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Authors: Christopher Currie

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BOOK: Clancy of the Undertow
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‘What's that you're carrying?'

‘Digital recorder. For audio.'

‘Course it is.' I start to wonder what's hidden in my backpack. A taser? Half a gram of coke? My brother could be up to anything out here.

The track takes us up a hill and there's spiky grass that cuts into my shins. ‘Are there snakes here?' I say.

‘No snakes,' says Angus over his shoulder. ‘All the scorpions scare them away.'

We get to the crest of the hill and Angus stops. He holds his arm out so I can't walk past him.

‘Why'd you stop?'

‘Shh.' Angus puts his finger up to his lips.

‘What?'

‘D'you hear that?' Angus's eyes are shifting wildly, trying to catch something up in the canopy.

‘What?'

‘If you listen
really
closely…' There's a pause, then he rips a huge fart.

‘Gross!' I say, screwing up my face. ‘That sounded solid.'

He giggles like an idiot. ‘If a man farts in the forest and no one's around to hear it…' then he's laughing too hard to talk.

‘Really mature,' I say. ‘This all you do out here? Just shart and play explorers?'

Angus is still laughing. ‘You wouldn't know a joke if it bit you on the arse.'

‘Let's keep moving then, before something
does
bite me on the arse.'

Angus points down to a clearing at the bottom of the slope. ‘It's just down there.'

I can't see anything special at first but when we get down there I notice there's sort of a crude hideout covered in sticks and leaves, teepee-shaped and really not at all camouflaged.

‘This is the base of my operations,' says Angus. ‘Have a look inside.'

I take off my backpack. Up close, I see that underneath the covering it's a tent. I unzip the entrance and poke my head inside. The floor's covered with a blue tarp, and there's plastic tubs stacked up everywhere. I lift the lid on one. It's got a bunch of exercise books in it and a torch. Angus's sleeping bag is rolled up in one corner. There's a strip of hessian taped to one wall and when I pull it up I realise Angus has cut a hole where you can peer through and see the clearing.

Angus crawls into the space. There's hardly room for both of us. ‘Pretty cool, huh?'

‘Are girls even allowed in your special fort?'

Angus ignores me, pulling his backpack and tape player in behind him. ‘Check this out.' He pulls a black contraption out of the pack and unfolds it. It's a tripod, which he sets up beneath the hole in the wall. Then a camera, which he fixes onto the tripod.

‘Where'd you get that from? Looks expensive.'

‘Bought it.' He sticks a cord in from the digital recorder to the camera.

‘With what?'

Angus switches on the camera and it makes a little whirring noise. ‘Money.'

‘What money?'

‘I need you to go outside and help me test this.'

‘What money, Angus?' Why the hell is he arguing with me over twenty-five bucks when he's got the dough to buy cameras and tripods and audio recorders?

Angus flips a little screen out from the side of the camera and I can see the clearing in miniature. ‘From Grandpa,' he says.

‘The money Grandpa left us? That's in the bank.'

‘
Was
in the bank. There's still some there.'

‘But that was for uni, or investment or whatever.'

‘I'm not
going
to uni. This
is
my investment. I'm eighteen so I can do what I want with it.'

‘And you spent it chasing made-up monsters?' I make a dismissive sound with my mouth that horrifies me because it sounds just like Mum.

‘The Beast of Barwen is well-documented,' he says, like he's reading from a script. ‘I've done a lot of research. This is where it should be. No one's going to say it's made up when I get proper photographic evidence.'

‘And what if, for instance, you don't find the beast?'

‘I will.'

‘Uh-huh.'

‘Do you want to keep arguing with me, or do you want to help me test the audio so we can get back to town?'

‘It's your money.' I clamber outside. ‘What do you want me to do?'

‘Go to the edge of the clearing and walk past the hideout,' says Angus from inside the tent. ‘Make some noise while you're doing it.'

‘What sort of noise?'

‘Just some sounds. Loud and soft. I want to see what I can pick up.'

I backtrack to a nearby tree and walk forward like a zombie, arms held out in front of me. I go, ‘AAAAHM THE BEEEAST OF BAAAAAHRWENNN. AAAAHM GONNA WALK IN FRONT OF THIS NATURAL LOOKING PILE OF STICKS WITH A CAAAAHMERA POINTING OUT OF IT.'

