Callum B. Downes

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.

‘Statue Boy’ redefines himself

I’ve reached the 20 000 word milestone! Thanks for all the support thus far. Here’s a rough draft of what I wrote tonight. It captures the moment when Billy redefines his identity for the first time.

He reached the school about ten minutes late, so he made up an excuse about delivering a pot plant for the musical and Mr C didn’t question it. All morning, Billy plotted the various practical jokes he was going to pull during the day with his new disguise and freezing talents. The possibilities were endless. He decided to scribble a list of plausible pranks instead of doing his handwriting. Everyone knew handwriting was a waste of time anyway, especially Mr C, who often didn’t have a clue how to execute the various joins of cursive himself. The list looked like this:

1 . Lock Daniel Norman in the toilets and throw soggy toilet paper at him

  1. Throw water bombs at the principal during assembly
  2. Super glue the teacher’s coffee mugs to their desks
  3. Ring the bell early for recess, lunch and home time
  4. Tip bins over when classes are walking in lines
  5. Fart in the library. Very loudly.
  6. Place firecrackers in the teacher’s pigeon holes
  7. Turn everyone’s bags inside out
  8. Go in the girls toilets
  9. Ruin the school musical by pulling Livy’s…

“Billy! You should know this. Could you share with the class what you think?” Requested Mr C.

The eyes of the entire class were on him and he froze up… Again. A few of them started to giggle under their breath.

“Why so stuck, Billy?” Jeered Daniel Norman. Everybody burst out in laughter. Even Mr C found it hard to hold back a smile.

“May I go to the toilet, sir?” Asked Billy politely as ever.

“Off you go then, be quick.”

It was almost lunch time and Billy was surprised Mr C had let him go. He had timed it perfectly to strike number one off his list of gags. He had placed the pot plant inside the boy’s toilets when he arrived to school earlier and had hidden a pile of sopping wet toilet paper within the suit. He slipped the suit on when he got there, waiting expectantly for Daniel Norman. Without fail, Daniel Norman would run straight to the toilets as soon as the bell rang, leaving a two or three minute window for Billy to commit his crime.

The bell clanged right on time and Billy began to slide his feet back and forth in nervous anticipation. He’d never sought revenge on anyone before and the thought of it sent his hairs up in the air like meerkats preparing for an invasion from a pack of Hyenas. His eyes were like a meerkat’s too. Wide and alert.

Daniel Norman burst through the doorway and Billy hoped he’d stopped shuffling his feet in time. It probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway, as the big bully was already in full stream, emptying the contents of his bladder over everything apart from the toilet bowl itself.

It was time to attack. Billy reached out from under the plant costume and began unleashing a barrage of mushy projectiles over the cubicle wall. The profanities, swear words and cries for Mummy escaping Daniel Norman’s lungs would have been sweet enough for Billy, but the best part was yet to come. Frozen in the guise of a pot plant in the corner of the boy’s toilet, Billy watched as Daniel Norman’s reputation was flushed down the toilet along with a small percentage of his urine.

The bully flung the cubicle door open in rage and scoped out the room in search of the culprit.

Harvey Taylor from the year below was the unfortunate sod who walked in at this very moment.

“You!” Roared Daniel Norman, pointing an accusing finger in Harvey’s direction.

Harvey wasn’t sure what to do. Did he laugh and run, or did he scream and run, or did he just run and worry about the other bits later? He didn’t know, because the sight he beheld was something quite extraordinary. There in front of him was a figure, who sounded like Daniel Norman, but looked like a giant snowman. From head to toe, he was covered in dripping wet bog rolls. Some had landed directly in his gob, so that he was sort of chewing on them in hilarious dissatisfaction, like a cow.

Billy couldn’t hold it in any longer. He let out an unmistakable laugh. He clamped a hand over his mouth quickly, but it was too late. Both Harvey and Daniel were glaring directly at the pot plant and Billy could hear confused thoughts spilling out loudly from their brains. Harvey used this distraction as a chance to make for the doorway. Daniel Norman snapped out of his stupor and charged on out after him. The hot pursuit that followed went down in Barley Bay Public’s history books. Tales of Daniel, ‘the sodden snowman’, chasing ‘heroic Harvey’ around the schoolyard, were shared years later. But there was one key detail that went unexplained all those years. Who threw the toilet paper in the first place? It was a juicy twist in the narrative to which only one was privy. Billy Baker, ‘boy statue’, thrower of sticky, spongy saturated snow. The hidden protagonist in this tiny school’s greatest mystery.

