Callum B. Downes

Month: March, 2017

The Storm (continuation from the last post)

He stopped. The rain kept going. He gave up. The rain never ceased. He retreated inside. Thunder clapped its hands in victory. When will the world stop punishing David Baker? When will it give back all it’s taken away from him?

Billy tore down the lumpy nature strips of Finders street, turned right onto Bower Street, then left onto Market Street, which was the main drag. Knowing these streets like the freckles on his skin came in handy on this particular afternoon, as not once did he look up from the ground in fear of being blinded by the sideways rain, and there was no chance of bumping into anybody on the footpath in weather like this.

On he went, past the shabby post office on the corner of Gallop Road, which was owned by the Presley’s and always left you on the verge of sneezing on account of the 2 inch layer of dust that covered everything on the shelves. Past the deli, the cafés and general store. Across the road and past the town hall, with its eternally peeling paint. Down a gentle slope past the ice creamery and the hair salon, where Mrs Baker always dreamed of visiting on the weekends. Then eventually, Billy charged past his favourite store in all of Barley Bay. The Bakery. With its doors still open, the enticing sent of hot bread wafted through the cool air, almost stopping Billy dead in his tracks.

On any other day, the smell would have taken him back to hot summer mornings, when he would rest his bike against the parking sign just outside and tie Django up next to the water bowl. After scrounging through his filthy pockets for $4.50, he’d ignore the menu board and slam his assortment of coins on the counter, each of them grubby with stains of chewing gum and apple stickers. Without hesitation, he’d demand the exact same order. If the owner, Mr Barker was working, he’d already be poking his tongs into the oven to retrieve the steaming hot delight. With a tub of sauce for no extra cost, the famous pie and can deal was a staple of Billy’s summer diet. It brought him a sense of stability, especially when served with a friendly smile and “How’s the family, Bill?” But on this miserable day, he had no such joy.

Today he was alone. Did he have a family? Do the Barker’s really know his name? He couldn’t remember, and for some reason that he couldn’t be bothered to understand, he didn’t really care. He wished to be alone. Completely invisible, free to do whatever he pleased. Maybe if he ran fast enough, he’d blend into the rain and nobody could tell him apart. He closed his eyes and wished that it would come true, like when little boys and girls wish their thoughts would make their cup fly across the bench and into their hands.

He skidded around the corner onto Harvey Street at full speed, with his head still down. Then suddenly he slammed into something rock solid. In a daze, he tried focusing his double vision on the road block towering above him, as presently he was seated firmly on his bottom upon the soggy grass. For a moment, maybe half a second or less, Billy had sworn it was that Bearded Angel from the Bradley’s yard looming over him. But when he regained his sight, after rubbing the rain from his squinting eyes, he saw nothing but black rolling clouds and streaking torrents of water falling from the sky.

He got up too quickly, and his vision was hijacked by a fuzzy black fog. When it had parted, he caught a flash down the hill at the bottom of the road. Whatever it was, it had dashed behind a hedge in front of the R.S.L club. He half ran, half slid, down the steep grassy roadside, in pursuit of the thing that had knocked him over.

Without care for his safety, he jump over the hedge and landed hard on the other side, almost spraining his ankles. At this point, there was one thought on his mind. “Whoever you are, you’re dead meat!” An unruly rage pushed hard against his ribcage from the inside, stealing his already depleted breath away from his dry throat. A rage he’d only seen in Mr Baker until right now. It couldn’t be tamed, and at home it usually resulted in painful tears. But he didn’t care what it did to him. He needed to catch the bearded angel who had knocked him flat.

Across the carpark and into the grounds of the memorial, Billy now slowed down to a suspicious tip-toe and surveyed the wide-open circle around him. According to his gut instinct, he eyed off the enclosing hedge back and forth. He gradually turned his body around, ensuring every last inch of the surrounding bush had been thoroughly covered. As he neared a full rotation, a clear crack rang out just to his right. He shot around in reaction to the unmistakable sound, licking his lips as he craned his neck forward.

With eyebrows raised in anticipation, he eyeballed the centre-piece of the memorial up and down. It was a peculiar statue of two regular looking soldiers, both obviously too young to die, one carrying the other on his shoulders to safety, covered head to toe in mud and sludge. A standard scene from the trenches of the Great War. But Billy’s eyebrows dropped into a completely stupefying stare, his neck shot back in surprise and he stood with his hands on his hips in sheer confusion. Right there, directly behind the two brave heroes, was a much older soldier, presumably their captain, standing rigidly to attention. With rifle by his side and hand poised in salute, the old battler looked completely out of place. His uniform appeared near perfect, clean and tidy. Although his shirt was only half tucked into his trousers. Great bags beneath his eyes matched his deep wrinkles and scraggly beard. What kind of a soldier had a beard like that? This thought was trumped by Billy’s erupting anger.

