The Third Day, The Frost (extract)
The Tomorrow Series
by John Marsden
Sometimes I think I’d rather be frightened than bored. At least when you’re frightened you know you’re alive. Energy pumps through your body so hard that it overflows as sweat. Your heart — your heart that does the pumping — bangs away in your chest like an old windmill on a stormy night. There’s no room for anything else. You forget that you’re tired or cold or hungry. You forget your banged-up knee and your aching tooth. You forget the past, and you forget that there’s such a thing as the future.
I’m an expert on fear now. I think I’ve felt every strong feeling there is: love, hate, jealousy, rage. But fear’s the greatest of them all. Nothing reaches inside you and grabs you by the guts the way fear does. Nothing else possesses you like that. It’s a kind of illness, a fever, that takes you over.
I’ve got my tricks for holding fear at bay. We all have, I know. And they work in their own ways, some of the time. One of my tricks is to think of jokes that people have told me over the years. Another’s the one Homer taught me. It sounds simple enough. It’s to keep saying to yourself: ‘I refuse to think fear. I will think strong. I will think brave.’
It helps for mild fear; it’s not so good for panic. When true fear sweeps in, when panic knocks down your walls, no defence can keep it out.
The last two weeks I spent in Hell were solid boredom; the kind of time you long for when you’re terrified; the kind of time you hate when it’s happening. Maybe I was a fear junkie by then, though, because I spent a lot of time lying around thinking of dangerous things we could have done, wild attacks we could have made.
These days I don’t know whether I’m murderous, suicidal, addicted to panic, or addicted to boredom.
I wonder what happened to the people who were in the world wars, after the fighting was over? They were mostly men in those wars, but there were plenty of women too. They weren’t necessarily soldiers, but you didn’t have to be a soldier to be affected by it all. Did they press their ‘Off’ buttons on the day peace was declared? Can anyone do that? I know I can’t do it. I seem to be getting used to the way my life’s gone lately, from total frenzy to total nothing. But I often dream of the regularity of my old life. During school terms my days always started the same way: I’d have breakfast, cut my lunch, pack my schoolbag and kiss Mum goodbye. Dad’d usually be out in the paddocks already, but some days I’d get up early to have breakfast with him. Other days when I got up at my normal time he’d still be in the kitchen, toasting his backside against the Aga.
For years — as soon as I was big enough for my feet to reach the pedals of a car — I’d driven myself to the bus. Kids living on properties can get a special licence to drive to school buses, but we never bothered with that. Dad thought it was just another stupid bureaucratic rule. From our house it’s about four k’s to the gate on Providence Gully Road. It’s not our front gate, but it’s the only one on the school bus route. Like most people we had a ‘paddock basher’ — an unregistered bomb — mainly for kids to use, or for stock work. Ours was a Datsun 120Y that Dad bought for eighty bucks at a clearing sale. Usually I took that, but if it wasn’t going properly, or if Dad wanted it for something else, I’d take the Land Rover, or a motor bike. Whichever it was, I’d leave it sitting under a tree all day while I was at school and I pick it up again when I got off the bus.
School was OK and I enjoyed being with my friends — the social life, the goss, the talking about guys — but, like most rural kids, living on a farm took up as much energy and time and interest as school did. I’m not sure if that’s the same for city kids — some times I get the feeling that school’s more important for them. Oh, it’s important for us too, of course, especially nowadays when everyone’s so worried that they won’t be able to make a living on the land, won’t be able to take over their parents’ places the way they used to assume they would. Every country kid these days has to think about setting up in some other work.
What am I talking about? For a few minutes there I was back in peacetime when our biggest worry was getting a job. Crazy. Now those dreams of becoming brain surgeons, chefs, hairdressers and barristers have gone up in smoke. Smoke that smells of gun powder. The dreams now were simply of staying alive. It’s what Mr Kassar, our Drama teacher, would call ‘a different perspective’.
It’s nearly six months since our country was invaded. We’d lived in a war zone since January and now it’s July. So short a time, so long a time. They came swarming across the land, like locusts, like mice, like Patterson’s Curse. We should have been used to plagues in our country but this was the most swift, sudden and successful plague ever. They were too cunning, too fierce, too well-organised. The more I’ve learnt about them, the more I can see that they must have been planning it for years. For instance, the way they used different tactics in different places. They didn’t bother with isolated communities, or the Outback, or scattered farms, except in places like Wirrawee, my home town. They had to secure Wirrawee because it’s on the road from Cobbler’s Bay, and they needed Cobbler’s Bay because it’s such a great deep-water harbour.
But Wirrawee was easy enough for them. They timed the invasion for Commemoration Day, when the whole country’s on holiday. In Wirrawee that means Show Day, so all they had to do was grab the Showground and they had ninety per cent of the population. But to take the big towns and cities they needed a bit more imagination. Mostly they used hostages, and for hostages mostly they used children. Their strategy was to make things happen so fast that there was no time for anyone to think straight, no time to consider. At the slightest delay they started blowing things up, killing people. It worked. Those political rats, our leaders, the people who’d spent every day of peacetime telling us how great they were and how we should vote for them, felt the water of the drowning country lap ping at their ankles. They took off for Washington, leaving chaos and darkness behind.
Yes, it was cunning, it was brutal, it was successful.
And because of them — or because of our own apathy and selfishness — our peacetime ambitions had been vaporised, and we suddenly found ourselves living lives of fear and boredom.
Fear and boredom weren’t our only emotions, of course. There were others: even pride came sneaking in occasionally. In mid-autumn, just five of us, Homer, Robyn, Fi, Lee and I, had launched our biggest attack. We’d used gas to blow up a row of houses where a major command post had been based. We’d beaten the odds and caused an explosion that would have registered eleven on the Richter scale. There was no mushroom cloud, but it had everything else. That was spectacular enough, but we didn’t fully realise what we’d done till afterwards. We’d struggled back to our mountain hideaway, intending only to detour for some food, and had made the terrible discovery of the body of our friend Chris. We’d brought him with us and buried him in our sanctuary the wild basin of rock and bush known as Hell. And there we’d stayed for weeks, gradually made aware by the ferocity of the search for us just how far we’d promoted ourselves on the most wanted list. We were scared by the toughness of the search. With no access to news — except for occasional radio bulletins from other countries — we had no way of finding out who we’d killed or what was destroyed. But we were obviously in more trouble than a dog in a mosque.
When the search calmed down and the hunting helicopters returned to their lairs we calmed down a bit too. Still, we were in no hurry to do anything rash. We stayed in our bush home for a few more weeks.