My Writing Projects

I don’t know that I’d call it Writer’s Block, as I don’t necessarily feel blocked, per se. I just don’t really feel like taking part in the act of writing. I have stories, I have ideas, I have details to add to worlds I’ve created and I have ambitions to submit novels and short stories to agencies and organisations, seeking recognition and accolades.

But I just don’t feel like writing. It’s like some of the atrophied muscles in my leg. The bad hip means I just don’t use them, so they’ve withered. If I just walked more, when I DO walk a little more than average those muscles wouldn’t hurt as bad.

‘Course, walking more hurts in the long run and writing doesn’t. Poor analogy.

SEE?! Writing just isn’t working for me the way I want lately.

NOVELS – Finished

I’ve finished three, thus far.

The Council – Book 1 in the series, I impatiently launched it on Amazon under a pen name and have only had a handful of people read it. Those who have liked it though. Then I started submitting it to agents/publishers using QueryTracker and got like, 200 rejections, but Tangled Tree Publishing liked it and wanted a full. They were apparently interested in a deal until they saw I’d already self-published, then regretfully withdrew. Fuck. Lesson learned.

The Unholies – Book 2 in the series, I wrote it rather quickly after the first one and hammered it out in a few weeks. I, for the record, quite like it. But I haven’t heard from anyone else that was supposed to have read it other than one person who loved my first book so much they wrote an entire blog post and called me a genius. This one too, is self-published and sits in obscurity. For now.

Lovemite – I finished the first draft of this one not long ago, but I haven’t worked out the last chapter. I spent a long time trying to get this one right, making sure that all the parts I wanted to hit, hit. Still just a first draft though, and still VERY rough. I admit I was sort of… driven, getting this one done. Sick to shit of living this Life of Poverty, I saw this one as our way out. I was sure that if I could just get it to a reasonably polished shape, then I could get an agent/publisher interested and maybe start making some money off my writing.

Then my brother died. That sort of slowed things a bit. But still. Wifeage tells me that when I spend my evenings playing Playstation instead of writing, I’m in a better mood. I want to get instantly defensive but see her point. I just wanted to finish the book and get it going. Impatience for this life was pushing rather hard.

NOVELS – Unfinished

I’ve started more than I’ve finished, sure, but if I hadn’t I don’t know how I could call myself a writer.

The Caravan – 3rd in the series from above, our heroes venture North of the River after meeting a whole new kind of telepath.

I’m about 4 chapters in on this one but I’ve got the entire thing loosely outlined and I’m really quite excited for it. It’s going to open up some cool things with the main characters and continue to bring to light issues such as gender-inequality, homophobia and xenophobia. Everybody’s still Bi too, so there’ll be more of that. And action, action, action!

No Angel – This is the one I’m currently most excited about. A crime thriller set in Perth, contemporary, with a hitman that’s got some quirks. Quick-witted and smart, he’s also crippled with MS and quietly bisexual. It opens with him killing an inmate in lockup as a favour to a friend and then finding out slowly that it may have been a bad move.

I’ve got about 4 chapters into this one too, but since I kept stalling on the main storyline I’ve recently decided (like, just this morning whilst laying in bed) to scrap the convoluted storyline and go for something simpler. I like it a lot better this way and I think it’ll be a banger.

Jo’s Story – Basically writing a biography for my wife, but changing things like Hollywood does. I’ve got a loose outline but it keeps changing because writing about somebody else’s life and all the shit that goes on in it is HARD.

Angels and Demons – This one is an idea borne from late-night, wine-soaked convos with the Wifeage about classic good guys and bad guys. Basically, a hooker and a hitman take time away from their sinful lives to avenge the victims of sexual abuse from the church (and otherwise).

Hitman’s Dilemma – This one might work better as a short story, but a hitter is working his way through a list of folks in an unnamed city and about halfway in he starts to realise the global significance of what he’s doing. He changes his mind and there are consequences that he didn’t foresee.

The Presenter – This one’s got me excited too. A vigilante finds people that have gotten off because of loopholes or mistakes and then frames them for similar crimes. He sets up crime scenes and “presents” them to the cops. There’s somebody at the top, though, that wants him stopped, possibly because he knows he’s next.

The story is told with alternating viewpoints of The Presenter and a copycat, but with a HUGE twist that I’m not going to reveal here, haha.

SHORT STORIES

I’ve got quite a few, but only a few hits.

Crazy Witch Woman – My first success, this one was “Highly Commended” for the Stringybark Short Story Anthology and was published in it too. I wrote it according to prompts for the call-out, but I also started a collegial/hilarious/charming email convo with the head publisher/judge of the contest and I can’t be 100% certain I got there purely on merit.

That said, Wifeage and Teenage Offspring both liked it. I mean, I liked it too, but I like a lot of my writing and think it’s good. Shit man, what do I know?

The River Doesn’t Care – Actually a memoir of a day spent fishing with my mother and brother, I banged this one out before he died. Like, last year or so. I played with it and edited it for length to enter it in various short story comps and finally edited it to remove any geographically-identifying characteristics. My hope was that I could finesse the setting to be virtually anywhere and enter it into more comps.

It worked, I was able to enter it into the Short Prose (Fiction) comp from an organisation that I recently joined called OOTA. Out Of The Asylum, they are fairly small and in Fremantle, and I only joined because they were the cheapest (and had a Concession/Pensioner discount) and I needed to be a member of an “official organisation” to enter into one of the FAWWA contests.

But yeah, I got an email letting me know I was shortlisted, and that was really cool. Then they said that Brooke Dunnell (The Glass House) was going to judge the finalists and present the award and that was really, really cool. I mistakenly thought that only the shortlisters would be at the AGM when she gave away the prizes, but there were three prizes and five shortlisters. I’ll be honest, when I saw that they were mostly middle-aged women, I figured I wasn’t winning shit.

Not to sound Sour Grapesy, but I pay a LOT of attention to what’s going on in the Author World of stories, books and publishing, and while I am Super Supportive of inclusivity and trying as hard as possible for equality, and I know I reek of White Privilege, but I know that being male works against me in a lot of respects. I’m not quite ready to come out as the “B” in LGBT publicly either* so that doesn’t currently get me any points.

*I now realise that I probably just did. Thank fuck nobody reads this blog.

One More Tea – This one was inspired by the earthquake in Turkiye. I don’t quite know what in particular inspired it other than some of the weird dreams I have sometimes. I’ve worked and reworked this one too, editing for length and for a reasonable amount of geographic ambiguity.

I’ve probably entered this one at least a dozen times in various forms and have received only rejections. I quite like this one and I felt rather feelingsy when reading it, so I’m not sure why nobody’s bit on it yet. I suppose I’ll just keep entering it until somebody tells me what’s wrong with it and I’ll start over.

