Circle of Flight (extract)
The Ellie Chronicles
by John Marsden
You come up the driveway. You’re late, but you knew you were going to be. That’s why you took the ute to school this morning. And told Gavin to catch the bus. He’ll have been back for two hours now. On his own. But you’re not stupid. And he’s not stupid. You both know what to do. He’s been good about it. He takes the precautions. When he gets off the bus he doesn’t just jump on the new four-wheeler and herb straight on up to the homestead.
He knows. And so do you. You detour into the bush, find a spot where you’ve got a good view of the house. You take a look. You watch for hostile visitors, enemy soldiers, an ambush. Even if the house looks OK, you still take care. You approach from a different direction each time. You use your eyes. If it’s Gavin, you can’t use your ears. But you use something else, better still. Your instinct. Your sixth sense.
Gavin knows. He knows that if there’s any sign of trouble, there’s a bolthole the two of you have organised, down near the lagoon.
He knows that if you’re there on your own you go out to feed the chooks and dogs, and check the stock, but you’re careful about it. Change your pattern all the time. Never leave by the same door twice running. Lock the house behind you. Take the rifle.
And you do the same things yourself. Today for example, you don’t go in the main gate. You use the bush gate into the Parklands paddock. You stop behind a couple of trees, get out and take a good look at the house from across the creek. You notice that everything looks fine. Washing on the line, Polaris in the machinery shed, axe stuck in the chopping block where you were splitting wood last night.
Marmie’s still in her run. That’s a bit unusual. Normally Gavin’d let her out. He loves that little dog.
Then you see it. One little thing is wrong. The front door’s wide open. Your heart starts hammering. You get back in the ute. You take off with a clumsy foot dance involving the clutch and the accelerator. You come at the bridge at a bad angle. The bridge is just a couple of logs with planks laid across them, and no railing. You think for a moment that you’re going to roll off it, onto the rocks, into the water. Now your stomach is lurching. But you make it across the bridge.
You forget about security. That bloody Gavin. If he’s just been careless . . . but what are you thinking? You want him to have been careless. Careless leaves the other option a trillion k’s behind. Oh Gavin, please be careless. You can have both the Kit-Kats after tea tonight if you’ve been careless.
You jam on the brakes and stop the ute right in front of the house. You throw open the car door and jump out. Not for the first time you run into a building that could be full of guns, with death waiting for you. You don’t even think of that until you’re crossing the threshold. It seems like an abstract thought, interesting to a scientist perhaps.
A few metres down the corridor you tread on some thing. In fact you nearly wrench your ankle. You look down. It’s a spare magazine for a rifle. It looks to be full, loaded with bullets.
Now it’s too late to do anything else, so you go on.
You already know what you’re going to find. Underneath the fear and horror and panic there’s a cold realisation, that Gavin’s body will be somewhere in the house. You can picture what those bullets will have done to his little body. You’ve seen their effect on adult bodies, the men in the barracks, your mother in the kitchen. You go first to his bedroom. His school uniform is there. God, for once he actually changed out of his uniform when he got home. It’s still on the floor, and the shirt’s all scrunched up, but for Gavin that’s what you expect. The rule is that he changes every afternoon, as soon as he gets home. He actually does it about once a week. His Redbacks aren’t there, but he could have left them on the veranda, like he’s meant to do but never does. There’s no sign of a struggle, but most importantly, there’s no sign of the horror that you know awaits you somewhere. The open front door and the magazine full of bullets have told you everything. You run back to the kitchen. Nothing there either, except memories, terrible vivid images.
You go to the TV room. And you see everything, as though you were there when it happened. The chair on its back. Gavin’s favourite chair. The cushions scattered. The television with a hole smashed through it. Sharp glass fragments, milky white, everywhere. It’ll take hours to vacuum every last piece. No Redbacks, but one of his ug boots, the short ones that come up just past the ankle, lying on the floor, between the sofa and the door.
He always wears those after he’s done his jobs.
You run back out through the house. You’re crying, but not much, and there are no tears. You’re saying his name over and over in a kind of weeping way, but there’s no point to that, because he couldn’t hear you anyway.
You stand in the middle of the front drive. You’d make a good target for anyone with a high-powered rifle, for anyone with no conscience, for anyone who takes life because they like it, for anyone who has a particular reason to hate you for what you did during the war.
You see something that you missed before, when you were racing up the driveway in the ute. His other ug boot, about thirty metres away. Your brain clicks a few times as it processes this information. And something deep inside your mind tells you that there’s still hope. Not much, but just a chance that he might be out there somewhere, and alive. But you’re not a blacktracker. Sure, you’ve picked up a few things over the years. Sometimes you’ve been able to follow a cow who’s about to calve, and you’ve found the hidey-hole she’s made. You’ve followed the trail of the motorbike, to find your dad when he was working somewhere in a paddock and you had a message for him from your mum. Sometimes that was ridiculously easy, especially when he was riding through long grass, or a crop.
Not long ago you did follow some of Gavin’s tracks when he nicked off on a motorbike to follow his heroes, Homer and Lee. But with the rain there are so many tracks around the homestead at the moment that maybe even one of the legendary blacktrackers, the Aborigines who can follow a lost child across rocks and sand, would be struggling here.
And now you have a lost child, and he could be one kilometre away, or a hundred, and he could be to the north or the south or the east or the west. And he could be going further away with every minute. This is a big country. You don’t know where to even start your search.
And chances are you’re just searching for a body anyway.