Billy’s search for answers (re-edit)

Between heaving breaths, he started muttering to himself. He pounded against the feet of the sculpture and began screaming for old man statue to show himself. Anger possessed him again and he wished more than anything that he could just disappear without anybody noticing. He looked up into the eyes of the first ANZAC and that’s when something remarkable happened. The statue winked at him.

Billy stood up quickly in fright.

“What’s the matter, Bill?” Asked a voice from behind him. “Never seen a winking statue before?”

Billy turned around and was quite relieved when he realised who the voice belonged to.

“Well, have you?” Asked old man statue, a second time.

“Of course I haven’t,” whimpered Billy nervously. “Is he a real person too?”

“Don’t ask me,” said old man statue, nodding his head behind Billy.

When Billy turned back around, he was utterly speechless.

“I’m as real as they come,” smiled the first soldier.

“Me too!” Yelled the second. “But the wounds to my head and chest are fake, thankfully.”

It was like he’d travelled back in time to the trenches of the Great War. Both of the ANZACs, whom just seconds ago were frozen solid, were now walking and talking, and the sun was still setting, and Billy was still catching his breath back, and, and, and…

“So why’d ya come back, Billy?” Asked old man statue calmly.

“How do you know my name?” Yelled Billy. He yelled because he didn’t trust this bearded stranger.

“We’ll get to that later. So as I was saying, what are ya doing back here? Searching for something? Maybe someone?”

“I want to know how you do it. How they do it.” Billy pointed at the young ANZACs, who were back in their usual position as statues.

“Well only you hold the answer to that question, kiddo.”

“What total non-sense!” Spat Billy.

Old man statue chuckled slowly for quite a while, stroking his beard and tucking his army shirt back into his trousers.

“Fine! If you won’t tell me, then I’m out of here. Dinner will be cold and Dave will be waiting to kill me when I get home, and…”

“You mean your Father?” The old man interrupted.

“What did you say?”

“You didn’t say my Father, you said Dave.”

“How do you know Dave Baker?” Asked Billy, his mistrust growing with every inquiry.

“I told you, we’ll get to all that later.” The old man paused briefly, as if to discover a greater wisdom from somewhere deep within, before speaking again. “So, do you believe me when I say you hold all the answers?”

Billy took a giant gulp. “Yes…”

“Good. What is your greatest fear? That one thing that sends your dreams into terrible, spiralling nightmares?”

Without a second thought Billy answered. “The ocean.”

“Well, there you have it,” the old man shouted. “That’s the answer. Every time you want to freeze completely still, think of the ocean. Whenever you wish to pose as a statue, imagine you are being dumped by terrible waves. You must harness your fear and use it as your greatest weapon.”

“But my teacher says love is my greatest weapon.”

“And he is right. But we’ll get to all that later.”

For the next thirty minutes or so, the old man explained the greatest secrets of every human statue to Billy in great detail. From maintaining your focus through ancient breathing techniques, to hiding costumes and body paint in secret spots near your performance space, Billy was given a beginners tutorial in the basics of the trade. Apparently there was an entire community of human statues out there, all mastering the art of stillness. Some, like old man statue, did it for money. Others, like the two ANZACS behind them, did it for therapeutic reasons, trying to overcome their inner demons. Whatever their reasons, there were millions more like them. In fact, most of the world’s statues are actually real people. Even Michelangelo’s sculpture of David is just a random naked guy, who replaced another naked guy who died a long time ago, who replaced another naked guy who died even longer before that, and so it goes for years and years. Centuries of freezing cold nakedness. That’s the other thing he learnt. Humans have been posing as statues for thousands of years. The earliest account of a human statue was recorded in 100 B.C. during the days of the Roman Empire, when a centurion soldier posed as a statue behind enemy lines to spy on them, before reporting back to his commanding officers with their plans of attack. The story goes that when he attempted the same espionage a second time, he let out an outrageous fart, alerting the enemy to his humanness and as a result he was tortured and hanged for his trickery.

The facts and figures seemed endless and by the time old man statue had finished talking, it was almost dark. Billy bid the bearded man farewell and left. Django was too tired to go on, so Billy swept him up into his arms and set off with the waning moonlight shining upon his back. The fleeting promise of his dreams was now a dull glow of fading purple light, haunting the horizon. Maybe it was time to reach for the stars instead?

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