Leon pokes his head into my room and sees me sitting on the scabby floor, leaning against the wall. The tatty jumper I wear doesn’t stop the cold penetrating into my bones. With hands press against my ears, I try to block out another argument. Tension already clenches my gut.
I can pick out four males and one female. The men’s voices are getting louder, more demanding. It's been going on for a good ten minutes, my anxiety builds with every shriek the female makes.
I hate this! I don’t want to get involved in these fights any more. People are getting crueller and inventing nasty weapons. Twice, the woman I was defending turned on me and clawed at my face, screaming obscenities at me. I was trying to protect them from a violent situation, saving them from these pieces of shit and then they go straight back! It broke my heart and left me totally confused, so I'm staying out of today’s issue.
‘Mate, are we gunna do something?’ Leon says.
I just sigh; I don’t want to do anything.
He pushes again, ‘Sam? Are we gunna go out there?’
‘Find someone else!’ I growl at him.
‘They’ve all left for the day,’ he replies softly. His scrawny body leans against the door frame, his crippled arm curled at his side. ‘I got a new stick we can take out.’
The female shrieks again and we both wince.
‘I found it a couple days ago and been workin’ on it a bit.’ He knows I won’t let him be involved in a fight if he doesn’t have a decent weapon. ‘Sam?’ he says.
Scrubbing my palms into my eyes, I snarl, ‘Fuck sake, Leon! Let me have a look at it first.’ He limps away to retrieve his cherished new weapon from its hiding spot. Heaving myself up off the floor, I collect my own bludgeon and run my fingers over its smooth surface. This piece of metal and I have been through many fights together but I hate the thought of using it again.
Leon comes back and passes me his new stick. It has a nice thickness and he’s whittled the lumps off. I'm actually impressed with it. After giving it a few quick tosses to feel its balance, I hand it back to him and pat him on the shoulder.
‘That’s a good find, mate, but it’ll have to wait. I ain’t going out there.’
His eyes run over my face. He limps out of the house with his weapon tightly clenched in his hand. He won’t go far without me, he’ll have a peek at what’s happening and report it all back, hoping I'll decide to interfere.
He scurries back in less than two minutes, shouting as he comes down the hallway, ‘Four men are arguing over who a young girl belongs to and,’ he comes into the room puffing and animated, ‘she’s all smashed up. She’s got blood all over her face and down her legs. She looks really bad!’
SHIT! In the four steps it takes me to get out of the house, the tension that’s constantly in the pit of my stomach flicks into white hot rage. I turn right towards the arguing cluster, pure hostility rippling through my body. They’re about thirty metres away from me, standing in the middle of the rutted street. Four older men tug on the arms of a very young teenage girl that they’re all trying to have for themselves, arguing over whose turn it is with her. One man see’s me coming, immediately understands why I'm here and flees like a coward. The other three paedo’s are too engrossed in getting the girl away from each other to notice him disappear. Her head hangs forward with dirty blonde hair sticking to the blood on her face, she's stark naked and her torso is covered in fresh bruises and scratches. Blood trickles down her inner thighs, telling me what she's already been through. Her knees buckle as the poor child bravely tries to stay upright.
I bring my metal bludgeon up and smash it across the man’s head who has his back to me, noting the satisfying crunch of fragmenting bone slicing through brain. I take a step backwards as he falls dead at my feet. Surprised, the other two let go of her and she crumbles onto the rough gravel.
The one on the left is about five-five, has short black hair, a beard that hasn’t been washed in years and black eyes that bulge out of his head from adrenalin. His snarl shows rotten teeth and his excessive weight tells me he’s been living off someone else’s portion of food for a while.
The one on the right is a little taller, just as ugly but wiry as all hell and has a cunning look in his eye. He’d be easy to underestimate.
Gaining bravado from their newly formed alliance, the fat one states loudly, ‘Well, what we got 'ere then huh!?’ He takes a nervous glance at the paedophile laying in an increasing puddle of blood.
‘She’s ours, arsehole! You want her, you gotta get through us!’ shouts the skinny bastard, flashing me the shiv hiding in his hand.
I've seen these types before. Short-lived energy full of bluster and hot air but they’ll give up sooner than me. I seat my anger and wait.
Leon has snuck the long way around to the girl and crouches behind her. He’s gently pulling her greasy hair off her face and assessing her condition.
The fat prick lets out a battle cry, leaps over the dead body and rushes at me with his fist raised. I step sideways, smash my forearm into his throat and he crashes onto the ground, gasping and clutching at his neck.
