TALES OF ANDREW WATERS
phocks books Published by the phocks group phocks Ltd. 36 Kidgell Street Stafford, Brisbane, Queensland 4053, Australia phocks.org
Copyright 2004, 2007 by Joshua J Birtles All rights reserved
the moral right of the author has been asserted Printed on Earth Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form or binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
for my mother
CHAPTER 1 The Bedroom
he night times are the best, when the light of the shining sun is on the opposite side of this dreadful planet and stays there for all the time in the world, when illumination comes not from any distant source, far, far away, but from nearby and familiar means. So I’m not too sure if you even want to hear any of this stuff they want me to write or why on earth you are even taking the time out to read this, like you’ve got nothing else better to amuse yourself with. Well I figure you probably don’t want to know too much about me anyway, my rotten upbringing and all that, so I guess I’ll only tell you the bare essentials and all about myself and everything, seeing as you’ve at least taken the trouble to read this much, which in itself is quite an ask. Well, if you really want to hear it, my full name is Andrew William Waters, but you can call me Andy if you want to; no one ever calls me Andrew, only my Dad sometimes when I’m in trouble or whatever, which, as it happens, is most of the time he’s around. Luckily that’s not too often. I’m really at a loss to what else you could possibly want to know, but I guess you’ll figure most of it out as you go along. I hope so at least. So the sun was finally just a sunken sphere behind the trees in the backyard and the other houses on the block to the west and had at last left me alone for another day. The coming of evening had meant that my last day of primary school was, in my head, becoming now just a memory, receding far into the distance behind me forever. Seems like some kind of peculiar dream when I think back to it now. Now, I know I should have been all sad and whatever because I was leaving behind my old crumby school and all the teachers and all that, but I wasn’t really; didn’t feel anything at all really, to be perfectly blunt. And another thing was that I didn’t even really feel too excited either about moving on to high school in the new year like how I was supposed to feel, like how everyone’s always getting so wicked excited about those kinds of things. We didn’t do a goddam thing the whole day at school; don’t even know why we bothered actually. Now that I think of it, the only thing I did of any value before I left was write my stupid name on that big, old eucalyptus tree at the back of the school oval where I was always sitting and reading all my stupid books and that at lunch, and on my breaks and everything, where I could be 4
alone and no one else could find me – although I doubt anyone was really looking. My Dad had given me this small red pocket knife for my birthday that year – I think it used to be his or something – and taking it out from the heel of my left, white sneaker, I laid myself down on the filthy ground, not caring about the prickles and ants and everything, near the base of the tree, and carved my name into the woody bark as low to the ground as possible. I figured maybe some kid in the future – perhaps some kid like me or whatever – might come along and find that very spot, right under that tree and he’d sit there racking his brains out, wondering who the hell this ‘Andy’ character was and all. I planned it all out too, about how maybe I’d come back in a year or two, to see if my name had risen at all from the ground, a kind of gum tree growth experiment I guess, but then I imagined I’d probably have forgotten all about it by that time and so didn’t really worry too much more about it. So it was the holidays again, my favourite time I guess, the time of year I probably disliked the least of all, although I’m still not sure I really liked it all that much better than any other time. Awake in my room I sat in my bed with little to do, just thinking about various silly things. I can get really edgy sometimes when there’s nothing around to occupy me, but tonight was a little different. My room being quite small, I took a quick look around at the familiar walls staring back at me with their tremendous indifference, dimly lit by the small desk lamp that I had taken off my desk and put on the floor; just something I do sometimes. I like the long shadows it makes on the walls and from the low ceiling fan spinning overhead, bearing down above me, and all the walls and ceiling sealing me in all snug and secure and all. I don’t really mind cramped spaces too much; they don’t actually bother me at all that much like they do some people. I heard from somewhere – on TV or whatever – that claustrophobia can cause a person to just totally freeze up in a cramped environment and everything, and although I don’t really know anyone actually suffering from anything like that, I’m well aware that there are such people around from various books and movies and that. I’m pretty sure that if I were afraid of cramped spaces or anything like that, then I would probably be quite uncomfortable in my little enclosure, but luckily I’m not, so I didn’t have to worry about it. Must be terrible for them I guess. Sometimes I wish I could help all those people who are scared of things like that, things that really shouldn’t be so frightening, but I seriously don’t know anybody who is, so I guess I can’t. I was quite comfortable there at least. 5
Well, with my room being so small, it can get quite boring at times. I looked over at my cheap little microscope set sitting on the desk next to a few small test tubes and beakers, the remains of a failed chemistry experiment the night before. A few books that had most likely fallen down from my bed were strewn across the floor, their contents all already digested anyway so it didn’t really matter. Everything else was the same as always, uninteresting and dull. I wasn’t tired or anything, although I imagined it was quite late, so amongst the shadows of my desk lamp cast from the floor onto the walls, I just sat there in my bed, listening to all the sounds around me. I like how the night time makes everything more audible than it normally is during the day. It’s all relative you see. The steady ticking from the lounge room wall clock was always coming through the walls in the quiet of the night to bug me while I was trying to sleep. It’s strange the way you can go for ages without noticing it at all when the sound is well hidden amongst all the other background noise, but then when you start to notice it, when it finally does decide to pop up in your head, it’s virtually impossible to get rid of. I hate it when that happens. The ticking made me kind of wonder how late it was in the night. I could have gone out to check on the time, but I really didn’t want to risk waking Dad up, who was most likely asleep in his room down the hall. Besides, it wasn’t that important what the stupid time was anyway, makes no difference to anything. And it didn’t really matter at all if I woke him up or not though either; I knew he wouldn’t care too much, but I just didn’t want to anyway and figured I’d just let him snore and snore away, all disgustingly like he does, in his room. It’s strange, but somehow he seems somehow happier snoring away on his own, in his room than any other time I can remember seeing him. Snoring away to some dream he’s having, probably of some far away place. He’s always talking about far away places, how beautiful they are and all that, but the thing is, he’s never really been anywhere at all. He’s always just telling me how there’s nothing really much keeping him here and that one day he’ll move us out of this dump and how he’s going to take me touring around to all these fantastic and exotic places all over the world. It seems doubtful that either will happen any time soon. I was still looking for something to do to fill in the time until I became sleepy, which at the time seemed like it would never happen. All the books I had in my room were all pretty dumb and most of them I’d 6
already read, each a couple of times over at least. After a little while thinking, I decided just for the hell of it, I’d jump up and have a little dance around the room. I like to do that sometimes when no one is around to see, except me of course, but I’m not enough to get myself embarrassed. While doing it, I’d always spot myself in my tiny, little cupboard mirror to see what an enormous fool I was making of myself and then I’d just laugh my goddam head off and keep on dancing like a madman. There wasn’t any music and I didn’t even really feel like putting on my headphones, but it didn’t matter anyway. I would always be just making up all the music in my head as I went along, just the way I liked it played, a million violins, violas and cellos, all playing in synchronicity and all to my make-believe conducting or whatever else I felt like making up at the time. So I danced around the room like an idiot for a while to the dull fluorescent glow of my desk lamp and the crazy music in my head. I didn’t dance for that long though. Most of the time I usually get out of breath before too long anyway and have to quickly suck like mad on my asthma inhaler for a minute or two or else drop dead then and there, but not that night. The moment I looked in to the mirror to spy my silly face, it all of a sudden vanished, everything did. My lamp had gone out and the world of my room became emersed in the darkness of the night. I stoped dancing after that of course and stood still in the dark centre of my little room, just looking around for any sign of light. I imagined how terrible it would be if I were at all scared of the dark. Luckily I wasn’t. After a while, when my eyes began to adjust to what little light had found its way in from wherever and I began to just barely make out a little of my surroundings again, I cautiously stepped over to the lamp and fiddled with the switch, trying without too much avail to get the damned thing going again. Eventually I gave up on the lamp and returning it from of the floor back up to the desk, I looked over to notice, coming though my bedroom window, a soft, subtle stream of light, shining in from outside through the curtain. I went across to the window, pushed aside the curtains a little and looking up, beheld the source of illumination.
CHAPTER 2 The Window
was half expecting the light I saw to be that stupid streetlight that’s always annoying me when I’m usually trying to get to sleep at nights. Most of the time I never notice it when there’s a light on inside, but as soon as I switch them all off and jump into bed, it’s like everything outside becomes like a million times brighter and louder and all. It wasn’t the streetlight though anyway; there were no lights at all up the whole street or anywhere. Everything else was dark. It was the moonlight that I saw, really bright, shining from the full moon hovering above my bedroom window. Really I know that it’s actually just the sunlight reflecting off that giant mirror moon, dancing around the sky. And so the steady stream of unshakable photons originally from that big ball of fusing hydrogen eight light-years away passed gently by me and into my room. As I looked up at the bright moon in the sky, I wondered how long it had been up there, circling the earth and I kind of imagined myself up there too as though I were the moon in orbit, looking down at all the pointless stuff going on around the planet, year after year, millennia after millennia, aeon after miserable aeon. I wondered if the moon was ever lonely without anyone to really talk to at all. I could’ve gone to sleep if I really wanted to; it was pretty late and all. I looked back into the darkness of my room and thought what I needed maybe, was something a little different to the usual business of reading or messing around with stuff in my room. I couldn’t see anything anyway and a thought came out of nowhere that maybe I needed to find someone to maybe have a few words with for a while, a little time out perhaps. Sometimes it’s a laugh just to have a few words with people, just about anything really, stops the mind running around like crazy and would be especially helpful in the quiet blackness just before sleep with nothing there to occupy and pin it down. There’s seldom a place more lonesome than in your bed, just before you nod off. You can have a million other people around you and still feel alone. I wondered if anyone else around the neighbourhood was awake enough to realise the power had gone out. I hoped so; otherwise I imagined it might be like it never happened, like a tree falling in the woods and all that kinda stuff. I thought about taking a look outside, around the place a bit, just for a little while, until the power 8
came back on. There’s been a hell of a lot of outages for a while now, something about the system being overloaded or whatever. The power company men are always running around like mad trying to fix all the problems. You always see them on the television with their big tool belts on, up some power pole playing with all the wires and everything. So I thought I’d better get out of there anyway and go outside for a bit. When I’m in the right mood, I’m always doing stuff like sneaking out of my room at night and going on these stupid little adventures and everything all up and down the streets, pretending I’m all these different people from heaps of books and movies and that, while everyone around me is off asleep in their little houses and don’t know anything. I know you’re not supposed to do stuff like that when you’re just a kid. You’re not supposed to do anything much really, but it’s not like I’m hurting anyone or anything and I’m sure Dad wouldn’t really care that much even if he did know what I was getting up to. I mean he’d give you a good telling off and everything if he did catch you doing something and send you off to your room and that, but you’d be able to tell that he wasn’t at all too bothered by it, just doing it for the part I guess. He’s never all too bothered by anything much really these days, but I still didn’t want to take the risk of going right out past his room to the front door. I think what really worried me more than the possibility of being caught and getting in trouble and everything was the thought of him waking up and stumbling out half-dazed, and thinking I had just come out to get a drink of water or something and he’d start talking to me about this and about that and about Mum and all that. He’s always talking to me about Mum and how I should never be sad or whatever about what happened to her because she’s up in heaven now and how God had bigger plans for her and all that. It just gets me depressed more than anything though, because you can tell he’s really messed up over what happened and it’s just his mind trying to make sense of everything. I don’t think Mum is really up in heaven. I don’t think there even is such a place, except in Dad’s mind that is. He needs a place to put her I guess, somewhere where she’ll stay the way he remembers her and won’t start decomposing and be eaten by bugs and worms and all that. I was just about out the window, when I realised my sneakers were not on my feet and I sure as hell wasn’t going to go off without them. They had to be still somewhere around my room. I remembered hurriedly throwing them off somewhere that afternoon after school, but had no idea where. So in the darkness I began to hunt around for them, under my chair, 9
all through my cupboard, all around the filthy floor, crawling about on all fours like some kind of stupid dog, looking for a big old bone buried about a month earlier. I looked over towards my bed and could see the greater darkness that engulfed the space underneath. I could imagine how scary that void might have been to one so disposed to fear as would believe there to be all kinds of assorted creeps and monsters hiding there just waiting in the darkness for a stray arm or leg to pass within clutching distance. I didnâ€™t mind any of that stuff though and went off grabbing all around the junk under my bed until my hands landed upon something unexpectedly soft and squishy. It was real disgusting like all mushy in between my fingers. Just a little put off, I withdrew my hand, racking my brain at what it might be. The smell was certainly pretty disgusting. All of a sudden, the elapsed memory of my fungus propagation experiment came to mind. For a science project earlier that year, our teacher Mr. Meadows had given us each a small box of decaying leaf litter along with a variety of mushroom spores, telling us to find a dark spot in our room and to document the growth of the various fungi. I remember he made a day that each student was to bring along a sample of their mushrooms and show it to the class and I also remember they had to take one kid away in an ambulance that day, because he had eaten his mushroom for morning tea. It wasnâ€™t too serious though, but the experiment was cancelled and after that much, I guess I must have forgot all about clearing out my box of decaying goodness. I reluctantly reached back under to finger around for the forgotten box, but my hands first felt the unmistakable rubber sole of one of my sneakers and I figured my mushrooms could stand to wait a little longer. I had on my shoes before too long, making sure I got my little red pocket knife out from the left toe and stuffed it back down into the heel once they were both on my feet. Stepping lightly over to the window, I climbed up and slowly slipped out, making hardly a sound as I touched down softly onto the moist earth beneath my feet. I turned back around and looked up at the window to my room, darkness shining out from within.
CHAPTER 3 The Street
here I lived was like this dirty old rotten suburban area, just a little bit out of town, where no one really liked to be and everyone wanted to get out of as soon as they arrived. We had all kinds of people always driving through at night with their cars all revving like mad, going up and down the empty streets and making a hell of a racket, but there didn't seem to be too many that night and with all the streetlights and everything dark and nothing lit up and all the way it usually is, it all seemed just a little strange as I tiptoed my way towards the front gate. We had this really high wooden fence going all round the whole house, all old and rundown, with pieces missing all over the place. The front gate screeched like crazy whenever you opened it, so I thought I would probably make a little less noise by crawling through this small hole that's right by the gate, where some of the boards had been snapped off from someone kicking them in or whatever. There were always people going around kicking and breaking things all over the place down the street; really made me mad sometimes. You'd never actually see them in the act really, but you'd see the next day, the effects, all the lousy stuff they'd done all down the street, guys letting off steam or something â€“ I hate that kinda stuff - kicking over bins and breaking branches on all the trees along the footpath and everywhere. Sometimes I think I'd like to catch them doing it, all rampaging down the street. I'd sit there in the shadows and when they'd go past and do something rotten like kicking in one of the planks of my fence, I'd stand up and yell my lungs out at them, asking them what the hell they thought they were doing, being real intimidating like and serious and all so they wouldn't call my bluff or anything. Then before he could have the time to think what was happening, I'd walk up all casual, push him to the ground and kick his stupid teeth in or something. I don't think I'd really have the guts to actually do something like that though even if I did have the chance. I never have the guts to do anything really, it's so crazy. But sometimes I pretend like I do when there's nothing else to do, just to see what it's like to be all gutsy and brave and whatever like they all are in the movies and everything. I seriously thought about it though, but I'd most likely rather just set up some kind of ingenious trap or something with lots of trip wires and ropes and all that 11
and I'd be far, far away laughing my stupid head off thinking about him falling over and smacking his rotten face on the pavement, with blood flying all over the place in the darkness, just to see how he likes it. Anyway, I got right down on my hands and knees and was sticking my fat head out through the small opening in the fence and took a quick look up and down the street to check if there was anyone coming, but I couldn't really see too far even with my glasses, and everything seemed like just blotches of black and white. So I went on out anyway, crawling my way onto the freshly cut grass that was sticking in between my fingers from its moistness. Eventually I squeezed my way out and onto the footpath. I stood up and tried to rack my brain about where I should head off to first. All the lights around me and up and down the street were still all out and I wondered just how far the blackout had spread and thought about the electricity people running around trying to give power back to all the people who were asleep anyway and didn't even really need it all that much. Although, I figured there must be some crazy people up as late as it was, wanting to use their electric toasters and watch late night television and all that just because they've got nothing else better to do. Those people must be the people who are always ringing up and complaining about how they have no power and everything and getting all angry for about a minute or two until they accept that they can't really do much about anything anyway. I still couldn't think of where to go, but then I thought I might go up and visit that old building right down at the end of the street, all overgrown and with all the paint falling right off the walls. No one lives there and it never has any power anyway even when the electricity's working. I remember I had set up a little experiment there in that old place the other day and I figured I could check on it and see how it was going. I had put it up there in one of the rooms on the second floor because it needed some place where it wasn't going to get too many disturbances. I headed off up the street towards the place where the old house was. I'd been up there about a million times before in the afternoons after school, following along with all the other kids. They're always going up there to muck around and everything, making it their hide out and all that. They liked running up there and jumping all through the house, pretending like they're real tough and everything, running around all the abandoned rooms everywhere and arguing over who's going to be the leader of the gang. But most of the time if they ever got a leader, he usually didn't really 12
have too many bright ideas at all and was too caught up in trying to become the leader and keep everyone else at bay to come up with any good plans anyway and by that time anyway, it was always just about time for all the kids to go home before they got in trouble by their Mums and Dads. I usually kept to myself anyway and didn't really mind it too much when everyone always left for home and left me there alone after dark. I'd run around everywhere all by myself and shout orders at everyone who wasn't there to do all the things I wanted. They'd all run around like mad, fixing the place up and making everything better and I'd climb up the old ladder to the very top of the roof and look over at all the other houses in the neighbourhood, each with some other kid standing on top waving up at me. Anyway, I was just about half-way there, when I got the notion I'd do something different along the way, to stop me from going crazy from boredom. Just for the hell of it I started to imagine myself as one of those people, really mad like storming up the street in a real rage at the world and everything. I put on this real tough face, all stiff, like my eyebrows and the outsides of my lips were being pulled uncontrollably downwards and I started to breath really heavy through my teeth and looking around all suspicious at everything, like all the trees and the houses all around and all the people inside the houses were against me and everyone I knew from school, my teachers and everything and even my Dad snoring away at home were against me too, all trying to stop me from doing what I wanted. I ran up alongside all the fences of all the old houses in the street and imagined kicking them like crazy all over the place, ripping off branches of trees and smashing them against all the letterboxes, sending them flying off everywhere. My make-believe destruction down the street came to an end because I was so out of breath from kicking the stupid air and swinging around at nothingness that I could hardly walk. The street rounded off into a dead-end and I could just make out the grey old abandoned house, all falling apart, between two other houses in mildly better repair. The moon was still the night's sole source of illumination. It had just appeared again from behind a cloud and as I trudged a little closer, and had made visible the mass of vines and overgrowth running up and down all the walls of the decrepit building. Slowly catching my breath again, I looked up at the old house standing like some disgusting old man in a hospital about to die, just barely holding on to existence. The metal gate had been torn off long ago 13
and stepping inside the yard, I noticed all the cracked and broken windows all over the place. The moonlight, now shining from almost directly overhead, bounced off and was refracted in many places through the shattered prisms of glass, creating these little spots of colour all around the place. Up on the second floor, I noticed one windowpane that wasn't broken. It was most likely the only one in the place and as I looked, I froze with slight puzzlement to see a warm orange glow of light shining out from inside.
CHAPTER 4 The House
t took me as rather strange that here of all places, up inside this worn down old house, when no other light could be seen in any other houses around the block, that this house, taken by everyone to be abandoned, not connected to the powerlines even, would have a shining orange light in clear view, radiating out from within its top room. I couldn’t really move at all I was so mystified I guess at what might be up there in that very top room, when the evidence of all I could see looking up to that window went directly in the face of my every expectation. I immediately began to speculate on what could be the source of this mysterious light. The streetlights running down the street were all still dead and the unwavering nature of the window’s light made it much too steady to be that of a flickering candlelight. I thought a bit about just leaving for home and forgetting about the whole thing, trying to convince myself that it was probably getting pretty late and all anyway and that I should really be getting to sleep and everything, but I found that my curiosity was trying to get the better of me and it seemed there was one simple way to find out for sure what was going on, but I was far from sure I wanted to venture in there, when I had no idea what to expect. I can get like that sometimes, real indecisive and all when I’m faced with something I’m not sure of, something new. I know it’s stupid and that I should be eager and daring and everything and want to venture into the unknown and all that like they’re always doing in all those adventure stories. I don’t know why I’m not like that sometimes, but I’m not. So I decided to turn around and put the whole stupid thing out of my head and start heading off back for home. I took a couple of quick steps in the other direction and was feeling a lot better. My thoughts had been running around and around and getting all jumbled and mixed up and all, but now they were starting to calm down a bit. A few more steps and then I began to think that maybe I had just imagined the whole thing with the orange light and everything or it had been some crazy reflection in the window and I started feeling a hell of a lot better. I thought that perhaps it might have been all in my head, just my mind playing some kind of stupid trick on me and probably having a hell of a laugh about it, all in hysterics and everything now that it was clear that I had fallen for it. So all of a sudden, just like that, I began to have a bit 15
of a chuckle to myself while I was slowly walking away and decided that maybe I’d take just a quick look back at that old house, just for the hell of it. I hadn’t gone very far when I stopped to turn back around. I had this really big kind of goofy smile on my face from thinking how nervous I had become before over just about nothing, but it was also a kind of half smile because I was still half thinking about it when I quickly spun around to spot straight away the top window of the old house. Sure enough, the orange light that had just been shining out before was gone, or more likely, I rationalised, it had never really been there in the first place. So I decided I wasn’t really all that tired after all and I still wanted to go up and check on my little experiment anyway. So without wasting and more time, I quickly dashed back to the old house, past the rusty broken gate and before I knew it, was climbing up a vine and through one of the lower windows of the house and into the familiar darkness. I landed with a thud on the hard wooden boards of the floor, but it didn’t hurt that much. I was always getting bumps and bruises anyway from running around and falling down all over the place, that it didn’t even bother me at all really. It was much darker inside the house than outside. I checked that my glasses were still on my face; they were, but I still couldn’t see worth a damn and I began to wish I’d brought a torch with me. Dad keeps his torch in his room, right next to his bed. It’s always sitting there right beside him on his silly little bedside table with that picture of Mum and me when I was just a stupid baby. I can imagine him always waking up about a million times during the night to look at that goddam photo. He’s always doing things like that, so I thought he probably needed it more than me anyway. Don’t get me wrong though, I love Mum and all that, it’s just that she died so long ago, when I was really young, that only small fragments of memory are left in my head. I see how Dad gets a lot of the time, the grief just takes hold of him and he can’t really do anything except sit in his room and look at that silly picture. I knew where I was anyway; I’d been in there like a million times before at night, just it was never this dark. I imagined what it must be like for blind people to get around and started to kind of pretend like I was blind, waving my arms about everywhere, trying to feel my way around for everything and running all over the place like crazy with my eyes closed, laughing and bumping into all the walls and furniture and 16
everything, having a great time and all. But that got boring after a little while and I opened my eyes. I don’t think I could live with myself if I really became blind. I thought it might be alright for people who are born blind, because they don’t really know what they’re missing, like beautiful paintings and sunsets and all those stupid things that I don’t really like to look at anyway. They’re just the stuff that everyone says are beautiful and everyone believes them because no one really thinks for themselves and makes up their own minds about it. So in the end I didn’t even really know whether it was good or bad that I could see and thought that maybe it would be better to be like a rock or something with no senses or anything at all, but then I decided that being a rock would be too boring. I conceived that maybe there could be like another sense or about a million other senses that people didn’t have, not like that ESP rubbish that those new age advocates are always going on about, but like real senses that just didn’t quite make the cut, kinda like x-ray eyes or ultrasonic hearing, but even other things that we can’t even think about properly yet. Like what happens to the senses that don’t help animals and that in their evolutionary struggle or whatever? When they eventually die out along with the animal, do they still exist somewhere like in some eternal and everlasting form or something or are they just gone forever? I began to get real deep and everything, thinking about existence and inexistence and all that. I’m always thinking too deep and everything about all kinds of stupid things like whether inexistence outweighed existence and all that. I’ve really got to stop that. I got tired of it all pretty soon, deciding it didn’t even really matter one way or the other anyway and thought I might go and check on my experiment up on the next floor. I headed for the stairs, which I knew were just over in the corner. It was one of those spiral type staircases, real fancy once upon a time, but now it was all cracked and falling apart and everything. One of the planks was missing about five steps from the top that could really trip you up if you weren’t careful, but luckily I knew which one it was. I remember once, one of the kids – I can’t remember his name – had to be taken away in an ambulance when he didn’t see the missing step while running down away from the other boys who were trying to catch him so they could play at executing him. I saw it happen. His leg went right down through the hole and got kind of twisted and stuck in there as his body continued on its way falling forward, smashing down against the stairs. I remember hearing like this loud snap that must have been his ankle bone or something, snapping like a twig or whatever 17
and he let out this like real agonizing squeal like nothing you could imagine and just kept on screaming and screaming like mad and all the kids just stood there at the top of the stairs just staring at the poor kid, all probably thinking about how much trouble they were going to get into and all. After that the house became out of bounds for all the kids around the neighbourhood and the doors were all boarded shut and everything, but none of the kids really took any notice of that anyway. I ran right up to the top of the stairs and was about to go racing down the hall, when I felt my head go smack right into something really hard and before I knew it, I was on the ground, my head hurting like hell. I looked up to see a large wooden door blocking the way to the upstairs hall. I couldn’t really remember there ever even being a door there before, but I could tell there was certainly one there now, from the trickling of blood from my forehead. I don’t really mind a bit of blood now and then, shows that you’re still alive, yet also reveals the frailty and impermanence of the human body I guess. Slowly I got up, regaining a little of my senses and looking towards the large door, I noticed it was without a handle and didn’t even have anything like a keyhole or anything. I pushed up against it a bit to see if it would budge, but I was still half out of it from the knock and thought I’d better try something else. Taking the time to think for a little while, a plan suddenly sprang to mind. I knelt down and pulled out my red pocket knife from the heel of my left sneaker. Opening out the blade, I started at the side of the door, pushing it into the gap between the door and the wall and messed around until I finally found the latch. With a twist and a click the door swung open and I looked warily down the hall to see the warm orange glow once again, eerily emanating from the room at the end of the hall.
