Thursday, 30 October 2014

This Blog Post at The End of the Writer

We return to the dark underground of the fictional theme-park-within-a-story where, last time, I realized that the dark master behind these horrifying events was actually my girlfriend; helping me to write a meta-fictional horror tale. We step down the track of the mannequin-infested dark-ride hand-in-hand, and onto the industrial lift that leads far up into the ceiling.
  “Do you think my readers will be upset that they had to wait 10 days just for Part Two of this story?” I ask.
  “Nah. Avatar: The Last Airbender fans had to wait about three months during a hiatus in season three, and it took years for The Order of the Phoenix to come out. You’re in the clear.”
Beloved closes the safety gate, then presses a button that rises up the elevator with a dull whirring sound.
  “And so the Page has turned, and again we tread the treacherous path that leads to the End,” says the Necronomicon.
  “Does he always talk like this?” asks Bee (short for Beloved).
  “It’s my fault. I try to give all the books character,” I say, picking up the book in my free hand. “Trust me, he’s a lot better than Thesaurus. Always re-iterating, rewording, repeating himself . . .”
  “Being redundant?” she added with a smile, and I laughed.
The lift slips into a shaft in the ceiling and for a moment we’re surrounded by darkness, before appearing in some kind of supervisor’s office. The walls were white, with a fan blowing above.
  “So, this is where you were controlling the whole operation?”
  “Yeah. I was kinda hoping that the decor would be better, but there’s only so much description you can provide with the written word.” She showed off a small purple notebook with blank pages and drawings. “This story, I had to dig through my old USB to find it. So there are a lot of holes that I never filled . . . thirteen-year old arrogance.”
  “Well, if you literally wrote the book on this place, then how do we get out of here?”
She opened the book, and shook out a map. How the fit in with the papers, I didn’t know. She uncrumpled it and handed it to me.
“We probably need to take the ferry ride here, to leave the quickest. None of the employees here are homicidal, so we should be safe.”
  “Where’s that?”
  “Just outside the office.” She stuffed her notebook into a purse that was on the office desk, and beckoned me to follow. We walked outside.
Outside, the door to the office was hidden within a large, faded sign that was advertising theme park food. And across a wide path, there was some kind of lake, covered with reeds and other wetlands-y stuff. And beside a short wooden boardwalk was a paddle steamer. There was a sign saying “Wait to be Called.”
  “You know, guilty secret, I loved that Horrorland book, the first one,” Beloved said as we climbed into the boat. “Troy Steele hates it, but at the time I thought that the coffin ride was a fun if creepy idea. Guess R.L. Stine knew what would keep his readers coming back for more.”
  “I thought they were fun too, if a bit silly,” I say, joining her aboard the boat. Unlike the rest of the park, it looked quite clean. I couldn’t say the same of the scummy water though; it looked like it needed to be flushed. “But this is an ordinary ferry, right? No coffins?”
“Mostly ordinary,” she said, leading us both to a seat next to the railing. “There’s a fun aspect to it as well, though . . .”
The boat started to move, slowly. Beloved indicated that we could stand and walk, but that there were railings in case we needed to hold onto them.
  “I hope you like the scenic route,” she said. “No spiders and no coffins, but lots of water.”
We watched as some bees flitted past the boat. If not for the fact that the water was scummy and we could see zombies operating the food stalls in the distance, then I would’ve thought this was a romantic getaway.
  “Is this what it’s like in the part of America, where you live? Sans zombies, of course . . .”
  “The Everglades is; where I live, it’s more urban. I hope I can show it to you for real someday,” she said. “You know on the real airboat rides the guides feed marshmallows to the gators, to make them come closer to the boat. It freaked me out the first time I saw it, but alligators aren’t that bad, as long as you don’t get on their bad side.”
  “Did you write any alligators into this story?” I ask.
  “Only Sandy . . . in fact, here she is now,” Beloved looked over the side of the boat. “She’s in her enclosure.”
There was a small island with a wall surrounding it; within it rested the largest gator I had ever seen. Come to think of it, the only alligator I’d ever seen but nonetheless, it was enormous. It was about ten metres long, and it resembled its dinosaur heritage. The gator was basking in the sun with its jaw open.
  “Wait wait wait . . . Sawgrass Sandy is an alligator? I thought she was a little girl. A little, racist girl . . .”
“There probably was a racist girl named Sandy, but the one here is an alligator,” Beloved said, a little darkly.
  “In times forgot, the tales we tell rot and details slough off like rancid blubber. What remains is a remnant of the truth, but untrue.” said the Necronomicon, sending a shiver down my spine as the boat slowly drifted past Sandy’s enclosure. She was perfectly still, she almost looked like she was sleeping, but her size was unsettling.
  “The trick is to not encroach on her territory,” Beloved said. “As long as no idiot climbs onto her island.”
As if to punctuate her sentence, the boat stops with a jolt, and there’s the sound of groaning metal.
  “Oh come on,” Beloved said with irritation. “I always try to have OSHA compliance in my fiction!”
  “Do you think he’s going to fix . . .” I turn to look at the driver, he’s zombily turning the wheel back and forth, unaware that we’ve stopped. “ . . . never mind.”
I head over to the front of the boat and lean over. The front of the boat has caught on something under the water, and the noise is pointing directly at some kind of wooden barrier in the water. It’s artificially separating our part of the water from some kind of fast-moving rapids. After a few seconds, I see an empty, floating, rubber tyre speed past, and realize it’s some kind of tyre-ride.
   “Gah. It caught on the wall,” mutters Beloved, as she takes out her notebook and reads it. “Let me see what’s in here that I can use to unsnag it.”
  “Wait, if you wrote this, then can’t you just write us a magic pumpkin coach and whisk us out of here?”
  “It has to be plausible, whatever I write, Major. No deus ex machina. Pumpkins aren’t native and would sink in the water.”
  “Fine, what about . . . boat-hook ex machina?”
  “Boat-hook works.” Beloved started writing until a large boat hook appeared. She winced as it fell on the boat with a hard thud. “That’s going to leave a scratch.”
Beloved picked up the newly-written boat-hook and hands it to me. I reach the hooked end into the water and swish it around till I hit something.
  “Ah ha! Just gotta dislodge . . .” I say giving it a pull, but it doesn’t move. I grab tight with both arms and heave . . . CRACK!
The boat jolts, but not forward. I hold up the end of the boat-hook and see a huge nail dangling from the end. I look down and watch as the safety wall starts to splinter.
“Bloody hell,” Beloved said, her voice becoming screechy. “Why did I say nothing would go wrong? Something always goes wrong when you say that!”
  The boat charges forward and dips, then splash! We hit the water and the boat shifts and sways into the river rapids ride. I fall over, dropping the boat-hook and grab onto a chair, but look up and see my Beloved holding the railing.
  “Are you alright, Bee?” I ask.
  “I have a bruised ego and the urge to ramble in panicked fashion, but physically I’m fine,” she replies. “May need to binge on chocolate after this.”
I try to get to my feet, but the boat tips back and I slide across the wooden floor back towards my girlfriend.
  “So much for our peaceful river cruise, right?”
  “Next time I'm looking up fanfiction fluff when I do a guest blog,” she said, her face flushed with anxiety. “I didn’t mean for things to get messed up this badly.”
As I finally manage to grab ahold of the railing and get to my feet, the boat rocks to the side and nearly throws me overboard
  “I have got to learn to write romantic comedies where only slapstick happens,” says Bee as she grabs the back of my shirt. “Careful; don’t get scraped!”
I don’t fall, but as I’m left dangling for a moment, I see the faces of several dozen water-bloated zombies clinging to the side of the boat; they’re trying to climb aboard. The boat rocks the other way and I grab the railing so as not to fall.
  “Where’s the boat-hook?!” I call out.
  “Why?” asks Beloved as she passes me the wooden pole.
  “I need a weapon or something, there are zombies trying to climb aboard.
  “Gah!” says Beloved with a frown, not letting go of the hook. “They aren't going to hurt you! They’re only doing their jobs! Don’t hurt my characters, help them!”
Feeling a bit sheepish, I take the boat-hook and lean over the side of the boat.
  “Here! Grab on!” I call down. One of the zombies grabs it, and starts to climb. Beside me, my girlfriend appears with a ladder she must have written with the notebook and helps more of the zombies to climb up. She gets two on board, but the boat-hook is really slippery, and my zombie looks up at me with two paled, scared eyes and opens its gummy mouth as if to groan for help. It holds out a reaching, skeletal hand. I cringe at first at the idea of touching the dead flesh, but I can see a swell ahead of the boat, it would throw the zombie into the water. I clench my teeth, reach out and grab the hand. In my hand, the bones and old skin feels like a bag of marbles and nails, but I pull, lifting the zombie up to grab the railing. It struggles to climb over sideways, so after taking a deep breath, I grab the shoulder in one hand and the hip in the other and help it to roll over onto the floor. On its back, it looks up at me and smiles toothlessly.
  “Rraahhk uh,” it grunts.
  “You’re welcome,” I say. I hold out a hand and help it to its feet. That’s when we hit the swell. The tip of the boat snaps sharply upwards, then - as though we were on a rolling boat ride - we roll entirely forwards and over the hump and the front of the boat slaps the water sending spray over every man, woman and zombie aboard. It seems like we’re finally on still water.
The three zombies on the main deck slowly, yet frantically scramble to the railing and try to help the other zombies in the water which manages to cling on. I hand my boat-hook to Gummy and he helps drag a female zombie with an exposed ribcage out of the water and the two Beloved saved use her notebook to conjure up a net, to save another three.
  “Thank you for staying calm through this.” says Beloved, giving me a hug. “I honestly don’t know how you put up with me.”
We’re both wet from the water, but I hug her back anyway.
  “It’s fine, I think I’m getting used to zombies,” I say.
  “Rargh-uh-Rarr!” screams Ribs, as she points past the front of the boat.
  “What does that mean?” I ask.
  “Waterfall,” translates the Necronomicon.
  “Nice to see he can be succinct,” my girlfriend mutters
  “Wait, you can speak zombie? . . . also, Waterfall?!” I scream, then my girlfriend and I run to the bow of the ship. About thirty metres down-stream, the water disappears from sight due to the top of a sawgrass and weed-edged waterfall.
  “That’s not a real waterfall; all water rides have them,” Beloved scolds. “The only problem is that we don’t have safety bars and everyone’s usually in tires . . .”
  “Well, we need a way to get out of here” I say. “Is a magic pumpkin really out of the question?”
  “Yes, a magic pumpkin is out of the question. But I have a better idea . . . ‘zombie-chain’.” says Beloved.
She walks over to one of the zombies which is missing his eyeballs and talks to zombies in a hushed voice, for the purposes of dramatic tension. Then she walks back, grinning.
  “One day I’m going to write a story about zombie mechanics in the Caribbean. But this will do for now.”
She turns and we watch as the zombies head for the right side of the boat, with some effort, and holding each other for support, they all climb on top of the railing. The eight zombies then link arms at the elbow and Blinky, the blind one, grabs tightly onto the railing while Gummy at the other end of the line is holding onto the boat-hook.
Then, on the count of ‘Arrrgh’ Gummy jumps off and the rest follow in a kind of undead Mexican wave until Blinky jumps off, still holding the railing. I run to the edge to see Gummy stab the boat-hook into the ground, then all the zombies hold tight, some of them even locking their legs together at the knee. After a few seconds, the zombie-chain grows taught, and the pull starts to turn the boat.
Blinky yells out in pain, so Bee and I run over and grab his arm and leg, so that he doesn’t dislocate any joints and lose his grip on the boat. The boat veers towards the shore, but as we get within a few metres, I hear pops, cracks and snapping bones as the zombies decayed, bloated bodies start to give way.
  “It’s a cliché, but we have to jump,” says Beloved, climbing onto the railing. I follow suit and then, not wasting time, we both jump onto the brown grass. The ground is slightly muddy, cushioning us slightly, but it still sends shocks of pain up my ankles.
  “You can let go now!” Bee calls to the zombies. They let go and the chain drops into the water, then starts climbing onto land as the boat sails lazily onward, then drops off the edge of the waterfall. Three seconds later, there’s a loud, wet crumpling sound.
  “Well, we got a bit lost on the ferry,” I say, taking the map from my pocket and unfolding it, “we took a detour through the rapids ride; but are we close to the exit?”
  “Actually, yeah; but now, we just need to cross through the golf course. No one’s on it, zombie or monster, so we should be in the clear.”
  “Are you sure, this time? The last ride had hidden zombies and waterfalls.”
  “I'm pretty sure,” she said, biting her lip.
With almost comedic timing, an enormous alligator bursts out of the water and snaps up one of the zombies in her jaws.
  “Sandy!” I scream. “RUN!!”
  “This universe hates me!” Beloved shouted as we started to run.
  “Why’s she so angry?! I scream panting as I run. “She looked asleep in her enclosure!”
  “She must’ve laid eggs on the golf course. Alligators are only that angry when protecting their nests!”
  “But how did she escape in the first place?!” I ask, incredulous.
  “Because TYRANNY OF THE NARRATIVE dictates that a romantic stroll through a golf course wasn't scary enough for a Halloween Special!” screams Beloved.
Sandy stops attacking our innocent zombie-friends and scrambles after us with astounding speed.
  “Wait wait . . . serpentine!” I yell out. “Zig-zag! They run in straight lines, they can’t turn fast!”
  “They also tire out easily!” Beloved yelled back. “Keep running! I hope you have good cardio!”
Side by side, we turn then run a few metres before turning sharply the other way, running around golf-holes and sand traps. But Sandy is smarter than the average gator, and seems to make a bee-line through our zig-zagging.
  “Why do I write stories with so much running?!” I whine. “But, if it makes you feel any better, I think this is still kind of romantic! I mean, we’re literally running away together . . .”
Beloved made a sound that was between a groan and a grunt as she clutched her side.
  “Still less stressful than exercise with my brothers,” she admitted between breaths.
Sandy was barrelling towards us, closing the gap inch by inch every second. I can see the wooden fence and front gate to the park just a few dozen metres ahead, but I feel weak.
  “I can’t keep this up, I’ll run out of wind before Sandy does” I wheeze. “I’m meant for writing, not running . . . can’t we write our way out of this?”
Still running, Beloved takes the notebook from her pocket and quickly scribbles something on the first blank page she can find. Suddenly, a pumpkin carriage with ornate wheels carved from pumpkin slices and a chassis made of vines pops into existence and falls on top of the alligator with a smoosh, cracking and spilling juice and seeds all over the place.
Beloved and I stop running and I lean over panting heavily as she points at the odd scene, Sandy wiggling beneath the heavy pumpkin-y mess.
   “Pumpkins when ripe aren’t that durable,” she pointed out, wheezing a bit. She wrote a bite more until two metal bottles with gushing cold water appeared.
  “You made a pumpkin carriage?” I say, panting as I stand up tall and take a swig of water.
  “Well, you’ve been talking about them for this entire story, it was the first thing on my mind," says Bee, taking a sip. "At least pumpkins fit in with the Halloween theme, and it served a useful purpose.”
We walk towards the front gate and I finally find myself standing before it, the way out.
  “Now what? Do we just walk through?” I ask.
  “Not we, just you,” says Beloved. “You’re the main character, you have to get to the end and get back home; but I’m the writer. I’m already home, and when this story ends, I’ll be back in my room in America again, trying to get to bed and failing miserably because of my terrible sleeping habits.”
  “I wish you could come with me,” I say.
  “Believe me, so do I. I have a rocking Halloween costume but nowhere to wear it.”
I smile and give her a kiss.
  “Goodbye, sweetheart. I’ll meet you for real, one day; non-fiction. But until then, this was a lot of fun.”
  “It was. I better get going; have that ten AM class tomorrow.”
I force myself to let go of her hand, then I walk out the front entrance to the park. At first, everything looks normal. But then, the horizon starts to blur, and everything begins to fade until it all slips into blackness and my body goes numb.

