Thousands of years ago, people would have called me a healer and seer; my insights and wisdom respected. Now, instead of cauterising the wounds of the human soul, I’m writing this from prison.
Through daily meditation and a diet of raw vegetables, fruit and nuts, I have managed to maintain compassion and clarity of thought. I understand how people might feel intimidated by my profound awareness of the workings of the cosmos. Too much information can be overwhelming. And for the unenlightened, some revelations are terrifying.
Last month I was convicted of destruction of property (arson) and attempted murder of a real estate agent. The truth is, I was undertaking a civic duty.
May I add, I didn’t know the real estate agent was squatting in the house when I set it on fire. But in hindsight I should have known. No one would have listed Blacksmith Cottage unless they were desperate.
The prison psychologist gave me two options: either I take medication or I write down my story.
I chose truth. Because I am innocent. A good person. A slayer of lies and a cleanser of corruptions.
Six months ago, I undertook some freelance work researching heritage houses on the Lower North Shore. Among the library archives, I came across a faded photograph of a single-fronted sandstone dwelling in one of the area’s oldest streets. In the photo, the front veranda sits low and brooding over the two dark windows set like eyes, the arched front door shaped in a grimace, as if appalled by the depravities taking place within its walls. Gazing at that picture, I had a sudden attack of déjà vu. I felt as though I knew the place. Beguiled, I dug deeper into its history. Here I unravelled the lies and distortions of memory, the partial truths that obscure reality. I learned about quantum physics, about knots in spacetime and the science behind those tangled forces that propagate human vice. I found my life’s mission. I discovered who I truly was. And in doing so, unearthed the cleansing and redemptive power of fire. I was so transfixed, my writing deadline passed and I lost my contract.
And the rest, as you will see from the stories below, is history.
Blacksmith Cottage. The First Settlers 1788 -1823
On the land on which Blacksmith cottage was built, a colonist, after catching an escaped convict having carnal relations with a kangaroo, shot them both and set fire to their corpses.
Twenty years later, blacksmith Thomas Hedgewood built his cottage on the tainted land. Famous for his skill with the forge, he created ornately crafted gates, fences and balcony railings for affluent settlers. He was working on an elaborate wrought-iron balcony for the Governor General’s Victorian Italianate mansion when he met his downfall in the shape of his (impotent) client’s ravishing wife.
Neighbours heard their adulterous chorales – their frenzied grappling, the pop and pluck of corsets and breeches buttons, the urgent gasps, her cries of ecstasy and his moans of pleasure – and gossiped.
On the day the Governor General turned up at the cottage and confronted Thomas, he had just pulled some red-hot iron from his kiln – an arrow of vertical railing for the Governor General’s balcony. When his rival reached into the pocket of his coat, Thomas, thinking it was a gun, lunged. It was only after he had impaled the Governor General with that piece of his very own balcony that Thomas realized it wasn’t a gun he was pulling from his pocket, but a Bible.
After a period of dereliction, Blacksmith Cottage became a brothel. It boasted belly dancers from Arabia, geishas from the Orient and practitioners of the Karma Sutra from the continent of India.
The cottage’s history – the death and downfall of two decent men seduced by a licentious woman suffering from hysteria of the womb – added an element of spice to the premises. The madam – a savvy and wealthy businesswoman – transformed the cottage into a palace of pleasure, decorating the premises with lavish soft furnishings on which to fornicate, and elaborate costumes with ribbons and corsets and stays that could be noisily torn to reveal the delectable secrets beneath. Men came from the furthest reaches of the colony to enjoy Blacksmith Cottage’s cultural and amorous offerings.
It was here that William Topperwell, a regular client suffering in a loveless (but socially advantageous) marriage, courted a virginal Oriental beauty. For several weeks, Topperwell – a man who considered himself refined, worldly and cultured – enjoyed the anticipation of his impending intercourse. In a tantric effort which would have impressed even a practitioner of the Karma Sutra, he delayed his pleasure, wooing his love interest with bouquets of native flowers, honeycombs and chaste but creeping caresses over her golden flesh.
On the night of consummation, a constable noticed the cottage’s fire-red door askew.
