© 2015 by Carla D’Alessandro
All rights reserved.
For permission requests, contact the author.
Gemma Rose could not say she was a thrill seeker, nor could she say that she liked a challenge. However what she would say, is that she enjoys knowing the answer to absolutely everything.
“Poncho! Prince Poncho!” A voice called out into the blue gum forest. “Come on you rusty, old dog! Where are you?” Gemma crunched her way through the dry bark and fallen leaves, stomping down hard so that the vibrations would frighten away any venomous snakes.
“He’s not gunna be in here Gemma.” Panted Lucas, who was struggling to keep up with Gemma’s trudging. “He’s practically scared of the outdoors.”
“Oh what would you know Luke? You don’t even live with him!”
The pair were neighbours at the best of times. Often Lucas would take care of Gemma’s family’s plants and pets when they travelled. It was also common knowledge that he was completely wrapped around her finger. Gemma on the other hand, could not give two hoots about the boy. About any boy for that matter. She was more interested in her own studies, debunking myths or pranking her older brother Edison.
“I reckon I live with him more than you do,” bites back Lucas.
“Well I’m sorry my parents enjoy going on an overseas holiday once every blue moon! Geez stop whining L-man. Your fam should try it sometime.”
“We don’t have the money, I’ve told you this.” He say, almost in a whisper.
“Have you really? I often don’t listen when you talk, I just kinda watch your face contort into different shapes...” Gemma's knack for being brutally honest is radiating like the sun today. People often mistaken her tone for sarcasm, leading them to believe she is funny rather than mean. If only they knew the truth... “Besides, I don’t believe you anyhow. You live in Melbourne! Everyone in this godforsaken State is rich!”
Melbourne is located in the Southern Australian islands. It’s one of the only safe places in the world right now, so the richest of the rich live there. Lucas’s family, the Oliver’s, are no exception. They are as wealthy as one can wish to be. The reality behind his parents choosing not to travel is their fear. Which is understandable with mother nature going rampant these days. The chance of catching a flight without complications is slim to none. Even scarier so, the chance of there being an Earthquake on any piece of land other than Australia is astonishingly high. You’re lucky to go a week in a country without it bumping into something. It’s been this way for almost 4,000 years now, and the way Gemma see’s it, may as well explore the world before the entire human race is eradicated. However most people prefer to enjoy the lifestyle of the Oliver’s, who are simply proud to say that they’re still alive and well.
Gemma and Lucas began the journey home. Uncertain of whose feet initiated the walk back, though they both knew that it was time. The sun was no longer blazing their skin and instead was setting through the tangle of gum trees. Thinking about this Lucas furrows his brow and turns to Gemma.
“How many do you think are left?”
“I dunno,” she responds quietly, a rare occurrence, “Maybe 10,000?”
This immediately brings their verbal conversation to a stop, but both minds continue to run wild. You can see it in the cocking of Lucas’s head and the bowing of Gemma’s. No one talks about it anymore, no one even hints at it. So Lucas’s mention of it is enough to bring a halt to any discussion.
Finally stepping onto the cracked pavement they lift up their heads to see the city that has become too familiar to them. Industrial buildings and slabs of concrete dominate the scene. Some inhabitants have attempted to liven up the surroundings by throwing a patchy layer of paint on their house fronts. Their efforts severely dampened by their poor painting abilities and instead they have created the opposite effect that they set out to create. The colours bringing a rather eerie feeling and a sense of impending doom.
Veering to the right the streets become less and less manicured. Wild grass and weeds bursting through the old tar roads to create the illusion that is it in fact dirt. One of mother natures many ways of bringing back the Earth to equilibrium. Wandering down the road, they pass under the Old Gate bridge. History says it was used to cross a wide, fresh water river, the river underneath is now long gone and hasn’t been seen for a few hundred years. Some fresh water would sure be useful right now.
Reaching the Avenue, arguably the wealthiest sector of the city. The kids lift their heads to see no more weeds, no more trees. Not a hint of green, solely greys and browns. Nature cannot live here, it cannot break through. This makes is safe, secure, isolated. Different from the rest of the world.
Before peeling off to go through his front gate, Lucas bravely takes Gemma by the hand. She flinches slightly by his movement, but isn’t alarmed as he turns, his dark eyes void of emotion.
