Short Friction

Writing to entertain and to stimulate thought

Posts Tagged ‘Carl Williams

A Reformation

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The following story contains violent scenes that you may find disturbing.

Author introduction

This is a piece I wrote in 1999 as the main assessment for a creative writing course at Melbourne University. It was inspired by current news at the time and my own reflections on media reporting conventions, my studies in Psychology and Philosophy and my observations on people’s strategies for coming to terms with terrible events. This story examines a character who does atrocious things. I have deliberately written this character as an enigma, with no apparent reason for the decisions he has made in life. For those who know me who might read this and recognise aspects of the story, it is to create that enigma that I have deliberately used some events or scenarios from my own, stable and functional, early life in the development of the character Marcus.

With the recent death of Carl Williams in custody, this story seemed to me to be fitting to publish now.

When I read this story now, I can hardly believe I could have written about such things. I both hate it and love it. You’ve been warned. Twice.

The Supermarket I

George meets him in aisle seven — dairy goods and frozens. He is reaching for the low fat yogurt his wife likes him to get and this guy says, “cold, innit?” and just grins at him strange-like. Until now, George hadn’t thought about the temperature. He just wanted to grab the stuff he needed and go. He hates Shopping Day. But now this bloke has drawn his attention to it, he feels one of those shivers run through him. Like the sort when if someone sees you, they go, “someone walked over your grave?” Only, this guy doesn’t say that, he just grins and waits. “Yeah,” says George.

“Story I hear,” says this guy, “is they make it cold so’s you’ll be feeling more hungry and buy more.” And he grins again, then just wanders off.

George stands still for a moment, then shakes his head and drops the yogurt in his basket and moves on. He just wants to get out of here.

A while later, in the cereals and health foods section, George hears shouting from the opposite end of the supermarket — down where the fruit and veg and fancy-bum deli are. Sounds like kids are setting off fireworks. Security guards are suddenly coming from nowhere, headed for a central point down there. George imagines a huge magnet obscured by the drinks shelf. Security guards are all sticking to it and waving their arms and legs around hopelessly and bellowing like tipped cows.

George grabs a box of “Special K” and a couple of packets of high-fibre muesli.

George moves to the sauces section. The fireworks are still going off. Someone has started screaming. Stupid kids. George grabs a bottle of soy sauce and some of that fancy tobasco stuff his wife insists on getting. He just wants to get out of here.

George checks his list. Real coffee beans, broccoli, carrots and mushrooms — all in the same section of the supermarket — the one now made hazardous by frolicking youth. As George looks up from his list, he notices the staff at the checkouts are leaving in an undignified hurry. He exchanges a puzzled glance with an elderly gentleman further down the aisle, who is grasping a jar of mustard like it is his saviour.

George heads for the end of the supermarket, still hearing the popping of fireworks. Why, he wonders, haven’t the security guards stopped them yet?

He begins to formulate an answer to this question when he steps on a hand. It is a security guard’s hand. Looking for a corresponding face to apologise to, he discovers it amidst a pool of blood and other people’s bodies. There are bodies everywhere, some of them adults, some children, littered around a central point. That guy with the grin. The guy with the grin with the gun. Pointed at George.

George freezes. At the back of his mind, he wonders if he should be doing something — leaping, throwing things, running, or just having his life flash before his eyes. But all he can do is stand and watch the guy with the grin and the gun walk slowly closer and — oh, yes — drop his basket of groceries to the floor and slowly, half-heartedly, raise his hands in homage to an over-saturation with Hollywood blockbusters.

Grinning gun guy keeps moving forward with a look of childlike fascination at this scenario he has created. He moves right up until he is standing close enough to George to reach out and touch his wrinkled face. George barely feels the warm stream coursing down his leg. He is focusing all his concentration on being afraid.

The guy with the grin and the gun stares into George’s eyes and puts the gun to his temple. George trembles.

Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, there is a jolt and the grin is gone and the gun is gone and the guy is kneeling on the floor with his arms over his head and rocking on his feet and weeping, weeping.

George doesn’t know what to do. So he kneels down and takes the sobbing guy’s hand and he puts his arm around him and he weeps with him.