Inside he discovered the madam in the hall dead from a single gunshot to the head. In the adjoining rooms, clients and whores – some still conjoined, had been massacred. Weeping against a wardrobe in one of the back rooms, William Topperwell held the smoking weapon. He had discovered his beloved Oriental beauty was a man.
Federal Minister Adam Goodbreath had a shrewd nose for business. Blacksmith cottage – once a house of sin – was a bargain. He’d heard the man who murdered the whores there several years prior had contracted syphilis from his morally bankrupt wife and was not of sound mind.
This grim past was nothing some sage-burning and Christian piety couldn’t cleanse.
After hiring an exorcist, he moved in with his new wife who, despite difficult childbirths and addiction to laudanum, produced seven children.
When their eldest daughter reached puberty, she transformed into a ravishing beauty with succulent lips and ripe curves. Shunned by his disconsolate, exhausted wife, inflamed by a desire he could neither comprehend nor control, Adam took his daughter to bed. He assured the child this was God’s love.
Trying to mitigate his sins, he became an ecclesiastical tyrant, threatening his family with eternal damnation in the flaming pits of hell and earthly beatings if they strayed from God’s word.
Before Adam Goodbreath’s daughter shot him with the firearm he had vowed to use if she betrayed their silence, she told him she too, loved God.
Victor Headcock used money he inherited from a British maiden aunt to purchase Blacksmith Cottage. It had been council property since the last owner – a nun who had served a jail term for patricide – immolated herself.
After planting fast-growing hedging on the boundaries, he renovated the kitchen and bathroom, dug out and lined the basement, finally installing a secure a metal door at the top of the stairs.
Six months later he kidnapped and imprisoned a woman he had met in a bar in his secret basement lair.
Here, the couple discovered they were as sick as each other. She flagellated him with liquorice straps and seared his flesh with Cuban cigars. In exchange, he tied her up, penetrated her with microwaved carrots, salad tongs and recyclable plastic bottles.
During a session of erotic asphyxiation involving petrol and a plastic bag, Victor’s lover accidentally set him alight.
Broken-hearted she left his charred body in the basement, visiting him every night while upstairs she drowned her sorrows in wine and cannabis. She indulged in orgies, experimented with both men and women, engaging in escalating abuses and depravities yet failing to resurrect her ecstasies with Victor. Eventually, after ingesting increasingly potent cocktails of drugs, she died from a heroin overdose.
Students rented Blacksmith cottage while lawyers wrangled. A criminal investigation revealed that previous owner Victor and his captive were half-brother and sister – both sired by a Romanian fertility doctor.
In the cottage’s front bedroom, physics student Neville Clusterworth built a machine that measured knots in the fabric of spacetime. Its development funded by a Ukrainian pickle magnate, the machine comprised hair from a human female virgin tightly strung between two clamps and tuned to the resonance of b flat. At one end of the hair, sat a bead of mercury, at the other, a stoppered vial containing fermented cabbage. The machine had to be hung from a divining rod at a precise 192° angle for accurate readings. A software program on Neville’s phone transcribed the signals into resonance bands that showed entropic spacetime fluctuations and tangles. Neville’s previous studies into the physiology of the human brain had revealed how these tangled spacetime knots and entopic disturbances affect cognition; inflaming passions and distorting judgment. And Blacksmith cottage was full of them.
Fascinated by his dedication, Neville’s flatmate Ludmilla – an alluring, mature-aged fine arts student who smelled of turpentine and linseed oil – coaxed him into her bed. Afterwards, Neville confessed he wasn’t attracted to women. Deciding Neville needed to have some common sense knocked into him, Ludmilla reported him to the local police for sexual assault.
Before his trial, Neville fled to the Ukraine where the government used his prototype to track down political dissidents and sexual deviants. And it was here that he discovered that fire loosened spacetime’s knots and freed human souls from torment.
Several days after I submitted these stories to my captors, a detective visited.
In the interrogation room, he sat across from me, holding my gaze with his smoke-brown eyes. He was nice-looking but not my type.
I gave him one of my most charming smiles. He smiled tightly back and looked away. I could tell he was shy. I was, after all, at seventy-five years of age, still an attractive woman.
