Spin and its effect on the perception of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict (written for a Zeitgeist unit on SPIN)

When tensions escalated on the Gaza strip in May 2021, media focus was brought back to what has been one of the most problematic regions in the world for decades. One of the highlights of the new wave of bombings by Israel was the destruction of the al-Jalaa tower. The historical 11-storey building included residential apartments and was home to international media offices such as Al Jazeera and The Associated Press news agency bureau. But how intentional was this airstrike on the freedom of the press, and how was it perceived by the media around the world? And how has spin (1) affected the overall perception of the conflict around the world?

We can go back in history to the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara ship back in May, 2010, to analyse how the same event was perceived around different parts of the world. To quote Winston Churchill, ‘History is written by the victors.’ And to this day, it is still unclear whether the humanitarian ship fleet did house terrorist groups as argued by the Israeli media. The Journal of Palestinian Studies deconstructed the occurrence, reaching the conclusion that ‘Israel used the media blackout to present its narrative’ and based claims of self-defence when justifying the killing of civilian activists. This uncertainty in the veracity of events can be vastly attributed to the use of spin by the media and the politicians who analysed the events, proving that the pondered use of carefully crafted language is a powerful technique to avoid giving real power to the people by informing them accurately and unbiasedly. To put it bluntly, spin is the equivalent of throwing sand in people’s eyes as they strive to make sense of the world and the events around them.

Fast forward eleven years since the Mavi Marmara incident and we turn our attention to the media coverage on the bombing of the al-Jalaa tower. Israel’s reaction to the public outburst which ensued was justified once again by claims that the building ‘hosted military assets belonging to the military intelligence of the Hamas terror organisation’ (Al Jazeera). Simply by analysing these two separate incidents, one can start to see a pattern in the shaping of the narrative by Israeli authorities. No evidence has been put forward up until this point in time, and probably never will. And even if we support Israeli claims that the building was in fact housing Hamas terrorist cells, wouldn’t these same people have evacuated the building as well? This targeted attack on the freedom of the press had one simple objective: to silence the voices of the millions who object the authoritarian Israeli occupation. According to Palestinian human rights movement group Al Haq, ‘indiscriminate attacks on media buildings have been a significant feature’ of Israeli military forces (Al Jazeera). And as we watch in awe and scratch our heads trying to figure out who will bring Israel into accountability, one can only imagine what will really happen when all the flow of information coming out of Gaza finally reaches a silenced demise.

This conception of the use of spin by the press and politicians is not new, and the rising disbelief in media impartiality has led to a rise of public reporting of events as they unfold. As I tuned in to an Al Jazeera report on the events, the channel brought in a panel constituted by two scholars, one Palestinian and one Israeli. When asked about the ongoing conflict, the Israeli consistently brought his argument back to a statistic which has been circulating all around mainstream media: since the beginning of the latest conflict, the Israeli army reported that more than 4,300 rockets have been fired towards Israel (as per SBS). Regardless of how many arguments were presented against the bombing of Gaza, through the highly efficient employment use of spin in the construction of his narrative, the panellist continued circling back to that same argument, with extra emphasis on the pronunciation of the number. Israeli Affairs Journal nailed this technique when analysing spin-doctoring during the 2006 Israeli elections, stating how the ‘use of vague catchphrases, well-designed sound bites, misleading examples, and the use and abuse of statistics’ overtook the general discourse. When this back and forth was finally exhausted in this latest debate, the Israeli eventually progressed his argument: ‘We will not stand by and watch Israelis die.’ The loss of life, including children, has undoubtedly been the culmination of Gaza’s tragedy. But if we are to believe the numbers put out by the media, the death toll in this latest round of conflicts has claimed 12 Israeli lives, whereas the Palestinian losses amounted to 232 people (according to SBS). It is amazing, though, how by revolving around that same argument of 4,300 rockets fired towards Israel, the panellist managed to almost justify the constant bombing of Gaza.

As we sat on the couch watching the live images of an Israeli tank opening fire across the border, I asked my mum in disbelief who could stop Israel’s bombing and bring them into accountability.

‘Only the USA can stop this.’

Keeping this in mind, I tried accessing Israeli media websites in an effort to avoid a one-sided opinion. The first news story I was surprised to find in The Times of Israel newspaper was one reporting on the Biden administration going ahead with the sale of guided missiles to Israel, in a deal worth up to $735 million dollars granted by the U.S. State Department to weapon’s manufacturer Boeing. When scanning Australian websites for this same news article, nothing was to be found. This revelation of the consequences of spin got me delving further into its downward spiral. According to the Journal of Political Economy, these carefully thought-out PR stunts not only focus on the language conveyed in the delivery of news, but also their timing. This fascinating study analysed the lining up of unpopular policies with other important newsworthy events, considering it ‘a well-known practice among political spin doctors to release potentially harmful news in tandem with other important events.’ The journal article digs all the way back to 1989 when Netanyahu, Israel’s deputy foreign minister at the time, expressed regret during a speech at a university for the government’s failure to exploit the very newsworthy occurrences in Tiananmen Square to ‘carry out large-scale expulsions of Arabs from the Occupied Territories.’ (Journal of Political Economy). And the truth is that since the latest escalation in the Gaza conflicts, not many news outlets are reporting on the latest Israeli elections where Netanyahu’s opposition leader has a chance to form government. The spin-doctors in charge of operations seemed to have mastered the art of keeping us in the dark by controlling the focus of the sole flashlight in the building.

So, now that we’ve been spun around by everyone in charge of keeping us informed, what next for the promised piece of land which has brought some much anguish to both Palestinians and Israelis? To quote most politicians out there, ‘That is a very good question.’ I’d say the best course of action would be to not to appeal to see everything from both sides, but to be critical of every bit of information we are given. For if lose our ability to make sense of the world around us, who is to say we won’t be next in the long list of freedom fighters who ended up labelled as terrorists?

(1) Spin – the particular slant deliberately given to a media story so as to achieve the desired outcome in terms of public awareness and acceptance. (Macquarie)

This is (not) a true story: but it still happens nowadays (Fargo S4 Review)

First time someone asked me, ‘What’s Fargo about?’, it took me a while to put an answer together in my head. Four seasons down and several plot twists later, I can now confidently say this is a wickedly written and beautifully directed series about an unfortunate and complex chain of extraordinary events. Its masterfully thought plot sheds light on the sheer importance of causality, characteristic to both real life and good fiction. Combine this with a self-aware freedom to expose the several different facets of morality and you’ve got yourself a winner. This is, after all, a homage to the Coen brothers’ trademark 1996 movie Fargo, and the dark humour it was famous for is ever-present in the TV series written by Noah Hawley. The title of executive producers the brothers hold goes to show their lingering commitment to the art of great fiction.

But don’t let Fargo fool you, particularly not the fourth season. Just because its clever writing entertains, it doesn’t mean the series doesn’t offer powerful social and political comment. That is, to me, the sheer underlying beauty of this season: how a story set in the 1950s can bring such powerful insight to issues of race, religion, class and even gender still happening today, some odd seventy years later. If you are someone who is not interested in any of these powerful insights, do not worry — this will still be an entertaining watch, because the writing is that good in its subtlety.