CHAPTER 5 The Light
thought I must have been going crazy or something as I took another look down the long hall to where the unmistakable glow of light was coming from. This time I was certain that it wasn’t just some trick of the light or just my mind messing around on me. I realised then, that this room down the hall was the very same room where my experiment was. A few weeks ago, I had this idea of setting up some stupid experiment I found in a book that I can’t even remember what silly hypothesis it was supposed to be testing. Still being really cautious and everything, I decided on finding out once and for all just what was really going on. With my pocket knife still at the ready, I headed on down the hallway, tiptoeing like some creep in one of those terrible old horror flicks and took a real quick peek in through the door with my head all sideways around the corner and then back again hugging the wall. I only had my head around there for a split second and what I saw from the quick peep I got wasn’t at all very clear and seemed a little odd. The quickly fading image of the room I had in my head from my momentary glance I got was that of a disgusting old man, sitting somewhat hunched over in this crooked old wooden chair, smoking this cigar or something in his left hand and gazing out into the darkness through the unbroken window. On the desk next to him sat my experiment, set up just the way I’d left it, a few glass beakers and an assortment of petri dishes, all different colours. I was also able to ascertain the strange and unexpected source of the orange glow. It wasn’t in fact coming from anything electrical in nature at all, but from within the largest of the glass beakers, which sat right on the edge of the table next to the old man. Its contents glowed orange in this weird kind of way, brighter than any light emitting chemical reaction I’d ever seen, sending out these soft streams of light in all directions. As I waited up there, pulled tight against the wall, I felt my breathing becoming steadily heavier. I was sweating like crazy from the nerves and all, that kind of cold sweat you get when you’ve not been really overly active, running around or anything, but you’re dripping anyway. I went over in my head the image I had just seen and fumbled around in my pockets, hopelessly searching for my inhaler, which I was sure I’d left at 19
home or somewhere. I’m always leaving things at home and never seem to have then when it counts. I don’t know how I did it, but standing there up against the wall, I somehow was able to just let everything go, all my stupid worries and nervous anxieties and all that. It was like I was one of those secret agent spies, all suave and sophisticated and all. I imagined I was just about on the verge of killing the most criminally insane supervillain I’d ever come up against and there was no meticulous planning or anything like that, but like I was doing everything all on autopilot, all coming natural, real innate, like it was instinct or something. So pulling myself together, I decided I’d take another look inside, just to prove I wasn’t dreaming or anything like that before I made my move. All casual and everything, I slowly peeked back around the corner into the room and got a real good look at what was in there. I was kind of half-expecting nothing to be there, just like outside the house, the old man, the cigar and the glowing glass beaker being nothing but another creation of my crazy imagination or at least just my eyes on the blink, playing tricks on me. But sure enough, precisely the same scene presented itself exactly as it was before, but this time I stayed quietly peeping around the corner, watching intently at this grey old wrinkled man sitting there in his wooden chair, looking straight out the stupid window. I kept on staring and couldn’t really turn my gaze away, although I can usually never really stand looking at terribly old people most of the time; I mean they’re usually really nice and all, but they generally just get me real depressed more than anything, thinking about how some day I’d be just as old as them and they’d be dead and I’d have stupid kids like me always looking at me and staring and thinking all kinds of crazy things. His body was really still and fixed to his seat like he was made out of old candle wax or something that had melted into the chair and I thought maybe he belonged in a dirty old wax museum. I might have thought he actually was some kind of wax statue had it not been for the cigar in his left hand that was burning away, filling the air with a dark grey smoke that all collected up under the ceiling. He wasn’t smoking it or anything though at first, just holding it there really still and letting it burn. Looking away from the old man for a minute to examine the other contents of the room, I noticed that the chemical orange glow from the test beaker 20
was beginning to grow dim. I continued to watch as it grew less and less and then slowly died out completely, leaving the room just as black as the rest of the house. I could still make out the outline of the old man and the smoke from his cigar pouring out into the moonlight. Just then, it seemed his left hand began to spring to life, moving towards his face as he took a few short puffs, making this kind of disgusting, slobbering kissing sound followed by all this coughing and choking all over the place, real wet and terrible, like he had about a million slimy toads all squished down his disgusting throat trying in vain to jump on out into freedom. He did this a few times over, with the same disgusting puffing and delirious coughing up everywhere. Then I saw his rickety old cigar hand move right over to where the large glass beaker was on the table and with a few trembling flicks of his frail wrist, a huge lump of ash toppled down with a small splash into the beaker. I almost had to stop myself from letting out like this huge gasp of amazement over what was just about the most amazing thing Iâ€™d seen, certainly the most brilliant reaction Iâ€™d seen. The chemical solution inside the small glass cup immediately started coming to life with orange swirls of light and furious bubbles and everything, exploding out from the black ash sputtering around the bottom of the beaker. The bright orange glow became increasingly more spectacular as the solution began to settle and the light began to fill the room again as before. Almost frozen from the incredible sense of awe, I turned my attention to the old man who looked as though he had also come to life, sitting up in his chair and letting out this creepy kind of laugh, but all excited like some kid playing with a stupid jack-in-the-box or something. I couldnâ€™t really see his face all that well, but I could see he had this big ugly grin on it, his teeth, disgusting as hell, all coming out of his mouth, as he just stared straight at the source of the glow on the table and cackled away like mad.
CHAPTER 6 The Old Man
till squeezing the hell out of my red pocket knife in my left hand, down by my side, I started to wonder where this weird old man had come from and what exactly he was doing up here all alone, besides smoking cigars and messing around with my experiment and stuff, which really wasn’t supposed to be disturbed or anything, let alone have a whole bunch of ash and who knows what else added to it and all. I wasn’t at all too worried about it though. It seems even with the most controlled experiments, you’re always getting people and things that come and interfere. It’s inevitable and inescapable that when you set anything up or put any plan into action, which seems like it will work perfectly when you work it out in your head, that in reality, something will always come along and make things different to what you had planned, all because of the stupid butterflies flapping away in China and all that. I was real curious about my experiment and everything and thought it probably wouldn’t hurt to just go in and say hello. Everyone’s always saying not to talk to strangers and all, but I think if everyone really stuck to that, then no one would talk to anyone at all or meet new people or anything. Besides, everyone’s really a stranger to everyone else in a way. No one really knows anyone else, like walked in their shoes or anything or knows how they really feel. But everyone’s always saying they all know how it must feel and all that, but I don’t think anyone really does. The chemical reaction was still producing its bright orange glow that filled the room and the old man had finally stopped snickering to himself and was back staring motionless out of the window. He looked pretty much harmless and everything like any other crotchety old man, but I still held on pretty tight to my red pocket knife just in case. You always here all these stories on the television and everywhere about dirty old men and all that, offering kids all these lollies and everything and you have to watch out for them because they look just like every other old man. I don’t really pay much attention though to all those kinds of things on television though, especially ones that seem like they’re hell bent on just making you real scared and getting you all suspicious of everyone and everything. But just in case, I decided I’d start making out this big plan of what I was going to do if he was one of those guys. 22
I figured I’d sneak in real quiet while he wasn’t looking, all up on the toes of my sneakers and all. My dad had got me these real soft soled sneakers for my birthday earlier that year which were all really nice and everything and I was always wearing them around all over the place. But I’d had them for quite a few months and they were starting to get all old and tattered and all from me always running through all kinds of stuff and were already starting to get worn out, especially at the back where I’m always rubbing my stupid heel against the ground when I walk. I don’t even know why I always do it, but I can’t really help it. I just do it all the time when I’m not even thinking about it and then when I realise it, I kind of stop doing it for a second, but it comes back right away when my focus moves on to whatever else it wants to. Anyway, so what I’d do is I’d sneak in all real quiet behind him and holding my pocket knife there behind my back so he didn’t get his guard up when he turned around, I’d just ask him straight out and real serious, what the hell he thought he was doing there like he owned the goddam place and messing around and all with my experiment. And he’d turn around all surprised and all and from that I’d be able to judge his character and all and work out whether or not I’d be able to keep the knife behind my back. You can tell a lot about people when they’re startled, because it’s just like instinct or something and all their stupid layers get all stripped away. I started to walk in around the corner and into the room, real silently, my left arm behind my back gripping my red pocket knife like crazy. Boy was I nervous. ‘Now just what in bloody hell d’ya reckon you’re gonna do with that silly little pocket knife there young lad, all the way round behind your back for Chrissake?’ came like this really old scratchy voice, real loud and all, but wasn’t a shout, that startled me like nothing ever before. I felt myself almost jump back through the wall and my heart rate race up like to about a million beats per minute or something as the old man with an uncanny speed for someone of so many years as he seemed, almost leaping out of his seat, spun right around and was looming right over me as I sunk back into the corner. I stood frozen and couldn’t breath or anything as this decrepit old towering mass drew closer and closer and through my blurry glasses, his wide eyes, all disgusting and wrinkled were all I could remember seeing, staring me right in the face, right into my eyes, almost like right through into my soul and all that.
I must have blacked out or fainted or something; I’m always blacking out and fainting everywhere. I don’t know why. At school once, I remember I had to get up in front of the class and all to do this stupid speech about a famous historical figure that I admired and everything, but every time I tried to think of someone to do my talk on, I always thought of something about them that was all terrible that I didn’t like and I had to move on to the next person. In the end, I just made up this pretend historical figure in my head and everything and decided to do my talk on him. No one really listens to stupid speeches by little kids anyway so I figured no one would notice. No one really listens to anything. All the other kids would be busy drawing in their books and all over their desks and Mr. Meadows would act like he was listening, but really he’d be like a million miles away thinking about what disgusting meal his wife would be making for dinner that night or what stupid joke to tell the lunch lady at lunch time, like he’s always right on the ball and spontaneous and all, but he’s not; or else he’d be looking in the top drawer of his desk where he keeps all his dirty magazines that he think no one knows about, but everyone does, even all the kids. And even if he was paying attention, he wouldn’t say anything about my speech because he wouldn’t want to embarrass himself in front of the kids by not knowing who my famous historical figure was. He’s always scared of things like that; you can tell. So I got up there and everything, with all the other kids’ faces all staring back at me and all, bored as hell, waiting for me to begin telling them about how great this person was and everything. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor, feeling this like rush of blood going up into my head with Mr. Meadows and everyone all crowded around me, all wondering if I was alright and everything and then they sent me home and I didn’t have to do my talk at all that day. Anyway, I can’t really remember too much really of what happened after I had blacked out in the corner of the room, except that I had probably fallen over and hit my head pretty damn hard on something because the next thing I remember was like this real piercing like pain in the front of my head while everything was still all darkness and a sharp sound like ringing all through my head. I was on the ground and everything and all I could hear through my head, throbbing like mad, was like someone saying my stupid name over and over again.
CHAPTER 7 The New Friend
ndy… Andy… Andy?’ was all I heard from what sounded like the grumbling voice of the old man, yet rather less daunting, kind of surprised and all probably that I had suddenly passed out like that, and like he was checking to see if I was alright and everything. I began to wonder how he could have possibly known my name, but my head still was still throbbing like mad and I couldn’t really think straight or anything so I just lay there all and sore nauseous and everything. ‘Andy, are you awake?’ the voice came again. I managed to mumble something out, but really I don’t think I was too sure if I was awake or not. I opened my eyes a bit and kind of looked around the place, but everything was all blurry. I put my hand to my eyes and realised that my glasses weren’t on my face. ‘These must be yours young lad.’ I herd and as I felt the metal arm of my glasses sliding back behind my ears, through the lenses, the image of a crouching old man slowly came into focus. In his outstretched hand was my little red pocket knife that seemed almost dwarfed in its comparative size. I gave a short gasp as he was pointing it straight in my direction. ‘Sorry my boy, sure as hell didn’t mean to frighten you like that and all.’ he said, real apologetically and all, like my grandfather is alway doing when he comes around for family gatherings, chasing me and all my cousins and everyone all around the whole yard and everywhere, scaring all the young kids half to death and making them cry and all that. ‘Is this thing yours? Are you Andy?’ I had forgotten that my Dad had gone to the trouble of having my name engraved in all fancy gold writing on the side of my red pocket knife that was being held out now by the old man. My Dad was always doing things like putting my name and everything on all of my things. He even had one of those stupid label makers that he’d always use to stick a big “Andrew William Waters” on my lunchbox and everything and was always ordering all these sheets of iron-on transfers with my name on them, which he’d stick on to all my clothes and towels so no one would mistake anything for theirs I guess. But I think the worst thing he was always doing was carving off like these little shavings off the end of every single one of my goddam pencils and writing my full name all in little tiny letters, all squeezed in so you can barely make the name out. I 25
was never too sure why Dad was always putting my name on everything, almost like I’d forget that it was mine or something if my stupid name wasn’t on there. Anyway, I managed to somehow acknowledge that the pocket knife was mine and that my name was in fact “Andy” as was engraved on the handle. I sat up a little bit and reached out my hand, taking the knife from the wrinkly, old grasp of the old man, while looking up to see him smile this really terrible smile, showing all his yellow, rotten teeth and all as he walked back to sit himself down again on his wooden chair. He looked real disgusting from where I was, sitting there in that glowing orange light from my experiment, hair all rumpled and like this old kind of chequered suit all worse for wear and all that, but he also had this kind of air about him that made him look strangely friendly and somewhat familiar. I sat up a bit more and was leaning against the wall in the corner. The old man in the meantime, was in the middle of lighting up another cigar with like one of those cardboard type matches from those old matchbooks that no one uses any more except in all the old movies. He was sitting there is his chair like all hunched over and looking just about as frail as anything, like if you breathed on him, the force of the wind would just about knock him right over. It was a real stark contrast to when he was standing up all in my face and everything and I almost wondered if it was actually the same person as before. As he sat there, indifferently smoking away on his fuming cigar, a swirl of grey smoke began again to fill the room and started to let off this smell that reminded me a lot of the headmaster’s office at school. I was always being sent to the headmaster’s office at school, most of the time for nothing at all really. You’d be sent out of the classroom, with all the kids talking and giggling and all as you walk out acting all sad and sorry about what you’ve done and everything, but really you’ve got this real big stupid grin on your face that you’re trying to hide. Then it’s on up the big stairs to the top floor and you have to wait outside on that real nice black bench stretched out against the wall, all padded and comfortable and everything, like they really want to make it all as hospitable as anything as you sit there next to the two or three other kids, usually first timers all wetting themselves and whatever, thinking about all those stories they’ve heard in the playground, scared as hell. Then the door opens and you hear your name and you go in and spill your guts, confessing all the god-awful things you’ve done and everything while he sits there bored as hell. And then you 26
most of the time get told off and to never to do it again and all about what’ll happen if he ever sees you up there one more time and all that, but you can really tell that inside he’s having a good old chuckle about what crazy thing you just did, to really get to the teacher to that point where they feel they can’t handle it themselves. It’s quite funny in a way. ‘So kid, your just going to sit there on the floor all bloody night are you?’ the old man asked quietly, snapping me right out of my daze. ‘No sir’ I managed to reply. I was always being so polite as hell whenever I spoke to anyone, even when I didn’t even want to; I couldn’t help it. ‘Now what in God’s name is a little kid like you doing up here so bloody late at night in the first place?’ Even though the way he talked sounded all rough and everything, you could just tell that he didn’t mean any real harm, so I didn’t even really think too much about it. I thought about asking the same question back to him about what he was doing up here, but hesitated a little bit, resolving that he was probably just some lonely old man who had no where much else to go and nothing much else to do. So instead I just started telling him all about the crazy night I’d had and about the blackout and everything and I began to feel a hell of a lot less nervous as I just let it all out. I don’t usually like to talk that much and all, but he really seemed kind of interested in a casual sort of way, like he was just sitting back and taking everything in, all my stupid stories and everything about all kinds of different things and all. You can never get anyone to really listen to you, especially when you’re just a stupid kid and you don’t know anything. Everyone is always butting in and trying to tell you all their stories and all that, but he just sat there smoking away at his cigar, every so often stopping to light up the room again by tapping his ash into the beaker while I spilled my guts about everything. I didn’t even really care too much about the stupid experiment any more and just kept telling him more and more about my life and all the trivial little things that happen at school, at home and just playing around the neighbourhood and all about my crazy thoughts and ideas and everything. It was almost like I was one of those characters in those books where they’re always sitting around, telling someone else of all their adventures and every hardship and all that. The only thing was that I didn’t really have any exciting adventures or stories to tell, and all I seemed to go on about was all this stupid rubbish about my pointless life and all. I wasn’t at all too sure how long this went on for, but by the time I’d finished, he must have gone through just about a million cigars. All the 27
disgusting chewed up ends were lying all heaped up in this messy pile on the table and for a minute there, I thought to myself that his old man, who I’d never even met before and who’s name I had forgotten to even ask, knew more about me than probably anyone else in the entire world, even my Dad. I can’t really talk to my Dad at all really. He wouldn’t want to hear about all my goddam rubbish and all anyway, so that’s why I don’t even usually bother half the time. The room fell silent for a short while. I had been talking for God knows how long, the longest I’d ever talked in my life I guessed and I was racking my brain for something else to say, but I don’t think there was all that much left, so the two of us sat in this weird kind of silence for a while. Now usually when I’m sitting in silence with someone, I usually get all uncomfortable and all, but I wasn’t this time and I thought I might as well stop being such a rude and obnoxious little kid and ask him what his goddam name was. ‘My name’s Andrew.’ He replied, ‘I have a story for you.’
CHAPTER 8 The Story stonished and all by the stark coincidence of his name and mine, I sat listening intently, as was the only polite thing to do, to the unfolding Astory of this curious old man. Although now that I think back, his story beared little resemblance to any other story I’d heard told, but more like the random rantings and ravings of a crazy old man, which I suppose it was, but I can’t be certain. I listened anyway. ‘Ok, ok, ok, listen up then, young and old to every goddam word I have to say. Do not miss a thing. Do not miss a single bloody word, because you never know when that single word will come in handy one of these days when you’re not expecting it and you’ll curse the day you didn’t listen up when you were told to. Oh what a fool you’ll look to all the passers by, if they even see you at all, as you sit there speechless, crouching in the corner, a mute who never learned to speak. And you won’t be able to come running to me or anyone else when all the walls come crashing down all around you and all you have is the crazy music playing in your head. I have a story for you that must be told; for what is a story that isn’t told? I ask you that. It’s nothing for God’s sake, and nothing will ever become of it, while it is not told. It will eventually be lost forever, its sequence scrambled, scrubbed clean from the great frying pan of existence, ready for the next meal. But if a story is told and told well, then its message will take up residence inside the minds of all the passers by and carried far and wide, hitchhiking its way to temporary permanence. ‘When you’re young you can have it all, the whole goddam world in the palm of your hand for chrissake, at least that’s what they tell you anyway. You can do anything you want, you can have anything you want, you can be anybody you like, but do you think anyone does? Do you think anyone can for chrissake? And you go through your whole bloody life thinking that there’s got to be something better for yourself, so you buy all this fancy stuff like all the latest new clothes so you can try to look better than everyone else and all the best new things for your house and home, so that all the friends that you invite over for dinner parties get all jealous, so they are always asking where you got everything and you can tell them you happened to find it in a little place over in wherever. And all this 29
happens for so many goddam years, that when you’re lying on your death bed, you feel like so much of a failure that you just can’t stand it any more and so what used to be an eternal search for something better in life, turns into a short-lived search for something better in death and you start asking all these questions about existence and everything and then the vultures start circling, trying everything they can to convince you that their heaven is better than everyone else’s. ‘Ah yes, the mystery of it all. You wish to take a peek behind the goddam curtain of life? What the hell do you expect to find there, something bright, something beautiful, something better that what you see here? You can’t find any thing better here so you go searching anywhere and everywhere for something else and everything you find is like opening another curtain. But how do you know that there is not yet another curtain behind the world you’ve found there? You don’t for chrissake! And when you think you know all there is about the place you’re in, you realise you don’t bloody know anything! You don’t know a goddam thing. No one really knows anything. All knowledge is a goddam illusion, patterns in the mind having a hell of a time waging wars and battles on neural battlegrounds. But what no one really thinks about, is that good and bad and everything in between, don’t mean a goddam thing. ‘Well, I guess I’d better get right on to telling my stupid story. I knew this guy once, he wasted his goddam life and then he died. The End.’ He stopped and that was the end of that and he went right on back to smoking his cigar, which in the meantime, had just about burned right down the end. I was feeling like I was a terrible listener and all, because I didn’t quite catch everything he had said and he seemed real passionate about whatever he was trying to say. He had sat there listening to all my rubbish for so long that I started to feel real bad and everything and I was almost going to ask him if he could repeat the whole thing with just the main points and all and maybe I could write them down or something, but then when I looked over at him, I saw that his whole manner had changed. His back was hunched over even further than before and on his face he had like this real grave look, like nothing I’d seen before on anyone. ‘Not long now. They’re coming, listen. I’d find a good goddam place to hide if I was you.’ he said, real serious and everything. I listened real hard, just for a second there was silence, then it was shattered by a hammering crack of wood from downstairs like a huge tree crashing through the wall or 30
something, then loud, clanging footsteps on the hardwood floor echoing all around the house and everywhere, followed by the unmistakable rantings and terrible screams of drunken voices coming up the stairs. Taking the advice of Old Man Andy, I quickly ducked into the safety of the shadows. Scared as hell, I curled up underneath this small desk in the corner. I nervously reached down to my pockets, hands all shaking and everything, searched again for my inhaler. It was no use though, but instead, to calm my nerves, I pulled out my earphones and stuffed them into my big ears and pushing play, let the sounds of John, Paul, George and Ringo flow though and fill my mind, just about drowning out all the unpleasant distractions now entering the room.
CHAPTER 9 The Attack
wished to hell I had just stayed at home in my room and just not ventured out into the world at all. I wished I could have just gone to sleep after the lights went out instead of wandering all over the place and getting into all kinds of stupid situations I couldn’t control. All I could think about was just closing my eyes and staying all huddled in the darkness of the corner, safe under the small desk and not have to face anything that was going on in the room or anything, just alone in my own world and not caring at all about what happens anywhere else. So that’s what I did and I felt a little safe and secure for a second with the music playing to an audience of one, just for me, but then in my mind I started getting like all these images and everything, that just kept scaring the hell out of me, of all these different things like buildings burning all up in flames and all these people all jumping out of the windows and going splat on the pavement all over the place. I was always getting these strange images in my head whenever I closed my eyes and all. Sometimes I would try drawing them, but to tell you the truth, I’m not really the greatest drawer in the world and they mostly turn out either not really looking like anything at all, all messy and everything or like some kind of stupid cartoon or something that a goddam two year old could draw. I opened my eyes and peeked out into the room. The glowing, I thought, must have died out in the glass beaker because it was now dark as hell. From where I was sitting, I could make out the shadows of three sets of legs in the moonlight. One of them belonged to Old Man Andy, his tattered and worn out old shoes resting motionless on the floor and he was still sitting in his wooden chair and all. The other two had on these shiny black boots, stomping all over the place and also each had like these long and thin rods like canes or walking sticks or something, with little gold parts on the tip that picked up the light and which they banged real hard on the ground as they circled slowly all around the old chair that reminded me of those vultures that are always circling all around those dying corpses in the desert that you see on TV. I turned down the volume to my music a little, though I wasn’t all that sure I wanted to hear what was going on like I was afraid and all, yet somehow strangely curious about what was going to happen. I almost wished to hell I wasn’t so goddam curious all the time 32
and that I could just be satisfied with leaving things a mystery and all, like whenever there’s anything I can find out, no matter how stupid it is, it’s like I can’t leave it the hell alone. What I heard, was all this laughter and drunken, brainless chatter and all that; half of it, I could hardy even make out. An empty bottle flew across the room, real hard, smashing all up against the old wall, knocking out this giant hole just about into the next room. The two pairs of black boots finally stopped, both right in front of and facing directly to the chair where Andy was. I leaned my head down to get a better view – I couldn’t help myself – and as the two dark figures, clothed all in black and their snow-white faces, the moonlight shining directly upon them, came into view, I almost had to stop myself from letting out this giant loud gasp at what I saw. They were only kids. They couldn’t have been more than a few years older than I was, although they were quite a bit taller. I was always short for my age anyway. The laughter and discussion had ceased and for a moment, they just stood there all serious and all, but with their feet strangely close together like all polite and proper looking kind of and holding their canes up in both hands, almost like a pair of disappointed headmasters about to deal out their ultimate punishment to a cowering young student. The one on the left, who was a little shorter than the other, all of a sudden stepped forward and kicked Old Man Andy square in the chest, knocking him violently to the floor. Then the two of them wasted no time in pouncing down on their squirming and screaming victim on the floor, beating hum here, there and everywhere with their long walking stick rods, over and over and like laughing the whole time, really having a hell of a time as the blood started spraying out like crazy all over the place. I was beginning to feel like all sick and nauseous and all and I didn’t really feel like watching any more, but something kept me there just staring from the corner at the bloody scene like I was frozen or something and couldn’t draw my stupid eyes away. After what seemed like forever, they stopped their attack, their victim writhing still, just a little on the floor, as they stood over him with these kind of stupid, phoney grins on their otherwise emotionless faces. They turned and began to leave. I quickly slid back under into the darkness of the corner and watched their black boots walk out the door, thinking to myself, for just a second that maybe if I went to get some help, call a hospital or something, that Old Man Andy might just pull through. But before I could think any more about anything, I saw one of the assailants 33
come back into the room, the short one. I watched in silence as he walked over to the barely breathing old man and after giving him one last stroke in the gut that once more made him seize up and cough like crazy, picked up Old Man Andy and tossed him straight through the unbroken window, sending him sailing down into the midnight air like he was yesterday’s garbage or something. After sticking his fat head out the broken window, looking down for just a second, he brushed off his hands and everything, clapping them together as he walked towards the door, real casual and everything. I held my breath as his boot stepped passed the desk in the corner under which I was hiding and as he placed his other foot down to the floor, he hesitated just for a second and I felt my heart begin to pound about a million times a minute, I gathered he was looking around the room and all, giving it one last check and at that moment, I was certain that he was going to find me and that would be that. I’m always being certain that anything bad that can happen to me, will almost definitely happen, sooner or later, kind of like Murphy’s Law and all. I didn’t even realise it, but in my nervousness, like it was instinct or something, I had taken out my red pocket knife and was holding it at the ready again. I began to imagine that I was a character from one of those crazy old gangster movies, in a real rage of revenge and I’d burst out from under the desk, real savage, and take the lousy kid all by surprise and everything, driving my knife right into his neck and all, just to see how he likes it and just keep on asking and asking him why the hell he did it and all until he dropped dead on the stinking floor. But I was much too nervous for any of that rubbish, so I quit thinking about it and just sat there holding my breath like crazy until I thought I was just about going to pass out. I squeezed myself right into the very corner, to the very darkest part, closed my eyes real tight and turned up the volume again on my headphones so that all the world was a far off memory and all that was left was the crazy music playing in my head.