Tripping – This one was a cool one, sort of Sci-Fi and futuretastic. Too subtle though, too much thinking needed, and I know that’s an issue of mine in that I obscure things too much because I’m so damn clever and the reader ends up not having a clue what’s happening. I really liked this one though and still giggle/goosebump at it.

Last Wishes of One-Armed Mei – This one is actually set in the same universe/time-period as my Sci-Fi series and is a bit of a prequel, told from one of the main character’s POV (Dukan). It was originally for a Sci-Fi group in Canberra’s contest that had some prompts about body-modding and similar elements, so that’s why it has that specifically even though such things don’t necessarily feature in my books in that same universe. At least, not for now. I think they’ll work their way in for Book 3.

I liked this one too. The twist ending, the gender-bending. I thought this one had legs (even if only one arm!) but I have yet to get anything other than rejections for it.

The Second Frog – Another one of my memoirs I co-opted for an international audience. This was from when I was a kid and mom took us to some big mall/games area in Dallas. One of my only “wins” from childhood and something that stuck with me, it might be a better feeling than story, but I liked it and it made me feel lighter when reading it.

We Have Company – Another co-opted memoir of when my dad was out jogging and got sort of protected by this wandering Lab. She was an older girl but she was lovely. There might come a time when I write a longer version, maybe the Real Life version, where I share that we ended up giving her to a friend of mine, and that when he died much too early, it was likely because he’d gone into the raging river to save his dog. It wasn’t the one I gave him, she’d died years previous, but it was the puppy he’d gotten right after that he loved with his whole heart.

Me in the Corner – This 606-word piece was from a few various prompts. It might’ve been for Furious Fiction or something, but I can see I used adverbs like, a lot. And the theme of something not alive, being alive. We were watching The Walking Dead at the time though, and this was heavily inspired by Gabriel and his origin story. I changed it a little bit, of course, and only hinted at the zombies, haha.

All up, this was mostly just a flexing of the muscles, and I’ve only submitted once I think.

The Captain – This is another shorter one, 500 words I think, that was probably for a writing prompt but I think I chose the theme on my own. Just trying to push the social bounds a bit, it’s unapologetically about how the world would feel if the male captain of any sports team, anywhere across the world, was openly gay. Or even if an openly-gay player could ever be a captain.

**

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My first Shortlisting

Every year starting around September most of the writer’s groups in the region, if not the country, host all their competitions and events. I forget which one I was entering at the time, but in order to submit I had to prove I was a member of a legit and recognised writer’s association. So I hunted around for the membership prices for pretty much all of them.

Some of them wanted $170 a year. For what?! So I can enter contests? Get the PREMIUM newsletter?

Naturally, any author or member I asked for the value of such things had the same reply: Oh, it’s SO worth it. Besides, it’s not that much money.

To them, I’m sure this is true. I’m willing to bet that none of them ever lived on a Disability Pension. If I’m spending $170 a year on ANYTHING, it better be fkn good.

Well one of them wasn’t that much and, lo and behold, they had Concession rates too (something none of them offered except for one, who only started offering it after I badgered them about it and then didn’t tell me they were now offering it) so I signed up and paid instalments for a $40 membership to OOTA. I also loved the name, “Out Of The Asylum”.

OOTA has the best newsletters, hands down, because they’re literally written like a letter from some writer friend of yours who wants you to know about upcoming events and drops comments about the weather across southwest WA and the joy of grandchildren. SO GOOD.

Then I saw on their newsletter, as well as other places, their Short Story Competition called “Spilt Ink”. Which is an awesome name as well. I typically don’t enter anything that asks for money, because I never have any but also because if I did then I’d end up entering EVERYTHING and go broke pretty quick. But I paid the $12, because we could actually afford that (don’t laugh, there’s things I’ve gone without because we had $5 to last us the weekend) and entered their Short Fiction category.

At first, I chose my entry based on their word count, but then I changed my mind and found a different piece that I had to trim down. For my money, taking your 3000 or 2500-word short story and having to shave it down to 2000 words is a real lesson in how to do more with less. Every writer should have to do that to their stuff. If they did, books would probably be shorter, but WAY better.

Anyway, it was only while entering that I saw it was the “fiction” category and, technically, this particular piece is a memoir. But that was what the 500-word shave was good for too, as I could remove most of the identifying characteristics of the land and region and make it set just about anywhere with a river.

And it worked. It read well and could have been anyone, anywhere. I was pretty happy with it. Nobody at OOTA had to know it was a story from when I was 16 and I wrote it not long after hearing the news that my older brother had died. Wifeage asked what I thought “the rest of the family” would think when they read it, but then I realised that it didn’t matter to me what anyone thinks of the representations in the story.

Because they are My Truth. And if you can’t speak your truth, then you need to change some shit up.

Full Disclosure: I have a folder in my email called “submissions” but it is only named that because I’m too proud to call it “rejections”. Which is 99.99% of the emails in there. ‘Course I DID get asked for a “full” once and that’s in there too. SIGH, if only.

Since nearly all those emails read the same, I wasn’t expecting one of them to start similar to the rest but then tell me how pleased they were to tell me that I was shortlisted in OOTA’s Spilt Ink Competition. Holy balls, was I excited! I ran around the house (limping, with my cane, sure, but limping really fast and excitedly) telling Wifeage and then Teenage Offspring that I’d never received such a high honour as to be shortlisted in ANYTHING before. Hell, even the time I was published in the Stringybark Stories Anthology was only because I was “Highly Commended” and didn’t hit the shortlist there.

So we celebrated with some cookies and I started getting these wonderful emails from this lady at OOTA who told me they’re announcing the winners at their AGM and they’d love me to read some and the judge for the shortlist would be Brooke Dunnell and that got me SUPER excited because she’s one of my absolute favouritest WA authors.

So, holy shit, not only do I get to read my stuff OUT LOUD for the first time ever, because I’m on a shortlist for the first time ever, but I get to meet one of my favourite authors who has judged my stuff? AWESOME.

Then, of course, the anxiety starts to kick in, wondering things like, “I won’t win, of course, but at least I’ll get at least third!” and then the lovely OOTA lady told me that there were five of us and only three prize spots, so then I was certain that I’d get 4th or 5th and a slap on the back. But when she said it’s “bring a plate and quite informal” I said I’d make brownies and bring my wife and kids.

But then the rest of the thoughts sink in. Getting my family to go ANYWHERE is a logistical feat worth of the Army’s Corps of Engineers. Getting anywhere ON TIME is impossible and I have given up on that since the last time we were ever on time during the fabled King’s Park Meetup of 2014. Keeping everyone happy for two hours while listening to various authors drone on about their work wouldn’t be fun either. And I’m mostly talking about myself, not the offspring. They’d likely be fine, heh.

I also had a hard week. Most weeks are hard these days, because most days are hard. When I DO have a “good day” it’s flanked on either side by a bad one, so the cumulative effect is that most weeks are pretty hard. I have trouble walking, sitting, standing or just being anywhere. Hanging out for two hours, standing up for five minutes to read my shit to others, was going to suck unless it was a “good day” and I’m as unable to predict those as the Lotto.

