“Hey, get away from there!” The boy shouted.
The young girl glanced back, “Why? It’s just a hole.”
“Think about it dumbhead, if there’s a hole, then something must be inside it.” The boy jogged up to his sister and grabbed her arm and pulled her back, whilst trying to regain his breath.
“Well, what’s inside it?” The sister demanded.
The boy shrugged, “I don’t know, maybe snakes, spiders, killer ants, or maybe…” the boy leaned in close, “a bunyip.”
The sister scrunched her nose and crossed her arms, “I think you’re lying.”
The brother raised his eyebrows and shrugged, “Why don’t you stick your head in there and have a look?”
The girl hesitated, which earned a smirk from the brother. A drop of liquid hit the ground in front of the boy. He looked up at the bright afternoon sky puzzled, and then registered the beads of sweat running down his nose. Using the sleeve of his shirt, the boy wiped his face and started walking again. He glanced back at his sister who was still watching the hole warily.
“It must be sleeping because I can’t hear it,” she said accusingly.
The brother laughed, “C’mon let’s do what we were meant to do - catch fish - the river is still a fair bit away.” The boy continued walking and his sister plodded after him.
The river glistened and sparkled like something out of a dream. The slightly brown water, which the boy knew hid dozens of fish, flowed gently. The boy heard a rumbling noise and glanced to see his sister clutching her stomach with a dark frown on her face.
“I’m hungry,” she pouted.
The brother waved his hand around at the surrounding bush, “You have a feast here.”
The girl groaned. “But that takes so long…”
The boy reached down and grabbed a stick. “Well then, I guess someone’s going hungry.” The sister groaned again and started towards the bushes. With the stick in one hand, the boy waded into the water. He sighed as the coolness lapped at his legs. With the sun warming his back, the boy surveyed the water for darting fish. He closed his eyes, calmed his thoughts and let the sound of the water and the birds envelope him. The boy waited and waited, until finally, a tiny, barely perceptible irregular movement of water. The boy shot his spear down towards the disturbance, and felt his spear puncture soft flesh. The boy opened his eyes and laughed with delight when he saw the fish at the end of his spear.
“That’s one down…” he grinned.
The boy waded out of the water with another fish hanging limply at the end of his spear. He grabbed it and placed it on the pile of five other fish he had caught. He beamed with pride at his catch. He glanced around, “Hey, sis look how many I’ve caught!” Expecting his sister to emerge from the surrounding bushes, he waited. When there was no response, he sighed and muttered under his breath. “Sis!” He started towards the bushes, “Sis! Where are you?” He pushed the hanging branches away, “I know you’re hiding, sis! This isn’t the time for hiding! The fish I’ve caught - and there’s a lot of them - will start to rot! Sis!”
The boy stopped and looked around. He felt the panic creeping in. “Sis!” Sweat was dripping on his face, running down his cheeks. The boy started running. “Sis!” All he could hear was his frantic breathing, and the pounding of his heart. The boy didn’t register the log in front of him and he sprawled on the ground. A sudden shriek filled the air. The boy’s heart jolted and he reared his neck to see the cause of the noise. A second shrill shriek came from the brightly coloured bird in the tree.
“What are you doing on the ground?”
The boy turned his neck around and gasped in relief at the familiar sight of his sister, with a puzzled look on her face. “Where were you, sis?”
“I just went for a pee. You should have seen the size of the berries I found while looking for food, they were huge.”
The boy sighed and got up and dusted himself off. “Well, try not to go too far, when you’re roaming around.”
The sister smiled cheekily, “Were you worried about me?”
The brother scoffed, “I was worried about what dad would do to me if I lost you.” The boy tried to keep a straight face but couldn’t, and turned away to smile. “Anyway, let’s go back to the river. I have to collect the fish I caught, and I’ll also teach you how to fish.” He grabbed his sister’s shoulders and guided her to the direction of the river.
“Does that mean I have to kill a fish?”
“Yeah, of course. Why, are you too scared?”
The sister scowled, “No! It’s just a bit mean.”
“Well, it must be done for us to eat. C’mon, don’t dawdle, I want to get back home before dark.”
When they reached the river, the sun was a bit lower in the sky but its rays were still strong and bright. The boy quickly moved the pile of fish underneath shade and retrieved his stick. “Ok sis, here’s the stick you use to catch the fish.”
His sister reluctantly took it, and held it with a limp hand. The brother laughed. “That is definitely not the way you hold it. Ok, first of all, come into the water.” The girl hesitantly walked in. “Ok, so to catch a fish you have to be still. You have to let the fish swim past, thinking you’re not a threat. And then when it’s close enough… you pounce!” The brother imitated thrusting the stick into the water.
“Isn’t it mean taking a fish away from its family?”
The brother furrowed his eyebrows in amusement, “It probably doesn’t have a family.”
“Yes, fish have families too. And their family would be sad if one of the fish were taken away.”
The boy sighed. “Sis, you’re going to have to toughen up. Now are you going to catch a fish, or are you too much of a baby?”
His sister grumbled, “Fine. I’ll do it.” She gripped the stick tightly and peered intently into the water.
“Look!” The brother pointed up the stream. “There’s a family of fish up there. Do you see them?”
The girl squinted, “Yeah, yeah I think I see them.”
“Ok, this is a golden opportunity don’t waste it. Stay still, don’t scare the fish away.”
His sister tensely waited. As the school of fish neared, she shook her head. “I can’t do it.” The brother looked at her and tutted. He held out his hand and the sister hesitantly gave him the stick. The brother carefully eyed the fish as he adjusted his grip on the stick. “Yes… that’s it… just a bit closer… any second now whole body was drenched.
He quickly got up, gasping and shaking the water from his head, “What the hell were you thinking?” he demanded.
