Authors: Anna Fienberg
also by Anna Fienberg
There Once Was a Boy Called Tashi
for young children
The Minton series
The Tashi series
The Big Big Big Book of Tashi
for older readers
Ariel, Zed and the Secret of Life
The Witch in the Lake
Copyright Â© Anna Fienberg, 1995
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.
First published in 1995
This edition published 2000
by Allen & Unwin
9 Atchison Street
St Leonards NSW 1590
Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100
Fax: (61 2) 9906 2218
E-mail: [email protected]
National Library of Australia
Power to burn.
ISBN 978 1 86508 091 8.
eISBN 978 1 74343 237 2
Cover photograph and design by David Altheim
Text illustrations by Kim Gamble
Text design by Sandra Nobes
f I'd had an inkling that afternoon of what I know now,
I might never have asked another question of
Angelica. It's hard to know how much courage you
have before you really need it.'
woke up the year the Indian woman burst into flames and Pig Rogers tried to kill me. It's not that I was asleep for the first fourteen years â I wasn't stumbling around like some spell-bound prince in a fairy tale with my arms straight out in front of me and drool sliding down my chin. No. I just think my mind was asleep, like a butterfly waiting inside a cocoon.
Of course it's easy to nod off at our place. My parents are about as lively as a couple of sleeping tablets with legs. A dose of their conversation at night and you're in danger of being brain-dead for at least ten hours. It's very depressing.
My parents are allergic to change. Take our greengrocer for instance. He's a surly grump who always chooses the soggiest fruit at the market each week. But my mother wouldn't hear of trying a new shop. âBetter the devil you know,' she says darkly, as she cuts the brown half off the apple.
And listen to our dinner menu â it's been the same since I stopped eating mushed food. Lamb on Tuesdays, fish on Wednesdays, omelettes on Thursdays (quick, because there's âHouseproud' on TV). Mum gets a twitch in her eye if I suggest something different, like spaghetti on Monday. âMondays is
,' she says, as if she's reading the fifth commandment.
The joke is, she's Italian â and aren't all the best cooks Italian?
Honestly, when she's in a mood, you could hang my mum up inside a coat in the wardrobe and you'd never know there was life in there. Sometimes, when she's sitting at the dinner table, she just stares into space as if no one else is around. Like she's in a glass bubble all alone. And she looks so sad. I've given up asking her what's wrong. She always just waves me away and says âNothing!', as if
the one who's seeing things.
Dad doesn't seem to notice. I don't know what they talk about when I'm not there, but I can't imagine it's very spectacular. They probably glide past each other like polite but distant ghosts.
I know that's a terrible thing to say, and yes, now I feel guilty, my usual state of mind, but I promised myself that I'd write it all down. The way
The news about the Indian woman was a trigger for me. Like an alarm going off at four in the morning. You hear it from very far away, but it keeps on nagging until you pay attention.
It was Virginia Westhead who first told me the news. She read it in the newspaper, on the
page, that's why everyone else missed it. Virginia collects facts about human misery the way some people collect stamps, and every time she opens her mouth she shows you a new piece of her collection. She is very depressing.
âA woman in India was walking along the street when she suddenly burst into flames,' Virginia read aloud to the class. âWitnesses say that help was impossible as the woman became a wall of fire within seconds. Her name has not yet been released as detectives are tracing her identity from the two teeth which are all that remain of the body.'
Everyone shuddered and smirked and rolled their eyes at Virginia as they always do. I mean, who would believe a person could just burst into flames â as if it were a natural bodily process, like breathing or burping? When I told Dad, he said it was just a myth.
But Virginia, who knows about the extremes of the human heart, said it was internal combustion: you just got hotter and hotter inside until you exploded.
The awful thing is that as Virginia described the scene I could see it all, as if I were watching a film unfolding inside my head. And then I couldn't
watching it. Angry, that woman must have been so terribly angry. Angry with her parents, her husband, her
! I kept imagining those splinters of rage crackling inside her head, connecting, catching alight until all she felt was heat and fury and the fire leapt out of her mouth and into the world.
The frightening thing is, it must be easy to become that angry. It's amazing, really, that
people aren't internally combusting, sizzling away like sausages in a pan, exploding out of their skins in offices, at railway stations, school assemblies, the dinner table.
Because anger grows, like slow-burning coals hardening into rocks of fire, and the rocks become boulders that press in under your throat until it even hurts to swallow.