So it would likely be a hard day no matter which way you cut it. Driving for 40 minutes into Nedlands wouldn’t help either. My body’s just not cut out for some of this Life shit anymore. Not until I can get in for the surgery they promised me nearly a year ago now.

I had no way of knowing how to say this though. How to explain things like how even if we got lucky that I could move that day, my mental health is so soured that it’s nearly impossible for me to get up for ANY human interaction, let alone a building full of people I don’t know. Especially when my experience with groups of any genre tends to be that they are mostly not my cup of tea, and I end up not being theirs.

So I lied. I’m sorry lovely lady of OOTA, you are lovely and I feel guilty for lying, but I told her I had COVID and wouldn’t be able to make it to the AGM. I knew I wouldn’t know if it was a “good day” until about an hour after I had to be there, and I didn’t want to stupidly live in denial about it like Homer chasing the barbecue pig down the embankment and into the river. I had to pull the pin early so nobody was depending on me.

Then, on the day, I’ll be completely honest and admit that I forgot the AGM thing was going on. I’d resigned myself to Not Placing and had moved on with making the most of my Saturday. Which included, but was not limited to, figuring out if I could make it to the shops for kale and red wine or not. Spoilers: I didn’t. And I was simply taking a small wander to the kitchen to get smallest offspring a snack when the phone rang.

It was lovely OOTA lady, and she opened with how they had the AGM meeting earlier and she was sorry to inform me that I didn’t win. Which I totally expected. Then she said, “But I’m so pleased to tell you that you got second!” I was so happy that I froze up inside, and proceeded to make only smalltalk about the AGM and the other folk until the OOTA lady told me about one of my favourite authors reading an excerpt of MY work and giving her thoughts and feedback on the writing she’d judged.

Fucking WOW. I had barely hung up as I was on the way outside to tell Wifeage about it. Beautiful thing she is, she couldn’t take the news sitting down and hopped to her feet and announced “Comin’ in!” before wrapping her arms around me. Her warmth, her congratulations, were just about the best thing I could feel. Then we told Teenage Offspring together, and daughter did the same thing! Hopped up and was like, “Comin’ in!” and we had a Congratulatory Cuddle Puddle of Exleys.

**

So here I am, feeling rejuvenated for my Writing Career. A recognised talent. Prize-winning and published. For as much or as little as that counts, it feels pretty damn good.

The Captain – Short Story

Every month, the Australian Writer’s Centre holds the Furious Fiction contest, where they give a handful of writing prompts, limit you to 500 words and see what you come up with.

I’ve been ‘longlisted’ for the comp before, and this one got me on there again, so I’m happy enough with that.

The prompts for September were:

  • Your story must start and end with the same sentence.
  • Your story must feature something being inflated.
  • Your story must include the words FLAG, FLAME, FLASH and FLATTER.

** The Captain **

Nobody would ever suspect the captain. He’s expected to lead from the front, to make the key plays, to inspire, to encourage, to extract the best from his teammates at all times. To see the truth, they think it would be someone weaker, lesser. Their vision blurred by decades of wilful ignorance.

They’ll never know the strength it took to stay true to one’s heart while playing such a prominent role. Fan’s perception is that such a facet would be easier to spot and wouldn’t last in the most important position. At best, a flash in the pan. At worst, a shameful admission that statistical breakdowns that affect the rest of the globe had somehow touched their beloved sport.

As he pulls the laces tight and breathes in, deep in concentration, he knows who he is. He knows what he’s been through to get here. He’s had to do more than just laugh along with off-colour jokes in the locker room, pretend he’s indoctrinated with the same subtle bigotry running rife through the professional sporting world. He’s had to stare down an old flame, now playing on a rival team, both hiding in plain sight, and try his hardest not to imagine the questions their well-known friendship would bring should the truth come out.

More than just abilities and athletic prowess, it’s taken every bit of smarts to get here and stay here. The politics of being the captain, the bureaucratic bullshit one must wade through on a daily basis. It’s more than just hiding who you are at times, it’s actively trying to be someone else. Someone whose merits should speak for themselves but who must instead also use all their connections, all their nous and canny observations to work the egos of the ultimate decision-makers.

A true leader knows when to compromise, of course, and will compliment to the point just short of sucking up, using flattery to the point just short of being obsequious, in order to maintain their position at the top. Be they a coach or a manager, there’s not a one of them that doesn’t visibly swell as they breathe in the sweet air of their own pitard.

So he’ll lead from the front, and he’ll do it with the spirit of a true leader. One who puts others’ dreams above his own. His teammates stomp up the tunnel and out into glory with stars in their eyes, a flag the ultimate goal for nearly every single one of them. None would ever know that he’s put this paramount above his own, that all he really wants is to finally settle down with someone special, have a quiet wedding, a modest house, hopefully a couple of kids.

Not a single one of them, from the dozens he shares a jersey with to the thousands upon thousands that might soon be chanting his name, would ever know what type of love truly beats in the heart of their leader. Nobody would ever suspect the captain.

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Who’s telling all the stories?

I don’t have a degree in Creative Writing. I haven’t even taken any classes. My degree is in Fine Arts because all they had for web-related stuff back in the day was called “Computer Science” and that didn’t quite fit for design.

I haven’t been traditionally published, I haven’t won any awards. I have only completed two manuscripts, run both through a smattering of Beta Readers, a pseudo-edit and then put ’em up on Amazon.

But… I have three kids. One adult who lives close by, one teenager who lives on the couch next to me and one pre-teen who lives in a little tent in the living room. All are neurodivergent, with the smallest being ASD-Severe. They take a lot of energy.

I have the best co-pilot in life with me, but it’s a lot of energy for both of us. She works very, very hard. Though she, like myself, is disabled.

We hurt, pretty much all the time. Something hurts, and sometimes it hurts badly enough that we’re unable to do things. Sometimes those things are big, like can’t always get up on the roof and clean the gutters out so Winter and its rains is Super Anxiety Times as to whether or not the house will flood. Sometimes those things are relatively small, like standing and walking. As one can imagine, that brings its own levels of anxiety.

And no, there is no help. We don’t have the money for things like hiring someone to do the gutters and the “Supports and Services” for people with disability are vague, ambiguous, difficult to track down and even harder to get them to give it to you clearly. If I wanted, I could get someone to come by and clip our toenails, do the dishes, take our little guy to the movies and drive us to the beach. But no one will come by for 15 minutes and cut the grass.

It’s a rather fuckety system. I haven’t given up trying though.

But the thing is, kids go to school, eat, play, talk, sing, dance and like treats and cartoons and stuff. I also like my wife so much that we spend every night together, streaming something cool and hanging out and flirting then creaking our way into bed way too late at night.

