Skinny little short-arsed pirate

Skinny little short-arsed pirate

Is it just me or have people gone nuts on being overprotective with their kids? I can’t imagine most kids today doing ten percent of the things we did when I wore short trousers. What I can remember is my mother knocking on the kitchen window and wagging her ginger at me and my friend for jumping off our garden shed. I held my hands out, palms up and lifted my shoulders in a “what’s the problem” type of “I’m innocent, I didn’t do anything wrong” type of gesture. She raised her finger in front of her face, which she tilted as she raised her eyebrows in a “are you questioning me?” type of response.

I knew what it meant. I sat on the edge of the shed and instead of jumping from a standing position to the ground, jumped from a sitting position to the ground. It was a concession and defiance as if to say “see it’s safe.” The shed roof was ten feet off the ground and I was a skinny little, short-arsed eight year old boy playing cowboys. Didn’t she ever see the magnificent seven? I was in the bell tower with a Winchester at that moment and she was ruining it. If I was coming down from that shed, it should have at least included being winged and ending with a fall and multi-role on the ground afterwards. Sitting and jumping with a “see it’s not dangerous” expression on my face, was pushing my luck.

The cheekiness could have got me in trouble and I knew that the minute she came out the back door. She scolded me but I argued the toss and I explained just how safe it was. I brought her around to the back of the stone out building and demonstrated that I had been sensible. There was an old wooden crate that worked as a step to the wall attached to the side of the shed. I could step up onto the crate, then the wall and then easily and safely ascend to the top of the shed. My mother was a pragmatist and knew if I wasn’t up on the shed where she could see me, I’d be up a drainpipe somewhere beyond her gaze. We did a deal. As long as I used the same route to descend from the shed’s flat roof as I used to climb up there, I could sit on the roof of the shed. But no running, jumping or standing near the edge.

Yeah, like that lasted ten minutes. My next door neighbour and I, had competitions to see who could run across the top of the shed and jump the furthest! It was only one example of the devilment we used to get up to and the danger to which we readily exposed ourselves in the interest of learning our boundaries.

In general we were very much left to our own devices and while I’m not saying it was perfect, it is sad to see the level of control and surveillance on young kids today. Leave aside the stranger danger issue, of course we have to protect our children, I’m talking about the preciousness that stops the adventure of climbing a tree or walking a tightrope.

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I’m telling you now, when I saw Burt Lancaster in the Crimson Pirate, the first thing I did was dig out a rope from my Da’s shed and tie it from my friends tree to the fence so we could walk along it. By day two, we were both balancing on it fencing with sticks, with me doing my best Burt Lancaster laugh impression “HA HA HA” one hand on me hip!

Smoking out bees, battling through fields of nettles in shorts, firing stones at each other with gats, mother of divine, when I think of it! Did we get hurt? Of course we did. Did we break windows? Of course we did? Did we get punished? Not if I could blame Martin Dredge.

School was just as bad. It was a cesspool of disease and infection. We were crammed into classes of 40 plus and at some point, someone in our working class 1970’s school classroom had one infection or other. We didn’t get driven to school, we walked. We got rained on, snowed on and slid on ice until our little arses were sore from falling down.

There always seemed to be at least one kid with a snotty nose and usually one with a permanent stream of green ooze being sucked back up, licked with a tongue or wiped on a sleeve. ‘Snotzer’ was the name given to such permanently afflicted children and there were quite a few Snotzers in our school. At some point we all got whatever was going around. We didn’t have classrooms with ensuite bathrooms or gentle alcohol free, hypo allergenic wet wipes. We had sleeves on our jumpers and usually one or more of us had a nice crusty one from wiping their nose in it.

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I’m not saying that’s how it should be. It is great to see smaller classrooms and better conditions, but what I am saying is that a little bit of crustiness does no harm. If your kid hasn’t at least held a slug, worm or earwig and contemplated licking it to see what it tastes like, you are holding on to the reins waaaaay too tight.

I hated earwigs yet we all had to see what it felt like to have one grasp you with its pinchers so you could imagine just how much damage he would do after he crawled inside your ear and burrowed his way into your brain as we all surely knew they would.

Catching bees in jars was a summer given and access to my auld fella’s shed to use his tools was no problem so long as we put them back when we finished with them. How else were we to learn what our limitations were or understand the sheer greatness of our potential? I thought myself how to ride a bike and I learned to swim out of shear dogged determination all by my lonesome. I was afraid of everything and I took everything on to overcome the fear. What a lucky boy.

