Short Story Award WinnersShort, Story, Award, Winners
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

Announcing the Winner of the 2019 ServiceScape Short Story Award

ServiceScape is pleased to announce the winner of the 2019 Short Story Award: Carl Lakeland, from Snake Valley, Australia. Carl grew up during the early seventies in the western suburbs of Sydney. Having enlisted in the military at the age of seventeen, he uses his experience to create powerful and engaging speculative fiction.

Carl Lakeland
Carl Lakeland, author and winner of the 2019 Servicescape Short Story Award

You can find his winning submission below. We hope you enjoy reading it and we look forward to reading more great submissions for our 2020 award.

The Angel and the Mad Man

By Carl Lakeland

Shortly after I was shown a cushy-looking lounge that smelled of old leather, and looked as though it was recovered from a shipwreck, I sat slowly down and I wondered how I would ever get myself back up. I was then told by someone more knowing than myself, that a child will process trauma in unique ways. Young minds will either switch off painful happenings as though a section of mind poses as a guardian, almost as if it's detached from the being; almost as if it's duty-bound to protect little souls from damaging images. Or, memories won't be shut down. They will persist — memories, alive, and in vivid colour. Memories, which haunt and hurt; and will not go away. My memory of my father. My memory of my mother. And . . . of Charlotte.

* * *

My mother had switched off everything that used electricity. The fridge. The dishwasher. The radio that she loved so much on Sunday afternoons while she sat in her easy chair and spun Merino wool into long curly skeins. The tall clock that demanded attention at the end of the hall stood proud but no longer ticked. There was no whirring of the Whirlpool from the laundry. There was no scent of freshly baked lamingtons or vanilla slices from the kitchen. There were no songs by Hi-Five from the television in the living room. There was no laughter. There was no happiness. There was nothing. And everything was dark.

After pulling down all the blinds, my mother scurried around the place, and with her hands visibly shaking, she reached with her trembling fingers, clawing at power points and switches. She raced methodically from one switch to another, muttering to herself as though somewhere in her mind there was a method in the things she was doing. But I could see it on her face. Her skin was sweaty. I was just old enough to recognise panic. I was old enough to feel brewing terror that made my skin feel incredibly hot. I remember as my mother scampered around the place; I kept telling myself it was just a game. It was, of course, no game at all. "Quickly, Angelique. We have to hide," my mother said with a voice that crackled and quivered.

My mother's eyes darted here and there. Was she trying to decide the best place in the house for us to hide? We had no basement or attic. There was only one place inside the house which had a lock behind the door — the bathroom. I remember there were so many times, I got into trouble if I stayed in the shower for too long. The door was locked. Nobody could do anything about it. My mother made the decision to hide in there as soon as she grabbed me tightly by the top of my arm. She pulled me forcefully into the cold darkness behind the shower curtain. In the bathtub, we both quietly sat down facing each other. My mother's facial expression was steady as she appeared to listen for signs of movement from the outside of our house.


"Shhh. We'll be safe in here," she said.

"But Mum, Dad will know we're home. Our car is at the end of the driveway. He'll come looking for us as soon as he gets inside."

"He can't get in. He doesn't have a key. I've changed all the locks. And he'll think we're at Maggie's house."

If my father knew we were at Maggie's house, he'd never go looking there. Maggie's husband was an Alice Springs police officer. And not only that, he was a sergeant, I recall thinking. My father and Theo were always at each other. Theo sometimes brought my drunken father home late at night and dumped him near our front door. My young mind began to put things together. What my mother was trying to achieve was to give my father a decoy. He'd turn up at our house and find he wasn't able to enter. He'd put his ear up to the door and listen for anything inside. My father would then most likely choose to meet with his mates at the pub. And maybe an afternoon punting at the TAB. That's how my mother had explained it. She said it to me in plain words and sentences like I was already an adult. Then after she was done, she began to cry.

"Mum, you're scaring me."

My mother pulled me into her chest and wrapped her arms around me. I remember feeling nothing could ever hurt us. Any ten-year-old would be comforted. But I was also cautious. I was also vigilant. Why did Uncle Scotty have to show up and ruin everything?

* * *

As I sat in the cold and darkened bathroom with my mother, who seemed to be thinking of ways to get us out of danger, I reflected briefly on the horrible things that had happened. I remembered the blue, square, object that Uncle Scotty had given her after he arrived so urgently on our front porch. My uncle's tone of voice said he was hopelessly in a mad flap. "You need to get this to Maggie," I heard him say. "I'd do it, but I can't, love. If I approach Maggie, I'm done."

