My first short fiction was published in the print anthology Other Voices: New Writing and Writers in New Zealand in 1989. Later when the rights reverted to me ebooks presented an opportunity to make them newly available. Those first four stories (along with my fifth) are now collected as Rusty Blades. Ever since then I've been uploading my short stories to the ether, including my 1995 collection The Man Who Wasn't Feeling Himself. I think of these individually published pieces as singles to my albums – shorter and looser and often experimental. My latest story Aurélie (2017) is a serialisation of a previously unpublished novella. I like that you can read it on a phone. – CT
A REM sleep-deprived entrepreneur hires a novelist to finish his dreams.
Following brain surgery for a non-cancerous brain tumour, Bennett Ward had been struggling for over a year to complete assembly of the Lego 1750-piece Rebel Blockade Runner. Bennett's spatial coordination had deteriorated after the removal of the meningioma. He also experienced episodes of aphasia. Most seriously for a business visionary, he had ceased to dream. Prior to the billionaire VC fund manager's life-saving surgery Bennett Ward enjoyed prolific and colourful sleep visions but after his life-saving surgery his dreams had ceased. He recalled snippets and reactions to external stimulus such as sound but nothing he could describe as a full narrative.
'We've tried everything from spicy food to LSD. Nothing triggers his post-waking imagination.'
Bennett's assistant Doctor Michaela Arlo talked like a neurosurgeon but she was a doctor of philosophy in health sciences from the technical institute of Diamond Skirt, Nebraska. Google Search images favoured her profile without the port wine stain. Her employer's initials were embroidered on the breast pocket of her larkspur scrubs in TEFF Lexicon, one of the world's most expensive font families.
There was no other branding on Magellan campus: Bennett Ward labelled only staff. The meeting room in the public reception area of the Queenstown mansion had been shaved of labels and generic trademarking. The approach to the property resembled a gated community but with no name on the electronic gate and only one building beyond it, a flat roof structure finished in the same black-bean grey as the drones. There were no signs in the parking area and no guide to the front door which was guarded by a combination body weight, heat sensor and RFID arrangement that had stranded me outside. I had spent eight minutes taking steps back and forward again on the entrance matting and waving my arms and speaking my name aloud before the doors slid open of their own accord. I'd arrived early, the receptionist explained: the system wasn't ready for me yet.
A revolving contract to steal Hokusai's Great Wave pushes a thief to her breaking point. Aurélie is a noir art-crime procedural and the first part of a novella.
Passy station at night was a blast of cold air. Underneath the yellow lamps the stone steps were the colour of stale butter. The door to the apartment building where Ivo lived with his family was black steel with frosted panes. Aurélie put a plastic bag over her hand to punch in the security code. The door's electric mechanism ground open on unforgiving gears. The full-length mirrors in the lobby multiplied her entrance. She ignored the glowing elevator shaft and took the unlit staircase two steps at a time.
The penthouse entry was a single door. Aurélie examined it with the pocket Maglite she had taken from her Fendi clutch. The alarm contacts were in the upper right and lower right points of the frame. There were two locks. The topmost was a six-wafer Fichet 480, the lower a mortice. She took the lock-pick wallet out of her purse and held the torch in her mouth and she set to work, her breath whistling softly.
The Fichet took nine minutes to open. The mortice was more difficult, requiring a lifter, two tension tools and three picks. Spit was collecting in the corner of her mouth where she was holding the Maglite but she did not stop to wipe it away. After quarter of an hour the movement relented and snapped in a circle. Aurélie opened the door. The red light of the security alarm was flashing. In thirty seconds the siren would sound and an automatic call would be sent to the security company receiving center. Aurélie took out the Lucky Clover matchbook on which Zoe had written the alarm code and punched the numbers in. The red light went steady. Aurélie stepped inside.
Ivo Fraine's apartment was blue: the colour of dreams.
When the art thief's identity becomes exposed she must use all her skills to evade her pursuers. Part two of the original novella.
The wave freeze-framed. A split-second as infinity, a frozen curl of blue: the world turned upside down.
