David Stevens

Posts Tagged ‘death’

I had a dream …

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2017 at 12:57 pm

I had a dream, and it was bloody awful. I blame my younger daughters. They were discussing stress dreams, so then I went off and had one. I was in India, catching a bunch of trains, and every time I was on a platform I saw someone die. People just leaping into trains. I won’t say what it looked like afterwards (no, save that for my fiction). How many dreams have I had over the years about missed trains, and chasing trains, and being on the wrong platform. And then, I could not remember where I was staying. And then, I could not remember when I had to catch the plane home. And then …

Well, none of that is any fun. But I did have this other dream. I dreamed I was Batman. Me and the rest of the extended Justice League were lying on my lounge room floor. I said, I can’t remember my real name. Is it Mark? No, its Jerk, one of the JLA members replied. I said, No it isn’t, it’s Bruce Wayne, I remember now. (Ha, fixed them. Jerk.) Then there was a bit about an atrophied organ that had been removed but with which I could communicate because of its proximity.

Perhaps these are not the things to share?


Among the Dead

In Uncategorized on November 28, 2017 at 8:11 pm

My grandfather sits in the ruin of his house. It is always night when I am here. The sky is my skull, a low dome seen from the inside. His jaw is strong and held hard, grinding the fossils of his teeth. (Even if he still smoked, he could not. His pipe stem could not be forced between those lips. It would be snapped by those teeth. The end of it would stay in that mouth a hundred years, preserved.)

Wind sweeps the ash. I do not feel the cold. I stare at the strength of that head. I remember bending and kissing that head, like a child’s, as it lay on a pillow. The man I never kissed, who always shook hands. The skull beneath the skin.

That he came back to sit here, among the ruins. He does not decay, instead the house does. Each time I come, it has deteriorated further, taking his place in the grave. The elements do not bother him. If the wind wears him, if water drips him away, leaching away the minerals of him a drop at a time, perhaps it is for the best. Perhaps it is what he desires. As he weathers, mountains are ground down, oceans rise, seas fall. Forests grow and are consumed. The constellations shift, all sped up for him. He is the Time Traveller, he is Rod Taylor in his chair, encased in stone, then freed again. In my visits, I am a shadow. I am the flickering ghost. It is I who am death, I am mortality. We are worn down around him.

He gulps sometimes. The throat works, the jaw moves and clenches. He is biting deeper, getting a better grip on the world. Once or twice he has looked towards me. I stand close. He does not stop me. I am calm in his presence, calm with the nostalgia of grief. The longing for those other worlds I can never visit. Childhood. The past. The lives of others. The drowsy warmth of everything will be alright. The knowledge of grief to come.

That he has returned, and so far, not the others. Preserved in his pride, his inflexible ideas of proper behaviour. The feuds that burned silently within, in his room as he read, as he listened to talk back radio.

It is monochrome here. It suits the grey hair, slicked back along his scalp.

My aunt, white gowned against the window, arms raised and pressing the glass. Could only I see her? Were the adults pretending it was otherwise? My other grandmother, from the other side of my family, smiling, her lips uncertain, her eyes betraying an unease. She knew. We mourned when my aunt left, why did no one tell me she was back? Kept inside, a secret.

All the dead are kept inside, a secret that no one else wants to know. We are all haunted, and sometimes they stare out from the windows of our eyes. They come back, but they are not the same.

My grandfather sits amongst the exposed beams, the drooping wallpaper having outlasted the plasterboard beneath. He has made himself comfortable in the chair that was thrown away long ago. Its return is as great a miracle as his. He is silent. Why do we protest? Why do we bother to rage? The brave new world was always coming, and there was nothing we could do about it. We shall consume the whole world, we shall eat our young, the forests will die, the skies will burn.

There is no moon, no stars, no electricity, no peasant mob brandishing torches, but I see him clear in this night. I cannot think how I first found him here. I think I just knew. He cannot be in this house. It was sold years ago, and rebuilt, and another family lives here. Still, it is where I found him. Perhaps we are in one of those other twenty four dimensions of folded string. I do not know. I just gaze upon him and sit in his quiet presence.

The dead stare. What vision is imprinted on their eyes? We fear what they have seen.

His wife is not there. Will she come? Nobody told me my grandmother was in hospital. I could not answer the phone. I was freezing in a bath of ice, sitting with a child who refused to be comforted unless someone was in there with him, trying to bring his fever down. Later, when I finally was told, in emergency as she, unconscious, clawed at the air, as though prematurely buried and scraping at the coffin lid, I prayed and prayed into her ear, a hundred Hail Mary’s to calm her down, and then those arms rested, they allowed themselves to stop. Thank you God for that.

