I first met Eugen in 2019 when we were artists at the Emerging Writers Festival in Melbourne. At the closing night ceremony, with knees shaking, I was privileged to read one of my short stories. My first author reading.
Thankfully Eugen came after me as she is no mere reader. Eugen “performed” a dramatic reading of her story and she was magnificent. Everyone was captivated. What a talent!
I am thrilled to bring you a sample of her inventive and passionate work.
The great god Wollowra came to earth in the form of a bird, a great eagle. He is a magnificent creature with a sunlit eye and a striking pale beak. Born in a tomb inhabited by a Bunyip, the god of gods. Wollowra now lurks in billabongs and riverbeds, his cry hollower and louder by night than it is by day, as he waits and waits to guide the spirits of the dead to the land of the Dreaming, a place of time out of time, the realm of everywhen.
IT SIFTED HIGH, fine as baby dust. Kayla noticed it unexpectedly. At first it was the way the girl, Pepper, held herself: her soft waist and new face too. Then it was the angle of her neck when he stepped into the room.
* * *
It seemed an eternal yesterday since Moonga’s fever, the one that took her, since an impossible journey in a battered coupé across carroty dust, rugged terrain. Two travellers and a casket juddered through a blood-red desert dappled with sapphire oases – mirages. Heat seeped and sizzled in airy waves. A melancholy cry from sun-baked galahs announced proximity.
Taz sat mute in the silence of men. He was Kayla’s… rock orchid: large, leathery, unassuming. He weaved into her sentiments to make her happier, stronger. He helped her reseed herself when she was trapped in a scream. Now he lifted one hand from the steering wheel. The solid weight of her husband’s comfort touched Kayla’s shoulder before his palm snatched away to manoeuvre a pothole.
The moon was big and bright when they drove up high country, when they slid into a sultry village named Adnanuara, the land of running water. Tribes with painted faces emerged from a dirt cloud and hollered consultation with ancestral spirits. Out came cabbage palms, half-nude dancers chanting around a coffin of foreign teakwood, not bunya pine.
‘Spirit a land!’ cried the great chief, Wundurra.
‘Ururu!’ cried the tribe.
‘Spirit a sunset!’
They sang of the Wirinun, sorcerer of the mount.
They sang of Moonga, the lost one, a wayward aborigine who fled the Goonagulla, the sky of her gods; the Kurrin, the sand of the ancestors; the Kimba, the bushfire of her people. She sought destiny in the land of the white people, and found her Wirake, her soul friend, a pale face named Kayla.
They sang of the loveliness of Moonga, same beauty that besotted the Wirinun.
The sorcerer seeped morning from Moonga’s eyes so she might become immortal and be with him.
At the end of the smoking ceremony, Great Chief chewed a maple leaf. With an apostrophe of spit, he made a paste and rubbed it on the casket to wipe waywardness out of the lost one. He implored Wollowra, the great eagle, to guide Moonga’s spirit into the land of the Dreaming.
To mend a broken soul-hood, Great Chief permitted a new bond. She was an orphaned girl, Aboriginal, aged ten or twelve. Kayla regarded the muddied braids fat as giant kelp, forced her gaze on the girl’s face to avoid half-formed breasts that pouted bare. Apricot eyes, cracked lips chalk white… the child’s simplicity was pure.
Kayla smiled. She wanted to own that innocence, to protect it. She stretched her arm. ‘Hi. I’m Kayla.’
‘Pepper Kourri,’ said the child with wilderness eyes. ‘That my name.’
A child driven by instinct, one who took slumber on fragile cliffs, on Jurassic fungus beneath naked Coolabah trees, wilderness that conversed with timeless stars because the loose sun was no longer available: it had long dipped beneath the ardent horizon…
How would Pepper fit into a pharaoh divan with an ivory bed head, into snow white linen in an air-conditioned beach apartment in Port Melbourne? How would Pepper Kourri belong?
* * *
Belong she did, too well. Climbed to a place of passion Kayla understood, too well.
Pepper’s gaze for Taz held a dreamy kind of sadness, the tender kind of one who yearned. Suddenly, hair she had always locked in braids opened up.
As it had always been locked up, Kayla was astonished to find the true colour of Pepper’s hair when it came loose. It was reddish-brown, the colour of stained ruby.
Kayla fingered Pepper Kourri’s hair as they stood on the terrace, watching Taz play ball with their pet terrier, Woofie.
Kayla nuzzled her chin against Pepper’s rust-red head and spoke against it. ‘You love him,’ she said.
In the absence of Wollowra, the great eagle, nothing was present to guide Pepper’s heart.
About Eugen Bacon
Eugen Bacon is African Australian, a computer scientist mentally re-engineered into creative writing. Her work has won, been shortlisted, longlisted or commended in national and international awards, including the Bridport Prize, Copyright Agency Prize, Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Award, Australian Shadows Awards and Nommo Award for Speculative Fiction by Africans. Eugen is a recipient of the Katharine Susannah Prichard (KSP) Emerging Writer-in-Residence 2020.
Publications in 2020
- The Road to Woop Woop & Other Stories (Meerkat Press)
- Hadithi (Luna Press Publishing)
- Her Bitch Dress (Ginninderra Press)
- Inside the Dreaming (NewCon Press).
Learn more about Eugen on her website, www.eugenbacon.com
Connect on Twitter: @EugenBacon