Skip squinted at the TV. Nothing moved. He tapped the plasma screen. The screen went blank. Skip swore. The broadcast signal had failed because the card in the digital decoder was counterfeit. All the decoder cards on Bali were counterfeit. The barman kneeled under the counter to reset the box.
In the back of the restaurant, a woman screamed.
Aurélie sat on the other side of the counter nursing her beer. While she waited for Skip to get the wall-mounted TV to function she regarded the collection of art that hung around it. The paintings were all the same proportion because there was only one size of pre-stretched canvas available in the general store at Seminyak and they had all been painted using the same sized brush in the same basic colours to souvenir the magic of the close of day. All their skies were vermillion and crimson and orange and all the seas were flat to better compliment the light as the sole agent of change. None of the canvases were signed by the artist. Aurélie liked that about them.
Twelve short stories about sex, science fiction and obsession, first published in 1995: 'Running Hot & Cold', 'Calling Doctor Dollywell', 'The Man Who Wasn't Feeling Himself', 'Fire in the Hole', 'Archie and Veronica', 'No Sun No Rain', 'Somewhere in the 21st Century', 'Oilskin', 'John', 'Me & Misspelt', 'From Soup to Nuts', 'Another White Gown'. The ebook edition features new cover art by Ian Dalziel.
The first of the bodies appeared in October. Normally my favourite month, I consider it to be the beginning of summer, even though strictly speaking it's still spring. Spring is what's printed in your diary, and probably on your kitchen calendar too. But don't believe everything you read. October is when the city lightens and says goodbye to the cold. Cement sidewalks once blackened with rain dry to the colour of oatmeal. Suddenly everyone seems to be running, sweating their way through ten miles before breakfast. Waiting at an intersection the car interior grows hot and stuffy. The vinyl smells and something in the glove box turns sticky. Mornings I wake up early with the sun in my face and disturb the ache that has settled in my kidneys. October is the month when I drink the least and make the most promises to myself. I am happier in summer. The job of living becomes easier. So does dying. Things get easier all round.
The most famous of the bodies – the ones you've probably heard of – were the ones found past Hobson Point. I remember marking the occasion on the day with a red thumbtack on the sea chart pinned to my wall. The bodies were washed in by the dawn tide and deposited as neatly as the morning mail on the black foundation rocks of Tamaki Drive. They numbered two: a young woman and a middle-aged man, both bloated and marzipan-pale beneath the pretty flags and brightly-named sailing boats. They were an ugly pair after five days in the water and as the waves receded they were left bug-eyed and grinning, waiting for some over-fed jogger to catch sight of them, pause disbelievingly, and throw up. By the time I arrived people had gathered on the side of the road to see for themselves. The crowd's weight was stretching the yellow fence of police tape, and someone called for us all to step back. Sirens flickered in the sunshine. Next to me a photographer was steadying himself for another shot, his shirt pocket bulging with film. The shutter made a snapping noise, the sort a tiny bone makes if you twist it between your fingers.
Excerpt from No Sun, No Rain by Chad Taylor, from the collection The Man Who Wasn't Feeling Himself, first published by David Ling, 1995. © Chad Taylor 1995, 2015.
A businessman struggles with language in a foreign land. First published in Sunday magazine, 2006.
In Spain a Real Estate agent was called an Immobiliare. Leonardo liked this word very much. It seemed to say: with this wealth, you are here to stay. With this wealth you decide who will leave. With this wealth, you are maybe going nowhere.
Leonardo had stayed back in Europe on word of a special offer from an Immobiliare named Diego. He emailed Diego's office with a letter of introduction. He faxed Diego offers. Diego did not reply.
Leonard had not been lying when he bragged to the woman in the Rahoveci. He had closed some good deals on the Mediterranean. The last 20 kilometers of pristine coastline was being opened up for development. There would be apartments and hotels and a road that led to more apartments and hotels. Soon every inlet would be accessible to tourists and business. White towers on the yellow cliffs: it was the shape of progress. But the locals were opposed. The Med was tideless: its people were not accustomed to change.
