Organic came about as a result of my avid habit of walking trails in the Royal National Park near my home in the Sutherland Shire of Sydney.
I also belong to a running group infamous in the area – Billies Bushies, who run these trails, as well as getting out on a Mountain bike.
Being aware of the problems to do with invasive and feral species also assisted in writing Organic. I wanted to deal with the universal struggle of Man versus Nature from a different aspect. Back in 1980s I also spent an extended period tramping, bike touring, back-packing and working as picker in New Zealand, which is were I imagine these events unfolded.
Somewhere in my reading I am sure I encountered a snipped that informed the story Organic, perhaps it was the actual detail that the feral cat scratched the human victim, or purred as it ate. I loved this image, and it stayed with me so much that I had to build more into the exchange.
Organic has been worked on, edited through several processes and a few sets of eyes, which helped the end product. One of the most significant points given to me was to think about the quality of noises the protagonist encountered, and also to be very specific on elements of his trip into the mountains.
Having a word limit from Wild Words meant that I had to re-think the necessity of some sections, always a good process.
Not that I destroyed the longer version, you never know when there will be other opportunities.
I would advise all writers not to take editing input on their stories personally, try to avoid letting someone’s comments hurt, even though they might be meant to be helpful. Ultimately comments from others are only one person’s opinion. Someone thought the title was too ambiguous! In the case of Organic I was also told that in the closing scene the boat on the harbour should be more important than the wake in the water, but I disagree – ultimately I wanted nature to be more powerful than the things mankind has build and placed into the natural world.
Someone once said to me, “Listen to everyone, and then take from all this advice only what you need…”
Karen was a runner up in the Wild Words Winter Solstice Writing Competition 2017. This is her winning story...
Five burley fishermen lugging rods and a huge esky came into view. They smiled and waved, ‘You right mate?’
‘Perfectly fine,’ Garry answered.
‘Severe weather warning, bro. Came over the radio.’
Garry shook his head, refused to believe. ‘Thanks. But I only just got here.’
Younger members of the group had gone on, carrying the esky between them slipping, sliding and laughing, so the harbinger of doom bade farewell and went too, unhurried.
Harbinger. Hard bringer. Harp binger. Where had that word come from? If Garry had his phone he could find out. It was odd, not being able to sate his curiosity immediately. But he felt healthy, disciplined; like refusing a beer.
It was less windy up here than on the beach. Yet the trail was littered with broken saplings and crushed scrubs where the fishermen had skidded with the esky’s weight. Even Garry slipped, came down hard on one knee. Onward, Garry told himself. Despite the throbbing and bleeding. First-aid kit; should have packed one.
Garry turned at the first fork the track offered and went along for half an hour or so. His knee pinging and back straining with the weight of his bag. The track narrowed and dropped again into a small clearing. Perfect. Even a stream and blackened fire spot
His shelter was less complicated than the tents he’d erected on surf beaches with his stepfather. An action accompanied caustic comments, while sand stung Garry’s face. All that effort for something that would be dismounted mere moments later.
There were enough twigs lying about for a small fire. Garry sat on the ground, pulled the joint from his pocket and took a deep drag. And another, until he felt the warmth seep into his brain. Night was falling and so was the rain. Heavy drops plunking on leaves. Base tones pattered on the clearing floor. On the humus. Hummus. Humans. Hubris
Garry stood, stiff legged. He felt his head spin as if he was going to topple forward.
Just him and his thoughts. His chance to do what he’d come here to do. Think about his relationship. Deprive himself of company, see what was addictive, habitual, and what wasn’t. Fifty ways to leave your lover…Recognizing those words Garry was filled with joy and regret.
Then he realised he was stoned.
A nearby bird called out mournfully, a single downward cry, as if it too resented the rain. Inside the tent, spread out his sleeping bag on the bumpy groundsheet and lay down. Almost immediately, as if it had suffered sudden death, the bird stopped mid cry. There was a scuffle in the leaf mould outside; a low growl, and the tent wall bulged suddenly against his head – solid, animal, alive – and then gone again. He was up and out of his tent and into the clearing, working his cigarette lighter to a flame. The flash showed him two reflective eyes the size of golf balls and a dark, muscled shape hunched over a feathered mess.
A fucking huge wild cat. A super cat. He’d read about them. How feral cats were evolving after nearly two hundred years of going wild in the bush.
The flame died the same instant that Garry realised his finger was burnt. He waited for his senses to adjust. The cat’s eyes reflected dully. The beast moved. And vanished. Into the tent. He was sure that had been fur against the opening.
Packaging was being ripped open, like Christmas morning. The salami? The cat was quieter now. Difficult to hear over wind and rain. Then Garry could hear another sound. A low rumble, which took a moment to identify as purring. Monster hadn’t purred when it ate the bird.
‘Puss, puss!’ he called like his mother summoning the family moggie. ‘Here pussy, puss.’ Falsetto.
Ridiculous. ‘Be a man!’ Penny would have said.
‘Right.’ Garry said to the listening forest. ‘I’m coming in.’
The cigarette lighter gave one last wavering flame, enough to see the way to his bed and observe a damp-furred scavenger hunched in a corner. Garry climbed into his sleeping bag and spent the night in a wet tent alone except for an apex predator that permeated a sharp, gut-wrenching stink. No neat scratching in a tray for this beast.
In the morning, when he woke, the cat was curled up against him, the tent floor a wasteland of greasy paper and plastic wrappings. The cat woke too and for one long moment met Garry’s sleepy gaze. With no warning, the animal extended a long hairy paw and scratched a deep incision into Garry’s brow and cheek, narrowly missing his eye. Then it was gone, a swift tumbling backwards movement which leapt through the tent flaps. He heard drumming paws, then shifting and refolding of enclosing bush.
At the bus stop Garry endured curious stares from locals. His foul smelling tent had refused to pack neatly. Gagging from the stink and half blind with pain he’d stuffed the bloody thing as best he could, but still had to carry the segmented rods loose in one hand.
After the night’s rain, parts of the track had been washed away. Garry had fallen, slipped, skidded, scraped his arms, and knocked his head on a low branch. His clothes were thick with mud, drying now but still likely to besmirch the seats of the bus when it finally arrived.
‘Rough night, mate?’ was all the driver said as he took the fare.
They wound up over the hills until the city spread below. The distant harbour had a sheen. Grey moody skies with the sea crossed by white wakes of boats and ferries.
Deep contentment welled, satisfaction as unheralded as the sudden claw of the cat. He’d confronted the wilderness, he’d not taken his phone.
Ahead Garry saw a future with his arm around Penny’s tattooed shoulder. He would not abandon her like his father had done.