Saturday, 29 September 2012

Eternal Hunger - Chapters One & Two

Chapter One

Lucia West was scanning the crowded dance floor at Desire for familiar faces and tapping her foot to the beat of the music when she saw the vampire Drake L’amour for the very first time. The air seemed to tingle with electricity and then the sweaty, gyrating bodies parted as he appeared directly in her line of vision. He moved with such self-confidence and poise that she immediately assumed he was someone important. His skin was very pale and his face perfectly chiselled, almost like a classical statue. She could tell he had the physique of an athlete beneath the black shirt and trousers he wore. Her eye was drawn to him, as if to a spotlight, helped by the fact that his hair was almost white in colour. The man was too perfect to be real, one of the beautiful people who existed in a realm far beyond her own. Lucia would not have been at all surprised to discover he was a rock star or famous actor, although she was certain she had never seen him before. That was a face she would not have forgotten in a hurry.

She was content to sip her pink cocktail and admire him from a distance, imagining the glamorous life someone that beautiful must lead, when, to her surprise, he seemed to look straight at her. He made a beeline across the room in her direction. She glanced behind her to see who had caught his attention, but he stopped right in front of her. When he spoke, it was obvious he was talking to her.

            “Would you like to dance with me?” he asked, leaning close to whisper in her ear above the pumping beat of the music. His warm breath tickled her neck and sent tingles racing down her spine.  She tried to act nonchalant, as if gorgeous men asked her to dance with them every day, but her pulse was galloping.

            “I’d love to,” she replied with a smile, taking his hand and letting him lead her onto the dance floor.  She saw her best friend Jasmina look over at her with a frown, and she waved to let her know everything was fine. She was only dancing with the man, not taking him home for a night of wild sexual shenanigans, and she wished the girl would lighten up for once. Tonight was her bachelorette party, her final night of freedom, and she was allowed to let her hair down a little. There was nothing wrong with some harmless flirting, and she was sure Aiden would not hold it against her.  After all, he was having his bachelor’s party tonight and one of his friends had let slip that there was going to be a stripper involved. She had tried to let him know she did not mind if he had a stripper without giving the secret away. In her opinion, dancing with another man, in comparison with a stripper, was tame. In just over a week she would become Mrs Aiden Holmes, and then she would have all the time in the world to be a respectable married woman. Right now she just wanted to have fun.

            Lucia was moving in time to the music opposite the gorgeous stranger, brushing up against him accidentally now and then, when the man took her by the waist and pulled her close to him. His lips found hers, and he covered her mouth hungrily with his own before moving down to her neck.

“Get your hands off me,” she gasped in his ear.  “Just because I agreed to dance with you it doesn’t give you the right to maul me.” She tried to push him away, but he was very strong, and it took her a moment to break free. “Can’t you see I’m getting married?” she yelled, pointing to the tiny veil perched on the top of her head and the string of condoms around her neck. The man smiled at her, showing his perfect white teeth in his perfect face. His eyes glinted dangerously.

            He reached across and ripped away the condom necklace, throwing it at her feet. “You know you want it,” he shouted over the music.

            “Spoken like a true sexual predator,” replied Lucia in disgust before she turned away from him.  He was clearly one of those men who thought he could get away with anything because he was so good looking. The worst part was he probably did most of the time. Well, not with her. 

She was stunned when she felt his hands on her again, but before she had time to react he pulled her into a tight embrace and she could not move at all. It was exactly what she imagined it would be like to be crushed by a boa constrictor. He turned her body around and twisted her head forcefully so he could bury his face in her neck.

She felt two sharp teeth pressing into the soft skin, and she wondered what on earth he was doing as she struggled to break free. Then, to her absolute horror, he bit down hard, sending a sharp pain radiating through her body and causing her knees to buckle under her.  She was sure she screamed out loud, but the music was too deafening for anyone to notice. All the blood in her body seemed to rush to her head, and a roaring sound filled her ears. The man pulled back from her, and she saw his mouth was bright with her blood.

 When she opened her eyes again she was propped up on a toilet in the ladies room, and three of her friends were leaning over her looking worried. Jasmina dabbed a wet paper towel against her forehead.

“Where am I?”

            “You passed out on the dance floor, sweetie,” said Jasmina. “We had to carry you here, with a little help from the barman. “

“I don’t understand.”

“You’ve had too much to drink, and it’s time to go home.” Lucia tried to sit up properly, and then it all came flooding back to her.

            “I didn’t pass out, it was that guy, the one I was dancing with. You saw him, Jasmina.”

            “What about him? Don’t tell me he spiked your drink. I’ve read about this in Cosmo.”

            “No, he didn’t spike my drink, he bit me.”

            “He bit you,” the three women cried in unison.

            “Yes, on my neck. It hurt so much. He’s probably one of those psychopaths who gets off on infecting people with horrible diseases. Let me show you.” They gathered around as she lifted her dark hair, and Lucia expected to see revulsion on their faces at the sight of her wound. Their expressions did not change.

            “There’s nothing there, Lucia, not even a mark.”

            “Are you sure?” She stood up and looked in the mirror, but she could see nothing either. “That’s so strange. It felt like he took a big chunk out of me. Do you think I could have hallucinated the whole thing?”

            “Seems like it. I’d better get you home. I promised Aiden I’d keep an eye on you tonight, and he won’t be happy about this at all.” Jasmina helped Lucia adjust her dishevelled clothes and hair in the mirror.  Just before she left the ladies room, Lucia took another quick look at her neck. There were definitely no marks there, but the spot where she thought she had been bitten throbbed a little. She could remember so clearly what it had felt like when the man sank his teeth into her that it was hard to believe she had dreamt the whole thing up.


            “I know you want the wedding to be informal, but we agreed you still need a seating plan, otherwise people will just be wandering all over the garden. It will be chaos. Have you thought about it yet?” asked Jasmina as they walked through the shadows towards their little cottage on the edge of the park. The spray from the waves crashing on the rocks below the cliff freshened the air and made Lucia feel alive again after the stuffy nightclub.  She and Jasmina had been so fortunate to find this place in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, and they’d had some fabulous times here over the past three years.  

