Callum B. Downes

Ghost City

“Huh? What’s that, mate. Ya mumblin.”

“Nothing,” lied Billy. “So the S.C.G you say? How can I get there?”

“A bus to Moore Park should do the trick. Got any coin for ya ticket?”

Billy shook his head.

The homeless man dived straight into his hat, which held all the coins he’d earned that morning. “Here, take these.” He flipped a few gold coins at Billy, who had no choice but to catch them.

“But that’s everything you have,” gasped Billy.

“I’ll be richer for it in ere.” He pointed to his chest again. “Now scram! Before I call the cops! Dogs ain’t allowed in Circular Quay.”

“Bums aren’t allowed here either,” grumbled a man walking past, all suit, no soul.

“Zip it ya mindless cog!” He growled back. Taking up his ukulele he started to play, giving Billy a wink and a nod. Billy returned the gesture, then turned around to be swept up into the flood of strangers around him.

“Oh, there’s one more thing I have to warn ya bout!” Yelled the old man with a home in his heart. “Watch out for the lethal…” But it was no use. Billy wasn’t listening. He was too deep in the sea.

As he swam through the crowd, afraid to look anyone in the eyes, he could just make out the lyrics the old man was singing.

“One love, One heart

 Let’s get together and feel all right

 Hear the children crying

One Love

 Hear the children crying

One Heart

 Sayin’ give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right

Sayin’ let’s get together and feel all right”

The words faded into the harsh sound track of the streets, relentless in its barrage of the senses, all fueling the wildfire of disconnection that was tearing through the heart of this lonely city like a fiery arrow. “They’re all ghosts, patch” said Billy. “Or at least they are inside.” His scruffy companion trailed him closely, tail touching his belly.


Billy Meets a Homeless Man

“What would you know? Besides, you’re a stranger. Kids aren’t allowed to talk to strangers!”

“So why are you still here?” Rebuffed the homeless man. “One moment with a stranger can give you an entire libraries worth of new ways to look at the world.”

Author’s Note:

In this scene, Billy is lost in the city on his search for old man statue. He quite literally stumbles across a homeless man who unexpectedly offers wisdom for Billy’s journey. The principles he shares are dear to my own heart and are apart of a wider problem of moral degradation that is occurring for young people in modern Australia. 

“No need to be sorry matey, just learn from my mistakes. Never leave your folks, no matter what. When a man drifts without an anchor he gets swallowed by the sea. Just promise me you’ll tell em.”

Billy looked into the man’s eyes with more sincerity than he ever looked at anyone before and nodded a yes from a place inside him that he never knew existed.

The Streets

The free-fall was longer than ever. Ten, twenty or maybe thirty seconds he was in the air. Arms flailing, eating his own stomach. He hit the surface hard. This time he woke up before the wave crushed him down into the lightless depths below. Though he was awake, the sound of tumbling white-water didn’t fade. He was on a beach. One end was covered in trees and the other in houses. He got up and walked towards the houses. Feeling peckish, he went into a takeaway shop and bought an ice cream for breakfast.

Everyone who walked past looked him up and down with disapproval. Curious to find out what was wrong with him, Billy approached the most innocent and helpful looking person on the street. “Excuse me, is there something wrong with me?”

The harmless looking man took a step back and kept his distance, as you do when you spot a spider or a hideous looking monster. “Is it that bad?” Asked Billy. But the man said nothing. “You know, you look pretty funny yourself.” Even though this was true; as the man wore stripy stockings, a vest, a bow-tie, a top hat, and was covered in white face paint with large red circles painted around his eyes, he frowned and remained silent.

“What’s the matter?” Demanded Billy. “Why won’t you just tell me?”

The man shrugged. A rich looking lady and her daughter walked past. In response, he began moving his arms and legs, pushing against the air around him as if he were struck in an imaginary box. The lady discarded some spare change into his top hat, which he now held out in front of him. She let out a horrified grunt when she passed Billy.

