Digging for monsters

A boy named Noah has been trying to pretend he never saw the monster. It's been months since it first happened. Him and his friends soon realise that you can try to hide all you like, but the monsters will always find you. What do they want and is there time to stop them?

I had a talk to dad and he said it was getting serious. That I need to pay him back in full or he will press charges. Mum says he’s only about ninety per cent likely to do that.

‘You know what he’s like, Noah’. But that’s still bad, statistically. Even I can tell that.

They’ve gone and dug up the Vic Market, all the bits that used to be concrete is sledgehammered into hell and beyond. They’ve made all these pits and ripped off the roofs that used to protect the vegie sellers. It looks like they’re putting in a monster swimming pool, or like ten of them. But Dee says don’t be a dick, it’s apartments. Me and the guys like to hang out there at night, climb down in and muck about. It used to be the Melbourne General Cemetery, so Dee is on the lookout for a human skeleton. She says her parents won’t buy her a plastic anatomy one, and the real ones cost so much. To begin with, the guys and I did a poke around trying to find her skeleton, but it got boring fast. Dee’s the one who still brings tools and crap to dig it up. The rest of us just bum smokes off each other and talk crap. Besides human bodies, you find other neat stuff in the pits. Jayce found a tool belt that a worker left behind. Wish I’d seen it first, because I’d have traded it for cash right away and given dad more of that stupid money he’s on my back about.

Two of my mates are in year twelve. That’s Dee and Andrew. Andrew’s ok, just quiet, and busy all the time. But Dee goes on about how hard the work is and how she’s gonna go study medicine. That’s why she’s obsessed with skeletons and dead things. But lately, it’s like she thinks she’s better than the rest of us who dropped out. Jayce is learning to be a brickie with his dad. Bricklayers make heaps and heaps, and it’s hard to find someone to apprentice you. Jayce is trying to set it up so I can jump on board and have his old man teach me too, but he’s dreaming if he thinks his dad will say yes. He knows what I did. Everyone knows. Dad says I should count my stars one after the other that he didn’t press for them to take me in, that I don’t have a record. But the way he goes on about it, telling people, I may as well be locked up because people look at me with their eyes squinted. Like they can smell the smoke on me.

Dee was supposed to meet me there, but when I turn up at the markets I’m all on my own. The streetlights burn so the whole street is yellow with their power, grey and blue and black in the shadows and down in the work site. So typical of her. I get a text once I’ve climbed down, but it’s hard to read because I recently smashed my phone so the screen is growing a crack.  Of course it’s Dee. ‘SOZ B L8 30MIN FAM EMERG.’

Ever since I dropped out she’s been acting strange, eyeing me off like I’m stupider than she thought. When I told her last year she got real funny in the eyes and asked me if my dad was making me quit. And then she craped on heaps about how dad doesn’t know me, shouldn’t be telling me what to do. I shot her a glare.

            ‘Shut up, Dee. For reals.’

            And she was in the middle of her lecture so she just lifted up her bottom lip like I smacked her around, but she sure shut up.

We’ve been besties since grade 2. We had a dirt-eating competition but she and I were the only ones with enough guts to grab a huge handful and shove it in out gobs. Except she was smart enough not to chew, just swallowed it down in a gulp as if it was medicine. I felt all the dirt crunch and crackle in my teeth and it made me shiver all the way down my spine as if something ghostly was watching.

All alone in the Vic Market, my spine’s doing the same thing, and it’s giving me the shakes. It’s probably just because it’s nearing midnight and there’s nothing here but me and the cars buzzing up on the street. Probably because there’ve been all these bashings in the city lately, not right here just north of the centre, but scattered to the east and south of it, and all through the station entrances. I don’t want to get bashed, but me and my mates can take care of ourselves. It’s different now though, when I’m all on my own.  I feel it, but I don’t know what I’m feeling. Could be that it’s cold, or I’m tired. Dee says I’ll wake up one day and feel ‘regret’ because I never tried hard enough. Tried what? It’s not regret I feel, but dizziness. Strangeness, down here in the dark. I close my eyes for a second, feeling my insides ride up and down like I’m on a roller coaster.  It reminds me of how I felt, when I had to set dad’s shop on fire. I hit the ground, but I don’t feel it till I open my eyes again. My head aches, like it’s swelling to another size, my whole body feels the sharp bursts of pain. I am curled on my side and when I sit up my head is hit with a blast of pain, more pain so I can’t even focus my eyes. I look around, I don’t know how long it’s been. Try to look at my phone screen but my eyes don’t work, my insides lift inside me like I am going to hurl, only I don’t. I can’t stand though. I am too tired. I close my eyes and lay back down on the dirt, don’t even care that it’s cold, can’t even worry that this is happening for a second time, but worse. Before I fade out into sleep or a dream or a nightmare I think of how disappointed Dee will be, that I am just giving up.

