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| A common theme runs though this otherwise very varied bouquet of short stories: a sympathy for the victim. Contemporary crime, science fiction, fantasy, historical adventure, all of them can be found here. A kaleidoscope of villains and heroes follow each other, waiting to entertain you.
Mrs Jones leads her Takamaka Freedom Fighters to rescue thousands of prisoners from the 'Happy Hen Poultry Farm'; an artist imprisoned in a twisted body finds a unique form of revenge when the beautiful blonde treats him with scorn; and Cynthia saves the Earth from invasion by an organism that wants to give pleasure to every human being.
|The first edition of this book was a finalist in the 'anthologies' category of the EPPIE 2001 Awards.|
Bob Rich is an Australian, and many of his stories are colored by this unique and fascinating land. In another place, Cecil Tripp might manufacture bombs. Down Under, he lights a bushfire. Only in Australia could Tim O'Liam be punished in just the way described in 'Let the Punishment Fit the Crime'. And Sarah and Andrew find out about their different world-views in the beautiful Australian bush.
Other stories could be set anyplace where one person preys upon another. The difference from the norm is that, in these stories, the victims show how to strike back, how the powerful and arrogant can be made to lose. Having been on the receiving end himself, Bob's sympathies are always with the victim.
Stories are meant to entertain, and these stories do just that. Read a sample and see.
| As a new-born during the Second World War, Bob was already fighting victimization. He was a Jewish baby in the Budapest ghetto, but with blue eyes and blond hair. So, his mother removed her yellow star, and used her obviously Aryan child as camouflage, obtaining food for many people. This is one of the themes of his award-winning biography, Anikó: The stranger who loved me.
By luck, Bob found himself in Australia at thirteen years of age. He is Australian by choice, not by the accident of birth, and loves this ancient and unique land.
He became a research psychologist, but retired when thirty-five. It happened because he kept falling asleep in the Library while writing up his Ph.D. thesis. This couldn't be allowed because he was visible to hundreds of his students. He had young children, so kept awake by reading predictions of the future. No, not Nostradamus, but the reports of the Club of Rome, the Ecologist magazine, books by Paul Erlich. In time, he acquired enough knowledge to make his own predictions, and this turned him into a born-again Greenie. He forecast a future plagued by mass starvation, wars of genocide, epidemics of new diseases, crime, alcoholism and drug addictions on a frightening scale, the breakup of the family... well, today's world.
He and his wife Jolanda decided to change the world by first changing their own life. They lived a deliberately low-income lifestyle for many years, in this way sabotaging the Economy, the monster that's eating our future. An accidental by-product of this choice was contentment, and their children have grown into adults they're proud of. Read the logic behind their lifestyle.
They joined a Co-operative, and started building their adobe house. Long before the house was built, Bob was teaching building skills. He calls himself a Mudsmith. He wrote a Manifesto, but a friend said, 'write it if you like, but no-one reads stuff like that. Write fiction.'
Bob didn't even know that there were courses for writers, he learned by doing. He's been writing magazine articles since 1980. His Earth Garden Building Book has had four editions published by Penguin, and has been reviewed as 'the Australian owner-builder's bible'. His second book, Woodworking for Idiots Like Me is a collection of autobiographical short stories, but teaches woodworking skills as well. You can read reviews of these books.
Bob now has an impressive list of prizes and awards in writing competitions, and has been swallowed by his computer.
(Meet my favourite villain.)
I fell for Mavis on Tuesday, September twelfth. I whizzed my skateboard along the sidewalk, real cool, jumping, flipping, even turning right around. Then this shape was there, stepped out from the lane to the Library. I pivoted, but too sharp, and fell all over the asphalt, the skateboard on top of me instead of the other way around, and my left arm became agony. It started as a point of pain at the elbow that grew, and spread, and throbbed like the heartbeat of hell. I was my left arm, and my left arm was pain, I HURT!
Black-stockinged legs stopped before me, with the hem of the checkered school uniform invitingly waving my eyes upward. Nice legs. Lovely legs. Not a pain-killer, no, but a good distraction. Then a face swam into my view, lovely heart-shaped face in a sea of golden hair, big blue eyes with black flecks in their depths. Little freckles surrounded a kissable nose. "You all right?" the perfect lips asked.
Well, you needn't be a genius to be beautiful. Of course I wasn't all right. "Sure," I managed. "Nothing that six weeks in plaster won't fix. Or a date. Will you go out with me?"
She laughed, "You really think you're up to it?"
"OK, visit me in hospital?"
"We need help." Maybe she had brains after all. She turned and yelled, "Matt! Matt!"
