Arm’s Reach by Courtney Thomson
Arm’s Reach by Courtney Thomson
Runner Up (Adult Category)
When the sun finishes playing hide-and-seek with the moon, the early night air is like the oven ten minutes after Mum turns it off. Out here, the sweet spot is around 1:30am; at this time, the night forgets it was ever day. This is the only time you’d feel a chill. I know this because I stayed up the whole night to test it. I know this because my mum said I have trouble switching off, that’s why I can’t sleep.
My bedroom is the only one that doesn’t face forward. My room is pushed to the back. Like me. Mum and Dad’s room is ten long lunges from my door.
Sometimes when I can’t sleep I like to pretend there’s a fire or the sky is starting to crack. Sort of like the drills we do at school where we hide under our desks, I test how long it would take to get to Mum’s room. I count to five on my fingers and run out of bed. The finish line is their bedroom door. The counting only stops when both hands are stamped against the wood. Softly, though, because I can’t wake them.
I learned my lesson the last time I did the test in full. I ran through their bedroom door, and catapulted myself onto their mattress. Dad was so mad that he belted me with the metal buckle end. Now I have a scar on my arm that looks like puckering lips.
My record is ten seconds, but tonight I’m gonna try for eight. I’ve got it worked out. Turning back the sheets and rolling out of bed wastes time. Tonight, I’m gonna stand and jump.
I start the countdown.
The colour red streams through my window, staining the walls, my white bedsheet. I stand up on the mattress and spin. Everything red, reminding me of the stain-glass windows I made at school—for each cut-out I stapled on a different colour cellophane. Yellow, blue, red. When you hold it up to your eyes, all you see is that colour.
Like soap and water in the sink, the colour drains from my room. I kneel at the window, bundling my knees together and look out. I strain my eyes but I can only see as far as the clothesline, the back fence.
There is something about me that doesn’t want to be still. Mum says I’m always ending up in places I shouldn’t. I can’t help it, I like seeing things when you’re not supposed too—like being at school at night-time. Everything should the same but it isn’t.
My window doesn’t have a flyscreen so there’s nothing to stop me from getting out…nothing to stop anything from getting in. I guess, out here, we think no one will get us. Dad said we never used to lock our doors at all. Not until a little while ago. Not since all the strangers started moving here.
I feel for my joggers under my bed and put them on without socks.
Soft and slow, I push the window out further. It creaks painfully, and I wince. My house used belong to my Grandma before she died, so sometimes I like to think the night noises are just her talking to me—warning me off going outside.
‘I’m sorry, Grammy.’
I sit in the frame and lower myself down onto the cement.
I land near Mum’s clothes trolley, accidently kicking the peg basket free from its holder. I manage to catch it before it clangs on the ground. A few pegs escape from the top, but I think I’m safe. Phew.
I watch several cockroaches scurry into their hiding places as I tiptoe to the fence.
A bowls’ club sits across the way from us. The light over the bowling green is always on, so that means our backyard is never fully dark. I’m glad for that. I hate the full dark.
I lace my feet into the fence’s chicken-wire diamonds and climb, stopping in the middle so I can hold onto the rail.
Out there is a field that lies sandwiched between my house and another. It sits there empty, untouched. If I was on the ground, the grass would brush my thigh.
At night, the green looks different though. It reminds me of the stretchmarks that snake above mum’s pants when she reaches up: once alive-looking but now white and forever colourless.
I asked Dad why the field isn’t green and he said there was no point tending to it, it’s all dead.
‘How does grass die?’ I said.
‘Dunno. Guess someone forgets to look after it.’
I think about that a lot—tending to what’s dead. Sometimes, I think nothing ever dies you just forget.
I know the field isn’t mine, but it belongs to me.
I stare out until my mind is blank; I forget about the red.
My left hand lets go of the rail and my fingers pinch my earlobe. Mum said it’s a comfort thing I do. I’ll probably grow out of it.
My eyes become kites and drift past the field and wedge themselves between the wooden slacks bolted into windows of that place. I’m scared to go there. It’s been empty for so long now that I don’t know how anybody could ever live there again. I imagine a rod winding back my eyes, but there’s a knot in my vision that snags on something in the field. At the far end. Moving.
The air is still so I know it’s not wind pressing the grass down. But still I’m not sure. My eyes have lied before. Swaying like a zig-zag, I swear the grass is bowing, no, flattening like an iron over a creased shirt.
Like sticking your head in the freezer, a sudden coolness hits me.
The grass is forming a path, made for me.
I climb over and follow without thinking about the prickles, about the snakes inside the grass.
The ground is bare where I walk.
Go straight ahead.
I look back and find I’m already half swallowed by the field; my open window a dimple in the distance. Turning back, I watch the grass ahead move quick like a thumb flipping through a deck of cards. Legs and arms, bounding, but away.
There’s no fence between the field and that house, but the grass pauses. I plant myself where it ends, afraid to cross this line.
My heart bolts when I see them.
They are standing like an animal, but they’re a person. I know this because their skin is so white that it almost reflects, like light on water.
A gasp slips out, making their head snap up.
I can see their face and they’re a girl. She looks kinda like me.
I don’t do nothing but watch as her head tips from side to side, her nose sniffing. I breathe in too, but all I can smell is red dirt.
Her hands are curled like paws. She puts one forward and beats the ground, and draws up the other. Her legs sweep forward with her arms, like one-two. I hear a low rattling sound. She’s growling at me.
I step forward. I want her to know I’m not a threat.
Her body tilts to the side, cautious.
I crouch down to match her height, and reach out my arm to her.
She sniffs the air again before leaping towards me.
My arm wobbles, as I listen to her hands, her feet pounding the ground like hearing hooves. An ‘ah’ sound escapes from her as she moves, and for a moment I see inside her mouth. A black hole with teeth.
She is seconds away from me now, I feel the warmth from her body rushing towards me. There is something balled inside her paw, something with an jagged end that sprouts out from her fingers. I can’t move now, there’s nowhere to go. She’s here.
I close my eyes tight, seeing veins and pink. Until she is right here. I see her dark outline sketched against my eyelids.
I feel a tightness around my arm and a something leather feeling. Grabbing and tight. Then nothing. The sound of feet and hands loud at first, then fading, now everything is quiet.
I open my eyes an little at a time, expecting ooze and blood. I hold my arm up to reach the yellow light. No cut, no wound.
There’s a red ribbon tied around my arm, covering my scar.