. Then he was moving.

‘We need to establish a baseline,’ Twelve said to me, scrambling to pull out his responder.

‘Is it intelligent?’ I asked.

‘It’s the only thing seeking us out,’ he replied.

As it got closer, it got harder to see its form, our eyes straining to adjust. I polarised my filter, and when I held my gloved hand out in front of it, I could see its texture of imperfections. Pale green turning to white, turning to pale yellow, glowing around the outline of my fingers, eating up my shadow.

We weren’t scared then. This is what we do, and displaying peace in first contact is more important than our individual safety. Twelve set the emitter on the responder to the soft-humming four-time beat – communication A – and we waited for a response.

We couldn’t discern sounds from it. It became apparent that there weren’t any. The being seemed to roll along and float at the same time, no friction against the rocks despite touching them. The air was thick enough for sound to travel, and yet, aside from us there was only silence.

The light being stopped before us, and seemed to ooze outward, sinking across the rocks.

‘It must see us somehow,’ I murmured.

We cycled through the communication protocol carefully: the sounds, movements and visuals. All the while monitoring changes in air and energy spikes. Every reaction was the same, just a silent observer sitting before us. No movement or change.

The light was beginning to make my head ache.

‘It has to be light,’ I said. ‘Something about light. We could adjust our visuals, mix light, try to mimic their colour?’

‘That’s already been covered in communication Q to S.’

‘The Lepidoptera would’ve responded by now,’ I huffed.

In the following days, more of the Silver Class planet’s inhabitants approached, surrounding our camp. It made our torches obsolete, made reading our equipment easier, and gave us further opportunity to observe. However, we still hadn’t learned much about them. Twelve couldn’t find any differences in our readings from when we first landed to now, as if the beings weren’t there at all. I couldn’t discover how they were producing such luminosity, all the data defying analysis. Days were bleeding into each other, and nights were getting harder to sleep through as their numbers were increasing incrementally every few days, every cycle. The aggregate of their light grew brighter and reached further, but they never changed and never touched us, only watched us.

We made the decision halfway through the next cycle that we would push past their makeshift barrier. Mothership wasn’t looking for us, we needed resources, and we needed to be certain this was the intelligent life we were looking for. I couldn’t tell if it was the first being we had tried to make contact with, or another one that broke from the line that started following us. They all looked the same and they didn’t register in our readings.

When I walked between the beings, a phantom heat moved over me, mirroring the glow onto my suit, making the contrast of the dark horizon seem so cold and distant. I knew it was just my mind playing tricks on me, and I held my equipment more securely on my back.

The panic set in when we had walked two days and found nothing. We were forced to return empty-handed. The pale yellow light, still flittering over the rocks, guided us back.

On the third cycle, I’d had enough. Twelve could sense it in me, in the way I couldn’t answer his questions clearly and how I was fumbling the logs that day.

‘I’m going to touch them,’ I told him, and he’d baulked.

‘What?’

‘Think about it. They’re malleable, they sit by each other. How else do they communicate?’ The rationality was clear to me, the reason why they had been waiting around us so long, watching for something to happen. We had to make the move. ‘How else can we give our message?’

‘But…first contact protocol…’

He watched me as I walked out of the dome, directly to the line they still held. The light had gotten so bright I could barely see my hand as I lifted it to the being’s form, mound-like and blurry below me. I pushed, flat palmed, and met as much resistance as a sleeping pallet, its body curving about my hand.

The effect was immediate. Veins of deep green and blue spiralled out from the impression, and the being’s colour dimmed, fading from pale yellow to aqua to purple on the RGB spectrum. My heart dropped to my feet as I watched it dwindle before me, the surface of its form turning as glassy and dark as had been our reality for the first days on this planet. I pulled my hand back.

I saw Twelve run for me when I looked back, and I saw the row of light beings behind him expand in size, their width gushing out over the rock formations, their height reaching higher than the sleeping dome, higher than our shuttle. All their forms were joining, and we were flattened as they reached each other at the peak, closing out the darkness, blinding us in a whiteness as bright as a star.