I turned my head, to see Godzilla walk from the Library. I'm no dwarf, but this bloke would have towered over me if I stood. He had to be pumping iron to have shoulders like that. As he bent over me, I saw that he'd shaved his head a week ago, the scalp was covered with black Scotch-brite.
"Is your back OK?" he asked.
"Yeah, back's OK. It's me left arm."
"Mave, call your Dad." The girl produced a phone from her bag. Matt dropped to one knee by my side, and next thing, I was up in the air, my left arm supported, and then I was sitting on the bench by the tree, beside my schoolbag.
"Is she your girlfriend?"
"You better believe it!"
"Oh well," I said, resigned, "then you can both visit me in hospital."
I wasn't really up to conversation, or wondering what the girl's father had to do with anything, being too busy not making baby sounds. I hugged my left arm and rocked.
Here she came, breathless. "He'll be here in five minutes," she announced. "Oh, you've got blood on your uniform." That's to me.
"I must have scraped myself on something." They laughed, I didn't, that would have been too much effort.
Matt said, "She is Mavis Martin, I'm Matthew King."
"I'm Will Coster." They smiled, I grimaced.
"Should I get Panadol from the chemist?" Mavis asked. Mavis, what a name. It's a name for a maiden aunt, but she was anything but. Still, I thought I could get used to it.
"I don't know," Matt answered. "Your Dad will have pethidine, and I don't know if the two mix."
"I vote for pethidine," was my contribution. They laughed again. I was doing well in the joke department.
"Will, are you in the Ambulance Service?" Mavis asked.
"I think my Mom is. Oh God, she should be told." Mavis whipped out notebook and pen from her schoolbag. I dictated Mom's work number, just as a large white shape pulled up. Red and blue lights flashed on the top, and Mr. Martin got out. I could see the resemblance to his daughter.
So, soon I became a zombie, with the world in slow motion. I knew the arm hurt, but I felt no pain, couldn't feel anything much. The roof of the ambulance approached and receded in waves. I saw Mavis, sitting beside my stretcher, and somewhere, far away, I was glad.
Mom was furious as she drove us home. "Oh Will, you'll be the death of me!" she wailed. Mom is good on clichés.
I was still dopey from the anesthetic, but managed, "Aw Mom, just think, I could be a football player."
"I'm tossing that thing into the rubbish!" she waved towards the skateboard on the back seat.
"What, my schoolbag?"
She didn't laugh, but drove, her lips an invisible line.
I couldn't go to school until the drainage tube stopped leaking. They'd opened me up, and put bits of metal into two of the three bones that make an elbow. Tony was to bring me work home this arvo. Writing was a chore, I'm left-handed, right hand's the wrong hand. I practiced, taking notes from the Commerce book. I do everything with the left hand, except drawing. Mr. Gateley reckons I draw right-handed because that way it's my non-dominant brain in control.
Commerce was a yawn, so I booted up the computer and worked on my major assignment. At least I could still peck at the keyboard one-handed. Though I would have preferred to peck with Mavis. Her face got in the way. I tried to concentrate, but grabbed a sheet of drawing paper and my pencil, and I doodled a curved line while thinking about the next sentence. Then a second random line. They perfectly defined her face in three-quarters profile. So I forgot work and sketched, hardly controlling the pencil. I jammed a corner of the paper under the keyboard so it wouldn't skate around. And there she was, looking out of the flat plane with concern in the big eyes, lips slightly parted.
I got my chalks. The face became pink with light tan smudged through it, highlights of white, the shadows touches of brown. I dotted in those cute freckles with a brown pencil. The lips were three shades of red rubbed together, then the yellow hair with touches of red and brown. The shadows gave me trouble, but at last I realized, they were purple. Looked perfect. Finally the azure eyes. I fussed a bit, rubbing out this, smudging that, touching up the other, then sprayed it with fixative. It's a sigh, isn't it? I thought of big Matt. A straight guy, kind, but I wouldn't want to cross him, not even with two good arms.
At long last, the time came for the Panadeine Forte. Then, Mavis temporarily out of my system, I returned to work.
It was Thursday the twenty-first before I could go back to school. The crowd lined up to write idiocies on my pristine plaster. Susan asked, "How'd it happen?"
"I fell for a girl from Chandos Hill High."
Everyone but Susan laughed. Her gypsy face grimaced. "Your own school not good enough?" We'd broken up two weeks before my fall, sick of the negativity. She was always petulant, nothing ever good enough. But she did look lovely -- wavy midnight hair to the waist when loose, huge sooty eyes, Salome face. Her figure made me itch for a pencil; I had dozens of nudes of her. She loved posing for them, too. She did synchronized swimming, and even on land she danced at every move. Pity she was a bitch.
