Space Nurse

The artificial gravity is out again.  

“Artificial gravity” is a fancy name for an electromagnetic floor working on metal inserts in shoes and clothes.  Whenever the ship needs more power for something else, the gravity goes out.  

Something must be going on in the cockpit, or engineering or wherever power gets drained.  Whatever it is, it’s not going to have any impact in Medical, except, of course, for the gravity.

Mary uses the grab rails to direct herself as she floats her way back to her desk at the nurse’s station. Weightlessness; yet another thing to hate about being in space. It’s not just the inconvenience, without gravity, people lose bone density.  Mary worries that the whole crew will have osteoporosis before returning to Earth. She imagines Medical being full of crew members with broken bones. 

“Why don’t they just redirect power from life support, and put us all out of our misery?” she mutters.

On her desk, stuck in place with blu tack so it won’t become airborne is a silver-framed photo of her mother.  Mary keeps it here to remind her why she is doing this.  Her mother’s medical treatment is expensive, so expensive that this really is the only nursing job available that will allow Mary to pay for it.

She straps herself into her seat at the desk.

A message on her computer screen tells her an email is coming from Earth.  To get here, it’s bounced from satellite to satellite, for so long that it’s probably a month old.  Five minutes until it finishes downloading. Will it be from her mother or her sister?  Perhaps from her niece, that cute little baby she cuddled before launch, who is now starting university.

The light for bed four comes on.  Mary undoes her seatbelt, and launches herself towards bed four, catching grab rails to redirect her course.  

“Sorry,” says her patient.  “I was doing my exercises, and dropped the resistance band.”  The band’s floating about a metre away from the bed. Mary retrieves it.  

“While I’m here, let me see you do a couple of reps,” Mary says.

The patient demonstrates the exercise, and Mary corrects his technique.  “It’s important,” she says, “because you need to keep  up muscle strength and bone density while you’re stuck in bed.  You lose one percent bone density per month in space, if you don’t keep up your exercise, or have gravity on, and we hardly ever have gravity on.”

“If the gravity hadn’t been on when I fell, I wouldn’t have got hurt,” the patient says. “What was that?  A one in a thousand chance?”

Mary laughs, “Something like that.  I think artificial gravity was a con, something to make us think it was OK to sign on, but was never intended for actual use.”

“We’re the pioneers,” the patient said.  “Those satellites we’re dropping out of Payload as we go, are going to make life easier for future ships travelling this way, as well as for the mining camp.  Maybe engineering will get the kinks out of artificial gravity as well.”

“Maybe.  I hope they sort it out in time to benefit us.  We’ve got twenty more years before we get home.”

“At least we get to go home.  The miners we’re leaving on planet next year, won’t ever get back to Earth.”

Thinking of the miners, and why anyone would sign up for that job, Mary returns to her desk, to the photo of her mother, and the email which has arrived in her absence.  

It’s from the institution where her mother is living and having treatment.  “Why would Mum use their email instead of her own account?” Mary wonders, as she clicks “open email.”

She reads: “We regret to inform you that your mother has passed away.”

With tears starting to form globules at the corners of her eyes, Mary looks at her mother’s picture.  The funeral will have already happened.  She feels further from home than she has at any other time in her journey. For the next twenty years, she will be stuck in this giant aluminium can for no reason at all.


Poetic Pets is available from your favourite online bookshop
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The Birthday Party

The party was meant to start at 4.  All of the kids in Amanda’s class had been invited.

It was 4.30.  Still no kids.  Just Amanda, in her carefully-decorated back yard.

The games were ready, but there was no-one to play them. All of the wonderful food her Mum had spent days cooking was out on the food table, but there was no-one to share it with.  A cutely-decorated table waited for presents, but there were no presents.

Mum sat down beside Amanda.  “It’s those bullies, isn’t it?” Mum asked. “Because you stood up to them?”

“Yes,” Amanda answered.  “They told the other kids not to come.  I thought some would ignore them.”

“Well, I don’t believe in letting bullies win. Do you?” Mum said.

“No. But what are we going to do?” Amanda said sadly.