“You’re a street performer!” Yelled Billy, pointing at the man and jumping up and down on the spot. “Do you know a Mr William B? He’s a human statue from the Melbourne Cricket Ground.” The man narrowed his eyes in suspicion, as if to say, “yeah, who’s asking?”

“Do you know how to get there?” Continued Billy, ignoring the silence and taking the man’s reaction as a yes. “I’m one of his students and I’ve come to finish my lessons.” The man stood still and stared at Billy for a long time, trying to figure him out. His expression remained wary, but he gestured Billy to follow him as he walked off down the road. Now it was Billy’s turn to hesitate. Could he trust such an odd looking stranger. But then again, he had just placed his life into the hands of a towering bunch of crackpots dressed like a fifty-foot tree, so he figured this quirky street-performer was just as safe.

Even so, Billy trailed behind the man at a reasonable distance. Every now and then, the man would signal Billy to hurry up by waving his top hat. It would have been tough for anyone to keep up, considering the vast distance they covered in a short time. It was even harder for Billy, who was exhausted from surviving a bush fire the night before and was now running off nothing but ice cream. Eventually, they arrived at a bus stop, where they waited in total silence for 10 or so minutes. Suddenly, Billy noticed how tiny the man was. Those must be shoeboxes that he pretends to escape from. This thought was interrupted by the ridiculous noise buses make when they come to a stop and air escapes from the brakes. When they got on, every passenger averted their eyes, sliding their bags over to block off the seats next to them. They were forced to stand, which was a problem, because they stayed on the bus for a good hour, holding on for dear life, white-knuckled around tight corners. At least this kind of surfing was safer than what I’m used to, thought Billy.

They arrived at a busy wharf and the tiny street performer led Billy to a machine, handed him a ticket marked “Circular Quay” and waved him goodbye at the gates.

Author’s Note

Today’s progress: Billy arrives in the northern beaches of Sydney after surviving a bush fire on his travels from Barley Bay. The story continues to build momentum as Billy gets closer to being reunited with old man statue. Will he be able to trust those he meets on the streets of the big smoke? Or will his country boy innocence land him in the underbelly of this unforgiving city?


Prank Number 10

After a while, the music got louder and louder. A bed was made right in front of Billy’s branches and Livy sat down in the middle of it. This was His chance. Now was the perfect moment for prank number 10.

Livy threw her arms to either side and belted out one last line from the bottom of her stomach. “I know I’m gonna like it here!”

The music was cut short. The crowd gasped in unison. Livy’s hands went from the air above, to her head below. As she felt her natural hair beneath her fingertips, her famous smile dropped into a Barley Bay public school history-making frown. She reached up above, swiping and grasping frantically for her red wig, which was dangling on the branch of a pot plant above her, like bait on a fishing line. Billy was enjoying being the fisherman, dipping the wig up and down in front of her like a yo-yo. The frustrated growls escaping through Livy’s grinding teeth were priceless, and Billy couldn’t help but giggle beneath his disguise.

She jumped on the bed for some extra height and reached towards the lights above. She managed to snatch the wig back between her fingertips. When her feet reached the mattress below, the entire bed frame collapsed, sending her to the floor with a loud crash. The crowd gasped in unison. Livy shot up onto her feet with a sheet draped over her body, like a kid at Halloween whose parents forgot to buy them a costume. She let out a blood-curdling scream and stamped her feet off the stage. The crowd broke out into a low mumbling, which grew louder with each re-enactment of the event.

Mrs Garrick stood in front of the rubble of sheets and wooden planks. She waited until the crowd was near silent before she began speaking. “Apologies ladies and gentlemen, it seems we have an intruder on the stage. Do not be alarmed, I can assure you that Olivia is okay, and that the show will go on.”

A mac-truck hit Billy in the guts, his eyes pooped out of his skull and his heart plummeted to the floor below. He’d been busted.

Author’s Note: The moment when Billy takes his new powers too far and uses them to get revenge on his big sister, Livy. Set during the annual school musical: Annie, Billy’s moment of glory is about to be cut short and things will never be the same again. The scene captures the essence of every boys most regretful life stage, when they are figuring out how there actions can really affect those around them, for better or worse…

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