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Striking Back from Down Under
cover design © 2004 Ardy M. Scott.


Story Excerpt


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Soft Targets


The bent old lady nervously looks around in the leprous light of the streetlamp and trundles her wheelie-frame to the Automatic Teller Machine. Again she glances over her shoulder, then lifts the lid of the basket attached to her walking aid, revealing an old handbag. She reaches in for her purse.

"Hello, Granny," a cocky young male voice says behind her.

She lets the lid go and slowly stands, as erect as she is able. Three scruffy teenagers crowd her. Their eyes are hidden in the darkness, but their bodies signal menace...


She just couldn't close the big suitcase, and there was still such a pile to be packed into the other one! With a sigh she removed a dress, but still no go.

She sat on the lid, but one osteoporotic old lady made no difference. Drat. I need help, she thought. She pulled herself upright and pushed her wheelie-frame out the door. This was a boon for her mobility, with a large carry basket doubling as a seat.

She knocked on the door at No 5.

"Oh Maude, how nice, come in, come in," Ronnie boomed. Leaving the frame outside, she entered his domain. Everything was as tidy in the bed-sitter as only an ex-Warrant Officer Class 1 can make it. Army photos shared the walls with prizes won in his clay-pigeon-shooting days. And there he was striding from the tiny kitchen. Big, solid, his moustache bristling, he smiled down at her. "How'd you know I've just put on the kettle?" he asked.

"Lovely! But then I must return to packing. I was hoping you'd sit on my suitcase lid."

They both laughed as he patted his protruding belly. "I reckon my weight should do it."

The kettle called, and he hurried back into the kitchen. He returned in seconds with two steaming cups and a plate of biscuits.

"So, ready to go?" he asked as they sat down.

"No! I'm staying for a month, it's a lot of packing."

"Well, it's not every day baby daughter turns fifty. Well done!"

Again they laughed, then swapped stories about great-grandchildren. At last Ronnie accompanied Maude back to the end of the row of units and sat on the lid of the suitcase for her.

"Now, call me again if you want help," he said as he left.

He's wonderfully fit for seventy-eight, and such a good friend, Maude thought, fondly watching his solid back.


At last, everything's packed... I hope! Maude stretched tired old arms, then decided to have a bite to eat. I'd also better set up breakfast. After all, the taxi was booked for 6:30 a.m. As she turned towards the kitchen, she noticed that it had turned dark outside.

Then she thought: The taxi driver will need money. She checked her purse: about eight dollars. Nowhere near enough, even with the pensioner discount.

I'll borrow a bit from Ronnie. Otherwise it's to the hole in the wall. She shuddered at the thought of braving the main street at night. The young hoods called her and her kind 'soft targets'.

She had most of her money with the Credit Society down the road, but kept a bit for emergencies at the Bank. So, she set off behind her wheelie-frame.

Ronnie's windows were dark. The bluish light on the pole outside shone on the blank faces of his white curtains. As always when he was in bed, the top of the front window was open an inch.

Into bed with the chickens, as usual, she thought, disappointed. A year ago, Ronnie had actually proposed to her -- preposterous, to a seventy-five-year-old! -- but the difference in sleep patterns was the main reason she'd said 'no'. She rarely went to sleep before eleven. Anyway, it would have been discourteous to disturb him, just because she hadn't thought ahead.


The main street looks alien at night. Far from each other, occasional parked cars sleep by the gutter, still and quiet. The widely spaced streetlights cast yellow, funereal pools of light, deepening the shadows between them. Lights also glimmer from shop windows, through stout security steel mesh, reminding her of the predators about. One of their joys is to break shop windows. Another is to harass helpless prey. Like me.

She'd love to stop for a rest, sit down on the lid of the basket for a minute, but daren't take the time. The sooner she is back home the better.

Slowly, she pushes the wheelie-frame up the slight hill, puffing from exertion, past the ghosts of shops, into the next patch of yellow light, then through it into darkness, and at last here is the bank with its teller machines. 040223 she thinks, her birth-date, which is her PIN number. Fearfully she looks around, once, twice, but all seems still. She stops, and opens the basket to get her card.

