Sewer Times

Fiction
Simon Owen


They hate it when our gang hangs around. They think they’re better than us. And it’s always been like this. Les came round last week, his tongue hanging out, desperate for a beer. So off we went, and got a few of the boys together. 11pm, one hour from closing time, and they were leaving already. We had to be careful, running in low along the back, and hiding against the wall, in the shadows.

Les sneaked in first. Then me. I always went second. Senses aren’t quite what they used to be. The others followed. We made it into the storeroom, and we were getting into some high class ale, when Stu, our scout for the evening, let the door close. Any minute now the Landlord would be round with a baseball bat to chase and pound the life out of us. There were six of us, I know, but the big fellow at the Brenno’s a big fucker, and a lot bigger than us.

We decided, what the hell, we’d hole up in the coolroom and get plastered, and whatever happened, happened.

Bad idea, as ideas go.

Too much beer later, the six of us were treated to the sight of the big burly bastard filling the doorway. Not with bat in hand, but sawn-off shotgun. Stu was splattered all over a case of Corona (what a way to go), and the rest of us, frantic, stumbled drunkenly about between kegs and cases of what we liked, while the big bastard laughed and waved his gun.

Somehow I made it out. I grabbed a hold of Les’ tail and yanked, but Landlord slammed the heavy coolroom door, and I fell back, mouth full of tail and blood, heard the shot, saw the flash, more blood, under the door, and ran for my life.

My claws were broken and my paws were raw by the time I got home, but the wife fixed me up pretty good. She’s a good girl, old Sal. A few of us friends got together, me, the only survivor of the barroom raid, and a few other old-timers, squeaked a few words, put what was left of Old Les into a beercan and sent him off down the sewer.

Old Sal cheered me up, best she could, nipping and clawing at me until I was a mess in the dirt. A good girl, Old Sal. I’m getting on, myself.

There was never enough food. No matter how much we could score and save, it always went mouldy, too mouldy, by the time we’d get around to eating it. And we were fairly picky, so this one time I went out shopping to the local Furry’s. At night, of course. I told you, most people don’t like our gang. It’s best to go out after dark. I prefer the night, anyways. We all do.

Anyway, I’m dragging a huge box of frozen chicken fillets home, and I’m about to go on down into into the drain when I hear it.

‘RAT! GET IT!’

Now there’s nothing I hate more than being referred to as some thing. ‘GET IT! KILL IT!’ this kid went on to the others. I hadn’t seen them, the three teenage boys. They hurled stones, bottles. I ducked into the sewer, and one of them ran over, trying to stick the boot in. I got it badly in the side of the head, slid a few feet down into the sewer, shook it off. I wasn’t going anywhere without my dinner, though, not for any Human. Finally they gave up, walked off, or that’s what seemed to have happened. Apparently, I had blacked out after the kick, I’d been lying in the shit for about twelve hours, thankfully deep enough into the pipe to be out of the reach of the Humans.

But they had taken the chicken. Well, it was gone, anyhow.

All I managed to find for dinner was some old stale bread. So I got it into my mouth and then used it as a raft to get home. I was tired. That’s happening a lot these days.

Old Sal understood, understanding, sympathetic Sal.

Sally broke up the bits of soggy bread, fed me some, and I slept. She could have all she wanted. All that I could provide for her. My good girl. I just wanted to sleep. And that I did.

We survived down there for some time, like that. Starving for a day, sleeping for a day, eating for a day, sleeping for a day. Until they sent the exterminator down into the sewer.

And guess who it was.

Big Bastard.

He chased us through the tunnels down here, laughing and spraying some kind of liquid at us that burned like acid, made the eyes water, the skin crawl, the ears ring. Complete dizziness and disorientation in the dark tunnels. That’s how we beat him, though. The dark. He had his flashlight, a cone of weak yellow bobbing about against the walls, the ground, the webs and crap.

I said we beat him, that’s not strictly true. He got Old Sal. Rather the 3:15 to Campbelltown got her when she flew dizzy out of a hole and straight onto a length of train track. I was safe, I stuck to the wall, blown back by the passing train. There was nothing to send down into the sewer in a beercan.

Now there’s not much left. The Big Bastard will get me at the pub, he’ll get me in the sewer. He got Les, and Stu, and the others, and Old Sal. My good girl. It’s time to leave. I can’t stay here anymore.