I open my eyes and find myself staring at the ceiling, where the fan is whirring, to cool the room down. I sit up, and the book that was lying open on my chest falls onto my lap. I see that it’s open on the last page of the story, it reads:
Sandy wiped the pumpkin gunk from her dress with a sweet, Southern smile.
  “Looks like that Dag-nabb'ed Dandy and his Aunt Jemima got away this time,” said Sandy, “But so long as I’ve got Mama’s prize, painted gator eggs, I can finally save all the souls in this hoodoo’d hell-park.”
Sandy picked up the wicker basket from the sand and started skipping home.
  “But if I ever find those two ag’in, I’d be showin’ them God’s love, that’s for darn-tootin’!”
The End
I close the book and look at the Necronomicon in my hands.
  “I guess the story’s over, Necro,” I say, a little sadly. “I kind of wish I didn’t have to leave her behind . . .”
  “Two hearts, cleaved in half, still beat and bleed separately across the vast, black ocean. Even if you ran, screaming, from your fate, they are doomed to collide in a Gordian knot of inter-twined destiny.” grumbles the book.
  “Huh . . . that almost sounds sweet, if a little morbid,” I say, putting the book back on the shelf. Then I turn towards my computer, it makes a little *ding* noise as the chat program receives a message. It’s from my girlfriend:
GF: Hey there, my winter rogue. Hope that you enjoyed that taste of South Floridian madness. Have a safe, exciting Halloween, and I wish your constant readers the same. I know that you hate Stephen King, but I will quote the last line from Misery here, to leave with you and your readers in lieu of your usual signature:
  Now my tale is told.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Top 5 Near-Death Experiences

Two Nights before Halloween, and two more posts before we find ourselves at All Hallow's door. Well, one post after you've finished reading this one. Tomorrow, I plan on finally indulging you all with Part 2 of the blogfiction meta-post. But for tonight, we'll partake in something a touch more deadly.
You see, tonight, we'll be talking about Life and Death. In particular, the cusp between life and death, that risky place on the knife's edge where you could fall either way.

Tonight, we'll be talking about near-death experiences. Although I suppose you could almost say in those moments, that you're near-life as well. It could go either way, in that point in time.
For your enjoyment, I thought I could list some of my near-death experiences. I may not be that old, but I've had my fair share of scrapes with mortality. Now, I've never had my heart stop beating; I've never had to be resuscitated & I've only ever been in a hospital as a visitor or a newborn. I'm not going to claim that I've seen my life flash before my eyes or seen the light. I'm not unlucky enough to have been dying five times, but these aren't Dying experiences which I've returned from, these are mere near-death experiences. Moments whereby, if I'd taken just one bad move, I wouldn't have lived to tell the tale. In order from the least to the most risky incident, this is . . .

The Absurd Word Nerd's Top 5 Personal Near-Death Experiences

5. Trampoline Accident
Admittedly, this is the weakest entrant on this list, but I feel it deserves its place for its bloodiness. At my cousin's house, they had a trampoline. Now, if you've ever been a child growing up in the 80s or 90s, then you would recognize the inherent dangers of a trampoline. Not only does it send children flying up in the air higher than their body could handle if they fell onto solid ground; but moreso, it's made of a rigid, steel alloy; the netting is held in place by industrial-strength springs that bite into anything that gets caught between the coils when they snap closed (they were covered with safety pads, but every trampoline seemed to abandon those pads after about a dozen uses) & to make it worse, the nets weren't that strong to begin with, and were at risk of tearing, especially after a few years of use when the fibres become more brittle.
I don't mean to be alarmist, and kids really ought to get some cuts and bruises while they're young, so that they don't become wimps in their later years. But you can't deny that these things are an accident waiting to happen. And for me, one accident did which left me spitting blood . . .
The Experience: I had jumped into the air towards the edge of the trampoline, I was preparing to step off, so I was near the springs and the metal frame. I landed with one foot on the metal frame, but I wasn't prepared for the sudden loss of momentum, and as my right foot landed on the soft netting and sank down, my left leg stayed still. I crumpled with the shock, instinctively, but that meant that as my knee bent up, my head came down and I cracked my chin on my kneecap. I bit down on my lip, teeth dug into flesh and my brain was jolted within my skull.
Aftermath: I fell backwards into a sitting position by the springs, I had a slight headache, my knee was a bit sore, but more than anything, my lip hurt. I looked at the ground and spat. Thick, bright red blood and spit fell stringily onto the ground. Luckily my mother and aunt are nurses, they checked on me, and I had indeed bitten into my lip, and it was a nasty cut, but they helped clean it and I spent most of the afternoon with my bottom lip turned out, so that it could heal without getting spit all over it.
Somewhat ironically, if I had been paying closer attention, I might have died. If I had been looking down at my feet instead of over at my family, instead of my chin hitting my knee, it could have easily been my nose. And with that force, might have driven my cracked septum up into my brain. Alright, I admit, this isn't much of a near-death experience. But it did rattle me around and I was spitting blood for five minutes, If that doesn't please you, perhaps the next four will.

