The March of the Dead

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16

Kel, me and my friends headed along Griffin Street down towards Evie’s.

I was smiling, but the smile was stiff and false. I noticed Turner and the boys’ glinting school bags of before me. My heart now thumped, lips as dry as the dirt path we walked on leading down to the beach.

Down at the park which overlooked the river, shirts were removed, the nice, toned teen bodies as yet unacquainted with the more pudgy and less agile bodies of adults glowing with the afternoon sun.

Turner and Cantey latched onto me. I tried slapping their hands off. Walby pulled my white shirt off over my face. They now dragged me down the bank. I giggled.

Back when we’d been walking down Griffin Street, strolling past the pines, Kel had said, ’You gonna watch ‘Meet Me There’ tonight?’ She gazed over as the evening light caught a dash of freckles over her nose. The pines beyond her reaching up to a sky were losing colour each moment.

After the walk we had hung on the park. Walby played music from his speakers. Students splashed about down in the river. ‘Get it ... get it!’ called Turner, having kicked the ball high into the afternoon sky, the thump resonating through the woods behind us.

I ran, caught it.

A few of my friends crash-tackled me.

There we sat on the grass, chatting, throwing lollies at each other ... sharing snacks.

Kehlani, stroking my side. ‘You’re losing wight, babe. You need to eat more.’

‘Blinky ... Blinky ... eat some lollies,’ said Cantey, trying to stuff some Coke Bottles into my mouth.

There we wrestled. Turner and Walby lifted my shirt as we did, whacking my back. Zoe and Emily strutting along the park in sunnies and bikinis. Kel muttering, ‘Yeah he’s mine. Keep walking girls.’ A chilly afternoon breeze whistling through the pines. Rap bursting playing from the speakers. Turner bobbing his head. Walby playing a game on his phone as he lay on his stomach on the grass.

Cantey picking me up. ‘Race ya to the far end,’ he’d said.

We sprinted.

He was winning, winning, but with my large stride I nipped him at the woods. ‘Jez, you’re athletic, bro,’ he gasped, slapping my back. Giggling down on the grass with Walby as we gazed at old pictures of parties on Instagram. Flicking through to our last party, gazing at some of the girls.

Kehlani, sighing, looked away.

Turner chewed on Coke Bottles, lobbing them into his mouth.

Now they hauled me down that dusty old bank.

That smile was still plastered on me, but I was shaking my head. ‘Seriously, guys, it’s too cold. Not today. Maybe later, okay?’ But Cantey and Walby had lifted me by the thighs as they carried me down the bank. Other students splashed about, dollops of water glinting in the last traces of sunlight.

Something thumping against my chest, trying to free itself.

A strange acidic taste in my mouth.

Sets of feet sliding down the bank, some giggling and grunting. Sitting in their grasps, I also giggled.

Sunlight flashed into my eyes through the gaps of the gums, and for a moment I was at graveside, the old priest chanting those prayers, and there stood Mum with a blank face, Dad’s jaw trembling as he held her.

And it was dark, and it wasn’t Turner and Cantey’s feet scraping down that bank but Evie’s. My heart whacked my ribs. Deep inside my stomach sat a sickly feeling, an intense unease. My mouth appeared to open, close, like the mouth of a fish which has jumped from its tank and is now suffocating.

My skin prickled, a tingling sensation rushing down my neck. From head to toe my entire body felt like it was made of rubber. My eyes were wide and large, breaths coming in awful short gasps.

Rough fingers pinched skin, light blazing from the ripples. Feeling that pounding in my rib cage I said, ‘Righto, guys, that’ll do. Let me down, hey, let me—’ And Evie collected those rocks, tears rolling down her cheeks, while on that bank in the evening glow I shoved Cantey’s head. He chuckled.

In a strong voice I said, ‘Put me the fuck down. Now guys. I ain’t goin’ in. Put me the fuck down.’ But their grip on my thighs tightened, white fingers digging into dark skin.

