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Authors: Tristan Bancks

On the Run (10 page)

BOOK: On the Run
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“Where's Mummy?”

Ben's eyes jerked open. He heaved air into his lungs.

“Are you okay?” Olive asked, leaning over him. It was light outside. The cabin was hot. He looked to Mum and Dad's empty mattresses.

He sat up.

“The door's locked, and the car isn't there,” Olive said.

Ben stood and trampled awkwardly over his mattress toward the window. She was right. No car.

“What do you mean it's locked?” he asked, stepping over Mum and Dad's mattresses. He pulled the door handle. It moved a little but did not open, which was impossible because Dad had broken the lock on the night they arrived. Ben pulled hard, and something clanked outside but it would not shift.

“They must have gone to get breakfast,” Olive said.

Ben looked at all the food stocked up on the shelf.

“Yeah. Maybe.” Ben searched around for a note from Mum. She always left a note. He lifted up the mattresses to see if it had slipped underneath. He shook out the sleeping bags.

He tried the door again. It flexed and jangled. A chain. A thick chain. Probably the one Ben had found when they were cleaning out the cabin. He walked back to the window and twisted the rusty metal latch. He hooked his fingers through the two metal rings at the bottom of the window and pulled upward, feeling a thick Y-shaped vein form on his forehead. But the window was jammed and swollen from years without use.

“Maybe Dad took the car and Mummy's gone to get water at the river. Maybe she'll be back in a minute,” Olive said.

Ben thought of yesterday, when he had stood up to his father. He had asked too many questions when they were out hunting. He knew too much. And he had written it all down.

He had been sent to the cabin after Dad had finished reading his notebook. He had not been allowed out for dinner and had gone to bed hungry. Apart from the food he had stolen from the shelf when no one was looking. “Let's call out,” Olive suggested.

“Okay,” said Ben.

“Mu-u-u-um!” She listened for a few seconds. “Mum!”

Nothing.

“Mum-my!”

She waited.

“Help me!” she snipped at Ben.

So he gave a halfhearted call. “Mum!”

“Mu-u-m-m-y-y-y!” Olive screamed.

They listened. Ben looked around. It was dark inside. It was always dark in the cabin until late afternoon, when the sun would find a gap in the trees for half an hour. Ben eyed the high, broken window in the open roof area. It would be near impossible to get to. Too small for him to squeeze through and probably too small for Olive. Broken glass hung from the top of the frame like stalactites.

Hungry.

Ben was not sure what time it was but it felt late, nine o'clock he guessed, much later than his usual wake-up. He wished he was at Nan's, eating cookies out of her tall yellow cookie jar. He didn't care how much cat fur was in among the cookies or if there were weevils. He wanted to tell her everything while she drank a big cup of tea from her purple mug. She would know what to do. She always knew.

“Where are they? And why is the door locked?” Olive asked.

“I don't know,” Ben said. But he did know. He knew that his parents had not sold the wreckers. This was not a vacation. The police wanted them for some reason, and Ben's sloppy detective work had led to him and Olive being held captive.

Ben spied the ice chest in the corner of the room and lifted the lid. Ice, cheese, tomatoes, juice, cold meat wrapped in white paper, all floating in icy water at the bottom. He grabbed a large block of chocolate and shook off the water. He unwrapped it and snapped off a row. Caramel.

He looked at it, wondering if he should eat it. How much fatter would it make him? How delicious would it be? He could hear his mother's voice: “It's your choice. Don't blame me,” and he could hear the things kids sometimes said at school when they were picking teams for soccer. Ben was always goalie. “You just have to stand there and block the goal with your body,” they would say, laughing. Ben would laugh along too, but it wasn't that funny. And he remembered when the school had sent home BMI report cards—Body Mass Index. It was the only report where he had scored really high marks.

Ben shoved the chocolate into his mouth.

Knowing that it was Dad's made it taste especially good. He devoured the row, then another. He offered some to Olive. She shook her head, bottom lip out, arms folded.

Ben munched on another row, caramel spilling down his chin. Olive grunted. Her body stiffened.

