She still refused to call me or answer my calls.
She sent a text later on, of her with her top off, which I deleted. Then she turned up to school with black hair, then disappeared for good.
I went to Mrs Jones’ place. Mrs Jones looked okay, considering what had happened. There was a sadness to her gaze. ‘I’m just going to keep up the gym, Blinky. What else can I really do?’
Later on, Mrs Jones sat there next to her mobile phone. She was shaking when she picked it up. Her face was worn from crying, hair grey in places. A little of Kehlani sat in her face. I wondered if Kel’d look the same when she was older. ‘Haven’t seen her all day, officer ... I know .... Usually she’d be home by now.’
So too the next day.
Kel rocked up to school on the third day that week, black hair shining. At lunch, I traced her movements ... just ... keeping an eye on her. Soon I caught her sneaking behind the sheds, smoke rising from the sheds soon after.
A sorrow filled me. Would my girlfriend be like she had been ever again? Had I lost her forever?
She asked me to come around Friday, and I did.
She turned the lights off in the room. A stranger walked towards me.
I nudged her away.
‘You’re unwell, Kel ... you’re unwell.’
She was slapping me, hitting me, telling me it was all my fault, saying I was on their side.
She was gone again later on. When I saw her next, she smelt of pot. Her eyes were red. Her body was thin and gaunt. She looked at me and said, ‘You could have had me. But now someone else will, coz you’re such a pussy.’
She disappeared again. Later I would find out she went over a guy’s place called Aaron, meeting up at his house. She would tell me the young man looked nice in his black leather jacket and slick dark hair. He took her into his bedroom. She was kissing the man, his aftershave pungent and expensive smelling.
His kisses were long and experienced. In that bedroom, I imagined he removed her shirt and continued kissing her.
That kiss lingered.
The following day, she went back to see him, and this time he locked the door, and he was taking her. She started slapping him, telling him to stop, but he wouldn’t, and he continued kissing her and making out, and she didn’t know what to do so went along with it.
She was crying when I saw her the day after.
‘I’m dirty, I’m dirty, I’m dirty,’ she said over and over. She grasped me in a hug, the light dull, weak throughout the bedroom. ‘Will I ever be the same again, Blinky? Can I ever be saved? What is happening to me?’
Me and Jarrod went around the man’s place the next day. I stepped back.
Aaron answered the door, and Jarrod spoke to him.
Then Jarrod punched the man in the face, walked into the hallway, and started hitting and hitting him.
Soon the man was in a deep sleep. Jarrod hauled him up by his shirt, elbowing him in the jaw, causing blood to spurt out. He dropped the body, leant over and spat on Aaron’s face, standing above him.
‘You’re a fucking thief, a scoundrel and I’ll kill you if you come near her again.’
Later, the man would come for Jarrod as he walked home from school, or so I was told, and he had three or four friends with him.
They surrounded him. Jarrod got off three good punches, breaking a jaw before one of them got him with a pole.
Jarrod ended up in intensive care and would remain there until the world ended in weeks from now.
After school, Friday, I walked up the street with Kehlani when the man, on the other side of the road, started crossing, staring at me. ’You were with him ... it was you who came to me house, wasn’t it, cunt,’ Aaron said, heading directly towards me, his ‘Ryan’s Butches’ shirt writhing about.
I pulled on Kehlani’s arm so we could move faster, but a car pulled up on the road beside the man, P-plate glinting. Cantey and Turner gazed out.
Cantey was filming with his phone, saying, ‘Go on ... the cops will love this, paedophile. Go on ... go on ....’
Then man stopped, looked at the phone. He walked off backwards.
He pointed to me.
‘I’ll tear your cunt out, mate.’
Kehlani disappeared again.
I sometimes saw her at school, that hair both murky black and dull brown, body now so thin I wondered if she’d eaten at all. When I tried to talk to her she simply looked me in the eyes and said, ‘There’s nothing left of me, Blinky. I’m no one. You’re not speaking to anyone anymore. Go and talk to someone who is still here, Blinky. You’re speaking to a ghost.’
I went around Aaron’s place. He opened the door. I stepped forwards, saying, ‘Do you know who I am ...? Do you know who I am ...? Do you know who I am ...?’
There was a kind of fire in my eyes. I grasped his collar and stared the dark-haired man in the eyes.
He showed no fear, other than the fact he didn’t respond to my statements.
I pulled the collar hard.
‘You touch her again I’ll put your balls through the mincer at your work, your filthy cunt. I ever see you face again I’ll make Frankenstein look like a goddamned fashion model compared to you.’ I shoved him back. ‘If you speak to Kehlani once more I’ll rip your balls from your body and drink them in my tea, ya filthy old bastard. You touch her again—’ I was nearly growling now— ‘I’ll go to prison for thirty years if it means I get to hang your fucking body from the tree out my backyard.’
I shoved him, a big shove.
I was shaking, shaking as I stepped back.
The man looked at me with round eyes.
‘Fuck off ... just get your friends to fuck off. I hate the mole, anyway. She’s a slut.’
