Here’s an excerpt from Downhill, the Young Adult novel I’m working on right now.
“Okay, back to the list.” Astrid flopped onto the bed. She stretched for a bag of lollypops; gave one to Mack, threw one to me.
“Okay… the list,” Mack flipped through the magazine as she tore off the lolly wrap. She found the page and announced, “Thirty Things To Do Before You’re Thirty.”
“We’ve done one of them so far,” Astrid told me. “Skinny dipping. But it doesn’t count. I mean, we were five and it was just down in the dam.” She paused, sucking the candy thoughtfully.
“Youse have done a lot more than me,” Mack said. “You’ve worked in a foreign country… you’ve done an extreme sport…” Her voice trailed off as she looked down the list.
“Do you reckon that counts though?” Astrid asked. “I mean it’s not like we work in a foreign country. We go overseas, we ski, we come home. We hardly even go sight seeing.”
“It’s more than I’ve done,” Mack said.
I leant against the doorframe and watched them. They scanned the list, pointing and laughing, completely comfortable with the glossy pages that slipped out of their control. I tried to imagine myself at thirty, but I was stuck. I couldn’t even imagine myself past this summer.
“Number twenty is good. Go for a promotion. Number twenty one – learn first aid. Finally, one I can tick off.” Mack stopped reading, put her pen to the page and then looked at me. “So Tom, big race day hey?”
“Yeah, I’ll have a drink for youse.” I flicked the lolly stick in their direction. “Are you sure youse don’t wanna come?”
“I want to, I’m just not allowed,” Mack shrugged and pulled a face.
“Is that what you’re wearing?” Astrid eyeballed me.
“You’re meant to dress up,” she told me. “You know, a suit or something. Not Blundstones and moleskins. You won’t be riding the horses, Tom. You bet on them.” She laughed. “You’re an international athlete and you get round here looking like that.”
“It’s all clean. These aren’t work clothes.” I looked down at my shirt. It had taken me twenty minutes to iron it.
“You look good,” Mack reassured me. “Stop stirring him, Az’,”
“Look at you two anyway,” I said. “What sort of outfit do you call that? It’s like you couldn’t decide so you just put it all on.”
“Ha ha,” Astrid tugged at the hem of her singlet and adjusted her shirt.
“It’s eclectic,” Mack said. “The style is called eclectic. Boys like you don’t get it.”
I wanted to argue with her, but silence was safer. Eclectic. What did that mean anyway? I was rescued by the gentle purr of Bern’s Holden Monaro, cruising along the dirt road.
“That’s Bern,” I said.
“Bernard?” Mack let the magazine fall.
Bernard Miller was the Alpine Ski World Cup Champion. Pretty much a miracle, considering the snow in Australia is shit and the mountains are like hills. But Bern had done it. Last year, after three years as World Junior Champion, he moved into the adult division and won the title. The first Aussie to ever do it.
He didn’t just win it either. He slaughtered it; broke a World Record. His sponsors went mad. That winter, Bern’s face was on every Milo tin Nestle produced as part of a limited edition promotion. He was on breakfast shows, TV ads and radio voice-overs. ‘Feel The Burn’ was the new slogan for Holden, who had taken a huge gamble in sponsoring him since the age of twelve.
He was my best mate and I hated him.
And here’s a little something from my first Junior Fiction that I started in 2000.
It’s called Morris Grin, Lord of the Bling.
At the moment, this one is just resting in the bottom drawer.
I could tell he was dying. Right there, in front of me – dying. We crowded closer to hear his final words.
‘Bury me next to Pearl,’ he whispered. Slumped against the pillows, he let out a long wheezy breath. I could hear a rattling noise coming from within the depths of his body, as though his ribs were jangling together. And then – silence. Grand Pa’s body wasn’t clattering and his chest stopped moving up and down. No one moved. No one said a word. Finally, my dad spoke up.
‘Well, I guess he’s dead.’ He turned to look out the hospital window. I wasn’t surprised to see a look of relief on Dad’s face. Grand Pa had never been his favourite person.
I suppose none of us knew how to behave in the presence of a dead person. Dad moved in closer and took the old man’s hand, whilst Mum started gathering together Grand Pa’s stuff.
I was fascinated. I had never seen a dead body before. I decided to make the most of the opportunity and leant over his face. His mouth gaped open, like a swivelling clown’s head at the Easter show. Gingerly, I reached out and pushed it shut. His eyes were wide and glassy, staring upwards at the ceiling. With greater confidence, I reached across and pushed one of his eyelids closed. I removed my finger and immediately, the eyelid sprang back open. I jumped back.
Suddenly, Grand Pa’s body came back to life with a great shuddering noise and an ongoing cough that sounded like an ancient car being revved too hard. His chest began heaving as he recovered from the coughing fit and sat up, pushing us away.
‘I’M NOT DEAD YET!’ He bellowed. ‘There’s still something I have to tell you.’ He shook his head and muttered something about going when he was good and ready.
‘Now come in close – my boy.’ Dad leaned in toward his father. ‘Not you!’ Grand Pa roared and shoved Dad back. ‘You!’ He said firmly, pointing at me.
I froze and tried not to pull a face. I didn’t want to go near him, not now that he was alive. Again. Mum kind of pushed me from behind and so I stumbled forward to the bed.
