flash fiction

The Bear and Squirrel

I wrote this story for the first round of this year’s NYC Midnight Flash Fiction. I drew historical fiction, which has to be one of my favourite genres. My object was a rope and the setting had to include a seized plot of land. This story came to me very quickly as it instantly made me think about post-revolutionary Russia and the subsequent famine in Ukraine after collective farms were introduced. I had just come off the back of teaching the Stage 6 Modern History national study of Russia, and it was cool to be able to use some detailed historical knowledge to write a piece of fiction.

This is a sobering little story. I used the colours of the Ukrainian flag – the blue of the sky and the yellow of the grain- as a motif. As it was less than 1000 words I used the three part structure; three subsequent years to show the progression of the plight of one Ukrainian farming family. I didn’t know how this story would be received- I felt my tone was a bit contrived- but in the end I placed at the top of my heat. Enjoy.

 

The Bear and the Squirrel 

There is an old Ukrainian folk tale about a squirrel and a bear. The bear ignores the squirrel and brushes him aside. When later the bear is caught in a trap, the squirrel chews through the tangle of rope. Even though the squirrel is small and weak, he saves the life of the mighty bear.

The bear is Russia. The squirrel is Ukraine. The year is 1930.

 

*****

 

There is a sound that wheat makes when the breeze blows in late autumn and the grain is groaning on the stem; a soft sweeping whisper. The fields had turned pale yellow as if the wheat were a golden belt separating the black loam soil from the endless blue of the Ukrainian sky. Katya had been cooking all day and had prepared a large loaf of bread to bless tomorrow’s harvest. The kitchen was filled with the smell of sweet and sour soup, pickled vegetables, smoked pork sausage and potato dumplings. Outside the window she could see her two boys. Artem was sharpening a scythe, always dutiful and planning ahead, but the younger boy Alex had draped a red scarf across his chest and was pretending his rake was a shotgun.  ‘Comrade Alex’ she called, ‘the revolution can wait until you’ve been fed. Call your father.’

 

In the lamplight Katya noticed how strong the boys had become and how much the younger looked like his father Ivan. The family ate slowly in silence out of respect for the food, for family. Their neighbours the Solvetsky’s had packed up and left their farm one night, convinced to move onto a collective farm. A team from the kolkhoz had come and harvested the Solvetsky’s wheat a few days ago and Katya had watched the strange mechanical harvester. In the past it had been old Solvetsky and his boys, using scythes, with the girls following behind with twine to tie the bushels. It felt as if the ripples of change were finally reaching them from Moscow. ‘Papa…we aren’t going to join a kolkhoz, are we?’ Ivan frowned at Alex and shook his head.

‘No. I hope not.’ Katya felt her breath catch in her throat and she studied her husband’s face.

‘You hope not? I thought it was optional.’

‘They say it’s optional. And then they come in the night and ask you again.’

 

The boys began to hear stories from the neighbour’s children, of people refusing to hand over grain and livestock, of one man who made a stand and was shot in front of his wife and daughters before they were put on a train to a labour camp. The wheels of revolutionary reform kept turning and a few boldly coloured posters started appearing around the village. In one, men and women laboured side by side in the field under a glorious Ukrainian sun, and behind them were rows of barns in the style of the kolkhoz. There was a growing expectation that all men had to carry the motherland towards prosperity. Stalin’s first five-year plan was to drag Russia out of the dark ages, with a focus on heavy industry, and grain was the only commodity the country had to sell the world.

 

A year later the soft swish of ripe grain on the stem swept across the night-time landscape, but this time it was peppered by the cries of sheep, pigs and cows being slaughtered. It hadn’t taken long for the kolkhoz farms to become full, as they were increasingly seen as the only option. More farmland was swallowed, amalgamated into collective farms, and more machinery replaced manpower. Farms were ravaged, livestock herded off, granaries plundered for a dwindling supply of seed. As production targets increased the people grew hungrier and people were by the communists as too many mouths and bellies to feed. Families chose labour camps only over a bullet to the head, and the reports from the camps were grim. Shrinking skeletons, starvation and the very depths of human depravity lurked in the frozen shadows of the camps and Katya, curled against Ivan’s warmth in the weak light of early morning, made him promise never to take them there.