4. Bicycle Crash
When I was much younger, like grade three, the school I went to was on on this hill. Where we lived, at our house, we would walk home by going down the hill, then along the road, then up our street. It wasn't that far, but for some reason my oldest brother rode his bike. Maybe he had more homework to do and had to get home earlier, I dunno, it doesn't matter. What matters is that I used to just walk. But one day (or maybe it was a few days, I dunno), my brother thought he could be nice and give us a ride down the hill, instead of have my other brother and I walk. I think maybe he was doing it for fun. Either way, it sounded alright to us. So, my other brother hopped on and they rolled down the hill. Looked like fun as they just whisked by. Then my older brother rode back up and told me to hop on. Now, I can't remember how I got on the bike and I don't really remember what it felt like to ride down the hill; not because of cranial trauma, it was just a long time ago. But I do remember feeling confused.
The Experience: We sped down the hill and then we hit something. Well, not really something; I wish I could say we hit a pot hole or a dead possum in the road. Hell, I wish I could say we hit a car, but we didn't hit a car we hit a young schoolkid. Then I was thrown from the bike and I must have flipped in the air and rolled because I hit the top of my head on the ground, and the next thing I remember I was sitting on the road, legs splayed out in front of me as though I'd just sat down. I looked around and the other kid was crying, and I was just surprised.
The Aftermath: I don't know what happened with the kid, we were all hurt but okay, as for me I just went home and I remember tasting copper and I had a headache. Mum came home and took care of us, but she gave me an empty ice-cream bucket. Then we went for a drive somewhere. I don't know where, all I know is that I threw up in that bucket as we were driving in the car.
I don't want people to think I had brain damage and memory loss, this was just over fifteen years ago, I don't recall everything. At the time I was aware, I just had a headache and a scratch on my head, which scabbed up and healed quickly. But what worries me now is that I was hit on the top of my head. I flipped over, and if I were at any other angle I so easily could have broken my neck or suffered brain damage worse than whatever mild rattling made me throw up.

3. Red Light
I don't think of myself as a good driver. I'm not a bad driver, but I'm lower than average. I can handle myself in most situations, but occasionally I make little mistakes. That's pretty average, but what tips me below the bar is that I am a terrible navigator. I've gotten lost quite a few times, and it's never fun driving around and having to pull over to check the map (No, shut up, I want to at least attempt to learn how to navigate on my own before I buy a GPS). But when I was on my Learner license, I was worse than I am now. One time, my Nanna and I decided to visit my cousin's place. The same one with that trampoline from earlier, actually, but that's not relevant to the point. What is relevant is that I was nervous, since I wasn't sure if I was headed the right way and Nanna beside me is from NSW, so she couldn't navigate, we were driving via luck and hope. I was winding up one of the many hilly streets of Brisbane, heading North, an I was thinking it would be a good idea to pull over and check the map, but we were on a main road. So, I wanted to move into the left lane . . . then I saw the motorbike.
The Experience: Motorbikes aren't easy to see, but for a new driver, lost and distracted, and with a motorbike in my blind spot, I didn't see them until the last second. There was a bend in the road, I was going to indicate and change lanes with the road. I did a shoulder-check, about to change lanes, when I saw the motorbike, it seemed to appear like magic. I'd already started crossing the line (my bad), so I corrected to stay in my lane and saw the biker shoot me a dirty look. Then I looked out the front window - BRAKES!!!
There was a busy intersection, a red light and a stop line three metres in front of me. I slammed on the brakes, and we came to a shuddering stop because of the uneven surface of the road.
The Aftermath: As I took some deep breathes to settle my beating heart, I watched the intersection in front of me as dozens and dozens of cars sped past.  If I hadn't stopped in time, any one of them could have ploughed right into my car. Not to mention, that motorcyclist is lucky to be alive; it definitely wasn't smart of him to be driving in the blind-spot of an L-plate driver. And of course, my Nanna was in the car with me. It was just that sudden "panic, panic" that got me. I swerved to avoid the motorcycle only to find myself running headlong towards traffic. It was just my fast reflexes and good brakes that saved my grandmother and I from becoming a statistic.

2. Near Miss
I used to live in the city. I liked it a lot, and if it were up to me I'd still be living there now. Not only are there less bugs and dirt everywhere, but the views are amazing & you're walking distance from everything you could possibly want. In fact, when I lived in the city it was just a short walk to the grocery store. I just crossed Ann street, then walked up to the Woolies there if we needed bread or milk. One thing that's meant to be really bad about living in the city is driving around. I never had a license when I lived in the city, so I would never know, but a lot of people get lost. I've driven in the city now, and it's not really that bad if you know where you're going, but some people get lost on some of the many one-way streets. What does all of this have to do with my near-death experience? Well . . .
The Experience: I was walking home from the shops, carrying groceries. I waited for the light to turn green for pedestrians, then stepped onto the street, with one glance to the left. See, it was a one-way street, so I didn't think I'd have to look right, I was checking for on-coming cars. As I was about the step beyond the parked car and across the road proper, a car went flying past in front of me. I did a double-take. Not only had it come speeding from the right, but it was doing at least double the speed limit.
The Aftermath: Obviously, someone had gone the wrong way down a one-way street, and rather than turn around they just floored it, hoping to get off the road before the cars started coming the other way. Yeah, hey, cool for you arsehole, but did you think maybe to KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR PEDESTRIANS WHILE DRIVING ILLEGALLY DOWN THE FUCKEN ROAD!! If he'd hit me, no doubt, broken legs right off the bat. But at the speed they were going, clocking around 70 kph, I would have been smeared. broken legs, bruised, battered and brain damaged lying on the road with groceries thrown all about me.

1. Light Switch
This one happened at least six years ago, and unlike some of these where it was the fault of my brother, a motorcyclist, or a dumb criminal, this one was entirely my fault. See, one time, the lightswitch in my room disappeared. That is to say, I was switching the light and I jabbed the button too hard, and it popped out of its place and fell into the wall. I felt a bit embarassed about, well, breaking the lightswitch, so I decided to fix it. I quickly grabbed a screwdriver, then I took the decorative case off the wall and I unscrewed what I now know is called a "bezel", and I saw the wire. It hadn't gone far, so when I took the bezel off the wall, the wire with the switch on the end fell out. I tried to be careful and I grabbed the wire, bezel in hand, to put it back . . .
The Experience: I felt instantly weak and dizzy, not weak as in fatigue, but all of my muscles felt like they didn't want to work, I just started to kneel down slowly, bending up into a ball. The whole time, my skin was alive with pins and needles. It wasn't overly painful; it was very uncomfortable but it didn't hurt with actual stabbing pain, so much as that I felt weak, and I wasn't in control of my muscles. I continued to bend down until my hand let go of the wire, then as though I snapped awake, I stumbled and stood up, glancing around, trying to figure out what had just taken hold of me.
The Aftermath: At first, I thought someone was playing a prank on me, because I'd never been electrocuted before. I didn't realize that light switches, even when switched off, could zap you. I even remember yelling out to my brother, thinking he'd done something to me; I was so confused and scared. Then I sat down on the floor and came to my senses. I realized not only that I had touched a live wire but also that that was what being electrocuted feels like.
I was scared and I felt stupid for what I'd done - rightly so, it was a live wire - so I screwed up the case and waited to tell someone else, so that they could fix it. I mean, I don't know if a light switch circuit has the right amperage or voltage to kill someone but if I hadn't felt weak and let go of the wire, perhaps if my muscles had contracted in my hand, it would have kept going. No one would have come to help, I didn't tell anyone, and I don't doubt that I could have died. Not just because of being electrocuted, but if I'd fallen instead of crumpling into a foetal position, I would have hit my head on the tiles. Ever since that day, I don't play around with my own wiring; it's just not safe, and I never want to feel that feeling of electricity buzzing under my skin ever again.

Anyway, that's my list. It's not really much to shake a stick at. Even if 5 experiences seems like a lot, it's not. These are just those occasions over my entire (now) 23-year lifetime. You've probably had a few, yourself. If you're willing to share, why not let me know in the comments; because although life is more than just surviving, a close call with our survival can bring to light the preciousness of life.
I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and as I said these are just some of the experiences I've collected throughout my lifetime. I'm sure there will be many more to come in the future, with any luck I'll manage to survive them as well.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Bonechillers: “Welcome to Nowhere” – Ch.3: Never

