Sucker Punch. A short tale.

Here is another piece I wrote for a recent course that is now finished, so I’m free to post it.

 

I feel the fist as it hits me hard in the jaw. My head shakes violently; I hear the soft crack at my jawline and a seeping pain overwhelms my thoughts. I stumble sideways, my arms up, guarding my skull. His blows come in a flurry, faster now but imprecise, attempting to break through my defences. At times, he varies his attacks, all of them with self-righteous fury but a lack of finesse and no other purpose than to pummel me into submission.

I feel his knuckles crunch my nose, sharp pain smashing straight through and my skull snapping back and forth like a bobble head on a spring. It gives him an opening and he smacks the side of my head just below my brow, where a ring he is wearing cuts deep. Blood flows freely, down through my eye (sticky, stinging), down my face, along my neck and soaking into my shirt collar. I stumble, my vision blurring, arms still up and aching from bruises that seem to echo through my bones.

Time has slowed, and I sense others pulling him back as I fall to my knees. I’m lucky. At this point he could have taken me out, killed me if he wanted. My mind is adrift in a haze of shapes and motion and as darkness closes in I barely feel the pavement as it greets me with one last sucker punch.

Copyright Means Rent. An ‘Alpha Girl, Beta Max and Me’ story.

This was a submission for a uni course I recently finished, answering a question about Australian copyright law.  I included Alpha Girl and Beta Max because copyright law is pretty dry, and I don’t actually say that much about it here.

When I undertake university courses I see questions like this all the time, and think to myself “I’ve just read the subject matter, do you want me to parrot it back?” Perhaps I’m being a bit petulant, because I know we have to demonstrate that we have a working knowledge. So, rant over.

It is vitally important that authors today (or their agent, if they wish to employ one), have a working knowledge of the legalities of copyright and contracts. I know in some of my previous posts I have facetiously commented that “I’m lazy and would rather have the agent do the work on the legal stuff”, or words to that effect. Reading the week 8 study guide notes sparked my interest, calling to mind my times working in public policy, interpreting and clarifying legislation.

(“Did you just say you worked in policy?” says Alpha Girl, torn away from her magazine and ongoing role as permanent lounge fixture. “I thought you were too stupid to work anywhere—isn’t that why you laze around the house writing blogs all day, instead of getting a real job?”) 

Knowing your rights as an author in terms of the publishing, sales of rights and distribution of royalties are important to ensure you aren’t ripped off, for want of a better term.

(“You’ve been ripping me off for a while, now,” says Alpha Girl, under her breath. “I know ‘writing’ is your excuse not to pay more rent.”

“I can still hear you,” I reply.)

I found the section on What copyright covers interesting. Plagiarism is something that we are constantly reminded of as students, and I like to know that my own work is protected just as others are. Moral Rights and Fair Dealing (along with PLR and ELR) were aspects I wasn’t familiar with prior to reading the guide.

I found the most interesting section to be the Author Contract, and could see why the author’s (and/or his agent’s) knowledge of the contractual process could be so important – not only in regards to retaining rights in international territories, but also to include clauses on remaindered works to ensure options for buying old stock (as no royalties are available on them), Scope and Quality (the power of knockback!) and Subsidiary Rights (on-selling rights into other media).

(Beta Max bounds in after a hard day at work and equally hard session at the pub. He smells of stale sweat, alcohol and Winfields.

“What you working on, bro?” he says, staring over my shoulder as he opens a beer can.

“Copyright law,” I reply. He switches off, leaps over the back of the lounge and plants his butt on the cushions, spilling beer in the process; we both laugh. Alpha Girl scolds him with her rolled-up magazine.

“So, does that mean you’ll make money from your writing, now,” she says, scowling at Beta Max all the while.

“It means I know about contracts and protecting my work, just in case I get signed as an author,” I reply.

“So much for extra rent,” she says, rolling her eyes.)

The Sale. Part 6. A short story.

I pushed off the door and bolted to the pantry, glimpsing back briefly to see the flame-haired mistress of the blade standing in the frame as the door swung open and hit the wall.

The pantry was bigger than I expected, a central corridor lined with shelves of food products—more like a mini-market than a larder. The old butler was beckoning from a shadowy open space at the end. I ran and dived in. He slammed the door shut behind me. It was black as pitch for a moment, until I heard the click of a zippo and a small flame illuminated his ghoulish features.

“We’re safe for the moment, sir,” he said. “I’ve locked it.”

