The Tribe That Lost A Piece Of Their Soul And Discovered A World

Here’s a little Christmas present for you all –  it’s one of my favourites of all the things I’ve written “for kids”.  But really, it’s for everyone who understands…

William Bowmore Wise liked to travel, and he liked to take pictures.

He especially liked to take pictures with his very expensive and very clever mobile phone that had a very clever camera built into it. He had a big camera too, but his phone was easier to carry around.

William B. Wise lived in a big city in Australia, but he really liked to travel.

Fortunately he was quite rich, so he could afford to visit a lot of interesting places.

William liked taking pictures of people who had less than he did because he thought they were interesting. He wasn’t being smug or unkind. He just didn’t quite understand them.

He’d always been quite rich and didn’t know what it was like to have to make his own clothes or bake his own bread. He couldn’t imagine what it must be like to grow his own food or catch his own fish or build his own house.

William didn’t even really understand what it was like to have to work hard to have enough money to buy food or a place to live.

He took pictures of people working and building and fishing and farming because they were things that to him were different and unusual.

When William took pictures of people, he didn’t think of them as people. It was like they were just things. Things to take pictures of, just like bridges and buildings and sunflowers and sunsets.

*

The Williwilli people were a very small, very ancient tribe who lived in Central Australia.

There weren’t many of them any more. They didn’t have a home. They hadn’t had a home for thousands of years.

dscf3840The Williwilli people were nomads. They wandered from place to place, and built rough shelters to sleep in for just as long as they stayed in one place.

Sometimes they would hunt, sometimes they would fish, and sometimes they would gather the fruits and plants that grew in what other people called the Outback.

The Williwilli people knew a little about things like cars and cameras and computers. They’d seen them when they happened to be at a place where there were tourists visiting.

They knew about such things, but they weren’t very interested in them.

Those were things that the Williwilli people had never had, so they never missed having them. They were quite content with their lives and the way that they lived them.

But one thing that none of the Williwilli people liked was to have their picture taken.

They really really believed that if someone took a picture of you then they took a piece of your soul. That was the thing inside you that made You who you were, and if someone took a piece of it then you would be less You.

*

Continue reading The Tribe That Lost A Piece Of Their Soul And Discovered A World

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WHITE SPIRIT

Another early Dubious Magic story, set during the early events of Book 1: The Wizard of Waramanga – in which Wilko gets a little foretaste of the weirdness he’ll come to know around John B. Stewart.  With thanks to Dana and Julie for giving me some time to work on it, and to Meredith for giving me reasons.

It had been an unexpectedly successful weekend for both of them, right up until very recently.

John B. Stewart and Robert ‘Wilko’ Wilkes were a pair of fairly ordinary Canberra public servants.  Except for John B. having magical powers ever since he’d hit his head on a poker machine.

The Tasmanian Wilko didn’t believe a word of that story, no matter how earnestly John B. tried to convince him that his wishes now came true.  Not always predictably, he would admit, but results happened.

What they did agree on was a fondness for a game of golf.  When the chance arose to play in a social tournament in a little country club a few hours drive west of Canberra, they’d agreed it seemed a good way to spend a couple of days.

“It’s your turn to have a few drinks, mate,” John B. had said.  “We’ll take Kraven and I’ll drive us home.”

Kraven was Stewart’s battered but well-loved old Hillman Hunter.  Wilko had been slightly concerned – the old car had been the recipient of some of his friend’s rather dodgy ‘running repairs’, but the offer was generous and the Hunter did seem to be reliable at the moment.

The golf had gone remarkably well.  John B. had won a ‘nearest to the pin’ prize on Saturday, and Wilko had gone from a decent Saturday to a terrific Sunday, becoming the upset winner of the overall competition.

It wasn’t a great financial windfall, but it was a nice trophy and a few extra dollars to put over the clubhouse bar.  So it was rather later than they’d originally intended when they finally waved their farewells and headed east.

John B. had been as good as his word and had very little to drink.  A couple of good single malts spread over the hours, interspersed with plenty of soda water.  He was tired, though.  Sharing a hotel room with Wilko was challenging.  The Tasmanian was a heavy sleeper, and completely oblivious to his own snoring.  John B. wasn’t so lucky.