Even though they were on the edge of the city, it was very quiet and peaceful. Lucia relished the long walks, and moments spent just sitting in the shade of the huge, ancient trees watching the ships glide into the harbour. She even loved the small cemetery that clung precariously to the cliff, and she knew the full name of every person buried there over one hundred years ago. It was her favourite place to go when she had a problem because it helped her to put everything into perspective. Whatever happened in her life, she too would end up in the ground someday and none of it would matter anymore. It seemed like she had been visiting there a lot lately.

            “No, I’ll do it tomorrow.” She reluctantly tuned back into Jasmina’s chatter about wedding plans.

            “I don’t want to sound bossy, but you’d better get on it. You’re running out of time, and there’s so much left to finalize. You haven’t confirmed the final menu with the caterers or bought the flowers and candles for the tables. The dress isn’t even finished.”

            “I know.” Lucia sighed. “And I’m getting there. I’m just glad I have a wonderful Maid of Honor like you to help me with everything.”  As she turned to smile ingratiatingly at her friend, a huge bat wheeled above them and blotted out the stars with its wingspan for a moment. She felt the breeze it created against her cheek. “Wow, did you see that? It was massive.” Bats were common in the park, and she usually loved the way they looked at dusk when they all took to the sky, but she had never seen one that big before.

            “Lucia, are you sure you’re okay?  You seem distracted and I’ve noticed you’re not as enthusiastic about the wedding plans lately.”

            “I’m fine, really I am. I’m just a bit nervous, I guess, now that it’s so close, but I’ll be okay.”

            “Sure you will.” Jasmina, put her arm around her and gave her a squeeze. “Last minute nerves are normal, but soon it will all be over and you’ll be happily married and giving me advice about pre-wedding jitters.”

            “You’re right, but it’s not the wedding I’m thinking about right now. I’m still freaked out about what happened at Desire tonight. I really thought that guy bit me on the neck. It seemed so real, but how could he not even have left a tiny mark?”

            “Come on, Luc, I thought we agreed you just drank too much. Those fizzy pink cocktails went straight to your head and caused you to dream up this story about a sexy stranger with sharp teeth sucking your blood. It’s all very Freudian, and I’m sure a therapist would love to hear all about it. I don’t get paid by the hour, and besides, we’re almost home and I’m heading straight for bed. I have an early shift in the morning.” She stretched her arms above her head and arched her head back as she yawned. At that moment the large bat that had been wheeling around in the treetops suddenly swooped down at them, causing them both to scream.  “Oh my god, that was freaky,” said Jasmina when it disappeared into the darkness again. “I thought it was going to attack us.”

            “So did I,” said Lucia grabbing Jasmina’s arm and hurrying her towards the house. “And I’m not going through that again tonight. Once bitten twice shy, as they say.”  She was trying to make light of it, but for the first time she felt afraid in the park. It suddenly seemed unwelcoming, as if it harboured something sinister in its shadows, and she could not wait to get inside. She did not look back as she fumbled for the key to the cottage and closed the front door firmly behind them.  

            Jasmina put her hand on Lucia’s arm just as she was about to climb the stairs. “Listen, sweetie, I can see you’re still upset about tonight, but it really is just the wedding playing on your mind. You’re stressing out about it more than you realize, and its affecting you in unusual ways, that’s all”.

            “Thanks for trying to make me feel better. I told you I’ll be fine in the morning, and all this will be forgotten. I just need a good night’s sleep.” She gave her friend’s hand a squeeze.

 “That’s right. Go and sleep off all those cocktails, and next time remember not to drink quite so many of them.  What are they called again?

“Sweet dreams.” They both laughed. 

“Well, when you fall asleep tonight I hope you have sweet dreams about your wonderful husband to be and your wedding, which is going to be just beautiful. No more sexy vampires for you, young lady. Goodnight.”  

Lucia changed into her nightgown and turned out the light, but before she got into bed she could not resist parting the curtains and peering out the window at the park for a moment. She half expected to see the huge bat still circling in the night sky, but it was gone and the park was empty and still. She sank down gratefully into the soft quilt and closed her eyes, saying a quick prayer that the morning would bring a day free from doubts and fears.

            Lucia slept fitfully till dawn because she kept dreaming that someone or something was knocking at her window. In her half-awake state it sounded for all the world like wings beating against the glass. At one point she even got up and looked outside to see if the huge bat had returned and was trying to get into the house. There was nothing there, and after checking that the window was locked securely, she fell back into a deep slumber, interrupted only once more by a dog howling in the distance.

When she awoke in the late morning a breeze tousled her hair, and she saw that the window was wide open. Jasmina must have come in and opened it before she left for her shift at the hospital. She was always doing thoughtful things, and that was why everyone loved her so much. Her patients worshipped the ground she walked on, and Aiden often said she was an angel in disguise. Nursing was the perfect occupation for her because it gave her endless opportunities to take care of people.

Lucia knew she would be hard pressed to find a better friend, and she tried to shake the slight feeling of annoyance she still carried over from the previous evening when Jasmina had refused to take her seriously. Something strange had happened with that guy on the dance floor, and even though she could not prove it, her best friend, of all people, should at least keep an open mind.  Jasmina knew she did not just make wild stories up, and she had only had a few drinks before the man had materialized and asked her to dance. Alcohol had never affected her like that before, and she saw no reason why it should have last night.  It was difficult to explain this to someone like Jasmina, though, who had only been drunk once in her entire life.

            After showering and dressing, Lucia took another good look at her neck. This time she immediately saw two distinct puncture marks where she had felt the man sink his teeth in.  They were angry red dots rimmed with white, and the skin around them was bruised and purple. For some reason the marks had taken a while to show up, but finally she had proof that something had happened to her on the dance floor last night.  She was not going crazy or imagining things at all. She really had been assaulted, and now people would have to believe her.  Even though she was deeply horrified at the thought of being bitten by a stranger, the fear that she was losing her mind was much harder to bear.  At least now she could get tested for diseases and make a report to the police. The creep would not get away with attacking her, and hopefully she could stop him from doing it to other women.