Billy: Boy Volcano, kicked the ridiculous bearded statue in the shins, in hope that some old Vietnam veteran would see him and chase him back home. But it was hopeless. He just sat one the feet of the old captain and wept. What a depressing sight. A tiny weakling, balling his eyes out in the pouring rain, because some bearded angel that he had made up in his imagination, pushed him over in the street. He adjusted himself to get comfortable again, because he slid off the statues feet. Some old bloke behind him, most likely from the club house, let out a disapproving grunt.

“Go away!” Yelled Billy. He kept his head firmly planted between his folded arms and chest. “I don’t care about your stupid statues or your stupid wars!”

The old man let out a kind chuckle. “Well we sacrificed everything for you during that stupid war, as you put it. I almost lost my life for you. But they tell me I’m one of the lucky ones…” His voice was swept up into the violent gusts, as if what he said was too true and too close to home for even him to dwell on. “And I’d do it all again for you.”

Billy turned his neck around to blast the old fuddy-duddy about how he couldn’t possibly care about him and how he didn’t know him from a bar of soap. But when he looked up at the old man his tongue wasn’t there anymore. He had swallowed it whole.

Billy fell over himself trying to evade the old man, who now picked up his rifle and started towards him.

The Storm (an excerpt from chapter VI)

He’d survived another Monday, just. Now, he shuffled dismally home from school, shoulders slouched, kicking rocks into tyres of parked cars on the side of the road. Like some sickening horror movie, broken fragments of the day’s events played over and over in his memory. No matter how hard he tried to think about something else, like Django waiting for pats at home, or how hard he booted the rocks, the barrage of thoughts never relented. Not for a second.

A harsh wind kicked up a cloud of dust from the roadside, where kids built dirt ramps for their bikes, forcing him to shield his eyes with his arm. Once the dust settled, he folded his arms around himself tightly and walked more quickly in an attempt to warm himself, as the gusts had a cold bite in them. Raging trees bent over in half and the noise they made scrambled his thoughts into complete moosh. Giant drops of icy rain began belting his back. Before long, he was receiving a brutal lashing from the rain storm. The wind made the rain go sideways, into his face. Shivering and spluttering, he broke out into a full sprint. Somehow, the storm became worse, and by the time he had slammed the back gate behind him and sloshed through the back lake of his house, his white school shirt had gone completely see through and his shoes were squelchy. Django barked with confused fear at the sky, snapping his teeth together, chasing raindrops in big circles and catching some in his mouth.

Billy barged through the backdoor and stood dripping, bent over with hands on knees, in the dining room, trying to get his breath back. Astonishingly large puddles began forming at his feet, spreading into Mrs Baker’s favourite rug.

“Ahhh, not her rug, Bill!” Yelled Mr Baker. “You couldn’t take those shoes off at the door?”

“Good to see you too!” Hissed Billy.

He flung his shoes off in Mr Baker’s general direction, attempting to prove a point, but secretly hoped they didn’t hit him. The first shoe plummeted a few metres short. The second spiralled past Mr Baker at head height and crashed into the trophy cabinet behind him, knocking Livy’s latest prize to the floor with an all too obvious thud.

Billy looked at the trophy, then up at Mr Baker, who now appeared to be 10 foot taller than a second ago. Mr Baker looked at the trophy, which now lay in three separate pieces, and before he could turn around, Billy had fled the scene. Billy locked himself into his tiny room, wishing he could jump through his posters into another life. A life of professional surfing and endless victories. A life where he conquered the world’s biggest waves with trademark courage. A life where people admired him and his Dad had a reason to give up smoking and looking sad on the verandah.

“How do you plan on fixing this one?” Boomed Mr Baker’s voice from outside the door. “Because you need to put it back together before she gets back!” His voice was hoarse. Billy wondered if it was the smoking or all the shouting at Mum that had caused it. He couldn’t decide which reason he wished was true.

“Billy?” The croaky voice warned, signalling Billy’s final chance to respond. But Mr Baker gave him another chance. “Mate, you need to do something, or she’ll never forgive you.” He offered weakly.

“Oh, because she is so forgiving all of the time,” groaned Billy sarcastically.

“That’s it! I’m coming in!” Mr Baker waited a few seconds, like he always did in these moments, hoping that Billy would change his mind and come creeping out of his room for a hug. It never worked, but Mr Baker always tried.

He kicked the door in and marched purposefully toward Billy. “Billy?” He scanned the room in search of his only son. “Bill, where are you, son?” He dropped to his knees. Looked under the bed. “Billy Baker, you come out right now and face your Father like a man!” He bellowed. His voice was shaky and so were his hands. The wind screamed through the bedroom window, sending the curtains high into the air, so that they were lapping against the ceiling and sometimes blocking out the light, so it looked like a lighting storm inside. Mr Baker threw his head out the window into the pouring rain. “Billy!”