“We are 5,000 of them”.
The next morning was no different to usual. Nothing peculiar occurred, despite the controversial conversation that took place the previous day. However to Gemma, the day felt quite strange. Technically everything was more than normal. Apart from that she ate a bowl of fruit for breakfast and then proceeded to throw the fork in the bin instead of the sink. She traced this brain fade back to Lucas.
Before today, Gemma had never voluntarily thought about her neighbour, but ever since he off-handedly brought up the topic that no one speaks of, not even fearless Gem, she simply could not stop. It was only when the sun was setting that she figured out why.
He made her realise that she was indeed afraid.
Afraid of the fact that all the knowledge gained from the human race will disappear, it would be like they never existed. Afraid that this might happen in her very own lifetime. Most of all, she was afraid she may not truly achieve anything in her life.
Gemma’s pondering was brought to an abrupt halt by her older brother Edison.
“Hello? Earth to Gemma?” He jokes.
“What? You interrupted me.”
“You were literally just sitting there with a blank face,” he says and pauses to imitate her. This proves to be a joke with painful consequences as Gemma’s fist hits him hard in the stomach. “Ouch! I guess I deserved that... Anyway, I was wondering if you wanted to go to the Block tonight?”
The Block was like the city centre, the place of action amongst the overwhelming inactivity of the citizens here. It looks exactly the same as the name sounds, like a big grey cube of old concrete. It’s been there for so long that the thick walls are no longer smooth with sharp edges. They have been weathered away to create an uneven, rounded surface. Almost like it is a huge hollow rock.
Gemma thinks about her brothers proposal for what feels like an eternity, her mind still occupied by her life contemplations until she finally decides.
“Nah I don’t think so Ed, I’m not really in the mood for trivia or any sort of thinking activites.”
“You don’t have to think! A bunch of the teens are playing dodgeball.”
“What? Really? Isn’t that... Illegal?”
Due to limited first aid resources and a rapidly declining population, any hobby or sport that is considered dangerous was banned in the year Gemma was born. This certainly included dodgeball.
“We found a loophole,” Ed struggles to say without letting a huge grin onto his face.
“Oh no, what is it?”
“Well it’s not for all sports, only dodgeball. Lyah figured out that the legislation said something about round, spherical balls. So we made some dodecahedron ones...”
Gemma’s mouth gapes open, it is unheard of that anyone tricks the people of power, and Ed and Lyah out of all the people to do it? They are potentially the most conservative teens, apart from Lucas of course, but Gemma isn’t sure of that anymore either.
“Stranger, what have you done with my brother? Anyway I still don’t feel like it, I was going to see Luke.”
“Come on this is right up your alley! Since when do you visit Lucas? We can pass by on the way.”
Gemma doesn’t actually want to see him. In fact she wants to avoid him more than anything. Just as she is about to decline her brother yet again, there is a tap at the front door.
“Is anyone there? Is anyone there at all?” He says politely whilst peering through the living room window, his view obstructed by curtains.
“You get the door,” Gemma sighs.
“Why? I thought you wanted to see him?”
“I lied. Tell him I’m not here.”
When Edison opens the door, Lucas is no where to be seen in the front garden.
“Lucas!” Ed calls out, “where’d you go?” A rustle is heard around the side of the house where Gemma’s room is, opposite to the side Lucas’s family lives, then head pops around the corner.
“Oh good then, I was hoping you hadn’t left yet, did you hear about the dodgeball?” Lucas asks in his matter of fact manner.
“Yes Lucas, I planned the dodgeball.” Ed replies rather condescendingly. “Did you want to see Gem? She’s just in the living room.”
“Oh thank you,” Lucas rigidly walks into the Rose household. Unsure of how to approach his surroundings as it is only the third time inside the house.
Ed on the other hand, swiftly walks through the living room with a smirk, while Gemma is glaring him down with all the intensity she can muster, to the safety of his bedroom in order to avoid her wrath. Lucas awkwardly follows him, but comes to a stop in front of the coffee table, opposite to where Gemma is sat.
