After a stressful night of study I figured it was time for a break and what better way than to blog.
I realized I haven’t posted any short stories of late, in fact since the conception of this blog I have posted very little, but as I said writing brings me such great pleasure and it is one my hopes for this blog to share in some of the stories I have written overtime.
As I mentioned in previous posts I generally like to write fantasy and/or sci-fi inspired works but occasionally I adhere to the old adage “write what you know”. In one particular instance I decided to take this mantra head on.
Last year one of my assignments for UNI was to write a short story. It was my first real opportunity to demonstrate, if any, real talent (as marks were on the line) and to receive genuine and constructive criticism from a tried and true professional. To get a real sense of weather or not I was indeed capable of creative writing.
So I took it upon myself to really write something that meant something, to really push myself, to challenge myself to really demand a high standard of work. Whereas when I write for pleasure I feel as though perhaps I don’t really apply myself – because I know at the end of the day it is for fun, (at least when writing creatively anyway). Incidentally it seemed such an approach paid off, I ended up getting a High Distinction and glowing feedback from my teacher (not to gloat or anything, you might think otherwise after reading the following story).
And so I delved deep, drew on the activities in which we engaged in in class and here it is. A story inspired by the innocence of childhood, friendship, family, imagination – and how the sands of time and cynicism of age, can if one is not careful, erode away at that innocence and imagination. The death one life and beginning of another, the tumultuous transition from childhood to adolescence.
I Hope you enjoy, and please, feel free to provide feedback or criticism.
This goes out to my cousin.
Our Nan had finally reached that age where her old home was too large for her to manage in her deteriorating state, and so was moving into a villa some streets away, thus all the family had got together over the weekend to help pack and begin the move. The air around us was now silent as James and I slipped away from the chaos inside to visit our old jungle haunt one last time. Despite James having grown up in the country and I in the city we were partners in crime since before we could remember. Nan’s place had been our point of call for almost every school break, where we would either spend the holidays here, or I would spend the night before Nan drove me away down to the country. But again, in nans deteriorating state and own our lives at home beginning to take shape those days were few and far between. We couldn’t recall the last time we had caught up, so our initial greeting was clumsy, as though we could see that – although the flaking walls around us, the dilapidated carpets below us and the moulding ceiling above reminded us of those same spirited kids that once shone torches into the cupboards and played Pokémon in the summer heat until our pants were wet – the recent years of puberty, chasing girls, identity crises’ and the like had scarred us both and we were no longer sure of who we were looking at.
We ambled along the long stretch of buffalo grass and flower filled gardens their sweet aroma encircling our nostrils, passing the decaying outhouse we could feel that our teenage years had now usurped the feeling of the backyards extensiveness. In our pimple free days the stretch of backyard felt a mile long, but now it was a mere two hundred meters. We stared down at our feet still not saying much, we hadn’t even mentioned anything to one another about visiting our jungle haunt, we just knew it had to be done before the whole place was torn down, in fact apart from the earlier awkward greeting; the chaos inside hadn’t quite provided a chance for us to catch up. James had simply caught my eye from across the living room while our parents squabbled over old relics and subtly nodded his head to the back door. Passing the now shallow apple tree whose sing of cicadas was now a ghostly echo of sugar filled Saturday afternoons and the clothes line that begged us to run up swinging around it screaming “safe” or “I won”, Jamas finally spoke.
“So what’s been happening?” he casually asked
“Not much man”. I replied. Where do you begin after the nights spent on the kitchen floor or in the parent’s en-suite on the phone confessing every minute detail of our overly dramatic childhood lives was replaced by nights on the phone to potential girlfriends? Where do you begin when essays have taken place over the lengthy letters hating on our parents inept ability to understand us and our excitement over the new Pokémon game on Gameboy? It seemed that even our cousinly brotherhood once carved in blood was marred by effects of puberty and high school. It had insidiously crept in between us when really it was a time where that shared blood was needed most.
“Howabout you?” I probed.
“Yeah not much hey, just got School certificate coming up so sort of preparing for that I guess” Said James as we continued to ease our gangly trudge along the buffalo grass. Cries of laughter could be heard from inside the house reminding us of why we were there.
“It’s pretty sad about Nan moving hey?” I asked.
“Yeah it just won’t be the same I suppose” James replied kicking a stick across the lawn. “Have you seen the new place?”
“Nah have you?”
“Yeah I come up, I think last month with mum and checked it out. It’s pretty small like the backyard is just pavement.” James said
Taking lollipop steps we finally drew to a stop before our old jungle haunt. We looked up from our dirty tattered skate shoes and stared out across the overgrowth. Wispy Willow tree branches spread there browning fingertips over palm leaves stained with bird poo, cobwebs flittered in a breeze that cooled our morning sun heated heads. We seem to remain silent for an age breathing in the scene before us, on the surface it was nothing but an overgrown garden let go like the house behind us. Time had been unkind to it, but to us it were a sanctuary – our sanctuary. Throughout the years the more the overgrowth encroached on the trees and plants the garden housed, the more the dusty cobwebs spread their intricate patterns across dangling dead branches, the more we felt the insidious creep of adolescence. It was a place where in the thickest corner of the jungle haunt where splintering fences enclosed us in, spied ever watchful raptors; or the decrepit greenhouse that served as a base for the terrorist enemies of Arnold Swarzanegger now lie a mausoleum to our innocence.
