Striking Back From Down Under

A Short Story Collection
by Dr Bob Rich

ISBN 978-1-877053-05-4
New cover of 'Striking Back From Down Under'
Reissued by Anina's Book Company in May, 2013

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Synopses of the stories
One of the stories
About the author
   A common theme runs though this otherwise very varied bouquet of short stories: a sympathy for the victim. Contemporary crime, science fiction, fantasy, historical adventure, all of them can be found here. A kaleidoscope of villains and heroes follow each other, waiting to entertain you.

   Mrs Jones leads her Takamaka Freedom Fighters to rescue thousands of prisoners from the 'Happy Hen Poultry Farm'; an artist imprisoned in a twisted body finds a unique form of revenge when the beautiful blonde treats him with scorn; and Cynthia saves the Earth from invasion by an organism that wants to give pleasure to every human being.

  The first edition of this book was a finalist in the 'anthologies' category of the EPPIE 2001 Awards. EPPIE 2001 Finalist

   Bob Rich is an Australian, and many of his stories are colored by this unique and fascinating land. In another place, Cecil Tripp might manufacture bombs. Down Under, he lights a bushfire. Only in Australia could Tim O'Liam be punished in just the way described in 'Let the Punishment Fit the Crime'. And Sarah and Andrew find out about their different world-views in the beautiful Australian bush.

   Other stories could be set anyplace where one person preys upon another. The difference from the norm is that, in these stories, the victims show how to strike back, how the powerful and arrogant can be made to lose. Having been on the receiving end himself, Bob's sympathies are always with the victim.

   Stories are meant to entertain, and these stories do just that. Read a sample and see.

 

About the Author

   As a new-born during the Second World War, Bob was already fighting victimization. He was a Jewish baby in the Budapest ghetto, but with blue eyes and blond hair. So, his mother removed her yellow star, and used her obviously Aryan child as camouflage, obtaining food for many people. This is one of the themes of his award-winning biography, Anikó: The stranger who loved me.

   By luck, Bob found himself in Australia at thirteen years of age. He is Australian by choice, not by the accident of birth, and loves this ancient and unique land.

   He became a research psychologist, but retired when thirty-five. It happened because he kept falling asleep in the Library while writing up his Ph.D. thesis. This couldn't be allowed because he was visible to hundreds of his students. He had young children, so kept awake by reading predictions of the future. No, not Nostradamus, but the reports of the Club of Rome, the Ecologist magazine, books by Paul Erlich. In time, he acquired enough knowledge to make his own predictions, and this turned him into a born-again Greenie. He forecast a future plagued by mass starvation, wars of genocide, epidemics of new diseases, crime, alcoholism and drug addictions on a frightening scale, the breakup of the family... well, today's world.

   He and his wife Jolanda decided to change the world by first changing their own life. They lived a deliberately low-income lifestyle for many years, in this way sabotaging the Economy, the monster that's eating our future. An accidental by-product of this choice was contentment, and their children have grown into adults they're proud of. Read the logic behind their lifestyle.

   They joined a Co-operative, and started building their adobe house. Long before the house was built, Bob was teaching building skills. He calls himself a Mudsmith. He wrote a Manifesto, but a friend said, 'write it if you like, but no-one reads stuff like that. Write fiction.'

   Bob didn't even know that there were courses for writers, he learned by doing. He's been writing magazine articles since 1980. His Earth Garden Building Book has had four editions published by Penguin, and has been reviewed as 'the Australian owner-builder's bible'. His second book, Woodworking for Idiots Like Me is a collection of autobiographical short stories, but teaches woodworking skills as well. You can read reviews of these books.

   Bob now has an impressive list of prizes and awards in writing competitions, and has been swallowed by his computer.


Soft Targets

One of the twenty-six stories

(In my experience, brains and courage usually defeat brute force.)

   The bent old lady nervously looks around in the leprous light of the street lamp and trundles her wheelie-frame to the Automatic Teller Machine. Again she glances over her shoulder, then lifts the lid of the basket attached to her walking aid, revealing an old handbag. She reaches in for her purse.

   "Hello, Granny," a cocky young male voice says behind her.

   She lets the lid go, and slowly stands, as erect as she is able. Three scruffy teenagers crowd her. Their eyes are hidden in the darkness, but their bodies signal menace...

* * *

   She just couldn't close the big suitcase, and there was still such a pile to be packed into the other one! With a sigh she removed a dress, but still no go.

   She sat on the lid, but one osteoporotic old lady made no difference. Drat. I need help, she thought. She pulled herself upright and pushed her wheelie-frame out the door. This was a boon for her mobility, with a large carry basket doubling as a seat.

   She knocked on the door at No 5.