That’s where I am now. Unknowing if my eyes are open or closed, unable to move. My suit AI has been tracking the days for me, and I’ve been writing my log through it, detailing as much as I can remember. I can’t hear Twelve, I believe our comms were muffled by whatever happened. I hope my suit will outlast me, and when the crew find me, they can access these logs still.

As for the message we were to pass on… I can’t remember it. Fifteen reminded us daily of the peace, of following the truth. But I don’t believe our truths apply to the beings here. So, then, what could be their truth?

 

Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels

sudden writing comp winner: penumbra

By Evelyn Lee

Content note: this story contains mention of an animal death, and intimate partner violence. 

The boys tumble out of the sea, their golden limbs caught in the afternoon sun.

My boys, she thinks.

They drive silently, settling into the freeway as the sky begins to darken.

She pulls off the freeway and onto a long stretch of road lined with low-lying scrub. She flicks on her high beams and rolls down the windows. The air is warm and still. A cyclist comes around the bend; a flash of lycra in the car’s headlights. She speeds up.

The car’s headlights illuminate an irregularity in the road ahead. She slows then pulls over. It’s a wombat, knocked flat, its dark organs spewed across the road.

The wombat’s wide, blunt nose is laying in a pool of dried blood. When she gets closer she can see that there are flies nesting in the corners of its eyes. The stench of it cuts through the stillness.

There is no need to check for a joey. If there had been one, it would be dead by now.

She pulls two plastic bags from the boot of the car. Using the bags like gloves, she grasps the wombat’s hind legs and pulls, steering it carefully into the ditch beside the road. Its organs remain.

She looks back at the road and thinks, very briefly, of her own blood smeared across the bathroom tiles; caught in the fluorescent light.

Only the top of the wombat’s back remains visible, the coarse dark hairs glinting like broken glass in the car’s headlights.

She climbs into the driver’s seat and glances back at her boys. They are both asleep. The youngest has his left hand gripped around the lip of his plastic booster seat.

Good, she thinks. Better that they didn’t see that.

 

Evelyn Lee is a creative writing student in her third year at Swinburne. She loves short form fiction and fractured narrative structures.

 

Photo by J W via Unsplash

our private cubicle

 

By Lachlan Bowden

The bed was caught in a limbo between comfortable and irritable – itchy at every touch. The concave deepened after that evening, indifferent to permissible reasoning. A time limit had always been agreed upon, out by 10, no matter what. The democratic rulings of a bedroom always seemed more agreeable before fucking, and tortuous once the door closed on the way out. Always carefully shut to avoid a slam, and thus unwanted attention. Sliding on unbuttoned jeans, shortly before the exodus, the silence proved to be an excruciating companion, though a faithful one.

Albert only had his left sock on. He assumed the right resided beneath the shadows of the bed, or on the right foot of Harvey, who was most likely cycling toward the far end of Coventry Street by this point. Stoic and calm, Albert lay diagonally on his bed. Half consumed by the sheets, half vulnerable to the biting cold air that filled the room. His erectile sheath still bearing him, knowing that he would not sleep in that state. It seemed as though moving from that position – comfort purgatory – may contain the potency to, only just, kill him. Harvey’s actions were premeditated, this was routine. Harvey’s rapid evacuation never surprised Albert, though he was always paralysed on the site of passion, which never seemed to not catch him off guard.

***

The hors d’oeuvres had an overbearing artichoke component, with a lot of what seemed like pepper, though Albert couldn’t be sure. He had dropped the appetiser on the floor as he attempted to nonchalantly navigate his way through, peers, acquaintances, friends of friends, pricks and arseholes, to the sanctuary of the free bar. It seemed like a social obligation to either subsidise or – if you really respected your friends – pay for the lot. Albert had just subsidised when it was his 21st. However, Amalie insisted on drinks being covered until at least 10 pm and, seemingly, Mum and Dad had no issue. This disparity promised to linger only momentarily under Albert’s skin, as somewhat of an irritation, though not warranting formal action. Much like a small, semi-itchy rash on the back of your calf, not worth the energy of an appointment to address, rather, it was fixable with an Epson salt bath and the application of some Cetaphil.

‘Beers, Wine, and Cider’, was written with ill-penmanship in mossy green, above the chef’s specials that had been served moments before, and were now probably half-digested in the guts of the previous patrons.

