I’m not getting messages from my old friends. My phone sits in my pocket. I can’t stop myself from looking. I think I’m kinda hoping for something from the person I was, anything that’ll show people are still thinking about me. But there’s nothing, I’ve been erased from the old world.

I don’t exist there.

I almost don’t exist here. Nothing has happened today. I’ve spent it watching. No one speaks to me1. At lunch and recess I walk around the school watching the kids play their games of handball or sitting in clumpy groups, eating, talking over the screens of their phones. This is what it feels like to be new, all the normal stuff is different. The games seem more important and I feel like I’m a stranger in a war I don’t understand. On the courts, guys are playing basketball—vicious: barging, shooting, cheering. Between the courts groups stare across the lines like they’re borders in dispute.

The bell rings for the end of last lesson. I follow kids as they push out the door, pretending I’m the same. It’s sunny outside, warm winter. I look up through the car park. Teachers’ rust buckets are creaking to death. There’s Alex, walking through the front gate, out of uniform. I slow down to watch him, wondering what’s about to happen. He veers off into the grassy area at the top of the school. I’ve never noticed any kids hanging out there. For the first time, I notice a few metal benches; there’s a girl sitting on one.

She stands.

I’m walking slowly so I don’t lose sight of them. It feels like the rest of the school is moving in fast motion around me. I feel like me and Alex and this girl are joined somehow. She’s only young, maybe year eight or something, with long dark hair. She looks at Alex. He steps forward and hugs her. I’m hardly moving. The crowd is barging around me. I hear crowd babble and smell the dust

kicked up by all the shuffling shoes. Alex and the girl are apart from what is happening, free from the crowd. Alex is wearing his blue gym boots again. No one around me seems to notice anything. I feel like I’m the only one who is able to see them.

Alex and the girl stand there for a long time, it seems like a long time in our slow-motion world. They’re still, holding each other without moving; it looks like they haven’t seen each other for years and they’ve been waiting, kinda hoping this would happen.

Their stillness is like disbelief. I know the feeling.

They’re motionless, holding each other. I’m still moving slowly and eventually they slide out of my field of vision. And as soon as they’re gone, I’m part of the crowd again. We head for the gate, kids streaming from each doorway. In the crowd friends yell and bump each other. I listen to a guy behind me telling his friend how he killed them, killed them all. I don’t look back. It’s a different world.

When I get up to the front gate there’s no sign of Alex. I can see a bit of blue chalk still on the footpath. Kids trample over it and up the street or load themselves in cars double parked along the kerb outside the gate.

I don’t think about what I’m doing. I let my feet move and they carry me over the worn dirt beside the footpath up to the corner and around in the direction the blue arrow pointed.

Kids start disappearing into the side streets. I keep walking. After about five minutes I come to a row of shops. There’s a convenience store with a few kids hanging around, a secondhand fridge and washing machine repair place; a couple of other shopfronts are boarded up. Past the street corner is a small park.

I can hear the motorbike before I see it.

In the park some guy is tearing up what’s left of the grass, his motorbike screaming through the high revs. The bike skids in circles, throwing up great waves of dirt. I recognise the blue shirt, the rat’s tail. I cross the road between the shops and the park. He notices me and slows the bike. I know it’s too late to stop. I know if I turn around now, I become an enemy. He comes chugging in my direction, coasting with his feet way out because the bike is so small. I get a flash in my head of him hugging the girl. I want to ask him about it but know I never will. I walk forward.

When I get close enough, he yells over the sound of the idle engine.

He goes, Why aren’t you at school?

Finished, I go.

He goes, You’re that Arcade guy.

His eyes are different; sharper, more alive, and I notice for the first time they’re different colours. One blue as somekinda precious jewel, the other dark, dark brown. He revs the engine and swings away into another half circle. Dirt sprays. The bike straightens and starts to get away from him. He drops the revs and trundles the bike back toward me.

He goes, You want a ride?

I think for what feels like a long time. Yeah, I go.

He slides forward on the seat. I slip on behind. The engine starts to howl. We jerk over the grass until we pick up momentum. Then outta nowhere it’s like nothing could stop us, we’ll keep going forever. It feels good, really good.

We ride along a few side streets, through a car park, past a leagues club and onto a football ground. He revs it more over the grass. My hands are tight around the metal bar behind me, my arse bone feels every bump. I’m not afraid. I’m surprised by my lack of fear. The ground below is a blur of green and brown. I start to wonder what bones I’d break if I came off.

I hear Alex laughing and yelling. I can feel his rat’s tail lifting toward my face. He locks up the brakes at the edge of a scummy little creek. We skid sideways, stop and fall to the ground next to the bike. We roll over the patchy grass then lie staring at the sky. It’s blue, so blue.

He’s gagging on laughter.

He points down past the creek and goes, Down there there’s a field called Freeman Oval. I played some games there when I was a kid.

I nod.

He turns back and looks at me. You noticed, he goes.

I don’t know what he’s talking about.

He goes, The arrows, and points back from where we’ve come.

Yeah, I go.

Most kids wouldn’t, he goes. They wouldn’t have got to the front gate, they’re zombies doing what they’re told.

I nod, but I’m feeling like a cheat, like I’ve only ever done what I’ve been told.

Except, I start to see myself as he must see me; lighting crackers and riding the bike, totally different to the person I think I am.