But how does Fargo achieve this? The initial premise of this season is to show how excluded and ostracised both Italians and African-Americans were in 1950 Missouri. These two factions end up going on an all-out organised crime war, but the story embraces each side and their culture’s history by nailing accurate characterisation in a precise manner. Each role is unique: from the drugged-up murdering nurse who euthanises patients out of their misery, to the hilariously twitchy detective who needs to knock five times before opening a door. And when a homosexual couple (one American-Indian, the other African-American) escapes the local female correction facility, the U.S. Marshall who arrives in town turns out to be an arrogant Mormon who sees himself as the personification of God’s will. It is this minute attention to detail that allures to the inclusion and mutual acceptance Fargo tries to enforce. A big melting pot, where everyone is just trying to get by.

When Loy Cannon (Chris Rock) is asked by a fellow American if he served in the war, he replies: ‘Why would I fight for a country that wants me dead?’ And when his ten-year-old son is approached by a policeman when sitting inside a car, one can’t help but think about George Floyd and the several deaths which ensued in similar circumstances. It is this seventy-year flashback into what it means to be a minority in America today that sets season four from the rest: many series try to achieve this but end up tiring the viewer with over-the-top social commentary. Fargo nails this whilst entertaining you.

If you think I have now spoiled it for you, there are plenty of other meaningful lines of dialogue which invite the spectator to reflect on the current zeitgeist. Almost every character has its moments of cathartic revelation. Josto Fadda (Jason Schwarzman), the Italian boss, asks: ‘You know why America loves a crime story? Because America is a crime story.’ These clever insights into the many facets of the American Dream will have you engaged with every bit of dialogue.

And if you haven’t watched the first three seasons, do not worry, you’ll still be able to follow the fourth season completely. If you have watched them, on the other hand, you’ll be offered a satisfying feeling of watching different timelines intertwine together. It is this attention to detail and intelligent writing that invites you to hit the pause button and reflect about, much like a good book.

One thing I should warn you about if you are new to Fargo, is the amount of death in this series, especially towards the climax of the organised crime war. One sequence will- have you absorbing some meaningful character backstory, only to have that same character accidentally shoot himself in the head during the next scene. These constant shifts in the balance will have you scratching your head, trying to figure out what next. The writers seem to play with your expectations, perhaps to bolster the idea that the only certainty in Fargo, much like in life, is death. This is, for me, the mark of good fiction, making it a widely enjoyable and unpredictable viewing experience.

This is a true story.’ Every episode starts with this sentence, drawing viewers into the Coens’s fictional-world adaptation they are about to enter. This isn’t in fact based on true events, but as Redmond writes, ‘most meaningful adaptations promote literacy over consumption’ (Redmond, 2016, p.17),suggesting that Hawley’s masterpiece falls into the ‘category of adaptations that adapt “actual” rather than invented events.’ (Redmond, 2016, p.18). But rest assured, for in Fargo, poetic justice is achieved. Whether this will help make up for all the real-world injustices it explores, I’ll let you decide.

(Un)political correctness, protests and democratic debating (Personal essay)

Politics. I know. Chances are the moment you read that first word, your reaction is to tell your brain you’ve had enough of that bullshit, and that is time to reward yourself with some instant gratification of endless, meaningless scrolling. But even then, nothing happens for no reason in a capitalistic world, and it can all come down to the way you decide to access your news, the window through which your perspective starts being drawn. But enough of these nihilistic rants and let us focus on the keyword here – perspective: we all live and experience different things in life which shape our view and consequent understanding of the world. Accepting this simple reality is a small step up the dauntingly steep climb called progress. For in democracy, everyone has a say.

     Right or left: trusting an old, smoky diesel engine to bring us back in time to *simpler*, man-eat-man ways; or rowing upstream towards a brighter future where Noah should have left the cow drown for the sake of mankind. And if you somehow choose not to go either port or starboard in this mother ship, if you are one of the few who decides to vote for the legalisation of marijuana, or, against vaccination for, let’s face it, you hate people almost as much as you hate yourself, you will be told your vote will end up resulting going either all the way left or right, for the big crowd movers are also the same entities who subsidise these smaller parties to promote an illusion of meaningful choice. But when did we conform with the idea of being, for better and worse, all on the same ship? The utopic ideal of one for all and all for one is now one for the romantics. After living through what many consider the biggest hurdle put to mankind in the twenty-first century ­­­­– a spiritual (and actual) pandemic –, it is clear to me that when the slightly overcrowded ship of the people spots an iceberg in the distance, everyone will swim for their lives, regardless or not if that means death to every other person rowing towards safety. Don’t get me wrong, I too used to be a romantic in politics, especially before I had the right to vote. But after understanding how even the drunkest of pirates can convince millions that the iceberg was caused by a minority inside the ship, I start losing hope altogether.

     And that brings me to my next exacerbated metaphor: protests. The rush of blood to the head telling you to draw your weapons and decapitate the drunkard captain yourself. My biggest political inspiration is by far my mum: her generation lived through the peaceful revolution which overthrew Portuguese dictator, Salazar. Now, I know it sounds farfetched to say one envies a generation because they lived through oppression and decided to do something about it. But I think these moments of adversity are the little-big moments in history where, for societal and ship-metaphorical stakes, we all get a whiff of the endless blue ahead, and get to live a bit: a chance to take a swing at the old captain, for we, the people, have had enough of this bullshit.

    Now, back to the amazing woman who brought me to this ship in the first place. I remember when the government was trying to shut down one of the country’s oldest maternities due to budget cuts. ‘Who’s coming down with me today?’, she asked energetically. Both me and my sister looked at each other on the couch and let out a jovial laugh. ‘What’s the point, Ma?’ All we cared about was that the big television would be free for the afternoon ­­. She let out a ‘This generation’ grunt, a line I’ve heard several times over the years to compare our political proactivity. We stayed home that day – mere spectators, watching from afar. But not Mum. We watched her on TV, rocking her fist on the front line. And there we were, tomorrow’s youngest and brightest, spectating our mum as if she were a foreign body to the bubble of comfort we locked ourselves in. But her effort wasn’t in vain. The maternity remains open to this day, and we saw the results of standing up for your beliefs with our own eyes – even if through a screen. When I brought that cherished memory back into our lives at dinner the other night, we all shared a good laugh with the same mocking tone we had adopted that sunny afternoon. But deep down, we are all proud of her.

     I struggle to remember when was the last time I went to a protest, and I’m not proud, perhaps even ashamed of it. It must have been about ten years back when the student body from one of the most art-orientated schools in Lisbon organised a gay pride protest. I remember our main motivation for attending this overly peaceful protest was skipping class. Surely enough, two of my closest cousins were starting to experiment with their sexuality, and I wanted to show my support. But I ended up being more of a curious bystander than a protester myself – the determination on people’s faces impressed me almost as much as the cause itself. Everyone was happy and a slow reggae set the pace. Utopia for an afternoon. But being a Caucasian male, I feel like I fit more in the privileged demographic that the crowds are trying to overthrow than the other way around. I guess that doesn’t help my self-aware tone when debating politics, but I still engage in healthy conversations over dinner tables at times, if the wine is right. Over the years however, I find myself gradually losing hope, bowing down over the course of the conversation due to the inability of almost every involved party to do something which has lost its significance over the years: listening to both sides. For what good is to live in a democracy where we all get a say, if we won’t allow the other side to elaborate on the propaganda their social network has been feeding them? I label this in my head as the implosion of democracy.