And here they are, the human offal who prey on the helpless. She has long ago planned a strategy for this situation, but she is terrified now. She feels a warm wetness between her legs as fear opens her bladder, but she schools her face, her body, her breathing, like long ago, on stage.

There are three of them. She smells their unwashed bodies, and the unpleasant odor that comes from the skin of heavy smokers.

The tallest speaks again, "Withdrawing a little dough?"

She is surprised at how calm she can make her voice. "My daughter in Sydney has died, I'm flying to her funeral tomorrow." Fear can be misread as upset due to grief. "I need money for the trip."

"I'm so sorry!" The spokesman's sarcasm is scathing. "A little donation to us, and you can go."

She doesn't believe for a moment that she'll escape without violence, but time is life. "I'm sorry, a little is all I've got. I've got oh, about $75, and the machine only gives $20 and $50 notes."

"If you're lying, old duck, I'll cut you to bits," the red-headed one growls. Suddenly, he holds a knife in his hand.

"Well, I'll withdraw $60, and you can look at the docket. It lists the amount remaining. $20 for each of you?"

The streetlight glints off the bare scalp of the fattish one. "Go for it, Granny," he tells her.

"I just have to sit for a moment," she says, flopping down onto the lid of the basket. "You boys have given me a nasty shock. I'd love a joint!"

All three laugh in surprise. "A joint?" the tall one asks.

She looks around furtively, and lies, "I've got three marijuana plants in my back garden. Oh, well hidden! And some nice cured leaves inside. Tell you what, it's a far better painkiller than the doctor's."

"Sounds interesting," the fattish skinhead says.

Maude stands, gets her card and goes to the machine. "Hey, when we're finished here, you can come to my place and pick all the leaves you want. And we can share a joint inside." She pushes buttons by the dim green light of the machine. It whirrs, returns her card, then three red notes.

The tall boy snatches them, passes one to each of his mates.

The machine whirrs again, spitting out the docket. Maude gives it to the redhead. "There!"

He pulls a tiny torch from a pocket and studies the docket before screwing it up.

"I live in the units in Donald Road. Only five minutes for you, but I'm afraid I can only walk slowly," she explains apologetically.

The four of them go at her painful pace. "What are your names?" she asks, sounding friendly.

"I'm Dave," the tall one answers. "He's Rusty," that's the redhead of course, "he's Monk."

"I'm Maude," she says.

"Sit on your thing, I'll push you," Dave offers.

That doesn't suit Maude's plans at all. She wants to seem exhausted when reaching home. "Oh no. I'm in constant pain, arthritis you know. That'd be agony," she lies.

"I'd never have believed it, a Granny on dope!" Rusty marvels. He has put his knife away.

Maude manages a laugh. "Oh, that's not all! I go to one doctor after another, and they prescribe nice stuff for me, amphetamines, oh, lots of stuff, and I pay for it at pensioner rates. I've got a cupboard-full of little pills that'll send you spinning."

"The druggie Granny of Donald Street." Monk laughs.

Maude has a momentary vision of the three yobbos inside her tiny flat, breaking up the remains of her precious furniture, and sees her still body in a corner, unconscious or worse. She shudders, but fortunately they are between streetlights, the boys don't notice. She forces herself back into role. "I just have to stop at the next light," she gasps. Actually, with all the adrenaline coursing through her body, she feels ready to run. But she struggles to the light and sits, chatting.

They are off again at the same sluggish pace. They reach Donald Street and turn into the entrance to the units. The row of blue lights illuminates closed doors, black lawn. Most of the windows are dark, only a few have a golden glow.

"You shout and I'll kill you," Monk whispers, his tobacco breath enveloping Maude.

"Monk! I thought we were pals," she answers with a soft wail, and he backs off.

She makes her walk even more painful and labored, then flops onto the seat of her wheelie-frame, right under Ronnie's window.

"C'mon, it can't be far," Dave urges.

"Oh, it's my heart!" she explains, clutching her thin chest. "Monk gave me a shock, when I thought everything was all right. Tell me, boys, do you often harass old ladies?"

Dave laughs, coarsely. "Only when we find one stupid enough to go out after dark."