 

The meal that night was extraordinary. The boys ate so much meat that their bellies bulged and Alex could barely move from the table. Usually when Ivan slaughtered an animal they helped make sausages, or salted the meat before air drying as a means of preservation and to flavour a year’s worth of soups and stews. This time the animal carcasses were slung up and their blood dripped out onto straw in the barn. The boys were directed to drag all the sacks of seed grain and potatoes into the barn as well, along with jars of pickled vegetables and jams, every skerrick of food they had left.  Katya had Ivan construct an outdoor fire pit where she roasted a leg of lamb and both of the suckling pigs. A chicken stew bubbled on the stove inside and a crudely carved lump of steak sizzled in a pan for Ivan. When would they taste meat again?

After the meal was finished the family said their farewell. At midnight the barn fire gave off the defiant scent of burning fur and charred grain and something almost intangible; the smell of burning memories, play, happiness.

 

*****

 

This year, the feast had been replaced by famine. The heavy blue sky of the Ukrainian flag searched for the golden band of yellow ripe wheat, but was met instead by a landscape of broken dried stems and clods of dried earth, as if the crust of the earth was peeling back to reveal to reveal so many skeletons. Yet still Russia rushed towards progress, more hungry than the people she had forgotten to feed.

Standard
short story

The Military Chest

This short story was inspired by my recent trip to Scotland. It was at the end of winter and the bulbs were just beginning to flower, and every day saw more bluebells, snowdrops and jonquils blooming like paint spatters all over the forests and even on grassy verges beside the road. I drew ghost story for this one, and was pretty excited as I hadn’t written in that genre before. This story scored well and secured me a place in last year’s NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge finals. I moved between time periods to add history- from the present and a real estate agent trying to sell an old manor house that came with a title, to scenes from the tortured past of the former inhabitants. I did something quite despicable in this story, which was to trap a labouring woman inside a large military chest…..

 

The Military Chest

The approach to Falkland House was slow. The last half-mile snaked through woods of ash and aspen where the moss-covered skeletons of the trees formed loose arches over the road. Rotting leaves made the drive slippery, and on a few occasions Dana found herself gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles. She made a note to buy a decent pair of lined gloves. Every time she travelled to a new property, she tried to imagine it as prospective buyers would see it. A pessimist may see the pot-holes and narrow road and notice the isolation, while an optimist would be on the lookout for red squirrels or mating pairs of collared doves. It was her job to paint the property in an optimistic light…not an easy task on this occasion.

 

Dana had received the offer to show the property a month earlier. The agents like her accent- the slight hint of Australian made her sound honest. She remembered the phone call where she had asked the usual questions and took note of the answers: Yes, a few people had died there since it was built in 1750, but this was not unusual for a building of this age and there was no grave yard on site, which was good. Yes, the property came with a title, but the claiming of which would prove to be a legal nightmare for any prospective buyer, so questions in this direction were to be tactfully evaded. Unfortunately, a series of residents with poor taste and deep wallets had screwed with the aesthetics and due to budget constraints, Dana was advised to refurbish a single room in the classical style as an example of what might be achieved, given the right buyer.

 

When she pulled in, the vista of the house did not disappoint. The woods had cleared at the last minute to reveal a symmetrical, sepia toned sandstone building straight out of an 18th Century romance novel, complete with a rectangular tower in the centre. Not gothic, but close.

 

******

 

A hive of activity surrounded Sir Ninian’s return to Falkland house, but the man himself seemed exhausted, deflated. His butler was given a private audience in the first instance, and the details of the master’s service in the Boer War was disclosed so that the downstairs help were necessarily informed. Sir Ninian had found it difficult to cope in the heat and humidity of the African continent and his skills in marksmanship and physical endurance were thwarted by the driving sandstorms and poor diet he was forced to endure on the African continent. The British loss was a blow, but he was glad to be back in Scotland. After formalities, he embraced his wife Margaret with all the strength left in his arms and found his wife much thinner than when he had left. He requested that the footman unload his belongings and large military chest, and had the items sent to the master bedroom. Margaret sensed his exhaustion and sent the chambermaid- Hannah- to draw him a bath.