CHAPTER 10 The Exodus
o I was all by myself and everything, buried in the darkness of the corner, when I felt I was beginning to feel quite a bit better and all, just sitting there listening to all my favourite tunes and I started to forget about the whole crazy night and just really started getting into the helter skelter music and everything. I began to imagine I was still at home in my bedroom all safe and sound and started wondering what would have happened if I had just stayed home in my little room, if everything would have been better and that maybe none of this dreadful stuff would have even happened. But then I started to realise that there was nothing that I could have done anyway and started thinking about how insignificant I was and all that, that my existence had no consequence to just about everything else going on in the goddam universe and it didn’t matter one way or another whether I was here or there or anywhere really. The thought that just wouldn’t get out of my head though, was that I couldn’t have even stopped what happened that night even if I’d tried. So what my brain did was, it began to rationalise everything, that what I’d done was most likely the right thing to do, the best course of action under the given circumstances. My mind is always doing that kind of thing, rationalising everything I do until my conscience and all that is clear as anything. When the album I was listening to came to and end and silence had once again filled my mind, after taking out my headphones and stuffing them back into my jacket pocket, I felt pretty much completely at ease, like nothing had even happened here the whole night. Perhaps nothing had; I wasn’t completely certain. I can get like that sometimes. I took a quick look around the place, still all dark and everything and noticed my experiment had been knocked off the table in the excitement and the large beaker that was once a glowing source of light, was now in shattered pieces all over the floor and all my little petri dishes were scattered around in various places under the table. I ventured out from my place under the desk in the corner to examine the extent of the damage and consider the possibility of salvation for any experimental data. I know I should have been more worried about other things like what had just happened to Old Man Andy and all, but it was like some kind of wall had just sprung up in my mind 35
and it was like he didn’t even exist anymore or something, like he never existed and that the two kids in black had just come up and smashed up the place and that was all. I knew it was a terrible thing to think, but I thought it just the same. My experiment was in a hell of a state, with none of the glass beakers still in one piece and the petri dishes mostly all cracked and broken. Gathering as many of the ones that were half alright, I shoved them into my jacket pocket along with my headphones and decided I’d get the hell out of there and that more than likely I’d had just about enough excitement and adventure for one night. Taking one last look towards the now broken window, I dashed out of the room, up the long hall and down the stairs to the bottom floor. I immediately saw that the front door that had previously been boarded up was now wide open, kind of swinging and all in the wind and as I approached, it must have been caught by a draft or something because it slammed shut real hard and loud just about right in my face. The lock looked like it had been kicked in and broken and the door kind of bounced back open, leaving enough room for me to jump through, out into the cold, dark night. The outside air smelled really different, all clean and fresh and everything, contrasting the stuffy old smell of the house. It felt really great to get out of that goddam place. Closing my eyes, I started taking these really deep breaths, right down into my chest, filling up my lungs and all with the night-time air. I started picturing myself as like one of those slave labour kids or something over in wherever, who had just broken free from working in the mines and all their whole miserable childhood, smelling the fresh air for the first time in about a million years. Opening my eyes, I looked around. Everything was as it was before, really dark and all and the streetlights all up along the side of the road were still not shining and I was beginning to wonder what the hell was taking the electricity people so goddam long to fix the problem, although I wasn’t at all too sure how long it had really been since the power went out. I think I’m just about the worst judge of time in the world, like sometimes when your doing something real boring and tedious, it seems like it can take just about forever, but when your doing something you’re really into and everything, most of the times it’s over before you even know it. It seems kind of strange that the mind is always perceiving time so differently to the way it’s supposed to flow, all steady and even and all. 36
I was just about to head off home back down the street without even checking beneath the window or anything. I really was, but then I had like this inner voice type thing that I’m always getting, which had apparently broken though that wall in my mind, telling me that I had forgotten something of somewhat elevated importance. I turned around rather abruptly to take another look at the old house, its front door blowing and slamming in the wind and I gazed up at the window of the second floor. It was only just visible, all broken with bits of hanging glass everywhere. In the back of my mind, all tucked away, I knew what had happened, but I guess I just didn’t want to really deal with it and all. I looked down towards the ground to the spot directly underneath the broken window. There was nothing there. The only thing there was just little fragmented pieces of broken glass scattered everywhere in and amongst all the dying and withered grass, with the pale moonlight reflecting off each piece in about a million different directions all at once. I turned right back around and started heading off towards home, kind of putting everything out of my head and all. There weren’t any cars or anything, so I decided it might be a laugh to skip waking on the footpath, which I’d done like millions of times before, and walk right down the centre of the empty road, just for the hell of it. I looked up at the big round moon looking down on me from above and saw that it had travelled a bit further across the sky since I saw it last. Of course I knew that the vast majority of that apparent movement was actually due to the rotation of the earth and took comfort in the fact that it was not so much the moon doing the travelling, as it was me. I continued on my way down the middle of the street and then, all of a sudden, like some kind of magic switch had been turned on by an unseen hand, all the lights all the way down the street began their fluorescent flickering, all in quick succession like falling dominos, they all lit up in a straight line all the way down the street. It was just about the most brilliant thing I’d ever seen and I felt this slight smile emerge in the corners of my silly lips as the whole neighbourhood just lit up in front of my eyes, with no one else around. I looked up again at the moon, high in the sky and thought to myself that it appeared just a little dimmer than it had before and somewhat sad almost, that it was no longer needed to reflect its light on the darkness of the night.
CHAPTER 11 The Way Back Home
started to wonder what time it actually was and how long until the morning light would begin to shine over horizon. When I was younger, I was always bugging my Dad to get me those cheap novelty watches, with all the cartoon characters moving their silly hands all around the dial. I’d wear them for about a week and then they’d always stop working or I’d forget to take them off while I was playing in the water or something and I’d have to get another one. I’d be sick to death of the stupid character’s face staring back at me all the time anyway. I can never really have anything like that for too long because I’m always getting sick to death of anything like that. I felt like I was starting to get a little bit tired, so I figured it must have been getting pretty late and all, but I still had quite a way to go down the long street, so I just kept on walking along the straight line in the centre of the road, on and on down the street. Step after dreary step became like my own personal clock, ticking away in the night and I started to count each rhythmic step, just for the hell of it, to pass the time away. About two thousand and twenty-eight I remember getting up to before casting to hell with the ridiculous task that was only succeeding in making me even more tired than I already was. I looked down the long and straight road stretching out in front of me that led, eventually up to the door of my house. Even with the shining streetlights, which had, by that time, lost a little of their charm, the journey seemed extraordinarily dull and monotonous and I started to get this crazy idea that maybe a straight line may not always be the best way, in the end, to get to where you’re going to. I knew just about every street in the neighbourhood, just from running around and going on expeditions and all that around the place. I was coming up to this sort of alleyway that went up between the blocks of houses and I made the decision to take a slight detour, just for the hell of it. The alleyway was always all dark and overgrown and everything from trees hanging over the fences, out from peoples yards and all and as I started in, it almost felt like I was entering some kind of ancient pathway, deep in the African jungle or wherever, used only by the lost tribe of Nimmawatta or whatever and I was like this great explorer delving into the unknown land, ready to face the mysteries and black magic of a savage 38
world, filled with all kinds of dangers and everything and you never know when your about to get captured by the natives and cooked up in a big black pot like they’re always doing in all those loony cartoons. I got pretty sick of it after a while though, after all the ducking and weaving through the shadows and being on constant lookout for savages, and still remaining alive and not even being eaten by anyone. So I began to forget about all that and just continued on walking like a normal person all up the walkway. But then I started to wonder how the hell I knew how to walk like a normal person to begin with and started worrying and all about how I even thought I could know how a normal person would walk or if there was even such a thing as a normal person. How did I know I hadn’t just then been walking normally? I tried just about everything to adjust my walk so that I wasn’t walking like anything or anyone in particular, but everything I tried just kept reminding me of something, like a way of walking that suggested something, until the more I started focusing on it, the more everything started to signify everything else. My mind started going crazy with all these silly walks going around in my head and I was getting madder and madder at myself for not being able to just walk normally like any other goddam human being without going crazy, that I just stopped dead and tried to think of nothing at all. Trying to think of nothing at all kind of helped a little because it distracted me from walking. I’m always trying to think of nothing whenever anything gets too much for me, which is most of the time, but it never really works all that well like it’s supposed to. It never really clears your mind of thoughts or anything like that, but it just kind of moves it on to new territory like thinking all about nothingness and all that, whether nothingness even exists, whether it is even possible to actually not think about anything like all those people who are always wearing those silly robes and sitting around cross-legged are always saying they’re doing. I don’t think they’re really doing it though. They most likely just want people to think they can do it so that everyone around them wonders that if they sit there cross-legged, wearing silly robes, that they will be able to do it too, but what they’re all really thinking about in their minds is how terrified and insecure they are about being found out that they’re the only one that can’t do it that they just play along like sheep and all that with the rest of them, hoping no one will find out and no one will ever find out, because they’re all just as scared as each other. I think I’d like to try it for real one day though, just to see if they are telling the truth. 39
I noticed the moon had managed to peep its head through this gap in the dense treetop canopy to spy on me once more. I was pretty exhausted from the walk and without my asthma inhaler, I didnâ€™t really want to push myself all that much anyway, so what I thought was that I might just have a little sit down, resting up against the fence in the middle of the alleyway, in the centre of the large block of houses that each stood resting on their dirty little patches of land, all carefully divided up so there was no confusion of who owned what bit of dirt. I didnâ€™t even really notice as I took one last look at the moon through the trees. I had fallen asleep.
CHAPTER 12 The Dream
don’t usually dream really that much at all. They say you’re always dreaming while you’re asleep and it’s just that you don’t always remember your dreams half the time when you wake up, but I’m not too sure about that really. If dreaming is always that same process, where your eyes begin to go darting crazy all about in rapid eye movements and all and they measure the same difference in your brain waves and everything, then why would some dreams be remembered and others forgotten? Maybe it’s just the way certain dreams interact with the reality of your mind that really makes a difference. I have no idea. When I do dream, the ones I remember after I wake up, they’re always really vivid and all like it’s not even really a dream or anything. There’s also always all these strange things happening in the dream that wouldn’t usually happen in real life, just little spots of incongruence, but it’s like I just accept that they’re happening and all and don’t even worry about it too much, just going on with whatever I’m doing and just put everything in place, even the things that don’t seem like they would fit. I think it’s strange that sometimes after you’ve just woken up, you can remember just about every part of your dream, but then as the day goes on, you keep on losing more and more of all the details and everything. I sometimes wonder where those details go when they disappear from your memory. Is it possible that they just don’t exist any more? I think it’s more probable that they’d most likely just migrated over to another part of the brain or something, because sometimes when I remember something, like things that have happened to me and just trivial daily events, I’m always getting this weird feeling like I don’t know if what I’m remembering really happened or if it’s maybe just part of some mundane dream that’s just gotten all mixed in with reality. Anyway, the dream I had while sitting up against that dirty, old tree in the alleyway, was like no other dream I’d ever had; I’m not kidding. And I can still remember just about every small detail like I’d just woken up from it, still thinking it all over in my head and everything. Usually my dreams are not at all that exciting really, about just things I’d done during the day or various things I’d been thinking about and all, but this one seemed different, like all profound and significant and everything, like it could have had some kind of meaning in it or something. Everyone is 41
always saying how dreams can have all these hidden meanings and messages and whatever and that they are a door to your unconscious mind and all, like that weird, old, crazy psychologist over in wherever who thought that just about every dream you ever have symbolised something dirty about your mother or whatever. What a nutcase. I don’t really believe in all that too much though. Anyway, I remember it started off in this really wide open space with blue skies and rolling hills and all that rubbish and I was lying down on my back on top of one of these really green grassy hills, just watching the clouds pass on by and seeing what little fuzzy animals or whatever I could make out from the billowing shapes. It was also almost like I was somehow looking down on myself lying on the hill and also looking at the clouds from the hill at the same time. I leaned my head to the right and saw there in the distance, all these really tall buildings and everything, like this giant city metropolis lining the horizon and I thought how nice and peaceful and everything it was to be up on my green mountain like I was, just breathing the cool morning air and all. I looked up again at the clouds once more to see what I could see, but after lying there staring at the shapes for a few minutes, it was like my mind just refused to see any more fuzzy animals and all the clouds just kept looking painfully more and more like plain old stupid clouds. I began to suspect that something wasn’t quite right and looking down, I suddenly realised that I wasn’t wearing any clothes. It was okay though. There wasn’t anyone else around anyway so I wasn’t embarrassed or anything, but I noticed that on my hands and on my feet and everywhere was growing like all this dark fur and it continued growing until I was pretty much covered from head to toe in this thick furry coat. Then it became apparent what was happening to me. I was evolving, only kind of reverse over millions of years in time and lying there, slowly becoming more and more like some kind of apeman or whatever, I thought I’d better try to get up. I rolled over and pushed myself up on my hands and feet and then tried standing, but found, no matter hard I tried, that I just couldn’t keep upright properly for very long and had to keep setting my furry hands down on the ground to stay balanced. I looked to the right again to where I’d seen the big city before, full of buildings and everything, but now instead there were all these trees everywhere, a huge forest that looked as though it was spreading all over the countryside like some kind of mouldy green growth on the bark of a tree. There was no mistaking it, it 42
was indeed coming closer and before I knew it, there were all these trees, springing up everywhere around me, turning the lush green hill into this dense, dark rainforest and all, with the squawks of birds and everything coming from high up in the trees. I noticed that I’d grown this really long curly tail, I was quite a bit smaller than I had been just a second ago and was now down on all fours looking around with large beady eyes, when I got this sudden urge climb up one of the trees and so I did. Before long, I was swinging around from tree to tree having a hell of a time in the canopy. I felt myself changing once more and this time, I turned into this little rodent creature that was apparently not very good at climbing because I fell right out of the treetops and landed in this real disgusting mud next to a large riverbed that smelled really bad, but somehow I didn’t really care too much. I had a good little shake, just like dogs are always doing to dry themselves after they’ve just had their weekly bath, that seemed to come just naturally to me, like it was instinct and all, but before I had a chance to start licking my fur and everything, I turned into some kind of scaly lizard for a second. Then I became this really slimy creature that looked like a squishy grey frog with a tail, hopping all around the mud and the edges of the river and then I was this really weird fish, using my little front fins to trudge through the muddy water of the riverbank and then at last, when I got to the water’s edge, I dived in. I had never been a terribly good swimmer in real life, but it came just about as natural as anything where I was and I was having a hell of a great time zipping around the great lake, and then, all of a sudden, I got this great urge to just follow the current and swim out to sea. I felt all my fins and whatever becoming all streamlined and everything as I began to dive down into the depths of the ocean and then race back up again over and over until I got the fright of my life when my seeing, hearing and just about all the feeling in my body just simply vanished like that. I was like floating, just about dead in the water with my long jellyfish tentacles trailing behind me and no matter how hard I tried, all I could do was float there, virtually at the mercy of the ocean currents, flapping my body to say afloat and this strange craving, like I was just dying for something, anything to just brush past my trailing arms. The end part of my dream was kind of weird, stranger than the rest I mean. Missing most of my senses, all I can remember are all these 43
different sensations as I felt myself progressively became smaller and smaller, an amoeba type thing, then a little single cell bacteria type thing, then I could feel absolutely nothing, but I imagined I was some kind of amino acid or something floating in my primordial pond of goo, completely at the whim of nature and everything. Then strangely, right at the end of my dream, just before I woke up to the alley way under the moonlight, I felt this odd kind of feeling like I was nothing, but then not just nothing. It became like almost that I was nothing and everything at the same time and then it was more like the very concept of nothingness or whatever never even existed. I know it sounds really stupid and all, but thereâ€™s no way I can convey to you what it felt like because I canâ€™t really explain it all that well in words. Anyway, so thatâ€™s when I woke up and saw that the moon had disappeared, dark sky had become a touch lighter and a few early birds had sensed that the sun was on its way and were beginning to call in the new morning.
CHAPTER 13 The Dog
t was still quite dark and all, but you could tell that morning was on its way, birds singing their careless songs, a new day approaching and all that. I wasn’t too sure how long I’d been sleeping for, but I guessed it must have been a few hours at least. When I woke up, I half expected I’d be in bed, in my room, because I didn’t remember even falling asleep and it took me a little while of racking my brain to remember where I was and how I got there and also to recall the previous events of the night. I was no longer sitting up against that old tree, but had somehow managed to end up flat on my stomach, with my goddam face in the dirt, about five paces away from where I had originally been sitting. When I’m sleeping, I’m always tossing and turning and wriggling about all over the place when I don’t even know it. It gets so bad that sometimes when I wake up in the mornings, I’m always up the wrong way or something and it takes me a little while to figure out what’s going on and to get back my orientation and everything. When I was a younger I used to sleep on the top level of my bunk beds until one night I woke up, mid-flight on my way to the floor. After that I would only ever sleep on the bottom bunk. I was feeling real terrible and everything, tired as hell and not in the least bit refreshed as I picked myself up from the ground, rubbing my stupid eyes and yawning and all that and spitting out all the dirt and leaves that had gotten into my mouth during my strange as hell dream. I sat in a daze wondering why sometimes you always feel so goddam miserable just after you wake up, almost like you’ve just run a goddam marathon or something in your sleep. I was just about to get myself up off the ground and start thinking about getting home sometime soon before my Dad wakes up and realises I’m gone. Dad’s always waking up really early, even though he doesn’t really have anything much to do in the mornings and he’s always coming in with breakfast for me, bringing it in on this little tray and everything and setting it down beside my bed and all. I usually act like I’m just in this real deep sleep though, until he leaves the room again, even though I’m usually not. I don’t know why. Anyway, I was just about get up and brush myself off and all, when I noticed this little movement out of the corner of my eye down the alleyway. I looked over and could see this small dark figure, dashing towards me in the shadows. I kind of wondered what the hell it 45
was for a second or two and was beginning to get a little nervous, until I heard it let out this little yap that immediately gave it away. As it neared, I could see it was this little puppy dog, cute as hell, all panting away and everything, clumsily running along the path, like how little puppies are always doing, like they haven’t quite mastered the art of movement just yet. He let out another little yap as he came right up to me and started sniffing me all over and everything as I tried to fend him off from licking my face and slobbering me half to death. For some reason I knew quite a lot about dogs, all the different breeds and everything, from this dog book that I had at home that I was always reading. This one looked a lot like one of those Golden Retrievers, but he was just a puppy, so I couldn’t be too certain. It didn’t even really matter too much anyway. He seemed so happy and everything, bouncing and panting all over the place, that it all kind of brought this little smile to my face as I thought how wonderful it would be to be so happy, without a care in the world, just enjoying the simple life and all. I began wondering where he had come from and who his owner was. I noticed there was a collar around his neck with a little blue tag hanging down from the bottom and a thin black leather lead, dragging on the ground behind him. I imagined that maybe he had escaped from his owner on his daily morning walk and had run off to embark on some exciting canine adventure, but had become sidetracked by me on the way. I couldn’t quite make out in the dark, the name imprinted on his blue tag with him moving and jumping all around, but he kind of reminded me though of my dog Arthur that we had when I was younger, that same familiar kind of feeling about him. Dad went out and bought Arthur for me just a little after Mum had died, probably thinking that a little companionship would do me good or something, and it did in a way I guess. Dad even let me name him. I’m not sure now why I chose the name Arthur, but I guess I just liked how it sounded or something and I think it suited his personality anyway. Arthur was really smart and all and I got to teach him all these great tricks and everything that he’d pick up just about straight away. Dad even made him this silly little dog house in the back yard, but a lot of the time he’d come sneaking in through the dog door into the house and sleep all curled up next to my bed and keep me company all night. I guess it can get lonely sometimes out there all by yourself, even when you are just a dog. I was always trying to sneak him back outside in the mornings so that Dad wouldn’t find out, but that hardly ever worked and I always got a hell of a 46
talking to about how Arthur will never learn that he’s supposed to be outside and everything like that, but I knew he didn’t really mind all that much. So it was real great having my own dog and everything until this one day, Dad had invited this kid Melvin around from up the road, whose parents my Dad knew and all. I’m pretty sure he invited this kid over because he thought I wasn’t mixing enough or something with the other kids my age or something. Now this kid was real mean – you could tell instantly - but he’s the kind of kid who would act all innocent and everything whenever there were adults around, so they never knew the goddam difference. He was really big for his age and a little bit chubby too, but you’d never call him that to his ugly face if you knew what was good for you. At school he’d always be beating up some poor kid for something; most of the time it wasn’t me thankfully. He had this real bright orange hair and freckles and really bad teeth, god-awful like he’d never brushed them a day in his whole life. But the adults all loved him to bits for some reason, but as soon as they were gone, he’d be all pushing you around, making fun of you and everything and telling you just what would happen if you went dobbing to anyone about all the rotten things he’d done. I hated him, I really did. No one would believe you anyway, even if you did go and tell someone because he’s always putting on such a show whenever any parents are around. I don’t know how they can be so blind. Anyway, this kid came around this one weekend I remember, with his disgusting teeth, breathing all over me and everything. He knew we had a dog because Arthur was always barking at him through the fence whenever he went past the house. So when this kid came over, he immediately went around to the backyard, saying he wanted to play with Arthur and all. It all started out alright, just running around, petting him and playing fetch and all that, but then he kept on getting Arthur all riled up and angry and everything by grabbing him by the muzzle and shaking it from side to side and everything. I went up to him to tell him to stop, but he just pushed me to the ground and kept on doing it. Arthur started growling and everything, but he just kept on at it, laughing the whole time while doing it, until Arthur finally snapped and gave him just exactly what he deserved in the end. I wondered what the hell he thought was going to happen. He must have got the fright of his life too because he immediately jumped back and was on the ground bawling his goddam eyes out, holding his hand and arm real tight and just screaming this like ear47
splitting scream just for someone, some adult, to come and help him as he sat there with all this blood starting to drip all down his arm and onto the ground. My Dad came out quickly, running out into the yard after hearing the scream, and seeing the situation, asked what had happened. I started to open my mouth to tell him the whole story when this Melvin kid began screaming the biggest performance of his goddam life – it was worthy of some kind of big phoney award, I swear – to get that “damn dog” away from him and everything and that Arthur had attacked him totally unprovoked and that he was a dangerous dog that needed to be locked up or put down and how he was going to tell his parents and all. Dad was so worried, he wouldn’t even hear my side of the story. No one ever listens to you, not when there’s a fat screaming kid right next to you. So Arthur had to be put to sleep after repeated requests by the kid’s stupid parents and threats of legal action and all and I was left without a dog, without a friend, once again.