Amidst it all though stood the centrepiece of our beloved jungle haunt. The tree. What was it about being up high that people like so much? I can recall so many occasions from my younger days where I constantly found myself in some state of elevation above the rest of the world around me. The cubby house that James and I made, where we would aim to “pull all-nighters” trying to understand girls, hating on the cool kids at school and contemplating the future existence of flying cars; only to find ourselves dozing off just before sunrise. The tree in my front yard that I would whittle away my after school hours in, escaping into the lost worlds of Michael Crichton and Stephen King’s old Indian burial grounds, that reminds me, “I don’t want to be buried a pet semetary”. My neighbour’s garage roof, where he and I would talk away the night until his parents pulled up in the driveway, the Tarago’s high beams illuminating us like cats in midnight darkness, hurriedly we would stash the cigarettes and booze away into the gutter before paddling back into the house like ghost ships on a moonlit ocean.
But of all those high up places none I can recall clearer than this tree. The tree. My tree. Our tree. Its trunk, wide enough for James and I to hide behind so as to avoid the hunting eyes of the raptors or M-16 laser sights of the terrorist enemies of Arnold Swarzaneggar. We could scour its height and hide amongst its hairy green arms from the terrorising pterodactyls. Swing from its overarching arms that enveloped the entire jungle haunt crashing through the overgrowth, diving and rolling into moist bits of bark and wet weeds from where the sun couldn’t get through, our knock off Indiana jones fedora’s flying in the air. Much like us the tree had aged in way that the sap once spilled from our carvings had now dried up and hardened like our once overactive imaginations. Like our own crater faces the tree was now dotted with pits and scattered with scars where termites’ and various other insects had taken their piece of the pie.
“Hey!” James called out. Lost in my reverie I had not noticed James walk off into the jungle, now he returned coming out from the depths of the Triassic palm leaves and from behind the tree he swaggered forward grinning as he tossed a small gritty package up and down into the air.
“Check out what I found? You know I wondered if it were still here.” He said cheerily. It seemed that the discovery had steadily began to erode away some of the awkwardness that was felt earlier as I returned an equalling beaming grin recognising the package.
“No way!” I said enthusiastically. “Yep, you betcha”, James replied as he thrust the package before me. It was one of those old mini cereal boxes that when unfolded resembled a paper cupboard, that housed either a small bag of fruit loops, nutra grain or sultana bran. Our little box was carefully and meticulously covered in sticky tape to help protect it from the elements, it seemed to work because heaven knows how long this little treasure box had been there for. Despite some dust and mould its images of sultana bran were clear as day. Condensation though had crept under some parts of the tape creating a fog between the cardboard and sticky tape, it was smooth and cool to touch, heavy to hold.
“Well come on, what are you waiting for? Open it up” prodded James. My fingers tentatively caressed it, looking for a loose strip of tape that I could peel away to reveal the cereal treasure box’s contents. Catching a bit I began to peel away the tape, the cardboard beginning to tear at the middle. The two little window flaps unfolded like a flower and we stared inside. There they were a collection of 2c and 1c pieces that we had collected throughout the house when rainy days had kept us inside and our Nintendo Gameboy batteries ran out.
James began to laugh. “Remember that time you stuck two 1c pieces together and tried to use them in a vending machine when we went to the movies?” James asked playfully. “Yeah and we got really paranoid that we would go to jail for fraud if we got caught”. I replied. “You mean you got paranoid!” James stated almost vehemently. “hey you were the one who pointed out the security cameras and said that someone might come down and arrest us – it’s no wonder I was paranoid.”, I retorted. James began laughing, “Yeah you always were a bit gullible”, “shut up”, I squawked looking down at the ground embarrassed. James was right sometimes my overactive imagination led me to believe certain things a little too easily, like when James and his sister told me that there was a ice cream wonder land under their house. Now though I felt jaded and cynical of almost everything around me.
“So who’s going to keep em?” James asked casually. I looked up from my dirty skate shoes and stared at the coins in the cereal box then at James. “Neither of us” I replied. “We’ll rebury them. As a mark, that this was once our place. Our jungle haunt”. “That’s a great idea, we’ll bury them just behind the tree over there”, “Like a parting gift to our tree right?” I asked, “Yeah that’s cool”. Said James. Beside the decrepit greenhouse lie some old garden tools that once doubled as swords and machine guns. We each grabbed a shovel and set to work. During our labour the sun had steadily past its peak in the sky and began its homeward journey. Finding the coins had proved to the key to breaking the ice and before we knew we had dug six feet deep and almost completely filled each other in on what had been happening over the past couple of years since the last time we had really spoke. The uncertainty of who we were looking at when we first met again that morning had completely eroded away and in its place began to grow a new form friendship. A new connection had begun to be established as we reminisced of days past and amazed one another with our present. Just as we were about to place the cereal box in its grave yelling could suddenly be heard form the back step.
