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I’m asleep when the sunlight fights its way through the dust coating the cracked window of the warehouse, sneaks across the filth on the concrete floor and punches me fair in the face. Fireworks explode behind my eyes—what a fucking cliché—but I can smell the gunpowder, and once the light is gone there is still the smoke; it turns the world grey.

I fight my way through haze to sit up.

There is only one critter this morning, standing, all rainbow, neon and legs, in the middle of the floor—until it sees me, then skutters away, up the wall. There’s a flash of light, like a lead-crystal bauble hanging in a window, when it disappears into an empty light fitting.

I reach to the side of my bedroll and am rewarded with nothing but the clink of empty bottles. Then I reach under the rolled-up coat I use as a pillow, feel the plastic handle of a kitchen knife—nothing else.


I look where the critter has gone, and at the door I’d have to go through to get more grog. The critter will see me as I leave.


I climb off of my bedroll, a thin mattress with a floral cover so threadbare and torn that the foam may as well be naked. A couple of stained polar-fleece blankets were all I had, one with a hardened edge where it has melted; I don’t remember when.

I pull on the coat that has been acting as a bedspread though it is scant protection against the angry cold, take it off again and check the pockets and sleeves for critters—you can never be too careful. The problem with little critters is they become medium critters then big critters. I don’t want one day to find a critter wearing my coat and drinking my grog.

I put the coat back on. The truth is I can never be sure there are none of them around. I’ve found critters in the seams, in the buttonholes, under the collar, everywhere—but I’m cold. The cold will hurt me, it’s painful; the critters are only dangerous in potentiality.

There’s nothing hiding under my blanket, nothing under my mattress either. I kick shit around for a bit and can’t find anything; nothing runs away but a cockroach and a rat. I turn my back on my bedroll. I kick though garbage and debris all the way to the door. The wire I had twisted around the door handle, as a poor substitute for a lock, is still there.

The door keeps out bigger things that might try to get inside. The little critters are impossible to keep out—they can get through anything, hide in the smallest places, make themselves tiny and sneak in on the hems of clothes, in the treads of shoes, in knots in hair.

But the sun outside is too bright for critters. I have never worked out where they go in daylight; I asked my best friend, Jezz-able, but she didn’t know either. Maybe the light hurts them somehow. Maybe they are nocturnal—creatures of the dark—and that’s why they glow like they do. Or maybe they are always there, but in the light of day they become invisible.

Sometimes I think they are made of the same thing as a migraine, that when my head hurts they are there, already in my eyeballs, in my brain, stabbing me, eating me from the inside. When the migraine aura is in my vision, my eyeball has them sitting on it. I squirm, those times, resisting the urge to gouge my eyes out, to use a length of wire to poke through my ears into my brain, to stand in traffic, praying that if I die they will too.

If I think too much about the critters it makes me drink more. When I am fall down drunk I can’t do anything really stupid, like beat on my head to get them out. When I am fall down drunk, the critters don’t dare touch me. Maybe they are allergic to alcohol.

Critter, skitter, critical, skutter. I am stuck in this train of thought as it careens towards a rockslide.

But I’m stopped in my tracks just outside the door, just like I am every time I fail to derail that train before it reaches a station. I slap the metaphor out of my brain; it’s too shit to live. I hope it gives any critters in there motion sickness.

The critters haven’t always been around. I was blind to them back in the old days.


When I saw my first critter, I screamed until my throat bled.

I wasn’t drunk, didn’t drink so much back then before my life ended, but I hadn’t slept for a couple of days; I never slept enough back then. I had been too busy, too foolish. I had not yet learned how sleep kept the monsters away.

Back then I worked hard. I was a writer; or something like that; I remember that but only just. It hurts to think about it. I wish I could remember how I did it back then; how I worked so hard, how I worked at all, then I could do it again if the critters let me.

The critters will never let me.

That night sleep had its claws in me, I knew that, and I only had moments to make it to bed before I lost the fight to stay awake. By the time I got to my bedroom I was crawling; climbing into my comfortable bed felt like scaling Everest, but I made it. As my eyes drooped, I saw the critter in the pyramidal corner made by the walls and the roof on the opposite corner of the room, beady eyes watching me.

It began walking towards me, almost lobster-shaped with four claws and countless legs, iridescent and crystalline, throwing rainbows at my eyes. Sitting bolt upright, I screamed, brushing away the webs that had been dropped on to my face, and the critter bolted. The air had filled with the light of the thing, the sound of its legs on the roof noisy until it disappeared into the light fitting in the middle of the ceiling, for a moment making it glow as if the light were on.


I’m standing in the late morning sunlight, checking my pockets then my shoes. I have four dollars and fifteen cents. Not enough even for the worst bottle of piss imaginable, not in walking distance anyway. The shadows of the old rusty industrial buildings are ominous, but they’re nothing compared to the building I have just walked out of. It gets me like that every morning: my home is the scariest place in sight, the tin walls with plenty of holes for things to get through, the rusted roof, the buckles and bends where something once tried to get in and then became even more desperate to escape once it had succeeded.