“We’re going to have the most amazing birthday party any seven-year-old girl ever had.” Mum said.  “We’re going to invite some other guests instead.”

“What other guests? My friends aren’t brave enough to come.”

“When I was a little girl, I had bullies in my class, too,” Mum said.  “I was sad and lonely, but then I met some very special friends, who helped me make everything better. I’m going to call those friends now.”

Amanda thought that her Mum’s adult friends would not be very much fun, but they’d be better than no-one at her party, so she agreed.

Instead of calling her friends on the telephone, Mum told Amanda to collect all the small stones she could find around the yard. While Amanda was doing that, Mum went inside the house and came back with a small box, just a little bigger than a matchbox.  It was made of metal, and Amanda thought it might be silver.

“Right,” said Mum, “we need to make a circle with the stones.

They made the circle.  Then Mum opened the box, which was full of a silver powder.  Mum took a pinch of the powder and put it into the middle of the circle. She said, “My dear friends, I’m sorry I haven’t seen you for so long.  Right now, I need your help again.  My little girl is having a birthday party and none of the guests have come.  Would you please come and celebrate with her?”

Amanda had never seen her Mum act like this before, and was going to explain that the stones weren’t her friends, when something strange happened.

A powerful beam of light suddenly appeared in the circle.  Out of the light stepped a small girl with  a pink dress and pink wings.  A moment later another small girl with a green dress and green wings stepped out of the light, then a girl with a blue dress and blue wings, and one with a yellow dress and yellow wings. Then the light disappeared.

“Wow,” said Amanda.  “Are you fairies?”

Mum said, “It’s so good to see you all again.  This is my daughter Amanda.”

The fairy in pink said, “It’s good to see you again, too, Mary.  I’ve missed you. You’ve got very big since last time. I guess that’s what humans do.  Hello Amanda, my name’s Rose. These are my sisters. The one in yellow is Daisy, the one in green is Ivy, and the one in blue is Iris.  We’ve come to wish you a happy birthday. Are you going to open your presents?”

Amanda was about to say she didn’t have any presents, when she looked over at the table and saw four wrapped presents. One was wrapped in pink paper, one in yellow, one in green and one in blue.

“Yes, thank you,” Amanda said.  “I’d love to open my presents.”

Opening the pink present, she found a pair of snowy white fairy wings.

“They really work,” Rose said.  “They don’t fly as well as ours do, but they fly much better than any human can.”  The other fairies giggled.  “Put them on.  Try them.”

Amanda did put them on.  She found she could flap the wings just by thinking about it. At first she flew just a little bit off the ground, but after she felt more confident, she flew around the yard and back.  

“This is just amazing! Thank you so much, Rose,” Amanda said.  The fairies all giggled.

“Open mine next, please!” said Daisy.

Amanda opened the yellow parcel.  Inside was a small gold box, the same size as her mother’s silver box.

“It’s fairy dust!” Daisy squealed happily.  “So you can talk to us or invite us to visit you any time. You just make a circle of stones, put a pinch of dust in it and you can talk to us.  And we can come to you, wherever you are.”

“Thank you.  Wow!  I didn’t even know fairies were real before, and now I can talk to you any time! This is the best birthday ever!” Amanda said.

“Mine now,” said Ivy. “Please.  Open mine now.”

Amanda tore the paper off the green parcel.  Inside was a snowy white dress, in the same style as the ones the fairies wore.  

“I’ve got to put this on!” Amanda said.  She ran inside to put on her dress and was back in minutes.

“Now, I look like one of you!” She said excitedly, as she came back.

“Wait a moment,” Mum said.  I’ll be right back.  Mum went into the house, and came back a couple of moments later wearing a silver fairy dress and wings.  “The dress changes size,” she said.  “Ivy gave me mine when I was your age.”

“You knew fairies all this time and never told me?” Amanda asked.

“It’s a secret,” Mum answered.  “If you’re lucky enough to be friends with fairies, you don’t tell anyone . If people knew they were real, some would try to catch them to use their magic for bad things.”

“Talking about magic,” Iris said, “Open my present now.”

