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Authors: Gabrielle Lord

January

BOOK: January
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To Cassie Rose McDonald

It was the wild, billowing black cloak, streaming behind the menacing figure, that first caught my eye. I was walking home from the park when the sight of it stopped me in my tracks. Something or someone was staggering up my street.
The grim reaper
?

I’d been out with Boges, kicking around a football, and was heading back home to help pack the car for what Mum was calling ‘the usual family New Year’s shenanigans’ up the coast at Treachery Bay. Poor Boges was staying at home with his mum and his gran. They’d probably struggle to stay awake watching the nine o’clock fireworks on TV. My night was going to be tough, but at least we’d be away from it, out on the boat.

The commotion down the road came closer.
As the swooping shape neared, I saw that it was a muttering, grey-looking man. He was wearing a dark dressing gown and had a weird, lopsided run, as if he was off-balance and dizzy. I was just about to cross the road to avoid him when I made out what he was saying. With a rush of fear, I realised it was me he was coming after! ‘Cal!’ he screamed. ‘Callum Ormond!’

He stumbled towards me, his wild eyes almost bursting from their sockets. He
half-limped,
half-ran, his flailing arms reaching out in front of him.

A siren wailed in the distance and within seconds an ambulance with flashing lights appeared at the other end of my street. It was driving towards us, fast.

The crazy man was almost on top of me. I could smell his foul, musty breath.

‘Keep away from it, Callum!’ he spluttered as drool fell from his gaping mouth. ‘They killed your father. They’re killing me!’

My heart froze in my chest. Who was this guy? Did he mean the virus? The mention of my dad carried a wave of pain so huge, it sent my mind spinning. The man lunged at me.

‘Who are you?!’ I shouted, pushing him off. ‘What are you talking about?! How did you know my dad?’

The ambulance screeched to a halt next to us, and before the man could grab me again, two paramedics jumped out. The first tackled him down while the second pulled something out of his bag. The madman on the ground clawed desperately at my feet.

‘Who are you?’ I shouted again. ‘Nobody killed my dad—he was sick!’

‘Leave this to us, young man,’ said the first paramedic, who was gruff and built like a wrestler. ‘He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. You need to get out of the way.’

Pinned down, the man was trapped, but as the second paramedic forced an injection into his wasted arm, he managed to twist over to me. His face was contorted, the veins in his neck pulsed and protruded.

He stared into my eyes, ‘The Ormond
Singularity,’
he said between gasps of breath. ‘Don’t let it be the death of you too, boy! Get out! Get away! Hide and lay low until midnight December 31st of next year. You don’t know what you’re up against. Listen to me! Please! 365 days, Cal. You have 365 days!’

‘Until what? What am I up against?’ The demented man’s menacing words had rocked me to my soul.

‘What are you talking about?’ I demanded.
‘And what’s the Ormond Singularity? How do you know who I am? Tell me who
you
are!’

The wrestler-medic sidled up beside me with a stretcher, and with a quick movement towards the man, he pushed me out of the way. ‘Our patient is very sick and his mind is affected. Please leave this to us and get on your way!’

With superhuman strength, the sick man tore himself away from the medics’ hold. His eyes were wide with terror. ‘If you don’t disappear, you’re going to have to survive them for a whole year! Do you realise what that means? They’re going to be after you for 365 days! Week after week! Day after day!’

My confusion and fear deepened.
Them
?
Who was ‘them’? ‘What are you talking about?’ I asked again. ‘
Who
’s after me?’

The sick man’s sudden surge of strength collapsed. The medics quickly strapped him down on the stretcher. His head fell to one side and his eyelids blinked, furiously fighting the sedative taking over his bloodstream. His voice continued in a haunting and harsh whisper: ‘Callum, the Ormond Singularity. The others already know. They know your father contacted you. They will
kill
you. You must go into hiding until December 31st next year. Get your family to leave. Until midnight on the last day of the
year … that’s when the Singularity runs out. You’re not safe until then. Somehow you must survive.’

His eyes rolled back and his body fell limp. The paramedics carried him away.

‘Don’t take any notice,’ called out the second medic. ‘Poor guy’s been delusional for days. It’s just getting worse. Don’t let him worry you.’

As the man was pushed into the back of the ambulance, he lifted his head one last time. ‘Cal,’ he moaned, ‘365 days. Once they … the angel … you must … for Tom …’

The doors slammed and the ambulance sped off.

In a few moments, silence closed in. I stood there alone and bewildered. It was like nothing had happened. The only sounds now were the distant barking of a dog, and the rustling of leaves in the trees that lined the street.

1 JANUARY

365 days to go

Fireworks exploded overhead and even though the shoreline was two kilometres away, I could hear the shouts and cheers even from where I was in the fishing boat. Happy New Year, they shouted. Yeah, I thought. New Year it might be. Happy it sure wasn’t.

As our boat bobbed on the black water, yesterday’s warning made me shiver. The new year seemed to loom ahead, like some monster rising up from the deep …

Every January since I could remember, Dad, Mum, my little sister Gabbi and I piled into the car and headed towards the coast for the beach house at Treachery Bay. But this year, Dad wasn’t with us.