 

******

 

Dana took note that the entrance hall was not as badly ruined as the rest of the house, for the fact that it was plain- dark wood panelling and a scuffed marble floor. It wasn’t covered in lime and yellow wallpaper like some of the rooms, and hadn’t been painted shades of ‘fuchsia’ with trimmings of ‘banana boat’ like the others. The interior for the most part was tasteless and tacky, as if someone in the 80s had tried very hard to brighten it up before boarding up the door and leaving it for good. It was rare that people sold a property with a title, but the man who could have been the Laird had only lived here for a few years as a child, and was adamant in the advice letter that he would never be returning. Her plan was to decorate one of the rooms in the classical style, to show prospective buyers what was possible. She was pleased that the master bedroom, though darkened by a layer of candle soot and in desperate need of a good hot mopping to remove various stains from the floor, was relatively untouched. For now, she set herself up in one of the smaller bedrooms and fell into a heavy sleep.

 

******

 

There was no point hiding the fact of Hannah’s pregnancy. The girl would not say which of the young men it was, and after a stern talking to by Margaret about the continued performance of duties, Hannah was relieved she was able to stay on at Falkland House even after the child was born. ‘We are not so harsh as they are in England. The Scots, at least, have their pride and humanity intact.’ But as Hannah grew round and rosy, the lady of the house seemed to shrivel and shrink. There had been such hope, for such a long time before the Laird had gone to war, that Margaret would conceive an heir. But now that he was back it seemed that their relationship lacked affection, and she seemed much older than her one and thirty years.

 

*******

 

Dana gasped awake, left with a sensation of claustrophobia, of being trapped. Her back and legs felt sore, as if she’d spent the night curled in a foetal position. The morning light was falling in pale shreds through the dusty window, and she noticed that there had been a hard frost overnight. A man who maintained the property grounds was coming to assist her today, and she made her way outside when she heard the approaching hum of a land rover.

 

The man seemed old, wiry, and he wore a light t-shirt even though the day was icy. ‘You must be Ivan.’ Dana put her hand out and shook the man’s hand and noticed him glance over her shoulder towards the house.

‘I’ve bought the items you asked for. They’re on loan, mind, and must be returned in the same condition.’

‘Of course. Absolutely.’ He gestured towards the back of the vehicle. Inside was a large oil painting with a gilt wooden frame. The shellac gloss had faded and cracked, but Dana could see the proud figures; the Laird and his lady. ‘So, this is Sir Ninian and…’

‘Margaret. Commissioned on his return from the war.’ Looking at the couple felt like looking directly into the past.

‘Have you worked here for a long time?’

‘I’ve been caretaking the grounds since before the family left. My days are much more…predictable now. The young master was a bit of a firebug, and on some days, I felt more like a volunteer firefighter than a groundskeeper. He seemed intent on burning the place to the ground. Hoarded candles. The paintings, curtains and the vintage clothing were removed for safe keeping, and eventually donated to the local museum. There might be some other furniture in the garden shed, if you need more.’ He gestured to the painting, ‘where am I going with this?’

‘The master bedroom.’ She followed him with her eyes and noticed how he hesitated at the threshold, before straightening his back and disappearing inside.

 

Ivan was clearly uncomfortable in the room; he helped her hang the curtains and the painting but took his leave as soon as this was done. Dana admired the room which looked much better already- the brocade curtains gave it a kind of grace and grandeur she was hoping for, and the painting of the Lord and Lady would be a talking point for potential buyers. She noted the composition of the painting; the figures were central and on one side were the curtains, and on the other side a few items from his service including a large military chest. She considered the back packs modern soldiers used today and wondered at how much the world had changed. Margaret looked fierce and proud, a small woman with dark hair and green eyes. She rested her hand on his shoulder. Sir Ninian had a rifle resting against his leg and his eyes looked towards something in the distance, as if looking out across the moors.

That night Dana could barely sleep. She was restless and her legs and back seemed to ache for no reason. She also thought she heard a woman moaning- not from inside the house but from somewhere in the garden. The sounds would increase in intensity and then fade away again and it was only in the early hours of the morning that they seemed to stop and Dana got some rest.

 

******

 

A cold breath of wind was blowing up the glen the day the Laird set off for Edinburgh. The servants had given lady Margaret a wide berth for the last few weeks as her temperament seemed increasingly irrational and spiteful. Hannah had been relieved of duties as she was nearing term, and the other maids were surprised when the lady summoned Hannah to the master bedroom.

 

******

 

Ivan was right, the garden shed held some very useful items of furniture, as well as spare tallows for the candelabra. She didn’t find the four-poster bed she was hoping for, but she did find an ornate coat stand and the military chest from the painting, which she semi-dragged back to the house.