But I was only able to do so by having the freedom to do so. A couple of months back; I had the opportunity to go canyoning in the mountains of Spain. I hadn’t even heard of the activity before and when I got there I was drawn immediately back to my childhood.

They told me to put on a wet suit and waterproof shoes, handed me a harness and a helmet and then said let’s go. I had little idea what was in store for me. It was a combination of rugged beauty and calm mixed with blind terror and white water adventure. We made our way on foot several miles along a deep canyon. We began by wading through shallow water on very uneven slippery rocks in the blazing sun, followed by abseiling, jumping twenty feet off rocks into rockier pools below and white-water rafting without a boat.

I haven’t had so much of that type of reckless fun since I was a kid. Of course I realised that a lot had changed since then. When I was eight, I would have raced to the highest point and cannonballed into the water. This time I found myself carefully peering down and calculating the percentage chances of hitting one of the rocks on the descent, before I eventually jumped. But of course I jumped. How could I not? I jumped, swam and dived, I slip-slided, floated and clambered my way through the whole thing with a sense of adventure that I had almost forgotten.

It was the first time that I tested my old ticker properly since the unmentionable scare eighteen months previously and that more than anything, had me on edge. The old man in me came out as I considered the response time of the Spanish paramedics should anything go wrong in the remote canyon in the mountains.

But I let it go. My darling Jo made a very apt comment when I showed her photos of her less than handsome old man in a wet suit on my return. She knows me better than anyone and she smiled looking at the pictures of her auld lad clambering through the canyon. Her comment hit the mark.

“Look at you smiling,” she said, “you look like a big kid.”

I guess inside at least, I always will be… Gotta’ love my beautiful girl, she gets me…

You can find details about Max Power’s books here : –
http://www.amazon.com/author/maxpower
https://maxpowerbooks.wordpress.com
http://facebook.com/maxpowerbooks
twitter @maxpowerbooks1

Universal book links
http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood
http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood-II
http://getbook.at/Little-Big-Boy
http://getbook.at/Larry-Flynn
http://getbook.at/Bad-Blood

 

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The space in the break of my heart…

The space in the break of my heart…

My mother died 23 years ago. She was sixty. To be honest it was a devastating loss. We lost our father two years earlier through a long battle with cancer but Mam? Well she simply disappeared one night, or at least that’s how it felt. She had come through a brief enough medical battle which in itself was life threatening. She was on the way back out of that battle all seemed well. Mam went out with her sisters for the first time since her battle began as if to celebrate her return. She dropped dead holding on to her sister’s hand, singing.

Today is her birthday. She would be eighty three. I saw her two days before she died and I never saw her again. I was called to the hospital at two in the morning, but the body that lay on that hospital bed wasn’t Mam. She was gone and it truly broke my heart. Some people have a big influence on your life, some fade in and out without registering a mark. My mother’s love, left an indelible softness in my heart that has shaped all that may be good about me.

When I wrote Little Big Boy, it was Mam that sculpted my tale. Many think the book autobiographical which of course it is not, but there are elements and stories from my life that I called upon, to evoke the emotion needed to make this book something special for me. At the heart of the book is Little Big Boy’s love for his mother and her love for him. It was my mother that I called upon when I needed to find the words to portray the deepest joy and sorrow and as such Little Big Boy was actually a very painful book to write.

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People say things like they poured their heart and soul into something. I did something quite different with what has become my readers’ favourite Max Power book. I gave of my pain. I shared a hurt I could never fully describe and I offered a taste of what love means to me. It was neither my heart nor my soul; it was the space in the break of my heart, the gap that had been forged through loss, an unfulfilled lonely pain that no one but you can know in your own terrible darkness when you lose someone you love. Little Big boy is not my story yet it carries the weight of my pain and the lightness of my joy.  Perhaps that is why it is so special to me and why so many readers connect with it.  I lost my brother seven years ago. Where once we were six now we are three and in writing Little Big Boy, I came close to following Dad, Mam and Brian through my own dice with death which is well documented in my blogs of the time. I miss them all, but today is her birthday so today I think of Mam.

