The March of the Dead

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8

As I strolled towards school on Wednesday, I saw the Ute pull over up ahead.

A man with curly hair and an orange vest soon emerged, tapping a large tire iron against his leg as he stared at a car pulled over ahead of him. The man stepped up to the car, and Turner, who had been walking with me, placed his hand against my stomach in that early morning light. ‘Just be careful, Jarli ... this guy looks serious.’

The man leant towards the closed window of the car, stared at a wide-eyed young mother in the front seat and said, ‘Get out, woman, and I’ll show you what happens when ya get too close to me arse.’ He tapped the pole three times against the window.

‘You wanna get close to me ... now’s ya bloody chance, whore.’

In Science, third period, we sat in class as Lapaglia, the grey-bearded old bastard, blabbered on about all this garbage no one gave two shits about.

A small crunched-up note was being snuck round the room. Soon Penelope grinned as she snuck it to me. I opened it, glancing down, smiling when I saw the picture of the grey-bearded old bugger. His shirt was off as he beat off over some computer, a speech bubble reading, ‘I’d rather be doing this over the kids profile pictures’

I giggled out loud, looked up and saw Lapaglia himself staring at me, arm outstretched.

There I sat at recess in the gloomy old Science room, while from outside, where sunlight blazed through the high-up windows came laughter and chatter and flirtatious cat-calls as kids enjoyed their break.

Anger swept through me. I grasped my pen in both hands, then shook my head, lowering it, looking up at the teacher. ‘Please, Mr Lapaglia,’ I said, gazing at the man with the big grey beard which reached right down past his man-titties. ’I didn’t write the note, sir ... someone just handed it to—’

The old teacher placed a hand on my shoulder. ‘Did you read it?’

I was silent, then said, ‘Yes, I guess.’

‘Did you find it funny?’ That hand remained on my shoulder. I saw the grey hairs crawling up his arm, the chemical chart glinting on the Smartboard. The room was dim, the projector the only light. The brightness from outside didn’t light anything other than the windows themselves, and that projector lit nothing but a gorilla sucking on a banana.

I shrugged. ‘Wouldn’t you?’

His hand remained on me.

I sighed, and he removed it.

*

At recess, I hung out with the boys.

They laughed about what had happened, shoving me off the chair which lent against the wall and such.

Third period, I headed towards dreaded English. Aisha caught up to me.

‘That’s really unfair you got busted for drawing the picture,’ she said. ’Why do the kids do such awful drawings?’

I looked at her.

Face glinting in the morning light. Eyes glossy and green, so pure I wondered if she’d ever put a foot wrong in her life. I tried not to notice how rich, smooth that skin was or the curvaceous nature of her facial features, nor that black silky hair, the sunlight making it flash in parts. The medallion hung against her black jumper, sending shimmers of light into my eyes in that morning glow.

‘Who’s that ...? The figure on your necklace?’

Aisha stared down at the necklace of some woman kneeling and praying, before caressing it. ’It’s Lavia, Blinky ... my God.’

In Computers, I opened a new webpage, Googling ‘Lavia,’ and soon read it was a Middle Eastern religion, but all that theology made me wanna die of boredom, so I closed the window and smiled as Tetris came back on screen. ‘Blocks!’ I said in a baby’s voice.

I headed over to the library after school, walking up to Mrs Lepping when she was free. ‘Mrs Lepping, I keep having dreams about some paedophile stalking me on the street. What’s wrong with me?’

Mrs Lepping shook her head, grinning, then asked if I would try the town library for some more relevant material.

The clouds came back over as I walked towards Burarra Library.

I soon sat inside, while outside rain scattered against the large glass walls of the library. Through the windows I saw people carrying umbrellas walking through the thick downpour. I listened to ‘Have it Your Way’, trying to concentrate on the literature about dream symbolism and old mythologies.

At one point I came across something which I didn’t take much notice of at the time.

Sitting there in the library, more and more rain pouring outside the windows I read about a mythological entity in one of the older books. There were several names for this entity, like, ‘The Shadowed One’ or ‘Him from Beneath’. Some believed him to be a figment of your imagination, while others believed him to come for you from your soul and change who you were.