I should know. Pig Rogers, with his steel-capped boots and manure tongue has been bugging me all term. He and his black-shirt gang began by following me home, always just a pace behind, treading on my heels and laughing at my socks. (They're red, â
filo di Scozia
', a present from my grandmother in Italy.) The only cool thing to wear at my school is black. I hate black. It just absorbs the light and gives nothing back. Like a dead-end conversation. Even though my red socks are all thin at the heels now I still wear them. It's one of my few signs of resistance.
I don't know whether it was the red socks that enraged Pig â like a flag waving at a bull â but Virginia says Pig Rogers has always hated me. She reckons the socks were just the last straw.
âYou wear your hair in a ponytail and you read
tales, for God's sake,' Virginia said in this terrible jeering tone. âIt's not
Virginia has a very loud voice. Anyone can see the ponytail for themselves but not everyone knew about the fairy tales. Well, I'd call it fantasy anyway, what I read, not fairy tales. In my kind of stories nothing is
, and anything can happen!
And so what? So I get a thrill from kids being able to step into a magical land through the back of a wardrobe? I love magic words like âwiddershins', and the way that it's enough just to stroll around a certain tree three times in a clockwise direction, and you turn into a bear. In fantasy, you can invent the rules as you go along. It's like dreaming while you're awake!
If we were in a fairy tale right now I could walk around a tree three times in an
clockwise direction and turn Pig Rogers into bacon.
I'll have to find some magic recipe soon or
be the bacon.
Yesterday was probably the worst day of my life. Pig Rogers found my essay called âMy Secret Nightmare'. âFound' is the wrong word â Pig stole a whole pile of essays from old Kennedy's desk and he auctioned them off to the highest bidder at lunchtime.
When he got a large enough crowd he picked up an essay and read the first page aloud. The miserable author was so mortified that they bid the next three years' pocket money to get it tucked safely back in their own sweaty hands. Pig must have made a fortune.
When he came to my essay he grinned so hard he looked like a split rockmelon. The worst bit was when he found the description of himself. Even
couldn't have missed it!
This guy is as tall as a tree and just as thick. For relaxation he catches flies and feeds them to his pet funnelweb. He eats three hamburgers with the lot for lunch and tortures the Year 8 boys for dessert
In my nightmare (which I have every second night) I hear his steel-capped boots coming up behind me, tap, tap, tap, and an enormous shadow falls over my shoulder. Slowly I turn around and as I look up my neck shrinks and my legs spindle into sticks and I turn into a praying mantis. I put my feelers together in prayer as his boot comes crashing down on my head
I am just something dead under his shoe
âA- Roberto, have you seen the school counsellor?
No one in the crowd laughed except Pig. But it was an embarrassed laugh, you could tell by the way he closed his eyes and his voice came out raw and strangled.
Later, he came up behind me and scraped the heels of my shoes down. He held me by the ear and said in a hot whisper, âDreams tell the future, don't you know, mate? Start praying, boy, 'cause by tomorrow you'll be kissing the ground.'
Tonight it's hot and humid, and it's difficult to breathe. The sheets are damp and too soft, clinging to my legs like a second skin. I give up. It's past 2 am and I'm spending my last night alive seeing piggy eyes and a woman being eaten by flames.
Two in the morning is a terrible time to be alone. You imagine everyone else cuddled up, comfortably comatose, while you grind your teeth and think stupid, tedious thoughts. Boredom and fear, it's a deathly combination.
If I got up and told Mum or Dad about Pig, and that tonight at dinner was probably the last time they'd see their only son whole and unbandaged, they'd just sigh and tell me to count sheep. âHe ate too many carrots at dinner,' Dad would say. âInterferes with the digestion.'
It's weird how you can be living and breathing in the same house, only three metres away from someone, and feel as if you're on another planet. There I am, whirling about in the blackness, destined to clash with a meteor at 3 pm tomorrow afternoon. It's as lonely as hell up here.
At about 4 am I came to the realisation that the worst thing about being Pig Roger's victim is not so much the fear, but the hate. Okay, of course I hate
. He's ruined my life. But the person I hate most is myself. Every time I look at Pig I see
in his squinty eyes, and there I am cowering before him, so skinny and small with that damn chest that makes me look like a starving greyhound, and the bones in my knees jittering so I can hardly stand.
I think I must have depressed myself so much with that thought that I fell unconscious until Mum drew back the blinds at 8 am.