Jasper Godden: NightLife
Welcome to our Young Writer in the City stories! The works in this series were written by young writers who sourced inspiration from Launceston’s prominent sites and buildings during their 2016 residency.
About Jasper Godden, 2016 Young Writer in the City
Jasper is the sort of person who comes up with his best ideas when he’s singing in the shower, falling asleep or meant to be doing something else.
He’s been writing since he was very small, he’s probably (hopefully) gotten better since then. He likes giving spooky twists to stories and drawing inspiration from somewhat ordinary situations.
As well as fiction writing Jasper has been a support performance poet for: Luka Lesson, Omar Musa and Candy Royalle; won a few slams and ranked in the state for his performance words.
One day he hopes to write longer prose and follow a career in words. His dad says his writing is “pretty good”.
Jasper says: NightLife is an eerie window into a world where all you’re certain of is that you are afraid. A world where no place, nobody is safe and all you know is to stay away from the faceless men if you want to survive till daylight.
By Jasper Godden
She crouches in the shelter of the trees, around her every noise feels louder; every one of her senses on edge, amplified but distilled at once. This is what they don’t teach you about fearing for your life, the almost certainty that you won’t survive til sunrise leaves you caught in an insidious loop of wanting to give up but being unable to. Humans weren’t made to stop fighting the urge to live, no matter how dismal the circumstances.
The night is the hardest.
The girl can barely see the outlines of her fingers with only the half-light of the moon glimpsing her from her hiding spot amongst the foliage. She’s waiting when she hears the footsteps approaching; her body tenses, her fingers curl and she stifles the breath that would produce an icy mist only visible in daylight. She is dismally ready for whatever may come for her.
He speaks her name, almost inaudibly for its softness. A gentleness in his tone that stands alone in the bleakness of the night.
She crashes into him, arms outstretched; she lets the weight of everything rest on him for their too short embrace, she feels warmth between them and wishes it would spread to her fingers.
He tells her he’s found a place for them to hide out, the men aren’t surveying that part of the gorge. He leads her by the hand, rubbing it when he feels its cool contrast to his own hands. She signs stories on his palms that she knows won’t be understood but she needs distraction from the faint feeling of her stomach residing in her beaten shoes.
Did you know, she signs.
That people used to come here for enjoyment? They would run along these trails, take pictures of the trees, many would even swim in the dark water. This place was one made of happy memories once.
He stops, his breath comes in short. The world stops with the sight of the white light, cracking the night in two. It moves closer, she imagines the pain, she’s seen what happens when the person behind the light catches you. The screams.
They’re running, scrambling up the base of a steep hill, the light cracking at their heels, daring them to slow down but they know enough of the consequence of being caught, the way the world ends for them in a place of little comfort. She scrapes her hands on the branches as they flee; blood and dirt mix on her hands.
The girl had imagined it hundreds of time; dying. Almost a premonition at this point in their long compressed history: her end. Would she embrace it? Would she fight? She barely remembers life before now. Her memories began when her mother brushed her hair and told her to run, they were coming.
She didn’t even know who they were anymore, only the animalistic fear pounding through her body kept her going.
He tugs her sleeve here.
They climb into a tiny opening in the earth. The girl swallows her claustrophobia.
They are still.
She pretends this is a game of hide and seek, one she played in the days they lived in the house with the tin blue roof – her sister never found her in the honeysuckle bush behind the shed. She didn’t know where her sister was anymore, didn’t know the fate of anybody beyond the boy. Her body shakes, mirroring the trees caught in the wind outside. She could smell them beyond their hiding spot but not the polished smell she imagines the men who hunt them have.
She had never been close enough to see their faces, she didn’t imagine anybody had found themselves that close and escaped. She imagined them faceless beings, copies of one another, to imagine individuals with lives beyond the terrors they ensued was too much for the girl. She heard it then, the scream.
SHE’S JUST A GIRL
Two gunshots split the air.
The night so devoid of anything, the valley so deep that the second scream after the first shot sounded as if it came from beside her.
But she knew that she and the boy were alone, she could feel him against her. Together filling the cave’s space. Trapping them if the man came back to look for the ones he’d lost.
She didn’t believe in a god anymore, but she prayed.
She was just a girl.
She remembers a time, when this was the early days.
They had found a hidden spot, deep in the hills: abandoned, crumbling into its own destruction was a structure. She remembered in the fading light, the graffiti. People claiming they would love one another forever, tagging names and phone numbers on the ceiling. She had wondered if she could call them now; would any of them pick up. Had they died, were they still in love?
What did forever mean when you were on death’s door step.