I walked forwards into the hallway. He lowered his head. I yelled over the top of him, ‘You stay away from my girl or it’s the end.’ I drew back my fist and I felt some power within me, but now I stepped back, stepped back.
I played rugby league with the guys on the weekend. I powered through gaps, and my tackles sent people onto their backs, my catches twice that of my peers.
In the gym I struck that boxing bag, over and over. At recess Kehlani came over, hugging me.
‘I need to go ... I can’t do this anymore, Blinky ... I can’t do this.’
And over and over I said to her, ‘It’s going to be okay, Kehlani ... it’s going to be okay.’
Humpth! In footy I was tackled, falling down.
I saw stars for a moment, before getting up, groaning.
Later, the ball sailed in my direction. I snapped it up. That day the sun gleamed on me as I ran. ‘My god he’s fast,’ someone said. Next tackle I got the ball, weaved in and out of Ashton and Rosabel and scored.
I now sat before the TV at home as Mum and I watched. A bridge falling and falling in Britain, while in America three woman were seen jumping out of a helicopter without parachutes.
‘What is happening to the world?’ I asked Mum.
Sunday the 6th of June was beautiful and bright as I sat, reading. I got the call.
Kehlani had been put into a mental health hospital. I sat in the lounge room listening to Mrs Jones over the phone, nodding, saying thanks, saying I understood.
I went to see Kehlani later that day.
She sat in her room, sunlight streaming in through the window. Her hair was bleached of colour, her whole body was bleached of colour. She sat on the bed, arching backwards and forwards saying, ‘There’s nothing of me left ... I’m just a ghost ... there’s nothing left of me ... I’m just a ghost.’ She smiled when she noticed me, looking over. Her flesh was so gaunt there may not have been an ounce of meat beneath her skin.
‘Do you ever hear the birds calling first thing in the morning, Blinky?’ she said in a voice that sounded like a mix between a little girl’s and an old lady’s. There was no normality, no sanity in her tone. Her skin shone a sickly white, dimples gaunt and thin as she smiled. Her hair hung over her shoulders as though it had died, given up. Her gown was thick and beautiful on her, making her look all the more frail, gaunt and unhealthy. Her legs were so white they looked dead, her feet so pale they were transparent.
In that same offbeat tone, eyes gazing at the window she said, ‘He sings to me through the birds, Blinky.’ Her gaze met mine. I shivered.
‘He says he looks forward to seeing me.’ She smiled. ‘And so do I, Blinky. So do I.’
She cackled, rocked backwards and forwards. ‘I heeeeeeear hiiiiiiiiiim.’
Somewhere outside, a bird squawked.
Her grin expanded. In the dim light of the room her eyes appeared to fade.
‘Do you see the man with the dark shadows as well, Blinky? Do you see the man who waits behind the hospital door?’ She gazed to the window, her eyes so far away, repeating over and over, ‘Telling me I’m a bird ... he tells me I’m a bird ... flutter, flutter, flutter ....’ Her gaze found mine, but someone else stared at me.
‘Do you hear the screams of the children in the morning, where the nurse brings out her scalpel, Blinky? Have you heard the moans of the men from the F-Ward, Blinky? They’re trying experiments, aren’t they? Experiments they aren’t meant to be trying on humans.’
She rocked, falling in and out of the sunlight.
‘Flutter flutter flutter.’
A nurse entered, wheeling a small trolly.
The lady gazed at me.
‘Would you like a tea or coffee?’
I didn’t have anything to say to her. Maybe I was a mental patient as well now.
At school I concentrated on my math, head lowered, while overseas another bridge came down, and car, after car, after car drifted ... drifted like swans.
And the hose sprayed water up on that burning building, and yet one person gazed out the window, waving, waving goodbye, and a fire truck soon neared, another explosion erupting behind the building on the TV, while in Pakistan cars ploughed into each other, and as onlookers walk over a man emerged, grinning as he held his broken arm.
And in Britain people marched the streets, holding banners reading NO MORE GAS, but soon arrived police in dark black jackets and heavy vests. Guns poised, protesters fell, one after another, like leaves from an autumn tree or snow from the sky.
Soon emerged the batons. A lady grasped one, using it on her friend. An officer turned a gun onto himself. ‘This is how you shoot!’ he cried, the camera hearing it. Screams rattling the speakers once more.
In the hospital, Kehlani’s grey eyes stared out that window. She said, ‘He tells me he’s here, Blinky ... tells me he bubbled beneath the surface, infecting and inflecting us.’
That grin remained as she met my gaze.
‘He’s in Burarra now, Blinky ... it spreads fast, the virus ... beginning in one place, spreading from one mind to another, one spirit to the next, sneaking from soul to soul, spoiling us all, Blinky.’
Those grey eyes looked to me without hope nor recognition nor care nor love nor humanity nor want nor life nor sanity. They stared with a kind of willingness, or acceptance, or hopelessness or even sadistic glee. They stared with a sense of foreboding doom and curiosity and wild insanity.
‘He has reached our town, Blinky.’
She poked my chest.
‘And he wants you.’