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The boy was lonely

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The boy was lonely

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									                             Darwin’s Ghost
The boy was lonely. He lived by himself with his parents, an only child. He liked certain things: playing in the
yard; animals; and his instrument. His father was a farmer, his mother a housewife. He would always be a
lonely boy.
                                                      ***
I skidded round the corner, my tyres burning rubber. My raincoat flew behind me. I pulled into the driveway
my legs pumping hard. I made it safely to the garage, dumping my bike as I removed my backpack. I opened
the door and stepped into the warm atmosphere which was the TV room. Mark, Mum’s boyfriend, was lying
on the couch stuffing his huge mouth with salt and vinegar crisps while watching Neighbours on the local TV
station. I didn’t bother greeting him and went straight into the kitchen to get some Coke, and then I continued
into my bedroom. It was neat and tidy, Mum must have cleaned it. I lay down on my bed and sculled some
Coke. I looked at myself in the mirror. My blonde hair, wispy and un-groomed, dangled over my hazel eyes.
My eyebrows were skinny and branched into my pointy nose. There wasn’t anything beautiful about me. I was
just a farmer’s son.

I woke with a dry tongue and throbbing calves. I was lying on the floor. I felt a strange wet sensation climbing
up my leg. Noticing the Coke spilling near my pants, I quickly got up. I swapped pants before I stumbled into
the kitchen. Mum was sitting at the table sipping a cup of hot tea.
“You left your raincoat on the carpet,” she said, without looking at me.
“Oh…sorry,” I replied.
“You know you should be more careful around here.”
“I like Dad’s better.”
She grimaced when I said ‘Dad’. She stood up. “You know it doesn’t have to be this awkward, Billy,” She
sighed, “Is it because of Mark? You should spend some time with him; you might learn to like him.”
“I don’t think that is ever going to happen,” I laughed.
She walked into my room as I wearily poured milk onto my cereal. I hadn’t slept well. I never did here. When
I lumbered over to the table I saw Mum holding the empty bottle of Coke.
“I found this on your floor,” she said dryly.
“Nice one.”
“Billy, please, just try to like it here. Just pretend so that you’re a bit more pleasant.”
I gave her a ‘humph’ and went back to eating my breakfast.
“Answer me properly!” Her tone of voice had changed.
“You know, maybe I would if you didn’t have to prove to Dad that you were over him. For god’s sake Mum,
you sleep with the first man you see when you walk out the b...” Her expression stopped me.
“Get out Billy.”
“I’d be honoured,” I said sarcastically; as I finished the last of my soggy cornflakes and kicked open the back
door to go outside.
I trudged around the side of the house. The cold morning air stung my goose pimpled cheeks. I’d received
Rusty as a gift from my Dad when I was two years old. He was rolling around in the dust when I found him. I
called out to him and his ears pricked up instinctively. I walked over and scratched his back. I hooked the
leash onto his collar. Clink. I stood back up and began walking towards the shed. He reluctantly followed.
I picked up my bike from where I had left it, I wanted a new one. I got on and began pedalling towards the
road.

Rusty rode on the handle bars. I was feeling exhausted and dehydrated. Why hadn’t I brought any water? I’m
such an idiot. With every pedal I became thirstier. I saw Rusty jump quickly off the handlebars. I was positive
Dad’s wasn’t much further. The horizon was hazy and my vision began to blur. I started to turn a sharp corner
when abruptly an old man emerged from the trees. I swerved to avoid him. Then came a sharp pain in my
head, and all of a sudden I was lying on the ground, staring at my reflection in Rusty’s green eyes, with a gash
swelling with blood on my forehead.
                                                       ***