Amanda opened the last present.  Inside was a golden stick.  Could it be a magic wand?

Amanda turned back to her mother and the fairies.  Each of them was now holding a gold stick. 

“It’s real?” asked Amanda. “A magic wand?”

“It’s real.” Said Iris.  “It’s like the wings. It won’t work as well as ours, but you can still use it to do things other humans can’t.”

For the rest of the afternoon, they played party games, ate party food, and Amanda learned how to use her wings and wand.  

By the time the party was over, she could fly confidently as high as the roof, or land on a tall tree branch.  She could use her wand to move things from place to place, to make seeds grow and flowers bloom. She could make the flowers on the orange tree turn into ripe juicy oranges in moments.

The next day, at school, whenever any of her school friends told her they were sorry they missed her party, she said she was sorry too, because they’d missed the best birthday party ever.

Review of "A Dream Comes True" by Shirley Byrne

 Review by Iris Carden

History books are usually done by researchers who search through old documents to understand and interpret events of the past.

Shirley Byrne's A Dream Comes True: The Revitalisation of the Top of Town Ipswich does that, but in combination with Shirley's own recollections of the events.

Shirley was very active in the movement to restore an historic section of Ipswich, rather than have it torn down for new development.  (When I say very active, I wondered as I read the book how she found time to eat and sleep.) This rescue effort, the restoration and revitalisation of Top of Town, was a major project which took the entire 1990s. 

Reading the book is as if Shirley is in the room, just telling her story and the Top of Town story, but with photos and copies of the plans and such like to show as she tells it.

For her, and a dedicated group of business people, city council members and other residents, protecting the history of this Queensland city was extremely important. 

As a newcomer to Ipswich, I enjoy looking at the many beautiful historic buildings here, but until Shirley's book, I had no idea how much work had gone into protecting and preserving those buildings. 

In addition to the Top of Town story, Shirley has included a brief summary of Ipswich history right from the first European settlement.

Shirley won the Ipswich Libraries' Vera Cribb Bursary (local history prize) to help fund the production of this book, which should be of interest to anyone interested in Ipswich history.

A Dream Comes Tre: The Revitalisation of the Top of Town Ipswich, is available in hardcover from Hot Mustard Creations (link)


by Iris Carden

Karliss woke with a start.  Something was different.  It took her a moment to realise what it was. The compound was completely quiet. It was never quiet.  That was what was wrong.  It was the silence. The silence woke her. 

This compound had been her home for six months.  That was how long ago members of The Light had found Karen Lisson, half-starved and living on the streets, after her parents had thrown her out.  The Light had given her a new home, a new family and a new name. 

Karliss looked around the room.  The other three bunk beds were empty and made.  How late had she slept? Karliss pushed herself up - it was getting difficult now that her abdomen was so swollen with her father’s last gift to her.

Why was everything so quiet?  Even if they were all at the morning gathering, she should hear singing or chanting.  Voices always carried clearly here from the Meeting Hall. 

Karliss went to the kitchen.  Breakfast was not until after the meeting, but eating a little as soon as she got up helped with the morning sickness that had not gone away after the first trimester.  Everyone understood.  

That was the thing about living with The Light.  Everyone just understood her and cared for her.  No-one mistreated her in any way.  Because of her pregnancy, she was given work in the sewing room, not out in the vegetable garden.  The women in the sewing room made beautiful dresses to sell for high school formals.  It was the main source of income for The Light, and provided whatever necessities could not be grown or made in the compound.

Life in the compound was simple. Karliss liked it. There were none of the secrets and lies of her old home.  There were none of the cliques and cattiness of the girls in her old school. Everyone wore the same clothes, ate the same food, so there was no reason for anyone to look down on anyone else. There was just the simple matter of living in a community day to day, growing and eating their own healthy food, beginning the day in the meeting, and the Great Hope.

Karliss cut herself a large slice of the coarse bread, and poured a glass of creamy goat’s milk.  She didn’t really believe in the Great Hope. Even if it was a lie, it was a harmless lie, she thought, unlike the lies of her old life which were anything but harmless. No-one would be more surprised that Karliss if the Great Hope turned out to be true.

