Can I help you?

“Can I help you?”

The words feel utterly inadequate now. Now that I know how little my efforts would help, in the end. The weather’s pounding onslaught left a bare fraction of the lives I’d struggled for, but it left enough. Enough to allow me peace knowing I did what I could. Not enough to stem the nightmares. No, those would hang around for decades. Yet, I can’t blame them, how would anyone know the trauma that nature might throw in our way?

I didn’t know. She didn’t know. I looked into her clouded eyes, her imploring face beaming into mine, and there was no way either of us’d known the levels nature would rise to try and eradicate us. She reached to me before I even had the chance to ask. But I asked her nonetheless, “Can I help you?”

“Uh course, you can fookin’ help me, ya fool!”

Tessa reached for my arm as I lifted the fallen cabinet from her pinned body. Her small house, sitting dry in the Australian dust on a bend of the Tickatock Creek, she declared, hadn’t see the stream flow since her hair was yellow. I breathed out and my breath fogged in the cold. The house floated now in a river of fist sized ice that bobbed like white apples in the flood waters coursing down the channel.

“Whut are those?” she cried, scrabbling onto my back as I slogged through the icy-cold water churning through her kitchen. The house bumped into a rock or something and I lost my footing, nearly falling into the frigid slough.

“Hail, I’m guessin’,” I replied.  I kept her saddled and with the rickety home anchored for the time being, I sloshed to the backdoor, which was now the front, forced the screen open and jumped to where I figured higher ground might be. I missed. But not by much. Tessa yelled in my ear about the searing cold water that now swirled around my waist and up her own bare legs, her house dress sloppy rags waving in the rust-brown water. But I pushed on, the house blocking much of the flow that now began to rage through the small canyon.

“Make for the lookout!” she yelled in my ear, her arm, pale for an outbacker, pointing through the few acacia trees she’d left for shade around the house.

I nodded and grab her thighs with both arms and pushed my sodden legs against the current up near dry ground. Once I’d reached water that only came to my knees, I set her down and towed her by the hand to her “lookout” up the bank and toward the highest ground we could see, a few hundred yards distant.

“Stay here!” I said, over the growing sound of rain that had begun to pelt us. The flood must have happened miles from here and only just now shifted our direction.

“Those ice-rocks ‘gonna strike you down! Here’n there’s a crop-out I sit in and watch the sunset.” We reversed roles and the old woman pulled me up the slope a bit further to a recess in the rock. Sure enough, the lip of a shallow cave save our lives. Hail the size of hedgehogs began to fall, blasting every flat thing in sight. Thousands of explosions burst on our ears as we watched branches get snapped from trees, ice-bombs detonating as the balls of frozen water devistated the area.

She looked on silent as the hail pelted her home, driving holes through the roof, puffs of air from the explosions billowing out the house’s yellow-flower curtains.

“Lucky you came along when ye did, don’t think I’d a made in there.” She nodded to the house which freed itself from the stone anchor and went spinning down the raging stream. “Don’t think my rabbits ‘r gonna survive. Chicken’s neither.”

Where Tessa’s miniature livestock had lived, shacks and raised cages, nothing stood. They’d been washed away with the first rumbling wave of the flashflood.

Earlier, I’d come out to check on the old woman’s eyesight. Her glaucoma had advanced over the last few months but damn if she would accept treatment or assistance. Her ancient homestead would be her grave, she said, every time I’d come out to see if she hadn’t died of dehydration or pure orneriness.

“I’m gonna have to go check on the others,” I said, as the curtain of falling ice finally settled to a peppering.

“George and Georgia ain’t gonna make it. Mr. Reef ‘neither. You best just stay here ’till things settle down,” she said.

“No, I’ve got to try, they’re doomed otherwise.” I rose and patted her hand as she tried to hold me back. “You’ll be fine here. Besides, Reef, he’s…”

Tessa’s nearly milk-white eyes looked up into my own. For a moment I could see how her face and hair and high cheek bones would have made her a beautiful woman years past.

“I know. I know what he means to you,” she said. She dropped my hand. “I’ll be jolly. But come back when ye can. I can’t spend the night here. No home you see.”

I bent and pecked her on the cheek. “If I’m not back in an hour… I’ll be back in an hour at most.”

I left Tessa sitting under the eave of that red rock, looking out at the most wondrous sunset I’d seen out here in Australian’s red desert. “Ice! In the desert, no less. Who’d uh thought, eh?”



