Friday, June 3, 2022


I can’t wait to go swimming again” was the first stray thought that popped into my mind as it recrystallised.  I had always possessed the facility to conjure sensory information at will.  In this case, it was the thick, acrid smell of chlorinated air – the signature scent of the suburban swimming pool.  Strange that I would be visited by such a random memory at a time like this.


I struggled to open my eyes, crusty as though from a long slumber and focused on the ugly chunks of vomit I’d expelled seconds earlier.  I’d been warned this was a common side effect.  Freshly expelled, the sight of my own sick soaking into nature strip grass created a kaleidoscope of green and viscous yellow. 

I hoisted my body into a standing position, my legs unstable like a newborn calf.  I winced as my eyes adjusted to the harsh daylight as the tide of random thoughts and memories subsided.  I smiled wanly to myself – reminded of a New Year’s Eve – a million years ago – supine on another nature strip gazing up at the stars after too much booze.  I’d thrown up then, too.

From not far away the distinctive hissing sound of water emanating from a garden hose called my attention.  The hose was attached to an old woman who stared at me in disbelief as she watered her front garden.  From her perspective, it must have been quite a sight – a grown man materialising out of thin air.  She stood statuesque, scrutinising me in her mauve quilted nightie (the kind often favoured by the elderly).

From the position of the sun, I guessed that I’d arrived at mid-morning, no later than eleven am.  The aural landscape contained the sounds of cyclists and passing cars propelled by loud petrol engines.  There was little point in using my phone to check the time – its battery had been drained by the transit (another side effect).  Now it was nothing more than an expensive paperweight that wouldn’t know a fresh charge for a couple of decades at the very least.

Finally arriving at alertness, I needed to verify the success of my journey.  I clumsily fished the device out of my pocket.  Comparable in size to my phone, the grey, matte appliance bore a more utilitarian aesthetic while still possessing a user-friendly interface.  Eriksen had gifted it to me somewhat clandestinely, at great pains to explain its numerous applications both anthropological and medical.  I thumbed through the touch screen menu as the old lady continued to watch.  Settings, software update, cycle mode, itinerary.  I selected the most recent entry.  Transfer complete: subjective date – June sixteenth, nineteen ninety-five.

Wary of my anachronistic technology, I discreetly re-pocketed the device and began casually ambling down the sidewalk of the suburban street I presently found myself. 

I was exactly where I wanted to be, the tangible three-dimensional reality of my destination emerging from nostalgia and distorted childhood memory.  This was the street upon which I had grown up. 

Which is not to say that the street itself didn’t exist in the present day – it did – it just looked radically different.  The meagre red brick houses had been cruelly supplanted by blocks of high-rise apartments that lay vacant and unaffordable. 


Like lightning, the name entered my mind.  It belonged to the old woman I’d seen earlier.  She’d been a mainstay of our neighbourhood, the archetypal toffee dispensing septuagenarian.  I cast a rueful glance back at the old dear – still watering.  She’d died after falling in her shower one night.  The black memory of that day played out in my mind’s eye.  My older brother and little sister were only children at the time.  I hoped she’d forgive me for the mess I’d left on her nature strip.

As I tried to shake the sting of her death, I reminded myself that this type of travel was not unlike walking through a cemetery.  People simultaneously alive and dead, purely dependant on the perspective of the observer. 

Suddenly revealed was not the thing I’d made the journey for, but something just as significant.  A banal structure if ever there was one, yet imbued with awe and terror.  My childhood home, resplendent in grey weatherboard accented with brown and orange awnings.  I could still conjure their high-pitched screeching each time we dragged them down over the windows – thick layers of striped canvas providing respite from Australian summers past.

Through translucent white lace curtains, I could see silhouetted figures moving about inside.  Given the time of day I could reasonably infer that one of them would be my late grandmother, enraptured by daytime TV.  For the briefest of moments, I considered appearing at the front door, just to get a look at her.  I could pose as a door-to-door salesman or someone selling Jesus.  Mum and Dad were most likely at work, my older brother at school and my little sister would be far too young to comprehend.  I dismissed the idea, reminding myself that the memory often cheats.  In her relative prime my grandmother would sooner strike a would-be salesman with her cane before engaging in convivial chatter.

No.  No more indulgences. 

I had to focus on my purpose.  I pressed on, determined to find the person I’d come to see.  I proceeded down the rest of the street – a piece of common suburbia at the outermost edge of the city.  Having admired the old houses, I spared a thought for the deciduous trees whose leaves gently undulated in the breeze.  I wondered how many times they’d each repeated their natural cycle, oblivious to the very passage of my lifetime.

The street came to an abrupt end, giving way to a wild, untamed field of long, dry grass.  Many of the outer suburbs of Melbourne looked this way during the nineties, soon to be overpowered by metropolitan creep.  Though adjacent to houses and schools, these large swathes of undeveloped land were the purview of possums, foxes and other native fauna who enjoyed a parochial existence not a million miles away from the Kmart.

As I stepped off the concrete sidewalk and into the dirt, I could feel the uneven surface through the soles of my shoes.  The melodic birdsong was interrupted by a dog.  A large dog, by the sound of his bark, which grew progressively louder.  I turned to face the source of the sound only to stumble serendipitously upon success.  Right in front of me – rapidly approaching – was the one and only thing I wanted to see.

A boy – riding a bicycle – flanked by a large brown hound who ran excitedly alongside.  No more than ten years old, he was much larger than I’d remembered, with brown wavy hair that fell joyously about his face.  In the midst of an early growth spurt, he rode with reckless abandon, his gangly calves pumping at the pedals as his dog bounded abreast.  Detecting my presence, the canine’s head snapped sharply in my direction and he quickly ran towards me, stick in mouth.

