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Echo Children

This is one that I wrote for a competition in which you were given a choice of three stimulus pictures.  I chose one of a truck stuck in a lake.  Enjoy.

Patrick was the first to see the truck, outside the farm boundary.  Usually they weren’t allowed to stray past the fence, but he was getting older and believed exceptions should be made.  As he sat on the fence it stood out like a shiny, silver mirage, half-submerged in the swampy lake.  It was an ever-present temptation.  He had to see it.

He enlisted Mairin’s help first of all.  She would know how to get there.  Even though there was only a year between them, he already suspected that she was a lot smarter than he was.  When he first showed her, he could feel the scepticism emanating from her, like an unpleasant body odour.  “Why would you want to go there?”

He shrugged.  “I think it would be fun.”

“It might be dangerous.  You could get hurt, climbing all over that thing.”

“I’m fine.  I can look after myself.” He snapped.  She hated that tone in his voice and soon walked away.  She was too much of a goody-two-shoes to help, he knew.  He would have to enlist help from another source.

The next day he awoke early, running over to Ly’s house and knocking hurriedly on his window.  “Ly!  You have to come see this!”  The blonde-haired boy rubbed his bright eyes sleepily.  When they reached Pat’s house and looked out over his fence, Ly’s eyes reclaimed their brightness.  “What’s that?” he said excitedly.

“I think it’s a truck.”

“How did a truck get there?” Ly couldn’t take his eyes off it.

“Maybe the owner crashed…  Ly, maybe there’s a dead body there!”

“We should go see!”  The hurdled over the fence and into the dense scrub.  Soon their boots were covered with buzzies and bindies, which they picked off before they entered the swamp.  The truck was now incredibly close, and the boys could see it was quite large in size.  They had seen the sort of vehicle on the highway – the sort of carrier that might hold petrol or cement or another liquid of some sort.  “What if it had petrol in it, Pat?” Ly said anxiously.  “It might blow up!”

“It’s been there a little while.  It would have blown up way before now.”

Ly nodded, reassured.

They entered the dank swamp.  The water swirled around their feet as they negotiated their way from dry patch to dry patch.  “Don’t fall in,” Pat warned, “We would be killed if we got all wet!”  Finally the two of them stood in front of the immense vehicle.  The top of the lights were just visible, poking out of the water like two great big eyes.  Pat touched the cool metal, stroking the truck like a jewel.  Ly was already climbing, having found a ladder to the top.  “Phew, it stinks up here!  Maybe it did have petrol in it after all.” He said.  Soon Pat joined him on top of the truck.  From their position balancing on top of the vehicle, they could see the whole swamp and make out both of their houses in the distance.  Pat imagined that he was the truck driver, stranded in the swirling sea and waving for help.

“Do you think he was stranded here?” Ly said.

“What if there’s a body somewhere here?” Pat said anxiously.  He slipped across the silver side of the truck and swung his head down to look through the window.  The driver’s seat was empty.

“Perhaps he got out.” Ly suggested.

“He must have.  There ain’t no body here.”

“What if he got trapped inside the silver bit?”

“In the silver bit?” Pat repeated, incredulous.  “How’d he have managed that?”

Ly shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Maybe we should check just in case?”

Pat crawled to the end of the long silver vehicle, where the circular hole gaped.  “It’s so smelly!” he gasped.

“Baby!  Hold your nose!” Ly laughed.

Pat did so, wishing he had a peg like they used in the TV shows he watched.  He peered curiously into the hole.  The blackness inside swirled around like swamp water.  “I can’t see anything!” he yelled back to Ly.

“Try calling out.”

Pat took a deep breath.  “Hello?” he yelled into the hole.  His voice reverberated eerily and a chill played on the back of his neck.  Three times he heard his own voice come back to him.

“I think there is someone in here!” he called to Ly.  “Three people!  I can hear them!”

He yelled again.  “Who are you?”

Who are you?

Who are you?

Who are you?

“I’m Pat, who are you?”

I’m Pat, who are you?

I’m Pat, who are you?

I’m Pat who are you?

He frowned, looking to Ly.  “They say that all their names are Pat.  That’s strange.”

“Maybe you’re not doing it right.” Ly came over.  “Let me try.”

“Hello!  My name’s Ly.”

Hello!  My name’s Ly.

Hello!  My name’s Ly.

Hello!  My name’s Ly.

Ly sat back up, crouching next to Pat.  “Silly!” he punched him.  “It was only your voice echoing!”

“Really?” Pat said warily.  “I honestly heard someone!”

“Yeah!” Ly cried.  “You heard yourself!”

