Sprawl by Alisa Krasnostein - Read Online
Sprawl
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About

Summary

Sprawl is an exciting new original anthology, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and published by Twelfth Planet Press, that will give readers from around the world a unique glimpse into the strange, dark, and often wondrous magics that fill the days and nights of Australia’s dreaming cities and towns, homes and parks, and most of all, its endlessly stretching suburbs.

Table of Contents

Peter Ball – One Saturday Night, With Angel
Deborah Biancotti – Never Going Home
Simon Brown – Sweep
Stephanie Campisi – How to Select a Durian at Footscray Market
Thoraiya Dyer – Yowie
Dirk Flinthart – Walker
Paul Haines – Her Gallant Needs
L L Hannett – Weightless
Pete Kempshall – Signature Walk
Ben Peek – White Crocodile Jazz
Tansy Rayner Roberts – Relentless Adaptations
Barbara Robson – Neighbourhood Watch
Angela Slatter – Brisneyland by Night
Cat Sparks – All The Love in the World
Anna Tambour – Gnawer of the Moon Seeks Summit of Paradise
Kaaron Warren – Loss
Sean Williams – Parched (poem)
Sprawl was released in September 2010.

Reviews
Sprawl is a collection of short stories by Australian writers and is an amusing, haunting and sometimes mind-bending glimpse into an alternative, yet strangely familiar, Australia.

Scoop Magazine

It screams that this is an anthology crammed with content and a variety of authors.

The thrust of the book is to produce “a suburban anthology of Australian fantasy,” as mentioned in the introduction. ... While there is a theme–the suburban part–each story felt unique and different so that I didn’t really know what to expect with each story. ... There’s a lot of diversity here–from alternate history to horror to metaphoric fiction–but at the same time you felt it was rooted in suburban Australia.

Charles Tan, Bibliophile Stalker

Published: Twelfth Planet Press on
ISBN: 9780980484182
List price: $4.99
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Sprawl - Alisa Krasnostein

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Press

Introduction

In 2010, the year of Aussiecon 4, I wanted to produce a strong volume of Australian short stories to take with me to Worldcon and showcase our vibrant local scene. There are so many Australian writers writing great fantasy with a distinct Australian voice right now, that I knew it was time for Twelfth Planet Press to publish a fantasy anthology.

My favourite kind of fantasy is the urban fantasy of magical stories set in contemporary settings. Most Australians live in sprawling suburbs and not built up inner cities and I wondered how this setting would impact the kind of urban fantasy stories told. I wondered if they would be closer to my own everyday experiences and reality and whether the context would change the issues and themes explored. And so, the idea of Sprawl came about: a suburban anthology of Australian fantasy. A book to show the world the best of Australia’s speculative fiction writers writing against an Australian backdrop.

I asked authors to take as their inspirational starting point Tales of Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan and to write fantastical fiction in regular and urbane Australian settings. I was overwhelmed by the response! The result is a diverse array of perspectives and experiences of living in an average Australian suburb. I bent the boundaries just a bit here and there. True to its name, this book is sprawling—across Australian cities and states and even the Tasman Sea, and across genre, form and length. Herein are the stories I loved and couldn’t live without, those that comforted or terrified me, that offered reassurance or nightmares. Here are the stories I couldn’t forget.

I hope you find something in Sprawl to entertain and enthrall and that it offers you both familiar writers you love and new writers to fall in love with.

Alisa Krasnostein July 2010

Parched

by Sean Williams

next time it rains

in the city

at night

and you’re driving

or being driven

out

look down at the road

and focus…

there

burning trees of another world

pointing like towering flames into

the empty black sky beneath our feet

—magical and, like memory, impermanent—

it never rains

for long

here

Relentless Adaptations

by Tansy Rayner Roberts

The zombie meets us at the door of The Beanstalk, dripping fake slime from bubble-wrapped arms. "Still zombies?" says Cressida, neatly circling the fiend, her state-of-the-art crimson baby buggy making the manoeuvre look easier than it is.

Zombies are hot right now, says Jet, his own baby neatly nestled into a Swedish pouch like a cuddly marsupial. Zombies are classic.