I miss her every day in truth but in a very subjective way. I miss her by her absence, which may sound an obvious thing to say but I mean more than just the obvious in this. In her not being there I have no one to scold me, no one to tell me I’m being foolish or selfish or unkind. I miss her ability to read me like a book and offer direction even when I disagree with her. Her absence left me rudderless. My north star clouded over as I sailed in the dark alone and despairing, wondering if I could ever find my way without her guiding hand.

To be brutally honest, it took me many years to recover the loss, far longer than I either realised or imagined. Now I am a changed man. Perhaps I am just a man.  She is not there to take my hand and guide me as I cross new roads in life.  I have to make choices without that critical eye watching me with love. There is no doubt I have found love in other places. My heart is filled with my true love’s blessings every day but that is something very different. Now my darling Jo holds my hand and we cross roads together she and I. Over time I have learned not to be afraid of life’s traffic. I have found my own way at last and I can cross most roads safely. But sometimes, I miss her standing at the door watching me as I look left and right. I want to look back to see her smiling at me and then giving me a stern look, telling me to look where I’m going, urging me to walk and not to run.

Looking back is too painful so I look forward and up to stop me feeling down. Mam is with me always anyway. She is in my eyes and in the sallowness of my skin. She is in the words I say, the thoughts I think and most of all in the softness of my heart. But sometimes, just sometimes specially on days like today her birthday, I turn my head to look over my shoulder, to see her smiling back at me. I still seek her approval even in her absence. She never got to see my children grow.  She never got to see me grow to finally become a man, whatever that means. I am a man I guess, the one she made, the one she never got to see…

Little Big Boy is free to download today 30th June and tomorrow 1st July here… http://getbook.at/Little-Big-Boy

You can find details about Max Power’s books here : –
http://www.amazon.com/author/maxpower
https://maxpowerbooks.wordpress.com
http://facebook.com/maxpowerbooks
twitter @maxpowerbooks1

Universal book links
http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood
http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood-II
http://getbook.at/Little-Big-Boy
http://getbook.at/Larry-Flynn
http://getbook.at/Bad-Blood

 

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Ghosts, God and wait for it…

Ghosts, God and wait for it…

The thing that breathes on your neck in the dark, the voice that whispers in the dark and the hand that softly brushes the foot you’ve foolishly left outside the duvet at night, all present intriguing psychological dilemmas for us not dissimilar to some people’s relationship with God.

As a dedicated sceptic, despite my recent encounters with my own night-time visitor, I have always been fascinated by the dark, frightening, creeping thing in the night, the fear that stalks just out of sight, the haunting and the shiver down your spine. I am no psychologist but like most people, I have an understanding that these things are really our own inner fears and insecurities coming to the surface as we fade in and out of sleep…or are they?

Look, I’m a writer and one who particularly enjoys delving into the darker matter of the soul, so perhaps I spend more time considering such matters than most. I need to feel my readers fear, to understand what I have to do to make them believe that the slender, outside edge of a ghostly little finger, just softly slid down their spine as they turn to the next page. I’m not specifically talking about horror, in all my books, I still revel in delight when I know I’ve hit the mark and sent a chill down someone’s spine.

One of my favourite spontaneous Halloween memories is from when my children were small. We were at a party and I found a torch. I switched off all the lights and sat in the dark with the torch under my chin and asked “who wants to hear a story.” The kids all gathered around in a circle on the floor and I proceeded to scare the living bejesus out of every one of them. You cannot begin to imagine the squeals. It was a combination of fear and delight and I look for that in my writing.  On that occasion I could see the fear, fun and excitement in their eyes and even though I can’t see my reader when I write, I do my best to recall such interaction to bring the excitement to life on the page. I’ve always enjoyed story telling.

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When I was a small boy, (true story) my grandmother came to stay with us and as we lived in a small house, she ended up taking my bed. I had options but the most attractive one was to sleep alone in front of the fire downstairs in a sleeping bag. It was a camping fantasy and my imagination was quite capable of placing me in the Amazon surrounded by a menagerie of wild animals.

Now I like the rest of the world have had nightmares and bad dreams but what happened that night, felt so real to me that it stuck with me. The fear I felt, the cold, bald terror makes me shiver just recalling it almost fifty years on. My sleeping bag was old and blue and the zipper was a nightmare. It caught at every tooth and had to be very carefully handled so it wouldn’t break completely. It took forever to move it a few inches up or down. As I recall I awoke in the early hours at a time my more recent shadow man seems to favour.

