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Authors: Joss Hedley

The Wish Kin

BOOK: The Wish Kin
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Joss Hedley inherited storytelling from her father and writing from her mother. She grew up in Wollongong and now lives in Sydney where she tutors in performance studies at university.
The Wish Kin
is her first novel.

Joss Hedley

THE
WISH
KIN

First published 2008 in Pan by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited
1 Market Street, Sydney

Text copyright © Joss Hedley 2008

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.

National Library of Australia
Cataloguing-in-Publication data:

Hedley, Joss.
The wish kin.

For secondary school age.
ISBN 978 0 330 42372 4 (pbk.)

I. Brothers and sisters – Australia – Juvenile fiction. I. Title.

A823.3

Typeset in 11.5/15.5 pt Wilke by Midland Typesetters, Australia
Printed in Australia by McPherson's Printing Group

The characters and events in this book are fictitious and
any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is
purely coincidental.

Papers used by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in sustainable forests. The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.

These electronic editions published in 2008 by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd
1 Market Street, Sydney 2000

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved. This publication (or any part of it) may not be reproduced or transmitted, copied, stored, distributed or otherwise made available by any person or entity (including Google, Amazon or similar organisations), in any form (electronic, digital, optical, mechanical) or by any means (photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise) without prior written permission from the publisher.

The Wish Kin

Joss Hedley

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Mobipocket format 978-1-74198-201-5

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Epub format 978-1-74262-469-3

 

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To my parents

PROLOGUE

The vehicle behind them falls back into the dark bushland and for the first time they are alone on the road. It is long, this road, and winding, comes out of the bush to follow the ragged edge of the ocean, the cut and turn of the cliffs. The moon lies low beside them, picks out the white froth of waves with its light.

Rafe Bell locks the car into autodrive and opens the windows. The cabin fills with the smell of the sea, loses the metallic tang of the city. Rafe breathes it in deeply, can't get enough of it. For the first time he feels relief.

Did I do the right thing? he asks himself as he drives. Was there any other way? He looks at Rose, his wife, sleeping beside him, and knows there was not.

The road swings out away from the cliffs, a concrete flyover above ocean. For a moment it is as though they are not driving at all, but soaring through the empty
sky. The moon is a shining plate before them, the night a gentle world of sea and stars.

The land again, the cliffs, the humming road. They climb a hill and Rafe sees in the rear-vision mirror the distant city as a silvery glow emerging from black bushland. It is a long way behind them, but he wants the distance greater. He unlocks the autodrive and accelerates.

It had started off so well. There had been so much promise, so much hope. The Twelve would be the ones to point the way, to make things right, to bring salvation. They would produce the water, green the land. But it had not happened as they had planned. Not at all. In fact, things had become worse. The Twelve had ended up being very much a part of the problem.

And then everything had happened so quickly. Even the doomsayers were shocked. Already the cities were emptying as people left to find food. At this rate, it would not be much longer before society was completely fractured. Then there would only be chaos.

No. There had been no other way. Rafe had had to break from the Twelve if there was ever to be a chance for survival – even if it meant that the Twelve now despised him.

But if the Twelve could not save them, then who could? Rafe had heard rumours, legends even – but when things are falling apart it's not hard for people to believe in folklore and fables. Rafe himself wants to believe.

The moon is higher now, the ocean hidden by trees. Rafe slows down and looks for the turn-off. Rose at his side murmurs softly in her sleep.

How long, he wonders, till we can stop fleeing? How long till we are safe? He swings the car into the side road and the sudden darkness of bush. We will find a place, he tells himself over and over. Somewhere safe. Somewhere we can't be found. We will have children, make a better world for them. We'll succeed where the Twelve failed. We'll survive and make a new Eden.

The road opens up to the broad stretch of highway. Rafe is nervous about crossing it, feels his temples moisten. But he has to cross it, he knows that. And he will have to take many other risks before they will be out of danger.

Rose opens her eyes, looks up at him and smiles. He smiles back, then switches off the headlights and grips the steering wheel firmly. He waits in the gloom of the side road until there are no cars to be seen, presses his foot to the accelerator and lurches into the open.

And as he speeds across the empty highway to the narrow service road on the other side, to the safety it momentarily promises, he wonders what the future world will be like, thinks of his children yet unborn, and prays that they will never have to flee.