 Lucia left her seat in front of the mirror to look for her cell phone so she could take a photo for evidence, but it was not in her handbag or on the bedside table where she usually left it. Eventually she found it under the bed where it must have fallen when she came in last night, and she returned to her dressing table to photograph the marks. To her surprise, she could find absolutely nothing there, no matter how much she scrutinized her neck and twisted and turned in the light.

The fear that had so recently abated in her rose up again. What was happening to her? She had just seen the puncture marks with her own eyes, but now they had vanished. She could not blame it on alcohol this time or the hot stuffy atmosphere of the nightclub causing her to hallucinate. This was the cold, hard light of day and it seemed that Jasmina was right. She was stressing more about the wedding than she realized, and she really needed to get a grip.

Chapter Two
Lucia felt listless and washed out all day, and despite her promise to Jasmina to get on top of the final wedding preparations, she ended up doing nothing. Instead she lay on the couch and watched some television before turning her computer on and aimlessly trawling through Facebook.  She did not even have the energy to upload her photos from her bachelorette night. She put her lethargy down to a hangover despite the fact that she had not had much to drink. At the back of her mind she was still very unsettled by her bizarre hallucination, and occasionally the spot on her neck where she thought she had been bitten throbbed uncomfortably. When Aiden dropped in to see her in the afternoon he seemed shocked at her appearance.
            “You look terrible. Jasmina texted me and told me you passed out in the club, but I didn’t think it was anything serious. Are you okay? You’re so pale.” It was obvious Jasmina had mentioned nothing to him about the strange guy on the dance floor, and Lucia decided it was best to keep it quiet. There was no point upsetting him when she did not even know if anything had really happened. He might get the wrong idea about her dancing with sleazy men.
            “I didn’t drink that much, but it went to my head more than it usually does. I should be fine by tomorrow. Do you mind if I spend the night on my own? I wouldn’t be much company like this.”
            “Not a problem, you take it easy.  There will be no more wild nights when I’m your husband, I can tell you. You need someone to keep a tight rein on you, missy.”
Lucia tried to laugh. “I’m sure you guys had a few drinks yourself last night. It was your bachelor’s night, after all. Did you enjoy the stripper?”
“I didn’t have one. You know how I feel about things like that.”
“Todd let slip to me that he was going to get one, that’s why I told you I didn’t mind. You don’t have to lie to me about it.”
“Well, Todd isn’t very good at keeping a secret because he let slip to me too. I told the boys I wasn’t interested at all and that if they tried to sneak one in I would leave.” Lucia sighed.  Some of the girls had been planning to hire a stripper for her too, but Jasmina had found out and put a stop to it.
“Maybe it’s Jasmina you should be marrying, not me.”
“Nothing. I just think strippers are harmless fun, but it was your bachelor’s night, honey, and I hope you had a good time.”
“It was great to catch up with the boys, but I think last night proved our partying days are well and truly behind us. We had a few quiet drinks and were home by eleven o’clock. Matt’s wife just had a baby, as you know, and the other guys had to get up early for work today.”
“We weren’t that far behind you, actually. It was around twelve when I passed out and I think I was in bed by one. It wasn’t such a wild night after all.” She knew the exact time the stranger had appeared in the crowd because she had glanced at her watch just before it struck midnight, and then he was right in front of her.
“Anyway, you get some rest and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” He leaned over to kiss her on the top of the head, and Lucia felt a surge of warmth flow through her veins. She was so lucky to have a wonderful man who truly loved her, and she had to keep reminding herself of this when all the wedding preparations became too much. Everything was going to work out just fine.  Once all the last minute details were finalized she could relax and enjoy this important milestone in her life. Her wedding day would be one she would treasure forever, and all her anxiety in the lead up to it would be forgotten.
“Bye, honey, I love you.” She blew him a kiss as he walked out the door.
 Jasmina was staying at Joshua’s place that night, meaning Lucia had the house to herself. She was determined to get stuck into the wedding preparations the next day, and she went to bed early to muster all the strength and patience she would need.  To her intense annoyance, she was kept awake for an hour by a dog howling somewhere deep within the park. Eventually, after much cursing and tossing in her bed, the dog finally stopped and she fell into a heavy, dreamless slumber. 
She woke at midnight with a start, as if someone had shaken her, and for some reason she felt compelled to look out the window. The moon was high in the sky, and it threw its light across the leaves and branches, creating a dappled effect on the ground below. In this muted light Lucia saw a figure amongst the trees. From the outline she could tell it was a man. It was impossible to make out his features, but his hair was very light and he seemed to glow ever so faintly in the darkness.
The man was standing on the path that wound around the cliff top to the cemetery, and from the angle of his head, he appeared to be looking straight up at her window. With a start she pulled the curtains closed and quickly got back into bed. People walked through the park all the time at night on their way back from the city, she tried to reassure herself, and there was absolutely no reason for her to think anything of it. Just because he had light coloured hair, it did not mean it was the stranger from Desire outside her home. That was ridiculous. She fought the temptation to get up and have another look. Instead she tried to distract herself by putting together a seating plan for the wedding.  It worked because in a very short time she found her eyelids growing heavy as she tried to work out which unsuspecting guest to seat next to her crazy Aunt Maggie.  
Lucia did not sleep as peacefully as she had earlier in the night, and when she woke just after eight she felt exhausted. She could remember dreaming that she was in the darkened graveyard by herself dressed only in her pink pyjamas. The night air was cold, and she had shivered as she peered into the shadows looking for something. She could not remember what she was seeking in the dream, only that it was very important that she find it. Then a feeling of dread had overtaken her. The angel perched on top of a nearby tombstone seemed to grin at her malevolently, while the crashing of the ocean on the rocks below became ominous. The air tingled with electricity just as it had at Desire before the strange man had appeared. Fireflies flew from all directions and began to dance around her. They formed an outline, and then, right before her eyes, the strange man from the nightclub materialized from out of nowhere.
He was even more beautiful than she remembered, and he had such an unearthly glow about him that he seemed to be made of moonlight. Tonight he was dressed all in white, and it was almost like one of the carved statues of a Greek god had miraculously come to life.  His violet eyes mesmerized her, but despite his angelic looks, she could not forget how savagely he had bitten her the night before. She tried to look away, but she could not move.
“I knew you would come. I knew it the moment I laid eyes on you.”  He did not speak again but took her in his arms, gently this time, and lowered his head to her neck. “You cannot deny now how much you want this.” She felt the sharp teeth sinking into her veins, and then he began to suck, softly at first and then harder, rocking backwards and forwards with the force. With every movement of his mouth he drained more of her life force from her, and yet she was powerless to resist him. In his arms she was a prisoner, and when he finished with her she was too weak even to hold her head up.
He lifted her face and looked her in the eye, and with her blood still wet on his lips, he kissed her fully on the mouth. The warm, salty taste sent a jolt through her body and gave her a powerful burst of energy. Every drop she could get back from him helped to restore her strength, and she found herself licking greedily at his face and mouth. Her own blood tasted so unbelievably good, and even when there was none left she could not stop entwining her tongue with his in a frenzied desire for more.
“That’s enough for now,” he said with a laugh, pushing her away. “Be a good girl and go back to bed, and we will meet again soon.” She had awoken with the taste of blood still warm in her mouth and a feeling of deep weariness that made it almost impossible for her to get out of bed.  When she looked in the mirror there were no marks on her neck, and with a sigh she did her best to push the dream out of her head as she got dressed.
“You still look a bit worse for wear,” said Jasmina when Lucia joined her downstairs for breakfast. “I thought you’d be fully rested up by now and ready to get to cracking on the last minute plans.”
“I didn’t sleep very well last night. I had a nightmare and now I don’t feel too well. What are you doing here anyway?  I thought you stayed at Joshua’s last night.” She poured some cereal into a bowl.
“Joshua had an early start, so I decided to come home. Is that what you and Aiden get up to when I’m not around?  No wonder you’re tired.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Last night, when I got home. I saw you two gallivanting around in the park at midnight. Don’t try to deny it, I know it was you.  You could have at least gotten dressed. My goodness, what’s the matter, you’re as white as a ghost?”
Lucia sank down onto a chair. “Jasmina, I was here alone last night.  I sent Aiden home and went to bed early.  Tell me exactly what you saw.”
Jasmina faltered. “Oh, well it couldn’t have been you then. Don’t worry about it.”
“You might as well tell me now.” She tried to keep her voice light.
“Oh, it was just a woman in the park who looked like you. She had long dark hair and what I thought were your pink pyjamas on.  I thought I saw someone with her, but I couldn’t be certain. I just assumed it was you and Aiden, so I didn’t pay that much attention. Never mind, my mistake. Don’t look so worried, Lucia, it was nothing.”
 Lucia tried to laugh, but the spot on her neck began to throb again. “I really hope all the stress from the wedding hasn’t caused me start sleep walking. That’s the last thing I need right now. Do you think there’s a chance it was me out there in the middle of the night?”
Jasmina put her hand to her mouth. “Oh, I forgot all about your sleep walking problem. It’s been so long since you’ve had an episode. I guess it could have been you, but they were so far away that it really could have been anyone. Just to be on the safe side, though, I’m going to sleep on the pull-out bed in your room tonight. You won’t be going anywhere if I can help it.”
“You don’t have to do that. It probably wasn’t even me you saw out there.”
“I insist on it. I’m your Maid of Honour, and I take my duties very seriously. It’s my job to get you to the church with your virtue and reputation still intact. That means there will be no wandering around the park half-dressed in the moonlight. I’ll sleep in your room every night until the wedding if I have to.”
“Thank you, I appreciate it.” Her friend was trying to make a joke of it all, but Lucia could see how concerned she was. She really did believe she had seen her in the park in the dead of night, and the thought that she may have been out there, and not just dreaming, filled Lucia’s soul with unspeakable terror.
                       Eternal Hunger is available on Amazon for $1.99.
Desires of the Flesh (the first novella in the series) is currently free.


