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

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

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

Daybreak

“Not everyone will like you,” she said.

“Why not?”

“That’s the way of things. Never show them it hurts.”

I looked at the iron gate before me and thought of spears. A phalanx of invisible soldiers clutching towering spears.

“When can I return?” I said.

“You cannot.”

“Never?”

“You must always look forward. Behind lies naught but ashes and dust.”

“Once I step through, you’ll be behind.”

She said nothing.

“I’ll miss you,” I said.

“As I will you.”

“You could come with me.”

She smiled. “The price of your freedom was more than I have.”

I looked from her face to the man in the shadows. A glint of gold flickered as he opened his mouth. “Time to go.”

“Ashes and dust,” said my mother, and shoved me into the light.

Ryan Stone

Dull Roar

One month from now,
a dull ache
is all you’ll be
to me.

Six months on
if I hear your name,
I might pause
to remember your face.

Once a year has passed
if I see you on the street,
more likely in a club,
I may smile or give a nod.

But tonight, right now,
a thousand men with knives
couldn’t cause the pain
you have.

Ryan Stone