Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories
by Deborah Sheldon
Genre: Dark Horror, Crime Stories
Print Length: 285 pages
Publisher: IFWG Publishing International Publication Date: November 18, 2019
Brutal. Compelling. Sinister.
From wheat farms, roadhouses, caravan parks and beaches to quiet suburban streets and inner-city apartments, award-winning author Deborah Sheldon tells distinctly Australian stories about violence, loss, betrayal and revenge.
Figments and Fragmentsincludes three new stories written especially for the collection.
FIGMENTS AND FRAGMENTS: DARK STORIES By Deborah Sheldon
EXCERPT OF A SINGLE STORY
Blue Light Taxi
You stumble from the bar, giggling. The street is a blur of tram tracks, shop fronts and parked cars. There must be stars overhead, but the streetlights are too bright for you to see them.
“Wait,” you shout, and laugh, doubling up.
Far ahead, the two detectives, striding to a Holden sedan, stop and look around. You turn to the couple behind you. What are their names again? They are talking, not making sense, every syllable floating off like a balloon. The earth tilts beneath your stilettos. One of the detectives, the chubby-cheeked one, suddenly has his arm pressed around your waist, his sweating hand on your hip. You smell whisky and cigarettes.
“Come on, you can’t call it a night,” he says. “We’ve got that party, remember?”
You say, “Just help me to the car, Hedgehog.”
The chubby-cheeked detective sniggers. Hedgehog is your name for him; you came up with it during your fifth or sixth or whatever champagne. His short hair is gelled into needles, and he’s pear-shaped, a waddler, a stout little hedgehog on hind legs. You giggle again.
He says, “Can you walk? Do you want me to carry you?”
“Oh, no, I hope she’s not sick,” a female voice says.
You glance at the couple: the greasy-faced girl with her scruffy coat shedding nylon faux-fur from its lapels; the skinny boy with his straight-leg jeans, long fringe and cardigan. They are very young. Older than you, of course, but so cloistered and middle-class that when you and the detectives used them for laughs they didn’t even know it. But they bought drinks too, so what the hell.
“I think she needs coffee,” the chubby-cheeked detective says.
You push away from him and dash along the footpath towards the other detective, who has his hands on his hips, his suit jacket pushed back to reveal his crumpled shirt, his paunch, his shoulder holster, the butt of a .45. Your stiletto heels clack and smack against concrete. Each footfall sends shock waves up your legs. The world is sliding. The detective catches you by your elbows, straightens you up.
“Know what you look like?” he says. “A baby horse, all legs and no balance. I was waiting for you to face-plant.”
“Oh yeah? What would you have done?”
“Left you there.”
Under the streetlight, he’s a lot older than you thought, maybe fifty. He wears his thinning brown hair to his collar in a style too youthful for the lines around his eyes and the yellow of his long teeth.
You say, “If I’m Baby Horse and he’s Hedgehog, then you’re Mister Fox.” You laugh but he doesn’t.
He looks over your head and says, “What about them?” and lets go of you.
You turn. The couple is right there, staring at you. The girl especially seems fascinated, like she’s never seen anything like you before. It’s a look you already know from high school, you with your sneer and your piercings, those scars along your arms. Cliques of girls look at you that same way every lunchtime and recess when they walk on by.
“Hurry up, let’s go,” says the chubby-cheeked detective, standing at the Holden sedan. Then he snatches a parking ticket from under the windscreen wiper and flips it to the gutter without even looking at it, without even commenting. A warm thrill diffuses through you.
A V8 packed with teenagers and thumping rap music ploughs past. A bottle smashes against the footpath.
“Arrest them,” you shout, and lean against the Holden, closing your eyes.
You’re bundled into the back of the car. You crawl along the seat and slump against the window on the far side. The boy gets in next to you, the girl takes the other window seat, and the detectives are in front with the older one behind the wheel. The sedan pulls away from the kerb.
“Oh my God,” you say, peering around the driver’s seat to point at the two-way radio and handset recessed into the dashboard. “Is this an unmarked cop car?”
“Aw, don’t tell me this is your first ride in a blue light taxi,” says the chubby-cheeked detective. “A fine, upstanding girl like you.”
“Wow,” you say, “have you got lights and sirens?”
“It’s a frigging cop car, isn’t it?” he says, and snorts through his nose. “How many have you had tonight, honey? Bottles, not glasses. You’re way past counting glasses.” Yes, I am, you think. I’m way past counting anything anymore. For a few seconds, thoughts of home come to you, but staccato, each one quickly lost, beads on an open-ended string. It doesn’t matter. You don’t want to think about your family.
“What’s the fastest you can drive?” you say.
“Depends on the traffic,” the older detective says.
“Well, I can’t see much traffic right now.”