CHAPTER
1

Fifteen years later

It is the feeling that Colm remembers more than any image or sound. He thinks it is real, but knows it could easily be a dream. His eyes are closed, his body naked and hairless, and he is curled up inside a small glass box, smaller than one would think could contain a boy his age, his size. But there he is, his knees folded against his chest, his head quiet and bowed, his wrists crossed over his ankles, his toes turned under. The glass of the box presses him, contains him; his skin appears white, bloodless. But there is not a part of him that senses any discomfort, any grievance. The opposite. Wrapped tightly as he is, his bones reaching the pointed corners of the cube, he feels a tremendous embrace, a completeness, as though he is bound in love, as though he has
never known, or never will know, fear in any of its guises. And he and the box are spinning slowly through a wide expanse of night sky, are spinning through the furthest reaches of space. There is no land in sight, no planet or small moon. Stars there are, though, and in abundance, but they are far away and give little light. They form a gentle background for the boy spinning and his cube and perhaps it is them that he hears,
whispering whispering
, across the vast stretch of sky.

Now he lies still in his narrow wooden bed, his body coiled into itself as he is in his memory. He wakes like this sometimes, realising only as the light breaches the sticky seal of his eyelids, and the ragged clatter of the opening gate reaches his ears, that the memory has permeated his sleep once again. He clings to the remnants of feeling, holds still to the sensation of floating through space, to the whispering and peace, until at last the hardness of his bed and the insistent barking of his father's dog tied up in the yard come in upon him and all he is left with is the arc of his torso.

This morning, Colm wakes more quickly than usual, a dark unsteady feeling in his stomach. The dog is strangely silent. The cold dawn air chills the spread of sweat across his brow. He pulls on his shorts and crosses to the window. In the yard he sees the dog lying quiet, with his head twisted at an unusual angle. Colm's stomach lurches, but he knows at once what he must do.

Even as he turns he hears the alarm sounding out
from the watchtower. A moment later there are shouts and a round of machine-gun fire rips the waking day. He pounds the bed next to him to raise his sister, Lydia, from sleep, clapping his hand roughly over her mouth that she might not cry out. She sees the danger in his eyes, understands now what it is that their father has been speaking of all their lives, and is quiet. She follows Colm quickly to the corner of the room and into the opening hidden beneath the table. Both of them bite down their fear for their father in obedience to his own command.
Think not of me
, was his instruction.
Get into the tunnel. I will come as soon as I can and meet you on the ridge
.

Colm replaces the trapdoor above them and follows his sister into the tunnel. A flash of light breaks the darkness at their backs and a sound like thunder cracks about them. Colm gropes at the uneven stone walls until he feels the shelf where his father has stacked several small torches and a clutch of batteries. He stuffs the batteries into his pocket, hands a torch to Lydia and snaps on the switch of his own. The yellow beam is bright enough for them to see by, to run by, and this is what they do, they run.

Long before the raids moved south their father had built this tunnel, had ingrained in them what action they were to take, had trained them daily to run and run and run, never stopping, never tiring. He had made them follow the ring-road around the base of Mount Nebo, across to the old water tanks – dry since before
Colm was born – and back again. Daily, their father had stood, legs apart and arms akimbo, his eyes squinting into the sun, watching their progress solemnly. Sometimes he had run alongside, strong and brown and wise, but just as often he had stayed by the house and waited solidly for their return, ready to hand them a small beaker of water to slake their screaming thirst.

Their father had known this would happen, Colm thinks now as he runs. He had known when he built the watchtower and took on two extra men, he had known when he ringed the property with firewalls and razor wire, he had known when he channelled the dams and drilled the earth for bore water that one day his children would be forced to run in a way they had never run before. And now that it is happening, all Colm feels is an extraordinary awe that their father had had knowledge enough to plan it all so finely.

The tunnel is winding now, and descending quickly. This is the toughest part, Colm knows from his numerous visits here. The earth around them is cold from the night and he feels, despite the heat that grips his lungs and tightens his heart, a chill moving into his marrow. He rubs his hands against his arms as he runs and wishes that he had had time to pull on a shirt before they had fled the house.

