The air was still cool with moonlight, though the sun had first peeked over the skyline over an hour ago. Three little girls huddled together on the library steps, watching the people walk to work. L.P held her arms protectively around her little sisters’ shoulders, each girl brightly clothed in puffy winter coats, track suit pants, wellies and mittens. Noodle’s nose felt so cold she thought it might snap off. Baby unwrapped the scarf from her own face, wrapped it around Noodle’s and announced that she didn’t want to sit still any longer. She stood and marched down the steps to inspect the street art they’d all been staring at for the last quarter of an hour. It was a painting of a girl with a doll tucked under one arm. It was eerily realistic and the girls hadn’t been able to tear their eyes away, each girl secretly suspecting that the moment they did the girl would move. Maybe just a flick of her brown ponytail or a wink of her sky blue eye, but they didn’t want to miss a thing. Baby gazed at the doll, thinking about the dolls she and her sisters had left at home that morning when they had run out of the house looking for adventure. She felt Noodle slip her chubby hand into her own and gave it a squeeze. L.P gave a little cough, she felt like the cold air had frozen her vocal chords into little stalactites hanging down the back of her throat, “Shops will be open now, let’s go get some sweets.” “But I don’t have any pocket money left L.P,” Noodle complained. L.P tutted, “You’ve got your party bag from yesterday, don’t be greedy. Me and Baby want our own sweets.” They set off to find the sweet shop, and when Baby looked back over her shoulder she swore the girl in the graffiti did wink at her.
On the way to the sweet shop the girls spotted a red balloon rising up over the smaller shops and offices of the city, up, up and then gone. L.P saw her first, a little girl with her arms held up like she was reaching for the lost balloon. But that couldn’t be, the little girl was painted onto a wall, like the girl with her doll. Noodle spotted the sweet shop and the girls ran down the street to the door. They exploded into the shop in excitement, like three giggling colourful bouncy balls. At the counter L.P and Baby picked the sweets they wanted and Noodle begged them for just one bit of raspberry liquorice, just a couple of sherbet filled flying saucers, what about a piece of bubble-gum. The shop keeper was a little dumpling of a lady with rosy red cheeks, like Mrs Claus. When L.P finally gave in and agreed to give Noodle one flying saucer, the lady smiled full of sunshine. “Well now, aren’t your sisters so lovely to you?” Her voice sounded like bubbles, all sweet and musical. “Not really,” Noodle piped up through a cloud of sherbet, “they made me stand in dog poo the other day.” The sweet lady looked horrified. L.P and Baby giggled into their sweet bags. “They said I had to show how much I wanted to play with them. They said if I stood in it, I would get to play.” “And did you get to play?” Baby shrieked, “No! She stank!” and all three girls doubled over with laughter. “I was wearing jelly shoes,” Noodle said when she had caught her breath. “Oh dear,” the dumpling lady started busying herself with tidying the shelves. The girls paid for their sweets and left the shop.
Outside Baby found a dog painted on the side of a video game arcade. In the picture the dog was snoozing peacefully and Baby put a hand out to stroke it. “No Baby!” Noodle cried out, “Never pat a sleeping dog, remember what Mum says?” “It’s a picture Noodle brain!” Baby retorted as she patted the dog’s head. The dog’s eyes snapped open and his jaws snapped on Baby’s cheek. Baby cried out from the shock of it, and when L.P inspected the bite there were just two faint red marks, no blood. “Sorry dog,” Baby said when her cheek had stopped stinging, “I didn’t mean to surprise you.” And she picked up a stick lying on the path and threw it at the wall in front of the graffiti dog’s nose. The dog caught the stick and ran off along the wall with it. Inside the arcade the girls soon forgot all about the bizarre dog attack. They didn’t have any pocket money left so they just made up games with the machines, pulling levers, pushing buttons and spinning wheels, watching lights chase each other around a flashing word that was too long for any of them to read, pretending to race in the car game booths and dancing to the music coming from a lanky teenaged boy’s shooting game.
When the girls’ eyes were aching from the bright lights they stepped back into the weak sunlight outside. As they walked past the art gallery a gigantic mural loomed over them. It looked like a circus, with tight rope walkers, clowns and gymnasts. As they made their way to the entry along the path next to the wall, Baby and Noodle heard L.P squeal. They spun around to see one of the gymnasts, L.P in hand, posing for the start of a routine. They couldn’t believe their eyes, L.P was in the mural! They watched amazed as the gymnast demonstrated some moves and L.P copied them perfectly. Backbends, pike rolls, tucks, handsprings and flips, L.P aced them all and burst from the mural, pink-cheeked and puffing a little bit, into her cheering sisters’ embraces.