     Surely enough, I’m the first of people who’d like to educate the xenophobes who believe that ‘Closing the gate’ is a solution for every problem in Australia, but I think some people’s brains cease to evolve after certain experiences in life, and I’m alright with that. Democracy, we all get a say, for better and for worse. But I also wince when the overly-progressive teacher judges my decision to read the works of ‘dead, white men’, simply because they refuse to read anything which hasn’t been written by an LGBTQ+ author. When did your righter choices become a reason to downgrade mine? And yes, LGBTQ+ writers have been ostracized for centuries. But why should I, a male writer who just joined the party, be judged for the centuries of bigotry which preceded me? At what point did it become about demanding tolerance without allowing it in return?

     I believe to have found a reason to protest: for everyone to chill the fuck out and to let democracy take its course. To be accepting of other people’s choices and decisions. To allow people to bash their heads against the metaphorical and spiritual wall for the rest of their lives, if that’s what carries them to the end of the day. To exercise their right – duty in Australia – to vote. For if we share one view, what’s the point of living in a democracy in the first place? If Noah had brought only sheep into the arc, we’d all be bleating in the same tone. The sooner we all acknowledge the reality of a world of zebras, hyenas and parrots, the smoother we’ll all sail towards the inevitable iceberg ahead of us.

Three words – Flash fiction 500 word story

Three words. That was it. By the time the girl realized what had just fluttered out of her mouth, she understood the consequences of her action. Another reality she also understood at such tender an age was the propensity to and correlation of human beings to the act of erring. The long period of quietness which ensued that uncouth sentence inside the white-walled classroom brought her back to the first time she had heard Mother utter those same words; a night she would always come to remember, when her and Mother had been wearing their prettiest and most flowery dresses before supper. These were the times the girl remembered, even at such tender an age, as the before days. From that summer night onwards, her life had never quite regained the same feel to it, much the same way she would never look at Mother the same.

“To err is human.” – Mother had told her that night as a light breeze danced through the kitchen blinds. “But your father is superhuman at it. And now is time we move on.”

She was brought back to the classroom as the adult in the room demanded her to repeat herself. His defiant gaze fueled her teenage anger, along with a classroom full of onlookers whose puzzlement urged her on from every direction.

“What did you say to me?” – the teacher repeated.

She was brought back to that night on the cool kitchen tiles when Mother had wasted no time to remove Father from their lives – exile by scissors – by cutting him off every family picture on the magnetic frames covering their double-door fridge.

“Remember this face doll, for you might forget it one day.”- Mother had said, as she finally picked up the phone to answer Father’s calls. The young girl had barely recognized Father’s voice through his apologetic sobbing. The last thing she had said to him was “Come home Daddy, we…” – but upon hearing this, Mother had snatched the phone off her hands to speak to him. Mother had only uttered the exact same three words the girl would come to use against her teacher later on inside that classroom.

Her fiery gaze almost burned through the back of the teacher’s head, a man she had loathed even before his job appointment into her life. She had always been suspicious of this weird-looking man since his first (and late) arrival at Mother’s house not long after Father had left. But gradually the incomplete pictures on the fridge door started giving way to newer, happier pictures, where the paternal figure was reinstated by the man who would also turn out to be the girl’s authoritative influence at school.

But on that day the girl realized this was the date of Father’s birthday as she listened to the teachings of the man who had come to replace him. So, she defied the teacher’s gaze once more and repeated the three words Mother had used on that summer evening, yelling: “Don’t come home!”

The Retreat – postmodern horror fiction: chapters 1, 2 & 3

The retreat

Joseph slowed his car outside the wooden front gates. A long-furred white cat bathed in the afternoon sun, sprawled atop one of the gateposts and failing to acknowledge his arrival. He rolled down the window and listened to his surroundings for a second. The soothing silence of the forest enhanced his nervousness as he checked his map once more before wiping his brow. A curious fly zapped around the windshield as the young man tried to confirm this was in fact the right place. No luck. He decided to drive his wagon through the gates. An uneasy rumbling surged in his stomach as he stopped by the first wooden bungalow, where an old man smoked his pipe on the front porch. A rusty white sign hung above the wooden door with bright-red letters announcing: GROUNDSMAN. Joseph closed the car door behind him and motioned towards the man.

“Howdy, neighbour.” said the man. Smoke concealed the right half of his face.

“Hello sir, my name’s Joseph, I wrote you a letter saying I was coming here about a month back.”

“We don’t get correspondence here at the retreat.” The man said, barely looking Joseph in the eye.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you did, and that you’d be expecting me.”

“Don’t worry young man, you’re here now. How was your drive?”

“I got lost a couple of times, but managed to find my way eventually.”

“Making it here is half the journey. People come to these woods trying to find themselves, without realising how long they’ve been lost for.”

“It’s what I’m here for.” Joseph said.

The man let the words linger in the stillness of the forest. He observed the new arrival as if trying to decipher his whole existence right away. Joseph wiped the sweat off his brow and tried to smother the silence.

“Will you show me to my chalet, then?”

“We weren’t exactly expecting you today, Joe.”

“It’s Joseph, and I did send a letter, sir.”

“We don’t get correspondence at the retreat.”

“Yes, you’ve said that, and…”

“And you’ve told me you sent that letter. Words are just that, words. Once you set them on paper, then they become concrete.”

It was now Joseph’s turn to analyse the man’s cryptic words amidst the cloud of smoke floating around him.

“That’s why I wrote the…” he stopped himself mid-sentence. What is up with this guy?, he thought. The mixed words of wisdom made him question his host’s sobriety. He decided to play it safe.

“Look, how about I leave you to tend to your pipe and you just point me in the right direction? I’ll park my car by my bungalow and you can continue to enjoy your afternoon smoke.”

The man took a long, pensive drag from his ivory pipe.

“I’m Steve, by the way.”

Joseph decided to come up to the porch and extended his hand out to the man, who observed his palm like a child observes a plate of vegetable soup being set in front of them. He looked him in the eye as if trying to measure his guest’s self-assurance. A closer look at the groundsman’s sun-worn skin told the story of a life well lived. He shook Joseph’s hand, who stood in front of his chair awaiting instructions.

“Get out of my way.” the man said. “See that bungalow down the far end, next to the old pine?”

He pointed his crooked finger straight ahead, as Joseph struggled to guess which tree the man meant amongst the impressive line of pines in sight. 

“Yes, sir. I’ll move my car down straight away. Thanks again, Mr…”

“Call me Steve. Now fuck off and let me enjoy my sunset.”

