Monthly Archives: February 2016

Excerpt from “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand ~~The Beam~~

picture-Unbroken-HillenbrandOne morning, the Bird ordered Louie to come before him. He said that the goat had gotten loose, broken into a grain bin, and gorged himself. The animal was deathly ill, and it was Louie’s fault. Louie knew that his knot had been secure. If the goat had gotten loose, someone had untied him. The goat died.
Terrified of retribution, Louie tried to hide from the Bird, but his dysentery was becoming very serious. Risking being seen by the Bird, he went to the camp doctor to plead for medication. The Bird ran him down, demanding to know if he had received permission to approach the doctor. Louie said no.
The Bird marched Louie away from the doctor’s shack, passing Tinker and Wade, who’d been ordered to work outside. Out in the compound, the Bird halted. Lying on the ground before them was a thick, heavy wooden beam, some six feet long. Pick it up, the Bird said. With some effort, Louie hoisted it up, and the Bird ordered him to lift it high and hold it directly over his head. Louie heaved the beam up. The Bird called a guard over. If the prisoner lowers his arms, the Bird told him, hit him with your gun. The Bird walked to a nearby shack, climbed on the roof, and settled in to watch.
Louie stood in the sun, holding up the beam. The Bird stretched over the roof like a contented cat, calling to the Japanese who walked by, pointing to Louie and laughing. Louie locked his eyes on the Bird’s face, radiating hatred.
Several minutes passed. Louie stood, eyes on the Bird. The beam felt heavier and heavier, the pain more intense. The Bird watched Louie, amused by his suffering, mocking him. Wade and Tinker went on with their work, stealing anxious glances at the scene across the compound. Wade had looked at the camp clock when Louie had first lifted the beam. He became more and more conscious of how much time was passing.
Five more minutes passed, then ten. Louie’s arms began to waver and go numb. His body shook. The beam tipped. The guard jabbed Louie with his gun, and Louie straightened up. Less and less blood was reaching his head, and he began to feel confused, his thoughts gauzy, the camp swimming around him. He felt his consciousness slipping, his mind losing adhesion, until all he knew was a single thought: He cannot break me. Across the compound, the Bird had stopped laughing.
Time ticked on, and still Louie remained in the same position, conscious and yet not, the beam over his head, his eyes on the Bird’s face, enduring long past when his strength should have given out. “Something went on inside of me,” he said later. “I don’t know what it was.”
There was a flurry of motion ahead of him, the Bird leaping down from the roof and charging toward him, enraged. Watanabe’s fist rammed into Louie’s stomach, and Louie folded over in agony. The beam dropped, striking Louie’s head. He flopped to the ground.
When he woke, he didn’t know where he was or what had happened. He saw Wade and some other POWs, along with a few guards, crouched around him. The Bird was gone. Louie had no memory of the last several minutes, and had no idea how long he’d stood there. But Wade had looked at the clock when Louie had fallen.
Louie had held the beam aloft for thirty-seven minutes.

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Excerpt from “Mask” by John Minahan ~~Colours~~

picture-Mask-MinahanAfter breakfast, while Diana was taking archery lessons specially designed for blind archers, Rocky was in the deep left field area of the baseball field, on his hands and knees, carefully sorting through various-sized stones and rocks. He needed four, but they had to be almost identical in size, shape, weight, and smoothness, which made the job difficult. Twenty minutes later, when he made the final selection, all four stones about the size of a peach pit, he shoved them in his pocket and walked quickly to the camp canteen. There, he bought only one item, a small-sized box of Johnson & Johnson cotton balls. Next, he went to the dining hall, which was almost empty by then, bought a can of Coke from the machine, and hung around, occasionally strolling to the windowed kitchen door and glancing in. Around fifteen minutes later, when the chef, a counselor, and dishwasher, a C.A., finished cleaning up and came out the door, he watched them leave the hall, then went quickly into the kitchen. He placed the box of cotton balls on the counter, grabbed two small pots hanging above, went to the sink, filled each pot with water, carried them to the stove, placed them on separate electric burners, switched one to high heat, the other to low. Now he reached into his pocket, removed two stones, dropped one in each pot. Lastly he walked to the big freezer/refrigerator, took out his other two stones, placed one in the freezer compartment, the other in the refrigerator section. He left through the back door.
Diana was sitting on the grass at the archery range with five other campers, listening to the counsellor giving instructions to a fifteen-year-old boy. Rocky glanced at his watch, took her hand, helped her up.
“We’re almost late for class,” he whispered.
“What class?”
“Rocky’s class.”
She smiled, shrugged, held his hand as they walked quickly over to the dining hall and around to the back door of the kitchen. As soon as Rocky closed the door, she knew where they were from the strong food smells.
“We shouldn’t be in here,” she said quietly.
“Yes, we should.”
“We’re going to get so busted if they find us in here.”
“Naw.” He pulled up a high kitchen stool. “Here, sit.”
She sat cautiously. “What’re you doing?”
“Wait, God, you have no patience.” He went to the stove, where one of the pots of water was boiling, turned off both burners, then walked to the freezer compartment of the refrigerator, opened the door, grabbed the stone, ran back to her. “Open your hand.”
“No.”
He opened her right hand, placing the freezing-cold stone in it. It felt like an oddly shaped ice cube before she realized it wasn’t wet.
“This is blue,” he said.
She frowned, then opened her eyes wide.
He raced back to the refrigerator, took out the cold stone, ran back and placed it in her other hand.
“This is green.”
Diana gasped. Then said, “Yes, yes, yes! I think I’m beginning to understand!”
Now he went to the stove, looked at the pot of steaming water that had just stopped boiling. He glanced around the counters, looking for some kind of utensil to pick up the stone, started charging around, opening drawers, finally finding a big soup ladle. As he scooped the stone from the water, it dropped to the stove and bounced to the floor. He got down fast, tried to pick it up with his fingers, but it was too hot.
Shit! Oops, sorry, Diana.”
“That’s okay, I say it all the time.”
Rocky walked over to her, took the cold and cool stones from her hands, put them in his pocket, went back, knelt down, touched the hot stone quickly several times, then picked it up, stood up, and tossed it around like a juggler until it cooled off a little. When he felt it was ready and wouldn’t burn her, he opened her right hand and placed the hot stone in it carefully.
“That’s red.”
Yes! I get it!
“Now, when that cools a little more, it’ll be pink.”
Yes!
He went back to the stove, stuck his finger in the pot of warm water to test it, took out the lukewarm stone, came back, and placed it in her left hand.
“That’s yellow.”
Diana held the two stones high in the air and screamed with joy. “Yes! Yes! Yes!
Laughing now, Rocky stepped to the counter, opened the box of cotton balls, grabbed a big bunch, took her right hand and patted it all over with the fluffy cotton.
“This is billowy.”
“Yes. Oh, yes.”
Finally, he took her hand and placed it gently on the side of her face.
“This is beautiful.”

