Tag Archives: Young Adult

Mud, Cassandra Webb

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The mud sucked at our gumboots, making every step an effort.  Soon effort became pain, but on we trudged. It had rained for three weeks straight, and the first ray of sunshine made us rush to escape the house.

‘Walk backwards, it’s easier,’ my brother said.

I turned to try it.  ‘I bet you it’s not.’

My foot caught in the clay-like mud, and I found myself looking up at the clouds. Clouds shaped like magical mountains, and castles towering over wild cloud kingdoms. Storm clouds. More rain was on its way.

My brother burst with laughter.

‘Shut up, Josh, and give me a hand,’ I growled.

His home-DIY haircut draped down almost to his nose. Haircuts, garbage removal, dog food – everything became DIY in the middle of a six month long flood.  His eyes dazzled with joy underneath the sandy blonde hair. He looked at my filthy hand, shook his head, and laughed harder.

‘Thanks so much.’

‘Any time,’ he replied, but I could barely make out what he was saying through his bubbling laughter.

The first sputter of rain made him stop.

Home was out of view. Our exploration down a dirt road that had become a shallow river, had taken us into the neighbour’s property. No one actually knew where we were.  A rescue was out of the question. If we happened upon wild dogs, we’d be in trouble.

‘Hey look, what’s that?’ My brother pointed into the trees.

We were in the middle of unknown acres. It could have been thousands; it could have been tens of thousands. There were bound to be trees and livestock, but not much else. So I kept scraping mud from my butt, and ignored his excited pointing.  What had he seen? A trap door to a secret tunnel system?

The sound of him trying to run in gumboots too big for his twelve-year-old feet, made me look up. Like an emu with turned out knees, he left the dirt-river road and began dodging rabbit holes and saltbushes, making a beeline for something.

The rain began to fall harder. Getting wetter wasn’t my worry, but it was icy cold and I was in shorts and a flanny. Muddy shorts.

‘Wait for me!’ I called.

Hidden by the distant tree line, was something made of wood.  A wall?  A building?  Somewhere warm and dry?  The remains of a long forgotten town? I took off running, ignoring the burning in my own legs.

‘You can’t catch me!’ I shouted over my shoulder.

Heavy drops of rain made the world seem smaller. Just us, a few feet of native brown grass and saltbush, then nothing.  The world was putty for our imaginations, as we entered the cluster of trees. Ours was grazing and cropland, where trees were left to grow in clusters.

‘It’s a house,’ Josh declared.

‘A shack.’ I gave the dilapidated building a wide berth, running around it in search of a door.

‘I’d live in it,’ Josh said.

‘That makes it a pigsty.’

The building was nothing special. Its timber walls were covered in flaking white paint. It sat on wooden blocks, and my hair stood on end as I looked down at the gaping holes between the blocks. Not that I was worried about something living underneath the house; I was worried that the rotting house itself might crash to the ground. I didn’t want to be near it if it did. Such things only ever happened when someone was around to see them: the tree in the woods, the abandoned house in the paddock – same thing. And what if someone was inside the building?  The door could fly open at any moment, and a great big guy with an axe could come out swinging!

For every house on our forty-five kilometre road, there was a collection of buildings exactly like this: shearer’s quarters, cook’s quarters, farmhand’s quarters.  This little building was out in the middle of nowhere.

I scanned our surroundings. At least I assumed we were in the middle of nowhere; truth was, I couldn’t see that much, so I couldn’t be sure. As far as I knew, our nearest neighbour was somewhere beyond the wheat silo in the next town. What was this place? A secret hideout for bushrangers? Why was it here?

Josh gave the door a good shove, and disappeared inside. I rushed across the waterlogged grass to follow him. As I bounded inside, the rain seemed to triple in intensity. The noise of gentle drops sounded harsh under the corrugated iron roof.

The house was empty. Not a treasure box, mysterious stack of books, or even an old bed to sit on. Our mud-caked gumboots left brown cloud-shaped marks on the dusty floorboards. We walked about the room, running our fingers over the weathered timber. Maybe something was carved into it. Josh tested the floorboards, jumping and bouncing around; maybe underneath a loose floorboard we’d find our treasure?

The noise began as a distant ‘whooshing.’ By the time I noticed it, it had become more of a rumbling.

My heart pounded. Had we been caught? We were on our neighbour’s property, far from where we said we were going, far from where we could easily be found if mum or dad were looking for us. We were exactly where a serial killer would love to find us…

Shaking with adrenalin, I ran out into the drizzling rain. I didn’t even notice its icy drops. Josh ran in my shadow.

We stopped, and searched our surroundings. Trees, trees, saltbush, somewhere off behind us was the road-river, right in front of us was a rain-shrouded mound of blue metal for a train track that was out of view.

The train rushed passed us. Horn blaring at two mud-caked kids in the middle of a flood.

In our only escape, our imaginations.

 

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When the World Turned Grey, Lynda A. Calder

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Bringer is a Young Adult Fantasy that begins in the real world and takes Jemima Jennings into the mystical world of Maladria where she meets Lamasuard Ingan and his horse, Amicus. Both of them are searching for something but they will both find more than what they are looking for.

 

When the clouds rolled in and the rain wouldn’t stop, Dad knew there was something wrong with Mum. He insisted the weather was the barometer of Mum’s moods. No one believed him. Not even me. Why should I? He was the pragmatist in our family: the engineer, the scientist. Facts only, not omens of impending doom. That was Mum’s domain: the artist, the writer, the gardener. She was the one who looked to the sky or put her hand to the dirt, and could tell you how your day would go. Anyway, only Dad had dark moods. Mum made them evaporate. She was the bright light.

No, there was nothing wrong with Mum. But what did I know, until that day when Mum finally cracked it.

 

Two more wake-up calls and then I’d get up.

Mum was so predictable. Every morning it was, ‘Jemima, dear, time to get up. Wakey, wakey, you’ll be latey.’ And she did that three times, five minutes apart.

Yes, ten more minutes. I huddled under my covers and took in the smells of cooking bacon wafting from the kitchen.

Stomp, stomp, stomp. My covers disappeared.

‘What?’ I spun around and sat up. ‘What was that?’

Mum thumped out of my bedroom door.

‘Psycho,’ I mumbled, rubbed my eyes, and swung my feet to the floor.

I don’t know how, but hair has a way of spending the night tangling itself into impenetrable knots. I tugged at the brown bird’s nest twisted down my back. CRASH! I winced at the noise from the kitchen.

I twisted up the tousled mess and shoved a beanie over it.

Lingering over a cold bowl of cereal, I eyed off the burnt bacon and eggs still filling the kitchen with grey smoke. Shards of crockery intermingled with a splatter of porridge on the lino floor.

The rain streamed down the kitchen window. Great.  Another day fighting with umbrellas and wet raincoats on public transport. But today it was really pouring; torrential.

‘It’s raining again,’ I said.

‘Yes,’ Mum said, peering out the window and clutching a steamless cup of coffee.

‘The bus is going to be crowded with wet people, again. And I’ll get soaked walking to the bus stop.’

‘Probably,’ Mum droned, not moving.

‘You could drive me to school?’

Mum spun. She blinked as though not expecting to see me sitting there. Then she returned to looking out the window, at the greyness.

‘Ask your father.’

‘Dad’s at work!’ I scraped the chair back from the table, making as much noise as possible. ‘You don’t care.’

Mum still didn’t move. She just stared. I stomped from the kitchen.

It bucketed all day; I had wet shoes. After the walk home from the bus stop, I was soaked through to the skin. Mum was still in the kitchen, staring out the window, with three half-finished cups of coffee beside her.

Water dripped from the tips of my long hair and uniform onto the kitchen floor.

‘I got wet.’

‘Mmm.’

‘I’m soaking wet and you’re just sitting there. I could get the flu. I could die.’

Mum turned, and again she blinked at seeing me in the room.

I held out my arms. Hello! Wet here! Soaked through and it’s your fault.

Mum took a deep breath and returned to the window.

‘ARGH!’ I dumped my sodden bag onto the tiles and squelched to the bathroom with an armful of dry clothes. Ah, a hot shower. The best thing after being damp all day.

Amid the welcome drops of warmth, I remembered: Miss Wendy’s today! Miss Wendy was my fastidious, perfectionist violin teacher. She wasn’t even a great violin teacher. Most other teachers have students who win Eisteddfods. Not Miss Wendy. I could have won Eisteddfods, if only she had been a better teacher.

I turned off the shower. If I could just get dressed and hide in my bedroom, maybe Mum, in her staring-out-the-window state, would forget, and not take me to another hour of useless torture with Miss Wendy.

I snuck into the hallway. No movement in the kitchen. Sliding along the wall, I backed into my bedroom. With an ear to the gap, I eased the door closed, until it clicked shut. No violin lesson! I spun in triumph. Mum stood up from my bed. My back slammed against the door.

Mum’s purse was over her shoulder, my violin case by her feet.

‘Time for violin.’

‘Why? I hate Miss Wendy. She’s annoying. She makes me do things over and over and again, and she doesn’t even tell me why!’

Mum’s nostrils flared. ‘I need you to go to violin today.’

I crossed my arms. ‘I’m not going. You can’t make me.’

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. We stood in silence. She then released that breath, slowly, through clenched lips, and sucked it back in through her nose. Her eyes snapped open. ‘Pick up the damned violin and get in the bloody car!’

Was it Mum’s first ever swear word, or was it her first ever yell? Whatever it was, I had that violin case in my hand and was in the car before I’d given it a thought.

Most parents would drop their sixteen-year-old daughter off to a violin lesson and go home or wait in the car. Not my Mum. She insisted on coming inside. She sat behind me, in the same chair, every lesson, and faced the stairs, or, more exactly, a round, stained glass window under the stairs.

The window was beautiful. It contained vibrantly coloured glass: a unique round bottomed chestnut violin with leaf ended F-holes on a field of jade-green grass framed by ruby red and golden yellow flowers. In the background, stretched violet and indigo mountains beneath a sky the colour of Mum’s eyes: cobalt blue.

When it was sunny, the picture’s colours would project onto the floor at Mum’s feet. As the lesson progressed, the colours would climb up her legs and rest on her lap.

Today, though, there was no sun and no colours. It was as grey outside as it was inside Miss Wendy’s. Yet, Mum took her seat and watched the darkened window.

There was this one music piece in particular, that Miss Wendy was forcing me to learn. I know Mum asked Miss Wendy to include it in my repertoire, but it was not on the list of ‘allowed’ pieces for my studies, yet, Miss ‘everything must be done by the rules’ Wendy was still forcing me to learn it. It was a really hard arrangement of Gustav Holst’s ‘Jupiter’. Mum loved it. I hated it. My fingers couldn’t get across the strings fast enough, and my bowing was messy and the violin squeaked and squealed. But, I’d played it enough times that I could see the music in my head without needing the manuscript in front of me.

Miss Wendy asked me to start playing ‘Jupiter’ that day.

She frowned. ‘I can tell you have not been practising every day.’

She was right. Mum hadn’t been on my case, lately, so I hadn’t practised. I hated practising; it was a waste of time.

‘Start again! No sighing.’

Yet, I sighed anyway, and looked around at Mum. At that point, I would have forgiven her for the harsh awakening that morning, and allowing me to get sodden in the rain, if she would just turn and look at me. I needed one of those encouraging smiles with her cobalt blues – that’s how Dad described her eyes, ‘the first time we met, those cobalt blues saved me. They still do.’

No. Mum’s eyes were fixed on that stained glass window under the stairs. But the gloom outside was not going to allow any coloured light to play at her feet this afternoon.

Mum! Look at me! I thought. Damn her. Snap out of it! Come on, this was stupid. Nope. She wallowed in her own private self-pity. She deserved my anger.

I jabbed my bow onto the strings and played the first few un-jolly notes. I squinted at the music, intent on making it through ‘Jupiter’s’ tricky part without Miss Wendy interrupting and telling me to repeat it again.

My shadow appeared across the score. I glanced over Miss Wendy’s shoulder at the window onto the street. No sun. Rain was still pounding the pavement. Where was the light coming from?

I played on. The light grew warmer. The paper seemed to shine as the room filled with a golden glow. Mum’s chair creaked. Bowing, I began to turn, but Miss Wendy tapped her fat 2B pencil on my music.

‘You must keep your violin pointing forward and pay attention to –’

I thought Miss Wendy was going to poke my eye out, but she thrust the pencil over my shoulder to point at the stairs.

‘No, Mrs Jennings. You must not touch my window, it is very special to – Oh no!’

It feels so clichéd to say it, but time actually seemed to slow down at that moment.

The pencil dropped from Miss Wendy’s hand and spun its long way to the thread-bare carpet. Her hands retracted to grip her face. I stopped playing and my long plait flew outwards as I turned my head. Golden light shone from under the stairs.

