Authors: Jen Banyard
For Nan and Pa who lived down the road and whose arms were always wide open
First published 2014 by FREMANTLE PRESS
25 Quarry Street, Fremantle, Western Australia 6160
Copyright Â© Jen Banyard, 2014
This book is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study, research, criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission. Enquiries should be made to the publisher.
The moral rights of the author have been asserted.
Printed by Everbest Printing Company, China
Cover design and illustration by traceygibbs.com
National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-publication entry
Banyard, Jen, 1958-
Riddle Gully Runaway/ Jen Banyard.
ISBN 978 1921 888 74 8 (pbk.)
Fremantle Press is supported by the State Government through the Department of Culture and the Arts.
âIf you master others, you are forceful.
If you master yourself, you have inner strength.'
Lao Tzu (6th century BCE), China
Someone had said the view from the top of the rollercoaster was amazing but Will Hopkins had only one thought as the carriage rattled its way up the steep steel incline: âI'm only thirteen! I'm too young to die!'
Beside him in the lead car, Pollo di Nozi strained against the safety bar, pointing excitedly. âWould you look at that bolt there, Will! It's wobbling like crazy! This rig needs a good going over with a welding torch if you ask me! There's another loose one! Look!'
Will stared ahead, across the treetops and the Riddle Gully fairground to the clock tower of the town hall in the distance. His eyes were like golf balls. His knuckles, as they gripped the bar, looked like eight snow-capped mountain-tops. Why had he ever listened to Pollo? Didn't he know that what Pollo called fun
most often nearly killed him?
Crick-et-y â¦ crick-et-y â¦ crick-et-y â¦ He could hear each cog ratcheting into place, hauling them slowly upward to the crest. Will slid his eyeballs sideways and down and spotted Mr Wrigley, Riddle Gully's oldest mechanic, at the rollercoaster controls. He was shading his eyes and looking up at them. His bottom lip was jutting in a worried pout, Will was sure.
Crick-et-y â¦ crick-et-y â¦ Will gulped down the rising lump in his throat.
Pollo jabbed him with her elbow. âTake a chill pill, Will! No one ever dies up here on these things.' She pointed to the ground below. âThey all die
! In the dirt! Splat! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!'
Crick-et-y â¦ Their carriage inched to the crest of the iron-girder mountain. Will saw dotted farms and distant hills, lumpy with trees that looked much nicer from the ground. He saw the steely blue sky stretching around them â perfect if you were an albatross. He felt his heart hammer against his ribcage. The carriage teetered at the peak.
âHere we go!' yelled Pollo. âThe fun's about to â¦ Whoa-aa-aah!'
Slowly, irrevocably, they tipped. Suddenly, Will
and Pollo were hurtling into a bone-shaking plummet toward earth. Down they flew, their bodies pressed back by centrifugal force or terror â Will couldn't tell which. The car juddered on the narrow rail, sending tremors through their insides, down their limbs to their fingers and toes. Will's teeth jangled and his mouth gaped, but just a terrified squeeze of air, a scream so high-pitched only dogs could hear it, escaped. Beside him, Pollo let go of the bar, threw both arms in the air and hooted like a banshee.
No sooner had they bottomed out than the car swung hard right, throwing Will against Pollo. He was still trying to spit Pollo's long springy hair from his mouth when it swung hard left, flinging Pollo his way, bringing their heads together with a clunk. The tinny taste of blood filled Will's mouth and his tongue began to sting.
Will could see it up ahead â the twenty metre high, gravity-defying Loop of Extinction the rollercoaster was named for â looming against the sky. Ten minutes earlier he and Pollo had laughed at the terror on the upside-down faces of the passengers, their hair flying beneath their heads, their pleading screams as they hurtled around the loop. Now Pollo and Will flew at it
headlong, their car rocking side to side.
They whizzed upwards. The passengers shrieked as a single organism. For a second, Will saw the gleaming steel rollercoaster rail below â then they whipped downwards. As Will's insides were catching up with the rest of him, they rocketed into an S-bend â right, left, right â to the groans and squeals of the riders behind. They missiled toward the string of tattered flags that marked the finish. Then, as violently as it had all begun, invisible hooks grabbed their carriage and yanked them to a dead stop.