The dead are all inside. How many skeleton arms drag torsos forward through the mud of my mind, skulls drooping, exposed spines drifting away to nothing? How many more bony arms are yet to come? When shall I join them? What shall I see?

Or will death be banished forever, and we infested us with nanobots that work constantly to keep us fit, keep us happy in our jobs, content in the hell we have made?

These are thoughts I think, when I awake after my visits.

Abandoned chunk from a work in progress

In Uncategorized on April 20, 2017 at 9:04 pm

Fucken hungry.  He could murder a cold one too, a dozen, but he knows he could drink a sea and  it wouldn’t fill him with what he needs.

He’s just taking a breather.  No one could deny he’s been digging away down here in the dark.  Working hard.  Its only when he looks up that he realises there’s a kid down here.

Thinking about it, he supposes there are dead kids. Has to be.  Plenty of them. Not much use though, are they, your dead kid.  Not in a mine, he thinks, forgetting how old he was when he started this caper, like he’s forgotten everything, except how to dig. And that he’s dead. He knows that.

Its not a smoko, cos he doesn’t have any smokes.  Can’t, not down a mine.  More a breather.  Not that he’s sure he’s really breathing.  Dead, and he still wants a smoke.  Some habits die hard.  And its not as though he’s just dead.  When he realised he was here, when he woke up working, he didn’ t have any legs left, that’s how dead he was.

The kid’s not on a track, not on rails. Neither is he, now that his legs have grown back, but you know what I mean. He’s not official like. The kid’s not working. He’s on a lark, just wandering about.  Gets on his wick.

The kid sees him. He’s got a lamp stuck on his head, like he’s a miner. He’s a bludger, more like. Shit scared now, not wandering about so aimlessly now. So he should be, bludger.  He wouldn’t bludge down here.  Who knows what they’d do?  If they can bring you back to life, what other shit can they do?  He’s never liked bludgers and he’s never liked wankers.  Remembers that.  Bludgers, wankers, thieves.  Blinks.  A feeling rises, and he remembers it before he can name it.  Shame.  That’s it.  Thieves.  He’s been eating some of the rocks he’s been digging.  Just some little ones.  Surely no one will miss them.  Fucken hungry.

Smell the kid’s fear. Didn’t know he could do that. Bet that’s new.  Scent condenses on his tongue, and saliva flows. He changes inside. Its like feelings he gave up on a long time ago. Longings.

So fucken hungry he could eat his own arse.

But he doesn’t have to.

He’d laugh if he had a voice.   Oh yes.  The kid’s face turns weird, he’s running.  Why?  He realised that he had been walking, without knowing it.  Just a passenger being carried along by legs and hunger.  I see.  The kid’s running away from me.  The kid fumbles in his back pack, loses a bit of the distance between them, pulls out a bit of tinfoil.  That knife won’t help, kid. You gonna murder me?  I’m already dead.

He hops down from the track, into the rubble of what they’ve been digging. Coal. Utility pipes. Dirt. Small trees pulled down through the earth by their roots. Form and complexity. Information and structure. Bits of it lying around down there.

Watcha got in that bag kid? A monster gun? Shambling over, stretching stiff joints. Something wriggling about in there.

Whatever it is, the kid brings the knife down into the centre of it, and it doesn’t like it.  Its jumping around.  The kid sticks the knife into its guts, and it spurts.

O!  The smell. He still can’t remember his name, but flavours flood back, and the drool pours out over his chin.  He can recall crumbed lambs brains and cream and mushrooms and wine – the bitter of the first beer after work on a summer’s day – burning his fingers snatching at hot chips with vinegar, the sun already down and steam pouring from their mouths as they broke battered fish into bits – onion as he licked at his wife’s fingers – stolen honey – other, private tastes…

The thing whatever it was was in his face and he sucked it empty, breathed it down, a wonderful throat-full of blood or motor oil or whatever it was inside, bloody beautiful, and chewing down on the carcass, swallowing it into him, wiping his mouth with his arm then licking the arm clean, the misery in his stomach abated for a moment, letting out a moan like he’s breaking.

The creaking of an ancient unoiled engine returning to life, his voice returned. “Thanks kid.” Clouds were lifting and he stepped out of a haze. “I’m George?” he groaned with the intonation of an unsure teenage girl.  “Yes, I’m George. What the fuck are you doing down here?”

“Looking for someone.”

“Are they dead?”

“Hope not.”

Graham Joyce

In Uncategorized on November 29, 2014 at 8:16 pm

Graham Joyce is one of my writers. Like you, I have a bunch of them. I come across them somehow, often at a book sale, buy something cheap, then after enjoying it, work my way through their back catalogue, and still enjoying them, buy each new book as it comes out. Too rarely I reflect on how lucky I am to have found them, and as the years pass I wonder what writer I may be missing out on as I scan shop shelves.