Where in there, if anywhere, is time to pump out the series of books, stories, novels and movie scripts that rattle around in my head?

Why is it that any time I see somebody that’s doing the job that I want, living the life of a published author that I dream of, they’ve got like, no kids, some sort of Writery Degree and have a backlist of about fifty books?

Oh sure, some of them have kids, and I’m sure their lives are all about them. But what is their co-pilot doing? Yep, making six-figures. I can tell you from Lived Experience, that making all that money makes some things a fuck of a lot easier. Only one of you spending 90% of their awake time ‘earning’ all that money means the other gets a lot more freedom.

When both of you spend 100% of your awake time looking after offspring or each other, getting just about anything else done is really, really hard.

But I can’t complain. I mean, I shouldn’t anyway. The ‘problem’ is me. Me and my skewed priorities.

See, I quit Corporate America for love and a new start far from my birthplace. Then I quit Corporate Australia for family. Then I quit Small Business Life to look after my people better. Now, instead of writing all these novels, I’m making cheese toasties and listening to what happened in dreams last night and watching Kangaroo Beach and playing with slime and giving endless pets to a Spoiled Rabbit on my lap. I’ll make a tea for my lovely co-pilot and then struggle in the toilet for 20 minutes.

I could ignore all these things and pump out novel after novel but, much like the six-figure job and careers and shit, it’s just not worth not doing all the other things.

I used to be aspiring, but I’d limited myself.

It was posts like this one: Aspiring Writers Need to Quit NOW that used to make me feel super-emboldened and legit, but I could never seem to follow it up in execution. I ended up writing neither more nor less as a result.

It was only when I was doing the usual, trying to carve out writing time during an otherwise busy life, and Wifeage called me out. I can’t remember if I was complaining about not having enough time to finish a novel or not (though I probably was) but she sat me down and said only this:

You’re a writer. And writers, write.

I have never looked back since. I’ve finished two sci-fi-esque novels as part of a series and have outlined and plotted out at least 4 more in that universe. I’ve just passed the 50% mark in the Coming-of-Age/YA novel that’s sort of a reimagined memoir about a young man moving from Montana to Perth, and I’ve got about a third of the way through a crime novel set in the same universe too.

Not to mention at least a half-dozen other novel ideas based on awesome dreams I’ve had, and at least a dozen short stories that I’ve either submitted or plan to for various contests. Only two have won/shortlisted in anything, but still, that’s alright.

Anyway. thanks to people like Kristen that Rah-Rah all us writers. And thanks to Wifeage who remains my muse, my motivation, my biggest supporter.

Annabel’s Teapot

This is a short story for the Australian Writer’s Centre Furious Fiction December 2022 Contest for which I was longlisted.

In addition to being limited to 500 words, the other rules were:

  • Each story had to begin with a 12-word sentence.
  • Each story had to include the sale of a second-hand item
  • Each story had to include at least five (5) different words that end in the letters –ICE.

Curious, when the entirety of life’s endeavours is little more than junk. Curious and pathetic. A loose collection of knickknacks, collectable items, kitsch.
Annabel loved her crochet samplers, her porcelain miniatures, her creepily-staring dolls, but she worshipped her spoons. She bid them good night, every night, and she stopped and stared at them every single day, sometimes finishing a nice cup of tea whilst standing unsteadily in front of them.
Her life consisted of very few lasting things. No children, not a single loved one still alive. Those spoons were the only thing she cared about. For them to be here, in this shop, awaiting appraisal and an unfair amount of currency for them was an injustice. Annabel’s life should be worth more than that.
The shop owner regarded the spoons with slightly less disdain than he did the man presenting them. Both were of swarthy persuasion, older and greying, and had been granted citizenship many years ago. But their countries of origin had fundamental differences of policies, and now a prejudice against the other permeated their very cell structures.
Annabel’s spoons would never be here were she alive. The only way someone would get them off her and get them here, was if they knew she was dead.
The man presents a tea set, the shop owner shows even more disdain, pointing out that it hasn’t even been given a proper clean. The tea remnants stain the bottom and one of the saucers shows the striped imprint of a licorice Allsort that was unstuck from it at some point. They bicker, the shop owner doesn’t want it until I call out that I would like to purchase it.
“Fifty.” The shop owner didn’t waste even a heartbeat before turning to me with an outrageous price. The seller’s eyes light up until he looks into my eyes and there’s a flicker, but I don’t think he recognises me.
“Twenty.” It’s a stupid game to play, but play it I must.
“Thirty-five.” The shop owner goes instantly to split the difference but catches the look of excitement on the seller’s face, leans over to him with his hand held up and reminds him, “Fifteen to you.”
The man doesn’t like it, but relents. Perhaps bolstered by this early success, he then takes among the first offers for the spoons and hastily departs. He’s easy enough to follow home because he lives next door to Annabel. I’ve seen him several times, though I don’t believe he’s ever really gotten a good look at me. When he answers the door, his brow gives a crinkle that says he’s confused as to how I was at the shop earlier and now on his front porch.
“I don’t know why, but you got in there before I could finish cleaning up at Annabel’s.” I push into his house. “Now it looks like I’ve got a whole lot more to clean up than just the nightshade from the teapot.”
I pull the door closed behind me.