In the distance, the sound of sirens.


Lunchtime. Every space surrounding the schoolrooms that hasn’t been placed under a curse by those magical words, “Out Of Bounds”, erupts into a frenzy of shouting children. Globally, they spread out to fill an enormous area, but locally they stick together in smaller lumps. These lumps move and run and shout. Sometimes the lumps break into smaller lumps, and sometimes two lumps join to form one bigger lump. Lumps skip rope and lumps kick footballs. Lumps tighten their bonds and giggle into walls. Lumps throw stones at the gigglers. Everywhere, lumps do these things — no free-floating particles.

Only one free-floating particle — Marcus. The lump-watcher.

Lumps call him Nigel, even though it isn’t his name. He puts it down to their age.

Lumps push him into the gigglers, shattering them into particles like drops of water.
They quickly regather.

Marcus sits in the dust blinking.
An enormous lump — a mass — has formed by the monkey bars. Marcus wanders over.

A particle fell on its head. The sand below the bars is stained red around it and its neck is twisted in a new way.
Marcus thinks it looks interesting.

Marcus remembers his sandwich and unwraps it to eat. He looks at the fallen particle while he chews. Crumbs fall to the ground and become part of the red stain.

The sound of crying comes from the mass and it exudes fear and confusion. Marcus notices how the particle’s right arm is twisted behind its head. He wonders if his own arm could do that. He tries.
It can’t be done.

A teacher. The mass separates, and flushes with a tide of relief. The teacher bends over the fallen. The particle’s eyes open and stare straight at Marcus. He’s never seen eyes like that. It is wonderful — like they are seeing a dancing, talking fish just behind Marcus’ shoulder.
Marcus grins back at the eyes, then finishes his sandwich.

A Theory of Human Nature

I don’t have a first memory. I feel I have in some way let myself down by this. It is like I should have tried harder to keep my memories ordered and catalogued, and made sure to update them once in a while to keep them clear and fresh. But I didn’t. So when it comes to early memories, there is no discernible first. Some things I remember one day, and not the next. I don’t know if the memory of my mother showing me my broken bottle comes before or after the memory of watching my older brother and his friend running around in Superman capes.

I do remember watching the news once, and there was this thing about some woman who’d capsized her yacht in rough waters and had to be rescued at some ridiculous cost like six million dollars or something. All this crap about being politically correct, not discriminating between class and race and all that. All that moaning and bitching about the poor sods in third world countries starving to death. And then what? They go spend six million dollars to save one miserable, ungrateful idiot where the same amount could have saved hundreds more.

And, after all that, she undoubtedly just got back in her yacht and sailed off again.

Thirteen people were killed yesterday when a car bomb exploded outside a hotel in Port Moresby.

New Colgate Whitening. Now available in three great flavours!

Every twenty seconds, a child dies of starvation.

Carla is forced to make a decision that could change her life forever.
Who will go with Natasha to the graduation ball?
Don’t miss the gripping drama, six-thirty tonight on ten.

Now there is a bank that can look after all your needs.
Which bank?

Melbourne’s drug problem continues to worsen, with heroin overdoses becoming an increasing problem in our city streets.

Dazzling colour! And at a price anyone can afford.

Now with a handy measuring dispenser. So you’ll never use more than you need.

It amazes me how many of them know exactly what is wrong with the world while it continues to stay wrong. I read the newspaper and they say, “in the days before television was in every home, people could leave their doors unlocked and take late night walks without fearing for their lives.”

In the 1960s, smallpox was a major world problem, with fifteen million deaths every year worldwide. In 1969, the first man landed on the moon. Missions to the moon continued until the end of 1972. Within three years of the last moon landing, smallpox was declared entirely eradicated from India. Four years after that, it was declared gone from the earth completely.

Thank the Lord for Neil Armstrong.

But, despite their convictions, still they watch television. Maybe just to remind themselves how unsafe their streets really are.

I figure this is proof they don’t make any sense. It all goes to further support my general theory of human nature.

