Issue 300

By Mark English

It isn't the moon in the sunset sky, or the deepening shadows that tell me something isn’t right in the city. The quake-shattered buildings and levelled gaps are the same. The homeward hiss of cars carrying their work-weary humans is as it should be. It is in the air itself I find my key. 

I sniff deeply and puff the air around my nostrils — yes, the air tells all — the smell is different; someone is missing. I sniff again and sort the miasma into memories of raggedy people all with their signature notes. Grace. Grace is missing.

I slink out from under the shingle-scattered roof that lies in commiseration in the taped off area; all that is left after they took away the old cinema walls and lowered it to the ground. Woulda been better to burn most of this city, but people — or perhaps their money — told them not to. And they say money talks, but it's never even mumbled to me — then again the Long Tom Investigation Bureau and Revenge Agency isn’t exactly a cash cow, and I don’t have any pockets. The revenge part is new — since the quake really. The quake changed everyone, including me. Investigation on the other paw is de rigueur and baked into my nature.

I lift my head as mutters of an awakening night-life reach me across a concrete-strewn demolition site. Sticking to the twilight shadows I peer under the lean-tos and secret shanties in boarded up offices to catch a past trace. I know the smell I'm after. Her smell. That acrid bourbon-laced urine smell. It's not here tonight. By now she would have shuffled past my establishment, shopping trolley supporting her in her eternal forward-fall as she careened off to her night's lodgings.

I know Grace and her people, always friendly to me and my kind, always pass the time of day, and always, always, go back to their hideaways. Someone has her. I don't like it when people I know go missing. I hire myself. At an extortionate rate.

To get the scent back I need to walk the bounds, to nose out where she last cut the circle. I take off towards the glimmer of a bar that floats on a lake of cars parked on the void where buildings used to cloak the sky. 

I arrive at the bar, scratching my flank along the rough brickwork as I go; a guilty pleasure grabbed when I can. The wall ends at a wide opening into a paved patio area. Tables, chairs, and diners fill the space. There is no trace of the scent I am nosing for. 

A young couple catch sight of me. The woman leans down and proffers her hand; she rubs her fingers and thumb together.  I have seen this before and know she wants some attention, so sit myself by the wall and stare. The man spares me a bored glance, and then flicks some food at me from his plate. I jump back, then lean forward and sniff the lettuce and chicken on the floor. Caesar salad I'd guess. Judging by a slick aroma on the chicken I'd say that tomorrow, and the next day, aren't going to be fun for him. I hope she picked something else to eat. Despite the dumb move to entice me she at least gave me the time of day.

I stand, arch my back, and strut away. I know I'm good looking and sometimes you gotta flaunt it when you know you can.

Around the corner from the bar stands a strip club. It stands alone on the block, surrounded by rubble, wire and warnings. A single, rotten tooth in the sticky maw of this city. Decay amongst the decay. The wind switches to a warm nor-wester, time to get my nose to the grindstone again.

My path takes me looping around the central city, through the rebuild areas, the new justice precinct, and into the haunted hopeless zone. If haggling and corruption had a spot on the map then this would be it. All partial finished sites, cast off by cash strapped and bankrupt captains of industry. Every site tainted by the reek of the Lost and the passers-through.

I catch a trace at a gap in warped construction fencing South of Lichfield. The fixings on the panels are clumsy — someone has linked the top and not the bottom. Lazy — or drunk. I go for lazy in this case. The swirls of scents around the gap are all fresh. Each has the same level of recent as hers; so I can’t tell who went through first. I don’t think she would have been bothered about closing either of the links, so I'm guessing someone closed them after her.

I pad through the gap, blending into the shadows; an ink blot amongst friends. I ghost across the shattered glass, tufts of grass, litter and rubble towards the old industrial square, converted into bars and restaurants many years before the Big One. The shop fronts stare at each other across the square. Their mute sunken gaze takes in old sofas, oil drums and a burned out car. A quiet echo of a voice wafts from a nailed over doorway. Grace's familiar stench is strong here — she's close. 

