The March of the Dead

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22

So it continued.

I would be at home with my parents, chatting about footy or politics on TV.

‘Oh wow ... oh wow ... look how nice this one looks,’ Mum said, bringing out the roast. Dad grinned, holding his beer.

I walked over to Kehlani the Wednesday in class. She sat by herself. I held out a little box. She gazed at it.

‘What is it?’

I smiled. ‘Open it.’

‘Blinky!’ screamed Mrs Langon.

I looked at the teacher. ‘I was just giving her a present.’

In a firm voice Mrs Langon said, ‘You can give people all the presents you want after you finish your detention with me again this morning. Back to your seat.’

I gazed at Kel as she placed the cookie tin on her lap. Kel then looked over at the teacher.

At lunch, I was peering at Kel’s group. She was unwrapping the gift. A few of the girls gushed when they saw what it was. A smile even came across Kehlani’s face. I saw Aisha with her friends, sitting near the wall. She prayed with them around a book. I soon stared back at Kehlani.

She held the choc chip cookie, and gazed over at me, titling her head to the side as a gentle grin sat on her face. ‘Thank you,’ she mouthed.

I was smiling for the rest of the day, for I knew we would be together before long. I saw Kel after school, walking up to her. ‘Did you like them? Did you like the chocolate chip cookies?’

She turned around. Jarrod Mervin stood with her. Kel came up before me there on Morrison, shoppers wandering by.

‘Blinky.’ She looked at me, those eyes bluer than the sky, hair blonde and nice again. Those freckles shone in the glare, her frame slender and white. A few cars whizzed by. She remained staring, then looked back down at the cookies, the chocolate chips glinting in the afternoon light. Kel peered back up.

‘That was such a beautiful gesture ... you’re going to make someone the happiest wife in the world, one day.’

A load of emotions swept through me. My eyes were wide and my jaw felt like dropping open right then. More cars flashed by.

She placed a hand on my chest.

‘Blinky. It’s over. I don’t like you anymore.’

She placed the tin of biscuits back into my hand, gave me a little peck on the cheek and walked off.

*

I stood there for some time.

I didn’t know what else to do.

Afterwards, I went back down to the gym.

That evening the bag sat before me, not swaying. And something burnt in my eyes.

She was right—she didn’t talk to me after that.

I sent her a few texts.

One day, Jarrod came up to me.

‘Blinky ... can I have a chat, mate?’

There, Jarrod and I sat after class in the Business Studies room. I nodded as he told me.

At night, I was in my bedroom. I wanted to again. I was desperate, desperate. But after I had written the text, and thought so long about what exact words to use, I swore and threw my phone to the bed. I stood, walked to that bed, banging the mattress once, then twice, then three times.

On the weekend I was out the backyard with Dad.

He gazed into the bush.

A kangaroo stood there.

‘Women are strange, Blinky ... we can’t always understand why they do the things they do.’

I stared over at the dark-skinned man laced in golden evening light.

‘But Dad, I hardly did anything wrong? I didn’t cheat on her. Is it because I’m Koori?’

Dad grinned as he looked to me. He held out his arm. ’Boy, this black skin ... this black skin was the only reason I got your mother.’ He slapped the back of my head. I looked down. ‘The real problem is you did do something wrong, and you need to work out what it is so you don’t do it again.’

I shook my head, gazing out. ‘That’s the thing, Dad. I have no idea what I did wrong.’

And yet, in class, Aisha’s presence drew my attention again from up front. I nearly snapped the pencil I was holding, and sitting in the class there I imagined riding up Govan Hill. Beau rode beside me as the sun lowered to the hills.

‘Nearly over, boy ... you’re life is nearly over,’ Beau said to me, that grin glinting in the afternoon light. Long golden hills with rocks and rubble jutting from long grass stretched by. Soon the sun slipped behind the hills, the sky turning a yellowish blue above them, stars beginning to twinkle in the dim sky.

I peered at my brother. ‘Why’d you do it, bro ... the heck were you thinking? If you were here, none of this would have even happened. Why’d you leave me?’

My brother stopped up ahead of me on the road.

I did too. We shuffled to the side on the grass. There we stared at each other as a semitrailer rumbled past.

In a softer voice he said, ‘Blinky, I had things goin’ on as well, you know. Don’t think that you get to own all the problems in the world. There’s other people out there as well, you know, and some of them are dealing with stuff too.’

He gave me a cheeky grin.

‘Come on, bro, let’s go. Stop sulking and get on your bike.’