The older detective turns his head to catch your eye. He smirks. The chubby-cheeked detective gapes at you joyfully and slaps his thigh.
The older detective says, “She’s a bit of a firecracker, isn’t she? We’re gonna have to watch her, mate, what do you reckon?”
“Oh yeah,” the chubby-cheeked detective says. “Oh, shit yeah.”
“Come on,” you say. “Come on.”
They glance at each other. You become aware that you’re holding your breath. A small male voice says, “I don’t think we should.” Startled, you look around. It is the couple. You forgot about them, yet here they are, two church mice.
The acceleration slams you off balance. The siren and strobing lights almost stop your heart. Then you grab the back of the driver’s seat and hang on, whooping.
The car takes a corner, tyres screaming on the bitumen. You point at the red light up ahead and yell, “Don’t stop.” The car blows through the intersection. You point again, yelling, “Drive on the wrong side,” and the car fishtails over the line. The posted limit is sixty, but the speedometer quivers over one-twenty-five.
The chubby-cheeked detective, his eyes bright, murmurs, “Oh, honey, you’re loving this, right?”
You point at a one-way sign and yell, “Turn into that street,” and the car does. You are god of this machine. The rush threatens to take off the top of your skull.
There is a sudden dazzle of headlights.
The older detective leans on the horn and the headlights slew out of the way. You blast past a hatchback, a shocked face at the window, and your laugh is wild. The detectives are laughing too. You remember Mister and Missus Church Mouse and how much you hated their white-bread sensibilities but you’re expansive now, all forgiving, gracious, and you turn to them, a benevolent deity.
It’s a scene from another movie. The girl appears to be crying. The boy’s lips are pulled back from his teeth. The couple is shrunk into the seat, clutching at each other.
The car lurches to a halt. It is a red light. A semi-trailer is lumbering across the intersection.
The girl flings open the door. The couple tumbles from the car and sprints down the footpath, coat tails and cardigan flapping. Their animal panic makes you understand that you should be bailing right along with them, that these detectives should be watching the pitching frills of your polyester dress as you also run to safety.
“I guess they’ve changed their mind about the party,” the older detective says, and turns off the siren.
“Aw, stuff ’em, so what.” The chubby-cheeked detective gets out of the car, shuts the back door, and climbs into the front passenger seat again.
The older detective turns off the spinning blue and red lights. The car has pulled in its teeth and claws. Now it’s just another vehicle on the road, a plain Holden sedan. Your heart rate drops, your eyes fill. You’ve had enough but the night isn’t over yet.
“Ready, honey?” the chubby-cheeked detective says.
The light turns green.
I'm an award-winning author from Melbourne, Australia. I write short stories, novellas and novels across the darker spectrum.
My latest releases, through several publishing houses, include the horror novels "Body Farm Z", "Contrition", and "Devil Dragon"; the horror novella "Thylacines"; the crime-noir novellas "Dark Waters" and "Ronnie and Rita"; and the dark fantasy and horror collection "Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories" (winner of the Australian Shadows Best Collected Work 2017).
My short fiction has appeared in many well-respected magazines such as Quadrant, Island, Aurealis, SQ Mag, and Midnight Echo. My fiction has been shortlisted for numerous Australian Shadows Awards and Aurealis Awards, long-listed for a Bram Stoker Award, and included in various "best of" anthologies. I'm also guest editor of this year's edition of Midnight Echo.
Other credits include TV scripts such as Neighbours and Australia's Most Wanted, feature articles for national magazines, non-fiction books published by Reed Books and Random House, and award-winning medical writing.
My collection Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories contains 36 stories. They’re not connected to each other by plot or character, but by theme. I’m drawn to exploring the underbelly of what it means to be human. Without exception, every character is damaged in some way. They’ve been abandoned or betrayed, kicked around by life, and are trying to find shelter in a harsh world.
As the writer, every character contains a tiny slice of me. How could it be any other way? The act of writing demands honesty. When I want to write a short story, I mentally shuffle through my memories as if they were a giant pack of cards and pull out a single one. I study it for a while, ruminating, daydreaming. What does the memory suggest? What possibilities does it offer? And most importantly, what kind of character can I imagine growing out of it? And usually, that will be a starting point. In other cases, the inspiration may be a strong emotion that I need to redirect. These techniques are my main springboards to creating a character.
However, while the characters in Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories all share one psychological sliver of myself – probably no more than a nanometre in thickness – that’s where the similarities end. The characters are different from me in every respect. I’m not a memoirist. I never take an experience and try to capture it verbatim within a story.
Similarly, none of my characters are based on real people. I believe that faithfully representing the complexity of an actual person on paper is next to impossible. Especially in such a brief format as the short story! The personalities of my characters depend on my plot and vice versa; after all, they are two sides of the same coin.
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