“Hey Gemma, erm I just wanted to apologise about yesterday. Not the whole of yesterday, obviously, just like, our conversation. What I brought up, I mean. I’m sorry, I was out of line and I never should have brought it up and-”
“Lucas, stop. Look don’t say anything, don’t say a word at all.” Gemma interrupts to relieve him from the pain that is showing so clearly across his pink cheeks.
“Okay... I’ll just go.” He says, his hands twisting the bottom of his button down shirt.
“Don’t be an idiot, sit down.” Gemma says, displaying just about the most affection she could ever muster.
“I just don’t understand why we don’t let everyone into our State?” She starts, “then we just might have a chance of surviving.”
“It’s not that simple, we don’t have the resources.”
“Ugh you sound like our Government. I think that’s utter crap. What you said yesterday has got me thinking. Why aren’t we all sticking together? Instead we are spread out in minorities all over the world, struggling with low numbers. There is power in large groups! It’s an outrage!” Gemma’s eyes have widened to nearly double their normal size, her hands are becoming sweaty as her mind runs a million miles an hour.
“Gemma don’t... We can’t talk about this, about the authorities. They are probably listening.” Lucas whispers.
“I DON’T CARE. They need to hear me, they need to do something!”
“Ugh, anyway, I still don’t want to waste the time that I have left, we have left. So let’s go be reckless.”
The trio approach the Block in the dark, the street lights empty of light as usual. None of them have ever seen them flowing with electricity. Edison pushes open the large metal door with a curious expression, assuming it would be locked. Getting the feeling that being here is unsafe he calls out into the seemingly empty building,
“Hello? Lyah are you here?”
In the same breath the giant lights above are switched on, nearly blinding them. At first glance there is no one in the building, not even near the light switch. Until we see a small figure jump from the far balcony where the lights were dimmed, and swing towards them on a huge rope, jumping off just a couple of meters above the ground and tumbling not so gratefully towards them.
A familiar face looked up.
“Lyah? What on earth-” Edison started.
“Run. We have to run, go. Get out!” She says panic stricken.
However in all the commotion, the group had not noticed that the door behind them had been closed and bolted shut.
“Lyah what’s going on? What’s happening?” Gemma asks, gripping her arm to try settle her down.
“They found out,” she says out of breath, “about the, about the dodgeball.”
“But that isn’t a problem right? It isn’t illegal?” Lucas pipes up.
“It is, but not because of what you think. Something about too large a group of people under the age of twenty years old is considered conspiracy against the powers.”
“Alright... Okay, so what do we do?” Asks Edison, “are they here?”
“Yes, and we shouldn’t be. Let’s get out of this place”
The group began skirting along the edges of the Block, underneath the balconies which line the edge of the huge, open hall. The space had been prepared for what looks like the ultimate game of dodgeball. Sponge mats line every inch of the floor, even the edges on which the group were creeping around. Which were not very helpful given the current situation, as they made a sound of releasing air with every step. There were also soft obstacles, most likely for people to hide behind, and angled trampolines to rebound throws. Just remnants of what would have been the most exciting night in a long time.
Out of nowhere a ball flies at them from the now pitch black balconies and misses Lucas’s head by inches. Startled, he drops to the floor and loses his glasses in the process. The group look down and look at the ball, it’s the shape of a dodecahedron. Just as he retrieves his glasses, more balls are coming towards them, by the dozen this time. Breaking into a run they reach the locked back door, Gemma’s heart beating fast, attempts to open it by ramming her shoulder into it. With no luck they start searching for items to potentially break it down, dodge balls still flying at them at every angle. One hits Lucas square in the face, breaking one of the lenses of his glasses.
Becoming quite furious, Gemma grabs a ball in each hand and uses it to deflect the incoming throws from the darkness. Meanwhile Edison has found a steel pole, commonly used to keep trees growing vertically, and starts bashing the old wooden door around the handle. Lyah and Lucas now copying Gemma’s technique, are protecting him from being hit.
Edison finally manages to splinter a semi circle around the handle, then resorts to kicking the door until it flings open, nearly flying off it’s hinges in the process. The group flee into the fresh air, panting and taking refuge on Lyah’s front lawn which is situated across the road, directly behind the Block. Hands on hips, knees and in Lucas’s case, sprawled across the fake grass.
It was not the night they were expecting, but at least they played some dodgeball.