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The River Doesn’t Care

The river doesn’t care.
It doesn’t care about the crystalline, perfect Spring day’s sunshine pouring down. It doesn’t care about me, or my older brother who is home from Uni, or my mother who has made a rare visit back as well and has taken us out fishing for the day. The river doesn’t care about any of that.
We haven’t been all together for a day’s fishing in years, though nothing’s changed. Not for them at least. For me, much has changed. I’ve had to learn how to navigate high school and my father’s moods all alone, just he and I in that big, empty house. She is still mostly-oblivious to the dynamics of her sons, the power struggles for her love. My brother is six years older and will do everything in his power to remain the centre of attention, trying his best to shine bright but belittling me if needed.
We stand on the gravel bank of a bend in the river, rods in hand. The sunshine and water are something out of a poem. They are perfect. She digs her camera out and tells us to pose, her boys. I have not been taciturn, but I have not been boisterous, obnoxious, or interruptive while he performs. I’ve been waiting for them to see anything that’s changed about me and when my brother goes to put his arm around my shoulders, always an act of domination rather than affection, he has to reach up for the first time ever.
Something has changed, and I wait for them to notice. I don’t want to dominate him, I never have. I don’t want to own or defeat him. I just want to be and I want to be seen. But I know his ego won’t allow that unless it’s suitably assuaged. She’s never realised this, and blurts out that by the next time we all get together I’ll have outgrown him. He stiffens next to me, and I brace myself for what he’ll need to do to bring the focus back to him.
He’s smart enough to know that conspicuously taking me down without elevating himself only brings him down too, he smiles as if all is well. Both of us stand there brandishing our fishing rods, posing. A split-second before the shutter snaps, he turns in a flash, grips my head and plants a cartoonishly sloppy kiss on my cheek. My mother roars with laughter and goes on about how funny he is.
The moment leaves smiles on all our faces as we hike up the river past the big bend, leading to whatever spot they think is best. They are the more experienced, more successful, fishers after all. For them, nothing has changed. I trail along behind them for a bit before I stop. I realise they’ll just continue on through the grass and brush without me, so I call out that I’ll be trying my luck at this particular spot.
Both look with confusion at me and then the water. It’s not a good spot, and he feels the need to tell me as such. I shrug and throw together some words that placate and show some river knowledge, anything that doesn’t betray my desire to be away from them. Something about working my way downstream toward the massive logjam at the bend. I turn to gesture to it to confirm but they are both already walking away.
I cast into the swift water, knowing nothing will happen but feeling the need to do something. I realise I need to be on the other side of the river for the best angle at the logjam, but the water here is hip-deep, and fast. I should try upstream for slower water. But they are up there, talking and laughing as they fish. I could go down, cross below the logjam and then walk back up, but there’s too much brush. I’ve forded the river before, so in I go.
The river is so strong that every step is a struggle, every solid footing its own success. I’m ever-aware of the river’s power, keeping my footing and my focus. As I near the middle where it’s fastest and deepest, I turn and look at them. I don’t know what I’m looking for. I don’t have time to ponder though, as my foot slips and down I go.
At first, the river is gentle. Not too cold or rough. But I am moving fast, too fast. A strong swimmer, I’ve never been afraid of the water. But that logjam is dangerous, deadly, and I am headed straight for it. The river bends away from it and I expect the current to bend with it, like the letter “J”. I am not swimming hard yet as one hand still grips my fishing rod, until I realise that the river doesn’t bend gracefully, it rams into a corner before continuing on like the letter “L” instead.
I’m not aware of losing my pole or my favourite hat, I only know I am swimming as hard as I ever have in my life. I am fighting the power of the river, but I am losing. I don’t panic but my thoughts cease to be thoughts and are now pure reflex. I stop fighting and try to protect myself as I am slammed into the logjam, the immense mass of tangled and broken trees having any number of sharp, broken-off branches in it. Then I am under.
The force is the biggest shock. My body isn’t mine now. Like an amusement park ride or under a dogpile of enthusiastic teammates, I am helpless. I don’t even register relief at not being skewered as I am pinned against the underside of the logjam. My thoughts return as I look up at the water splashing around on the logs above and start thinking of something, anything, that I can do to get out.
Pushing out against the river isn’t an option, as I’m barely able to move my arms. I angle one forward into the current and my hand slides along the surface of a massive log above me. Bubbles dance along the underside of it as I reach for something on it to grab as I couldn’t wrap my arms halfway around it. I find a limb’s remnant that fits my hand perfectly and brace myself, knowing that I am strong enough to pull myself up and out, to fight against this river and win. I pull with all my strength and I can feel movement.
But it is the log moving, all I’ve done is roll it over, and now my handhold is underwater with me. The reward for my efforts is to be pinned helpless again. I watch more bubbles dancing up to the logs above and realise I am running out of options as well as time. There’s no room for more mistakes.
I stop fighting. Because this isn’t a battle. The river doesn’t care about me and my struggles. It’s not something to be battled, to be victorious over. The river doesn’t care about winning. It’s not something I can fight anyway, it is too powerful to be fought. I am pinned, helpless, but I can move my arms upward along the rough bank I am pinned against. I won’t fight the river any more, I will work with it.
If I was able to pull one of the logs over before, there’s a chance I can push up between them. Gradually, I force my fingers up through the mass of timber wedged above me. The logs are heavy and the river strong, but I push steady and I don’t stop. Suddenly my hand is through and then the rest of my arm as well.
The logs resist, the hammering of the current pressing them painfully against my arm and I worry that it will be crushed. Or worse, that I’ll get my head in-between them and the relentless force of the river will squish me. My hand finds purchase on the riverbank, my fingers grasping a clump of tough grass, and I push my other arm up to grab hold as well. Then I pull with all I am.
And I am free. I slither onto the bank, gasping and heaving. I stand unsteadily and walk from the trees onto the gravel bank to that perfect sunshine. I feel like something should be different, like I should feel triumphant over the river in the battle for my life. Like I should have seen a light in a tunnel or a showreel of my exploits roll by, but nothing has changed. The logjam sits innocuously, water lapping up and around the leafless branches of long-dead trees before it rolls out the side and smooths out into the slower, wider, riffly and less-deadly, gravel-banked shallows.
I am shaking but I don’t feel cold. I am calm but feel like I shouldn’t be. My mother bursts through the brush, her normally passive face panic-stricken, her mouth a worried half-cry. My brother is a step behind her, in a breathless hurry while his eyes scan coolly across me and the riverbank, assessing the situation. My mother pulls me forcefully into her arms and makes both panicked and relieved noises. I don’t feel the comfort in her grip that I wanted. She is grasping me like something that she has nearly lost.
My brother glibly comments on how they had both seen me crossing and worried until they realised I wasn’t there any more. He accidentally admits it was only when they saw me climbing free from the logjam that they came running. He’s absently smiling and nodding at me as if all is well now that he’s arrived. My mother still holds me firm. Though I am calm, I remember shaking moments before and I try to manufacture a shudder, something to give her to make her feel like she’s needed, like she’s calming me. Instead she steps back, holding me at arm’s length and commenting on how cold I must be before turning me fully into the sun.
We hear his footsteps on the gravel before seeing my brother splash roughly into the river, swimming with a rescue stride out into the easy water. For a split-second I am confused, thinking he’s trying to valiantly rescue me, and I wonder if I’ve actually died in that logjam and I am now watching him attempt to recover my body.
He comes back, his smirk never fading as he gracefully returns to shore, strutting back to me, dripping wet and smugly handing me my favourite fishing hat. He makes some comment about how he couldn’t let our favourite team’s hat go floating down the river and I stand there wondering how he’s missed that this hat is for an entirely different team, their colours a slightly lighter shade of red than his favourite team. I see it for what it is. He needed something to bring the spotlight back to himself, so I put my hand over the hat’s logo and nod at him, thanking him as if he swam like that to save me.
She goes on about how impressed she was that he threw himself into the dangerous water to rescue his younger brother’s favourite fishing hat, and I see both of them. I turn to look at the river, feeling like I should feel poetic, roused to some beautiful articulation about the contrast of the violence and unrelenting force of the water against the logjam that then peters out into a peaceful and gentle flow that meanders across the gravel. I’m sure there should be some sort of comparative reviewing of my own life, some sort of analogous duality I can draw from this moment following my own struggle against this power for my very survival.
But the river doesn’t care. The sun shines on me and I am drying out and warming and, in that moment, neither do I.