‘Very funny,' says Angus's muffled voice. ‘Keep going.'

‘NOBODY'S EEEEEEHVER SEEEEN ME, WHICH IS WEEEEEIRD BECAUSE I'M AAAAHLWAYS WALKING AROUND SAAAAHYING MY NAAAAME. AAAAHM THE BEEEST OF BAAAAAHRWENNN!' I'm past the hideout now, so I turn back around. ‘Why is the beast going to walk through this clearing, anyway?' I say.

‘Look in your backpack,' says Angus.

‘My backpack?'

‘Open it.'

I do as I'm told. I open it and pull out a heavy black bin bag. It unrolls in my hand, and the sound it makes is not pleasant.

‘What's in here?'

‘Open it.'

I untie the handles and look inside. Two eyes stare back at me. It's a pig's head, its mouth gaping open. I scream.

I hear Angus choking and gasping with laughter.

‘What the
fuck
?' I go to kick the bag away from me but I don't want to touch it. ‘You
psycho
!'

Angus comes out of the hideout and picks up the bag. ‘How am I supposed to catch a beast without bait?'

‘You fucking psycho. You killed a
pig
for this?'

‘You can get heads from the abattoir for basically nothing.'

‘I want to go home.' All I can think about is the pig's rheumy little death-eyes.

‘Just let me set it up and we can get out of here. Great audio, by the way. Crystal clear.'

‘Don't expect me to ever come out here again.'

‘Ah, you love it,' he says. He produces a bunch of tent pegs and a mallet from his bag. ‘Want to help me tie it down?'

17

When we get back everyone's already in bed and the house is all switched off. Angus asks me if I want to get Macca's and I'm starving but I've had more than enough of his company for one day. He drives off and I root through the fridge for any evidence of dinner. Mum's foul tuna mornay from a few days ago is sitting under Glad Wrap on the bottom shelf. All that's left in the bread bin is a razor-thin crust sitting alone in a knotted bag. Bloody hell.

I head out the back to the chest freezer where there are usually a few squashed loaves of Home Brand if you dig deep enough. I mentally prepare myself for whatever other animal parts Angus has stashed away.

Luckily, it's so frosted over inside that even if a whole pig was in there I wouldn't be able to see it. I break off a few chunks of ice but don't find any bread, even when I lean my whole body in. Then, frozen over in the very bottom corner, is a pack of Cornettos. I yank the packet from the ice and peer inside. There's four left.
Yes
. Forget the Beast of Barwen: this is a real discovery. Uneaten ice-creams just don't exist in the Underhill household.

I'm about to go back inside and smuggle my discovery upstairs when I notice there's light coming from the window in the shed. I feel relief, then guilt, when I realise I've forgotten about Dad's visit to the police station. Fifty bucks and a severed animal head. This is all it takes, apparently, to make me not worry about my dad going to jail.

I walk over the wet grass in my bare feet and knock on the shed door.

‘Yeah?' Dad sounds tired. There's a soft murmur of something behind the door.

‘It's Clancy.'

‘Oh. G'night then, Clance.'

‘I wanted to check you're okay.'

‘I'm all good. G'night.'

‘I've got Cornettos.'

I hear a chair scrape. ‘What kind?'

I check the box. ‘Nuts and shit. Whatever that type is you like.'

The garage door rumbles open. Dad's wearing his Broncos jersey. ‘Where'd you find those?'

‘Deep freeze.'

‘Nice work.'

‘I saw the mornay. Couldn't do it.'

Dad grimaces, like,
I know
. He says, ‘I'm listening to the cricket.'

‘Want to split these?' I hold up the packet. ‘Two each.'

‘What time is it?'

‘School holidays is what time it is.'

Dad pretends to think for a moment before throwing his thumb over his shoulder. ‘Go on, then.'

I smile. Dad used to give me rides in the back of his ute when I was little, before they invented Workplace Health and Safety. He foolishly did it once, driving me around a bumpy paddock, and I loved it so much I'd pester him constantly about it. When he'd eventually give in it felt like the highlight of my life. He'd do the same movement: thumb over the shoulder:
Go on, then
.