I want to collect my stuff, find somewhere else to sleep—another abandoned warehouse, maybe a stairwell, or a doorway. Not a bus shelter or two square metres of footpath; not a hostel or a police cell. On the street, there is no protection from them. They could appear from anywhere; not just the little ones, either.

Police cells are packed with them, anyway. They must breed in there.

But now I am too scared to go back through that door and get my stuff. I know when I get back tonight it will be different. My home, or whatever it is, will be almost inviting.

There’s ample evidence of something wrong with my thinking, but I can’t work out what that is. Maybe the critters; sometimes I’m sure they’re not real, but mostly I’m sure they are and they are controlling my thoughts. And if that’s true, then the whole world is doomed.

I need a drink.

I don’t need a drink, but I do. I know I can’t stop my drinking and I no longer want to, not since I lost everything. Since everything lost me. I can’t remember how it happened, how I forgot how to make a living, how I forgot how not to drink.

I have to drown the critters. If I can drown enough of them, maybe I can go back to my life.

I watch the rooftops and the gutters for movement.


A used paper coffee cup is before me, the only money in it is the seed money I planted there, four dollars and fifteen cents, a hint to passers-by more than a seed because money planted in a cup does not grow on its own. They are studiously ignoring me, those blank-faced, grey-skinned whitefellas in the street. Can’t they see I am a traditional owner, the sovereign of this shithole, and they owe me my rent? I catch myself at lying. I am not the owner here; my home is thousands of kilometres away.

Home, if I could go home, would be better. No monster would dare to hurt me there in the arms of my people, my ancestors; my own monsters, too. I listen every night for the cry of night birds but never hear them.

In my pocket, that piece of plastic. I know there’s money on it, just not how much. The payments are getting thin, but still they are there and I try not to touch that money. If I drink the money on that plastic I know I will run out of funds and oil-on-water eyes watch me from the wheel well of a parked car. Well, shit, I need a drink.

I remember the last time I tried to buy a drink on plastic. I had handed it over, typed in the PIN, then the whitefella behind the counter had called me a thief. Too black, too dirty, my hair too messy to have money on a card. They had withheld my card, withheld my Scotch, dialled for the cops.

Too scared, too angry, too black to wait for the law, I had dived over the counter, my head hitting the bastard in the face as I fell on top of them. Snatching my card back, I had run for my life.

The ATM spits money out into my hand as someone watches, confused and suspicious. Enough to spoil myself with a bottle of Scotch, but not enough to get me robbed. The guy at the grog shop wonders where the crisp plastic fiddy has come from but sells me a bottle anyway. I sit down in a doorway, look around for coppers and for other monsters, and take a swig.

A critter watching me from the roof opposite pulls its head back until I can’t see it, while the one peering out from the drain drops down with a noise like someone slurping noodles. I tip my head to the side and tap my upside ear, and a tiny fragment of rainbow falls out of the other ear, grows legs before it hits the ground, and scuttles off.

That’s better.

Jezz-able might need a drink too. I had almost forgotten her—forgotten, because I am rotten that I owe her a drink. Or more than one; I have enough in the bottle to get a couple up on the tally. I look at a suit passing by, his shirt has faint, blue pinstripes. Must be Tuesday, I think, which means Jezz-able would be sleeping in an alley across town.

I head off, taking a winding path to avoid the cops, the do-gooders, the critters, the light, the critter-hiding dark.

Down the alley, I can see Jezz-able, almost camouflaged among the street art, beside her wheelchair, still sleeping. She will be so happy when I wake her with a drink, help her into her chair, and when we go out together into the sunlight and hang out, begging and drinking and laughing, safe from everything behind a haze of alcohol.

I take a swig. I can buy more if we finish this bottle. It’s been a while since I last checked my accounts. Royalties are what they pay me and with the grog I feel royal. I can almost remember those times, but it makes me angry so I don’t. I can see that Jezz-able is not moving. Closer, I can see the faint fragments of rainbow on her skin, over her body, on the nearby wall, everywhere. They scatter in a flutter of legs, wings and claws. They got her in the night, or early enough in the morning, when she was too groggy with sleep to throw them off.

Dropping to my knees, I remember. When I had hit the streets running, hiding myself in bins and sleeping nowhere, Jezz-able had been my salvation. She had shown me the better places to spend the night, the people who would help me with a blanket, with a feed, a coffee, even somewhere to shower. She told the others on the street to leave me alone, showed me how to avoid—and then if that failed, sweet-talk—the police.

I can’t stop the tears, and every drop from my eyes has a tiny creature in it.

A noise jumps me. I don’t want to turn from Jezz-able to see what it is, but I do. A police uniform is approaching, there may or may not be someone inside it. They say something, but it’s only words. I can’t be expected to understand. Before I get to my feet, I pull the needle from Jezz-able’s arm and try to hide it.

The uniform stops. There’s a face, segmented legs coming out of the mouth, eyes open and close like the mouths of fish. There are words, or the sound of mandibles; I’m not sure which.

I have no choice. My skin is the wrong colour. The policeman’s eyes are the wet, iridescent, glass doll’s eyes of a critter.

I run.

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