Joseph jumped off the porch with an excited pace, thrilled to have survived the dialogue with the man, as if he had just passed his first test at the retreat. He looked around and struggled to understand what sunset Steve referred to, as the dense tree tops made it almost impossible to see anything past them.

*

Joseph drove his wagon further inside the retreat through a dusty stretch of road he would walk several times in the following days. He analysed the row of bungalows amid the pines: their tarnished wooden tops contrasted with nature’s surrounding palette of dark greens and solid browns. He decided to stop by the third chalet, the only one with a number marked on the porch. The door was unlocked and Joseph took this as a sign: the retreat had chosen this as his enclosure for the days to come, regardless of whether the old man had been expecting him or not. Great things to come, he thought, as a deep breath gave him confidence to start making this place his own. He organised his belongings methodically, setting down his pristinely vintage typewriter on an old desk facing the window. This would be his accommodation for the foreseeable future, and the young man wanted it to feel like home. He opened his suitcase and started to arrange his black t-shirts in an orderly fashion, an activity which always helped calm his anxiety. And then a sound— a creak on his wooden porch. He pulled back the curtains and peeked out the window. He hadn’t realised how fast the sun had set over the trees, inviting a humid darkness to take over the forest. His neighbour turned his outside light on and a glimmer of hope came over Joseph: he wasn’t the only guest at the retreat. He observed the man as he tended to his washing carrying a bald head with pride, its paleness contrasting with a plain black t-shirt. Joseph was amused by this and decided to greet his new neighbour.

“Black t-shirt and jeans, also known as the aspiring writer starter pack.” Joseph called out to his neighbour from his porch. The man looked up. 

“I beg your pardon?”

“That was me trying to make a joke.”

The man looked at Joseph with a puzzled look. A couple of birds soared past, eager to find their refuge for the night, their chirps piercing the silence.

“I’m Joseph, your new writing neighbour.”

“What makes you think I write?”

“Well, this is a writing retreat, isn’t it?”

“Are you saying that just because I wear a black t-shirt and jeans, I must be a writer?”

Joseph held his ground, trying to get a read on the man’s face, to no avail.

“Talk about judging a book by its cover, man. Jeez.” the man said as he continued to gather his dried washing.

“I’m sorry, I was trying to say hello, shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions. I’ll leave you to it.”

Joseph turned around and started walking back inside.

“Jesus Christ man.” His neighbour called out. “I’m just fuckin’ with you. Of course I’m a fuckin’ writer. It’s a fuckin’ writing retreat, isn’t it?”

The man laughed out loud and Joseph allowed himself an uncomfortable smile.

“I’m Johnny, by the way. Nice to meet a fellow masochist.”

“It can be like that sometimes. Hey, how do you go about getting food around here?”

The neighbour laughed and started walking towards his bungalow. He climbed his porch and turned back towards Joseph.

“The first night is always the hardest. Tomorrow I can show you a few fishing spots, you need to learn to fend for yourself out here. But that’s if you make it through the first night. Most don’t. Especially not the ones staying at number three.”

“How do you mean, Johnny?”

“Good night, man.”

Johnny slammed his bungalow door shut. The letters DO NOT DISTURB were painted on the wooden door. Nice guy, Joseph thought. The night had now completely taken over the woods, and a rattle in the dark assured he locked the door to his wooden refuge.  He looked around and was content with the small space’s simple arrangement. No distractions. Time to write, I guess.

*

The clanking of the typewriter resounded against the wooden walls of the bungalow, but Joseph knew his fingers weren’t moving. His stomach hurt as the pace of the clicking and clanking increased by the paragraph. He tried to stop it, but the pressure of gravity impeded him from getting up. Deep breath. He opened his eyes and realised he was laying down in bed, the frenetic sound of letters turning into words bouncing inside his head like a squash ball. He tried to get up, but the weight of two opened palms on his chest prevented him from doing so. His heart raced as he felt his lungs were about to succumb to the pressuring panic. He tried to scream but his voice was gone. Just as he was about to give up, Joseph braced for impact.

He opened his eyes and saw the inside of his bungalow. A quick glance towards the typewriter was met with a blank page staring back at him. He sat up and his stomach grunted in despair. Still hungry, he realised. The wall clock marked 3:34. I need to go see this groundsman for food, he thought. He put on his boots and looked around the room for a torch. No luck. He decided to break one of his rules and turned his phone on. No reception, but the torch would do. He took a deep breath and prepared himself to start the short walk towards Steve’s bungalow. As he opened the door, a cold wind blew through his body and throughout the room. Could do with some fresh air.

He descended the two steps from his porch. Nocturnal hoots and calls echoed all around him. This comforted him and made him feel less lonely in his trek. The forest held the secrets of many artists walking these woods in search for inspiration. Joseph took a deep breath and looked up to the stars, a full moon staring back at him as if to tell him: it is going to be alright.

He arrived at the groundsman’s place. The sparseness surrounding the chalet gave the scene both a solitary and homely feeling, as if this was the last piece of civilisation for years to come. He climbed the steps which led to the entrance and peeked through the window. The layers of dust covering the glass made it almost impossible to discern if the cottage was inhabited. No light from within. His attention was then focused on to the back of the place, partially delineated by the remains of a picket fence, its white now peeled back to an almost mossy green and grey. Central to the backyard was a swimming pool complemented by an old green and yellow parasol, with a person sitting under it. Joseph edged closer. The whole scene gave him an uneasy admiration towards the incompleteness of the picture, for the pool lacked its most important feature: water.

“Howdy neighbour.” Joseph said in his polite manner, to which the man failed to respond. “Steve?”

The man squirmed in his chair and dropped a leather-bound notebook. He stood up and grabbed it, holding on to his safari-like hat.

“Jesus, Joseph and Mary, do you wanna give me a fuckin’ heart attack?”

“I’m sorry Steve, I didn’t mean to wake you, but I can’t sleep because I’m super hungry.”

“What am I, a bloody babysitter?”

“Do you have anything to eat at all?”

“Jesus fuckin’ Christ. Have a seat.”

Steve sat back down on his chair and pointed at a sun lounge on the far end of the pool.

“What happened to the water?” Joseph asked as he dragged it towards the table.

“I don’t swim. This is where I come to stargaze. Wanna drink?”

“Do you have anything to eat?”

“There is a diner about twelve miles where you came from. Opens at six.”

“What am I to eat, then?”

“Have some of this.”

Steve threw out the liquid in a dirty glass and poured Joseph a drink.

“I haven’t eaten since lunch; I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“What else are you gonna do until six? Drink up.”

Joseph looked at the man’s sleepy face and decided to join him.

“Cheers.” Steve said. Joseph felt the whiskey instantly warm his empty stomach. They were silent for a second. “How’s the writing going?”

“It’s… it’s going. Hard to do anything without food.”

“When the mind sets itself a goal, the body is merely a vessel. Want some mushrooms?”

Joseph looked at the groundsman’s face under the moonlight as if trying to understand the man’s seriousness.

“I’m… I’m good. Big day tomorrow.”

“How d’you mean?”