CHAPTER 14 The Dog Walker
t’s strange the different things that reawaken old memories. Just the sight of that silly little puppy, running around all over the alleyway, coming up to me and panting his disgusting dog breath all over me, had brought so many of my past experiences bubbling back to the surface, good and bad. I wondered where the hell they had been hiding all this time and how exactly this one experience could give rise to so much forgotten detail. I started to get all worried and everything about just how much of my life experience was hidden in my subconscious memory, lying dormant just waiting to be revived from slumber and the possibility that there could be these giant chunks of my life and all that are all missing and I’d never really know until something came along to uncover them. I realised that if a large part of who I am is defined by my memories and if a significant portion of those memories are buried deep down in my stupid brain, then I really didn’t know myself all that well at all. After that, I also began to worry about just how accurate these memories were that were just coming to me, seemingly out of nowhere and wondered how I could really know that these were in actual fact my memories and that my crazy imagination wasn’t just making them up and all as it went along. The more I thought about it, the more worried and anxious and everything I seemed to get about who I was and what memories shape my personality and all that. I don’t know why the hell I can’t just play around and pet a dog or whatever without my mind going into all that goddam nonsense. The little puppy seemed to really enjoy my company or something because he kept on hanging around instead of continuing on its little adventure around the neighbourhood and everything. I thought I should probably be getting home pretty soon and kind of wondered whether he would think about following me home at all and that maybe my Dad would let me keep him and everything, but I knew that would be pretty unlikely and that the real owner would eventually come looking for him after a while even if Dad did say yes, which he wouldn’t, not in a million years. He’d just get angry at me or something. I thought about the possibility of maybe if he followed me home by himself I could maybe keep him sort of like a secret. He could live under the house or something without Dad ever finding out and I could take down old bones and 49
leftovers from my dinner and everything each night. I somehow didn’t think it would work out in the end, so I abandoned any hope of keeping the puppy. I got up and tried to kind of shoo him away with my hands and all, but that only succeeded in making him even more excited, jumping up at me and everything, having a great old time. I decided I’d just try walking away a little down the path, just to see what would happen and if he followed me or anything. Sure enough, he did follow me, with his clumsy little strides and his long black leather leash trailing behind as he trotted along. I walked a little further and he followed a little further, looking up at me all happy and playful and everything, with no idea about what I was trying to do or about anything really. I knew he didn’t understand a thing that I was trying to say and that all my attempts to reason with his cute little puppy brain, that he ought to go home and all, were in vain. He was just too fond of me and all, I was too fond of him as well, but in the end I decided it would really not be a good idea if he followed me home or any further or anything, so I figured I’d do the only thing that might make him leave me alone. I didn’t really want to do it, but I didn’t really have much of a choice, so while he was jumping and running around and panting all over the place and everything, taking this giant deep breath in and standing up really tall and imposing like, I let out at him in my most menacing tone of voice, the way everyone is always yelling at dogs and that when they’ve done something really terrible like chewing up sneakers and all. The thing is, that I knew this puppy hadn’t even done anything wrong, but I was acting like I was getting all angry at it and everything, when I didn’t even have a good reason to. After a short while, I began to feel real terrible and rotten and everything while yelling at the silly little puppy to go home, get lost and shoo and all that. You could see his whole joyful temperament and all just deflate and disappear, with his ears and head all drooping and his tail tucked right in between his hind legs, as I stood there yelling my stupid head off at him. I was amazed at what an impact my disposition could have on this poor little creature and I couldn’t stand it any longer as I watched him kind of whimper and start to turn and walk away. I stopped all my crazy yelling and that seemed to help a little bit, but he still looked all down and dejected and all. I didn’t think he would really understand, but I tried to reassure him anyway that I was only joking and all and that I wasn’t really mad at him at all really. I went over 50
and started patting him on the head and under the chin and telling him that I was sorry and everything, but he still seemed a little untrusting and I hoped to God I hadn’t scarred him for life or anything like that and wished to hell I had never pretended I was all angry at him in the first place. I’m always doing stupid things that I wish I’d thought more about what was going to happen afterwards, but most of the time, the consequences don’t even cross your mind at all. He was starting to get a bit better and back to his old self again and I started to feel a little better as well., but then I found myself in the same situation as before. He was so adorable and everything that I just didn’t want to leave him wandering the streets and everything all by himself. I thought about all the other dogs all around the neighbourhood that might just want to have a piece of him and figured my only option was to take him home, even if it meant that my Dad might be woken up and find out I’d been away from home all night. He probably wouldn’t have cared all that much anyway though. So I was just about ready to leave for home and the little puppy was pretty much as happy and excited as when I first saw him, if not more so. I had picked up his black leather leash and was ready to head on up the alleyway towards home, the back way, when I heard this voice in the distance behind me. ‘Wilbur, Wilbur!’ called this really high-pitched and screechy kind of voice. The little puppy’s ears darted up, just about standing on end, listening and I could kind of sense in him this fear, like when you get caught by your parents doing something they’ve told you about a million times before not to do. I turned around quickly to see where the voice had come from and saw this dark silhouette shape hobbling down the alley towards us, all the while calling out ‘Wilbur, Wilbur!’ in the same kind of screeching and squealing kind of tone. The silhouette came closer and I could make the figure of this large woman. She was kind of fat around the legs, which made out her look oddly out of shape, not really that old, but not at all young either. ‘Hey kid! What the hell do you think you’re doing with my bloody dog?’ she squealed, looking at me real cross like I was that kid in everyone’s neighbourhood who’s always going around stealing peoples dogs and everything like that just for the hell of it. The puppy, which I assumed had been given the unfortunate name of Wilbur by this lady, was hiding real timid like behind me, with its head sort of peeping around to see what was happening and all. I was about it answer her, when she cut me off, obviously not wanting to hear anything that conflicted with any of her preconceived views, calling me a no good, good for nothing lousy kid and a rotten so and so or something to 51
that extent anyway and telling me to give her back her damn dog before she called the damn police on me and everything. I let the leash go and stepped aside. ‘Wilbur, get here now!’ She sounded really angry, like she’d been up and down the streets half the morning, looking for that little puppy. She probably had. Wilbur moped on across to her with his head down and tail between his legs again and as soon as he was in reach, she grabbed for his leash and pulled it up tight, making him let out this little whimpering sound. Turning away and storming off in a kind of a huff, while just about dragging poor little Wilbur along with her, she took one last glance at me over her shoulder. I could feel her horrid gaze sink right down into my heart. I can’t tell you how glad I was that I didn’t have such an honest reflector of emotional insight as a dog’s tail.
CHAPTER 15 The Back Way Home
he sky, as I saw when I looked up, was getting just a shade brighter and I sensed it was just about time to be heading home. I had decided it would probably be best to continue up along the alleyway and get back to my room by cutting thorough the yard of the house directly behind ours. Sometimes, when I’m feeling real lazy and all, I’d cut through this yard on my way back from school, because it saves having to walk all the way around the whole block. The only thing you have to watch out for is getting caught by that cranky old lady with long, grey, frizzy hair, who’s always sitting on the veranda of the house in her little old rocking chair and always screaming her head off and shaking her stupid broomstick at everyone, telling them to get the hell off her lawn. It was pretty nice grass too, all green and soft and everything, but the thing is, she was never doing any of her own work on it, because she’d always be too busy sitting there in her stupid old rocking chair, yelling at people to get off her grass and everything. I never really took any of her yelling very seriously though. The way I see it, there’s not really much point of keeping a nice lawn if it’s not to be walked on or played on or anything – like what grass is supposed to be used for – and is only there for show, like all pretentious and everything. You could usually sneak past her anyway without too much trouble. There is this line of trees growing down one side of her fence and if done correctly, you can almost always successfully duck in between each of them while her head is turned the other way. She caught me this one time when I hadn’t seen her there looking out the window and she came running out to the veranda, screaming and yelling like mad and shaking her broomstick at me and everything. She didn’t seem like she was at all willing though to take one step onto her carefully looked after lawn to come and get me, but I got the hell out of there just the same. I started for home, kind of half jogging along and all. Sometimes I get tired of walking all the time, so I just start running along sometimes just for the hell of it, pretending I’m on some kind of secret mission, chasing a foreign spy or something who’s just been caught out by the state and is on the run, about to leak all this confidential data back to our enemies and everything. I had this little bit of concern in my mind of the possibility that Dad might have already woken up and seen that I wasn’t at home asleep in 53
my bed. I wasn’t all that worried about it really though. I picked up the pace a little and had reached the end of the alleyway and around the corner before too long. Continuing on down the street towards the back of our yard, I was beginning to feel really puffed out and all and felt my breathing getting all restricted and everything, so I stopped my stupid running and then started just staggering, really slowly getting by, almost choking half to death and all. And while in this state, I began to really hate my lungs a bit and my asthma and everything and started wondering why the hell I couldn’t just have normal breathing like everyone else. When I finally reached the house that was connected behind mine, I had my breath back and was feeling much better and all. Standing there on the soft lawn, you could see on either side of the house, the really straight, clear-cut boundaries, where the well kept grass of that yard met the dishevelled lawns of those surrounding it, all overgrown and mixed with a rich variety of all kinds of different grasses with brown patches everywhere where people had kicked up the dirt, playing some stupid game of whatever. I knelt down on the soft green grass that had obviously been recently mown – it was always getting cut and looked after and everything, every goddam day. It felt like it hadn’t been tread on by anyone in just about a million years. I thought to myself that the old lady probably wouldn’t be out there that early, but I thought I’d better check first anyway, just in case. My hands, as I placed them down, sunk just about all the way into the soft strands of grass and hiding behind the first tree in the line, I stuck my head around just the tiniest bit to check the veranda. She was there, to my surprise, just sitting there on the veranda, broomstick in hand, rocking back and forth on her old rocking chair, watching like a hawk in the morning light for any sign of trespassers on her beautiful lawn. She hadn’t seen me, not yet at least. I kind of wondered just what was going on in her mind that kept her out there on that veranda every day, like a magpie guarding her nest or something, just to protect her reputation of having the best looking lawn in the whole goddam neighbourhood. I looked down at the delicate leaves of her lush green grass being crushed below my palms, so well kept and flawless that it just about made me sick and I began to feel this nagging urge to somehow tarnish its phoney, prim and proper nature. I imagined how delightful it would feel to just drive some kind of huge tractor with one of those hydraulic shovels on the front, all over her whole front yard, digging up 54
the entire place or else taking a ride on a real fast motorbike in the rain, around and around the house doing skids and slides all over everything. In the end, all I could muster up the courage to do was rip out this little tiny tuft of grass, leaving a hole barely visible in the thick carpet of green. I shoved the small clump of grass into my pocket as a kind of souvenir or whatever and prepared to make a run for home. As soon as I saw her head turn away, I silently sprang up and started sprinting down the yard as fast as I could, behind the line of trees running alongside the fence, when suddenly I felt my left foot being caught up underneath something and before I knew it, I had tripped over and was flat on my face, the soft green grass ironically cushioning my fall. I laid there, the fresh grassy taste in my mouth, and heard the sound of the cranky old lady coming from the veranda, laughing her stupid head off. Apparently her little tripwire had worked.
CHAPTER 16 The Forest
really didn’t feel like getting all angry or anything, but just felt more and more like the world hated me and all that kind of nonsense, lifting my head from the ground and seeing like this surprisingly well defined imprint of my face in the soft green grass. I hadn’t injured anything major or anything – at least I hoped I hadn’t – so getting back up, I continued on, real slow and careful this time, just in case there were any other little surprises waiting for me along the path to the back fence. I could still hear the laughing and all coming from the veranda, but I wasn’t really all that angry or anything, at least not as angry as I imagined I should have been. Maybe it was just the shock of the fall still affecting my judgement. I never really get too angry about too many things really anyway. Most of the time, when I think about it for a while, I kind of don’t see the sense in getting all angry and everything and resolve that it usually won’t change anything much anyway, except make you feel real lousy and rotten and all that and most of the time ends up giving you this massive headache and all anyway. But I’m not saying you shouldn’t get angry at all about anything, just that if you’re constantly getting angry at all the little things in life and everything, then you forget about the big things and don’t really get the time to get angry about anything more than your silly little concerns of the day and all. The back fence was in much better repair than the fence at the front of our house and there were none of those places where some generous chap had kicked in a nice little hole to squeeze through, so I had to tackle it the old fashioned way by climbing my way over the top. Even though the wooden planks of the fence went up pretty high, it wasn’t really all that difficult to get over because the planks running horizontally, in addition to keeping everything in place properly, also made quite a good little stepping ladder for young kids to climb up on. A few quick steps and I was over, landing square on the ground with my feet and shoes just about halfburied in the leaf litter and all of our backyard. Our backyard was just like some kind of dense tropical jungle, I swear to god, no grass or anything, just like this thick dense forest. There were trees everywhere, all kinds of ones from all over the world and all. The previous owners of the house were evidently pretty crazy about plants. 56
I was amazed at how many different varieties of flora there were just in our backyard, when it wasn’t even at all that big really, probably just normal size for a suburban block of land, but while everyone else just had their little vegetable garden out back, ours had just about a million different species with pretty much every kind of plant you can think of. When I was younger, Dad and I would always be going around exploring and all, trying to name all the different types of plants and trees and everything and generally just having a great time. He doesn’t do things like that anymore though, ever since Mum died; never even goes out to the backyard at all really anymore and it’s become all overgrown and everything and has pretty much turned into its own miniature ecosystem in a way. I’m amazed at how well all these different plants from a multitude of different lands and environments and everything can coexist together like that, quite happily in the small forest of our backyard. It seems so easy for them. I still go out occasionally with my botany book and everything, looking all around for species that are doing well and making a note of those that aren’t doing so well or have died out completely. It can be quite fun sometimes, in a way. Most of the time we would just leave it be and let the natural order of things progresses in perfect harmony and everything. There was this one time though when this one specific variety of plant began to just take over the whole yard. It was quite some time ago when Dad was still bothering to put fertilizer on the yard and everything and he had just changed to a different brand of fertilizer or something and a few months after he had sprayed it around, this one plant just started cropping up everywhere, out of control, just taking over the whole place. If I remember correctly, the species was Sansevieria or Mother-in-law’s Tongue as it is affectionately called. The thing is, that it was like they were choking the life out of all the other plants around them as they spread over more and more of the yard, stealing all the nutrients from the ground and all that. It took three whole days of work digging them all up and throwing them all in the bin, after deciding it was probably a good idea to do something before things really got out of hand. That was just about the only time Dad and I have had to seriously intervene with anything much out back, putting things back in order around our little backyard forest. Needless to say, Dad didn’t use that particular fertilizer again, but made a note of it of course, just in case we ever became serious about propagating Mother-in-law’s Tongues, but I doubt will happen anytime soon. 57
So I was creeping through all this dense undergrowth and everything on my way back to my bedroom window, remembering all the great times I’d had playing around and everything in the backyard when I was younger and hadn’t yet fully discovered the world outside our yard. I’d go on the most daring adventures and expeditions, exploring deep into the unknown darkness of the thick, dense shrubs, where I’d find all these little clearings, almost like they were carved right into the bushes, pretending I was like some old caveman just trying to survive in a merciless world or that I was a world-renowned archaeologist or something, searching for hidden treasures in a strange land. Then after that, I’d be up, climbing to the very tops of all the tallest trees, looking out over everything like I was king of the world or something stupid like that, conquering the elements and all that kind of rubbish. I thought a little about maybe revisiting my younger days as I made my weary way back to my room, to experience all that adventure just once more around the yard. I would have done it too; it was just that I really didn’t feel in the mood, to tell you the truth. The edge of the forest around the back, kind of half-enclosed the house, like a giant pac-man mouth just about ready to chomp down hard on the whole structure. I emerged out to the clearing just outside my window, seeing the slight bit of light from my relit lamp escaping out my still open window. The window sill wasn’t all that high up, but was still high enough to be just out of my reach, even if I jumped like mad. There was however this large drain pipe running down, just a small distance from my window, and over the years, I had perfected the art of carefully crawling up and kind of swinging over to catch my feet on the window sill. I did this without a hitch, without a sound and soon had my feet set down in the safe and sound comfort of my room, once again.
CHAPTER 17 The Morning Light
tepping foot back in my room felt a little strange, a weird feeling like I was arriving back from some distant place, like I had been away for ages upon ages and had forgotten a lot of the qualities that once made it so familiar to me, before my mind went wandering up and down the streets. I guess it had been quite a while in a way, but then again, not really that long when you look at things differently, like the big picture and all that. What is one more night to the countless millions, billions, trillions that went past before it? I was being real quiet and everything because I still wasn’t certain that my Dad would be still asleep or not. I didn’t want to wake him up if he was asleep and I certainly didn’t want him to hear me if he was awake, coming in and seeing me sneaking from the window and everything, with all my filthy and ripped clothes, wondering where the hell I’d been the whole goddam night and all that. I’d much rather just keep everything all undercover and all and not bother anyone, especially not my Dad, with a whole lot of nonsense and everything that no one wants to know about. I still couldn’t shake this strange feeling though as I began to lightly tiptoe around the room, like something just felt different and peculiar about the place, like it was very unfamiliar or something, almost like I was some kind of intruder into someone’s place while they were asleep or something and I had just stepped in from the streets for a quick look at what nice things they had and what nice things could be mine if I wanted them bad enough. I saw my stupid little microscope set, sitting on my desk and wondered what robber would possibly want to take a worthless thing like that, or any of the other junk that’s in my crummy little room. It’s kind of stupid now that I think of it, but while looking around I started to act like I was one of those cat burglars in the movies that are always going around robbing people in the night, using stealth and cunning and all to avoid being caught at all costs. Up on my toes all around the room, I was walking really stupidly like they’re always doing with their creepy arms and hands going up and down all in front of them. I saw all the glorious things around the room that I wanted for myself, like pillows and old books and things and thought to myself that these people don’t deserve this kind of stuff anyway and why should they have all these nice 59
things like silly pictures on their walls, colouring pencils and everything. So I went around making out like I was taking all these things and piling them all into this giant black sack that I pretended to carry over my shoulder like they're always doing. I got sick of this pretty soon though and decided to act normal for a change, just for a bit, getting myself all sorted out, taking off my disgustingly muddy and grimy sneakers and changing into my pyjamas and all, ready to jump into bed, like I’d been there, snug as anything the whole night. My pyjamas had this little picture of a red train coming out of a tunnel printed repeatedly all over them, but it wasn’t drawn very well and it almost looked more like a Christmas stocking or something now that I think of it. I’d had them since just about before I can remember, but I do remember the moment I finally figured out that it was actually supposed to be a train that was printed all over them. It kind of just dawned on my one day while I was sitting on the toilet or something, while I happened to be looking down at my pants and just contemplating and all. I’m not sure what I thought it was before; probably just some random pattern or something, but I don’t think I really paid that much attention. Anyway, I was all ready and half way into bed, when I heard this kind of soft clang from down the hall. I figured Dad might still be awake, so jumping quickly into bed, I began to feign this real deep sleep just in case he came in. Realising that my desk lamp was still on, I quickly hopped back out of bed, flicked the switch and jumped straight back in. The morning light was beginning to shine in through the window, brighter and brighter by the second, so the light really wasn’t doing much, but I really didn’t want my Dad thinking I'd left it on all night. He’s always telling me off for leaving lights on all night and that kind of thing. I listened out for more noises, like the sound of my Dad stumbling over to the bathroom and relieving himself while making this loud groaning sound of release, or else trudging off down the hall towards the kitchen for a light snack, or the squeak from the doorknob to my room, just looking in to check up on me. But I didn’t hear any of these things. I didn’t hear anything as I laid there all tucked in under the covers, motionless and everything and I began to wonder if the original sound I'd heard was even my Dad at all or if I had imagined it, or what. If it was my Dad getting up, he would have surely made some other noise on his way to do whatever it was the he would do, but there was nothing. And then I heard it again, another soft clang from down the hall, this time a little louder and then silence again. I might have thought that it was Dad just playing a joke on me, but he never really jokes 60
around these days. My brain told me that it was probably nothing, but I couldn’t quite shake this feeling like something just wasn’t quite right. I took my head out from under the sheets and looked over towards my bedroom door and saw that strangely, it wasn’t shut properly. It was definitely open, just a bit, where the relative darkness of the rest of the house was showing through. My room was always the first to become bright at dawn, receiving the morning sun through the windows facing east. I thought it rather strange that my bedroom door would be open, as I’m always making sure it’s always closed, so no one can look in. I’m always being so paranoid and all about people watching me and everything, even though I know that probably no one ever is and that it would be pretty boring if they were anyway. I just don’t like people watching me when I don’t know it, because you could be doing anything. It’s amazing how differently you behave when you know you’re being watched compared with when you think you’re totally alone. Sometimes when you go out at night and people have their lights on inside, you can see some of what’s going on and everything. It’s almost like you’re watching some kind of show on TV sometimes, only different because it’s real life, but not like those stupid reality TV programs, where they know they’re being filmed and everything and it is just one giant act and everything. But It’s more like some kind of laboratory experiment with rats or mice or whatever, only with people, observing them how they really are and all that. Anyway, I finally got out of bed once more and cautiously crept over to the door, opened it up a little further, real quietly, and stepped out into the hallway.
CHAPTER 18 The Intruder
he hall was quiet and still quite dark as I stepped out, slowly creeping along up against the wall, like it was the edge of some sheer, steep cliff or something and I was carefully treading a fragile ledge. I knew it was probably nothing – the noise I mean – a mouse or rat or something crawling around the place, banging into things in the kitchen down the hall or else it was that stupid cat from next-door who’s always coming in through the old doggy door, looking for mice or rats. It had to be something stupid like that, but I felt this weird urge to just check anyway. Going past my Dad’s room, I looked in, relieved to see him still snoring away like crazy, dreaming of far away places and all kinds of other things. I thought about waking him up and all to tell him about the noise, but didn’t really want to do that if it just turned out to be nothing at all. When I was younger, I was always waking him and Mum up in the middle of the night and all, just because I was hearing some weird noise or there were monsters in my stupid closet and all and I’d run out to their room and up to Dad and shake him like mad, telling him all about it and he’d be still half asleep and everything, but he’d always tell me that there was nothing to worry about and everything’s going to be alright and all that nonsense, without even really hearing what I was scared of. Parents are always telling their kids that everything’s going to be alright, when really they don’t have a clue, they don’t know that for certain and most of the time haven’t even taken the time out to really listen to what’s really bothering the kids or anything anyway. Mostly I learned just to deal with the monsters in my closet all by myself. They’re not all that hard to get rid of or anything anyway. If you just keep piling more and more things in the closet, then they get trapped in there under the sheer weight of everything and probably get smothered to death or whatever I guess and then you don’t have to worry about them any more. There were still some things thought that I sometimes attempted to talk over with my Dad, but usually he’s much too busy trying to deal with his own stuff and trying to make peace with God and all that nonsense. I let him sleep there, snoring away and continued on down the hall towards the kitchen. It was still all shadowy and everything, with only a little light from the rising sun coming in through the small windows, so I 62
couldn’t really see all that much at all. But then, to the side of my vision, I thought I saw a little bit of movement in the corner next to the stove where it was still cast in shadows and I kind of froze for a second, starting to think seriously about what the hell I’d do if it had turned out to be a burglar or something, or worse, crouching in the corner. And then I thought that maybe if I just left him alone and went back to my room and back to bed, that he’d just up and leave and I could forget about the whole damn thing and not have to deal with anything at all, any of it. I didn’t want to push him into a corner or anything. In the movies, they’re always pushing criminals and everything into corners and that’s when they strike out and do something that they regret later, when it seemed they had no other alternative. They’re always showing people on the TV news who have been robbed during the night, while they were sleeping and everything and when they woke up, they found all their things missing and hadn’t heard a goddam thing all night, so I figured maybe having a few things taken would be much better than getting killed or something by pushing someone into a corner and all. I started to get real worried and everything about what decisions I would end up making, all the possibilities and everything that just kept circling around and around my stupid head, relentlessly. Anyway, I was beginning to get all carried away and everything in my head about all sorts of premature thoughts and decided it was foolish to speculate on something when the facts weren’t even certain in the first place. And also the more I thought about just going back to my room and pretending I never even heard anything in the first place, just seemed like the coward’s way out and all. I’m not sure why the coward’s way out felt like such a bad thing, but it did. Charging fearlessly into a battle you know you’re going to lose is one sure-fire way of getting yourself killed I thought, yet if you lay down your sword and give up in the name of survival, then you are branded a coward and ridiculed and all that. It all seems rather odd and illogical. In the end, I was so sick and tired of thinking things over and over in my stupid goddam brain, that all I wanted was to just resolve the situation, one way or another, so I didn’t have to analyse it anymore and I could get some kind of peace of mind, or something resembling that at least, maybe finally get back to bed. Not wasting a second longer, I stepped into the room, reached my crazy arm up and flicked on the light switch.
From the corner, next to the stove, came a flurry of movent or whatever you want to call it, as out dashed this blur of dark grey, out from behind the stove and straight underneath the table. Startled for about a second, I crouched down the see the shape of a large cat, the cat from nextdoor. From where I was, I could see it had some kind of mouse or small rat in its mouth, all disgustingly dripping with blood and saliva and all and still kicking around a bit too, slowly dying. I really hated that cat. Still, I was glad it wasn’t a burglar or anything, but I must once again admit my complete and utter dislike for that cat. I’ve never really been much of a cat person to begin with, but this one I really didn’t like, I’m not sure why exactly. It was really thin and skinny, but at the same time, quite big, sort of tall in a way, with really long legs, short hair and I’m pretty sure it was some kind of purebred Persian or Burmese variety or something like that anyway. But what I despised the most was the way he was always snooping around where he wasn’t wanted, causing all kinds of fuss and bother wherever he went. He was looking at me with these two huge dark eyes, no doubt just as stunned as I was, if not more so and seemed to be carefully calculating his next move or something. I’m not sure what it is about him, but he’s always looking as though he’s planning something, even though it sounds really silly because he’s just a cat and can’t really plan anything much at all. Maybe he was indeed planning something though – who knows – like taking over the world or something like that, contemplating the best way to bring about the fall of society, so that he may rule supreme and proclaim all cats, masters over their human owners or something crazy like that anyway. I couldn’t stand his wicked stare any longer and the dripping blood from the half dead mouse or rat hanging by its neck out of his mouth, just really started to make me sick, so I lunged forward at him a little, just to give him a bit of a scare was all. It worked like a charm too, and I was pleased as anything, watching him scamper away with his breakfast, fast as anything outside through the old little dog door.
