April 2012

New Phantasma…

Lot by Ben Godby

One day, a peasant, a warrior, a merchant and a priest appeared before the Angel of Death. “Tell me about yourselves,” said the Angel.

The Comeback by Nick Tramdack

I will say it again, Jaquel. Burn this letter now before you read another word.

Moonman by Kristine Ong Muslim

Following the direction of Billy’s frightened gaze, I saw it: a white face with what looked like holes lurking sparsely on its surface.

Biodyssey by S. Decoteaux Bates

A wave rises beneath you, lifting the boat. You embark on the eve of the spring equinox.

Lalla Rooke by John Gerald Fagan

The Americans, the Chinese and the Russians had plans of their own, but the Tasmanians were the first to act and sent Tex up in a tiny space shuttle three months ahead of schedule.

Border Patrol by Rachel Ayers

Adam and María had twelve hours together after dropping the skiff into orbit.


by Ben Godby

One day, a peasant, a warrior, a merchant and a priest appeared before the Angel of Death.

“Tell me about yourselves,” said the Angel.

“I was born in a village called Thim,” said the peasant. “In spring, the pastures ripen green, in summer the harvest is yellow, and in winter the earth is hidden with a veil of snow.”

“And in the autumn?”

She cast her eyes downward. “Aye, in the autumn. I have no good memories of that season.

“In the autumn of my seventeenth year I met my husband,” she continued, “and it was then that I lost my lover. His name was Ilto, and he and I had been betrothed from our infancy. We played in those pastures, fields and snowdrifts. We grew up to know each other by name.

“Then came my husband. He was a moment not of rage or passion, but uncertainty. He was not the red slashes of the leaves, though he was among them. We were, together, their falling; though I began to think that way only after. And he was the father of my first child.

“We had three more. Our first, my son, followed in the footsteps of his father, and grew into his old man’s profession. Our second, my daughter, had a child of her own and moved to live with her partner, though I am glad to say I saw her every holiday. Our third,” she lowered her voice to a whisper, “passed away,” it crescendoed to normal, “and the fourth was a bad seed.”

“A bad seed?” the Angel asked.

“Rotten to the core,” she nearly whispered, shaking her head. “It made us feel awful – his father, especially.

“It was then that my husband took a lover. When I discovered, I said nothing but thought deeply. I never discovered whether his actions were on account of the child, or on account of me, or for the unfiltered sake of the other one that he found; but the more I thought on it, neither did I know for what reason I had taken my husband, so many years ago, when with Ilto. And then I took a lover of my own – a new one, as it was not Ilto, who had moved away and, for all purposes, disappeared. Though he was still strong in my mind, and I always tried to imagine it was him there with me; and perhaps that is why my second lover, like my husband, drifted away.”

There was a silence.

“And then?”

The peasant started. “Well, then I died.”

“I was born to the streets,” said the warrior. His gaze flicked to the peasant, ascertaining the completion of her testimony after the fact. Then his eyes settled on the Angel of Death with unimpressed familiarity. “To a mother, in truth, though not to a father. But still… still, the streets were my parents, good as any.

“I learned what was given, and what taken; what was done, and what could be redeemed. But I never learned the art of figuring, and thus my expectations were unequivocally proved wrong.

“When I turned eleven, they caught me. Either the streets had turned against me, or I had outgrown them, or else I had never been as intimate with them as I expected. They said I could join the army or have my hands chopped off, and I had some friends who’d been back from the wars already and had said it was a black business but gold coin. And imagine, until then, bread had been black business.

“There is little respect for our profession; and I admit I did some bad things – some things I’m not proud of. I have a wife and two daughters, for example, and I have not been home as often as a man should.”

He stared at the Angel, his eyes flinty, as though daring the being. Then he continued.

“But I’ve always supported them,” he said, “always loved them, and always fought for the same thing, which is peace.”

“The merchant has sent a letter,” said the Angel of Death.

The warrior blinked, not sure if he had had his fill of himself, or if he ought to say more; but it was too late for more words.

‘My name is X,’ read the letter, ‘and life is no longer worth living.

‘When I was still just a child my father died and his affairs fell to me. My mother had died long before that; so long that I sometimes doubted I was born. But I had advisers, who were certain I had been; and who were certain, too, that they could further grow me into a second father. I wondered if they could grow me into a second mother, too.

‘But when I was thirteen, I got rid of them. It was their own fault. They had shown me the lines and figures necessary to understand the businesses left to me, and there was a discrepancy in my own household. Their disappearance, I thought, could balance ledgers – profits for loss. And it was a necessary conclusion of the conditions predisposed.

‘But I was wrong. I was very wrong, or at least, I made the incorrect decision. And all of my father’s hard work fell apart.

‘How I ruined everything he’d created through one touch… I don’t know. There were checks; there should have been adjustments. The numbers, the formulas, they said so. Had said so. Or had, at least, suggested it.