I start to feel sick in my stomach.
This is not right, this can’t be! It’s wrong. I head straight for the white sign. The grass along each side of the road is dead, crackly and brown, but I know it can’t be. We passed this way, and the grass was fresh and green! There was farmland just up here, this place was alive!
I get past the sign and turn around to read it.
At first I don’t get it. It looks almost the same . . . but the words are different, they’re just written in the same way. But the sign reads in black letters:
I stare at the sign in disbelief. What is this place? It’s not Hollow Falls anymore . . . I don’t know where it is.
I turn back toward the train tracks and head back into town.
It’s official. I’m lost. Lost in the middle of Nowhere. Wherever that is . . .
I head back to the bus stop, but as I walk along the road, I feel unwell. It’s just as silent and just as empty as before, but I feel like I’m being watched.
I glance around at the different shops, but it’s too dark, I can’t see anything inside. I try to shrug off the feeling, but it sends shivers around my skin.
Okay, don’t panic. Everything is still fine, you’re just a little lost. I sit down on the seat of the bus stop to think.
  “How am I going to get out of here?”
Suddenly, I hear whispers behind me and I spin around to see. But there’s nothing behind me. Nothing but an empty, broken shop. I stand and stare at it a moment. I think I hear the slightest hint of a sound, but my mind must just be playing tricks on me. It is completely silent.
  “Hello?” I call. I stare into the cracked window of the broken down store. As I peer into the darkness I see something. A silhouette. It looks like a man. “Who’s there?” I call, stepping around the bus stop seat. I walk towards the man, “Can you help me?”
As I watch, the man takes a step into the light. But, I still can’t see his face, it’s still dark.
The man takes another slow step forward, and I watch as his body passes through the window glass, but it doesn’t shatter. The man passes through the glass as though it was made of nothing. Or rather, as though he were made of nothing.
And still, even in the light of the street, the man has no colour. He looks like a shadow, but solid. He is a  colourless shape. A darkness. Nothingness.
The rest of the man pulls through the window. I find myself backing away. Whatever this is, it is not an ordinary man.
I turn, backing away, and run to the other side of the street. But as I do, I see more silhouettes. In the stores and buildings. In the book store and the barber shop. More shadows of people. They slowly step out into the street, passing through walls and windows like ghosts. They are all walking towards me.
  “What’s going on?” I say, looking around at all the people. They are moving closer, soon they’ll have me surrounded.
I start to panic. I need to run! But where? I face away from the train tracks and just run. I run down the road as fast as I can. I pass by more and more broken down shops and buildings, even a few houses, and when I glance towards them, I see more empty silhouettes of townspeople. They look like men, women and children, all of them shaped like regular townspeople. But these aren’t people anymore. Just shadows.
I keep jogging and jogging until, after a while, the buildings fall behind me, and I’m just running on the road. Even the dried out, brown grass fades back, until all there is is the road, me and the blackness all around me. I find myself slowing to a walk as The darkness surrounds me, and silence falls. All I can hear is my steady footsteps and the rapid beating of my heart, when I see the sign up ahead. It slowly fades into view and I stop walking when I see it to stop and catch my breath. It’s the same sign again:
I find myself slowly walking back into town, all the while still feeling that sick feeling in my stomach. This is the same street, but it’s empty, no shadow-people Where did they go? I find myself standing in front of the bus stop, a damning thought crosses my mind.
No matter where I go, or how far I run, I just end up back in the middle of Nowhere.
  “How do I get home?” I murmur to myself, as I feel my lip start to tremble. I’m stuck.
  “You are home,” says a voice behind me.
Startled, I turn around quickly, and am surprised to see a little girl standing there, who appears to be about five years old. She is wearing a small, frilly, pale blue dress and she has curly, black hair.
  “Uh, hello there.”
  “Hello,” replies the little girl. She looks at me blankly.
  “What are you doing here?” I ask.
  “I live here,” replies the little girl.
  “You live here?” I ask, “What is this place?”
  “Nowhere,” says the girl.
  “Right . . .” I mutter, “Are you the only person here?” I ask.
  “No,” she says, pointing at me, “you are.”
I get chills down my spine as she points at me.
  “Uh, what’s your name little girl?” I ask,
  “I don’t know,” she says.
  “You don’t know?” I say, “How could you not know your own name?”
  “I forgot,” says the girl.
  “Forgot your name? How long have you been here?”
The girl shrugs,
  “Forever, I guess.”
  “Forever?” I look at the poor little girl and can’t help but feel sorry for her. She must have got trapped here just like me.
I feel the prickly feeling over my skin of being watched and turn to see that man in the shop window again. The silhouette of a man, staring at the two of us.
  “Here, you better come with me.” I say, holding out my hand.
  “Why?” says the little girl.
  “The . . . those things. The shadow people.”
  “Shadow people?” she says.
  “Yeah, the silhouettes . . . can’t you see them?” I ask, pointing around. There are more people standing in the windows now.
  “Those are just nobodies,” says the girl, “They won’t bother me.”
  “Nobodies?” I say, “What are they?”
  “They are bad people,” says the girl darkly, “Mean people that deserve to be forgotten . . .”
  “How did they get here?” I ask.
  “They’re just like me,” says the girl, “They’ve always been here.”
I look around at the people again. They’re walking through the windows again, starting to close in. I hold my hand out again,
  “Look, I really think we should get going. Those things are getting closer.”
  “Don’t worry,” says the girl, “They’re not going to hurt me.”
  “How do you know that?” I ask.
  “Because they’re not after me,” says the girl blankly, “They’re after you.”

I start to back away slowly.
  “Where are you going?” asks the girl.
  “I’m getting out of here.”
  “You can’t escape,” says the girl. But I don’t care. I turn around and run.
  “Don’t leave me!” says the girl. I stop and turn to face her. The girl is standing there, with her fists at her side, totally ignoring the nobodies. “Stay with me,” says the girl.
  “I can’t!” I say. The nobodies are closing in. If I don’t run now, they’ll catch me.
  “Don’t leave me . . .” says the girl. But I turn around. I hope she wasn’t lying when she said she’d be fine. I start to run, but behind me I hear the girl shout.
  “Don’t leave me!”
I just keep running. The nobodies are getting closer, just a few metres away either side of the road.
  “DON’T LEAVE ME!!” shrieks the girl. Her voice is so sad and broken, it doesn’t even sound human. I can’t stop myself, the girl sounds like she’s in terrible pain. I stop and turn back. But I can’t see her anymore. All I can see behind me are the nobodies. Dark, empty people.
It’s too late. I can’t help her. I spin back around to keep running, but the shadow people are in front of me as well. They’re all around me. I’m trapped!
Silently, they come closer and closer.
  “Stay back!” I shout. But it’s no use. The nobodies get closer and closer, and as they do they seem to converge together. Bodies becoming one mass of nothingness. And then . . . everything goes black.
 . . .
All around me, there is only darkness. An eternal void of black that stretches on for forever. I reach out my hand to touch it, but I can’t feel anything. I feel numb all over. And weightless.
  “Am I dead?” I ask.
  “No . . .” comes the reply. A voice. A woman’s voice.
I look around, but I can’t see where she is.
  “Who’s there?” I ask. There is no response. Did I imagine the voice?
  “What’s going on? Where am I?” I ask.
  “Nowhere,” replies a crackly, old man’s voice.
  “Nowhere? . . . What is this place?”
  “It used to be a town,” says a deep man’s voice, “But not anymore. Not for a long time.”
  “Why? What happened to this place?” I ask,
  “The girl,” replies the woman’s voice again, “The little girl did this.”
  “She was mad at us,” says the old man, “Furious. Because we forgot about her.”
  “She died because of us,” says a new voice, the young voice of a boy, “So she cursed us. Cursed the whole town to be forgotten. Just like she was.”
  “So that’s who you are,” I say, looking around at the blackness, “You’re all the townspeople. You’re the nobodies!”
  “Yes . . .”
I feel myself floating idly for a moment before I speak again,
  “So . . . why did you bring me here?”
  “We needed to get you away from the girl,” says the deep voice, “We didn’t want her to turn you into a nobody like us.”
  “No, not here. I mean this town! Why did you bring me to Nowhere?”
There’s no answer for a long while.
  “We didn’t bring you here,” says the young boy, “Maybe you were brought here by someone else. Perhaps you were forgotten, just like us.”
Forgotten . . . by my mother? No, she wouldn’t forget me, surely. But then why am I here?
  “Well, you’ve got to take me back,” I say.
  “We can’t,” says an elderly woman, “There’s no escape from Nowhere.”
  “That’s why we brought you here,” says the old man, “We’re here to keep you safe from the young girl, so you can spend eternity with us.”
  “Eternity?!” I scream,
  “Yes. We had to save you from the girl,” says the deep voice, “Eternity is a lot longer if you don’t remember who you are. But now you can stay here. Safe, with us. Forever.”

  “No! I can’t stay here! I have to get back!”
  “Why would you want to go back?” asks the young boy, “your mother probably doesn’t even remember you.”
  “I don’t care!” I say, “I can remember her, and that’s all I need. And if she can’t remember me, I’ll just have to remind her.”
  “But we can’t take you back. We don’t control this place,” says the old man.
  “Then take me to the girl,” I say. “If she controls this place, then I’ll make her let me go.”
  “You can’t hurt her,” says the boy.
  “I don’t need to,” I say, “just take me back . . .”
At first, there is no response from the townspeople. Just more silence. Then my vision starts to slip to grey and I see spots, and everything goes white . . .

I open my eyes and I see black again. But this time I am not weightless, I’m lying in the middle of the road, staring up at the empty sky.
I slowly stand up, and I see the little girl. She’s standing just a few metres away from me. And she looks mad. Her usual, blank expression has been replaced by a menacing scowl.
  “You. Left. Me.” she says, practically snarling at me.
  “I didn’t want to,” I say, “but you should know I can’t stay with you.”
  “Why not?!” barks the little girl. Her hair seems to flutter, but this place has no breeze.
  “I’m not from here. I have to go back home, to my Mum.”
  “You’re just like everyone else . . .” says the girl. As she speaks, her eyes begin to glow a fiery orange. She looks like a demon, but as much as it scares me, I stand tall and begin to walk towards her.
  “No, I’m not,” I tell her, “Because when I leave here, I won’t forget you.”
  “You’re a LIAR!” roars the girl. Every second she seems to get angrier, she looks less and less like an innocent little girl, “You can’t remember me! I can’t remember who I am! I don’t even know my own name! You can’t remember me because . . . I’m no one. I’m empty. And so will you be . . .”
  “True, you’re empty now,” I say, standing right in front of the girl. I stop just a metre away. “But . . . as I learned from my Mum, you may be empty now . . . but that just means you have a chance to have new memories. Better memories.”
The girl’s eyes still glow orange, but she looks at me with a sadness in her eyes.
  “But, I don’t even have a name . . .” says the girl.
  “Then you can borrow mine,” I say. I bend down and give the girl a tight hug. “I won’t forget you . . . Caity.”
At first, the girl stands there stiff . . . but eventually she wraps her arms around me too, and the orange glow in her eyes fades away.
But then, as I hold her in my arms, Caity crumbles away in my arms. I step back as the little girl crumbles into a pile of ash.
  “Caity? . . . CAITY!” I call. But she’s gone. I promise  . . . I will not forget her.
Then I hear a sharp crack. The ground, beneath my feet, it’s splitting in half!
There’s a loud crashing sound as the buildings around me begin to disintegrate, and the pieces fly up to disappear in the blackness.
The whole town of Nowhere – it’s falling apart! I turn and run as the crack down the road splits right between my feet. I jump over the gap and run as fast as I can. The bus stop flies apart. The barber shop. The book store. All of it breaks apart, snapping, smashing, cracking and crashing as it is torn into nothingness. I keep running, past the disintegrating shops, buildings and houses and onto the endless road into blackness, but as I run, I still hear the road tearing up behind me!
It’s getting closer! The ground under my feet is crumbling. I have to run faster.
Then suddenly, the ground slips away, and I clamp my eyes shut tight as I’m falling!
Falling into infinity!