 

******

 

‘He told me what happened.’ Margaret’s face was pale, even in the orange candleflame, and her eyes were dark and hollow. Hannah sobbed hot tears and bent her head down as she waited for her lady to finish speaking. ‘You disgust me. Pack your bag and be gone by the time he returns.’

‘But the baby…it wasn’t my fault. On the night he returned, he set upon me as I was drawing the bath. He was like an…animal.’ With that Margaret lashed out and grabbed Hannah’s hair, pulling on it so violently that the pregnant woman fell forward onto her knees and the side of her head collided heavily with the corner of the chest. The candelabra was rocking, slashing the room with flickering light and hot drips of tallow.

 

******

 

Dana woke that night to the sounds of the woman moaning as before, but this time it was much louder and coming from the master bedroom. Strangely, she could see the flicker of a flame and as she moved closer saw a woman moving around inside the room. The figure seemed to glow a pale blue and the shadows seemed to twist and blur the edges of the silhouette. Dana froze in horror when she recognised the spectre as Margaret, somehow free from the painting and pacing around the room. The figure continued to pace, wringing its hands and muttering, while the moaning from the military chest got louder and more urgent; sometimes asking for help, at other times enduring what must be the wracking contractions of labour. Why did she not let the woman out? Dana felt sick, but could not look away, and time seemed to speed up and slow down all at once, until the moaning had finally stopped. And then one last sound, barely audible; the gurgling cry of a newborn baby. Then the ghost made for the chest and grabbed at the lock and in that moment the morning light filtered into the room and the vision dissolved.

 

Dana had to know. She dragged the chest out onto the lawn. With an axe and the vison of Margaret’s ghost in her mind, she swung it and cracked the lock. She had to know what- or who- was inside. The chest seemed to exhale a deep final breath as she opened the lid. Inside were the skeletal remains of a woman, with dried blood on the shreds of her uniform. But…there were no bones belonging to a baby. Then Dana’s vision blurred and she saw Hannah slowly rise on shaky legs, before flowing away on the breeze; the trail of her freed spirit causing clusters of snow drops to burst from their buds.

 

Standard
flash fiction

The Human Zoo

This historical fiction story was inspired by the Paul Kelly song Rally Round the Drum  about an Aboriginal man who was a travelling tent boxer. I wanted him to be the main character in my own story and have him travelling with the circus but returning home to Kokatha country in South Australia. I’ve always been interested in very early Australian migration and that horrid era of human history that was all about gawking at human ‘curiosities,’

 

The Human Zoo

At first they appeared like irregular blisters on the horizon. The procession moved so slowly that no one knew when it changed from mirage to something tangible. The red dust and lingering heat swirled around the fluid shapes of the figures, the animals, the carts. The leader seemed so elongated that his top hat reached the sky and his legs looked like spindle-sticks, barely able to carry his weight. As they drew nearer it was clear that he was leading a troupe of three camels that rocked and swayed along the dirt track. Behind him a smaller man rode a grey Asian elephant. Then came three horse drawn wagons with heavy curtains to conceal the identity of the occupants, then came more people, some on horseback, others on foot, and bringing up the rear were three slow moving trucks, all featuring the same yellow logo, ‘Wirths Circus’ and in smaller lettering ‘bare-fist boxing tent’ and  ‘Australia’s only human zoo.’

 

Yesterday it was a patch of red dirt and saltbush, but today the red and yellow bunting announced that the circus had arrived. The exotic spectacle bloomed like a pocket of desert wildflowers. In the centre was the big top and around it were smaller tents and an assortment of animal cages; a Bengali tiger paced ceaselessly up and down, a green parrot squawked and attempted to stretch its wings inside a cage that was too small and a monkey, tethered to a stake, attempted feverishly to pry itself free.

 

Kid Snowball was nursing an injury to his knuckle, but that didn’t dampen his mood. He was used to this hard end of a tough game, and he enjoyed his title as bare-fist boxing champ. But today he was finally back on Kokatha home country, country of the dreamtime serpent Akurra. It had taken a whole year of touring but he’d finally come home. He smiled at the thought of the sacred healing springs, the bush tucker and most of all, his people. Most nights his fights were fairly easy to win; a drunk white bloke would cough up the dough to fight a wiry little black man who proved too quick. Sometimes he copped hate and matched up against men who wanted to kill him, but mostly the fights were over quickly, usually when he landed a stinging double jab to an unsuspecting brow or chin. Kid Snowball could take a fair bit of pain, but most of his opponents could not. His plan tonight was to vanish after the last fight and return to his tribe. He was done with the boxing tent.