By the time the fat man hits the ground, the skinny bastard has changed his course of attack. He knows I'm not here to play games; I'll kill him. He spots Leon, realises he’s my mate and my weakness. In a split second, he whips around, darts over to Leon, rips his head back by his hair and plunges the shiv into his throat.
‘LEON!’ I shout, too late. The skinny bastard is so fascinated with the sight of his shiv sticking out of Leon’s throat, and the blood gurgling around it that he doesn’t realise I've caught up with him. I bring my bar down hard across his back and with a loud shriek he collapses face first onto the ground. I stomp my boot down on his neck, easily snapping the bones and crushing his spinal cord.
Poor Leon still hasn’t moved or said anything. There’s a heavy flow of blood bubbling out of his neck where he’s holding the shiv in place.
‘Stay still, mate. I'll get you back to the house and you’ll be alright.’ That’s what I'm saying but I know it's not true. He’s toast. Leon’s eyes roll to the side and I ease him slowly onto the ground.
‘S…Sam. Hel…p. Her. Help her.’
‘I will, Leon. I'll help her.’
‘Th…thanks for being my mate.’ He slowly closes his eyes and the shiv falls out of the place where his life used to be.
An enormous, primeval roar rips from my soul. I grab Leon’s unused weapon and raise it above the fat prick.
“NO!” he screams. I shamelessly pound the piece of filth into an unrecognisable pulp.
I finally stop, exhausted and raw. My arms are sticky from the paedo’s blood splatter drying on my skin.
As my heartbeat decreases and my breathing slows, I realise the street’s quiet. Too quiet. Looking up, I see scared faces peaking around corners, curious but not wanting to get caught up in a fight that’s not theirs.
I have to get the girl back home before someone else comes to claim her. As I scoop her up, she starts flailing against me. ‘Don’t touch me!’ she screams, trying to gouge my eyes.
‘I'm not going to hurt you! Shh! I won't hurt you.’ I try to console her as I take her back towards the house. She becomes frantic as she realises I'm taking her inside. ‘No!’ she screams. ‘No! Put me down!’
I shut the door behind us and gently put the frail child down. ‘You can go if you want to. You’re free to go,’ I say in what I hope is a reassuring tone. ‘But there’s people out there who are going to hurt you again. You’re safe here, no one will touch you in this house.’
Her eyes are wildly looking around. She realises she’s standing stark naked in front of a stranger. Both mortified, we turn away from each other at the same time. I stride to my room and bring a blanket back to drape around her. She clutches it tightly and begins to calm down.
She doesn’t answer. The signs of shock are starting to show on her. She sinks to the floor with her teeth chattering.
I'm conflicted by what to do. Leon’s body still lay in the street. If he isn’t disposed of soon, he’ll be taken for someone’s dinner and he deserves better than that.
But this girl needs to be cared for too. She’s sitting on the floor shaking, clearly not going anywhere right now, although she’ll need attention later. I decide to dispose of his body first and go back outside.
People stand around gawping at the four dead bodies lying in the middle of the street. An older man is cautiously poking Leon’s leg with his foot, making sure he is dead.
‘Oi!’ I yell out, running towards them. ‘Git away from him!’ They scarper, but only a short distance away. They don’t want to miss out on an easy meal.
Leon’s cooling blood smudges on my arm as I pick up his body. There’s a place we go to trap mummichogs that has plenty of discarded tires laying around and that’s where I decide to take him. It's not like he’ll be the only one out there.
A familiar weariness settles on me as I thread his body through three old tires. I suppose it could be said it was better for him to die suddenly than the slow death that disease was threatening him with. It doesn’t make the task of burying him this way any easier.
Lowering him into the water, I say, ‘I’m so sorry, mate. I should’ve looked after you better.’ I push the tyres out as far as I can. His face disappears into the murkiness.
His death replays through my mind and I find it difficult to put one foot in front of the other steadily. I have to get back to the girl. I promised Leon I’d look after her.
People scatter when I walk past where Leon was murdered. The skinny bastard’s body has disappeared and the fat man no longer has clothes.
When I close the front door behind me, I immediately sense there’s something wrong. The girl’s no longer where I left her and I can't hear any noises within the house. She’s not in my room or the lounge. I get to the kitchen and she’s sprawled on the floor. Blood’s all over the floor boards and smeared on her face. She’s slashed her wrists with the sharp edges of a can, the pull ring and lid still sits on her finger. Her eyes stare vacantly at me.
‘No!’ Adrenalin surges through my brain.
I push her onto her back and feel her neck for a pulse. Nothing.
I listen for breathing. Nothing.
