The moment I messed up the most happened 5th of May.
During woodwork the day before, bandsaws screamed throughout the room as all us students cut lengths of wood.
Graham Lowe looked down at their hand, blood gushing from it.
At recess that day, my friends and I hung about at our seats. Walby looked over at me.
‘Blinky, we’re all going down tomorrow to Evie’s tomorrow, mate. You keen?’
To Evie’s, to Evie’s.
Come Friday, my friends, Kel and I headed down Griffin Street towards Evie’s. Kel walked by my side, shivering. ’Gonna be so cold in there today,’ she said.
As we walked, the chill pressed in. I noticed any hint of summer had fled just like the blue sky. I glared up ahead as we strolled, recalling that story I had heard from so many others ....
The late autumn breeze swept through the pines beside the rough track, but in my mind I imagined it was night, and my friends at the time and I sat on logs in a clearing in dark woods. A campfire burnt before us and we listened as we sat. Having been sitting on a large stump on the far side of the flickering flames, Bo Kennedy rose. His ‘Camp Leader’ badge dangled from his neck.
Bo’s body looked fiery and somewhat evil in the orange glow. The breeze throughout chilled my skin, and other a few near the clearing catching the orange glow of the fire, the trees outside it were lost to the darkness. Stars sat above us somewhere, but the smoke from the fire and unusual murky gloom in the sky caused them to appear far, far away.
Behind the boy lay dark pine after dark pine, the woods in the darkness appearing to vanish into some eternal black pit. It felt like we sat amongst some black void, or so far on the outskirts of this word God had forgotten to colour it.
I looked to the other boys beside me, their lanky kneels and thin elbows laced in that orange glow. The faces of those boys—kids aged nine, ten, something like that—were stark and cold.
‘As you know ... on the Year Six Camp ... you finally hear the story ... about Evie,’ Bo said from behind thrashing flames. He strolled back and forth behind the campfire, body glowing orange, flames flickering in our view from him. His eyes shone white and wild.
Another camp leader, a girl, gave him a wry grin, before standing from her log and walking off. As she did, Bo’s eyes fell to her backside and he puckered his lips. ’I’ll have my way with you later, whore,’ he muttered.
He gazed back over to us. ‘You know the story about Evie’s beach, don’t you ...? About the woman who went down there that day? Well ....’ And in Cantey’s bedroom, Turner and Walby lying beside me on sleeping bags, Cantey stared at us. ’This is what really happened.’ A PlayStation controller lay slumped on the floor, half-eaten pack of chips resting between.
And as he glared, so too did Mr Milson, from up front of the Year Seven classroom that morning. ‘Happened on a Wednesday,’ the teacher said, turning the Smartboard off, peering towards the classroom door for a moment for some reason. Satisfied with something, he muttered, ‘Gonna get me fired, telling you this.’ The class giggled, but Mr Miller’s face remained stoic as Bo gazed from behind the flames. ‘Evie was at home. It was late at night,’ he said. ‘She wondered why her husband hadn’t returned from his business trip.’ As Bo stood there, flames whipped up before him, while the flashing ‘pause’ screen on the TV made Cantey’s face a horrid red, like he was morphing into the devil right before us.
In a light voice, the voice of a boy who was yet a teen, Cantey said, ‘She had made her husband dinner that night ... a real nice one ... one a’ the ones with gravy and stuff.’
‘But,’ said Bo. ‘Her husband never arrived that night.’
‘And so there she stayed, inside the house, waiting, night—’
‘—after night ...’
‘—after night ...’
Bo gazed at us all in the clearing. A twig snapped in the fire. Kevin, who sat beside me, stiffened, staring around at the trees, and I placed a hand on Turner’s shoulder as he gazed, whispering there was nothing in the shadows of the bedroom.’ As the clouds seeped beneath the sun outside the classroom window, odd shadows expanded beneath the desks. I felt a heaviness, a weight deep within me as I listened.
Mr Milson stared at us, before gazing out the window. ‘One day, she received a letter from the postman—’ Mr Milson tilted his chin up as he faced us once more. ’They carried the mail in backpacks in those days.’ And flames whipping in the clearing, a wicked gleam sat in Bo’s eyes, the shadows beneath those eyes like eternal pits of blackness. The red light blinked as Cantey gazed at us.
‘She couldn’t bring herself to read it. All day she walked round her house, till night, until—’
‘—she could take it no longer.’ Mr Milson’s freckles gleamed from a beam of sunlight shining through the window, old, parched eyes staring at a silent class. Bo, our attention on him, used his hands to act out the scene. ‘Evie opened it. Slowly ... like she were opening news that—’
‘—that something horrible had happened.’ Cantey gazed at me, that red glow blinking, ‘GAME OVER’ flashing on and off the screen. ’And it said, “Evie, it is with regret I write to inform you that I have met another lady whilst on my business trip ...”