And then time resumed its steady progress. I could have sworn that the stained glass window was projected onto the chair where Mum had sat. But where was Mum? The room faded to the dullness of outside.

‘Mum?’ My eyes wandered the room. ‘Mum? Where are you, Mum? Miss Wendy, what happened to my Mum?’

My teacher was still frozen in her own pocket of time; her mouth open, eyes wide.

‘Miss Wendy?’

Blinking, she returned and dropped her hands. She looked me up and down. ‘Lesson over, time for you to go home.’

‘But, Miss Wendy, where’s my Mum?’

Miss Wendy already had the phone’s receiver in her hand and was dialling.

‘Mr Jennings, Sir. I need you to come and pick up your daughter. Your wife has… ah… done a very strange thing. She just walked out the front door and has disappeared down the street…’ Miss Wendy drew back the curtains to peak out onto the street. ‘Yes, she just left her car outside… No, Sir, she does not appear to be coming back. This lesson is over and I have another student coming soon. You must come and pick up your daughter now… Thank you.’

Miss Wendy’s eye’s wandered over towards the stairs and snapped back to me. ‘Pack up your things and wait on the porch. Your father is on his way.’

‘But Miss Wendy, my Mum didn’t walk out the front door.’

She puffed air from her cheeks. ‘Don’t be ridiculous, girl. Did you not see her walk past us and out the front door? That will be enough.’

With my violin shoved into its case and before I could argue, I was on the porch with the front door slammed behind me. The rain had stopped; the first time in ages. Water dripped from the leaking gutter and bounced from the tiles to spray my violin case, sneakers and calves.

Had Mum gone out the front door? Had I missed her walk past? No. Miss Wendy had pointed to the stairs, hadn’t she? But I didn’t actually see Mum walk towards the stairs. But there was light from the window; the colours projected onto the chair, even though it was grey outside. Impossible!

Dad arrived in a taxi half an hour later. No new student arrived for tuition with Miss Wendy. Dad paid the driver and beckoned me from Miss Wendy’s porch. We sat in Mum’s car, abandoned on the side of the street.

‘Dad, Miss Wendy’s lying –’

He held up his hand and shook his head.

He was silent as he drove us home. His concentration was on the road. I watched him. Was that a tear dropping from his eye, or just a drip of water?

He pulled into the driveway and his hand went for the door handle.

‘Dad, don’t you really want to know what happened to Mum?’

‘She’s gone,’ Dad said, his face downcast. With a big sigh, he opened the door.

‘Yes, she’s gone. But she didn’t go ‘out the front door’ like Miss Wendy told you. She’s lying.’

Dad turned on me. ‘It’s not nice to call someone a liar.’

‘But she is. Mum went under the stairs.’

Dad put a foot into a puddle. ‘Then Mum is gone.’

 

Download a pdf of Bringer Ch1

 

 

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From Slipstream, Kylie Nealon

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The two men stared at the screen in front of them, disbelieving.

‘It worked,’ the older of the two whispered.

His companion’s eyes glittered under the lab’s eerie artificial lights. ‘This changes everything,’ he said. ‘Everything.’

The older man shook his head. ‘It makes no difference at all. We still can’t guarantee the subject’s safety, or the reliability of the transfer. I don’t want to take this to the committee yet.’

The younger man stood up, his athletic frame rigid with fury. ‘Your overcautious mentality is absurd, Richard. We’ve tested and retested, and we get the same result. Every. Single. Time.’ His voice rose to a half-shout on the last word.

Richard fixed his stare on his colleague of more than a decade. ‘Harry, do you understand the implications in saying something if we’re wrong?’

His voice was flat; he was weary of having the same argument they’d had dozens of times before. In the past, they’d always managed to resolve it, at least for the sake of appearances in front of the lab staff. Not this time, Richard thought. Something seemed to have shifted irrevocably in Harry. 

The latter strode to the security door as if unable to speak, clearly unwilling to break the impasse.

Don’t don’t do this, Harry!’ Richard attempted to appeal to the only thing he knew would reach him – a slim shard of morality that remained within an otherwise corrupted conscience. ‘You can’t inflict this on them. They aren’t ready. You’ll regret it, I promise!’

The younger man turned, his face hard. ‘The only thing I’ll regret, Richard, is that I wasted so many years listening to you.’

Harry slammed the ‘exit’ button, leaving Richard alone. His exhalation echoed around the room, save only for the beeping coming from the panel in front of him. He knew there was no longer any point in delaying. Touching the console in front of him, he waited. A woman’s face appeared in front of him, her concern evident. ‘Cerys? We have a problem.’

 

‘Miss Hambleton?’

The assertive query came amidst the shrieks of joy and garbled announcements over the loudspeakers. Even at 7:00am, Heathrow was mental. Sixteen-year-old Scarlett pushed her overloaded trolley towards a small man holding a ‘D’Orsay Academy’ sign with her name on it.

‘Hi, that’s me,’ she managed, holding her wayward trolley with one hand.

He smiled, and took hold of the trolley as it threatened to mow down a group of old aged pensioners who’d also come off her flight.

‘Welcome to London, Miss. Come with me – you’re the last one to come through.’ He began weaving through the throngs of waiting relatives and friends with an ease that spoke of many such previous trips.

Scarlett followed, tripping over feet and earning a few scowling looks in the process. As she drew closer to the exit door, the air shimmered and she felt a familiar wave of nausea rooting her to the spot.

Multi-hued auras began appearing around people who were eyeballing her with wary expressions. Please, not here, she pleaded with the universe. She closed her eyes and took a few breaths, hoping it might disappear. These weird episodes, which appeared out of nowhere, had become more frequent over the last six months. Scarlett had no idea what was causing them, but she was pretty sure that the last thing she wanted was another one in the middle of the world’s busiest airport. The deep breathing was making her hyperventilate, and a cold sweat broke out between her shoulder blades, sticking her already grubby t-shirt to her back. Behind her, someone let out a harsh string of curses under his breath.

‘What is it with you tourists? Want to take a few pictures? Move, already!’ The sarcasm was unmistakable, made more prominent with an American twang. A tall, lean boy of about her own age, sidestepped Scarlett, his bright blue eyes glaring down at her. His movie star looks were spoiled by a scowl that tore up his face.

‘Geez, okay,’ Scarlett said. She wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans and straightened up.

The boy huffed. ‘Spare me your redundant apologies.’ His eyes flicked over her. Scarlett pushed her slightly damp hair back and looked up at him, nausea forgotten.

‘I don’t think I did apologise,’ she replied, stung by his rudeness. ‘I’m so sorry that I stopped you getting your,’ she glanced at the solitary bag slung over his shoulder, ‘duffel bag out of here. I can imagine how inconvenient it must be for you having to get all of that luggage out of here.’

The duffel bag was definitely a step down, for someone who looked like he wasn’t short of a bob or two, as her granny would say. She noticed that the boy’s knuckles were turning white as she spoke, an unexpected anxiety that was at odds with the arrogant attitude.

‘Whatever.’ He hoisted the bag closer to his body and brushed past her, leaving a whiff of leather and something metallic hanging in the air. Scarlett watched him climb into a car that must have cost more than her parents made in a year.

‘Uh, Miss?’ her driver’s voice called out to her from the kerb. ‘Gotta go, love, the traffic’ll be a nightmare if we wait any longer.’

Scarlett nodded and walked over. The boy’s car melted into the traffic and she realised that her ‘episode’ had been cut short by his unexpected intervention.  Cheered by the thought, she boarded her bus and put him completely out of mind.

 

On the D’Orsay bus, Scarlett met three other new students who’d arrived around the same time she had. They seemed nice, though she couldn’t imagine that she’d find a friend like Sass, who’d been her best friend since they were five. Determined to soak in as much detail for her first missive home, Scarlett studied the landscape, fascinated by how different everything looked here. It was so green and tidy, compared to the desiccated wild dryness of home.

‘First time away from home?’ Mike, a student from the States, leaned over as if able to read her thoughts.

‘Yep,’ she said. ‘You?’

‘Nah.’ He scooted closer. ‘Parents are diplomats, so I’m used to it.’

‘Wow. I’m from Melbourne. The closest I’ve gotten to diplomacy in action was a school trip to the capital in Year 8.’

He laughed. ‘Yeah, I’ve done a few of those.’ Mike had an assured sense of himself and his place in the world, with the kind of skills that suggested that diplomacy as a career might extend into a second generation. He had an unlimited supply of humorous travel stories to tell, and the trip into central London passed in a blur. He was in the middle of a particularly entertaining one, involving insects dipped in chocolate as a snack in a café in Central America, when the bus took a sharp corner, pulling up at what looked like the entrance to a medieval castle planted right in the middle of London’s urban metropolis.

‘Hey, check it out.’ Mike craned his head over the top of the seat as they pulled to a stop. ‘We’re here.’

Passing through D’Orsay’s ancient doors, the building looked like a something from a film set: all weathered stone and stained-glass windows, with an enormous, modern glass tower that shot skyward from the inside of the building. There was a particular kind of energy that seemed to reverberate from its stones, but as Scarlett looked around at her travel companions, none of them seemed to be affected by it. It almost felt, she thought, that if she reached out and touched the weathered grey stone, she could feel the pulse of the building underneath her fingers. Mike grinned as he made his way past her off the bus, mistaking Scarlett’s interest in D’Orsay’s surroundings for something touristy.

As she stood in front of the bus, she couldn’t help but wonder how on earth D’Orsay had managed to build such a huge building behind what appeared to be a church, especially in central London. Her musings were interrupted by a gentle Irish accent.

‘Welcome, all of you, to D’Orsay. My name is Maggie.’

A tiny woman with jet-black hair and bright green eyes introduced herself to them, as they craned their necks to see her. Scarlett found that she was thinking of leprechauns, and blushed when Maggie fixed her with a glance that suggested she’d been able to tell what she was thinking about.

Flicking her eyes back to the rest of the group, Maggie continued. ‘Some of you have had quite a long trip, so let’s get you settled in right away. Please, follow me and try not to fall behind.’

Scarlett stepped forward to follow the group inside, but felt herself being held back as if by some weird magnetic pull. Glancing over her shoulder, she came to an abrupt halt in front of Mike, who stumbled into her. Muttering a good-natured complaint under his breath, he stopped when he saw the look on Scarlett’s face, and he followed the direction of her glance.

You have got to be kidding, she thought. The boy from the airport unfolded himself from the back of his expensive car, and stood up. Scarlett felt his gaze fix on her from behind his dark Wayfarers.

Escorted by his driver, the boy walked past, turning his head with the barest of movements, one eyebrow raised over the top of his sunglasses. He still had a pretty tight grip on that duffel bag, Scarlett noted.

‘Friend of yours?’ Mike asked her from behind. They watched the boy disappear inside, and Scarlett felt the pull begin to dissipate.

‘Uh, no. I mean, not really.’

She explained what had happened at the airport. Mike chuckled.

‘Well, whoever he is, he must be someone pretty important. Us plebs are stuck doing the group tour. Which we’re about to lose if we don’t get a move on,’ he said, grabbing her arm.

They were led on a tour that was both swift and confusing. Corridors snaked off into a vast research laboratory section, as well as to other buildings that were used for the day-to-day running of the company. Scarlett wondered how anyone found his or her way to the right place. The term ‘rabbit-warren’ didn’t even begin to cover it.

‘The student wing is through here,’ Maggie said.

Going through the massive doors, Scarlett caught her breath.

No expense had been spared in furnishing the academic wing. A large circular living area with plush furniture was arranged around a vast array of high-end technological equipment, some recognisable, some she’d never seen before. Even Mike looked impressed.

‘Your personal rooms, dining hall, and classrooms are located off this central area,’ Maggie said. ‘Please, have a seat.’ Forty or so other students were already seated in the middle of the meeting area. A relaxed conversation was coming from the young staff gathered around the edges of the room. They were all dressed in identical blue uniforms, and appeared to have an alternative career option as high fashion models.

Scarlett slipped in near the back of the room, near a girl with platinum-blonde hair and a boy who was more interested in his cuticles than making eye contact with anyone. The girl smiled over at Scarlett as she sat down.

‘Welcome.’

Scarlett’s attention was drawn to the front of the room before she could strike up a conversation with either of them.

‘It’s lovely to have you all here, finally.’ This time, Maggie was standing on some kind of platform, so they could all see her, but instead of making her more imposing, it served to emphasise her diminutive stature even further.