I recall as I stood and peered through the living room window, my Uncle Scotty gave my mother something else. It was something that looked like a handkerchief. A piece of cloth with something printed on it. He took it from his pocket and thrust it into my mother's hand. "These are the decryption codes for the computer disk," he said.

"So, what am I supposed to do with them?"

"Alisha. Get them to Maggie. Find a way. She'll know what to do next."

"And Franco? Any ideas where he is right now?"

Scotty immediately answered without a breath. "He's most likely down the pub gettin' plastered. Maybe . . . I'm not sure." "You can't be sure? This place is so much better when you're both away on work. The two of you should've stayed at Pine Gap!" My mother sucked back a big gulp of air and paused a beat. "How much time do we have before he shows up?"

"You've got as much time as it takes to grab a few things and get out, I reckon. Grab your kit and go. Right-bloody-now."

After Scotty launched himself from the porch, ran to his car and drove away, my mother slowly closed the front door. She turned and looked down at me. I'll never forget her face. Her skin was paper white. Her eyes had become glassy like they were full of fear and sadness. I knew she tried her best to hide her true feelings from me. I could see straight through her. I knew what was really going on.

"Angelique, we have to pack a bag and get ready to go. Quickly now, kiddo."

I sprinted into my room, thinking about the things I needed to pack. I slid open my wardrobe door and grabbed my rucksack from the hanger. My mind immediately thought about my camera and photos. They were up on a high shelf. I often wondered why my mother had placed them up so high that it was difficult for me to get to them. My toes almost broke with my weight as I reached up to grab them. I jumped and missed. I jumped and missed again. It was no good. Then, I used the bed as a trampoline. That worked amazingly well, and I had my camera and all my photo albums, all at once.

After ramming my most precious items into my rucksack, I grabbed some of my clothes from my dresser and quickly formed them into a tight ball, shoving them in so hard I swore they were going to burst through the bottom. My mother stepped inside my room as I was finishing up. She brought the objects in that Scotty gave her. She showed them to me. "If anything bad happens, make sure Maggie gets these things." My mother then slipped the blue computer disk and codes into the top pocket of the rucksack. As soon as she was done tightening the straps, she held out her hand to me. "Let's go," she said. "Fuck this place."

We were only five footsteps from my bedroom door when that sound of someone pushing a key into a keyhole, punched through the silence. My mother instantly crouched and pushed me down next to her. She put a finger up to her lips. I knew what it meant. Not a sound. Not a movement. Just like the game we used to play called 'quiet as a mouse.'

As we both crouched, whoever it was at the front door continued to scratch away at the lock. Then, the Mad Man made himself known.


My mother looked at me with terror sitting in her red-rimmed eyes. She again pushed her finger up to her lips. When she removed her finger, she tried to give me a comforting smile. But the corners of her mouth refused to cooperate.

"Alisha! Open the bloody door!" My father bashed the door a couple of times.

"Don't say anything," my mother said in a whisper so low, it was difficult to hear. But then she physically turned me around and gave me a gentle push toward my bedroom. "Go. Quietly," she whispered.

"Alisha. Open the door! My key won't fit the bloody lock!"

I couldn't be sure how many times my father had yelled out and demanded to be let inside. Each time he yelled out, his voice raised in obvious frustration. His bashing at the door became louder and heavier. Then, there was no sound at all. He was gone. And my mother immediately began shutting things down and switching things off.

* * *

In the darkness of the bathroom from behind the shower curtain, we both waited in the cold silence. I could feel the steady beat of my mother's heart through her chest as she held me tightly in her arms. Sometimes her heartbeat would begin to race as soon as a sound from outside could be heard. But through it all, it occurred to me; we could've easily used the time to exit through the back door and get far away. It might've worked out better than being boxed in. We could've already arrived at Maggie's house. And after having arrived there, we could've been safe from the rage of my drunken father. Things and events could have been drastically different than they turned out. It was a moment in time that has stayed with me for my entire life. I keep asking myself the same question. Why didn't we just go? In that precise moment? Why? All through my twenties. All through my thirties. Even to this very minute, it still causes me heartache. It still causes nightmares and chills me awake. Why can't I just go back and change anything? Why?

It was as though my mother had the same thought as me, and at the same time. She let go of me and looked down into my eyes. She seemed so much better without any panic. I was even able to breathe long breaths again. "Time to go, eh kiddo?"

