Jackie French


chapter one

The Game

It was raining the day that Mark first heard about Hitler’s daughter. The cows in Harrison’s paddock were wet and brown and mournful. Raindrops dripped down their noses as they huddled their backs to the wind.

There was nothing in the world quite as sad-looking as wet cows, thought Mark, as he hauled his damp schoolbag further into the bus shelter. Do cows ever get colds? he wondered. What would happen if they sneezed?

The Wallaby Creek Progress Association had built the bus shelter last year. It was made of curved yellow tin—easily big enough for the four kids who caught the bus at this corner by Harrison’s bottom paddock.

The idea had been to keep the kids out of the wind and rain while they waited for the bus. In Mark’s opinion the whole idea was a flop.

Before the bus shelter was built he sat in the car with Mum when it rained, dry and warm with the heater going till the bus trundled round the corner. And everyone else sat in their cars too.

Ever since the shelter had been finished Mum just dropped him off with a kiss and a wave and hurried back to the warm kitchen at home till it was time for her to leave for her job at the stock and station agent’s in town, leaving him in the damp, cold bus shelter with the fingers of rainwater tickling down his neck.

Mark usually got to the bus stop first. Mum was early for everything, thought Mark dismally, pulling his jacket closer around his shoulders. She always left enough time to have a flat tyre AND go back if Mark forgot his homework AND fill in any note he’d forgotten to give her last night and just remembered at the bus stop, as well as—

‘Hey, move your bag!’ Ben shoved it out of his way as he dashed under the shelter. ‘Did you see the creek? It’s gone all yellow. The bridge’ll go if this keeps up,’ he added hopefully.

Ben lived on the other side of the paddock. It took about two minutes for him to race between the cow droppings to the bus shelter.

‘Hey, have you ever noticed that cows look all shiny when they’re wet?’ asked Mark.

‘No,’ said Ben. He shoved the hood back on his parka.

‘Like someone’s polished them. Do you think cows can sneeze?’

Ben considered the question. ‘Nope,’ he said.

‘How come they can’t then?’

‘Dunno,’ said Ben.

‘Maybe they only sneeze when we’re not around,’ decided Mark.

‘Who cares?’ Ben scraped his boot heels across the concrete floor to get rid of the mud. ‘Hey, there’s Anna.’

‘Her mum must have picked up Little Tracey too,’ said Mark.

Anna dashed from the car, her bag clutched close to try and protect it from the rain. Little Tracey puddled along behind her.

Little Tracey had been ‘Little’ since her first day on the bus. (Big Tracey got on two stops later.) Little Tracey was little, thought Mark. He wondered if she’d always be little—like Mum’s foxie, which would grow into an ankle-biter no matter how old it was.

‘Hi,’ said Anna, dumping her bag in the shelter.

‘Hi,’ said Mark. ‘Hey, Anna, have you ever heard a cow sneeze?’

Anna considered. ‘No,’ she admitted.

Little Tracey shoved her bag under the seat and plunked herself down beside the others. She wore yellow gumboots, splattered with orange clay. ‘Anna says we can play The Game!’ she announced.

Ben shrugged, and went back to scraping the mud off his boots. ‘I don’t mind,’ he said.

‘Alright,’ said Mark obligingly. The Game was okay, and, anyway, there wasn’t anything else to do till the bus came.

The Game had started last year on Little Tracey’s second day at school. She had cried, remembered Mark, with great deep sniffs and her eyes resolutely wide as though that could keep the tears away.

Anna had grabbed Little Tracey’s hand and hauled her into the bus shelter and announced, ‘Let’s play a game.’

Little Tracey sniffed back more tears.

‘What sort of game?’ asked Mark. He hoped it wasn’t going to be I Spy or something dumb like that.

‘The Story Game,’ said Anna. ‘I used to play it with my grandma.’

Little Tracey looked up enquiringly at Anna, blinking her wet eyelashes.

‘You make up a character,’ Anna said to Little Tracey, ‘and I’ll make up a story about them.’

Mark thought it sounded boring, but Little Tracey sat still, quietly sniffling, so, to be helpful, Mark said, ‘Okay. How about a story about a…a…an alien who comes to earth.’

Anna shook her head. ‘It’s Tracey’s story,’ she said. ‘What do you want a story about Tracey?’

Little Tracey sniffled.

‘How about a fish?’ suggested Mark helpfully. ‘Or a whale or a mermaid or a…’ He hesitated. What were little kids interested in?

‘A horse,’ Little Tracey whispered suddenly. ‘I want a story about a horse.’

Anna grinned. ‘Okay,’ she said. ‘What’s the horse’s name?’

‘Socks,’ said Little Tracey. ‘And he’s got a baby brother called… called Buttons and he lives in a paddock with his mum and dad and…’

That was the beginning of The Game.

They’d played The Game every day for a week until Little Tracey got used to the bus and school, and then they played it just for a treat on her birthday, or when it rained and you couldn’t leave the shelter to play catch and the wind was biting at your ankles.

The rain gurgled down the gutter, hiccuped at a bit of rock, then sped down and round the corner to the creek. A cow mooed sadly across the wet grass. Maybe if a cow got hay fever it’d sneeze, thought Mark. ‘Okay, what do you want the story to be about?’ he asked.

‘I want a story about…about a fairy,’ said Little Tracey, drumming her muddy heels on her schoolbag.

Ben groaned. ‘How about something good—like a gangster? Hey, how about a gangster who steals a million dollars and…’

‘How about a dinosaur?’ suggested Mark.

‘A baby one,’ agreed Tracey eagerly. ‘A baby dinosaur called Billie and she gets separated from her mother and…’

‘Blerck!’ snorted Ben rudely.

‘I’ll choose this time,’ said Anna suddenly.

Mark stared. ‘But you never choose.’

Anna shrugged. ‘Then it’s my turn isn’t it?’

‘Just choose something decent,’ said Ben. ‘No fairies or goldfish like the last time.’

‘I’m getting another goldfish next time we go to town,’ said Tracey. ‘It’s going to be black and red and…’

‘How can you have a black and red goldfish?’ demanded Ben. ‘That’s dumb.’

‘The bus’ll be here if you don’t shut up,’ said Mark. ‘Go on Anna. What’s the story going to be about?’

Anna hesitated. ‘It’s… it’s about Hitler’s daughter,’ she announced.

‘Hey cool,’ said Ben.

‘Who’s Hitler?’ demanded Little Tracey.

‘He was this bloke in World War Two,’ explained Ben. ‘He was the leader of Germany—they were the enemy

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