Authors: Tristan Bancks
Ben saw his chance. “So why don't we leave?”
Dad looked at him and then back to where he thought the rabbit was hiding.
“We will,” he said.
“Go home?” Ben asked.
Long pause. “Not necessarily.”
“I don't know,” he said.
“A long way away?”
“Too many questions, Cop,” Dad said, a note of warning in his voice.
Ben stayed silent for a moment as the tension drained away, down the hill and into the river.
“I was just asking,” he said.
“Well, don't âjust ask.'”
What would a detective do?
He knew what he wanted Dad to tell himâwhere they were going next, why they needed passports. He just needed the questions that would unlock the answers.
Ben closed his eyes for a moment, concentrating. The curtains opened on the movie screen at the back of his eyelids. He imagined Ben Silver, Sydney's toughest cop, the hero from his movie, cross-examining Dario Savini, zombie thief. Ben Silver needed to get a confession of Savini's crime without being infected and turning into a zombie himself. Ben wasn't sure if zombies could speak, but in this part of his movie, they could. What would Ben Silver ask?
“How did you get like this?”
Savini would say.
“Like this. Don't you want a normal lifeâkids in school, soccer on weekends, a regular job?”
“I don't have a choice,”
Savini would say.
“Everybody has a choice,”
Silver would respond, thinking of his own beautiful wife, his Labradoodle, his two children, Gareth and Martha, both with clean clothes and perfect teeth.
“I am who I am,”
Savini would say.
“I'm a monster.”
“Open your eyes,” Dad whispered.
“What were you doing?”
“Nothing,” Ben said, adjusting slowly to the real world like he was walking out of a movie theater. Candy bar, popcorn machine, people lining up to buy tickets. Only here it was damp woods, green ants on fallen tree, father holding rifle.
“You said, âI'm a monster,'” Dad told him.
“Sorry,” Ben said, making a mental note not to say lines from his movies aloud when he was watching them on the secret movie screen behind his eyelids.
“Why do we need passports?” Ben asked.
Dad turned to him, finger tightening around the trigger. “What'd you say?”
Birds played chase. A gust of wind soared up through the valley.
Ben shrugged and looked out into the trees.
“Where did you hear that?” Dad asked.
Ben licked his lips with a dry tongue. “Did you and Mum do the wrong thing?” he asked.
said his mind.
“What makes you say that?”
“Just. Things don't seem normal. They seemÂ â¦ weird. That's all.”
“Why would you think we would do the wrong thing?” Dad asked.
Ben shrugged. Dad's face turned a pale shade of red.
“Are we good people?”
Ben nodded, looking into his father's watery hazel-brown eyes. Cloudy, not clear. More like a dam than a lake.
“Do you think we're good people?” Dad asked again.
I hope so,
Ben thought. He remembered Olive suggesting that Dad was hiding a body in the roof of the cabin.
“Yes,” Ben said, unconvincingly. “I think we're good people.”
“Then why would we do something wrong? And why did you ask about passports?”
A thick Y-shaped vein stuck out on Dad's forehead. Ben's backpack felt hot and heavy, the air tight and warm in his throat. Just then he saw a flicker of gray over Dad's shoulder and up the hill.
Dad must have seen Ben's eyes move. He turned quickly, raised the rifle, and took aim.
“Don't!” Ben said.
The rabbit's ears pricked up.
“Bang,” Dad whispered.
Dad sawed back and forth on the rabbit's left hind ankle with an old fishing knife. It made a
ing sound, like a dentist sawing a tooth. Then the foot came away, and he held it out for Ben, who stepped back toward the fire that Mum was trying to start.
“What? It's good luck,” Dad said.
It didn't look like good luck to Ben. He wondered who came up with the idea that rabbits' feet were good luck. Surely they were better luck if they were still attached to the rabbit. Imagine if rabbits decided that human feet were good luck, so they started sneaking down chimneys and through cat flaps and gnawing off people's feet in the night. Apart from a foot being an extremely heavy thing for a rabbit to carry around, there would be millions of us walking around on our ankles.