   "Oh Maude, how nice, come in, come in," Ronnie boomed. Leaving the frame outside, she entered his domain. Everything was as tidy in the bed-sitter as only an ex-Warrant Officer Class 1 can make it. Army photos shared the walls with prizes won in his clay-pigeon-shooting days. And there he was striding from the tiny kitchen. Big, solid, his moustache bristling, he smiled down at her. "How'd you know I've just put on the kettle?" he asked.

   "Lovely! But then I must return to packing. I was hoping you'd sit on my suitcase lid."

   They both laughed as he patted his protruding belly. "I reckon my weight should do it."

   The kettle called, and he hurried back into the kitchen. He returned in seconds, with two steaming cups and a plate of biscuits.

   "So, ready to go?" he asked as they sat down

   "No! I'm staying for a month, it's a lot of packing."

   "Well, it's not every day baby daughter turns fifty. Well done!"

   Again they laughed, then swapped stories about great-grandchildren. At last Ronnie accompanied Maude back to the end of the row of units and sat on the lid of the suitcase for her.

   "Now, call me again if you want help," he said as he left.

   He's wonderfully fit for seventy-eight, and such a good friend, Maude thought, fondly watching his solid back.

   At last, everything's packed... I hope! Maude stretched tired old arms, then decided to have a bite to eat. I'd also better set up breakfast. After all, the taxi was booked for half past six in the morning. As she turned towards the kitchen, she noticed that it had turned dark outside.

   Then she thought: The taxi driver will need money. She checked her purse: about eight dollars. Nowhere near enough, even with the pensioner discount.

   I'll borrow a bit from Ronnie. Otherwise it's to the hole in the wall. She shuddered at the thought of braving the main street at night. The young hoods called her and her kind 'soft targets'.

   She had most of her money with the Credit Society down the road, but kept a bit for emergencies at the Bank. So, she set off behind her wheelie-frame.

   Ronnie's windows were dark. The bluish light on the pole outside shone on the blank faces of his white curtains. As always when he was in bed, the top of the front window was open an inch.

   Into bed with the chickens, as usual, she thought, disappointed. A year ago, Ronnie had actually proposed to her -- preposterous, to a seventy-five year old! -- but the difference in sleep patterns was the main reason she'd said 'no'. She rarely went to bed before eleven. Anyway, it would have been discourteous to disturb him, just because she hadn't thought ahead.

***

   The main street looks alien at night. Far from each other, occasional parked cars sleep by the gutter, still and quiet. The widely spaced streetlights cast yellow, funereal pools of light, deepening the shadows between them. Lights also glimmer from shop windows, through stout security steel mesh, reminding her of the predators about. One of their joys is to break shop windows. Another is to harass helpless prey. Like me.

   She'd love to stop for a rest, sit down on the lid of the basket for a minute, but daren't take the time. The sooner she is back home the better.

   Slowly she pushes the wheelie-frame up the slight hill, puffing from exertion, past the ghosts of shops, into the next patch of yellow light, then through it, into darkness, and at last here is the bank with its teller machines. 040223 she thinks, her birth-date, which is her PIN number. Fearfully she looks around, once, twice, but all seems still. She stops, and opens the basket to get her card.

   And here they are, the human offal who prey on the helpless. She has long ago planned a strategy for this situation, but she is terrified now. She feels a warm wetness between her legs as fear opens her bladder, but schools her face, her body, her breathing, like long ago, on stage.

   There are three of them. She smells their unwashed bodies, and the unpleasant odor that comes from the skin of heavy smokers.

   The tallest speaks again: "Withdrawing a little dough?"

   She is surprised at how calm she can make her voice. "My daughter in Sydney has died, I'm flying to her funeral tomorrow." Fear can be misread as upset due to grief. "I need money for the trip."

   "I'm so sorry!" The spokesman's sarcasm is scathing. "A little donation to us, and you can go."

   She doesn't believe for a moment that she'll escape without violence, but time is life. "I'm sorry, a little is all I've got. I've got oh, about $75, and the machine only gives $20 and $50 notes."

   "If you're lying, old duck, I'll cut you to bits," the red-headed one growls. Suddenly, he holds a knife in his hand.

   "Well I'll withdraw $60, and you can look at the docket. It lists the amount remaining. $20 for each of you?"

   The streetlight glints off the bare scalp of the fattish one. "Go for it, Granny," he tells her.

   "I just have to sit for a moment," she says, flopping down onto the lid of the basket. "You boys have given me a nasty shock. I'd love a joint!"

   All three laugh in surprise. "A joint?" the tall one asks.

   She looks around furtively, and lies, "I've got three marijuana plants in my back garden. Oh, well hidden! And some nice cured leaves inside. Tell you what, it's a far better painkiller than the doctor's."

   "Sounds interesting," the fattish skinhead says.