We Have Company

He was four days shy of turning fifty and Jack was running so hard he thought his heart would burst. The panting growl grew closer behind him even though he was running as fast as he ever had in his life. The huge German Shepard had burst through the brush and interrupted Jack’s evening jog before Jack snapped a dead branch from a tree for a weapon. When the wood snapped though, a splinter shot right into Jack’s eye and he was now running so fast that blood was trickling into his greying sideburns.
As Jack ran by the Thomas’s abandoned shack he veered off the road and made for the gap between the letterbox and the gate. The dog could easily vault the fence but Jack hoped to buy enough time to find a slat or board from the junk pile, something he could defend himself with. Jack misjudged the gap though, and his hip caught the jagged edge of the letterbox post. Pain jolted down his leg as he flew awkwardly through the air, landing hard on the packed dirt.
The dog was at the gate a second later, still growling viciously while assessing the best way to gain entry. It reared back, haunches coiled to vault the fence, when the Kelpie came from nowhere, bristling and black like it had been dripped straight from the night. It didn’t bark or growl at the German Shepard so much as it roared like a lion, sending the Shepard backward. Another roar and the Shepard ran back into the bush, and Jack wondered if the Kelpie only did that so it could kill him instead.
Jack pulled himself to his feet and the Kelpie turned to meet his eye. Jack knew nobody in the area had a dog other than that homicidal Shepard, and he stared in curiosity and relief as the Kelpie’s ears twitched expectantly and its tail wagged. Jack nodded thanks and then hobbled toward home, stopping intermittently to turn and try to convince the animal to return to its own, wherever that may be. Several painful kilometres later, Jack paused at his front door and turned to see that tail still wagging, those ears still expectant. He let himself in, but then held the door open and waited.
Less than an hour later, Jack’s only son would come through the door, footy shoes slung over his shoulders. He’d look curiously between Jack’s bleeding eye and his father’s hand scratching between a pair of expectant ears while a tail thumped happily on the floor. Jack would need a ride to Emergency but not before he’d smile at his son, gesture at the happy creature and say, “We have company.”
Jack would have Company for the next fifteen years before the night of his 65th birthday when Company would curl up near the tattered running shoes by the door and that tail would thump happily a final time.

