Some time ago I wrote a short story for a friend who was asking for tales based in the city we live in, Melbourne. This struck me as an interesting request as, for those who have visited Melbourne, Australia, you will know it is a city which is diverse and rich in cultures from all parts of the world. Rather than try to capture all of what makes Melbourne what it is, I attempted to pick just a small element of that, and splash in what I love the most; Fantasy.
As a child I always had fond memories of visiting Royal Arcade in the city center and having the statues of Gog & Magog look down at me. When I think of Melbourne I also always picture the vivid street art which covers our alleyways and side streets. So I hope you enjoy this short tale as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Gog & Magog
“Only an hour till it begins,” said Sal, scratching the heat rash on her neck.
Her new partner spun around in shock. He wiped the hair from his sweaty forehead and gulped over the lump in his throat.
Sal caught his eye and then noticed the wet patches all over his grey shirt. “Relax mate, they’ll come through. At least they have in the past.”
He swallowed once again, though this time it caught in his throat and he began to sputter.
Sal shook her head and looked up. Staring down ominously from beside the clock were the statues of Gog and Magog. The arcade was silent – eerily so. She had watched the shoppers drift by, stopping to buy macaroons and deliciously overpriced chocolate, before spending all their money on jewellery. By the time the sun set, the shoppers had left, including a bunch of acne-scarred adolescents who had reluctantly stumbled up the stairs from the Dungeon of Magic.
“What’s going to happen?” he stuttered.
Geez, where did they find this kid? Sal shook her head. Twenty years she’d been with the Bureau. Twenty years of keeping the world safe with no credit but a pat on the back from her superiors. “What’s your name again?”
“My dog’s name is Russell,” Sal replied, not taking her eyes from the statues. “I’m going to call you John.”
Russell’s mouth opened but then quickly shut.
They’re making them with less backbone than ever. She pulled out a pistol and handed it to him. “Our friends up there are going to wake up and help us make sure that tomorrow we have a city to live in.”
He hesitantly took the gun, gripping it loosely as though it might bite. “And what exactly is going to happen?”
Sal sucked her lips and let out a frustrated breath. “Blighters,” she replied curtly. “Been appearing for over sixty years.”
Russell looked even more confused than before. “Appearing? From where?”
“Who knows? Since mankind decided to go and split the atom we’ve had to deal with them.”
“Why didn’t they tell me any of this?” he asked.
“Can’t trust you. Who’s to say you won’t go spreading state secrets to the public?”
“But I could go tell them now,” Russell replied incredulously.
Sal smiled. “After tonight, you won’t want anyone else to know what really goes on in the shadows.”
“John, stop talking. Only fifty five minutes left.”
* * *
It didn’t happen slowly. It happened all at once, catching Russell unaware and causing his heart to leap to his mouth. The two statues began to move, their pine carved bodies springing into action and scaling down from their perch beside the famous Gaunt’s clock.
“Cutting it fine this time, gentlemen,” Sal called out.
Gog and Magog stretched out their muscles, patted the dirt from their red and cream outfits and shuffled over to the front of the jewellery store.
“Good evening, Miss Sally,” said Gog. “And may I say you look very fine this evening.”
“Thanks, G. You’re looking pretty handsome yourself. New paint job? Or have you been working out?”
Gog blushed, “You are too kind.”
Magog let out a cough that sprayed dust onto the floor. “Forgive my interruption, but how long do we have left?”
“Ten minutes,” answered Sal.
Russell had taken on the colour of spoilt milk.
Gog eyed him with suspicion. “Is this young man quite himself? I suspect he may faint. We would not want a repeat of last year.”
“I remember last year,” replied Magog grumpily. He turned his hip to show them a dent in his rear end. “Bullet nearly took off half my arse!”
“This one’s got more pedigree,” Sal assured them. “Don’t you, John?”
Russell was still staring at the statues with the queasy look of someone who was sorting through rotten fish.
“Talkative, this one,” said Magog.
“Yep, well come on, the city isn’t going to save itself.” Sal turned and began to strut down the arcade.
Walking past a shopfront full of babushka dolls, Gog and Magog shuddered and let out curses. “What kind of nightmare graveyard is this!” cried out Magog.
“Relax, M,” replied Sal. “They aren’t Sleepers like you. Just dolls.”
“That’s what you say. Took your people twenty years before they realised we were here.”
“Can’t blame us, M. You only show yourselves once a year. How are we supposed to know?”
Magog grumbled. “Bloody humans. Don’t know why we bother helping you.”
“Because, old chap, the alternative would be a life with the Blighters,” answered Gog.
“No more time for reminiscing,” said Sal, pulling a second pistol from her holster and cocking it. “Time to dance.”