As if on cue, the sound of knife striking woodwork. The butler jumped. “Just to be safe, perhaps we’d better move on.”

I got up, dusted myself off and looked around. The flame from the lighter didn’t provide much illumination. The corridor was the width of a small closet, and extended away into the darkness. Dust coated every surface, and cobwebs hung low from the ceiling. The smell of mould and wood rot assaulted my nostrils.

The sound of battering from the door ceased.

“She’s stopped,” I whispered.

“If I know the mistress, she’s thinking of another way,” he replied. “She’s always been quite dogmatic in her pursuits.”

“She does this often?” I said, looking up at him (still an imposing figure, even at his age). “Look, I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself earlier. I’m John.”

He shook my hand warmly, a strong and faintly sweaty grip. “Pleasure to meet you, sir. I am Silas. I have been the butler of this residence for over fifty years. Mistress Junifer Vasilikov is the latest in the long line of tenants to occupy it.” A pause for effect. “And possibly the maddest.”

Silas smiled, and pointed down the murky corridor. “Now, I think we had better get a move on. I’m sure Mistress Junifer will be back soon.”

As he languidly hobbled away, I glimpsed back at the sealed secret door. Stuck in a dim, dank corridor with an old guy and a lighter. I guessed I wouldn’t be making a sale tonight…

To be continued…

The Sale. Part 5. A short story.

I ran.

The old butler had a head start into the corridor, but he was shuffling at such an antiquated pace I easily overtook him.

I glanced back at the mad woman approaching from the living room, knife flashing in time to each stride. “Where?” I yelled, manically.

“The kitchen, sir,” he replied, pointing a gnarled digit to the door opposite.

I rushed inside and waited for him to catch up, which he did just as the crazy lady exited the lounge room. “My mother was killed by a vacuum cleaner,” she cried, stabbing the knife into the outside of the door as it slammed shut.

The butler and I had our backs to the door. We could hear the mistress of the house wantonly assaulting the woodwork. The kitchen was spacious, with old fashioned appliances, a solid oak island and a large open pantry off to the right. No other exits. “Suggestions?” I said.

“If you hold the door, sir, I will do some investigation.” As he removed his considerable weight to toddle off to the pantry, the mad woman got some purchase and started pushing harder. The narrow gap between door and frame was a combat zone in miniature.

“Why did you invite me in if you knew she had such an issue with vacuums?” I yelled after him. “My mother was killed by a vacuum cleaner!” came a muffled reminder from beyond the door.

The butler’s wizened head poked out of the pantry. “I’m so sorry, sir. My memory’s not what it used to be.”

I rolled my eyes and put my shoulder into the door, reducing some of her progress. The butler stuck his head out again. “I have found a solution to our quandary, sir. There is a secret door in the pantry.”

I looked at him, dumbfounded. “A secret door? What is this place, a gothic castle? Who has secret doors in their pantries?”

“I believe it was left over from the days of the Civil War, sir.”

“So how do I get to this secret door?”

“You’ll have to run.”

“But she’ll get in!”

“I hope you’re a fast runner, then.”

To be continued…

The Spell. A short tale.

I saw you again today.

You hadn’t changed at all, but of course I shouldn’t have expected you too. After all, it had been but a few weeks, and nobody can be expected to change much in that time. Your beauty outshone everyone else in the room, like a lighthouse between hazardous reefs. I could only glance for a short while, lest I be blinded by your light; I was far too unworthy.

You didn’t acknowledge me at all, and although I was saddened by this apparent rebuke, I understood. You were so infinitely far away, and yet only a few steps lay between us. I was distracted by others, by casual, innocuous conversation, and by the time I looked back again, you were gone.

I smiled grimly as I left that place, knowing that you were a pipedream, an illusion beyond the power of choice. As my eyes moistened, I wondered if I would ever be free of the weave of your magic. Perhaps not.

But if never, then what a fine spell to be under.

The Sale. Part 4. A short story.

The crazy lady was right up in my face, spittle flicking onto my cheek as she voiced her objection. I backed up, hands raised. “Look, I’m really sorry,” I said. “I really didn’t know you had a tragedy related to…cleaning products.”

As if from nowhere, she extracted a huge butcher’s knife from its hiding place behind her back. It glinted malevolently in her hand, matching the glint in her eye. The yelp that escaped my lips was more feminine than I would have liked. My eyes widened to the size of saucers, adrenaline surged and my voice trembled. “I can see you’re probably planning dinner, so maybe I should take my leave.” I continued backing away.

