The moment I walked into St Paschal’s Tuesday morning, I knew something was wrong.
Perhaps it was the gathering of girls standing out front of the school, or the shocked look over their faces. Maybe it was Fiona Gerard—who I had a crush on back in Year Seven—and her hand cupped over her mouth.
More than any of these things, however, I still reckon it was just ’cause of the way the boy stood there, like all life had left him, and all that remained was some empty shell.
There he lingered, blinking, staring at the pathway. That blank look in his eyes, like he’d forgotten who he was, where he was. Students around him muttered in confusion ... tapping shoulders, pointing at Theo.
Thing is, Theo had been smart. The type of kid who done his studies, went well in class.
Saw him get an award at the assembly last year.
But this? The way his shoulders were slumped, and the fact no one dared get too close.
Something was wrong. He wasn’t usually like this.
Then the smile crept and crept and crept across Theo’s face. As though he’d once more found who he was ... but this time the person he had become was very different to the one he had been.
And the yammering ... the yammering in that other language.
A language not of this world.
It was at that point Mr Holmes came running in from loitering about on playground duty.
Shrieks came from the girls as Theo swiped a hand at the teacher.
The glint in Theo’s vacant eyes as sunlight burst into his vision.
Soon Mr Holmes had his arms around Theo, but Theo swiped at the teacher, swearing at him. Froth amassed on the boy’s lips, a strange grunting emitting his throat.
That was the first incident, and the next happened that very morning.
In Latin, I sat in class when Daphne Vella turned up in the doorway. We had all been jotting down Mr Segal’s notes from the Smartboard, but now there stood Daphne at the door, face blank, as though her soul had just up and left her.
Over and over she repeated Mr Segal’s name.
Several students from class lowered their pens, staring over at the stark-faced girl—mostly boys, of course, we are, after all, more easily distracted than girls. But it was at this moment the girl with the pale skin and chequered black and white dress started into the classroom.
I sat there staring because—if you were there you would have noticed this too—her feet appeared to glide over the tiles, just a touch, almost like she floated a little above them, but I took this to be some illusion caused by the gleam of the projector, or even my over-imaginative teenage brain.
My heart smacked my ribs, while up front one of the girls—Rose Aubrey from my memory—gasped, frowning at Jude Lithgow beside her.
It was in this moment I smelt the stale scent in the air; that unmistakable stench of piss.
Dain Sarbani arched back from his chair up front, a thin smile on his face. ‘She freakin’ pissed herself, lads,’ he said, earning several chuckles from the boys behind him.
Naturally, this caused Mr Segal to rise from his seat behind his desk. He glared at Dain, whose thick eyebrows caught some of the light of the projector, saying, ‘Dain, do you have something you need to—’
But he stopped then.
For apparently the girl, Daphne, had something to say instead.
She’d stopped in the blaze of the gleaming projector, still glaring at Mr Segal.
And there, in the dull light of the classroom on the 2nd of April, she repeated those words, speaking in that tongue no one in the classroom had heard in their lives and to this day I believe was conjured in some place far more sinister than Earth.
At recess that day, I sat with Kehlani on the low brick wall surrounding the netball courts.
Her leg was draped over mine.
And I saw the new girl w
I noticed her hair first.
I guess I noticed that first because of how it gleamed with a brightness unmatched by the other girls in the year. Kehlani saw her too, judging by the way Kel frowned. ‘Who the heck’s that?’ Said my girlfriend, her slender frame leaning against me.
Kel was a sweet little thing; strawberry blonde hair, freckles which shimmer in the sunlight. Nice white skin. Clear blue eyes.
But at that moment I wasn’t looking at my girlfriend, my attention having diverted to the girl with the silky dark hair who now strolled across the playground.
That day, in Geography fifth period, the new girl—Aisha, I would soon discover her name to be—came in through the door.
It was at this point my heart palpitations and all the other problems started.
Do-doompth ... do-doompth ... do-doompth, sounded the thumping between my ears as she strolled past.
‘You okay, Blinky? You goin all white, boy.’