A sinewy hunting dog, his chocolate coat was flecked with small patches of white that caught the sunlight.  Lowering his snout to the ground, he placed the stick at my feet, licked his lips and gazed up at me expectantly.  As I stared into his wistful, yellow eyes my heart felt just as sick as the day he’d died.  I longed to forfeit my masculine composure and permit my face to contort into ugly tears at the very sight of him, so very much alive.

Bringing his bicycle to a halt a few feet from me, the boy clumsily disembarked, his ungainly limbs akimbo.  An urban urchin, his legs were punctuated by well-worn trainers and the knees of his tracksuit pants were dirty and threadbare.  This was a child accustomed to playing outside.  In spite of his suburban milieu, he seemed unperturbed by the presence of a stranger. 

He looked at me through floppy hair, his youthful eyes at once assertive and defiant.  We both stared at each other for what felt like forever, each of us scrutinising the other.  I remembered him, remembered being him. 

Though the idea was impossible, I sensed through our wordless communion that he seemed to recognise me, like a precognition or prophecy of things to come.  Eventually, the dog broke the ice, emitting a low “ruff” – evidently annoyed neither of us had acknowledged his stick.

“I like your dog,” I managed as I crouched to pet the gently panting animal.  The top of his head was warm from exertion and his fur felt silky to the touch.

“Thanks, his name is Toby”, the replied. 

The boy’s cadence was immediately familiar and uncomfortable to my ears, not unlike the sensation of hearing your own voice recorded then played back.

“Are you a friend of my brother’s?” the boy then asked unprompted, his tone curious and his face confused as he tried to place my features.

“Yeah.  Stopped by before, but he wasn’t home”.

It was a white lie, but one I could justify if it meant fostering trust.  Now face to face with my quarry I found myself unexpectedly speechless.  I searched my mind furiously for appropriate conversation to make with a ten-year-old.

“How come you’re not in school?” I enquired.

“What’s it to you?” he spat, defensively.

Of course.  I’d forgotten his spirit.  This was a kid perpetually aggrieved.  Resentful of adults and self-appointed authority figures.  In many ways, it was a tendency I had failed to outgrow.

“Nothing really.  Just making conversation.  You know I grew up round here too.  Used to spend most of my school holidays on my bike.  Had a dog just like this as well.  We’d hang out at Miller’s creek.  One time I even found a severed hand”.

“Cool”, the boy offered begrudgingly, his eyes widening with excitement, “Did you get to keep it?”

I smiled at his question and the idea that a severed limb would present itself as an exciting souvenir.

“Nah.  My Dad wouldn’t let me”.

Silence again.

“Where’s your bike now?”, the boy asked.  

I studied the red bicycle, its frame flimsy and covered with stickers and found myself unable to recall its ultimate fate.

“Gone”, I shook my head, “A long time ago” I replied sadly.

I was a man out of time, literally embedded in a memory, conversing with the past. 

And just like that, I suddenly realised the magnitude of what I’d done, the unmitigated hubris of the journey I had made and its enormous ramifications. The realisation was a knife, as though the human mind was ill designed to perceive reality outside normal linear flow.

“Okay.  See you round then”, the boy said as he clambered back onto his bike and slowly rode off, his faithful quadruped in tow.  Before I could reply, he was gone, the boy and bike and dog growing smaller as they disappeared into the distance.

My original intention had been to remain here and mentor him.  I could be a friend to him, disconnected from family, as he processed all the rage and shame that awaited him in the days and years to come.  But as the moment of our meeting evaporated, I was struck with a different idea.

Medical applications.

Erikson had beleaguered the point.  On certain occasions the device could be used to create a localised stasis field with a finite radius.  Within the perimeter, the decay of organic matter could be slowed by inducing a cyclical temporal state – a living hold.  Seconds.  Minutes.  Hours and even days.  Cycle mode.  Though not the intended use for this technology, this function had been used to save the lives of critically injured persons close to death, yet far away from medical attention.  The idea was that if the patient was alive within a repeating cycle of sixty seconds, for example, their condition wouldn’t deteriorate further.

I extracted the device from my pocket and made my way through the menu settings.  Cycle Mode: hours, designated period: two four zero zero.  I set the radius to five thousand meters.

The brown-haired boy would forever be trapped in a bubble, living out the same day, over and over again.  But I had to act fast, before he moved too far away from me and outside the device’s limited radius.

Now, almost outside my own body, I wondered what would happen to me.  From a subjective standpoint, this would most likely be the last thing I’d ever do.  I had no idea what to expect.  Would I too be trapped in an endless loop, experiencing only a few minutes of consciousness beginning outside Cherry’s house?  Would I simply vanish into oblivion having enabled a terrible paradox?  Would this, in fact, constitute an act of self-termination?

By way of my action, I was manufacturing a timeline in which this boy would never grow up, and his dog would be immortal.  He’d never cast off the mouldy inhibitions of his childhood home and run roaring through the streets with a cigarette searching for himself.

This dour youth, so full of boyish vinegar would never acquaint himself with his smile.  He’d never get a job, learn to drive, have sex, smoke a joint, wear a suit, pay taxes and repeatedly fall in and out of love.  He’d never be afforded the luxury of cultivating taste in music, partake in the share market or express opinions on politics and religion.  He’d never make the cascading series of mistakes that would lead him right back to where I stood, the moment I occupied, standing in a field holding this device looking at him.  A cycle broken and at once complete.  Would this be, in point of fact, a deliberate act of murder?

No.  It was an act of mercy.  He’d be spared his growth into adulthood and forever trapped in the happy amber of childhood.  I inhaled once as I activated the cycle mode, unsure of what to expect, but certain of what I saw before me.  One perfect day, in perpetuity.  A boy and his dog, moving with burning grace, young and alive forever.


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SHORT STORY: The House Always Wins