post

Tripping

The knight stood tall in his resplendent armour, his arms flexing under the chainmail and pauldrons, the plume on his helmet languidly dancing from side to side in time with his steadying feet. The six-foot cat person positioned next to him purred, lovingly cleaned her whiskers and then stared at his plume with fascination. Phillip was trying not to stare at her fur-covered breasts when he was shouldered aside by a werewolf that was licking his chops and making his way toward the cat person.
Phillip looked across from one concrete corner to another and took in a silver-lit fairy hovering just above the ground, a tuxedo’ed man with glowing red eyes and a cyborg’s arm whispering to a soldier in full tactical combat gear while gesturing suggestively at the fairy. She winked at Phillip and both men turned to look at him in jealous fascination. He looked down at his tall, well-built form, looking good in his casual uniform and then looked for a way out. He couldn’t help but think they’d all see he was unaffected and he needed out.
Backing cautiously away, Phillip’s head hit something hard. A bit late, he ducked under the oversized elbow of a red and gold armoured rippling hero straight from the pages of at least two comic books, blending iconic red-and-gold armour with a patriotic white star on his chest and shield and an “A” on his helmeted forehead. The man hadn’t paid Phillip any mind as he was talking animatedly to a pop star who was more interested in her phone’s interpretation of her eyeliner than the heroic tale.
Phillip turned slowly, scanning the drab concrete wall behind a thin cartoonish man with crazily-spiked hair and a grey trenchcoat, the handle of a samurai sword peeking out from the folds that flapped slowly in a breeze that should be impossible in this sealed bunker. A greying wizard with a long, wooden staff walked behind a squatted, scaly troll who was panting with its head in its clawed hands when Phillip finally spotted the viewport in the wall. He pushed past a football player in a blue and white uniform who was eyeing him coolly before flashing a wink and a smile.
The viewports were dark, as expected, but Phillip knew they were back there. He didn’t know how many, but they were definitely there.
**
“He seems unaffected, thus far,” Ishrat said, standing tall and squinting curiously at the small viewing window, “Everyone else in the room is most definitely into Stage 3.”
“Stage 3 already?” Meilani asked dubiously, the screen of her tablet lighting her round face, “You’re full of shit, Ish. How can you even tell?”
“Nearly all of them are in full pose-mode, Mei,” Ishrat smiled before raising his eyebrow at her, “And there’s one on the far end grooming herself.”
“Bah, could be a freak-out about flies or something,” she fired back, “Who’s unaffected now? I mean, not that I believe you as there’s no way you can tell.”
“Not a freak-out,” Ishrat said, the viewport drawing him back in, “Seriously, she’s about to crank her leg up like a cello and start licking her ass. And our straight man hasn’t done anything other than study the others on his way over here to try and stare me down. Check it.”
Ishrat stepped back from the little window while his partner leaned down to look through it. Phillip’s face filled the bottom-half of the window, his eyes squinted and roamed back and forth as if he was anxiously awaiting something, or someone. Meilani scrunched up her face in disbelief and turned to look down at Ishrat.
“He’s obviously still in Stage 2, Ish,” she said, tilting her head at him, “And yet it’s you who is imagining things.”
Ishrat’s already-wide smile broadened. “Just watch,” he prompted, “He’s lucid. And he’s looking for us.”
She shook her head as she turned back to look. “How’s he any different from early Stage 2?” she asked, “Half the time they all stare around in wonderment after the dose first smashes headlong into their neurons.”
“Check the time,” Ishrat said smugly, “He’s a full 20 minutes past neuron-smashing. That guy is chill and he’s not just looking for us, he’s looking at the others. Studying them. Watch him.”
**
All Phillip could see in the viewport was his own reflection as his chiselled good looks and swathe of sandy-blonde hair filled the view. He turned from the viewport and looked around the concrete room for the door, spotting it on the far wall looking like a viewport, but floor-to-ceiling. The grey wizard was talking to an pixie-like young woman with elf ears and when Phillip stepped around them he nearly stumbled over the reptilian troll crouched on the floor who was now making pained noises in time with its panting. The slender anime wasn’t directly looking at the troll, but was gripping his sword tightly, everything about him tense.
As Phillip tried to squeeze between the comic hero and the pop icon, Phillip patted the star on the man’s chest and gave him a thumbs up and a wink. Instead of giving way, the celebrity influencer raised an eyebrow at him, the phone at the end of her outstretched arm alternately capturing her image while giving her endless feedback in the form of tiny symbols. Phillip stepped up close to her, looked down her arm at her rectangular interface with the world, leaned over and whispered in her ear, “Your last album made it to Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Worst Ever.” She gave him a dark look and pulled away quickly. Phillip smiled and stepped past.
The still-hovering fairy smiled at his approach and excitedly flit from side to side. Cyborg Tuxedo and the Modern Warfare Soldier loomed behind, glowering. Phillip looked around her at the men, giving a short, sharp salute to the operator and a cock-sure smooth nod and finger-gun to the spy. He blew a kiss to the fairy and she squealed in delight as she spun on the spot, sparkledust cascading off of her and glittering across the floor.
The werewolf was sniffing around the giant cat, literally, and she didn’t appear too impressed, giving Phillip an imploring purr as he approached. The hulking monster had apparently gone a bit too far for the knight as he had stepped over and placed a gauntleted hand on the werewolf’s massive bicep, pulling at it with futility. Phillip moved around them and the cat woman gave him an appreciative nod when he made a show of stepping over her long tail, the very end flipping happily on the floor.
Phillip presented himself in front of the door, holding his arms out, palms up. He could hear the werewolf building a low snarl and the clinking of the plate armour as the knight flinched. It would be one hell of a fight and he wanted out, and he mouthed as such to the darkened door, then waited.
**
“Alright, something’s funny,” Meilani said, “I’m not saying you’re right or anything, but something’s up.”
“You want to go around?” Ishrat asked her, his face eager, “See what he’s doing?”
Meilani shrugged and pursed her lips before nodding. “May as well,” she relented, “Make sure he doesn’t freak the others out.”
Ishrat fell in step with his partner, hurrying a little because her strides were significantly longer than his. “There’s not always a freak-out, apparently,” he said, “They say that sometimes, it’s super rare, but you get some sort of idealised version of yourself. Like your best self. I wish I’d had me some of that.”
Meilani grunted noncommittally as they rounded the corner of the dimly-lit hallway. “Rumours. It sure as hell can’t do that, Ish,” she scoffed, “That’s not what it’s designed for in any way at all. It’s just meant to get you over the hump, into the next step. You know that.”
“I don’t even remember mine other than I was kind of pissed when I woke up,” Ishrat said, hustling to catch up to her, “All I know is I passed and most didn’t, and here I am.”
Meilani grunted again as they came up to the large frame surrounding the room’s only door, her mass nearly filling the entire thing.
Ishrat looked around under her arm and stared in fascination through the door at Phillip’s pantomime just on the other side. “Wonder what it is he’s going through. You know, Mei…” he said, “All this time together and you’ve never talked about what it was like when you went through.”
“No,” Meilani answered shortly, “I haven’t.”
**
Phillip was working his mouth wide and exaggerated while so they could more easily make out his words while he gestured toward the door. He only wanted out and clearly wasn’t a danger. He was the only one not an entirely new form like the wackjobs they put him in there with. Whatever this was going on, he wasn’t in on it.
The werewolf’s growl got slowly louder behind him but the knight’s voice was surprisingly firm in response. Those two were going to get at it soon, and Phillip figured he’d do better do something different to get out of there before getting caught up in it. He couldn’t for the life of him remember why it was they’d stuck him in that room but when he looked at his reflection in the viewport’s glass and saw the orange t-shirt and grey jacket, he had a fleeting thought that everyone in there was wearing the same thing at one point.
Phillip studied his face in the glass and saw something a bit off. He wondered if it had a warp or minor imperfection as his chin looked impressively square, though he always thought of it as fairly non-existent. There was something about the lighting in the concrete room too that he totally appreciated, as he looked in the door’s glass and thought he’d never looked so good. Beefed-up too, as the grey jacket seemed to give him impressively-muscled shoulders.
He gave his head a small shake and regained his composure. Whatever weird lighting they had in there, and whatever weird D&D shit was going on with the others, he was ready to come out and he needed to let them know. If only they’d just adjust the tint on the door and he could see them, he could properly explain it.
**
“Whoa. Read his lips, Mei, he says we should let him out, ha!” Ishrat said before turning to her, “So… what was it like for you when you went through? You freak out or what?”
Meilani breathed a deep and heavy sigh. Phillip was talking conversationally didn’t seem agitated in any way. Two others behind him were sizing each other up aggressively, but that was common enough by this point. They were nearly done.
“I don’t like talking about it, Ish,” she said softly, “I definitely didn’t see my idealised self, that’s for sure.”
Ishrat’s voice lowered and he looked up at his partner, his eyes soft. “What happened, Mei?” he asked, “You can tell me, you know that.”
Meilani sighed again and pursed her lips. “It wasn’t even like it was a freak-out,” she said quietly, “I just saw my husband come in, all six-foot-five of him, and as he walked toward me he slowly changed into my father, all five-foot-six of him. So that was pretty weird.”
Ishrat blew out a breath. “Whoa, Mei,” he said softly, “That’s messed up. So that’s not a freak-out? Sounds pretty close.”
“Nah, messed up was that I stood there and calmly pissed my pants,” she turned to Ishrat snickering, and he joined her laughter, “Seriously! Full load! I filled my boots and it ran out on the floor. I think that’s when they knew I was done, and yet somehow two boots full of piss managed a pass!”
They were both caught in peals of laughter now. Ishrat gripped his partner’s shoulder to steady himself. “Oh Mei, that’s a real pisser!” he chuckled and sighed, “A far cry from the ideal you, I bet! Which was what again? Oh yes, that’s right. The tall gal from movies and comics and such, no? Bit cliched, isn’t it?”
“I was five when I saw the movies, Ish,” Meilani cut him off, giving him a mock stern look, “And yes, she was my personal hero for years, cliche or not. Besides, you’re one to talk about cliches and heroes, yours is like the biggest… wait, what’s he doing now?”
Phillip was gesturing the turning of a dial, still speaking calmly to the door.
“Now he’s asking us to turn off the door tint, I think,” Ishrat said, his voice curious, “We’re almost done, Mei. What do you think?”
“Yeah, why not?” Meilani shrugged casually, “We are almost done and the room is sealed otherwise, I don’t see the harm.”
Ishrat swiped down on his tablet and the door cleared. Phillip smiled and moved closer, looking between the two of them and still speaking conversationally. Meilani’s face dropped as she raised her arms slowly up to the glass. Ishrat poked his head under one arm and looked up at her with alarm.
“Mei, you alright?” he asked.
“Can you see what that scrawny ginger is saying?” Meilani asked her partner, “Did you catch that about a…”
Ishrat’s mouth worked as he watched Phillip’s mouth and interpreted his words, then his face dropped too.
“He says, ‘Get your magic lasso out and open the door.'” Ishrat said, shaking his head in disbelief, “‘You and Spidey are safe because the dose isn’t working on me.'”
“Can he hear us somehow?” Meilani’s voice was almost a low croak, “Is there a PA in there or something?”
“No, Mei, there’s no PA, you know that,” Ishrat answered, “He can’t hear us.”
“But I’ve never told anyone but my husband and you, Ishrat, ever,” she said, her voice rising.
“I… Mei…” Ishrat stammered, “I never told anyone but you. Ever.”

