He Who Fights Monsters

I won’t survive this dark night’s lunacy.
Waves smash against the fortress of my mind
with an endless ebb and flow of misery—
I’m drowning in a Labyrinth I designed.

No compass, satnav, Valium can save
me here, where even stars are scared to shine.
To a shifting siren’s song I am enslaved,
drawn down beyond the high-tide line.

Battered by winds strong as Minotaurs
my hull is breached beyond my skill to caulk.
I drift on wings of wax, then on all fours
crash land where none but monsters walk.

Light glints on broken glass, at last I see!
There’s no abyss but this one in me.

first published at Poetry Nook, September 2019

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A Capacity for Violence

My shot missed. Dust rose in a miniature mushroom cloud.

Donny drew back his slingshot and held a rock steady. The chicken stood still. Donny released. His rock struck the chook’s head and sent it scrabbling into the red dirt of my yard.

I watched as it rose and tried to escape, hoping it would make it. But the piece of rusted fencing wire Donny had wound round its leg and secured to a star picket stopped it from getting far. Sweltering in the afternoon heat, I wiped my hand across my forehead. Sweat and dust to ran into my eyes. I blinked it away and loaded my slingshot. I missed again.

“You’re fuckin’ useless,” Donny said.

A metal bar lay on the ground nearby, left over from the shed Dad had started to build. Another project that got too hard for him and remained unfinished. The shed leaned to one side and barely stayed upright when the winds howled.

I picked up the bar and advanced on the chook. “I’m not useless,” I said, and swung hard. The chook somersaulted through the air, then sprawled on the ground. Still twisted in wire, its leg pointed like a finger of accusation. I wiped my eyes, then raised the bar for another blow.

“Stop,” my mother said, emerging from behind the half-finished shed. She didn’t yell—she rarely did—but her presence was enough to make me lower the bar, and my eyes.

“Go home, Donny.”

Mother walked to the chicken, still flopping around on the end of the wire. With a quick motion of her hands—a pull and jerk—she ended its suffering. She turned and looked me in the eyes. “Untie it. Bring it into the shed.” Without another word, she walked away.

I entered the shed with the limp, bloody bird, and lay it on the bench my mother indicated.

“Sit down.”

I didn’t look at her.

“I said sit.”

“I can’t.”

She tilted her head to the side. “Turn around.”

I did as she asked.

“Now drop your strides.”

Face burning, I complied, knowing my bare arse was crisscrossed with red welts the same width as Dad’s belt. She placed her hands on my shoulders and turned me back around to face her.

“Please don’t tell Dad about the chook.”

“The true measure of a man isn’t his capacity for violence, but his ability to contain it. Do you understand?”

I nodded.

She handed me a hatchet.

“Cut off its head and pluck it. Then bring it in for dinner.”

Ryan Stone

Runner up Grindstone Literary Flash Fiction 1000, June 2018

Published at Flash Boulevard, September 2019

Drought Town

This is the summer of red dust. Everything
sucked dry—hollow as cicada husks, wedged
under eaves and porch stairs—waiting
for a wind change. On the road out of town,
empty grain silos loom, perched like headstones
over wheat-field graves. Harvesters sag, tyres
cracked like the asphalt. Rotting carcasses
litter riverless beds—tongues swollen,
flyblown, unslaked. First, a wheeze,
then my pickup spews steam. It dies in a ditch
under a burnt-orange sun. Tiger snake chunks
graffiti the hood’s underside, one blind eye bulging
from the torn head. It must have sought shade
or wiper water—sliding up from the parched earth
miles back. Now it’s just one more dead thing
in a land of dead things. This is the summer
of red dust. It swirls and the road ahead blurs.

– Ryan Stone

first published by Eunoia Review

Green Dream

Green Dream

I glanced around the vet’s office. Minimal. Functional. Sterile. No windows. The only light flickered down from a strobe overhead. The neon globe emitted a low-register hum that battered against the tension already building near the base of my skull. If it was causing my head to ache, I figured it must sound even worse to the sensitive ears of Zeus, the German shepherd sitting on the tile floor beside me.

I lowered a hand to one of Zeus’s ears and began to stroke it. Zeus pushed into my leg in pleasure. “It’s alright, mate,” I said. Which was about as far from the truth as possible.