“What's wrong?”

She turned her back to him.

“Are you angry at Mum and Dad?”

She didn't say anything. Ben put a hand on her shoulder. Tears spilled down her cheeks as she buried her head in his side. He wanted to say, “Don't be a baby,” but Olive never cried unless it was serious.

“Just Mummy,” she said, muffled by sobs.

“You're just cranky at Mum?”

She nodded and howled to herself.

“Why?”

“Because Dad's a big Maugrim-ish idiot, but Mummy knows better than to be mean and bad.”

Ben held her for a few minutes, warm tears making the side of his T-shirt soggy.

“At least we can eat Dad's chocolate,” he said. He snapped off another row and offered it to her. She took it and ate it quickly, then asked for another. Ben wondered if he was already fatter.

He looked around the room, sighing. He had his new Lego and knife and other presents from Dad, but he didn't feel like using any of it. He had not seen a screen in days. Back in real life he watched TV, made movies, or played games from three-thirty in the afternoon till nine at night. They always ate dinner in front of the TV. Dad would get angry if anyone tried to eat at the dining table when a good show was on. He said it was rude. When Ben stayed at James's house, they didn't even have a TV, which was odd. And Gus was only allowed to watch it on weekends. But to Ben's family, TV was like bad glue. They needed regular doses to keep all the cracks hidden.

The roof of the cabin clicked and creaked, expanding in the sun. Rosellas made a mad tweeting racket in the pine trees behind the cabin.

“I need to go to the bathroom,” Olive said.

Ben needed to go himself. He leaned the air mattresses up against the wall and paced around the cabin, squeezing his bottom lip. How long would his parents be gone? Too long for Olive.

“Where can I go?” she asked. “I'm going to explode!”

Olive went from not needing to go at all to nearly exploding every time. It drove Dad crazy, especially when they were driving.

Ben heard the river in the distance, and for a moment it seemed to flow through him, making him feel as though he might explode too.

“We have to smash the window,” Olive said.

“No! Go in a cup.” Ben moved quickly to the shelf and grabbed a plastic cup out of the packet.

“I'm not a boy! I can't go in a cup,” she said.

Ben had already thought about smashing the window, but what if his parents really had gone to get breakfast? What if Dad was coming back with bacon and eggs on rolls and strawberry milk to apologize for reading Ben's notebook?

“We can't smash the window. They'll kill us,” he said.

“Well, I'll already be dead from an exploding bowel.”

“Bladder.”

“What?”

“Pee is held in your bladder.”

Olive punched Ben hard on the arm. “They can't just lock us in. Kids are people too.” She picked up a saucepan and went to the window.

“Don't!” Ben said. “They'll be so angry.”

“They're gone!” Olive shouted. “They've left us to be eaten by lions and possums and…”

“No, they haven't. Possums can't eat you, and there are no lions in Australia.”

“We saw—”


Except
at the zoo,” Ben said.

“Well, what if they escaped?” she said, raising the pan over her shoulder.

“Stop!”
Ben grabbed her arm. “Let's…” He tried to think of something to distract her.

“Why don't we play with your remote control truck?”

“No.”

“Skateboard?”

“No!”

“Let me tell you a story. It'll take your mind off it.”

“Let me go or I'll bash you with the saucepan.”

“Do you promise not to smash the window?”

“Let. Me.
Go!
” she screamed, and he dropped her wrist. “What about?”

“What?”

“What's the story about?”

The saucepan hung by her side, threatening to rise again if Ben didn't come up with something good. He searched the room for inspiration. His backpack lay on the floor next to his camera and the torn notebook. Dad had thrown it at Ben after reading it and told him that his detective work sucked.

Ben could tell her the story of Dario Savini, zombie thief, and Ben Silver, Sydney's toughest cop, but it seemed a bit creepy. The ancient, dog-eared copy of
My Side of the Mountain
sat, cover up, on the floor near his notebook.

“How about a story about a kid who has to survive in the wilderness by himself, living in a tree.”