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I was looking at a boy now. He was the same size and build as me with the exact facial features as me. It
was like looking in a mirror! Oh wait, it was a mirror. I was standing in a small room. There was a bed,
a wooden cupboard and a bedside table and, of course, the mirror. A window was positioned above the
bed framing a vast green paddock dotted with cattle grazing and further on, a gate. I squeezed my eyes
shut for a moment and when I opened them, was surprised to see that there was in fact a boy in the
room. He was smaller than me with bright red hair and a freckly complexion. He wore a striped navy
blue and white shirt with a pair of corduroy pants. He had leather boots and a woollen cap. He was
sitting on a bed playing with an unusual box which kept ticking like a clock. He put the box down on a
nearby table. It had a vertical dial which had numbers ranging from 40-216 and had unusual words
next to it like allegro, largo, prestissimo. A figure caught my eye. It swayed from side to side and
whenever it reached its sideways peak it would make a ticking sound. It almost sounded like a
heartbeat. I sat on the bed. Something was wrong; it was as if the boy didn’t recognize my presence. My
head still throbbed. I heard a Click…Click. Slowly, I pivoted my body and I saw the boy crouching over
a case. He stood up and I saw that he was carrying a violin in his thin arms. It was beautifully made and
had words engraved in the side. They read: To my dearest son Joey, may your 10th birthday be filled
with joy. Dad. This was getting weird. I tried to get up. Something felt wrong. I tried lifting my arms,
but my muscles refused to obey me. My whole body was stiff as though I had become paralysed. Now it
was getting seriously strange. Then I was soothed from my discomfort by music. It sounded like the
lullabies my parents used to sing to me when I was young. I didn’t feel like moving any more. Like a
siren’s song I was mesmerized.
“Joseph Taylor, come and finish your chores!”
Obediently, the boy ceased his playing and gently placed his instrument back in its case and raced
through the doorway. Gradually I returned to my senses. All that was left was the ticking of the peculiar
box.
                                                       ***
I opened my eyes and was confronted by a blinding light. My whole body felt painfully hot. I looked at the
world for a moment, it seemed different, sideways. A shadow appeared and its long tongue, coarse and pink,
brushed against my scabbed cheek. I tried to focus my vision. I heard a rumbling sound, deep and resonant.
Shoom! A car’s wheel skidded right in front of my face and I realized where I was. Without hesitation I
jumped up and off the searing tar. The world flipped back into reality and I returned to my regular vision.
Suddenly I didn’t feel thirsty anymore. The crushed and mangled steel body of my bike sat separately from the
front wheel. At least I can get a new bike, I thought to myself. I saw the obstacle that I ran into. It was a sign.
Rusted and battered, I couldn’t make out the faded lettering. It was no surprise I missed it, it was well
camouflaged. Another car passed as I picked up the ruined bicycle and resumed my journey to Dad’s house,
each movement more painful than the last.

Dad jumped out of his seat when I stumbled in the front door. He began asking all these questions while
putting antiseptic cream on my wounds.
“It was probably Old Henry Taylor, the guy you saw. Yeah, he’s a strange old bloke, but I don’t blame him,
there was some tragedy that happened to him when Darwin was bombed.”
“Was Darwin bombed?” I asked.
“Yeah, it was back in World War Two.” I decided not to tell Dad about the dream.
After a meal of microwaved veggies and pizza, I thought about my weird dream. I wanted to know more about
the boy I saw and what that old man was doing there. That night I dozed off into an uncomfortable slumber.
                                                     ***
I opened my eyes. I could see the same boy from before crouching at an old oven watching intently at
the roasting meat inside. He wore smart clothes. There came a knocking from the front door and the
boy promptly went to answer it. I followed him into a hallway lined with paintings of the Australian
bush and an elaborate carpet. The boy opened the door and was greeted by the smiling faces of a couple
with a pram. A baby slept in the bed of silky blankets in the pram. The boy and woman talked
momentarily before a bearded man dressed in a formal suit attended to the guests. The boy backed
away from the conversation and marched back to the oven. I had been examining the carpet when she
approached me. Elegant and lady-like, I assumed she was the mother of the boy. She strolled straight
past me and into the kitchen. The boy was still looking at the roast as if to make sure it didn’t burn.
When he cocked his head towards the woman his expression changed completely. The look of sheer
terror was like nothing I have seen in my life. The woman towered over the crouching boy and hissed an
order to him. He stumbled into his bedroom before his mother. I managed to glimpse the boy who bore
a strange look of confusion and fear. The door silently shut and the voices from the other room became



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apparent. For the first time I noticed the dining room. A majestic polished table sat with neatly set out
plates and cutlery. In the centre of the table sat a clear crystal vase filled with roses both white and red.
As I looked up I was stunned by the fantastic chandelier hanging from the ceiling, its elaborate crystals
shimmering in the warm light. The father led the couple through the kitchen and into the dining room. I
could tell that the couples were dazzled by the beautiful setup. A moment later I saw the door open and
the child emerge clasping his hand, trying to hide it from the guests. His eyes were watering. The
woman was smiling unnaturally as she strode into the other room. The baby began to cry when she sat
down next to it. The boy was left to tender to the cooking. He sucked his hand. There, on his right palm
was a crude marking like a huge welt. He grimaced whenever something touched it.

