Fiction | Issue 1 (April 2023)

Empire and Conquest

Victoria Leigh Bennett

We decided to arrive by plane (that was the word, plane, a word we had learned early on). This seemed the least likely to arouse the suspicions of the natives, for although some were simple land-dwellers not near any aquatic experience, unlike some of us they were familiar with planes. Those of us who required a vegetarian diet were a bit fussed, because closer to water we’d have had more growth for our needs (we’d learned that in at least one English vernacular, this was known casually as “more bang for our buck”). But as the more carnivorous and even omnivorous among us together outnumbered the vegetarians two to one, it was a thing pretty much decided. We could forage for food in the storage facilities in-country, if we could once obtain the entry codes or open the locks (this would present some difficulty, but we’d come prepared for difficulties).

All was a matter dim to me, as I am now relying less on my own memory than on the reports of others. I was still sucking at my mother’s teat and clinging nervously to her when we landed, so my awareness of events was conditioned by my own lack of development in society. But the trip was necessary. There were some among us, whom we had learned resembled figures known to the natives as “devils,” and as they were the descendants of some among us who had even practiced cannibalism against others of us smaller in size and more helpless, our move was very necessary. We needed a place to spread out and find shelter, food, and space for ourselves in all our variety, the source of all colonization that had ever been; though we were hoping to coexist with the natives, who seemed quite primitive, we also had plans to guide their development along in ways beneficial to us, perhaps, more than to them. We wanted to be benevolent overlords, but overlords we must be, for our own safety.

It was when we were flying close to the ground, not yet in sight of a runway, which was still a mile or two off, that we sighted something below us which outraged us against the native population and determined our landing roughly in a grassy field near a main structure, with bumps and small hillocks rocking and tilting our craft. It was that we saw, and clearly recognized the imprisonment, in cages of varying sizes, near each other but all outside in the weather with no indoor facilities visible, of several different members of our aligned groups. And they looked up stupidly at us as we bumped along the field, taking alarm at first, then as we slowed to a stop, resuming whatever empty prisoner activities they’d been pursuing.

Tasmin, our pilot, whose strong forearms had guided our craft so successfully to this secondary destination, came out of the cabin in a huff and told us that we were to prepare for immediate confrontation. My mother tucked me into the carrying pouch a little deeper; she told me later this was the best thing she could think of.

Just as our huge and assorted group of individuals was preparing to disembark and assume battle formation, however, we saw a member of the native population running up to the plane’s steps, which Tasmin had let down. He had a firearm in his hand but borne loosely and in a careless though unthreatening manner. We heard him making odd sounds, apparently of greeting, and as my mother and the others adjusted their ears to the language, this was what they heard, and I tell it as she told it to me:

“Harroo, there, mates! Welcome to Australia! Do ye feel a bit parched? Would ye like a Foster’s?” And without pausing longer, he came vaulting up the plane’s steps and into the main cabin. That was when the “harrooing” stopped, as he looked around, taking in our great variety and registering total bewilderment; he paused, and called out more timorously than seemed his natural wont, “Where are you kippin’ up, me lads, and why are you transportin’ a whole bevy of different sorts of marsupials here, uncaged? You know we can’t safely unload them that ilk.”

I was told that it was then that Tasmin stepped up behind him and bit his head clean off. A bit gory, from my point of view as a vegetarian, but probably necessary. And that, my child, is how we came to be here.

Victoria Leigh Bennett, Ph.D., English/Theater. In-Print: Poems from the Northeast, 2021; OOP but on website: Scenes de la Vie Americaine (en Paris), 2022. From Fall 2021-Summer 2023, has published 39 times in: @HooghlyReview, @FeversOf, @press_roi, @LovesDiscretion, @TheUnconCourier, & 7 others. Coming: Oct: Fiction in @HooghlyReview, Nov: 4 poems, @Dreich25197318. 

Twitter: @vicklbennett & @PoetsonThursday