Authors: Leanne Hall
Tags: #juvenile fiction, #fantasy and magic, #social issues, adolescence
Winner, Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing, 2009
Notable Book, CBCA Young Adult Fiction, 2011
Shortlisted, WA Premier’s Book Awards for Young Adults, 2011
Shortlisted, Gold Inky Award, 2011
PRAISE FOR LEANNE HALL AND
THIS IS SHYNESS
‘Refreshingly original, Hall’s debut novel has a genuine edge. It’s
with a bit of sweetness, sadness and tension.’
This Is Shyness.
It’s a world-tilting romance full of comic-strip cool.’ Simmone Howell
‘Hall’s vision, channelled through her characters Wolfboy and Wildgirl…is sophisticated, funny and dead on. Their nocturnal meanderings, bizarre encounters and burgeoning romance are handled with unusual skill.
This Is Shyness
is not so much a work of fantasy as a novel that works by fine-tuning the ordinary to illuminate its oddness…Hall [is a] writer with incredible talents.’
‘Effortless reading…Like a comic book,
This Is Shyness
hovers in a dreamy way between the real and imagined. It’s punchy and playful but also hints at a depth below the surface.’
Sydney Morning Herald
‘Every so often a book comes along that is so original it makes every other read seem like a waste of time…A stunning debut.’
‘Fabulously compelling…with Hall treading a careful line between dystopic sci-fi and urban realism. In what is a serious and ultimately hopeful book, Hall casts a spell and draws you in. The weirdness of the story is so powerful because it seems only a distortion, sometimes a magnification of the real world in which we live.’
‘Wolfboy and Wildgirl are compelling creations and the story is so strong and vividly imagined it’s almost a graphic novel.’
‘An urban fairytale…It is beautiful. Exquisitely original.’
‘Truly original…This is darker and sexier than your average teen fiction and, for all its weirdness, much more realistic.’
Herald on Sunday
LEANNE HALL lives in Melbourne and works as a children’s literature specialist at an independent bookshop. Her first novel,
This Is Shyness
, won the Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing.
Queen of the Night
is her second novel.
The paper used in this book is manufactured only from wood grown in sustainable regrowth forests.
The Text Publishing Company
22 William Street
Melbourne Victoria 3000
Copyright © Leanne Hall
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
First published in 2012 by The Text Publishing Company
Cover design by W.H. Chong
Text design by Susan Miller
Typeset by J&M Typesetting
Printed and bound by Griffin Press
Ebook ISBN 9781921834875
National Library of Australia
Hall, Leanne Michelle, 1977.
Queen of the night/ Leanne Hall.
ISBN: 9781921758645 (pbk.)
For young adults.
This book is printed on paper certified against the Forest Stewardship Council® Standards. Griffin Press holds FSC chain-of-custody certification SGS-COC-005088. FSC promotes environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests.
For Mum and Dad
There’s no point fighting.
The hands clamped over my eyes close out the sunlight, reducing the world to a distant place that glows as if it’s on fire. Without sight, everything else becomes clearer: the wispy breeze and the crushed grass and the car pulling out of a driveway, far in the distance. My captor’s hot breath hits me in the face. Strawberry yoghurt and apples.
‘No peeking, Jet-ro!’
Diana presses harder, until light flashes behind my eyelids. Just how vice-like can a five-year-old’s grip be?
‘Enough!’ I shake my head until her fingers loosen. ‘I already promised I wouldn’t look.’
‘You have to count now.’ Diana’s voice fades as she
moves away. I keep my eyes closed but I know she’s creeping backwards with her finger shushing herself, like a pantomime actor.
‘This is the last time—’ I fit in, before she’s away. Her feet pad across the tanbark, her excited breath matching her excited footsteps, right to the edge of the playground. And then she’s gone, too far away for me to hear.
I don’t count to a hundred. I used to. Now I wait a few minutes, sitting on the warm metal roundabout. Even though it’s late in the afternoon the sun still bites. I bet I’m burnt again. Too much of this and I’ll start to look like I’m from the City. In Shyness, you can tell a Local by the paleness of their skin.
When I think it’s been long enough I yell, ‘Ninetyseven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine, A HUNDRED.’
I open my eyes. The scuffed bark around the jungle gym shows a clear path towards the Shyness side of the park. She always drifts in that direction, no matter which game we’re playing. I begin to stroll, whistling loudly so she knows where I am.
‘Am I warm?’ I call out.
Silence. Beyond the playground is a vast expanse of green. There’s an oak tree in the far corner that’s wide enough to stand behind. Or maybe the player’s shelter on the edge of the football field. It looks empty from here, but if she was smart—and she is—she could curl up on the
bench and I wouldn’t be able to see her feet.
‘I’m coming to get you!’