‘I do not know what my former counsellors thought – if it amused them, or if they had planned it, or if my failures were a narrative unread by the collegial class of my city and province, utterly unremarkable. Instead, I grew older – not quite a father, and certainly not a mother – on a dwindling inheritance that, finally, obeyed a law: that of subtraction.

‘Then I met X. How could my life not immediately change? I think that when everyone meets their soul mate, they must sense that they are the one, and know that – though the unexpected might arrive – the foundation of all deviations from that point forward is solid.

‘We lay that foundation together. We were the keystone of familiarity against which rested the humble bricks of routine, the doorposts of beloved company, even the windows that let in the bother – the beloved bother! – of the world. Those Archimedean points, arbitrary in and of themselves, from which we could move the entire world and us within it.

‘It was many years we spent building that house. But now it has been two more, and these… these without. The gravel of the park path is unheard when scuffed by a single pair of feet, and the night breeze, without a body of warmth that lies against it, is tyrannical. Our house still stands, for it was built strong, but now it is a temple, and – if I am honest – I am fearful of entering it and prefer to tarry always elsewhere.

‘I have known it for so long, but I say now: I cannot live this way, alone. There are those who tell me there is so much yet to live for, and there are others who rush to fill the void. But what I now know best is that emptiness is not a negative quality; once it arrives, it cannot be filled up.

‘And so, goodbye.’

The Angel rolled the merchant’s letter and sealed it in a scrollcase.

“And you?” he said, at last.

The priest sighed – a great, long, windy thing. “I was born an orphan,” he began, “or, rather, that’s how I came into this life.

“Orphans suffer the greatest trials in life,” he continued – and for a moment looked as though he might sermonize on the story of the merchant. But he narrowed his eyes and, understanding time was short, stuck to his own. “But for me it was most fortunate. God, you see, took me in. Faith, you understand, brought me under its wing. That our lives are crass, profane, perverse, unfair, is the reason we have bases; and it is these bases that the fluid of wisdom rests upon as it fills up the vessel of the pious mind.

“But when the tapping upon these bases that is religion increases, and it rushes faster and froths to fill the clay, then these bases can be swept away – so that God’s mind runs like water through your own. When I learned this – and then learned how – I gave all of myself to God that I could. And, having forgotten all conceits, I was rewarded.

“Before me I saw the greatest vision ever beheld. It was golden thrones, and iron sceptres, and crowns of lights that shot into every aspect of reality. The thrones were great, the sceptres great, and the crowns presided over them as kings that were not kings, but only orders of metals, gems, and brilliance.”

The priest paused, his face glad, and his gaze passed over the shoulder of the Angel of Death and to a place beyond.

“I have held on to that vision all my life, Angel,” the priest said finally, “and now here I am at last.”

“Thank you,” said the the Angel of Death. Looking round, it considered the ghosts before it. “Now, tell me why I should admit you to the eternal hereafter, and not condemn you to the endless never.”

The ghosts, too, took their time to consider. Then, answering politely and without interrupting one another, they began. No one expected the first to answer would be the first to speak.

Said that one: “I have not asked life for anything, and I have not taken anything from life, either. When my heart has turned against something, my mind has fought for its salvation; and I have always done the best I could will towards anything and everything. Truly, I have walked through this world as easily as possible, both for myself, and for the rest of it. Spirits and hidden futures have no need to fear of me, for I will walk among them as a wisp of wind only mildly pleasant on the cheek.”

Then said another: “I do not expect God to take pity on me. God’s judgement will be final and swift. Life is a brief instant; I believe, now, that so too will be death.”

And said the third: “Well… I am alone. And I am not alone in my aloneness, but rather all beings and all creation share this heavy truth. But not being alone in aloneness is not enough; we wish to be together. We all long for a community, if not of the heart, at least of the spirit – a place where we are not alien to one another. Am I saying I have a right to this? Or that I expect my schematic to be in truth what stands beyond the rifts of time? No, of course not. But the world has been so much evil. Is it too much to ask that, once past it, we are given just some respite?”

One did not answer, and it was not the letter.

“Alright,” said the Angel at last. “I’m letting you all in. Provisionally.”


by S. Decoteaux Bates

There is a red boat, and you slip over the gunwale and conceal your small body amidst the ropes, for though adult eyes seldom note a child so young, the docks are vast and teeming with myriads of citizens.  As you lay among the coils, smelling raw fiber, you stare up at a sky where no sun shines; the heavens arch above you in a uniform and nacreous dome that lights all of space with a comforting impartiality.

A wave rises beneath you, lifting the boat.

You embark on the eve of the spring equinox.

The seas stretch onwards to forever, shallow and flat, and a few days out you ask your reflection which bearing will guide you home.  The shimmering figure claims not to know, but tells you your name is Paidon Pais, and that you shall steer a good course.  There is a lie here, you decide, for reflections can never speak more than half a truth.  At night you watch the face of Luna and feel the tides pulled tight against the sacrum of planet.  The air is clean and good, but what is your true name? 