‘As Head Mentor at D’Orsay, I’ll be overseeing your academic progress and psychological wellbeing during your time here with us. The mentors,’ she gestured over to the blue-clad staff, ‘are also here to provide support. Each of you has been matched to a suitable mentor, based on the psychological profile carried out prior to your departure.’ Maggie’s gaze swept the room. ‘We’ll have more time to chat later, but for now, we’ll get the initiation process underway and meet back here later this afternoon. If you’ll all make your way over to the Dispensarium, please follow the instructions once you’re inside.’ She indicated a large doorway set into the wall with misted glass doors.

One by one, the students lined up, with Scarlett, the blonde girl and Cuticle Boy bringing up the rear.

When her turn came, Scarlett stepped through the sliding doors into a booth, from which a large cylinder dropped down over the top half of her body.

‘Please look straight ahead,’ a voice said. It was a dry, hollow-sounding voice of indeterminate gender that pulsed inside the capsule as it spoke. Scarlett waited, a little unsure. Was this like those eye tests you got at the optometrist, when you weren’t supposed to blink? She wondered.

A blue strand of light streamed into her eyes, not hurting her, but not comfortable either. It felt like a tickle deep inside her brain that she couldn’t itch. The light disappeared, and she was left standing in a blue glow.

‘Please place your hand on the scanner,’ the voice prompted. Scarlett was rewarded with a stinging sensation in her forefinger as she did so.

‘Ow,’ she hissed, nursing the finger. Peering at it closely, she could see that something tiny had been embedded under the skin. What was that? And how did they do that without drawing any blood?

‘Thank you,’ the voice told her. ‘Data collection is complete. Your assigned mentor is Gil.’ A picture of a young man, no more than twenty years old, flashed on the cylinder’s surface in front of her. ‘Please leave to the left, where you will find him waiting.’

Scarlett stepped out of the room, eyes a little tender under the bright, overhead lights. She walked up to Gil, her fingertip curled up in her palm.

‘Uh, hi,’ she said.

‘Scarlett, it’s very nice to meet you.’

Gil’s upper class BBC accent was gentle. Note to self, Scarlett mentally added to her list of things to tell Sass. Those accents actually existed in real life. Gil smiled as though he knew what she’d been thinking. Damn, that was twice today already! What was going on?

‘Let’s get you organised, shall we?’ He nodded to the other mentor he’d been chatting to, and he and Scarlett set off through one of the exits. ‘I hope your trip was uneventful? You’ll notice quite quickly that we aren’t like other schools here. There are lessons here, shall we say, that your normal school won’t have offered,’ he said as they made their way out of the meeting hall. ‘But I promise, you’ll find them quite interesting.’ He was moving quite fast, and Scarlett was struggling to keep up, trying not to miss anything he was saying. ‘How’s your finger?’ he asked.

Scarlett looked at her finger, which was bright pink and a little swollen. ‘Kind of sore,’ she admitted.

Gil picked up her hand and examined the fingertip. His hands were calloused, an unexpected contrast in someone who looked like he’d never done a hard day’s work in his life.

‘It looks fine. It’s D’Orsay’s way of ID-ing you.’ He let go of her hand. ‘We don’t carry cards or tags here. It might seem a bit extreme, but actually it’s a great idea. We’ve got your DNA profile, with some other odds and ends.’

‘Odds and ends?’ she asked. ‘Like what?’

‘You know, family history, genetic predispositions, other abilities.’

Other abilities? Scarlett opened her mouth to ask, but he cut her off.

‘Naturally, all of that is encoded, so if anything should happen to you, the information won’t fall into the wrong hands. If you’ll pardon the pun.’ He smiled at her, and gestured to a doorway that looked identical to the other dozen or so lined up in the corridor. ‘You just need to wave your finger over the sensor at the entrance to each room you’re in,’ he said. ‘It’s a bit retro, but we rather like keeping the past alive here at D’Orsay.’ Gil smiled to himself, as if enjoying a private joke. ‘If you have any questions, let me know. There’s a console in your room that you can contact me through. You’re in Room B5, which means that you’re the second tier out from the main meeting area. I’ll leave you to settle in. We’ll be meeting back in the main area in an hour. Your bags will already be inside. If you have any problems, use the console.’

‘Thanks. I guess I’ll see you in a little while.’ Scarlett hesitated before waving her finger over the sensor set into the wall next to her dorm room door. The panel lit up with her photo and DNA sequence. She looked at Gil, who smiled, and left.

That was pretty impressive, if a little freaky, she thought; a bit like D’Orsay.

 

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Angel, Jamie Derkenne

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Lots of people had theories on how to catch those silver perch swimming in the water holes where the Nambucca snaked round Bowraville, but not many people ever seen any theory work.

Ray Glossip freely gave advice to any passing tourist or local, whether asked to or not. He’d swear a small hook with a tiny pinch of mullet was the only way. The time of day was crucial, had to be just before dawn, or just after sunset, and cool but not frosty. Neglected to mention been fishing for years, no luck. Percy Callinan, who caught one about thirty years previous, but had to throw it back because it was too small, reckoned silver perch were slippery bastards related to eels. His head cocked to one side, he’d show you a small, faded photo showing nothing, and opine you had to use a swivelled hook, and you needed a net. Andy Murray from the South Arm reckoned he caught them all the time, no big deal. ‘Just need the right ‘quipment,’’ he’d say, but never said what he had in mind. Also reckoned they weren’t good eating unless made into fish cakes.

Kev Shillingsworth, who was as close as most in town ever got to talking to someone traditional, often got asked questions like, ‘What you fellas do to catch perch in them olden days?’ To which he would reply, mysteriously tapping his nose with his forefinger, ‘We had our ways.’ But if Kev had ever known of the ways, he’d long had most of them whipped out of him, and suspected the ones he did know weren’t so traditional anyway. Once lifting up some lino with Percy, he’d come across some old yellow pages from the Bowraville Guardian, including a small story concerning the court appearance of two long-gone great uncles from the 1930s. The paper said they’d been caught fishing for silver perch near Lane’s Bridge, which wasn’t so much a crime even for them, although there would’ve been people who would have liked to make it one. The crime – fined five pounds each – was they were fishing with dynamite. Which explained why Andy Murray, who was into blowing things up, thought they were an easy catch.

Kev could understand this, because with dynamite, you could catch a lot of fish, and fish was good. ‘He was a fisher of men,’ old Father Finbarr Ewels would say from the pulpit of St Mary’s, pointing his bony finger to those up the back. He would growl about the heathens, because that’s what they were, their faces dark with sin. Women were the worst, sometimes wearing those white Jesus dresses like old mish girls, so poor, Finbarr would get confused bout what decade he was in. Some of them probably started thinking that if they ate a lot of fish then maybe they wouldn’t have to stand in the stalls any more at that Bowraville Theatre. Kev had been a Kinchela boy, so would eat anything so long as it wasn’t hay. He’d have fish on Fridays, and many other days besides.

Kev had taken his son Saucepan, river fishing a couple of times, but on each occasion they had soon given up, preferring to eat the cobra worms hiding in the sunken logs. Tastier, and a lot less hassle than if they had caught a fish, which would have meant building a fire, and scaling and gutting the catch.

Not that Saucepan ever gave up on the idea on catching some of the perch. You could see them glide just below the surface. Mostly small fish, but occasionally one of the big ones would rise up from the depths of the water hole. You could make a proper meal out of one of those, if only you knew how.

Which is how Saucepan stumbled on a secret. It’s not like he invented anything or the like, being Saucepan, it’s just that once, by the river, with his Marley music and earplugs, he built himself a small fire out of some wattle twigs, in the hope of making just the right amount of smoke to keep mozzies away. The wood burnt keenly, so to make a bit more smoke, he grabbed some smartweed and making a small tight bundle, put that on the fire as well. Sat watching the river, nodding his head to the music, not hearing or seeing the pale pink Martins on the other side of the bridge yelling at him. After a while, he put the fire out by throwing the burning sticks and bundle of weed, one by one, into the water. Watched them fizzle as the water soaked up the small yellow flames, got up and started walking back home. Was almost halfway back over the paddock to the road before realising he’d left a Burnin’ cover on the bank. So he walked all the way back, and as he was picking up the cassette cover, looked over the water and saw about twelve small fish on the surface, gulping air, which was doing them no good at all.

Saucepan stood staring for a minute or two, trying to work out what was going on. The fish hadn’t been dying when he’d left the first time. Had someone come along and poisoned them? He waded in and without any difficulty picked up the biggest. It rested limply in his hands. He smelt it; but he couldn’t smell any chemical. He tossed it back into the water. He scooped up some water in his palm and tasted it. River water has its own particular taste, and this didn’t taste any different, just faintly of the ashes from his fire. Shrugging, he picked up his belongings and went home.

It took Saucepan, being Saucepan, nearly a month to work it out. One day Kev was showing him old photos, including one of his Grandma, called Aunty Rose by everyone, the one who was Grandpa Jacko’s wife. The photo was a bit bigger than the small four-by-two jobs, so you could see some of the details of her face. An old woman when the photo was taken, but shy of the camera. Was giggling, and had her left hand over her face to hide a smile. Most of her little finger was missing.

‘How come she got no finger?’

‘In them olden days if you were a girl who wanted some lucky fishing you’d get most of your little finger chopped off. Women’s business. Tradition. Dunno why.’

‘Any good at fishing?’

Kev laughed. ‘Was she any good at fishing? My mum said she was the best. She knew some lingo she’d call out to the fish. She’d call them softly so they would come to the surface just hoping she’d pick them up, and when they floated up within reach, she’d just wade out there and pick up them grateful fish.’ Kev made it sound like his history, but being Kinchela, most of it was history he scraped together long afterwards.

Saucepan got to thinking. Maybe it was the wattle, maybe the smartweed. Maybe he’d accidentally poisoned the fish. One way of finding out.

He got himself back down to Lane’s Bridge early one morning, cool but not frosty, plucked up some smart weed, chucked it in the water, sat down, lit a bong, and waited. Waited a long time, staring at the water, sometimes thinking he could see ripples, though on the kind of Ganja Saucepan was toking, you could end up seeing anything. Saucepan had bought it at the mish, but like almost everyone else, believed it had been grown by those Thumb Creek boys, who, legend had it, would rather shoot than let you stumble across one of the crops. Sat and toked for twenty minutes, waiting, then gave up.

Saucepan was halfway up the bank thinking nothing ever worked, when he heard a loud smack on the water. He paused, thinking should he check it out or not? Finally figured he had nothing to lose, and carefully, being toked up, went back to the river bank.

In the middle of the pond weren’t any silver perch. They had probably figured someone was messing big time with their pond and had gone away. Nope, no silver perch, but the biggest freshwater bass he’d ever seen. A granddaddy of a beast, more than two foot long, lying on its side, and sucking air the same way Angus Noble sucked schooners at the Royal.

Saucepan waded out and picked it up. As soon as it was out of the water, the silvery rainbows of its scales became dull grey. The fish looked at him, its mouth opening and shutting like someone trying to get you to understand what they are saying in a mosh pit.

‘Bless you, bless you,’ the fish seemed to say, over and over, carefully, yet silently articulating each word.

‘Fuck that,’ Saucepan thought, and taking it to the bank, gutted it on the spot.

Now you might think that Saucepan’s dad, Kev, being the closest most in town got to talking to someone traditional, lived down the mish, but he and Saucepan lived on the Macksville Road, several miles past the races. Kev owned a hundred long there, and even had a job working as a lollipop for the Shire road crew. How he scored that caused a lot of scalp scratching. Someone reckoned it was because he had a degree in sociology which some people, Andy Murray included, said just proved learning wasn’t worth a rat’s arse these days if they were learning the likes of Kev Shillingsworth.

So this Saucepan, with a bong hidden in his red, yellow, and green beanie in one hand, and a great big dead bass in the other, found himself walking the long walk back to his house. Was daydreaming as he walked along, a dopey sort of dream, that his dad might be mazed with him catching a whopper with  bare hands and all. Saucepan had an uneasy time with his dad. Saucepan thought Kev was maybe coconut like most of the mish said. Hundred acres, job and all, maybe he was in with the Thumb Creek boys. It did Saucepan’s head in trying to work out his dad. Kev thought Saucepan was growing up to be a waste of space.

So lost was he in his little dream about him and his dad sharing a fish meal, that he jerked in fright when he heard Billy Wells’ voice softly in his ear. Billy Wells was in the habit of unintentionally sneaking up on people along the roadside, so much so that come dusk, or dawn, most drivers kept a sharp look out for roos, stray cattle, and that Billy Wells.

‘You shouldna oughta done that,’ Billy song sang, walking  beside him, his hessian bag slung casually over one shoulder. Saucepan exhaled slowly, relaxing himself, and muttering something bout the weeping Christ.

‘Shouldna oughta done what?’

