SHORT STORY: The Stomping and the Drill

SHORT STORY: The Stomping and the Drill

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I thought up the first of these stories in February of 2012 while sitting on a couch in my horrible apartment in Brisbane. The apartment was part of an old house, split into five units, each without sound insulation or air-conditioning. I’d been living there for years and it was time for a change. But instead of moving out or getting a better-paying job, I was thinking about flash fiction.

I was in search of a new routine and decided to try writing in the mornings. Despite knowing that all good writers rise early, I was used to writing in the afternoons. The previous year, I had attempted to write a novel in the afternoons, but failed. I would sit at my desk in the spare room after lunch, blasting Pantera's power metal album Far Beyond Driven on the stereo as I frantically worked on the manuscript. It had to be that specific album, as I had found that Vulgar Display of Power just wouldn't do. The writing wouldn't flow without the music, and it had to be loud enough to fill the room.

Thus, the problem I faced was how to blend the old with the new, combining my intuition of what might work with the knowledge of what had previously helped me.

One morning, I decided to tackle the problem head-on. I woke before sunrise, cranked up my stereo, and hit play. As I wrote to the intense grinding blasts of "Strength Beyond Strength" and "Slaughtered," I felt a rush of creative inspiration. In just 25 minutes, I penned the first two stories that I will be sharing on Substack. If not for my noisy upstairs neighbour Brent, I could have written a third.

Brent and his girlfriend Mona had long been one of the worst parts of living in Brisbane. They were worse than the disgusting apartment and worse than my various creative failures with writing. Brent and Mona lived a life that raged on top of me. They ruled over the whole building with an iron will, stamping their feet on the floor (my ceiling) to express all sorts of emotions. When a downstairs neighbour had friends around, they stomped on my ceiling. When Jehovahs Witnesses disturbed a Sunday breakfast, my ceiling paid the price. They stomped when they argued, when they were excited, and when they were sad. They never ever danced or frolicked. They just stomped, and the stomping would never end. It became the time signature of my whole existence and they seemed to live only to provide it.

So it was quite an event when Brent came down to see me that first morning of Pantera and the new writing routine.


I didn’t let it get to me. ‘Look, Brent, I need to concentrate and that music helps me,’ I said. ‘I’m trying to write flash fiction. It’s really difficult. Nobody likes it.’


He couldn’t really hear me because I still had Far Beyond Driven playing. Instead of shouting further, he pushed his way inside the flat and found the stereo, shutting it down with a fast punch. On the way back out he said, ‘If you ever fucking play that music again at this time of the morning, I’ll come down here and

I’ll punch you. You get it? I will punch you and your stereo.’
He was very close to me when he said this and Brent is a lot taller than me. The man squinted constantly, day or night. Combined with his eternally pursed mouth and his bald head, his face looked like three pins pushed into a cushion. Even worse, the skin covering that cushion was impossibly thin, as if stretched to breaking point across his skull. He was a monster of a man.

‘I will fucking punch you,’ he said again, for clarity, and left.

I should have been terrified. Instead, I sat on the couch and felt an incredible sense of accomplishment. Despite all the trouble with Brent, my new routine worked. I had finally gotten some new writing done. I had forged my way into flash fiction. I felt I was onto something.


The second morning I repeated the whole thing.

Fifteen minutes later, Brent stomped on the floor and Mona screamed. Mona was a safety valve of sorts. Brent would, occasionally, send her out to deal with people when he was on the cusp of violence. One weekend, the neighbours in the adjoining house had a party and invited Spanish dancers. Brent sent Mona over first and when that didn’t work, he went back and fractured someone’s leg with a squash racket. We were all spooked by it. He didn’t seem like the squash type.

‘Turn that music off,’ Mona said, on my doorstep. ‘Brent’s pissed.’

I assume that’s what she said. I couldn’t really hear her over the music.

The morning sun peeked through the tree line. ‘I think it’s going to be a nice day,’ I said.

She started to poke in the chest, ‘Turn. That. Music. Down. Mother. Fucker.’

‘Jesus Mona, damn. I’m done anyway,’ and it was true. I had another story finished. It’s flash fiction. It doesn’t take hours to produce.


I was happy. I had no idea what I would do with these stories back then — Substack was still a long way off — but this was of little consequence. The writing life is always its own reward.

With three pieces of flash fiction under my belt, I decided to go out and celebrate. The next morning, I was in no shape for Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven or writing. But on the following Saturday, I resumed my routine and Brent was extremely displeased. He didn't even let the song "I'm Broken" reach its bridge, and even I had to admit that pre-dawn 5:20 AM was a little early for power metal. Brent barged into my apartment without knocking and proceeded to smash my stereo with something solid and heavy. It wasn't until he dragged me away from my writing and showed me the gun that I realized what was happening. Although he didn't point the gun at me, he held it up for me to see. It was a small shotgun with a sawed-off barrel.

‘If I come down here tomorrow Iain, I’m going to shoot you,’ he said. ‘You understand? I really will.’

I understood. I nodded.


He let me go. For a few seconds, we stood there, close together, almost as if we’d hugged.

‘Look. I don’t know what your fucking problem is,’ Brent said, ‘But, no more music. I get…I get angry. And when I’m angry, people get fucked up. That’s what happens. I will fuck you up, Iain. I will shoot you.’

‘Okay,’ I said. ‘I get it. I do.’

He left quickly, but the damage was done. Brent had interrupted my creative flow. After all the drama with the gun, I couldn’t for the life of me remember where I was headed with this one particular sentence.


