The Footstep Thief

By eanne All Rights Reserved ©

Mystery / Drama

Chapter 7

As I pulled up outside the house I noticed the front door was open. Bradley never left the place unlocked. When he left, every door was shut and bolted and all appliances switched off, firm in the belief the place ceased to function when he was not there. It’d taken me a while to start locking things when I moved out of home. In our house locked doors hadn’t existed. I doubted my parents even had a key. It was that sort of town, that sort of place. Besides, despite my mother’s longings, possessions meant little to Dad.

I gathered my bag and stepped over the knee-high gate. Music wafted across the front garden and small patch of lawn. I made my way through the downstairs rooms to my bedroom. The music came from the floor above, which was home to my flatmates’ rooms, plus a bathroom and a spare study. My own domain was downstairs, where I was even blessed with my own toilet and shower – although this was shared with a laundry.

Dropping my bag and keys on the bed, I debated over whether to find the source of the music, or have a shower. That sudden recognition of Henryk had drained me of what little energy I had left; I just wanted to fall into bed. I was struggling to ignore that photo of Jason, and the fact he’d been up here, as had Dom – and if the nurses last night were right, he still was, somewhere. And he’d been up here with Jason, or at least in the same place ­– Jason had never told me he knew Dom. I wanted to fall asleep so I could forget. I don’t know what had distracted Bradley so he’d gone out leaving everything on, but soon even these rocks hymns would keep me awake.

Louise. Of course. I suddenly remembered. Bradley had said something about Louise and Kayl and breakfast. So maybe this housemate of mine I’d never met had finally come home.

In one corner of my room I’d carefully piled Dave’s boxes, then done my best to ignore them. I still wasn’t ready to touch them. Trying to ignore the sounds above my head, I stood staring at these boxes, as if they might hold the source of answers. Such as why Bradley and his sister had such bad taste in music. Or why Gillian couldn’t leave me alone. Or why Henryk drank champagne in a graveyard.

As I stood thinking of nothing, I heard footsteps near my door, and an unknown voice gushed behind me before I had the energy to turn.

“You must be little Stephie. Bradley’s told me everything about you. As has Kayl. I’m Louise.”

Just as her brother had done all those weeks ago, Louise appeared unannounced in my doorway. Although lacking his clipboard, and being fair to his darkness, the two were obviously siblings. They both wore an air sincerity and niceness, coupled with the overwhelming self-confidence to call me Lil’ Stephie and talk in clichés.

“It’s just so nice to finally meet you,” Louise continued, walking into my room and taking me by the arm. I half expected her voice to carry the lilt of the deep south. “I know so much about you, I feel like we’re already sisters. Come along, I’ve just made you a cup of tea.”

“You have?” I said. “How did you know…”

“Oh, I saw your car pull up outside,” she interrupted. “I like your car. It looks well loved. Actually, I’ve been waiting for you. I’ve got the morning free, and I thought, well, if I don’t get to meet you today, who knows when it will be?”

“Who knows?” I repeated as Louise ushered me up the stairs and into her bedroom.

“I thought we could chat in here,” Louise said as she walked over to her desk and turned down the music. “It’s so lovely and sunny of a morning. I really don’t spend enough time here.”

She was right; the room was lovely. As the sunshine fell through the tree outside it painted the room in dappled softness. The perfectly made bed slept under a mosquito net; black-and-white prints adorned the walls (which were covered with a pale wallpaper dotted with pink and soft green swirls). Everything was neat and had its place; no pile of boxes loaded with memories lurked in a corner. The bookcase boasted a few neatly stacked books and innumerable knickknacks. On one shelf rested a black candle-stick phone, looking as if it came straight from the 20’s.

