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Nathan Curnow
Nathan Curnow is the recent winner of the 2010 Josephine Ulrick Poetry Prize. His latest book The Ghost Poetry Project (Puncher and Wattmann) is based upon his stays at ten haunted sites around the country, including Port Arthur and Norfolk Island, and was named by Cate Kennedy as a ‘Best Read’ of 2009.

An experienced performer, he has toured Australia and New Zealand and been heard widely on ABC, JJJ and Radio NZ. Funded by the Australia Council he is currently writing a new play based upon convict stories and escape attempts and is co-editor of the much-loved literary journal Going Down Swinging.

Thriller (after all these years)
by Nathan Curnow

Ola Ray, the actress who played Michael’s girl in the Thriller video, is finally back home tonight in Sacramento. And she’s not feeling the funk of forty thousand years, she’s just feeling the… forty thousand years. It’s been another long day and now the tv is saying that some MJ nut has stolen Bubbles from his wildlife sanctuary in Florida. There are choppers with searchlights hovering right above it now, media streaming live from the front gates.

After all these years she’s a stay-at-home mum or she would be if she’d won custody of her daughter. There was the Playboy shoot and the cocaine addiction and none of it looked good to the courts. She’s a cameo to her daughter. She’s a timeless cameo. She’s a bit part that never lets up. Between rehab and hosting parties at the Playboy mansion she stays at home thinking about the royalties Michael owed her.

The way she clung to his arm in that movie theatre. And no Michael, it was not just a movie. ’Cause now there’s prisoners dancing to Thriller in the Phillipines, but no one’s trying to recreate her walk.

She’s thinking about the price of it—her turn, her scream. The B grade of an A grade video. She got dumped in a graveyard, just like Bubbles in the end. The chimp flipped out and started biting people.

And then Michael saw a sight that almost… well something did stop his heart, after thrilling us more than any ghost would ever dare try. So he’s dead now and immortal, which is to say he’s undead. But there are royalties, she deserves them. He’s somewhere now with his zombie pals, they’re walking in their masquerade. He’s at the front, he’s moving sharper. He invented the masquerade, the whacko lived it for too many years.

The tv won’t let up on that Bubbles story. They’re showing the chimp in his Neverland days, at Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding in his matching military suit. She wonders what happened to Ben… that rat.

She’s got a Colt .22. She snorts a line from the coffee table. She feels the cold hand and wonders if she’ll ever see the sun. She closes her eyes and hopes that this is just imagination but there’s a banging in the kitchen and in her head.

She has a killer, chiller, thriller… headache… here tonight.

No one ever wanted a taste of her brains. Producers just kept asking for sex. Bubbles was the chimp, Ben was the rat. Wasn’t she just as innocent back then?

Still Vincent keeps laughing his evil laugh. He’s laughing long and loud. But she’s not running anymore, she can’t run forever, she’s fighting for her life now, she’s biting back. Whether they break in through the windows or come up through the floor, whether they close in to seal her doom. She has just got back from the longest roadtrip. She’s driven from Florida to Sacramento.

But Bubbles won’t shut up now. He’s banging pots in the kitchen. The chimp is ripping off his nappy again. She throws him bananas between calling her daughter but her daughter’s changed the number on her dial.

And suddenly they’re showing her face on tv. They’re playing Thriller over and over, and she’s wants a dollar for it, damn it. She wants to hear her daughter’s voice. She wants a chance to do something with her life.

The price, the price, she’s thinking about the price. How much would anyone pay for Bubbles these days? And how much will the pay when she puts the gun to his head?

The whole idea was dumb from the start.

She has got to think. The first chopper flies over. Bubbles starts flashing his teeth. The jaws of the alien are clapping together, that’s when the searchlights hit the house.

She pokes her head out the blinds—police, camera crews, reporters trawling through her car, her trash. They’re swarming in now like something evil lurking, like no one’s gonna save ya. It’s close to midnight.

That’s when the hostage freaks out, Bubbles just goes nuts. There are so many choppers and lights. She loads the Colt .22 and hides it behind her back. She has a kind voice. She puts it on.

Bubbles, you know I like you don’t you? And I hope you like me the way I like you.

Then the chimp just stops, for a brief impossible second, as if to say—it’s alright Ola Ray and cut the crap. He’s looking directly at her now like he can see her through some jungle, a jungle of Neverland Ranch amusement rides.

He raises his arms and everything goes quiet. Out of nowhere, there’s this desperate connection. He walks toward her like a child that’s just been found. She has a lap, it’s a nest and he climbs in. And it’s all she ever wanted, just a chance to hold her, to see her before it all turned to shit. Now Bubbles understands her the way a daughter might. She has a lap and it’s good for something.

Then Ola Ray bursts into tears ’cause it’s a messed up world. ’Cause she’s got the gun behind her back and she’s got to use it. She’s got to go and there and she’s got to put it to his head. There are royalties, she still deserves them.

She picks Bubbles up and he helps her at the front door by turning the handle with his foot. He clings tight and takes a long deep breath, as if to say—now is the time, now is the time Ola Ray, for you and I to cuddle close together.

Published inThe Diamond & the Thief - June 10