He struggled to hear his own voice above the bucketing downpour. But he didn’t stop. He yelled the name of his precious son out that rusty hole in the fibro shack wall of 58 Finders street, Barley Bay. He yelled it again and again, until he couldn’t hear himself, because his voice was gone, and until the tears rolled down his face faster than the raindrops pounding his skull.

Billy: Boy Statue (excerpt from The Zoo)

It was another Monday morning and here he was, standing completely still at the school gate, wishing the butterflies in his stomach would flutter away to a land far, far away, full of lava pits and acid rain. Livy had ran off to play with her friends a minute ago, leaving Billy in his little dream world. He couldn’t stop thinking about the Bradley’s new water feature with the beard and wrinkles. Who had moved it down the street to Mrs Berry’s house? Why on Earth did an angel have a beard? Was it being stole…

Whack! Billy’s thoughts were cut short by a missile of human saliva. Joel King, a ruddy little red-head boy from kindergarten had spat directly in his face, scoring a direct hit in his eye.

“Statue boy! Statue boy! You’re so slow,” he yelled, running away back behind the office block.

The situation was made all the more embarrassing when a group of year 4 boys, from Billy’s class in fact, shoved past him with a firm push to the back and giggled under their breath. The whiplash from the shove cracked his neck and Billy tilted his head to the side, rubbing hopelessly for the pain to go away.

“Here we go again,” Billy sighed to himself, forcing his body into an awkward shuffle past the office block. He went through the cola area, which was packed with screaming creatures – half animal, half child – all missing mummy and burning off the morning’s Weet-Bix.

And que the chorus, in three, two, one. “Statue boy, statue boy, why so stuck?!” At first, only a small group of Livy-worshipping year five girls joined in the chant. Before long, the entire zoo enclosure full of half-children were singing at the top of their lungs, like some awful school choir at the end of year musical.

STATUE BOY, STATUE BOY, WHY SO STUCK?

STATUE BOY, STATUE BOY, WHY SO STUCK?

STATUE BOY, STATUE BOY, WHY SO STUCK?

The chanting grew into more of a deep rumble and had a strong beat to it. Some of the kindy kids started clapping and stomping wildly, rolling their eyes into the backs of their heads, screaming “LA LA LA” and missing every third clap completely.

Billy put his head down and raced out of the cola, zoomed through the veggie garden, jumped up the stairs to his classroom, dumped his bag on the veranda and fell over into 3 / 4 C, slamming the door shut behind him. The great mob of students who had been chasing him the whole way began knocking furiously on all the windows and doors, causing the ground of the demountable to shake. The various noises the children made reminded him of something out of The Lion King movies, only his T.V. was now on full volume and the remote control was missing.

Billy leant his back on the door to keep it shut and slid down until he was sitting on the green carpet with bits of chewing gum all over it. With each bang on the door, he pushed back harder. Bang! His heart raced faster. BANG! He was losing control of his breathing. Bang! He forced his eyes shut with all his might and clenched his teeth together. Bang! Why is the door opening? He stopped breathing completely. Bang! Bang! They’re going to kill me! Bang! Bang! Bang! An arm was waving through a gap in the door now. He couldn’t keep pushing back. Now half a body was forcing itself through. His entire body tensed up until he was a rubber band ready to snap.

“That’s enough!” Bellowed a deep voice. The low, comforting voice, that Billy had grown to trust over the last two terms of school. “Leave now! Or I’ll put the whole school on detention!”

Billy breathed out for the first time in 23 seconds.

The sudden silence was only interrupted by the slam of the door behind Billy. Then came the screams. The ear-splitting shrieks that only tiny children can produce. Followed by a stampede of feet, much like the one in The Lion King, rolling across the veranda and jumping onto the path below.

All Billy could hear now was his panting breath, which was still too rapid. His eyes still firmly shut, making his face all wrinkly and amber.

“You look like a rocket ready for blast off,” said the voice that was growing louder as it got closer. “I’ve never seen a face so red.”

Billy felt the warm weight of a hand on his shoulder and opened his eyes to see his protector, comforter and saviour. There, crouching in front of him at eye level, was his teacher, Mr Carlton. His ever-smiling eyes cut through Billy’s agony, melting Billy’s muscles body into a soft goo. With the ease of a grin, Mr Carlton filled Billy with enough strength to stand up and sit at his desk in the front row.

Once planted at his desk, Billy felt at home. It was even more than home, he thought. Because home didn’t feel this safe. Actually, Mr Carlton’s room was the only place in the world he felt safe. A refuge in a stormy sea.

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