I hear a faint laugh from the direction of the oak. I reach the grass and start to roar in what I think is an ogrelike way. Diana likes it when I howl, but that can’t happen in the blistering sunshine. I don’t howl as much as I used to.
A pink and red blur darts out from behind the tree and heads for the road.
Crap. No matter how many times I tell her to stay on this side, Diana always gets drawn towards Shyness. I begin to run. There’s no point yelling out. She’s not supposed to cross that road alone, and she knows I’m going to chase her.
I hurdle a park bench and capture ground quickly, but Diana is already at the edge of the road, looking back to see me coming. She squeals in that way she does when she can’t tell if it’s still a game. I’m close enough to see the rainbows on her gumboots when the shadows midway across the road wrap themselves around her, swallowing her whole. The squealing stops. I slow as I reach the road.
‘Diana, I’m going to tickle you to death when I get hold of you!’ I don’t sound nearly as fierce as I should and I don’t threaten to tell her mum. She may only be five, but Diana recognises an empty threat. Ortolan insists that we play only in Panwood, so that Diana gets as much light as possible, but always, always, she tries to cross into the dark, into Shyness, a suburb where the sun hasn’t risen
for over three years. A suburb most normal people would like to forget. The twenty-four-hour dark hides a motley population: Dreamers, dropouts, orphaned Kidds, me. I’ve lived there all my life, and I can’t ever imagine leaving.
I feel the Darkness sizzle on my bare arms. The night folds over me, cool and dim, and I can instantly breathe easier. Back again. I pause at the edge of the forest, lifting my head to listen and sniff. Nothing. Dirt and chipboard and paint but no Diana. Someone nearby is cooking sausages. I walk further in, cutting a diagonal path through the trees until the road is no longer visible.
The forest sprang up only a few months ago, the work of an anonymous group of people rather than nature. Overnight, hundreds of fake, two-dimensional wooden trees in varying shapes and sizes, some plain pine and others painted black, appeared in a vacant lot, hammered into the ground. They even scattered shredded wood over the ground to make a floor that’s like soft pine needles underfoot.
No one could figure out how they managed to set it up so quickly. It’s not up there with the pyramids or Stonehenge, but it was still an impressive feat. I abandon my straight line, and start walking faster, making bigger and bigger circles. The forest isn’t huge; I should come across her soon.
‘Diana…how ‘bout a cheesy roll on the way home?’
There’s a scuffle behind me. I spin around, examining the forest. The plain pine cutouts stand forward, pale in the night, and the darker trees recede into shadow. I blink. My sense of perspective is thrown right out. I pass a tree with a resident cardboard owl that has foil pie tins for eyes. The forest is unsettling. I could almost swear I smell pine needles.
Just when I am about to yell again there’s a familiar giggle to my right. About time.
‘Give me a clue,’ I say to the trees.
‘Wooo-ooooh…Wolfboy, Wolfboy,’ Diana hoots from close by. The sound comes from up high, as if she’s climbed one of the trees. Some of them have cutout footholds and rungs to encourage people. If she falls and hurts herself I’ll be off babysitting duty for good.
‘Game’s over, Diana!’ I use the bad uncle voice. ‘Get your bum out here NOW!’
I take another few steps and there she is, leaning against a tree with her arms crossed. I’m about to give her a dressing down when I see that she looks scared.
‘Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?’ Diana sings in a wobbly voice. Her red sun-visor has slipped down to her neck, and there’s mud on her knees. My bad-uncle act was too convincing. I smile at her to show I’m not really mad.
‘Why have you always got to run off, Flopsy?’
‘I like it here.’
I take her grubby hand and walk her towards the road, and back to Panwood. She doesn’t resist. She must be hungry after all. The sun dawns over us again as I tell her off. ‘You know the rules.’
‘You like it there too. You’re a
creature of the dark.
I snort. Her hand squirms in mine.
‘But you’re getting lighter, aren’t you? You were hairyscary when I first met you, but now you’re not.’
I baulk at this, even though she’s right. I don’t feel as hairy-scary anymore. Or, at the very least, whatever was happening to me has slowed down.
‘Diana, I have to obey your mum’s rules. If she says to stay on the other side of the road, then that’s what we do, okay? And I don’t like that forest anyway.’
‘It’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.’
‘Hang on.’ I stop and fix Diana’s visor so it shields her face. I use the hem of my t-shirt to wipe her knees clean.
‘The bird told me a secret,’ says Diana, her hands on my shoulders for balance. ‘It sang it right in my ear.’
‘Make sure you don’t tell anyone,’ I reply. ‘Secrets are for keeping. Come on.’ I let Diana crawl onto my back.
The sun is finally dropping below the treeline and losing its daytime heat. I gallop past the bakery before Diana can call me on the cheesy roll, and turn into their street. She reaches to rub her hands over my stubble, a favourite pastime.
‘Hey! Don’t wipe your nose on me! I felt that!’