‘Anyway ....’ Bo said, a bitter gleam in his eyes as he stared out at the darkness. ‘Basically, the bloke met another bitch. Wasn’t going to be coming back.’ Christine Knight’s hand was up, sunlight turning her skin pale. ‘Did she cry, sir?’ Mr Milton stared at Christine. Stepped forwards. Slammed his hand on the desk. ‘Cry? Cry?’ The red light blinked on and off Cantey’s crazed face, his eyes appearing, then disappearing. Each time it flashed, Cantey’s face appeared more terrible, like he was changing into a monster right before us. The hallows of his eyes seemed to deepen each flash too.
‘She was in tears,’ said Mr Milson, now pacing the floor. ’She ran, ran from the house, not knowing what the ... what the ... what the fuck to do ... you know?’ Twigs snapped in the flames, while GAME OVER blinked and blinked. The scent of old potato chips lingered, cans of Coke sitting on the carpet in that blinking red light.
Cantey chewed on a Kit Kat as he stood before his bed, Bo’s marshmallow melting into the flames as he stared at it. Bo’s eyes rose again. ‘She was running, running.’ He stopped. The flames lowered, hushing, waiting to hear, the class remaining silent. The TV now switched off, a single orange glow issued from that melting lava lamp on his bedside table. And that glinting sunlight poking through the classroom window lit the up scars and pockmarks over Mr Miller’s face.
The flames rose again, the furniture in the bedroom now an awful orange, the teacher’s face burning with sunlight. ‘There ran Evie, running through the bush past—’
‘—tree ... after—’
Clouds covered the sun outside. Someone clicking their pen. And orange swirling against the walls, Cantey added, ‘Then she heard him, and stopped.’
Bo stopped moving behind those flames.
Darren Tym stood from a log, grabbed his bag of marshmallows, and ran towards the tents. ‘Pussy!’ Bo called after Darren in the darkness. Bo smiled, but his smile was strained. ‘She—’
‘—turned around.’ Orange light swirled against beanbag, as sun glinted on tables, those in the front row laced in a sea of sunlight, causing them to look like they were on fire. Mr Milton glared out. ‘He was there, amongst—’
‘—the bushes, standing—’
‘—watching him.’ Caney’s gaze fell on me. He leant down, picked up the remote, and pressed ‘on’. A demon stared out of the TV. ‘A man stood there in the darkness of the bush.’
‘Sobbing, Evie called, “Who are you? Who are you that stalks me out in these woods? Leave me. I need to be alone.’ Bo glared at us, face now glowing orange, flames writhing, whipping like the fires of hell. Behind Bo, the woods sank into blackness.
GAME OVER blinked and blinked, red eyes flashing, Cantey’s face becoming warped, more distorted each time. Mr Milton’s grey beared gleamed a hot orange, turning it into flames, wild eyes staring from a pockmarked face. He strolled across the floor to the glow of the projector, suddenly turning into a blackened outline as he found the gleam. ‘She stayed there, staring, staring ...’
‘... and staring ... and staring ...’
Blinking red colours, lashing flames. In a dull, almost lifeless voice Mr Milton said, “’Walk ... walk to the river ... walk down there by yourself.”
‘It was night of course, and—’
Now I was Evie. Sadness swirled throughout me, a heaviness so thick in my stomach I wondered if I were about to tumble on down to the old leaves and sticks on the forest floor. The woods stretched far off into the night, while above, contrasting the darkness sat the moon, bright as a razor’s edge.
There the man stood, completely shadowed, his grin shone brighter than any moon that night. The trees sat dark and black, leaves glinting a hellish white on some angles. “‘Walk ... walk towards the river ... walk into the water ... do it now, Evie ... you know ... you know there’s nothing left for you here.’”
I stared a moment, then turned.
Now branches from the trees lashed my arms as I paced. My heart ricocheted in my chest as I felt my dress against my shines. Long, graceful hair curled down my shoulder.
But as always, the crunching of his footsteps sounded from behind.
‘Leave me .... leave me!’ I called, staring back, and Cantey’s face gleamed a hellish red, while a loud pop sounded somewhere in the campfire. Tommy Bourke stood, walking away from the flashing flames. ‘Fuck this,’ he muttered as he headed towards those dark trees, away from a leering Bo.
‘Go to your bed, you little wank, and jack-off like the rest of the shit-bags.’ He muttered once more, ‘Pussy,’ before staring back at us, eyes so thin I wondered if he had ever had a positive thought in his life. And Kaitlynn Wright covered her face at her desk, sobbing, teams streaming down.
