The March of the Dead

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3

There I stood, in front of the house.

My arm dangled.

They had all left me.

Each and every one of them.

The dog hung from my one good arm, and it breathed ... breathed ...

‘Choccy ... Choccy,’ I said to it.

From far, far off came a growl. The sound of the dead.

And oh, how hollow it sounded compared to my own whines.

*

The nightmares continued throughout this time.

There I lay in bed, and soon began drifting ... drifting ....

In my dream, I walked through one of the backstreets in my hometown

, footsteps sounding from behind me in the darkness.

I turned, certain that on this cool night someone was following me, but all there was behind me were the crusty remains of the autumn tree leaves on the ground, and the branches they’d fallen from hanging over the road like the frozen hands of some long dead beast.

In Information Technology, I gazed towards Aisha. Students typed at computers, the teacher’s instructions sounding throughout the classroom.

Soon Walby’s voice sounded in my ear, the boy having snuck up on me.

‘You’re coming to Evie’s tomorrow, Blinky. No excuses.’ Warm hands grasped my tense shoulders. I felt his breath rushing against my neck as he whispered, ’And you’re going in this time too, sexy ...’ He leant closer, cool lips touching my neck. ‘I’ll ensure it.’

I writhed away from him, grinning.

Outside, after the bell, a midday sun sent slices of light through the shivering tree branches. As the sound of a slapping basketball played in the distance, I faced Kehlani, squinting.

‘I don’t know what to say to them, babe,’ I said. I stared a moment, my own dark blue eyes reflected in hers. ’I mean ... I know I can’t go in the water ... but they ... they won’t accept it.’

The remainder of the day had a certain tension, a fear lingered within, making me feel like jelly. After lunch, in maths, the teacher’s voice was distant, and my heart thudded in my ears when we were studying common denominators.

Splinters of light sliced through the pines to my right that evening, as we wondered through the dry air towards Evie’s. Below us, flashes of silver and gold flickered upon the surface of the swollen river. The sounds of kids laughing and mucking about and gossiping filled the afternoon air.

The evening was stale and hot, the sky blue, shades of yellow staining the horizon. The leaves of the tall pines in the wood were painted a soft gold.

The grass of the reserve by the park sat long and unkept, wild and green. In that evening light, the vibrancy of the grass reminded me of Aisha’s eyes. With that thin late summer breeze, came the sounds of student laugher and chatter.

Cantey grasped my shoulders, calling into my ear, ’You ain’t doggin it today, Blinky ... oh no you ain’t. You goin’ in, boy.’

There my friends went, one by one, school shirts coming off, bodies nice and toned in the evening glow, laughing, shoving each other as they stepped down the sandy bank of the river.

But there I remained, up top of the bank, alone, standing in that warm breeze, staring, a fear so thick rushing throughout me I thought my legs would cave right out from beneath me.

I stood in the school gym the following day.

Thumping noises sounded from the boxing bag as first my right, then my left fist smashed into the bag.

A dim glow throughout.

Mr Igwe stood staring at me by the weights machine. ‘You okay, Blinky?’

*

Two Years Ago

There we stood amongst the graves, the clouds low, grey and sinister, while further and further down went that long white coffin with my brother in it.

*

After the gym that day, I sat in Beau’s bedroom, staring at that photo of my brother in my damp hand.

My vison was foggy with tears. I let the photo fall to the carpet, then stood, glaring down at it.

‘Damn you, Beau ... damn you ... damn you.’

There I remained, glaring.

The next few days weren’t so bad.

On Friday I wondered along Morrison with Kel.

Before the Westpac Bank, a man stood playing a ukulele. A group had gathered before him in the evening glow, so Kel and I also pressed in to look. There we stood, holding hands. She sighed, resting her soft face against my darker one. Her blonde hair streamed against me.

Bright blue eyes, with pretty little flecks of grey shining in them beamed into mine as she pulled back to gaze in my eyes. I wondered if she saw the darker blue of my eyes, and if she thought they were nice and if they too glinted as hers did.

‘Kiss me, Blinky ... kiss me out here,’ she said, her gaze wandering to my lips and back up to my eyes.

Our kiss was long and slow, and as it continued, the warm notes of the ukulele played in our ears and our spirits, coating us with its comforting warmth, while golden sunlight coloured our bodies.

Come night, I walked home through the streets towards my house alone.

For a moment ... for a second, I was certain I heard the clonking of footsteps behind me. I turned, but once more, and this time in real life, I saw only those autumn leaves, scattered, or heaped and shrivelling in the gutters.

Mum stood in the kitchen in the morning.

She gazed out the window to the bush beyond our backyard.