When you make landfall on the seventh island you see, the sun hangs in mid-spring, and strange flowers like tongues deck the shore, their calyxes drooping in the humid air.  Alone on a shard of rock thrusting out of moss-shrouded lagoon, a slender girl with eyes the color of roses asks you to take her upon your boat.  Her name is Ear the Lesser, she says as she strokes your supple limbs, and she has lost her way long ago.

You try your very best, but the seas spin whirlpools and waterspouts, and by the summer solstice she has lost her way once more; starving and parched, you sail into the harbor of a vast white metropolis alone on the little bark.

Along the waterfront run streets lit by ruby lamps as delicate as your skin, and you ache to wander those alleys, but as you disembark armored men take you from the harbor and drag you up ramps of alabaster to where a palace shaped like a chrysanthemum crowns the city. In an ivory hall the men throw you down before a throne. 

Her name is Ear the Greater and her pages call her empress, for beneath an anadem of twining roses and briars she brings law to a thousand prefectures.  She names you Meirakion Meirax, the violator and murderer, and when they bring you to the calcified chambers below the palace, the armored men chain your hands, and, though you moan and plead, emasculate you there.

The air tastes hot and foul, and through a crack in the walls you watch swift Hermes skirt the horizon.  You feel sure the queen has lied, for you are not the man she named.

Released the day after mid-summer, you don the robes of a monastic and beg for your belly in distant villages where xanthic dust floors the streets.  You take the name Neaniskos Neanis, and your only companion as you travel the Rimlands is an ascetic called Theros, a blind leper and deaf-mute who scourges himself during the hot nights and parleys with angels at dawn.  Over your heads, blue-white Aphrodite arcs towards zenith but never gains dominion, and you ruminate on the idylls of ambition.

Theros builds fires against the dark, and croons to the flames when he believes you asleep.  This pleases you, for the flames burn clean and good.

As the serfs load wagons with summer’s harvest, you lose the man and search the wide fields, at last finding his body wrapped in the green sheaves that hold back the arid earthen banks of a canal.  Wind stirs the rows of crops like a whisper, a rustling name, and you stretch your lanky form within a furrow and lose yourself in sleep.

You awaken at the autumnal equinox and your army hails you as Aner Gune, Gatherer of War.  With your four wives elevated besides you–their litters gleam silver, yours gold–the hoplites bear you across conquered riverlands, subjugated forests, and fortified highlands until the procession halts before the mountain known as Opora.  Men and goats are sacrificed to bright Sol, and then you alone descend into the dusty heart of the mountain, losing your path in a labyrinth where stones hang from the ceiling like clusters of ripening fruit.   Long do you wander, and your armor rusts and falls away from the slabs of muscle that pad your body. 

Flames dwell under the mountain, streams of fire that gnaw at the root of the world, and gnaw at the mountain, and your heart is also gnawed. 

At last you find a vein and, touching it, feel the roots of the mountain, and a silver root in your spine, and rooted together you speak to the streams of fires.  The flames burn foul and dry, but they heed your words as you confess: you are not Aner Gune.

Blind and blinking beneath a mid-autumn sky, you crawl down from a vent in the mountain to find your hosts dissolved, your wives fled and the lands you claimed with blood despoiled and forsaken.  The season of grit has come, and you can smell the waning year on the stale breezes as they blow. 

In the seventh of the plundered villages you enter, the survivors–mostly children–touch your hands and mark your grizzled beard, calling you Presbutis, which they have forgotten means Maturity of Reason.  Though bloody Ares rides the sky, you think not of war but of peace, and teach the children to till the dry earth.

Pthinoporon, he names himself, and though you taught him how to hunt the beasts of the forest when he was a child, he challenges your rule, calling you out before an assemblage of villagers.  You kneel in the dust before the young man and proffer your spear, but he strikes you to the ground with seven furious blows.  You can taste dirt in your mouth, and it is clean and good.

When you rise, your persecutor stumbles back into the crowd, for a thrumming fills your throat and your eyes are terrible to behold.  But you forgive these children (and they are the only progeny you will ever father), telling them you were never Presbutis, and bless their hearths before striking northwards.

By the winter solstice, all the holy pilgrims and eremites of the northern peaks known your name–Geron Graia, abbot of Sporetos, he who tamed the passions by stacking the sheer walls of his abbey with his own two hands, and then seeded the mountains with a crop of cloud-wrapped shrines to no deity.  Your followers venerate you on the high terraces of the abbey’s orchards, and within the jeweled cloisters bathe you in oils reminiscent of the shallow seas, but at night you stroke your magnificent ivory beard and gaze through a clarity of mountain air towards the stars, thinking their network of sparks mirrors the mind of man.

Though you enjoy your life as the abbot, you know the time has come to depart when jaundiced Zeus surmounts the eastern edge of the earth, and so bid Sporetos a reluctant farewell.  The illuminists vow to immortalize the name of Geron Graia in their scrolls, and you forebear to tell the eager men that, no, that name is not yours. 

Lies bitter the tongue, and as you climb the paths that wind away from your abbey, you feel you can taste the earth, and the earth is cold and foul.