He watches me nod and goes, It’s my last day, I’m not going back. He holds his hands out toward me, palms up and goes, Look.

They’re almost smooth, like plastic, only the tiniest hint of fingerprints.

He goes, You never seen this before?

I half nod, because I have. I go, My dad was a labourer, with builders.

Alex nods like he understands. He goes, Yeah same.

I quick glance at my own hands. I want to ask for another look at his but it doesn’t seem right.

He goes, I have to get out of there before I lose it all.

I nod.

He goes, Where’d you come from?

Queensland, I go.

Where? he goes.

Brisbane, I go, because that’s the only place I can think of.

He thinks for a second then goes, What’d you do for fun in Brisbane?

A part of me wants to tell him there’s no Brisbane only Sevo. Instead I go, Same as here.

He smiles at me like he’s wise to what’s happening and goes, Nice girls in Brisbane yeah.

I nod and he starts to laugh.

I can smell petrol from the bike, it’s sort of steaming. I look down at his shoes.

He sees me glance and goes, Yeah good for riding the bike eh.

I know that’s not it. There’s something else about them, but I don’t ask.

Instead I go, They’re like Chucks eh.

He goes, A bit, except better, anyone can get Chucks.

I nod and look again at the blue of his shoes, chalk blue, like the arrows I followed to the park.

He goes, I got ‘em from a friend of mine.

I go, How much?

He goes, A week worth of Ritalin.

I try not to blink. I look at the bike again, it’s still steaming. I go, I think the bike might be dead.

He looks and goes, Yeah doesn’t matter.

I see his face jerk up, he looks back the way we’ve come.

I don’t hear anything.

He goes, Let’s get out of here.

As he speaks, he turns and starts running toward the creek. I don’t think; I follow, sprinting to catch up with him. About ten metres before the water the grass starts to drop away down to the slimy dribble of water. Alex dives down over the ledge, twists onto his stomach and turns back to face the direction we’ve run from. I slide and crawl in beside him, spinning onto my stomach and looking back over the field.

A paddy wagon pulls into the car park and slowly circles around. Alex ducks his head and turns onto his side. I glance at him then look back at the paddy wagon.

It’s moving slowly along a gravel drive and toward the field. Alex is digging around in his hip pocket. The paddy wagon bumps across the field toward the bike. Alex pulls something from his pocket. The paddy wagon stops. Two cops get out and start walking toward the bike.

Alex goes, Take this. He holds his fist close to me.

When he opens it, I see brass and steel in his palm. I go, What?

He goes, Take it they’ll search me.

I look more closely at what’s in his hand. It’s a knife. A butterfly knife with a brass handle. Through the holes I can see the blade clasped away. I don’t think and I don’t speak. I take the knife and slip it down the front of my pants. Alex stands and starts to walk back toward the bike. I’m thinking he’s going to claim it or something.

The police watch us as we start to walk across the field. Alex isn’t even looking at them. They both start striding toward us. Alex is on an angle away from the bike, but not too obvious, not like we’re trying to get away or have anything to hide.

One of the cops goes, You boys be able to help us?

Alex looks at them and stops.

The other cop goes, Why you boys not in school?

Alex goes, School’s done.

The first cop goes, Got here pretty quick.

Alex shrugs.

The first cop points back at the bike. He goes, What happened to your bike.

Alex goes, It’s not mine.

The second cop goes, How’d it get there?

Alex goes, Two blokes stacked it and went running back that way, up the creek.

The second cop goes, You see ’em?

Alex shakes his head and goes, Just running.

The first cop nods and goes, We’ll need to take your details and maybe have a chat to your parents.

Alex goes, What for?

The second cop goes, ‘Cause it looks like the bike might be stolen mate.

The first cop walks back to the bike, picks it up and starts rolling it back to the paddy wagon.

The second cop goes, Come with us boys.

Alex goes, We didn’t do nothing.

The second cop gives up a mean grin and goes, Just giving you a lift home.

Alex goes, Don’t want a lift home.

The second cop goes, Well we wanna give you one.

Alex shakes his head and we start walking toward the paddy wagon. They lug the bike in the back and we follow. The metal door is locked from the outside. We’re sitting in dark all cut up by weird shapes of light coming through the grates.

Alex goes, Don’t worry they’re just hassling us, they can’t do nothing.

I nod my head and start reaching into my pants where I’ve hidden the knife.

He lifts a hand to stop me. He goes, Later.

I nod and lean back against the grate, trying to act like I’ve done this before and it’s no big deal. The whole time I’m thinking about how my mum is going to lose it if the cops talk to her. Outside, the doors slam one after the other, the engine starts, and we go bouncing across the field. The bike is stinking up the back with the smell of petrol and oil. I reach my hand forward, can feel heat coming off the exhaust.

Alex digs around in his pocket. For a second, I think he’s going to pull out another knife. Instead he pulls out a square piece of paper. A sticker. He peels the top layer off and sticks it on the floor under the seat.

I bend over and look. It’s a white background with a carefully drawn blue face.

He sees me looking and half opens his pocket to show me a bunch more.

He goes, Did ‘em myself.

I don’t say anything.

He leans forward and whispers across the bike. He goes, There’s a party tomorrow night. Heaps of hot girls. You should come. We’re meeting at the John St seats, nine-thirty.

I nod because I know what this means: come tomorrow night and bring the knife.

He smiles when I agree. He goes, You know where Arcade?

I nod again.

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