Russell stared down at the gun in his hand and the fake police uniform they had forced him to wear. He should have just finished his arts degree.
* * *
The alley was a teenager’s paradise. Graffiti covered the walls, spreading out onto three huge dumpsters standing to the side. Russell followed Sal and the two statues, eyes darting around nervously at every shadow. A couple of pools of rainwater dotted the asphalt. There was no one around.
“This is it,” said Sal. “Five minutes.”
“What am I supposed to do?” asked Russell.
“You’ll see,” replied Magog, taking his flail in both hands and swinging it about. His hand slid familiarly along the chain, making sure the spiked ball on its end was secure.
Gog stood to the side, peering down the alley with a frown. His hands were hidden behind the wooden shield in his grip.
Their anxiety grew. A tram rattled past. Pigeons fluttered from between the dumpsters and out of the alley. Russell’s palms were so sweaty he worried the gun would slip from his grip.
They heard a faint whistle. Sal lifted her gun and Russell hesitantly followed, though he had no idea what he was pointing at. A gust of wind swept into the alley and hit them square in the face, throwing their hair up and causing them to gasp. The whistling grew louder, more high pitched, then – silence.
Russell’s finger twitched on the trigger, eyes scanning the alley for any sudden movement. Gog and Magog slowly began to step forwards, marching further into the alley.
Sal, noticing Russell’s unease, broke the dreadful silence. “Alright, listen up, John. I’m going to fill you in on what you are risking your life for.”
Russell listened intently but kept his gaze on the two walking statues.
“Every year, at the summer solstice, Earth gets invaded.”
Russell swallowed. The lump in his throat had grown.
“Bureau still doesn’t know jack about the Blighters,” she continued in a hushed voice. “Everything we throw at them only slows them. There’s no way to put them down for good.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” Russell replied under his breath.
Sal smiled. “But we can block off their gateway and send them back to whatever hell they came from. That’s where our friends come in. The Sleepers popped up same time as the Blighters and thank god because we’d be screwed without ‘em.”
“Huh?” replied Russell.
Sal sighed. “Doesn’t matter.”
“Why here? Why Melbourne?” asked Russell desperately
Shrugging her shoulders, Sal said, “Who knows. Maybe they really like the coffee.”
A shrill noise interrupted them, like an angle grinder tearing through concrete. Russell shoved his fingers into his ears.
Long lines of white and blue light shot across the alley walls. The light ran along the walls in jagged patterns, splitting apart the graffiti like a jigsaw and illuminating the wet asphalt in a harsh glow.
“Get ready!” shouted Sal over the high-pitched squeal.
Russell’s jaw dropped. The Blighters were graffiti. No, not graffiti, copies of the graffiti! The colourful tags and pictures had come to life.
They were peeling themselves off of the wall, ripping free from the bricks and stepping into the alley. Then a mouth opened on each of the Blighters, revealing a horrible maw full of sharp teeth.
Russell’s hands shook as moving, breathing copies of the graffiti shrieked and turned to charge at them.
Gunshots rang as they both pulled hard on their triggers. The bullets found their marks, tearing holes in the multi-coloured pictures and words heading their way.
“Don’t let them touch you,” shouted Sal. “They’re called Blighters for a reason.”
Even the two stubborn pigeons who had been devouring an old waffle took to the sky in fright. Russell watched as one of the Blighters caught a fleeing birds in its mouth. It exploded in a puff of feathers, replaced by a small picture of a pigeon which floated to the alley floor. The bite of the Blighter had just turned the frantic pigeon into a paper cutout. Panic gripped him. He fired more shots at the oncoming creatures.
Gog and Magog were standing by, ignored by the Blighters peeling themselves off the wall.
“Why aren’t they helping us?” yelled Russell.
Sal leapt backwards, dodging the gaping mouth of a Blighter that had taken the form of a sour faced rapper. Her gun jumped up, sending a bullet right between the rapper’s eyes. The Blighter crumpled to the floor but was still moving. “They are waiting for the right moment.”
More pictures were filling the alley. A group of names had sprung from the bricks and were advancing on them with as much of a snarl as moving words could muster. Those that were shot yelped in pain and slowed their advance, but Russell could already see some of the earliest targets recovering. Sal was right, they couldn’t stop them, only slow them down.
A blue tag spelling ‘Frizbee’ launched itself at Russell. He screamed and fell backwards, just avoiding it’s snapping teeth. The letters loomed threateningly over him and he lifted his gun. The Blighter wrapped its teeth around the weapon and Russell found himself holding a paper cut out of a pistol. He threw it down and scrambled away on all fours.