Mid-winter.  You have reached the pole.  In the dark hours, storms lash the world and waves of chartreuse radiance come rushing from the horizon; the daylight remains the abode of wind and cold and an indifferent white light that drowns the earth.  Crouched in a shack built from the timbers of your great sleigh and the bones of the musk oxen that dragged its runners above the ice, you scratch your bald crown and converse with the spirits of the winter, the only company you keep here in this realm at the top of the world.

Androgyne creatures of frost and blue fire, they are whisperers and speakers of tongues whose sense eludes you; among the spirits, Keimon proves the most loquacious, and from his whispers you divine the name they have bound to you: Eskhatogeros, the highest, the best, the last. 

Wisdom is yours, and honor, and freedom from obligation, but the days burn cold and distant lie the lands of men. 

Once, beneath a heaven ruled by the cruel gaze of old Chronos, Keimon seeks to comfort you, and you watch her spectral fingers pass through your emaciated flesh.  Then it is you who seeks to comfort her–you admit you are not Eskhatogeros, and, in truth, you have forgotten your name long ago when the world was young.  You weep together, spirit and flesh, and the water is clean and good.

Stars awaken you with their singing.

Her name is Phutalia, and once again she tells you the time has come for planting.  With a potter’s caress, she shapes you anew, and the ancient wounds melt to nothingness.  Here swing the stars, she says, and here you will go. 

Pylons of light support the arc of space, and all the teeming myriads between swim in its ether.  You apprehend the diversity of paths and scintillate brighter, anticipating your fall, while the massed glory of Creation beckons like a stream of tainted water to the thirsty.

On that cusp, in that timeless moment of light before you descend, she leans close and whispers your name.

 There is a red boat, and you slip over the gunwale and conceal your small body amidst the ropes….


by Kristine Ong Muslim

It wasn’t our fault. You should understand that by now. But I don’t expect you to understand the reason we did what we thought we had to do that summer of 1999, because people don’t understand order as much as we do.

At first, there were only three of us: Mel Arlington, Judith Legold, and me. By the end of the semester before that summer vacation, Billy Gambale, a fourth-grader who once helped Mel push my bicycle out of the ditch, joined our little group. I could never forget that day. It was humid, and the whole world was the mighty Godzilla out to get us. The burly Bartman and his ferocious pack were chasing me and Mel riding double with me on my bike. I lost control of the handlebars when we reached the embankment so we landed in the ditch near Mr. Ashley’s farm. The Bartman and his gang were laughing their heads off as they walked away from us. Mel and I cursed silently as we eased our way out of the filthy mud bath.

We both understood that we had no choice but to endure the treatment, because that was how the world worked. There was so much room for pain because the course of natural hierarchy–the taut demarcation line that separated predator from prey–had to be sustained that way. We knew that. We respected that.

“Want some help?” the freckled Billy Gambale called out from the embankment.

According to Judith, Billy spent almost half of his life playing inside the video arcade at Kingshoppe because he didn’t have any friends. He flushed when we looked up at him, probably thinking that it would be a lot easier for him if we ignored him.

“Come on down if you want to,” Mel said, laughing and splashing mud on me. “You’re Billy, right?”


He brightened instantly. I could swear I’d never seen happiness as profuse as that which shone from Billy Gambale’s eyes.

That afternoon at Judith’s house, Billy joined us to watch Flame of Recca, a Japanese animated series. We ate chocolate cookies and drank all of the milk in the fridge.

There were now four of us in the Legolds’ spacious living room and the thought of us being friends for a lifetime suddenly dawned upon me. I felt proud.

It was on the twenty-fifth of June when we first ventured into the vacant lot beside the Lares House to play baseball. It was Billy’s turn to pitch.

Judith swung for the fences.


I followed the ball’s course across the sky although the sun hurt my eyes. Strange, but I felt like a real man whenever I did that. It landed somewhere in the middle of the thick vegetation fifteen feet away from us.

Mel turned around and went for the ball. He told us earlier that he only managed to snatch the ball from his older brother’s bedroom because his brother had his head clamped with headphones. “The volume was turned up so high you’d hear the sound from the next room,” Mel informed us. “I think he’ll need a hearing aid the size of a cookie jar when he gets older.”

We all laughed at that. His brother was obese and ate sloppily. The cookie jar would have been a nice touch.

Mel was approaching the bushes when Judith screamed. I never heard her scream before; she was as hardassed as any man I’d ever seen in my life.

Mel froze. Following the direction of Billy’s frightened gaze, I saw it: a white face with what looked like holes lurking sparsely on its surface. It looked like a child, but its face resembled something out of a white board cut-out, with eyes made up of buttons, a paper clip nose, and a piece of string shaped to form the lips. Most of all, there were those terrible, hateful spots on his skin which resembled miniature lunar craters.

Mel stepped backward as the creature took one step forward. Its grotesque limbs were holding the ball, stretching them awkwardly on Mel’s direction to indicate that it wanted to return the ball.