I wake up to the sound of metal smacking into metal, wheels jolting and chattering beneath me, and when I force my eyes open, my head hurts more. I see the inside of a car, a van. I squint and one of the people who have taken me here smiles like I am a cat or baby.

            ‘You’ll be right, kid. Took a bad fall, didn’t you?’

            I want to shake my head but it’ll hurt. I realise this is an ambulance I’m inside, it’s a small rectangular space lit up with neon lighting. I hear the siren yelp and squeal as the car jumps into gear. Dee is sitting crouched next to me. She swears in relief when I look up at her.

            ‘Thought you were never gonna wake.’

‘What’s happening?’ my voice sounds gravelly and weird, like someone else is speaking.

            ‘You’re gonna be ok,’ the ambo says. ‘We’re taking you to The Alfred.’

            ‘I didn’t fall,’ I say. But he isn’t listening, he’s talking to the person driving. ‘I didn’t fall,’ I say again.

            ‘We climb down there all the time,’ Dee confirms. He turns and looks at me with a bit of a frown, like he’s thinking. It’s the same way teachers used to look when I asked dumb questions because I always fell behind.

            ‘Kids, you must be real stupid. You shouldn’t have been mucking around there. You must have slipped, fallen into that big foundation hole.’

            ‘I didn’t!’ I snap. ‘I’m not unco, I can climb. I climbed down. I was fine. Somebody bashed me, ok?’ My body feels like flat fizzy drink, like the energy has been sucked out and all I’m left with is water.

            ‘You saying you were attacked?’

            I don’t look him in the eye, ‘I dunno.’ I want to shrug. I take a breath and my ribs ache. ‘I don’t remember. I didn’t fall but.’

            ‘We’ll call the police to the hospital, so you can make a statement.’

            I narrow my eyes.

            ‘I don’t like cops.’

            ‘Noah,’ Dee says, ‘It’ll be ok.’

            ‘God, fine. Like I care.’

            He raises his eyebrows and lets out a breath, looking away.

I don’t have a real record, so I don’t know why I’m so worried. It’s not like they’ll show up, see me in hospital and decide to arrest me for something that has nothing to do with this. But part of me is always waiting, expecting dad to send them. To tell them to just go on and take me, because I haven’t been able to pay.

 

 

I don’t like hospitals. Not as much as I hate cops, but the clean stink of chemicals makes the back of my throat feel furry. The nurses do most of the work, but the doctor looks at my head injury and I have to wear one of those thin gowns that bare my legs and bum. I sit in the off-white sheets feeling like a medical sample that has been scraped off and smeared onto a glass slide.

‘Tell me how you fell.’

‘I told the ambo, I didn’t fall.’

The doctor nods, but he makes a note on a piece of paper.

‘You claim you were attacked.’

I jerk my hand up angrily but it makes the drip I am attached to rattle, I grit my teeth.

‘How the hell else did I get so bashed! You lot are meant to know stuff.’

He nods again, making another note.

‘The police will be here soon to have a word, but I am going to inform them that your injuries are not reflective of an attack. I’m going to order a scan, alright?’

I shrug, ‘of what?’

‘Your head took quite a few blows, it looks like you had a seizure. We need to get you checked out.’

I don’t answer, because I don’t really know what that is. All I can think is that it sounds like a mental illness and I’m not mental. Before I am able to ask, I see Dee enter my room, and I let out a huge breath.

‘Sorry,’ she pushes past other beds, looking small and tired. ‘I brought the forms, I don’t know how to spell your last name.’

‘How did you get in the ambulance? Did they call you?’

Her face goes flat, she tries to force a smile. ‘I’m the one that found you, obviously.’ She looks at the doctor. ‘Is Noah gonna be ok? Does he have to even stay here?’

The doctor nods, ‘He’s a bit bruised but I don’t believe his head injuries are severe. It’s likely that this was a seizure, but I need to admit him to a ward and run some tests.’