Thursday, 27 September 2012

Climate Change.....Coming Soon to Every Town & City Near You!

First climate change came for the polar bears and I did not speak out because I was not a polar bear.
(I was also too busy watching The Kardashians).

Then climate change came in the form of extreme weather events but I did not speak out because my home wasn't flooded or burnt to the ground. (And Fox news said the world was actually cooling, not warming, despite the amount of hot air they were personally pumping into the atmosphere).
Then climate change caused food shortages and many began to starve, but I did not speak out because I still had food in my stomach (And surely this was a third-world problem that could never affect me! They were always starving and dying in those countries, so it really wasn't anyting to work up a sweat over).

Then climate change came for the low lying nations and I did not speak out because I did not live in a low-lying nation (Although I did start to get a bit worried at this point).

Then climate change came for me and there was no one left to speak out. (Why the hell didn't anybody warn me about this before it was too late?)
The Evolution of Man

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Kate Middleton's Breasts & Climate Change

Two articles in Saturday's Sydney Morning Herald really encapsulated for me how reprehensible the mass media is, and how mindless and pathetic we, its consumers, have become.  Strong words, I know, but please bear with me.

The first article titled Spot the Moral in the Fairy Story was about the Kate Middleton topless photo scandal that dominated the news last week. This "story" recieved more coverage than any other news event of the week, with people weighing in from all sides with their opinions. What was a minor emabarassment for the royal family was portrayed as an issue of extreme social and political importance.

 The article about the scandal dominated page 12 in the news review section of Saturdays SMH, with the picture above placed in the centre of the page. Now let me compare it to the shorter, far less flashy article that appeared underneath, titled Four-Degree Rise Demands 90-degree Rethink. This report by Ian Dunlop states that "in the past few weeks, melting of the Arctic sea ice has acclerated dramatically." Interestingly I did not read about this development ANYWHERE else in the media. It got not even a tiny fraction of the attention Kate Middleton's boobs received, despite the fact that it could spell the end of the world as we know it.