Anyway, class was in. I struggled through the day. At home, for the thousandth time, I looked at the twenty-four columns of Martins in the phone book. I didn't know her old man's initial, but marked the local suburbs. Why couldn't she have been a Krondipoulos or a Szchzeschny?
CHANDOS HILL HOP!
SATURDAY 30TH SEPTEMBER
8 P.M. TO MIDNIGHT
Admission $5 No Alcohol
Invitations to dance plastered the world. I decided to go, plastered wing or not, even if you couldn't get plastered.
Then I got a wicked idea. One of Mom's clichés is, "All is fair in love or war." I was enthusiastic about the love part, with Mavis, as long as war with Matt could be avoided. I needed bait, and I knew just where to find her.
So, at morning break I sidled up to Susan. She knew me too well of course, said, "What do YOU want?"
"To do you a favor."
She looked disbelieving. Her face was always a theater. She could be more scathing with a raised eyebrow than Ms. Intall with a half-hour diatribe. Oh, that's our Principal.
"I want to take you to the Chandos Hill dance, and introduce you to a hunk."
She was quick: "Your lady love's boyfriend?"
"You'll like him. And he's a decent guy, not like me."
"No. Bugger off." But I could see that idea intrigued her. Stealing another girl's boyfriend had to have been be irresistible to her.
In the end, a group of us went. I had a cardboard tube tucked into my sling. We trooped in, Susan ostentatiously paying for herself. Tony knew what I was up to, grinned at me. "You get the service, for free," he whispered in my ear.
Music played, Susan couldn't help it, she walked dancing. Tony grabbed her hand, and off they went. I scanned the crowd and spotted Matt sticking out above the multitude. I circumnavigated the converted basketball court, and saw a golden cloud below the level of his shoulders. Good.
"G'day!" I called. They turned together, and both their faces lit up. "Will the wounded warrior at your service."
"How is the arm?" Mavis asked.
"A little broken. They pinned the humerus and the ulna, that's the two big bones."
Even Matt looked impressed. She said, "I know that, I do biology. I want to be a doctor."
"I've got a thank-you present for each of you."
"That's not necessary," Matt looked uncomfortable. "Anyone would..."
"Check it out." I passed him the cardboard tube. He removed the cap, extracted the two sheets of paper. I'd rolled them with his picture outside, what I saw when he'd carried me: broad shoulders curved forward, the collar of the shirt, his face rising out of it, a look of intense concentration.
"Wow!" Mavis gasped. "Did you draw this?"
Instead of answering, I twitched the second sheet from under the first, out of Matt's fingers, and gave it to her. Matt looked over her shoulder, and I could see that they were both stunned. So was I, looking at the model.
"You want to be a doctor when you grow up. I want to be an artist."
"You are, now!" The multicolored lights reflected off tears, one from each of her eyes.
"Oh, I've got a lot to learn."
The music stopped for the moment. "Come and meet my friends," I invited. "Come into my parlor," Mom would have said.
I watched Susan and Matt as they looked at each other. Matt may have been happy with what he had, but he was human, and male, and Susan at a dance was Sensuality. Susan could see that the blonde angel held the big bloke's hand, but that it was one way. He was being held, not hanging on. I tried to keep my voice level as I reeled off the names.
Tony said, "I know you, don't I? You're Chandos Hill's center?"
"That's right. Of course, I remember playing you." They were both basketballers, started some in-talk.
This didn't suit Susan, who butted in. Clever Tony. I asked, "Mavis, tomorrow, would you and Matt like to come and see some of my drawings and paintings?"
She'd love to. And of course my address and phone number were on the cardboard tube.
The night passed pleasantly. I kept Mavis busy enough so she didn't have the time to worry about Matt, though they danced together a fair bit, too. Susan did a great act as the Princess of Sweetness, not an acid comment all night. I made arrangements with her for tomorrow.
October started sunny. My visitors arrived at eleven. They politely chatted with Mom over a cuppa and cookies. She asked Matt if he rode skateboards on the footpath like certain idiots.
He flashed me a kindred-spirit look, "No, I'm too busy with Karate and basketball." Then I took them into my room.
Landscapes and dogs, mythical monsters and swooping birds, diving dolphins and abstract doodles, I showed them my work. Some were black-and-white sketches, or watercolor, or acrylic, but chalks are my favorite. I opened the second folder: people. They laughed at the caricatures, recognizing Tony in an old hobo, admired the movement, and here came the first one of Susan, in bikinis, diving into the pool.