That was Walby, a cheeky grin on his chubby face.
‘’Course I’m alright, idiot,’ I said, shoving my friend who I sat at the back of the room with.
Mrs Gabrielli pointed out a seat for the new girl.
That evening, I rode the bus home, sunlight shining against those paddocks which stretched off over the hills outside the bus window.
Wednesday was a bit better. Well, at least no one had attacked the teachers like they had yesterday.
At lunch I lay with my girl, Kehlani, on the Year Eleven lawn.
’Science was so boring today, babe,’ Kel said, lying over me as we laid against the grass. ‘Mr Lindzy just went on and on.’
‘Hey, love-birds. Break it off,’ came Mr Gardner’s voice as he strolled by.
I gave him a wave from the ground, sunlight blaring into my eyes. Green grass stretched off around us both. Kehlani groaned, rolling off me. ’But he’s so hot!’ Kel, now sitting up, called to Mr Gardner.
Night arrived. There I sat in my room with my lap top open before me. I tried remembering the girl’s name, but couldn’t.
I stood in the room, arm dangling at my side.
Pain swelled throughout that arm.
Blood congealed on my cheek, on my arm ... below my left eye.
I could hardly see out my right.
I spun around.
The creature staring back at me through the basement window.
I growled, hissed at it ....
I glared up at the panels above.
’Aisha ... come on ... get me outta here ... get me outta here,’ I screamed.
I was down at Evie’s beach the following afternoon.
A cool, dry wind brushed past my ears, stinging their tips. The sky hung cool and grey. The river flickered and rippled before me.
A ball sat high in the back of my throat.
Come Thursday, we played footy out the back oval for PDHPE. There I ran with the ball. Aisha, the new girl, was fast; I’ll give her that.
Aisha’s pale brown hands touched my side.
‘Got you,’ she said.
I couldn’t stop thinking about her.
There I sat in English. We were meant to be concentrating on present particles or something, but over and over I’d sneak a glance towards her.
That night, in my dreams I cycled up Govan Hill.
The boy with the brown skin, flowing hair and bright smile cycled ahead of me. Beau looked back. That night, the moon was high and stars bright. I drew the cool country air into my lungs.
From before me he called, ‘Hurry up, Blinky ... we’ll take forever at this pace, mate!’
I stood on my pedals there on that highway, peddling faster.
Thursday, I dashed with swinging arms after Aisha, the new girl, out the back oval of school, but she pulled further and further away as my breaths came in sharp, haggard gasps.
Fourth period, I sat in maths, head bowed, completing sums.
Soon Emily Webb made some hissing noise from the far side of the room.
I glanced over.
Blood seeped from a cut on her wrist. Beside her upturned arm lay a glinting projector. A long pink blush ran along the girl’s cheeks.
Mrs Bibbing strolled towards her, lowing her glasses.
In a small voice, Emily, a petite girl with glasses said, ‘It was a mistake, miss ...’
Come lunchtime, I ate down on the grass with the boys.
The sun was high and the sky clear and air fresh, and we talked of things teenagers talk about, including girls and Netflix and what burgers we liked.
‘So, get this ... get this,’ Cantey said, shaking his head, standing before us all. ‘I go up to the bloke and say, “Oi, you seen that guy with the long hair walk ...”’ As Cantey blabbered on, the glow of the sun and clear sky and the orange glinting off the buildings, all appeared to exist solely to contrast Aisha’s dark wavering hair, hair which made my heart ache as she strolled over to her friends
Later on, in Science, I listened for the new girl’s name. It was soon given during roll call. Her name was odd, or at least sounded foreign to me, but from that day forward, until the Deajii destroyed me, I’d know her by her real name.
A flicker of guilt swept through me as I sat there contemplating that name in class.
Up on Morrison Street (the main road in Burarra) after school, as the late sun lowered behind those colonial-style facades, Kel and I held hands as we strolled.
Soon we noticed a woman stumbling up and down, up and down the footpath before us. Kel pointed. I felt a stiffening in my chest, like some hand had clasped my heart. My breaths came in short, sharp pants, lips dry and crackling.