Billy nodded towards the fish tucked under Saucepan’s arm. Saucepan swapped the fish and the beanie. The fish was getting to be a bit of a burden. It had stiffened up quite a bit in the sun, but seemed like it was made of lead. Was a big fish, after all.

‘That there is an old man fish. Probably thirty years to grow like that. And you come long and caught it. Shouldna oughta.’ As he walked, Billy shifted the sack from shoulder to shoulder. There was something solid in it, like a rock.

Saucepan opened his mouth to say something, that if Mrs Ringland heard, would have had him expelled from school, again, but instead said, ‘Me and my dad we’re gonna eat this fish. This is good eating, this fish, so don’t you go telling me what I can and can’t eat. Free country innit.’

Billy held up his palm in apology, and the two walked some distance in silence. A few bush flies also joined the procession.

‘Jesus this fish. I swear he’s getting heavier,’ Saucepan said. ‘I gotta stop a minute, give the arms a rest.’ Saucepan sat down, and placed the fish carefully on a tussock of grass. Saucepan sat down, rubbing his arms. Billy sat beside him.

Billy looked at the fish thoughtfully. It had quite a few flies on it now, and its river water smell was getting just a little bit stronger.

‘Fish like that, you should eat it right away. You live next door to Jesus and Mary right? That’s a long long way to walk a dead fish.’

Saucepan knew, rightly, Billy wasn’t talking about Father Finbarr’s Jesus, but Mexican Jesus, who was a neighbour to his dad and him, who would never eat fish if there was some muck called frijoles in the offing.

Saucepan looked at the fish and thought. Few banana leaves, a small fire, he could have nice steamed fish in next to no time. And he was hungry. Tokin all the morning does that. But what about having a nice meal with his dad? He could tell his dad all about how he sussed out how Aunty Rose had done it. Would make his dad proud, that.

‘Yeah, okay. Let’s cook the fish. You go get some leaves,’ Saucepan said, standing up, and looking around for some sticks.

Billy grinned so his whole face crinkled, and pushed a lank strand of hair  out of his eyes. ‘You’re boss.’

Saucepan built a small fire, scaled the fish, and carefully wrapped it in several layers of leaves. He put the parcel to one side, waiting for the fire to go down to hot embers.

Saucepan watched Billy as he squatted on the ground, observing the fish on the embers. The old man was still agile, and had no trouble sitting on his haunches. Billy brushed a strand of hair from his face again, and using a stick, poked the embers. Saucepan reasoned maybe the hair was long that way to hide a patch of thinness in the middle of the scalp. As Saucepan watched, he couldn’t help but feel he’d seen a younger, more curly-haired version of Billy, something from an old painting. Not that he’d ever seen an old painting, only the small black and white prints of heavenly consorts, saints and philosophers in Miss Ringland’s well-thumbed History of Art. Well-thumbed not because of any artistic appreciation amongst the class, but because Jesse Owen, who had an eye for such things, found several pictures by some bro called Corbet that were real interesting.

Billy kept staring at the fire and as he was staring idly, reached under his coat and gave his back a good scratch. He half-closed his eyes as he was scratching, like a dog does when scratched behind the ears. Although his hand was hidden under the threadbare coat, it seemed he was concentrating on scratching the space between the shoulder blades. He scratched delicately in the one spot, the sort of scratch that is needed to remove a pimple or small wart. Eventually, his black-nailed hand came out again, holding a small white feather that was decidedly worse for wear, its vanes tangled with grit, and the shaft bent at an odd angle. Billy adjusted his haunches and stared intently at the feather in his hand for a few seconds, before holding it over the embers and dropping it. But instead of falling, the feather soared upward from the heat, see-sawing ever higher. Both Saucepan and Billy watched it disappear gently into the sky, becoming one with the blue.

‘I’ll be damned,’ Billy said.

Soon Saucepan had the fish steaming in the embers. It takes just two or three minutes for a fish to cook that way, and using banana leaves as plates, the two of them made a good meal out of the bass. Saucepan ate in silence, listening to Billy prattle on. Billy was good at prattling on, especially when he had scored a free meal or a free drink. He called it philosophising.

‘Have always liked fish. A noble meal. The kind of meal even Jesus would approve of,’ Billy said, while delicately sucking on the bones. He licked his fingers and wiped then carefully on his jeans. He burped, and lay down on his back, looking at the scuttling clouds.

‘A blessed meal, a blessed meal,’ he said, letting out a fart and started softly humming to himself. After only half a minute, he started snoring.

Saucepan thought for a while that this might be a good time to see what was in Billy’s hessian bag. A lot of people had theories, but no-one had ever gotten to the truth. The sack was in a heap in front of Billy, and definitely had something small in it. He started to stretch his arm over to grab it, but he checked Billy first and stopped, because Billy was sleeping, there was no doubt bout that, but sleeping with one eye open, looking at Saucepan. Saucepan raised a hand and waved it in front of the half closed eye. The pupil sluggishly followed the hand.

Saucepan sighed, grabbed a stick, and sat on his haunches, flicking dirt onto what was left of the fire to put it out. He felt cheated. Having just caught the biggest fish he’d ever seen from the upriver Nambucca, he had nought to show but old Billy Wells’ farting and snoring on the side of the road. Saucepan always thought his luck turned bad in the end. It was like everyone else was living under the Grace of God, but all he had for a guardian angel was the likes of Billy Wells. What was he going to say to the old man about the fish now? ‘I caught a big fish, but Billy ate it.’ He had been so close to making an impression, and now all he had was a story. Two stories, because he had also accidentally discovered Auntie Rose’s secret method of fishing. Maybe he could tell that to Kev, being traditional stuff and all.

 

Glossary

Frijoles                                    a traditional Mexican dish of cooked and mashed beans

 

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Trophies, Scars and Confusion, Angelica Wright

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 Trophies, Scars and Confusion: a four part retrospective of events and effects some decades on

 

Zipped

Moving down floating

Towards the drift

Of oblivion

Sleepless

Honing

Creating infinite parallels between this world and next

Continuing to be battered

By pressures plundered by a thousand souls

Hopeful of perfection

Ever striving for absolution in a place where

Absolution is obsolete

Defeated by minds that hum and drum and strum their static forever

Winding up and down, down and up forever the staircase to the void

Avoid mess caress, be less by being more

Hopeful of feeling less tired of it all,

I’m not really this small.

I am forever exponential, and Zipped

 

 

The Teacup

I wish I had not taken that drink

I remember only some things,

In the middle of the night I felt invincible and worldly

But I was a teacup and you drank me in slow sips

 

I wish I had not followed you

I remember their faces

And my friend’s desperation like a sheepdog herding wolves

In the middle of the night I can still hear him crying outside my window

 

I wish I could forget but

I remember

In the middle of the night that strange pulling, as if I a canvas bag were unstitched by strange hands

 

I wish I had not carried the shame

I remember feeling guilty, like a whore paid in ashes

In the middle of the night

I remember the unforgiving morning and your precious cushions stripped red upon the lawn

 

I wish I could forget but

I remember

In the middle of my night, the surgery of my ego.

 

 

Tattoo Ink

I wrote HIM on my heart in tattoo ink.

Now unrequited love glues my lips and eyelids shut,

taught barbs to squeeze within sinews of dreams.

 

How did you stay close in a deliberate mediation of thoughts and warmth,

dreamed away and forever unyearning?

 

Oh I wish I could smite that hysterical ravenous gloat,

for the path stolen by ignorance disappears in golden milk.

 

I am hopeful you will fade away but you linger on,

screaming in that red satin dress.

 

My undying love,

My broken heart,

My therapy conversation,

My recurring dream.

 

Finally now, a heart impairment stained in tattoo ink.

 

 

Little Boxes

Memories of childhood

More vivid now

I’ve binned the little boxes

Of youthful collections

Even those seashells gathered

From the shore

Have seen better days

Their light lost the moment

You took them away.

 

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The Artist, Ashley Ward

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1. INT. CLASSROOM – AFTERNOON

An American HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOM occupies rows of small, vacant desks. A groomed TEACHER with a striped tie enters with two teenagers and a magazine under his arm. SIMON, a teenage lanky thing with large round glasses, heads to a desk at the back of the room. He sits, submissively. A high schooler with a ‘Go Bulls’ hat, JEREMY, attempts to follow, but is stopped by the teacher.

TEACHER

I don’t think so! I want you up the front.

Jeremy looks at Simon. Smirks.

TEACHER

I won’t condone interruptions during my lessons. Is that clear?

BEAT.

TEACHER

That goes for the both of you. I’ll be right back… If I hear anything coming from this room, you’ll both be back here tomorrow, same time after school.

The teacher leaves. Jeremy takes off his NIKE sneakers one by one. He throws them over his shoulder. One almost hits Simon. Flinches. He stands up and sits on top of a desk next to Simon. Jeremy begins to taunt him.

JEREMY

Pick it up.

Simon hesitates.

JEREMY

I said pick it up, faggot!

Simon doesn’t move.

JEREMY

Don’t make me hit you, aye!

Simon bends down and slowly picks up the shoe. Hands it to Jeremy.

JEREMY

That’s what I thought.

 CUT TO:

2. EXT. SUBURBAN STREET – NIGHT

Stars hide in the evening fog. Lampposts illuminate an EMPTY STREET beside a high school. We see Simon leaving the school. He drifts down the street, breaking stride to adjust his backpack every now and then. Jeremy lurks close behind. Simon, oblivious to him, cuts around a corner street and arrives at home.

3. INT. SIMON’S HOUSE – Moments later

A large front door cracks open, catching on a folded towel. An excited PUPPY bounds towards Simon as he pushes the door open.

SIMON

Helloo?

VOICE (O.S)

Simon? Careful of the towel! Maxi’s peed again!

Simon shuffles into the living room where SIMON’S MOTHER, a forty-something brunette woman, slurps noodles in front of a T.V screen. The house is comfortably messy.

SIMON

Sorry I’m late. I had swim club practice.

MOTHER

…On a Tuesday?

BEAT.

SIMON

Is there a plate for me?

MOTHER (jokingly)

In the dungeon, where you belong!

The two share a smile.

4. INT. CLASSROOM – DAY

The sun shines through a cracked classroom window. Inside, the room is stuffy with teenage angst. Tapping feet, shifting eyes, and creaking desks. At the front of the room, a middle-aged high school ITALIAN TEACHER stands slouched near a chalkboard. Her skin is cinnamon coloured, toughened by the sun. Written on the chalkboard is the word “I BREAK” underlined. The teacher addresses the class.

ITALIAN TEACHER

Can anyone give me the Italian translation for this?

Jeremy chimes in to answer. He gives the wrong answer accompanied with a ridiculous Italian accent. A symphony of laughter from the class follows. Lucy sits at a desk in the back of the class, drawing. Definitely not laughing. Simon cuts in.

SIMON

It’s Rompere

BEAT.

SIMON

… You then have to conjugate it from the infinitive ‘to break’ to the first person… So, ‘I break’ would be io rompo.

Jeremy slouches back in his chair. Shamed and angered. His knees bounce anxiously together. He places a textbook on his lap. Simon glances to the back of the room at Lucy. Their eyes meet – his more eager than hers – and she adjusts her skirt. You can see his heart beat through his neck. School bell rings.

5. INT. BATHROOM – LATER

Simon washes his hands, and pauses. The tap continues to flow. He gazes at his reflection with somewhat needy eyes.

SIMON

Hey Lucy… That notebook new? …. What’s up Lucy? You have nice breasts… Wanna go out with me?

 

The bathroom door flings open. In an instant, we see Jeremy’s fist forcefully swoop in to punch Simon.  Clutches his stomach.

JEREMY

Not so smart now aye, faggot!

 He grabs Simon by the shoulder of his jacket and hauls him out of the bathroom.

 6. EXT. SCHOOLYARD – CONTINUOUS

Jeremy steers Simon to a seedy schoolyard behind the classrooms. He pushes Simon against a wall covered in graffiti. A small gang of TEENAGE BOYS skulk around the corner. Some of them have matching white beanies. Others have more style. On a NEIGHBORING STREET, Lucy meanders towards home. She stops and watches for a moment. Jeremy and the bullies torment Simon. One of the bullies snatches Simon’s backpack. He unzips it and shakes it upside down.

BULLY

Aw sorry bro, was that yours?

SIMON

Common, man… Cut it out.

JEREMY (to Simon)

What are you gonna do?

Lucy continues home at a slight quicker pace. One of the bullies shoves Simon into a nearby dumpster. He falls to his side. Cheek to cement. Some scattered rubbish and a blue SPRAY PAINT CAN lay close to his face. Especially the spray can.

 

7. INT. SCHOOL LOCKERS – DAY

Students are herding through a box-sized hallway. School bells RINGS. Lucy idles at her locker shuffling her books. Background conversations fill the hallway. Two girls talk behind her amongst the herd of students.