Back on the street Noodle spotted a big beautifully painted pond on the pavement outside a cafe. She squatted down next to it, looking closely at the ripples, the funny creatures in the water and lazing on the rocks. L.P and Baby pretended to swim in it, running back and forth over the water, splashing each other with air, and then ran off up the street to find the next fun thing. Noodle shouted for them to wait for her and ran over the pond painting to catch up. All of a sudden Noodle couldn’t breathe, she was freezing like she’d been dunked into a pool of water. She was sinking, now floating and she struggled to find air. An arm plunged through the icy water now surrounding Noodle on all sides, and pulled her up. She scrambled onto the sidewalk into her sisters’ arms. L.P and Baby half dragged, half carried their littlest sister into the café and to the toilets where they stripped off Noodle’s soaking clothes and stood her under the hand dryer. They both took off their jumpers from under their jackets and pulled them over Noodle’s dripping little head, then they did the same with the tights they had under their track suit pants. They waited a while for Noodle’s hair, mittens and the inside of her wellies to dry. After they’d sat there chattering away for a while, Noodle started crying and snuffling. “My party bag is ruined!” she wailed, holding up the little bag of soggy sweets. L.P grabbed Baby’s hand and told Noodle to stay right where she was, after all her hair and mittens were still a bit damp and could use a bit more hand drying. They disappeared into the restaurant and had been gone for maybe twenty minutes when they burst back in, holding something together behind their backs, grinning with the surprise they couldn’t keep inside any longer. “TADA!” Baby exclaimed as they revealed the source of their excitement. A little white paper bag, of the kind that usually hold yummy muffins and tasty pastries. Noodle peered into the bag and a great big grin broke the sadness on her face. All the sweets L.P and Baby had bought with their pocket money were in the bag, along with some marbles L.P had been carrying around in her pocket and a paper doll with three different dresses, all made out of the same kind of paper as the bag, and coloured in with watery looking crayon. Now that Noodle and her mittens were dry they bundled up the rest of her soaking clothes into a plastic bag one of the waitresses had given L.P and went to sit in the restaurant. The waitress brought over three cups of tea with teddy bear biscuits. “On me,” she smiled and left the girls to eat sweets and play marbles and dress the doll while they warmed themselves with tea.
“This has been a fun day,” Baby uttered dreamily.
“The best day ever,” L.P said over the top of her teacup.
“My best day with my best sisters,” Noodle added, grinning widely at the best friends she would ever know.
Once upon a time a boy struggled desperately to save his father’s life. The water they had been surfing in together had been a cool blue but now it was frothing and crimson with blood. The boy paddled towards his father, screaming in rage, tears blurring the horrific scene before him. He reached out and grabbed his dad’s arm. He kind of knew he was too late but it had all happened so fast and he didn’t have time to process it. He only knew he had to get his dad back to the beach. He didn’t think about the shark that must still be around. He kept swimming, towing his dad back and pulling him out of the water onto the sand.
The boy was becoming a man. He felt he was almost there, but like something was holding him back. He shaved every other day, he was hairy like his dad had been. He was starting to look a lot like him in fact. He avoided looking at himself in mirrors for too long, which had the effect of making him look even more like his dad, who’d never seemed to have time for much grooming between surfing with him, work and taking his mum out on dates. So when the boy did catch sight of himself in the mirror he saw his dad’s salty brown dreadlocks and blue-black midnight eyes, and what his mum had called ‘desert face, all sandy tan and spiky cactus stubble.’ If he looked for too long he noticed his dad’s eyes looked flat in a way they had never done when he was alive, then the boy would remember he was looking at his own desert face.
An autumn, a winter and a spring had all passed since the boy had been in the ocean that last time. He’d been to the beach every day though. He was on the lookout for sharks. He didn’t know what he’d do if he saw one. He just knew he hated them. He hated them because he and his dad used to defend them, telling people about how shark deaths at the hands of humans far outnumbered human deaths at the jaws of sharks. He felt like a dickhead now. So the boy hated sharks and remembered his dad every day. He replayed memories in his head like a TV series. He’d be out with his mates at the shops and remember one of the pranks his dad used to pull, like when they’d go to the shops and walk around looking puzzled at the ceiling and see how many other people would look up. And he’d remember how when he was a kid his mum and dad took him and three of his mates to the beach and his dad told them all to line up behind him at the bin right next to the Mr Whippy van. They were pretty tame pranks compared to the ones the boy knew his mum and dad used to pull when they were kids, but they all still pissed themselves laughing when people started joining their line without really looking and the line for the bin got longer than the line for ice-creams.