“I see you’re admiring my phone,” Louise said. “Beautiful, isn’t it? I bought in some little town I was passing through – the church had a youth camp not far away, and I was heading down to see how they were going – anyway, I found this in an antique store amongst the rubbish. Quite am amazing steal, really, though it is an imitation. It even works. I got it for a third of the price you’d pay in Sydney. When I get a spare moment I’ll put it on eBay. It should make a fair bit, but I always find it so hard to part with the pieces I pick up. Come along, let’s sit on the balcony.” Louise guided me through the French windows and onto a tiny balcony. The branches of a peppercorn tree brushed the railing; it was this tree which gave Louise’s bedroom such soft light. On a small table rested a silver tray, complete with china teapot and all the trappings for tea.

“Bradley and I tossed for the rooms,” Louise continued as she poured the tea. “Milk? And Bradley says you take sugar. Anyway,” as she handed me the cup, “he won and chose the other room up here. Which worked out great for me. His room is bigger, and has a lot more room for clothes, but it doesn’t have a balcony. I just fell in love with this balcony when we first saw the house. So it was win-win for both of us, really.”

“Thanks for the tea,” I said when I found a pause in Louise’s prattle. Five minutes, I thought, then I really had to go to bed. Which might be downstairs and next to the laundry, but was also full of morning light and never too hot by day, and more than adequate for my needs. I was so tired. I just wanted to sleep, but for five minutes I could listen to Louise’s prattle. Four minutes now. After all, this was her house, and I was but a lodger.

“So,” said Louise, putting down the teapot and settling back into her chair, “I’m off again in a few days, and so thought I just had to meet you.”

“Where are you going?” I asked. Why buy a house, I thought, if you’re never at home?

“Oh, it’s just a three day residential run by one of the church colleges. All for my training and CV.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but no one has actually told me what it is you do.” In fact, no one had really talked about Louise. The fact of her had been presented to me as a fait accompli, as if by merely by saying her name, everyone expected me to know everything about her.

“Oh, I’m studying for the ministry,” Louise said. “After I finished my economics degree, I realized I wanted something more. I could feel God telling me so. Growing up here, I knew all about the college – it’s got quite the reputation, justifiably so. And it has a lot of Third World connections, which is where I want to specialize. The course is an introduction to law. I’m thinking of doing a bridging year, which covers all those aspects a minister will come across. But that depends on whether I get the scholarship.”

I just kept drinking my tea. This family continued to amaze me. Not so much the amount of things they did, but that they had the energy to find out all these course and camps and scholarships actually existed. At the moment, I could barely sit on a chair without falling over.

“But you must be so tired,” Louise continued. “I don’t know how you manage to keep working nights. Surely there’s a better day job around?”

“At the moment, nights suit me perfectly.” Had Louise been in my place, she’d have found a much better day job. And possibly funding. I’d just met her, yet I knew this as a surety. “Just what I need, really,” I continued.

“Of course, with your study,” came the reply, accompanied by a sage nod.

“Yes, with my studies,” I said. The lie believed by everyone was the easiest.

“Gillian told me all about it,” Louise continued, looking knowledgeable as she sipped her tea.

“Gillian?” I repeated, too tired to sound astonished, so for once in my life appearing nonchalant. Perhaps exhaustion was the secret to being a successful spy. “I, er, didn’t realise you two knew one another,” I added.

“Oh, yes, she comes to our Bible Study.”

“Is that right?” I said. I didn’t know Gillian had changed horses. Or was it the same horse, different jockey? At school she’d loved all the trappings of Catholicism. “I don’t want to appear rude, but I, er, would you mind if we chatted later? This sunshine is so lovely it’s sending me to sleep.”

“Oh, of course! I’m the one being rude. I didn’t think – I was just so pleased to finally meet you! Of course, you must go get some sleep. I’m off shortly, so the house will be all yours. Oh, I do like your watch by the way. How much did it cost?”

“My watch?” I repeated as I automatically turned my wrist to look at it. “Yes, it is nice.”

“I see you’re like me. You just need to be surrounded by beautiful things. Now, don’t worry about the tea things,” she said as I put my cup on the tray, “I’ll do them.”

“Thanks,” I said standing up, “it was good to finally meet you too.”