Things turned pretty bad for me after that. I was afraid that Brent might actually shoot me, and this was a major concern. If something had happened to me, it would have disrupted my writing routine and the progress of my flash fiction career. On top of that, an ex-girlfriend took back her furniture, leaving me with only a mattress, a laptop, and a motorised camp fridge. I felt like everything that had given me comfort and stability was taken away. Losing my routine and my stereo was devastating, and it was impossible to find a suitable replacement. This situation made it extremely difficult for me to achieve my daily word count. It was not a conducive scenario for anyone's creativity or talent. My dreams seemed to be fading.

I stopped leaving the flat.

Friends stopped messaging.

My parents gave up. They were incredibly upset by the motorised camp fridge. They wanted it back. They had a trip planned.

To survive, I took a job packing shelves in the local supermarket. In my downtime, I spent weeks lying around the apartment with a wine cask. All the while, Brent and Mona kept up with their stomping. My downfall bore no relation to their stomping. They went on stomping and stomping, and I sank further into the carpet downstairs, as if pummelled by them. My depression dragged on right through winter, and back out again into December,  churning away until the day Brent and Mona’s apartment fell eerily quiet. 


At first, I assumed they were dead. During my darker days, I had often indulged in vivid daydreams of their demise. I had visions of Brent choking the life out of Mona and placing a plastic bag over his own head, or of Brent spraying Mona’s face across one wall before turning the gun on himself. I dreamed of other horrifying ends for them, of home intruders and mail bombs and disease. But none of this carnage would have been a silent process. Even with the plastic bag suicide, Brent would have stomped his feet on the floor as he gasped away, delivering a final crescendo, something to let me know how displeased he was. No, the fact that they disappeared without a sound made no sense at all. It left the whole building buzzing at a weird tenor. It was almost worse.

It was a strange time indeed. A few days later, the Brisbane River flooded, causing havoc throughout the neighbourhood. Although our apartment was spared from the water, we had to sandbag the front doors, secure the windows and bins. The wild weather also led to power outages and closed roads, forcing everyone to take time off work. It was a monotonous mess, and the queue for the bottle shop seemed to stretch longer with each passing day.

It was during one of these dull powerless days, with Brent and Mona still missing, that the radio predicted another bout of rising water. In anticipation of this, I decided to refill a few sagging sandbags. The flood had made us all a little more civic-minded and this was how I found myself doing something very unlike me: digging soil out of the backyard. I was standing out there in the light misting rain, knee-deep in mud, working over the soft ground where the bins normally stood. And there, a few feet down, I came across a sports bag. Inside the bag, I found Brent’s shotgun and sixty-thousand dollars in cash, all piled together in tight cling-wrapped bricks.


A week into the new year, I boarded a plane for Germany. I lived like a king in Berlin for the next six months. It was cheap there, and I had a beautiful apartment and endless time to myself. Best of all, the walls of my new place were solid to protect us from the German winter, so my neighbours made no mention of my early morning broadcasts of Pantera's Far Beyond Driven. It was a golden time, a string of magic days during which I wrote hundreds of stories that rushed out of me as the snow blanketed the Lidl across the street. This was the true beginning of my writing project. All of the stories I'm about to publish here are the product of Berlin, circa 2013.

Although I'm not entirely sure what happened to Brent and Mona, I do know that they eventually came back to Brisbane. Rumour had it that they had gone to Bali. Whatever business venture or personal pleasure they had pursued, I wasn't privy to the details. However, I don't feel too bitter about it all. We both got something out of the situation. Brent and Mona had their vacation, and I got some recompense for enduring their incessant stomping. In the end, it was a fairly balanced exchange.

Unfortunately, Brent didn’t see it that way. Years later, I published my first novel, The Student, and it created a few issues. My debut novel made me visible to all sorts of people. My former landlord wrote angry emails. An ex-bandmate wrote asking after the money I owed. Someone from the University of Queensland chased a completion date for my thesis. And of course, Brent was able to locate me. One day, while in Germany, the phone rang and there he was on the other end.

‘Hello Fuck-face.’

I recognised the voice immediately. It was incredibly strange to hear from him.

‘Brent. I was thinking about you the other day. How’s Mona? How’s Brisbane? Hot, I’m guessing?’

‘I think you have something of mine, don’t you?.’

‘What? Who told you that?’


‘Don’t stomp your feet, Brent. Just don’t. I can hear you doing it. I can hear you doing it through the phone. Stomp, stomp, STOMP, STOMP—’


I put the phone down and contemplated the room.


The Germans were terrible with their endless bureaucracy, dry humour and cured meats, but they really did know how to build an apartment building. They had that part of life figured out.

That afternoon I went to the local Media Markt and bought a copy of Far Beyond Driven on compact disc. I found a wonderful edition of it. It was one of the limited-run they made with the album’s original uncensored artwork. Instead of the usual drill bit grinding into a human skull, the original album cover features the same drill bit burrowing into the spread butt cheeks of some unfortunate. It’s wonderful stuff, a perverse image for a perversely important band. This is the edition I mailed to Brent and Mona with a thank-you card.

I felt I had to do it. I thought they deserved something. A gift. They may not have completely agreed with my actions, but I had to acknowledge them somehow. For it’s an amazing and precious thing, the writing life, and one doesn’t always find a valued patron as I had. What writers do in their work is so fickle and fragile and it can be so easily disturbed. Yet I had succeeded in eluding their disruption. And in the doing, I had made a very reasonable and responsible stab at my creative dreams. I had so much to show for it: a collection of flash fiction and a debut novel that dozens of people had read. All the while Brent and Mona probably toiled away in that terrible uninspiring place from which I escaped. With this in mind, I had to do the right thing by them. I just had to. So I mailed off the CD, with the cover image of the drill bit going down into the stranger’s butthole, and I placed a cold kiss on the envelope before dropping it into the mailbox.



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