I nodded my happiness, but the joy was immediately broken with the sound of someone scraping at the lock in the back door. My father was back from wherever he'd gone. He was angry. I could hear it in his tone. "Alisha! You've bloody-well changed the back-door lock too? What have you done? Are you doing this just to make me angry? Alisha! This is my house too. Let-me-in!"

I shrunk from my father's rage. "Mum!"

My mother pulled me into her arms again. "It's okay kiddo. But I want you to understand something. Listen to me; this is so important. Whatever happens, run. Run as fast as you can. Take the rucksack and run to Maggie's. Don't look back. Don't worry about me. Just run. Do you hear me? Just run." I nodded, hoping my mother could feel my response on her chest. "That's good. You know what you need to do. That's good." It was as though my mother had said those final words to herself rather than to me. It was after she'd said it, I noticed for the first time how badly she was trembling.

But then, silence ensued once again. We both waited. We both listened out for the slightest of sounds. It was as though my father had finally left. Each moment felt more like hours, and we waited.


I heard a window somewhere near the back of the house, cave in and shatter.


My mother pulled me in tighter. Much tighter than before.

I heard my father stomping with heavy footsteps around the house. "Alisha! Where are you? Are you home? Angelique?"

My mother immediately got out of the bathtub and went to the window. She used both her hands to push the ages-old window up, but it wouldn't budge. She put her entire weight behind it. It was no good.

"Smash it, Mum. Just smash it."

"No good, kiddo. The glass has got wire in it."

Then, my father's footsteps stopped at the bathroom door. I could hear him breathing as though he'd pushed his face up close to the door jamb. My mother put her hand over my mouth. She placed her lips right next to my left ear and whispered, "Not a word, kiddo. Shhh."

"C'mon Alisha, I know you're in there. Angelique. I know you're both there. The car's outside, remember? I'm tired, and I need a lie-down. C'mon out and we'll chat a while. Maybe, I'll put a few snags on the barbie. What do ya reckon?"

For some reason, my mother took her hand away from my mouth. Perhaps it was a moment of weakness. Maybe she was about to get up and let my father in. I couldn't let her do that. I had to stop her. I seized the opportunity and I shouted, "Just go away and leave us alone!"

"Kiddo! What have you done? Didn't I say not a word?"

"Ya see? I knew you were both at home. Now, c'mon out, the two of ya. This is being silly; don't ya reckon?"

"Go away, Franco. Take the car keys; they're on the kitchen bench. Go away and leave us in peace."

"Peace? Do'ya want peace? I'll show ya fucking peace!" It was like my father's rage came rushing up from wherever he'd put it last. This time, he beat heavily on the door. "Don't make me break this door in, Alisha. I will break it if I need to. Come out! Come out now!"

I screamed as loud as I could. I hoped my high pitch squeal was enough to grab anybody's attention who might be in range. Perhaps the people from next door would hear. Maybe they'd call Theo Mack, and he'd rush down here with his siren blaring and his lights flashing. But even for someone as young as I was at the time, I knew it wasn't likely.

Then it was like a miracle. Suddenly, my father's footsteps walked away. I heard him walk through the kitchen, grabbing at the keys that my mother had told him were on the bench. I heard him a couple of minutes later start the car. The car reversed up the driveway, and my father was gone. It was like a weight had been lifted from my spirits. Even my mother looked happier than she was only a moment ago. We both cautiously exited the bathroom. I ran straight for my bedroom and picked up my rucksack. "Come on Mum; we need to get going to Maggie's. Let's go." I was happy that I could make a suggestion. My mother even laughed a little under her breath. "Oh, I see. You're making all the calls now, huh?"

"Let's go, Mum, let's go."

We were about to leave.

We were both about to exit our house of horrors, and I couldn't have cared less if it was for the last time in my young life. I was happy to be away and to be safe. But just as we were at the back door, my mother suddenly stopped her forward momentum. I grabbed her arm and pulled her. "What's wrong? C'mon Mum. We're running out of time."

"No, kiddo. We'll stay here. Your father already knows where we're going, and he'll be waiting for us somewhere."

I watched in dismay as my mother closed the back door, then grabbed a chair from the dining room. She brought the chair back with her and wedged the chair under the doorknob. "I'll make a phone call to Theo Mack, and he can sort this out; once and for all."

