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Please was obviously something he didn’t say very often. Mum

looked exasperatedly between the chubby, red faces of the difficult

children and me.

She breathed in slowly. “Off you go then. Helen will take you.”

I led the way through the bush and the two boys stomped behind

me. The weight of their feet sounded like sacs of potatoes dropping

against the ground. When we arrived at the hidden sanctuary, the

eldest instantly pushed his brother into the swamp, disturbing the

quiet and muddying them both in the process. Aunty Norene came

to pick them up and was not impressed with their state. As she

yelled, mum sighed and defeatedly accepted all blame.

That night, mum didn’t tell me any ghost stories. Instead, I

heard the dull thunder of harsh words at the other side of the house.

When I woke up in the morning, my arms and legs felt itchy and

uncomfortable, dotted with red. I was mad at the apparitions for

making me feel this way.

I stayed at the swamp all day, fantasising about a life beyond the

bush. I imagined salty waves lapping against my feet, washing away

the mud from the swamp. I’d float in the surface of the cold, ocean

water, feeling connected to the countries beyond. But I’d never

learnt to swim and I was too old now. All sorts of dangers lurk in

unknown waters for a girl who can’t swim.

A tiny, black bug buzzed around my head, pestering me. I

watched as the insect landed on my arm, pierced my flesh with its

nozzle and began to suck. In one fell swoop, I slapped the bug dead

underneath me. All that was left was a smear of a red, crushed body,

and later an itchy, round bump.

Dad arrived home late and I could feel the unhappiness between

the two. Doors were slammed with a little more force and eyes

never met. I could almost touch the tense, unsaid words that hung

in the air. Hiding in my room, I watched as the blood, red sun crept

below the horizon, slowly swallowing us into blackness. I could hear

angry murmurs for a brief moment before I tried to block

it out.

As the dusky night approached, moths began banging on my

window trying to enter the light. Trapped in the dark bush and

looking for something better. I thought of the fading figures of

apparitions lurking in the labyrinth of dense vegetation. I hid a

torch under my pillow and put my jacket in the corner in preparation.