He opened his file, explaining that since my incarceration, several more details had come to light.
He told me there were gaps in my stories.
He told me he had found out I was living in Blacksmith cottage before it was put on the market. I didn’t challenge him. For the final stages of my research, I spent some time there as a tenant. I mitigated those spacetime tangles by lighting scented candles in all the rooms. My thoughts remained clear. My conscience untarnished.
On the other side of the table, he gave me a long, hard stare. He said I had entertained men there. Men who had since vanished.
I arched one of my eyebrows. Remained silent.
The detective’s gaze returned to his file. He mentioned a Serbian roofing contractor missing for five months.
I told him I knew nothing.
When he spoke about the plumber from Fairlight, my blood heated. I explained it was self-defence and that, in addition to having eczema and smelling of sewerage, the plumber behaved in an inappropriate manner, making suggestive comments about plungers and blocked drains. I had slapped his face and he left.
The detective went on to say he considered my narratives ‘unreliable.’
He put it to me that I had changed my name several times over the course of the years, had dyed my hair and used surgery, Botox and collagen fillers to alter my appearance. He claimed that I was in fact, the Ludmilla I mentioned in my last story.
I scoffed and looked at his left hand. No wedding ring. No doubt when he wasn’t accusing vulnerable mature-aged women of making up stories, he was lurking on internet dating sites, indulging in one-night stands.
He leaned back in his chair, put his arms behind his head and gave me that triumphant look men get when they think they have you cornered. Channelling my higher consciousness, I rose above my irritation. His manifest oblivion to the greater workings of the cosmos was pitiful.
It was then, as I inhaled, I smelt stale smoke. I eyed the box straining his shirt pocket and realised he was a smoker. Something flickered into my thoughts. I took a long deep breath and explained how I didn’t expect a simple man like him to fully understand the follies of history and the way in which everything is entangled in this cosmic web of life. I told him that time is not an arrow but a spiral and, in seeking justice now for the evils of the past, I was changing the trajectory of human progress.
He looked at me blankly then pulled a paper from his file. He told me how he had discovered, that after several years as a practicing painter, I’d reinvented myself as a self -published author.
I told him how in art as in life, it was important to take risks.
Yet instead of commenting on my daring and prolific genius, he mentioned all the one-star reviews. He read out one in which the reader said they would rather jump into the mouth of an active volcano than read another of my books.
I replied that that review was clearly written by an uninformed barbarian who wouldn’t know good literature if it fell on them.
He said it was clear from my writings that I was a sexual deviant. I gave him a saucy smile. What can I say? At seventy-five, I still have a great deal of sexual energy.
Right then, an ember of a thought danced through my higher consciousness. I realised that, like Blacksmith Cottage, this interrogation room was filled with thought-corrupting spacetime tangles.
The detective went on to say I had made everything up. That I was a pathological liar who didn’t know where fiction ended and reality began. Again, he called me Ludmilla.
I took a long, deep breath. He was after all, just a simple man who wanted to solve crimes and prove his worth to his peers and superiors.
I explained to him this was science.
I explained to him how I was in regular contact with Neville Clusterworth and was seeking advice on collating and substantiating my research. After he rudely interrupted. saying he’d seen no evidence of our communication on my confiscated laptop, I told him the Ukrainian government – wanting to keep the technology to themselves – had hacked my account and deleted our correspondence.
He looked for a moment, dreadfully confused.
I raised a scolding finger telling him how the unenlightened and unevolved would eventually understand my insights and motivations. I told him I was a hinge on the door of human progress.
He grinned then, revealing a gap between his two front teeth. He mentioned my four dead husbands. The life insurance claims. The house fires. When he mentioned the words ‘black widow,’ and ‘criminally insane,’ all I felt for him was a weary pity.
As he spoke, I noticed the raised outline under his trousers.
Right then, the epiphany ignited into my consciousness. There’s a reason why fire and passion are metaphorically linked. And I knew in that moment what I had to do. Summoning all my energy, I lunged across the table. I reached down, pulled the cigarette lighter from his trouser pocket, flicked it and touched the tiny, cleansing flame against his cheap polyester shirt.