‘Uh, maybe just a pint of stone and wood,’ Albert squinted and sloped his brow to appear somewhat experienced in the tedious dance of bartender interaction.

‘Here, mate.’ He handed Albert the glass.

Moments after the first sip – which promised so much, according to adverts of hard-working men in tight singlets taking that initial heroic sup of light protruding lager, which was actually rather disheartening – the speeches began.

‘Hellllo everyone, hope you’re enjoying your drinks… on me!’ Dad was a little pissed. Usually, a joke in front of this capacity was unthinkable. Though, the crowd laughed in their timely facade, as the panel of speakers lined up – some bearing faces of unfortunate souls facing a firing squad, the others just a little tipsy and daft-looking.

Next to brave the microphone was Harvey (one of the unfortunates), ‘Heya everyone. Hope you’re all having a grand evening, thanks for coming.’

Albert lingered at the back of the bar, strangling the neck of his pint.

‘…yeah. Uh, as most of you know, Amalie is very special to me. I couldn’t ask for a better girlfriend. It’s been nearly…ah, 4 years now.’ His eyes flicking to the left, assessing Amalie’s body language. Heavily intoxicated by this point, an acceptable smile gripped Amalie’s cheeks, one that she most definitely practised in the mirror beforehand. Harvey’s speech continued with no noticeable moments.

 

With every scheduled scan of the room during Harvey’s speech Albert simultaneously begged for Harvey’s eye contact, and callously refused it. Impatiently wrapping up his speech, Harvey passed the mic to the subsequent victim.

They both disappeared, separately (seemingly always separately), to the toilets. ‘Albert?’ whispered Harvey, with a firm hunger. The cubicle door opened to reveal Albert. Both stood still, waiting for the other to break. It soon became apparent the other would not, so Harvey moved in. Pressing his chest against Albert, he closed the off-white cubicle door behind them. Harvey’s tie pin pushed directly into the exact adjacent spot on Albert’s frail body. The pain was not worth mentioning, like the rash. Their close proximity was no match for the tension drawing one to the other. Both their lips argued, then caressed, contested, then held, teased, then mimicked. Neither of them had a choice. All whilst the external party vibrated back and forth, the perennial faceless dance continued

 
 

 

About Lachlan Bowden: 

Lachlan moved to Melbourne in the winter of 2021 to study Screen Production and Film. With a keen interest in literature, and as a way to understand his new environment, Lachlan has found creative writing to be an engaging practice.

Photo by Hà Nguyễn on Unsplash  

boy/wolf/finch

 

Author: Eli Thomas

 

 

‘A Basic Guide to Vemia’s Zodiac’

 

The librarian held out a dark blue book with white lettering. ‘Here you go, young lady. Enjoy.’

Finch smiled tightly at ‘lady’ but took the book with a nod, wishing his voice were deep enough to correct her without any confusion. He made his way to an empty table in the library and opened the book. He flicked past the author’s note and introduction, wanting to read the interesting stuff first.

 

Ictu Canum (Askar 10th – Askar 28th)

Creature: Blink Dog

Sorting: Arcana

 

Originally referred to as Nymphacanis (meaning fey or faerie dog), the name of this constellation was changed in 572AW, when research was conducted on the Blink Dog and it became better understood amongst scholars. The Blink Dog is a creature from the Fey Wilds, with teleportation abilities over short distances on our material plane, though scholars believe these limitations are not present on its home plane. Its short and rapid jumps through space are what earned the creature its name: Blink Dog.

Finch didn’t know that a constellation’s name could change. He had just assumed it was something that was stuck that way forever. Finch smiled as he moved to the next paragraph. If something as big and important as the constellations could change names, and the whole world learned to adjust, then a human changing their name should be no problem.

Those born under Ictu Canum are said to be energetic and fast-paced, and their attention can be split between many things at once. Because of this, some can struggle with staying committed to one task for a long period of time and can get bored easily when new ideas and challenges are not constantly presented. However, Ictu Canums can find desires and passions that they do not lose focus on, especially when they are surrounded by people and environments that make them feel at their most comfortable and creative. This untapped potential mimics the Blink Dog’s unlimited abilities within its home plane.