Random Setting Number Three


  • It’s dawn.
  • There’s a mist rolling in.
  • You’re in a rough neighborhood.
  • There’s a desolate feel to the place.

Last night was rough. Rip out your throat and feed it to the coyotes, rough. Not your own throat rough, but, the half dozen falsies that tried to wreck your camp when they popped up like gophers and you had to let your stew burn while you handled them, rough.

And you hated to let your food char-out. Good veggies were like blessings; vitamins and minerals and — jeeze did you hate that creepin’ feeling of scurvy crawling up your legs –type blessings.

But the the sun did decide to scrape itself up from the night-side and show its ruthless self. So, rough or not, you’re happy to see it. And you’re also happy to see that fog tumbling down from the hills to the west. Of course the falsies didn’t bother to bust up your collectors. What did falsies know, anyway? So, that satisfying drip would soon be beating its rhythmic tune as your tanks began to refill.

It was the season for the mists, after all. The fires had burned their way through. The vicious cauterizing heat that had ravaged every living, every fragile thing for the last six months, was over. So the mists were a welcome sight.

The falsies had caught you feeling complacent. You knew the seasons had set to change. “Boil up the dried tubers, withered shrooms and the last of the tender greens!” you’d thought to yourself. “Ooh, we’ll get some nutrients piping through us in an-ti-ci-pa-tion!” you continued as you stirred the pot. Lucky for you you hadn’t neglected your traps. Falsies didn’t quite know how to maneuver themselves around and over and through your web of snares.

Too bad Fido had to take one through the chest. You knew the rat was on her last breath; but damn! She was your only companion for what, a year now? You lift her body, a good fifteen pounds — yeah, she was a big rat — and don’t have the heart to butcher her body. Her dark brown fur was matted by the blood she’d shed. The falsie that had stuck her had ended up skewered itself.

“Rats!” you say and chuckle to yourself. This place, desperate as it is, won’t be the same without her.



A future glimpsed


I rest my hand on the curve of her hip.

It doesn’t belong there. She knows it. I know it. The hand that should be there holds a drink while its owner tells a story of ours. We three have been friends for ages, the legs of a stool that sits a friendship. But two of those legs, he and she, have always been a bit closer than to the third. I didn’t mind.

My hand fits unexpectedly well there.

The two of them had come together before I’d met them. Any look I shared with her, and she with me, had always been congenial. We were friends. I adored her company. She smiled, honest and true, when she saw me walking on our way to join him. He and I were fast buddies. She held his attention and I held both of theirs.

My hand cups the slope where her waist rounds out and down.

I am there to to leave. I’m going away. Opportunity strikes and one must submit. Not to would be foolish, we all know it; what a great time you’ll have, they say. And I say it to myself. Other friends and family are here to say goodbye to me as well. In the warm summer air we wear shorts and sandals, breezy shirts and tops.

I settle my hand on her bare skin there at the swoop of her femininity.

My touch there, forbidden but suddenly right, exceeds the shock of a million volts. My eyes lock with hers and I am transported in time and place as I watch a future unfold. A future of love and laughter, of marriage, kids and silly times and sad times; of homes and travel and schools and transitions and experiences a perfect, loving couple would have. I see all of this in an instant. And I know she sees it too.

I lift my hand from her hip, lean in and kiss her cheek, my eyes never leaving hers.

She gives me her friend-smile and then a touch of melancholy saddens her face. The tiniest of pouts pushes out her lips. I return a forlorn smile. I back away and whisper to her “farewell.” And I mean it, in every sense of those two words, fare well, I mean it with all my heart. For in that instant, and every one since, until this very moment, I have wished her well. But that future, briefly glimpsed those years ago, will never fade.

Random Setting Number Two


  • You’re in a forest.
  • It’s the middle of the night.
  • There’s a storm brewing.
  • There’s a peaceful feel to the place.

I’m quite certain these are my footprints. I place my foot as a mate to the one in the snow. Yup, it’s mine. I think back and can’t recall if I’ve ever walked in a circle before. You might forgive me, it is the middle of the night, no moon, no starlight; and I’m sure the overcast clouds are brewing a foul weather stew.

Wandering in the dark through a foot of snow, one must admit, could be the result of a desperate search. Or a faulty mind. I cannot discount this last theory. I’ve tried. My faculties have assembled the facts, a sack of hard-won evidence but with a tear in its side; and one by one my nuggets of insight dribble out. If I’d used them as a crumb trail they might have afforded my salvation from the pending blizzard.