Too often these memories would keep him awake at night, hot with grief and hate. It was such a night when the boy saw his dad’s face again. Not in a memory this time, or in the mirror. He was standing by the window. The boy had just punched a hole in his door and was tensed up in anger, sitting on the end of the bed, his head bent between his fists. “Get our boards kiddo, we’re going to the beach.” ‘Not another beach memory Dad, can’t you just let me sleep?’ the boy thought. He looked up and saw that face, his own but with laughter lines, crow’s feet and a few grey hairs streaking his dreads. The boy was so tired, he thought he might have dropped off and slipped into a dream. It felt pretty real when his dad put his hand on his shoulder though. He heard his dad’s sandpaper lullaby voice again, “Come on, sun will be up soon.” The boy thought about surfing with his dad. He gave in to temptation and let himself believe for a moment that his dad had never died, after all he was right here in the room with him like he had been every morning.
On the way to the beach they joked around like no time had passed, “Remember when you used to live in my balls?” “Remember when you used to be handsome and witty?” And after a while the boy’s dad got as serious as he’d ever seen him. “You know what happened to me mate, there is more chance of being struck by lightning. Or being killed by a coconut falling on your head,” he said. “Or of winning Lotto,” the boy remembered. His dad continued, “Exactly, you know them all too. You used to say them all, to anyone who would listen. What changed buddy?” The boy replied with a suddenly husky voice, “I lost you. However small the odds were, you were my dad and that shark took you from me.” The man and his son walked downhill in silence for a while. When they could see the shadow of the dunes and the waves beyond, the man spoke again, slower and more deliberately, “I know how much it sucks, but you have to remember we were in their territory mate, and in our wetsuits we looked just like their dinner. It was a freak accident. They’re not hungry for surfers, they thought we were seals. Anyway, think about it, they’ve been here for four hundred million years, before dinosaurs even, people have been here for like two hundred thousand. It’s their planet man, it’s their ocean, we just surf here.” The boy walked the rest of the way in silence, trying to process all the thoughts and feelings bubbling away inside him. He missed his dad for all the things he’d been when he was alive; father, teacher, best friend, brother, and all the things he’d never be; father of the groom, best man, grandfather. He missed surfing, he missed riding the crest of a wave, salty cool flight. He felt the anger that his dad had been taken too early receding a bit, which made him feel guilty. He still craved the invincibility that guys his age all seemed to have, but he knew it was just an illusion. He wanted to laugh. He really wanted to be happy every day, but there was that guilt again. He knew his dad was right about the sharks too, but he wanted to hate them, even felt like he needed to.
The boy and his dad crossed the sand and stood with the cool water rushing in over their feet. The boy felt the salty sting of half-hearted slaps against his calves. He looked at his dad who grinned back. “Careful mate, you might smile,” he cracked as he ran into the ocean. The boy felt his face relax into a smile and he felt warm and happy, with no trace of guilt. He followed his dad into the waves and the two surfed together for the first time in almost a year. It was the best ride of the boy’s life. He felt like his heart had been dried up and shrivelled and now it was soaking up the ocean water and filling his chest. He heard his dad’s voice in his head, telling him the hatred he was still holding onto was like a disease that would destroy his happiness. His dad’s voice was telling him to let go of the hate, try to understand that it wasn’t an attack but an accident, that sharks were not the enemy but powerful creatures to be respected and admired. The boy looked over at his dad who, lying flat on his board, lifted an arm back and bent it strangely out of shape, his hand pointing up out of the middle of his back, his elbow sticking out to the side. One foot pointed down like any normal foot but the other rotated backwards. His legs were fusing together and getting longer, it kind of looked like an extendable lens on a camera. Micro second by micro second the boy watched as his father’s body parts clicked into odd positions, morphing and darkening until he was face to face with a small shark.
The boy looked into the keen blue-black midnight eyes and felt a lightness in his heart that he hadn’t even known he’d been missing, though it was so obvious now. Hate was a cage, and he’d just been given the key to freedom. He said goodbye and watched his dad swim away, feeling salty tears on his cheeks and not caring if they were his or the ocean’s. The sun had been up for a long time but suddenly everything was bathed in light, and the boy knew that the next time he looked in the mirror he’d see a man with light in his eyes.