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Excerpt from “Over The Hills” by Bernard O’Reilly ~~Dance~~

picture-OverTheHills-OReillyThe Nights of the Kerry Dancing

Those were the nights! There’d be bubbling excitement in the afternoon, the polishing of shoes, the ironing of shirts and collars, a very serious ritual with no mother around the humpy; the flat irons were stood up in front of the open fire and then wiped carefully on brown paper before they were allowed to touch the sacred cloth; with collars it was trial and error – four would be starched and ironed and the best one taken.
Then there was the running down and the catching of sleek, shiny wild horses. You needed good horses. At its best it was a four-hour ride to Kerry Hall; along two miles of jungle to the plateau rim; down the old cliff track to the gorge, out through the long dark tunnel to Kerry road, then down along the bluegum flats and through many deep rocky crossings of the Albert River.
Maybe I’d have stores to bring back next day so it would be a string of packhorses that I’d be driving off in front of me as I rode off at sunset; fat shiny fellows, bucking with their empty pack saddles; I with my “good” clothes tied in a valise in front of the saddle, yelling murder at the horses as we raced through the jungle twilight.
Then the cliff track which struck awe even into the heart of a seventeen-year-old bushranger; blazing afterglow beyond the sawtoothed divide fifty miles away, the heaving billows of purple country between, Ding Bing Falls back to the right, a silver ribbon tying the higher jungle to the lower, and just under my right stirrup over the cliff an abyss of dark green where a stone started from a horse’s hoof brought back no sound or echo from below. Above, a gaunt cathedral of volcanic rock towered to the darkening sky, riddled with blowholes, the home of the great-eared bats, those black butterflies of hell which streamed out in their thousands to mingle their dark wings with the deepening gloom. Those were solemn moments even for a high-spirited youngster with high-spirited horses.
Deeper down the range we left the bats and met the owls, the nightjars and the frogmouths, who spoke softly through the coming night.
……………………………………………………………….
We would go down along the cutting through the gums where the blue possums chuckled and the koalas cried, where the night wind rustled the gum leaves and keened softly through the drooping she-oaks. The going would be slower there too; our horses, reared on the artificial grasses, paspalum and Rhodes grass, of the jungle clearings, would taste the sweetness of our own kangaroo grass, which grew breast-high to a man on the lower mountain. Bu there would be stars to cool your hot blood and stem your impatience.
……………………………………………………………….
So we would go down the range, the plodding packhorses ahead snorting, cropping and blowing pollen from their nostrils, and presently we would reach the bottom of the gorge and then there’d be the jungle, its deep dark tunnel of track, the incessant flicker of fire-flies and the glow-worms which shone from dark creek banks. Here the wild blood of the pioneers and bushrangers would rise. I would yell and curse the horses, then we’d go down the jungle at a half-gallop, the bucking packhorses in front with their saddles tearing through the vines, I lying flat on my saddle in the pitch blackness under the reaching arms of the jungle with its thorn vines and Gympie leaves.
……………………………………………………………….
Then we’d be out in the open again with the white stars and the white gums and the good smell of crushed kangaroo grass under the horses’ feet. The smell of orchids which we had left behind in the jungle gave way to the smell of bottle-brushes by the river and that damp, watery, weedy smell of the deep dark waterhole down by the junction. The splashings through the river, the mile-long Kerry flats where we pounded along with the wind in our ears, and then the ridges where we got our breath and the breath of flowering bluegums.
Presently there would be the joining in of other young bushrangers, all well mounted and headed for Kerry Hall. More river crossings, more racing under the gums; the barking of dogs from each homestead, with perhaps a yell of “Wait for me!” and, whilst we waited, the rustlings and the scents of high tasselling corn.
Strange, it seems now, that although the dance was the one cause of all this mad night riding, the dancing was the one thing that left no impression nor anything worth recording. Though I remember Leslie Egan, who’d just returned from France, singing “Roses in Picardy,” and again Ken Watterson singing “A Perfect Day,” the dancing and music seem to have faded with the years, so that all of those nights of the Kerry dancing there remains only a symphony of rushing wind, of starlight and ghostly gums and the galloping hooves of horses.

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Filed under Literature, Non-Fiction