I didn’t have time to wonder where they’d gone or what they were doing because I heard a sound behind me and turned, seeing Mr. Leward coming up along the track with his dog, Barker. I always felt sorry for that dog. He was the only dog I knew who wasn’t a working dog and he had a sort of sheepish way of looking at you from under his curly fringe, as if he knew it and was ashamed. Mr. Leward gave me a look that was full of dislike and then tried to cover it up by smiling.
“Hello Benny,” he said to me as if I was six. “Don’t know where I can find your daddy?”
“Not up at the house?” I said. I’d been at the water tanks about an hour, but I’d been thinking of mum and dad still at home yelling at each other.
“No,” he said. “Not a sign.”
I shrugged. The farm was big. Mr. Leward could wander around all day and keep missing my dad, I couldn’t help him. I expected him to leave, but he didn’t. He looked away toward the boundary with a funny expression on his face and Barker, realising he wasn’t about to be dragged off again, sat down and panted.
“Everyone’s avoiding me today,” Mr. Leward said. He gave a laugh to make it into a joke but I could tell he was annoyed. I stared hard at his boots, good, expensive boots now dusted with red earth from the track, and wished he would go. “Deserted up at your house, and I couldn’t find anyone at the Paulson’s.” He took off his hat to mop his face with a blue handkerchief. He was old, the oldest person on Harmony. He thought a lot of himself, my mum told me, because he was the first to build a house, the first settler. This was why he always wore a suit, because of pride, with his collar done up right to the top button. He was suffering from the heat just as much as Barker, his lined face crimson and damp with sweat.
“Mmm,” I said. Maybe they’d seen him coming and ducked out of sight. Mr. Leward used to be Mayor, but he’d retired. Left before he was pushed my dad said. But they don’t push Mayors, they just get voted out.
“Reminds me of that story,” he said and stared at me hard. “About the settlement on Golden. All the settlers vanished. Gone, just like that. Nothing left but a ghost town, empty houses and hungry livestock, meals left unfinished...” He laughed to show this was a joke too, but I felt a shiver run down my back like a trickle of cold water, because even though he smiled his eyes were blaming me, as if it was my fault he couldn’t find anyone. And everyone knew that story. Everyone knew about Golden. My sister would sometimes tell it very late at night, in the quiet when we were supposed to be asleep. She would make her voice very low and soft and once when I was about five I believed her, thought it had really happened. I went in to mum and dad, terrified they’d be gone. My sister got a scolding for it and had to stay in her room all the next day.
“Here,” he said. He took some paper out of his pocket, unfolded it and showed it to me. It looked like a list of names, the names of about half the people in town. I glimpsed all the Sanders family and most of the Cartwrights; the Fields, the Gresseks, the Vandynes. “It’s a petition,” Mr. Leward said. “I’m going to get everyone to sign it. Your parents will know what it’s about. It’ll be up at my house for the next week so they can come and add their names. You let them know Benny. This is very important.”
“Ok,” I said. I could tell he didn’t believe I would, that I would forget. He’d never really liked me. It could have been because of mum and dad, but he liked my brother and sister better. My sister told me though, was always telling me, that my stare was enough to put people off – people who didn’t know me. I’d tried to see why in a mirror, but to me I just looked like myself.
He left then, but he’d spoilt the day. I didn’t feel like sitting any more. I stared walking back and it did seem like he said, very quiet. There were no sounds anywhere except for the swishing of the wheat in the wind, as if the world was sleeping. Or as if everything was holding it’s breath before...
I was so glad to see someone - my brother - in the distance that I stared to run. And what with Mr. Leward and what happened next I forgot about the two people I’d seen at the boundary for quite a while.