Forked tongue making dirty words
Words intended to wound,
The same tongue that kissed me
With words like love, not so long ago
Fiery eyes glowing full of hate
Burning through my skin
The same eyes that drank me in
And glowed with passion, not so long ago
Stone cold words, quick to bite
Quicker to lick the scars they leave
And hands still warm when reaching out
To protect, like a habit hard to break
Hate so strong it feels like love
The music in the madness
The remedy in the poison
The man within the monster
Moving in circles
Travelling for miles
But nothing new
I’ve seen this before
A thousand times before
And a thousand again
I want to go somewhere
I want to finally get there
I’ve got to keep going
I’ve got to get out
Moving in circles
Travelling for miles
But nothing new
I’ve seen this before
A thousand times before
And a thousand again
Animal asked Possum if she’d like to go to the movies, years later she’d never be able to remember which one. It wasn’t the point. Animal was the point. They held hands and played poker at lunchtime at school, they sat together in the back of Gibbs’ car in the evenings, driving around looking for fun things to do. They went to the park on weekends, feeding birds and chasing each other, and went to punk rock shows, skanking and jumping around, slamming into each other. Animal and Gibbs asked Possum to join their band, Young Ungrateful Piss-heads. She had a voice but was shy. She had sung for the school a couple of times, but that was different, it was just her. This was serious, there were three other people to let down. She was scared but didn’t want to say no to Animal so she went to a few jams and sat in a corner picking the knots out of her hair. She got kicked out of the band and was so happy that when she got home she sang at the top of her voice and did a little dance.
Y.U.P started booking shows at the Pit and Possum started to think that Animal was too cool for her. She dropped him and immediately wished she hadn’t. She acted like a twit and dated Animal’s friend. She went to Y.U.P’s shows and hungrily watched as Animal beat her heartbeat on his drums, her whole body drinking in the music as it crashed around her like waves in winter. He was wild up there. She missed him then, she wanted to hold his hand, kiss his moonbeam mouth and be wrapped up in his arms. At one show she climbed up on the barrier, watching Animal’s eyes as he watched hers and the whole set passed that way. After the set Animal made straight for her, grabbed her hand and led her outside like she was a kite. The bass drum kept on slamming in Possum’s chest. Outside they heard music, very different to what they’d absorbed in the Pit and they followed the noise to investigate. They found a swing dancing class and joined in, over in the corner, getting all the moves wrong but feeling so right. Animal whirled Possum until she was dizzy and Possum whirled Animal. They whirled together and landed lips together and melted together. It was Possum’s first magical roller coaster kiss.
Possum learned a lot from Animal, things that would change her, make her better, make her worse. She learned that people are basically good, underneath it all. Of course there are some really shitty ones, but generally speaking, people want to be good. She discovered bands she’d never heard before, that she would listen to for the rest of her life. She learned about friendship, how to give and take, though that lesson was a loooong time learning.
Time passed by as it insists on doing and Possum started to become a bit of a cling-on to Animal. She was really into drama and explosive arguments so she was always around him and often picking fights for no reason. Poor Animal was so confused, he liked Possum, but this wasn’t what he signed on for. He was only a boy, he just wanted to have fun and laugh like the rest of his friends and this drama, these chaotic fights during which not even Possum knew what she was fighting for just got too much to handle. Animal started to pull away from Possum, but she didn’t understand, she just followed.
Animal got tired of the back and forth dance and called the whole thing quits. Possum was hurt, she didn’t want to go back to her old life, she wanted her best friend back, but she mistook this for heartbreak and begged Animal to give their kid romance another shot. Possum should have just looked into her heart and found that the puppy love she and Animal had shared hadn’t gone away, it was just waiting to be turned into friendly love, but instead she tried to force Animal to be her boyfriend again. Animal was a decent guy, and he couldn’t bear to see Possum in so much pain, so he did try to give her another chance. Of course it didn’t work out, it never does when one person is more into it than the other, and in a blaze of angry, sad, confused scenes the friendly love that once was puppy love turned into bitterness and chewed away at the once-was, never-will-be friendship until there was nothing left.
One night when Possum was still grieving for her lost friendship she went out dancing and bumped into Animal outside a club. She cornered him and tried to blackmail him with her tears. Poor little Possum, she really had no clue. She told him lies to try to make him feel bad but all she did was make herself feel worse. She talked at him, shouted at him, tried to pummel him with fists like hearts hardened by loss. Animal would barely meet her eye and tried desperately to imagine he was anywhere else. If Possum hadn’t have been made of fire right then she would have felt awful for him.