“I couldn’t let you kill them.”
“I’ll kill you in a second,” the brother growled as he leapt at his sister. The sister squealed in terror as they both collapsed into the water again. The sister pushed him off, and as he rose sent a wave of water splashing into him.
“Ohhh… you’re really in for it now,” he growled. The sister squealed with delight as the brother sent his own wave crashing into her. Another wave was fired back in response. The brother laughed, “Is that all you got?” The sister, eyes wild, face contorted in half-rage half-joy, ran full pelt at her brother.
The brother’s eyes widened, “Ok that’s enough sis, that’s en-” The brother was tackled back into the water, the screaming muffled by the water. After they both surfaced, he quickly raised his hands in defeat, “All right you win sis, please don’t tackle me again.”
The sister thought for a moment, and then nodded. “I accept your surrender.”
The brother laughed as he shook her shoulders, “When did my little sis get so strong?”
His sister smiled, “When did my older brother get so weak?”
The brother laughed again as they stepped onto dry land. He shivered as a cold wind blew, only just realising how cold it was.
He glanced at the setting sun, “Ok sis, let’s hurry and get home before dark.”
His sister nodded in agreement and the boy retrieved and bundled his caught fish in his hands.
It was dark, and the crickets and the siblings’ footsteps were the only sounds to be heard. The brother looked at his tired sister, “We’re nearly there sis.” They trudged on in silence. “I know sis, let’s have a race to the house. Last person there is bunyip food!”
The sister’s eyes brightened, “Too easy.” With that, she took off running.
“Hey, that’s unfair!” The brother yelled, as he too started running, “I’m catching up sis!”
The sister gasped with breathlessness as she picked up her pace.
“Imagine how proud… mum and dad will… be when they see how much… we’ve caught!” The brother wheezed as he caught up alongside her. A bright light filtered through the bushes.
“I can see home!” The sister yelled. The light drew closer until they could hear voices. “Mom, dad!” The brother shouted as they cleared the bushes. “Look how much fish we’ve cau-” The brother stopped dead and the sister stopped next to him. There was a long shiny car, with its headlights shining directly on two kneeling figures staring at them in shock and fear.
“Mum, dad!” The boy gasped.
“Run!” His dad screamed. “Run son! Take your sister and run!” His dad barely finished before being struck in the head by a figure standing behind him. He fell to the ground with a soft thud.
The boy’s mum sobbed, “Run, my baby!” Only now did the boy register figures surrounding his parents. One of them barked something and pointed at the boy and his sister. The boy grabbed his sister and they ran to the bushes. He heard shouts behind him as they crashed back into the bush. They ran wheezing and panting and dodging trees, with shouts in the distance. His sister suddenly stopped.
The brother glanced back in panic, “Sis, what are you doing we have to run!”
Torchlights pierced through the bush and the light skimmed past the sister’s tear-stricken face.
“What happened to mum and dad?” She cried.
The brother grabbed her hand and tugged, fear squashing his chest. “It doesn’t matter, if we want to survive we have to run NOW!” He screamed.
Tears ran down the sister’s cheeks, “I don’t want to leave them. Please, I don’t want to leave them.”
The brother’s throat tightened and he could feel his own tears streaming down his face. “We have to go, sis. That’s what they - that’s what they would have wanted.” He grabbed tightly onto his sister’s hand. “Mum and dad will be alright, but we have to run now.” The boy started running and the sister followed close behind, sobbing with every breath. Torchlights penetrated the darkness around them, and they swung wildly creating distorting shadows.
The boy felt a light directly on his back and a loud shout. The boy’s heart screamed and he felt the wind go out of him and a strong grip on his back. He let go of his sister’s hand before he crashed to the ground, his nose bursting on impact. “Run sis!” The brother screamed in a strangled voice. The man gripping him yelled something behind him and the boy saw a light trained on his sister. His sister looked back at him with tears welling up.
“Run sis. Please.” The brother whispered as warm blood ran down his face in rivers.
The sister hesitantly stepped backwards, and looked up as she heard a shout. The brother heard thundering footsteps behind him. The sister started running. A shouting group of men chased after her, their torchlights outlining her small frame. The man on top of him laughed and yelled to the men. The boy blinked tears away and when he looked again he couldn’t see his sister anymore. Shouts erupted further up and he heard a scream.
“No… please…” his body racked with sobs, but no tears came out. He screamed in anger and writhed and the man on top of him grabbed his head and snarled. The boy saw the blackness of the dirt rushing up to him and then all went dark.
When the boy came to, everything blurred past. Shoved around. Shouted at. Taken to a new house. Introduced to a family. Adults smiling. Saying something. New clothes. Days passed.
The boy blinked. He was sitting at a table with a family. The smiling lady held out fish on a plate. The boy stared at her. She smiled and nodded and said something. She held it under his nose. He shook his head. The lady’s smile wavered. She beckoned to the fish on the plate again. The boy shook his head. The lady stared at him and then suddenly threw the plate of fish onto the floor. The boy felt a sharp sting on his cheek and his ears started ringing. The lady stared at him in anger and said something to a man sitting at the table. He nodded.
The boy was lying in bed. He closed his eyes and heard a whisper. He opened his eyes and there at the end of his bed was his sister. Tears sprang to the brother’s eyes. He uttered the first word he had in days, “Sis.”
She smiled. The brother frowned. She looked different. She was ghostly pale. Her skin seemed to glow in the dark. And she was wearing such weird clothes.
“Sis, what’s wrong with you?”
She frowned and said something.
She said something again.
“What are you saying, sis?”
She stared at him.
The brother blinked hard and then she was gone. He stared at the spot where his sister had just been. He tried to go back to sleep but the image haunted his mind, and he knew it forever would.