Jet’s baby always sleeps through our coffee afternoons from beginning to end. We’ve never even seen little Robin’s eyes open. Cressida and I do our best to not seethe about this too blatantly.

Our three- and four-year-olds run ahead, hurling themselves with glee at the play equipment at the far end of the book café. In seconds they are swallowed up by a jungle of virulently-green plastic tunnels and ladders. There’s a reason we come here and not the more sedate café that is closer to the beach and has better coffee. 

I haven’t forgiven them for what they did to Jane Austen, Cressida sighs, heading for our table while I am still bumping my oversized pram against the foot of the zombie and apologising for taking up so much space.

I don’t think you can blame the zombies personally, I say when I catch up to the others, past romance and westpunk and biographies. 

Someone else is sitting at our usual table underneath the Penguin Classics poster, and Cressida’s eyes have narrowed. Her whole body tenses as if she might actually be about to stride over there and demand they vacate the spot. Jet spots the danger and settles himself at the historical mashups table, pushing chairs out to make room for our prams. Clever bloke, Jet.

Cressida is barely mollified, but she sits down. As soon as her buggy stops moving little Jerrica starts to wail. Cressida picks her up and joggles her without pausing in her rant about how the Zombie Plus factor has destroyed the reading experience and is particularly vile when applied to the classics of women’s literature. …spitting on our most important artists in the name of their trashy gamerboy sensibilities…

Jet and I have both heard it before and carry on our own conversation in the pauses.

How are you sleeping, Mads? he asks.

Not bad. Better than Lotte—I have the hormones at least, and I swear they help with falling back to sleep after every feed. She just stays awake, staring at the ceiling, gnashing her teeth and swearing that I could sleep through an earthquake or an apocalypse.

Ha, Jet says appreciatively. If I suggested to Emily that the nights were easier on her than me, I’d be missing my balls in the morning.

The waitress shambles over to us, an eyeball hanging loose, her skin pale and puckered. Beverages or books?

Both, says Cress, and starts detailing the type of Turkish tea she wants—which spices, temperature, and how she likes it served.

I try not to be jealous of the fact that Jet doesn’t even look at the menu—he’ll be ordering a long double black, same as usual. I miss coffee like there’s a deep yawning pit in my stomach, but it’s not worth the effect it has on my milk. Instead, I choose something different each time, in the hopes of finding something that makes me feel good.

Sleep. If they could put sleep on the menu, that would be fantastic. Temazepam crushed up in a cookie and a side order of babysitter. What’s a London Fog? I ask, because that at least sounds like something that matches my brain.

Earl Grey latte, says the zombie waitress. It’s our special this week, comes with a free book from our London Classics range. She pushes a list towards me, one of the many book menus that litter our table.

London seems so far away from the sleepy, sunny suburbs of Hobart. Lotte and I went there years ago, before we started IVF and the world shrank into cots and change tables. I haven’t craved anything but pregnancies, these babies of mine (and maybe coffee), for so long but right now I have a sudden craving to step outside and keep going until I get to an airport. London. I loved London.

There are shrieks from inside the mess of plastic tunnels and cries of Mummy! Mummy! and is it bad that I can’t tell which of the voices belongs to my son?

I’ll have that, I say, and point at the menu. "With the Sherlock Holmes."

The zombie nods. Do you want witches with that?

I close my eyes, not wanting to see the look on Cressida’s face as she says Witches? with intense scorn.

Witches are the new angels, says the zombie defensively. She scratches at a spot of makeup on her neck and it leaves a pink spot against the grey.

But are they the new vampires? Jet teases. He loves it when Cress gets infuriated about literary vandalism. It just makes me tired.

Not even vampires are the new vampires, she says crossly. "Do you know how hard it was for me to order the texts for my class this semester? The bookshop couldn’t conceive of anyone wanting to purchase Regency and Victorian literature without the addition of vampires, angels, ninjas or fucking fairies. Why would anyone think that Mary Shelley could be improved with fairies? Why does Frankenstein need glitter and gimmickry?"

My baby stirs in her pram, roused by Cressida’s strident voice. I stare at her little pink face, trying to remember what her name is. Lotte chose it, none of my names worked, and it seemed perfect at the time, but now I can’t for the life of me remember what it is.