GIRL 1

Did you see what they painted behind the school? ..A sky mural or something?

Lucy pauses to listen.

GIRL 2

I heard that geek from Italian did it!

GIRL 1

Oh my god what a loser. Cry for attention much?

Girl 2’s giant handbag scuffs Lucy’s shoulder. She looks at Lucy in disgust.

GIRL 2

Excuse me!

Lucy’s gaze falls down and she apologizes.  She grinds her teeth, dressing her anger with a half smile.

 

8. EXT. BUS STOP- NIGHT

Simon waits at a bus stop near the side of the school. In the distant foreground, we see the same wall he was pushed against. A painting of a BLUE SKY with MELTING DIAMONDS covers the wall.  Simon looks at a sign with a bus timetable. He glances at his watch. Sighs.

9. EXT. STREET PAY PHONE – MOMENTS LATER

Simon feeds the machine some coins and dials. Ringing. A soft voice answers.

V.O

Hello?

SIMON

Mom! The buses have stopped running. Can you pick… –

A hand reaches behind Simon and ends the call. Simon turns around, where Jeremy stands with his unfashionable gang. His eyes widen.

JEREMY

Did you do that painting?

BEAT.

SIMON

Why?… Did you… like it?

Jeremy nods in thought.

JEREMY (CONT.)

You ever tag anything before?

Simon’s fingers brush his bluish purple chin.

SIMON

Here and there…

Simon breaks eye contact in anxious spurts. Jeremy holds out a spray paint can to Simon.

 

10. INT. CAR – NIGHT (DAYS LATER)

A white van occupies an empty street by the high school. Inside, Jeremy, the thugs, and Simon all cluster in a circle. A heavy bass blares through speakers in the background. Jeremy exhales perfect circular smoke rings. His eyes tango between his burning joint and Simon. He holds out the joint to Simon.

SIMON

Oh, I don’t smoke…

The group laughs.

SIMON

I mean… I don’t like it spun…

There’s a BEAT before Simon takes the joint. He takes a deep draw.

VOICE (O.S)

So we ready for tonight?

Jeremy looks at Simon, who’s coughing smoke.

SIMON

Y…yeah!

11. INT. LIBRARY – NIGHT

Books line the shelves of an empty library. At a large white study table, sketchbooks are sprawled messily. Lucy’s hand moves fast, scribbling and erasing in a frantic rhythm.

 

12. EXT. SCHOOLYARD – NIGHT

Outside a familiar schoolyard, a wire fence rattles. Simon climbs up and over the fence. He peers back through the diamond-shaped wire gaps. Jeremy and his gang merge into the darkness behind the fence. Tosses a can of spray paint over to Simon. Simon drops the can, and fumbles nervously. He arrives at a familiar blue wall with painted stars and melting diamonds.

 

13. INT. LIBRARY – CONTINUOUS – NIGHT

Lucy continues to scribble. A round-bellied LIBRARIAN at the help desk assists an ELDERLY WOMAN with a large book. They talk about this and that. And probably Dancing With the Stars. Lucy’s pencil punctures through her drawing paper. ZOOM IN on a perfect replica of the diamond painting on the school wall. Except Jeremy is in it, holding Lucy’s hand under the melting sky. She tears the paper in half.

14. EXT. SCHOOLYARD – CONTINUOUS – NIGHT

Simon smiles at the sky painting on the wall. Sirens sound, WHOOPING closer and closer to the schoolyard. Jeremy and his gang disperse. Flashlights shine on Simon and his spray can. An OFFICER holding a flashlight approaches him.

OFFICER

Hi there.

Simon squints, frozen in panic.

SIMON

Hi…

 

OFFICER

Do you realize this is school property?

C.U. on Simon nodding and smiling simultaneously.

 

15. INT. SCHOOL OFFICE – NEXT MORNING

A neatly arranged office with the occasional potted plant detains a row of students. Simon fidgets amongst them on the end chair. Biting his nails to the skin. Jeremy sits at the end of the row, glancing over at Simon periodically. Lucy enters, rushed. It’s apparent she’s late. Her handful of books and loose sketches fall scattered along the floor. A sketch falls near Simon’s shoe. He fumbles nervously.

SIMON

Uhh… Here let me!

Simon picks up the drawing of Lucy and Jeremy. Stares at it. Shocked. Hands Lucy the sketch.

LUCY

A…actually… this is for him.

Lucy motions to Jeremy. Biting her lip seductively. Simon glares at Jeremy through the corner of one eye. Stands up to confront him. Tight clenching fist. And then…WHAP! The boys fight.

CUT TO:

16. INT. CLASSROOM – AFTERNOON

C.U on Jeremy’s bruised cheek. ZOOM OUT to see rows of small empty desks. Except two. And a teacher reading a magazine at the front of the room. Jeremy sits at the back. Head down. Simon’s at a desk in the front row. He takes a blood stained tissue out of one nostril. Examining his busted knuckle with pride. There’s a crack in the glass that splits the penetrating afternoon sun on separate parts of his face. Simon continues to look forward despite the sun in his eyes. He doesn’t flinch. Not even once.

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Broken Lines, Christopher Suffield

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The ward was quiet as shards of light shone between the blinds. They cast rectangles of brightness against the grey linoleum floor. A continuous, methodical beeping sounded from the only occupied bed in the room. It was accompanied by the soft puff and whirr of a respirator. Wires and tubes ran from the patient to all manner of apparatus and cables sprouted from under the crisp white sheets. Both the blanket and sheets were neatly tucked in, covering the bulge of one leg and foot, but hung limply where the other leg should have been. Electrodes pressed against Andy’s scalp while another ran up one nostril. His chest rose and fell gently, the only movement in the room.

Josh was slumped on a chair in the corner. His head lulled against the backrest and his eyes were closed. One of his eyes was blue and purple, his nose bent slightly to the left. His bottom lip had been split and a scab covered the cut. A cast held one forearm, the red fibreglass encasing his arm from elbow to wrist. A few signatures were scrawled on the cast in black ink. Soft snores came from his open-hanging mouth and a dribble of spit had dried against his cheek. The morning light came to rest where his ankles were crossed over each other. One snore came louder than the others, rousing Josh from his sleep and his eyes fluttered open. He yawned and rubbed the sleep from his eyes with his good hand. Blinking a few times as he sat up, Josh looked over to the bed.

‘Damn it, Andy,’ he muttered.

He pulled the cord beside the window, raising the blinds and shielding his eyes with his bad arm. Josh stared into the distance once his eyes had adjusted to the light. The glare of headlights, the screech of rubber on tarmac and the crunch of the impact were still fresh in his mind. He hit his cast against the wall in frustration. Josh could taste the metallic tang of blood and shook his head as he tried to clear it.

‘I’m such a fucking idiot,’ he said. His let his forehead bump against the glass, leaving it there as he closed his eyes.

* * *

The light turned green and Josh stabbed at the pedal with his foot. The engine growled as the ute jumped forwards with a screech of rubber on tarmac. His white-knuckled hands gripped the wheel. The sun was dipping below the horizon but the glare was still enough to make Josh squint. One hand lifted from the wheel for a moment to flick the sun visor down as the stereo blared, but it couldn’t overpower the grumbling of the V6. The red circle on a white background of a speed limit sign flashed past on the side of the road but Josh didn’t see the number inside. The number on his speedometer was well above it anyhow, the car whining as it hung at the factory maximum.

‘Why do you have to go so fast every fucking time?’ said Andy, glaring over at him.

Josh laughed. He loved the rush that came with such speed. Things had become strained between them recently. Ever since he had his license suspended for the first time it felt like Andy had changed. Josh knew he was being reckless but he’d never admit that to Andy. The speedometer was nudging one hundred and eighty, almost a hundred over the speed limit but he didn’t slow down. Tyres slid against the bitumen as the car flew around the corner. Josh flicked his visor back up after rounding the bend. The broken white lines on the road came so close together it was almost as if they were a single line. The sky was darkening from the bright blue of the day as a few puffy clouds turned from pink to purple, but neither boy noticed.

‘Josh, slow the fuck down. You’re going to lose your license again,’ Andy said.

‘Shut up, Andy. You’re such a fucking wuss,’ Josh shot back.

‘I wish I had my Ps already. This thing is a death trap.’

‘You’re just jealous you don’t have your own car.’

‘Do you really think I’d waste my money on a ute?’

The last comment stung. It had taken him months to save for the red Holden, and some birthday money from his grandmother left him just able to afford it. It might have been a little rusted, but Josh was proud of it. Josh put Andy’s resentment down to envy. Rounding another corner, the tail lights of a car appeared up ahead, only just visible in the diminishing light. They grew rapidly but Josh kept his foot on the pedal. The broken white lines merged into unbroken double lines, as Josh pulled out onto the other side of the road. Only once he had pulled into the other lane did he see the oncoming car.

‘Fuck!’ Josh shouted, yanking the wheel to the right.

Tyres screeched for a moment before the car flew off the road, the sound changing pitch as tarmac turned to dirt. Skidding to the sounds of blaring horns and the crunch of gravel, Josh slammed on the brakes. He wrestled with the wheel as the road pulled away from them, bending around to the left.

‘Josh! We’re going to hit a fucking –’

His eyes screwed shut just as the passenger side door smacked into the trunk of the tree, windows shattering as the door was punched inwards. The airbag exploded into Josh’s face. Josh thought he heard a scream before the ringing in his ears drowned it out. Something cracked in his chest as he was flung against his seatbelt and blood began to stream from his broken nose. He shoved the door and stumbled out of the car. The taste of his blood was metallic on his lips as he licked them. His head was spinning.

‘Fuck me,’ he groaned as he looked back at his pride and joy from his hands and knees. Inside Andy wasn’t moving. ‘Andy! Fuck!’

Josh crawled back into the car, fighting against the stubborn seat belt and sliding his hands under Andy’s arms. He dragged him across the centre console and onto the gravel. Blood smeared over the car’s interior and the ground as Josh laid Andy down. His friend’s chest rose and fell as t-shirt turned a deep crimson. Andy’s left arm and leg were crumpled against his side, blood drenching his jeans and dripping from his crushed fingers.

‘Fuck!’ he shouted. He reached for his phone, pulling it from his pocket with trembling fingers, fumbling as he entered his password, the phone vibrating in its refusal once before Josh got it unlocked. For the first time, Josh was truly scared. A moment later he held it to his ear, sniffing loudly to clear the blood from his nose. The phone began to ring.

‘Fuck, hurry up,’ he said before the ringing stopped.

‘You have dialled emergency Triple Zero. Your call is being connected,’ said the recorded voice on the other end of the line.

* * *

Josh wiped his brow with the back of his arm, grease smearing across his forehead. His t-shirt had been discarded hours ago and sat crumpled in the corner, still damp from his sweat. He grabbed a brand new spark plug from the bench and walked back over to the Toyota. Bending back under the bonnet, he shoved the spark plug in before standing back up, smacking the back of his head on the raised bonnet in the process.

‘Fuck,’ he grunted.

The car only needed a simple service, but it was much more difficult than it should have been in the heat. Although it was thirty degrees outside, it felt twice that inside the garage. Josh grabbed his water bottle and guzzled half of it as he looked back over to the bench.

He stared at the crumpled bit of metal hanging from a nail above the workbench. Rust gathered at the edges and some of the yellow and black paint had crumbled away. It was the only remnant of his old ute that remained. Josh glanced up at it occasionally, reminded of his mistakes. It reminded him just how lucky he was to be alive. The car was a write-off, but it wasn’t the damage he caused to his car that hurt. He grabbed the last spark plug, leaning under the car’s hood once again. Josh replaced the part and stood up, this time avoiding hitting his head before slamming the car’s bonnet. He quickly drained what remained in his drink bottle. Josh picked up his shirt, wiping the sweat from his face before hanging it over his shoulder.

‘Hey Josh, you finished with my car yet?’

Josh grabbed the car’s keys off the bench and turned to face the voice. He lobbed the keys over the car and a hand shot out to catch them.

‘Good catch. And yeah, I just finished,’ Josh responded.

‘Awesome,’ Andy said as he pushed towards the car.

It had been a few years since the accident now and Andy acted as if it never happened. He’d lost his left leg and all feeling below his hips, but these days he seemed happier than Josh remembered, even back when they played footy together. To Josh, it was like the wheelchair had become a part of Andy, but Josh couldn’t escape the guilt he felt. He didn’t have to pay the price for his stupidity, Andy did. He was envious of how easily Andy had come to terms with everything.

Andy rolled over to the car and flung the door open. His arms were heavily muscled and he easily lifted his body from the chair and onto the car seat. His leg followed limply and he flicked it in front of the seat.

