This page will print nicely in black and white. The background image will vanish when you print it.

The Dead of the Night (extract)

The Tomorrow Series
by John Marsden

Damn this writing. I’d rather sleep. God how I’d love to sleep. But I can’t. It’s been a long time since I had a peaceful night’s sleep. Not since I went to Hell. Since I went to that complicated place called Hell.

When I get a chance to lie down I try everything. I count Border Leicesters, Merinos, Corriedales, South Suffoliks. I think about my parents. I think about Lee. I think about Corrie and Kevin and all my other friends. I think a lot about Chris. Sometimes I try closing my eyes hard and ordering myself to go to sleep, and when that doesn’t work I order myself to stay awake. Reverse psychology.

I read a lot, when there’s daylight left, or when I think it’s worth wasting a bit more of the batteries. After a while my eyes get tired and heavy, and I move to turn off the torch or put down the book. And that little movement so often jerks me back into consciousness. It’s like I go all the way down the corridor of sleep, and just as I get to the door, it slams in my face.

So I’ve started writing again. It passes the time. No, I’ll be honest, it does more than that. It gets stuff out of my head and heart and puts it on paper. That doesn’t mean it’s no longer in my head and heart. It’s still there. But once I’ve written about it, seems like there’s more room inside me again. More room for other things. I don’t think it helps me get to sleep but it’s better than lying in the tent waiting for sleep to come.

Before, everyone was so keen for me to write. It was going to be our record, our history. We were so excited about getting it all down. Now, I don’t think they care if I do it or not. That’s partly because they didn’t like some of what I wrote last time. I told them I was going to be honest and I was, and they said that was fine, but they weren’t too pleased when they read it. Chris especially.

It’s very dark tonight. Autumn’s creeping through the bush, dropping a few leaves here and there, colouring the blackberries, giving the breeze a sharp touch. It’s cold, and I’m finding it hard to write and keep warm at the same time. I’m crouched inside my sleeping bag like a hunchback, trying to balance the torch, my pen, and the paper without exposing too much skin to the night air.

‘My pen.’ Funny, I wrote that without noticing. ‘The torch’, ‘the paper’, but ‘my pen’. That shows what writing means to me, I guess. My pen is a pipe from my heart to the paper. It’s about the most important thing I own.

Even so, the last writing I did was ages ago, after the night Kevin drove away from us in the dark Mercedes, with Corrie wounded and unconscious in the back seat. I remember thinking afterwards that if I’d had one wish, it would be to know that they’d made it to the Hospital and were well-treated. If I’d had two wishes, it would be to know that my parents were still OK, locked up in the Cattle Pavilion at the Showground. If I’d had three, it’d be for everyone in the world to be OK, including me.

A lot has happened since Kevin and Corrie left. A couple of weeks afterwards, Homer called us together. We were still edgy and maybe it wasn’t a good time for a meeting, but then maybe we’d been sitting around for long enough. I thought we’d be too depressed to talk much, or to make plans, but once again I’d underestimated Homer. He did so much thinking — not that he ever said so himself, but it was obvious from the way he spoke in our meetings. There’d been a time when a thinking Homer would have seemed as likely as a flying platypus, and I was still kind of slow adjusting to the change. But from his words that day, when we gathered again at the creek, it was obvious that he hadn’t stayed in a slump like some of us.

He stood there, leaning against a boulder, his hands pushed into the pockets of his jeans. His dark, serious face was scanning us, his brown eyes resting on each one for a moment, as though considering carefully what he saw. He first looked at Lee, who sat along the creek a few metres, gazing down at the water. Lee had a stick in his hands and was slowly breaking off little pieces, letting the bits drift away with the current. As each bit disappeared into the tumbling gurgling water among the rocks he repeated the process. He didn’t look up, and even if he had, I knew I’d see only sadness in his eyes. I found that almost unbearable. I wished I could drive it away, but I hadn’t figured out how.

Opposite Lee was Chris. He had a notebook on his knees and was writing in it constantly. He seemed to live more in that notebook than he did with us. He didn’t talk to it - well, not out loud - but he slept with it, took it to meals, and guarded it jealously from snoops like me. He was writing mainly poems still, I think. There was a time when he used to show me all his stuff, but he’d been seriously offended by what I’d written about him, and he’d hardly talked to me since. I didn’t think I’d said anything too bad, but that’s not the way he saw it. I’d liked his poems too, even if they baffled me. But I’d liked the sound of the words.

Trucks grumble in the dark cold,
On the road to despair.
There’s no sun, no clouds,
No flags anywhere.
The men walk with bowed heads.
They have no love to spare.

That was one bit I remembered.

Next to me sat Robyn, the strongest person I knew. A funny thing seemed to have happened with Robyn. The longer this terrible thing lasted, the more relaxed she became. Like all of us, she’d been devastated by what happened to Corrie and Kevin, but that hadn’t stopped Robyn getting calmer with each passing day. She smiled a lot. She smiled at me a lot, which I appreciated. Not everybody smiled at me. Robyn was so brave that in the middle of one of our toughest times, driving a truck through a bullet storm at ninety k’s, she’d kept me sane. Left to myself I think I might have pulled over to the slow lane, to let all the enemy vehicles overtake. Or stopped at a pedestrian crossing, to give way to a soldier with a machine gun. I drew a lot of courage from Robyn that night, and other times too. I just hoped I didn’t leave her leeched dry.

Opposite Homer, sitting with her slender feet and her perfect ankles and her ballerina legs dangling in the water, was Fi. She still looked like she’d always done: ready to pour tea for your grandmother, and hand it over in a Royal Doulton cup. Or ready to step onto the cover of a Western Rose clothes catalogue. Ready to break another guy’s heart or make another girl jealous or make your own father go red and laugh and chatter away like he was twenty years younger. Yes, that was Fi: cute, pretty and fragile. That was Fi, walking alone through the dark night looking for enemy patrols, lighting a petrol-soaked fuse to blow up a bridge, riding a motorbike across country in a wild scramble to escape bullets.

I’d been awfully wrong about Fi.

And I still hadn’t got her figured out. After we’d blown up the bridge she’d been giggling, saying, ‘I can’t believe I did that! Let’s do some more!’ After Kevin drove away with Corrie unconscious in the back seat she cried for a week.

More than anyone, it was Fi who was hurt by what I’d written about our experiences. Chris had been angriest, but Fi had been hurt. She said I’d broken confidences, made her and Homer sound like dorks, like children, and that I’d cheated her by not telling her how I felt about Homer. I know what I wrote had a bad effect on their relationship. They got really self-conscious with each other, really awkward. I should have realised that would happen. I dumbed out.

Homer had been upset too, although he hadn’t said anything directly to me. That was a bad sign, because we’d always been able to talk so easily.