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. We had the chance to get away, and it was gone. Even if it was only to the house next door. Even if that were the case, we'd still be away. But now . . . we were again trapped. There was only one thing left for me to do. And that was to get under my bed as far as I could get and hide. I ran there. I ran to my bedroom while my mother picked up the phone. I heard her jiggle the hanger a couple of times. "Hello?" Another jiggle. Another jiggle. "Hello!" I heard my mother draw an annoyed sigh before she banged the handset hard down. "Shit!"

As I lay hidden under my bed, my eyes began to fill with tears. I was now more scared than I can ever remember. I only hoped the chair at the back door was strong enough to keep my father out. Just as I had that thought, the back door literally exploded into what I thought must be more than a thousand pieces.

I hurried out from under my bed and raced to the back door to where my father was standing in the aperture; a gigantic sledgehammer dangled ominously from his grip. It occurred to me then that this was his solution to him being locked out of the bathroom. I realised much later in life, had my mother and I still been in there, we would've been much more boxed in and vulnerable than we already were. Maybe my father would've killed us both.

As I stood, shocked, seeing my father with his face that told of nothing but hatred and anger, I managed to catch sight of my mother as she suddenly burst past me. "Get out! Get out! Get out!" my mother screamed with words that still chill me after all this time. She tried with all her weight to push my father back through the door. He grabbed my mother and spun her around. He locked his elbow around the base of her throat and squeezed. "Now, none of that," my father said in cold tone. "You don't have to be all pushy. I'll go. But you know what I want don't ya? I want those things my mate Scotty-Blue gave ya. I know you have the disk and codes. Give them to me, and I'm gone, Alisha."

My mother managed some words through her squeezed neck. "Franco . . . What're you talking about?"

"Don't play games with me. Don't-you-fucking-play-games-with-me!"

I picked up my rucksack and threw it at my father with all the strength I had in my body. "Leave my mother ALONE!"

"Angelique . . . run. Run, Angelique. RUN!"

My father laughed at me. He laughed hard, and sardonically like he'd seen something so very funny. He let my mother go. But only for a second. It was like he had all the power. He quickly gathered her up and choked her all over again.

"Angelique! RUN!"

"No Mum. I can't leave you!"

"Just . . . run . . . kiddo!"

My father squeezed his elbow around my mother's throat harder than before. Her face immediately went cherry red. Her eyes bulged, and I saw blood at the corners of her eyelids. She tried to say something, but it never came out. Her body went limp, and after my father let go of her, she slid slowly to the floor. Then, my father turned his attention on me. He reached and grabbed a handful of my hair. I remember the hot pain on my scalp as he picked me up and swung me. I floated only inches above the floor. "You're going in your bloody room and you're gonna STAY THERE!"

After my father had thrown me through the doorway, I again slid under my bed as far as I could get. My cheeks felt raw and wet as I cried uncontrollably. But my father paused, laughing at me like my sobbing was one of the funniest things he'd ever seen. Before slamming my door closed, he shouted, "And don't come out. OR ELSE!"

* * *

While I lay there, I listened as my father stomped around the house. I heard drawers being rummaged through then slammed closed. I heard cupboard doors being opened and the contents thrown about the place. I heard pots and pans clanging. I heard glass being broken. I heard more rummaging and doors and drawers being opened then slammed shut. I heard my father racing around the house. "Where is it? What have you done with it?" "I don't know what you're talking about, Franco. You must be out of your mind. Go back to your mates at the pub. Maybe they know where it is what you're looking for."

I was glad I heard my mother's voice, but I was also terribly afraid for her. I heard my father's heavy footsteps rush across the floor. Then, the ugly sound of his fist connecting with flesh.

"NOOO!" I scampered madly from under my bed and ran out of my room. I saw my father standing over my mother. I launched myself onto my father's back, I began beating him as hard as I could.

My mother pleaded with me; her voice sounding so dry. "Angelique. Stop. Please stop, I'm okay."

Before I had the opportunity to do more damage, my father peeled me off his back. He again lifted me by my hair and carried me to my bedroom. He tossed me like a pendulum with such force, I flew through the air and landed heavily on my bed. I grabbed my pillow and buried my face as I cried harder than I'd ever known.

Outside my room, I heard them arguing. The bickering went on and on and on. He wanted whatever he wanted, and she wasn't about to let him have it. Back and forth, they fought. Sometimes it was physical with the sickening sounds fleshy beatings. If I knew my mother, she'd give back just as much as what she was given. Maybe that would make things worse. She screamed at him. He yelled back at her. Hurtful and spiteful. Cruel and cutting. Words and sounds a child should never have to endure. But suddenly, everything stopped.