Some key points from the article:

* On current trends the Arctic will be ice-free all year by 2030 - events that were not expected to occur for another one hundred years. More concerning, the Greenland ice sheet this year has had unprecedented melting, adding to a trend that will substantially increase sea levels.

* Beyond the Arctic, the world is in the fifth year of a severe food crisis - largely climate change driven - that is about to become far worse as the full impact of extreme drought in the US food bowl works its way through the global food chain.

*The polar icecaps are one of the vital regulators of global climate; if the ice disappears, the absorption of more solar radiation accelerates ocean warming....This may initiate IRREVERSIBLE RUNAWAY WARMING.

*We know how to establish a genuine low-carbon economy, which would stave off the worst impacts of climate change, but it is too late for gradual implementation. It has to be set up at emergency speed. Yet we hear nothing of this from the political, business or NGO institutions that should be leading the response. Why?

Very good question. Why, indeed. Why aren't these issues treated with the urgency required? Why is the media saturated with inconsequential stories about Kate Middleton's breasts when "climate change has moved into a new and dangerous phase"? It's because of the fossil fuel companies that will lose money if sustainable energy is adopted (God forbid! Better to watch the world burn than lose your multi-million dollar pay cheque). It's the complete subjugation of politcal leaders of all stripes to big business, and it's ordinary people like you and me who allow ourselves to be brainwashed an anaesthetised by what passes as "news" in this shallow, celebrity-obsessed culture.

And if nothing changes soon, we're all royally screwed.

When global warming came for the polar bears
I remained silent
I was not a polar bear

*My novella Prude & Prejudice is free for the next five days (24th - 28th September)

Friday, 21 September 2012

Pleasure Island - Chapter One

*Please forgive the dodgy formatting. This was copied from a text file and it will not co-operate with blogger.