"Did you want the Sherlock Holmes with witches?" the waitress asks in the low, weary voice of someone who has been lectured on the preservation of literature too many times today.

No thanks, I say. I’ll have it old school. Just with occasional zombies. And same-sex relationships.

The waitress nods and shambles off to print my book. I don’t care what Cressida says. I love the fact that I can add lesbians to Sherlock Holmes with the push of a button. This is what living in the future is all about.

Cressida is still going on about the uni course she teaches. I’m trying, trying not to be irritated at her for being able to work from home and apparently doing so effortlessly. She juggles the twins (Ulysses and Georgette) and baby Jerrica while podcasting her lectures, sorting her notes, IM-ing with students, cooking organic dinners…

She didn’t even struggle when breastfeeding twins.

I take a deep breath, because these are my friends and even if I sometimes want to stab them in my sleep-deprived haze, at least I’m out of the house. Talking to grown ups. About zombies, sure, but conversation is conversation.

Alice. My baby’s name is Alice. I should remember that.

There we go, Jet says approvingly, nodding at a young woman in a bustled gown by the retro catalogues, her hair pinned up high on her head and a parasol hanging from the curve of her arm. New costumes for the waitresses. Zombie must be out of favour until the next time.

Parasolpunk? Cressida says dubiously.

Bustlepunk, he says with a knowledgeable air.

Bookshops never used to be this loud. The children’s shrieks bounce off the walls. My baby makes a sucking noise in her sleep, which means she’s going to wake up soon, and the thought of it just makes me tense up. (It will get better, it will get better, the second month is already better than the first, life will feel normal by the third, I have to remember this, it’s just like last time, everything’s going to be okay.)

The lady in the bustle sits at a table holding a bottle of Coke at arm’s length as if it’s not only not what she ordered, but nothing she has ever seen before. A gentleman joins her, straightening his cravat. He has a cappuccino, but doesn’t do much more than poke at the foam.

The zombie reappears, dragging her feet. She puts on a more convincing act than the rest of the waitresses, though I’m pretty sure if she were a real zombie, she wouldn’t smell of greasepaint and nicotine. My London Fog tastes like you might expect foamy Earl Grey to taste. My book is still warm from the printer and the cover depicts Sherlock Holmes and Watson discreetly holding hands.

Cress and Jet are riffing off each other, inventing literary movements by the dozen. I just sip my tea (no, whatever this is, it does not count as tea) while I watch the group in historical costumes. They’re not waitstaff, I say finally. There are half a dozen of them now; a couple of Victorians, a few Regencies, and they’ve just been joined by a blonde girl with pigtails, silver shoes and a gingham dress.

Some kind of party? Jet says, not overly curious. A book launch.

Ha, says Cressida, and starts another rant about the publishing industry and how original fiction has fallen out of fashion now that classics are available in hundreds of different variations. Want something that feels modern and with it? Just order this year’s update of Emma or Lady Chatterley’s Lover, complete with iChips and Google implants. Want to buy a special birthday treat for the person who has everything? Order a version of Pride and Prejudice with the technological level and pop culture references of the year they were born…

Jet gives me an apologetic look for setting her off. I ignore him, too busy counting historical costumes. There are twenty or so now, crowding around tables and peering at menus. I’m pretty sure one of them is wearing a deerstalker hat.

There are screams from the play tunnels. Our children emerge, still dragging on each other’s hair. Cressida’s twins are crying loudly and there are fountains of blood coming out of Jack’s nose. I staunch him with serviettes, getting blood all over my jeans and hands in the process.

Jet’s Francesca is stuck on the highest level of the plastic maze, staring mournfully out of a gold, egg-shaped window and calling for help. Jet starts to undo the straps of his baby pouch so he can go up and get her. He’s going to hand baby Robin to me, I just know it, and I can’t cope. His perfect baby will start screaming as soon as I touch her and it will be all my fault.

Instead, I push Jack and his bloody serviettes in Jet’s general direction and pull off my sandals, slipping on the emergency pair of socks I have in my handbag (no bare feet on the equipment please). I’m smaller than Jet anyway. I can squeeze into the tunnel and clamber up the soft padded steps and crawl along the balcony until I get to Francesca. Come on, sweetheart, let’s get you back to Daddy.