“I completely agree,” Louise said. Rising from her seat, she once more took my arm and led me into her room. “I was beginning to despair of ever meeting you,” she continued. “But Kayl’s been keeping me up to date with everything.”

“Kayl,” I said. “Of course.” Somehow I found it hard to imagine Kayl talking to anyone about me.

Completely drained by Louise’s nattering, I left the room before she could follow me. I went slowly down the stairs, enshrouded in the thought I’d just failed a job interview.


I woke as afternoon blended into evening. The cicadas continue loud, but a soft light filled my room with a contradictory radiance, so despite the coming gloom everything around me shimmered. It needed no clock to know I still had some time before readying myself for work. From the corner of the room came the sound of the boxes tapping their fingers, waiting to be freed. (At my aunt’s I’d bundled in anything and everything of Dave’s I could find, without looking, without letting a single item touch my mind, then bound the boxes tight with tape).

The house lay blanketed in that quietness which comes from listening to someone walking softly (but not creeping), hearing in every silent footfall an indulgent desire to let others sleep. The place didn’t feel empty, but content. Although I had the sense of someone being around, it didn’t feel as if an axe-wielding psychopath lurked behind a door, waiting to kill me – though, to be fair, my experience in such things was limited. I hoped the house to be similarly innocent, for I liked this place; it was just the occupants who troubled me. Which, really, was my failing, not theirs.

I’ve shared so many places over the years, each with a life of their own, but all with that central tenet of living on the edge of a hurricane, never with the central eye passing over and giving a time of calm. Wherever I stayed, life happened around me, and although I tried, closing my bedroom door was never enough to shut it out. It was not the noise which disturbed me, but rather the sense of the noise, and the life and adventures it signified, which were not mine.

Unbidden, but inevitably, memories of Jason churned through my mind. When all that had happened with Dave made an appearance, I knew there was little point in trying to get back to sleep. Maybe one day I would wake with new dreams running through my head.

I pottered my way into the kitchen. As the kettle boiled, I stood aimlessly wondering whether to cook something for dinner – and what could it could possibly be – or to instead indulge in take away. Glancing through the window, I caught sight of Bradley and Louise in the garden outside. Both sat in some (apparently new) wooden chairs in the recently resurrected herb garden. The chairs were obviously a success: I could only make out the back of Bradley’s head, but Louise looked fast asleep. It seemed the two of them had been busy; I could see clusters of newly planted herbs, though from this distance I couldn’t make out what they were. I doubted either of them knew what they’d signed up for; despite his claims to be a country lad, Bradley didn’t strike me as the gardening type. Louise proved more ambiguous, and although I didn’t know her well enough to decide either way, she seemed capable of organizing the world. Still, this garden nook might prove the perfect place to soak up the sun of a morning when my housemates were at work, before tumbling into bed after yet another night.

My cuppa made, I surveyed the fridge. At least this wasn’t yet the sort of place where people labelled their things. It was a matter of minutes to help myself (courtesy of Kayl’s mum, who seemed to be sending over offerings to our fridge), to hummingbird cake and some juice. Dinner could wait awhile. Carefully balancing my victuals, and with a knife in my back pocket, I made it safely back to my room without being sighted.

After placing plate and glass on the desk, I turned on my computer and slipped in a DVD. Rear Window. Just perfect for what I was about to do. As Grace Kelly floated into view wearing a dress worthy of being listed on the New York Stock Exchange, I ruthlessly headed to the corner before second thoughts could halt me, picked up a box, and slashed the knife through the tape.

I sat in a sea of flotsam. Having postponed going through Dave’s things for so long I knew the only way to begin was to tip the box upside down; I’d never find the courage to start by picking up first one thing from the box, then the next…

For going through everything, balancing each object first in my hand and then in my mind while choosing what to keep and what to throw away, mounted to no more than reducing Dave’s life to a few boxes, and delegating the rest to a rubbish bin. I simply couldn’t do that. I’d been born to look after him. To my parents I’d been no more than an unwanted surprise, a difficult thing in a household which, whatever love my parents felt, they never learnt to express. My job had been to protect my older brother from the world – and I’d failed.

