Unexpected Friends.

 

It seemed to be glowing in the dark and Alexander Ethan Murray pulled the blanket over his head and trembled. He knew the toy Uncle Myles had brought from his travels in New York was trouble from the moment he unwrapped it.

“It’s a GI Joe.” Uncle Myles had declared. “They’re all the rage in New York.”

“It’s a doll.” Alexander Ethan Murray had said.

“It’s a soldier doll for boys.” His mother said. Her voice had that unspoken ‘don’t be ungrateful’ edge to it and Alexander Ethan Murray looked up at his uncle.

“Thank you Uncle Myles.” He said picking up the doll and holding it far away from his body. He put it down on the table in his bedroom. It didn’t seem fair to foist it onto his toys safely tucked up in the toy box. Who knows what they will make of the grimacing soldier with his Khaki outfit and combat rifle.

Alexander Ethan Murray ran down the stairs forgetting about the doll and played with Uncle Myles and Dad all afternoon. They teased him by holding a ball high above their heads and making him jump for it. He scampered about in circles and Mother said he was getting overexcited and to settle down. He was climbing into bed before he remembered Uncle Myles’s present. Mother came into his bedroom.

“Sleep tight darling.” She said kissing him on the cheek and drawing the blanket up to his chin. He felt silly asking her to take GI Joe out of the room. He couldn’t always put his feelings into words so Mother switched off the light and closed the door before he said anything. The moonlight thrust its way into the room flooding the table and illuminating GI Joe. Alexander Ethan Murray stared in horror as the soldier’s eyes glowed like embers. He was sure the rustling he heard was the toy struggling to climb out of the box that held him prisoner. Alexander Ethan Murray flung the blanket over his head with a squeak.

“Alexander Ethan Murray, get up boy! Hiding under the blankets won’t help us.” An unfamiliar voice said with a drawl. “We have an important mission to do.” Alexander Ethan Murray peeped over the blanket. GI Joe leapt off the table and marched to his bed. “We have no time to waste. Come with me.” He strode over to the door, stopped and waited for Alexander Ethan Murray who then followed him down the stairs.

“Where are we going? What do we need to do?” He said.

“Questions, questions! A soldier must follow commands my boy.” GI Joe said but his voice was kindly now. “The mission is to save the wooden train engine that fell from your window onto the grass below.” Alexander Ethan Murray gasped.

“When? How? My train engine?”

“Too many questions.” GI Joe sighed and the boy swallowed the others welling up in his throat. They tiptoed past Uncle Myles snoring softly on the sofa, his feet hanging over the side. The blanket had slipped onto the floor and Alexander Ethan Murray resisted the temptation to drape it back over his sleeping uncle. He scuttled after GI Joe who was tapping his foot in impatience at the closed front door. Alexander Ethan Murray stood on tiptoe and unlatched the door. It swung open and GI Joe strode out to the side of the house. The train engine was lying crumpled and forlorn on the grass. The soldier knelt down and patted the engine gently.

“Are you in one piece or do we have to find the bits of you?” He said.

“I think I’m altogether, sir.” The engine said shakily.

Alexander Ethan Murray bent to pick up his engine and cradled it in his arms as they walked back inside. He had to place it on the floor to close and latch the door. When they were back in his bedroom he examined the engine carefully. There did not seem to be any lasting damage but just in case Alexander Ethan Murray put it under the blanket. He climbed into bed next to the engine and yawned.

“Mission well done boy. You will make a fine soldier one day.”

“Thank you GI Joe,” Said Alexander Ethan Murray “But I want to be a Doctor just like my Dad.” GI Joe shrugged and went to stand next to the toy box.

“To each his own.” He said. “I will stand guard while you sleep. Good night Alexander Ethan Murray.”

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Mortal Enemies.

I saw the leopard making his way over the blood splattered ground and I knew he had seen me too. I froze mesmerised by his gaze. The remains of his last meal, a hollowed out warthog, lay in repose under a Mopani tree on a shroud of leaves. The cat settled gracefully onto the ground and closed his eyes. He was panting, tongue pink, teeth glistening. Warthog blood tainting his chin, his chest merged with his chequered pelt.