The slide is scary, she tells me.

We’ll find another way down.

They all look so small from up here: the adults, the children, the prams. Five young ladies in crinolines have joined the crowd at the other tables. They carry placards instead of parasols. HALT LITERARY VANDALISM. People after Cressida’s heart, it seems.

I want to climb down the beanstalk, says Francesca, pointing at a bright green fireman’s pole.

I’m pretty sure I used to be scared of heights, but I’ve had two months of never sleeping for more than two hours at a time, and I’m not scared of anything now. Sure. Why not?

It’s 7:00 pm and I’m still waiting for Lotte to come back from work. She’s on nights at the moment and it’s killing us both. Jack fell asleep straight after his tea, exhausted by the day’s adventures, and I carried him to bed. He’s almost getting too big for me to do that now. Miraculously, Alice is asleep too, nestled into her crib.

There’s a parental rule that when the kids sleep, you sleep, but if you follow that rule you miss this precious time, the glorious silence of sleeping children and the luxury of being able to use the adult part of your brain. Assuming you still have one. I lie on the couch, flipping through my espresso-fresh book (so new the paper squeaks as I turn the pages) and glancing up from time to time to check the Tweetfeed on the far wall. 

#literaryapocalypse is the top trending topic, closely followed by #literaryterrorism.

I follow a few threads about how crowds of protesters claiming to be actual fictional characters have marched in Hobart, Sydney, and Brisbane, all protesting the gross misuse of the text of their novels. It’s not just Australia, either. They’re being reported across the US, in Europe. London has 46 individual events…

My attention span just isn’t up to following an international disaster, even one that comes with a Flickr feed of cool costumes. The last tweet I read is from a bookseller who cites being forced to dress up as a vampire as an example of unreasonable workplace conditions. A call to arms: Take up the fight. Are you with fiction, or against it?

It’s nice to know there are still people out there who care this much about books, but I don’t think I’m one of them.

I sleep through the apocalypse.

They’re real, Lotte tells me the next day. She’s been up all night at the hospital, but she’s wired as hell and doesn’t seem to notice. "They have to be real, if they’re not it’s a global psychotic episode. Several of them were brought into the emergency room after being arrested for causing a public affray and I spent hours dealing with them. There was this woman who didn’t just sound like someone straight out of The Importance of Being Earnest, she was Lady Bracknell."

I might have known Lotte’s Oscar Wilde obsession would lead to bad things.

She can’t be, I say, wiping cereal off Jack’s chin. Booklovers are crazy, everyone knows that. She must just be a really big fan.

I used to read two hundred books a year, classics as well as modern novels, back when there were modern novels. These days it’s just the Cat in the Hat, over and over and over. Jack prefers me to tell him stories than read out of books, anyway. I think he suspects that it takes twice as many brain cells that I really can’t spare. Children are many things, but selfless is not one of them.

This is serious, Maddie, Lotte insists. The world has changed. Fictional characters are rising up across the world to protest our cavalier treatment of their text. It’s really happening and we have to prepare for the consequences.

I must note that she is generally considered the more rational one in our relationship.

If they’re real, I say patiently, why do at least two dozen of them say that they are the real Sherlock Holmes?

Lotte gives me a pitying look. Looking for logical loopholes isn’t going to get us out of this one. Did you hear the Beanstalk was burned to the ground?

My fingers clench tightly around Jack’s spoon. The Beanstalk is three blocks from our house. I was only there yesterday!

Pirates, says Lotte as if that’s a perfectly logical thing to say. From Stevenson, probably, though there are no shortage of nineteenth century pirate novels out there, each full of characters who are crazy about setting things on fire.

Pirates! Jack says in delight and promptly breaks into Cabin Fever, his favourite song from Muppets Treasure Island.

Pirates, Lotte repeats, in a dark voice. Warlords. Knights. Vikings. Murderers. Thieves. Fiction isn’t all Regency romances, you know. They have some very scary people on their side.

How can she possibly have gone this crazy in less than twenty four hours, since we last shared breakfast together? Where’s my book? I say finally, to change the subject. "The Sherlock Holmes. I left it on the couch last night." Alice squalls and I change sides, snapping the other cup of my bra open through my pyjamas. The baby latches on with what can only be described as sheer exuberance for the art of suction.