I picked up a piece of paper at random. On it was a stick figure, drawn with a thick crayon, dark purple in colour. The wonky outline of what could be a church hovered in the background; on the other side of the church was another stick figure, apparently doubled over, or at least bent and twisted. I turned the paper over but nothing had been written on the other side; no name, no date. I was at a loss. The drawing seemed such an improbable thing for Dave to keep such a memento, whether done by him as a child (which seemed unlikely) or by some other unknown kid (more unlikely still). Did the church in background somehow remind him of us?

A photo lay under the drawing. I picked it up and gazed at the faces staring back at me. This I knew; I could even remember taking the picture. Back at school I’d studied photography, and gone through quite a phase of taking photos of anything and everything, then printing them up into various collections. This one was of Dave and some of his friends. I couldn’t recall the occasion, but I’d had taken it upon myself to make a photo-documentary of his first few years at Uni. The piles of gear scattered through the photo (casually artistic, I’d thought at the time, using the gear to mark both foreground and background), suggested Dave and his friends were heading off camping somewhere. Probably something for Uni, for there were twenty of so of them, all male. Half I didn’t recognise. Like the camping gear, Dave’s friends were also scattered around, some lounging on the lawn looking serious, Dave in the background laughing, a few others sky-larking to one side.

And in the background stood Jason, for once not standing in the limelight. He wasn’t looking at me ­­– that is, looking at the camera – the way he would now. Instead, he stood talking to a few of the others. Although Jason was a year or two ahead of Dave, they’d soon become fast friends. I flipped the photo over, and the date scrawled on the back showed I had taken it in Dave’s first year – I must’ve been in Year Ten. Had I really known Jason – or at least, known of Jason – all that time?

Strange, how the planets of our small country town kept revolving around each other. Dom had gone to primary school with Dave then disappeared, only to reappear in Dave’s second year at Uni, sharing a few of his classes although their degrees were different; Gillian had boarded with me at school, never went to Uni (having been headed-hunted for a wonderful job) but through her work had met Jason and so come came back into my life. She’d only come here once or twice to visit Dave even when they were an item; her work had promoted her to a centre of excellence in the city, which in her eyes eclipsed this backwater of a university town. I’d rarely seen her since she left school, although I went to a Uni only a few suburbs away from her harbour views. Yet when speaking to me last night, she’d talked of being Promoted to The University, managing both capitals and italics in one phrase. What on earth had dragged her here? Perhaps Bradley knew, or possibly Louise, but now these circles of my past intersected like a pie chart I didn’t want to show my interest to any of them.

Like a blazing comet filling the sky with portents, Jason had soared across the skies, linking all our lives. Looking again at the photo in my lap, it seemed I’d always known and been in love with him, although Jason was that much older he never saw me, save occasionally as Dave’s little sister, the one always hiding behind a camera. When he finally came to know me, it was for such a little time. Just long enough to completely burn me.

#

Hobbling on my knees through Dave’s bits and pieces, I set to with my knife on another box. Inside were stacked smaller containers which held the bulk of Dave’s rock collection. He’d collected rocks almost from the time he wore nappies, and I simply couldn’t bring myself to throw any out. I definitely couldn’t tip them onto the floor with all his other things. On top rested Dave’s special box. He’d partitioned it to hold some two dozen stones, which in turn formed an ever-changing collection; since we were teenagers he’d always challenged me to decipher the riddle of why he’d put these stones in this box, why now. Sometimes he only put in a few stones, at others the box was full. The longest the puzzle had ever taken me was six months (which I blamed on the fact I didn’t know Dave was teaching himself Sindarin at the time. I thought he only spoke Quenya).

The container was old and dark and wooden. It reminded me of a cigar box – why, I don’t know, as Dad had never smoked. The lid was a lighter colour, with an etching in black of some foreign landscape. I lifted out the box and, opening it, looked inside. I hadn’t gone through Dave’s special collection since I last saw him, a few months before he died; after that I’d packed it away, unopened. Looking at it now, I knew something about the rocks and gems had been changed since I saw it last. Sometime between when I last saw him and when he died. I didn’t know what – that had always been part of Dave’s challenge. I just knew it was now different.