Mr Milson strolled towards her, glaring, face reddening. ’If you’re too pussy to hear how she died, get the fuck of my classroom, now, wimp. Out!’ he screamed at her, while in my mind as I brushed past pine leaves and large blackened trunks. I screamed the same word to that voice in my head.
Soon I arrived at the bend in the river, gazing down. The beach was gloomy, stars foggy and distant above, while on the far bank, large gums arched over in an awful and cold breeze.
The moon-lit bank lowered to the brown—black on this night—swollen river. The rocks wedged into the bank and the old broken tree roots protruding from it gleamed a silverish white.
I turned. There he stood near the woods, a shadow amongst giants. ‘Step into the water, Evie ... step into the water. Do it, Evie ... step into the water.’ And sitting in silence, the clouds having hovered beneath the sun again, Mr Milson turned to a darkened outline before us. “’Step into the—”
—water Evie,’ the voice repeated. I turned, staring down that rough and uneven bank to the river. The scent of eucalypt wafted from the far bank, as well as the awful stench of algae from the river itself. That ghastly breeze stung the skin on my legs, my breaths hash and painful.
My descent was rough and slippery.
I soon stood by the water and looked back. Tears slipped down my cheeks. My chin trembled.
And as he spoke again, I reached to the beach, placing pebble, after pebble into my long pockets.
‘ ... put them into her pockets,’ Bo said, using his hand to gesture to us what she had done. ‘She placed more and—’
—more into my pockets, my shoulder straps pulling down on my shoulders as though trying to drag me to the sand. A chuckle sounded from up near the woods, but turning, I saw only stump after stump. ‘Now walk in, Evie. Walk into the water ...’
And moving forwards, I did.
Soon cold water splashed my bare legs.
I quivered as I moved further out.
More burning tears dropped from my eyes, my movements not my own—
‘—at all. As this thing worked through her, she shivered, waiting to get outta there.’
‘Moonlight beamed down on her, causing—’
—my skin to looked pale and dead as I waded further into the water. As I stepped out, water splashed over me, the feeling colder than ice.
Gasping, I turned back.
He now stood up on the bank. ‘Further ... further ....’
I turned back, sobbing, gasping. ‘Leave me alone ... leave me—’
And I had gone too far.
The river pulled me beneath. I sank, my flailing arms working to no avail. I thrashed, but further down I slipped. Murky, cold water slunk down my throat.
My mouth opened, and I gasped, but bubbles rose as more water seeped in. My vision now blurred. Legs weakening, I slashed and writhed for that blurry glimmering white orb through the surface.
Something grasped my leg, something with skin similar to seaweed ... or mould growing on something soft. It latched as though wishing to strangle me there, dragging me further down.
I cried out, bubbles rising again as more water slunk down my throat. My chest stung. I saw stars, and not the ones above. But still this thing gripped, pulling, dragging. I sank. Soon came grunting, gurgling from the thing beneath me.
Somehow, I pried my leg from its murky touch, rising, nearing the surface. And now Mr Milson stared out. Something shone in his eye. Kaitlynn Wright stepped back inside, face red, eyes bloodshot. Mrs Kelly stood at her side by the door, glaring at Mr Milson.
Mr Milson stared back, shock, sorrow glinting in his eyes, while some creature glared at us remaining kids from behind thrashing flames. Bo’s smile flickered with shadows, the figure glaring from the bank. Moonlight shone on old rotten skin. I stared, water slapping into my vision, blurring my eyes.
‘And it grabbed her again.’
A demon smiled from the TV, lights flashing. ‘And it—’
—yanked me beneath. Down, down I sank. Water filling my lungs, and as I gasped the bell for the end of class sounded. Mr Milson smiled.
‘Recess time, dick-heads. Fuck off.’
Cantey’s face was now sombre in the red glow. ‘She was pulled to the—’
—bottom of the river, water filling my lungs ... my mind flicking in and out of consciousness ... And as I faded, I imagined him there ... grinning, his smile the only thing visible on his shadowed body.
And above the beach that night shone a moon so bright it looked like some blazing eye of God ... or perhaps the staring maniac eye of the devil as he laughed above us all from his place amongst the stars.
And moonlight spread over the beach, while further, further I sank ....
Bo glared, the flames nearly out ... the wood having burnt, shrivelled away.
In the quiet darkness he said, ‘And so it was, that Evie was never seen again.’ And that television screen being clicked off, from the darkness, the shadowed figure said, ‘And no one knows who it was that stood upon the bank that night.’
Cantey’s smile beamed white in the blackness.