The Best of Times Short Story Competition

Spring 2008 Results

Bodice-ripping Yarns

Copyright © David Campbell 2008

1: The Pride and the Passion

Scarlett Sweetapple sighed disconsolately as a tiny tear slipped from the corner of one eye and trickled slowly down her rosy cheek.

“Ah, woe is me!” she intoned mournfully as a muffled sob escaped her full red lips and fled into the echoing gloom. “Here am I, alone yet again on a warm summer night when the moon is bright and a host of lovers are pitching woo beneath the star-spangled heavens. It is too, too much for my fragile heart to bear. I can endure this unhappiness no longer. I will hie me to the Last Chance Bridge, there to cast my miserable body into the hungry embrace of the river’s icy depths.”

Whereupon Scarlett took from her wardrobe a long, flowing dress of crimson, and draped it carefully over her lissom figure. Then she braided her hair with the white daisies that grew in the window box of her bedroom and, without a backward glance, walked down the stairs of her humble abode and out into the scented darkness, which fell around her dimpled shoulders like a velvet cloak.

A few minutes later she stood, just one shadow among many, at the downstream rail of the aptly named Last Chance Bridge. Carefully, with a strength that belied her slender form, she hauled herself up until she stood on the topmost rail, her arms outstretched and silhouetted against the glorious moon as it sailed majestically through the oceans of heaven.

“Farewell, cruel world!” she cried despairingly as she launched herself into space, and her final thought as she plummeted downwards was of her poor, dear mother’s face as she lay on her death bed. “At least I won’t end up looking like that!” she mused.

Then the river took her to its bosom and blackness enveloped her soul.

But not completely.

Suddenly, as the last breath shuddered from her lungs, she became aware of strong arms about her and sensed a pulsing energy that shocked the life back into her body. There was a rush of sound, much as that made by an express train in a tunnel, and she found herself gazing up at a sky that she had not expected to see again.

A deep voice whispered in her ear: “Never you mind, now, ma’am, I’ve got you held tight and I’ll not be letting go.” She turned her head, but could see nothing of the owner of the voice but a dark outline against the stars. However, there was something in the rich softness of his words that told her that she was, indeed, in safe hands, and so she relaxed against his shoulder and closed her eyes as he stroked his way powerfully towards the riverbank.

She felt herself being carried effortlessly through the shallows and deposited gently on the ground. She opened her eyes and gave a little sigh as she saw the broad shoulders of the shadow that was leaning over her while tenderly brushing a few damp hairs from her face.

“Oh, fiddle-de-dee,” she murmured. “I fear I am not looking my best, but I trust you will not think too badly of me.”

“No matter, dear lady,” said the shadow in tones that made Scarlett think of crystal waters rippling in a stream, “never let it be said that Rhett Wanderlust deserted a damsel in distress.”

“Oh, oh,” she exclaimed, conscious despite the gloom that his eyes were fixed on her heaving bosom, and suddenly aware that this prominent feature was no doubt highlighted by the effect of the freezing water on her nipples, “but how can I possibly reward you for your bravery?”

“Fear not, precious maiden, the sight of your beauty in the moonlight and the touch of your hand upon mine represent the only thanks I need. Such things will sustain me through the good times and bad; they will be the glowing beacons that guide me through the days and nights to come.”

“Oh,” said Scarlett. “Beacons. Indeed. But are you sure you wouldn’t like something a little more substantial than beacons? I have so much more to offer than that.”

“I have no doubt,” said Rhett as he helped her to stand, “but it is not in the nature of we Wanderlusts to take advantage of young ladies in desperate situations. We have a proud family tradition to preserve.”

“Ah, I see.” Scarlett shivered. “And are there no exceptions to this tradition?”

“Well…” Rhett paused as Scarlett slipped her arm through his and pressed her body against him. “There was Uncle Silas, but we don’t talk about him.”

“Of course you don’t.” Scarlett shivered again. “But please let me make you a late supper. It’s the least I can do. I’m sure the Wanderlust tradition wouldn’t allow me to be left out here in this sorry state.”

“Certainly not.” Rhett patted Scarlett’s hand as she led him along the riverbank and back across the bridge towards home. Once inside, she took him into the cosy drawing room and set a match to the fire. In an instant, a cheerful blaze lit up the darkest corners.

“There now, that’s better,” said Scarlett. “You just sit back and relax while I have a warm bath and slip into something a little more comfortable. The bathroom, by the way, is the second door on the left at the top of the stairs. Just in case you were wondering.”

As it happened, Rhett wasn’t wondering anything of the sort. He’d noticed a collection of Shakespeare’s plays amongst the tomes on the bookshelves, and so filled a very pleasant hour perusing some of his favourites. In fact, so engrossed was he in Macbeth that he completely failed to notice Scarlett’s reappearance until he was startled by a loud cough.

She was standing in the doorway, a vision in floating chiffon. “Hello again, my dear Rhett,” she murmured, her pink tongue flicking between ruby-red lips. “I’m afraid I need a little more help…upstairs.” Rhett wasn’t sure how it happened, but suddenly he was standing beside her and all the strength had gone from his legs.

"Urk...ummph," he mumbled, and floated behind her as she glided up the stairs and disappeared into a room. In the doorway he came to a halt, transfixed. Her bedroom was entirely red, the colour of her lipstick. Walls, carpet, bed... all a deep, vibrant crimson that pulsated with danger signs. Scarlett turned, and the chiffon dissolved in a white cloud at her feet. She was wearing nothing underneath but an all-over tan. She was a real blonde.