Feeling less queasy, she washed her dishes, brushed the crumbs from her smock, and began to walk across the compound to the Meeting Hall.

Passing the garden, the strangeness of the silence again struck her.  She hadn’t heard a sound since she’d woken.

What if the Great Hope had actually come to pass?  What if all the Lightspeed Ship had been and taken all of the members of The Light to their new planet?  What if all of her new family were in some distant galaxy, leaving her alone, just as she had been when they’d found her?

Karliss walked a little faster.  Would everyone be in the Meeting Hall? She passed the goat yard.  The goats were waiting near the milking stand. Hadn’t they been milked yet? She passed the chicken yard.  No-one had yet let the birds out to free range for the day.  At least there were some slight sounds from the goats and chickens.  That was a relief.  

Karliss ran the last fifty metres to the Meeting Hall.  She could still not hear any human voices.  

She flung the door open as she ran into the Hall.  

There they all were: all of the members of her new family. They were perfectly quiet, perfectly still, all in their seats as if they were in Meeting, but eyes staring, still. 

Slowly, quietly, Karliss approached.  She placed a hand on Gravan, the girl who usually slept in the bunk above hers.  Gravan was cold. She wasn’t breathing.  

Frantically, Karliss checked on all thirty-five members of The Light.  They were all cold, still, silent, dead.

Once again, she was alone.


by Iris Carden

Isabelle glanced out her kitchen window and dropped the plate she was drying. Either she was hallucinating, or there was a dragon in her back yard.

Dragons didn’t exist, so rationally, she must have been hallucinating.  Despite that obvious fact, she carefully stepped around the shards of shattered plate, and ran out to the back yard.

The dragon was huge. Well, it looked huge.  Whether it was large for a dragon, she couldn’t tell, as she’d never seen any others to compare it to.  Its sinewy body was wound around the mango tree, large front claws rested in the vegetable garden, one wing lay over the clothes line, and the other seemed squashed against the colour bond fence.

It was a sickly yellow colour, and its huge eyes looked quite jaundiced.  It might have been ill.  But then again, that colour might have been normal for dragons.

Once she was in the yard inspecting it, Isabelle realised she had no idea if dragons were the friendly beasts of The Neverending Story, or the vicious monstrosities of The Lord of the Rings. 

The dragon lifted its head weakly, made a moaning noise, and dropped the head back down on its forelegs.  Something that smelled like petrol dripped from the beast’s nose.

It was definitely ill, Isabelle decided.

What could she do?  She had no idea how to look after a sick dragon.

“Do you need a drink?” She asked, realising it was unlikely she would receive an answer.

She found a bucket, and filled it from the back yard hose.  Carefully, she approached the dragon, and placed the bucket on the ground near its head. A long tongue shot out and lapped the water just as a dog or cat would. The bucket of water went in two laps.  Isabelle refilled it.  After ten bucketfuls, the dragon put its head back down to rest.

“I suppose you need food, too.” Isabelle said, again not really expecting an answer.

What would dragons eat?

Isabelle decided she really needed an expert to take over.  She searched online and found a phone number for a wildlife rescue organisation.

She told them she had a large lizard in her yard that appeared to be unwell.

The wildlife rescuer asked her to catch the lizard in a box and bring it in.

Isabelle tried to imagine how she would do that.  “I’m sorry,” she said, “I really don’t think I can do that.  Do you have someone who could come here to get it?”

There was no-one available to do a pick up until the next day.  In the meantime, could Isabelle please keep the lizard warm and offer it a small piece of meat if it seemed to be hungry.

What would a small piece of meat be to a dragon?  Isabelle looked in the freezer and found a leg of lamb.  She defrosted it in the microwave, took it to the back yard and placed it in front of the dragon.

The dragon lifted its head, sniffed at the meat, and then dropped its head again.

Isabelle went through all the meat in her freezer, and found nothing the dragon seemed to want.

A couple of times through the day, Isabelle was able to get it to drink.  She found that filling the wheelbarrow with water proved more satisfactory than using the bucket.