Like Blink Dogs, those born under this sign are very loyal and make amazing friends and partners once their trust has been earned. They give themselves wholeheartedly to those they love, sometimes to a fault, forgetting to care about themselves and their personal needs. Although a very sociable sign, it is important that Ictu Canums find worth in themselves and their own company. Practicing self-care and understanding their own needs (and not just the needs of others), is something Ictu Canums need to be vigilant in.

Finch’s friend, Alix was an Ictu Canum, and he figured the information was pretty accurate when he thought about it. Alix really struggled to stay focused at the academy, but when she was in her art studio, she could stay for hours making amazing paintings. They were masterpieces! Finch wished he had something like that he was as passionate about. He was definitely interested in astronomy and astrology, but he figured there wasn’t really anything he could do. He felt like so much had already been discovered. He would always be behind.

 

Draco (Jiharon 18th – Amori 2nd)

Creature: Dragon

Sorting: Beast

 

Astronomer Tallis Luxer sorted this Dragon sign into the Beast category, accounting for its size and power as a giant reptile. However, some modern astronomers believe that Draco would be better suited in the Arcana category, due to a Dragon’s magical prowess and the diversity of elemental abilities amongst different dragon colours and species. Luxer’s sorting remains the most universally accepted, at the stage of this book’s publication.

Draco has the longest solar transit time (totalling 41 days) that one can be born under this sign. It is the only sign, except Gigavespa, that solely fills a month (in this case Eitrias) and is also the biggest constellation within the zodiac, with the longest celestial longitude.

Common traits within Dracos are hard to agree upon, with so many variations of dragon colours, and each having unique characteristics. Immense studies have been conducted on further categorising Dracos into their most suited colours, with the influence of the weather, year of birth and planetary positioning being taken into consideration. For detailed dissection of each of these elements, refer to Celyn Nordika’s book: ‘Draco: Ten Colours, One Constellation’.

Finch groaned quietly. Why couldn’t this book just include the information? He really didn’t want to ask that librarian if he could have it. Maybe another day, when a different person was working, and when he felt better about his face and voice, and maybe with a better shirt too.

He decided to skip to his own sign for something that could interest him more. He’d read it before, but it had been a while and he’d been told that horoscope interpretations change with age and circumstance and unlock more meaning and significance.

 

(Luna) Pentium (Alladus 19th – Wyne 10th)

Creature: Werewolf

Sorting: Fusion

 

Officially called Luna Pentium, the name is commonly shortened to Pentium, meaning duality and representing the two forms of human and wolf.

Those born under this sign are easily influenced by their environment and the people around them, and the way they present may change depending on their circumstances and social circles. This allows Pentiums to fit in with many groups and make friends easily, as an unobtrusive presence. It can be especially beneficial in business and people-driven work, and many well-known Pentiums are leaders of their community.

Finch didn’t know if that fit him. He more felt that he was hiding who he was to not offend or anger anyone. Maybe in that way he was being ‘unobtrusive’, but it didn’t feel good. He wanted to be himself unapologetically, but he was scared.

Pentiums can also manifest their duality through the repression of self-deemed ‘unsatisfactory’ aspects of themselves, creating a self that they keep hidden and harbour guilt or shame for.

Oh.

That fit Finch well. He had only recently accepted that he was not a ‘lady’, and that it wasn’t the life he wanted to live. For years he thought it would be easier to convince himself that he could live how others saw him. He didn’t want to be different.

Finch sighed. Maybe the werewolf was the perfect sign for him. He knew how werewolves were treated in society, how they were outcast, and people looked at them differently as soon as they found out they weren’t normal. He was so scared of that happening to him if he corrected people.

Open communication with one’s self is vital for a Pentium to understand what they are hiding and why. It is important to remember that it is normally one’s self who exacerbates issues and problems until they feel unbearable or unsolvable, while this is not always the case in reality.

Pentiums are heavily influenced by the lunar cycle and should use the waning moon as a time for reflection and clarity. They can draw confidence in this shift of power to make their ‘wolf’ known to trusted friends and family and create an environment of open conversation.