CHAPTER 19 The Unseen Assailant
was relieved and everything that it had just been the stupid cat from next-door making all that noise from the kitchen, but at the same time was feeling this weird kind of disappointment, like it was just typical that it would turn out to be something ordinary like that, like everything in real life always does and is always leaving this stupid yearning for excitement just hanging around like in the back of your mind. Most of the time you can get rid of it by just watching a couple of action flicks, reading a good science fiction story or bashing out a few violent video games, but every so often, you just get like this terrible feeling that your life couldn’t possibly get any more dull and utterly tiresome, yet you are forced to deal with every waking second, day in and day out, on and on for all your miserable life before you eventually drop dead, all alone, remembered by no one really except for your family and a few acquaintances you call your friends, like your life never even mattered or counted for anything at all. Luckily, that feeling usually doesn’t last all that long before you’ve just about forgotten all about it again and are happily on your way once more, playing around with whatever has managed to divert your attention to other things for that particular moment. Anyway, I figured that seeing I was in the kitchen and all already, that I’d take some time out and get something to eat and that. I was real hungry and all because I hadn’t eaten anything all night and my stomach felt all empty as hell, making all these gurgling and grumbling noises, like it was crying out with all its might, the only way it knew how, crying for the one thing it most desired in its crazy life of digestion. I decided to get myself a bowl of cereal. The box was still on the bench from yesterday, all open and everything. Dad was always telling me to close up the box and put in back in the pantry when I was done. Sometimes you just forget though, getting caught up in the excitement of the cereal or something and it just flies out of your mind. There were no clean bowls – very rarely were there any clean dishes – so I just gave one of the ones ready to be washed a bit of a once over and just used that. I know it’s disgusting and all, but I didn’t really care all that much. Some people you wouldn’t catch doing a thing like that, not in a million years, scared to death by all the germs and stupid microbes that all of those cleaning products on TV are always 65
making such a big deal about, going on and on about sanitisation and germs and everything like that. They can almost convince you to believe that just if you eat something a little bit dirty or whatever, then you’ll be certain to catch something or die horribly, dropping down dead from those evil little wriggly blobs they’re always showing being wiped up by their spray and whatever. I couldn’t be bothered with any of it though that morning and figured I’d make myself a coffee as well, while I was at it. I have to be in the right mood to drink coffee and I think I was. There was one clean coffee mug left up on the shelves, but I used one of the dirty ones anyway, just rinsing it off a bit. I knew I shouldn’t even be drinking coffee or anything because I’m only a kid and all that, but I didn’t really care too much. I like to make myself really strong coffees sometimes; really puts me on the edge and keeps me awake and ready for anything. Most of the time I try to hide it from my Dad and all, but I’m certain he knows anyway and doesn’t really mind it at all. He virtually lives on the stuff anyway and is always saying that he can’t do a goddam thing until he’s had his morning caffeine fix. So everything was ready for breakfast, my bowl of cereal and my big mug of coffee and I was about to take it all into the lounge room, where the TV was, and tune out to whatever morning cartoons they were playing, when I saw the cereal box there on the bench, all opened and everything, and thought I’d better close it up and put it back in the pantry cupboard, just to keep Dad happy. I doubted it would do anything of the sort however. The most it would do would be to keep him from yelling at me one more time to put the goddam cereal box away. He only notices when something’s not right, yelling and screaming like mad, but never notices whenever I do whatever stupid thing he says should be done. It doesn’t really make you too enthusiastic about doing it. Sometimes I don’t really see the point. Anyway, I figured I’d put the cereal box back in the pantry cupboard anyway; saves me getting yelled at one more time in addition to how much I already get yelled at. But when I neared the pantry door, I heard this kind of muffled sneeze come from inside. We had one of those walk-in pantries where you could never find anything that you wanted and where I used to always hide when I was younger when playing hide and seek by myself and all my stupid imaginary friends and everything. The box fell out of my hand, sending a scatter of cereal across the kitchen floor as I realised the very real possibility that there was someone hiding in the pantry cupboard and I didn’t think it was anyone playing hide and seek. I don’t know where it came from, but I immediately got this strange 66
feeling like it was one of the boy’s I’d seen at the old house up the road, come in through my window or something, who somehow knew that I’d seen the whole thing and had come to make sure a never told a soul what happened, ever. I quickly turned, kind of half-quietly and half in a panic, running into Dads’ room, where I saw him still lying there, flat on his back, snoring away like anything. I shook him and shook him, but he wouldn’t wake up. It can take quite a lot to wake him up sometimes. Eventually he came to, opening his eyes and everything and wondering what the hell was going on and why I was awake so early. I told him that I thought there was someone in the house, someone hiding in the walk-in pantry. I explained to him that I had woken up from a bad dream a little while ago or something like that and I couldn’t get back to sleep, and that I’d gone to the kitchen to get something to eat and all and heard the sneeze coming through the pantry door and that I was certain there was someone in there, hiding and how I almost opened the pantry door and he would have leaped out and murdered me and everything and all the time I just kept on pointing in the direction of the kitchen with this real scared look on my face and all. ‘Andrew’ he said, cutting me off ‘you’ve certainly got one hell of a wild imagination on you there son. I’m afraid that sometimes your imagination can get a little too carried away with itself.’ It was obvious he didn’t believe me one stinking bit and probably thought I must be having another of my monster in the closet episodes all over again like I used to when I was younger, but I kept on at him, over and over that I was serious and everything that there was definitely someone in the kitchen pantry cupboard who was going to rob the place or whatever. You can’t imagine how hard it is to convince my Dad of anything, but I kept on at it, explaining about the noises and everything and I eventually wore him down. ‘Alright, alright Andrew, let’s go and take a look, shall we?’ he groaned, slowly rolling out of bed. I was about to timidly ask him if he should perhaps take his handgun, just in case, but thought he probably wouldn’t be too impressed. I wasn’t supposed to know about the gun he kept in his top drawer, wrapped in a handtowel, next to his bible. If I ever mentioned it, he’d most likely just say it’s for protection and all that, after what happened to Mum, but I thought when you believed in all that stuff, that Jesus was supposed to protect you and everything. I’d only seen it once, when I’d walked in this one night. I couldn’t really see because it was pretty dark, but it looked 67
like he was looking at it, inspecting it or something and when he saw me come in, he quickly turned away to the drawer, pretending he’d been reading his goddam bible all along. Anyway, we got to the kitchen and you could tell he was really tired and bothered and all and just wanted to get back to bed, as he shuffled over like he’s always doing around the house in his big grey slippers, over to the pantry. ‘Is it this one Andrew?’ he asked, as if we had a multitude of walk-in pantries all throughout the house. I nodded, remaining still in the hallway, away from what I imagined might be behind the pantry door, but peering through into the kitchen with eager anticipation. My Dad walked up and casually opened the door, real wide so there could be no mistaking and stood there for a bit, just so I could really be sure. I saw only food. For a second I thought of bringing up the possibility that the intruder might have gotten away somehow while I’d been away from the kitchen, only the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like Dad had probably been right all along – as usual – and that it was just me getting all carried away with my crazy imagination and everything again. ‘Go back to bed Andrew,’ Dad said wearily, patting me on the head as he shuffled past back to his room ‘some sleep will do you good.’
CHAPTER 20 The Moment Before Sleep
started to think that maybe my Dad was right, as I watched him stumble off back to his room while I contemplated doing the same, just so I could put everything behind me and everything, all the crazy events of the night to rest, once and for all. Maybe a nice long sleep would be a good idea. I looked over to see my coffee sitting there on the bench, still warm no doubt, but somehow I didn’t really feel like it any more. I found it interesting how moods can change so quickly and how sometimes you feel like something so much when at other times you don’t at all and started wonder why, if something’s good and you like it so much, then how come you don’t feel like it all the time and how come you get sick of it whenever you overindulge yourself on it. I felt like I really had no control over what the hell I really wanted in life and was just following my stupid brain around, doing whatever it thought might be a good idea at the rime and those ideas were constantly fluctuating around everywhere. I wondered if maybe every little idea existed in my mind as millions and millions of tiny patterns going around my head, firing synapses and all that in the warm chemical goo of the brain, but constantly replicating and changing, almost like trying to fill up as much of my mind as they can. And they would be competing and everything for mind space with other ideas that are always trying to gain the upper hand in battle and all and that the good ideas, the ones that seep up into my consciousness and all, are just the ones that are able to sustain their population inside my head. And so the things I do, that seem like they’re a good idea at the time, aren’t necessarily good in like an absolute sense – if there is such a thing – but are just due to a temporary resurgence of their community’s miserable existence inside my crazy head. I was feeling kind of perplexed about the whole thing and began to wonder whether it really was a good idea to get some sleep or if it was just my stupid brain telling me what’s what, but then I figured it probably knew a hell of a lot more about what’s what than what I did and brains have been telling people to go and get some sleep for millions of years, so I guessed it wouldn’t do any real harm to listen once in a while. I wondered if there were ever any breed of cavemen or whatever who didn’t sleep and if there were, then why they didn’t survive in the world and everything, so 69
we didn’t have to worry about going to sleep and all – which is so goddam boring – every single day. I imagined my great, great, great, great, great, great times a million granddad out hunting or whatever this one day and it starts getting really dark and all and he feels himself getting tired so he decides to turn in for the day and go back up to his little cave or whatever to take a good long nap. I thought that maybe if his brain didn’t tell him it was a good idea to go and get some sleep, that maybe he would have stayed out and then he might have been killed or something during the night by a lion or tiger or bear or God knows what they had back in those days and then he wouldn’t have had a kid and that kid wouldn’t have grown up to have kids and so on and so on until now and then I wouldn’t even be here to think about any of this stupid rubbish at all. I wondered if that would be a good thing or not. My head was starting to hurt so I stumbled off back to my room. It was getting pretty light outside, almost day and I could see the sky beginning to become all red and orange and blue, all mixed together. I flopped down hard into my bed and stared up at the under side of my top bunk, trying to get sleepy and everything, but it wasn’t working all that well. I hated trying to go to sleep anyway, but especially hated it when it was all bright and everything outside and everyone around me was up and about doing all these things and all. I remember all the way back when I was still going to kindergarten, that we were always being told we had to have these afternoon naps every day, so all the kids would get their little mats from the big box next to the wall and lay them out haphazardly in the floor and all and straight away fall fast asleep like it was just about the most natural thing in the world, while the teachers, carers and all that would be sitting around, whispering in the corner so as not to wake any of us kids up. But I could never do it; I could never really get to sleep in and amongst all the other kids snoring away and drooling all over their disgusting mats, while being constantly watched by all the adults. Once at the start, I asked why everyone had to have and afternoon nap and told them that I didn’t want to take one and that I wasn’t tired or anything, but they just kept on telling me that all the kids have to take a nap in the afternoon and that was that and it didn’t even matter that I wasn’t sleepy at all or anything, it was just what happened. So after that I would always just go and get my mat and lay it down like all the other kids, usually trying to put it as far away from the others as possible. I can’t really stand being too close to people who are sleeping, with their grotty mouths hanging open all over the place and making all these weird noises and everything. And 70
while all the other kids started dozing off and everything, I’d just be there listening to every one of the horrid noises that this bunch of sleeping kids made. Then after about five or so minutes, the adults sitting in the corner would start whispering away and I’d have to sit there listening to all their chatter that slowly became louder and louder as nap time went on. It wouldn’t have been to bad if they actually had something to say, but most of the time their conversations mainly consisted of how scorching hot it was or how freezing cold it was or whether it looked like rain or whether it didn’t look like rain and all that kind of stuff and I’d just be there listening away, waiting for it all to be over. I was actually becoming quite sleepy, lying there in bed, thinking about sleep and everything and I started wondering how come you can never actually recall the exact moment you pass from being awake and thinking about all kinds of crazy things to falling asleep and I wondered if it was a really slow, gradual process or if it just happened in an instant, like a light switch or something, one second you’re awake and the next you’re asleep. I decided perhaps it would be a good time to try a little experiment and that this time I would try to make a real effort to stay awake and focused until the very last second before I was asleep. I wondered if it was possible, if you concentrated enough or whatever to actually experience what it was like to fall from being awake to being asleep. I closed my eyes and started concentrating really hard, trying to take in everything that was going on in my mind, so that I would be able to remember right up to the final moment that I was awake and maybe even past that and I began to just focus really hard on the front part of my head where I imagined my frontal lobes were or whatever they were. It seemed to be going pretty well and I began to feel this kind of weird pressure in the middle of my forehead and just above each of my temples and everywhere as I imagined my brain working over, all the millions of microscopic neurons firing over and over in patterns all over my head. The only problem was that I think I was being almost too alert and too edgy while at the same time, trying really hard to go to sleep and I’ve learned the hard way that if you try too hard to fall asleep, then you never get to sleep. I decided to ease off it a bit and give enough slack to actually start to fall asleep naturally, but I still didn’t want to lose focus on the experiment. That was just about the last thing I remembered before I felt this sudden jolt in just about every muscle it my body as it instinctually prepared for sudden impact. I was always getting these dreams where it 71
feels like I’m falling, like off a cliff or something and am just about it hit the ground when I realise and wake up with this sudden shock. It probably has something to do with that time I fell off the top bunk when I was younger. I don’t think that memory will ever leave my stupid head. Anyway, the experiment didn’t work because I figured it had to have been at least about an hour from when I last thought of not loosing focus on the experience of falling asleep because it was really bright outside and now the light was now coming in all through the curtains and shining all over my face and everything. None of my stupid experiments ever work out like they’re supposed to.
CHAPTER 21 The Waking Day
ost of the time I can fall back to sleep after waking up unexpectedly early in the morning without too much trouble or anything, but somehow this time was different and after trying and trying and trying, without any avail at all, I decided it was most likely too much trouble to get back to sleep anyway and thought I ought not too worry about it. I don’t know why, but most of the time when I wake up, I just feel really terrible and all, almost like my body is well aware of what a terrible day it’s going to be and hasn’t told me anything about it yet and is trying to let me know that all it wants to do is stay in bed, but my mind keeps getting all bored and restless and everything and wants to get up and out and around everywhere, finding new things to mildly amuse it with on various levels of excitement, so it pushes more and more and in the end, always seems to win the fight. I eventually got up the strength to roll over to the side of my bed and sit up, rubbing my sore eyes, making them all bloodshot and red and everything. I could hear a couple of birds singing outside, but it must have been a little later in the day than I usually rise, because it seemed that they had all but finished their grand morning chorus, leaving only a few soloists singing lonely tunes. I can remember back to when I was younger, when I used to pay much more attention to all the bird calls and everything around the place in the mornings. All the songs were new and interesting and I hadn’t heard them a million times before like now when I listen. I used to go over to my window and look up to all the trees, trying to put some kind of correlation between the different sounds and the birds all jumping and flapping around, having a great old time and all. There used to be this one bird that had this really distinctive call in the mornings, really singsong like and loud so it travelled over the top of all the other calls. I used to try to spot this bird in the trees, but never really could to any reasonable certainty and it always sounded like he was just about to sing this really familiar tune that I knew and all, but all he’d do is just sing the start of it and all and then go and change it all the time, like just improvising on the spot, making it up as he went along. I never really hear that bird any more. Maybe it’s because I’m always waking up too late in the goddam day or maybe I’m just not paying too much attention any more. Sometimes I don’t see the sense in paying 73
attention to the stupid bird calls anyway and wonder what it was that kept me so fascinated and all when I was younger and everything anyway when it was all new and interesting and all. Now it’s like they all just get blended in together in my mind, but right at the back so I don’t even really hear them at all except as background noise, but every so often I decide to focus for a little while on that background noise, just to see if there’s anything that I might be missing. I listened for a little while, waiting for something to catch my attention, anything perhaps just out of the ordinary and all, but there was nothing and it was just the same old chatter and noise as always, so I redirected my attention elsewhere, relegating the birds calls just about out of my head altogether. Sometimes, when I’m just sitting there, bored out of my mind and everything, I like to just pick out a sound or whatever and just listen for a bit and I mean really listen, just solely to that one sound, the tone and everything and block just about anything else out that tries to mix in with it, just like my brain is one giant sound filter and then I pick out another sound that’s going at the same time and try to focus just on the two sounds, which are really both just part of the same soundwave, but seem like they’re two separate sounds because of the difference in tone and everything that the brain picks up on. I then go on to pick up on another sound and try to put that into the mix, yet still keep everything separate, and then I pick another and another, until I have like this whole orchestra going on inside my brain, with each sound playing their own melody line in this song written only for me. I can be so childish sometimes. Anyway, I didn’t try to do that today because I didn’t really feel like it and didn’t think my brain could handle it really that well anyway. Usually I can’t get all that many different separate instruments before my head starts hurting like mad and all the stupid sounds get all mixed up and muddled and everything anyway, but usually I just do it for a little bit on an experiment to see how many I can get. I didn’t really see the point of it though sitting there, my body all sore and fighting me for the chance to possibly hop back into bed. I was up already though and along with the fact that it was bright daylight outside, I knew there was probably not a chance in hell that I would be able to fall asleep again, even if I did try lying down and closing my stupid eyes and that probably all I would accomplish by giving in to my body’s wishes was making my mind wander around like crazy, trying to find something to do and never letting me get any rest at all. So I decided it was probably time to get up and get 74
on with whatever my first day of the school holidays had to offer, which I assumed wouldn’t be too much. I’m not quite sure what it is, but whenever I wake up in the mornings and it’s a new day and everything and there’s either school to go to or whatever, it always seems like I’m somehow a different person. And especially when I’ve been out the night before or even just alone in my room with nothing really to do, nothing that I’m supposed to be doing and I can just do my own thing and get up to my own adventures and all. It seemed somehow that I was, in a way, shaped and moulded by those things that you have to do when you’re just a kid, like school and football and swimming training and homework and everything and like they want you to be that way, like you have to be a kid when you’re doing all those things that kids are supposed to be doing and you can’t be yourself or anything until you’re at home by yourself in your room and everything and there’s no one there to watch what you’re doing or to tell you what to do and all that and you can really be yourself and who you really are and everything like that. But then I started to think that maybe being alone and all that was just a part of being a kid and all as well and its not really being unique and special and being yourself and all that rubbish either, but its just all part of being shaped and moulded and all that and all part of the stupid master plan or whatever. So anyway, it seemed like I had finally said goodbye to the night before, with all its crazy goings on and I had once again awoken, a new day, a new life and I was once more just a painfully ordinary little kid, with a painfully ordinary little existence. I thought I might go and check what cartoons they had on the TV.
CHAPTER 22 The Television
tumbling out of my tiny, boring room and down the hall to the living room which had the TV, I kind of wished that I could have my own TV in my room, all to myself so that I could just tune out and watch it all day and all night during the holidays. Most of the time, I had to fight my Dad for control of whatever channel to have it on, although it wasn’t so much of a straight out fight as more like a subtle hint from me about what might not be too bad to watch. He was in front of that stupid thing all the time and never liked to watch any of the good shows that are on the other stations and what’s worse he never liked to be told what shows he should watch. I think he found comfort in the idea that he thought he was in control of the things that went into his head. Anyway, I’ve found that during the holidays especially, I definitely liked to watch a few cartoons in the morning to stop my brain from wandering all over the place everywhere, looking for something to take in, making me go on all these stupid adventures all the time and all that and do all these crazy things, just for its own sick gratification and everything. Television seemed to occupy it quite nicely though at times, kind of trapping it like in a cage or something. It doesn’t have to work so hard for its fix when the adventure arrives directly through the airwaves and all and you can just sit there and relax and everything and not have to worry about doing anything at all except if you get tired of what you’re watching and want to change the channel or whatever. Excitement, thrill and adventure for kids, without the risk of getting yourself killed; that’s what the Saturday morning cartoons were all about, the illusion of safety. There is always however this very slight possibility that something extraordinarily large might very well fall out of the sky and land directly on top of you in your living room while you’re watching TV, or about a million other things that could happen to you while sitting there, but they’re the kind of things that if you worry too much about them, then it doesn’t really do anyone any good at all. You may as well just sit there and watch the stupid shows and all and not worry about any goddam thing that’s going on in your bothersome little life and all. So when I got out there to the lounge room, sure enough, there was Dad, sitting all slouched back on the old couch, just staring intently at some 76
morning news or current affairs type show that looked as though it was so incredibly boring and tedious and all that if I tried to actually sit down and watch it, I’d most likely just fall asleep, or else my head would explode or something like that. I didn’t know how he could watch that rubbish or what could possibly be so goddam exciting about things going on around the place and whatever, with no story or anything to tie anything together, but I knew that he didn’t like to be disturbed or spoken to or anything while he was watching his shows, so I just quietly walked in and sat down on the floor in front of the telly and tried my hardest not to die from sheer boredom or not to throw up from looking at all the showy reporters and presenters and all, with their cheesy grins and acting like they really care about everything going on, or when they’ve just done a story about a missing kid or something and they sound all worried and sad and everything, but then they just happily go right on in to the next story about how some old lady won it big at the pokies or something like that, with her telling us about all the gorgeous things she’s going to buy with all her stinking riches. The only parts that I can almost stand to watch are when they’re hot on the trail of some kind of serial killer or something just around an ordinary suburban area, but all the police have racked their brains and are too stupid to work out who it is and the killer just keeps thinking of all these ingenious ways to blend right in to normal society and all. But what I like most about it, is the whole production that they do like putting on all that stupid music in the background and all the silly little re-enactments and everything that are supposed to be all creepy and everything, but they’re not, and the way they’re always trying to get you to believe that the killer could be right there in your own stupid backyard or something or one of your next-door neighbours, so they make everyone all suspicious of everyone else and everything so they have to go out and buy all these security systems and all that nonsense, when the real chances of getting murdered by a serial killer are probably just about as slim as having some huge thing fall from the sky out of a plane, like a thousand tonne anvil or something like they have in all those cartoons, coming crashing down right on top of you while you’re watching the TV in your living room. I just about couldn’t stand it any longer. My Dad knew just how much I loved those kinds of stupid shows. “This will be over soon Andrew, I’ll just see what this last segment is about and then you can watch your little shows, ok?” he said all calm and collected, still staring straight at the 77
TV, most likely noticing out of the corner of his eye, just how restless and fidgety and all that I was getting. I was always getting all restless and fidgety and everything all the time, but sometimes I guess you can probably notice it more than other times, especially when I’m doing something that I’m not really into that much or whatever, like watching someone else’s TV show or doing something just because I might think that’s what everyone else wants me to do. But instead of telling them that I want to do something else or watch something else or whatever like I know I should do, all I seem to be able to do is just sit there, not saying anything and being all restless and everything. It nearly makes me crazy sometimes that I can’t just open my stupid mouth and say that I want to watch something different. It’s insane, it really is. The last segment was this little bit about this recent string of attacks by youths on elderly citizens and about how these teenagers are running rampant in the streets and all that and it kind of jogged my memory and made me think of the events of the previous night and what I had witnessed or what I had imagined I had witnessed. I heard the loud awkward sound of Dad trying to get out of the couch. He sinks that low down into the thing that it sometimes takes him quite some time to get up out of it. ‘Terrible, just terrible, those kids. I’m going to go have some breakfast.’ he said once he was finally standing, ‘Here, catch Andy.’ I turned around to see the television remote control coming straight at me. I tried to duck and all, but I have horrible reflexes most of the time and it knocked me right in the head, almost sending my glasses flying. It didn’t hurt all that much though, but I think Dad and I both realised the reason why sport was never my forte. I readjusted my glasses and sat there rubbing the bump on my head while Dad gave like this little chuckle and sort of half apologised, patting me on the head. I thought about maybe watching the end of the segment, but I wasn’t really in the mood, so I picked up the remote from beside me on the floor and flicked right over to my cartoons straight away, without too much second thought, besides a tiny niggling in the back of my mind, which I just pushed aside anyway after just a little while watching.