Dee swears under her breath, and looks at me like something has just clicked, something has made sense.

            ‘Have you had a fit before?’ she asks me. ‘You’d better not lie because this is important.’ I glare at her because she’s always playing like she knows everything. And I never told her about what happened at dad’s shop.

            ‘I don’t even know what you’re talking about!’ I snap. ‘I am not a mental.’

            ‘Nobody says you were,’ she says.

            ‘I didn’t have a fit.’

            ‘You’re not a doctor, Noah,’ she mutters.

            ‘Yeah, well neither are you.’

           

 

They put me into a machine. It’s rounded inside, silver like a spaceship that only fits one person. It makes a horrible whirring and rattling noise while it scans, like it is going to take off or maybe fall to pieces and collapse onto me. Dee tells me that’s how they scan your brain. She loves hospitals, and even though she’s worried about me I can see she’s excited about being able to hang around with me until my mum comes to take over the worrying. Dee’s done work experience at the Alfred and I remember her getting angry when it finished and she had to go back to high school, go back to her job with fast food. As far as I know she gets lots of A’s in biology and all that other stuff. She is always crapping out facts about medical disorders to us guys, weird stuff like cases where abnormal growths have teeth and hair inside them.

 

The cop arrives and it’s a she. She’s short but built thick and tall, like she could knock me down if I crossed her. Constable Harrow, she introduces herself as.

‘Could you wait outside?’ she asks, turning to Dee.

‘I want her here,’ I say, sounding small. Dee stands firm like she is going to challenge the cop, but the cop sighs.

‘You’re not in any trouble, it’s just procedure.’ Dee looks unsure, but the cop nods, ‘Go on, I’ll be out to interview you next.’

My eyes follow Dee as she skulks out, and she gives me a firm look that says to keep my big mouth from making it worse. I don’t need her to tell me that.

The cop has information written on a notepad.

‘Noah Engels,’ she pronounces it wrong and I spell it, say it again for her. She nods. ‘So I’ve been told you were found unconscious by your friend out there in a building site cavity this evening, can you give me some insight into what happened?’

I look at my hands, then back up at her.

‘I think I was bashed?’ It comes out high pitched at the end, like I’m lying only I’m not. I don’t think I am.

‘You think or you were?’ She asks. I shrug and she sighs. ‘Just tell me in your own words what happened.’

‘I dunno,’ I say. ‘I was meeting Dee there, and she was late so I was a bit pissed off. I climbed down – I didn’t fall. I climbed into the dug up foundation and then the next thing I knew, I was lying flat like someone had just wiped me out.’

She nods but is frowning, like she wishes she was off fighting a proper crime. I feel like my chest is being dragged down by a stone.

‘The doctors say they don’t think an attack was likely.’

She waits, after she has said this and I shrug, I’m not about to say I think maybe something else hurt me. The thing from dad’s shop. The person that wasn’t a person. I don’t believe in it, I don’t. I don’t even know how to say the words.

‘They think I had a fit,’ I say. ‘That my head’s messed up inside.’

She nods, but her face has softened. ‘I know this must be pretty scary, Noah. But that’s what your doctors are here for. Unfortunately, I can’t hunt down illnesses the same way I do crims. I wish.’

She’s babying me now. I’m tired all over, tired of listening to people talk. I don’t know what happened anymore. I shrug, and tell her I want to go home. Even though this isn’t true at all.

 

 

They don’t find anything wrong with me, just bruises, just cuts and they say I need a check-up soon. They think my brain did this, that I might have a condition. The doctor tried to explain what it was to me, but I don’t know if I believe him. Dee says it could have just been a one off, but if it happens again and again I will have to go on medication. I think she’s full of rubbish too. I didn’t do this, something did this to me. I wish I could set the building site on fire and kill whatever is there.

 

Dad didn’t come to the hospital to get me, mum is always the one. She cried when she saw me, but dad lays into me the minute we come through the front door.

‘I knew it, you spend god knows how many nights out there, with those low-lives, and this is what happens, Noah.’ Mum takes hold of his arm and shushes him.

‘He’s been through it, Walter. Give it a rest for tonight, hey?’

Dad shakes his head.

‘Where is this job you were going to get? Where is this money? I don’t see any of it.’

Mum tells me to go lie down, because my head still feels too heavy and the bruises haven’t healed. I give her a grateful look. I can hear her telling dad off as I skulk to my room.

