The sun was leering through the window. Filtered by the blinds it caressed Cassie with stripes, warming her as she lay on the bed. The room was still and her body peaceful as she lay drowsing, exhausted.
She twitched and tensed. Her morning at work intruded, hijacked her half conscious thoughts and played itself out in daydreams.
The editor’s office had grown. Cassie walked through the door and towards her boss’s desk, but as she walked the carpet rolled out and the desk stretched further and further away. She began to run towards the figure that sat laughing beyond the desk.
“I’m a journalist, not an aardvark!” she yelled.
The distant goblin leapt to the top of the desk, which rose into the sky and began swooping madly. Cassie could now see diamond-studded glasses, a tangerine jacket, brightly sparkling sequins on the lapels and recognized the deformed creature as her boss.
“Elton wants his clothes back!” she yelled.
Suddenly the desk began to dive toward her, it’s occupant hurling paperweights and staplers at her. Once again she ran, this time looking for cover. A figure by a giant filing cabinet beckoned wildly.
“Quick! You’ll be safe under here.”
Cassie looked around her, afternoon sun leaking through the blinds and softening the cluttered room with bright lines of light. She rolled onto her front and smothered her face with a pillow.
The pain was no less now than it had been a year ago. The difference was that she had learned to forget. She would bury herself in writing or working, concentrating on the small tasks that made up the days. She was even learning to walk away from the pain in her peaceful moments, enjoying a sunset without guilt, or smelling the hopeful morning breeze. But the pain grumbled at the fringes of her mind, ready to ambush and wound her.
By the time Linda and Annie came home, Cassie was sitting on the back verandah with a glass of scotch, hiding from the neighbours.
“Oh Mum!” Linda stormed past her mother and into the house, followed closely by the dog.
Annie fetched a chair and a glass from the kitchen. She sat next to Cassie, poured herself a drink, then picked up the packet of cigarettes. “I thought you’d given up, too,” she commented.
“Thanks, anyway,” said Annie, lighting the cigarette she took from the pack.
“I hope your day was not as bad as mine,” Cassie finally said.
“Oh average. I only performed five miracles before lunch. That Year Nine is still a problem. I asked Linda about them. I’m worried Cassie. She was really upset – I don’t know why. It was just so unlike her.”
“What was she upset about?”
“That’s just it. I don’t know. She didn’t want to talk to me about 9B, and up ‘til now she’s been so helpful. Knowing what the little darlings are saying about the classes has been feedback that they won’t offer.” Annie rubbed her forehead, trying to think. “When I mentioned James she went right off the planet. Are they still going together?”
“I think so. Maybe I should talk to her. I might give her some time to calm down, though; I wish she wouldn’t be so pig-headed about my occasional smoking.”
“Mmmm. You should be pleased the girl has more sense than her mother. And how was your day?”
Cassie leaned her head to her knees and covered her head with her arms.
Cassie turned to her friend. “You are now looking,” she said, through clenched fists, “at the newest journalistic addition to the popular music section of the entertainment pages of the ‘Daily Eye’!”
“What? . . But . . . They’ve taken you out of “the pool”? Didn’t they promise that you would stay there?”
“Yes.” It was a well-pruned syllable. “Apparently it is much better to get a gig writing crap as the “Funky Fairy” for “DownBeat”.”
“You have a way with words, Annie.”
“It’s because of those articles, isn’t it - again? This is so wrong, Cassie. Those bastards shouldn’t be able to push you around like this.”
“Oh, you don’t understand, Annie. This is a promotion. More pay and everything.”
“In a pig’s eye. They’re trying to shut you up. I knew there would be more to that F.I.S.H.E. thing than you’ve found out so far. They were too happy to set up that enquiry. It’s a bloody crock!”
“Annie! You’re paranoid. I agree that someone’s probably applied pressure to have me kept safely away from the real news. I rang Paul at “The Chronicle”. I was going to take that job he’s been at me about.”
“Let me guess. No job.”
“No job. But Annie, honestly, all your ideas about fascist infiltration, C.I.A. espionage and using the Institute to cover up the real mess in the world is paranoid. Really, Annie. They don’t do that sort of thing any more.”
“And the Pope’s not a Catholic either, I believe.”
“Oh, leave off, Annie. I’ve had a dreadful day.”