I take the long road; up to a high window via a fallen wall brace, and then a slow high-wire descent in the dark. A minute, maybe more, and I drop behind a cabinet in a loading bay. An electric lantern in the corner lights the rotted concrete and green-dripped walls. Cellphone screens illuminate the faces of the quiet voices. Street-skin tight on young bones, clothes baggy and loose. They are unclean but not in the manner of Grace's bedraggled clan. She's here—I haven't seen her yet, but I know it. 

I tease my face around the cabinet and stare into a room off the bay. Her trolley is there, on its side like wounded prey, the spilled guts of her carefully curated treasures spread over the floor. She is lying on the other side of the trolley, face-down judging by the set of her legs and feet. She has reached the end of her eternal fall. This time I think she was pushed. Pushed by one of the new youth gangs that have moved into these suburbs of desolation that surround the central city. 

One of the illuminated faces begins a one-sided conversation with a cellphone. "We have the stinky old woman — the one you saw when you was unloadin'." A pause. "Yeah OK. We can find a hole." 

So she saw something. Over the years I've come to realise that people like Grace are strange to other humans. They must have a reverse quantum effect or something—they don't become visible until they themselves see something of value to others. 

The face darkens as the cellphone is slipped into a pocket, though it is plenty light enough in here for me. The two move towards the side room. This is a bad situation; the earthquake changed a lot of people, or people changed and used it as an excuse — I can't tell, and a small part of me doesn't care either way. Now my investigation is over. Now it's time for the revenge part. Time to accept again the changes wrought in me.

I stand on my back legs, take a step forward and double in size. I take another step and double again. When I get to them I am twice their height, and stronger and faster. One of them catches a glimpse of me as I stalk from the side. Their mouth and eyes widen. I twitch my tail; an instinctive reflex. Before any warning noise can leave their lungs I pounce.  Kitchen-knife claws slice the air. I swipe and swipe again, the claw-tips weaving death into the fabric of the night. Sheets of blood sew a tapestry of the encounter on the walls. No-time has passed between my rise and delivery of revenge before I step back down to my normal size on the way to the side room. To Grace.

I sit by her head, tailed curled around my hind quarters. I can tell she isn’t dead. I unwind myself to rub across her face and neck. Her heart beat is steady. I can smell her blood from a wound on her head, looks like she was roughed up before the goons checked for orders. I lick her nose, wiping across her nostrils—salty, not unpleasant. She flinches and groans. I lick again. She swipes across her face and rolls sideways and up into a slump. I rub up against her, comforting, familiar, forcing forgetfulness. 

She is addled and confused with the blow to the head and cheap booze. A sad whimper escapes her as she sees the spilled trolley in the wedge of light from the loading bay. I wait patiently, watching as she crams her life back into the wheeled metal mesh, then pushes off towards the light. I trot to a sidedoor and, mewing to be let out, distract her away from the grisly remains next door.

The old woman stoops to pat my head. She lifts the latch and the door groans open. Without a backward glance she exits, beginning her forward fall on her path to home. I do look back. The bodies I'll leave — the fun was in the hunt and the killing. The human cops will find them tomorrow and make up some story about a knife fight. What do I care. The streets are safer, and as I watch Grace rattle out of the square with her sacred items, I know the streets will be back to normal. I like normal.

rocket crux 2 75

About the Author

mark-englishMark is an ex-rocket scientist with a doctorate in physics, so has an unwitting talent for taking the magic out of twinkling stars, sunsets, colourful flames dancing in a roaring fire, and rainbows. However with two young children and one teen son he has been practicing storytelling for many years, before he had the idea to write it down.

His short term aims are to introduce other fathers to the world of creative storytelling, and to find his feet with short story writing. This will involve him having to appreciate that what he sees as funny does not always accord with other people's points of view. To help him with this mission he spent 2 years as treasurer of SpecFicNZ from his wobbly house in Christchurch NZ.

