Dan Murphy grew up in
By the same author
CHAPTER 1 - part sample
- part sample
It was raining. The source of the thick drops commanded the sky, spreading an awful grey aura onto the beach. The sand was no longer a fresh golden colour but instead, a dull green. White-washed waves crashed down violently along the shoreline. A light breeze attached itself to the raindrops and coaxed the shrubbery and trees lining the dunes into a flowing dance. Nearby, at house number twenty-six of Moonlight Avenue, four furry legs trundled across the front lawn where the brick fence met the ground. There were strange smells left on the bricks and Scooter was determined to decipher their origin and reclaim his territory. The lawn was freshly mown and weedy clumps of green grass stuck tightly to his paws.
There was movement! A black bird swept past and he was away, chasing hard and barking loudly. The bird glided around the side of the house as though it was as close to being eaten by a dog as Toby was to getting out of bed.
Upstairs, he was fast asleep in the front bedroom. It was a mess. Three used mugs were sitting on his bedside table, each of them plastered with the remains of gluggy chocolate flavoured milk. Dirty clothes lay strewn about the floor and a pile of DVDs was teetering on the edge of his coffee table, ready to drop at the slightest nudge. What little space of carpet that remained was occupied by Scooter’s mat. It was in dire need of a good clean.
Toby rolled over, snorting as his nose squeezed against the soft pillow. Then, very quietly, a grey nose pushed its way through the gap between the door and the door frame. Two eyes, one of them surrounded by a brown patch, blinked expectantly. Toby mumbled as two slimy drops of saliva left the edge of his mouth. Scooter padded into the room and made his way over to the bed. Two paws appeared on Toby’s pillow. At first, Scooter sniffed at Toby’s open mouth. It smelt rather unpleasant; apparently he hadn’t brushed his teeth before bed. Despite this, as a curious and fearless animal, Scooter’s tongue lashed out at his friend’s sleeping face.
“Ergh ... What ...” Toby opened one eye, although it only managed to rise halfway. “Scooter? Go away! It’s early!” he murmured. He pulled a section of his sheets up to his face to wipe at the slobber.
Scooter sat back on his haunches, waiting. For several moments, Toby lay silently and listened to the rain hitting the window outside. The weather was bad. There was no reason to get out of bed. What was the point? Reluctantly, he pulled both eyes open and peered downwards at his pet.
“Scooter! What have you done?” he exclaimed, rising onto one elbow. The grass and weeds that had been collected by Scooter’s paws lay in a filthy trail leading from the doorway. Toby had no doubt that this wasn’t the worst of it. Usually, the laundry door was left open during the night for Scooter’s benefit. He would’ve travelled across the entrance hall, up the stairs and across the hall to get to the bedroom and there was no telling where he had gone before taking the stairs. He might’ve decided on a quick tour of the house while he was down there.
Scooter wagged his tail innocently. Toby flopped back onto his pillow moodily, tearing his eyes from the messy floor and looking at the time on his mobile phone. It was half past six. For a few moments, he stared at the big blue numbers, blinking until the zero transformed into a one. It was now or never. He thought for a few moments, gazing toward the horizontal blinds and listening for the crack of each new raindrop as it hit the glass.
Toby grabbed the top of his quilt with both hands and pulled it over his head, twisting to his right and curling into a comfortable position. Bed was nicer anyway. Scooter continued to explore the bedroom, devouring an old apple core that had rolled underneath the coffee table. Despite the rejection from Toby, his tail continued to wag. The swiftly swinging body part left no object untouched and the unstable pile of DVDs came crashing noisily to the floor. Scooter froze, turning to look up at the bed in fear of Toby’s wrath. Nothing but silent ignorance. Either that or he had already drifted off to sleep.
His eyes opened in a flash.
“Toby! Get out of bed now!”
It was his mum’s voice, filtering through the wood of his bedroom door as though it wasn’t wooden at all. Was she speaking into a microphone? Had she secretly set up a speaker in his bedroom? He had been out of the house all day yesterday. She had had plenty of time to do it. Toby rubbed at his face and glanced around at the red walls. Stranger things had happened.
“Toby!” Mum shouted, knocking on the door.
“Mum! I’m awake!” he yelled back, throwing the bedclothes from his body and rising into a seated position. Then he saw Scooter’s green trail leading from his bed to the doorway and remembered waking up in the middle of the night. Had it been the middle of the night? What was the time now?
