Unimelb Field Guide

The Creature With No Shape and Speech

23 August 2017

At the Union House Info Desk you can rent a locker – $60 a semester or $100 for a full year – and although the person in the purple shirt will explain this, they won’t tell you about the creature that lives in the empty ones.  You can tell which ones are empty because they are closed with cable ties instead of padlocks. There are several on the ground floor, near the microwaves and student lounge, and they are battered and the paint is chipped. There are more in the basement. In the Union House basement, there is a locker room with low ceilings, charcoal carpet, and some plastic chairs and fold-out tables where students sit to eat sushi.

All the lockers here are metal, but mismatched. Some are square and some are long, some are on wheels, some blue, some cream, and some are covered in fingerprints or Sellotape. The creature itself is formless. It expands (or contracts) to fit the locker it is inside. It pours itself between them. For a while, it lived in somebody’s briefcase, but it likes the lockers better because they are darker, tighter, like lungs (or throats) with the breath pressed out.

The lockers look a little wild, when they are filled with creature. They rattle, or become shaky, like they are about to shatter into clumps of loose screws and scrap metal. This means you can tell which one the creature is inhabiting, but if you cut the cable tie and open it, you will only find only a biro, or a wrapper, lighter, bobby pin, or other small, stray object that the creature has slipped into because it would rather appear as an object, than as itself.

It lived in the briefcase for three months, in 1930. It was a brown, leather briefcase with concealed pockets, strong stitching, buckles, straps, a brass lock. On the bottom, it said ‘H Holt’ in white pen. Before, this the creature had lived in a cupboard at Queen’s College, but a student there had found it and let it live with his files until he finished his Bachelor of Laws. He took it to his lectures, and to exams, and talked to it. They were friends.

But later, in ’67, while inhabiting a writing desk, the creature came across a newspaper with the student’s face on the front, because he’d gone missing while swimming (and whilst Prime Minister). The creature blamed itself. Now it is convinced that it is made of bad-luck, and it has vowed not to have friends in case, when it thinks of them, it coats them in it.

If you own a locker in the basement, you could try speaking to it? You could ask it, ‘Are you okay? Aren’t you cold without a body?’, and it probably won’t reply, but it is cold. It is vitally, and viscerally, cold. So cold that the air inside its locker tastes like tin, or like the air in an elevator that has jarred between floors when you realise there is no help button, wireless, or reception, and you begin to doubt if there is even a building – behind the doors – to get back to.

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