Ben looked down at the rabbit. It was lying on its side on a low tree stump at the edge of the clearing. Dad was using the stump as a chopping block. The rings of the tree, stained with blood, seemed to radiate out from the rabbit. The one brown eye that Ben could see looked alive, but the rest of the animal was floppy and lifeless.
Dad poked the foot at him again, and Ben looked into his father's eyes. They seemed less alive than the rabbit's. The Y-shaped vein stuck out on his forehead again.
“No thanks,” Ben said.
Dad shook his head. It was a shake that Ben had come to know meant “What's wrong with ya?” or “Big baby.”
“I'll keep it myself then,” Dad said with a grin, and he stuffed the bloody foot into his pocket. “Let's cook Bugs Bunny up. I'm hungry.”
Ben watched his father. “Why are we eating rabbit? We've got real food inside.”
Dad did not respond.
Ben slumped down against a nearby tree as Mum tried to help Dad gut and skin the rabbit. Mum and Dad bickered as Dad made mistakes. Eventually Mum took over. Olive hid in the cabin. She had decided when she was three that she was vegetarian and had not willingly eaten meat since. Mum had once tried to trick her by hiding chicken in a pie with lots of vegetables, but when Olive found out she refused to eat anything but crackers for a week.
Ben sketched the rabbit as he had seen it on the tree stumpâthe glistening brown eye, the tree rings radiating out from its body. He had never really thought that much about where meat came from before, about the process of an animal becoming food. Did it become meat as soon as it died or only once it was ready to be cooked? Or was it always meat?
Am I meat?
he wondered. Ben squeezed his bicep.
Maybe I am,
I hope they don't eat me.
Somehow, in supermarkets, the fluorescent lights and the shiny, plastic-wrapped packages made you forget.
Dad put the rabbit on a stick and held it over the fire. Or over the smoke, really. There weren't any flames. Just some warm sticks that he kept prodding and blowing on and trying to spark into life. He sat on the edge of the chopping stump, turning the rabbit occasionally, watching Ben. “What do you write in that book?”
“I'm not writing,” Ben replied.
“What do you
“Where'd you get it?” Dad squinted as the wind changed and smoke blew into his eyes.
“It was Pop's.”
Dad snorted. He had always acted strange when Pop's name was mentioned, even though Pop had been dead for years. He had died when he was fifty-six and had become a mythical figure, frozen in time. The stories about him became bigger each year: the way he helped people and gave his money away to friends who needed it. And how he did electrical work but didn't bother charging his customers. Nan said the only people that Pop had never had enough time for were his sons.
The curling smoke changed direction again, and Dad eyed Ben for a while but didn't say anything more.
Ben was starving. His father had already said he wasn't allowed to eat anything until the rabbit was cooked. When he was finished drawing he wrote down the interrogation scene that he had imagined between the Ben Silver in his movie and Dario Savini, zombie thief.
How did you get like this?
Like this. Don't you want a normal lifeâkids in school, soccer on weekends, a regular job?
I don't have a choice.
Everybody has a choice.
I am who I am. I'm a monster.
It was another hour before Dad announced that lunch was ready. Ben looked up from his writing, his back still against the hoop pine. The last thing he wrote, in big letters, in the middle of a page, was:
Can your own parents kidnap you? I think mine have. Help!
Dad held up the rabbit on a stickâa charred black lollipop of meat. Then he took to it with a knife.
“Come try this,” he called, offering Ben a lump of burned rabbit. Ben didn't know which body part it was, but it did not look good.
“I'm all right,” Ben said. He was trying to sound tough and manly while still refusing to eat the meat. He didn't like it when Dad said he wasn't tough enough.
Dad smiled and bit into the rabbit himself, smothering his teeth and lips in charcoal.
“Good eating,” Dad said, but even from fifteen feet away, Ben could tell that it looked red-raw on the inside. Dad jawed on it with his side and rear teeth, twisting the meat around and around.
“Tastes like turkey. There's scrub turkeys around here too, y'know.”
Let's eat them too. Anything that moves, let's eat it.
“Come on, everyone,” Mum said. She had spread out a couple of towels close to the fire for them to sit on and was laying out tomatoes, lettuce, and bread. “Olive!” she called.