I look properly at her wrists and are shocked with what she’s done to herself. She’s cut up the length of her arm, laying open the vein on both limbs right up to her elbow. There’s no first aid I can apply to help her with this amount of trauma. She’s dead.
Time stops, a blankness finds me. I can't, I just can't anymore.
Shrouded by the pre-dawn darkness, I leave my overnight camping spot and climb the hill mum took me to as a kid. Sitting with my arms wrapped around my knees, I wait for the sun to rise behind the skyscrapers of Melbourne. A thin slit of red is followed by the most spectacular vivid pinks streaking their way right across the sky to where I sit in awe underneath. I had forgotten these colours still exist. Mum would’ve had her camera out taking lots of photos, that’d never end up getting printed.
As the sun rises, the outline of skyscrapers become visible and I name the buildings I recognise. Rialto towers, the Batman Building, National Bank house, Southbank Central and the Royal Domain. Red flames are currently leaping up the Eureka Skydeck, the billowing black smoke a sure sign of its imminent death. The gaping holes stand out of the structures who have succumbed to their fate and are now a pile of washed out rubble.
The sea swirls restlessly around the buildings in the CBD, spreading the muck and debris that lurks within. Shipping containers bob around like corks in the muddy water, and the high water mark notes its significance further up on the tall buildings.
I have so many fond memories that involved us travelling on a tram through the city, either to our favourite restaurant in China town or shopping for hours in the many small and large stores. Little cafes down tiny lanes lured patrons in with the smell of fresh coffee and pastries. People clutching their takeaway containers flowed out onto the nature strip chatting amiably with each other. We’d get swept up in the tide of workers, living their very busy and important lives, who were dashing out to grab a quick lunch while stepping over the beggars that lived on the footpath.
Mum’s driving style was generally manic which meant, on the rare occasion we took the car, we drove on a wake of angry honks, especially when going through a hook turn or snatching someone’s car park away from them. She’d just flash her beautiful smile and wave her perfectly manicured nails and all would be forgiven. I wonder if any of those busy people survived.
To the right of the sky scrapers is the skeleton of the old Ferris Wheel that’s still managing to stand, even though all the carriages have been smashed off and its body is twisted from the effects of searing heat. How many thousands of happy people in awe of the splendid view did it take around its circuit before being deemed unsafe? Somehow, it even survived when the Bolte Bridge came crashing down at its feet. Now, the carriages lay silently, immersed in a grave of black water.
Between the skyscrapers and where I currently sit are thousands of houses, all with their own narrative, row after row of little boxes that all look the same. The shapes and colours of their roofs slowly become distinguishable in the dull morning light. Empty spaces indicate where once verdant parks used to be and families would bring a picnic on hot days to shelter under the shade of giant trees and listen to their kids playing on the swings.
As the sun makes its way up the horizon, the true devastation of the once magnificent metropolis becomes apparent. The city is in chaos. No - the city had chaos forced upon it.
Dotted around are plumes of smoke coming from burning houses. Acres of charred patches being the only evidence of where entire suburbs used to be; a testament to many thousands of lives cut short.
Abandoned, massive cargo ships were violently washed inland from the port; oil and diesel spewed from their ruptured hulls and now they lay randomly strewn around like children's toys.
To my left I can see where the airport is marked by its stillness and vast silence. The buildings that millions of people excitedly travelled through on their annual holidays were smashed and burned to the ground long ago. The planes that were grounded soon became plundered and claimed for a living space by scavengers.
My eyes focus on the rubbish; the reeking ubiquitous rubbish. Cars and trucks abandoned where they ran out of petrol, their bodies stripped of parts and now being used for shelter. Massive piles of plastic caught on fences, flapping in the breeze or sending toxic fumes into the air as they burn, making eyes smart and nostrils sting. Metal drums, plastic containers, tyres, lumps of concrete, steel beams, cables, bottles - all picked over thoroughly by scavengers and lying in discarded piles that resemble graves.
The landscape has been stripped of trees, sacrificed to keep people warm during the cold winter nights. The river that used to meander lazily into the bay is now one giant pool of stagnant water, layered with thick oil and decaying bodies.
As the final colours of sunrise disappear and the grey reality takes over again, I succumb to the heartache that’s constantly threatening to rip me apart. I sob for the home I've lost knowing I won’t see her again and she’s only going to get worse from here. The pain of simply being alive is nearly too much to bear.
I stand up and blow a kiss goodbye to my city in ruins.
Knowing I'm being watched by whoever this hill is currently dominated by, I gather my gear and leave.
My only remaining hope is in the north, far away from the sea.