The single door to the small room opened and a woman in a white coat entered. Tall and athletic, her dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail. From behind expensive-looking glasses, she considered me for a moment before she spoke. “How is he with needles, Officer? Do you want a muzzle?”

I looked down at the six-year-old shepherd, seeing instead the eighteen-month-old pup Zeus had been when we were first partnered together. Those initial weeks before we’d established a bond had been hell. For all his size, Zeus had been terrified of the injections required of all new police dog recruits. Zeus had nipped and scratched and fought to avoid his inoculations—my hands still bore a few faded scars to prove it.

I’d worked hard to desensitise Zeus to the process. After some trial and error, I eventually stumbled across a fix in the unlikely form of a Bic ballpoint pen. I discovered that pressing a pen to Zeus’s neck, nib retracted, and then clicking the end button to extend the nib, resembled the needle experience. Zeus had a high tolerance to pain. It was more the sensation of force on his neck while he was restrained that frightened him.

Over months and years, it became a constant in our life together. Before he was allowed to play with his Kong, Zeus had to lie down and remain calm while I pressed the pen to his neck and clicked the pen nib out and in a couple of times. Zeus soon associated the experience with the promise of chewing his Kong, and the struggles and nips ceased.

“Officer? Would you like me to get a muzzle?” the vet repeated.

I snapped back to the present and looked down at Zeus. “No. Zeus doesn’t mind. Thank you.”

“Are you ready?”

I signalled for Zeus to drop, and went down onto a knee beside him. I wrapped an arm around his neck, conscious of the strong heartbeat pumping beneath thick fur. I nodded, not trusting my voice.

The vet took out a large syringe full of green liquid and expertly found a vein.

Zeus didn’t flinch. I looked into his brown eyes, recognised the implicit trust that existed, the knowledge that we’d done this together a thousand times before. That everything would be fine.

Only this time was different. Degenerative Myelopathy, a progressive disease of the spinal cord, was quickly eating its way through my courageous police dog. Any day now he could wake up paralysed. I wouldn’t let that happen.

Zeus turned his head briefly, looking for his Kong, and then closed his eyes. He rested his head on my hand, deciding he’d hunt for it after a quick nap.

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I’m excited to announce that Green Dream took out 1st place in the 2019 Flash Memoir Contest at Writer Advice.

To top it off my good friend, Sarah Russell, took out 2nd with her brilliant flash Donny, 1968.

Here’s the link if you’d like to check out all four winning entries: Writer Advice 2019 Flash Memoir Contest

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank editor, B. Lynn Goodwin at Writer Advice for the wonderful job she does hosting a range of great competitions and writing resources on her site.

I Lost Summer Somewhere

I love this review of the recently released collection of poetry by my talented friend, Sarah Russell – Scintilla review

I’ve read many of Sarah’s poems individually, and also this collection as a whole. It’s a powerful collection, nicely summarized by this review.

Purchase details and lots of beautiful writing can be found on Sarah’s site, here – Sarah Russell Poetry

Congratulations, Sarah 🙂

The Journey Home

She tells me her pain is a squall,
sudden and vicious, like a flash

storm whipping in from Bass Strait
to batter King Island.
Do you remember our Island, Garth?

Her doctors build shelters; nurses
batten hatches, but this tempest

won’t blow over. She says her pain is a vulture now,
circling the desert on threadbare wings.
A glass of water if you please, Garth?

With beak and claw, it slashes and rips
nerve endings, drinks color from her eyes.

The pain is no longer squall or vulture,
she whispers, but a flutter of pages.
One last story before bed, dear Garth?

I don’t tell her that I’m her grandson—
not her brother Garth, stolen by war.

She’s a thin sheet stretched over an empty
bed; a gull’s cry on the wind.

– Ryan Stone

first published by Eunoia Review, June 2019

Tōrō Nagashi

Your flame flickers briefly—
a parting whisper.
Some trick of the river
mimics your laughter.

We stand apart at sunset,
lost in natsukashii,
come together in darkness,
to watch the dead pass on.

Your light has fallen now
to shadow
beneath the bridge.

Ryan Stone

First published on Napalm and Novocain, January 2016

Published at Poetry Nook, October 2018, Nominated for 2018 Pushcart Prize

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