I knelt down about five metres away to observe him. My cameras hung heavy around my neck and I removed one slowly. Keeping my movements fluid I brought the camera to my eye. I had waited many months for this. I focused on his face. The artificial click of the camera caused his eyes to open, intent once more. It was a perfect shot. I took a few more but tired of me, he closed his eyes again.

Suddenly he was up, mouth open, threatening and feral, tossing dust into the air. He seemed to look past me. A low growl reverberated and I turned, insubstantial and unprepared. A male Lion stood huge and terrifyingly close. His black mane trembled as he swung his head from side to side. He looked from me to the leopard. I was still crouched, helpless, one camera clutched in clammy hands, another around my neck. A fly buzzed, attracted by the sweat trickling from my brow. My mind was vacant and my body no longer solid but water, structure melted away. The cats stared at each other warily. I was forgotten in their enmity.

The leopard behind me screamed and lunged and his rival retreated briefly with a snarl. The lion charged, the ground rumbling under his weight and power. With a flick of his head the leopard feinted sideways. Instinctive as a primate I leaped towards the Mopani tree seeking sanctuary among its lofty limbs. My camera clattered to the ground and the lion swung around jaws snapping but I was not his focus. By the time he turned for his enemy the leopard was already padding for the undergrowth and disappeared.

The lion shook his body vigorously, glanced up at me clinging to the tree and ambled over to the warthog. I still had a camera around my neck and tried to distract my trembling body by taking copious photographs. I resigned myself to a long wait in my now favourite tree. It was dusk before with a shake of his immense head he left his feast under the tree. I clambered down aching but alive with an extraordinary tale to tell.

Dreaming.

 

 

 

Finding a shaded spot under a tree I begin to dream. Leaves tumble like confetti over me. My life dissolves leaving me behind and smells that are lacking usually begin to permeate my dream world. Jasmine and lavender mingle with summer showers on freshly cut grass. I am happy and safe. Uncle Fred is far away and Mom puts aside the brown paper bag that hides the bottle from the world. I conjure up a table laden with fragrant dishes surrounded by people laughing without derision. Cheerful songs blare from the radio and we all sing along. I never sing in the real world.

The school siren signals the end of lunch break. I keep my eyes closed willing time to expand but the spell is broken and I am once more – me, myself, I.

“Hey, freak wake up!” I open my eyes and glower at Matt as he kicks my shoe on his way back to the classroom. Gathering my bag I stand and flick the leaves from my uniform and follow Matt’s retreating figure. If I could I would walk backwards but I am already the last one outside.

Figures and facts swirl like whirlpools inside my head as the day inches forward. I doodle in the margins of my book slouching in my chair as one teacher merges into another. The final siren of the day brings the class to their feet. I stay sitting until everyone has left. The empty classroom smells of pencil shavings and chalk and echoes with fading footsteps. I could stay here forever cocooned in the quiet. I finally heave myself from behind my desk and walk down the echoing corridor and out of the school gates. A woman with thinning grey hair sits on the concrete step clutching her bag to her concave chest and her eyes flicker nervously. I sit on the curb playing Candy Crush on my phone until the bus arrives.

The bus judders to a stop. I step onto the verge and stare at the gaping front door. Mom must be home. She is early. My stomach lurches. Early is bad. Late is bad. The words repeat like a crazy mantra inside my head.

“Mom?” I say walking inside. The house greets me without enthusiasm. Limp furniture litters the lounge. I drop my bag onto the wine stained carpet. “Mom?” I say again.

“Lily! You’re home.” Uncle Fred comes out of the kitchen munching a sandwich.

“Where’s Mom?” I say, backing away.

“Sis has gone away for a few days. Asked me to check in on you. Aren’t you happy to see me? Hey honeybun come give your Uncle a hug.” He strides towards me his arms wide open and I stare as his sandwich bleeds mayonnaise onto the floor. I reverse into the dark wood dresser, which holds me out to him like a gift.

Early is bad, late is bad, my brain screams silently.