I take out two Cornettos and Dad pulls the rollerdoor back down. He's got both windows open with flyscreen covers so the mozzies don't get in. His old radio is propped up on his workbench and there's an esky next to his chair. He drags out a bucket seat from behind the bench for me and I sit down in it and it smells like motor oil.

‘What cricket is it?' I say.

‘Australia India. Mumbai. First test.'

‘Just start today?'

Dad nods.

‘How're we doing?'

Dad shrugs and turns up the volume. ‘Pretty crap. Dead track, and we can't play spin for shit. We're already four down for eighty-odd.'

I unwrap my Cornetto and except for a bit of freezer burn it's fantastic. ‘We'll come back,' I say.

‘Maybe.'

I like cricket. More watching it than listening to it usually. I used to like the summers when there was a test match and the TV was on all day. Mum would let us put cold flannels on our heads or stick our feet in ice water and we were allowed to keep the fan on as long as we wanted. All of us, even Mum, sitting together. Dad was a good cricketer before his back went. He opened the bowling for Barwen's second team and went to state championships with the firsts one year.

Dad takes a Cornetto and puts the other two into the esky. He picks his green heat pack off the arm of the chair and puts it behind his back. We listen to the cricket for a while, the commentators talking about the pitch for ten minutes. Australia doesn't lose any wickets, but nearly every ball you can hear the players and the crowd appealing for something.

Dad opens the esky and gets a beer out. He throws me another Cornetto. ‘You have the rest if you like. If you didn't have dinner.'

‘Thanks.' I fill my face with more ice-cream. ‘So, were you okay today?'

Dad swigs his beer. ‘Was I
okay
?'

‘With the…with the cops.'

‘Just doing their job.'

‘Did you have to go down to the station?'

‘I gave a statement.'

‘What about Mum?'

Dad leans forward to remove the heat pack, tossing it on the ground. ‘Bloody thing never stays warm.'

‘Did you have to have a lawyer?'

Dad turns to me. ‘Just trying to listen to the score here,' he says.

‘Sorry.'

He rubs his eyes. ‘Nah, mate, I'm sorry. It's just been…a busy couple of days.' His elbow slips off the armrest and it's only then I wonder how many beers he's already had. ‘Your mother, she just
worries
so much. Makes it so much worse than it already is. She's always been like that.'

Behind where Dad's sitting is a pinboard with photos of us all. They're old pictures, all that same faded colour photos get when they're exposed to the air, so you can't tell when they were taken unless you know the people in them. The one of Mum and Dad's wedding day could've been taken at the same time as the one of me sitting in a laundry tub with a sieve on my head. The one with us in front of Sydney Opera House when Mum's hair is a big perm and I've got gel bracelets all up one arm. The one of Angus playing guitar with dad's sunglasses on: aviators, too big for his face. There's albums of Dad's photos somewhere, too. He used to take them out all the time for me to look at. Dad in jeans and a leather jacket, leaning on his motorbike. His hair dark and thick.

‘What did you have to do,' I say, ‘at the station?'

‘Just had to tell them what happened.'

I nod. There's so many questions I want to ask him. ‘Hopefully it didn't take too long, though.'

‘It was long enough.' Dad shifts in his chair. He takes a long swig of beer. ‘They make…they make you go through it time after time after time. Three seconds out of my life.'

‘I guess they have to be thorough, or whatever.'

‘Even after,' he says, ‘when I was in the back of the ambulance with a blanket over my shoulders, the cops are there trying to trip me up with questions. Nothing changes.' Dad clenches his jaw. ‘Ah, I'm too tired, Clance. Don't listen to me.'

‘It must've been awful,' I say quietly.

There's a roar of noise through the radio. Another wicket down.

18

The next few days I kick around the house, and there's this sort of stillness. It's not unusual that none of us are talking to each other, but this time it feels like we
should
be, and all the unspoken words are clogging up the air around us. Even Titch—I don't know how much he's been told—seems to know he has to be on his best behaviour. Mum's even more distracted than usual, so he just plays video games all hours of the day. Mum goes out shopping and comes back with IGA bags, meaning she's driven out of town instead of going to the Coles in Barwen.

BOOK: Clancy of the Undertow
10.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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