Thump! I land hard on the ground.
I open my eyes and see that I’m staring at grass. Bright green grass, wet with dewdrops. I pull myself up and brush myself off.
I’m a little sore from landing so hard, but I’m alright. I’m standing on a lawn in front of someone’s house. And the sun is shining bright in the sky above me. The sun! My goodness, it feels great to finally see sunlight after so long in that dark hellhole.
I look around to see that I’m at the end of a no through road, and there’s a bus stop at the far end. I’m at the end of Dead End Street! Just around the corner and I’m home!
I jog to the end of the street, happy just to be in the light of the sun. I head around the corner and see an old man mowing his lawn.
  “Good morning!” I call out,
  “Morning,” replies the old man, obviously not as ecstatic as I am to be home. I head up to number 31 and knock on the door
  “Mum? Hello!” I push on the door, and am surprised to find it’s unlocked.
  I open it and see Mum isn’t far away on the other side.
  “Sorry I was just . . . Caitlyn?” Mum looks at me a little confused, “Caitlyn, what were you doing outside?”
  “It’s great to see you, Mum!” I say, running up and grabbing her in a hug.
  “Caitlyn, what’s the matter with you?”
  “Nothing Mum. I’m so sorry about knocking over the boxes.”
  “What? Oh, that’s nothing, dear. I was just stressed. What about you? Are you alright?”
  “I’m fine now, Mum. I’m just great.”
  “Alright then . . . well, since you’re up. We might as well have some breakfast. You’ll need your strength for your first day at school.”
  “School? Oh, right . . .” I say. Then it dawns on me that I’ll have to go through my whole first day at school without any sleep, “Well, if I have to go to school, can we at least have pancakes for breakfast?”

I eat a whole stack of pancakes, and cup of coffee, just in case. Then I have to race around getting my bag and everything ready for school. It takes ages to find my books and pens, and before you know it, Mum’s yelling at me from downstairs that the school bus is here.
I run as fast as I can down the stairs, tripping on the third step, but managing to catch myself before I tumble down to the bottom. I run past Mum, who’s holding the door open. I manage to say “Love you, Mum,” as I run out the door and sprint towards the bus stop, where the bus is already waiting. Just as I’m getting close, the door closes and the bus starts to move.
  “No, WAIT! Wait for me!” I call out. The bus jolts to a stop and the door slides open again. Breathing heavily I head up to the door and step inside.
  “Well, hello there, Miss,” says a familiar voice. I look up at the bus driver. A skinny, wrinkly old man, like a bag of bones. He looks at me, chuckling to himself, and he says,
  “One-way ticket?”

Monday, 27 October 2014

Bonechillers: “Welcome to Nowhere” – Ch.2: Nowhere

I crumple into the foetal position as the boxes fall down. Shadow encompasses me and I feel my head smack into the tiles as a heavy box hits it. My whole body is compressed under the falling cardboard and something heavy hits my sore leg.
I hear crashing, smashing and boxes busting from the fall, then as I lie and wait for the sound to die down, Mum comes running in,
“Caity! CAITLYN?!”  She sounds panicked, but I can’t see, I’m covered in boxes.
“I’m here,” I murmur, Raising up a hand through the mess. Mum grabs my hand and pulls me up.
“Careful, my head hurts. Any my leg,” I say, as I am pulled upright and lean against my Mum for a moment.
“Caitlyn, what the hell happened?”
“My leg hurt,” I say, hopping to lean on the staircase banister, like I meant to a moment ago, “I leant on the boxes and they fell on me.”
“Caity . . . you stupid girl,” Mum murmurs, looking at the mess. I look at it too. A box of socks exploded, as did a box of Mum’s shoes. Many boxes are crumpled, but still intact.
“oh, no . . .” Mum murmurs, reaching to one in particular. As she rolls the box back upright, I hear broken glass tinkling around inside.
She opens the box and gingerly takes out a photo frame. I don’t need to see the photo, I can recognize that silver frame. It’s Mum’s wedding photo.
Mum drops the broken frame back in the box.
“Caitlyn, go to your room,” Mum says, her voice void of feeling.
“I’m sorry, it was an accident.”
“Damn it Caitlyn!” Mum suddenly shouts. Tears are in her eyes, she turns around so I can’t see her
“I don’t want to deal with you right now, alright? Just . . . go to your room. I’ll clean this up.”
“Alright, Mum,” I say. I grab the banister and limp up the stairs and out of sight.
I get to my room and sit on the bed, rubbing my head. It hurts from when I hit the tiles, but I’ve had a lot worse before, It’ll be fine soon enough. But my leg still hurts, that could still be aching in the morning. I wish I could ask Mum for some help, but she’s not in the state to help me right now.
If only I could tell her it wasn’t my fault. It was an accident. Well, obviously, it was an accident. Mum would know that already, wouldn’t she? I mean, I wouldn’t do that on purpose.
Wait, then why is she so upset at me? She knows I wouldn’t do that on purpose, what did I do wrong? I didn’t do anything wrong at all, she knows I’m clumsy, it was an accident.
It’s because of her wedding photo, yeah, she’s upset. But she shouldn’t take it out on me! That’s selfish. She just wants to be left right alone because she’s sad about Dad. Hey, I’m sad too! What about me? I never even wanted to leave the house where we lived and loved and played together with Dad, and she’s crying over a photo?!
I’ve lost my whole childhood and she’s sad over a losing a photograph. She didn’t even ask me if I was alright! Well . . . to hell with her.
She doesn’t want to deal with me right now . . . well maybe she doesn’t want to deal with me at all.
She wanted to move to this new, stupid town. Let’s see how she feels if I disappear in this strange place. Have her looking all around for me. She’ll see why it was such a bad idea to move to Hollow Falls.
I mean, I’m not gonna run away for real. I’m just gonna head off a little, just to scare her. Make her realize how unfair she is being. I’ll just head down the street and wait.
I walk back down the hall and creep over to the balcony, and peek over the banister. Mum’s in the entryway, I can’t get out through the front door, maybe this isn’t such a good idea. Mum is bent over, moving boxes to the corner of the room, muttering to herself.
No, I want to do this. If Mum can be frivolous, so can I. But I can’t leave through the front door . . .
I get up and head straight back to my room. There’s a box of my clothes in the corner, and I head to it. I take my shoes off and slip into a pair of jeans, then put my joggers back on. I pick a nice, dark t-shirt, then a good turtleneck jumper to keep me warm.
I grab my wallet, with about $28.30 in it. And lastly, I make sure my long, light brown hair is tied back in a ponytail and out of the way.
I head down the hall and into Mum’s room. There’s a window in her room that looks out over the street. I carefully open it up and peer outside. The wind is cool, making my jumper useful. The crescent moon is shining bright, but it’s just as dark as before, so I stare out into the street to let my eyes adjust to the darkness. I stare out on our lawn for about a minute, until I can distinctly see our mailbox. Perfect.
Slowly and carefully, I step up onto the window ledge and look out. It’s not that high up, but I don’t exactly want to jump out of a two-storey window.
I turn and climb out backwards, hanging onto the window sill with my hands, then stretch my feet out towards the ground, trying to be as close to the ground as I can, to lessen my fall.
Then, giving myself a little push away from the brick wall with my good knee, I let go of the window . . .