A piece of azurite immediately caught my eye. How could it not, with its alluring colour of azure-blue? The stone was only small, and roughly cut, yet the colour alone beckoned to places I’d never been.

I placed it back in its home of grey foam. The size and shape of each compartment changed to accommodate the changing stones. Dave’s collection encompassed minerals, gems, fossils, crystals and, (despite having a higher degree to teach him otherwise) simple rocks; all and anything which took his fancy. In one slot rested a small piece of paper. I carefully unfolded it to read Dave’s meticulous scrawl: stenaster. The name of something, obviously, but what? Nothing sprang to mind, but it must be big, not to fit in the box. Stenaster. I wondered if it was one of his fossils, and made a mental note to find it.

Deciding to start from the beginning, I picked up the first stone in the collection: pyrite. Fools’ gold. The first stone Dave had ever collected, keeping it although Dad had warned him against doing so, for it was not only worthless but indeed harmful, for how many people had such rocks fooled with dreams of grandeur and promises of greed? Dad’s words had painted the stone with a veneer of evil. Since my brother couldn’t accept that anything so sparkly could be so valueless, (and even as a child couldn’t see an inanimate object as evil), Dave kept the pyrite and so began his obsession, for he gave a value beyond price to all he collected.

At a soft knock on the door I put the pyrite back. I’d been discovered. “Come in,” I called.

Bradley poked his head around the door. I read much into the sweeping look which first took in me sitting on the floor amongst the debris of an upturned box, then settled on Dave’s collection in my lap. “Aren’t you a pretty big girl to be playing with rocks?” he asked.

“Oh, hello,” I said. “Why aren’t you at work?” I said, forgetting I’d seen him a few moments ago outside.

Bradley smiled as he walked briskly into the room and placed a mug on the table. “It’s Tuesday, darling. I always finish early on a Tuesday. Besides, it’s nearly six.”

“It is? I get so confused working nights and day-light saving. Lucky if I know what tie it is, let alone the day of the week.”

“I heard you stirring, and thought you might want one,” Bradley said. “Hot chocolate.”

“Thanks,” I said, not convinced about his choice of beverage.

“Louise and I are off soon to link up with Kayl. so I just thought I’d check if you needed anything before we left.”

“Oh, ah, thanks, but I’m fine,” I answered. I picked up the mug of hot chocolate and took a dutiful sip. “These were Dave’s favourites,” I added, pointing to the box in my lap in an effort to hide my grimace on tasting the drink.

“Ah, I see.” Bradley gathered up a few things from the floor to make a space, then sat down beside me. “Maybe you should do this on your days off, not when you’re just started another week.” he said.

“Oh,” I said, “something woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep. Just thought I’d look through a few things.”

Bradley leaned over to look at the collection in my lap. “Heard anything about the house?”

“What house? Oh, the old place. I believe there are a few offers floating around. I don’t know. I don’t have a lot of experience with real estate people.”

Bradley smiled and patted my knee. “You must have faith,” he said. “Faith in how it will turn out in the end.”

I faithfully took another small sip of the hot chocolate, but it still proved sickly sweet. “So,” I said, “anything planned for the rest of the week?’

“No, not a lot. I have some reports due, but I’ll probably work on them over the weekend when Louise is away and the place’s quiet. There’s a meeting at the church tonight – but, listen, Louise has been cooking, there’s dinner in the fridge plus some frozen meals in the freezer.”

“You guys really don’t have to cook for me, Bradley.”

“No, really, it’s not a problem. Just what Jesus would do given the circumstances.”

Not quite sure what these circumstances were, I said nothing as Bradley leaned over and picked up a stone from the box.

“Pretty things, aren’t they,” he said, putting it back. He took another, a small opal Dave had fossicked at Lightening Ridge. That had been a good holiday.