I looked at the guy sitting opposite me—my
uncle—my dad’s identical twin. Strangers couldn’t tell them apart; to me, they looked completely different. Uncle Rafe’s face somehow seemed harder than my dad’s. Their features were identical—they were both tall with dark hair and squarish faces—but Dad often looked like he was thinking about a secret joke, while Rafe often looked like he was at a funeral. I was fair and slight, like Mum, but hoped that I looked more like my dad than Rafe did.

The wind had risen and I could no longer hear the hiss of the white-hot embers from the
fireworks
hitting the water. In the southwest, a huge bank of black clouds was about to swallow the moon.

‘Uncle Rafe,’ I said. ‘There’s a big squall coming up. We’ve really gotta be getting the boat back.’

I was suddenly aware that all the other small boats had disappeared.

‘Rafe, start the motor now. We’ve got to get back—the squall’s going to hit any minute.’

I pulled out our life jackets, threw one to Rafe and put on my own.

‘Cal,’ he said, ‘don’t you think you’re worrying a bit too much?’

‘You don’t know how fast the squalls move across this bay,’ I spat back at him. He’d only stayed at the beach house once or twice and I couldn’t remember him ever going out in a boat.

‘It’s going to hit in minutes, trust me.’

I’d been out in this same battered old tinny with Dad since I was two. He’d taught me a lot about the estuary lakes and bays, and right now the mood was murderous. The ocean was pushing its way in—I could see the dim white tops of the rolling breakers. The storm clouds were moving fast and the night was almost pitch black. The building waves were sending our boat lurching.

The outboard wouldn’t start. Rafe fumbled and swore, trying again and again to get it going.

I hoped the waves wouldn’t get any bigger; once waves get to a certain size they collapse, and if a big one collapsed onto this little boat, it would capsize us, no question.

‘Here, give it to me!’ I called, as I crawled towards the stern. ‘Let me have a go!’

I pushed Rafe out of the way, stumbling as a huge wave lifted our boat right up then dropped us.

‘What are you doing?’ he yelled at me.

I ignored him, too intent on getting us out of
the situation. I gripped the starter motor loop and pulled, but the engine wouldn’t kick.

‘It’s flooded!’ I shouted. ‘You’ve flooded it!’

I knew Mum would be anxious, waiting on the beach, wondering why we hadn’t come back yet. Again, I tried the outboard. Nothing.

‘Calm down, Callum!’ Rafe yelled to me over the deafening wind. ‘Let’s just wait it out another five minutes.’

I looked at my uncle, who was drenched and unsteady. ‘We haven’t got another five minutes!’

The squall surged through the ocean on gale-force winds. The tops of larger waves were breaking over the boat, and despite my frantic baling, we were taking on water too fast.

‘Grab a bucket!’ I yelled. ‘Hurry up and start baling, we could lose it!’

‘The motor still won’t start!’ Rafe yelled back.

All around us were huge, shuddering sea walls, hemming us in on every side. A wave suddenly pulled the water out from under us and smacked our tinny down hard into the empty trough. I swore and hung on tightly with one hand, while still trying to bale water out with the other.

It was a losing battle. For every litre of water
my baling threw out, ten more crashed in. Already it was slopping heavily around my shins. The boat shouldn’t be floundering like this, I thought. The buoyancy tanks in the hull were designed to keep it floating, even with a lot of water on board, even if it capsized. What was wrong?

The stern of the boat was now sitting low in the water, weighed down by the outboard. The front of the boat lifted, like the top end of a see-saw. Somehow, the buoyancy tanks weren’t working. We were sinking.

Then came the rain, drenching us in blinding sheets. Rafe continued to make useless attempts to restart the outboard. At least we’ve got life jackets, I thought. We won’t drown.

I groped around for the rope to lash us together in case the boat sank, when I sensed something nearing. I looked up and I couldn’t move. It was like facing a nightmare; a monstrous ten-metre wave was towering above us. There was nothing I could do. I heard Rafe shout out something, just before the great wall of water trembled above us, then curled over in an avalanche.

And that was the last thing I saw.

My arms and legs were ripped in all directions as I corkscrewed deeper and deeper into the seething water. My fears about rising and bashing into the underside of the hull quickly changed to absolute panic as I realised that my life jacket, suddenly extremely heavy, was dragging me deeper, and further away from the surface.

Wildly I kicked out, struggling to free myself. I knew I could hold my breath for almost a minute. I had to make it to the surface.

In a fleeting moment, a blurry, almost-
forgotten
memory of my dad’s face seemed to hover in the ocean above me. His eyes were desperate, he was fully-clothed and swimming down through the water towards me. And I, a three-year-old, who’d carelessly slipped off the jetty, watched his terror as I sank helplessly below to the bottom of the bay. He saved me from drowning, that day. He was gone, but he’d save me again. Mum and Gabbi couldn’t take another death.

BOOK: January
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