Maybe he should do that. The time with the moon was right too, so maybe it was meant to be. Alix was going to drop by the library after her catch-up history class so they could walk home together. And if it went wrong Finch could just run away. But it wouldn’t go wrong, he told himself. Alix would understand and be supportive, she had to be. Otherwise what was Finch going to do?

Finch kept reading until he heard a voice call out a name that was no longer his. He looked up anyway and saw Alix walking over to him, bag on her back and hair down, against academy uniform policy.

‘You ready to go?’

‘Yeah, um,’ Finch looked around the table as if something to put away would be there, but his bag was packed, and he could leave the book in one of the collection trays. ‘Yes, I’m ready.’

The two left the library and Alix started her spiel about how boring history was, and the stupid things the professor went on and on about, but Finch wasn’t really listening. He didn’t think he could do this. What if she thought he was weird? Or that it was all in his head? What if she outright rejected him? He didn’t know what he would do if she refused to adjust; it would hurt so much to hear her use the wrong name on purpose.

‘Hey, you okay? You’re quiet.’ Finch could tell she was looking at him but kept looking forward. He could do it, he had to do it. Otherwise he would never be himself.

‘Actually, there’s something really important I have to tell you. My name is Finch…’

 

Header image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

david

Author: Dominica Ryan

Mum shoved the phone in front of David’s face, blocking his view of the last cornflake as it floated on shallow milk.

David clenched his teeth in annoyance. It was bad enough Mum had yanked the bedcovers off him, depriving him of discovering whether the alien princess would run him through with her photon-sword.

Mum always woke him ridiculously early. Today she’d pulled him out of bed at 10.59am. Now she wouldn’t let him finish his cereal in peace.

‘Kyla messaged,’ Mum said. ‘She wants to meet you. She’s suggesting coffee Saturday morning at Subway on St. George’s Road, Thornbury.’ The old refrigerator in the corner of the kitchen struggled to reluctant life. ‘I think you should say yes.’

‘I can’t,’ David said, not wondering or caring who this Kyla might be. ‘I have an early shift at the car wash.’ He banged the spoon off the side of his favourite bowl, knocking out another ceramic chip.

Mum’s thin shoulders dropped. ‘You could meet her after. For a drink. Take her someplace nice on Brunswick Street. Or maybe into the city.’

David thought fast: ‘Sanjay might need me to do extra shifts if some of the other guys don’t show up.’

Mum drew the phone screen close to her face, scrolled for a few seconds, bit down on her lip. ‘I just have a good feeling about Kyla. She seems nice. Genuine. It would be great to see you with a lovely girl, David. Someone who loves you for all your qualities.’

David knew that if he looked at his Mum, he’d notice new lines on her forehead, cheeks sunken further than last time, the grey reaching across the top of her head which would meet in the middle soon.

‘Rent’s due next week,’ she conceded. ‘We could do with the cash you make Saturday.’

‘What happened to the extra I made last week?’ he asked. ‘You said that covered us.’

Mum’s narrow lips blew out air. ‘Oh, you know how it is. One thing led to another and…’ her voice trailed off, leaving David’s query hanging. David lifted the bowl to his face, slurping down the milk and the solitary limp cornflake. He knew all his mum’s expressions. Some of them made his pasty skin crawl – like “one thing led to another”. Hearing that particular phrase triggered an avalanche of questions which, over the years, his mum had always outpaced, ducked or skirted like a skier in a slalom. She rolled out ready-made, empty phrases, appearing to answer his questions while leaving them unanswered. Questions like: why did David’s father leave when he was five years old? Why did she jump every time she heard a door slam? Why did they move every few years? David thought it utterly preposterous that “one thing would lead to another” would ever apply to him. His life wasn’t that neat. It should be, but it wasn’t.

Then, one thing did lead to another. It all happened at internet speed, just as he was moving the bowl from his lips to the table. Kyla sent a message meant for one of her friends to David’s phone. It mentioned a dream, which his mum now read.
‘Strange dream Kyla has had about an alien,’ Mum mused aloud as she read the message.

David grabbed the phone. Stared. Thought deeply. It must be a sign. An alien dream. Aliens with photon-swords. Kyla could be the one he’d been waiting for. Someone who would understand. Someone he could talk to. Finally.
‘OK,’ David said.