I lay there watching the embers in the grate. It was almost completely dark save the very low glow from the fire, when I felt a cold breath on my neck. The thing that leaned close in the dark, was real and terrifying and it whispered my name in the night.  I squeezed my eyes tight for a moment and when I opened them, the sleeping bag had been opened just a little at the top and the flap folded neatly back.  It was then I saw him. He had form and no form and he faded into the corner before disappearing.  I remember he had an accent, one I couldn’t place and I was genuinely terrified.

Now I know you’ll think, yep he was dreaming.  Think what you will, that was one of those moments that I believe was real. We all have them and despite what I have just said, I am still a denier when it comes to ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night, and yet… I have an even stranger one for you.

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My maternal grandmother was religious and when I travelled abroad, she gave me a small collection of religious artefacts to carry and keep me safe.  Most people go with the old St. Christopher medal as he is the patron saint of travellers, but not my Gran. She gave me a Miraculous Medal inside a little orange pouch as she was a big fan of the Holy Mother, a small piece of blessed palm that she got from her local church and a picture of Padre Pio.  She was a big fan of the Padre. I took all three, unholy devil that I am, but out of love and respect for my Gran, I placed the Pardo Pio Pictures in a plastic sleeve and shoved it into the inner pocket of my wallet, tucked inside the little orange pouch. There they stayed until my mother died.

Now here is the odd thing.  No one knew I carried these things with me and after her death; I did something I hadn’t done in years. I tried to pray. It was an empty, foolish thing for a young man in my state of mind and it was a half-hearted hopeless gesture.  My heart had been broken and I was so devastated that I would have turned anywhere for solace.  I remembered the little medal my Gran had given me and thought I could pray to the mother of God to give me comfort.  I had after all lost my own mother and my deeply engrained, early strong religious teaching, led me to it with ease.

When I opened my wallet I pulled the little pouch and sleeve from the back pocket. They had been there so long, they were partially stuck but they came out without too much trouble.  I put the sleeve to one side and I opened the pouch with the medal inside. Just as I expected, there was a medal with the form of the Blessed Virgin Mary, all dark and marked as I remembered it. This had been a well weathered, often handled possession of my grandmother after all. But then I saw the second medal.  It was brand new and shiny as if it had just been made. I picked up the sleeve and shook it and the piece of palm fell into my hand.  I reached inside and pulled out the little picture of Padre Pio.

It was battle-scarred from being bent and frequently sat on, as I carried my wallet in my back pocket.  As I held it, I rubbed my thumb across the little card and something even stranger happened. A second identical card slid from behind it. Only this one was immaculate. No crease marks and crinkles as it should have had like the other one.

Now like I say, I am not religious and I am completely sceptical about all things that suggest spirits or ghosts, but the duplicate medal and picture were impossible to explain. I tried to create a logical explanation for this but I couldn’t. The religious gifts my gran gave to me were handed over one by one, a memory that is clear and unambiguous and I had handled each item multiple times before tucking them away in that little plastic pocket. No one could have known they were there and certainly would not have had access to my wallet, so it was unexplainable at the time and remains so today.

A strange follow-on thing then happened. I placed the surplus medal in my car.  I honestly don’t know why but it felt right.  I have over the intervening years lost the medal three times and within a day, I have found another, in the most innocuous places. Despite my lack of religiosity, I still have one in my car and one in my wallet today.

I guess we all have a story of the shadow on the stairs or the voice in the night and while I am the world’s biggest naysayer when it comes to everyone else, I can’t explain my own experiences so it leaves me with a dilemma of sorts.  But here’s the thing… Remember I said I had a miraculous medal and then I found a second one which I leave in my car – the one I cannot lose?

