Never walk the same road twice, Dadda used to say, always with a stutter and a bit of spittle on the chin; one hand waving a short, crooked finger, the other hand clutching a bottle of gin.
Taking a big swig (our Dadda could make spirits gloonk), his eyes widened and his cheeks would glow in hellfire oranges and reds in the fading light of the paraffin lantern’s show.
They’ll learn your every move. Never walk the same road twice.
Sound advice, but only in theory, of course, for I had not a clue who they were – who exactly to be on the lookout for – and, from our neck of the woods led only one road to school, the sheriff’s office, and the grocery-cum-liquor store.
Dadda had ‘moods’, and he was quite adamant that my little sister and I (Both apples of your mother’s eyes!) follow his orders, because his mind was ‘shaped’ and functioned like those of the military kind.
At the break of dawn, (Look, the moon’s still snoozing!) after a thorough inspection
of our uniforms and patched little knapsacks, (Only three boiled eggs and last night’s chicken bones!) we saluted and started our march, armed to the teeth with sticks and stones.
Not allowed to travel the conventional way, Lucille and I, hand-in-hand, would start our ‘stroll’ at the edge of the forest, where the eucalyptus stands tall and towers over
the black swamp that stank of decay.
We marked each path, using Mama’s old ribbons on tree trunks and bushes; we were on our guard not to cross paths, so we named them all, from Sugar Cube Lane to Sunset Boulevard.
When the trees changed colour and the leaves came down in delicate feather-falls, our ‘roads’ became muddled—we were confused; pretty soon we were strolling on Sunset Sugar Lanes and Boulevard Street Cubes.
Every time we strayed, they would come up behind us.
Lucille spotted one first, a goat-headed creature in a flowing white dress, on hands and knees, darting from tree to tree.
Three times I was hit in the back, each time with the same range weapon, a fist-sized white stone, covered in peculiar scribbles and characters, black, and also blotches of tree gum and peacock feathers.
Our morning march soon turned into a morning mission, for Lucille was petrified;
most days Dadda and I had to
get her dressed for school, sometimes inside-out, sometimes back-to-front.
At the start of winter, the creatures seemed to have grown in numbers; we spotted them regularly through the branches, reflections in cracked mirrors, some with deer skulls and big old antlers, others with god-knows-what-fur, and on some occasions, even a few dressed in shiny black leather.
I plugged Lucille’s ears with mud, grass and, leaves so that she wouldn’t hear their haunting breaths, their hooves over broken branches and twigs that went off
like a thousand little explosions in my head.
On the first day of spring I came down for inspection, but Lucille wasn’t there; Dadda sat by the window looking awfully lonely in his rocking chair, his bottle was empty and his eyes moist with tears.
You’ve walked the same road twice and now they’ve taken my daughter; my dear little Lucille is gone, she’s disappeared.
You can imagine my distress. During the last few weeks of snow I had carried her to school, for she refused to walk where they go, she couldn’t even bother; and although she ‘forgot’ how to speak, and she seemed to have shrunk, she held onto me like I was our mother.
Insomnia embraced me with spiky white arms, feeding me phlegm, overwhelming my daydreams with all of its usual charm, helping me plan my final revenge, pulling me through each day closer to them.
After inspection one morning, the sun was already hot, I sprinted away to get a head start, but stopped at Mulberry Road. I hadn’t gone too far. Making a left at Wolf’s Paw Street, I circled back home, only to find that I wasn’t alone:
Dadda emerged from a door in the floor, dressed in Mamma’s bra and her favourite silk night gown. Even the deer’s skull on his head seemed to frown.
I gloonked his spirit with the empty gin bottle, getting in a kick, and also a throttle; four times I cut him, one for each season, and oh! what a feeling when Lucille jumped down from where I’d hidden her in the ceiling.
Imagine the look on Dadda’s face when she ‘kissed’ him on the jaw with his military-style binoculars. His face wore an expression of shock and awe.
‘Listen to me, Dadda, because I’ll only say it once: never come between a brother and his sister—and one more thing: never walk the same road twice,’ she said in a paraffin lamp whisper.
words by Ramon Ramirez
art and photography by Craig Hopson