That was the last time Possum saw Animal and Gibbs and the rest of the crew. Years later when she looked back on their friendship she could see the mistakes she had made, and she would regret having treated Animal and her friends so badly, but mostly she would be thankful for the time they had together, for the things she learned and for the way Animal had prepared her little heart for the big love, the circus romance, her one and only it, that was waiting so patiently for her.
Puppy love, it’s fun, like watching a boy drum his heart out, bopping away to his beat, like he’s drumming the heartbeat pumping in your chest. It’s fun like feeding birds together, throwing chunks of bread into the river for the ducks, the ducklings and that strange-looking duck-fish you later find out is called a shag, or standing with your arms outstretched with seed in your flat palms, feeling fluttering wings on your arms and in your tummy. It’s romance, dancing and whirling and lifting you up above everyone else. It’s not real love, but it sure isn’t false love.
It all started in the snow-covered mountains and the sun beaten desert. It all ended in a dirty, stinky corner between dirty, stinky nightclubs. And it all happened exactly as it should have.
Her name was Possum, and she didn’t have many friends. The ones she did have she kept her distance from because she didn’t want them to know how weird she was. She dreamed of love and music and words and shooting stars and sometimes zombies. Her hair changed colour every other week, she was obsessively compulsive, sometimes an introvert, sometimes an extrovert, she liked comics and punk rock and action movies. She liked fantasy novels and fantasy dreams. She liked animals and nature, but was not overly keen on people. She was clumsy and like Francesca Lia Block’s Witch Baby, all tangle-ball hair and cashew toes, holding the world’s sadness and hurt in her heart.
He was called Animal, like the drumming muppet. He was the coolest nerd in all the world. His hair was green sometimes, sometimes blue. He played drums and loved cartoons. He was a hippy with nothing but a mattress and a cactus, he was a punk rocker with an eyebrow ring and a smashing smile. He had the best group of friends a boy could ask for, dustbin-bowling, jam-sessioning, laugh-a-minute mates. He looked for the good in people and always seemed surprised by the bad. His skin was the colour of honey, and he was so cool because he had no idea he was cool.
Possum was bored and depressed, before she knew that depression was an illness, not just a mood. She was fed up of feeling everybody in the world’s pain, she wanted to create a feeling of her own. Preferably a good one, and man did she get one. Her school was organising a ski-trip so she decided to go. She decided to be different on the trip, and hopefully it would stick. She would let people get to know her… kind of. She’d tell them about the things she liked anyway and be friendlier than she was used to, but as always she’d keep her feelings to herself.
Skiing was awesome fun. Possum loved riding the ski lift more than skiing but she went down Wombat’s Ramble a couple of dozen times, never once falling, then went to the gift shop to buy herself a ‘No Guts No Glory’ badge, not even registering the irony. She made snowmen and threw snowballs at the other schools from round corners, running away before they saw her. She made friends with a boy from her school, a punk-rocking, bass-playing, flame-haired, laugh-a-minute cool-guy-nerd called Gibbs, crushing on him just a little bit, hanging out with him and his other punk-rocking, laugh-a-minute cool-guy-nerd friends, talking all day about bands and movies and TV shows and finding more and more in common with each other. Gibbs talked about a friend of theirs back home in the desert, a friend with hair that was sometimes blue and sometimes green. A friend that Possum knew from school but didn’t really know-know. They all ate breakfast together every day in the boys’ room at the ski resort, and went shopping together in the city, Possum buying a million and one things she didn’t need and never again looked at, before they went back home.
Back at school in the desert Possum sometimes went to sit with Gibbs and his friends at lunch time, noticing more and more the sapphire and emerald haired, honey coloured, moonlight smiley boy named Animal. She’d try to sit next to him without him seeing, and looked at him so infrequently it was obvious that all she wanted to do was look at him. He started visiting her dreams, and in real life she found it increasingly hard to look at him, to not look at him.
Gibbs turned 16 and had a party to celebrate. Possum spent an age brushing the knots out of her hair, picking her outfit, blue from head to toe, and finally rocked up at the party. Animal wasn’t there. She sat in a corner outside and every time someone walked into the garden her heart would jump and drop, jump and drop, until a boy strutted out in a denim jacket and a red bandana twisted around his forehead to cover a lump on his head that he’d got from falling over earlier that day. Who would have thought, Possum thought to herself, that a boy wearing a red bandana could be so beautiful. The boy was Animal and he made a beeline for Possum. He sat down next to her and started chattering away. He was so friendly, so talkative, so the opposite of Possum, but somehow the same. She sat with her elbow on the table, her chin on her hand, the muddy green-brown of her eyes growing wider and wider until there was no white left. She fell in puppy love.