‘Are you gander, Lyd?' he calls to the slight figure running before him.

‘I'm gander,' he hears back. ‘Are you gander?'

‘I'm gander.'

They keep running. The path downwards is rocky now and they have to watch their footing. The walls come in closer. The air is stale and sluggish.

Lydia stops suddenly.

‘What's the matter?' shouts Colm, and thumps her back to keep her going.

‘Snake,' she croaks.

Colm moves beside her, sees in the yellow torchlight a king brown lifting its head in anger.

‘Stay still,' Colm hisses.

He can hear his sister's breathing, can feel his heart slamming in his chest. He realises he has no weapon, only the torch. Behind them the echoes of destruction drift through the tunnel. Colm, having heard his father's men tell of the violence of the raiders, feels fear like a fist in his gut. He wishes he knew where their father was, wishes he was here with them now.

‘What are we going to do?' Lydia whispers.

Colm slows his heartbeat and filters through his memory. He knows there is something there, he is sure of it. He waits for a moment and then remembers: it is the story that Father told him of when he first broke with the Twelve and, taking their mother, Rose, with him, fled into the bush. The police were after them almost immediately, but they were quick, were Rafe and Rose, and canny. They kept ahead with their strength and their wit and had almost made it to safety when, crawling through the undergrowth on their bellies, they came face to face with a black snake. Their
only option, with the police back in the bush behind them and a couple of choppers hovering overhead, was to sit tight.

‘Just stare at it,' says Colm. ‘Stay really still and stare at it.'

Lydia stares at the snake. Her gaze is powerful and strong. The snake, though, is king of the bush, is used to creatures fleeing at its approach. It is a bold snake, and noble. Its head is high now; its skin glows a rich nut colour in the torchlight. How proud you are, thinks Colm. And how beautiful. You deserve to be lord of this place.

But Lydia's gaze is patient and unrelenting. Colm shifts his eyes from those of the snake to those of his sister and is amazed. He sees there a fire, a resolve, something he has seen in her in the past but which he still finds striking. The snake sees it too and begins to weaken under it. Its body flickers and writhes, its head moves anxiously from side to side. Lydia does not blink, does not stir, but maintains her fiery focus until the snake, its bold body a graceful line pale against the black of the tunnel walls, turns slowly and disappears through a congestion of rock. Lydia exhales audibly. Had she been holding her breath the whole time? Colm wonders. He does not ask her this but blows the words ‘Well done' into her ear and flashes his light on the tunnel floor once again. And, not for the first time, he wonders at his sister.

Ever since she was very small, Lydia has had something. There is a strength about her that isn't to be seen
in other children, a self-possession or awareness. Often, this will show itself in an uncanny prescience, or in a seriousness or knowledge far beyond her years. Colm remembers clearly how Lydia, then so tiny, did not want their mother to go off in the truck that time, begged and pleaded with her to stay, as though she knew exactly what would happen.

And then, for long stretches of time, everything would be normal. Lydia would be like any other young girl, with nothing at all uncommon about her. The moments of uncanniness seem to cluster, and then to disappear. The fact that they have started again, Colm thinks, now, when they are running, is good. They will need every reserve of ability they have until they are with their father again.

The ground has begun to slope upwards, and they recognise this stretch as the last. They run on, their feet fast and sure, their hopes heightened. The darkness lessens and they switch off their torches. Their lungs hunger for fresh air.

They run until they hit a bare wall of stone. The end of the tunnel. Sweet light and air spill in from above, and they scrabble over mounds of gravel and blown rock to reach the surface. Colm cups Lydia's foot in his hands and hoists her upwards, watches her vanish behind a chiselled shelf. He follows, and a moment later is lying on the warm earth, drinking the air as though he is breathing for the very first time. ‘So sweet,' he says. He closes his eyes, exhausted.

‘Colm.'

Lydia's voice is tight and strangled, her lips pale with shock. Colm sits up and looks across the valley from where they have come. A smudge of grey blurs the place where the farm should be. He can just make out the watchtower, a blackened mess of wood patterned with distant flickers of flame. There is no sign of the house or outbuildings. There is nothing else but smoke. His stomach lurches, his tongue grows cold and he turns and vomits into the ragged scrub at his side.