They padded back through the swamp.  Pat looked behind him every few steps, keeping an eye on the truck.  Suppose the three people had gotten out somehow, wandering alone through the bush.  They were probably very hungry, having sat in the truck for days.  What if they died?  Pat would think it was his fault.  Ly didn’t seem to notice Pat’s anxiousness, chattering on about how his father might teach him how to drive the tractor soon.  After a while, they started to play, tramping back through the bush, playing tips and jumping over logs and bramble bushes.  The sun was coming out now, warm and fun to bask in.  When Pat returned home, sweaty and panting from the run, he imagined himself as a cat, warming his belly in the sun and falling asleep in its yellow light.  But the memory of the people in the truck kept him awake.  His mother was out on the land already, tending to the sheep while Mairin milked the cows.  He managed to sneak inside without being seen by both of them.  Carefully, he filled a plastic bag with food from the fridge and cans from the cupboard.  Soon the bag was full of tinned spaghetti, cauliflower (which he figured he had a duty to give away), beans, some cheese and a tomato.  He tucked this motley bundle inside a backpack and, scurrying so as not to be seen, he bounded over the fence and into the bushland once again.

The backpack was heavy and the sun hot.  Pat had to sit down regularly to slow his breathing and wipe the sweat from his brow.  The hills were alive with life at this time of year.  Birds chirruped happily around him and small, unknown creatures moved in the grass at his feet.  He wasn’t afraid of snakes and besides, he had listened to what his father had told him.  If you ever meet a snake you had to stay still and not move a muscle!  But Pat was a little uncertain that he could do that, especially with the sun beating down like it was.  When he reached the truck, his backpack had made a painful rift in his shoulder.  He would be glad to be rid of the food.  The swamp water had soaked his shoes, a comfort in the hot summer, but now it would be difficult to climb.  As his slippery feet met the rungs of the ladder, he hoped he wouldn’t fall.  He was too far away for people to hear him cry out.

He reached the top of the truck and admired the view once again, sitting the backpack beside him like a small, lumpy friend.  He could see his mother’s minute form tending to the tomatoes in the veggie patch, he could see Mairin bringing the milk in.  If he looked to the right a little more he could just make out Crissie and Gordie walking near the shed.  They were far away from the property.  They probably wanted to be alone.  Apparently when people fell in love all they wanted to do was be alone.

Finally, he stood up again, dragging the rucksack alone the silver edge to the hole at the far end.  “Hello?” he said, with trepidation.  What if they’d found a way out while he’d been gone?  No, it seemed they hadn’t.  Three times they replied back to him.  Hello?  Hello?  Hello? 

“I have food for you.”  This statement was repeated back to him three times.  Pat was confused.  How could they have food for him when they had been trapped in a truck?  Nevertheless, he unpacked the contents of his backpack and slowly dropped them down.  The tomato was the last to go, making a squashy plunk sound as it hit the bottom.  Pat hoped it hadn’t smashed.

“I hope you like it.” He called down.  The words were repeated back to him.  Pat was confused – what did they hope he liked?  Perhaps Ly had been right.  Maybe he was only hearing the sound of his own voice.

“If you’re real, why don’t you say something original?” Pat yelled down.

If you’re real, why don’t you say something original?

A thought came to Pat.  What if, just as he doubted they were real, they doubted he was real?  But then again, he had dropped down the food.  They hadn’t given him anything.  Perhaps they had nothing to give.  Pat felt such pity for them.  They sounded as if they were only children, his age.  Perhaps their father had been the truck driver, and then he had crashed into the swamp and gone to get help, leaving his children alone.  He could only imagine how frightened they’d be, all three of them.

“It’s alright,” he said, “I’ll keep you company.”  And when their three voices replied, Pat felt a warm feeling inside his chest.  They would stay here for each other.

He followed the sun’s journey across the sky until it buried itself behind the trees.  The golden light of afternoon spread through the hills.  The metal of the truck started to cool as the sun set.  Although he was certain his mother would be worried, Pat made good on his promise to stick by the children.  They would be so lonely if he left, unbearably lonely – although they never talked to him anyway.  He could imagine them sitting huddled together in the dark, four boys sticking to each other for comfort.  As the evening dropped into view and its dark coat enveloped the hills, Pat wrapped his arms around his feet and began to sing softly.  He didn’t really know any songs, so he made ones up.  He sang songs about small children, about his home and his family and what he did on Saturdays.  They didn’t make sense, most of them, but they were a comfort to him.

In the end, Mairin came for him.  Her small figure startled him at first, thinking it was one of the children who had managed to find a way out.  Eventually she spotted him and, calling him silly, led him home.  “Mum was so worried about you!  What were you thinking?”

Pat shrugged.  “You wouldn’t understand.”

I ended up winning a prize in the Aussie Schools Writing Contest for this piece.  Check it out:

About E.K.M.

Studying at university, passing the time until a publishing Talent Scout comes to pick me up and whisk me away to a world where I can be an author without having another source of income. If only.

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