“Dave always collected them,” I said, thinking how strange it was I could talk to Bradley as if Dave was dead. Truly dead. “I remember when he found his first fossil. Dad had taken us up to…”

Bradley laughed. “Sorry,” he said, on seeing my startled look. “I didn’t mean to laugh. It’s just I always find them such a great joke, fossils.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Fossils,” he said. “One of God’s jokes After all, the world’s only seven thousand years old. Well, maybe ten. There’s a bit of debate. But the Earth is far younger than these so-called scientists would lead us to believe. We know that from The Bible. So, it stands to reason that God created fossils just to test us. His little joke.”

I took the opal from Bradley’s grasp and spoke with a slow fury which surprised even me. “Bradley, the bible is your life, so while I’m a guest in your house I don’t mock it. My brother was a so-called scientist, and geology was his life. I expect the same courtesy. After all, isn’t that what Jesus would do, given the circumstances?”

Bradley looked at me, perfect astonishment painted on his face. The same look Jason had thrown at me while announcing our break-up, surprised I would be upset by the obvious. Bradley slowly shook his head as he raised his hands in mock defeat.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I thought I was simply stating what everyone knows, but if facts upset you…” The words hung condescendingly in the air as Bradley rose to his feet.

“Thankyou,” I said, surprised my teeth weren’t gritted. I’d become a character from a Japanese animé, barley able to talk through a jaw so clenched, leaving all the noise to those drawings of anger swirling above my head. “If we just agree to disagree, we’ll get on fine.” Even as I spoke I knew it wouldn’t work. Bradley could never agree to disagree. He couldn’t understand people disagreeing with him, whereas I had yet to have someone agree with me. Yet how could I stay angry? All his niceness annoyed the hell out me, but Bradley had never known Dave. When talking with him there was none of the aura nor the baggage which hampered most every other conversation. When we talked, Dave was dead, and I was almost free from my past, becoming a girl simply struggling to live. This lack of a tether was the only thing stopping me from blowing away.

After all, I’d been there to protect Dave, to hold things together for us both – and I’d failed. That’s why he died. I couldn’t shield Dave from the void of the world.

So why did I stay here, when so much about Bradley annoyed me? Why did I even come back to this town? Did I really expect to unearth some secret Dave had left behind, a secret to explain everything? If only, in the flotsam around me, lay a key to a locker in some unknown railway station. A locker filled with secret documents, and all the answers. Did such places still exist? Because that was what I wanted. To simply know why, so I could actually start living again. Start feeling something, anything, instead of this emptiness inside me. Poets write of an aching void, but I couldn’t even ache. That’s why I stayed in this house. Instinctively I’d known it when I first saw Bradley standing in the doorway of the Uni flat, clipboard in hand. He would irritate me incessantly, and I would feel something. I mightn’t respond, but I felt.

I’d always been attracted to the charismatic. Like Jason, Bradley carried an air. An air different to Jason’s, but still, some form of charm. It fascinated me. Just as Jason had been, Bradley was obsessed with his looks, and in both men the narcissism extended to their untouchable beliefs. Yet I wasn’t in the least attracted to Bradley; that’s why I could chat with him without tripping over my words. Jason had perfected the art of talking, so whoever was listening was swept into his world as if they alone had understanding; in contrast, Bradley sounded like a presenter on Playschool. It made me his equal.

I started as Bradley clicked his fingers in my face. “You try for a little more sleep,” he said. “You’re falling asleep where you sit. Oh, by the way, will you be right to get to work?”

“Sure,” I answered, a little confused. How long had I been day dreaming? “Why?”

“Aren’t you having your car serviced?”

“Oh, no, I got the dates mixed up. It’s actually next week, when I’m off. I can walk home from where it’s being serviced, have a nap, then fetch it the afternoon. Besides, the exercise will do me good.”