My three friends huddled closer to me, their eyes fixed on the creature as it set the ball on the third base and scuttled back towards the bushes. Judith was the one who picked it up for Mel.

“I think he’s just a freak,” Mel said, looking down at his dirty sneakers as we walked away from the Lares House.

“He must’ve gotten some radiation when he was a kid,” Billy added.

I was annoyed by the way that they blatantly referred to the creature as a he. It wasn’t human to me. And I hated it, had to hate it more for what it represented. It was completely dislodged from my concept of primal order. The creature was a pure abomination, like a punk clad in a motorcycle jacket and engineer boots mouthing nothing but the f-word. And when you were a kid, it was not easy to allow it to fit into your general scheme of things or accept even the remotest possibility of its existence. It was simply too much for me.

“What’s radiation?” Judith asked.

“It causes things to mutate,” Billy said. “Like if I give it to you, you’ll change into a rat or something.”

“Shit,” Mel said, horrified. “How’d you get it?”

“I don’t know,” Billy answered. “It’s everywhere. The government puts it on our food so we don’t get past fifty. And there’s this one time–”

“I think it’s an alien invader,” I told them. I was not smiling. I knew they realized I meant business. “I think it wants to take over the world. We have to stop it.”

“Us?” Mel gasped. His face was ashen with fear.

“Don’t you think we have to call 911?” Judith said.

“I guess you’re right, Jude,” Billy agreed.

“They won’t believe us. Not grown-ups. They won’t believe a thing like that. They’d laugh their heads off and then stick us in the loony bin like Carl’s dad.”

“Not if we take a picture of him,” Judith suggested.

I noticed that Mel was looking around nervously.

“How?” I said. “Say ‘hey, Mr. Moonman, we’d like you to pose and say cheese because we need to take a nice picture of you and send it to X-Files.’”

“Why don’t we just forget about him, okay?” Mel said. He was sweating. He was such a crybaby.

We were silent after that.

“Come back here tomorrow,” I said when we reached my house. All I wanted was to become a leader, a real man. I would take the responsibility if I had to. “We’d talk about what we’re supposed to do.”

I turned around and walked across the yard. I did not wait for them to respond because I knew they would stick with me no matter what happened.

In the end, every one agreed to join me in hunting the thing and killing it. Mel, anxious about the idea, finally gave in when he saw Judith’s enthusiastic response.

We tracked down the Moonman for three days without success. On the fourth day, we had the luck to spot it near the stream forming a mound of sand with its bulbous fingers. That scene disturbed me; no other kind of blasphemy could come closer to it. The creature was building what appeared to be a sandcastle.

It did not have a right to do that as much as it was devoid of its right to exist. The Moonman had corrupted my innocence, and I thought I had nothing else to lose after that. I pegged my first rock with such murderous force my right arm ached in its socket that night. The rock hit the creature squarely on the forehead, and it collapsed against the stream bank. Yes, close your eyes now, Moonman, my mind shouted triumphantly. Close your eyes and seal those lunar craters on your skin forever. Let the earth feed on you and leave us in peace.

Then I saw red stuff ooze out of its hairless head. I could not believe what I saw but I knew it was blood.

Mel wailed, and all three of his rocks fell out of his shirt. Thud, thud, thud. Colder than the earth, the rocks whispered a rhythmic chant as they hit the ground.

“It was only a freak,” Judith said. “We’re murderers.”

Billy and Mel quickly found their way out of the dense undergrowth we used as a hiding place. They ran. Away. They never talked to me after that. Judith cried on our way home, and I never heard a word from her again. But I knew they had kept the secret. It was a pact none of us needed to talk about.

A month after the incident, I overheard my father talking to my mother about a decayed body near the stream two miles from the Lares House. According to my father, the police swore they never thought the remains could be that of a human’s until it was autopsied.

But I knew better.

Lalla Rooke

by John Gerard Fagan

Tex opened his eyes, looked out the window and saw it was dark – it was always dark. The Earth, smaller than his hand, ignored him in the distance. The whiteness of the shuttle’s interior stung his sticky eyes. He undid the belt and got out of bed. It reminded him of a coffin. His face was clammy and his back was wet from sweat. It was hard to breathe in there. Tex floated over to the control station, secured himself to the hard foam chair, and activated the video diary.

“G’day, it’s me again,” he said through a yawn. “This little computer is telling me it’s now day fourteen. I haven’t had any contact with any of you pricks for a while now. You fuckers had better not have left me out here. Geez, I’m starting to feel crook. Fuuuck. Well, in terms of me mission, one of me guitar strings broke, so I’ve not come up with anything since me last diary entry; I’ll need time to fix it, but geez I’ll have that song ready just as soon as I do, and that’s a bloody promise. I’ve had some good ideas, and I’ve been thinking I could write one about an old sheila of mine who broke me heart. Let me know if that’s what you’re after. Well, I’m needing a piss now, so I’ll speak to ya later.” He posted his latest entry and released himself.

