Callum B. Downes

The Streets

The free-fall was longer than ever. Ten, twenty or maybe thirty seconds he was in the air. Arms flailing, eating his own stomach. He hit the surface hard. This time he woke up before the wave crushed him down into the lightless depths below. Though he was awake, the sound of tumbling white-water didn’t fade. He was on a beach. One end was covered in trees and the other in houses. He got up and walked towards the houses. Feeling peckish, he went into a takeaway shop and bought an ice cream for breakfast.

Everyone who walked past looked him up and down with disapproval. Curious to find out what was wrong with him, Billy approached the most innocent and helpful looking person on the street. “Excuse me, is there something wrong with me?”

The harmless looking man took a step back and kept his distance, as you do when you spot a spider or a hideous looking monster. “Is it that bad?” Asked Billy. But the man said nothing. “You know, you look pretty funny yourself.” Even though this was true; as the man wore stripy stockings, a vest, a bow-tie, a top hat, and was covered in white face paint with large red circles painted around his eyes, he frowned and remained silent.

“What’s the matter?” Demanded Billy. “Why won’t you just tell me?”

The man shrugged. A rich looking lady and her daughter walked past. In response, he began moving his arms and legs, pushing against the air around him as if he were struck in an imaginary box. The lady discarded some spare change into his top hat, which he now held out in front of him. She let out a horrified grunt when she passed Billy.

“You’re a street performer!” Yelled Billy, pointing at the man and jumping up and down on the spot. “Do you know a Mr William B? He’s a human statue from the Melbourne Cricket Ground.” The man narrowed his eyes in suspicion, as if to say, “yeah, who’s asking?”

“Do you know how to get there?” Continued Billy, ignoring the silence and taking the man’s reaction as a yes. “I’m one of his students and I’ve come to finish my lessons.” The man stood still and stared at Billy for a long time, trying to figure him out. His expression remained wary, but he gestured Billy to follow him as he walked off down the road. Now it was Billy’s turn to hesitate. Could he trust such an odd looking stranger. But then again, he had just placed his life into the hands of a towering bunch of crackpots dressed like a fifty-foot tree, so he figured this quirky street-performer was just as safe.

Even so, Billy trailed behind the man at a reasonable distance. Every now and then, the man would signal Billy to hurry up by waving his top hat. It would have been tough for anyone to keep up, considering the vast distance they covered in a short time. It was even harder for Billy, who was exhausted from surviving a bush fire the night before and was now running off nothing but ice cream. Eventually, they arrived at a bus stop, where they waited in total silence for 10 or so minutes. Suddenly, Billy noticed how tiny the man was. Those must be shoeboxes that he pretends to escape from. This thought was interrupted by the ridiculous noise buses make when they come to a stop and air escapes from the brakes. When they got on, every passenger averted their eyes, sliding their bags over to block off the seats next to them. They were forced to stand, which was a problem, because they stayed on the bus for a good hour, holding on for dear life, white-knuckled around tight corners. At least this kind of surfing was safer than what I’m used to, thought Billy.

They arrived at a busy wharf and the tiny street performer led Billy to a machine, handed him a ticket marked “Circular Quay” and waved him goodbye at the gates.

Author’s Note

Today’s progress: Billy arrives in the northern beaches of Sydney after surviving a bush fire on his travels from Barley Bay. The story continues to build momentum as Billy gets closer to being reunited with old man statue. Will he be able to trust those he meets on the streets of the big smoke? Or will his country boy innocence land him in the underbelly of this unforgiving city?



Prank Number 10

After a while, the music got louder and louder. A bed was made right in front of Billy’s branches and Livy sat down in the middle of it. This was His chance. Now was the perfect moment for prank number 10.

Livy threw her arms to either side and belted out one last line from the bottom of her stomach. “I know I’m gonna like it here!”

The music was cut short. The crowd gasped in unison. Livy’s hands went from the air above, to her head below. As she felt her natural hair beneath her fingertips, her famous smile dropped into a Barley Bay public school history-making frown. She reached up above, swiping and grasping frantically for her red wig, which was dangling on the branch of a pot plant above her, like bait on a fishing line. Billy was enjoying being the fisherman, dipping the wig up and down in front of her like a yo-yo. The frustrated growls escaping through Livy’s grinding teeth were priceless, and Billy couldn’t help but giggle beneath his disguise.