“More rain is on the way, though,” Bradley said as he headed to the door. “You’ll be turning dark green on us next. Oh, there’s my phone,” and he’d gone, gently shutting the door as he left, before I could even think to ask what dark green was. Or rather, Dark Green, for Bradley had pronounced my doom in capital letters, with possibly italics, or even quotation marks.

Like Bradley’s so-called scientists, it didn’t sound a good thing to be.

#

Night came, and a brief shower fell as I drove. The sunshine which had earlier danced through my room existed now only in fable. Only the steam which for a few minutes rose from the hot road to dance about my car gave any hint of the heat of the day.

Rain splattered across me as I wound down the car window to order at the drive-through. Red Rooster tonight; I never went to the same take-away twice in a row in case I was recognised. After the heaviness of the day, my body felt stripped of salt – a perfect excuse, though I rarely needed one. Perhaps it was the alignment of the stars driving me to consume salty hot fat, (notably lacking in the healthy dinner Louise had prepared for me).

Five minutes later, chips and chicken balanced in my lap, I pulled up at a red light. Some mid-week revellers dashed across the road. A dress flashing by caught my attention and I leaned forward, peering intently through the rain-smeared windscreen. Damn it; some guy was wearing my favourite dress, and he looked good. Much better than I could never hope to. As the light turned green I hit the steering wheel in frustration, knowing full well I would never wear that dress again. I could never fill it that well.

#

The brief squall passed, and I decided to risk parking on the far side of the campus – I’d even been organised enough to bring an umbrella. I still had some time to spare and hadn’t been this way for a while. Finding a place to park, a few moments fumbling my things together, wiping my greasy hands on a spare rag in the car; another night-shift in an endless series begun. By the time I made it back here in the morning cars would be circling, waiting for the night staff to leave so they could find a free park for the day.

The watery moonlight guided me across campus. Despite the hour, the place remained busy. Depending on the night of the week, the library stayed open until late, and as it closed a surge of tired students and worn-out lecturers wormed their way across the campus. I paused outside a restaurant, run a few nights a week by the catering and hospitality students. Tonight it was full, with far too many people to be just parents and friends. On every table little candles floated in glass jars, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Whenever I passed, I promised myself that one night I’d come here.

Music came from a distant point of the campus, much faded by its travels by the time it reached me. From what I assumed was a residential building I saw the faint glow of cigarettes against the darkness. Some people had congregated on a few of the balconies, all with a glass or bottle or both in hand.

Even at this hour most of the buildings still had a few lights on. They couldn’t all be dormitories. I could only guess at what was happening inside; students at a late tutorial, harassed lecturers marking papers, someone else tallying up accounts. Probably a frustrated post-grad or two struggling with their thesis. Yet, really, did all this justify being here, at night, when the moon was full and music floated in the air? I chose nights to hide from all this – did they all have the same their excuse?

Then again, despite having worked nights for a year, I still loved the feel of them, especially when flooded by a moonlight. I detoured to a small courtyard, now ablaze with a rainbow of azaleas. Amongst them a statue with flowing Grecian robes glistened white. I’d stepped into a bubble which floated so separately to the rest of the world. All the noises of the campus sounded so distant. I shut my eyes, listening to the chirping of a few frogs, and beside me the statue shimmered, as if, after rising from her slumber, she’d dressed herself in moonbeams.

Reluctantly, I returned to the world where time passes and minutes matter. I tried every door around the courtyard but all were locked. I met with more success at a distant building; surely I could find a path through theses intermeshing structures without having to resort to the tunnel. After traipsing a few corridors I chose a stairwell at random. It had walls a smeared grey, and a handrail covered with chipped paint the colour of sputum. I paused by a window and leant my face against the glass; some streetlights lit a row of ghostly gums as they marched along the street to the river, where a park beckoned to any ghost-child who passed. I stifled a sigh. I’d love to be in that park right now, instead of here. My whole life spent indoors, by night. Little wonder I never knew the day of the week.

I turned from the window and scampered up the stairs. With my work night just born, the stairs had yet to grow impossibly steep, the concrete impossibly tiring. With luck, the cicadas would be singing when I left in the morning.

#

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