Mum smiled.

*

The dark faux-wood table in Subway that Saturday morning was wet. David massaged his

coffee cup, dumbstruck.

Kyla was talking.

‘I knew from your very first message that you were honest.’ She pulled at the faded blue and white scarf around her short neck, tightening then loosening it, shifting her rounded frame on the chair. She leaned across the table, still damp from the cloth used by the waiter who cleared the table. A coffee machine hissed in the background, while a young mum called out to a grubby-faced toddler to stay away from the front door. Kyla’s brown, deep-set eyes drank David in. ‘I memorised all your messages.’

‘I memorised all the dialogue in the movie Star Trek: Nemesis,’ said David.

Her right hand landed gently on his left forearm. ‘Some of your messages made me cry,  like, when you wrote that being in groups of people is hard for you.’

‘It is.’
‘How the things you want to say always come out the wrong way.’
‘Mum tells me that constantly.’
‘How people judge you,’ Kyla said, ‘but if they took the time to get to know you

they’d see you were a nice person.’

‘Mum says that too.’

‘You seem very close to your Mum, David.’
He nodded. ‘I live with her. In Preston. But we’ve lived all over the country.’

A slow, unsure smile crept across Kyla’s face. She straightened up in her chair,

released his forearm. ‘I dated my last boyfriend for 15 months. He stayed over at my place a lot. If we went out, went to the footy, I always paid. He said child support was killing him. When he stayed over, he got up with me in the morning, had breakfast, we’d get ready, leave for work together.’ She traced a figure eight on the still-wet table with her index finger. ‘I found out he didn’t have a job. Or a kid. He was living with his folks in Essendon.’ She paused. ‘I’m not used to guys being honest about themselves.’ A blush spread across her cheeks, a deepening pink stain. ‘People should be honest with each other. They should be radical about it. Do you know what I mean?’

‘No,’ David said.
Kyla shot him a quizzical glance, then a joyous smile burst across her face.
‘See, that’s what I’m talking about. You practice radical honesty David. That’s why I

suggested we meet.’

David smiled back at her.

‘I want people in my life who tell me the truth no matter how uncomfortable that makes me. I’ll do the same in return.’ Kyla cleared her throat. ‘So, ask me anything David. Anything at all.’

A flutter of excitement awakened like a caged bird in David’s chest. ‘Tell me about the alien.’

Kyla furrowed her brow.

‘The alien you mentioned in the message that you sent to me. The message you meant to send to someone else.’

‘Why do you want to know about that?’ she asked.
‘I dream about aliens every night.’
‘Well, you’re really into sci-fi movies, so I guess that’s to be expected.’
‘Mum said not to ask you. She said you’d find me talking about aliens weird. But you

said people should be honest with each other.’

‘For sure.’

David reached across the narrow table, placing his hand on hers. He lowered his voice to a whisper. ‘Kyla, what if your dream about the alien wasn’t a dream. What if the dream is the reality and all this,’ with his forehead David indicated the café, the universe, everything. ‘What if this world is the made up one, the fiction?’

 

Their coffee date ended at 10.39am, leaving David 21 minutes to walk to the carwash for his 11am shift. He messaged Kyla six times, telling her secrets of the universe he hadn’t had the time to share earlier. In the first hour of his shift, Sanjay, his boss, yelled at him twice for messaging when he was supposed to be wiping vehicles. ‘You’re holding up the line. I catch you checking your phone again, you’re out of here, mate.’

‘Sorry,’ David pushed the phone into the front pocket of his damp jeans. ‘I was checking if I got a message.’

‘From your girlfriend?’ Sanjay’s scrawny arm made sudsy circles on the driver’s door of a black sedan.

‘She’s not my girlfriend.’
‘You getting married when she gets out of the insane asylum?’ Sanjay grinned.

‘She’s not in an asylum. She works in Myer. In the homewares section. In

Northland.’
Sanjay shook excess soap from the oversized sponge. ‘Just do what I’m paying you

for.’
When David arrived home after his double shift, Mum was asleep on the broken

couch, exhausted from vacuuming kilometres of grey-carpeted offices in the city. Still no reply from Kyla, despite sending her a total of forty-six messages since their date.