Because I’m writing this blog and as I am writing it, I was drawn to open my wallet to look at the small collection of religious items my dear departed Gran gave to me. The first thing I did was look at the Padre Pio pictures – no change there. But now this is where something very strange has happened and I guess you have to wonder if I am telling you the truth or if I am just a good spinner of tales.  There should be one miraculous medal in my little pouch and one in my car. I know there is one in my car because I saw it this morning.  Seeing it, gave rise to me writing this piece in the first place.  But the remaining lone medal in the pouch… I simply had to take a picture because even though I’m looking at it, I still don’t believe it…and here it is…  I will leave it up to you to speculate on this one – Uno-dos-tres? What do I think?…What do you think?…

You can find more details about Max Power’s books here : –

http://www.amazon.com/author/maxpower
https://maxpowerbooks.wordpress.com
http://facebook.com/maxpowerbooks
twitter @maxpowerbooks1

Universal book links
http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood
http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood-II
http://getbook.at/Little-Big-Boy
http://getbook.at/Larry-Flynn
http://getbook.at/Bad-Blood

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The gap in my perception… In search of a flitterling…

The gap in my perception… In search of a flitterling…

 

There was an undeniable coarseness to my youth when put in context with the children of today.  We swore far less for fear of hell or a clip on the ear as my father so delicately put it.  You’d have your arse skelped for saying Jesus, so you had to be careful.  That being said we were altogether rougher around the edges.

Sometimes it felt as though we were dug out of the soil.  I was an urban kid so I don’t mean that in the Patrick Kavanagh “One side of the potato-pits was white with frost –How wonderful that was, how wonderful! And when we put our ears to the paling-post -The music that came out was magical” sort of way, rather we belonged to the outside world.

Every one of us understood the medicinal value of a doc leaf and that the reflection of light from a buttercup under your chin, could determine if you actually liked butter or not.   We got our hands dirty, cut our chins and elbows and had permanent pickable scabs on our bare knees.

We played in big groups and like a flock of starlings, we’d play kick the can and swirl around our chaser.  Together we fired slingshots at each other, played bulldogs charge, lassoed our friends with anything resembling a rope, teased vicious guard dogs, climbed fences, walked along garden railings, crashed go-carts, nailed nails into wood just for the hell of it, caught, bees, butterflies, mice and spiders just to see what they looked like up close.

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We gave each other crossbars or rode on the handlebars of bikes.  We stole matches and set things alight out of sight of our parents, carved our names on trees with sharp knives and kept on playing through the bloody noses, cut knees and torn elbows.   We picked our noses as well as our scabs, rubbed those doc leaves on nettle stings and blew on long blades of grass that we cupped between our thumbs.

For the most part, I was a cowboy. I rode imaginary horses, always the finest of chestnut beasts with a flowing blonde mane and I broke in wild ones too. I was shot many times but rarely killed.  Taking a bullet and spinning away when you got winged, was a well-rehearsed move. I rescued girls and politically incorrectly nowadays, I killed more Injuns than there were buffalo on the plains.

I knew every tribe, how they looked, their Hollywood versions at least, Blackfoot, Crow, Apache, Arapahoe, Comanche, they all played a part in our games.  There was nothing like it and it formed me.  My imagination was set free every day and in the summer…oh the endless days of summer holidays… in the summer I was so wild and free and I discovered the world in the place we called the California Hills at the end of our Dublin street. Yes I was dug out of the earth.

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Mothers called us in at tea time and we’d try to avoid that shout.  It broke the spell.  Eat and out again until the light faded and the motherly shouts diminished the group one by one, picking us off until there was no choice but to go in.  Each of us hoped our mother might forget, but they never did.

I was truly free in the moments of my wilderness joy, my careless breeze through the wilds of the grasslands that were no more than a few hundred metres long.   It never mattered for I was always somewhere else, someone else and I was setting my future clock without ever knowing it.  That was my summer and it kept me warm through the winter to come.

There is a gap in my perception.   Maybe I’m being too kind to myself, or perhaps I’m a little harsh.  It’s something we all suffer from.  I call it selective self-discombobulation.  I confuse myself to suit myself or sometimes as an act of self-destruction.  It can work both ways.  When I was a kid, I was deadly.  Not deadly as in a stone cold killer, but deadly in the Irish sense, as in great.  Well sometimes. 

When I was playing Cowboys and Indians, I had a picture in my head of who I was and it certainly wasn’t what other people saw.  Anyone looking at me from a neutral perspective, would have seen a skinny-arsed, little blonde waif of a scutterling, flittering about like a leaf on the wind.  From my eyes, I knew I was a mean hombre, not to be messed with, dark and brooding. Other cowboys would either be scared of me or want to be me.  See what I mean?