“I’m sorry Cass. I wasn’t thinking. It just makes me mad to see you buried like this – not to mention the way the truth seems to be being buried with you. It’s not right.”
The two sat side by side, the sounds of early suburban evening drifting to them in the leafy yard.
“What’ll you do?”
“Nothing. There’s not much I can do. The ideas are still out there, only they’re on the internet where the powers-that-be can dismiss them. Unless we can find more evidence. I’ll just have to keep doing my job and hope they either decide to take me seriously or forget all about it. And keep my eyes open for a place where they’ll appreciate a little journalistic integrity. And . . . I have been rather feeling another book coming on.”
“Oh! What do M & B want now? Claude-Pierre rides again, maybe? Or at least, “mounts” again . . . and again . . . and again.”
“No.” Cassie paused, realizing she had found a goal to chase. “I have another idea nagging at me, and I’m not expecting this new job to be overly taxing. Although the Bastard Boss from hell did say I might get the odd overseas trip out of it.
“Did you have anything planned for the middle of next week?”
“No. I’m taking a rest from my hectic social calendar. Had to tell the prince to take a number.”
“Would you mind keeping an eye on Linda for me? I thought I’d take a break and go bush. Maybe go down the Prom. I don’t want to go at the weekend when it’s busy. I need a bit of peace and quiet.”
“Yeah. It’d do you the world of good. You look all wrung out.”
The women sat for a time, their silence disturbed only by “The Wheel of Fortune” turned up by Mrs Evans next door so that she could hear.
“I suppose I’d better talk to Linda.”
“I’ll start tea.”
“I know I’ve been spending a lot of time working. Have I been away too much?” Cassie was sitting on Linda’s bed.
“No Mum.” Linda sat at her desk, staring out the window at a broken paling in the fence.
“Linda. . . ” Cassie paused. How could she clear away the ice that Linda had put between them? She desperately wanted to take her daughter in her arms, hold her and make it all better. But Linda was no longer five years old. In front of her Linda saw a girl who was becoming a young woman; a troubled young woman who did not want to ask for help.
“Something’s worrying you, isn’t it honey?”
“Has James done something to upset you?”
The painful silence continued.
“Linda, I love you. All I see is that something has upset you. I can’t stand by – I want to help.”
“You can’t!” The bitterness of Linda’s reply froze Cassie.
“Look Mum, I’m not pregnant or on drugs or anything. I’m okay. I just don’t want to talk about it. Okay?”
“Maybe talking would help.”
“No.” Linda was rigid in her chair, staring out the window.
“Is there anything I can do?”
Cassie hesitated. “Could you do something for me?”
“Honey . . . if you are in trouble or there is something I can do, please, will you tell me?”
Still no response.
“You’re old enough to have a right to your privacy, but you’re too young to have to take care of yourself. I just couldn’t bear to see you hurt.”
“Just one more thing, honey. Hug?”
Linda stood up reluctantly and allowed her mother to put her arms around her. Standing there, Linda remembered being a child whose mother had been able to chase away the worst nightmares and ease the worst injuries.
Putting her arms around Cassie, Linda wished she could speak to her mother, ask her to fix everything. She felt her mother’s hand stroking her hair and relaxed into the gentle rocking.
“I just want to feel safe again,” Linda muttered to herself.
“What’s that honey?”
“I love you Mum.”
Cassie hugged her daughter. Whatever was wrong she was sure Linda would tell her, eventually.
“I love you too, honey.”
Finally Linda broke away.
“I’ve got heaps of homework.”
Understanding that she had been dismissed, Cassie left the room.
“I’d better help Annie with tea.”
“Really Annie! I wish you’d wear your glasses.”
“But it was falafel mixture! How could I mix up a packet of falafel mixture with a packet of chocolate pudding?”
“Don’t know, but you have. I just don’t think the world is ready for chocolate falafel.”
Cassie shook her head, then set about salvaging their dinner. Annie could be terribly absent-minded, and cooking wasn’t her favourite occupation. Cassie remembered finding Annie bent over lesson plans on the dining table while dinner was being quietly reduced to ash in the oven. Then there was the time she forgot to put the oven on, and no-one realized until well after the guests had arrived. The flaming toast and exploding eggs were another matter entirely.
In an hour Linda was fed up with her homework and there was a meal on the table. The three women sat chewing companionably, the evening news barking quietly in the background.