She jumped on the bed for some extra height and reached towards the lights above. She managed to snatch the wig back between her fingertips. When her feet reached the mattress below, the entire bed frame collapsed, sending her to the floor with a loud crash. The crowd gasped in unison. Livy shot up onto her feet with a sheet draped over her body, like a kid at Halloween whose parents forgot to buy them a costume. She let out a blood-curdling scream and stamped her feet off the stage. The crowd broke out into a low mumbling, which grew louder with each re-enactment of the event.

Mrs Garrick stood in front of the rubble of sheets and wooden planks. She waited until the crowd was near silent before she began speaking. “Apologies ladies and gentlemen, it seems we have an intruder on the stage. Do not be alarmed, I can assure you that Olivia is okay, and that the show will go on.”

A mac-truck hit Billy in the guts, his eyes pooped out of his skull and his heart plummeted to the floor below. He’d been busted.

Author’s Note: The moment when Billy takes his new powers too far and uses them to get revenge on his big sister, Livy. Set during the annual school musical: Annie, Billy’s moment of glory is about to be cut short and things will never be the same again. The scene captures the essence of every boys most regretful life stage, when they are figuring out how there actions can really affect those around them, for better or worse…

Empty Praise

Praised be the fighting man,
A sculpture full of scars.
Crushing hopes got him here,
Amongst the pavement stars.

All hail the stronger man,
A tower to behold.
His lighting jab and light of foot
Admired by young and old.

Here’s to the winning man,
A golden belt he flaunts.
Golden crowns, golden feet,
With gold, his foes he taunts.
Lest forget the prouder man,
Whose tongue was smooth as silk.
His words went before him,
And the truth would count for nil.

Praised be the fighting man,
He’s humble in defeat.
A good and proper gentlemen,
A liar and a cheat. ⠀

All hail the stronger man,
Who rises from the pit.
A lesser man would soften,
Taking time-out for the kids. ⠀

Here’s to the winning man,
Too great to count the loss.
Here’s to the drunkenness,
To many wives he lost. ⠀

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Lest forget the prouder man,
His history joins the few.
Praise to the lonely man,
We truly never knew. ⠀⠀

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
– Do you live to praise, or be praised? A question well worth asking yourself.

More of my poetry @sowmagazine




Schoolyard Gossip

There was no time to lose. The bell had just signalled the end of lunch and the main event was about to begin. Billy figured he had about 15 minutes or so before parents started arriving at the doors for the musical. For the entire lunch break, he’d been hiding in the bushes outside the toilet, overhearing conversations about Daniel Norman and Harvey Taylor. From what he could gather from the broken fragments of gossip he could hear, Daniel had chased Harvey into the front office, pinning him up against the principal’s door and shoving mushy toilet paper down his pants. It didn’t take long for Mrs Garrick to round them up into to her office, where apparently Daniel began pelting toilet paper bombs at her. Billy wasn’t sure if the last part was true. After all, schoolyard rumours had a way of being totally exaggerated. Like the time Mrs Rueben, for some unknown reason, got fired from her job as a kindergarten teacher, and as some sort of revenge, invaded the school grounds and began spray painting the message “Clag glue is poison” on all the classroom doors. Word on the street is, the cops arrived to arrest her and she resisted by biting the neck of one of the police officers, kind of like a vampire. So naturally the cops had to Taser her 15 times before they were finally able to escort her into the police car. Billy reckoned he could believe the part about the neck biting, but 15 blows from a Taser gun would surely kill a lady of her size.

It had been a few minutes since the bell had gone and the teachers on playground duty had bribed and threatened the last of the straggling students into the classrooms. The coast was clear. Billy crept out of the bushes, peered left and right to be sure and started to waddle his pot plant body awkwardly across the main quadrangle to the hall. It was with remarkable luck that Billy wasn’t caught. Never before had the quad been so deserted and quiet. Upon reaching the door, he came to a screeching halt.

“Oi, where do you think you’re going with that?!” Yelled a voice from the staff room, which was just up the stairs to his left.

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