Reproduced from TIMBER – Stringybark Stories (2018) – Anthology

Strong language warning

A tale from Australia in the 60’s.


My fingers touched the rusty iron cladding of the shed. My mind entered my fingers, became one with the sensory resonance of touch.

And I vanished.

Just as fucking well, ‘cos that prick Kelly and two of his mates came sprintin’ around the corner and would have been kicking the shit out of me if I hadn’t; vanished, that is.

Kelly swore. Better than I ever could. There were words I’d promised Mum I’d never use but Kelly didn’t have a Mum so …

Then he pushed one mate and tried to backhand the other. Nobody knew where I’d gone. Kelly bellowed and the rest of the gang came from both ends of the shed. He gave orders and they split up again. He was a smart fucker, was Bob Kelly. He set up concentric circles with his boys around the abandoned depot; maximised the overlap. There was no way I could run without havin’ them fifty yards behind me within seconds.

And they had Rizzo. He’d run me down in a minute flat.

Shit, shit, fucking shit! Why hadn’t I just flattened Kelly instead of backin’ off.

The touch started to slip and I drew a slow breath, re-establishing the dominant split in my concentration. Fingers caressed the rust; flaky pieces moved ready to fall; the heat of the day bled out in the slight shadow of the wall.

Sensei Takahashi would be proud. Of my control, at least. Not of gettin’ into this bloody mess in the first place.

“Hide your skills or they are wasted,” he said when we started all this training, seven years ago. It was my Dad’s idea. Him and Sensei went way back; the Korean War, apparently. I never really paid attention. They met when Dad was on R&R in Tokyo or something like that. And then Dad sponsored him to live in Sydney. Sensei said he owed my father a debt and teaching me was part of the deal. He and Dad got all serious about it when it came up and I zoned out. Old people stuff!

Not that I’d say so to either of them.


Rizzo came back. Skinny runt of a kid. Nasty temper but so bloody fast. His legs were like a threshing machine. Like, I was quick but Rizzo ran like the fuckin’ devil was on his tail. Might be, considering how Kelly kept at him; always windin’ him up.

Which was how this all started.

Rizzo had a thing for Gwen Brickmore. Strange, ‘cos she was nearly a head taller than him and the class weirdo. Or so everyone said. Dressed like a guy, didn’t take shit from anyone and kept to herself. Funny taste in music, too. What sort of name was ‘the Beetles’ for a band anyway!

But Rizzo had the hots and kept following her around. Kelly found out and started pushing him to ask her on a date.

So, he did. Right in front of Kelly and his crew. And me.

She told him where to stick it. Literally and, man, I’ve never seen anybody turn that red.

Then Kelly started.


Rizzo walked towards me, looking funny.

I checked my fingers, kept my breathing shallow, looked straight back at him, not caring.

He stopped, turned his head a little and then shook it. He spun around as though someone had crept up on him then swore.

Not very well, but he tried. Repetition seemed to work for him.

“If you’re going to use bad language, young man,” Mum had said, “at least add some imagination. “Saying ‘fuck’ fifteen times in two sentences doesn’t count.”

Jesus Christ, Mum!

I’d turned almost as red as Rizzo when she said that; in front of Dad and my little sister.

But she had a point. One Gwen seemed to have acquired from somewhere also. She said things to Rizzo which were not physically possible. I think!

That didn’t stop Kelly starting in on the guy though, which gave him a chance to get close to Gwen which was really the point of the exercise. I’d seen him stealing glances at her for weeks and it was pretty obvious now he’d used Rizzo as a, what did Dad call it, a stalking horse.

Rizzo wandered off to the right of the shed, still swearing his head off.


Training was fun. And hard. But mostly fun.

Keeping it to myself was the hardest. Not being able to show anyone what I could do! That was a bitch.

Dad explained it best. We went to the city one day and sat in this corner of Martin Place and ‘people watched’; that’s what Dad called it.

Took a while but what he was saying eventually made sense and I saw how we all gossip so bloody much. How we label and judge without thinkin’ anything through; without facts. And the biggest targets are the people who stand out.

“Envy has killed more people by a country mile than evil,” my Dad said and I reckon he’s right.

Which is why my training was so important. It was a leg up. But only if I kept it quiet; used it carefully. Sensei hammered that point over and over. The guys, and a few girls who came out from Japan to train with him said the same.

Thinking about them made me realise how lucky I was. They accepted me, challenged me and I was one of them, whatever that was. We didn’t have a name, it wasn’t a club or anything. And every time they came out from Japan it was like cousins were visiting. My Japanese was getting better too. I could swear in it now.

I had a few friends at school but not many. And that was cool. The gossip factory Dad showed me started young and we managed to keep out of it, mostly. Bit like Gwen, really


Kelly pushed her. Gwen moved with the blow and only needed a half step to deal with it but this was the obvious play. Kelly wanted to rough her up. Maybe she’d told him where to stick it too.

I really had no choice, there were five of them and maybe Gwen could look after herself but not against five.

I could, though.

But I had to be careful.

“The Chinese call it Drunken Monkey Style,” said Sensei Takahashi. “There is no Japanese equivalent. But … “

That was a year and a half ago and I was getting good at this shit. So, I stepped up and stumbled a bit, separatin’ Kelly and Gwen then leaning into the punch Kelly threw and ankle tapping him. I tried to apologise but one of the others grabbed me and I stumbled again but managed to trip him up and stomp on Kelly as I went.

“What the fuck are you doing?’ hissed Gwen from behind me.

I turned quickly, gave her my best serious face and said, “Run. Now”

She did. Smart chick. A quick thinker.

Turning back, I found Kelly almost on his feet and three of his boys about to swamp me.

It wasn’t hard to put all three down quickly without them seeing what I was doing but that was about it for keeping my skills hidden.

I ran in the direction almost opposite to Gwen. Slowly enough to keep an eye on them. I might have laughed a bit too, just to make sure they came my way and not hers.

It worked.


Kelly sent Rizzo wide to cut me off and I had to detour into the old store yards beside the railway.

Fucking Rizzo. I’m going to have to do something about him. Don’t know what but something.

Kelly came back.


“What I teach you, young man, son of my friend, is an ancient art. In the West, it is called Ninjutsu. Depending on where you are in Japan it will have other names. There are many forms but at the heart of them all is stealth.

“However, stealth is not always possible and then you must have speed and no mercy. If your skills are seen you become a target. Even when you fight plainly, you must conceal. Therefore, you will be faster, harder and impossible to see. This is the legacy of your father’s selfless bravery and his honour. Teach my son to defend himself, is what he asked of me. I have done that and more. But you will dishonour my debt if you use your skills to kill. So, if you must be seen, if circumstance, and honour will not prevent it, leave no man standing and make them terrified of even your shadow.”


Kelly yelled for his boys and they came running. They couldn’t find me and Kelly was spewin’. He started telling them what he was going to do to Gwen and how they’d hunt her down now and nobody could stop them. He kept at it till they were all as horny as hell. Kelly really knew how to wind people up. He was good. And he liked it. Standing there, a few yards away it was easy to see.

I’d never seen anything like it, the hate …

My fingers touched the rusty iron cladding of the shed. My mind was as one with my fingers, in rhythm with the sensory resonance of touch.

My fingers came off the tin.

Published by iandavidmartin

Australian; Architect; Writer

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