Animal would be Possum’s first boyfriend, her first fluttering-tummy puppy love, but above all else he would be her first best friend. Which made what was to come so painful. That which starts sweet ends bitter.
Past the drabness of her clothes, through the tears and furrowed brow
Look for the beauty beyond her mood, find the grace in her anxious frown
See the sparkle in her eyes, in strife and sadness still they shine
She is trapped in a world unworthy but never stops fighting all the while
And now, like the phoenix from the ashes, our Cinderella will rise in a blaze
She’ll stand up tall, proud and strong, no longer cowering under our gaze
To show the world what we’ve never seen, a burning yearning in her heart
With a fiery strength she will break free, ripping, tearing her shackles apart
For from this wreck of a soul unknown has erupted a beauty that was there through the pain
That neglected sparkle left to burn out has defied us all and can soar once again
My day seems to pass by like a strange mosaic of faces and words. Luckily I have only five patients all day and I’m able to pull myself together long enough to give each appointment my full undivided attention. I’ve been invited to go after work to watch the girls practice for the Roller Derby finals which is in two days’ time. When I get there Kat hands me a pair of skates and tells me to put them on, apparently I’m to show them what I’ve got.
“I didn’t realise this was a try-out, why would you bring in a new kid so close to the finals?” I ask.
Kat laughs and tells me that the only way to train is to have fun and they don’t think they can have fun when they can see someone on the sidelines not being included. I like this theory so I pull on the skates and start skating round the rink. The other girls skate faster and faster, Kid and Nancy are practically a blur, but I know they must be holding themselves back. I feel a bit competitive so I speed up. And trip and land on my face. I pull myself up and get right back into the playful race. I see Kam attempt to pass Ivanna, and Ivanna shoulder barges her, knocks her right off her feet. Kam shouts out “Nice one!” to Ivanna’s back as she pulls herself back up. Nancy is coming up on my right so I copy Ivanna and down goes Nancy. We keep skating for a couple of hours, knocking each other down, jumping over each other. It’s so much fun, I never want it to end, but it does and we all go back to the kaleidoscope house.
Kicking back in hammocks, on futons and beanbags, eating tomato risotto and listening to Rancid, I feel like I’ve always been here. Ivanna has her back to us looking out the window, and as I take a sip of my lemonade she turns around. Fizz sprays from my nose and mouth. Ivanna looks like she has flesh coloured binoculars fastened to her face. They shrink and disappear and I think about what Kam told me, about Ivanna being a Shifter.
“Trouble at the old mill guys,” Ivanna announces, “sorry Skid, too dangerous for a newbie.”
And with a flurry of colour and see-yas the house is empty. I’m not disappointed, we’ve exchanged numbers and I told them where I live. I know they’ll be back and that I’ll be going with them one day. I head for home.
It’s three in the morning and someone is pounding on my door. I open the door but I can still hear the pounding. Kat is holding Ivanna in her arms, one solitary tear on her cheek. The pounding continues. I realise it’s my heart. Badoom boom boom.
“What happened Kat? What happened to Ivanna? Where are the others?” Badoom boom boom.
“It was a trap, the others are fine, he was a Hypno, like you, but not like you. A really creepy, awful Hypno. He’s done something to her, Skid, we need your help,” words pour out of Kat like a waterfall.
I kneel down next to Ivanna and try to figure out what to do. I feel her pulse, I look into her mis-matched eyes, I feel overall redundant. What am I supposed to do here? Kam comes bursting through the door.
“Kid and Nancy got home ok, Kid’s going to be fine, she’s just got to ride out the chunks. Skid, do you know what you’re doing?”
“No! Kam what do I do?” I cry.
“She’s been Entranced, you need to break it. Remember what I told you, you just have to want it to happen.”
But I do want it to happen, more than I’ve ever wanted anything. Why isn’t this working? I try the old-fashioned way, I look into her eyes, I talk in a soft smooth rhythm. Nothing.
“You have to be calm, Skid, can you do that? Can you be calm for Ivanna?” Kam asks.
I close my eyes and think of skating around the rink yesterday, I think of risotto and Rancid, I think of Ivanna’s binocular face. I want her to come out of her trance, I will it with every bit of electricity in my soul. It doesn’t feel like enough, suddenly the room is spinning, Kam and Kat’s voices are fading and everything goes black.