‘Chuck the chair in the back, would you Josh?’ Andy asked.

Josh nodded and pushed the wheelchair around to the back of the car. He couldn’t understand how Andy was so casual about his situation. Andy would never walk again and yet Josh was the one who couldn’t move on. He picked up the chair and placed it in the car’s boot, closing the boot once it was positioned correctly.

‘There you go, mate. Anyone home to help you out?’ Josh asked.

‘I’m picking Alice up from netball. What do I owe you?’

‘Call it a hundred. Changed the spark plugs and all your fluids and checked the brakes. Everything else was fine.’

Andy handed Josh two fifties and closed the car door. It was a generous discount but he didn’t tell Andy that. He waved as Andy backed out of the garage before turning to look up at the number plate on the wall.

‘Why can’t I fucking move on?’ Josh muttered.

He reached for the scrap of metal, pulling it down from the wall. It was cold. He could taste blood every time he held it, every time he remembered. Josh threw the plate in the skip bin outside, the clang of metal on metal feeling strangely satisfying.

* * *

The pub was crowded that night but Josh sat alone, nursing his beer in the corner. He always drank too much when he was in a bad mood. The glass emptied faster than he expected and he wandered over to the bar to order another one.

‘Hey Josh, my shout,’ called Andy as he rolled towards the bar.

‘Hey mate, thought you were taking care of Alice,’ Josh said.

‘Nah, she’s over at a friend’s place tonight. You drinking alone again?’ Andy laughed. Josh said nothing, took the beers and moved back to his table. Andy followed. He had known Andy would find him tonight. Every time he felt like this, Andy would show up. It reminded him of those days he’s spent by Andy’s side at the hospital, wondering if he would ever recover. Josh sipped his third beer quietly before glancing over to his friend. Andy sat in silence, as if waiting for Josh to say something.

‘How do you do it?’ Josh asked.

‘Do what?’

‘You know, the wheelchair, not walking, everything.’

‘Mate, what choice do I have? Mum and Alice need me. Even you need me.’ Andy took a long drink as Josh watched. How could it be that simple?

‘It should have been me. I fucked up, not you. It’s not fair mate.’

‘Get over yourself, Josh. Do you want my fucking sympathy or something?’ Andy spat, glaring at his friend.

‘I, uh …,’ Josh trailed off, his cheeks flushing as he realised the truth behind Andy’s comment.

‘Life’s not fair, mate. Roll with the punches. Stop beating yourself up over it. We’re still alive, right?’

Josh smiled weakly and took another sip. How could Andy put everything in perspective so easily? In those weeks after the accident, Josh wasn’t sure if Andy would make it. But he recovered much faster than anyone had expected. He was determined not to let the anything slow him down, especially doctors. Andy had been in the gym before the doctors allowed him and his arms quickly grew stronger than Josh’s would ever be.

‘So what should I do, Andy?’ Josh asked. Andy paused for a moment.

‘Get rid of that number plate and live your life, mate,’ Andy said.

‘It’s already gone. I threw it away this arvo.’

‘About fucking time, mate. Anyhow, I found this guy online selling his old racing wheelchair but I need you to help me to pick it up. That cool?’

Josh looked down at his drink again, the glass cool against his palm as he took another sip. ‘What kind of racing? Sprints?’

‘I want to do a marathon. Why do you think I’ve been in the gym so much? Gotta use these guns for something,’ Andy said, flexing his right arm. Josh stared at him like he was crazy before laughing and nodding.

‘Show off. I’ll help you out but you’re absolutely crazy. Want me to coach you? We’d make a great team.’

‘Fuck you, Josh. What do you know about coaching?’ Andy laughed.

Josh smiled and punched Andy in the arm before draining the last of his beer. They talked long into the night, the drinking forgotten as they talked until closing. Josh knew something had changed. A weight had been lifted from his shoulders as the two friends talked like they did before the accident. Josh would never forget what happened but if Andy could move on, then so could he.

 

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Greyhound, Jeff Thomson

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The silver dog streaks through the day and through the night. Traversing hundreds of miles of interstate highways, moving the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. A symbol of the ideals of meritocracy that modern America was built on; the maligned who ride these buses bring with them a ragged sense of hope.

 

The passengers were packed in tight, the boxes in the back of a FedEx truck, handled with as much care as those minimum wage delivery drivers. Everyone had too much luggage. They crammed it into overhead racks, coerced it under seats, or just left it in the aisles.  This made Jess nervous. Her backpack fitted neatly under her feet. Should she have more? It was her first time on a Greyhound bus, and she never expected it to be so intimidating.

Jess had been one of the first to board. Her seat was near the back, by the window. As more passengers got on, she felt boxed in. Even before the bus began its slow roll out of Spokane she was trapped. She tried to block out the regrets, but they continued to pile up against the inside of her forehead.

By the time the bus was speeding along the I-90 the dam was full and the questions overflowed to take her full attention. Was she abandoning her brothers? She knew what it was to be abandoned. She knew her brothers might never forgive her, might never talk to her again. She had only a handful of memories of her father before he left. Her attitude towards him often flittered from hatred to pining. Is this the way her brothers would think of her?

‘No,’ she decided. Immediately blushing as she realised she might have said the word out loud. Staring at the seat back in front of her, the man beside her didn’t seem to respond. This wasn’t forever, she continued, making sure to keep her thoughts to herself. She just needed to put herself first for a little while. Jess was sick of not living her life, sick of fronting up to work to bankroll her mother’s habits. She’d come back, she knew that much, but one can’t return without leaving in the first place.

Jess wanted to hold her breath until she reached Canada; she couldn’t relax until she knew she’d pulled it off. Looking out the window she saw only piles of snow swept aside by the ploughs. It wasn’t the clean white snow of Disney films, but the gritty, muddy slosh of the real world.

Beside her sat a fat black man, his eyes closed and his head lolled backwards onto his headrest. On his lap sat a big cardboard box, and covered in brown packing tape. The way he wrapped his arms around it, even while he slept, suggested it was of great value. The box blocked her view into the aisle and of the passengers on the other side.

Giving up on the views to her left and right, Jess stared forward. Her face was flushed and sweaty, her teeth clenched. Her fingers absent mindedly bunched into tight fists. The dark grey felt of the seat in front of her was riddled with stains of dubious origin. Her examination also revealed little colourful bumps protruding slightly from its base. Jess had an idea.

She felt under her own seat. She ran her fingers along the bumps of dried gum. The gum could have been there for years. She returned to the bleak scenery that streamed along the first bus she had been in since high school. This in itself didn’t bring back happy memories.

Her jaw was beginning to ache. She could feel the pressure building near her ears. She jammed her tongue between her top and bottom teeth, an effort to starve of the pain. She closed her eyes and reached under the seat again.

She slid her fingers over the gum. Quickly passing what felt like the oldest, the crustiest, the hardest. Then she came across a mound that seemed to be the freshest she would find. Slowly and gently she pried it from the metal – not a task her short bitten nails were suited to. Holding the gum under the seat she looked around, the sleeping man was still sleeping, and his box and the high chair backs blocked the view of any other passengers. Quickly the gum went from her hand to mouth. The first bite was crusty. Disgusting. She’d never eaten old gum before.

For a number of hours she chewed, before eventually returning the gum to its home under the seat. Then she leant her head back and slept. All the while the plains of Washington whipped past her window as they travelled towards the coast.

* * *

‘But that’s in four hours!’ Jess pleaded with the woman at Greyhound ticket counter.

After lining up behind three other people at an unmanned desk for far too long, someone had finally appeared. Jess had broken from her prison camp, balancing the thoughts of freedom with the risk of capture, only to find another barb wire fence. She was in no man’s land. She hadn’t expected to be spending four hours in Seattle tonight.

‘The bus to BC leaves at nine-thirty, honey. Always has,’ was the only explanation offered by the overworked woman. Jess stepped away from the counter, her bag slung over one shoulder, dejected.

Pushing the heavy glass doors, she stepped out onto the dark street. A blast of cold air hit her face. It was a dark street. Three huge letters hung out of the side of the building, B U S, but only the latter two were lit up. U S they said, flickering occasionally they reminded her that all was not quite as it seemed. The Greyhound station: the place for us. The place for the rest of us.

Jess retreated from the cold, back into the building. To say the bus station was grimy would be to say too little. The architecture dated to the seventies at least. Despite the mop sitting in the corner, it seemed like the floor hadn’t been cleaned in just as long. Even then, it was hard to picture this place in a condition that could ever have been described as new, or clean.

She found a place on one of the few metal chairs crammed into the small space between the vending machines and arcade car racing games. The metal was cold a first, but she appreciated being away from the wind. Soon a man sat down next to her. Jess avoided looking over, but he waved an open packet of Red Vines in front of her.
‘Wauld yoo lar-k one?’ He asked, his words distorted by the chewy candy hanging out of his own mouth.

Jess hesitated, her mother’s voice echoed in her head. She slid a Red Vine from the pack without saying a word. As she brought it closer to her lips she tentatively smiled. Her dad used to bring her Red Vines. Aside from the ticket lady, this man was the first person to talk to her all day. He put down the packet on his knee and stretched his raspberry liquorice from his mouth until it snapped.
‘Where ya headin’?’ His voice was clearer with his mouth free from the candy.
‘Canada,’ Jess replied.
‘BC, ‘ey?’ He mocked Canadian speech.
Jess silently chuckled and looked at him properly. He was an older man, with a round face and stubbly grey whiskers. His skin that looked like it had seen some hard times.

‘I’m going south, myself,’ he went on, gonna see me kids. Haven’t seen ’em for years.         ‘Why not?’ Jess twisted in her seat so she was looking towards the old man more.
‘They didn’t wanna see me. I dun blame ’em none either.’ He scratched his beard. ‘I walked away from my duty. I was on the drink in those days, but that still dun make it right. I ain’t try’na make excuses, but it’s the truth.’
‘You must be happy then, that you can see them now.’
‘Darn right I’m happy. The good Lord gun smile of me today.’ He smiled a grin as big as his character. Jess smiled back, and they sat in silence a moment.
‘The name’s Harry. Harry Jenkins.’ He extended his right towards Jess.
‘Jess,’ she replied, consciously leaving out her last name. His fingers where stubby but his palm broad, and he wore fingerless navy blue gloves. She shook his hand, and found his firm grip soothingly paternal.

They stopped talking and shifted their focus to the television suspended in the corner. A news bulletin was on the screen. Jess looked at the pictures, but didn’t take any of it in, just let it all wash over her. The segment finished and an ad came of the screen. Harry turned back to her.
‘So why are you running?’
‘Running?’ asked Jess.
‘Jess, look around,’ he motioned towards the other people waiting in the bus station. A woman leaning on the wall as she spoke into a pay phone, a few people tapping at cell phones, a man asleep in a chair. ‘- Everybody here’s runnin’. Just a question of whether you are running away or running towards.’
‘Umm. I don’t think… I guess…’ Jess paused, ‘I guess I am running away.’ On this realisation a lone tear slipped from her right eye and trickled down her cheek.
‘Why ya running away, Jess? Your Momma no good to you?’

On this question, her left eye let out a tear. ‘No, that’s not it.’ Another tear. ‘It’s just, sometimes it’s too much. Sometimes I’m trapped. Sometimes I can’t take it all. Sometimes…’
Harry kept watching her eyes.
‘Sometimes I’m scared of failing.’
‘You can’t be scared of failing honey. Listen to this old man, cos he knows a thing or two about failing. This old man hasn’t spoken to his own kids in twenty-five years; he knows a thing or two about failing. Failing’s what makes us who we are, ya know that?’
She shook her head.
‘Ya know how many time Edison failed to make a light bulb?’
Jess shook her head.
‘Ya know how many times Einstein failed to make the bomb?’
Jess shook her head.
‘Hell, I was in Vietnam, I know a thing or two about failing. So you don’t worry ’bout failing.’
‘Okay’ Jess said, sheepishly.
‘Now if ya wanna runaway, I’m not gonna stop you. But don’t be running away to avoid failure. The man that never fails is the man that never tries. The man that never fails is the man that doesn’t ever really know himself.’

* * *

Soon enough Jess was on another bus. She was back on the I-90 again, but this time, heading east. She wasn’t going to Canada, she didn’t need to go to Canada. She was going back home, she was going back home to her brothers, and she was going back home to her Momma.

It was very dark now. The scenery of the mountains, the scenery she’d been too caught inside her on head to notice on the way in, was now hidden in the darkness. A few times Jess cupped her hands around her eyes and pressed against the glass, but it didn’t help on this moonless night. She hadn’t cared about the scenery earlier on, but now, more relaxed, she wanted to take in as much as she could. Despite the darkness she could feel the mountains surrounding them. Occasionally she saw a headlight glisten on a still lake beside the road.