   Maude stands, gets her card and goes to the machine. "Hey, when we're finished here, you can come to my place and pick all the leaves you want. And we can share a joint inside." She pushes buttons by the dim green light of the machine. It whirrs, returns her card, then three red notes.

   The tall boy snatches them, passes one to each of his mates.

   The machine whirrs again, spitting out the docket. Maude gives it to the redhead. "There!"

   He pulls a tiny torch from a pocket and studies the docket before screwing it up.

   "I live in the units in Donald Street. Only a couple of minutes for you, but I'm afraid I can only walk slowly," she explains apologetically.

   The four of them go at her painful pace. "What are your names?" she asks, sounding friendly.

   "I'm Dave," the tall one answers. "He's Rusty," that's the redhead of course, "he's Monk."

   "I'm Maude," she says.

   "Sit on your thing, I'll push you," Dave offers.

   That doesn't suit Maude's plans at all. She wants to seem to be exhausted when reaching home. "Oh no. I'm in constant pain, arthritis you know. That's be agony," she lies.

   "I'd never have believed it, a Granny on dope!" Rusty marvels. He has put his knife away.

   Maude manages a laugh. "Oh that's not all! I go to one doctor after another, and they prescribe nice stuff for me, amphetamines, oh lots of stuff, and I pay for it at pensioner rates. I've got a cupboard-full of little pills that'll send you spinning."

   "The druggie Granny of Donald Street," Monk laughs.

   Maude has a momentary vision of the three yobbos inside her tiny flat, breaking up the remains of her precious furniture, and sees her still body in a corner, unconscious or worse. She shudders, but fortunately they are between streetlights, the boys don't notice. She forces herself back into role. "I just have to stop at the next light," she gasps. Actually, with all the adrenaline coursing through her body, she feels ready to run. But she struggles to the light and sits, chatting.

   They are off again, at the same painful pace. They reach Donald Street and turn into the entrance to the units. The row of blue lights illuminates closed doors, black lawn. Most of the windows are dark, only a few have a golden glow.

   "You shout and I'll kill you," Monk whispers, his tobacco breath enveloping Maude.

   "Monk! I thought we were pals," she answers with a soft wail, and he backs off.

   She makes her walk even more painful and labored, then flops onto the seat of her wheelie-frame, right under Ronnie's window.

   "C'mon, it can't be far," Dave urges.

   "Oh, it's my heart!" she explains, clutching her thin chest. "Monk gave me a shock, when I thought everything was all right. Tell me, boys, do you often harass old ladies?"

   Dave laughs, coarsely. "Only when we find one stupid enough to go out after dark."

   "Well, I figured kindred sprits don't hurt each other," she answers gaily. "Anyway, boys, my unit's the last one in this row. There is an alley beyond it, you go there to get to my garden. When you're inside, you'll find three big tubs behind the gate, with bushy plants. Rusty, you can use your little torch, look behind those bushes. That's where my marijuana plants are. I'll catch up with you."

   Rusty and Monk are off at a run, but Dave stays by her. "I'll walk with you," he says.

   Maude is intensely disappointed, feels a new stab of fear. Somehow she finds the strength to smile up at him, and manages a convincing "That's nice!" She shuffles along, as slowly as she can.

   Obviously reassured, Dave speeds up.

   The other two are at her front door, then beyond it.

   Suddenly there is an immensely loud Sergeant-Major bellow: "HALT!" Ronnie steps out from the alley, cradling his double-barrelled shotgun, the one that won all those prizes. He's in pyjamas and slippers, but is nevertheless an imposing figure. His moustache almost glows in the bluish light.

   The two boys come to a sudden stop and back up. Dave turns with a snarl, but Ronnie shouts, "One step and I'll shoot your leg off!"

   "He can do it too," Maude tells him calmly. "He could shoot off your little finger without touching the rest of you."

   Doors are open, gray heads poking out.

   "Maureen, can you please ring the police?" Maude asks the nearest.

   "It's all right, I already have," Henry announces.

   "You three, lie on the ground," Ronnie commands.

   "Or what, old fart?" Dave answers defiantly, but Maude notices that he is keeping very still. "Shoot us and you go to jail too."

   "Look son. I'm seventy-eight. I shoot you, in court I say you were attacking me. I have nineteen witnesses who'll swear I'm telling the truth. Can you imagine any jury that'll convict me?" He gently waves the shotgun.

   The three hoods lie on the ground, and a car can be heard in the distance.

   After the police have taken them away, Ronnie asks, "Maude, you with drugs?"

   She laughs. "You know I used to be an actress. But were you really willing to shoot them?"

   "I've prepared for such an eventuality ages ago," he explains. "Not lead, saltpetre. Stings for weeks! I may be old, but I'm not soft in the head yet!"


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