“Boys! What are you doing down there? Come back up to the house, we’re about to go and start moving Nan’s stuff to her new place. We need you guys there to unpack it all.” One of our aunties bellowed.
“Well I guess this is it huh?” I said, as we stood back and admired our handy work. James merely muttered something to himself. The gravity of the situation had begun to sink in. This was the last time we were going to see this place. At least together anyway as no doubt we would be back to help our parents with either more packing and such, we were no longer going to swing from the extending branches evading pterodactyls or hide behind its enormous girth from the laser sights of Arnold swazaneggars terrorist enemies. We stood motionlessly for a moment allowing the hair on our arms stand on end in the cool breeze enveloping us. I threw the box in the grave and picked up a handful of dirt.
“To the old times’ I said as I let the dirt fall from my hand into the cereal boxes grave. James then also picked up a handful of dirt. “To the new times” he said as he too let the dirt and bark fall form his hand scattering across our treasure.
James and I rode with his mum to meet up with the rest of the aunties at Nan’s new place. As James had mentioned he had already seen the place at least once, myself though was yet to see what sort of haunt we would now converge upon during our school holidays. During our little farewell to the tree and jungle haunt we agreed that we should once again catch up as often as we could over the school holidays. I couldn’t help but wonder – as we glided through the quiet streets of quaint elderly homes, their front gardens coloured with vibrant hues from the array of carnations and roses carefully pruned and maintained over the years to a near perfect art; they too not far off having their own families transport them to more manageable homes or to a home for that matter as new housing developments began to spring up across the suburb – what lay in lay wait for us after the burial of our childhood.
The Toyota steadily pulled itself into the long cobbled driveway, we eased past the first three villa’s on our left, each brickwork and structure the same as the last, making it appear as though it were just one really long house with too many garage doors. To the right of us simply stretched a laborious colourbond fence where on the other side lay an old man’s property much like Nan’s old place – it would serve as a constant reminder of the times we shared at our old jungle haunt. Nan’s was the last villa, the fourth – right up the back. We pulled up just behind another auntie’s car, while others had parked in the street we had heavy furniture to carry inside thus we wanted to be as close to her new home as possible, especially after seeing the extensive driveway we just came up.
After bringing in the furniture then came the unpacking process, which meant that James and I didn’t speak much. There was something about being a teenager that wanted you to conceal every conversation you had from the outside world, and a tendency to never reveal too much. Which I guess explains the frustration that parents feel when they ask you questions and all you can muster up is “mm”, or “ahuh”. Being a teenager was such an internal battle with the self, it’s no wonder we can’t speak, because we are so exhausted from debating ourselves we have nothing left for the world around us. There was a feeling though that James and I were beginning to feel growing within us as we quietly muttered jokes to one another and sniggered at the comments our parents and aunties made as we helped unpack. A feeling stirred by the reminiscing of earlier, a desire to let fly all the internal battle that we had experienced over the years as we transitioned from childhood to adolescence. To share in all shitty battles we fought with ourselves trying to understand the raging hormones, the discrepancies between our bodies and our friends at school and all the nuances and neuroses’ in-between.
And by god that night, did we ever! A bunk bed had been set up for guests in the spare room in which we stayed for the night. Nan also stayed in her new home while our parents returned to their old abode one last time for the evening, no doubt to reminisce in way not too dissimilar to us – except it probably involved a lot of booze, a frontier James and I were yet to embark on ourselves. It was hard to believe that morning we were near strangers, our childhood history the mere echo of a dream. Now though it was as though we were more inseparable than before as we giggled until we cackled at all the embarrassing situations that happen to us at school, from trying to hide mid class erections to how we pinned our classroom farts on some other poor kid so as to avoid being the “smelly boy”, or “that stinky fuck”. As we turned in event after event, confession after confession so turned the clock minute by minute, hour by hour until the pauses between our dialogues grew longer and longer before finally our eyes no longer able to keep their shades open closed softly. The sleep that entailed was like no other, as though a weight that had been keeping us awake at night had finally been lifted. We could breathe again. We slept in peace knowing that we were not alone, and that, that blood we once shed in the name of brotherhood was thicker than we could ever truly understand, and the bind that it held between us was richer than any tree that could have ever spread its roots into the earth. The blood was now interwoven with the memories of our past together and the shared hope for our future.
There will be no other jungle haunt quite like the one we had at Nan’s old place, away down the back of her backyard; from here on end it will be deserted cinemas, experiencing a cigarette for the first time or our neighbour’s roof where we taste the harsh flow of scotch. There will be no other tree quite like that tree that in which such escape could be found simply using one’s own imagination, from here on end escape will be found in computer games and heaven forbid should we lose the fight against peer pressure, promiscuous sex and daring drugs. The adventures held in our tree amidst our jungle haunt shall remain rooted equally as deep into our memories until we too blow our last breeze.