As a teenager, I was of course far more self-conscious.  Sometimes I thought I was the dogs, but only sometimes.  I remember wearing a pair of tight Levi jeans, brown desert boots and a lemon cheesecloth shirt.  My hair had lost its blonde and gone quite mousey, but it was longer and it flicked about my neck in the breeze, enticing girls to come closer and see who this Adonis was.   They didn’t of course but I had my moment when it sort of felt that way.  But then no one noticed or came flocking and my shoulders sagged just a little bit.  My chin dropped and I dug my hands into my pockets, disengaged my little wiggle of a strut and shuffled home to hang my shirt back in the wardrobe. Other times I just felt awkward or self-conscious but when I did, I always managed to dig out my little cowboy self, to restore some sense of a smile. 

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Everybody has it I guess, that misguided self-criticism or over-confidence.  Some have one or the other in abundance, others seem to walk the plank of it quite well and then there are the ones like me who unfalteringly, need to go looking for that little boy and put on the mask of carefree positivity to hide behind.  It helps me convince the world that I’m unbreakable.

My problem is my gift. I have always been quick of mind, sharp tongued, capable and brazen in the face of often quite shocking odds. I have stood up when I should have backed down and gotten away with it. I am to some extent cheeky and well able to react to pretty much anything in the moment.   The gift of my speed of thought is my problem as I say, or perhaps it is my curse.

It gives me stories this curse.  Behind my eyes as I chat, work, play and survive each day that I strip apart, I am spinning out of control and the whirlwind of my thoughts splashes paint on canvas, my words on a page and so I write.  But it is surely a curse.  I get no rest and as I grow older, as the autumn approaches, I find my leaves scatter about me and I can’t quite remember which branch they once belonged to.

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They mock me my thoughts, those amber leaves and autumn seems to last longer and longer bringing in its wake, the winter of my mind and with it the darkness, my curse.  But my curse is my gift and the darkness tells tales that I must set free, so the curse begets my gift and my gift enhances my curse, until my soul cries out for the spring to relieve the confusion and my pain.  But even in the spring, I know winter is just outside my window. I worry about the coming winter.  Perhaps it is because I’ve carried the darkness with me so long that I fear it will someday take hold and I won’t be able to shake it off.

It is then that I remember my little cowboy self and I call him to the fore, to free me once again until the darkness is no more.  And spring becomes summer and with it comes my smile.  I kiss it on the lips of those that would care for me and I hold it for a while.  But the gap in my perception reappears and I become paranoid and worry for the day when autumn will return.  I care little for how the world sees me but I know I see myself in the shadow of a winter sky, no matter how bright my face shines.  The truth is I try to always wear my summer face, but inside I look for my first turning leaf and then watch for it to fall. 

So I call to the waif, the flitterling and I try to keep him handy. The longer I can hide behind his beautiful small boy hair that blows with even the wisp of a breeze, the more I can depend on his gallop and his whoop to disguise the truth, I can keep the gap in my perception from those that matter most and maybe… just maybe keep the winter from my door…

You can find details about Max Power’s books here : –

http://www.amazon.com/author/maxpower

https://maxpowerbooks.wordpress.com

http://facebook.com/maxpowerbooks

twitter @maxpowerbooks1

Universal book links

http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood

http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood-II

http://getbook.at/Little-Big-Boy

http://getbook.at/Larry-Flynn

http://getbook.at/Bad-Blood

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Mosquitos the size of bears… I should’ve listened to me Ma…

Mosquitos the size of bears… I should’ve listened to me Ma…

I think it was the shadow in the water below that most disturbed me.  It could have been anything but the only thing I could think of was “Shark!”  The full moon offers quite a lot of illumination, but when you’re treading water off the Bass Strait in Australia, the light gets reflected off the waves and all you see at best, are the shadows.

It’s the stories you hear that make you worried.  I came from Dublin and swam in the chilly waters of the Irish Sea or occasionally the Atlantic when I was a kid.   Nothing more dangerous than a jelly fish or a piece of broken glass in the sand could get you there.  Australia was a little different.  There were poisonous spiders and snakes and in the water sharks.

I guess the fact that I was only there a few weeks when I decided to go camping in the bush didn’t help.  The newness of it all meant I was not just unfamiliar with the local flora and fauna, but I was downright naïve.

