An aboriginal tale: Young Ma spends the night in jail

Cracks in the Desert

Today I offer you an example of flash fiction written by yours truly.   “Tales from Ma’s Watering Hole” will burst into publication by August.  In the meantime, I offer you a new tale from the next collection which is in progress.  Ma is a 99 year old aboriginal shaman who owns a cafe in Sydney where the lonely and homeless gather.  Each evening, Ma or one of her quirky patrons tells a tale.

As editor and reader of short fiction stories, I have observed over the years that submitters to flash don’t know what it is.  Flash fiction is not a longer story cut off at the end.   It is a breathing, living and energetic entity that exists independently as a genre within the short story world.   It does not necessarily contain a plot but can contain a compressed one.  Flash most often is under a 1000 word count and each word weighs heavy in meaning and compression is the name of the game.

I am still learning and writing my favorite genre: short works of prose poetry, fiction or non-fiction and that includes the elusive writing of the tale. The following tale is a new story and I welcome your comments.  Enjoy my gift for the week.  The following tale, by the way, is inspired by real events from when I visited an old convict jail while on summer holiday from my Australian boarding school.

A Young Ma Spends the Night in Jail

880 words

A short story from “More Tales from Ma’s Watering Hole” Book Two

(A collection currently under construction)

Ninety-nine year old Ma, wizened and tiny with three cockatoo feathers on her bald head and a short green floral dress, adjusted the microphone to her four foot seven inch height.  It was her turn to tell a story to the café audience.  She coughed a dry cough, swigged a shot of whiskey and began in her raspy voice.

“When I was a young woman, I drove from the outback in my yellow jeep to test my shamanic training in an old haunted convict jail on the southern cliffs of Bermaguie. A ten foot high surf crashed against the large black boulders with an energy that was matched only by my frightened imaginings. Twilight painted the sky pink but a familiar feeling of nostalgia crept over me like an afternoon fog. I tied up my long red hair with a piece of string and pushed it inside a hat to prevent the hair whipping and stinging my skin. I tried to shake off the insidious sense of doom by moving nimbly over jagged rocks that took my attention away from images of shattered convicts. I threw a rope down one of the cliffs and belayed to a ramshackle stone building that was once the jail.  It stood skewed at an angle on a wide ledge, weathered and mournful with its hollow windows and rough-cut cinder blocks. The roof had long since blown away and struggling pale ivy tendrils clung close to cracks in the casement as if they feared a storm might wash them away.

“A light rain fell and soft mist shrouded the crumbled building. Inside, a carpet of sand graced the floor while broken, rusty chains hung from the walls. I shuddered from claustrophobic jitters and trekked back outside, around collapsing walls, backing up from ghostly eyes watching. A whining wind whipped up and a crushing weight leaned against my body, perhaps in an attempt to topple me over the edge. I clung to the windows and my hands oozed blood. A circle of light pulsated at the door of one small jail cell and faded laughter echoed down the narrowed tunnels of centuries. I whispered the power words my shamanic grandmother had taught me for times such as this: ‘Great ancestor, great ancestor, strengthen my spirit.’ The wind softened but the night descended and I could find no way back up in the dark. I held tight to my green shawl, a shawl woven with chants of penance and prayers from my now dead grandmother.

“Grateful for the quieting of the gale, I crept inside the stone structure and crawled into the protection of a rounded corner. My throat tightened from layers of inhaled dust while grit hid in the corners of my teeth and behind the lids of my eyes. Convicts once jumped off these cliffs to die on massive rocks below or they starved like forgotten mutts tied to strangling chains.  And I wondered if I was imagining clanking, rattling and crying? Sounds of abandoned children…

“I looked up through the jail’s open roof. Silver-gray clouds drifted apart to reveal a monstrous blue, blue moon—full and pregnant with foreshadowing. A spider crawled across my face and I slapped it away. A dark hand waved over the roof, moving towards me, thin and scrawny…a scream caught in my throat…

“The next morning, the orange and blue highlights of dawn danced over the roof and stabbed at my eyes. I sat up and watched the lengthy stretched limb of a massive oak tree waving above me. I laughed. It had all been imagination. A shaman in training, that’s what I was — a young woman with no experience and a whole lot of fear. I scrambled back up the rope to higher ground. Daylight made the world innocent again. I shivered at my cowardice and flushed red with the memory.

“On the drive back to town, I felt a strange sense of unease, the feeling of something missing.  My eyes glanced from shoes to shorts and blouse but all was in place and even my hat was still on my head.  In town, I stopped for a cup of tea and a vegemite sandwich in a comfortable little wooden café where the owner talked a lot.

“Up at that jail, were you?” he asked. “Bad mojo.”

“What do you mean?”  I snapped and a shot of electricity seared through my insides.


I laughed and my laugh sounded like the snicker of a wild woman. “So they say. I slept there last night but nothing happened to me.”

“One of the lucky ones then,” he said.

As I tipped back my head and threw down my cap, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror behind the bar.

“Great spirit ancestors!” I said almost shouting.  My hair is gone.”

Soft red fuzz covered my skull.

“I guess you weren’t one of the lucky ones after all,” the café owner said with a smile.

And till this day, my hair has never grown back.”

Ma bowed down to applause from the café audience and adjusted her cockatoo headdress on her bald head while she reached for a cup of tea.



Kaye LindenAn aboriginal tale: Young Ma spends the night in jail

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