Lydia, silent and shaking, still stares across the valley. She does not blink. Colm spits out the last of his sick, then moves closer to his sister. He puts his arm across her shoulder and draws her to him. She feels as cold as ice.

The sun climbs higher. The smoke drifts and fades. Colm stands and makes his way back to a ledge at the opening of the tunnel where he knows their packs are stored. He returns with two of the three that are there, places one in front of Lydia, and begins to rummage inside the other. He finds the flask he is looking for and hands it to his sister.

‘Have some water,' he says, and she drinks, slowly, as they have been taught. Her eyes moisten and fill, and she blinks over and over.

She holds her last sip of water long in her mouth, swallows and asks, ‘Was Father's pack there?'

‘Yes,' says Colm.

Two tears tremble on her lower lashes. Colm catches them with his finger, brushes them away. ‘He'll be gander, Lyd,' he says. ‘He's always gander.'

Lydia nods, then turns away and scrabbles with the knots on her pack. Neither of them mentions their home.

‘Come on,' Colm says. ‘We should move under the trees. We'll get burned here.'

They shoulder their packs and head for a stand of ghost gums, white against the red of the dirt, against the bright blue of the sky. The valley is hidden from here, the wreck of their home obscured by the pale trunks before them. Colm scoops up a handful of leaf litter and crushes it slowly. The dry refuse falls from between his fingers in flaky scented scales.

‘We'll wait for Father until sundown as planned,' he says. He stretches out on the shaded ground, rests his head on the pillow of his pack.

‘He'll be here by then,' his sister says, and drags her arm wearily across her face. She drops her pack beside Colm's and lies with her back to him. A magpie warbles in the treetops. Colm's eyelids droop.

The sun is at its highest point when he wakes. He had not meant to sleep at all and leaps up from the ground, scans in an instant the surrounding countryside. All is still: the air hangs silvery in the heat. Colm nudges Lydia into wakedness and she stretches slowly, a whimper escaping her throat as she exhales.

‘We should go further up,' he says. ‘We can't stay here.'

Lydia doesn't answer. She takes a step out from under the trees and looks towards the valley, towards the remnants of home.

‘He won't find us,' she says quietly.

‘He will if we follow his directions.'

Lydia is quiet. Her right hand clenches into a tight fist then opens like a starfish. There is a smear of blood along her arm.

‘You're bleeding.'

‘Am I?'

Colm rummages in his pack until he finds a leather pouch, and takes from it a small square of fabric. He holds it under his sister's mouth.

‘Spit,' he says.

A tiny tablet of phlegm appears on her lower lip and he presses the fabric against it, wipes the moisture in turn across the dried blood on her arm. She winces.

‘Sorry,' he says. He dabs carefully but has not finished when Lydia wriggles out from under his touch.

‘I'll be okay,' she says. Then, looking at the bloody square of fabric, ‘Don't waste that. There aren't many.'

He nods and places the square into her outstretched hand. She smoothes it out then drops it into a pocket of her pack.

‘Come on then,' she says, and walks out through the other side of the stand of ghost gums. Colm picks up his pack and follows.

The sun burns down upon their skin. Colm stops and searches his pack for one of the shirts he knows it
contains. The three of them – Colm, Lydia and their father – spent months refining the contents of the packs. Between them they had tried to conceive of every possible scenario they might come across and the tools they would need to survive. It would be a long and treacherous journey, and likely there would be times when there was very little to eat, and even less to drink. So, as well as packing dried food and flasks of water, Rafe Bell had taught his children how to live off the land.

‘We may be separated,' he had said to them, ‘and then you won't have me to help you.' And so he had taught them to recognise which plants they could eat and which they could not, which succulents were good to snap and suck for the sticky stuff inside, which earth beetles were the least bitter and the most full of protein. He had instructed them in map-reading and rock-climbing, knot-tying and fire-lighting, had taught them how to bandage a sprained wrist or ankle and how to lessen the poison from a spider bite. He had shown them how to make shelter from bark and the lee of a rock, how to catch skinks with their hands, how to make and shoot darts at rabbits. He told them, too, of the difficulties that lay beyond the strong walls of Hirrup's Range: of the extreme lack of water, of the scarcity of food, of the desperation of the people, and of the raiders.

BOOK: The Wish Kin
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