Luckily, I’m so used to falling down, I’ve gotten good at it. As I land, I collapse my legs under me and land onto my back. It’s not graceful, but it doesn’t hurt. And it barely made any sound.
I lift up my head to look around, to see if Mum noticed anything, but even after waiting for what feels like a minute, there’s no reaction from inside. I get up, careful not to make a sound, and limp toward the pavement. The place is still empty, still and silent. There aren’t even any birds or bugs chirping in the night time, like you’d be expecting. Pure silence. As I head along the pavement, my sore knee starts to let up a bit, and I can manage an uneven step which doesn’t hurt my leg very much. I get to the bus stop on the corner and sit on the seat.
Yeah, I didn’t get very far, but I’m happy with this. I’ve never run away before, maybe I’m not very good at it. But if I just sit here, at least Mum will still get scared. And maybe I won’t get in as much trouble, since I’m not that far from home.
So I sit at the bus stop and stare across the street. The houses around here are really creepy, since there’s no light at all. Maybe no one lives around here. I mean, we just moved in, perhaps it’s one of those new developments, and we’re the first to buy them. Except that these houses look kind of old.
I rub my hands together to keep them from getting chilled. What’s taking Mum so long? I wish I’d brought a watch, then I’d know if she should have found me by now. If she’s going to find me at all, that is. I mean, it’s a stupid thought, I know that Mum will come after me eventually. But what if she doesn’t notice that I’m gone? What if she just goes straight to bed, and she doesn’t realize I’m gone till morning? Should I just wait out here all night? In the cold? In the dark? I could just go back, and she wouldn’t even know that I was gone . . .
No, I want to teach her a lesson!
But I also don’t want to sit out here all night, how will I get to sleep?
At the very thought of it, I yawn loudly. No, no, I’m not really tired. It’s just a reflex because I was thinking about . . . I yawn again, this time a little longer.
No, stop thinking about it. I’m NOT going to sleep. I will sit out here for as long as I have to!
I sit and stare at the house across the street, when suddenly I hear a sound. Like a hiss, off in the distance, then a low growl.
The growl gets deeper and louder, then something appears at the far right end of the street. I lean forward and look out to see light shining brightly up the street, making me squint. Headlights. It’s a bus.
With its old engine groaning loudly, the bus drives up the street slowly but surely. Then, with a high squeal of breaks, the bus comes to a stop in front of me, and the doors open up.
“One-way ticket?” asks the bus driver. I look up at the man. He’s a wrinkly old man, but he’s very skinny, like an old bag of bones.
“No.” I reply, still sitting down at the bus stop.
“Alright then, where ya goin’?” he asks,
The man chuckles to himself,
“Well, a one-way ticket to ‘nowhere’ is one-fifty. A nightly ticket is two-fifty.”
It’s my own fault for sitting at a bus stop, the man doesn’t realize that I’m not catching the bus . . . but maybe I could . . . I can’t help but smirk at the evil thought. I wouldn’t have to walk anywhere, the guy could just take me into town. More fear for my Mum for all the less effort.
“Well, are you getting on, or not?” asks the driver, impatiently resting his hand on the door lever.
“Actually, yes,” I say, taking out my wallet. “Can you take me into town?”
“Yes.” I say, handing over the money. If Mum is going to pick me up, I won’t need a ticket back. The driver puts the money in the register and hands me my ticket.
“Take a seat,” he says. But before I can sit down, he closes the door and sets the bus in motion. The bus is completely empty, but I’m not surprised. It is the nightly bus service, after all. I move towards a seat, but the bus suddenly takes a sharp turn to the left, and I fall over. Pulling myself up, I slide onto one of the seats. I try to look out the window, but the lights in the bus are too bright, so my reflection just stares back at me.
I have a quick look around the bus. The seats are some sort of ancient, beige leather, and a lot of the windows are smudged. The backs of seats have graffiti scribbled on them, and the entire, rickety contraption seems to rattle as though threatening to fall apart. So, it’s just like any other bus. I lean my head right up against the glass and stare out the window. It’s just a blur of moving blackness, but I keep staring out, trying to recognise something. I could still be on my street, or I could be passing by the circus for all I know, I couldn’t tell one blur from another as I just stare out the window.
I yawn and lean my head against the window, staring out until I can see dark shapes flicking past. I still can’t recognize any of it, It’s just a mess of blackness.
I find myself stifling another yawn and looking through the rattling bus as we drive along. I feel every turn as the ancient machine rolls around the corners and jolt back up to pace. I’m surprised the thing is still in service.
Then we stop. I look forward and barely can see a red light through the windscreen. We sit still and wait for the traffic. Although there surely is none, it’s much too late at night.
Then I hear something. Bells. Familiar bells ringing. That explains the red light, then.
I lean my head back against the window when I realise that the sound is coming from behind me. I look out the back window. There are more red lights behind me. Well, that’s odd.
The bells keep on ringing When I see something out the window. In the distance, it’s a light.
I hear a horn blast. It’s the train. Wait . . .
“Driver! We’re on the tracks!” There’s no response. I run up to the front of the bus and grab the bus driver by his shoulders. And scream!
he’s just bones, bones in a bus driver’s uniform. The skull falls off and rolls on the floor.
I grab the door lever and pull it, but it doesn’t budge.
The train horn blares again, this time much closer.
The emergency exit! I run to the back of the bus and get to the small door there. I push the handle, but it doesn’t move. Stupid, ancient old bus!
I kick at the door, but it doesn’t budge. I look back at the window. The train’s light is blinding, and it blares its horn one last time.
We’re gonna crash!

With a heavy bang! I hit my head against the window, snapping me awake. I rub my sore forehead. It feels cold after leaning on the window for so long. I guess I must have fallen asleep.
I rub the sleep from my eyes and look out the window. It’s just my reflection. No runaway trains, no skeletons, just my reflection on blackness.
I haven’t had a nightmare in a long time, not since Dad died, it must be this new town. I look around the bus just to get my bearings. I hope I didn’t miss my stop.
I move to stand up, but luckily I grab onto the seat in front of me as the bus comes to a squealing halt.
Without turning to me, the bus driver calls back,
“Here’s your stop.”
I stand up straight, and head down the aisle. Giving the driver a little nod, I head down the stairs,
“Take care of yourself, Miss.” He says as he nods back. And as soon as I step off the bus, the doors slam shut behind me. Then the bus roars into life and revvs its engine right off, heading down the street. As the tail lights of the bus fade away into the distance, the sound of the engine dulls down to complete silence. And I am left standing alone in the dark.
It’s really late now, and I can’t see the moon anymore as I look up. The clouds must have taken over, because there are no stars either. The sky looks like an enormous, black ink blot. I look around myself to see that I am in the middle of town. But it feels very strange. I don’t recognise this part of town, There are a lot of houses and buildings each spaced evenly apart, but it is hard to see it all in the dim light.
I am standing at the bus stop, but all it consists of is a seat and a Bus Stop sign.
So, I sit down on the seat. The silence is complete and absolute. No crickets chirp and no trees rustle. It is a silent night. The silence is almost calming, but with the sky as dark as it is, I feel like I’m in another world. I look back and forth along the street. None of the streetlights are on and the moon is hidden behind cloud, but my eyes have adjusted, because I can see most of the buildings now.
Across the street from me is a barber shop, but the windows are all smashed and boarded up, and the place looks like it’s covered with dust. Beside that is a dark and empty lot with a sign saying “For Sale”. And beside that, a rundown old reastaurant or bar. I must be near the dead part of town or something.
The seat I’m on is hard and uncomfortable, and I shift to keep the blood flowing through my legs. Every movement makes a little sound that echoes lightly in the silence. I don’t like it.
I let out a long, low whistle. No response. Surely out here in the bush there should be heaps of bugs and birds and nightlife. Where are all the animals? I mean, there should at least be a possum. A gecko. Even a cricket.
I get up and wander to the stop sign, just for something to get my mind off the silence. The sign has the bus timetable on it, but where the times should be listed, the glass has been smashed and someone has spray painted onto the sign with black paint so that it reads:
Bus Times: NEVER
Great. I wander back to the seat and sit down. Mum surely is taking her time. Isn’t she worried about me, yet? I really don’t want to stay out here all night, not in this creepy silence.
The uncomfortable seat is starting to make my legs go numb, so I decide to get up and wander around. Maybe I could figure out what it is about this part of town that shut it down. I walk down the street, looking at the buildings. This side of the street is a line of shops, side by side, and they are all deserted. Book stores, clothing stores and toy shops, all dead and empty. They aren’t all sold out though, some just look like the owners run off. The toy store still has stacked shelves, filled with toys, and covered in a layer of dust and ash. One of the restaurant even has plates and cutlery on the tables.
It sends a shiver down my spine. Why would someone leave their shop like that? What happened here . . . it’s almost like people just got up and ran. Leaving the place empty. But why?
I cross the street and glance up at the street sign on the corner, but I can’t read it. The paint has all peeled off, and the sign has been reduced to just a slice of rusty metal sticking out of the top of the pole.
I keep walking along, and as I do, the buildings drift away. I pass another store, then an empty gas station, then there’s just bare grass. Either side of the road, just grass. I stop and glance at the open area. As far as I can see, which is just a few metres in this dark, the grass is brown, dry and dead.
What happened here? Did a bomb go off or something? I look on the other side of the road and into the distance, and I see a glimpse of something in the dark. Something white or light-coloured, it’s hard to see in the dark. I walk out to the centre of the road, since it’s brightest there, and I start to walk towards the thing in the distance. I get closer and start to see that it’s a square shape, but still can’t quite make it out. I start to walk faster, when suddenly my foot gets caught and fall over onto the road.
Luckily I stop myself from getting hurt this time, but it scared the life out of me. I get up and look at the road.
Train tracks. I tripped on train tracks. Wait . . . that doesn’t make any sense. I’ve been here. Mum drove through here when we got to town. We passed over these tracks. And that thing in the distance, that must be the sign we passed on the way in that says “Welcome to Hollow Falls”. But the grass wasn’t dead and brown around here. And this wasn’t the dead part of town. This is the Eureka Highway, this is the main part of town, where all the shops were. The shops that were closed. Not broken down. And there should be a whole heap of trees off to the right there. A whole forest!
What’s going on?
I turn around and walk back to the bus stop. My shoes tap the ground loudly in the silence as I make my way back. Looking around the street now, it is even weirder, because I remember it. I remember driving down here in the car clearly, but it wasn’t like this at all. It was closed and dark, but it wasn’t broken, it wasn’t boarded up or deserted.
 I stop when I get to the rusty street sign again and start to feel unwell.
We turned down this street. I know, I’m sure of it, but the street had a name . . . or did it? I don’t know . . . I’m lost. I must be lost.
My lip starts to tremble as I look around.
No, no, this is silly. I know this place, come on. The train tracks are just there, and they pass behind my house! I know that, so if I just walk along the tracks, then they’ll lead me to my backyard. Sure, I’ll have to climb the back fence, but I’ll be home.
And that’s where I want to be now. Home. Screw running away, this was a bad idea. My Mum must be worried sick.
I turn back towards the train tracks and jog along the road until I see them, then I stop. I glance around to make sure there are no trains or anything, then I stand in the middle of the rails and start walking towards my house.
It gets really dark as I walk away from the road, but I can still see the tracks pretty well. All I have to do now is keep an eye out for my window. I left my bedroom light on when I left, so I should see it through the window. This is easy. Pretty scary in this empty darkness, but still easy.
There are rocks between the rails and they crunch as I walk along them, heading down the rails. I’m glad for the sound, the silence really creeps me out.
I glance left and right, either side of the rails, but it’s pitch black. It sends shivers down my spine. All I can see is a few metres of track in front of me, then the rails seem to run off into oblivion. I really hope a train doesn’t come by.
I see something along the tracks in the distance. It looks like another road. Is that Dead End Street?
I keep walking until I’m standing in the middle of the road, then I stop. I look left. There are no houses that I can see. This can’t be Dead End Street. I look down the other way, and see something in the distance. It takes a second for my eyes to adjust, but I soon recognise it. A blurry, white square hidden in the dark. It’s the sign. The sign from before. The sign Mum and me passed on the way into town . . .
but that makes no sense.
I walked in a straight line! A perfectly straight line! The only way I could be back here . . . is if I was going around in circles.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Bonechillers: “Welcome to Nowhere” – Ch.1: Nothing