And the world become dark once more as I rode after him, my calves aching. The cool twilight air brushed past me.

‘Wait up ... wait up for me, bro.’

Soon we stood inside the cave again.

The scent of dampness wafted throughout, the sound of dripping water echoing. A glaring light shining on those figures. The green skin, or moss or whatever it was stuck to their skin. It clung to arms, or on the gravelly rough rock of their stomachs.

In other areas the moss grew on faces or feet, or formed into eyes or lips. In one, it formed a kind of grin, or ran down faces like the fringe from hair.

The smell worsened.

‘You could have told me something was wrong ... could have told me something was up.’

I stared at my brother now.

He was looking down. I could see him in the glow of his torchlight.

Soon Beau stared up at me, but now we were out the front of our house at night, Buea bouncing that basketball. The night was clear and deep. Swish, the ball went in, and in the cave Beau stepped towards me, more skin growing over those bodies on the walls. Beau’s hand came out, grasping somewhere between my neck and shoulder and squeezed, his eyes red. As always that smile clung to his face, but now his skin was becoming murky and green.

In a voice not quite his own, he said, ’And do you think you would have listened ...? Do you think anyone actually cares about another goddamn person in this world?’ He glared, that light radiating on every single one of those nasty jagged veins in his eyes. He shoved me, turning back round to the other side of the cave, his shoulders broad in the gloom. Beau cackled, tilting back his head.

‘Oh, Blinky ... oh Blinky,’ he said, his words echoing throughout the cave, mixing in with the tearing sound of moss running further along those bodies. A deep pang of rot wafted towards me in the cool air.

‘You have so much to learn, little bro.’

He turned, facing me.

’You’re a vessel, ready for punishment. You have no idea ’bout humans, how they work, and how they always, always look after themselves, Blinky .... You have just no idea about how you’ll be tossed about out there by others, whose only concern is their own wellbeing, and how they stomp, and laugh, and spit, and grind, and stab and bully you, Blinky.’

He stood gazing, shoulders wide, long frown on his forehead.

‘You ain’t got no idea of the selfishness of the human being, of the corruption within us all.’

Beau stepped forwards, stabbed my chest with his finger.

’Within you, Blinky ... especially within the young.’

Now his eyes were wide. He turned around, cackling to the dim darkness throughout the cave again.

The torchlight flashed about, making those figures on the walls appear like they were moving, and we rode again. Wearing a long grin, Beau turned back to me, but lights glared at us from up ahead, Beau’s face so stark and white it seemed like a skull grinned back at me.

The truck passed, and for a moment Beau became but a silhouette, some featureless outline riding along that country road.

*

Thursday, I sat in Science, thinking about Kehlani.

Aisha turned to one of her friends, that graceful hair slumping over her shoulders. And oh, it looked so pretty, shining as though manicured with the finest of shampoos.

Her skin was soft and delicate, features smooth and petite, that nose ring shining as she smiled to a friend.

On the projector sat images of the naked female body.

Mr Lapaglia used a ruler to point to the vagina, but now Beau neared me in the cave, and on the walls that murky moss grew thicker and thicker.

I budged backwards and backwards from them, but something thumped behind me and I turned. On the wall behind me, no—protruding from it—stood a figure, its fingers twitching, the first finger, once drawn on the wall, now budging up and down.

To Beau who stood behind me, I said, ‘Beau ... Beau ... the ones from the past ... they’re coming back alive, Beau ... and they’re angry ... they want something, Beau ... they’re upset. I can smell it. I can—’

But Beau now stood right behind my shoulder, and gazing back at him, I saw murky green skin on his face and bulging eyes. He looked towards that twitching figure, the figure now protruding from the wall, murky moss and rot clinging to every inch.

And from the figures came long drawn-out growls.

My skin felt tight and itchy, a cool chill sweeping through me.

I felt my arms shaking and stepped back.

I turned back round to Beau, but couldn’t see him through the blazing light he shone on me.

But the glow was now dimming.

I now saw Beau stepped backwards towards the entrance.

‘It’s show time,’ Beau said. I cried out for him to stop, but he turned off his torch.

There I stood in pitch blackness of the cave, deep guttural moans sounding throughout.

The sound of ripping and tearing echoed, and one groan grew in volume until my ears nearly burst.

Terror washed throughout me.

My jaw had dropped. ‘Help me ... help me ... help me,’ I called. The sound of something wet, mouldy, stepping along the floor. The stench of decay thickening, the rancid scent wafting throughout.

Beau’s laughs from outside the cave.

The scent of something nearing, nearing ....

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