He attached his feet to the floor, just like they taught him in training, and pulled a chord that undid a layer of clothing. Tex hated that silver suit; designed for comfort, if comfortable meant constantly having sweat running down your back all day and a feeling of sandpaper rubbing against your prick.

He picked up a water bag from a dispenser and let his thick yellow piss spray into it. He shoved the bag into the waste disposal unit, and it was sucked out into space.

He’d been confined to a space shuttle no bigger than a caravan. Contact with the Hobart Space Centre had been lost ten days previously. The shuttle was full of gadgets and machinery Tex had no idea about. Things would hiss and click at random times. He thought the launch would be the hardest part of the mission, but he was wrong.

Tex reached into the small, refrigerated box, pulled out the last can of Boag’s XXX Ale and skulled the contents. He let the empty can float away inside the room. Tex looked at his guitar, untouched the whole time he’d been in the shuttle, and then moved his eyes to the photograph of his best friend.

“You write the bloody song then Stinky ya prick. Fuuuck. I know mate, but me mind’s went blank. I’ll have something written bloody soon and get us back home. Don’t say that. Geez you’ve been a pain in the arse since we’ve been here. I should have never have rescued you from the pound.” He sat in silence, staring at the dog. “I’m only kidding me little puppy dog. Geez, we’re best mates me and you.”

He picked up the guitar and strapped himself back into the chair beside the control station. Tex stroked the smooth wood with his palm as distant memories ran past in his mind. He strummed the wire strings; they were out of tune. Tex twisted the keys until it sounded the way he remembered it should.

“G’day, g’day, how’s it going…” he sang then let the guitar go. It floated up to the corner of the roof and stayed there.

“What the bloody hell are you doing out here Tex? You’re sixty-six years old mate and playing at being a bloody spaceman. Fuuuck,” he whispered into his hands. His eyes rolled around the ship. That midget sized bed, the blue coloured walls, that control desk that looked like a squished spider and those fucking cupboards painted with the Tasmanian flag had now all been engrained in his memory. He had been there for too long; it was only meant to be for seven days.

“It seemed like a good idea didn’t it Stinky?” he shouted at the photograph. “I know mate, I know.” He let himself loose from the chair and drifted over to the cupboard. Everything was silent. He could hear his organs pulsating inside him. That was all. He opened a door and took out a nutrition bar. He bit into it and coughed. Fucking shitty space food. It tasted like paint. He floated up to the roof.

“What the fuck is that smell? Is that you Stinky?” He sniffed his armpit and his face recoiled. “Struth, it’s me mate. Well, what do you expect? I haven’t had a bath in days mate. Do you expect me to smell as fresh as a sheila only using those fancy wipes? Fuuuck. A man needs a bath once a week mate. I feel salty.” He looked out the thick window then banged his head against it. A thin layer of grease from his forehead stuck to the glass. He smudged it with his fingers.

“Those pricks better get me back soon.” He pulled himself over to the video diary area.

“Righto bastards. I’ve had enough of this shit. Get me bloody back home. You hear me? I’m running out of that cardboard you call food, me water supply is getting low and I’m fed up shitting into a bag.” He punched the metal and his fist throbbed. He let himself float around the ship.

Tex Kelly was Tasmania’s only chance. He was a surprise option, having never had much success as a musician. He had a few unpopular albums out in the late nineteen eighties and never wrote much after that. He rose to fame when an old album cover of his – a picture of him cutting down sugar cane with a guitar – was used in the Tasmanian Independence campaign. He was invited to sing during the morning at Tasmania’s freedom concert. It was held in the capital Hobart, July 2024 – the year they gained independence from Australia.

Tex was attempting to be the first person to compose a song entirely in space and send it back to earth. He was the last musician in Tasmania to still play old-style country music, and when the new Tasmanian government asked their people who they wanted to represent them in the space race an internet campaign urged people to vote for the man who appeared on the freedom flag. After refusing twice, Tex was finally convinced to undertake their first space endeavour.

The Americans, the Chinese and the Russians had plans of their own, but the Tasmanians were the first to act and sent Tex up in a tiny space shuttle three months ahead of schedule. He was waved off a hero, armed only with his trusted guitar and a photograph of his dead dog Stinky.

On day sixteen Tex woke from a deep sleep. He was upside down, caught between the command chair and the floor. He heard someone calling his name. After a few seconds, he realised it was the control station back on earth.

“Tex, Tex, do ya read me?” a coarse voice said. Tex pressed a button and spoke.

“I hear ya mate. What the bloody hell happened down there?”

“We’re not sure, but everything’s under control now mate. It’s a new system we’re working with. You right? You don’t sound too good mate.”

“Struth, I’m fine mate, a bit dehydrated I reckon. I’m getting low on food and water. Geez, I’m ready to come home now.”

“We haven’t received the song yet Tex. What’s going on?”

“I’m sorry, but I couldn’t think of one. I gave it a go mate, but I’ve had enough. An old man like me ain’t meant for space.”