The sky was dark and empty. There was not a cloud, not even a sliver of sunlight as we drove down the middle of nowhere. We’ve been driving for hours now, and neither of us has spoken a word. We could be lost for all I know. We’ve been driving past empty field after empty field, with only the occasional goat or sheep flicking past the window.
I glance over at my mother. She’s concentrating on the road. Not because she needs to. We’ve been cruising for hours and there hasn’t been a sharp turn since we hit the highway. She is just avoiding talking to me, she doesn’t want to say a word. She doesn’t want to risk another argument.
For the last four months, Mom has wanted us to move out of our city apartment. And for the last four months, I have not. I tried to stop her, but she had already made up her mind. This led to screaming matches that spiralled out of control. Pointless swearing and arguments.
I never wanted to leave that apartment. We used to live there with Dad. I grew up there. It’s full of memories. As it turns out, that’s exactly why Mum wanted to leave.
Now we’re on the road to our new home, out in the bush, away from people and the city and civilization. We’re headed to a town called Hollow Falls. My new home, and I already hate it. We’re so far away from everywhere else out here. I miss my friends. I miss city life and living in an apartment, it feels so much more alive in the city than out here in the bush.
I look out to the horizon and see a patch of dark green over the hills to the left. It looks almost black under the late afternoon sky. It’s a forest. A large, dense forest.
The car’s headlights shine upon a white sign by the side of the road, painted with black letters:
“We’re here,” says mum with a sigh, “I hope the movers are already at the house.”
“I don’t like it,” I mumble, looking at a nearby farmhouse, which is covered with peeling paint.
“Give it a try, Caity, you’ll get used to it.”
“I don’t want to get used to it . . .” I murmur under my breath. I want to argue, but I don’t want to upset Mum again. “Look, train tracks.”
We approach a railroad crossing. As we get closer, the lights flash and the bells ring. I shift in my seat as Mum slowly applies the brakes and the boom gate lowers in front of us. I stare at the boom gate.
There’s no sound but the warning bells, which drowns out the gentle purr of the car engine.
I look left and right along the train tracks. The track circles the forest to the left, separated from the trees by a short fence. And to the right it stretches off to the dark horizon, on a raised mound of broken rock. But I can’t see a train.
“What’s going on?” I ask.
“Don’t know. Must be an old signal,” says Mum. I stare at the flashing lights and hear nothing but the sound of the warning bells for a good minute or so before the boom gate finally rises up.
We bump roughly over the railroad crossing as we drive into the town proper. To the left is a wall of trees, and to the right are some scattered buildings and side streets.
“Keep an eye out for Torrance Street,” says Mum, driving slowly down the road. We turn down one of the streets and into suburbia. It feels weird that we were passing farm houses just moments before. We turn another corner and I stare at the houses around. They look well-kept and very clean, but it feels weird around here. It feels empty. It’s late afternoon, why aren’t any lights on inside?
“There, look,” I say, spotting a sign,
“Ah: Torrance Street,” says Mum, reading the sign. We’re nearly there. We turn down the street and mum sighs,
“I can’t see the moving van. I guess they’re not here yet.”
“Which one is ours?”
“Number 31. It’s just past the cul-de-sac.”
“The what?”
“The No Through Road, there,” Mum says, pointing at a sign to the right. The sign reads: Dead End Street and there’s a small bus stop on the corner. I guess that’s where I’ll be catching the bus to school. Mum drives two houses past it then turns into the driveway of number 31, a little, two-storey brick house. “Well, we’re here,” Mum says, cutting power to the engine and undoing her seatbelt.
“When will the movers get here?” I ask.
“It’s a long way. They could be half an hour off. Come on, let’s check out the house.”
I follow Mum out of the car and we go to the front door. Mum takes the new key out of her pocket and tries it in the lock. It takes her a few tries before she realizes it’s upside-down. “I guess it’ll take a while to get used to the new house . . .” Mum says, unlocking the door. We head inside the front room.
“Woah!” I trip over the threshold and onto the tile floor.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, I tripped,” I grunt, pulling myself to my feet. My hands throb from smacking into the cold tiles. Mum just sighs,
“You should be more careful, Caitlyn.”
I stand up, rubbing my arms and look up to the ceiling. It is very dark and tall, an open space all the way up the two stories with a staircase by the wall. It feels so cold and empty in here. The light suddenly flickers on as Mum finds the light switch.
“There we go,” says Mum, “that’s a lot better.”
“It feels so empty,” I say, rubbing my arms to stop the cold. The silence is deafening.
“Of course it’s empty, our furniture isn’t here yet.”
“I don’t like it. It doesn’t feel right,” I say. Mum sighs,
“Come on Caity, give it a chance.”
“I’m serious. I don’t like it. It’s cold.”
“We’re further down south here, it gets a little colder. But we’ll just set the heaters up down here when the movers come, it’ll warm up.”
Mum heads deeper into the house and starts turning on the lights. But I stay in the front room. This house is creepy.
I hear something in the room to the left.
No response. I wander into the room. It’s empty, but I think it was a lounge room. It’s carpeted and it has a slight stale smell. I hear the sound again, like a scuffling sound. I walk up to the wall and give it a tap with my knuckles. There’s a panicked scuffling noise behind the wall.
“MUM! I think we have mice!”
The scuffling sound scrambles away and I fold my arms again to stop the cold. Then I hear another sound. It’s coming from deeper into the house. I walk through an archway into another empty, carpeted room and there’s a window looking out on the backyard, covered by a thin, lace curtain. But the sound I hear isn’t scuffling. It’s rumbling. A deep and heavy rumbling. Like thunder. There’s a sudden high screech and the rumbling gets louder. The sound is coming from outside. I step up to the window and look out. I hear the long, mournful horn of the engine and just over the back fence I see the train travel past. It thunders loudly as it goes past, a dark shape with squares of yellow light flicking past in a blur. I watch it go by and wonder where it is going. With a high squeal, the train disappears from view and I stand at the window until the sound of the train fades away into silence.
In the quiet, empty room I realize that I’m holding my breath, so I let it out in a long, low whistle. As I stand, staring out the window, I look at the grassy backyard and sigh. I wish we were back in the apartment. I miss my friends, I miss my Dad. Why did we have to leave it all behind?
What was that? I hear footsteps. heavy footsteps, behind me. Before I can turn around to see who it is, something large grabs my shoulder.
And I scream.

