The March of the Dead

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2

On Tuesday, I rode the bus in from my hometown Alvey towards the larger town Burarra.

Out of my window lay a far-reaching paddock, long golden grass shining in the sunlight, while in another paddock two black horses grazed the fields.

In period one that morning, Mrs Langford was placing worksheets over our tables. My chest felt as though someone had reached deep within it and clasped my heart, squeezing it harder and harder. I didn’t know why I felt these sensations, as I was doing my best to avoid glancing over in Aisha’s direction.

At recess, I lay beside Kehlani on my back out on the lawn.

We gazed at that clear blue sky. The chilly breeze on this sunny day brushed over our bodies, the contrast of the hot sun and cold breeze giving me goosebumps. My hand, smooth, brown, sat on her leg. I stared over to Kehlani. ‘You make it through history, babe? I imagine it would have gone on forever,’ I said.

The following afternoon, I shuffled down the bank towards Evie’s Beach, the riverbank currently free of any other person.

The sky was low, flat, and grey, a persistent cool breeze sweeping through. Standing on the beach by the river, I recalled dreaming about that cave, and how I had stepped further and further into the gloom. My heart had felt like it was shrivelling up inside my chest, as though the dread of the caves was making it want to crawl up inside itself.

The areas of the cave not lit by the torch remained dark, but the areas lit were a stark pale brown, the type I imagined one might find inside the belly of some great, horrible beast. I stared at the cavern walls enfolding me.

Mould wafted throughout the damp room, the air cool and stale. I folded my arms, skin prickling from the chill. Around me sat those old yellowing walls, the monster’s teeth poking down from the ceiling.

Now Beau’s torchlight beamed against the outlines of some figures painted in red on the walls. I noticed three ... four of them, all missing their facial features, or any other feature that made them unique. Each was drawn in a rough but ageless ochre, their bodies, free of details, gleamed the craggily old brown of the walls.

With wide eyes I stared at these outlines, while behind me Beau shone the torch, speaking no words.

I stepped close to one of the figures, feeling something emanating from it. Its body, with its murky yellowing glint reminded me of some old corpse I’d see in some movie about zombies.

The chill from the night outside slunk further inside the cavern, the torch bright and darkness behind it endless. I shivered, feeling more of the breeze from the darkness outside sweeping in.

Beau’s harsh torchlight continued beaming against the stark outlines.

‘Who are they, Beau? Who are the people with no faces? Are they good people, Beau?’

My voice was of a child in awe as I shuffled closer.

*

Aisha dashed past the sideline as I followed suit.

The day was bright and shiny, air warm.

From behind came Turner’s voice calling, ’Get her, Blinky, get the slut ... get her.’

In return for his rather vulgar language, Turner received some stern words from Mrs Farson, but she needn’t have been too critical, as Aisha’s speed, which left both Turner, Canty, and I gasping in her wake was due punishment for each of us.

Aisha crossed the line, scoring, and as she turned back, I saw she was now sweating. Her shirt hung from her slender frame, while dabs of sweat clung to her face and arms. Her ponytail, long, graceful, and black fell down her back, while the girl’s posture was tall and confident.

Aisha played with that black ponytail a moment, her hand soft and smooth. I saw how her eyes glinted green like the grass, and marvelled at their brightness.

As she strolled, her pale brown skin caught the morning sunlight, causing my stomach to flutter as I wandered towards her.

I couldn’t ignore either those soft facial features and sweet pink lips.

She came past me, puffing, panting.

‘Too slow, Blinky,’ she said, her breaths so close as she gazed at me in that morning light.

While I wandered back to position, I imagined her in my bedroom.

There I sat on my bed, Aisha standing in the dim doorway.

She wore a dark jacket, skin absorbing the small light available in the room. Her eyes beamed an unnatural green. A swelling of desire flooded through me. I felt both sick and stimulated at the same time. I gazed towards the girl, but always lingering in my mind was the craggily old rock of the cavern, and the rough red outlines of the shapes before me.

Aisha drew closer, a hint of her perfume, fruity, sweet tickling my nostrils. She lowered herself to the bed beside me. A hand, soft, sweet, and pale brown lay on my shoulder, her voice light and gentle, the flow and grace of her hair alluring.

‘Relax ... relax,’ she said, those eyes nearing and lips full and pink.

Now I dashed out on that back oval of school, searching for a gap in the players, but Rosalie Goldman closed it up, causing me to step the other way.

And closer, closer I stepped towards the nameless ones in the cave.

I placed my palm against the rough, jagged outline of the hand on the cave wall, and as Beau’s torchlight splayed against those blood-red outlines I felt a force emanating from them ... a kind of spirit ... a desire ... a hidden horror waiting hundreds of years ... a repression ready to burst forth ....

And nearer drew those soft pink lips in my mind. My heart throbbed, the scent of her perfume enveloping me, making me shiver, but sitting on that bed I lowered my head, shaking it soon after.

‘Aisha ... I-I can’t ... it’s my girlfriend ... I could ... I just can’t ....’

The girl in the dark black jacket and with skin so soft and gentle it gleamed a perfect brown in the otherwise dim bedroom, frowned, before standing. She moved through the darkness of the room. Soon her jacket and dark hair caused her to all but vanish, while she chastised me in some foreign language, her words harsh and cold.

And in the darkness of the cave I glared at that faceless man, who stared back out at me for an eternity from the walls.

Light blaring into the outlined figure, I said, ‘Tell me, Beau ... tell me who the faceless ones are ....’

And there we remained in the darkness that night, as my now dead brother told me about the damned.

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