“I got a novel to write.”

“I see. What’s it about?”

“Life, I guess.”

Steve lit up a cigar and took a long sip from his whiskey.

“How long has this writing block been going on for?”

“I don’t have a block per se…”

“It’s a fuckin’ writer’s retreat, kid. No one comes here unless their writing ambitions are in some serious trouble.”

“I don’t know about ambitions. I have ideas, but… life just gets in the way.”

“Yeah,” Steve chuckled. “life.”

Joseph took a long, harsh sip from the amber liqueur. He studied the man as he stared at the stars.

“Do you write?” Joseph asked.

“A long time ago. Now I just feed off young writers like you and drink from their infinite fountain of youth.”

Joseph laughed and leaned back on his sun lounge. He studied the man as he wore his safari hat under the stars. His initial judgment of what he had thought to be contemptuousness was slowly morphing to a growing admiration towards the man’s complete lack of worries. Perhaps he did have something to learn from him.

“You know what?” He turned around to the groundsman who failed to acknowledge his excitement. “Maybe I will try those mushrooms. Just a tad though.”

The groundsman turned around in his chair and Joseph saw him smile for the first time. He handed the young man a handful of what looked like dry dirt and bark. Joseph washed it down with the whiskey.

“Welcome to the retreat.” Steve said, as they clinked their glasses once more and stared at the full moon.

*

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New work in progress: ‘The Retreat’ horror story – synopsis

The Retreat follows our protagonist, Joseph, as he decides to address his writer’s block head-on by moving to a writer’s retreat, a conglomerate of bungalows deep in the woods where artists move to for inspiration. He goes on to meet the groundsman by the name of Steve, a solitary elder man who spends his days drinking and indulging in a variety of drugs.

Joseph also meets a guest by the name of Richard who tells him several stories about the retreat, where multiple writers have ended their lives in tragic circumstances.

Once Joseph’s novel is finished, he spends one final drug-fuelled night at the retreat, which proves eventful: Steve tries to stage Joseph’s suicide. This sets in motion the revelation of the retreat’s real purpose: spiritual guidance in exchange for intellectual theft, followed by death. Joseph manages to escape the drugged-up staged suicide and kills Steve. He goes on to find out the groundsman’s true identity and all the critically-acclaimed work he has published, and is tasked with one final challenge: to reveal the old man’s gruesome reality or to take over as groundsman. 

In love with Lisbon: Travel Writing piece

In Love with Lisbon

“I’ve never been to Europe before, and I feel like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.” L said, and I knew she was leaving me no choice. The winters in Perth can be lonely enough as they are, with several people disappearing abroad to follow the sun. She knew this, so I could not simply vanish to the other side of the world without taking her with me. We were too attached, and I’d always talk about my hometown, Lisbon, as the most fascinating city in the world. In the three weeks that followed, she got an almost too-real experience of what life in Lisbon really is like. How the city of seven hills will have your legs aching if you are not used to living there, comfortable sneakers being a must. How several well-presented men will casually offer you drugs with the most amazing façade-merging corners as background. And how much there is to see and do in three weeks, which gives the holiday a sense of much-needed proactivity if one is to make the most of their time there.

I had come back to the city where I’d been born many times before, but this was the first time I was bringing a girlfriend from Australia, which changed everything. It meant that not only was I a lover and protector of all the blasphemies only I understood in the local language, but I’d also have to become the local guide for the holiday. And guide her through Lisbon’s crooked cobblestoned alleys I did.

The first thing you need to be introduced to when in Portugal is the food. Much like the Italians and Spanish, us Portuguese have a very proud and old food tradition. As soon as we landed, we went straight to one of the oldest producing bakeries in the country, Pasteis de Belem, or translated roughly, Tarts of Bethlehem. Sounds more exciting in Portuguese. I’d been craving these for almost two years now, the same way a soldier misses his rifle. This is the original factory where the same recipe has been used since 1837, where tourists queue around the block to try the cinnamon-topped custard tart. This recipe is said to be locked away in the national archive museum, and the wait couldn’t be more worth it.

 The two-hundred-year-old white and blue tiles that adorn every wall of the historic place give you a sense of going back in time, a head-first dive into Portuguese history and culture. As you enter, the sweet, hypnotizing smell of freshly-baked custard fills your nostrils with a feeling of home, giving you the same feeling you get when returning to the warmth of your house on a winter afternoon. They sell something like twenty-five thousand tarts every day. Me and L had twelve in one sitting, to give you an idea.

These heaven-baked tarts demand pairing with a bica, the Lisbon-styled short black coffee, an acronym for Beba Isto Com Acucar (Drink This With Sugar), a term created a few centuries ago after the introduction of coffee to the city which used to be the heart to one of the world’s biggest colonial empires. This means that nowadays, the Portuguese population is composed by a myriad of cultures from all around the world, a small price to pay for the many colonial crimes committed in the past. This is, in the end, the most Western country in Europe, and so, the end of the road for many. We paid for the coffees and tarts to one of the many employees I knew had worked there ever since I could remember. A full belly and the warm taste of coffee to wake you up. We were ready to start our adventure around the city.

We moved in downtown with my sister; a house probably smaller than many backyards in Western Australia. The wooden floors are the original since the apartment was built in the eighteenth century, and you must bend down in order to go up the narrow, creaking wooden stairs without banging your head. People were shorter back then. This gives the whole experience a sense of uncomfortable charisma: every time we would arrive from a night out, we’d have to tiptoe up the stairs in order not to wake my sister up so that she could go to work the next day. It never worked. But it’s these little details, such as using a match to light up the boiler every time you need a shower, that bring you the full Portuguese humbling experience. Call me a romantic, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The whole of Lisbon was rebuilt after a huge earthquake back in 1755, which destroyed the old city almost completely. A tsunami made sure whatever was left of downtown, one of the worst zones to be affected, was never the same. The city went on to be redesigned by one of the great Portuguese marquis of the Enlightenment era, Marquês de Pombal, whose statue features atop one of the city’s great roundabouts he designed himself. This means the vast majority of downtown houses, including the one I used to live in before moving to Australia and my sister’s, are all mostly eighteenth-century builds. Crazy to think what would happen if calamity were to strike twice in the same location.

We woke up the next day and descended the one hundred and eighty steps I used to go up and down every day on my way back-and-forth from school. We had some delicacies for breakfast, paired with a bica, of course, followed by a walk through Baixa-Chiado, an old-styled, cobblestoned shopping strip with freshly renovated façades, and possibly L’s highlight of the trip. The Australian dollar is not what it used to be compared to the euro, but when abroad, one likes to indulge in the freedom of spending in the local currency. It was, in hindsight, the chance for a small-town Queensland girl to have a shopping spree in one of the most famous European fashion hubs.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity!”, she would repeat when I looked at the price tags and added numbers and conversions in my head. But how could I deny her of her freedom? It was the height of summer and there we were, right in the middle of it, a tourist in my own hometown, a world I’d seen many times before but that I now saw through her point of view, a pair of young, green eyes. To be young and in love in Europe. This constant romanticizing of events shall be the end of me.