I watched their eyes. Matt's pupils became dark circles, Mavis's contracted into pinpoints. So I flipped to the next one, an acrylic of Susan whirling in a Spanish dress, her tits almost out, face glowing. The next one was a chalk, her studying, complete concentration on a book.
"Have you been together long?" Mavis asked, her voice under control.
"About two years, off and on," I answered, truthfully enough.
Matt turned to the next sheet, and sucked in his breath. It was Susan, naked, reclining on my bed, her long hair just covering her pubis. "Oops," I said. "I didn't mean to include that, though it's a copy of a pose used by a famous artist." The second part was true.
Right on cue, the doorbell rang, and I heard Susan talking to Mom. Awkwardly, one-handed, I closed the folder, returned it to its rack, and pulled out the next one.
"Hi, darling!" Susan warbled as she entered, and kissed me on the lips. Mavis relaxed the tiniest bit. Susan grabbed the conversation now, bright and sparkling, and before you knew it, we had a foursome for next Saturday, and we'd exchanged phone numbers.
Exam time approached and the plaster still slowed me, but I found time enough for regular chatty phone calls to Mavis, and the odd one to Matt to avoid suspicion. We went out together, always the four of us. Susan loved the slow fishing expedition, she'd have been great after trout. She actually acted human to me, even in private, she enjoyed the game so much.
At last it was the twenty-eighth, and Mom took me to the hospital. They sliced me open, took out the ironmongery and wrapped the arm in a bandage. Good-bye plaster!
In the evening, I phoned Mavis, though I still felt dopey. "How is it?" she asked.
"Like you'd put your arm through a window-pane. Nothing compared to the original. Say, Mave, I've got tickets to a great show for Saturday."
"I'm sorry," she sounded like she meant it. "Matt's busy this Saturday."
I'd organized that. He'd be busy with Susan. She'd got far enough with him now that he kept secrets from Mavis.
"That's OK. Anyway, I only have two tickets, and Susan's competing at the pool, she can't come. That's why I'm asking you. I need to celebrate losing a couple of pounds off my left arm!"
So, she said yes, and we went, and it was grouse. And afterward, before she went in her front door, I kissed her, and held her to me, and felt her turn on. Slowly, reluctantly, she pulled away, said good-night and went inside.
In the morning, I phoned Susan. "How'd you make out?"
"All the way!" she sang, though she's no Sinatra. Lucky Matt. "And you?"
"A slightly less than chaste kiss. But I'll get there."
Five minutes later, the phone rang. It was Mavis. "Will," she said with a little cry, "I... I've got something to tell you." She sniffed, trying to control herself. Sounded promising.
"Matt and I've had a terrible row," and suddenly she couldn't help it, she was crying, great sobs coming down the line. "He told me that he and Susan have..."
Better and better. "Go on, love."
She firmed up, took a great shuddering breath. "They've had sex together. I thought you should know."
I managed a sigh, while grinning like a frog. Lucky it wasn't a video-phone. "It's not the first time. Susan's too hot for any one guy. Look, Mavis..." This time I was the one with the pregnant pause.
"I'll come over. You need someone." Basketball is not the only game with a rebound.
So I hopped into the old Kingswood and got there in record time. I knocked. To my surprise, Matt opened the door. "Come in, Will," he said. I didn't like the look on his face. I followed him in, saying hello to Mavis's parents and brother. We went to her room.
Mavis's eyes were red, her nose swollen, she kept wiping it with a tissue. "You're a bit rough, aren't you, Matt?" I tried.
"What do you mean?" His hands formed fists.
"Racing off my girl is bad enough. Hurting Mavis with the news is worse."
"I wish you didn't have that crook arm, you bastard." His voice was low, controlled, a stiletto rather than a saber.
"Exactly. After... after Susan threw herself at me, and I was too weak, and went for her, I felt terrible."
"You poor thing!"
"Don't push, Will, don't push. Just shut up and listen. I came here this morning and told Mavis what happened, and we had a fight. She wanted to break up with me but I begged her not to. Then at last I left here, and went over to Susan's place, to tell her I didn't want to see her ever again. And you know what she told me?"
Suddenly, things didn't seem so good. "Probably something I wouldn't believe. She does lie, you know."
"She told me how you'd set it up. You snitched her on to me, so you could have a go at Mavis."
"And you believed her? Is she my slave or a free agent? And you had no choice?"
Mavis spoke up. "I believe her, because I trust Matt. I've thought back. It's been a setup, since the dance. Will, piss off!"
I opened my mouth to argue, but saw her face. What's the point?
Every fisherman loses a few big ones. Or, as Mom would quote, "Zounds! Foiled again!"
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