CHAPTER 23 The Saturday Morning Cartoons
was sitting all cross-legged really close to the TV and all so I could get the full effect and become emersed in the action and everything, especially considering our TV was pretty small compared to some of the ones you see around at other kids’ houses. I don’t know how the hell adults can sit so far away from the TV and still happily watch along, up at the back or the room and everything on the couch where you miss half of what is going on. I usually have to have things just right or else I can’t really seem get into a cartoon, almost like a ritual or something where I have to have the volume up quite loud so it blocks out any other irrelevant noises from outside and everything which could become a distraction and I have to have the television facing directly towards me. I can’t stand trying to watch something from the side because the picture is all squashed in and distorted and everything. That kind of thing really bothers me, I don’t know why because it doesn’t seem to bother anyone else all that much. I guess maybe it does, but they just don’t say anything. Then I’d sit down on the floor with my legs crossed and sit up straight so that my head is at just the right height and everything. I really don’t like to watch cartoons with anyone else all that much, because I can’t seem to get into them that well because I can’t really sit the way I like and everything because I keep on thinking that they might be looking at me, so it’s a good thing that Dad doesn’t like to watch cartoons at all and thinks that they will rot your brain and everything. So if I do have to watch something with other people, like if they put on a video or something at school or wherever, I find that I usually can’t concentrate all that much on the show and am always getting self-conscious and nervous and all that, even though I know I shouldn’t and usually find that instead of watching the show intently like everyone is, my eyes keep straying around the room, looking at all the eyes, fixated on the screen and whatever is going on in the show, but also, at the same time, they have a look like they’re really bored with the show and they’re only watching it because they have to. There’s always a few kids who are chatting away in the corner and everything as well and even though that’s not like the biggest distraction in the world, it just seems to annoy me more than anything, that those kids can talk and everything, while all the other kids 79
are trying to watch this stupid boring show that they’re trying to show us. It’s not that I can’t watch anything with someone else in the room and can’t even follow the basic plot or anything; I can do that quite easily. I’m just saying that it’s a lot harder to actually truly get into the show with all these other kids around with their stupid bored expressions on all their faces and all their revolting mouths all open and half drooling all over the place. That’s all. My favourite cartoons are the ones where you can tell that they’ve actually tried their hardest to put some effort into the story and all, the ones where they don’t just treat you like you’re just a stupid kid who doesn’t know anything and have those lame stereotyped characters and stories and scenarios that are about as plain as black and white and everything. The good ones recognise that kids aren’t really as stupid as everyone thinks they are, well, most kids anyway. Those ones have things like complicated plots and lots of different characters and everything and what I really like, is when they put these little hidden things hidden in the background and in the subtext and everything that no one would pick up on unless they were a real avid fan and watched all the episodes religiously and everything. You don’t find too many like that around. I’m not sure if it was because I was getting older or what, but it seemed like those cartoons were becoming increasingly fewer and farther between. Kids these days seem to be content with any old rubbish and so that’s what they give them. There were two channels that always had cartoons on in the mornings. The one that I was watching usually was the better of the two for cartoons in the morning, but they had on this brand new cartoon, most likely for the school holidays. It was alright and everything and I was sort of getting into it and all, but still there seemed just something not quite right. It was real showy and flashy looking with lots of fast action and quick shots between all kinds of different things, most likely to try to get the kids attention and keep them fixed on the show so they wouldn’t change the channel at all or turn away or anything. It seems these new cartoons will try just about anything in an attempt to keep the attentions of kids, using just about every stupid gimmick in the goddam book to cater for attention spans that keep getting shorter and shorter, but the thing is, that I think these gimmicks and everything they use, are most likely what’s making attention spans shorter and shorter in the first place. It seems sometimes that the only thing these new cartoon makers almost never try to do, is to actually just try and make a decent cartoon instead of just letting 80
the marketing department or whatever, have complete creative control of everything. I wondered if this was the way of the future, a steady decline in the quality of cartoons, catering to and adding to the mass stupidity of everyone and really not helping anyone at all really. But what puzzled me the most was that these kinds of shows seemed to be everywhere now, on the rise and all, when really, when you think about it, these terrible shows should, following the natural course of everything, eventually burn themselves out or whatever. It didn’t make sense to me that they could survive for very long in the tumultuous and ever changing environment of children’s television and that the good cartoons were precisely the ones that were getting cancelled or pushed back to different timeslots and everything. I was around five minutes into the show and all when I just couldn’t take it any more, like that feeling you get when you think if you watch one second more then you feel you’re likely to throw up or something all over the place. I pointed the remote control right at the TV and finding the channel controls by pure instinct, switched the channel over to the other station, but that wasn’t any good either. The other station had a brand new cartoon on as well, just as showy, just as flashy and just as phoney as the other one. Suddenly, like just some great big wave over me, up my spine and everything, I felt this terrible feeling like the whole world had somehow gone insane or something and I was trapped in this crazy place, like a prisoner in a maximum security prison cell and could never dig my way out, not even with one of those miniature rock picks, not in a million years. Then, from I’m not sure where, deep within my heart and all that I suppose, I felt this great urge to just unleash all my stupid built-up anger on that goddam TV. I imagined myself getting up all furious and everything, yelling and screaming my stupid lungs out at the pathetic piece of junk, then reaching out and lifting it high over my head, ripping out all the cords and the antenna and all from the walls and hurling the thing through the air, across the room, sending it smashing and crashing all through the wall and everything, with electrical sparks going everywhere, just like in the movies and all, even though I thought that probably wouldn’t happen in real life because it wouldn’t be plugged in. I still imagined it that way anyway. I probably would have done it too, if only I thought I could really have lifted that old thing at all, but even if I tried, I figured that I wouldn’t even be able to budge it the slightest bit and I’d just be standing there 81
looking like a real weakling and all, trying to lift up this TV that wasnâ€™t even all that big or anything. So instead I just switched it off, watching as the picture flicked off and condensed into this little dot of light in the middle of the screen that slowly faded away, leaving nothing but darkness. I stared blankly at the screen for a little while, noticing how the blackness behind the glass subtly reflected everything in the room, even me. And so I stared at my reflection in the TV for a second thanking God or whatever that no one was watching my hopeless life on television, because if they were, I imagined they would have flicked it over to something else pretty goddam quick.
CHAPTER 24 The Getaway
t wasn’t long before I started thinking that maybe sitting around the living room, watching pathetic cartoons or even a blank screen, perhaps wasn’t the best way to spend my first day of the summer holidays and I suddenly felt like I just wanted to get out, away from the TV, away from the lounge room, away from the house, away from everything to do with my crumby life there in that house in the suburbs. It all seemed so ordinary and lifeless and dull and monotonous and every other stupid adjective you can think of to describe whatever I was thinking about and I just wanted to get out of there as fast as I could. It didn’t even matter where to or anything like that. I just wanted to get the hell out. Dad was in the kitchen cooking breakfast for the queen and all, most likely cooking up this huge lot of bacon and eggs or whatever. He’s always cooking up these huge breakfasts and everything, every morning, loads more than he’d eat by himself or even with me helping out a bit too, and the thing is, that most of the time, I just never really feel all that hungry in the mornings, especially not for the huge, oil drenched breakfasts that Dad is always making up. I just knew that any minute he’d be coming back into the room with this giant plate of the most oily and overcooked bacon in the world, with about ten eggs, all brown and cooked on both side, just the way I don’t like them, but he says they’re better that way, and a huge, greasy pile of onions or whatever he felt like having that day. And he’d sit down in his chair, sinking right into it and into his breakfast and telling me to eat up boy or I’ll never grow up all big and strong like he was and all that. He was always saying things like that, like it was some big threat or whatever. It was funny though at times and I kind of liked it I guess, so I’m glad he was always doing it most of the time. Anyway, the thought of all that greasy bacon and everything was really just making me feel sick and all and so that just made me want to get out of the place even more. Don’t get me wrong though, I really love bacon and eggs and all that, just not first thing in the morning like Dad’s always having. I never really understood why bacon and eggs was a meal people only ever ate for breakfast. I thought about it for a second, but just about had to stop myself before my head started getting all carried away and everything, contemplating and thinking about the whole goddam history 83
of bacon and eggs, until I remembered what the hell I wanted to do in the first place. I sprang up from the floor and headed towards the front door, pretty fast, but real quiet as a mouse or whatever so Dad wouldn’t hear me in the other room. Although, I remember when I still had Mousey, my pet mouse, he used to be always making a hell of a lot of racket in his little cage and everything, squeaking away like mad all the time and always ripping up all his newspaper to shreds, making his house all snug and cosy and with his hours of running and running on his little exercise wheel that would make this kind of creaking sounds, keeping you awake all through the night. The door was shut, so I had to reach up to the handle to open the door, when I realised, looking down at my feet, that I was standing there barefoot and was also still just in my underwear and t-shirt and had the thought that I should probably just duck back into my room and quickly get myself together first. I had to go past the kitchen where Dad was cooking, but that didn’t really matter because the kitchen door was closed. When Dad cooks bacon and eggs he’s always cooking the bacon until its just about charcoal – he really likes it like that and I think he assumes everyone else does as well – and it lets off all this thick smoke and everything and if ever he leaves the kitchen door open when he’s cooking bacon and eggs, the smoke travels from the kitchen, up the hall and is picked up by the smoke alarm at the end of the hall, which goes of at every little thing. I think it’s got to be the most sensitive smoke alarm in the whole world. I remember on one of my birthdays once – I think it was my seventh – Dad had tried to arrange this stupid party for me, but only three kids showed up and everything and it was terrible. Anyway, he brought out the little cake with seven candles all lit up and dripping disgusting wax all over the cake and everything. It took me about five tries to blow them all out because I was going through an especially bad time with my asthma and all back then and one of the kids, the one who’s mum forced him to come and who really didn’t like me all that much I don’t think, said I wouldn’t get any of my wishes or anything because I didn’t blow them out in one go. That made me pretty angry and all, but I didn’t show it or anything and just started cutting up the cake, but was kind of imagining him on the table and I was cutting him up piece by piece and serving him around to everyone, who all thought he was just so mouth-wateringly delicious that they all came back for seconds and thirds even. I really didn’t like him very much. But then the smoke from the candles must have travelled up the hall and everything and been detected by the smoke detector and all because it went off with a terrible start and 84
wouldn’t quit its ear-splittingly loud beeping sound until Dad finally got up on a chair and after playing around with it for a little while, managed to take out that little nine volt battery that’s in there before we all became deaf or crazy or whatever from the noise. In my room I got myself together and ready for my little expedition into the world once more. I put on some shorts and my old sneakers, making sure my red pocket-knife was tucked in at the heel and everything as always. From my cupboard I also grabbed my little army-green backpack that I always keep packed with all kinds of useful stuff for adventures and everything. After I was set and ready to go, I sneaked off back down the hall and up to the front door and reaching up to the handle, I turned it real quietly and pulled, opening the door only just wide enough for me to squeeze through. Then I pulled it shut again, so slowly and gently that you could barely hear the click of the latch snapping back into place as I turned to leave. I was free. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I felt this huge grin come up on my face and all, which is weird because I hardly ever smile at anything much at all and as I tiptoed down the stairs, I felt the gentle warmth of the morning sun on my face and the cool morning breeze in my hair and all that rubbish. To my surprise, I actually started to feel a little better and all, that maybe everything wasn’t so bad after all. I had been feeling pretty rotten ever since school ended and I carved my stupid name on the tree at the back of the oval. I know I should have been happy and all that I was on holidays and could do whatever I wanted to do, but most of the time everything just gets so tedious and I usually just end up doing nothing at all. Or else I always have all these great plans to do all kinds of grand things and everything, but somehow or other, something always happens and plans change and nothing ever goes the way you imagine and you just end up wishing you were back at school again, where at least there was some kind of structure and you knew mostly what you were supposed to do and you didn’t have to make any real decisions about anything much at all. While running to the gate, I decided to myself that these holidays were going to be different this time and heaps better than any of the other ones. I wasn’t exactly sure how these ones would be better or what exactly I was going to do differently or change or what, but I just had this idea that maybe if I just make some kind of effort and put it in my mind that I wanted to have a good time and whatever over the holidays instead of just going along all indifferent and everything, then maybe things might turn 85
out better. But then I started to think that maybe all my other holidays that I thought were so terrible and everything, that maybe they weren’t really as bad as I thought they were. If my mood and thoughts on things can change so dramatically and all just by stepping outside into the cool morning breeze, then it just shows how relative the whole stupid concept of good and bad and whatever is and that what I considered to be a bad school holiday, could really have be considered good, by either someone else or even myself, just when I’m in the right mood or frame of mind or whatever. I opened the gate real quietly and all and stepped on out. In the back of my mind I was kind of wondering what my Dad would do when he realises I’m not there sitting watching cartoons any more, but it didn’t really bother me too much. I don’t even think he’d notice all that much really anyway. There was a public park just down the road with swings and slides all that and I thought that would be as good a place as any to go for a start. I headed off down the street, kind of half walking and half running in a kind of playful way I think I’d call it, feeling pretty good and everything. I imagined all the brilliant things I was going to do to make these holidays the best ever and started to picture myself as this traveller or something, just starting out on his journey, taking those vital first steps and looking towards the bright future and all that. After a little while of walking, I noticed this real god-awful smell that just wouldn’t go away. I stopped, checking each sole of my shoes discretely and looking in this kind of ironic disappointment at the sickening source of the putrid stench that I had obviously stepped in during those very same first few steps. ‘Typical’, I muttered, just barely audible, to myself. I sincerely hoped this wasn’t a sign of things to come.
CHAPTER 25 The Park
wasn’t really all that mad about it though, what I’d just stepped in. Anyone who lives around here should be well aware of the dangers that come with walking on and around the footpath and that. Just about every second person in the neighbourhood had a dog and you can always see them walking their terriers and spaniels and border collie cross with whatever and all that, all around the streets and everywhere and the thing is, no one ever picks up after them when their dog does its business on someone’s front lawn or wherever, like you’re apparently supposed to. I can’t really blame them though because it’s really quite disgusting and gross and you have to remember to carry around a plastic bag with you all the time. Although, it’s usually not too much of a big deal or anything until, that is, you find yourself in the unfortunate position, like I was, of having just stepped in it and having it squish in between the tread of your sneakers, real deep and all. I was at least thankful that I actually remembered to put on my shoes and also that they were already all old and mostly worn out because I was always wearing them everywhere and I figured that they would have most likely already been through just about a million other even more foul and disgusting things in their short lifetime. All I did was, just kind of stood there rubbing my shoe on the grass, but subtle as anything so that no one would really realise my embarrassment, although I knew it didn’t really matter all that much. I did this for a little while until most of it was gone and then continued on my way, this time I stayed on the footpath where it wasn’t so bad, with an eagle eye watch on where each of my steps were landing. I figured the rest of it, in all stuck up in the cracks of my soles and everything would eventually fall out while I was walking and at least I had gotten rid of most of the stink. On the way to the park, I kept thinking about peoples sense of smell and how smells are perceived in the brain and everything, all the millions and millions of odour receptors, picking up on the different molecules of millions and millions of tiny particles in the air that go up your nose while you’re breathing. It started making me feel quite sick and all in a way, that what I was smelling from my shoe just before were actually little tiny little pieces of dog poo, excrement that had come off and were just floating around all in the air and actually going up my nose and 87
into my body and everything. I tried my hardest to put the thought out of my head, but I couldn’t for very long and it just kept creeping back and every time I thought I smelled something just a little bit suspicious while breathing in, I’d quickly stop mid-breath and exhale really fast. But then, coming towards me along the footpath, I saw this big old guy walking his dog. It was a small dog, on a pretty short lead, but it was like it was trying to run really fast and everything as if it thought it could somehow have any effect on how fast the owner was walking. I kind of kept one eye on them as they walked on by and noticed that every so often the little dog would stop his forward charge and have his nose fixed to the ground where some other dog had done its business not too long ago and it would stay sniffing that spot until the owner would tug on the leash, yelling for it to come the hell on and all that. So I began to wonder how come something that smelled so disgusting and repugnant and everything to me, could smell so good to this little dog, who could hardly even be dragged away from it or anything. And what’s more, they’re always saying that dogs’ noses have about a million times better sense of smell than we do. I wondered what it might be like if my sense of smell was as sensitive as a dog’s or whatever and whether or not I would find disgusting smells a million times more disgusting or nice smells a million times more nice. Anyway, the park wasn’t all that far away and I got there without even getting out of breath or raising a sweat or anything like that. I remember it as one of the only places that I used to like around here, when we first moved into the area, one of the only places I could go just to get away from everything, just to be alone and play around and have fun and all that. I used to have the best time climbing up all the trees and making rooftop fortresses with lookouts and everything. I was always climbing up everything, especially when I was younger, but I still did it quite a bit every so often. If I saw a tree that looked interesting to climb, I’d be up there in a flash and was never really all too worried about falling or anything like that. Some people are terrified of heights and get scared almost just by standing up or are even scared just by going up into a glass elevator or something, even when there’s no chance at all that they could fall over the side, but heights never really seemed to bother me all that much. I don’t know why. I found it strange that some people had this great fear of heights or vertigo or whatever it is when they’re up from the ground or whatever. And it’s not that I’m reckless or anything or have this dying wish to fall and break my stupid neck or something, it’s just that I didn’t see the sense in getting all scared about it and all. I imagined it was 88
something in their head like instinct or something, the remnants of some ancient facility that once stopped out ancestors, who didn’t have better judgement, from jumping off too many cliffs or whatever like lemmings are supposed to do and everything like that. What good are you to anyone if you’ve just fallen a million metres off a cliff on the jagged edges of the rocks below with no one there to catch you? Not very much. I only ever fell out once while climbing up a tree, by accident, but I’ve jumped out of plenty of trees heaps of times, which is always a lot of fun. It wasn’t my fault though, that time I fell out by accident. It was in one of the big trees we had in our backyard and I was trying to swing across to this other branch kind of right up the top. I had this special way of climbing up there and everything that I knew like the back of my hand or whatever, so I could get right up to the very top real fast and look out over the whole tree, like I was looking out over some giant green cloud or something. Anyway, the branch that I always used to swing across on my way up, must have died a little while ago, because I was half way across, in mid swing when I heard like this loud crack and felt myself just falling, being taken down by gravity, still holding tight onto the broken piece of wood. I’d like to say it was like it was all happening in slow motion and all that, like they’re always saying in books and stuff, but it didn’t. It happened all so dreadfully quick and everything, that before I could even react or anything, I had already hit the ground after crashing through a few small branches on the way down. I was lucky I guess that I didn’t really injure myself in the fall too much, just a few cuts and bruises or whatever they always say, but I was always getting cuts and bruises all over the place anyway so it really wasn’t anything terribly out of the ordinary. The ground was pretty soft and all anyway, covered with leaves and whatever and the branches I’d come crashing down on must have broken my fall a bit or something. When I finally came back to my senses, I saw that I was still firmly grasping that branch in my hands and there were all these tiny little white ants crawling out of it and all over my hands and arms and everything. It was quite gross, but I didn’t really mind ants that much anyway. Before too long, I was at the park. They’d put in a few extra playground type things since we first arrived – seems like so long ago now – when there was only this giant metal slippery slide and this little merrygo-round thing or whatever it’s called, which were really dangerous and everything and you were always seeing all these kids falling off the slide or 89
getting their leg caught in the merry-go-round thing, getting dragged around in the gravel as the other kids kept on pushing and having a hell of a great time. Since then they’ve gotten rid of the metal slide and merry-goround and replaced them with a whole lot of plastic things that aren’t half as much fun, most likely because too many kids were coming home with too many scratches and bruises and broken legs and all that. One good thing they did do though was they planted all these new trees all around the place that I noticed were only just starting to grow big enough for you to sort of climb up on. The older trees were still the best though to climb on. I felt kind of envious of all the younger children who would get to grow up with a whole lot more trees to climb on than I had, but thought that it didn’t really matter because most of the younger children don’t even climb the trees anymore anyway or they’re told by their parents that they’re not allowed to and all that and for some reason they listen to them and just stick to the boring old plastic slides and whatever, that ate so low to the ground, you may as well not even bother for chrissake. I kind of felt sorry for these kids in a way and almost wished I could take them and show them how much more fun climbing all around the branches of the trees is than playing on the ugly, plastic pieces of junk underneath those stupid shade cloths and that they didn’t have to just shut up and do whatever they were told to do and everything, but could do whatever they felt was right in their hearts and everything like that. But I doubt that they would listen to me anyway. Kids never listen to anyone, really listen I mean, but especially not to other kids, and especially not ones like me.
CHAPTER 26 The Tree
t hadn’t rained in at least a month or two and the park’s once green grass, where a football field had not too long ago been haphazardly marked out, had begun to turn this awful tinge of brown. The ground was all dry as anything and as you walked over it, you couldn’t help but kicking up all this horrible dust everywhere you went. I was heading on over to the big trees at the other end of the park where I was planning on figuring out what I was going to do to fill in the rest of the day. There were these three big trees in the park, which had been growing there since before we had even moved into the neighbourhood and then there were a whole lot of little trees that they planted not long after we moved in. There was that one really tall one over in the corner with its trunk and branches all growing straight up in the air, then there was this other one that, although it wasn’t as tall as the tall one and was probably only about half the height, it was just about triple the width of the tall one – triple its diameter I mean – and had its branches kind of draping all around itself and all hanging down so that they just about touched the ground, like some giant green jellyfish just swaying this deep ocean current. This was the one that I was heading to. The last one was a totally different breed or type or whatever tree to the other ones and it had this really dark and rough bark on it that was really easy to climb and was good for younger kids I think, because the base of its trunk only came out of the ground a little way so it was real easy to climb up on and then it split out into these four different offshoots that kind of arced outwards and upwards making it into kind of like a giant breakfast bowl or something with leaves. I think I had, in all honesty, pretty much outgrown this third one, feeling that it just didn’t really have enough places or whatever to explore and that once you’d climbed up each of the four branches, then that was about it. The one that I was heading towards had all these branching arms and all, all intertwining and everything and no matter how many times you climbed up it, it seemed you could almost always find some new place to go, or discover new challenging spots to make it up to, and the view from this tree, when you’re looking out from above the topmost leaves, is pretty breathtaking really.
I soon arrived at the perimeter of the tree, marked by the hanging branches and so I quickly ducked under them into the dim shade. The thick leaves hung in dense clusters that hardly let any light through, only just these smalls rays of sunshine that seemed to pierce through the canopy and into the inside clearing like little shots of light, all shooting their way down to the ground in constant tiny streams. No matter how many times I went under that giant dome of foliage, it always managed to amaze me and to leave me feeling like really calm and settled and all that, like it was my own private little place, where I could do anything I wanted, whatever the hell I felt like doing, or even nothing at all, although most of the time it’s real hard work trying to do absolutely nothing at all and I usually get tired of it after a while. I went over to the base of the tree and decided I might just have a little sit down for a minute. I took off my backpack and sat on the ground leaning all up against the huge trunk of the tree and looking out past the weeping branches, where the real world was only barely visible, sitting there you just about feel that you’ve just stepped into this whole other world or whatever, one where things were simpler and less hectic and all that, a world where nothing really mattered all that much, where you didn’t have to worry about anyone else or what they thought of you or anything like that. It was just you and the clueless tree, who had no idea about little kids leaning up against it or anything else going on around it, but just lived there, year after year, living and growing, photosynthesising and being pollinated and all and it didn’t even really care if some little kid came up and started climbing all over it with grotty, disgusting feet or anything, it would still be standing there, blowing in the wind, just doing whatever comes naturally to its existence and all that. I imagined how much easier everything might be if I were a tree and started to think about why exactly it was that this tree was lucky enough to be this huge, beautiful tree and I was cursed with being born as just some stupid kid who doesn’t know anything. I kind of wondered what things would be like if the tree and I somehow swapped places, like they’re always doing in those movies – only usually with some dog or something – and if this tree would perhaps even make a better me than I did, but that didn’t go on wondering for too long, imagining, in the end, that if the tree were actually me, it would certainly not be all stupidly thinking about switching places with trees and stupid things like that, like I was. Sitting there in the calm, silent shade, thinking all about doing nothing and all kinds of other different things, I was suddenly rudely interrupted by my stomach, with its not so subtle demand to be filled up 92
with something right then and there. At that, I kind of started feeling a bit envious once more of the tree I was leaning upon, which I knew could just easily create its own food from the sun and not have to bother about the tedious task of going and finding something good to eat all the time, the constant need for consumption that plagues us all, or whatever they’re always saying. I looked around for a little while, not really wanting to get up at all and thinking to myself that I really didn’t want to be going back home just yet, even if it was just for a short meal. Then at last I remembered that I had with me my good old green adventure bag, packed to the very brim with so much other junk, that I figured I must have packed some kind of food of whatever description in there at some point and that a certain portion of it may possibly still be quite edible. It was a bag for adventuring after all and everyone knows you can’t go adventuring on an empty stomach. I just hoped that I hadn’t left anything in there from last time, that might have gone bad or something. I was always leaving my lunches and that in my schoolbag and all and sometimes I’d find a real disgusting surprise if it had been left in there over the weekend or something. The worst times are when you forget about your sandwich on the last day of school and it’s sitting there in the side pocket of your bag for the entire school holidays, which reminded me that I should’ve probably checked my schoolbag before I left, to make sure there were no festering sandwiches stinking up the place. I undid the little straps at the front of my adventure bag and began to rummage through the packed-in mess of terribly useful junk that had somehow managed to be all stuffed in there. Sifting through coils and coils of wound up string and rope, a whole box of candles along with some matches, my really old scientific calculator, a little magnifying glass, all these little jars and containers with all kinds of weird and wonderful things inside them, and a whole lot of numerous other bits and pieces that even I wasn’t really too sure exactly what they were, I came across, right down at the bottom, this small brown packet that kind of looked like it had once contained something resembling a muesli bar, but was now all squashed and mangled under the force of about a million tonnes of junk that was in my bag. At first I couldn’t really stomach the idea of eating it the way it was, all squishy and everything in its packet and started to think about maybe just throwing it away or giving it to the birds and all, but then I kind of thought for a bit that it really didn’t matter at all what it looked like on the way in because it all just gets all mixed up and sloshes around and everything in your stomach when you eat it anyway. I kind of had this 93
thing though, where I didn’t really like to eat any food that looked really disgusting and gross or anything, although when you think about it, a lot of food looks pretty disgusting and I didn’t really mind all that much, but it was more than that. I can’t really explain it properly. It’s almost like how things appear in the mind make a big difference, like when you don’t feel like eating something, not because it wouldn’t taste good or anything, but just because you just don’t feel I want to eat it, and it can sometimes be for no real reason at all or for the stupidest reasons. It sounds crazy, I know. Anyway, I wanted to stop myself from being so ridiculous and everything, so I quickly just opened the tattered muesli bar packet and squeezed out this kind of pasty muesli chunk out of the end and sat staring at it with this kind of sick look on my stupid face. ‘Are you going to eat that or are you just going to look at it all day long?’ came this kind of high pitched, kid like voice from up above, somewhere high up in the tree. I threw my head back immediately, looking up to check out where the voice had come from. Right up high in the branches, I saw there this goddam little kid that I’d never seen around there before, sitting all casually with his legs swinging all carefree and everything all over the place and he was looking down at me with this stupid little grin and everything, just like everything was just perfectly fine and all, like I wouldn’t have minded one bit that he had been up there all along, just watching over me, while I thought I was alone there in my own private existence.