Sal saw his desperation and put a bullet right into the ‘B’ of Frizbee, sending it stumbling to the ground. “Anytime now guys!” she called out to Gog and Magog.
The Blighters now filled the alley, snapping at everything they could find. Dumpsters and beer kegs turned to paper pictures and drifted to the asphalt. The two statues shared a quick look and nodded.
Russell watched as the flail soared through the alley. Magog twirled around, pummeling the Blighters with satisfying crunches. They parted before him, smashing against the walls, lifted from the ground by his powerful strikes.
Gog waited until his companion had cleared the area and then reached behind his shield. His hand came out in a triumphant gesture, holding a thick brush that was covered in gooey paint; paint that swirled with different colours.
Russell was standing beside Sal, furiously swinging a milk crate in front of him. She was running out of bullets. Two spent cartridges lay on the floor by her feet and the Blighters kept coming.
Gog looked around. The walls were quiet. New Blighters had stopped entering. He smiled. It was time to save the day.
He leapt to the closest wall and began to run the paint over the graffiti of a zebra. The paint made no mark on the wall, but as he spread it, the zebra shaped Blighter in the alley faded away with an angered scream. He moved to the next section; a bright yellow tag spelling out the artist’s initials. His paint brush moved back and forth over the graffiti and the corresponding blighter disappeared, its link to Earth severed by Gog’s mystic paint.
Now the invaders were aware of Gog and Magog, and knew their peril. Forgetting Sal and Russell, the Blighters all turned and ran at the Sleepers.
“Just try an’ stop us!” Magog growled, swinging his flail around and knocking the colourful Blighters away from Gog.
Sal grabbed Russell. “We need to keep them off Gog. He’s the only one who can remove their link to this world.”
Having no idea what she was talking about, Russell ran after her with the milk crate in hand. Sal continued to fire, each shot ringing in their ears. Gog ran about frantically, covering the graffiti in his gooey paint, sending more and more of the Blighters back.
Russell smacked away with the milk crate, pushing the Blighters away from Gog. A face with a long trunk and tusks hanging from it appeared before him. It came with a rampaging mass of swinging arms that reached for him. He swung out with the crate. The Blighter caught it within its mouth and Russell saw his milk crate shrink into a picture and float slowly down to his feet. He gulped as the imposing figure of Ganesh bore down on him. He saw the mouth open to suck him in and was paralysed with fear. Then the Blighter shuddered.
Gog ran his brush over the wall covering the spray-painted Ganesh as quickly as possible. Exhaustion lined his wooden features. The Ganesh thrashed furiously, trying to hold onto its link to Earth, and in its final throes dived at Russell.
Russell closed his eyes and screamed but was saved by the swift stroke of Gog’s brush.
However, the act placed Gog in danger. The panicked Blighters all shifted attention to him. A snarling Frankenstein head moved perilously close to Gog. Gog looked for the matching picture on the wall. It was too far away.
The Frankenstein opened its mouth and moved in for a bite, only to find Magog stepping in to block it. Gog dived out of the way, running towards the Frankenstein on the far wall to aid his friend.
With a defiant growl, Magog sent his flail at the Frankenstein. The head dodged the attack and darted in to bite him across the shoulder.
Russell heard Sal scream and watched as the grumpy little statue turned into a paper cut out and flopped lifeless to the asphalt.
The sight sent Gog into a frenzy. He sped along the wall, scattering paint with rage over every inch of colour. Sal lifted her pistol and emptied half of her clip into the Blighter that had killed Magog, slowing it down long enough for Gog to paint over the Frankenstein on the wall.
Russell could only run. He dodged between the frantic creatures and ran away from the fight.
Once far enough away he swung about and saw Sal Gog fighting off the final few Blighters. The last Blighter faded away with an angered scream. Then an eerie silence again filled the alley.
* * *
Sal had been quiet since they’d saved the city. They talked for a bit afterwards. Sal had wondered whether the agents protecting the NGV had pulled through.
He watched her say goodbye to Gog, whose eyes were downcast. The statue glanced over at Russell and nodded. Russell moved to wave, but then decided it best not to. They then watched him climb back up the wall of the Royal Arcade, to take his position next to the clock.
Sal joined him and said, “We did our best.”
“Won’t people notice Magog’s absence?”
“The Bureau will put an ordinary statue there. Not a Sleeper … Just a statue.”
Russell sighed. “Can I ask, why didn’t you just paint over the alley walls earlier?”
“They would’ve showed up somewhere else, and we wouldn’t have had enough time to figure out where,” Sal replied.
“I still don’t unders-”
“Russell, stop talking,” she interrupted. Sal walked out of the arcade.
Russell smiled and followed.