"The thing about Tom Clancy is that you can start reading a Tom Clancy book when the plane takes off in London and you're still reading it when the plane lands in Sydney. And then you can use it to beat snakes to death."
-- Terry Pratchett

When you live a long way from the city lights, late night bus stops can be dangerous places. It was a Saturday night, in the middle of the spring rains, and my little village on the outskirts of Sydney glistened silver-black in the streetlights.

I was alone. Sometimes you're alone in a crowd, and sometimes you feel companionship in an empty house, but I was alone. It was two o'clock in the morning and the only sound for miles and miles was the wind running its fingers through the trees. I was wearing a pair of improbable shoes and a dress that once caused a car crash. I waited for the last bus with an even mixture of steely determination and nervousness.

I happened to be reading The Literary Culture of Nonconformity in Later Seventeenth-Century England, which, at 356 pages, is a formidable hardcover essay. It was a pleasant-enough work to read in the daylight hours. But when the trees are shaking wet branches at the moon, nothing can hold your attention. I heard distant footsteps upon the path, and my whole body stiffened. I tried to read:

"The publication of his three treatises


of 1520, two of them in Ger-


-man, represented an epochal departure


from this form of argument and


of communication: it was an appeal


to the public at large by means of print."

I looked up from the book, and he stared down at me - early twenty-something, scruffy, with dirty jeans and sepia teeth. Encircling his wrist was a faded grey tattoo of a snake, its rough-forked tongue flickering along his radial artery. Everything a young woman is supposed to fear, all wrapped up in muddied denim and a vague stench of humanity. I stared. He stared. Aeons passed. He stared. I stared. His puddle-brown eyes flickered briefly towards my handbag, lying at my feet.

Suddenly I knew, I knew he was going to steal my handbag, and he knew I knew, and he sprang towards my bag as I raised the book above my head and SLAM I brought it down on the back of his head with the weight of generations of frightened girls alone at lonely bus stops across the midnight world.

The book caught him squarely at the base of the skull and knocked him to the ground in a tumble of sun-scorched limbs.

I stared. He stared. I stared.

He apologised, stood up, and walked away.

The best part is, it didn't even damage the book.