At nine the next morning the wildlife carer arrived. He was a young man, who came with a cat carry box. Isabelle looked at the box doubtfully, and told the young man that the lizard was too big for that.

“It’s OK,” he said.  “I’ll just shove it in.  They tend to curl up.”

“Wouldn’t squashing it in a box hurt it?”

“Nah, lizards are tough.  They can take pretty much anything.”

“Well, you’re the expert,” Isabelle said, and lead him through the house and out the back door.

The young man screamed when he saw the dragon.  

The dragon, disturbed lifted its head, and breathed a massive blue flame over the young man, then ate him in two bites.

“Oh,” said Isabelle, “You wanted your food cooked, did you? Do you feel better after your meal? Are you still hungry?”

The dragon gently nudged her with its head.  

“Would you like to meet my ex-husband?” she asked.

Christmas, Possibly to Come

Dazza woke to find the ghostly figure standing at the end of his bed.

“Who are you and what the hell are you doing here?” Dazza demanded.

The figure sat on the side of the bed.  “I’m the ghost of Christmas, Possibly to Come.”

“Right, right, I get it.  I’ve read the book.  Three of you are going to visit to tell me why I should change my ways.”

“Nah, mate. First you didn’t read the book. You watched that Bill Murray movie Scrooged, and second you’re a special case.”

“Special case?”

“Yeah.  Special cases are the ones we know aren’t going to change, so instead of doing the whole triple-haunting, we draw straws and the loser comes to hang out with you for a while.  No point in putting our best work into one we don’t have a chance of winning.”

“Fair enough. So what do we do now?””

“We just hang out for about an hour, so I can say I gave it a go.”

“Righto.” Dazza sat up, and opened a drawer in his bedside table.  He took a pinch of powder out of a bag in the draw and laid it out on his finger, then inhaled it.  “You want a hit?” he asked.

“Nah. Wouldn’t work on me.  Ghost; no brain cells to fry.”

“So, you can walk through walls and stuff like that?”

“Yeah.  It’s really cool at first, then it’s just everyday stuff, you know.”

“Could be useful in my line of work.”

“But I’m incorporeal.  I can walk through walls, but once I’m inside, I can’t do anything much.  You need to be able to touch things, and people.”

“I guess I wouldn’t get paid much for scaring targets.  Unless I could scare them to death.”

“Only thing that makes you scary is that you kill people.  If you couldn’t do that, you really wouldn’t be all that scary.  You’d be just as pathetic as me.”

“I get that.  So if you did the whole drama, what would you have showed me?”

“Well, if you keep going at your current job, you’d be rich but have no friends and die alone.”

“And if I didn’t?”

“If you quit your job, did something normal instead, you’d get married, have kids, blah, blah blah.”

“But I wouldn’t be rich?”

“You wouldn’t be as rich.”

“I can see why you didn’t bring your A-game.”

“I know, right.”

“You know you look weirdly familiar.”

“Could you be someone I might have been hired to ah, kill?”

“Come to think of it, yeah.”

“No hard feelings, mate.  Just business.”

“Oh I’m not sure, but I think…. Yes I think I do have hard feelings.  I didn’t want to die, and I really didn’t want this gig.”

“So what are you going to do about it.  You said it yourself.  You’re incorporeal. You can’t touch me.”

“Dazza, Dazza, Dazza, you really should have read the book.  I’m a Christmas ghost.  I can make you see things.”

Dazza’s bedroom suddenly disappeared.  He seemed to be in a very dark place.  He couldn’t see anything but darkness, so deep it seemed physical.

“Very clever,” Dazza said. “So you can make me think I’m alone in the dark.  How long do you plan to play this stupid little game then?”

“I think forever,” the ghost respond.  “Forever works for me.  Does forever work for you? Don’t bother answering. I can see how much you’re enjoying yourself. Yeah, I think we’ll make this forever.”

New Releases

In the past two months, I've released three new books: a poetry anthology, a novel, and a children's book.

You can find them all now at, and soon at most online bookshops.