"Well, I figured kindred sprits don't hurt each other," she answers gaily. "Anyway, boys, my unit's the last one in this row. There's an alley beyond it, you go there to get to my garden. When you're inside, you'll find three big tubs behind the gate, with bushy plants. Rusty, you can use your little torch. Look behind those bushes. That's where my marijuana plants are. I'll catch up with you."

Rusty and Monk are off at a run, but Dave stays by her. "I'll walk with you," he says.

Maude is intensely disappointed and feels a new stab of fear. Somehow, she finds the strength to smile up at him, and manages a convincing, "That's nice!" She shuffles along, as slowly as she can.

Obviously reassured, Dave speeds up.

The other two are at her front door, then beyond it.

Suddenly, there is an immensely loud Sergeant-Major bellow, "HALT!"

Ronnie steps out from the alley, cradling his double-barreled shotgun, the one that won all those prizes. He's in pajamas and slippers, but is nevertheless an imposing figure. His moustache almost glows in the bluish light.

The two boys come to a sudden stop and back up. Dave turns with a snarl, but Ronnie shouts, "One step and I'll shoot your leg off!"

"He can do it too," Maude tells him calmly. "He could shoot off your little finger without touching the rest of you."

Doors are open, gray heads poking out.

"Maureen, can you please ring the police?" Maude asks the nearest.

"It's all right, I already have," Henry announces.

"You three, lie on the ground," Ronnie commands.

"Or what, old fart?" Dave answers defiantly, but Maude notices that he is keeping very still. "Shoot us and you go to jail too."

"Look son. I'm seventy-eight. I shoot you and in court I say you were attacking me. I have nineteen witnesses who'll swear I'm telling the truth. Can you imagine any jury that'll convict me?" He gently waves the shotgun.

The three hoods lie on the ground, and a car can be heard in the distance.


After the police have taken them away, Ronnie asks, "Maude, you with drugs?"

She laughs. "You know I used to be an actress. But were you really willing to shoot them?"

"I've prepared for such an eventuality ages ago," he explains. "Not lead, saltpeter. Stings for weeks! I may be old, but I'm not soft in the head yet!"


The End



Table of Contents

Game Planet - Young Tigel's father bought him a magnificent 18th birthday present: an hour on Game Planet. He chose a young woman as his Pawn, but got more than he'd expected...

"Cruelty and Compassion" - The blonde was so scornful about the cripple in the wheelchair, but he had his own resources for revenge.

"A Chinese Joke" - Trevor has saved Charlie Chu from a gang bashing, then fell in love with Charlie’s sister Yvonne. But can the Chu family overcome prejudice against a ‘foreigner’?

"Thank You, J. S. Bach" - The little housewife is helpless against the ravager. But is she as powerless as she seems?

"The Full Answer" - Fleeing in panic, running to stay alive. Death chases a boy in a block of Housing Commission flats.

"My Amanda" - This is a story of love between a young Nepalese boy and the Australian nurse.

"Let the Punishment Fit the Crime" - Tim O’Liam was the best tree faller in all of Queensland — until, following orders, he tried to hustle an odd little protestor off the logging site.

"Rotten Apple" - A man awakens in the deadly darkness of a cave. He doesn’t know how he got there, or why...

"The Bigger They Are…" - Sherry has been arrested for the brutal murder of her mother-in-law. Can her friend Cindy save her?

"Portrait of a Firebug" - Why would anyone start a terrible bushfire?

"Takeover Bid" - The invader from outer space promised a lot of pleasure, but it made the mistake of choosing Cynthia.

"What’s in a Name?" - Detective Sergeant Ted Poynter had deduced how the man must have died. But, what to do about it?

"The Making of a Champion" - It was lucky for the village that David happened to be passing through. For the slavers struck that night.

"Keeping an Open Mind" - As a child, Tom Grant had learnt to deal with bullying. But the effects caught up with him thirty years later.

"Guilty Until Proven Innocent" - When Hilary Hart’s boss Stan is murdered, everything points to her as the killer. No-one believes in her but Stan’s charismatic son.

"The Scarlet Pimple Gives a Nudge" - At thirteen years of age, Lindy is aiming high. She wants to become a world-famous writer. When the school is hit by a nasty crime, she uses the skills she developed to set the police right.