I put it in the recycler, says Lotte.

But it was new! Okay, it was a freebie with a cup of tea, but that’s hardly the point.

Aren’t you paying attention, Maddie? This is going to get worse before it gets better. We can’t afford to have any of those adulterated books in the house. Think of the children.

I’m pretty sure Lotte used to have a sense of humour, but I don’t see any sign of it now.

A week later it has become even less funny. I meet Cressida at the park and she’s wearing the uniform of a Lit Warden, all trim and grey. I’m just glad the Government decided to work with them, rather than against them, she says, parking her buggy beside my pram. The twins and Jack romp on the swing and slide, playing Action Kids Unite or Ninja Sam, or whatever the latest TV show is.

Well, they had to really, I say. Once the superheroes turned up. And the wizards.

The fictional characters invaded our reality to protest the way we were inserting paranormal twists into their text, but it took Bram Stoker’s Dracula to topple the Australian Government. The Holmeses (nearly fifty of them at last count) did for the United Kingdom, and a bunch of costumed superheroes took Washington.

No-one else seems to find it funny that Gandalf is now the Prime Minister of New Zealand. They must all get more sleep than I do.

It had to be done, says Cressida. The curatorship of our entire culture was at risk. Not just from the zombies and the vampires—that silly trend would have gone away sooner or later. But there were censors arguing for permanent changes to the texts—irreversibly erasing evidence of unhealthy eating habits or nicotine usage or problematic race and gender politics.

And you wouldn’t have anything to study if there weren’t problematic race and gender politics, I say.

There’s always something to study, Cress says, and there’s an actual grin on her face. This is a fascinating time, don’t you think? The world of literature has opened up before us!

Closed down, surely.

Her face falls. If you’re not with us, Mads, you’re against us. You know I have to report you if I suspect you’re harbouring contraband literature, don’t you?

I hold up my hands. Believe me, we’re good. Lotte cleansed our shelves even before the Act was approved. Nothing but original texts in our home.

At least no-one can take the lesbians out of my Jeanette Winterson.

Good, Cress says, relieved. "I had to fine Jet the other day for defending his copy of Ulysses in Modern Slang, but he was really nice about it."

Oh, I bet he was.

Cress has slipped into her lecturer mode, explaining about the new copyright laws and how important it is that works remain in copyright forever, to protect the vision of the author and the authenticity of the natural habitat of fictional characters.

I wonder if I would have the strength to fight all this if I wasn’t trapped by the sleep cycle of a baby and the boundless energy of a pre-schooler. It doesn’t seem right, it really doesn’t, but whenever I try to find the words to explain why, they escape me.

I used to be good with words, but that was another life.

After Cressida leaves with her three perfect children, still glowing with the righteousness of her uniform, I doze on the bench while Jack plays.

Finally he comes running up, flinging his arms around me in an effortless hug. Story! he demands. Tell my story, Mummy!

"The Beanstalk or the Giant-Killer?" Inwardly, I wince at the thought of the Beanstalk burning to the ground. I hope all the zombies made it out okay.

Both! Jack says happily. With ninjas. And a happy ending, but no girls or babies. And cake. And ducks with swords who walk upside down in trees. And Harry Potter, and the Cat in the Hat.

Is that all? I laugh, as he clambers into my lap. And then, in a clear and steady voice, I begin to tell him a story.

How to Select a Durian at Footscray Market

by Stephanie Campisi

I

Footscray Market, Melbourne, at scarcely nine in the morning on a Saturday. Illegal parking efforts abound: tiny silver cars like balls of tinfoil on wheels compete with old sports cars done up to impress, slathered with the sunscreen of shimmery paint like cod bellies, spiny with dorsal fin spoilers. The sun feels orange, hard and twisted like a curve of zest, and the place smells orange too with the colourful stench of ripening fruit, ripening fish, red bean buns and multi-coloured drinks full of beans and slimy pearls of sago.

There are blobs of fruit flesh on the ground where people have pestled kumquats or grapes beneath their shoes, shoes that are old and friendly sandals or heels thin and high as kebab skewers. Kids, hair carved into waterfalls that trail down their necks or propped up in pineapply plumes with supercute sparkly hair bobbles, stagger about in that toddlerish way, their plump bellies steering them towards tasting plates of chopped up sour mango, glistening papaya, white and virginal dragonfruit and blobs of eyeball-like longan.