Scarlett smiled sweetly. "I thought, maybe, you and I should get to know each other a little before supper. What say, huh?" Suddenly her hands were on the buckle of his trouser belt. Bearing in mind the Wanderlust family tradition, Rhett’s mouth formed a very sensible rejection of her kind offer, but no words came. Somehow, he found himself naked and sprawled on his back in the middle of the bed.

“Hmmm,” she whispered. “Is this a dagger which I see before me?”

"Urk...ummph!" he said. Scarlett’s scented breath caressed his face and her silken tresses tumbled in glorious profusion, a golden tent that encased them both in a little bit of heaven. He closed his eyes. Trains vanished into tunnels. Waves pounded on untamed beaches. Massive brick chimneys crumbled into dust.

“Well now," she murmured after a while, “not bad for starters. You Wanderlusts have hidden talents. But I'm sure we can improve..." She slid her tongue into his ear. “Once more unto the breach? That’s Henry V, you know. Act III. But how about we try Act II first?”

Rhett’s mind was as clear as a spring day, his every sense alert to the shifting subtleties of voice and gesture.

"Urk...ummph," he said.

And Scarlett Sweetapple knew that she would never be alone again.

2: Lust in the Dust

Shazza Jones was knackered after a hard day in the sheds. “Jeez, I could murder a coldie,” she shouted as she kicked a bleating ewe down the chute. “Any of youse blokes up for a night at the pub?”

One after the other they shook their heads.

“Sorry, Shaz. The missus’d kill me,” said Blue.

“Gotta take the kids ter Macca’s,” said Big Jack.

“Nah. Me an’ Shirl are goin’ ter the fillums,” said Johnno.

Shazza glared at them. “Bloody hell, youse lot are a bunch of pikers. About as useful as a one-legged man at an arse-kicking contest. Okay, bugger off, the lot of ya. See if I care!”

And so Shazza Jones once again found herself alone as a blood-red sun dipped behind the purple hills and an early mozzie fried itself on the bug-zapper above her bed.

“Stuff this fer a lark!” she muttered. “How the hell am I gonna find me a feller out ‘ere when all the good blokes are already tied ter apron strings? Bloody waste of time, this is. Might as well do meself in!”

With that, she pulled on a clean singlet, tossed down a beer, and headed for the dam. There she sat for a while on the rusty old pontoon, enjoying a last cigarette. Above her, the light from a billion stars burned holes in the night sky and she squinted upwards one final time.

“Jeez, the bloody mozzies are bad tonight!”

Then she stood, her arms outstretched and silhouetted against the moon as it hung like a broken milking churn in the heavens. “Goodbye, youse bastards!” she shouted and launched herself into space, hoping like mad that she wouldn’t land on the dead cow that had drowned the week before.

Then the muddy waters closed over her head and she gave up her spirit to The Great Bunyip.

But not completely.

She was just about at her last gasp when a hand grabbed her by the hair and yanked her violently upwards. Another hand grabbed the waistband of her shorts and, as her head shot back above the surface, she let fly with a spluttering yell: “Strewth! Whatta ya tryin’ ter do? Give me a wedgie? Get yer ‘ands orf me, yer dozy bugger!”

“Ah, shut yer face, Shazza. Not many good sorts around ‘ere. Ya reckon I’m gonna let one of ‘em top ‘erself ? Especially with the B&S ball comin’ up next month.”

Shazza stared at the shadowy figure beside her as he dragged her toward the edge of the dam. “Bazza?”

“Yair.” Bazza Smith staggered out of the water and hauled her up onto a log. “Who were you expectin’? Brad Pitt? Strewth! ‘Ave you put on a bit of weight or what?”

Shazza thought about belting him one, but decided against it. It was true. She had stacked on a few kilos. Too many nights alone scoffing doughnuts in front of the telly. ‘What’re you doin’ ‘ere? I thought you’d buggered off to see some sheila up in Queensland.”

“Yair, well…that’s where I was goin’. But, ya know, Shazza, I got ter thinkin’.”

“That’d be a first!” Shazza took off her singlet and wrung it out. “That was me best one, ya know. The one without ‘oles. Okay, what was ya thinkin’?”

But Bazza was staring at her breasts in the moonlight. “Strike me lucky, Shazza, but ya got the best tits around, ya know that? The bloody best.”

“Yeah? An’ I suppose you was thinkin’ about them on the way to yer Queensland sheila, eh? Is that what yer gunna tell me?”

“Awww, pretty much, I reckon. Couldn’t ‘elp meself. There I was drivin’ along up by them Glasshouse Mountains an’ all I could think about was your knockers. Couldn’t get ‘em outta me mind. So I turned right round an’ came back again. An’ just as well I bloody did, eh?”

“Dunno. Why?”

“Well, they’d ‘ave pulled ya outta that dam in the mornin’ an’ them tits’d be gone forever. No flamin’ good ter anybody. Right bloody shame, that’d be.”

“Yer mean…?”

“Them norks is made fer kids, Shazza. No two ways about it. Be a pity ter waste ‘em now, wouldn’t it?”

“So what? Ya lookin’ fer a missus all of a sudden, then?”

“Well, I dunno about that. Maybe. But I wouldn’t mind another shag. Like I said, not many good sorts around ‘ere, Shazza, an’ you’re one of the best.”

“Jeez, Bazza, you always was one with the fancy words. You sure know ‘ow ter get a girl goin’! What say we go back an’ sink a coupla coldies an’ try a bit of ‘orizontal line dancin’? An’ ya know what? I reckon me timin’ might be right fer a sprog tonight. Wanna try yer luck at bein’ a dad?”

“Yair, ripper, Shazza! Why not? Let’s give it a burl!”

And Shazza Jones knew that she would never be alone again.