David sloped off to his room to re-watch a couple of old Star Trek movies, falling asleep on the bed covers with his clothes on.

The following morning, Mum was perched on the end of his single bed. As David slowly woke and stretched, she was tapping furiously on his phone.

‘Is there a message from Kyla?’ he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
‘Forget about her, David,’ her tiny fingers danced nimbly across the screen.

‘Why?’ He pushed himself up to sitting. ‘Kyla said listening to me telling her about

aliens was really something.’
‘Well, one thing led to another and now I know she’s not right for you.’
‘Did she message?’
‘I deleted it.’
‘What did Kyla say?’
‘It’s not important.’
‘Mum!’
‘Oh, I don’t remember David. Something about not being that interested in alien life

forms. Something about your messages yesterday triggering anxiety.’

‘What…’

‘You don’t want to go out with a girl with an anxiety issue David! You don’t know what she’d do.’ Mum thrust the phone towards him. Smiled. ‘But look, a girl called Sophie sent you a love heart just now. Her profile says she only watches sci-fi. Her friends think she’s a bit weird and she says she’s OK with that.’

David dropped his face into his hands.

‘Sophie has kind eyes,’ Mum said, putting her hand on David’s thigh. ‘She seems nice. Genuine. I have a really good feeling about her.’

Header image by Daniela Reape, courtesy of Pixabay

a love like you and me

Author: Daniela Abriola

I really shouldn’t have let my best friend set me up on a blind date.

They never work out well. Not even in movies. If it can’t even work for fictional characters, why would it work for me?

I don’t mind that I’m single, but my friends do. Just because they all have someone, doesn’t mean I need someone.

Life doesn’t have to be like a Taylor Swift song, dancing with your soulmate in the kitchen with nothing but the light from a refrigerator. It isn’t my kind of life. I’m fine on my own.

But no one can shield themselves from Ava. When she sets her mind to something, she doesn’t stop till she gets what she wants.

‘Rhys,’ she said. ‘I just want you to be happy.’

I wish I could believe her. I’m sure, deep down, she does want that for me. But I know that she’s tired of organising couples’ events and having me tag along. Sure, she tells me she doesn’t mind, but her constant murmurs of ‘oh, Rhys, I guess you can come too,’ tell me otherwise.

So here I am, sitting at a table in a small restaurant downtown that’s way too classy to be something I can afford. The number of forks place across the table is enough to make me feel inferior to everyone here. Why would I I let my date pick this restaurant for me?

I don’t know what this mystery girl looks like at all. Ava was so excited that I had (reluctantly) agreed to go on a date with her ‘super-hot friend from yoga class’, that she forgot to mentionany actual details. Apparently, she is ‘just my type’, but I’m 21-years-old, and I’ve been single for all of them. I don’t even know what my type is. Ava was persistent, however.

‘You’ll like her, trust me.’

Something about that phrase made me not want to trust her. But I promised.

There’s no sign of this ‘super-hot yoga friend’, and it’s fine. I’m fine. I got here early anyway.  But as the minutes tick by, the more restless I get.  I feel the endless need to fidget– if my hands were occupied then my anxiety would be gone, or at the very least, I could ignore it for a while. Well, that’s what I tell myself when I accidentally knock the pepper shaker all over the table. I wipe my hands on my jeans, trying to rid myself of the pepper grounds covering my skin. I wonder if maybe I am overdressed, but as I watch a couple walk into the restaurant, I realise that maybe I’m not dressed up enough. Either way, it’s too late to change my clothes now.

A slim figure moves from the corner of my vision and sits down on the chair in front of me. Her eyes are captivating. They’re  bright shade of emerald green. Jewels that seem so incomparable they make my heart skip a beat.

‘Hey,’ she says. ‘I’m Ashley.’

My phone screen lights up, alerting me that I’ve received a text. I check my phone discreetly.

From: Ava

How’s the date going?????????

Instinctively, I run my thumb across the silver ring on my middle finger, and I don’t stop until the cool metal band begins to settle me. Ava is desperate for this date to work. How can I tell her that Ashley is, despite first impressions, the most boring person I’ve ever met?