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Today when I was taking my morning walk, I cut through the children’s playground. I like to sit on the little park bench and watch the interaction between the children and their parents. I enjoy trying to guess which parents belong to which kids. It is rarely difficult.

On my way to the park bench, a girl shouted, “Daddy! Daddy, look!” while running from the play equipment toward me, holding some object in one hand. She ran right up to me and grabbed my trouser leg, looking up with eyes all full of discovery. But she saw I wasn’t her father and all the discovery was gone and she turned and ran to find her real father.

Early on in my life, my father had made a point of being really close to his children. He always had plenty of time for them, and he would try to include them in his activities whenever he could. If there were things he needed to do when they asked him to play with them, he wouldn’t ever say, “No kids, Daddy is busy right now… maybe later, though?” No, he would turn what he had to do into a game that they could all be part of. If he had to mow the lawn, the back yard became the surface of the moon and the mower a machine for laying the foundation of a moon base. His children were a scout party, checking ahead of him for the alien enemy — sticks and rocks — which would thwart his efforts by jamming his foundation machine. They were to prevent such a disaster by locating the foe and launching them into the furthest reaches of space — in this case a drainage ditch that ran along the fence line.

But when I was only seven, I made it impossible for him to maintain a closeness with me. It was a school afternoon, when my brother and sister were both away on a school camp held for the older grades. So it was just my father and myself. We were in the tool shed. My father had to replace the mower blades, as they had encountered one too many of the aliens that had been too clever for all of us. My job was to find and destroy the hiding places of the alien spies that would discover the deepest secrets of the foundation machine if they saw my father at work. This basically meant going through the shed and clearing out all the cobwebs. However, since my father had decided he liked spiders and didn’t believe in hurting them, I was to have mercy on the spies themselves. I thought this was totally illogical, considering the number of arachnid and insect deaths he must have caused every time he mowed the lawn.
So I pulled off their legs when he wasn’t looking.

I got bored with the game too quickly, and soon began occupying myself by looking at all the different tools in the shed and wondering what interesting things I could use them for. That’s when I spotted my father’s precious machete. He’d always told us how it was very sharp and very dangerous, which made it a highly desirable thing to play with. I suddenly had an insatiable desire to see what he would do if I started playing with it. So I unsheathed the machete and started using it to noisily hack away at the cobwebs.

My father was concentrating pretty hard on the mower, though, and didn’t even notice. I was still hacking away, waiting for him to notice, wanting to see how he would react, when I had another idea.

I crept up behind him with the machete and slowly brought it level with his arm. Then I shouted, “Daddy! Look!” and cut a deep gouge in his arm as he spun around. For a moment he couldn’t grasp what had just happened. His other hand automatically leapt to his arm to stem the flow of blood. And he just stared at me. Then the signals of what had happened to his arm actually reached his brain. “Marcus! What did you do that for?!” he roared at me.
I just dropped the machete and grinned at him.

From that day on, my father and I grew very much apart.

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I met this guy in the Bourke street mall once who claimed he was Jesus. He was handing out fliers announcing the end of the age, and telling anyone who was willing to listen that he was Jesus, and this was his second coming. “The Son of God walks this earth for the second time,” he told me, “and you are speaking to Him now.” Then he asked me if I wanted to see The House of God.

I thought, “this has to be interesting”, and agreed to go with him.

I helped him hand out the rest of his fliers, although I left the job of claiming to be Jesus to him. After he’d given out all he had, he took me to where his battered yellow Celica was parked, and we drove for over an hour to reach his house.

The House of God was a run-down wooden hut at that point just beyond the northernmost Melbourne suburbs where suddenly everything is farms. Inside there was an ancient table with a warped top, and two milk crates for seats. There was no bed.

Jesus showed me around with a single sweep of his arm. Then he sat down and started to tell me all sorts of things about his father’s plan for all humanity. It mostly seemed to involve making cheese from goat’s milk. He showed me one of his goats, which tried to eat my jacket.

I asked him how he expected he would die this time around, and he told me he would be publicly executed like last time.

So I shot him in the face.

It turned out he’d been a millionaire. He’d had all this money from who-knows-where, and spent his life living in that dump. In his will, he left everything he had to some weirdo charity. It was all in the papers.

