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Edition 31: Old Growth by J. Ashley Smith

Winner of the 2016 Story Quest Contest, Old Growth is a story of societal disconnection, desperation. I am sure you will see why this twisted piece grew on the judges. – SY

“Look, Dad,” says Mika from the back. “Look at the faces!”

Scott adjusts the rear-view mirror. The last he checked, Mika was slumped in a chaos of Lego, two minifigures squabbling inches from his face. Now the boy is fully upright, forehead pressed to the window.

“What do you mean? What faces?”

“In the trees,” says the boy. “Bubbly heads poking out of the bark. Look, Dad, can you see?”

“What’re you talking about, retard?” Ashley is scooched way down in the passenger seat, semi-foetal with her toes on the glovebox. Scott would think she was asleep if it weren’t for the dance of thumbs over the screen of her phone.

“They’re probably galls,” says Scott. “Some trees grow them in response to bacteria, insects, that sort of thing. It’s a kind of symbiosis: the trees grow galls to protect themselves, but the galls also protect the wasps, or the greenfly or whatever, by drawing them in, growing around them.”

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Edition 31: Of Dreaming and Destiny by Jamie Lackey

Altantsetseg is having her dream, pointing her toward her destiny. However, it won’t be quite as simple as that. Jamie Lackey’s submission to the Story Quest Contest came in second place with her charming coming of age fantasy. – SY

Altantsetseg offered Batbayar a winter-shriveled carrot, and the gelding’s velvety lips tickled her palm. He butted his forehead into her chest as he crunched his snack, and she scratched behind his ears.

Her own stomach rumbled. “My dreaming starts at sundown,” she explained. “I’m fasting.”

Batbayar whickered and flicked his ears.

“Of course I’m nervous,” Altansetseg said. “What if I see myself with a dozen wailing children instead of leading our warriors? Or what if I don’t see anything at all?” Snow crunched beneath her fur-lined boots as she shifted her weight, and the exposed tips of the tall grass hissed as a cold wind gusted. “I should go. Wish me luck.”

She slipped into her yurt just as her family finished their evening meal. The scent of roasted mutton lingered in the air.

Her father and brother left to build her snow-bed, and Altantsetseg stripped. Goosebumps raced along her bare skin.

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Edition 31: Pevel Was Here by Michael Stroh

Where do you go when the world not so quietly dies? Michael Stroh’s exploration of a dying world and metaphorical growth netted him third place in the 2016 Story Quest Contest. – SY

The gull watches Pevel with tired eyes and Pevel watches it back.

“Hello there,” Pevel says.

The gull hops a little closer along the blackened phone pole. Lets out a meager squawk and cocks its head suspiciously. The gull is a scrawny, dusty thing with bent feathers and patches of gray flesh laid bare by harsh winds, maybe worse. The bird is a sorry sight, but still Pevel smiles.

“Do you know what that means, my dear?” he says. “Means we’re getting close. Unless this poor fellow’s far from home.” He watches the dust roll over the distant ground as if pushed by giant unseen hands. “Like us.”

Pevel reaches out his hand and the gull blinks, hops a little closer. Pevel reaches into his coat and pulls out the folded, glossy paper. Unfolds it, holds it up so the bird can see.

“Have you seen this place?” he says. “Are we close?”

The gull looks at the paper, blinks. Pevel folds it up again neatly and tucks it away. He unzips his pack and pulls out the old canteen, tilts it back, lets his tongue catch a few drops and puts the lid back on. The gull hops closer.

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Edition 31: A Thousand Million Small Things by Eleanor Whitworth

Meringue is ready to move on, but her bot-tinker partner Chris hasn’t quite reached the same decision. A relationship breakdown in space. – SY

Merophie Jenkins hated the serum jabs. The weekly fix just never sat right, binding the body together when all it wanted to do was break apart. Ever since her first one as a child the side-effects had worsened, despite the Corp’s claims of continual improvement.