Jackson Moore took one final drag on his cigarette before  dropping it to the ground and raising his hand to his forehead to squint up at the small plane in front of him. Through blurry and bloodshot  eyes, the aftereffect of a night of heavy drinking, he could just make out the name of a regional airline he’d never heard of. He was accustomed to traveling in much greater style than this, but at the
moment, the plane was the least of his worries. What concerned him far more was the fact that, in a very short time, this plane would carry him away to a secret destination somewhere in the South Pacific where he was not permitted to drink or smoke at all, and he didn’t know how he was going to survive.
     “I guess this is it,” he muttered to himself, “my last taste of freedom.” There was nothing more he could do to delay the inevitable, but try as he might, he couldn’t get his legs to work. Instead he dropped his eyes back to the ground and just stood there, staring longingly at the discarded butt at his feet. Noticing the cigarette was still alight, Jack was tempted to pick it up for one final nicotine hit. He was still deciding whether he could get away with this when one of the producer’s assistants from the studio came up behind him and softly touched his elbow, urging him to get on the plane.
    “It’s time to board the flight, Mr. Moore.”
     “All right, honey, don’t rush me. I’m getting there,” he said irritably, still fighting the urge to pick the cigarette up. As she stepped in front of him, Jack transferred his gaze to her butt and gave her a
halfhearted smack on it, causing her to giggle like a schoolgirl.
    “Not now, Jack, I’m working,” she said in a stage whisper, clearly loving the attention. To his disappointment, not even the sight of her firm cheeks straining against the fabric of her skirt could take his mind off the fact that he needed another cigarette. He almost wished he hadn’t screwed her in his hotel room the previous night because then at least he could have distracted himself during the flight by flirting with her and possibly getting some “mile-high” action. He had no doubt she’d be
up for it, and normally he would have taken full advantage of her starstruck awe, but today she just wasn’t enough of a challenge. It wasn’t just the absence of cigarettes and booze either, but the thought of having to spend almost every waking moment on the island with a person he hadn’t even met yet that was causing his blood pressure to soar. The worst part was he didn’t even know why he felt so worried. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt nervous about anything, and he decided the best way to calm his nerves was by drinking as much as humanly possible during the flight. Based on previous experience, that was a lot. As the small plane taxied down the runway, Jack’s heart began to race, and by the time they were in the air, he was struggling to ward off a panic attack.
    “Just what have I gotten myself into this time?” he said as he took his first sip of whiskey and waited for the familiar warm glow to spread through his veins. His agent, Rebecca, had thought Pleasure Island was a fabulous opportunity to resurrect his career, and when she raised it with him while he was in rehab, Jack had agreed with her. In theory he still did. He needed people to believe he was capable of staying sober and finishing a job. It was the only way that he was ever going to get hired in Hollywood again, because at the moment, he was basically blacklisted by every major studio.
In his opinion, it was all blown way out of proportion, but he’d agreed to “clean up” to get everyone off his back. Just because he’d turned up on set wasted and knocked over some props a few times, it
wasn’t any reason to shut down the entire movie. Even he had to admit he’d gone too far when he threw up on the director, but he’d brought the man a new pair of shoes and even stayed home that night to ensure he’d be sober for shooting the next day. When he arrived at the studio at the crack of dawn, ready to get serious, he’d found armed guards waiting to escort him from the set. The humiliation of that moment would stay with him till the day he died. To add insult to
injury, they’d replaced him with Aiden Renshaw, and there was no talk of ever having him back again, even though he had starred in the first three films in the Monster Man franchise. He was Monster Man, and it killed him to see how easily he was replaced. Jack took another swig of whiskey to block out the bad memories and drained his glass loudly. He shook his empty glass in the face of
the assistant who was now seated beside him. Beyond her head he noticed a cute little redhead he hadn’t seen before, and his interest was suddenly aroused. She wasn’t his usual type as she looked to be around thirty and he liked his women younger. She also came across as a bit too repressed and librarianish for his taste, but she was definitely a challenge, and who knew what depths of depravity lay beneath her boring outfit? Could there be the possibility of a little three-way mile-high action with her and the assistant to take his mind off what lay ahead? That was something even he hadn’t tried before. Granted, it would be a little tricky in the bathroom of this small plane, but with a bit of creativity, he was sure they could manage. He flashed his most winning smile at the assistant, Candy, or whatever her name was, and then at the redhead behind her, before shaking his empty glass again in the assistant’s face. She clearly hadn’t been employed for her brains, and Jack felt his annoyance rise as she stared at him blankly.
    “Sweetheart,” he said impatiently, “how many times do I have to ask you for another drink? I thought you were supposed to take care of my every need. Not that I’m complaining about the job you did last night, mind you.” Candy tittered in response, and Jack leered at her before looking
past her to see if the redhead had caught his witty comment. She was staring out the window, listening to her iPod, and Jack’s annoyance rose further. He wasn’t used to being ignored by women, especially nobodies like her, and he made a mental note to find out who she was and make sure that she was fired before the day was out.
    “I’m sorry, Mr. Moore,” Candy said, “but you’re only allowed to have one drink on the plane. It was in your contract.”
    “What the hell are you talking about?” said Jack loudly. “I read no such thing in my contract. Who came up with this bullshit idea?”
    “I don’t know,” stammered Candy. “I was just told not to—”
    “You mean to tell me I’m going to be stuck on this goddamn island for who knows how long with no alcohol or cigarettes, and you want to deny me a last drink now? This is a joke.” He was really
working himself up into a rage. He could feel his face turning red and his eyes bulging, but he didn’t care. “Go and get me a drink right now, or you can tell the captain to turn this fucking plane around and take me back to L.A.” Candy was almost in tears as she got up from the seat and
disappeared down the front of the plane. A moment later, Pam, the producer and host of the show, slipped into the seat next to him. She was one of those women who had been bossing people around for so long that she thought she was a man.
    “I see you still don’t have my drink,” he said sarcastically. “I can’t believe you’re pulling this crap on me when we’re in the air, Pam, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
    “Jack,” said Pam gently, “it was all there in your contract, and you agreed to it. There’s to be no drinking or drugs on the island. We want the world to see you exactly as you are, and it wouldn’t be a great start if you were to turn up there drunk, now would it?”
    “Come on, Pam, get real. What difference is one more little drink going to make? Once I’m on the island, there’s no way I can go to a bar, so why don’t you just let me have some fun while I still can?”
    “When we hired you, Jack, we were under the impression that you were sober, but you’re not acting like someone who can live without alcohol to me.” This was too much for Jack, and he tried to rise to his feet, but sat back down abruptly when he hit his head on the overhead compartment.
    “All I want is one goddamn drink,” he said at the top of his voice so the whole plane could hear. “Why are you making a federal case out of this? You people are lucky to have me on this show and should be doing whatever you can to keep me happy. I have plenty of other offers, you know. I don’t have to be here, and if you don’t get me another drink, I swear to God I’m going to walk from this project and you can find someone else.” Pam gave him a long look before slipping out of the seat and
moving back to the front of the plane. He could see her conferring with the other producers before she nodded her head and then motioned for Candy to get him another drink. Candy came back with a fresh glass of ice and a bottle of whiskey. Just as she was about to pour his drink, Jack reached across and grabbed the bottle out of her hand.
    “No need to worry about the glass,” he said with a laugh. “This will do just fine.” Candy looked helplessly at him before glancing back at Pam, who simply shrugged her shoulders and turned away. They knew there was nothing they could do now. They had invested far too much money in
this to back out now, and he was their star attraction. People were curious to find out what had happened to him after he’d been fired from Monster Man, and he knew they were all dying to see how long he could handle being on the island. He had every intention of outlasting his opponent and winning the $5 million, and he couldn’t believe they were making such a big deal over a few drinks.
Jack swallowed almost a quarter of the bottle in one gulp, and just as he was about to take another swig, he noticed that the redhead across the aisle had taken out her earphones and was looking at him
with an appalled expression on her face.
    “Cheers, princess,” he called out to her, raising the bottle in hedirection. “You look like you could use a few drinks yourself. Might loosen up that tight little—”
    “I think that’s enough,” said Candy, quickly interrupting him and trying to take the bottle from his hand, but without success.
    “Hey, don’t you try to take my bottle away from me,” slurred Jack as he took another sip. “Don’t you know who I am, girl? I’m Jack Moore. I’m Monster Man.”
    “That’s right, Monster Man,” said Candy in a cajoling voice as if she was talking to a child. “Now why don’t you take these little sweets here and have a nice sleep before we get to the island?” Jack’s eyes lit up when he saw the white pills in her hand, and he grabbed them and stuffed them in his mouth. Within ten minutes, he felt his eyelids growing heavy, and he let his head drop onto Candy’s shoulder as he drifted off into blissful oblivion.