That evening, I hung out at Kehlani’s.
The lights were off as we kissed.
Her breaths brushed my face, making it feel like ghosts swept past me. My heart thudded once again, but this time from desire rather than fear, and my eyes were wide but with eagerness now rather than anxiety. The air in the room was cool, our bodies hot.
Afterwards, Kehlani lay beside me on the bed, stroking my side.
Friday afternoon, I stood in the backyard with Mum and Dad.
Plants, growing from pots, sat behind Mum. Currently, Mum knelt before the garden.
There in the garden beds sat plant after plant, growing from the rich soil, yet on the lawn sat more plants in their pots, tags dangling like long earrings.
Dad stood beside me, looking on, a Crownie in his strong grip.
He didn’t say anything, but those eyes were troubled, or at least a glint of sadness shone in them. Lower, lower the sun fell behind the gums.
I stayed with Mum in the yard there a while, not cause she needed my help, but because I didn’t want to leave her alone when she was like this.
I moved to a pot, hauling it up, shuffling myself over towards her. She turned, the sunset shining on tears in her eyes. I put the pot down, then, breathing deeply, touched her arm. ‘We’ll be okay, Mum, ... we’re gonna get through this ... we’re going ... gonna get through it.’
And the dreams continued.
‘Hurry up, Blinky, or we’ll never reach the caves,’ called my brother Beau, smile white and broad, flowing brown hair sweeping over his forehead as we rode up Govan Hill. Up ahead, I saw that glinting smile directed towards me in the darkness.
The boy of sixteen, that white Volcom T-shirt fluttering about, stood up on his bike peddles, heaving down with each stroke.
I soon picked up speed as I continued up the hill, moonlight catching my tanned arms. My body, at fourteen, was thin and weak, skin the type of soft only acquired during adolescence. My brown hair, long at that age, whipped back in the night breeze. My thin legs heaved down on the peddles.
There we cycled, further and further up the long country-road hill. The chilly air stung my lungs as I inhaled, coolness sweeping throughout me.
Eventually we reached the crest, then powered down towards the caves soon after.
Beau had already pulled into the caves when I reached the turnoff. His bike leant against the wooden sign out front of the darkened cavemouth. In the gloomy night air, that cavemouth looked like the giant jaws of a beast ready to gulp us down.
I rode across the gravel driveway, panting, chest stinging.
My brother stood tall, shoulders broad, arms developing the muscles of a young man. His hair swept over the side of his face as he stared at that gulp of a cavemouth.
Beau gazed back at me, a chill breeze sweeping his hair over his eyes. ‘You ready ...? You ready to entre the place of the dead, brother?’
His laughs were cold and fruitless. I shivered. At that moment a long droning honk came from some rambling old semi hauling on past on the highway. The draft left behind by its trailer was so cold that my skin prickled with goosebumps. I wanted to curl into a ball to flee the sensation. The draft was so strong it felt like some wild old ghost had hovered right on through me.
Beau turned back to the cave, heading towards that gloomy opening. Night glinted. Beau and I passed through the cavemouth. Having walked beneath the archway, the light disappeared. Soon after, however, a blazing light erupted as Beau switched on his mobile torch.
He shone the torch on the jagged walls and water-clogged floor, the scent of mildew wafting throughout the cave.
’Smell’s disgusting in here, Beau,’ I said to the shadowed figure before me.
He turned back to me, but the figure was no longer my brother, or at least didn’t appear so, for his torchlight had caused him to fall into shadows, enveloping him in a cloak of darkness. It could have been any old stranger standing there in the gloom of the cave before me and I wouldn’t have noticed.
Now I followed the taller boy further and further into the blackness. Soon we had pulled into a large cavern. From its ceiling hung what appeared to be
the fangs from a giant monster ...?
stalactites poking down at us. Walking beneath the sharp spikes, I shivered.
Beau turned back to me, shining his touch into his own blazing, wide eyes.
‘Are you ready, Blinky ... are you ready to see the bodies now?’
His voice sounded like some other person’s, and his laughs that of the devils.