“For fuck’s sake,” the voice shouted. “Just write any old shit and send it to us. No one cares about you or any of your fucking music. You ain’t up there because you’re the best musician – your only there because of a bloody picture! I don’t want to lose me temper with you mate. We just need a song, any old bloody thing will do.”

“I bloody care. I don’t want to be remembered by a shitty song I wrote cooped up in a tucker box in space ya prick.”

“Look mate, I’ll make this as clear as I can. Those fucking yanks and commies are back in the race. I don’t mean to panic you, but we don’t have much bloody time left.”

“I thought you said those pricks gave up after we launched, and I had as much time as I needed?”

“They did but since you’ve not fucking done it, they’re sending their boys up this week. They said we’re all poofters in Tasmania. We can’t be having that Tex, so just fucking write something or we’ll leave ya out there.” The line went dead.

“Fucking prick.” Tex strapped himself onto the command chair and whacked different buttons. “Take me home ya piece of shit. A week those bastards said, a week at the very most, even if I come up with something or not.” The lights went out in the shuttle and he fell silent. A set of luminous orange lights lit up after a few minutes.

“What did you say Stinky? Well, it’s all your fault ya prick. You convinced me this was a bloody good idea. I should be in the little pub back home drinking schooners. Fuuuck, it’s hot in here.” He buried his face in his hands and pushed his eyes until he saw yellow rings. Tex leaned over and pulled the photograph off the wall.

“Remember that day when I played in Launceston and you pissed in me guitar. Geez I was mad. I had piss running down me arms before I realised what had happened. Well, I just want to say I’m sorry for kicking ya in the nuts mate. I didn’t mean to go wild on ya. Can you forgive me mate?” Tears ran down his cheeks. “You were the best mate I ever had and I should have treated ya better. You were always there for me, and I didn’t even get ya buried properly. I had some prick chuck ya into the sea like you were nothing. I’m so sorry Stinky. I’m so sorry.” His eyes were red and his bottom lip was trembling.

Tex stuck the photograph back to the wall and flicked a switch that had an upload of his greatest hits. He turned it off as soon as he heard the beginning of the first track. I was shit, he thought, I never made a bloody good song in all me life. Fuuuck. He left the chair and opened the food cupboard. Five nutrition bars were left. He opened one and bit a little bit.

“Fuuuck,” he shouted holding his jaw. He dabbed a finger in his mouth; it came back with blood on it. “Geez Stinky me teeth are hurting. It might be all those juicy steaks we used to eat mate. I remember when I went to the dentist a few years back when I had a sore tooth. The dentist said to me, Tex I’ll be able to save your tooth, but it will cost ya six hundred dollars. Six bloody hundred dollars – fuuuck! Do you know what I said to him Stinky? I said, just pull the bastard out. He referred me to some other prick, but I never went mate. We had to go play a gig in Melbourne. You remember that day? Fuuuck, it was full of pricks. I got booed off the stage I did. Those fuckers never liked us from the little island did they? Tasmanian pricks they called us. Bastards the lot of them. I’m telling you mate, Independence is the best thing that ever happened to Tasmania. It’s a bloody shame you never got to see it.”

After a while Tex picked up the guitar again. He strummed a few chords and sang,

“When will I go home? Where the grass is green. Where the sky is blue. I hope you’ll be there too.” It was the first new lyrics he had written in over ten years. In less than twenty minutes he had the new song ready. Tex forced the rest of the nutrition bar down his neck, drank some water from his depleting supply and strapped himself onto the small bed. He looked over at Stinky’s smiling face.

“I remember one night when you were just a pup. I felt someone licking me face when I was in me bed. I thought, aha me luck’s in here. Turns out it was only you ya prick. Fuuuck. Ha-ha. We had some laughs back in those days didn’t we mate? Best mates Stinky. Geez you loved your tucker; only juicy steak for Stinky mind. You’d hate the food in here; I wouldn’t blame ya either mate.” He closed his eyes and fell into a dreamless sleep.

Tex woke to the sound of a man’s voice. His eyes nipped in the orange glow. Tex made his way to the command centre.

“Tex, do ya read me Tex?” the voice said.

“I’m here, I’m here.”

“Righto mate, have ya loaded up a song into the video diary?”

“Not yet, but I wrote one yesterday. Geez it’s a beauty. It might even be me best yet.”

“Great, that’s bloody marvellous that is mate. Get it uploaded as quickly as you can and post it off to us. Those yanks fucked up their launch this morning so they’re out, but the commies shot up this afternoon. It’ll take them a day at least to get set up I reckon, so get it done ASAP and we’ll get ya home.”

“Righto.” The line went dead. “Ya cunt.” He headed back over to the bed. “I’ll go for a bloody sleep if I want to Stinky ya prick. And what if I don’t? You and no-body else can tell me what to do. You’re the real fucking reason I never met a sheila. You would scare any off I brought back with me wouldn’t ya? You ruined me life Stinky, you fucking ruined it.” He reached for the photograph, slammed it into the waste disposal unit and fired it out into the darkness. He fell silent in realisation of what he had done. He cried and tasted dregs of hot sick. He spat them out and they floated around the shuttle. He stared out of the small window and into the abyss. Darkness, it was all darkness. The earth looked further away than it ever did. He wanted to go home.