I read his latest about four or five months ago (and included a quote from it in an earlier post). Just a few weeks later, I was posting on the horror of MH17 being shot down over the Ukraine. Today, I read Joyce’s far superior post touching on the same topic.  Sadly, the reason I read it, is because two months late, I accidentally heard news of his death.

Strangers die all the time. Who am I to speak of a man who I never met, or to pretend knowledge by appropriating details from wikipedia? I can only gently suggest you seek out his books. The magic of writing means that I enjoyed a number of hours within his head, touching his thoughts with my eyes, drawing them into myself. There are many worse ways that I could have spent those hours, and worse ways you could spend yours. If you like to read and like to think and have conjured up for you strange intrusions into this world, it would be a kindness for you to read his work.

MH 17

In Uncategorized on July 19, 2014 at 11:12 am

My wife’s phone rang at 3.19am. It confused me, because my alarm does not make that sound. Mostly asleep, I thought of the time when the noise would stop, and I could submerge myself completely. My wife was obviously also not conscious.

“What’s that?” I asked, innocently.

“My sister is trying to call me.”

“Oh.” With no sarcasm, I said “Maybe you should answer it”. I was being helpful. “Yeah, maybe you’re right.” Again, no sarcasm. Sleep is a type of drug.

I didn’t think, who has died?, the way I would back home. 3am is 11am there. Not a time when anyone should call us, but a safe time nonetheless. Then I kept hearing, oh no … oh no … oh no … And then, no, he’s here. He’s asleep. In the room next to us.

In a six week period, I flew the Amsterdam-Australia route with Malaysian Airlines three times. The first time, just before I boarded in Sydney, I heard the news that one of their planes was missing. I didn’t know what was happening, but that didn’t worry me at all. Air travel is safe. Statistically invalid though it is, if I reacted at all, it was only to think that if here had been a recent disaster, air travel was for the moment, even safer. Only at breakfast the next morning in Kuala Lumpur, reading a local paper, did I realise the extent of the tragedy, did the selfishness of my glib reaction sink in.

My next trip was back home a month later, on the noon MH 17 flight. We flew over the Ukraine again, just as I did a fortnight later as I brought my family to join me in Europe.

My wife’s octogenarian uncle, spry and fit and still travelling the world, has been using our home here as a base while he journeyed around Europe. He was travelling home on MH 17 on Friday. We had gone to bed that night not knowing that Thursday’s flight had simply been shot out of the sky, killing everyone. Our family in Australia suddenly worried that they may have had the date wrong.

Half asleep, I dismissed their worry. I knew that he was safe and that he was travelling the next day, and I had not yet seen the news broadcasts. I later saw the horror, but connected only on an intellectual level. Viscerally, I think it was not until midday that it hit me. Flags at half mast here in the Netherlands. The number of Australians killed. (No more important than anyone else, just that I can relate a little more to that.) My daughter’s Dutch teacher, telling her that she was late for school as she had to prepare her son. His little friend had been killed, with all of his family. They had been going on an adventure to Australia, a trip long planned and hard saved for. All the class had been excited for them. AIDS researchers, their knowledge and skills built up over decades, gone in an instant. Good people, bad people, ordinary people, their bodies scattered over a field in the Ukraine after they fell ten kilometres from the sky.

I may have once, or thrice, flown on that exact same aircraft, like thousands of other people. I’ll never know. And I may have been served by the crew who died. And if my wife’s uncle had flown a day earlier, the shock and horror we would have shared much more directly.

There is nothing to learn. There are no new truths. All of our lives are so contingent. Our existences may be snatched from us in an instant. When powers conspire, they do not care about the effects. We are refreshed in the knowledge of the horror, and the veil is drawn away from our eyes for a moment. We carry on, because what else is there to do?

My wife’s sister will join us in a month or so. She says she won’t let the bastards stop her doing what she wants to do. We will worry for her while she travels. At some level, we worry for everyone all the time, because the moment you love, the moment you are connected to another human being, you are open to loss, and by the time you reach my age, you have lost, and know you will lose again. But still, love we must, and lose we must, for otherwise, we are less than human.


In Uncategorized on July 5, 2014 at 1:40 pm

My eldest daughter dreamed that we bought a dachshund. She cuddled it at the breeder’s, and everyone was very happy with the new sausage dog. Next in the dream, I was driving the car with the family. My daughter looked out and saw our new dog on the road. I saw it too, accelerated and veered to make sure I hit it. The front wheel ran over the dog, which exploded with a satisfying popping sound. My daughter started crying in the dream, at which I became annoyed and said ‘Don’t you dare be upset. That’s what we bought it for’. On waking, she told me the dream, and I laughed, because I thought the end was funny. However, I am still being treated as though I deliberately ran over the family pet, just to get a good noise.