She stood on the street swallowing nausea and distracting herself by staring up at the affected apartment block. It was completely a-roll. The molecules of the external walls phased from ground to roof in fat horizontal waves. She squinted to see through the shifting particles and was surprised to find a tenant on the first floor. He was busy doing the Corp’s ridiculous solidity-inducing exercises, jumping up and down and flinging his arms about with such earnestness that she, too, almost believed the ruse. The nausea built to a high and she bent over and vomited a paltry splatter of sick onto the rubble-edged pavement. A bike-lender on the other side of the street grinned at her in sympathy, spreading his arms in front of his three functioning machines. She shook her head. It was always best to walk off a serum jab.

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Edition 31: My Son the Afterbirth by Craig Stewart

Travis is deeply unsatisfied with what his life with Doug has become, and yet Doug is increasingly insistent on becoming a family. This deeply disturbing piece is a finalist from the 2016 Story Quest Contest. – SY

He walked in the door that day with a handful of tulips and a grin to match. They were my favourite flowers and he knew it. He wanted something. That schoolboy mischief living behind his smile was no coincidence.

I put my trashy romance novel to rest and rose from the squishy comfort of the love seat to greet him and receive his offering. I took them, smelled them and planted them into a vase, all the while keeping my trepidation safely tucked away where he couldn’t see.

“Thanks, they’re great,” I assured him. “Is there a reason for your sweetness today?”

He was still a little out of breath and smelled hot from his bike ride home. I liked that. I liked that a lot.

Before he answered me, he brought his lips to mine for a quick meet and greet. They met and then parted, but not before a few of his laboured breaths titillated my lips and neck. I liked that too.

“You’re reason enough.” Doug was certainly a romantic man, the kind of man who would earnestly tilt his head and swoon over a mass-produced card from the dollar store about the healing power of kindness.

I, on the other hand, was not that kind of man. Not that I didn’t have my own weaknesses, sentimentality just wasn’t one of them.

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Edition 31: The Skull Collector by Jody L. Milner

The Shaman waits, every year, for the body of the community’s best and brightest. The seemingly endless sacrifice in service of a dream that never comes to pass, and bearing the secret becomes too much. – SY

The young man’s corpse washed ashore in the hushed chill of morning. The Shaman had been waiting, watching for the body through the long hours of the night. He dreaded the lies he would be forced to tell the tribe. He carried the youth, who through his aging eye appeared no more than a boy, from the waves and placed him on top of the prepared funeral pyre.

His striking flint and steel felt too worn in his hands. He had lit too many of these fires on this sacred beach with only inquisitive sand crabs for company. This winter ritual, this lie about earning the right to journey to the Golden Island, was wrong. If the gods wished the tribe to sacrifice their youth, they deserved to know their fate. Ages ago, before the Shaman’s birth, many would die trying to reach the island every year. His father convinced the tribe that holding a contest would better please the gods. At least then only one would die.

A brilliant spark caught on the coconut fiber kindling and red tendrils of fire snaked through the bundle in his hands. He coaxed the fire brighter with a soft puff before adding it to the larger slivers of wood. Soon, the pile blazed hot and bright, sending a tower of smoke high into the sky that would be seen for miles. The villagers gathered on the other side of the steep rocky ridge dividing them from this sacred space would see the smoke and know that all was well.

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Edition 31: Reef by Kat Clay

You find obnoxious young men everywhere, but Brayson gets more than he bargained for with his callous disregard for the environment. Doesn’t he know Australia’s out to kill you? Kat Clay’s literal interpretation of the theme made Story Quest’s shortlist of excellent submissions. – SY

I’m an absolute dickhead, I know. I’m that guy you hate on your Ibiza tour. I got a six pack you can crack open and a backpack stuffed with duty free grog and condoms. No excuses. YOLO.

Aussie’s been on my bucket list since forever. Best beaches, hot birds, perfect place to make peeps at home jelly with #travelporn. Better than English beaches anyway, all pebbles and bad weather. Got a great deal on this cruise off an Airlie Beach whiteboard. Fifty quid for three nights on the Great Barrier Reef all food included.

The plan: get drunk. Get tanned. Get laid. All on a yacht parked dead-set in the Whitsundays, surrounded by water so clear you could see someone piss in it. I dive bomb off the side of the boat, huge splash into the sea. Afternoon sun hot on my head. I scoop my arms through the water.