They had sat there, they both knew that one of them should take watch while the other slept but they wanted the moment of peace between them to last. Here they could pretend this was before: when people came to this place to live innocent lives, write a girl’s name on an ancient wall and forget her when the summer ends. She missed that life, the girl she was before.
Sometimes the girl’s past would haunt her on the quiet nights: sitting up and waiting, hairs on end for the unfamiliar sound of footsteps, branches breaking meaning it was too late.
She knows somebody is coming for them, she knows to wait is to accept the fate the faceless men had planned. The sound of the women’s scream echoes in her mind.
Over and over.
She tugs the boy’s arm, motions that mean
They get up, their ears straining against the empty air, her nose burns with the smell of fallen leaves and cold. They couldn’t miss anything, not now, not ever.
They leave the cave’s cool surface, the expanse of water is beyond them now.
A black pit to nowhere in the center of a forgotten place. She can see long rusted play equipment, unmaintained with nobody to use it, playing seems a foreign concept now.
They walk on the long winding path, the sound of their footsteps on concrete doesn’t carry like their bodies brushing branches and crunching things beneath their feet.
The light appears from nowhere, running footsteps fast approaching. They panic.
The boy doesn’t move, frozen.
She pulls, she screams, there is nothing left to keep silent for if he won’t move too.
He pushes her away. He is tired.
She doesn’t want to leave. But he is rooted to the spot.
He pushes her away again.
The light is almost upon them, she knows she can’t climb the steepness of the earth above her. The black water pulls to her, her legs are over the fence separating the tall jagged rocks from the path. The man doesn’t notice her away from the boy, she stands on the highest rock overlooking the blackness as if she is looking into the absence of anything.
She screams when the gunshot sounds and the light moves towards her, slicing the air.
She jumps because there is nothing left to do, nowhere else to hide.
The water hits like a collision, the cold feels like it is cutting jagged lines in her skin.
Her open eyes see nothing but the current has swallowed her and takes her with it, away from the men, away from death’s light. She is so tired of fighting.
She needs air, struggles upwards but her body meets something in the water.
The girl breaks the water’s surface, taking deep breaths of the frozen breeze.
She sees them now. The bodies of the murdered, carried by the current to the shallows. Engorged with water and heavy with the stink of death.
She feels bile rising in her throat, there are so many.
Collected by the current in a watery, mass grave.
She moves away. Splashing the water, panic bubbling itself inside her.
It feels like a hand grabs her. She thrashes. Panic threatens her.
Below her she is entangled by something. She needs to believe it’s only water reeds tangling themselves beneath her but she isn’t certain that there isn’t more to the murdered in the murky water.
She pulls herself onto the dirt, already her body responds to the winter’s night on her soaked clothes; skin feeling forgotten of what it means to be warm.
The girl is covered in the water’s remains. She stands by the edge of the water and looks out.
What was there?
She arms herself with a washed up branch on the water’s edge, hears the sounds of the land around her.
The sound of another moves towards her.
There is only this.
Mother Nature and I
By Jasper Godden
I am sitting here,
on the earth that has lasted for thousands of years.
She has been reshaped, moulded by downpour and man-made destruction, reborn into a creation story of growth, decay, resurrection, repeated.
And I think; amongst the foliage, bird calls and fallen leaves that maybe the earth and I are not so different.
We have survived through turmoil,
things informally sent for destruction-beyond reason but she forgave the fire,
Mother they called her,
while they burnt her children to ashes,
the sky could not send safety in time and the earth took them back in crumpled hands,
until one day the sky couldn’t hold her grief anymore and wet the earth for three days
some days it feels like I am simultaneously the cast out fire,
and the grieving earth,
destruction burning grief into my tired bones
my roots-connection to the ecosystem weakened by histories forgotten,
words lost in a never ending system of “I wish I had”.
Water that came too late, until I’d forgotten the taste, left wasted
in a summer of waiting.
But flowers bloom moments before we claim death to long wilted leaves,
sometimes beauty reveals itself in the darkest times,
when we gave up on ever seeing colour in a fire torn forest again.
Mother they called,
but she had turned away from them here,
the ashen earth forgotten, trodden over by the mist
it wailed, knowing the mist would swallow what the scorch
had left behind
but she didn’t return, for many years to them
the earth made resolution to grow alone,
she was a force all on her own
and that is how I feel,
when nobody is there to guide my growth,
I will build a garden in the cavities of my bones,
the creases in my skin
tend to myself
with the clarity of somebody
who knows what fire does
to those who let themselves burn
only to come back
I am imperishable and sometimes I need eruption,
embers crackling beneath my skin
to realise I can rise again, like another child of nature.