I’ll just stress again, this was all a dream.

Grappling annually

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2014 at 7:46 pm

The interestingly named “The Grapple Annual” (Roy Slaven and HG Nelson come to mind) have announced their forthcoming publication, and the announcement includes that my short story, “The Penultimate Report of Sergeant Burns” is among the contents. (Perhaps that is the incentive I need to write some more, and blog some more. I am far from home and way out of routine, and that is a wonderful excuse!) Every piece in the annual is associated with a particular date. My story is associated with July 16th, because every official report needs to be dated, and that date is as good as any. Do not be surprised to find violence and death.


My sort of advertisement …

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2014 at 5:52 pm

Featuring … Darwinian nightmares from David Stevens“. Who could ask for more?

As I am, you too will be …

In Uncategorized on February 22, 2014 at 11:39 pm

Toil is stupid, and now it is over for Bob 2.
Here to go … Trite to say, but the years fly by. How did they get so old, I ask, then look in the mirror.
Bob 2
Alan Myers

School massacre

In Uncategorized on December 1, 2013 at 4:08 am

I had to have my dog put down before Christmas last year. There is no art in that, nothing but bathos. Orwell may have made something out of shooting an imaginary elephant, but there is no poetry or great message in the death of my cute little dog. I stayed with him as the vet went about her work, because loyalty, a dog of a virtue which excuses cover ups and mass murders, is amongst those I admire most, and having made the decision that he was to die, it is not in me to simply walk away and leave the dog alone to the process. (In the waiting room, while I held him up so he wouldn’t engage in battle with animals ten times his size, fool that he was, he pissed blood down my shirt, his incontinence and internal bleeding a reassurance that I was doing the right thing.) He wagged his tail standing on the stainless steel table, happy at the attention, trusting me, and blubbering though I was, I hope I did not betray that trust. Afterwards, I reflected on my sentimentality regarding animals, and how useless I would be on a farm, unless I had some reconditioning, and my brain went into ridiculous analytical overdrive: did I do the right thing? how dare you feel like that about an animal? how dare you do what you did? do I feel enough? do I feel too little? And I was left with the knowledge, I don’t want to go through that again any time soon.

Then a day or so later I awoke to the news of the murder of 20 little children and others in yet another school massacre in the US, and everything was put in horrifying perspective. I am a broken person, filled with my own darkness, but empathy failed me when it came to contemplating the killer. I can think about the pain a person may have, the anger, and draw a path that may lead to bad deeds, but I cannot colour this particular picture in, cannot give it substance. To do this thing. That this choice could be made, and the tools were readily available to act on that choice. I did not dare put myself in the position of any of the parents who lost a child. For most adults who have had their fair battering from life, that is too easy an imaginative leap to make.

There is no causality between these events, they are just the order in which I experienced them. My family had its small sadness, from which we quickly recovered. News came from a distant country of great tragedy which has permanently marked lives, from which parents and others will never, ever recover. There is no connection between the events, they are an infinite degree of both kind and magnitude apart. We lurch from day to day, getting by as best we can, hoping for small joys, experiencing our small sorrows, and hear news from afar of great horror. We hope that if nothing else, some small meaning can be taken from disaster if it leads to us changing our ways. This happened in Australia after the Port Arthur massacre, but gun ownership is less entrenched in our culture. It seemed then that this tragedy would lead to no great change in the US, and subsequent murders and political reactions have confirmed it.

Gun fetishism is very alien to me. It is difficult as an outsider to comprehend the depth of feeling moves towards gun control, or for that matter, improving the health care system, generate in the US. The introduction of Medicare in Australia did not lead to the collapse of capitalism. Measures taken after the Port Arthur massacre did not lead to the establishment of a Stalinist state. Our planet continued to turn, despite the many failings of our country. The whole world looks at the cult of personality in North Korea, sees images of military processions and choreographed movements of masses of people, and shakes its head at the weirdness. Many people outside the US have a similar reaction to the American love of guns, it is as bewilderingly strange to us as the behaviour of North Koreans.

Earthquakes raze cities, tsunamis and cyclones devastate coastlines in distant places. We carry on, we endure, keeping our heads down, sad but not wishing to think about it too much, not wanting to think about when it will be our turn. We live our little lives, suffer our small sorrows. There are other forces that individuals are powerless to conquer, powers in the lives of humans that cannot be overcome in a single generation. We must do our little bit, with no promise and little prospect of seeing change ourselves, but always hoping for the future.