‘You’re barking up the wrong tree, Walter. Dee says it could be epilepsy, but it’s too early to tell. I talked to the doctors, he wasn’t in a fight.’

‘He says he was in a fight!’

‘He doesn’t remember a fight. He had a seizure.’

Dad lets out a disbelieving snort and I can imagine his expression, his eyes squinty, rolls of wrinkles furrowing like angry little rivers. Like with everything, he starts to go off about his damn shop. How much it cost him to rebuild, and now still there’s shoplifters. It is loud and the noise carries so I hear the part about me clear and sharp. His no-good criminal of a son, what’s wrong with that boy? I fall onto my bed and try to fall asleep but our walls are too thin and I hear them arguing about the fire I started for a half hour longer before I drift off into nothingness.

 

Mum comes up in the morning to wake me, brings me tea even though I didn’t ask for it. Toast with jam and butter still melting and warm, soaking into the bread.

            ‘Your friend’s here, thought we’d let you sleep on in for a bit. But it’s getting late now.’ She helps me sit up and I close my eyes as the pain shoots down my skull, down my neck, then spine.

            ‘What time is it?’

            ‘Just past twelve. You sleep ok hun?’

            I don’t want to lie. Frowning, I shrug as much as my body allows.

            ‘Fat lot of good those painkillers are, I woke up heaps of times. I wanna smash the thing what did this.’

            ‘Noah,’ mum says softly. I narrow my eyes because she’s going to say nobody attacked me. She thinks I am sick in the head, making things up. But she sighs. ‘Just try to eat most of this, have something warm inside you.’

            I chew on the toast, but I’m not really that hungry.

            ‘Is it Dee who’s downstairs?’

            ‘That girl,’ she nods. ‘She’s good for you, better than the rest.’

            ‘Mum, come off it. I’m not even proper awake.’

            She sighs. I know she blames the guys for the fire, thinks they dared me into it. Thinks that if I had different friends, I wouldn’t have done it. I don’t know how to convince her I didn’t start it to wreck things. I started it to kill the monster.

 

 

 

I find Dee looking at dad’s bookshelves in the living room. Even though it’s past twelve, her hair is still mussed up from sleep and she has barely been able to tame it. She keeps it short, and it is brown and scruffy, there’s always a bit of it sticking up. I remember at school the girls called her Scruff. She says they still do but she doesn’t care. But whenever I call her that she punches me in the shoulder, so I know she’s lying.

            ‘What’s that?’ I ask, pointing to a book she’s holding.

            ‘’Oh,’ she puts it back. ‘Just one of your dad’s science books, y’know.’

            ‘He likes you better than me, I’m sure he’d let you borrow it.’

            She frowns at me, ‘Not cool.’ She looks me over. ‘You feeling any better?’

            I make it to the couch and sit, aching and sore, but I’ll live.

            ‘Fantastic. What’s on today?’

            She doesn’t seem convinced. ‘What makes you think you’re leaving the house?’

            ‘Oh come on,’ I say. ‘I’m fine, ok? I’m better. I have painkillers. Just, don’t leave me here. I’ll go nuts with mum hovering over me all day.’

The guys turn up and mum is less excited about me having friends over, but she just narrows her eyes and warns them to treat me gentle. Like I’m a frickin’ tea set or something. Jayce snorts as we leave, giving me a playful shove. I don’t let on that it hurts.

To mark my survival we decide to get tattoos, big ones on our arms in the shape of a fist. Jayce’s idea. He says he knows someone who doesn’t check ID’s, but it just ends up being bull. Dee smirks.

            ‘Told you so.’

            We don’t do anything really, make our way along the streets, past the theatre restaurant with the stupid name, past Chinese takeaways and other kids with nothing to do on a Saturday. Somehow we end up back at the Vic Market. It’s dead as. I pull back but in the middle of the day it’s just a brown smear of dirt with a giant hole in it. Saturdays used to be huge here, it used to be that you couldn’t walk without running into a tourist or a mum with a screaming child in a pram, ice cream smeared on its face. Now, it’s just a hole in the ground. No smells of fresh vegies and dead animals strung up straight from butchering. No trailers parked nearby, offering hot donuts and dim sims. Melbourne sucks.

            ‘We could go into the city,’ I say, trying not to sound like I want it so bad.

            ‘Noah’s freaked out by a building site,’ Jayce says. ‘Wuss boy.’