When the mountains finally dropped the interstate from their embrace, Jess could feel it at once. The plains opened up again. This openness gave a sensation of freedom that Jess hadn’t experienced before. Perhaps it was familiarity, or perhaps it was the comforting knowledge that escape was possible. But the once dreary and restrictive landscape that had depressed her felt different. She hadn’t realised just how claustrophobic the city had made her feel until she was in the open again.

This late bus heading inland was nearly empty, there were maybe four other passengers besides her. The nap on the bus earlier hadn’t been a restful or satisfying sleep, and with the stress of the day she soon became drowsy in the darkness. Now it was the calm drowsiness that makes your heart warm when your head hits a soft pillow. It was the same satisfying drowsiness of being warm in bed on a cold rainy night.

 

The passengers slept, but that silver dog continued to chase down their dreams.

 

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Underside, Dennisse Ruaix

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The room was drowning in the scent of wild flowers. The double bed in the corner was buried in ball gowns and shoes. The balcony door was open to let fresh air in.

‘Will you stop fidgeting?’

Jolie clasped her hands together. Sweat built around the top of her lip. Jolie was standing in front of her vanity mirror brushing her un-kempt hair. Her skin was a sickly white, her cheeks burned with anger and her eyes shone like silver swords. She carefully parted her hair on the side and took unconscious care not to drag the brush across her long pointed ears.

‘Fix your hair,’ her mother ordered. ‘No one will want to look at you if your hair is standing on end like a peacock’s tail.’

‘At least it’s as colorful as one,’ Jolie replied. Indeed her hair was a mass of colours; red, pink, blue, green, purple and silver. No one would call it dull.

Jolie’s mother looked at her for several intense seconds without blinking and turned away towards the door. ‘Wash that out. It looks awful and unfit for a Lord’s daughter.’

Jolie trudged to the bathroom. The citizens of Underside call themselves Undersiders and within the citizens are ranks of family, at the top are the aristocratic elite. They were families linked directly to the Elders who ruled in the government. These families called themselves the Black Lords and Ladies of the Court.  She was a Black Lord’s daughter, and daughters of the courts must remain dainty, chaste and weak. And they absolutely could not step outside the city walls. For outside the city walls were the tunnels the led out in to light. Step out in to the light, and any Undersider would burn. Well, that was according to the prophesies of Isaiah, the prophet that led the remaining of Earth’s other-world creatures down in to the Centre of the Earth to escape the sun’s fatal heat.

Her mother never approved of the tournaments she participated in. She would rather have had Jolie at home learning how to boss the servants around and treat them like flies on toast. Tournaments were the only thing that allowed her to participate in combat, weapons fighting and dragon riding in an acceptable way.

The annual Ball for the family of the court’s Lords was being held tomorrow. The court’s stuffy dignitaries would all be there including the prospective suitors for Jolie’s hand in marriage. At nineteen she was the perfect age for the ritual. Marriage was a dead act of love; it was all about power and position in the court.

Jolie stepped out into the balcony and looked over onto the edge of the city. Far in to the distance, like ridges on a dragon’s back, were the walls that kept anyone and anything from accidently entering the tunnels. If only the world above the ground was possible. If only Jolie could breathe fresh air.

*          *          *

       ‘You’re human,’ said Jolie.

Jolie could not believe it. There was a human sitting in front of her, she was taught all her life that humans only existed in myths, tales and legends. Her fingers were itching to touch his face where the skin looked smooth and was brown and orange like terrariums setting over the sea.

‘Yes, for the thousandth time in the last two hours I have known you,’ Julian replied.

‘Well tell me the one thousand and one time,’ Jolie couldn’t stop staring at this human adolescent that was running sand through his fingers. ‘You’re extinct.’

Julian cocked an eyebrow, ‘Clearly.’

‘No. According to the Prophecies, ‘All will perish left on the surface.’

‘Well how racist of Isaiah to only lead, ‘other-world’ creatures down here and leave us all to supposedly die.’

Jolie just stared. Awe scratched all over her face.

‘Look, as far as I know humans are real. We live on continents all around the world in peace, ok no that’s a lie, there are wars going on all the time and we kill each other constantly. But, we are definitely not extinct.’ Julian finished by throwing a handful of sand in to the sea.

‘How did you get down here?’ Jolie asked.

‘There was a massive earthquake that raked through my town and now Main Street is in two.’

Without hesitation Jolie demanded, ‘Show me.’

*          *          *

       Jolie walked down the giant stone steps along with twenty other late-teen and early-twenties women. Like birds on show they were looked at, pointed and whispered about as they paraded around the hall. Eligible single men watched them with intense stares. A mass of gentle waves of black hair caught her eye.  It was Mark. A court’s son and friend since she was six years old.

Jolie made her way to Mark and said, ‘you clean up good. Dance with me? Otherwise I’d have to dance with those men, their eyes look hungry.’

‘Then don’t dance with me, because I’m starving,’ Mark said.

‘Don’t tease,’ Jolie tugged at his hand and pulled him to the dance floor.

‘Guess what?’ she pronounced as he led them on a slow waltz, ‘I found a human.’

Mark stopped dancing, his eyes wide. ‘Ok. If you say so.’

‘It’s true. I’ll take you to meet him,’ she said.

‘Him?’

*          *          *

       ‘Any human that knows about us will be hunted and killed.’ Mark said.

‘They can’t do that. What about the law?’ Jolie demanded. They could not just punish someone who doesn’t even belong in their world.

Mark’s eyes were wide and fearful, ‘That is the law,’ he said. Guardians were law abiders, through and through. The rules are simple.

‘What do you mean? As far as anyone knows humans are legends,’ Jolie said.

Mark took a deep breath, ‘There are Undersiders called Guardians who were sworn to keep the secret of the surface and the human world. I’m one of them.’

Jolie had nothing to say. There were too many thoughts fighting for attention inside her head. Humans existed and now her best friend had just told her there were Undersiders who knew all along.

Finally, a question made itself clear, ‘What do Guardians do?’

‘We make sure no Undersider make it to the surface and no human makes it down to us,’ Mark answered.

‘And what if you fail at the border?’ Jolie asked.

‘Then we hunt them down,’ Mark said.

‘Julian has to be safe,’ Jolie said under her breath. ‘Will you protect him?’

The question hung in the air un-answered.

‘Jolie I can’t break the law. If I do, if I protect Julian, other guardians will not only hunt me down, they will kill anyone else that was involved. They will come after you.’

*          *          *

       Why couldn’t Julian just stay put and waited for him to bring him back to the surface? Now it was Mark who was being tracked down. Mark sprinted down the alleyway, blood dripping from his arm to his palm, coating his gun in red slime. The concrete at his feet slick with sweat and sewage seeping from the broken pipe threatened to trip him over. The air around him that was as hot as the inside of a stone oven burned his lungs. The buildings flagging the alley way didn’t have any fire escapes, no way to hide if they catch up.

A corner turn was coming up, he couldn’t slowdown in time to safely swing around the corner and so his shoulder smashed in to the brick building. A sharp pain reverberated through the joint down his arm. Dammit. He didn’t have time for bruised nerves.

Twenty cars were parked haphazardly in a small opening in the alley like dice thrown at random in a square box. A screech echoed behind him. He ran faster towards the nearest car; a blue Toyota with broken windows. He opened the unlocked door and tore open the glove box, in it was a key. He wiped his forehead in relief; his racing heart relaxed the slightest.

He had no idea how to get to Julian’s house. He had never been outside the city before and driving to the country was far from foreign, it was otherworldly. Mark knew how to drive a car, he was taught modern technology at a young age so that Guardians can track and blend in the human world. Prosecuting your own kind should be illegal, but that was the law.

‘What the hell Julian? I told you to wait for me at the gate!’ said Mark.

‘I told you! There were guards after me already. They would have caught me if I didn’t run,’ Julian said.

‘Will you two stop arguing? They’re almost on to us,’ Jolie said.

All three ran towards the cover of the woods just outside Julian’s hometown. After Mark surfaced on to the human world Jolie heard rumours among the elite that there was a funeral being arranged for a young aristocrat, Mark’s name was mentioned. The Craft was an ancient magic older Undersiders have forgotten to use whilst the younger generations were never taught. Jolie’s grandmother belonged to the last generation who wielded magic. She had taught Jolie everything she knew. It was a secret; no one knew except Mark that Jolie had mastered The Craft. Armed with her powers Jolie set off on to the surface to find Mark and Julian.

Jolie took deep breaths as her legs pumped along the field. She had never been more terrified or exhilarated her whole life. The feeling of breathing in fresh air could only compare to the feeling of being on a dragon’s back for the first time as it flew along the underground sea.

Just twenty meters from the first trees of the woods a flap of gigantic wings seared through the air around them, encircling them in a light twister. Above them was a dragon twenty feet tall. Hooded beings, Guardians, were saddling its back with guns pointed at Jolie, Mark and Julian. They were not shooting, their gun only poised to shoot for intimidation.  Jolie closed her eyes, whistled and punched the air in front of her with palms open. Another dragon, as big as the other darted from the woods as quick as a flash of light and tackled the dragon above them. The Guardians were knocked to the ground as their dragon was hit so hard it was buried by the crevice it made in the field.

Only a few, the more skilled and advanced Guardians regained their balance in a second and proceeded to run towards Mark, Jolie and Julian.

The quickest, a man six-foot tall lowered his hood, gun raised, reached them first, ‘you did a good job, hunting them down little brother. Now be a good boy and hand them over,’

Jolie gasped as she recognized Erik, Mark’s brother. She looked over at Mark expecting the same reaction but only a hard stare escaped Mark’s face.

‘Jolie, I knew you would be the one who would eventually shame my brother in front of the entire Court,’ Eric spat.

‘Leave her out of it,’ Mark said.

Eric turned towards Mark, ‘You really should stop wearing your heart on your sleeve. I told you she was trash.’

Mark moved quick as lightning, he charged, slid on the ground and kicked at Eric’s knees, a loud crack reverberated throughout the wood and the open field.  As Eric fell down, hand still outstretched with a gun in his hand, Mark elbowed the gun out of Eric’s hand and in the same motion smashed Eric’s nose.

‘Lets go,’ Jolie said as she ran for her dragon that was already in front of them in a kneeling position.

Without hesitation Mark followed Jolie and climbed on the dragon’s back. Julian was hesitant for a second until Mark held out his arm and pulled him on to the giant lizard’s rough back. Jolie was up front, whispering to the dragon under her breath, eyes closed. The dragon flew in to the air, climbing as high as it could go. With one last murmur from Jolie the dragon disappeared from the sky with only a fleeting light left in its wake.

*          *          *

       ‘How the hell are we going to survive now?’ Julian asked.

They were on top of a hill somewhere along the Italian coast.

‘Blend in.’ Jolie said, her eyes shining like reflected light from silver metal.

‘We’re going to probably die. You know,’ Mark said. But he too was smiling a small, excited smile.

‘Whatever. We’re out,’ Jolie said.

Julian looked from one elven fairy to the other.

‘You two are insane. There’s nothing special about the human world. Not enough to risk your lives,’ Julian said.

‘Maybe to you. But to us its new territory,’ Jolie said.

‘Speak for yourself,’ said Mark.

Jolie looked at Mark, smiled and threw the rock she had been rolling around her fingertips, at him.

‘Look at your world Julian. The rolling green hills, the boundless oceans and the limitless sky. My dragon is going to love it,’ Jolie said.

‘You know you’re going to have to keep it out of sight during the day, humans will freak-out if they see it,’ said Julian.

Jolie turned to Julian. ‘Of course.’

‘Or she could make a leash and walk with him in to town. That’d be fun.’ Said Mark.

Jolie laughed, a big real laugh from the gut.

‘Bloody fairies,’ Julian said.

‘Badass fairies,’ Mark said.

Jolie said, ‘Half-elves. Thank you. Do you see wings?’

 

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The Belle of Belfast City, Elizabeth Mead

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‘LUCINDA ELIZABETH MARGARET O’CONNOR!’

Her mother burst into the room, Baby Mary in one hand and a bowl of ‘Special K’ in the other.

‘What, in God’s name, do you think you are doing? Mass starts in five minutes and you’re not dressed.’

In one swift motion, the cereal bowl was on the desk and the covers were upturned. Lucy was dragged from her bed and shoved into the corner, where her mother thrust her Sunday Best into her chest.

‘You have two minutes to get in that dress, brush your hair and get out the front or I will give you a bowl-cut. You hear me?’