Later in the evening dinner was served by the mother. The boy sat at the enormous table near his Dad.
“You look very smart in your suit Joseph. Did you buy it?” remarked the female guest.
“Mother made it for me,” he mumbled eyeing the kitchen.
Dinner was served on beautiful plates. There was a garden salad and a brilliant lamb roast stuffed with
garlic and rosemary and glazed to perfection. My mouth began to water when I saw it. It smelled
superb. The boy ate silently only giving short answers any time he was included into the conversation.
“Hey, Joey, why don’t you get your violin and play our guests a tune?” suggested his Dad. For the first
time the boy smiled that evening. I felt jealous, I had no talents. He looked at his Mum, but she was
talking to the other woman.
“Okay, sure,” he replied.
He lifted himself up from his seat and skipped into the hallway, soon returning with the violin and
ticking box.
He wound up the box and it began to tick. He rested the instrument on his shoulder and raised his bow.
The song, merry and fast-paced, filled the air. The audience was clearly enjoying it; everyone but the
mother who ignored the music. Suddenly I felt as though I was becoming distant from the moment. The
music stopped abruptly and all that was left was blackness and the soft ticking of the box.
                                                       ***
The beeping was sharp and piercing. I raised an arm to the alarm clock and clumsily pressed down on the
‘snooze’ button.
“Hey, you’re up,” said Dad who was standing in the doorway. “I’m going to the shops to get some tools to fix
your bike so you can have breakfast when I’m gone. Don’t go running into poles when I’m gone.” Dad
chuckled as he walked into the other room.
I slid out of the warm hug of my doona and trudged into the kitchen.
“There’s a coffee on the bench if you feel like it. Alright see you later.” The wire door shut noisily and I was
left alone in the room except for the sleeping dog curled up beside the fireplace. I sipped the coffee. I never
really liked coffee, but I needed to wake up. I would have a big day ahead.

The doors slid open revealing the huge room. Shelf upon shelf stacked with books. Tables were crowded with
old men and women. I crept past the refuge of retirees and hopped on a computer. The keys tapped quietly and
characters appeared on the screen. The characters read: Henry Taylor; Darwin bombing. A single link
appeared on the screen. It was a newspaper article and according to the computer it was available.
After a few minutes of searching I found the laminated newspaper in the Australian History section. It looked
old with battered edges and was yellowing. As I sat near a table I opened the ancient newspaper and
concentrated on reading it. The headline read: Father devastated to find wife and child missing, presumed
dead from bombing. My eyes widened as I read through the article. The boy from my dreams was this guy’s
son. Before I left the library I looked up the address of Henry Taylor. 51 Newbury Street, I thought to myself.
That wasn’t far from Dad’s. I could stop at Dad’s before going to meet this man.

Classical music blared out from behind the closed garage door. Dad must be home. I crept past the open front
door and proceeded into the kitchen.
“Oi, Billy, I’m done on your bike,” called Dad. I grabbed a glass of water, drunk it in one gulp, and raced into
the garage.
“Hey, I could at least do with a ‘thanks’. You did a great job of screwing it up.”
“Yeah, thanks. I’d like a new one though,” I said while getting on the bike.
“You’re welcome,” he called as I pedalled down the driveway.

The dwelling had only a few windows and was made from red brick. I strode up the neat path and pressed my
finger on the doorbell. I waited intently by the wooden door before I heard a hoarse voice say, “Who is it?”



Page | 3
“Uh, I’m Billy Rawson, I just need to…” The door opened and for the first time I got a good look at the man.
His face was wrinkled and suspended in a permanent frown. His hair was combed back and was a faded red in
colour. He wore an ironed shirt tucked in a pair of denim.
“What do you want?” he growled.
“I…I think I’ve been having dreams about your son, Joseph Taylor.”
“I don’t know anyone named that.”
“You’re Henry Taylor right?”
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“Your son was killed in World War Two?”
He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead.
“I was riding a bike and you came out of the trees and then I fell over when I tried to avoid you and had this
dream about a boy. He had red hair like you and wore a striped shirt. He played with this weird ticking box
and he was playing a…”
“He plays the sweetest music you know.” I looked at him strangely for a moment.
“So you do know?” I asked.
“Follow me,” he grunted.

The man coughed into his wrinkled fist. He walked with the aid of a walking stick, but still kept up with my
regular pace. He would occasionally mutter to himself. We ended up near the sign I had my collision with. I
saw the sticky brown patch on the road. I turned to the man to ask where we were. He wasn’t there. I heard a
strange sound. It was like metal clanging against metal. Following the noise I found a concealed path in
between two large gums. It was only a short path which led me to a rusted metal gate. He must have come this
way, I thought to myself. I nudged it open, creating a squeaking noise as if it had been left to rot. I walked up a
muddy track tugging my bike along with me. The gravel crunched under my feet. A cold wind kicked up
ancient dust. I looked around, darting my vision left and right. A thunderous roar echoed above the path. I
jumped and looked around. My heart was thumping. Then there was a flash of white. The shadows of the trees
loomed above me, overwhelming me. Then came a soft pitter-patter which was replaced by another rolling
boom. I quickened my pace. Flash. The tree branches swooped low like magpies. I turned a corner and began
to sprint, dropping my bike behind me. Then I stopped. Boom! The rain splashed against my face, but it didn’t
matter. Flash. There, directly in front of me, shaking in the storm was the house. It had a roof of rusted iron,
weathered planks of wood as its walls and windows gaping at me like the mouth of a leopard. I approached it
cautiously. I could turn away, but I would be haunted forever, no, I had to do this. The door was open, daring
me to enter. I strode inside. It was exactly how I had dreamed it, but it was different somehow. The decorative
carpet on the floor and the paintings that lined the walls were the same but old and faded. I hesitated for a
moment. Something wasn’t right. I was trembling with fear. It sounded like a heartbeat. A soft,
tick…tick…tick.