 

Crowds of people flowed in from the morning onwards, but it wasn’t until the ringmaster lit the flare at nightfall that anyone was allowed inside. People enjoyed the spectacle in the Big Top, the horses, the trained dogs, the proud but obedient elephant; but it was the human zoo tent that was proving most popular, especially for its newest curiosity. There had been many inhabitants in the last few years- a bearded lady, a few dwarves, and a Chinese ‘princess’ who displayed a pair of tiny deformed feet that she had been binding since childhood. Last year Wirths had even captured a Palawa, a Tasmanian Aboriginal woman and had touted her as the last of her tribe. She was fierce, but her people had spent 10,000 years on an island and she had taken ill with a white fella’s fever from which she never recovered. It was Snowball who had been charged with burying her in the dust of a foreign homeland. He cried salty tears for her and refused to eat or fight for a week.

 

When his final bout was over, Snowball was drawn one last time by the candle glow of the human zoo tent. Identical twin girls were dressed in identical frocks and played patty cake. An old man reclined on a cushion and the flickering light revealed a pair of knobbly horns just below his hairline. He had a few words in broken English and told the audience that he was ‘an offspring of the devil himself’. But it was the giraffe-necked woman that everyone had really come to see, and that Snowball wanted to say goodbye to. She sat upright, unmoving. Around her elongated neck were twelve brass rings and she wore a traditional green tunic. Her black hair was swept into a high bun which accentuated the exotic tilt of her head. Wirths were pretty tight-lipped about where their curiosities came from, but it was rumoured that she was of the Kayan people, captured at gunpoint from a jungle in Burma. The only possession she had with her was some sort of carved doll and Snowball felt sick to think that she may be a mother. Tonight she looked weak and her eyes were glassy. He gently touched her forehead and his hand recoiled from the heat of her skin. She was burning.

 

If he hadn’t been on home country, Kid Snowball might have let nature take its course, he might have had no choice but to let her die. But here he knew the plants, the healing places and he knew how to find the Kokatha medicine man.  He waited for a long time until the crowd was gone and even the restless monkey was asleep. He crept on silent feet to where she lapsed in and out of consciousness.

 

She felt ghost-light in his arms as he carried her into the desert and comforted her in his language. In the morning the only sign that they had been there was a broken doll’s head. And when the shapes of the circus faded into the haze, the land was busy composing a new history: of the famous homecoming of Kid Snowball and the giraffe-necked woman who joined the Kokatha tribe.

 

Two years later, three more Kayan women disappeared from Wirth’s Circus and after a lengthy investigation, the circus were forced to close its human zoo.

 

 

Standard
flash fiction

Sister Kate

The story below is a piece of historical fiction, written from the perspective of Ned Kelly- an Australian folk hero and bushranger of Irish background who was caught by the authorities and hung in Melbourne Jail in 1880. My object was a mouse and my setting was a secret laboratory. I have an interest in Australia’s colonial history and wanted my setting to reflect those times when the European settlers pushed into- for them- what was  the wild and unknown frontier.  I built the story around two very strong images. The first was inspired by my teaching of Australian Gothic short stories. I had a clear image of a still waterhole at night when the stars were so bright in their reflection on the water, that it appeared as if the waterhole was a carpet of stars. My other image was of a mouse. when I was living in the bush a few years ago I opened a draw and startled a native mouse- an antechinus– who had a nest. She meticulously moved every leaf to a new place and took her babies from the draw on her back, one by one. I thought it would be interesting to put the mouse in the cell with Ned at the end, and contrast the images of freedom for the mouse who could simply slip out through the bars, with the captivity of man who would never know freedom again. I was also going through my ‘punctuate dialogue like Tim Winton‘ phase. I spent a long time editing this story and trying to ‘show not tell’, especially when the troopers come to the house to find Ned’s sister Kate alone.