The redhead stared at me through eyes that were a thin line of vehemence. The knife blade shimmered in the firelight. “My mother was killed…by a vacuum cleaner.”

“Sir?” From behind me, the butler’s shaking voice.

I didn’t dare turn around. “Yes?” I said, my voice breaking involuntarily.

“Run.”

To be continued…

The Sale. Part 3. A short story.

The living room was immense, I almost needed binoculars to identify the furniture. This consisted of a few ornate and dusty lounges, chairs and a worn coffee table, all encircling a huge twenty-foot wide hearth, a fire burning briskly within. Exotic, cobweb-covered chandeliers shone dimly from the ceiling far above—the light they cast had very little impact on the dancing shadows cast by the flames. My previous confidence in a quick sale was evaporating, unlike the sweat forming on my brow from the heat in the room. The butler lurched to a stop by the door, out of breath.

Standing before the crackling fire was a short woman: young and thin, attractive, with shoulder length red hair, dressed in a twenties-style shimmering knee high cocktail dress that had seen better days. “So, you’re a cleaner?” Her voice was accented, something European, but not easily definable.

I smiled and held out my hand. “I’m John,” I said. “I’m here to clean one sofa or floor, obligation free. And all you have to do is watch a demonstration of the amazing Dirby Vacuum Cleaner.”

She shrank back in horror. Guess my pitch needed some work. Her face screwed up in a look of angry intensity, verging on rage. I was taken aback—it wasn’t like I was a Jehovah’s Witness or anything. As she spoke, she ground out each syllable through clenched teeth. “My-mother-was-killed-by-a-vacuum-cleaner.”

Well, that was unexpected.

To be continued…

(And my apologies to any Jehovah’s Witnesses reading this. I have nothing against you, it just sounded funny in context.)

The Sale. Part 2. A short story.

The rain was falling harder now. I raised my collar against the cold and turned to go, lifting the heavy vacuum kit awkwardly beside me.

The door slowly opened with a long creak (it was like it had its own theme song, the patter of rain the accompanying percussion). I turned and jumped.

The fellow in the doorway was huge, at least seven feet tall, with a face so wrinkled and jowls so pronounced it looked like it was melting. He was dressed in a butler’s coat and tails, and as he opened his mouth the harsh intake of breath that preceded his words sounded like a death rattle. “Yes?”

Don’t stare a gift horse in the mouth. Or at least, the chest. “Hi there.” A broad smile and hand outstretched, false confidence disguising nervousness. “I represent Dirby Vacuum Cleaners, and we’re offering an obligation-free clean. I’ll vacuum one sofa or the floor of one room within your house, to demonstrate how versatile and powerful the Dirby is. Best vacuum on the market.” I patted the top of the kit like it was a good dog.

He stared down at me without emotion and his aged voice seemed to mimic the creak of the door as he spoke. “I’ll have to ask the mistress of the house.” The door closed. I stood, tapping my foot anxiously. A few minutes later he returned. “The mistress will see you in the living room.”

The butler led me slowly through the entryway, every shuffling footstep at an agonising tortoise-like pace. My previous fears were evaporating quickly. I was keen to get the kit unpacked, clean the floor and demonstrate how good this vacuum was—butler and big mansion equalled money to waste, and this was an opportunity I couldn’t afford to miss… 

To be continued…

The Sale. Part 1. A short series.

I’ve just started a new uni subject, and one of the threads on the discussion boards is about re-writing clichés. This is my first post from that thread (it’s not part of the marking process so I can post it here now, otherwise I would have to wait until the course was over).

I’m going to continue this series on a semi-regular basis.

 

It was a dark and stormy night.

Okay, it wasn’t really that dark. There were big street lights, like super A-grade halogens (the city council must have had a bigger budget in this town than my last). And I guess a light drizzle wasn’t really a storm, but I hated getting wet.

I wandered up to the old house, knocked on the door. Three knocks (always three knocks. I must have been a bit compulsive). Called out to see if anyone was home. Nobody answered. It was a grand old place, three stories, Tudor styling, three chimneys, nice iron fittings and railings. Stone gargoyles hanging somewhat out of place from the eaves. Your average suburban gothic chic. But I wasn’t going to let a creepy place and some damp weather stop me from making a sale. No way. I was going to sell a vacuum cleaner to these people if it killed me.

Famous last words…

To be continued…

 

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