I hadn’t noticed the door in my dream. I turned the knob and pushed it open in front of me. Another flash lit up
the room for a split second. It was enough to know. It was sitting on the table, its pendulum swaying side to
side, always ticking. I stepped inside the room. It sent shivers down my spine. I walked closer to the box. I
reached out to pick it up. Out of the shadows a hand firmly clutched my forearm. I swiveled around, my eyes
wide with shock.
“If you listen carefully you can hear the music,” stated the figure. The shadows enveloped the room in
darkness. Lightning flashed. I could see the skull-like face with its creased skin, watering eyes and faded
orange hair. Then I heard it. It was slow and solemn. Slowly my eyes began to close…
                                                      ***
I could feel the morning sun brush against my face. My eyelids opened to reveal the boy sitting at the
table, swinging his legs up and down, chewing on a slice of toast. He sipped his milk. The windows
around him were open, the wind blowing the checked curtains gently. The boy consumed the last of his
breakfast and hopped up to place his plate in the sink when a shockwave shook the house. The boy
tripped over, smashing the plate on the wooden floorboards. From inside the house I could make out a
dark shape rising over the treetops on the horizon. The shape branched out into a fluffy head. The
plates stacked on the bench started to rattle. Then the plates were falling off the bench and smashing on
the floor near the boy crying over his scabbed knee. The whole house was beginning to shake. The
chandelier was swaying dangerously from side to side. The boy lifted himself off the floor and limped
into the bathroom before a huge form shot over the roof of the house at phenomenal speed. The noise
was deafening. The woman emerged from the room screaming and went out the back door and into the
field. The boy followed soon after. I followed after them and came to a hole dug into the earth with a



Page | 4
door at the end. The woman went in first leaving the boy running behind. He eventually came in
shutting the door behind him just before I managed to squeeze inside. Inside the shelter were three
bunks and at least a weeks worth of food in cans. The boy and woman sat down on the bed breathing
heavily. The boy lifted his head suddenly.
“Oh no, I left my violin!” he screamed. Jumping off the bunk, he sprinted out of the bunker leaving the
door open and running into the house. A formation of bombers was flying high overhead. He came out
of the back door sprinting with the violin clutched tightly in his left hand. He ran towards the shelter.
Another sound became apparent. It sounded like a whistle but it was getting louder very quickly. The
horizon was dotted with black clouds. The door to the bomb shelter shut with a loud clang. The boy
rushed over and began banging on the door.
“Let me in! Let me in! Please!” He screamed over the engines of the planes. The whistling was becoming
louder. The boy gave up his efforts to open the door and instead sat down and screamed into his hands.
He looked up and was met by the sight of the polished head of a plummeting bomb. It was truly
horrifying to watch. Everything within a twenty metre radius was disintegrated. All that remained after
the blast was a crater as big as a small lake.
                                                        ***
I sat up on the bed and looked at the man sitting on a chair, his head in his hands.
“You know about it, don’t you?” I said.
“It isn’t easy to forget.”
“You have to let go.”
“You don’t know what it’s like. I come here every day to hear his music. I wind up his metronome every day.
I don’t want to let go. But over time his music has changed. He used to play happy music,” he sighed, “Now
all he plays are sad and slow tunes. Sometimes I think that maybe I should let him be.”
I waited for him to make up his mind while I went out the back of the house. I walked through the doorway
and into the kitchen. The room certainly wasn’t looking the same way it did during my dreams. The oven’s
paint was peeling off revealing a rusted frame. The chandelier had collapsed and was lying on the termite
infested table. I felt Henry’s hand pat my shoulder. I turned to face him.
“You’re right, kid,” he said. He was holding the key to wind up the metronome in his hand. He walked passed
me and out of the back door. It was still raining but the old man didn’t seem to realise. He looked at the key.
“Go on, Joey. I’ll be with you soon.” He threw the key into the middle of the lake.

I walked back into the house and away from the sad old man. I went through the hallway and into the boy’s
bedroom. The box sat motionless on the table. I rested my head on the bed and sighed a sigh of relief. I looked
into the mirror on the wall. I could see a boy. He was the same size and build as me with the exact facial
features as me. But it wasn’t the same boy as he used to be.

Tim Hauptman 7PX Term 2 2009




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