Something moved beneath me and a wave slapped me in the face as I looked down.  Further out, the others were swimming freely. They were laughing and messing about and were more used to the place than I was, so it was bound to be safe?  I looked to the shore and all I could see in the night was the fire we had lit and one of our tents nearby  on the beach.  Flip! – and that’s the nice F-word for what I was thinking – It looked like a long way back and then something touched my foot.  I swallowed a lung full of water.

“Bollox.” I said the word out loud and felt my heart thumping in my chest.  I knew I shouldn’t have had those beers.  Drinking and midnight swimming in shark-infested waters suddenly felt like a bad idea.  The very thought of that combination, drink, night-swimming and sharks, suddenly brought me back to Galway in 1976.  I was only a nipper and my older brother smuggled me into a cinema in Galway city to watch Jaws.  It scared the actual shite out of me and in that moment I could literally hear the music in my head and something touched my foot again.

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Now I had options.  I could scream and flay my way back to shore but I figured it would be no good for my cred to lose my cool and look like a Wally, especially if this was a false alarm. There was the choice to carry on and ignore the large dark shadow circling beneath my feet and enjoy the respite that the cool water offered to the 80% humidity and ridiculously high night time temperatures. That was never really going to happen. Then there was the play it cool, I think I’ll just casually swim back and have another beer on dry land option. Option 3 it was.

Of course that turned out to be easier said than done.  In the first place, even as I considered my options, I had drifted further out to sea.  I am a decent enough swimmer and back then I was young , strong and fit so I could make it back easily enough. It was just a fair distance to have to swim with a shark stalking me, assuming it actually was a shark.  Regardless I began to swim back.  Slow and steady I thought, don’t splash too much.  The shore seemed further away with every shark-attracting stroke. Half way there a thought struck me and I stopped to look back at the others.  My feet touched a sandbank much to my relief.

I called out for the others to come back but they waved me off.  I said that there could be sharks – trying not to give away my fear as it was as yet unfounded – but they mocked me for worrying and for being a blow-in.  Fair enoughski, I thought, if you get your legs bitten off, don’t come running to me.  On I swam and I felt the first pang of a stitch as the beer kicked in.  My mother always told me not to go swimming for at least an hour after eating or drinking.  Why hadn’t I listened to her. Something splashed to my left.

I picked up the pace and the stitch evaporated.  I could smell the fire and my knee hit sand beneath the water. Hallelujah I was safe.  To be brutally honest, at that point I sort of scrambled, half crawling, half swimming into the shallows and then ran-waded my way to complete safety on the sand. I plonked my nervous arse onto the beach, panting like I had run a marathon.  The adrenalin was still pumping as I scanned the water for the others. 

I heard them laughing and splashing and then picked  out their silhouettes swimming back to shore. What to do?  The answer was easy, another beer.   They tumbled onto the beach, unaware of my no-good, two-bit, lily-livered, yeller-bellied, chicken-shit varmentism.  We drank some more, stoked the fire and eventually crawled into our respective tents and crashed out until the sound of rosellas and cockatoos screeching woke me up early the next day.

j3

The fire was dead and I had been savaged my mosquitos the size of bears but at least I was alive.  I was first up and I strolled to the water’s edge and looked around.  I had panicked the night before and felt better with the sun on my face. Behind me were the jungle encrusted cliffs that we had somehow negotiated half-cut in the dark the night before.  There were exotic birds everywhere, the likes of which I had only seen in the zoo back home. The sky was pure blue, not a cloud and already, even early in the morning the heat and humidity had me perspiring like a sauna-loving sumo wrestler’s crotch in a fur lined jock-strap.

I looked out at the water and the blood drained from my face.  The sea was calm with only a few crested waves near the shoreline, but it wasn’t the waves that caught my attention.  Like some horrible aquatic nightmare, the sea’s surface was dotted with small triangular fins.  There were dozens of them and they were everywhere.  I felt sick.

That was it.  No feckin’ way was I going back into the water again.  I would sweat my hole off if I had to, but my worst imagined fear had just come true.  Or had it?  I turned my back on the water and returned to my tent.  Just before I reached it, I thought I saw something slither in the sand near the door.  I could have sworn it went inside.  The word ‘Bollox’ was used once more.  Apparently the sharks had made me bush-paranoid.   All I could imagine now was a tent full of snakes.  I was afraid to pull on a pair of Kecks without checking.  Feckin’ snakes!  My mother warned me about them as well.  You should always listen to your Ma.  I figured that this was going to be a very, long weekend…

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