Edd Vick’s latest story, “The Corsair and the Lady” may be found in Talebones #37.

Angela Slatter’s story ‘Frozen’ will appear in the December 09 issue of Doorways Magazine, and ‘The Girl with No Hands’ will appear in the next issue of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

Luc Reid writes about the psychology of habits at The Willpower Engine. His new eBook is Bam! 172 Hellaciously Quick Stories.

Trent Walters, poetry editor at A&A, has a chapbook, Learning the Ropes, from Morpo Press.

The Telegraph Crew

by Jason Fischer

The sagging ribbon of wire stretched across the Overland now, a fragile line linking the settler-towns. Communication, weak and intermittent as it was, the flour of civilisation. A four man crew had hauled the telegraph line across a thousand miles of nothing, raising a line of uneven posts even into the blasted plains of the Inland, until one day they simply downed tools for good.

Perhaps it was the heat and dust that finally got to them. They’d spent months watching the bush for signs of bad natives, knowing that the taursi hated the settlers now. Skeletons were sometimes found in abandoned holdings, shards of taursi glass crusting the bleached bones. It was a bad death.

The Inland brought other fears. Snakes, great rolling serpents that slept in the dust for years, waking only to gobble up unwary travellers. Crooked mobs too, town-fellas gone bad, robbing folks, tearing up the back tracks. Eating man-flesh.

It’s hard to say what caused the telegraph crew to turn on their foreman. They beat him with their shovels and crowbars, choked him with an off-cut from that great spool of wire. Broke him in a bad way, and as such their employment came to an end.

Perhaps it was the brooding ranges that called to them, great twists of bruised rock that hunched above them with the gravity of ages. Or the vastness of the plains below, a timeless waste full of hidden monsters. Men had scratched little tracks and trade-ways across its back, and this was an insult to the land itself. Holy places had been fouled by the settlers, old springs used to water stock, shrines older than the taursi used for firewood or dismantled out of spite.

These empty places sing to a man’s soul, and sometimes folks stop what they are doing and listen. Three good town-fellas, soft and civil, eager to finish a bad job and get back to the towns and their families. None of them had so much as marked their sheilas or beat on any man, yet they’d murdered their boss-man in that lonely place. They took the bullocks and vanished, and they’re either dead now, or unrecognisable. Most likely they have gone off with the howling mobs, running riot in the in-between places.

Sometimes a crooked man will talk, in the camps that tolerate their kind. They speak of bringing down the towns, of wiping the settlers out, of undoing civilisation. It’s not hatred that drives folks crooked, though we stole this land and none of us ever belonged here.

All we know is that the natives will not touch a crooked mob, nor the beasts. A crooked man has safe travel from Inland to beyond, and those who huddle behind a town-wall are right to fear his attention.

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