The sun was well down as the Hillman trundled along the road.  It wasn’t a well-finished surface, and the ride was a bumpy one.

It was one particularly bad pothole that had been the cause of the sudden change in their fortunes.  Kraven’s front left wheel had hit hard, the car had bounced and landed heavily.  When it did, all the lights went out.

John B. rummaged under the bonnet by torchlight to no avail.  There was a small place a little way ahead.  Less than a town, it was barely a village, but it was a destination that could be reached by driving carefully with Wilko holding the torch out the window.

That plan worked well until it started to rain.  Torchlight through the wet front windscreen proved woefully inadequate to drive by.

They limped the car slowly into Bullangar and found the only hotel in the place.

“Sorry mate – we’ve only got two rooms and they’re both full tonight,” said the manager apologetically.  “I’m really sorry, I wish I could help.”

“Yeah, I wish you could too,” said John B. with a sigh.

He and Wilko turned to go back out into the rain.

“Looks like we’ll have to sleep in the car,” said Stewart.

“Bit cramped, but I guess you’re right,” agreed Wilko.

‘Noisy, too,’ was John B.’s unspoken thought.

The manager looked after them, genuinely concerned, then called out, “Wait – you reckon you can make it down the road a little further?”

“Not keen, but what have you got in mind?” asked the driver.

“There’s a farmhouse about five minutes away, on the left.  Belonged to my missus’ family.  Auntie Grace passed away a few months back.  Family’s still fightin’ about what to do with the property, and whatever money they can get for it.”

“You know what they say, where there’s a will there’s a relative,” John B. answered with a smile.

“Bloody right,” agreed the manager.  “Can’t say that in front of the missus, but.  Old Bert was a funny cove but Grace was a nice old stick.  I can let you have that for the night.  No lights or power, but a roof over your head and you can stretch out while you sleep.”

The two golfers looked at each other and shrugged.

“What’ll it cost?” asked Wilko.

The manager looked out into the rainy night and replied, “Nah, no charge – just don’t nick anything, eh? There’s a few things the family locusts haven’t cleaned out themselves yet.  Here’s the key.  Just leave it in the mailbox in the morning and I’ll pick it up later.”

“Mate, you’re a champion! Thanks!” said John B. warmly.

Continue reading WHITE SPIRIT

A TRAP FOR THE UNWARY

Another Dubious Magic story – one which takes place quite early during the events of Book 1: The Wizard of Waramanga.  John B. learns more about being careful what you wish for.

 

It was the definitive lazy afternoon in Waramanga. The leafy Canberra suburb was warm, but not unpleasantly so if you stayed out of the direct sun.

That was precisely what John B. Stewart had chosen to do. He was in the back yard of his cottage, reclining on a deckchair in the shade of a large tree. His housemate Darren was at work. There was no sport of interest on the radio, so he relaxed in comfortable quiet, enjoying the light breeze and the sounds of the garden.

John B. had recently accidentally discovered that he was a wizard. Ever since hitting his head on a poker machine he’d found his wishes coming true. Not always predictably, though, so he was learning to be cautious.

He might, for instance, as he rested there wish for something to eat.

‘Ah, no,’ he thought to himself. ‘At best, Darren might come home early from work bearing leftover pizza. Or at worst a plane flying overhead might explode and leave me showered with in-flight snacks – and other debris.’

Sometimes having a vivid imagination could be disconcerting, although it did, he reasoned, serve as a kind of warning device.

John B. opened one eye and smiled at the sight of his other housemate. Kat was a generously proportioned white Persian cat who was currently lying under a favourite shrub quite nearby. He too was enjoying the shade.

The cat’s posture reminded John B. of the Sphinx, but with the chin resting comfortably on the forelegs.

Kat and John B. were both comfortably relaxed. Neither had moved appreciably for well over an hour. If they weren’t both sound asleep the difference wouldn’t have been obvious to any casual observer.

The lilting chorus of birdsong that John B. had been enjoying took on a new strident note. A noisy mynah had flown into the garden, and as was the way of its type, was aggressively trying to hector other birds away from the territory it wanted to occupy.