When I open my eyes the sun has risen and is pouring through my window. Kam is looking into my eyes, all crazy hair and concern. I’m in my bed, Kat must’ve carried me. I pull myself out from under the covers and sit up.
“Careful Skid, take it easy babe.”
I stand and go to the living room. Ivanna is sleeping on the couch, Kat is holding her hand.
“You did great dude, she’s going to be ok. How are you feeling?” Kat asks.
“I’m fine, I think. Yeah, no I feel perfectly fine,” I do, I feel strong and brave, like I can do anything. I know that next time, I’ll be going with the girls for sure. But I’m worried about Ivanna, all small on my couch, “Is she really ok?”
I turn around at the sound of Kam’s voice as she tells me “She’s ok, she needs some rest but she’ll be blocking and Shifting and fighting bad dudes in no time. Well, not no time. She won’t be able to skate in the finals tomorrow night. I guess you have some serious training to do. Good thing you’re a natural blocker.”
Kam Ikaze lives in a wild and wonderful house with four other girls. A house with different coloured glass in every pane, the light shining through all electric blues and greens, neon pinks and purples like the inside of a kaleidoscope. Their names are Ivanna Rumble, Kat O’Ninetails, and the twins Kid Vicious and Nancy Punchin’ and they all have a lot in common. I don’t just mean things like they like the same bands, or the same movies, although they do. They don’t go after the same boys (because ladies just don’t do that to each other) and I can promise you, they don’t do each other’s nails. The Thing They Have In Common will blow your mindhole.
The girls work really hard, and they play even harder. In their downtime they are The Splat Pack, a Roller Derby team known for being brutal and never going down without a fight. Do you know about Roller Derby? It’s this wild sport for girls, with a punk rock attitude, five to a team. Kat is the jammer, she has to roller skate really fast around a rink, earning points for overtaking players in the other team’s pack. Ivanna, Kid and Nancy are all blockers, they make up the pack. They help the jammer to pass the other team and score points, and work together to stop the other team’s jammer from doing the same. Kam is the pivot, which is still a blocker but with a stripe on her helmet, she’s the captain. She calls the shots, and if Kat needs a break Kam alternates as a jammer. Roller Derby is fast, rough, tough and crazy fun and it is the girls’ favourite way to unwind. They skate everywhere, and nearly always, one of them will have rink-rash from stacking it, or from being dragged along the ground. But this is still not the Thing They Have In Common.
Kam is a funny looking little thing, even when compared to her friends (which they NEVER do, they are each their own perfect specimen of humanity). She is tiny, like really tiny. Think of the smallest person you know, and then knock off a foot. That’s exactly how small she is. She has slightly crossed eyes and her ears and front teeth stick out. Her arms seem too long for her body and her legs too short. Her purple hair is always unbrushed and seems to defy gravity. She only ever wears ball gowns from the 1980s, complete with satin gloves past her pointy little elbows. With all of that going on, you’re probably thinking, poor unfortunate-looking Kam, but here’s the thing about that. Ugly only exists inside. If you have an attractive face but you’re a cow, you are ugly. If you have half a face and are lovely, everyone can see that you are beautiful. Also, if you have half a face, are you ok? What happened?
Kam and her friends are most definitely not ugly and here’s why. Between them, their day jobs include; animal rescuer, child welfare worker, nurse, youth worker for troubled teens and drug and alcohol counsellor. By day, they save the world, and by night, they SAVE THE WORLD! Remember the Thing They Have In Common? They are super heroes. Seriously. No one knows how it happened, and they’ve pretty much forgotten how they all found each other, one by one over the years, but they each have a super power which I am stoked to say they only use to continue the good work they do in their day jobs. Kam they call a Glider, she can fly. Underneath those puffy sleeves and bubble skirts she is hiding a glorious pair of dragonfly wings, kaleidoscopic like the wild windowed house. Ivanna is a Shifter, she can mimic any sound and transform into any shape at will. Her being a Shifter makes her a nightmare to describe, except for the fact that one eye is silver and the other gold, so picture those eyes on your best female friend. Kat is a Slammer. She’s like a very small, tattooed, blonde lady Arnold Schwarzenegger. But stronger. She has super strength. And the twins, Nancy and Kid, identical in every way, from their fiery orange mohawks to the 27 piercings they each have all over their tall bodies, they are both Speed Demons, faster than speeding bullets. They actually are, they tried it out once.