He has been published in Raygun Revival, Everyday Fiction, Escapepod, and Perihelion.


Issue Contributors

The AntiSF Radio Show

antipod-show-50Our weekly podcast features the stories from recently published issues, often narrated by the authors themselves.

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Meet the Narrators

  • Emma Gill

    Emma Louise GillEmma Louise Gill (she/her) is a British-Australian spec fic writer and consumer of vast amounts of coffee. Brought up on a diet of English lit, she rebelled and now spends her time writing explosive space opera and other fantastical things in

  • Tim Borella

    tim borellaTim Borella is an Australian author, mainly of short speculative fiction published in anthologies, online and in podcasts.

    He’s also a songwriter, and has been fortunate enough to have spent most of his working life doing something else he loves, flying.

    Tim lives with his wife Georgie in beautiful Far

  • Ed Errington

    ed erringtonEd lives with his wife plus a magical assortment of native animals in tropical North Queensland.

    His efforts at wallaby wrangling are without parallel — at least in this universe.

    He enjoys reading and writing science-fiction stories set within intriguing, yet plausible contexts, and invite readers’ “willing suspension of

  • Juliette Cavendish

    juliette cavendish 200Juliette Cavendish was born in Liverpool UK and is of Welsh and Norwegian heritage. Juliette has an interest in Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Science and writes in both Science Fiction and Contemporary Fiction genres. Juliette was fascinated with space as a

  • Geraldine Borella

    geraldine borella 200Geraldine Borella writes fiction for children, young adults and adults. Her work has been published by Deadset Press, IFWG Publishing, Wombat Books/Rhiza Edge, AHWA/Midnight Echo, Antipodean SF, Shacklebound Books, Black Ink Fiction, Paramour Ink Fiction, House of Loki and Raven & Drake

  • Sarah Pratt

    sarah pratt 200Sarah Pratt is an avid fiction writer and a Marketing Consultant.

    She is currently working on her first novel but loves diving into short stories to bring a little lightness, intrigue or humour to the day.

    Her work has appeared in Sponge Magazine and The Commuting

  • Alistair Lloyd

    alistair lloyd 200Alistair Lloyd is a Melbourne based writer and narrator who has been consuming good quality science fiction and fantasy most of his life.

    You may find him on Twitter as <@mr_al> and online at <...

  • Marg Essex

    marg essex 200Margaret lives the good life on a small piece of rural New South Wales Australia, with an amazing man, a couple of pets, and several rambunctious wombats.

    She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.


  • Mark English

    mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

    All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his

  • Timothy Gwyn

    timonthy gwyn 100Timothy Gwyn is a professional pilot in Canada, where he flies to remote communities. During a lull in his flying career, he was a radio announcer for three years, and he is also an author.

    In addition to short stories at AntipodeanSF and, his SF novel is available internationally in print and ebook

  • Sarah Jane Justice

    Sarah Jane Justice 200Sarah Jane Justice is an Adelaide-based fiction writer, poet, musician and spoken word artist.

    Among other achievements, she has performed in the National Finals of the Australian Poetry Slam, released two albums of her original music and seen her poetry

  • Barry Yedvobnick

    barry yedvobnick 200Barry Yedvobnick is a recently retired Biology Professor. He performed molecular biology and genetic research, and taught, at Emory University in Atlanta for 34 years. He is new to fiction writing, and enjoys taking real science a step or two beyond its known boundaries in his

  • Michelle Walker

    michelle walker32My time at Nambucca Valley Community Radio began back in 2016 after moving into the area from Sydney.

    As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, I recognised it was definitely God who opened up the pathways for my husband and I to settle in the Valley.


  • Laurie Bell

    lauriebell 2 200

    Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia and is the author of "The Stones of Power Series" via Wyvern's Peak Publishing: "The Butterfly Stone", "The Tiger's Eye" and "The Crow's Heart" (YA/Fantasy).

    She is also the author of "White Fire" (Sci-Fi) and "The Good, the Bad and the Undecided" (a