I also read about a time in the past, when in a village named Vornes something started taking control of the people. Soon they were knocking on each other’s doors, doing awful things to one another, and one by one were dying. More and more of these creatures manifested into the real world.

I yawned, closing the book.

‘What a crock of shit,’ I said, shaking my head, staring out the window to the sun trying to break through the clouds.

That night, in bed, I was sweating as I drifted, certain some blackened figure would approach me in my dreams, but alas, as Shakespeare might proclaim, he did not, not on that night, anyway.

I awoke next morning to Mum and Dad chatting upstairs.

Eyes tired and foggy, I dragged myself up those stairs. Mum was in the kitchen, preparing dinner.

‘Working at Astley’s again?’ I said.

She smiled over at me. ‘Won’t be back till late, honey.’

*

Swat! the ball flew through the air in the direction I kicked it, and I slid sideways to find a position on the footy field.

Turner and Cantey passed it around for a while, before it came bouncing back my way. I gathered it, stared jogging forwards again, and air flickered against my face as I rode with Beau up Govan hill.

He cycled ahead of me. I called out to him through the darkness, but he didn’t turn back. When I called again, he finally did, except when he did look back, I saw he had no face at all, just pale brown skin where his face should have been. Beau tried smiling, but nothing on his face changed, other than that pale brown skin covering it, stretching a little.

He didn’t peddle as he rode, but still his bike kept drifting up and up that hill. Now he was screaming from behind that faceless mask, and something looking like lips pressed up behind his skin where his mouth should have been. That membranous skin, however, prevented me from hearing any words.

The night was thick and dark. I stared above, my body that of a fourteen year old, but that night not a star glinted, nor was there a breeze. The air felt stale and still. Beside us, those long paddocks stretched off, the wheat standing as though on edge, as though they predicted something bad was happening.

The road lay dark and endless before me, the only sounds my own gasping breaths between my ears, and the churning of chain-ring on the bike as over and over my gears slipped.

Air brushed against my face. It felt flat, like it hadn’t budged all day. Before me that faceless boy stared back, and that mouth, hidden behind soft brown skin, skin paler than Beau’s usual skin, more dead, moved, as though he moaned, but no words sounded.

And that’s how we remained, the boy riding up ahead, always just ahead of me, a faceless mask staring back at me. The night was long, thick and black, the wheat stark, cold and grey.

On the far side of the road, amongst that wheat, a single kangaroo, eyes glaring red, stared at us. It took two bounds forwards as we passed, ears perking up. Soon Beau and I stood before the Kandju Caves, darkness still gleaming. Suddenly a breeze came from the entrance, making me feel like I was about to walk into a morgue.

I shivered, staring around me.

On either side of the cave, a wood ran deep into the night. From among the tall pines gazed another set of red eyes, but still the faceless boy stared at me, the only part of him moving the ripples on his glowing red Valcom shirt.

The shirt was stark and bright, but the rest of him was fading, vanishing into the night. Now a face formed on the boy, but it wasn’t Beau. Darkness enveloped him, and a white grin shone, and blazing white eyes lit up and soon the figure, all but his glowing smile and glowing eyes had vanished into the gloom.

I was still puffing from having ridden down the hill as I stood there.

The boy gestured me onwards. I hesitated, then followed him towards the cave mouth.

Inside, the world became black. No light emanated from any torch. A chill so cool pressed around me I was certain I was being cryogenically frozen for some experiment. The only sounds were dripping from the ceiling and the thing’s footsteps before me over the rough ground.

Up ahead, I smelt something so sinister it made my stomach churn.

I called to the darkness before me, ‘Beau ... you there?’

No reply came, but still the footsteps

of something not human

sounded on the rough floor before me, so I continued inwards. There was a hole in the ceiling of the cave, just enough moonlight sliced through it for me to make my way into a larger cavern. I shuffled through the back pocket of my shorts for my mobile. Shivering there in the blackness, smelling that musky stench, I found it. But before me a glow now came from another mobile, the person holding it tall and shadowed.

Beau ...? Beau ...?