“Did you tell Linda about the new job?”
“No. I didn’t get around to it.”
“A new job? What are you doing now?”
“I’m going to be a “roving reporter” for The Daily Eye’s popular music pages.”
“Music? Does that mean you’ll get to go to concerts and stuff? You’ll get free tickets?” Linda quickly realised that her mother had landed a great job. “Who’ll you get to interview? Oh Mum, this’s wicked!”
Cassie and Annie exchanged glances. Linda shrugged, and with a smile, Cassie sighed deeply.
“I’m glad someone else thinks my new job is wicked. I think it’s downright evil.”
“Mum? Don’t you want it?”
“It’s not what I’d have liked to be doing.”
“Don’t you think it’s time you got over all that stuff? It won’t bring him back.”
Cassie stared at her daughter, stunned. They had coped with Jack’s death in different ways. Linda by crying for two weeks then deciding to go on smiling. Cassie had thrown herself into trying to find out how Jack had died. Like the police, she could find nothing, but her instincts were drawn to Jack’s last assignment. Had he turned up to work at the Institute before he had died?
Her research led her to believe that the Institute was being manipulated and used for political purposes; that they were falsifying experimental results and accepting dubious donations from industry. But she found no evidence about Jack’s death.
Was Linda right? Had she damaged her career for the sake of ideals that were based on a need for some kind of vengeance? Had she mistaken the importance of what she had found?
The silence was broken by her sudden attention to the television. She left her seat and turned up the volume.
“ . . . Justice Mongrel’s preliminary findings are that there appears to be no basis for the accusations which had been leveled at the Federal Institute for Science in Harmony with the Environment.
“The final report will be published in two month’s time. The government has yet to comment on it’s role in this scandal.”
The screen showed a puffy bulldog face. The Justice had been bailed up by reporters against the bluestone wall of a court building.
“There will always be someone trying to make a name for themselves by attacking others. The Institute has been doing an invaluable job co-ordinating this government’s response to the ecological crisis. One can only wonder at the motivation of a person who attempts to undermine the good work that is being . . . “
Cassie almost knocked the television over as she switched it off.
Annie sought comfort for her friend. “Terry’s still working with you on this. You’re not alone. The two of you can’t be ignored. People will listen - you know you’re right.”
“Yeah Mum,” added Linda, “and you should tell Bruce to shove that job unless he’ll let you do the stories you want to do.”
Cassie looked at Linda through tears.
The women did not notice when the temperature of the room began to drop. It was Annie who first looked about her, bewildered, startled.
The house was unnaturally silent. The clock on the mantle-shelf was audible, it’s ticking echoing strangely. The house was somehow shielded from outside noises – the ever-present traffic on High Street, just a block away, could not be heard. No dog barked and Mrs Evans’ TV set was silent.
“This is how my dream starts,” whispered Annie.
Cassie was brought out of her misery by concern for Annie, who had suddenly gone pale – very pale.
“What’s wrong Annie?”
“Can’t you hear?”
“Hear what? It’s quiet . . . Oh!”
Linda reached for her mother, then, as one, the women turned to face the front door. Footsteps echoed outside the door. But it was not shoes on concrete they heard; it was boots on a resonant metal gangplank.
Windows began to rattle in their frames. The women held their hands over their ears.
Abruptly the footsteps ceased.
Heavy knocking boomed through the door – once, twice, thrice.
Before any-one could move, the door kicked itself open.
A fearful apparition occupied the front porch. A hideously distorted body, covered in gaping wounds that oozed pus, was hunched into the usually roomy porch. The face which blocked out most of the view of the body was a parody of a child’s face. Freckled nose and cupid mouth were mocked by hollow eye-sockets, within which raged cold, blue fires.
The innocent mouth opened, breathing pestilence and decay into the room. The voice was thunder and rattling bones.
“B.B. Raven!” roared the ghastly wraith.
“B.B. Raven?” it hissed with menace. Then it looked around the room, it’s absent eyes seeing through the whole house.
“Does B.B. Raven live here?” demanded the ghoul, leaning threateningly towards Cassie.
“No,” she trembled.
“Oh! . . . Wrong address,” said the ghost. “Sorry!”
And it disappeared, leaving the stunned women listening to the theme from Neighbours on Mrs. Evans’ television set.