“Toby!” She knocked loudly. “Toby! Open the door please!”
“No!” came an instant reply. “You have some explaining to do! And some cleaning!”
Toby sighed, pushing the ‘Home’ button on his phone. “Mum! I’m late for school! Why didn’t you tell me?”
He leapt from the bed and rushed over to the pile of clothes containing his uniform. Like a dog digging a hole in the garden, clothes flew outwards in all directions as he searched for his school shorts. Scooter, who had woken due to the rise in volume, rolled to his left to avoid a sock.
“Why is the door ...” Mum began.
Suddenly, the bedroom door swept open and she appeared, scowling. Then, her face disappeared behind a pair of Toby’s underwear.
“... jammed?” she finished, voice muffled behind the material.
Amidst Toby’s wild search for his shorts, several pairs of underwear, dirty socks, t-shirts, pants and jumpers had ended up at opposite ends of the room. Mum had a very unfortunate sense of timing and one particular pair of underwear had flown right towards the doorway.
“Because there was stuff in the way,” Toby answered.
Using only the tips of her fingers, Mum pulled the underwear daintily from her head and dropped it on the floor as though it was a steaming stack of canine excrement. “I’m in half a mind to keep you at home today,” she said, moulding her face to look serious.
“Really?” he asked gleefully. Wouldn’t that be a pleasant end to the week?
“No! You will go to school, finish your work and come home immediately. Then, the entire afternoon will be spent cleaning this filthy floor and the trail of dirt your animal has left throughout the entire house! It’s disgusting!”
“I won’t listen to excuses! The dog will have to stay outside from now on.”
She was bluffing. Toby knew she would never keep Scooter from the warmth and comfort of inside living. This was a one-off mistake anyway.
“I know you wouldn’t do that,” Toby said, gathering his uniform into a bundle.
“Don’t be so sure.”
“Mum! He’s never had to stay outside.” Toby faced his mum defiantly.
In return, she stood firm in front of the open bedroom door. “You don’t even look after him anymore,” she argued, pointing down at the dog. He was busy preening.
“What are you talking about?” Toby responded, shaking his head and looking over at his friend. “He looks alright to me.”
As though he could understand, Scooter swung his head from his furry legs and looked up at Toby through his warm brown eyes.
Mum shook her head. “You don’t take him out. He’s stuck in the house all the time. No wonder he isn’t behaving.”
“He’s fine,” Toby said, moving towards the doorway.
“Don’t leave this room,” Mum said, raising a finger. “I’m not finished.”
“I am!” Toby snapped. He pushed his way out and headed for the bathroom.
“We’ll talk later!” Mum called.
The bathroom door slammed.
He was late but Toby ate slowly. There was something wrong with the milk. It tasted different. It was like it had been left out of the fridge for hours. And what was wrong with the Cornflakes? They were lacking their usual crunch. Had they been misplaced as well? Everything was wrong and things were about to get worse.
“Good morning!” said Hayley, striding into the kitchen to prepare her own breakfast. Her hair was tied into a neat ponytail. Was that a new scrunchie? Or was it a ribbon? Girls’ accessories were not really Toby’s area of expertise. In fact, everything about teenage girls was far from his area of expertise.
“Mm ...” he replied absently. He watched the rain through the floor to ceiling windows. It dribbled out of the sky and settled at its final destination amongst the miserable grey of the outside world. Why did he have to go to school today? They would probably end up watching a movie. They might clean some desks or collect old pieces of work left in the art room.
“Cheer up!” said Hayley brightly. “Last day.”
“Okay then.” Hayley filled a bowl with Cornflakes and settled down on the opposite side of the dining table. “You driving?” she asked.
“Are you ... feeling good in any way?” she ventured, aiming for a nerve.
“No.” Toby stared at the bottom of his bowl, pushing the remains of his cereal around the disgusting milk. He thought back to when he was little. Every morning, as he munched through a bowl of delicious Wheat Triangles, he would direct the flow of milk as though the liquid represented oceans. Any bits of cereal left at the bottom represented islands. He would pretend that darker bits of wheat were like little boats, cruising happily around the islands without a care. Today, the bottom of his plate reminded him of vomit.
“What’s with the green stuff?” Hayley asked.
“The trail through the house.”
“Oh, I thought you meant ...” Toby pointed at his bowl.
