Archive for the stories Category

The king of sideshow alley

Posted in stories with tags , on February 18, 2013 by Richard Holt

Custer sleeps all day, waiting for the first spruiker, the diesel splutter, the disco blare, the crowds. There’ll be hot dog stumps in the dust soon enough. He’ll swagger beneath the crush.

He nuzzles Mikki’s legs as she’s unhooking a giant panda from her top row. Someone’s got lucky. Someone’s calling themselves the King of the alley. Someone’s got a girl beside him with cropped hair and platform shoes and a panda under one arm and she’s pulling him close with the other. Custer watches.

Custer follows them. The King and his girl. He slinks past the fake tattoo tent. Ten year-olds clammering to look like B-list heroes. The King and his girl buy fairy floss and smoke cigarettes and flick their butts onto the dodgem track.

At the ferris wheel Custer trots forward to greet the King.

‘G’day fella,’ says the The King, scruffing Custer’s nut. Gotta be good with dogs and guns, he reckons. Yeah. Mongrel dogs and slug guns and tin ducks in a row. Ping, ping, ping, ping. Sweet.

Custer notices the ride attendant distracted by cackling teenage girls. The King sees too.

‘Quick.’ He jumps past the queue of outraged families, dragging his girl with him. She yells and pulls her arm away and calls him stupid.

Custer bristles. Readies himself. The crowd parts as the wheel advances. The King and his girl still arguing as they start to move. The panda is mute at the girl’s side, its legs hanging limp. Custer picks his moment well. He leaps as the big wheel jerks to a stop.

Hot dog stumps might be good enough but Mikki’s treats win every time. As she lifts the returned Panda back into the top row Custer settles under the whirring arms of the Twister with his new bone.

The secret-sifter

Posted in stories with tags , on February 12, 2013 by Richard Holt

Something else I remember that’s gone now is bets scrawled by hand by bookmaker’s clerks. Their elaborate crayon swirls held everything a bookie needed to know; the race, the horse, the type of bet, the odds and the amount wagered. They were like coded messages. Secrets.

My family weren’t racing people. Instead I’d head across town during winter to watch football matches with my grandfather. On the way home my tram stopped outside the track.


The lining of his dirty gabardine coat bulges full of discarded hopes. I’m mesmerised. Though I’m just a boy I can tell this man’s connection to the world the other passengers share has withered until it’s barely a thread. He ignores everyone including the conductor. Everyone ignores him. In the bubble of his pungent self-possession he spreads across the space that spreads around him. Then the tickets emerge in clumps from the depths of his coat. He processes them like a machine. In his crumpled head he might retain little of his past. But he remembers every result from every race at the track today. Tote tickets and bookie stubs fall around him like dirty snow. The conductor scowls, but maintains his distance. No one watches but me. He sees me staring his way. His grin, toothless and vacant, is fleeting. He pulls another clump of tickets from his coat, lingering on one that looks as if it’s been picked from the mud. He holds it to the light, smiles, then pushes it into the side of his shoe. I figure he deserves it. All that work collecting and sifting.

It never occurs to me that this might be a show of victory for my sake alone. But just a show nevertheless. Even a secret-sifter, I realise now, might feel the need to prove the worth of what he does.

The Library of All Notions

Posted in stories with tags , on February 10, 2013 by Richard Holt

The thought came to Giovanni Spirelli between appointments with students. It stayed with him all day, through a lecture on advanced trigonometry, a meal of cod and chips and a visit from his brother-in-law. The next day he set about creating his great catalogue. He would collect ideas and index them and make them available to people who needed them. There were too many repositories of facts. Where did facts ever get anyone. Facts explained past and present. But ideas were like the master-keys to the doors to the future. Armed with a good idea a person could become what they had never imagined. He remembered. He’d once been a shepherd; a man of simple facts—the habits of foxes, the phases of the moon.

On July third, 2015 Giovanni uploaded the first of his ideas (item number 00000001, catalogue reference number 34.585a) Idea, Category: General, Subcategories: Enterprise, Conjecture. A library of ideas would benefit the world. He invited submissions and new items flooded in. The Library of All Notions flourished.

Towards the end of 2018 Giovanni sold a large stake in his library to an American venture capitalist. He packed a few simple things into his ageing Citroen and returned to the town of his youth, where he paid a happy farmer a small part of his fortune. He threw the Citroen in for good measure. Giovanni Spirelli gathered a small flock of black-faced sheep and headed into the foothills and the mountains beyond, stretching away as far as the eye could see.