‘Did not, Jet-ro.’
As we draw closer to the shop I see someone standing on the opposite footpath, looking at it. An older guy who’s grey all over: hair, suit, skin. Not Ortie’s usual customer. I walk straight up to him to let him know he’s been seen.
‘It’s by appointment only. The number’s on the window.’
The man turns to me slowly, as if I’ve broken a deep concentration. He has a port wine stain filling one eye socket. His suit looks expensive. Diana slips off my back and hides behind my legs. Her visor jabs into my thighs.
‘I was struck by the building actually. It’s a fine example of the late Victorian style. Beautiful lacework.’
I look sharply at him and then at Birds In Winter, which is a fairly ordinary Panwood terrace, and not in great repair either. I suppose he could be an architect. He’s wearing a skivvy under his suit jacket for one. I shouldn’t be surprised that property people are still chasing pieces of Panwood. Within a year of the Darkness descending on Shyness, young professionals started to move into the neighbouring suburbs. Close enough for them to maintain the illusion of grungy youth, but not too close to real danger.
Not Ortolan though. She grew up in Shyness, streets from where we lived. She and my brother, Gram, were highschool sweethearts and Diana was the result. She moved back here to bring up Diana close to Gram’s memory.
‘Do you live up there?’ he gestures to the first floor. His irises are pure black. Darkitect, I think to myself. I almost answer him, but then I catch myself. He asked so smoothly I almost forgot that I don’t owe him anything. Authority clings to him. He reminds me of my dad. He turns a crisp white envelope over in his hands.
‘We’ve got to go.’ I pick up Diana, who has gone still and quiet, and march her to the front door.
While I’ve never seen Ortolan looking less than perfect outside the house, in her studio is another matter. Today she has a pencil stuck behind each ear, and wears a pyjama top over long johns with holes in the knees. ‘Is that four hours already?’
Diana flies from my grasp and hurls herself at Ortie, instantly revived. ‘I was naughty!’
‘Were you just? Why am I not surprised? You look exhausted, Jethroh.’
‘She ran me into the ground. I don’t know how you do it on your own.’ Give me a couple of hours with Diana, and I feel as wrecked as if I’ve been on a three-day bender.
‘But I don’t do it on my own. I’ve got you now.’ She sets Diana down on the ground and straightens her dress out.
I grab an apple from the bowl on the workbench and bite into it to hide how pleased I am. It’s not just me who thinks I’m part of the family.
‘I was drawing those!’
‘You’re making clothes that look like apples?’
‘I want to be an apple,’ says Diana. ‘I could have a leaf for a hat.’
Ortolan kisses her forehead. ‘Are you staying for dinner, Jethro?’
‘Nah, I’ve got rehearsal.’
‘Grab some carrot cake. You don’t have any food at home, do you?’
‘Why would I have food when I can come over here?’
I cut myself a chunk of cake and alternate bites of apple and cake. Tastes pretty damn good.
‘Not bad,’ I say through my mouthful. ‘Am I mistaken or is there sugar in this? Where from?’
Sugar has been scarce for years in Shyness. Even in the adjoining suburbs people are reluctant to sell it, on account of the way it attracts Kidds. The Kidds live on their own in Orphanville—an old housing estate down by the river. Most of the trouble in Shyness is made by the Kidds, not least because they’re half-nuts on sugar.
‘If I told you that then I’d have to kill you.’ Ortie rolls up her papers and ties them with a piece of string. ‘Not really. It’s back on the shelves, that’s all. Did you remember I have that dinner thing tomorrow?’
I do remember. I don’t have many things to remember, and babysitting Diana is definitely the most important event in my schedule. ‘Six-thirty,’ I say.
‘That’s right. And I don’t mean six-thirty Shyness time. And then I definitely owe you a meal. What are you doing the night after?’
‘Saturday? Coming over here, I guess.’
Diana reaches up as I squat down, and I receive a sloppy kiss on my cheek. ‘Bye, Flopsy.’
The sky is streaky when I let myself out into the street, and the architect is nowhere to be seen. I walk quickly towards the night.
The Shyness side of Grey Street is as derelict as ever, a mouthful of rotting teeth. Most of the buildings here would be condemned if we had a local council to bother.
I stop at the side of the old milk bar. A new billboard dominates the top half of the brick wall. Doctor Gregory looks soulfully into the distance. Fluffy clouds float around his head. ‘Dream a little dream…’ is printed in large type, along his line of vision. The new poster must only be days old because the Kidds haven’t been along to paint KIDDS RUSH IN across it. Though the Kidds have gone quiet recently.
I scowl at Doctor Gregory’s orange tan, pomaded hair and sultana eyes, as irritated as if he was standing right before me. He’s the worst Shyness has to offer. I have to remind myself that even though his face is plastered all over he can’t get to me unless I let him.
I flip him the finger and walk away.