‘You okay, Mum?’ I said, coming up behind her, touching her shoulder. My hand was not as dark as her nice brown skin. She blinked and turned to me, her lips shaking as they tried lifting.

She gazed back out, and with the morning sunlight pouring in, it was not hard to miss those tears shining in her eyes.

*

I sat there in the room, and was certain, certain the man was watching me. I wondered how my parents were .... Were they still alive? Would I ever see them again?

Something welled in my eyes.

I choked out their names.

Then something flickered in the painting behind me. And I felt something staring at me.

*

I stood in the back shed with Dad.

The large, unpainted cabinet sat on the cement floor before him.

‘Screwdriver, mate,’ he said, thick hand reaching back. I grasped the screwdriver. For a moment our hands connected, and I noticed once more I got my Dad’s lighter black skin.

‘Dad ... can you tell me about the mission again ... all those things they made you do out there?’

Dad squinted as he twisted in the screw, hands flexing, lips pursed.

He frowned as he reached for another one, those strong hands placing it into the hole, those wrists tensing as once more he twisted it into place. He tried grinning as he screwed, saying, ’Nothing much different to what happens out here, kid ... just a lot more ‘a our folks, that’s all.’

He turned the screw a few more times, before gazing behind to the toolbox. ‘Throw us the sandpaper, would ya, Blinky?’

The dirt and grime which sat on the shelves as I grasped the sandpaper made my school clothes look shiny and new.

‘This one, Dad?’ I said.

On the bus ride to school that day, a large sheering shed with a roof as long as an airplane hanger sat laced in orange in the fresh morning light. Walking through the school gates, I heard kids chatting in low murmurs, or slapping each others’ hands. Some kids ambled along, lost in thought.

Jacob, a boy from the year below me, stood on the pathway at lunch, his knife shining brighter than the sky.

He stepped backwards and forwards, muttering in that alien language I had heard Theo speak in the other day. Some onlookers headed towards Jacob, stopping at a safe distance, calling for him to lower the knife.

Jacob gazed up, and I saw some manic glaze in his eyes.

*

In my dreams I stared at those crackly walls of the caves.

A sickening stench now emanated from them. I turned back to Beau.

‘Beau ... Beau ... You smell somethin’, bro?’

But the boy behind me in that cave could have been anyone, his torchlight shining against the wall opposite him, causing him to be shadowed in darkness. That stench of mildew ... of rot wafted from the walls. Eyes wide, the chill pressing in, I stared behind me at the outlines of the figures painted on the walls.

The figures still watched on, but now something covered parts of their bodies ... a kind of mildew. Later, in the same dream, I strolled down that darkened road as large autumn trees shone a bleak orange from the murky streetlights shining their hellish radiance down.

They appeared to burn, burn like the fires of hell.

A chill breeze slashed across my skin on that road.

Other than those beaming orange trees, the night was murky and dark. Once more the sounds of slow, slow footsteps came from behind me.

I turned back on that darkened road, feeling my skin crawl on the back of my neck. There behind me in that bleak darkness stood a shape, its long, white smile the only thing visible on its shadowed frame.

*

In autumn throughout the Burarra region, the trees go from a dried and parched old green to a murky yellow, soon becoming a deep, dark red, eventually shrivelling into a haggard old brown, laying there decaying on the road.

In Geography, I focused on copying the notes from the screen ... well, at least I tried to, but Aisha, who sat up front, somehow appeared to draw my attention.

Kel, beside me, touched my leg, fingers thin and warm. Butterflies flickered inside my stomach.

As Mrs Langon typed more notes on the projector, Kel faced me, eyes dreamy. They shone like the projector. ‘Blinky ... come to mine this afternoon.’ As she said this, that stroking became slower, and my heart faster.

Coming out the chemist doors that afternoon, my palms felt almost wet, my armpits damp.

Afterwards, in her bedroom, I sat there shaking my head as she stroked the back of my neck. ‘I think ... just give me a few more days ... okay, babe?’ I looked into her eyes, still feeling that jelly-like sensation running throughout me.

There we sat in her bedroom as the afternoon lingered, a set of playing cards between us. I placed the last one down. She squealed, then covered her face. My grin broadened as I leant back and smiled, then I reached forwards and roughed up her hair. She slapped my hands away, giggling.

*

Beau rose up that hill before me.

I was up on my peddles, trying to catch up.

‘Oi, Beau ... wait up, would ya?’ But now I noticed the figure riding in the darkness up ahead wasn’t my brother at all but something else altogether, and as I strolled through the darkened woods, the crunching of footsteps sounded from the shadows behind me.

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