I chuckle at the thought, my pouch of clues hangs loose and empty. No matter, I think. The night is, so far, calm and pleasant, in a stiff and frozen sort of way. You could say I’m a born adapter. Baking desert, sweltering swamp, wind scoured tundra — if I found myself there I could, once upon a time, survive.

It’s cold tonight. If I could see my breath in this abysmal gray night, I’m sure my puffs of steam would freeze in shape: puppies, wizards and elephants drifting translucent up into the branches of the forest to split and fragment into tails and trunks and things.

I believe I’ll sit a while. Walking in a circle can be tiring. The snow is not so cold as to reach its icy fingers into my seat. I will admit though, my bum might already have gone numb. Which would be a blessing. Although a survivor, no one likes the feeling of frigid air, the penetrating grasp of winter, like reaching into the downstairs chest icebox and its fog of crystalline haze burgeoning to spill like spooky smoke onto the basement floor.

You’d think that the snow under any night sky would glow. I would have thought that. It seems that closing my eyes produces no difference; darkness either way. And closing them does keep them warmer.

And it’s funny, I’d have thought, too, that I would be colder by now. This one tree I’m leaning against does afford a nice backrest, its trunk leans just so. I’m sure it won’t matter if I spend a few more minutes out here, as peaceful as it is.

Hmm, I have a sinking sensation that I’ve read about such a situation before. No worries, I’ve left a wide trail of me wandering around, some scout or rescue must surely be on their way. I wonder if they’ll be following the circle I etched in the snow. I hope they bring hot cocoa…

City Afloat – Part One – a teaser

City Afloat

Part One

~ Flood ~


“Baba, tell us again.”

The wee ones scurried about the woven planks like hermit crabs. Every night it is the same; Baba, tell us the story of how we came to be. Only the little ones beg so. The older ones, those more than seven or eight, slip like eels from the hut when I begin the story. They know better. They know the why of it. And that knowledge has settled in their hearts like stones. Stones to drown them.

“Once there was earth, rich and brown, almost black, like night, like a shadow beneath the high, bright sun. And this earth was like the sea; it stretched further than you could see. And on this earth, and in it too, grew the food. Life. Well, life of a different sort, life made from green not silver.”

The wee ones knew that life was silver and fast. And catching life was their job. Beneath the floating city, it was their job to catch the flashing silver fish that fed us. Sustained us. The silver flashing fish were life. But before, on the land, life was green.

Murki burst into the hut of sleep, interrupting my story.

“What is it Murki? Have the Blue Hills come in the night to bump our town?”

“Yeshi was diving for ghosts. She went in and, and she didn’t come up to the hole.”

I frowned openly. “Patta declared night diving off limits while Maloon is bright. You know that.” I got up shifting a child off my lap. “You wee ones ride easy.” I poked my head out of the hut, “Sinta, can you watch the wee ones for me?” Not waiting for an answer I followed the boy. “Perhaps she’s teasing you boys? Hiding under the picca floats — making you ache for breath yourselves while she laughs at your struggles, your frantic pattering?”

“She doesn’t know about the picca floats.”


I reached the open rectangle of water where the children were allowed to dive. “Yeshi! Come out child. Murki is terrified that you have drown and are now a ghost who will haunt him until he too, swallows the big water.”

Murki, a boy of perhaps nine, punched my arm. “Baba, not funny!”

“Yeshi! There is sweet ahi for you if you come now. Else there will be cuda lashes for your brown butt!” I’d had enough. The Patta set the rules for a reason. Shaark hunted at night and young wander-ones provided no more than a snack for the great saagar baagh, tiger of the sea.

A high tinkling laugh drifted up from the algae storage bins.

“There you are! See Murki, your worrying earned your adversary a strip of sweet tuna. And what did you get? A wounded ego.” I padded over to the bins and grabbed the lithe Yeshi from between the bamboo walls. “Murki will not be happy with you you slippery darter. You had better share your treat.”

Returned to the sleep hut the wee ones were incessant.

“Alright, alright. Where were we? And you, Murki, Fli and Yeshi, you will listen to the tale again, as punishment for disobeying Patta’s rule.”

They complained but, as expected, settled in amongst the wee ones and became enchanted by our story of the Flood.