“I wish you’d be bloody quiet,” the wizard muttered in mild irritation.

He watched the newcomer for a few moments. It seemed utterly oblivious to him, and unconcerned at his annoyance. John B. sighed and closed his eyes.

After a while the mynah’s voice grew louder as it came closer to the deckchair. John B. opened his eyes again without otherwise moving.

The bird had evidently taken note of the lassitude of the yard’s two occupants. It was hopping about on the ground quite close to them both, foraging for whatever it is that noisy mynahs forage for. Once, twice it hopped right by Kat. The big Persian didn’t so much as twitch his nose or open an eye.

But on the bird’s third pass the left paw shot out and back almost too quickly to be seen, and there was an audible crunch.

John B.’s eyes widened. Most of Kat hadn’t seemed to move at all, but under the left paw was the mynah’s body. Its head was missing.. Eyes still closed, the Persian was contentedly chewing his afternoon snack.

A small drop of blood on the white fur of his chin was the only clue of his culpability. Well, other than the headless corpse still idly held.

The wizard made a silent apology to the mynah’s ghost, shook his head and said to Kat, “I’m glad you’re on my side, mate.”

Kat swallowed, and purred.

Breaking Bone

A Dubious Magic story.  This takes place immediately after the events of The Wizard of Waramanga… Check out the Marketplace page to order the book!

They’d made it into Barandilla not long after sunset.

You couldn’t call Barandilla a town.  It didn’t even appear on a lot of maps.  On a lonely stretch of the highway running through the Central Australian desert, it had a pub, two petrol pumps – one of which had an ‘Out Of Order’ sign that had hung on it so long it had almost faded to illegibility – and a stray dog.

‘Bob’s Hotel’ served as a rest stop for passing trucks and the occasional drover, and a social hub for folks from the surrounding cattle stations.

It had been a long day.  Well, that was probably an understatement.  The four of them had been shot at and almost consumed by a gigantic demon from some dark Other Dimension before narrowly escaping the cataclysmic cave-in of an underground military complex.  No wonder Wilko, Darren and Scarlet had just wanted to have a quick meal then go crash in their respective rooms.

John B. Stewart was still too wound up to sleep, though.  Since hitting his head on a Canberra poker machine he’d found he had a strange wizardly power.  His wishes came true, although not necessarily in ways he anticipated.  It had been his unpredictable magic that had gotten them into danger, and admittedly out of it.  Bidding his friends goodnight he went to get as good a Scotch as he could find.

As well as the dining room, there were two bars in Bob’s Hotel.  John B. very deliberately chose to walk into the less well-lit option.

There was only one other customer.  Sitting near the end of the bar was a dusty Aboriginal wearing the checked shirt and jeans that were almost the local uniform.  He looked up at John B. then quickly looked back down at his beer, considerable surprise on his face.

Continue reading Breaking Bone

BOOMERANG

Some thoughts on coming back to Australia after nine months travelling…

 

It’s morning, and the beach is quiet.  A photographer and I are the only human life to be seen or heard.  She’s taking pictures of the old pier.  My pictures are all stored in my head.

Wind blowing the light sand, looking like fine plumes of water as they skim across the harder packed surface.  Not a single sheet, or a wave but ripples and wavelets – patterns like ragged lace.

Now and then it swirls or eddies but mostly it moves in long rapid sweeps.  Sometimes you really can see the wind.

A cormorant waddles ashore, stretching and flapping its wings to dry them.  The smaller seagulls give him a wide berth.  It’s a lazy time of day for them.  The picnickers aren’t out yet and the dawn fishermen have gone, their scraps already consumed by the early birds.

Twenty or so birds – terns and gulls alike huddled into themselves against the wind.

It’s a little chilly perhaps, but not cold.  Not cold like some of the places I’ll travel to.

Places further than even those gulls will fly.

I’ve walked on cobblestone streets and icy roads.  I’ve seen ancient cities and modern metropolises.  Stood in deserts and under trees that were a thousand years old.  Wandered into grand cathedrals and straw huts.

Now I’m sailing on an ocean on the other side of the world from the beach and the old pier.

But it’s all coming back to me.

I’m coming back to it.