"Soft Targets" - The local lowlife refers to the old people as ‘soft targets’. But Maude has a few resources they hadn’t anticipated.

"Fishing Expedition" - The only difference between rape and seduction is salesmanship. And Will is an artist...

"A Perfect Crime" - Jimmy was small for his age, and wore glasses. And yet, he swore to kill Susie’s stepfather.

"Another Kind of Poetry" - There is no point to a romance when one person is filled with poetry, while the other is a practical sort... is there?

"The Takamaka Freedom Fighters" - Mr. Billson knew he was doing the right thing, battery farming chickens, but that nasty Mrs Jones wouldn't listen to reason.

"First Day at School" - She was a slave girl in a factory, and saw her best friend die.


Notes: A common theme runs though this otherwise very varied bouquet of short stories: a sympathy for the victim. Contemporary crime, science fiction, fantasy, historical adventure, all of them can be found here. A kaleidoscope of villains and heroes follow each other, waiting to entertain you.

Mrs Jones leads her Takamaka Freedom Fighters to rescue thousands of prisoners from the ‘Happy Hen Poultry Farm’; an artist imprisoned in a twisted body finds a unique form of revenge when the beautiful blonde treats him with scorn; and Cynthia saves the Earth from invasion by an organism that wants to give pleasure to every human being.

This book was a finalist in the 'anthologies' category of the EPPIE 2001 Awards.

Bob Rich is an Australian, and many of his stories are colored by this unique and fascinating land. In another place, Cecil Tripp might manufacture bombs. Down Under, he lights a bushfire. Only in Australia could Tim O’Liam be punished in just the way described in ‘Let the Punishment Fit the Crime’. And Sarah and Andrew find out about their different world-views in the beautiful Australian bush.

Other stories could be set anyplace where one person preys upon another. The difference from the norm is that, in these stories, the victims show how to strike back, how the powerful and arrogant can be made to lose. Having been on the receiving end himself, Bob’s sympathies are always with the victim.


"Striking Back from Down Under" Copyright © 1999-2003. Dr. Bob Rich. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.




Author Bio

Bob Rich is a multiple award-winning Australian writer, mudsmith and psychologist. He has done enough different things to fill a couple of life-times, but is too busy to worry about it.

Since 1972, his main preoccupation has been to try and preserve a future for coming generations. The trouble is, he doesn't believe in salesmanship, the missionary spirit. This approach is part of the problem, so mustn't be part of the solution. So, he has lived a low-impact lifestyle for twenty years. When things go bad, he can at least say, 'It wasn't my fault!'

Because of their commitment to a sustainable lifestyle, Bob and his wife Jolanda decided to live on as little money as possible. They have successfully raised three wonderful children, while way below the official 'poverty line,' and they consider themselves to live better than Royalty. If this seems crazy to you, read Bob's essay on the subject.

Bob is cursed with a sense of humor that gets him in trouble all the time, creativity that makes it impossible for anything he does to fit into categories, and an intense empathy for other people, even if they are very different from him. This is his main tool in two very different endeavors: psychological counseling and writing.

He welcomes contact from readers of his books. Email him at

TTB title: Striking Back from Down Under

Author web site.






This isn't the first book I've read by the author, so I had some idea of what to expect. Not that it really matters, except that I went into this one expecting only the best. I was not disappointed. It's obvious why this was an Eppie 2001 finalist, though it's not so obvious why it didn't win.

Dr. Rich is a master storyteller, and a master of the short story. So much in so few words. This book is no exception. I suspect we've all had too much exposure to what the short story can be at its worst. Striking Back From Down Under will remind you of what the short story can be at its best.

As a short story author myself, I'm aware of the challenges of putting together an anthology. I like to start strong, and I like to finish strong. In between, I want no more than one weak story in a row. It's mighty easy for the author of an anthology to slip in a few lame stories just to increase the word count, and because he/she knows that otherwise they'll never see the light of day. I'm guilty of that myself, I confess. Bob Rich does not have this problem. All his stories are strong, powerful, moving, and whatever else you may want in a short story.

