Claire Zorn


For Nathan, always.


There are two things I know right now: one is that a guy is holding a gun to my head, the other is that I don’t want to die. I guess I could try to look at it from the positive side: I’ve made it seventeen years without anyone trying to kill me. But it’s hard to maintain a sunny outlook when there’s a guy threatening to shoot you.

He yells at me in a foreign language and the only word I recognise is my brother’s name. I don’t know where Max is. I feel utterly responsible for him. I am utterly responsible for him. When I think about that I automatically think of my mum and it’s not helpful to think of your mum in a situation like this. It makes you want to cry.

I’m not the kind of person people normally want to shoot in the head. I didn’t used to be. But a lot of things are different now; the need for food makes people do crazy things. I don’t mean crazy like my step-mum used to get when she’d only eaten one rice cracker all day and couldn’t remember our names or where she parked the car. No, not that sort of crazy. It’s a raw, blind sort of crazy that’d make you throw your step-mum off the car park roof if you thought it would mean an extra bowl of rice in your belly.

To understand how I got here, we have to go back to the start. And it’s going to hurt. Thinking about those last days – before this all began – always hurts.

But it’s all I have.

Three months ago I woke up in the morning and it was the same as any other day. I had slept in and if I didn’t get my arse out the door soon I was going to miss the bus. I got out of bed and rescued my school pants and shirt from the pile of clothes that lived at the foot of my bed.

You can probably imagine the morning routine stuff; Kara, my step-mum, was there, making some sort of guava and wheatgrass concoction. (People often used to mistake Kara for my sister, if you get my drift.) My little brother Max was eating toast, and there was no sign of my dad. He had recently taken up jogging in an effort to prove to the world he wasn’t too old for Kara. It was like a feel-good cereal commercial, except there was no smiling and there was no cereal. I didn’t have time to eat; I skolled a glass of juice and bolted out the door.

I lived in the Blue Mountains, about an hour’s drive west of Sydney. Between here and the city there were acres and acres of suburbia. The main difference between this place and the suburbs used to be that we had a national park instead of housing estates. Plus it was whiter up here than a loaf of Tip Top – still is, I guess. There’s a highway that snakes up through the mountains with townships most of the way along it. Tourist brochures used to really push the whole ‘village atmosphere’ thing, which really only meant that the trains came less often and there was only one McDonald’s. My town wasn’t high enough up to be a touristy place though; it was the place you drove through to get somewhere else, somewhere with better views and more kangaroo key rings.

I’ve lived here my whole life, even stayed in the same house after my parents split two years ago. My mum left to live in the city. She’s an advisor to the government and had to travel to Canberra a lot. It made sense for her to be near the airport. That was her reasoning anyway. It was probably also pretty convenient that her boyfriend had a shiny inner-city pad.

I had been working pretty hard at trying to guilt either of my parents into buying me a car, post divorce is the optimum time for that sort of thing. It hadn’t worked and I was forced to catch the school bus. The bus did have its perks, namely Lucy Tenningworth.

My bus stop was right near where I am now – at the top of my street. There’s a strip of five shops, one was a little supermarket (there wasn’t a whole lot of ‘super’ about it), three other shops that had been empty for years and the last one was a Chinese restaurant; the kind where you could pick up a packet of weed with your chicken chow mein. It’s not like my town was some sort of seedy crack-hole, it was more that, other than bushwalking, there wasn’t a whole lot for the ‘young people’ to do. So a side business in recreational drugs was a pretty smart move.

When I got to the top of the hill I saw that I hadn’t missed the bus. There were about five kids standing in the drizzle, waiting. The rain wasn’t heavy enough for an umbrella, but heavy enough to make you blink continuously like a moron.

Lucy wasn’t waiting in the rain. She was a bit away from the bus stop, leaning against the wall of the supermarket, under the awning with her ankles crossed. (I don’t know what it is about girls’ ankles; they make me crazy.) She was reading a book and looked up when I came toward the bus stop. I pretended I hadn’t noticed her at first – I didn’t want to appear too keen.

I noticed Lucy Tenningworth on the first day of year eleven, the same time as every other male in the school. She had come from a girls’ school that only went to year ten, and instantly eclipsed every other girl I had ever had a thing for. Lucy turned up with her chipped black nail polish and a well-thumbed copy of A Clockwork Orange. She was allocated the seat next to mine in modern history. She had clear, pale skin and legs that I knew would cause me some serious concentration issues. Mrs Bryan, our teacher, announced to Lucy that I was her ‘star pupil’, at which point I think I actually physically shrank with embarrassment. Mrs Bryan went back to the lesson and Lucy leaned across and wrote something across the page of my textbook. Number one? I’m going to kick your arse. She raised an eyebrow and gave me a little smirk. I somehow managed to collect myself and wrote I’d like to see you try on her book. Her response? Game on. Her smile was ridiculous.

‘Hello,’ I said after a bit.

‘Hello yourself.’ She gave me a smile and turned back to her book.

I waited a few moments. ‘Beautiful weather.’

‘Isn’t it just. I loathe winter.’

‘Hey, aren’t we supposed to be going to the library this arvo? Research?’

‘Indeed.’ Her long dark hair was pinned in elaborate coils behind her ears. She tilted her face up to look at me. ‘Still free? Or are you otherwise engaged – rugby practice or something?’

I laughed. ‘No, they still won’t let me on the team. I’m too intimidating for the other guys.’

‘Well, let’s do it then. Although I really think you’re wasting your time. We both know I’m going to kick your skinny arse.’

‘You keep saying these things, but I’m yet to see the evidence.’

‘Oh, you’ll see the evidence, my friend.’

The bus came over the hill. Lucy closed her book and tucked it into her satchel with a sigh.

‘How many more days of this do we have to endure?’ she asked.

‘Too many.’

The bus pulled to a stop. We watched as the year sevens scrambled for their bags, as if the bus leaving them behind would be a bad thing. At the last possible moment we made our way over. I stood aside and let Lucy get on before me. She took one of the last free seats and I sat next to her. The bus shuddered and pulled away from the kerb.

‘So, do you think the world’s going to end?’ I said.

‘Beg yours?’

‘The nuke testing. Was on the news last night.’

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