Mum comes running into the lounge room,
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
We both look at the man. He’s a big man, wearing overalls and a red cap,
“Dreadful sorry, Miss. The door was open, I didn’t mean to scare ya.” He takes his hat off his head and holds it against his chest,
“I was looking for you, Mrs Beckett.” he says nodding towards my Mum, “I drive the moving van. I saw the car out front and figured you was inside, but I seem to have given this young girl a fright.”
“Yes, I see that. Caitlyn, you had me worried there.”
“Sorry, Mum.”
“Nah, it’s my fault, don’t you be sorry” says the moving man. And he looks very apologetic. “I just need to know where you want us to put all of this,” he says, pointing toward the truck outside.
“Yes, of course. I’ll show you.”
Mum heads to the front door, and the man turns to follow her, but not before turning to me and saying,
“I am sorry, miss.”
He follows Mum outside, and I’m left standing in the empty room, my heart still thumping a mile a minute.
“Calm down, Caitlyn,” I tell myself. I head to the nearby wall and lean against it to calm myself down.
I take a few calming breaths. I wait until my heart slows down, then I slide down the wall and sit on the floor with a bump.
“Ow,” I mumble. I hear Mum talking to the movers.
“The beds go upstairs, I think we should get that out of the way first.” Then Mum comes in through the doorway.
“Caitlyn? Are you alright?”
“I guess so.”
“We’re going to set up the bedrooms, are you going to help with your stuff?”
“I don’t care. Mum, I don’t like this house.”
“What do you mean, you don’t like it? You haven’t even been here fifteen minutes.”
“But it’s so empty.”
“We’re bringing the furniture inside now.”
“No . . . not like that. It’s empty. The other house was fun. I grew up there and there was Dad . . . I miss all the memories. This place, though . . . it’s dead. And cold.”
“You have to give it a chance, Caity.”
“Please don’t call me Caity.” Mum crouches down and looks me in the eye,
“Caitlyn. You have to give it time. We’ve lived in the same house for years, but now it’s time for a fresh start. We don’t have the old times, that’s true. But now we can make new memories, here. Better memories. I know you don’t like it now, but give it a chance. Please? For me?”
“Alright. Help me up.”
“Lazy . . .” Mum gets up and takes my hand, “Oof, you’re getting heavy.”
“Well, pick yourself up next time. Now come on, let’s get this room started.”
We helped the movers to organize the furniture out of the truck. The men were good at their job and finished quicker than I expected, but night had fallen by the time we finished unloading the truck. The men stacked all the boxes by the staircase for us to unpack ourselves and after Mum had a chat with them outside they packed themselves in the truck and drove off.
“Well, that’s all that,” says Mum wandering into the front room again, “We’re home.”
“We still have to unpack everything,” I say, looking up at the pile of boxes by the stairs.
“We’ll unpack as we need to. There are bed sheets for tonight and our clothes for tomorrow. But now’s not the time to worry about that.”
Mum heads into the newly furnished lounge room and I follow her. She sits on the couch, “Now is the time to rest and enjoy a job well done.”
I look around at the bare walls, it make me feel uneasy to see the emptiness.
“We should put up some pictures in here.”
“Sit down, Caitlyn. Relax,” says Mum. I let out a heavy breath and sit down beside my mother.
“What do we do now?”
“I dunno,” Mum says with a yawn, “Dinner I guess.”
“You want to cook dinner now? Aren’t you tired?”
“A little bit. But we have to eat some time, and I don’t know any of the local home-delivery numbers.”
“Well, why don’t we drive around?” I say, standing up, “We can look around the place and stop at the best take away place we find.”
Mum nods to herself,
“Good idea.” She jumps up off the couch, “after all our hard work we deserve a treat.”
“Hard work? Those moving guys lifted everything.”
“But I had to drive all the way here. And I haven’t eaten anything since breakfast.”
I pat a hand on my empty stomach,
“You’re right there.”
So Mum takes the car keys from her pocket and we head outside to the car.
I take care not to trip on the doorframe again and we get in the car. I sit in the front seat, excited that we can finally do something fun in this miserable little town, but as we back out of the driveway the square, window eyes of number 31 Torrance Street look down on me like an insignificant pest, sending a shiver down my back. There really is something weird about this town, but I shake off the feeling when I see Mum’s enthusiasm.
“Oh, look there,” says Mum, pointing at the bus stop a few metres down from our house. “That’s must be where you catch the bus to school.”
“I know, Mum. I saw it when we drove down. Don’t worry.”
“I’m not worried. But you do start school tomorrow. I hope you’re ready.”
“Tomorrow?! Isn’t that a bit soon?”
“The sooner you get to know the kids at school, the sooner you can make friends. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll have fun.” She says, again smiling that optimistic smile.
Of course, she doesn’t understand how bad I am with kids my age. I’m not really into the same music as other teenagers, and I don’t watch much television. That alone wouldn’t make me a social outcast, but I’m also a terrible klutz, and most people don’t find that endearing.
But I like that Mum is happy. I don’t think she’s smiled so much in a month. I never realized how much the old house affected her. Maybe it’s because Dad died there, I don’t know. Mum says we moved out here to save money. But a cramped, one and a half bedroom apartment should be cheaper than owning a two-storey house, surely. Maybe she couldn’t stand the memories. Which sucks for me, cos that’s the reason I loved it so much.
“Well, what’ll we eat?” says Mum, turning onto the main road, and bringing me back to my senses. “Do you want Pizza? Burgers? Or would you want to go to a restaurant? After all that work, we deserve a real treat.”
“Nah, a restaurant would wreck the feel. We’re in a new house, we’re supposed to eat at the table. Without plates.” Mum chuckles at that.
“Alright then. But if we’re not using plates, I say we eat burgers. With wrappers, it’ll make less mess.”
“Alright then. You’re the boss,” I say. Mum smirks,
“I’ll remember you said that next time you don’t clean your room . . .”
We drive down the road, past the dark forest and into the main part of town, but it’s mostly shut. Sunday isn’t the best time to look for an open shop, even in Hollow Falls. Some places are still open, but the street is empty, even though this road is part of the Eureka Highway that heads right down the middle of town.
“See anywhere good?” asks Mum. I look around the place. There’s some odd-job businesses; a Dental Surgery and a Local Pool but I don’t see many good take-away places.
Mum turns the corner onto Duncan Road and the lights of the business district fade away. Decrepit buildings and boarded up houses line the street. An ice-skating rink with the roof caved in; a broken down town hall; an abandoned theatre.
“Where are we?” I ask.
“This must be the dead part of town,” says Mum, “We won’t find a burger place down here.”
She turns back down the main part of town and starts looking around for a restaurant. But I turn back toward Duncan Road.
What was that? What happened there? Why was that street abandoned? What is with this town?
Near the far end of town Mum finds exactly what we need. A place called Dave’s Diner right beside the gas station.
Honestly, I was hoping to eat something more like junk food, but it’s the best thing open tonight unless we want to eat at the restaurant with the cracked window.
I was expecting a drive-thru, having lived so close to the city for so long, but the place is just a small parking lot and the restaurant itself.
We get out of the car and head up to the front door. Mum heads straight inside, but I glance through the windows and have a look at the place. It looks like a pretty nice little place, with booths in the corner and a colourful design. It looks perfectly normal to me. I mean, except that it doesn’t have a drive-thru.
I stare around the building and look at the dark forest just beyond the car park and I see something around the corner. Around the edge of the building, where the shadows fall, I see something.
At first I think that it’s just my gullible mind playing tricks on itself, but then a dark figure suddenly stumbles out of the dark. It turn to look at it, and the hooded thing turns to me. It slowly stumbles towards me holding out dirty, wrinkled hands.
Please . . .” the man groans, “Please, Help me!”

“Please, I have nothing . . .” says the man, “Please, help me.” The poor homeless man looked like he hasn’t eaten anything or showered in weeks, his face gaunt and pale with a long dirty beard and his fingernails yellowed and cracked,
“I’m sorry. I don’t have anything to give you.” I tell the man. He looks teary-eyed as he turns and walks out through the car park.
“Caitlyn! Come inside.” My mother calls from within the diner. I turn away and head inside, glancing back to see the man stumble towards the road. “Aren’t you old enough to know not to talk to strangers?” Mum scolds me,
“He’s just homeless,” I say defensively, “He just wanted help. I told him I couldn’t.”
Mum shakes her head,
“You should be more careful in the future. He could have been dangerous.”
“It was just an old man,” I say. But seeing the frown on Mum’s face I add, “but I will be more careful.”
“Right,” she says, “Well, what are you hungry for?”
I scan the menu up above the counter.
“Uh . . . Works Burger and chips.”
Mum nods, then heads up and pays for two works burgers with chips and soda.
“Won’t be a moment,” says the spotty teen behind the counter. As we stand and wait, I can’t help but be reminded that through the entire car ride, we never had a bathroom break.
“Uh, excuse me,” I say to the server, “Is there a bathroom around here?”
“They’re just outside, around the corner,” he says, pointing. I turn and head outside. It’s cold and quiet out here. I head around the corner and see two doors, it takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dark so that I can tell the restroom symbols apart.
I push against the girl’s restroom door, but it doesn’t budge. I push and pull and jiggle the door handle. It’s stuck. I try the boy’s bathroom. The door swings open easily, but the lights are off and it smells terrible in there. I decide not to risk it and to hold it in until we get home.
I head back around to the door, but as I do I see the homeless man again. He’s standing at the far end of the car park, and he’s hunched over.
I watch as something in his hand sparks once. Twice. Then the lighter catches and he uses it to light a cigarette. Then I hear him coughing and spluttering as he spits something on the pavement.
The man’s disgusting, but I can’t help feeling sorry for him. It can’t be his fault that he lives on the street. I head back inside the restaurant with my mum and wait until our burgers are ready.
Soon enough, the smell of our food drifts out from the kitchen, and the cook comes out with two burgers hidden inside square, styrofoam boxes and two red cardboard cups full of hot chips. Mum takes the food, whilst I take the two bottles of soda, we thank the guy for our food and get in the car.
“I can’t wait to eat this stuff . . .” I say as I do up my seatbelt.
“Well you’ll have to,” says Mum. “I don’t want to make a mess of the car.”
“It’s a figure of speech, Mum. Just get home quick.”
The ride home, filled with the bouquet of our hot chips and burgers, is almost intolerable, and I find myself swallowing hungrily as my mouth waters in anticipation. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a proper burger.
We drive to the house and up the driveway, and I slowly unbuckle my seatbelt, careful not to drop our drinks as I make my way to the door.
Mum unlocks and opens the door with one hand and I follow her inside, careful not to trip on the doorway again and we take our food to the table.
We put the food out on the table and get started. The burgers are fantastic. The meat and cheese have melted together beautifully, the sauce drips down my elbows and the chips are crisp. It’s the kind of rustic, old school burger I haven’t had for a long time. Mum finishes her burger way before I do.
“Don’t make a mess of the table,” Mum says, pointing to a drop of sauce as it drips down my arm. I lick it up before it gets to my elbow. “My goodness, you’re a grot, Caity.”
“Just look at you,” I say, pointing to Mum’s cheek. Mum wipes at her cheek, scraping off a smear of barbeque sauce.
“Oh,” says Mum, licking her fingers, “Well, that just means it was a good feed. But at least I’m not talking with my mouth full.”
I just grab another few chips and pop them in my mouth.
“Caity . . .” Mum sighs,
“Don’t call me, Caity,” I say, my cheeks full of burger, “I’m not a baby.”
“Then stop acting like one.”
I stick my tongue out. Mum giggles, “You look like you’re about to explode when you do that. Now eat your food and do your dishes.”
I swallow the lump of food I’d massed in my mouth and give her a look.
“What dishes?”
Mum holds up her rubbish and food wrappers,
“You can put yours in the bin.”
“What bin? We haven’t put bags in any of the bins yet.”
“The bin outside,” says Mum, heading out of the kitchen, “Honestly, Caity, use your head.”
“Don’t call me Caity,” I mumble as Mum heads outside to throw out her rubbish.
I quickly finish my burger. Happily wolfing it down now that Mum isn’t watching me, and brush my hands off on my pants.
Then I scrunch up my rubbish in a big bundle, taking the empty soda bottle in my other hand and head outside.
Mum’s left the front door open for me, so I head outside and walk into the darkness. It’s pretty creepy out here. Seriously, WHY doesn’t anyone else have their lights on? I stumble to the edge of the curb where the bins are and throw my rubbish in.
Then I look around a little bit. This place is quiet. It’s creepy and dark and you can’t hear anything. I much prefer it in the city. No matter how late it is, there’s always a car or a bus or an ambulance. It’s never . . . silent.
I look back at the house. The two upper windows stare down at me again like eyes. Maybe it’s better that no one has their lights on. I wouldn’t want the whole neighbourhood to be staring at me. I quickly head back inside and promptly trip on the doorway.
“Aagh! Damn it!” I land face-first on the tiles, actually managing to hurt my cheek and my leg.
I slowly get up and realize that I’ve hit a nerve or something in my knee, it really hurts.
“MUM!” I call, I walk towards the kitchen again, looking for Mum, but my leg hurts a lot. I limp weakly, but can’t keep my balance, I hold my arm out to grab onto the staircase banister. I grab onto something. But it isn’t the banister. It feels like cardboard, and moves as I put my weight on it. The cardboard box slips, and as I fall, I see that the whole pile of boxes that we stacked by the stairs, are now falling, right on top of me!