I felt an urge rip up through my body. I felt as though there were eyes upon me. There was something outside of my bedroom window, I just knew it. Looking out, I saw an eagle had settled and had found a perch on the back fence. The moment the eagle's eyes made contact with mine, I knew it was not just any eagle, but it had to be my eagle. It was Charlotte.

It was at that moment that all my sadness and hurt had melted away. I felt strength replace the weakness in my body. I sprinted from my room and out through the back door. I cut a short distance across the backyard toward where Charlotte was busy, happily preening her feathers as though she was making herself beautiful just for me. I couldn't have been happier than in that moment. It was one of the most delightful times of my life. As I approached Charlotte, it was as though she beckoned me closer, and when I got there, she put her head down and flared out her huge wings in a warm gesture of hello.

I don't know how long I was there in Charlotte's company. It seemed like only minutes. But after Charlotte had lifted her head up again, she appeared to become startled. She turned away from me and put her head down. She looked over her shoulder one last time before she launched into the sky; her huge wingspan compressing the air as she lifted herself up.

I stood back and watched Charlotte disappear into the afternoon sun. And after she'd gone, my thoughts returned to the horrors of which I was given just a small amount of respite. Remembering my father's words to 'not come out of my room,' I turned to head back into the house, but instantly, my legs stopped carrying me forward.

"Time to come in, love. It's gonna be tea time soon," my father said as he stood there on the back veranda, watching me.

But in my mind, a warning sounded, and somehow, I knew not to go to him. As he repeated the same sentence over, I noticed the sledgehammer in my father's grip. I noticed the thick dark coloured blood that dripped steadily from the once shiny steel head. I noticed the red stains on his white singlet. I noticed the blood spatter all over his face and arms. He repeated his words again slowly. "Come inside, Angelique. Tea time."

My legs were like pins that held me into place. Not forward. Not backward. I was frozen still. I felt coldness sweep up and over me, giving me goosebumps on my arms and neck as my father appeared to grow angrier with each passing second. "Get inside you little bitch!"

I moved one foot in front of the other. Then the other in front of that. Slowly, I gained speed and in the next crucial second, I began sprinting across the back yard toward the gate. As I moved as fast as I could go, I caught sight of my father as he hitched the sledgehammer over his shoulder and launched himself off the veranda. "Get back here!" he screamed. I ran. I ran hard.

At the back gate, I jumped and cleared it with my father only inches behind me. I felt the breeze of his sledgehammer swish past me. I could hear his hard breathing as he struggled to get over. I ran on and paced away. Breathing. Running. Breathing. Running.

Out in the street, I turned and sprinted down the middle of the bitumen. If a car was coming, I could put up my arms and scream. Maybe whoever was driving might stop. As I ran, I saw a shadow on the road. The shadow of an eagle raced on ahead in front of me, and then suddenly, it disappeared. From behind, I heard an eagle screech with an ear-piercing cry and echoed through the suburbs. I stopped and spun around in time to see Charlotte's silhouette in the late afternoon sun. Her outline that was backlit from the bright light, tumbled and turned over high up in the sky. She tucked in her wings and became a bullet, head down, screeching her cry through the air as my father ran almost out of breath, panting, and still trying to shut me down.

With no warning, Charlotte came down from behind him and attached her giant talons around my father's neck. Screeching and squealing, she flared out her wings and I saw her talons disappear deep into his flesh. Long red ribbons ripped away from my father's neck as Charlotte again took to the skies. My father screamed out then gurgled chillingly in a way I'd never heard before. He placed both his hands over his gaping open wounds but to no avail. The fountains of his blood reached high above him. Then, his body seemed to collapse from under his weight. I knew from that moment, there was no life left in him. The Mad Man was dead.

From a distance, I heard the sounds of sirens. Theo Mack would arrive, but by the time he reached the scene where blood was everywhere, the mandatory police 'guns drawn' approach was of no use. Theo exited his police vehicle exactly as I thought. "Get on the ground!" he shouted, pistol pointed at my lifeless father. When he got close enough, I saw his shoulders droop, and he put his gun away.

As I turned away from what I was seeing, Maggie was there, standing in front of me with her arms held out. "Come with me, love," she said, gathering me up and pulling me into her arms. Maggie smelled of lavender. After that moment, lavender took on a new meaning for me. Whenever I smell lavender, it transports me back to the time I was orphaned and left without my parents. My Angel saved me from the Mad Man, but now, I must somehow live with the memory.

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