You’re probably thinking, if you’ve been following along so far, why are Speed Demons Nancy and Kid blockers for The Splat Pack, and not jammers? And why is Slammer Kat not a blocker? It’s simple really. Sportsmanship. They want to win, sure, but more than that, they want a good game and it wouldn’t be much fun if they used their super powers, who could compete with that?
That’s enough about The Splat Pack for a minute, let me tell you a bit about me.
My name is Skid Rock, born that way to very interesting parents. Mum is a juggling unicyclist and Dad is a lion tamer. They met, inevitably, at the circus and fell in love. I went down a more ‘normal’ (whatever THAT is) career path. I’m a hypnotherapist, which means I mostly help people by talking through their problems with them, but occasionally, for a deep-seated issue or fear, I put them in a trance so we can fight it on a sub-conscious level. Because my family is kind of loaded, I am able to provide my services for free. For that reason I work exclusively with people who can’t afford to pay. Which means I spend a lot of time with homeless people, drug addicts, reformed criminals and people who’ve had plain old bad luck. I was once at a barbecue where a… what shall we say… knobhead said this crappy thing to me.
“Doesn’t that mean you’re discriminating against hard working people who have done the right things, made the right choices in life? Don’t you feel bad that you dedicate your time to losers?”
To which I replied “Way I see it, Knobhead, it’s like all of life is one big organism, and people who have fallen on tough times are like an injured leg, we need to fix that leg to get humanity back on its feet again, so no, Knobhead, I don’t feel bad, and Knobhead, I don’t consider them losers. But for one different choice in life, that could’ve been me.” I may as well have said it in Klingon for all he understood of it. Some people are just like that.
So one morning I’m out to get my morning coffee before work, walking to the café when this visual cacophony explodes past me on the footpath. I watch as four, no wait, five drawn on, coloured in, punktured girls storm into the café on wheels, laughter drifting back to me as the door closes behind them. I am, to say the least, intrigued. I follow them inside and plonk myself down at a table next to them. I hear them talking about jams, rink rash and all those things I just described to you, about Roller Derby. It sounds wicked. The little zero-gravity-purple-haired sprite catches me eavesdropping, so she invites me to pull my chair over. You know when you’re nervous and you try to do everything quietly to minimise the attention on you? And you know how it never works, you end up making twice as much noise as you normally would? That thing happens. But it’s okay, it turns out these intimidating looking ladies are in fact really friendly and kind. Alright, so you already knew that, because I already told you, but remember, this is the first time I’m meeting them.
For a first meeting, it is awesome. I immediately love them and Kam keeps sort of squinting into my eyes and then smiling and patting my hand. We pay for our coffees and head outside. Out on the footpath, Kam pulls me away from the other girls and asks me what I know about super heroes. I tell her I know a lot, I grew up on X-Men and The Avengers. She laughs and tells me it’s not quite what she meant. She can see I’m confused so she goes on.
“Skid, do you know you’re a Hypno?”
“A hypnotherapist you mean? Course I know that, what are you on about?”
“Not a hypnotherapist, a Hypno, capital H. It’s a super power, my Mum was one.”
I stare at her for a while, inexplicably I kind of believe her. She continues.
“When you hypnotise your patients, how do you do it?” she asks.
“No one’s ever asked me, I guess I don’t really know. I look into their eyes and talk in a kind of rhythmic way…” I trail off.
“Skid, the eyes, the voice, that’s all for show. You don’t need to do anything for it to work except want it to work. That’s what makes you a Hypno. I knew it as soon as I saw you. I can’t believe you didn’t know it.”
I’m staggered. It’s really never occurred to me before, but what she’s saying sounds true.
“And your Mum was one?” I ask. I want to know if there are more like me.
“She was, and I’m a Glider,” she pulls down the green taffeta shoulder of her dress and gives me a glimpse of those outrageous wings, “Kid and Nancy are Speed Demons, Kat’s a Slammer with super strength and Ivanna’s a Shifter. A shape-shifter.”
My mindhole is blown. Things are about to get interesting.
The seconds tick slowly by
Another sleepless night
Another impending nightmare
The day is over
The night stretches before me
Breathe in, breathe out
Breathe in, breathe out
And when this night is over
Another draws ever closer
Are my eyes open, or shut
Open or shut
Can’t tell in the dark
The walls could be closing in
But I can’t tell in the dark
The darkness like a pillow on my face
Slowly working away on me
Wish I was asleep
My thought echoes in the darkness
And comes back to me, a stranger’s thought
A whisper is twice as loud in the dark
And pain is twice as harsh
The ticking goes on
Tick, tick, tick, tick…