 

Sister Kate

The Kelly home stood solid, defiant, pressed square against the earth. On two sides the bush and ghost gums were pushed back and a newly completed post and rail corral held two wild horses, stamping and scared by the wood smoke of the hearth fire. They shook the grey dust from their manes and snorted angry breath which fogged in the late afternoon light. Ned considered the work he had ahead to break them in and smiled. A challenge, true, but he was more than capable. His last three horses were being sold in the city to a cash buyer; a racehorse trainer for the Melbourne cup. His sister Kate was inside waiting for him. It had been a long day and he wanted stew. He needed whisky.

 

During the day it was impossible to see the other wooden structure. The slab timbers had been silvered by the sun and the small mud brick chimney was fashioned from the very earth on which it stood. Behind a clump of grey green cork trees and partially dug into the hillside, it simply was not there. Accessed through a half-door, everything was orderly. A crudely fashioned copper still sat central and was flanked by the two stolen rum barrels which gave the Kelly family whisky its amber body and a sweetness that almost compensated for the gut stripping character of the liquor. In another corner sat a smoky glass flask filled with black liquid opium tincture; something Ned had learnt to make during his time on the goldfields. The only light source was a small tallow box that hung from the ceiling.

 

Kate was pleased to have Ned home. No woman liked to be left alone for long out here, on the tattered edge of the colony, where there was little familiar and much to fear from the outback. When the tired sun sank over the ridge that night, the wild horse’s hooves had masked the sound of the mounted troopers approaching. When the heavy boots creaked upon the landing, Ned barely had time to slip away. The whisky jug was still on the table when the first trooper threw open the front door. Kate tried to compose herself.

 

I’m Fitzpatrick. This is Collins. Where’s your brother?

I don’t know.

We’re here to investigate a case of horse theft.

I don’t know what you’re talking about.

We think you do.

 

 

4th November, 1880

Dear Kate,

Melbourne jail is bitterly cold and full of broken men. I hear them sobbing and I refuse to become one of them. The infinite blue sky seemed thin enough to rip apart as they marched me inside and delivered me to this miserable cell. When the door clanked home it frightened a small native mouse that had made a nest under the cot. I sat and watched her move her nest, leaf by dry leaf, meticulous. She was small enough to slip under the cell door, and reminded me that I was no longer free. I watched as she returned, timid but determined, and emerged again from under the bed with two small native mouse pups clinging to her brown fur. She reminded me of the time when our mother took you on her back and waded across the fast flooded Grafton River. I’m not even sure she knew how to swim; our mother was nothing if not brave. I need you to be brave now.

Yours,

Ned

 

Can you explain how you come by those two horses?

My brother Dan caught them. They’re brumbys from the goldfields.

Stop lying and pour us some of that illegal liquor. Your pretty neck could hang for that.

 

Fitzpatrick stepped closer to Kate. In the firelight she could see the yellow white of his teeth. He slowly rubbed a lock of her hair between his thumb and forefinger and traced his finger across her shaking hand as she poured out two mugs of whisky. She tried not to turn her head to look for Ned but she couldn’t help it, and twice glanced towards the back door.

 

Fitzpatrick made a silent motion to Collins, who grabbed Kate roughly and put his hand over her mouth. Ned had forgotten to extinguish the small guttering candle in the still and it made a thin line of muted light which cut through the darkness. Fitzpatrick’s pistol was up, but he stumbled, across the unfamiliar yard. Kate thrashed free from Collins and yelled for Ned to run.

 

But Ned was not the kind to run. Bullets from the trooper’s gun peppered the barrels and glass and the still exploded in a wash of wasted whisky. Ned had his own pistol drawn as he emerged through the shadow between the hut and the square silhouette of his attacker. In the night the orange flash and smoke of gunfire ended the trooper’s life, and when Collins rushed forward, he went down in a similar arc of gunfire.

 

The wild horses shied in the night and Kate fell to her knees. She knew there would be no justice for her family.

 

10th November, 1880

Dear Kate,

Do you remember when we first came here? The whole country looked like a muted canvas of yellow grass, fine grey sand and smooth granite. You won’t remember life before, and in many ways you are lucky. I thought we would be free here, to live, to work, to make a life for ourselves. Oh Kate, do you remember when we first walked to the waterhole in the dark? The stars were so bright and the black water so still that the reflection of stars spread out like a carpet of sparkling light at our feet? My life is spread out before me now, but it is lead dark and bleak. I want you to remember me as a just man, not as the murderer I’ve been painted. Remember me where the wild horses run. Look after our mother.

Tomorrow I hang. Such is life.

Yours,

Ned.

Standard