I don’t know where, up this train tunnel looks like a good ways to go.

pencil

Simon Owen was born in the Republic of Ireland and emigrated to Australia in 1997. He is currently working as a draftsman and musician to support addiction to writing. He has a rather large stainless steel rod embedded in his left leg and likes the number thirteen, Mexican food and the incredibly coincidental. His intercontinental nickname is Slime. He is about to publish his first novel entitled The Last Years of Francis Flood, and his second, The Ballad of Bill Blake and Cupid’s Silicon Irony will follow in 2003. He can be reached at Barflychinaski[at]hotmail.com.

Still Life with Shaky Oranges

Fiction
By Simon Owen


“This is probably breaching patient-doctor’s receptionist ethics.” She laughed, shook her head. “You dork.”

“It’s what I’m good at,” Stephen smiled, then left without another word.

They met in the city and drank coffee. The conversation was smooth but sparse; Liz busied herself with her hair to cover her shyness, and a hint of boredom. Stephen stared. He was an artist, so he said. But he had never drawn a thing. So he said.

Eight o’clock came, and they walked close together to the room, brushing past people, slamming into others, making shy apologies.

Liz was not amused.

I am always amazed that places like this actually exist, thought Stephen, as they ascended the stair, and paid their two dollars each to gain admission.

They sat, Stephen smoked, Liz coughed. They ordered drinks. Straight Jameson and an orange juice.

The lights went out, and Stephen enquired as to whether his date was enjoying the evening.

“Sure,” an indifferent voice answered.

They eyed the stage with anticipation on one hand and restlessness on the other. There was a shabby table and chair, and one glass. The crowd grew, became restless and drunk.

Stephen brushed Liz’s hand and whispered, “it’s time,” coughed and pocketed his cigarettes. Liz quickly rose to go with him, thinking escape was approaching. She was wrong.

“No, sit down,” said Stephen, and he disappeared from view. He’s probably just gone for a piss, and trying to be artistic about it, thought Liz.

When she lifted her head from spitting an ice cube back into her glass, Stephen was looking straight at her. From the stage.

He had taken the seat behind the old table and was producing things from his pockets. First a small bottle, which he placed on the tabletop beside the glass. Then a candle, he held his lighter to the bottom, melted some wax, and stuck it down beside the bottle.

The glass was half full with liquid when he pulled five orange balls from a pocket, and proceeded to toss them into the front row of the audience who caught them incredulously. He kept one for himself.

“Welcome,” Stephen addressed the crowd, then took a sip from the glass, coughed a bit, and held the ball aloft. He started to shake it back and forth with little movements of his wrist, and it made a noise similar to that of maracas. With a glance and raised eyebrows to the front row, the audience joined in, and the sound of five rustling instruments filled the room in rhythmic waves. Others tapped feet and clapped. The atmosphere was thickening toward something, and Liz looked excited.

Through the beat, Stephen lit a cigarette and produced some pages from his jacket pocket, unfurled and flattened them against the table, and smoked, letting the anticipation of the crowd escalate.

He drew the cigarette to the butt and then husked out through the smoke, “it’s still life,” and crushed the filter on the table.

Murmurs and laughs from the crowd, and the beat went on.

He lifted the top page, and, foot following the orange rhythm, began to speak.

—With smashed leg I lay on a floor of thistle pains for thirteen days, I was hunted by Kafka’s kids, but I was no fox, I could not run, was no mouse could sleep, was no librarian could read, was no needle could relieve.

—Was no… and nodded to the bottle and glass, people laughed, and Stephen chuckled deeply.

—Was no man could stand, was no towtruck, got wheeled in, out,

—Was no man could stand, and piss,

—Was no man.

—Was no.

—Woman.

And more laughter and innuendo filled the air.

Stephen looked toward Liz, through five bobbing heads and shaking wrists, through the rhythm of it all, to the woman who pain had brought to him;

—Was no woman could — he paused, —relieve me…

More laughter, raucous.

Stephen chuckled again,

—could relieve me — of —

Shouts and whoops from the crowd,

—My pain.

And then, silence. Except for the shaky oranges.

—Except,

And he lifted his eyes to meet Liz’s,

And she had gone.

Eager listeners leaned forward.

—Except, he drew out the word, hissing at its end,

—You, dear, he said, and nodded to the bottle, and was applauded with shouts and claps and shaky oranges.

pencil

Simon Owen was born in the Republic of Ireland and emigrated to Australia in 1997. He is currently studying for a Bachelor of Architecture and working as a draftsman and musician to support addiction to writing. He has a rather large stainless steel rod embedded in his left leg and likes the number thirteen, Mexican food and the incredibly coincidental. His intercontinental nickname is Slime. He is currently working on a novel entitled “The Last Years of Francis Flood”. Simon can be reached at Barflychinaski[at]hotmail.com.