Shouts of one-dollar-ah-one-dollar-ah-one-dollar-aa-aah drape like stretched balloon skin over the maze of stalls that have been hauled together like railway carts, wooden and wheeled, their open tops full of wrinkled black passionfruit like coal or miniature plastic greenhouses of marked-down strawberries that are dribbling into sweet and sticky puddles of colour. A willy-willy of flies hums a low tune around the slabs of sponge-like, fish-oiled tofu and mushroom-coloured pork-floss by the cash registers.

A rainbow of plastic bags crinkles by: here and there a banana jabs out or the horn of a pear stem breaks free. A woman, the woman whose story this is, winding through the sprawl of people with a scowl that vanishes her yellow-tinged eyes clutches the spiny boon of a small durian to her chest as though it is a suckling infant. Its claws jag at the shiny paint on her synthetic shirt. She pushes past a bystander with a bouquet of green bags and fingers sticky with taro paste from a sweet roly-poly cake; their nostrils are limned with the scent of rotten onions and dessert wine that spills from the custardy innards of the fruit, which retains some of its olfactory potency despite the fact that its heart is crusted with ice crystals.

The woman buys a durian every Saturday morning, only one because they are a heavy fruit and priced by the kilo, slapping her leathery hand against the prickly shells until she hears the hollowness she seeks, inspecting the stems for ripeness, huffing at the floral-sweet exhalation of their fruity lungs. Ordinarily she buys the Malaysian breeds, the D10s where possible, the ones that smell like a washcloth left damply bunched in a blue-and-white rose on the corner of a sink. She avoids their milder Thai relations, the pleasant aunt to a grit-toothed yue-mu, a mother-in-law. Once, a pitying shopkeeper gave her a wedge of jackfruit, its lizard-like skin subdued beneath a whorl of stuck-together Gladwrap, its nail-polish stench nudging at the back of her throat, but she left it by the banana-leaf dusted scales where it glowed like an amber traffic light, its segmented flesh striated with seeds like candycorn and resembling the flesh of a whirling new year’s dragon.

She skirts around a cluster of old Vietnamese men whose teeth hang lonely in their dark gums, small yellow lanterns against the night time of their mouths. They smell of crushed mint, and of chilli powder where it has climbed in amongst the age-frozen angles of their clothing. The teenagers, though, their eyes sparkling with a rim of calligraphied paint, their shoulders roasted from the sun and criss-crossed with lines and slabs of different colour like a jelly rainbow-cake, she pushes past wielding her violent fruit.

Her home is a small white weatherboard, splintering planks, gaping window sills with yawning awnings, roof tiles like a cleaned fish: it is an old man leaning beneath his bad leg, joints swollen with the Melbourne weather, which is cruel to arthritis and gout. Other than the waves of wisteria that droop like hair from the reaching tree on the nature strip, and the club-like hands of her neighbour’s scarred plum tree, its amputations grown burnished and shiny like a hanging duck, her front yard is a carpet of cement, a preliminary slab, perhaps into which the foundations of a garden were meant to be set.

The shattered organs of previous durians lie mace-like on the ground, their jagged husks rent to pieces. They have been swept into vicious piles, spiked sand dunes, but the wind often takes to teasing them out away from the fence, taunting them for their shyness; occasionally a stray-but-local cat does the same, batting at the wooden shells with the soft nub of a paw, tail a furred flag of delight. The cat has been known to lick at the congealed stain in the centre of the yard where the woman drags her chair to inspect her weekly durian. When this happens, the woman’s eyes are those of a mother. Protective. Capable of anything.

II

Across the road from the elderly woman lives the Chung family, one of the few Chinese families in a largely Vietnamese and Sudanese neighbourhood. Like the durian woman, whose name is Eleanor Cong, and whom they call poh poh around their parents but Lo Yeh when they are alone, the Chungs are from Malaysia, not from Ipo but Petaling Jaya, PJ, as Gege calls it. Gege is a full decade older than Priscilla and Eamon and quite a bit more interesting, think the girls from his high school.