The Tasmanians wanted to prove they were a new country that was going to achieve great things. They surprised the world when it was revealed, at the last minute, that they were challenging the world superpowers in the latest space race. No one even knew they had a space centre to begin with. Their shuttle, Lalla Rooke, was fired into space quicker than any other. Now, only six years after Independence, they were on the brink of another defining victory for the country. It was revealed after the shuttle went into space that the Tasmanian people thought their entry in the space race was some sort of joke, and that’s the only reason they voted for old Tex Kelly. Some thought he was already dead.

Tex scooped up the guitar and turned on the video diary.

“G’day Tasmania, it’s your old mate Tex here. This is me latest and hopefully one of many new songs I’m planning to write.” He strummed his three favourite chords, repeating them twice, and then he sang: “When will I go home? Where the grass is green. Where the sky is blue. I hope you’ll be there too. When will I go home? Where the coral sleeps. Where the sugar cane grows and the wind she blows. When will I go home? When will I go home?” Tex stopped playing his guitar, stared into the diary screen and pressed stop. He looked at his guitar; a friend he had for forty-one years; and played thousands of times. He jammed his old mate between the seat and the shell of the shuttle and put his foot through it; shards of wood from the guitar floated up. He let the rest of the broken instrument drift and went back over to his bed to lie down.

The Australian government wanted to turn the whole island of Tasmania into a prison. They saw it as their best option to control an ever increasing amount of convicts. The whole island was to be turned into a fully enclosed prison with escape being impossible. The government also wanted to rent the new prison island out to other countries as a place to store their long-term prisoners. It was seen as a potential highly lucrative earner.

They had outlined plans for every Tasmanian to be relocated in the new townships in the Simpson Desert. The Tasmanians went wild over the news. This initial reaction was followed by protests all over the island and a demand for independence. An election took place on Tuesday the 16th June 2024. The Tasmanians voted by an overwhelming majority for immediate independence from Australia, and thus the world’s newest nation was born.

His eyes were closed, but he was awake. The voice was screaming through the line. He strolled to the chair and cuffed the communication channel.

“G’day,” Tex said.

“Don’t ya bloody G’day me ya cunt. Where’s the fucking song?”

“I’ve recorded a bit of it on the diary.”

“A bit? What do ya bloody mean a bit?”

“I’m sorry mate. I can’t do it anymore. I’ve had enough of it all. I don’t want a comeback; I want to be left alone.”

“Fuck. Righto. Well just send us what you’ve got mate. There’s still time. We’ve heard reports that the commie cosmonaut rappers are still recording, but they could send their song any bloody second, so send it to us now and we’ll be right.”

“Mate, I don’t think I should.”

“Millions and millions of fucking dollars were spent on this ya prick. It’s our first space mission, and we don’t need some old turd like you fucking everything up. We need to win this for the country mate. Do you want those Aussie pricks laughing at us? Just send the fucking song, and it’ll all be over. We’ll get ya back home.”

Tex stared at the virtual diary.

“How long will it take before I’m home?”

“Fuck me. Send the fucking thing will ya and I’ll tell ya.”

“Promise me one thing.”


“Just promise me if we win it will be dedicated to me dog Stinky.”

“Sure mate, just post the thing will ya.”

“And you promise right?”

“Yes, for fuck sake yes, I promise, I fucking promise!”

“Righto. It’ll just take me a second.”

“Hurry the fuck up ya old shit.”

Tex activated the video diary.

“He’s posting it just now.” Tex heard the voice say in the background. He held his arm over the send button and looked out at the ball he called home. He let his hand hit the button.

“He’s posted it. Have we won? Have we won? Yessss!” the voice screamed. Tex could hear people cheering, and the song he’d written, faintly in the background. He never took his eyes off the tiny globe.

“Can ya bring me home now mate?” Tex said to the command centre but the line was dead.

Tex woke up in the chair on day twenty-seven. It had been nine days since he posted the song and had heard nothing from the Hobart command centre since. He hovered over to the empty food container hoping he would see something different from the last time he looked. He had drained the last drops from the water tank the day before. Tex was gasping in the stale air that lingered in the shuttle. He had stripped down to only his lucky black pants. His skin was like wet putty and he could taste dry blood on his lips.

“What’s going on Stinky me little puppy dog? When did you get here?” His face was tight and grey. Stinky had appeared and was drinking water from a bowl. “Save some of that for me mate.” Tex pulled himself over beside Stinky and the water but it had disappeared. “Where’d it go mate? Did ya drink it all ya prick?” Stinky shook his head and floated over to the bed. “It’s alright mate. I believe ya. I’m glad you’re here now. Geez I’ve missed ya.” He strapped himself onto the bed, held Stinky in his tired arms and closed his eyes.