“Ya can’t go swimming when you’re drunk mate,” shouts the guide with a beer in his hand. “Why don’t’ya come back on board. Help him in boys.”

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Edition 31: Death Clothes by Natalie Satakovski

Soulless and Mixie run a little business selling dead people’s clothes. A little more scary than scavenged… – SY

Hello and welcome to the personal blog of Soulless, the founder of Here, I’ll keep you posted with new releases, behind the scenes update and more! Hope you’ve had a great time on the official website so far. Stay tuned, kids…

The Beginnings

Posted on March 15 by Soulless

Back when I was a dowdy teenager I used to cop a lot of flak for the way I dressed. Nobody understood my attempts at self-expression. Somehow I managed to befriend two other outcasts, Mixie and Katie, and the three of us became great friends. That was until disaster struck.

The bullying was hard for all of us to deal with, but in particular, for Katie. She was a sensitive little soul, and she was the one with the most outrageous and creative flair. Eventually, it all just got too much for poor Katie, and she took her own life.

After she died, Mixie and I inherited her wardrobe of weird and wonderful clothing. We found that her clothes not only looked great on us, but imbued us with an all-new sense of confidence. We both went on to art school and after graduating, realised we could put our creativity to good use. We also learned that fashion doesn’t have to be about being snobby and putting others down. It should be about expressing your individuality and having fun!

We started the Death Clothes fashion line in memory of Katie. We love you, Katie. I bet you’re looking delectably dark in the afterlife!

Have you ever been bullied or laughed at? Have you ever felt like you didn’t quite fit in? The Death Clothes e-store is dedicated to you. Become a member and you’ll get exclusive sales offers and discount codes, sneak-peeks at upcoming items and more. Click Become a Member below to get the goods.

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Edition 30: Seeds of the Strangling Vine by Michelle E Goldsmith

Escaping the grief of miscarriage, Helena and Jonathan head into the tropical rainforest of North Queensland. Lena starts to accept their drifting away, while finding a renewed vigour amongst the green and leafy forest. A walk down the path of grief, of rediscovering herself, leads Helena to startling changes she could not have expected. – SY

Helena stares out the passenger side window as the four-wheel drive winds up the narrow trail, her reflection transposed over lush Daintree rainforest. Ancient trunks shrouded in moss and vines, dense carpets of ferns, conifers and prehistoric cycads; a world displaced in time, a sea of green deep enough to drown in.

In the driver’s seat, Jonathan glares straight ahead, hands gripped firmly to the wheel. Every line of his body radiates tension. It seems he still hasn’t forgiven her for her morning breakdown.

‘God, Lena. I’m doing this for you,’ he’d said, standing in the doorway of their bedroom. ‘You need a change of scenery. It’s been months now. You can’t spend the rest of your life hiding away inside the house!’

Lately everyone seems to be telling her what she needs, and what she can or can’t do. It doesn’t stop the tears though, doesn’t still her shaking hands. She never used to cry. Now she can’t seem to stop.

‘Come on, Lena. Please.’

But she hadn’t responded, just sat on the end of the bed, staring at her half-packed suitcase.

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Edition 30: Conflict Calories by Fredrick Obermeyer

When the world can be fed on the hurts, the small slights and arguments that pepper our lives, surely most people could be well fed? Not so for Greg, who looks out into the universes to see how it could be done differently. Sometimes though, people just need to get their teeth into something. – SY

Meek as a newborn lamb, Greg Rindes bowed his head and plodded inside the strifeteria. The yellow-painted brick building was several thousand feet long and wide and held nearly all the staff of Milligan’s Alternate Reality Analysis Center.

Today the strifeteria was holding its monthly puncheon full of rich, junk food physical conflict. Several of Greg’s co-workers were standing in the dining rings, beating each other with their fists and feet. The air was thick with the stink of blood and sweat.

Each time one of the combat diners struck a blow, the air between them filled with high-calorie conflict threads that both chubby combatants absorbed through the conflict pores around their bodies. Like the fighters, several staff members outside the dining rings had grown fat from consuming too many physical conflict calories. Nevertheless, they still cheered when the diner fighters resumed beating each other senseless.

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