Turner said, ‘You’re going in, Blinky. Time to face your fears, mate.’

I unleashed.

Heart whacking my ribs, I trashed my fist at Turner’s head. He chuckled as well, but the woman gurgled, struggling, reaching for the surface as she drowned, and I lashed that palm out at Cantey’s face again.

It snacked his eye. Blinking, dropping my leg, he glared back at me. ‘You serious, Blinky?’ he said, touching his eye, blinking. My right foot had fallen back to the rough pebbles, Turner still grasping my left thigh.

The said boy glared over at Cantey, squinting. Then Turner smiled, saying, ‘Going in, Blinky.’ He dropped my leg, grasping my shoulders. Cantey smiled, grabbing my back, both shoving me forwards.

I turned, swatting Cantey square in the jaw with my left.

He stared at me, blood leaking from his lip.

A cloud slunk beneath the sun.

People on the beach gazed.

Oomph. His right slammed me in the eye.

He grinned, grasped my shoulders again, hauling me towards the water. I swat him in his own eye. He glared, then smacked me in the nose. Stars blinked in my vision.

Something warm ran down my face. I pushed him as he swung at my head.

’Let me bloody outta here, you prick ... let me outta here,’ I growled, backing away.

Cantey reached forwards. I swat out at him, but he kicked out, slamming me in the balls, then thwacked me twice in the face again. I arched forwards, swinging an uppercut, collecting his jaw. Blood spurted from his mouth onto my skin.

He lunged, headbutted my face. I tried swatting him away, but by now Turner and Walby had rushed in, yanking us from each other.

My heart thrashed like it needed to burst out and join the fight.

Blood gushed from my nose, my testis feeling like I’d snagged them in a heavy drain.

My head spun. Cantey, trying to struggle from the grasps of his friends, rasped, ‘I’ll get you, you little prick. I’ll show ya who’s boss round here.’ Cantey spat a bloody spit towards me, but it didn’t near, although the fury in his eyes didn’t miss my me one bit.

*

Later that night, I sat in Kel’s room, my hand over my head.

‘They’re never going to talk to me again,’ I said.

Kel gazed over from her spot at her dimly lit study, her textbook open before her. ‘They’re your friends, Blinky. They’ll understand, okay?’ Those sweet blue eyes, eyes made golden in the light, stared. She soon sighed, coming over. ‘They know why you’re afraid, honey ... you don’t need to explain anything.’

Thin blonde hair brushed my shoulders as she leant over, kissing my hair. She ran a soft long hand across my back beneath my shirt, making my skin tingle. Her soft voice sounded in the quiet room, the air warm and stuffy. ‘Plus, you still have me, sexy.’ That hand ran further down my spine. I shivered, looking up at her. Blue eyes glimmered in a sweet orange glow. ‘Isn’t that all you need, after all?’

She arched down, and we kissed.

We remained in her room. Each time she kissed my lips, a burst of pleasure and pain tingled through them and each time she brushed my forehead, happiness and torture ripped through me. But stronger than both these sensations that night was that sweeping feeling of happiness and the burning sting of desire I felt in the pit of my stomach.

Her cool lips pressed against my face, blonde hair scraping my now bare shoulders. Her breathing created moisture on my face, her palms now slippery as we clasped hands. The taste of her mouth was pleasant, the most delicious of fruits in the garden of Edan. Her hand searched below my stomach. I smelt that fragrant fruity smell which made my nose tingle and stomach burn with longing.

She sank further against me, our bodies connecting in a way we had not experienced before. Her hair fell over me, my hands pressed against her back. In the background, ‘Hold Me Tight’ by Off-Beat played.

Afterwards, we lay there on the bed, while her closed-eyed face rested against mine and her single finger brushed my back.

‘I love you, Blinky,’ Kel said. ‘There’s no one else in the world for me but you.’ Her lips, cool, hard, found mine.

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