            ‘Shut it, moron,’ Dee says, beating me to it. She crosses her arms and frowns. ‘I’m not climbing down if Noah’s not.’

            ‘Wuss girl,’ Jayce sneers. Then something lights behind his eyes. ‘Wuss Boy and Wuss Girl. Youse guys should get married!’

            ‘God, give it a rest,’ Andrew says, shaking his head. ‘What’s bugging you today, Jayce? The guy just got bashed here.’

            ‘Just making a joke.’

            ‘Well, you suck,’ Dee snaps. ‘Maybe don’t talk if you’re only gonna say stupid things.’

            Jayce shrugs, mutters his sorry and looks at me.

            ‘You didn’t see the guy, did you?’

            ‘Nuh,’ I say. ‘Knocked me out fast.’

            ‘Shame,’ he said. ‘Coulda smashed him good for you.’

            Dee rolled her eyes, but he didn’t see it. He was looking at the site, playing eenie meenie minie mo with his fingers, and chose one of the foundation wounds to climb down into.

            ‘I bet that one has a dinosaur for you to dig up, Dee.’

            ‘I’m after human bones, idiot,’ she said. ‘Come on, we’ll go into the city, grab some chips, sit near the river.’

            ‘Meh,’ Jayce said. ‘Sounds lame.’

            I tried not to sigh, but he saw the hesitation in me anyway, maybe in my expression or the way my shoulders were hunched away from him.

            ‘Wuss boy. Come on, you can’t be serious?’ When I muttered I didn’t feel like it, he looked bored, nodded at Andrew. ‘You and me, Bro.’ He started climbing down before Andrew shook his head, shrugging. Dee watched Andrew begin to follow him.

            ‘Now who’s the wuss boy, is he your boss? Lose your brain somewhere?’

            Andrew looked apologetic, mostly towards me.

            ‘We’re just having a bit of a look,’ he seemed to be talking himself into it, couldn’t meet her eye. ‘Be right back. We’ll have chips later, ok?’

            Dee chewed her lip, looked away.

            ‘Ok, fine. Get that idiot back up here quick. I’m starting to hate this place.’

            I shrugged away her concerned look when they were both gone.

            ‘What?’ she snapped. ‘What did I even do?’

            ‘Quit making me look like I can’t handle myself.’

            ‘Oh Jesus,’ she blew out a breath in irritation, stared to walk towards the edge of the pit. ‘I was shutting him up for me, not for you. I forgot you were so freaking sensitive.’

            I followed her, seeing the deeper parts of the pit come into view. Feeling irritated that I was even going near the place again. Before I could find a way to get her to understand, I heard Jayce let out a yelp. I felt my whole body jolt, skin prickling, face going hot. But then he started laughing, letting out a few whoops. He called out to Dee.

            ‘Hey Science Lady! I found one, you have to come down here!’

            Dee frowned, but her eyes grew a little wider.

            ‘Say what?’

            ‘I wonder if it’s a guy or a girl!’ Jayce yelled back. ‘Got a whole skeleton – no look, it has a friend. That’s two!’

            Andrew looked up at us and seemed to be nodding, he’d seen them as well, was standing over them next to Jayce. I couldn’t make out much from where we were. Dee swore, and started to move downwards.

            ‘If you’re lying just to piss me off, Jayce. I will smash your stupid face in.’

He just started to laugh.

            ‘You’ll be kissing my feet for finding these, is what. Get a move on! I want chips. You can buy them.’

            I couldn’t really work out how it started, how it went from Jayce laughing and doing a little victory dance around the skeletons he’d found, from him falling onto his side. It happed so fast. By the time Dee had made her way down, landing on her feet, she was breaking straight into a run. She let out a scream, and tried to feel his pulse. I could see his body shaking, his head hitting the ground over and over as if he was being given electric shocks, one after the other. I was breathing so fast now, just standing on that spot, my hands hot and every part of me hurting, stinging from the fear pumping through me like acid. I didn’t hear Dee yell out to me right away.

            ‘I said call a bloody ambulance, Noah!’ She waved her hand in an angry shove outwards, too busy with Jayce to even look at me. She was taking her jacket off then, putting it under his head to stop him getting as badly hurt as me. I didn’t feel like I could breathe, my head aching as if it were me down there. It took Dee to call me all sorts of names to get my feet moving, and then I fell over them backwards, running as hard as I could, yelling out to the traffic to get somebody, anybody to stop.

           

             

 

 

The End

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