That night we joined my family for dinner and L started realizing the magnitude of the conversations shared around the table in that country. Sure, my dad made an effort to speak English whenever possible, but we Portuguese like to sit over a meal for at least a couple of hours, and L was quick to understand how weird it was for me trying to communicate with family I hadn’t seen in two years in a foreign language.

When I asked her “What’d you expect?”, she replied “I dunno, but not this.”. This set in motion a constant juggle between communicating in Portuguese and translating it to English to make sure she was always included, even if we were talking about the most banal of subjects. “I know how to speak your language, why not make an effort to understand mine?” I would ask with a smile, and she would try for a while, to no avail. Maybe it’s this romanticizing of the difficulties in life that make the Portuguese fall in love for other languages, which doesn’t happen too often in the English-speaking world of Western Australia.

I decided to deafen the language barrier by taking her out into one of the most famous nightlife spots in Lisbon, Bairro Alto, translated roughly to high neighbourhood, not named after the state of mind of its inhabitants, surprisingly, but because of its location atop one of the city’s seven hills. These narrow-alleyed streets look like just any other in Lisbon during daytime: antique builds with two-to-three storied multicoloured façades, small old ladies standing in their smaller balconies watching the world go by, usually with an acute ear for gossip. But during the night, a complete transformation turns the scene on its head with an overflow of music, laughing echoes, foreign languages and living-room sized bars selling shots for €1.

We live in Fremantle for most of the year, where nightlife ceases to exist around two, three o’clock in the morning. But in LX, as the locals call it, the night is only getting started by then, especially considering how the sun sets around 9.30PM during summer and how people go out for dinner as late as 11PM.

Whereas alcohol restrictions are strict in Australia, Portugal couldn’t be more different from it. The little bars encourage you to buy alcohol and go out into the streets where you can have a drink as you roam around listening to all the different music emanating from a multitude of bars. A perfect way to spend a warm, summer Friday night.

 I remember how fascinated L was by all this freedom, considering many places in Fremantle won’t allow you a drink after hours without ordering something as banal as a bowl of chips. Well, in Lisbon, bars strive even when charging €1 a shot. Sitting indoors is a rarity, mainly because the bars are too crowded with people lining up for a drink, which can be overwhelming during the peak of summer. A good solution for this are the mini-marts specifically located near these night hubs, owned mostly by Indian families, who sell after-hours alcohol for a cheap turnover.

It all feels like a very entertaining walk around the city with a drink in your hand, which, for someone who lives in a country with such strict alcohol measures as Australia, feels like heaven. It also seems to work differently in terms of public intoxication. Maybe the fact that the pubs close so early down-under and how they won’t allow you to take your drink with you results in heavier drinking. If they tell you a rollercoaster will close at a certain time, you’ll try to get as many rides out of it as possible. If you know that same rollercoaster will be open all night, maybe you’ll think twice before taking your stomach for several bumpy rides.

The same can be said about drugs. Portugal was one of the first countries to decriminalize all drugs for personal use back in 2001, and not surprisingly, addiction levels have decreased over the years. Same concept again, the more you forbid it, the more we want it.  

From Bairro Alto we made our way down the hill, crossed downtown and started another daunting hill-climb into one of the other nocturnal hills in the city, Alfama. These hill climbs have the original yellow trams functioning all day for unaccustomed tourists, and the antique-looking tram has become one of the trademarks of the city. But during the early hours of the morning the trams aren’t mobile, and so these climbs become the main challenge when trying to move from one area to another. L learned her comfortable-Lisbon-shoes lesson when a lady descending the hill in front of us collapsed on her high heels. The price to pay for beauty.

Alfama is one of the oldest neighbourhoods of the city, and it’s a bit calmer in comparison to Bairro Alto. It is built around the city’s castle, Castelo de S. Jorge, and it has always been a hill more inclined towards the arts. One of the city’s greatest jewels was born and raised here, Amalia Rodrigues, who earned her place in Portuguese history by becoming one of the best Fado singers, the most iconic national music style. Since the great Amalia died before the turn of the century, a great funeral I still remember watching on TV when I was but 5 years old, I took L to the next best thing: a little Fado bar which is open until late. The traditional music style consists of usually a sole voice singing about the many misfortunes in life, accompanied by a Portuguese guitar and a normal guitar. The word Fado itself translates to fate or destiny, and so the Fadista (Fado singer) will sing with as much emotion as possible. Add cheap wine to the mix and you have yourself an immersive and emotional experience, “Even if you don’t understand the words!”, as L put it.

We finished the night off with the classic trip to the bakers who, at that time of night, are just getting started. They choose to keep the tiniest of windows open, through which they conduct business and capitalize on the drunken longings for a good chorizo bread, for instance, another one of the many local delicacies. We walked back downtown hand-in-hand, the bright yellow lights guiding us home as we climbed our last little hill, followed by a cautious, short climb up my sister’s old wooden stairs.

The next day my father rocked up way too early in the afternoon to drive us to lunch across the Tejo river, Tagus for the tourists, to a fisherman’s town across the river, named Setubal, where my dad was born. This is by far my favourite place in the world to eat fish. As you get to a restaurant, the first thing you see is a little fish stand where all the freshest catches are displayed on ice. You choose your own fish and the usually moustached-man, whose sole job is to stand in front of the coals all day, will cook it to perfection. Pair this with a salad and some of the local green wine, or vinho verde, a slightly sparkling white wine, and the afternoon fades into the distance. I don’t eat as much fish as I should back in Australia, so this was a trip across the river we made as much as possible during out time there.

After lunch, we drove up one of the national parks close to Setubal, Arrabida, where you can drive along the cliffs overlooking the beach. We don’t have many beaches in Lisbon, but with a short drive you can visit one of the many beaches of a country that is kissed by the Atlantic from north to south. Portugal is a country which is proud of its long-lasting relationship with the sea: to the East we always had the Spanish to fight against, so we turned our attention towards the blue-mass that defines our massive coastline. I sometimes wonder what life would have been like back in the sixteenth century, the era of the Descobrimentos, translating to the Discovery era, where the Portuguese ventured the sea around the world in search of foreign, never before explored (at least not by the Western man) worlds. How Vasco da Gama must have felt when he completed what was back then the longest oceanic trip ever completed, from Lisbon to India.

We are blessed with an almost scary ease of travel nowadays, which we must be eager to explore and enjoy. So next time your partner, or a good friend of yours tells you: “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity!”, make sure you listen and head over to that little country situated at the far end of Europe, for it will be a trip I’m sure you won’t easily forget. Just make sure to pack some comfortable footwear!

‘The Great Epiphany’ – Short story written in-class

It was just another day, one like any other, the sort of day people go about their business without putting much thought into it, until somehow every single mentality changed; all of a sudden. Just. Like. That.

The roads stayed empty as the hustle and bustle of the world’s busiest capitals was replaced with a general sense of ease.

Jane woke up that day and realised she had had enough of work. The weather was just right for it: blue skies, slight breeze, a few non-menacing looking clouds and that perfectly mild temperature. She looked at the ceiling of her apartment, the beige paint peeling off in conjunction with some water marks that had greeted her every day in the morning. She gazed over to her bedside table clock, its menacing bright-red numbers looking back at her.