‘Closer,’ Grand Pa beckoned to me with a long, bony finger. I shuddered and inched closer. ‘CLOSER!’ I was scared and didn’t want to be shouted at again so I stepped right up to the bed.
Grand Pa reached out his skinny arm and put his hand behind my head, drawing my face right down to his. I could see his skin close up. It looked like a crumpled paper that someone had tried to smooth out. I could smell his breath too, and it was bad. This is why I’m never growing old, I reminded myself.
‘I want you to have this.’ Grand Pa’s cold, dry fingers pressed something warm and smooth into my hand. I wanted to look down at it but he was holding my head firmly. ‘Put it on child and enjoy it. Don’t ever take it off.’ He slumped back in the pillows again and closed his eyes. He lay perfectly still. Then he did something I’ll never forget.
Grand Pa let out an almighty fart. It was loud and long. Mum turned away, while Dad and I watched in horror. Then, a funny look passed over Grand Pa’s face and he died. Just like that.
‘Typical,’ Mum said briskly. ‘Your father couldn’t pass away like a normal person could he?’
‘Ssshh Jill! He mightn’t be dead,’ Dad whispered.
‘Oh, he’s dead all right,’ Mum said. ‘We’ll be dead too if we don’t get out of this smell.’
A terrible stench was wafting from Grand Pa’s bed. The massive fart was making a slow exit from under the sheets. It was as though Grand Pa lingered in the air, choking us.
Finally, I had an opportunity to look at what it was Grand Pa had put in my hand. I glanced down and opened my fist. I gasped.
There was nothing there. Whatever it was had gone. I dropped to the floor and began looking under the bed. Then, I noticed it.
There was a ring on my finger.
This one is called Anna Invisible.
Another Junior Fiction.
It lives in the bottom drawer with Morris.
Maybe I’ll drag them out one day and polish them up.
It was time to join The Plastics.
It was as though they lived on a planet that orbited around the real world. They were like a parallel universe where our laws of logic didn’t apply. Amy was their leader and on Planet Plastic, the goal was to become more like her. Every night Amy phoned each girl, telling them exactly how to wear their hair. She censored the covering of their books and monitored the brand names on their pencil cases. Amy enforced protocols about where Plastics could sit, who they could talk to and things they could do during recess and lunch.
Occasionally gravitational pull, or a push from Amy, would send one little Plastic hurtling back to Earth with a thud. Rejected Plastics dwelt peacefully among the Earthlings, but they were always gazing skyward, longing for their home planet.
Hanging out with The Plastics was an art form. I couldn’t just walk up and sit with them during recess. It required the same careful preparation and safety precautions as a trip to outer space.
The morning of my launch onto Planet Plastic, I went to my bag and found acceptable “nibble food”. I had once heard Amy say that eating was for slobs. Then, I went to the toilets where I folded up my school tunic to make it shorter. I used four paperclips to secure it. Next, I styled my hair into a tight, high pony tail just like Amy’s. I considered stuffing some toilet paper down my top, but I didn’t want to sell my soul.
I left the toilets and headed towards the girls. They never walked, always bounced, aiming for maximum swing on their pony tails. Jess saw me struggling with my bounce as I crossed the courtyard. I was tossing my head wildly and my cheeks were whip lashed by my hair.
“Good luck,” she said as I passed. “Put your chin up.”
It was good advice. In no time at all my hair was swinging like a pendulum. My bum was wagging and I felt like a happy dog on a trampoline. I bounced one lap around The Plastics who were sitting in a tight circle.
It was something of an audition, as they stared up at me nibbling on their carrot sticks. I stopped and thrust one hip out to the side as I had seen Amy do at the bus stop. My stomach was quivering.
“Shove over,” I said, faking confidence and using my best Amy-wanna-be voice.
Had my audition been good enough? Was my tunic too short? My bounce too jaunty? Was my face bruised from all that whip lash?
The circle opened for me, like the door of an ancient tomb. Amy, the goddess herself, beckoned me to sit down.
Too numb to speak, I immediately forgot to bounce. Fumbling down beside her, I dropped my “nibble food” and self-consciously tugged at my tunic.
The circle closed and the Plastics leant towards me in some kind of inter-galactic welcome. Their smooth, clear skinned faces seemed to glow as they hummed and fussed over me – the latest arrival from Earth. A wave of panic swirled around my stomach. I had only just ‘landed’ and already I wanted to ‘go home’. I wanted to shout “Abort The Mission” and run towards Jess, but something made me stay and I worried for a moment that it was the cosmic pull of Planet Plastic.
“I think gel is best,” one of them was saying. “I like those kinds that dry soft, not hard and crispy.”
“Mousse and hair spray,” another argued. “Gel’s too heavy, especially on an up style.”
I thought about Jess and the stuff we talked about. Pizza toppings and our future careers were our favourite subjects.
I realised the conversation had stopped and all eyes were on me. The group was waiting for my answer and I didn’t even know the question.
Think Anna, think. Something about crispy versus heavy.
“Ham, cheese and pineapple,” I blurted.
A moment. A heart beat. A millisecond.
Then, Amy laughed.
“You’re funny!” she declared and the back up singers, the other Plastics, echoed her laughter. “Sit with us at lunch.”
It was a command, not an invitation.
Welcome to Planet Plastic.