A lanky teenaged attendant, his baseball cap angled over an ear, leaned across and unlatched the bars. He offered a steadying hand. Pollo didn't seem to notice it and sprang unaided onto the platform.
âThat was insane!' she screeched. âLet's go again!' She hurried toward the exit steps, shouting over her shoulder, âI'll pay for you, Will, if you've run out of money!'
The attendant hauled Will from the car and gave him a nudge. But Will remained rooted to the spot, his legs wobbling like jelly-snakes, the mob pushing past either side. He stared like a zombie, his mouth hanging open, at the attendant's chest as though hypnotised by
the image on his black T-shirt.
âEe-yew, Will! You don't look so good.' Pollo was making her way back along the platform to her friend. Will's skin had taken on the colour of boiled cabbage.
The ride attendant unplugged music earphones and jerked his head toward the exit. âMove along, please, buddy.' Pushing a
cymbal sound through his teeth and dipping his head to the beat, he shrugged and took Will by the armpits. Pollo alongside, he eased Will along the platform and down the metal steps onto the grass thoroughfare, Will's feet trailing unhelpfully.
âTake it easy, eh?' said the attendant, plugging in his earphones and springing back up the steps for the next round of victims.
Will stood on the pathway, swaying, with the crowd at the Riddle Gully annual fair snaking around him and Pollo. He tried to breathe deeply, tried to focus on something other than his squirming insides.
âGee Will,' said Pollo. âI've heard of people going green before but I've never actually seen it. I've gotta get a picture!' She pulled her camera from her pocket and snapped before Will could summon the strength to duck.
âYou'd better not put that in your newspaper column,' he mumbled.
âDon't worry, my friend. My section of the
is only ever black and white. You're safe. I'm saving the embarrassing photo spot for Mayor Bullock. Why stop this year, eh?'
Two youths eating hotdogs, with fried onions and pus-like mustard sliding down their fingers, stopped to gawk. âWatch out!' one laughed. âThis one's gonna blow!' They were rocking together, pointing at Will and sniggering, when, with the same suddenness the rollercoaster ride had come to an end, everything Will had eaten at the Riddle Gully fair that afternoon â the hamburger-with-egg, sour cream wedges, chocolate muffin, corn dog, two doughnuts and large blueberry slushy â rocketed up his throat and propelled themselves in a colourful arc towards the boys' feet.
Pollo clapped a hand to her mouth. The youths gazed from their spattered shoes to Will and back again. Both looked like they wanted to beat him up on the spot but were too disgusted to go near him. They stalked away, muttering and swearing, hurling their hotdogs onto the path. Two ravens flew down and began stabbing at the pink meat, hopping back and forth as pedestrians passed.
Will looked at Pollo sheepishly. âWhew! I didn't feel it coming till the last second.'
âWell it's not like you're a giraffe or anything.'
âA giraffe â¦ You know, with a mile-long neck. A giraffe would know something was coming. I wonder how long it takes a giraffe to throw up.'
âMaybe they never do, maybe the gunk never reaches the top,' said Will. âThat'd be neat.'
âI'll have to ask Dad. He'll know.'
âHandy having a vet for a dad sometimes.'
âNot as handy as you having a police sergeant for a stepdad. That would be brilliant in my line of work! I could get the scoop on Riddle Gully every night over dinner.'
âIt has its ups and downs,' said Will. âHB has this way of getting details out of me before I even know what we're talking about. Like the time he â'
From the corner of her eye, Pollo could see the rollercoaster attendant, his hi-top sneakers planted wide as he trickled sand from a bucket over Will's offering. He seemed to be taking extraordinary care over it. His head was tilted towards them and his earphones dangled loose from the pocket of his baggy jeans. Was he eavesdropping on them, wondered Pollo. Getting the low-down on the local arm of the law?
She put a hand on Will's shoulder. âSay, let's head over to the Kitchens Rule tent. They've got free samples.'