But today, she could feel something had changed. Usually when deciding to skip work, she would feel remorseful after looking outside and observing the cars hurry past, a sign reminding her the world does not simply stop. But that same commotion had been replaced with just a few cars driving past at a leisurely pace, the same way a convertible drives past with its top down, unhurriedly on its way to the beach.

Intriguing, she thought. Something was up but she was not worrying about it.

She turned on her flat seventeen-inch screen looking for answers, but to her great surprise, nothing but white noise. She decided to enquire next door.

The brass gargoyle-looking door knock struck twice. She waited for a few seconds and, to her surprise, there he was, Jerry, in his underwear, eating a sandwich.

“Jerry.” -she said.

“Jane.” -he replied.

“You’re home.”- she said.

“Yes I am. And so are you, by the looks of it.”

The sentence lingered in the stillness of the hallway.

“Is it not strange? I feel like we should be at work.”- she asked.

“Yes, we should.”

Another short silence broke out, only disturbed by Jerry’s leaking tap which dripped onto a mountain of dishes he was not ashamed of.

“Ok, have a good one!” -Jane said as she turned back to her apartment.

She opened the door, put on her favourite yellow bathers, prepared her bag and set off to the beach.

To this day, no one knows what set off this change of mentality which would later be described as ‘The Great Epiphany’. Maybe a change in the moon cycles. Maybe just a general change of mindsets.

One thing is certain, the world was never the same. And neither was Jane, who went on to live her best life, along with the rest of the now not-so-busy metropolis.

(Story trigger: Attempt to continue, through the use of significant detail, something that is unlikely/impossible.)


The birdcage: short-story

The birdcage

He took a long breath and opened the door to his balcony, the brightness of the morning sun blinding him momentarily. He squinted his eyes and looked around. Dead quiet, an empty birdcage staring back at him. He could feel the metropolis moving beneath, the breeze of speeding cars never stopping to ponder on life’s deeper avenues. Always in a hurry to get somewhere, but where does one really go all the time?

He sat on his chair and let this thought consume him like it had done countless times. Nothing ever stopped out there, but still he never dared taking a closer look over that edge. He knew the whole world moved and lived outside that old apartment, but he still dared not looking it in the face. This idea that if he were ever to look over that edge, the demon of gravity would control his sense of vertigo and tip him over. 

His late mother’s voice echoed too often in the darkness of his memories: “If you get too close, it will suck you right in.”

An invisible force.

Lurking.

Beneath your balcony.

Beneath your bed.

Right. Beneath. Your. Comfort. Zone.

Just waiting to pound on the curious wanderer who dares peek too far.

The empty birdcage stared back at him once more. The only company he had kept after his mother, and the only memory to outlive her, was that old, green parrot.

You see, that old parrot dared to get as close to the edge as far as his cage would allow him, the sights of blue skies giving him hope of abandoning it one day.

His mother used to mock him when they spent afternoons in the balcony admiring the bird. “He’s got no feathers but has more guts than you!” she would tell him. He came to admire the bird, its ability to aspire to greater heights.

But once old Mum died, her ghost lingering around every old piece of memorabilia collected throughout the years, he decided to give the bird the opportunity of having a go at freedom.

He started by opening the cage, but the bird would merely tilt its head to the side as if asking: what next?

He then had a go at holding the bird outside the cage, in an attempt to have him fly away into the endless blue, but still, the bird did not flinch. He realized if this bird was to ever fly away, he too would have to get close to the edge. It took him several weeks to even get close, his mother’s overprotective advice haunting him every instant he dared peeking over.  

Until one autumn day, when the bird’s food rations were about to run out, he set himself to approach the handrail that hung under his navel. He held the bird in his right palm and had one last look at his frail green companion. He closed his eyes, got as close as his small soul would dare, and held his hand out the balcony. He could feel the bird edge ever closer to the tip of his fingers, almost ready to fly. His heart started beating faster. His palm where the bird rested started sweating. Both hearts were now galloping and he decided to open his eyes.

When he did, the bird was fluttering its wings to prepare for departure. He made the mistake of looking over the edge when observing the bird and time came to a halt.

A cold breeze brought a shiver down his neck.

When he looked to the side, his mother looked at him disapprovingly.

“Put that bird back in its cage right now.”

The blood iced in his veins and the bird sensed this, lunging for it. When it did, so did the man trying to grab the bird one last time.

But it was too late.

Mother’s unexpected visit had taken him by surprise, and so did the height of the handrail that protected him from beneath. He fell forwards, and for a second, he admired the green wings of the parrot finally ascending towards the clouds. He was now in the hands of gravity, propelled downwards into the jungle of the metropolis. He admired the vastness of it all, the advancements of mankind outside his apartment, views that flew past him at frenetic speeds.

Towards the end, he could see the cold asphalt waiting to bring him home. And so he did.

He woke up in his bed and immediately looked under it. Nothing but dust. He got up and opened the door to his balcony, the warmth of a summer night greeting him from a slumber.

The empty birdcage stared back at him. He decided to open it, in case the parrot came back. A smile filled his existence as he dared closer to the edge and admired the world beneath.

Non-Australia Day: experimental writing story: postmodern f(r)ictions; written in October 2019

Non-Australia day

Chapter 1: First arrival

The year is 1788, and after a period of approximately eight months and seven days, Captain Cook is thrilled to announce the sighting of a new promised land to his crew. The land is rugged and the sun shines feverishly bright above as they moor. The men are excited to finally set foot on dry land. Some set to lay on the white sand, some run amuck in a spring of joy, but no one is happier than Captain James at the sight of a New World to claim as his own. One of the men is ordered to grab a flag in order to claim this land as Her Majesty’s, but just as the Captain was ready to be cheered upon planting that wooden pole onto the virgin land, something caught his attention. It was with great surprise he saw a huge sign, the sort you might see on the side of the road informing you how by looking away for three seconds at one-hundred and ten kilometres per hour will result in X meters missed, whilst doing exactly what it preaches against. Cook wiped his brow in disbelief at the sight of reading English on the other side of the globe. The sign read: ‘Welcome to Our Country’, in bright red and white letters; a yellow background stating ‘United Tribes of Abaustralia’. 

The men looked at each other in surprise: not only had they never seen such sophisticated marketing techniques, but they were also made aware of the possibility of a more advanced population residing in this ‘virgin’ land. Cook addressed the crew:

-Men! Do no despair! We are sure to establish contact with this newfound people and offer our…

Bam! A loud bang threw the men onto the beach sand. They looked at each other terrified as the sky exploded in colour. Bang! Another loud explosion caught even the Captain off guard, who tried not to show weakness in front of the men. The explosions finally stopped. No one got up but Cook, who picked up his hat as he felt his heart almost exploding out of his chest. What a welcome. He was still gathering his thoughts when he saw a figure approaching through the smoke and heat-waving horizon. The figure wore a hat similar to Cook’s, but much worse for wear. Everyone was still too terrified to get up, and Cook trembled as he looked in this mysterious man’s eyes. He approached Cook:

-G’day Captain, I’m Cooked. Welcome to the Great Plains of the United Tribes of Abaustralia.