Lucy definitely heard her. Samuel, the third youngest and in his first year of school, had been given a bowl haircut last month for refusing to eat dinner. He was tormented at school for weeks and it still hadn’t grown back. Imagine how much worse it would be for a girl. No way. No sleep-in was worth losing hair over. Lucy put the dress on and headed downstairs. She hated dresses. Particularly this one. It was powder blue and lacy, falling to an awkward length just below her knees. When she was younger, her mother had made her wear white, kitten-heeled Communion shoes with the dress, and a big, blue bow tied around her head. But, hitting teenager-hood meant Lucy could ditch the childish shoes and wear flats instead.

The house was chaotic and cluttered as usual. Lucy had to dodge several strange flying objects, most probably clothes and toys, clean up a large chocolate milk spill and judge some sort of gymnastics competition going on in the front room. By the time she made it to the sad, brownish-looking front lawn, however, the whole family seemed to be there, looking decent and ready to go.

The Church of St Vincent De Paul stood at the end of their street. The families from neighbouring households were trudging down the footpaths on either side of the road – mothers tugging on their son’s ties and tidying their daughter’s ribbons; fathers shuffling alongside their wives, hands in pockets. Mr O’Connor, Lucy’s father, walked in front of their pack. He had caught up to Mr Nelson, who lived next door, whilst Deidre, his wife, was gossiping at the back of the pack with Lucy’s mother. When they reached the church moments later, the family had split up entirely and Mrs O’Connor was left to scurry about, rounding up the troops before they headed inside and sat in a pew close to the altar. A slither of sunlight was flickering through one of the stained-glass windows, sending coloured light dancing across the parishioners. The arched ceilings made the church echo with the loud, fast-talking voices of the Irish Catholics. People filled the pews and aisles, chatting and laughing while waiting for Mass to start. As the organ sounded, the congregation stood in staggered succession and began to sing the opening hymn. Lucy’s mother pinched her on the arm, mouthing ‘Sing’, before joining in the chorus so loud that the parishioners in front turned around in fright.

Lucy rolled her eyes and whispered along to the hymn. She scanned the crowd. She knew every face. Everyone lived nearby. Many families had kids that went to her school. The McKay twins, five pews in front, were in her year. Sixteen, and had already slept with half the boys in their grade. In dresses of a decent length and no eye make-up, they almost looked innocent – before one noticed the matching skull tattoos on their ankles. Two pews ahead of them, on the other side, Mr Nelson, Deidre and their two kids sat quietly. They went to the integrated school a couple of suburbs away. Most of the people who lived in this area were Catholics through-and-through. They only knew Catholics, only spoke to Catholics and rarely ventured across to the Protestant suburbs of Belfast. That made the Nelsons outcasts. Their daughter, Claire, had a Protestant boyfriend, Jack, who lost all his friends by going out with her. He had to move to the integrated school to escape them. While much of the conflict between the two sectors had subsided, tension still clung to the suburbs that surrounded the wall which separated the Catholic and Protestant sides of the city.

Lucy was no longer listening to the Priest, who had finished reading the gospel and had just begun what would undoubtedly be a lengthy homily. She thought about closing her eyes when there was a sudden communal gasp. The window above the altar shattered and a large rock landed on the steps leading down to the central aisle. The priest looked up at the gaping hole in the stained glass above him. Shards of orange and purple were scattered over the carpet and several of the altar boys had gone dashing for cover under the pews reserved for the choir. Horrified chatter began as a few parishioners ran up to the altar to check if the Priest was alright.

‘By God, that could’ve killed someone,’ Mrs O’Connor muttered, leaning over to join the shocked murmurs of the women in the pew in front.

From her seat next to the aisle, Lucy could see the rock. It was large and dark grey, with a flat side that had white writing scrawled across it. Lucy squinted to read the words written in white-out.

‘Claire and Jack = SCUM.’

Lucy put out her arms to lean on the pew in front. She was trembling. She knew instantly who was behind this little stunt.

Lucy looked over at Claire Nelson, who held her head in her hands while her mother rubbed her back. The priest returned to the gospel stand and continued with his speech, as if nothing had happened, while a group of elderly women cleared away the glass shards with dust-pans and brooms.

After Mass, the congregation gathered outside for morning tea. There were general mutterings of anger and shock. The Nelsons were nowhere to be seen, fleeing the Church after Communion. The O’Connor kids, like all the other children, rushed to the food spread, devouring several cupcakes in seconds.

Lucy sat on the fence and looked across the street. Darcy had been lingering behind a tree for a few minutes now, looking over at her at steady intervals. Quickly glancing around to make sure no one was watching, Lucy crossed the road and turned into a connecting street, sitting behind a wall with a large mural on it. He came and sat down beside her, putting his hand on her knee and letting it slide up her skirt to rest on her inner thigh.

‘I just wanted to check that you’re okay…not hurt or anything,’ he said.

Lucy was quiet. She didn’t want to look at him. Instead, she fiddled with her hands, picking at the red polish that was chipping off her fingernails.

‘Rick just got home. He, uh, was talking to Dad about the rock and I overheard. I came straight here.’

Lucy looked up at Darcy. His dark hair flopped to one side and the buttons on his shirt had been done up wrong. He did look like he had rushed to get there. His eyes narrowed with concern.

‘Your brother is a good-for-nothing twat. You know that, right?’ she sighed. ‘You should have seen Claire. She was – ‘

‘Upset, angry, of course – ‘

‘Mortified. She was mortified. The rock nearly hit the priest, for God’s sake.’

Darcy went quiet.

‘I’m sorry,’ he murmured sheepishly. ‘Rick and his mates are idiots.’

He leaned in to kiss her but she moved her head to the side and his lips barely brushed her cheek.

‘I just wonder what he’d do if he found out about us.’

They were both quiet then. Rick was a thug. He and Jack had been best friends before Jack and Claire started going out. Mr McKinnon, Darcy and Rick’s father, was a thick-blooded Protestant who had been on the frontline of the Belfast riots in the seventies. Rick somehow felt the need to keep his father’s anti-Catholic legacy alive. It was a wonder how Darcy didn’t end up like his trouble-causing bastard of a brother.

Lucy moved to rest her head on Darcy’s shoulder, lingering in the shadow of the old riot mural for a minute longer.

***

‘Where the fuck ‘ave you been then, son?’

Mr McKinnon was leaning against the kitchen sink while Rick sat at the breakfast bench, scoffing down a bacon and egg roll.

‘Went and saw a mate. School stuff.’

Darcy sat down opposite Rick. His large, tattooed arms sat heavily on the bench. He stared over at Darcy with beady eyes through thick, greasy hair. He was smirking behind the roll.

‘A mate, eh?’

Mr McKinnon moved over to the bench and leaned in to face Darcy, his yellow-tinged teeth gritted an inch away from Darcy’s chin.

‘Well, Rick saw you at the fucking Catholic Church with your arms around a fucking Catholic girl!’

Rick laughed out loud. A nasty laugh. Darcy stared at his father who was now shaking, the vein down the side of his neck pulsing beneath thick skin. Mr McKinnon pinned Darcy against the back of the chair and pushed his face so close that their noses were touching. With a clenched fist, he punched Darcy square in the stomach, winding him so badly that he collapsed and passed out on the floor.

***

‘They’ve gone! They’ve just left. I, I found the note on Claire’s bed. She didn’t even say where they were going –’

Deidre Nelson was sobbing on a stool in the kitchen. Through the crack in the door, Lucy could just make out her mother, standing behind, patting Deidre’s shoulder.

‘They’ll be tryin’ to get out of Northern Ireland, I s’pose. Get away from all this nonsense,’ Mrs O’Connor sighed. ‘Don’t worry – Jack’s a smart boy, he’ll take care of her.’

Jack had been mugged on his way to work at the local milk bar. Lucy hadn’t heard from Darcy since this morning – it was now close to dinner. A pot of spaghetti was gurgling on the stove in the kitchen.

‘Lucy?’

Mrs O’Connor had opened the kitchen door and was looking down at her, sitting in the doorway with her mobile held to her chest.

‘Be a darl and go get us a carton of milk and some chocolate. Deidre here needs a cuppa tea, I think.’

She thrust several pounds into Lucy’s hand and gave her a gentle push towards the front door.

‘Hurry back now,’ she said, turning back into the kitchen.

Lucy ran down the street towards the wall. She pressed her phone to her ear, urging Darcy to pick up.

‘Where are you?’ she muttered to herself.

The wall was partly lit up by the street lights across the road. Thousands of messages of peace from all over the world were scrawled across it in permanent marker – tourists sending messages of confusion and sadness that such a divide still exists in the new millennium.

‘Life is short. Forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly – James Dean.’

If only it were that easy, Lucy thought. Although the wall was called the ‘Wall of peace’, the fact that it still remained as a barrier between them meant it was not so. Lucy rushed along the wall towards the gate, stumbling into the caretaker as she turned the corner.

‘The gate’s closed. Sorry,’ he mumbled.

Lucy looked at the large, black gates, padlocked shut.

‘Hoist me over then, please?’ Lucy pleaded, holding out the several pounds her mother had given her. The caretaker took them without saying a word.

***

The Church stood, dark and tall, beneath the cloudy night sky. Rick and his cronies held drums of petrol in each hand. Darcy was out in front holding the torch as Rick kicked the back of his knees every few paces, forcing him onwards.

‘Right then. Boys? Get to it,’ Rick called.

He opened one of the drums and began pouring it on the wooden entrance to the Church.

‘Oi!’

Darcy had dropped the torch and was doubled over, still in pain from his father’s punch. As Rick and the boys huddled outside the front door, Darcy stumbled over to the fence and leant wearily against the bars.

‘Darcy?’

Lucy’s face was badly bruised on one side. Her lip had split and her dress was ripped at the hem. Darcy reached out his hand and pulled her towards him, embracing her for a moment before the pain of standing upright got too much. Lucy held him by the waist and lowered him to sit at the bottom of the fence.

‘The caretaker of the gates must be one of Rick’s mates,’ she said dryly, gesturing to the bruises on her face.

Darcy didn’t seem to hear her – or if he did, he didn’t show it. His face was creased around the edges. He was holding his stomach like a child holds a puppy, squeezing it hard.

‘What the hell has happened to you?’ she asked, leaning so close that Darcy could smell the perfume on her neck.

Darcy winced, nodding towards the huddled pack standing about ten metres away at the Church entrance.

Lucy saw Rick and his friends. She saw the petrol cans in their hands. She saw the Church, the grand oak doors, the lighter sticking out of Rick’s back pocket. In a second, it all made sense. As if only just realising Darcy had disappeared, Rick turned to see him and Lucy, hands entwined.

‘What the fuck are you doing here?’ he screamed.

Rick didn’t move. He stood, still, while his friends gathered around him. Lucy was silent. She had no doubt that Rick would kill her if she gave him the chance. He reached into his back pocket and took out the lighter. Flicking it on, off, on, off, he walked over and stood in front of the wooden door he had so artfully glossed in petrol. He turned and smirked, tossing the lighter over his shoulder.

Lucy watched as the tip of the flame touched the puddle of petrol and created a ring of fire around the front of the Church. The fire began to gain height, climbing up the door and engulfing it before it exploded in a waterfall of orange and ash. The flames began to lick the walls, moving upwards and into the Church where the door had once been.

Rick, smiling smugly, had not turned around. He stood, in the same spot from which he’d thrown the lighter, looking at Darcy and Lucy. The heat of the fire behind sent beads of sweat dripping from his hairline into his eyes. It almost looked like he was crying. His friends were laughing, chucking the drums of petrol to each other and pointing at how high the flames had climbed. One of them dropped the can, spilling petrol over Rick’s boots. Rick shoved his friend angrily. As he began to walk towards Darcy, a falling ember dropped onto his boot, causing his feet and jeans to catch fire. He screamed in pain as the flames crept upwards, surging up his pant-legs and over his back. His friends danced around him like children. A few of them fled. Lucy watched Darcy leap towards Rick. For a moment, they were brothers again.

‘GET WATER,’ he screamed.

Darcy tore the jacket from his shoulders and threw it on Rick in an attempt to put out the flames crawling up his body. Lucy had moved to be close to Darcy. She could see the sticky flesh on Rick’s legs as his jeans disintegrated. It smelt like a chicken roast at Sunday dinner.

One of Rick’s mates returned with watering can from the Church garden and began to drench Rick from top to toe. Rick continued to roll around in the soot and ash that had once been his clothes.

Lucy wrapped her arms around Darcy and led him away. He was crying – thick, wet gulps. Mucus from his nose dripped down her dress. She could feel her own tears stinging the corners of her eyes. Lucy turned to look over her shoulder at the Church that had disappeared behind a blood-orange blaze and smoke. Rick lay on the lawn alone.

Darcy and Lucy shuffled away, eventually collapsing behind the shadows of the peace wall. There, they lay for a moment beneath the Northern sky and the peaceful messages of millions.

 

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