Of course, next thing you know some guy appears out of nowhere and claims to be his illegitimate son, and contests the will in court. A couple of months later he was serving a life sentence for the cold-blooded murder of the Son of God.

The Supermarket II

When I woke up this morning, I had nothing to do. I just lay in bed wondering what interesting thing I could do to fill in my day. I turned on the television to see if it could help me.
The ad with the singing potatoes came on.

I decided it was time to do some grocery shopping.

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I enter the supermarket by going the wrong way through a checkout aisle. This unnerves the staff at the registers somewhat, which is good. I take one of the baskets stacked by checkout aisle six. It is green with black handles, which I like. I put the roll of lifesavers and the Cosmopolitan magazine I picked up on the way through the checkout in the basket and head for the hardware and kitchen utensils area, right at the end of the supermarket. There is a security guard gazing into space in the corner by the spatulas, can openers and roasting pans. It is a good place for him. He can stay there.

There is a young lady in the middle of the aisle looking for the best valued dishwashing brush. I move to stand very close to her, and reach across in front of her to take a packet of dishwashing gloves and put it in my basket. She gives me a Look, and moves to look at items she doesn’t really want to buy in the corner opposite the security guard. It isn’t exactly where I think she should be, but it will do.

I circuit round the back of the supermarket to aisle seven. There’s a guy there getting stuff from the dairy section. He is a person I need to talk to. I walk over to him, and tell him it is cold. This seems new to him, and he considers it before giving an acknowledging shiver. I explain why it must be so, and move on.

This is how it should work.

I move to the fruit and vegetables section, at the opposite end to hardware. I take an orange and two lemons and smile at a child becoming increasingly bored in her mother’s trolley. Then I place my basket on top of some bags of potatoes, take out my gun and shoot a man at the deli in the back. The glass of the deli cabinet is spattered with his blood as it shatters and he falls to the ground. The mother of the child in the trolley spins to stare at me, then slowly covers her child’s head protectively with her hands.

Should I shoot the mother or the child first?

I decide to shoot the child. The bullet tears first through the mother’s protective hands, then hits the child. A look of grief, horror and disbelief wrenches the mother’s face into a disfigured grimace. I watch her for a while, then shoot her, too. Nobody has screamed. Everyone who has seen what’s going on is frozen with fear. That is good.

And suddenly it has started. Shouting. People are either running at me, presumably in an attempt to be heroic, or running away from me. I shoot them all. Screaming. For a while it seems like I will never kill the last of them — they just keep coming from around shelves and displays. But eventually there is no more movement. I stop to survey my creation. I find it Very Good.

But now the guy from aisle seven appears from behind the drinks shelf. He hasn’t seen me yet. He is looking at the bodies littering the floor and his face is calm. As though he is looking for something he dropped.
It hasn’t registered for him yet.

But then he sees me, and I see the realisation in his face. Excellent. I keep the gun pointed at him, and walk closer. The others I had to kill too quickly. This time I want to watch the full process of fear in action. He slowly raises his hands in a way that makes me want to laugh. But this must be a serious moment, so I refrain and just grin a bit more. I walk right up to him and stare into his face. The look of fear is so precious. I reach out and touch his cheek. It is trembling ever so slightly. I put the gun to his temple, and stare into his eyes. I want to see what happens there.

But what I see in those eyes is not what I expect. I am hit with sudden doubt. I look away briefly, and think, “I’ll get over it.” But I don’t. When I look back again, what I see in those eyes destroys in a moment all that I had planned. In an instant, what I see in those eyes sends my intentions, my reasons, my actions and my conclusions into a confused, meaningless jumble.

He is looking back at me. He is me.

I can’t shoot me. He is me. I can’t shoot him.

I feel my grin disintegrate as I am overpowered by a tide of emotion completely new to me. I can’t shoot him. I feel like I have been kicked in my stomach, back and head all at once. I collapse on the floor. I feel I am not in complete control over my actions any more. I feel vulnerable. I can’t shoot him.

I feel alone.

But the man from aisle seven shows me I am not. In an action that forces me to seriously doubt my theory of human nature, he kneels down and comforts me.