* * * *

Allie Read watched the whole episode unfold with a growing sense of horror. She had found out just a couple of hours ago that Jackson Moore was the celebrity she was going to be stuck with on
the island until one of them gave up and begged to go home, and if she hadn’t already signed the contract, she would have been very tempted to walk away. There was no denying the man was gorgeous with his dark, wavy hair, chiseled jaw and broad, sexy shoulders. He had the classic looks of a leading man but that in no way made up for his complete lack of talent. She had seen just one of his films, when her friend brought it over for a laugh one night. They had ridiculed the acting and plot, and then felt really depressed that such a bad film could become a huge box office success. Allie also knew a little about Jack’s reputation as an obnoxious drunk, and he had just confirmed that this reputation was spot on. She wished her friend, Danny, was there with her right now so that she could throttle him for talking her into going on this trashy reality show, which was bound to be a disaster and could be very damaging to her career. When he had first suggested it over lunch at their favorite cafĂ© in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Surry Hills a few months earlier, she had thought he was joking.
    “I’m a serious documentary filmmaker. I don’t even watch reality TV, let alone audition to be on it,” she had protested.
    “Don’t you see what a great opportunity this is to find out how things work behind the scenes? You might even get a documentary out of it.”
    “Don’t pretend you’re actually concerned about my career. I know the only reason you want me on this show is because you’re obsessed with Hollywood and all of the terrible reality shows that come out of it.”
    “True, but you can’t deny I have a point about getting an insider’s perspective on the audition process, and you’re always looking for fresh new ideas for your documentaries.”
    “Why don’t you audition, then, if you think it would be that educational?” she had asked sarcastically.
    “You know I’d love to but they want women only, and although I am a very convincing actor, even I couldn’t pull off a bikini on the island. Just do it for me, pleeaasse. It’s not every day that you get a
chance to hobnob with Hollywood types and then tell me all about it. For some reason they seem to want an Australian for this part, and I think you’d be perfect.” In the end, she had agreed to put together an audition tape just to shut him up. Danny had wanted her to really spice it up by acting
super outgoing and bubbly, and he had ransacked her wardrobe, pulling out sexy outfits for her to try on. Allie had tried to do it his way, but then given up because she just couldn’t pretend to be
something that she wasn’t. Instead she had worn her usual cargo pants and T-shirt and introduced herself simply as she was—an environmentalist, vegan, Buddhist, feminist, documentary filmmaker.
She had mentioned some of the documentaries she had made and spoken passionately about environmental issues. Danny had looked extremely disappointed when he left, and Allie knew he had lost all hope of getting an inside track to Hollywood. They had both forgotten all about the whole thing, when, three weeks later, Allie got the call to come and audition in person. She had arrived at the studio with Danny on an overcast morning, and when she saw the lineup for the audition, she almost turned back. There seemed to be hundreds of women there, and they were all trying their hardest to outtalk and outshine each other, even before the cameras started rolling. She noticed that they were all different shapes and sizes, too, so it really wasn’t clear what the producers were looking for. It seemed like they had decided to audition as many different types as possible to try to get an idea about what would work, and Allie was mortified that she had let herself become part of this circus.
    “Do you know how many thousands of people sent auditions in for this?” said Danny when she told him she wanted to go home. “And you want to throw this opportunity away with both hands. It’s
    “I think you’d better look up the definition of sacrilegious before you use it again,” said Allie, but then she had started talking to some of the women in the line about why they wanted to be on the show, and the filmmaker in her took over. She found it fascinating that most of them saw this as an opportunity to break into show business and escape their mundane lives. Fame for its own sake seemed to be their overriding goal, and many of them didn’t care what they had to do to get it, just as long as they got their shot. They seemed to think that becoming famous through reality TV would solve all their problems and give them a ticket to a life of endless glamour and excitement.
    “Don’t you realize how many reality stars have sunk without a trace as soon as their shows ended?” she had asked one young woman in the line.
    “But it will be different for me. I’ll make sure of it,” she replied. Most of the women she spoke to could name at least ten people off the top of their heads who had carved out show business careers for
themselves after starting in reality TV, and they all believed they would be just as fortunate. There was definitely a project here, she realized. As she made her way down the line talking to women, there was plenty of speculation about who the mystery celebrity was going to be.
    “I’m sure it’s going to be an Australian,” several women had said. “I heard they are only auditioning here.” Many names were flung around, but not once did Allie recall hearing Jackson Moore mentioned, even though he was one of the biggest Australian stars to make it in Hollywood in the last decade. She guessed it was because he had left the country a long time ago and rarely seemed to come back, so people didn’t associate him with Australia anymore. His life was also such a train wreck that nobody would have expected him to agree to a fly-on-the-wall show like this. Even though he had not yet turned forty, the consensus seemed to be that his career was over. Despite Danny’s hopes, Allie’s actual audition was very unglamorous. She was given two minutes to explain before the camera why she should be on the show, and she had basically
repeated what she had said in her audition tape. Two hours later, when she heard her name called as one of fifty who had made it through to the next level, she thought there must have been a mistake.
    “Can you please check that they got the right person?” she had asked the lady who announced the finalists, and when she came back to confirm that, yes indeed, Allison Read had made it through, Danny had actually cartwheeled across the room.
    “Why aren’t you excited about this?” he demanded when Allie didn’t share his enthusiasm. “Don’t you watch Idol? When people get through to the next level, they don’t just stand there like stunned
    “At least on those shows they actually have to have talent to make it through. I’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve this, and I’m very confused about why I’ve been chosen.”
    “Don’t you see?” Danny, gripped her shoulders. “It’s you they love just the way you are, and that is so much better than all the talent in the world.” Allie couldn’t help laughing, and she decided to stop analyzing it too much and just enjoy the experience while it lasted. They had to wait around for another hour before she was called again, and Danny passed the time giving Allie’s competitors death stares. Finally the remaining women were broken into groups of five, and in these small groups, they were given a murder mystery to solve while people with clipboards stood around observing them. It was exactly like a job interview Allie had been to a few years before. She was teamed with four women she nicknamed the Botox Sisters because they had all obviously had work done, and were too busy tossing their hair extensions in each other’s faces to listen to the instructions. When it came time to solve the mystery, they kept talking over each other and attempting to prove how “bubbly” they were. No one seemed interested in actually discussing the mystery, and after sitting back and watching for a while, Allie had reached the end of her patience.
    “For God’s sake,” she said, “do you have a brain between you? We are supposed to be working on this together.”
    “Why don’t you just tell us who the murderer is, then, if you’re so smart?” one of the women said, and the others laughed, ticking Allie off even more.