Dr. Rich is a psychologist by trade, one who prides himself on being able to see the world "Through Other Eyes" (to quote the title of another anthology he's published), and rightfully so. In this collection of twenty-two stories, he tells first-person stories with such strikingly realistic narrative voices that you can only marvel at his ability...

Reviewed by Michael Larocca, author of Vigilante Justice.

A young woman under attack hears a voice in her mind telling her how to save herself. She doesn't know it, but someone from an alien planet has taken charge of her.

A housewife is violently assaulted by a friend. The villain thinks he's won, but he's wrong.

A teacher and her students confront a farmer who is abusing the chickens in his care. The farmer is in for a surprise.

These themes, and the others in this short story collection, deal in different ways with victims, their attackers, and the quest for justice.

Writing in several genres, Dr. Bob Rich uses various methods to bring down the evil-doers. Mystical powers, physical prowess, brains and courage all come into play. In the wonderful story "Cruelty and Compassion" a young man with cerebral palsy uses a talent for painting as a weapon, and he succeeds beyond his own hopes. A little girl in "The Scarlet Pimple Gives a Nudge" relies on anonymity to help vindicate a friend. The martial arts prove useful in "A Chinese Joke." As for the strange old man in green who appears in the midst of a group of tree fellers in "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime," his method of dealing with the perpetrators is ingenious and totally satisfying.

Justice is almost always achieved in these tales, but it often comes at a high price. "Rotten Apple" shows that doing right can involve heartbreak.

"Takeover Bid" portrays a woman willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice. "A Perfect Crime" makes it clear that revenge does not necessarily stay sweet.

All twenty-two stories in Striking Back From Down Under are presented in a straightforward manner, sometimes brutal, sometimes stingingly witty, sometimes gently humorous. The writing is economical, the characters vivid, the approach sympathetic but unsentimental. Dr. Rich shows us victims who become villains, villains who believe they are heroes, and heroes whose greatest achievement is helping other people learn to respect themselves.

These stories are thought-provoking but not ambiguous. They bring us inspiration, grief and joy....

Reviewed by Ilene Sirocca for The Running River Reader(tm). Copyright 2000 by Ilene Sirocca.

In the 22 stories in "Striking Back From Down Under", Dr. Bob Rich introduces us to a host of richly drawn characters illustrating the concepts of justice or revenge. The author delves into the lives of his characters, studying motivation, personality and perhaps causal events that contribute to the actions of the people in his tales. Laced with humor, irony and introspe ction, these tales are sometimes sad or tragic, sometimes humorous, satisfying or disturbing, but they are always well-written.

In "Takeover Bid", we see the darker side of contact with aliens. A woman, thrilled at first to have her youth restored, soon discovers that this gift comes with horible consequences.

"The Last Day of School" is a heart-rending look at modern slavery, told through the eyes of a child.

Will, the self-centered villian in "Fishing Expedition", gets his just desserts, but isn't too terribly upset about it. Bob remarks that Will is his favorite villian; charming, talented and intelligent, he is without a sense of morality. He makes a great character.

Most of the stories carry a footnote by Dr. Rich that discusses the tale. These serve to enrich the reading experience greatly. Hats off to Dr. Bob Rich for an entertaining, thoughtful look at life. "

Reviewed by Susie Hawes for Coffee Cramp Magazine.

This collection of perspicacious stories by Bob Rich is varied and interesting. Rich engages the reader with action, adding hints of atmosphere - of time and place - that intrigue rather than burden. Detail is sparse, but meaning is quickly telegraphed by means of short punchy sentences.

Each of the stories, without exception, has a premise whose stem lies either in mythology, history, personal experience or psychology. Each is a showcase of what is possible in the vast arena of the human condition. In one instance, it is a detective sergeant faced with a victim whose name causes him to make an emotional - albeit irregular - decision. In another, it is a teacher working in primitive conditions, whose pupils force out the memory of a torutured childhood in slavery. In yet another, a knight called David, whose horse is bestowed with quasi-human powers, affects a whole village with an act of bravery that borders on the miraculous.

No reader can deny these stories are memorable. They are reminders of life's scope and limits, rather than bearers of some new creed, and serve to nudge the observer into acceptance that there is more to living than one can perceive with our poor five senses.

Reviewed by Rosanne Dingli, author of Death in Malta.




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