Olive appeared at the cabin door and took a wide arc across the clearing, as far away from Dad and the rabbit-fail as she could. She sat on a towel as Mum buttered bread for sandwiches.
Dad brought the meat over, carved up on a paper plate. He sat on a camping chair next to the towels and put the plate with the other food.
“Ray, that's not cooked,” Mum said.
“Yes, it is.”
“No. It's not. It's disgusting. You've spent nearly three hours preparing and cooking that and look at it.”
“Oh well. Don't have any. All the more for me,” he said. But he didn't eat any more right away, and Ben saw him drop the gristly piece that he had been chewing to the ground when he thought no one was looking. At home Golden would have snapped it up. Ben missed her.
Dad wiped charcoal off his lips, and the others made lettuce and cheese sandwiches. As Ben reached for a slice of tomato Dad snatched his notebook up off the towel, tearing some of the pages.
“Let's have a look at this,” he said.
Ben turned, dropped the tomato, and grabbed for the book. “No.”
Dad pulled it out of Ben's reach. “I want to know what you spend all your time writing in your little book. Wonder if there's anything about passports?”
“Give it to me.” Ben's mind raced with the things he had written in there, the evidence he had gathered. He lunged for Dad, who palmed him off and stood, walking back a few steps.
He cleared his throat. “Very interesting.”
“Give it back to him, Ray,” Mum said.
Ben stood and followed Dad to the other side of the fire pit.
“Zombie thief, eh? Oh, and a little poem. How sweet. My son, the poet.” He flicked roughly through the pages.
“Give me it!” Ben said in a low, threatening voice. He threw himself at Dad, who shoved him away.
“Just give it to him,” Mum said. “He should be allowed some privacy.”
“Hang on,” Dad said, backing off again. “What's this? âPulled over by cops.' âBag full of money.' âSold the wreckers.' It's a diary too.”
Ben ran at his dad and tackled him to the sandy ground near the smoldering fire pit. He wanted to stop but he couldn't. He grabbed at the notebook like a wild animal, screaming as Dad tried to get away, but Ben wouldn't let him. That notebook was the one place Ben could be himself.
“Ben! Don't,” Mum said, standing. “What are you doing?”
“Ben!” Olive squealed.
Dad grabbed him by the arms and twisted his body, rolling him over and pinning him to the ground, sitting on his stomach. The notebook lay on the sand. “Don't you
do that to me again, you hear?” Dad shouted, spit flying from his mouth. Ben struggled against his father's grip. Tears stabbed the backs of his eyelids. Dad gave a final, firm push down on his arms, then stood. Ben rolled and reached for the torn notebook, but Dad was too quick, sweeping it up off the ground.
“I don't know what you know, but I'm about to go and have a good read of this and find out. Keep your nose out of other people's business!”
Dad headed toward the cabin. A deep growl spewed from Ben's mouth, and he stood to give chase, but Mum ran over, intercepting him, holding him across his chest. “It's okay,” she said, her voice shaking and breaking. “Let it go. Let him have it.”
“You are the worst father in the whole
,” Ben shouted.
“Boohoo!” Dad said as he disappeared inside the cabin, slamming the door.
Ben breathed hard, then screamed into the tall trees above. Everything he had written, all his thoughts and the evidence he had gathered in the past few days. He silently cursed what an idiot he had been to write everything down and to leave it lying around. Ben had no idea what his father would do once he had read the notebook, and he did not want to find out.
Ben ground his teeth as the dream thundered through him. In his mind's eye he was at the river floating on his raft. He looked across the smooth water to find something watching him from the bank. He kept his eye on the face of the thing as he bobbed gently up and down. The wolf had his father's eyes, and it stole quickly into the water. Ben began paddling as the animal swam quickly to the edge of the raft. He crawled to the far side to get away, but the raft tipped. He fell in, panicked, and began to swim. He soon felt a slicing, twisting pain in his left calf. He kicked and fought the wolf, but it was too strong. He could not overcome it. Would never. As water filled him, he felt a hand on his shoulder.