    “This is supposed to be a team effort, and the whole idea is for each of us to contribute our ideas so that we can then work out who the killer is. It’s not up to one person to find the solution, because we
are being judged on how well we can work in groups. In the real world, detectives don’t solve crimes by themselves, and if you can’t prove that you can listen and work with other people, then how do
you expect to make it onto a show like this, or anywhere else, for that matter?” The women were silent, and Allie continued, knowing her comment had struck home. “Okay, I think we should read through the clues again and then go around the table, and each of us can say who we think the murderer is and why, and then we can all vote on the final answer.” The Botox Sisters were a little more subdued as they read the material and gave their answers. Allie took notes and recapped what everyone said, before pointing out the flaws in each of their arguments and pushing them none too subtly toward her choice of suspect.
    “Clearly it couldn’t have been the business partner because he is a large man, and according to the witness, the murderer was small. The cleaner fits the physical description, but he has a very good alibi. The wife is obviously the main suspect, but none of you picked up on the fact that she is weak on her left side due to a stroke. According to the detective, the murderer would have needed both hands to lift the sword. I think it’s very obvious that the door-to-door salesman is our man.” After they had voted secretly, she counted the vote, then recorded the final answer on a piece of paper and handed it to one of the producers. She waited for her to confirm they had found the murderer,
but to her surprise, the lady, who had introduced herself earlier as Pamela Evans, didn’t even glance at the piece of paper.
    “That’s all for today, ladies. Thank you for your time, and we’ll be in touch,” she said, dismissing them with barely a nod. Allie couldn’t help noticing the dirty looks the women shot at her
as they left, and she felt a slight twinge of guilt. They all really wanted to win, and by not letting them compete for the limelight, they clearly thought that she’d ruined their chances. Oh well, she said to herself. She had just made sure they completed the exercise properly, and if she had ruined their chances, she’d done them a big favor because only losers would go on a show like this.
As she was about to step out the door, she couldn’t resist asking the producer if the answer she had come up with was right. Pam looked up from the notes that she was scribbling on a clipboard and
smiled slightly when she saw Allie.
    “Sorry, dear, I can’t tell you.”
    “Come on, it’s just a group exercise. Why the secrecy?”
    “I can’t tell you because there is no correct answer. The clues are contradictory. The exercise is designed to get you interacting and debating. The final answer you come up with is actually irrelevant.”
    “Oh,” said Allie, “I don’t believe that is entirely true because I think we put together a pretty good case against the door-to-door salesman. He had knowledge of the layout of the house, and also a
motive. If you remember—”
    “I can assure you, dear, that there is no single right answer, so you’ll just have to live with that,” said Pam, interrupting her and clicking her pen shut. “Good-bye.” Apart from feeling put out that the group had been given a mystery to solve with no right answer, Allie gave little thought to the
audition over the next week. She was at home working on her computer on a Tuesday afternoon when her phone rang, and she was surprised when Pam introduced herself. Allie had assumed all the
rejects would be informed by letter that they hadn’t been chosen for the show, not personally phoned by the producer. She was lifting her coffee cup to her lips and trying not to laugh, when, to her absolute amazement, Pam announced that she was the chosen one.
    “Shit!” she screamed as she dropped her cup and scalding coffee dripped down her legs.
    “What was that, dear?”
    “Sorry, I just dropped something. Is this some kind of joke?”
    “Of course it’s not a joke,” said Pam, going to great pains to point out that she, Allie Read, had been chosen out of the thousands of women who had auditioned to live on a deserted island with an as-yet-unnamed celebrity. They would be filmed for twenty-four hours a day by remotely operated cameras, meaning there would be no camera crew on the island with them. They would have no contact with any other human beings the whole time they were on the island, and they had to be together in the same room, or within a certain distance from each other on the beach, for at least fourteen hours every day, between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. The person who broke
first and asked to leave the island would lose, and the other person would take home $5 million in prize money. After recovering from the shock, Allie confessed to Pam that she’d only tried out for a joke and that there was no way she could possibly go through with it.
    “Seriously, Pam, I think you’ve got the wrong girl because I just can’t see myself doing something like this. I’m just so surprised that you’ve picked me when there were so many other women there who really wanted it.” Pam had refused to accept her withdrawal and pointed out that this show was going to be different from other reality shows because it would be about psychology, not cheap thrills.
    “I can promise you it will be unlike anything that’s been done before,” she said, but Allie had remained unconvinced.
    “Sorry, Pam, but I really don’t think it’s for me.”
    “You don’t have to give me an answer now,” Pam had said, realizing Allie was seriously turning her down. “Take some time to think about it, and I’ll call you back in a week.” That week had been one of the most difficult of Allie’s life. All of her friends, even the ones who looked down on reality TV as much as she did, were blown away that she had been chosen, and they had all
urged her to go ahead with it because it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Danny, of course, had been the most vocal, telling her she could become rich and famous and that it would be great for her
career. Allie had absolutely no interest in money or the kind of fame that the women she had talked to at the audition craved, but she did see that this could be an excellent career move for her. It would give her a much bigger public profile, meaning that more people would see her
films and hear her important messages about the environment. It also meant she could make a documentary about the whole experience of being on reality TV, and in the end, this was what had convinced her to go ahead with it. By the time she arrived in L.A. two days before
they were due to fly out to the island, she was feeling very excited about what lay ahead of her.
The first setback had come when she found out that the show was called Pleasure Island.
    “It sounds like a porn movie,” she had complained, but Pam had reassured her there was nothing to worry about.
    “It’s just a cute wordplay on Treasure Island. There’s nothing at all for you to be concerned about. You can trust us completely.” Then, just as she was about to get on the plane that morning, she
had learned that her mystery companion was Jackson Moore. The original plan was to fly the two of them to the island separately, but the private jet that had been chartered for him had developed
mechanical problems. Given what an arrogant jerk the man was, there was no way they could hide him from her on the same flight, so they’d had to tell her. Even though she’d been asked to keep a low profile till they got off the plane, Allie couldn’t conceal her contempt for the man. She had been expecting a Hollywood himbo, but Jackson Moore was a step too far! Everyone knew he had only just gotten out of rehab after destroying a film set on Monster Man, and that he’d been struggling with alcoholism for years. She glanced over toward him again, and her heart sank even
further as he stirred in his sleep and then belched loudly before trying to grope the poor assistant who’d been given the job of babysitting him. Allie looked out the window at the swirling water below and wondered if she should find the emergency exit and jump before this went any further. Something told her she might be better off taking her chances with the sharks down there.

Pleasure Island is available on Amazon for $3.19
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