I squinted in the eerie contrast of light and dark shades, trying to gauge who stood there. Due to this blinding paradox of colours, I couldn’t see who it was. Now I noticed those shapes on the wall. There were three, four of them, light blaring onto their skin, but there was something different about them ... something had changed ...

I stepped back, the figure’s torchlight blaring into my own eyes. I shielded my vision, staring at those figures sketched on the walls. They were so pale it was like I stared at the inside of some horrible beast which had never seen the sun. I saw the rot and decay and fungus, and all kinds of murky colours on those walls. The mould stuck only to the areas of the wall with the drawings, as though ...

as though it were the figures themselves becoming mouldy

... as though these figures had stayed down here too long and were breaking down, breaking apart, rotting away into nothing.

And now in the afternoon light, back at Evie’s Beach, I took another shuffling step backwards, staring down at the river as it flickered, thrashed, and gurgled. Cantey, chest gleaming with droplets as he glared at me, half-submerged in water, said, ‘Blinky. Stop messing about and get in the water,’

And the torchlight blazed against those figures, my breaths now trapped in my throat, for more and more of that green mould crawled and crawled over the rough surface of one of the figure’s chests, while a murky green moss worked its way down the arm of another. A third had mildew forming, stretching, sprouting from the areas its eyes should be.

Now the figure standing behind me chuckled. I turned, staring at it, wanting to say, ’What’s happening? What is that smell? Why is this awful green stuff growing over their bodies? But my voice felt choked and all I managed was some tiny muffled groan. My legs were beginning to shake, hands trembling at my sides.

I imagined my eyes were the size of small tea plates. My palms held more moisture than that dripping ceiling. I went to turn and run, but no, a figure stood at the exit of the cavern, torchlight blazing into me. The person was shadowed in a manner which made him appear like he hardly existed at all.

I turned back around.

I stared at one of the figures as that mildew and mould grew down its arm, wrapping around its fingers. It filled the pits of its eyes, growing across its forehead.

And at Evie’s I stared at the flickering and flashing river, and placed my hand over my mouth, and as my friends played and mucked about in the shallows I turned around, saying, ‘I will not I will not I will not I will not—’

‘—I will not I will not,’ and once more I walked away, passing some smiling dark figure near the entrance to the cavern of the cave. I moved out into the gloomy night, and in the daylight I dashed through that afternoon air past those pine trees.

The boys called my name, but I could only hear my pulse throbbing in my temple, and had only one thing on my mind:

Get away from here. Get away from this river. It isn’t safe. It isn’t—

’—safe.’ That cool night breeze swept through me as I lifted the bike away from the sign out front of the cave, but that figure had followed me out, still glaring through the darkness at me.

‘Leave me ... leave me, horror of the night,’ I called over my shoulder. Its eyes were so white they made the moon look parched and old, while on that dirt path afternoon light whipped through the leaves. I puffed. Kehlani’s voice called to me in the distance, but I continued jogging, sweat running down the inside of my arm. My mouth had an acidic taste, as though I had eaten something off. My legs felt soft, weak.

The pines, now to my right, writhed, arched, and whipped in the breeze. Another group of students walked towards Evie’s from up ahead, their smiles maniac. The sun caught their faces, and for a moment those faces became orange blurs.

Somewhere behind me people giggled, laughed, and shouted, while there I rode down that blackened highway, wind whipping against me, a truck approaching from ahead.

Its lights blared. It felt like I was about to be swallowed up by heaven.

I pulled my bike over, waiting in the brightness of its headlights at the side of the road. Shooome! the truck passed. I turned, and there in the stark light, standing well back from me, was that figure, and as the truck’s high-beams splayed the entire area, I saw the mildew and rot and moss and all other horrid things clinging to this creature.

And it stood there on the roadside, always staring.

Now, walking back up Gellings, sunlight flickered off the branches as I looked back. Shadowed by the pines beside the river, I saw that figure.

Afternoon light glinting off its awful skin, I called, ‘Leave me ... stop haunting me!’ But something emerged on its face, a long white smile, and the tall thing waiting in the shadows in the woods stepped forwards.

And there I rode through the darkness on the highway, but each time I stared behind me, he stood there, and always he grinned.

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