Hayley rolled her eyes. “The weeds and stuff from outside!”
“Yeah, I know. It was Scooter.”
Hayley chuckled, “Maybe you were sleep walking last night.”
Toby shook his head. Why did his sister only seem to talk to him at breakfast time? Why did she talk to him at all?
“Funny,” he replied, standing and taking his bowl into the kitchen to scrape the remains into the bin. He wasn’t very hungry.
He left the room and went upstairs to pack his bag.
Toby made his way slowly towards the school gates, staring nonchalantly at his mobile screen. It had been a long day. Why was it that the last day was always the longest? The final bell had sent the younger students into raptures. Excited screams could be heard as they made their way out of their respective classrooms, sprinting for freedom, only to be on the receiving end of shouts as they chose the front seat of the car when it wasn’t their turn. Was it freedom?
The summer holidays had arrived. The rain had ceased and the sun was making every attempt to squeeze past a particularly thick cloud. Toby knew that he should be feeling good. No more assignments. No more six-hour days spent feeding on useless information. No more teachers. It sounded amazing. Normally, Toby would be smiling all the way back to his house in Moonlight Avenue, daydreaming about a wonderful summer break. But this wasn’t normal.
“Woah!” Toby crashed phone-first into a backpack.
He had walked straight into the back of a year nine girl with messy brown hair. She turned and stared angrily at his indifferent expression. “Why don’t you watch where you’re going?” she inquired.
A lengthy sigh issued from Toby’s mouth. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t watching,” he responded, speaking as though it was the most boring moment of his life. His gaze returned to his phone and he pushed her aside like a stranger in a crowded street, continuing in the same direction. For a moment, she stood in shock. Then, curiously, she followed his trail. Toby had barely made it to the front gates when he heard a voice coming from behind him.
“I know you.”
He sighed again.
“You’re Toby, right? Toby Anderson?”
“Why are you talking to me?” he asked without turning around, reluctantly putting his phone into his pocket. Then, he suddenly stopped in his tracks and the roles were reversed. The girl bumped into Toby and sent him lunging towards the front gate. Clumsily, he reached out and steadied himself.
The girl burst out, “Why did you stop walking? Are you okay?” She approached him and laid one hand on his shoulder.
“Why were you walking so close to me?” he snapped, looking crossly at her round face.
“I’m just trying to be nice to you and all you’ve done is ask me questions.”
“What do you ...” Toby stopped.
Another question. He hesitated. The girl smiled pleasantly. He had to say something or he would be stuck with her all the way home. “I can’t have my phone in my left pocket. It has to be in my right pocket.”
The girl giggled. Toby watched her and almost managed a smile.
“So what?” she said.
“You asked why I stopped walking.”
Toby nodded, eyebrows raised.
“Let’s go!” she said suddenly, jumping over the fence and walking off down the main road.
“What do you mean ‘let’s go’?” Toby asked hurriedly. He just wanted to be alone. He wanted to be home, sitting on his bed watching television with a mug of chocolate milk in both hands.
“I’m walking with you,” she said, smiling once again.
She was annoying but there was something about that smile. Toby couldn’t quite discern what it was that he liked about it. Maybe he just liked any smile. Hopefully he just liked any smile.
“No you’re not.”
“Ooh I think I am!” she sang, stumbling stupidly over a pebble as she walked backwards.
Toby looked around. There were a couple of students taking time to say goodbye to each other over in the playground. Just outside the main doors a few parents were speaking with the Principal. Gradually, it was getting quiet and the rush of excited juniors had disappeared. Kings Beach Area School was emptying, preparing for a dormant summer. Still, Toby felt terrible. He let go of the gates and followed her. At least, he walked in the direction of his house. She was simply walking in his way.
“My name’s Ashlea.”
“And you’re Toby.”
“You’ve already told me that.”
“You don’t talk much.”
“No. I just don’t talk to you.”
No response. Rudely, Toby pulled his mobile from his pocket and entered his text message inbox, trying to find an excuse to ignore Ashlea. At least if he stared at the phone he wouldn’t see her smile.
“It’s okay. I can talk for the both of us.”
Toby couldn’t help but look at her after that comment. He made his best attempt to make her seem small and stupid, frowning at her like she had just eaten her house keys. “Talk for the both of us?” he asked, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Yeah. I’ll say something and make up your response.”
Prices in Australian Dollars
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