lemon tree

 

by Sarah Cirillo

 

This piece was awarded first place in the 2022 Swinburne Sudden Writing Competition.

 

The lemon tree stretches its arms out wide, boughs heaving with fruit. Underneath, there is a graveyard of rotting lemons, sickly sweet and buzzing with flies, and I gag as I reach under her. All the ripest lemons are there, but all the thorns are there too. They await my bare arms, ready to tear at my skin­­­­­­­­. I think it’s her revenge for taking her fruit. She works so hard and then she gets pissed on by Dad and Nonno. It’s good for the lemons, they both say. Men and their bloody dicks, Mum says.

Lemons are my favourite. People hate them because they’re bitter, but if you dip them in sugar they taste like lollies. Nonno taught me that. We cut them into small wedges, drenching them in the tiny granules. We grin as we eat them, and sticky lemon juice drips down my chin and onto the floor.

Nonno’s house has a huge lemon tree. We always climb up to the highest lemons, fighting to get the best ones. We play for hours, sometimes hopping over to the fig tree. She’s even bigger than the lemon tree, with twisted limbs bearing budding, milky fruit. I wonder if she gets pissed on, too.

It’s summertime and lemons hang like a lady’s jewels. Knobbed branches are marred with wrinkles, grotesque knots twisting this way and that, just like Nonno’s hands. Dad is the same, leather on bone, stubbled like the pricks on the lemon tree. They work hard, Mum says as we watch Dad and Nonno pruning the lemon tree. To the bone. Her branches fall to the ground uselessly, decorating the graveyard beneath her. I wonder if she knows she’s treated like nothing. She bears her fruit like she bears her soul, and all she gets back are broken limbs and piss.

Mum calls me over to help her make dinner. Salt dribbles onto my lips and I lick it away, turning to Mum as she sets out the cotoletta. She stands over the bench, back bent, like the trunk of my lemon tree, only Mum doesn’t get pissed on – we just take fruit, leaving her bare.

Today, Nonno taught my cousin to piss on the lemon tree. Men and their dicks, I think. He’s thirteen, and at lunchtime his friends play scopa and yell about the girls they want to fuck. They probably piss on their lemon trees too.

 

 

Photo by Angélica Echeverry on Unsplash.

 

dear sister

 

by Zoe Sorenson

 

Your plants are still here.

I guess that’s kinda obvious

since you couldn’t really fit multiple potted plants

(or stupid kid-brothers)

in the one duffel bag you packed when

you decided to leave forever.

 

Still, you loved them so much.

I kinda figured that, if anything, you’d

come back for them.

I don’t understand how you could

leave them behind.

 

You gave so much of yourself to

the things you loved—

your attention and care

became their own kind of magic.

Now would be a really good time

for you to use those superpowers of yours

to reappear

and the plants can be happy again.

 

It’s only been a little while since you left,

but already they’re starting to wilt.

I don’t know if it’s ’cause of

the time that’s passed,

or if they somehow know that you’re gone.

Maybe they’re just

grieving in the way they know best.

 

I’ve tried so hard to help.

I’ve tried so hard to keep alive

the one thing left of you.

But nothing I do is enough and

I’m going to lose them just like

I lost you so please

just come home. I need you

to fix it like you always do.

 

Your flowers miss you.

I miss you.

I want my big sister back.

 

 

 

Image by Yulia YasBe on shuttertsock.

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 Rooke

 

 

‘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