CHAPTER 27 The Kid
ooking up, I was just about to yell my lungs out at this strange little kid staring down at me, all about what the hell he was doing up there, up there in my goddam tree that I always climb up on, spying on me and everything, and not telling me he was there and all that, but then I didn’t. He couldn’t really have been much over seven and looked so harmless and everything just sitting up there on this really thin branch swinging his tiny legs back and forwards all playfully and everything and he had this kind of cheeky, yet innocent little smile on his face that kind of reminded me of that wonderful, innocent ignorance I had back when I was that young. He was right too, I had been just staring at that mushed up lump of muesli in my hands for quite a while, just trying to decide whether or not I dared to eat it. Once you think about really, the tree was just as much his to climb on as it was mine; it was after all public park and all. So I guess I really didn’t mind all that much and most likely was just a little bit startled and all. This kid was the first kid I’d ever seen up that tree, especially at his age, when they were all usually over playing on those boring bright plastic slides or whatever, or those stupid swings that you can’t even sit in them because they make them all for little babies and whatever and have that stupid little back strap so you can’t really swing properly, but have to try to get someone else to push you. I never have anyone else to push me anyway, so I never even really bother at all. All the kids’ swings and slides and seesaws and merry-go-rounds and all that are much too repetitive anyway most of the time for me, just going round and round, up and down, back and forth all the time and having no variation or anything. I didn’t know how all those kids could amuse themselves for so long on those silly things. ‘Can I have some?’ said the kid down from the branches, interrupting my stupid thought stream. He had this real high and whiney voice that kind of got on my nerves a bit, but now that I think of it, it’s most likely just how I sounded back when I was his age. ‘It’s all mashed up and gross.’ I replied, kind of holding it up in the air so he could see. ‘That’s ok, I like it that way. Why don’t you come on up here and we can share it.’ It sounded like a pretty good idea and I was planning on 95
climbing the tree sooner or later anyhow and thought it might be nice to have some sort of company for a change, even if it was just some snotnosed, voyeuristic kid and all. I was getting pretty hungry and all though and started to wonder if I should just eat the whole thing by myself and not give him any at all – it was mine after all – but I thought that was being really too selfish and I could at least share some of it. I pushed it back down into the packet and put it in the pocket of my shorts. He was pretty high up, on one of the very top branches that I hardly ever went up to because it’s much too thin and everything and I’m afraid that it would break under my weight and I’d fall and die or something. I used to go up there all the time when I was younger though, because it’s a brilliant lookout spot and there’s a great place that you can just sit, almost like it was made for sitting, with a little wooden armrest and everything that you can hold on to. I left my bag and everything all strewn out on the ground, took my shoes off – I never like to climb trees with my shoes on – and started the familiar climb up the trunk and all, knowing exactly where to put my hands, which places to hold on to, and all the proper footholds and everything and was pretty soon up in the lower branches. ‘You’re a pretty good climber,’ the kid said, ‘took me ages to climb up that part and I nearly fell down about a hundred times.’ I never really liked showing off to anyone, it just seemed so showy and all, but it kind of made me feel pretty good that there was at least something that I could do that someone else found admirable. At school and everywhere there were always all these kids who were showing off all the time to all the other kids and everyone, doing all kinds of stupid things and everything. I never really paid that much attention to them though and thought they just liked being silly and all, but now I kind of felt almost like I sort of understood their craving for attention, almost. I climbed and climbed even faster, higher and higher into the upper branches, swinging across in all the right places like I was some kind of goddam chimpanzee or orangutan or something, climbing up from just gathering a bunch of food, to share around with all his treetop friends and all that. My climbing was flawless and I didn’t even hint at slipping or putting my feet in the wrong place or anything. It was like it was all natural and everything, like I’d done it a million times, which I almost had, and pretty soon I was up just about to where this kid was. I wasn’t too game to step up to the very top branches though. I knew I was a fair deal heavier than he was and had obviously put on a little bit of weight since when I used to climb up there all the time when I was younger, but the kid just 96
kind of kept looking at me, all impressed and everything at how fast I was, as though he kept wanting me to go higher and higher. ‘Is that it?’ he said, kind of disappointed and all. ‘No, just catching my breath.’ I really was out of breath too, to tell you the truth, but I knew what I had to do and even though I knew it was kind of risky and that it was quite a long fall down to the ground, I wasn’t really all that scared or anything. Where he was sitting wasn’t the highest place I’d been to though. I used to climb all the way to the very top, up on these two really thin branches just below the top of the tree and I’d stand there, standing straight up, looking out at everything like those little meerkats are always doing that they’re always showing on those documentaries on TV, out on the African plains and all. In the end, I figured it could most likely take my weight and all. It’s not like I put on all that much weight really, so I started climbing again. This time not as fast, because I actually had to think and work out where the best place to grab onto was and the best place to put my feet and all and it wasn’t just an automatic part of my subconscious or anything. Pretty soon I was up there inching my way out to the end of the branch, and I could all the while feel it being pulled down lower and lower under my weight and bending right down and everything. I looked back down at the little kid, who was on the edge of his seat of branches, all wide eyed in amazement and everything. I was nearing the end when I heard this very quiet little cracking sound in the branch behind me. I suddenly froze, not really knowing what to do or anything. The branches began to pull down even more and then there was this giant snap and I felt myself begin to be taken by gravity. This time, it was kind of like it was actually in slow motion and all, like in the movies and everything when they’re always falling from something really high up. I was reaching out for something, anything to grab on to. Before I knew it, I don’t know how he did it; he must have been super strong for his age or something, but the kid must have somehow reached out, and grabbing hold of my falling arm with one hand and onto the arm-rest of his seat of branches with the other, had somehow miraculously stopped my decent. I quickly reached over and grabbed hold of a large branch to take the strain of my weight off this kid and pulled myself up, back into the safety of the tree. Sitting there all puffing and panting and whatever, I kind of gave a little chuckle to myself. I wasn’t sure why, but there’s just something funny when you think about the way life is so impermanent and 97
all, when you think back to those times in your life when you could have more than likely died and your consciousness would no longer take part in the world and all you’d be is this silly looking little collection of flesh and bone and cells, carbon and water and all that. ‘Are you ok?’ asked the kid in a kind of worried tone. ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’ I replied, taking out the squashed muesli bar from my pocket and handing the whole thing up to the kid. I really didn’t feel at all too hungry after that. ‘Thanks,’ said the kid, eagerly looking at the mashed up mess as he began stuffing his face and all, ‘what was your name by the way?’ I told him it was Andrew Waters and everything, but that he could call me Andy or whatever if he wanted to. ‘Pleased to meet you Andy Waters.’ was all his reply, all muffled and everything from his mouth all stuffed to the brim with muesli like it was.
CHAPTER 28 The Treetop
thought it was a little strange and maybe a bit rude and all, that he would ask what my name was and everything and say that he was pleased to meet me and all that, without even telling me his name in return. It seemed a little out of place that I should have to ask him his name and everything, when he could have easily told it to me before and by that time it seemed as though introductions had slipped past, but I didn’t really worry about it too much. I thought people put too much emphasis on names anyway, like that’s a crucial defining feature of your character or something like that, when it’s not, it’s just some silly idea that your parents had a long, long time ago, and it’s more about what the person does than anything else that defines who he is in the end. So anyway, we sat there, high up in the tall branches of the tree for a little while just passing the time away. I sat silent, just thinking about various silly things and everything, while he munched away on the muesli bar that I’d given him. He was a pretty messy eater too, but I suppose that was normal for kids his age and I forced myself not to let it get on my nerves or anything. Once he’d finished, we both just sat there. He wasn’t talking much, so I didn’t really talk either. I always find that whenever I’m having a conversation with someone, it’s always the other person who does most of the talking most of the time and that I’m just sitting there listening and mostly just agreeing with whatever they’re saying and all, without butting in or anything. This isn’t usually a problem with most people because they mostly enjoy being the one doing all the talking and everything anyway and even when I do decide that there’s something that should be said, they never really take any notice of it anyway. The problem comes when it seems like the other person is always just sitting there waiting for me to say something and I can never for the life of me think of what I should say that would even remotely interest them in the slightest. I was just about to ask this kid about cartoons and everything and whether or not he liked any of the new ones that were out or whether he thought they were a load of rubbish and all, after looking at his little wrist watch that had some kind of cartoon character on it, he said suddenly, with this urgent tone in his little voice that he was late and had to get going. I could tell he really did have to get going too and wasn’t just bored or 99
anything like that. A lot of people are always just looking at their watch because they’re bored or something and don’t even really check what time it is or anything when they look at their watches. I remember ages ago when I still had my stupid little Mickey Mouse watch, in class one time I went to check what the time was and my teacher saw me and kicked up a big stink because she thought I was bored and about how I should be paying attention in class and everything and not thinking about what trouble I was going to get up to after class or anything. I kept telling her though that I was only looking at my watch to check the time, but she just wouldn’t believe me or anything; the idea just wouldn’t get into her head and eventually she just sent me out and up to the principal’s office and all that. No one ever believes you. Anyway that’s another story. The kid got up and started climbing down. I was amazed at what a good climber he was, especially because he was so young and all and seemed like he had been climbing trees for years. Now I expected him to just go down the traditional way, but instead he started to climb out on a limb of one of the branches, further and further out onto the thinning branch and then he sprung his legs off it while still holding on with his arms and kind of swinging arm after arm with his legs dangling down, he eventually reached the ground and started to run off as fast as anything yelling back ‘Bye Andy!’ and all as he went. So I was left there all alone again up in the branches of that tree in the park, just sitting there with nothing much to do and nowhere really to go at all and staring there into space and everything. I almost kind of halfwished for a second that I hadn’t even been saved by that weird little kid just before and then I wouldn’t have to deal with just sitting there and all, the inconvenience of human existence, all through the goddam days and nights for what seemed like forever. I even kind of started thinking about just jumping out of the tree, trying my damndest to land on my stupid neck or something when I hit the ground so I wouldn’t really feel much pain and all that before the nothingness or whatever. I almost wished I had the guts to do something like that, but I think I’d probably be too scared and all that I’d not do it right, screw it up somehow or something and there I’d be, lying there in this stupid terrible agony and pain and all and then everyone would make all this goddam fuss and everything and I’d have to just sit there and endure all of it. I was only messing around really anyway and wouldn’t really ever do myself in or anything anyway. It’s not really so bad once you think of it and all, once you start looking at the bigger picture and everything and not just thinking about all the nice things you don’t have or 100
all the lousy stuff that happens to you or how nothing ever goes your way and all that. It really isn’t. I really didn’t want to spend any more time thinking about all that nonsense or anything anymore anyway, so while sitting up there in that tree, I kind of started pretending I was this monkey or something, real primitive and everything and not really thinking about anything really, no words at all going through my head, just kind of sensations of bananas or whatever. I only did this for a little while however, because it got pretty boring thinking about nothing but bananas and all. I don’t even really like bananas all too much. I kind of wondered though if it were possible for a monkey not to like bananas, if different monkeys could have different tastes, likes and dislikes in food and art and whatever or if all monkeys’ brains were all just basically wired the same way and all and they all just loved bananas to hell. Anyway, so I finished thinking about monkeys and all that, and just got back to sitting there and everything. I had made my way up to the lookout spot where the kid had been sitting and I just sat there looking out over the treetop to all the leaves, to the rest of the park, to all the other trees all around, to the houses all lined up in straight lines up and down the road, to the dirty old abandoned shed that was down at the other end of the park. I remembered this really great feeling I used to get when I was younger and looking out over everything, kind of wondering what in the world had changed, so that I didn’t really feel the same way anymore and that everything now just seemed so ordinary and simple and boring and old. I figured maybe I needed something new, something different, just on the off chance that it might somehow bring about a return to those good old days where nothing really mattered at all, every day was a pleasure, a new experience, a new chance to eagerly learn something more than what you knew yesterday. I guess every kid kind of goes through this period in their lives, where their crazy heads, filled to the brim with all the world’s trash and all, start to think all these irrational, insane ideas and all. When you’re a kid you don’t know any better really and I found myself kind of seriously considering just getting away from all this, running away and everything, like they’re always doing in those books and all. I started making up in my head, this really great plan and all of all the things I was going to do and all the fun adventures that I was sure to have and all that rubbish. Not really thinking things out very much or 101
anything, I just kept on thinking about just kind of walking around from place to place, exploring and observing and all and I’d write down all of my experiences in this stupid, old, tattered notebook and everything, just so one day, me or someone else would be able to see all the crazy things I’d done and everything like that. I thought that maybe once each year I could maybe go into town and just drop off another notebook at some publisher or something so they could turn it into a book or something and that’s how I’d make money and everything and I’d just live my life like that and all. Or else if that didn’t work, I could always just get a job doing whatever came up around where I was at the time. I didn’t even really mind what I did. There are always these really bad jobs that no one wants to do, so I figured I could get into those pretty easily if I was just a little bit older. Although then I kind of started to think that maybe I didn’t even really need any money at all really. I kind of figured that the further away from this rotten place with all the crazy people in it the better, and started thinking what if I just went out into some remote place where there were no people around for about a million miles in all directions and just build myself some kind of shelter just out of all the trees around me or whatever and just live off berries in the forest and everything and I’d go fishing every day and hunt for anything I could find and all that. I was beginning to get pretty excited and all about the whole thing and being just a kid, I hadn’t really thought the whole silly idea out properly in my head and all. I climbed back down the tree – just the regular way, nothing fancy like I used to do – back to where my green adventure bag was, packed all my things all back into it and headed on my way to God knows where.
CHAPTER 29 The Lights
didn’t really get all that far before I realised how utterly absurd this notion of running away on my own and everything was. I guess I kind of knew, in my head, all along that it wouldn’t work and that I would never really go through with anything like that in a million years and was just really following along with my mad imagination going berserk as hell with all its wanderings and all, like its always doing. There were a few times before that I had been on the verge of going off on all these great adventures and all in real life, but without fail, something comes to shatter my dreams and make me come to my senses and all that. Having no idea where I was going, I just kind of kept heading in the general direction I was going and didn’t really think too much about it. I think I had also already given up on the notion that these school holidays were going to be the best holidays ever and was back to my usual old self, cynical as anything and figured I’d be just as happy if all I could do these holidays was to actually find something good to do in this goddam boring city and all. Seeing as I was heading that way in the first place, I made up my mind that I might visit this place I’m always going to after school and everything. It was in this little alleyway behind these shops, right across the road from my school, my old school. I stood thinking for a bit about all these memories I had stored up in my head and everything, about the previous seven years at school, it took a while to really sink in I guess that I really didn’t go there any more and would never ever be going there as a student again in my entire life and that it had actually been my last day just the day before. It was really my “old school” now, even though it was only a day older than when it was my current school. I also thought about how to a new kid, just starting grade one in the new year, he would soon come to consider it as being his “new school”. Anyway, these shops, along with the school, were right at the bottom of this big valley and down this alleyway behind these shops are all these stormwater drains running all along the gutter to catch the water that makes its way through all the school grounds and down to the shops there whenever it rains. Without too much trouble, you could usually find a drain with an easy enough cover to lift so you can just head on down there and just hide out or whatever. It’s great going down there and being right 103
under everything. You can follow the pipes up, following all the streets and everything and you can just imagine all the hustle and bustle and everything that’s happening right over your head, but you’re all safe underground and everything, without a care in the world, just taking it easy as the world above moves along. I’d usually go down there whenever some kid was calling me names or something at school and I just wanted to get away so I could think about all the things that I’d like to do to him if only I had the nerve. You could just about get anywhere by following the right pipes and popping up in just the right place. Once I had this great idea that I was going to make this giant map of all the tunnels and pipes and everything under the whole city, but that never really got very far. I mostly like just remembering all the different turn offs and directions in my head anyway, instead of having to stop and look at a stupid piece of paper every five seconds and I mostly just got far too caught up just having fun down there and everything to really start charting out all the different passageways and all. It was just about the most fun place you could go around these parts, just because it was so different from anything else you’re supposed to do as a kid and it’s exactly the kind of place where your parents really wouldn’t want you going down into at all and they’d much rather seeing you there playing on those plastic slides and all in the playground or in your room doing your homework or something stupid like that. I was soon down past the school and was about to cross the road. It was a main road and always had about a million cars zipping up and down all the time. The traffic lights were just up the road a little bit and even though I knew I was supposed to always go up and cross at the lights and all, I just wasn’t really in the mood and its not like I’m stupid or anything and am just going to walk right out in front of a goddam car without looking or anything. I think you have just about the same chance, if not more, of being hit at the crossing than at any other part of the street anyway. Looking up to the lights kind of reminded me of something. There’s this girl who goes to our school and is now in the special education unit and all; I haven’t spoken to her in years. Lauren, I’m pretty sure her name was. I kind of used to be friends with her when I was younger, or at least she was one of the few of my classmates who weren’t too busy pushing me around and calling me all sorts of names and everything and I remember there were occasions then we even actually talked as well, from time to time. I know it’s really like a clichéd thing to say and all, but she wasn’t like the other girls at school, she really wasn’t, kind of quiet and all 104
and not too bothered by anything or anyone and real deep too, like she was always thinking about something or other. Anyway, when I knew her, ages ago it seems now, she was always doing really well in class and in sports and all that. I was there when it happened and can still remember it quite well, like it was yesterday and all that, or at least just the other week. I remember school had just finished for the day and all the kids were all racing to get the hell out of the place as fast as they could, pouring out from all the doors of the giant brick building, a lot of them heading straight out to the streets to walk home, some of them going down to the car park at the back of the school to wait for their parents or whoever to pick them up, and the others – as well as me – went over to the bus stop across the road to wait for the school bus, which was always coming late. I guess it sounds pretty stupid now, but I didn’t really mind all that much that the bus was always late, because it gave me that little bit of extra time to hang around Lauren and all, even if she never even spoke to me or anything, it was just good to be around her and everything – I don’t really know why. So this one day, it was the last day of grade three I think, while everyone was rushing out the gates, ready to get up to God knows what over the holidays, I was up at the headmaster’s office as usual, having a good old chat to the principal all about the right ways to do things according to his word, if I wanted to make it in the world and everything – he meant the school and about what would happen if I kept trying to go off and do my own thing and all that. I eventually managed to get the hell out of there with my sanity still in tact and all, trying to discount all the rubbish he’d just gone through with me and I started walking up to the lights so I could cross the road to get to the other side where the bus stop was, when I saw Lauren and a few of her friends walking kind of slowly up the hill, chatting away about all kinds of things towards the lights. I caught up with them and everything and was walking just about right beside them for a second or two, but she didn’t really see me I don’t think. Anyway, you usually have to wait at the stupid pedestrian crossing for ages before it goes green and all and there are some times when you’re just standing there and there’s absolutely no cars going past at all, but it’s still red and you have to wait. I know I should have just waited and everything, but I guess I just wanted her to notice me for once or something – even if it was only for a stupid thing like crossing the road when you’re not supposed to – so when there was no cars at all coming, but the light was still red, I quickly just ran like mad across the road as fast as I could. I guess I figured in an odd, childlike kind of way, that if I was in her head as that stupid kid 105
who raced across the main road when the light was still red, that it would be better than not being in her head at all. I don’t think she really noticed me that much however and was kind of too busy waving goodbye to her friends who were continuing along up the road. When the light changed and the little green man indicated that it was safe to cross, Lauren stepped out. The car coming over the hill mustn’t have noticed that the lights had changed or something as he approached the crossing. There was this terrible screeching sound of tyres trying to grip onto the road, mixed with the sound of a loud horn, as I watched the car sail slowly down the street and this horrible thump sound as it came into contact with its destined target, changing lives forever, in an instant of time. At first I just couldn’t move, couldn’t believe it or anything as I stood just watching the scene, all the distraught faces and screams of distress as people from all around rushing to the scene. I didn’t really know what to do and inside just started to feel really sick, a little light headed, and really short of breath and all as I looked across at the dreadful scene, like something you might see in one of those anti-drink driving ads or whatever. That terrible image of her will stay in my head just about forever I think, so small and fragile and everything, just lying there helpless in the middle of the road, down in front of that real expensive Mercedes or whatever it was, with everyone just staring in shock and blood trickling out in streams all over the goddam road from her tiny, little head.
CHAPTER 30 The Stormwater Drain
rriving at the alleyway behind the shops was kind of nostalgic in a way, as I hadn’t been there in quite some time and as I looked around at all the backs of the shops and everything, I remembered why I liked it around there in the first place. Around the other side, the storefronts and everything were all so showy when you’re walking up and down in front of them, flashy signs and twinkling lights and all that, such a giant production, but out at the back, filthy and grotty like it hasn’t been cleaned in years, there’s none of that. They aren’t trying to put you on or con you in to buying something or anything like that and the contrast is quite fascinating really. Though, it’s not exactly like you’re seeing the stores for what they really are or any rubbish like that, which you’re always hearing in books and whatever, but it’s more like you’re just seeing another side that wasn’t there before, the full picture on which you can base different assumptions and subsequently base future actions on or whatever. The best part of it all though, were these big metal bins that they had out the back of every store, filled with all kind of great junk that they were just throwing away like crazy. You could find just about anything in those bins if you sifted through enough of the rubbish and everything. You’d find all kinds of things like old videos, all kinds of electrical bits and pieces, a bunch of expired bottles of pills and everything and at the back of the newsagent was the best. You’d always find all these old magazines that they hadn’t sold that month, just sitting there for the picking. Sometimes even you’d find those ones that are meant for only adults and everything. They were always an interesting read. The covers would always be all ripped off and all, but that didn’t really matter all that much if you’re only looking for what’s inside.