The Almerian surveyors wore fluorescent yellow waistcoats that fluttered in the breeze. They measured the granite with a sonar device that squealed when the rod was in the wrong position. Leonardo carefully set his left boot toe on the edge of the site before peering over. The green waters at the foot of the cliff were a miniature feeding ground. Black fish hung in the shallows. Then a cloud would wash in over the rocks and break into tapering whirls like smoke. These patterns were sprats, or a species like that: hundreds of tiny fish the length of an infant's thumb. When the black fish broke into the shoal it reacted collectively, breaking and swarming. This zig-zag pattern was too complex to follow but Leonardo felt he could almost make out: left, right, right, left; the fleeing creatures turning at angles that must have been reciprocal. It was a hunting pattern: evasion and pursuit. Big fish, little fish. Individuals versus the grey cloud.
Leonardo respected this complexity. A simple principle expanded to create something elaborate and organic. Hunt or be hunted. Profit and loss.
He tried calling home. Her cell phone was out of range.
An intense story about sex and other precious objects. Carrie Factor and Louis Cloud smash into each other hundreds of times a second: exploding and rebuilding themselves, breaking down, rising again. They are obsessive, fetishistic, tender, afraid, alive.
First published in String of Pearls (Allen and Unwin, Australia, 1996). The ebook edition features cover art by Victoria Munro.
'I love the stars,' she said again. 'It all looks such a long way away.'
Silently they compiled the things they desired. Each dot of light a possibility, the only respite the blackness in between.
A late night story about jazz, fatherhood and remaining airborne. First published in Boys' Own Stories (Tandem Press, 2000). Ebook edition features cover art by Clinton Phillips.
Renny is deaf in one ear. The doctors say it was an infection. Sasha says it's from the birth. Chance in a million. I don't know. It's not so bad. It's the other ear we should be worrying about. Don't get me wrong: he's all right.
Days I work wet plastering, nights washing dishes. Sasha says I'm biding my time but she never says for what. There's nothing wrong with being a builder. My grandfather was a builder. His first job as an apprentice was to fashion his own tools. He used a drill to make a drill, a hammer to make a hammer. I always liked that.
Three short stories about modern relationships and family tensions. 'Here She Comes Now' is a transcript from a household under surveillance. 'Close to You' (2001) is about two siblings' burning secret. 'DIN' (2005) splices moments from real and on-screen dramas in Los Angeles.
First published in Landfall (2013), Listener (2001) and Chameleon Press (Hong Kong, 2005).
A black Cherokee is parked in the lot behind Dr. Birnbaum's Skin Revision Centre. The woman with blonde highlights is screaming into a flip top cell phone.
'Please recall the bill,' she screams.
'I cannot live like this any more.
'The whole time he's been out on bail.
'Give me the name of the bondsman. Give me the bondsman's name and I will call him.
'He will not be high.'
'My God. Give me the name and I will call.'
She screams and hangs up.
She makes another call.
'Just tell me why. Tell me why. Didn't he pay you back? He paid you back. No. No! I'm warning you.'
'Please. You're my mother. My life depends on it. My life depends on it. Why won't you do this? I don't understand why you're not protecting me. You know what? I'm asking for my life. I've never asked you for anything in my life.
'Recall the bail.
'Listen to me. Mother? Mother? I'm on a cell phone. I'm on my cell.
'I have been asking for months. I'm putting my life in your hands. Of course he will pay you back. Has he ever not paid you back?'
She wipes her eyes.
'Oh my God. Oh my God. No. No no no no. Why are you doing this? You just don't know him.'
She hangs up. She reverses the Cherokee and drives out. A black standard poodle leans panting out of the passenger window.
Four tales about living in the city. 'The Man at the Door', 'Two Friends', 'Geisha' and 'The Girl from Mars' first published in Other Voices (Brick Row / Hallard Press, 1988). 'Rusty Blades' first published in Sport 5 (VUP, 1990).
I have worked as a hotel doorman during my holidays for two years now. The job is too cold in winter and too hot in summer but that is why it pays, and a student never says no to money, no matter how rich his parents are. Besides, the big American hotels always give you big American uniform overcoats to prove what big American spenders they are, so you stay pretty warm. I stand outside, stamping my feet and breathing little breaths of fog, and the door swings in and swings out as the people pass through.