Olive dropped the saucepan to the floor with a
clang
and sat on one of the camping chairs, thumb in her mouth. She and Bonzo waited.

Ben breathed a stuttering sigh and picked up the book. He climbed onto the table, leaning his back against the wall next to the window. He began to read the author's note at the beginning—how when she was a kid she had packed up a suitcase and told her mother she was going to run away from home.

Over the next few hours, Ben started to unravel the story of Sam Gribley, the kid who left home to live in the mountains with only a weasel and a falcon for company. As he read the book aloud his mind pedaled furiously in the background.

I hope it wasn't me who sent them away, with all my stupid evidence and notes. They'll come back for sure. They'll be back by lunchtime. I know they will.

 

HOLE

Ben worked the small, jagged blade back and forth across the floorboard. He was starting to make a decent groove now. As he worked he listened for the sound of a distant engine, but there was nothing.

“Shine it over here,” he said.

Olive focused the flashlight beam on Ben's work. Rain hammered the old tin roof.

They had read
My Side of the Mountain
in two sittings, one before lunch and one after. They had taken turns to read aloud and had finished the book by flashlight as the sun abandoned them for the day. Ben had never loved reading. He liked movies or a teacher reading them a book, but he did not like wading through millions of words alone. But this book played on the movie screen in his mind, like when he imagined his films. No one was showing him pictures but he could still see them.

Olive had peed in the cup. She had made Ben turn his back and reminded him of the time that he made her drink apple juice. Well, he had told her it was apple juice but it was not. It was something else. Something that
looked
like apple juice, but he had made it himself. Ben laughed but he still felt bad. Why did he do those things to her? It was as though there was a bad-Ben inside him, forcing his hand.

My Side of the Mountain
had given them comfort and light and warmth, but when it was done all they had was heavy rain, leaks spattering the floor around them, and small, unseen animals making nests in the darkest corners.

After dinner Ben had said, “Let's get some sleep. Tomorrow, this day will feel like a dream. They'll be here when we wake up, you wait.”

“Liar,” she had said, darting across the cabin to grab her saucepan and heading for the window.

“Stop. We don't want to be out there at night. And we don't want to smash anything. Think what Dad will do.” Ben had already been thinking about a way out of the cabin that would not get them into too much trouble if Dad came back. And if they really had been abandoned, they needed to be able to come and go without smashing a window. “Why don't we cut a hole in the floor, something we can cover up. A trapdoor.”

“I love trapdoors,” Olive had said.

“I know that.”

She lowered the saucepan. “What do we cut it with?”

Ben had pulled his knife out of his pocket, shoved the small, rusty green metal trunk across the floor. He had run his fingers over the pine floor, found a small knothole about a foot away from the wall, and started to cut away at the board.

“That'll take ten years!” Olive had said. “Lemme smash the window.”

It did take a long time to get going, and the blade stuck regularly in the wood, but Ben was determined. Olive held the flashlight, but her mind wandered and so did the flashlight beam.

“This is payback for those dirty dogs leaving us,” she said.

Ben moved the blade back and forth, back and forth.
Dirty dogs. Dirty dogs.
Those words sawed through him.
Dirty
on the forward motion of his saw.
Dogs
on the backward. The more he thought, the more he sawed, the more he became certain that he and Olive needed a way out, that maybe Mum and Dad were gone for good. But why would they do that? Why would they lock Ben and Olive in?

“Do you think he's real?” Olive asked, sitting above Ben on a camp chair.

“Who?” Ben asked.
Dirty dogs. Dirty dogs.

“Santa.”

Ben stopped sawing. He looked around the dark room. “Who said anything about Santa?”

“Just me.”

Ben started sawing again. “Yes. He's real.”

Olive was quiet.

“Do you think kids in Africa are dying right now?”

“Maybe,” Ben said. “I guess so.”

“Are other kids in Africa getting born?”

“Yeah. Of course.”

“Why don't kids in Africa get Christmas presents?”

“They do,” Ben said, wiping sweat off his face with his shoulder.

BOOK: On the Run
12.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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