I didn’t really stop to have a proper look at any of the old shops or anything, but instead just continued on my way to where all the stormwater drains were, down at the end of the alleyway. I wasn’t really too sure why I wanted to go down and explore those dark tunnels, those caverns crawling just under the surface of the city, but I guess everything just felt different and somehow a little better down there and all, besides there wasn’t really anywhere else in this goddam neighbourhood that’s any good. There were probably at least around ten drains, all together in the 107
gutter where all the water collects in a storm and everything. Covering them were these big metal grill type things that sat over the top, locked into place, real heavy and everything, shutting out all but the curious, ingenious and resourceful who knew how to bypass the simple locking mechanism and remove the seemingly unyielding grates. I’m not going to just tell you how it’s done though; it’s kind of like one of those things that they’re always saying you have to work out for yourself and all. So anyway, after a considerable amount of strain and effort and everything, I had managed to open the doorway down into the underworld pipelines. I stared right down into the darkness and all and started to feel this slight smirk on my silly looking face as I began to imagine that I was like some medieval alchemist or something about to descend down into the castle dungeon where I could be all alone and have my own special place to think out all my crazy ideas and to do all kinds of hopeless experiments and everything. I jumped down and landed on all this rubbish and paper and everything, which seemed to have been swallowed up by the drain and had collected there over time, crumbling there under my feet and everything as I carefully tried to put the covering steel grate back in place so no one would know I was down there or anything. They’re always telling you in school and everything that you should always have someone who knows where you are at all times and all, for your own protection and everything and I knew I probably should have at least told my Dad that I was just going out exploring around the neighbourhood for a while and all, but I figured it didn’t really matter all that much anyway and I’d probably only succeed in getting everyone all worried if I told them about the all kinds of weird places I go in my stupid adventures and all. I figured that if anything was going to happen to me anyway, that there’s not really much anyone else can do about it really and that for most situations, the only person who can deal with it properly without screwing it up even more is yourself and that if you keep on relying on other people all the time, then you just keep on ending up getting disappointed and everything all the time anyway. With a snap and a clang, the big metal grill locked back into place and I continued on my way down the tunnel, all crouched down and everything so that I didn’t hit my head or anything on the roof of the drain. The light that was coming down from through the holes in the drain was fading and fading and as I headed deeper and deeper down – it sounds kind of silly I know – but looking back, the streaming light kind of 108
reminded me of the shimmering moonlight that I’d seen through my bedroom window the night before and also of those shafts of light shining through the dense leaves of the tree across the park earlier in the day. I reached around to my backpack, taking the strap off one shoulder and feeling all around and everywhere, eventually pulled out my torch, thanking God or whatever that I had remembered to change the batteries, which I remembered had gone flat the last time I was down here. It was about at least a couple of months ago when it happened and I had come down the stormwater drains from behind the shops one night and was exploring around, trying to find out which, if any of these tunnels led underneath the school and up to any interesting places that you couldn’t get to via normal aboveground means. I kind of came close a few times too, at least I thought I did, although I couldn’t really quite see out of most of the drains leading up into the school grounds with my weak little torch and a lot of them were cemented solid as anything, right into the ground so you can’t budge them one inch. Anyway, I thought I had a pretty good idea of where I was and everything – I usually have a pretty good sense of direction and everything – but then somehow, I just ended up really lost, like every room and passageway seemed to be the same, like I’d been there before and everything, but certain things weren’t the same. It was just like I was going round in circles or something and all that for ages and ages, even though it seemed impossible from the paths I was taking, until finally I came to this place where, I’m not really sure what it was at all, but somehow I got this feeling into my head and just felt that I was standing directly under the main block of the school. It was down this really, really long tunnel, which was really thick and everything and I came this place where on the ceiling was this small drain. Looking up in hope for a second, I thought I saw the tiniest bit of light shining through, which I was pretty sure was the fluorescent security lights that they always have on under the main building on this light sensor switch, so they only go on at night. It was then that I noticed the light beginning to fade from my torch. I tried hitting it a couple of times with my fist, but that didn’t help at all – I’m not sure why I thought it would – but instead, put it out completely, plunging the room into total darkness, even the light I thought I saw from the drain had disappeared and I began to wonder if I had imagined the whole thing. Anyway, the only thing I could really do was feel my way around in the dark and continue on down the tunnel, not having the faintest idea of how to get back to the drains behind the shops or anything. Eventually, after taking a few small turns, I emerged into the night air, 109
from out of this drain pipe right at the back of the school oval that takes the storm water and leads it down to this pathetic little creek, which ran down past the back of the school. Anyway, where I was headed, was to this little area just down from the shops, I guess you could call it a room, that I knew was just up ahead because it was the room that I always came to and just kind of set myself up there, almost like it’s my very own. It was quite big and everything, tall enough even to just about stand up straight and all, but not quite. When I stuck my big head into the room and shone the light all around it, there was this really big flurry of movement, all around the walls and ceiling and everywhere from a few moths and a whole bunch of gigantic, scurrying cockroaches, dashing this way and that, all trying to get away from the light as fast as possible. Most of them eventually found their way into one of the many side tunnels running into the room, back into the darkness where they felt most comfortable. The floor of the room was dry except for a small trickle of water running along the edge of one of the walls and I sat myself down, standing my torch on its end so that the light was shining straight up to the ceiling. I poked around in my bag, eventually finding this box of candles and a few matches that I had. I set up the candles all around the place so I didn’t have to waste the batteries of my torch and all. Also in my bag I found this old book that I remember starting once, but never finished it – I’m always starting books and never finishing them – and it must have just been sitting in my green adventure bag for ages, just blending in with all the other junk in there. I opened it up to where I had this makeshift bookmark made out of some kind of chocolate bar wrapper or something, skimming around the page to bring back some of what was going on in its imaginary little world. I remember it was a strange book, not like all the other typical books you read, all with the same plots and all and you know exactly what’s going to happen and everything. It was strange in the way that nothing really seemed to happened in the book, it was kind of boring too, but kind of interesting at the same time in the fact that it was so boring and monotonous and nothing really happened and it was basically just this average guy who just goes on and on and on about the most trivial things until you’d just about rather shoot yourself in the head or something rather than listen to any more of his goddam rubbish. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t really get all that far in the book.
I started to read a little more, and while reading through every inane sentence, I kind of started to wonder what the author was like who wrote this book and if he was actually anything like the character in the story or if he was a totally different person and just good at putting himself into the minds of his characters and everything. I almost started to wonder what someone would think about if they ever wanted to write a character of me, but then I looked past the book and over to the trickle of water running along the side of the wall. It was no longer just a trickle.
CHAPTER 31 The Rain
he current of water flowing across the valley in the room had nearly doubled; the water was rising and rising reasonable fast too. I stopped and listened for a bit, real still and silent and all. At first there was nothing, but then the unmistakable steady sound of pitter-patter raindrops began to come tapping through down the tunnels and all, starting off really soft at first so you could hardly hear them, but then becoming quite loud and you could tell it was definitely starting to come down really hard outside. I was kind of glad I was down there and all, out of all that bother. I’m not really one for singing in the goddam rain or anything, and much prefer to be under shelter from the storm when the rain comes pouring down and makes the branches of the trees droop down, soaking everyone unlucky enough to get caught in it, right down to the very bone. I guessed it was a pretty good thing that it was raining at last though. The withering trees and the grass must have been thanking their gods or whatever to finally get some relief after suffering that recent spot of dry weather and all, just sitting there unknowing of the natural process of precipitation and all, water being evaporated into the air, condensation high up in the clouds and finally coming back down as rain again. I felt this chill from the breeze blowing through that blew out a few of the candles I had lit and leaving the flames of the others hanging on for grim death, as the water continued to rise. I’d been down there, where I was a few times before when it was raining. One time I even came down especially to get out of the rain. I know they’re always saying how dangerous it is and all, but I didn’t really pay that much attention to all that. You were pretty much safe as anything in that room anyway because any water that flowed in through the tunnels leading in, just went directly out again along the big pipe running from the far east wall. All the other times that I’d been down there when it was raining, the water never even got a chance to creep up to the dry spot where I was sitting anyway. This time however it must have been really coming down pretty hard outside, because I noticed that the water was running through reasonably fast and was slowly, but steadily rising. It still had a long way to go before it would have started to become a hindrance to 112
my reading though, so I kept at it and just occasionally stopped to check that my bag and all my stupid things in it would stay out of the wet. Eventually though, I decided that it would probably be a good idea to leave that place where, the way things were going, I had pretty good chance, knowing my luck, of getting stuck down there and have it really pour down in buckets all over the place and I’d be swept away to a watery grave or whatever and just become one of those kids on the news served up as one of those cautionary tales like they’re always showing, so that other kids might not be so stupid as to even try to have any fun in life or do anything new at all, but instead just stay at home in front of the television where it’s safe and all. I packed all my junk back up, just throwing it all together into my green adventure bag. I didn’t worry about the candles; most of them had burned down quite a bit anyway and I knew I could always get another box of candles real easy from the many boxes that Dad keeps under the sink in preparation for the apocalypse or something silly like that. Throwing my arms through the straps of my bag, I headed off, ducking down into the tunnel leading up to the drains behind the shops. The stream of water running down between my feet was beginning to flow a little faster and I was feeling glad and all that I would be out in the open before too long. I just hoped that there wouldn’t be too much of a waterfall through the grills, running down from all the gutters behind the shops and everything, otherwise, I’d have a great time getting all soaked and everything while trying to reopen up one of the grills, with streams of water all knocking me in the face and all. It wasn’t long before I reached the drains where I had entered the underground stormwater labyrinth. There wasn’t too much water coming down just yet, so I figured I’d better hurry and get the hell out of there just in case it really started to come down, so I reached up and grabbed ahold either side of the grill covering the drain, ready to push it forward to get it out of its locked position and everything, when I heard these voices from up above. Just a couple of teenage kids talking about whatever it is they’re always talking about, usually nothing really all that interesting, just about the time of day and about the weather and moaning and everything about how they were stuck there behind the ugly shops and all and about how there’s never anything to do around the place. As I listened, I wanted to see if I could position myself just right so I could get a glimpse of what these kids actually looked like. Moving my head around and standing right up with my head almost sticking out one of the gaps in the grate, I saw these 113
two kids who looked just a little older than I was and somewhat familiar, kind of pale looking, all dressed in black, with each with these big black boots on. Next to them stood Melvin, that kid I told you about, who lied about my dog Arthur biting him when he didn’t and was responsible for making Arthur having to be put down. Melvin was holding the leash to this really big Doberman Pincer or some similar breed and it had on this black dog collar with really big metal spikes coming out of it and everything and he just stood there not really saying much at all. And then I heard something quite unexpected. ‘So, when’s this Andy Waters kid going to come out?’ one of the boys said. I kind of jumped a bit, hitting my head on hard metal and letting out a restrained yelp of pain. I was really surprised and all, to just hear my name out of the blue like that and all kinds of question started running through my head and everything. ‘What was that?’ came a yell from up above. ‘That must be him.’ ‘You sure?’ ‘Yeah, do you think he saw us?’ ‘He must have, let’s get him.’ I was out of there quick smart after that, back down into the darkness, kind of half running while crouching down the best I could. A frustrated ‘Jesus Christ, how the hell do you open this damn thing?’ was all I heard as I escaped down the tunnel back to the room just a little way up. I didn’t know if they were coming in after me or not and I started to feel myself getting quite nervous and everything and not knowing what the hell I should do or anything. I looked down to notice that I was standing up to my ankles in water where it had not too long ago been dry. I had a terrible feeling that it was beginning to come down even heavier outside and all I wanted to do really was to just get the hell out, up above ground, where there was a marginally less chance that I might get stuck under the rising water level and die from fluid inhalation or whatever, but at the same time I was terrified of facing those two boys, Melvin and that mean looking dog. From where I was, I knew the way to the drain exit at the back of the school oval, but wasn’t absolutely sure if I could make it in time. The multitude of different thoughts and alternatives battled on in my head for supremacy just for an instant and before I knew it, I found myself dashing down to the large pipe on the east wall and was heading down the passageway along with the rising current towards the school oval exit, running as fast as my stupid legs would take me. At first I was running with my feet going either side of the flowing water in the middle, but as the 114
water rose higher and higher and more and more water came pouring in from the various connecting pipes, I just found myself running through the water, not really caring about getting wet at all, but caring more about just getting the hell out of there alive. I got to the first turn off and shone the light back from where I came and saw there in the distance this dark shape, a conglomeration of the three boys and the dog, coming up the pipe after me. I figured they must have been following the light from my torch as I turned around the corner of the offshoot, so into this slightly smaller pipe, turning off the light as I did so. The whole place went black and I hoped like hell that my pursuers wouldnâ€™t be able to see a thing and theyâ€™d just give up and go back. I could feel that the water was now coming right up almost to my knees as I pressed on into the darkness. All I could think about was just this really strong urge to get out of there, to survive, and while running along the long, dark, winding passageways, I kind of felt like all the twists and turns I just knew instinctively like the back of my hand or whatever and didnâ€™t even need the light at all really. I actually had my eyes closed to tell you the truth, until finally, I found myself running along this really long pipe that was reasonably tall and I felt that I was nearly there. I opened my eyes and saw this distant light, right at the end of the tunnel and just kept on running and running towards it through the rising torrent.
CHAPTER 32 The Sunshine
he more I ran, trudging my feet through the flowing rainwater, the more it seemed like I was getting nowhere at all. The dim light shining from far away at the end of the tunnel barely seemed to be getting any brighter or closer or anything at all, but I kept on thrashing my way through the rising waters, with more and more pouring in all the time up overhead from all the adjoining pipes. I could feel my heart rate going at about a million beats a minute as I tried not to think of what might have happened back there if I had somehow taken a wrong turn and became trapped, drowned by the rising water, or if those kids and their dog had caught up with me and done whatever they were planning on doing and then leaving me for dead in the pipes to be washed down to the creek and end up being screamed at by some passer by who might notice my body just lying there in the reeds and all. But even that fate might have been a little better than if I somehow got my bag or my pants or something hooked and twisted around one of those sharp, rusted metal rods that are sicking out all over the place so that I couldn’t get out and I’d be trapped and no one would even know that I was down there for ages and ages. Most likely they would hardly even notice that I was gone at all. At best I’d most likely end up as just as another face on those missing persons things that you’re always seeing on TV and posters and whatever and everyone would think I’d just run away or something like that. Anyway, that’s just about the time when my foot must have become caught on some kind of rock or something submerged under the water and all because before I knew it, I was on my way, falling right over myself and into the rapid water flow. I must have bashed my head on one of those goddam pipes jutting out of the wall on the way down and blacked out just for a millisecond or something. I can’t be certain just how long it was; it was already just about pitch-black in there to begin with and after that, everything just seemed a little strange and I started feeling all disoriented and everything – even more than before I mean. Pushing my head up from under the water, spitting and coughing all over the place and feeling like I must have swallowed just about and ocean of water, I found myself fully horizontal, lying there all soaked and everything, even my bag and everything in it was soaked through. Still rather dazed and confused 116
and all, I just kind of lay there almost floating in the water running down the large pipe and being half dragged along by the raging current and everything too. My head was hurting like hell from the fall. I reached up to wipe away some of whatever grotty gunk had found its way into my eyes, making them sting like hell, when I noticed that my glasses were missing. They must have been knocked off or something during all the commotion and everything. I hopelessly reached around for them under the water everywhere, but found nothing but tiny pebbles and little, jagged pieces of rock and glass to cut my stupid fingers open on. In the distance I could just faintly hear some voices calling out over the sound of rushing rainwater and the muffled barks of a dog. ‘Andy, where the hell did you get to?’ ‘Which pipe did he go down for chrissake?’ ‘When I get my hands on that goddam kid…’ ‘Where the hell are we? Andy?’ I was still really out of it and everything and it was all I could do to just keep my bashed and bloody head above water as it dragged me along slowly downstream towards the light, which I could see only as this blur of white, contrasting the surrounding darkness, coming slowly closer and closer, starting to get really bright and everything. Eventually I was able to get up a bit and started kind of crawling down towards the end, until finally after crawling along on my hands and knees for what seemed like an eternity or whatever, I was enveloped entirely by this blur of light and expelled into the daylight. Lying on my back with my arms and legs splayed out everywhere there on the ground in this shallow ditch, dazed out of my mind, with water flowing either side of me, I could feel the soft patter of raindrops gently falling on my face. The rain it seemed was beginning to subside. Opening my eyes, I could hardly see anything at all, half because I didn’t have my glasses and figured they were most likely sitting back deep inside the drain, all smashed up to pieces and everything and half because my eyes were still all filled with dirt and mud and whatever else was floating in that filthy water. I sat up, rubbed my eyes really hard and all to get out all the rubbish, then took a look around. Everything was all blurry and everything. I wished I didn’t have such terrible vision. I could hardly see a goddam thing without my glasses and was kind of half thinking that maybe if I just waited there for a second or two, watching the water pour out of the drain and all that maybe I’d see a pair of glasses come pouring down as well and I could just pretend like nothing ever happened. I wasn’t 117
all that overly optimistic though; nothing that fortunate ever happens to me. Knowing my luck, I figured all I’d get is possibly a mangled up pair of frames with a few broken shards of lenses, but then, to my absolute surprise, I saw this small blur of something shoot out from the drain and land right next to me. I reached down quickly to grab the object. It was like some kind of goddam miracle or something, my glasses there in my hand, a little scratched and whatever, but they still did the trick alright. I looked back up into the blackness of the drainpipe, thinking about what might have happened to Melvin, his dog and the two other kids. I wondered if they were still in there somewhere or if they had decided to turn back the way they came. I kind of felt really sorry for that dog most of all, dragged around here there and everywhere without a choice and having that mean Melvin kid barking orders at it all the time and probably getting really angry and everything if the dog didn’t understand what the hell he was supposed to do and all. A part of me kind of wished they had all drowned, all except the dog of course, and then it would be their stupid looking faces up on those missing person things on TV instead of mine and I’d be the only person who knew the secret of where they were and I wouldn’t tell a living soul, but would just be glad that there would be three less people in this world to make my life a living hell. In the end I guessed it wouldn’t really make that much difference anyway, that it didn’t really matter all that much; there were millions more where they came from, so I kind of hoped that they hadn’t died, in a way. I also thought about what if they had somehow worked out which way I’d gone and what would happen if they all just stepped out of that drain pipe just then. I was surprised how little this possibility worried me though. Usually I would have been shaking in my boots and whatever, but this time it was like I just accepted that whatever was going to happen, was pretty much going to happen anyway, so there was really no use in getting all worried about it in the first place. So I stood up, all soaked from head to foot and dripping water all over the place, climbed up out of the ditch and stood there looking out over the deserted school oval. It must have been just about mid-to-late afternoon. The clouds were beginning to clear and all these rays of sunlight began to poke through the holes in the clouds that remained, shining down on the big brick school building in the distance. I’m not sure what it was that was different, but it looked kind of majestic and grand or something, just standing there defiantly in the clearing rain and basking in the warm 118
sunshine. As I looked at the windows around each of the buildings I set my mind back to a time when I was in that particular part of the school. I must have been up and down the whole area of that place hundreds of times over and the memories of all those times just came rushing up from somewhere deep within the memory storeroom of my mind. It was then that I felt for the first time this kind of weird feeling in my chest and all. I didn’t think I’d ever felt this before, this odd sense that I was somehow leaving behind this giant portion of my life, all these experiences that I would never have again. Standing there, looking out over my old life, I kind of realised that I was moving on with my existence, entering a different stage of development and all that and what was even stranger was that I’m pretty sure I was just a little bit excited about what the future might hold, the rest of the Christmas holidays and going into high school and all that, looking forward to stumbling my sorry way through the world and every so often stopping to take a look back at all the places I’d been.
CHAPTER 33 The Result
retty soon the rain had just about all cleared up and everything, leaving only a few remaining drops falling here and there and everywhere around the oval. The once dark clouds from only moments ago were now beginning to part, revealing the clear, azure afternoon sky and there was that familiar smell in the air all around that you get right after a subsiding storm, the tiny droplets of water all mixed in with particles of dirt and dust and whatever from the ground, which had been kicked up into the air from the force of the falling drops onto soft earth. Still in a bit of a daze and all, I was kind of half walking across the big field that had just about turned into this gigantic pigsty from all the rain, which had converted the dusty ground and dry grass into this thick sloshy mud. You could only just make out the line markings and everything that were drawn out for all the different running tracks and athletics carnivals and all that rubbish. I was never really all that good at athletics or anything, mostly because of my asthma and all, but I really didnâ€™t like it all that much anyway, to tell you the truth. I looked down at my clothes; everything was all soaked through, my shirt, my shorts, all dripping all over the place. I took my green adventure bag off my shoulders and had a look at what a sorry state it was in. I thought about opening it and all for a little while, just to have a look through all my things to see which ones were soaked through and ruined and all, but in the end, I didnâ€™t really care that much and figured there was nothing I could really do about it and that there wasnâ€™t really much point in crying over spilled milk or whatever anyway, so instead I just dropped the waterlogged bag there on the muddy ground and took a seat beside it. I yanked off both my shoes, one at a time, tipping each one upside down and pouring out all this water that just streamed out all over the place down to the ground. Putting my muddy, disgusting sneakers, one after the other, back on my stinking feet, and looking around at the terrible state that the running track was in, I started remembering back to all those athletics days that they were always having at the school and making all the kids run and jump and throw like mad, real competitive and all, constantly trying to outdo one another and everything at all costs, with no mercy for the weak or anything like that. When I was really little and Mum was still around, 120
she’d always be taking me along to all these different competitive sports places and everything, wanting me to have a good start in life or whatever I guess and even though I wasn’t really all that good at any of the things she took me along too, I’d still try my very hardest and all, because it seemed to make her real happy just to see me doing my best and everything. I even got an award once; it was the encouragement award, which most kids would probably be embarrassed to get, but I wasn’t really at all because Mum seemed so proud and everything. After she was killed, I just kind of stopped trying at the school athletics days and swimming carnivals and everything, mostly just sitting on the benches by myself, just watching all the kids running around like mad everywhere and all that, striving like crazy to beat everyone else and be the best kid of the lot and do all the things that they tell you are important things to do, without even asking why or anything, while my mind would be about a million miles away, thinking up all these stupid ideas in my head and wondering things like how come there always has to be a winner and a loser in all these events and what would happen if all the runners just decided to – just to screw with the system – cross the finish line all at the same time or something like that, then they’d all win. It sounded like a good idea, but I figured there would always be some kid – and perhaps they’d all be thinking about it too – who would end up making a break for the finish line right at the last second and everything, just to screw everyone else over like that. Just then out of nowhere, I felt this real peculiar urge to just get up and start running around the field and all, all through the mud and everything, for no particular reason at all except that I felt like it. I didn’t worry too much about the track lines or anything; they were just about indistinguishable form the slosh of the ground anyway. I used to enjoy watching the groundskeeper going around with his little line making machine that looked like this big trolley, around and around the oval and just wondering what the hell was going on in his head and all as he walked around and around in circles the whole day long. The thing that really got me, made me real puzzled, was that he always seemed so goddam happy all the time, even when he was just doing the same thing over and over again, he always seemed to have this silly little smile upon his face all the time, like everything in the world was fine and things couldn’t get any better if they tried. Anyway, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I’d start to get really puffed out from all the running around and around. I could already feel myself beginning to get a little out of breath and everything 121
and started to notice this sharp pain in my side and all, but I kept on going regardless. Trudging through the mud, I began to imagine I was back in a race at one of the school athletics days and I was racing against all the best kids in school, only this time I was wasn’t coming last like usual, but I was out in front, beating them all. I looked back and saw their tired and worn out faces, all huffing and puffing, their red blood cells starving for more and more oxygen and the lactic acid all building up in their thighs and everything and I’d just give this real smug little smirk and just pick up the pace a little more as I came around the home stretch towards the finish line, making one final sprint, even though they were so far behind me they’d never catch me in a million years, crossing the line and collapsing in a heap all in the mud. I finally snapped out of my silly dream and came back to reality, realising there was a good chance I was just about to pass out from lack of oxygen and die or something like that and I clumsily reached into the front pocket of my bag to pull out my puffer for relief. ‘Andrew!’ a familiar voice called out across the field just then, ‘Andrew William Waters, is that you?’ I looked up to see my Dad coming quickly towards where I was, collapsed at the finish line. ‘What the hell are you doing out here, lying in the mud? What have I told you about just running out of the house without telling me where you’re going?’ He came over and stood there, bearing over me, looking down, then lifted me up from the mud onto my feet. ‘I won Dad! I won the race.’ I said like it was some big achievement and everything. I don’t think he was impressed very much though. ‘Stop being silly Andrew! I was worried half to death about you, now come on home.’ He took me by the arm and started towards the school gate, taking me along with him. I took one last look around the school grounds, the football posts that I knocked my head on this one time, the two rows of long, white lunch benches that I’d always be tripping over when I wasn’t watching where I was going, the wooden play gym where I once got this splinter that went nearly the whole way through my foot and all, and the swimming pool where I was nearly drowned when all the kids decided it would be a laugh to all try dunking me under the water in the deep end all at the same time. We were nearly at the back gate, passing through a couple of big jacaranda trees flowering with this glowing kind of violet, when I remembered about my tree, the one I had carved my name into just yesterday. I knew it was a bit crazy to check on the result of my experiment concerning the growth of trees when only one day had passed since the experiment began, but I somehow wanted to go back and check 122
on my name regardless, there at the base of that tree and I wondered if any passers by had seen it there, but I doubted anyone had and that no one would think twice about it really anyway. I managed to get away by telling my Dad that I really, really needed to go to the toilet, which incidentally was kind of the truth, and that I couldn’t hold it a second longer. I ran off towards my tree, which wasn’t too far away, leaving Dad waiting impatiently at the gate. When I got there, to the tree, that tree where I always was going to read during my lunch breaks and after school and everything, I went around behind it, ducked down and looked at the spot where I’d carved my name into the trunk to see if it had moved up, to see if the tree had grown at all. But it wasn’t there, my name. I looked around a bit in bewilderment, just to check that I hadn’t carved it somewhere else or that the tree hadn’t grown up so much out of the ground in just one night that I might have missed it. Looking back down, I noticed there was a lot of mud up around the tree and figured that that was the one thing in my stupid experiment I hadn’t counted on, the movement of the ground around the tree. I dug down a little and wiped away all the mud from all around that area. I looked and looked, all around the base of the tree where I thought I’d carved it, but found nothing. I was certain that it had to be there somewhere and couldn’t have just disappeared. The memory of me carving it was as vivid as anything, but it just wasn’t there. It was like it had never been there at all. And then I saw, just around a bit to the right, this little patch of scratches and scribbles. That’s where my name must have been, and after staring at it for a while, I could just barely make out the letters spelling out the name “Andy” under all those scribbles. It was a strange feeling. I felt just about the maddest that I have ever felt in my life for some reason, wondering what kind of sick kid would scribble out someone’s goddam name off a tree at the back of a school oval. At that moment, I hated that goddam school and felt like kicking in the whole fence at the back of the oval and everything. I felt like throwing big rocks through every single window in the building. I even, in a way, felt like catching who ever did it and doing something really terrible to them, like carving my name into their chest or whatever they’re always doing in those movies, just to teach them a lesson or something. I don’t know what I felt really. I could have taken out my red pocket knife and carved my name all over again if I really wanted to and all. I kind of half-heartedly started to imagine hiding over in 123
that shadowy place behind the fence afterwards, just waiting there for the kid to return, then I’d jump out and ask him what the hell he thought he was doing scratching out my name and all that rubbish. For some reason though, it seemed like I couldn’t really get into the fantasy of it any more like I used to and all, like that part of my imagination had faithfully departed or whatever, so all I did was kind of just stand there for a bit, disillusioned as anything, thinking about the peculiarities of life and existence and all that nonsense while going to the toilet on my good old tree at the back of that school oval. ‘Andrew!’ my Dad was calling again. ‘Have you finished yet? Let’s go!’ I was finished, feeling somewhat relieved that I could finally leave that place behind me forever as I started back for home with my Dad, the future unknown.