Nobody ever had to beg me to play hockey

“You know,” my roommate said to me over the wind and traffic noise in his CJ7 Jeep as we blasted down the highway, “Nobody ever had to beg me to play hockey.”

We were roommates and teammates on Colorado’s 2nd-ever team in the Major League Roller Hockey comp. The 1st-ever team was the region’s Golden Boys, the top players and shiniest roller hockey heroes in Denver’s surrounds. The Rocky Mountain Wolverines boasted years and years of collegiate and junior ice hockey talent and the leftovers, politically and otherwise, tried out for the “other” team in a bit of a coup (or a fu-coup, as it were).

Our coach/owner was as ragtag as we were and we all loved the idea that nobody expected us to even form a team, let alone win anything. Coach was as full of big talk and big promises as he was empty when the bar tab came around. We exchanged looks at times, but we all believed because we wanted to play so badly.

We started out as the Mile High Moose and we played a couple of interesting games against the Wolverines to kick off MLRH’s sophomore season, even besting them in the second game (while their best player was at a tournament in Vegas). Coach played with the team finances and had plans for our compensation comensurate on selling merchandise and tickets. We were sure we could do it, even if the money was tight. Coach hired out buses to haul us to our “home rink” an hour north of Denver in Greeley for our games and sometimes even practices.

The questions on his suitability in regards to finances began immediately and this didn’t help. A string of canceled home games against neighbouring state’s teams brought even more questions. The Fort Worth and Salt Lake City teams were both hesitant to make any trip to play the newcomers, even the highly-touted Wolverines.

Cinderella Falls Flat

Only a few weeks into the season and the bottom dropped out. Practice was canceled when the rink owner came and told us all to either pay up or get out. Coach was nowhere to be found, nor was he answering his phone, and every entity the team had contact with came forth with bills showing all that we owed. We were a team that hadn’t paid a dime to anyone but had made promises to everyone. We were dropped like hot rocks and had all gone home to cry in our beers while the impressive Wolverines kept playing and kept winning and kept impressing.

We as a team, had all ponied up our hard-earned dough to become a part of something with the promise that we’d get our gear comped, our rink time covered, our travel covered, and a nice check at the end of the season. We’d lost it all.

Then our phone rang. It was one of our captains, a former college player who was our lockerroom leader, if not the one wearing the actual “C” on his jersey. He’d spoken to the head of the league, just for giggles, and wanted to gauge interest in continuing the team for the season under new ownership. Player ownership.

He’d barely made three phone calls before the word spread like bushfire through the entire team. We were back on and all was forgiven at the rink, if not the bus depot. Roommate and I jabbered excitedly to each other in-between phone calls to teammates and sponsors, even members of the Wolverines!

Cinderella Gets Back Up

Our first practice was the only rinktime we could get, 6 PM on a Tuesday. That meant ditching work early for us paid-by-the-hour fellas and a horrific hour+ drive in rush hour to Colorado’s smelliest city. We couldn’t have been happier to do it.

Top-down, sunburnt and running late, we piled out of the Jeep and into the lockerroom excitedly looking forward to seeing all of our teammates. A little over half were there, with apologies from 3 more. That was it. The absence of our former captain, a friend of the coach’s, was notable.

Reeling a bit, we took the Sport Court and practiced anyway, and it was grand. We stopped a bit early so that our “new” captain could address the team with all the specifics. We were now MLRH’s only player-owned, player-managed, team, and we were allowed in the league that season on a highly-probationary status only through the good graces of the league chairman and his belief in us. He reckoned we showed heart and he wanted to see what we could do, even covering the rink fees in the early stages.

We were now the Colorado Mustangs, and we were ready to actually get serious about winning.

Captain wasn’t done with the announcements either. One of the Wolverine’s golden boys, a friend and teammate on their top line, was dissatisfied with how that team was going. He wasn’t happy with the owner and he didn’t like the egos that swelled the second a paycheck was mentioned. His ice time had shrunk, sure, but he reckoned we showed heart too, and he wanted in.

Mustangs Ride

Roommate and I were excited but needed closure, so I used his for-work-only cellphone to ring each of the guys on the team that had missed our first official practice as a Miracle Team.

Responses, as expected, varied.

“Aw yeah, I ah… couldn’t ah… couldn’t get out of work, yeah.”

“Was that today? Oops. I’ll make the next one… I guess.”

“Yeah, I’m cool with the team and all, but driving to Greeley?!”

The former captain was at least up-front and candid with me, telling me that he’d lost his money too and was too damn old to go hanging on to “foolish hopes and dreams”.

Reaching the end of the list I hung up the phone and looked at Roommate, my face showing precisely how I felt about their responses. He just shook his head and pointed the Jeep south, toward our ramshackle place that reeked of hockey equipment and dog.

“You know, nobody ever had to beg me to play hockey. Never in my whole life have I ever had to be begged to play.”

I never have either

I’ve played on blistering blacktop in the height of a Houston summer, sweating so much that my equipment bag gained 13 pounds in one game. I’ve slept 14 to a double-bed room in a dive outside of Austin. I’ve hallucinated about seeing giant hockey skates covering the pre-dawn highway while driving a truckload of sleeping teammates back from an all-night tournament in Dallas. I’ve played 4 straight games in a tennis-court league because nobody’s goalies showed up on a 100-degree day.

When I left Texas A&M for Denver, I spent my unemployed days doing odd jobs, looking for work and parked in the stands of the roller hockey rink, sitting next to my bag and holding my stick aloft in adverstisement of my goaltending availabilities. I’ve played 5 nights a week for 6 teams while working and going to Uni full-time. I’ve played semi-pro roller hockey in the Major League.

The Colorado Mustangs won every game the rest of that season except our last two, losing to the Wolverines in the Regional Semi-final, with the winner promised a trip to Buffalo to take on the East Coast’s best.

I slept in shithole dives in Dallas and in the back of a truck in Salt Lake City. Whereas our first coach had told me unequivocally that I was only there in case his precious starting goalie got injured or shellacked for 20 goals and that I would probably NEVER see playing time, this “new” team saw me splitting time with that precious goalie and posting better numbers during our road trips, despite being 10 years older.

And nobody ever had to beg me to play.

Save the Canberra Knights

The AIHL’s Canberra Knights ownership has folded the team, first claiming monetary issues and then talent issues after informing the players via Facebook earlier this week. News stories abound and the Facebook discussion is as fervent as the supporter’s pledging money on the team’s crowd-sourcing page.

I just listened to Jordie Gavin’s interview on Canberra’s Sports Radio. He and the rest of the boys just want to play.

They just want to play.

And I don’t think anybody should stand in the way of that.

Good luck boys, I’m here if you need anybody in net during your Perth trips.

Here’s that DONATE link once again: https://www.mycause.com.au/page/canberraaihlteam