This is how we stay, sobbing uncontrollably, our tears mixing with the blood and urine on the supermarket floor, until the police arrive and handcuff us both to take us away.

A Revised Theory of Human Nature

The night after the shooting, my mind was in turmoil. I had lost control of myself in the supermarket. Nothing like it had ever happened to me before. I tried to convince myself I’d just imagined the look in the man’s eyes.

When I finally managed to sleep, I dreamt about the girl in the park.

This time she was running through the supermarket towards me, holding something that had caught her eye in another aisle. She ran up to me and grabbed my trouser leg. But when she saw I wasn’t her daddy she looked around for a moment before spotting him, lying on the floor near the avocadoes. As she ran over to him, I followed her, and watched as she shook his body and held the object in front of his eyes. And I shuddered. I knew those eyes. They were seeing the dancing, talking fish. The girl became frustrated with her father and started punching him and crying, “Daddy, Daddy, get up! Daddy look stop lying on the floor Daddy get up!”

But he didn’t get up.

And the girl looked up at me and she knew. And her look touched something inside of me and I exploded and become thousands of tiny cockroaches all over the supermarket. There were men in suits and masks, walking slowly and spraying gas from long rods connected to packs on their backs. And they sprayed and used words like “infestation” and asked questions like, “how have we let it get so bad? What have we done wrong? How much worse is it going to be next time?”

Men walked behind them in white coats and just talked. Some said, “it’s the parents, the parents. If it weren’t for the parents we wouldn’t have this problem.” And others said, “it’s the environment. It’s the supermarket — it is so conducive to these infestations.” And some nodded and some shook and together they worried about the problem. Because they couldn’t see.

Where one roach is allowed to survive, a thousand will come to live.

I scurried away from their sickening fumes. I moved in a tide to the car park. There, I pulled myself together and started to walk home.

Every time I passed a person on the way, I saw the world through their eyes. I had their thoughts: they looked at me and their thoughts were nothing.
They didn’t know who I was.

They didn’t care.

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George has been coming to visit me regularly. He wants to reform me: turn me into a fine, Upstanding Citizen. I don’t know what the point of it is. It isn’t like they’ll ever let me out.

I think that, for the first time, he has found a purpose in his life — me. I decided to play along for a while.

He has been trying to teach me that other people are just like me. I nod and smile and pretend, occasionally, that he has said something transforming. But of course, I can’t believe what he says — despite my confusion in the supermarket. I would be a bad person if I believed him.

But George truly believes he is reforming me. And so, I guess, do the guards — lately they have been letting us speak face-to-face, instead of having a divider between us. This is good, because it makes my plan to finish what I should have done in the supermarket a whole lot easier.

Today when he arrives, he says he has an important question for me which he thinks I am now ready to answer. I nod and wait. He asks, am I Sorry for what I did?

“George,” I answer, “I would do it again if I had the chance.”

The sudden grief in his face reminds me of the mother in the supermarket.
I pull out a length of wire I’ve been keeping in my shoe.

Suddenly he jumps out of his chair towards me. His expression has been transformed from grief to pure, animal hatred.

The wire got tangled up in my shoe. I drop it.
Where did he go?

Arms grab me from behind. They are surprisingly strong. Their surprising strength is on my neck. I try to turn around but his hold makes it impossible.
For the second time, I find I am not in control of a situation.
He is choking me.

The guards are only beginning to stir. Why are they so slow? Don’t they know who I am?

I am having trouble breathing. The guards should be doing something. Don’t they understand how important I am? What would become of the world if I was no longer in it?

My vision is beginning to cloud up. Through the blur, I see a guard has finally arrived. He pulls out his hitting stick and tries to use it to beat George off me. But his aim is bad. He keeps missing George and hitting me.

This can’t happen to me.

I keep struggling. George is still strangling me and the guard is still hitting me. I am summoning up all my strength to break George’s hold and escape this whole nightmare when I notice something standing behind the guard.
It is a dancing, talking fish.

It is trying to sell me tap-water filters.


Written by shortfriction

08/05/2010 at 20:02