She spends the first ten minutes telling me about this ‘amazing’ juice cleanse she’s on. I don’t understand why she picked a restaurant for our date if she wasn’t going to eat anything, but I know better than to say anything.

In the next twenty minutes, she lectures me about the meat industry, telling me that I ‘really should go vegan’. There are a few choice words thrown in there – at one point she calls me a murderer for eating meat. Ashley spends so much time talking that I don’t get the chance to tell her I am, in fact, already vegan.

I can’t tell Ava that the date is worse than being on the Titanic. I’d rather be Jack, clinging on to that door for dear life, than have to listen to this girl tell me that ‘she doesn’t hate gay people’ she just wishes they ‘wouldn’t do it in front of her’. This would crush Ava. I mean, she is more invested in my love life than I am.

Ashley smiles. ‘This has been really fun.’

I try to keep a straight face. Fun for who?. This is the exact opposite of fun for me. But I don’t tell her that. Instead, I smile and nod my head.

‘Yeah.’

‘I’m just going to the bathroom,’ she says. I’m sure she also mentions something about freshly squeezed juice ‘going right through’ her, but at this point I’m too tired to care.

I must be more tired than I thought, because before I know it, she’s sitting across from me.

My first thought is, wow, that was fast. But when I see that it’s the waiter who seated me at my table, I stare at him questioningly.

‘I’m on my break right now. I thought you could use some saving,’ he says.

There’s no one else sitting at the table – it has to be me he’s talking to. But his words still catch me off guard.

‘Me?’

He pauses for a moment. ‘Yes, you.

‘Oh, I- uh, um,’ I stutter.

Yep, good one Rhys. That’s exactly how normal people speak.

‘It looked that bad?’ I ask. It sure felt bad.

‘I’ve seen many bad dates in my life, and that looked like one of them.’

He flashes me a smile, and oh. I realise that he’s gorgeous. He’s tall, with the softest brown eyes I’ve ever seen, and his hair is dark brown, with a sheen like parquetry flooring. That comparison isn’t entirely fair, actually. Parquetry flooring doesn’t move like this guy’s hair does, brushing softly around his face as he speaks. I’m trying not to stare, but honestly. He’s the most handsome guy I’ve ever seen.

‘Oh,’ I say. Oh? That’s the best you could come up with? Idiot.

He’s so hot, and my hands are sweating like never before.

It’s not a big deal. It’s fine.

Except it is. It’s a disaster, actually. Or possibly an epic shit-storm of a disaster, because how am I meant to tell Ava that I am more attracted to the waiter who had to explain what the different forks at my table were for, than I am her friend.

I haven’t considered that I might be gay, but I definitely couldn’t deny that sitting across from me is the hottest person I’ve ever seen. The more I think about it, the more the word gay makes sense to me.

‘Leon,’ he says, and I jump a little. I forgot that he’s still sitting in front of me. But he is, with his hand extended out for me to shake. 

I wonder if shaking hands is something that people still do, but then Leon laughs, and I realise I’ve said this out loud.

Shit.  

‘I’m Rhys,’ I awkwardly mumble.

‘You’re an interesting guy, Rhys,’ Leon smiles again.

Usually, I’d be a little offended by that. But the way he says it…it’s nothing less than endearing. Then he quickly looks me up and down. ‘And very good looking.’

There’s no doubt in my mind that this is inappropriate. This is his place of work, and my date will come back from the bathroom any minute now. But that doesn’t change the fact that I can’t feel my legs anymore, and my brain is not thinking in coherent sentences. He’s flirting with me, and I know for a fact that I’m grinning from ear to ear.

Maybe Leon senses that I’m having a hard time responding, because he doesn’t wait for me to make a complete fool of myself.

‘Well, Rhys,’ he says, stopping mid speech as his eyes travel to the bathrooms across the restaurant. Great. Ashley is walking back to the table.

In a matter of seconds, Leon pulls his notepad out from his apron and scrawls something down. ‘If your date is as bad as I think it is, you should call me. Hopefully, I can show you a better date than she did.’

Leon hands me the piece of paper with his number on it, and for the first time, I understand what all those Taylor Swift songs were about.

Featured image courtesy of Markus Spiske via Unsplash.