Being young makes you afraid of things. It makes you fear things like the dark, and being away from home at night. Rickety log cabins, and bumps in the night. Cold, desolate, windy beaches, and sleeping on a mattress on the floor in a study downstairs and on the opposite side of the house to where your Mum is sleeping with her then boyfriend, whom you don’t trust very much because you’ve never had great experiences with men and you’re afraid that he’s slowly stealing her from you and that’s probably what scares you the most. But I digress.
All of this and more in:
Rockhampton, 2007, The Time I Fell In Love With A Ghost.
Surprisingly to me, Rockhampton is seen as some backwater country town, more trouble than travel would be worth. But if you’re like me, all you want is to be on a beach alone, under an overcast sky, maybe even in the rain.
At 7 years old I stayed with Mum and her boyfriend (who we’ll call ‘H’) at his beach house. It looked like it was better suited as a cabin from deep in the woods. Cool, dark brown wood, tin roof, exposed trusses. There clearly wasn’t a city council nearby to moderate the tall green lawns littered with fallen palm fronds.
The backyard was a sandy trail through a beachside tangle of palms, banksias, yuccas, and leaf detritus. It wasn’t beautiful, nor was the beach (at least not conventionally). It was often grey, and the water often cold. But it was peaceful. The best part was owned by the wild, nameless, golden Labrador of the beach. It added some much needed warmth to the place, roaming the pale sands completely free. This dog could open coconuts! It was the only living thing on the whole beach that could open them without a meat cleaver, and no one knew how – because no one ever saw how – but it did.
There was a night around a campfire down on the beach. The wind had been blowing all hours of the day, but seemed to cease just for this.
H invited two friends over and after sensing that I’d been missing a male presence in my life since birth, they thought I might be due for a camping experience. There may have been a tent involved that I abandoned to collect shells, there may have been campfire stories that I only remember one of. Partly because it scared me the most, but also because I was very intrigued by the smooth voice, open collar, and peeking muscles of the man telling it.
The hot one told a story about a family fishing on the beach. They each went inside, one by one, leaving the youngest son (a boy very much like me) on the beach to fish alone until nightfall. He went into the house to find the power cut, no electricity. His brothers were missing, his parents were missing, the family dog was missing. He followed muddy tracks into the garage, and on the car was a big, bloody, animal-like handprint. He opened the car door, and BAM – that was the last they ever heard of him.
I refused to sleep in the tent after that, forcing everyone to go back up to the house. After small debrief with my Mum, I drifted off to sleep. I always found it hard to sleep in that house. It was wildly unfamiliar to me. And out there in that rural area, although the stars are bright, the darkness is heavy. The spaciousness of the house became a child’s enemy. Pitch black, with windows of midnight.
The rest of this story isn’t so simple.
I wake in the night.
Glowing, electric blue pixels, like a hologram. Bright enough to be real. Bright enough to think that if someone else walked in right now, they’d see what I’m seeing.
A boy by my bed. His movements a blur of blue.
He doesn’t know I’m here, or maybe – he doesn’t know that he’s here.
He’s older than me, but not by much.
He’s talking to someone I can’t see. I can’t hear him. I can’t hear anything.
He doesn’t notice me.
He doesn’t seem sad. He doesn’t seem agitated.
He’s just there.
I’m watching him, and I forget to be scared.
As someone that has rarely gotten to be around boys, and never really gotten to experience or adopt their rhythms, watching this boy is like watching a soap opera. So I watch him, until the seven year old kicks in and I suddenly want to find my Mum.
I leave the room expecting to leave him behind, but he’s outside.
He’s a child, jumping off the porch and disappearing into the trees. I press myself against the wall by the doorframe. I peer back into the room. He’s still there. I’m entranced again.
He’s not repeating himself.
He’s not recycling the same moves.
He’s alive. Talking in silence.
I turn to search for Mum.
I find the boy again.
I find him in the lounge with a skateboard, as a teenager, with longer hair.
He’s smiling, and he’s handsome.
I find him in the kitchen as a man in a suit, laughing, and he’s happy.
I find the staircase to Mum and H’s bedroom.
I cling to the banister with sweaty palms.
I look out the window halfway up on the landing and my vision is caught.
Caught by something down below.
A man that isn’t blue.
He’s standing in grass just beyond the reach of the moonlight.
His neck is snapped clean.
His head hangs from his hood, and rests on his shoulder.
It’s turned up to look at me.
A few steps and I make it to Mum’s bedroom. I, embarrassingly, awaken H, thinking he’s my Mum, and he says she’s on the other side of the bed. I go to her and…
I was never heard from again.
Jackson is a Meanjin based non-binary poet at the tail end of their writing degree and is making the most of their time on the ScratchThat team before they move beyond the veil. You can find more work from them on the ScratchThat website, in QUT Glass Issue #11, or on their Instagram account @deku.of.dune