Cook was speechless. He saw something in this man’s eyes that touched him deep in his soul, like staring at a glossy mirror after a big night out when one can barely recognise oneself. The man went on:

-Today we celebrate Non-Australia day. The date has been moved back and forth, but I won’t go into that. The space-time continuum has been broken as the people of Abaustralia now lead technological advancements and go on to fix little tweaks in history. Captain, are you with me?

Cook is in awe. The crew starts to get up slowly and make way towards the ship. Cook is reluctant to stay but his legs won’t budge.

-Don’t worry about the fireworks, they were an ironical touch. How was your trip?

-Too long. My name is…

-Captain Cook, sailor of the seven seas, and Captain of the Royal British Navy. I know you. Every single detail about you.

Cook was terrified.

-I’m sorry, who the hell are you, and where the hell are we? Did we circumnavigate too much? Is this North Africa?

-You don’t need to worry about who I am. Destiny can be a son of a bitch. As of where we hold this encounter for the ages, you are exactly where you should be. This would be the land that would put the Great Cook into the books of history, where cruise ships would perpetuate your colonial achievements and hegemonic ways with your name on them. Where lamb barbies and VB’s would be raised in your honour every year, without fail. Where whole communities would never be the same because of you. Where fences would create divisions without equal. But you have the choice.

Cook drew out his sword. The crew got up in attention, but they weren’t too worried. Cook went on:

-In her Majesty’s name, I order you to tell me yours!

-Her Majesty? Thy Majesty’s power does not reach thus far. Not in this dimension, at least.

-Dimensions? What the hell are you talking about?! – he took a step forward and held his blade to Cooked’s throat – Your name, peasant!

-My name? As I said, destiny is a helluva thing. If you were to kill me now, you would be slaying the blade of time, and your existence in this blessed land would come to a bitter end.

-I shall take my chances. Time to meet your creator! – Cook swung his blade backwards and sliced Cooked’s head off. The hat fell off and the head rolled off a couple of meters, face down. Cook walked towards the head. -Let this be a message to any fool who decides to cross her Majesty’s destiny!

The crew cheered in relief. Cook kept on going whilst picking up the head:

-Too far have we travelled to be stopped by a mere tale-telling pirate! – He kept on going whilst holding the head by the hair, its face showing to the crew – Let this be an omen to our enemies! We shall not be stopped! Can I get three cheers? Hip hip! – silence. Cook tried again – I said hip hip! – No luck. Cook was confused. He looked at his crew whose eyes were locked onto the severed head; their faces devoid of colour. Cook dropped the sword and started rotating the head towards himself. Now that the hat was off, he could make sense of the pirate’s features. He felt his soul almost leave his body as he saw his own features on the severed head, a devious smile of browned-out teeth glaring at him. He let out a somewhat girlish shriek as he threw the head out of his own hands in disbelief. The crew was rooted to the ground. Cook vomited his lunch. The crew watched on. The Captain composed himself and yelled:

-Get me some goddamned rum! NOW!

One of the crew members rushed to grab a bottle of rum out of one of the drunkards collapsed on the beach. He placed the bottle in his Captain’s hand, as one would place a gift on a dead body. The Captain took a huge gulp and gathered himself for a few seconds. He went on:

-Do not despair, men. The day is long and destiny is playing tricks on us. This land seems to be involved in a mist of magic unbeknownst to our ways. – He took another huge sip of the rum – But let us not be dispirited by whatever the hell that was. The land seems rich and the horizons run vast. – He looked around in the distance – let us find some shade and set camp for the night.

The men were lethargic. Cook started losing his temper:

-Did you not hear me?! I said…

-Captain, look…

One of the men pointed in the direction of the ‘Welcome to Our Home’ sign, his hand trembling. Cook wiped his drenched brow and saw another figure walking towards them through the blazing heat. Another pirate, he thought. As the figure approached, Cook’s legs started to tremble. He looked at the rum bottle in amazement as if to ask if this day could get any more surreal. Another big gulp. Some of the men started to run towards the ship, but Cook stopped them:

-Hold your ground, men! We have come too far to run now!

The figure got closer, and Cook could discern Cooked’s walk under the scorching sun. His hat was on again. Cook finished the rum and yelled:

-Don’t get any closer! – he picked up the sword – What do you want from us?

-Same thing as before: just an innocent chat. I come in peace! Do you?

The men were suddenly thrown onto the ground once more as a huge, scary creature flew over their heads, its roar sending their ears ringing. Even Cook was reluctant to stand up as the creature flew past. When he lifted his face off the sand, he could see Cooked shooting a bright, red laser beam that disintegrated the creature off the sky. Ash started to rain. Cooked holstered his weapon back into his jacket’s pocket. He smiled at the sight of the crew glued to the hot sand. Cook gathered all the power in his bones and got up once more.

-What the hell was that?!

-That, my old friend, was a Pterodactyl. Pardon my manners, but it is non-native to this land nor era. They breed like rabbits as well. We have been having some minor time-travelling glitches. Where were we?

-Time travelling? – Cooked smiled once more – Who are you?!

-I, my friend, am the all-seeing blade of time. The living proof that time, centuries, in our case, can change people. I am, my young James, you. Or we. Whatever way you want to look at it. It’s a bit confusing.  

-We? – Cook looked at his empty bottle – Get me some more rum! – One of the men got up swiftly, still haunted by the situation and ran towards the boat. Cooked watched in silence. He went on:

-Old habits never die, huh? – he let out a huge laugh. Cook trembled at this. The laugh rang too close to home – Don’t waste yourself away with that cheap rum. This here is some of the finest 22nd century rum Hawaii has to offer. Some amazing hosts them Hawaiians can prove to be, huh? – He laughed by himself once more, handing the bottle to Cook – You don’t get that one yet. My bad. Should we take this conversation somewhere more private? This sun is killing me.

Cook was reluctant to move but enjoyed the rum. Cooked tried to convince him.

-Come on, would I really off myself? We are too goddamn proud of ourselves, and you know that. Follow me.

Cook looked back at his crew. He nodded in confidence and followed Cooked into the line of trees. They kept on going for a few metres until they found a shady spot. Cooked reassured him:

-I could never handle the heat. What am I saying? We. There I am talking to myself again. Do you do that much? – Cook didn’t reply, still drowning himself in fine rum – Let’s make this a pleasant meeting.

Cooked took another weird looking gun-like creation out of his pocket. He pointed towards the shady clearing and pressed the trigger. An igloo was produced right before their eyes, and Cooked looked at Cook entertainingly. He joked:

-No comment?

-Not the weirdest thing I’ve seen today. – he said, drunkenly.

-Ok, ok, time to slow down on the rum, you don’t want to be wearing our liver out. Let us go in.

Cooked took the bottle out of Cook’s hand and took a sip out of the rum as he saw his former self enter the igloo. He followed him inside.

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