Emma sat up so fast that the remote sitting beside her fell pathetically onto the floor. Her eyes widened in attentiveness and she stared eagerly at the dolled-up newsreader, who was reading sweetly from her papers and batting her eyelashes at someone behind the camera.
“This murder took place in Tweed Heads by a bus stop. As usual, there were no witnesses. Police found the shovel beside the bus stop and DNA testing has revealed that the victim was an seventy-two-year-old man already nearing his death, Thomas Markson.”
Emma watched as picture popped up on the screen of the bloody shovel and a living Thomas Markson.
“The previous murder was in Pineville Views and, after much investigation, police have come to a conclusion about who the victim is: 24-year-old Lisa Lyric. Ever since the second murder using the Travelling Shovel of Death, authorities have been trying to find what relates the anonymous murderer’s choice of victims, but have so far found nothing. Constable Lucas Townsend made a speech about the Shovel at noon today.”
The Barbie newsreader was replaced by a policeman standing in front of a podium.
“Thirty-seven murders, ladies and gentlemen. Thirty-seven murders by a single murderer, using a single shovel, and absolutely no relation between those thirty-seven victims. The user of the shovel is clever and very cautious not to leave behind any evidence, making it impossible to catch him or her. That’s how cold these cases are,” Townsend said grimly. “We need more detectives to help us, but detectives costs money. Money we don’t have. Please donate to Australian police; by doing so, you will help save the case of the Travelling Shovel of Death.”
Barbie came back on.
“You can watch the full speech on our website and find a link to donate to the Australian Federal Police. And now onto the weather…”
Emma frowned. That Travelling Shovel of Death thing was so mysterious.
She picked up her remote to turn off the TV but stopped herself. The weather was equally interesting.
“An important alert for Queensland!” the weatherman announced, drawing the attention of his audience of millions towards him. “Dangerous storms are brewing just off the Eastern coast of Australia. All people living in Queensland are advised to bring their possessions inside and brace themselves for what the Australian Bureau of meteorology has dubbed ‘Storm Bomb’, which is estimated to hit the coast in a day or two. Fierce winds and thunder is predicted. Meanwhile, Tasmania is going to have a fine, sunny week.”
Emma switched off the TV and swung her legs off her bed. She bounded down the stairs and went out to the backyard, where Josh was happily flying his kite. Emma could see that boredom was beginning to creep in; it was evident in his expression.
“Let’s bring everything inside, Josh,” Emma said. The wind blew sharply and made the kite jerk in the other direction as she approached him.
“There’s going to be a storm. A really big one. It’s called ‘Storm Bomb’,” Emma informed him.
Josh scoffed. “That’s a really stupid name for a storm. You’re lying; there is no storm coming.”
“Yes, there is. They said so on the news,” Emma countered. She began to take the clothes off the collapsible washing line, but then decided just to bring the whole thing in.
Her father regarded her suspiciously.
“Emma, what in the world are you doing?”
“They said on the news that there’s going to be a storm,” Emma said, dragging the washing line into the middle of the living room.
“Oh, that’s right, I forgot. I’m getting old. Nowhere I stopped playing soccer with you so soon,” her dad muttered.
“Dad, you don’t stop playing because you get old. You get old because you stop playing,” Emma replied wisely.
“Now that’s something to think about,” her dad commented.
When Emma had brought everything from the backyard inside the house and was starting to bring in miscellaneous objects that littered the driveway, Josh eventually gave in and supposed that Emma wasn’t lying. He picked up a few small balls but stopped when he found a spare tire.
Emma got irritated at him when he decided to roll the tire along the empty road happily, rather than help her pick the things up, but Josh was as stubborn as Emma’s own hair and wouldn’t even reply when Emma shouted at him to start cleaning up.
The sun was setting when Emma finished bringing everything inside the house and when Josh finally got tired of the tire. It sent great streaks of gold and peach across the sky, illuminating the clouds prettily.
After dinner and a few hours of Family Guy, Josh and Emma went to bed while Emma’s parents stayed up to play Scrabble.
Before Emma closed her eyes, she gave the pendant that hung around her neck a final squeeze. Then her head hit the pillow and she was out.
“I apologise, but I’m as baffled as you. Would it aid you if I told you my name?”
The sun shined brighter in curiosity and the wind stopped blowing so that it could listen.
“My name is…”
He hesitated for a long moment. Emma was almost jumping up and down in excitement.
“Well, what is it?” she asked expectantly.
“No, I can’t tell you,” the mysterious man of her dreams sighed, also making Emma sigh in disappointment. “I know that you have a mission from Death. If I told you my name now, you would finish your mission instantly.”
“Exactly! That’s why I need you to tell me your name. Please?” Emma begged desperately.
“No, Emma. It’s never about the destination; it’s always about the journey.”
“But I want nothing more than to reach my destination! I don’t care for the journey; all I want is to find you and then experience life for that little period I have left,” Emma cried, wishing he would just reveal his identity. The wind sung sadly as a way of showing its sorrow for Emma.
“Experience life at the same time that you attempt to find me.”
“Please,” Emma pleaded, her voice barely above a whisper.
The man shook his head.
“Stubbornness will be your downfall, you know,” Emma said, angry that he had chosen not to disclose his identity.
“And persistence will be yours. You’ll find me soon. I can feel it.”
Emma stayed silent.
“In due time, Emma.”
Then he walked off into the distance.
The rest of Emma’s sleep was undisturbed by dreams or nightmares.
She woke up on Monday morning in an irritable mood, both because of the man’s mysteriousness and the annoying, high-pitched wail of her siren alarm. She had a week left to find the maddeningly stiff-necked man that visited her in her dreams.
And then she would have to kill him.
Well, she had to focus first on actually finding him.
“Turn that bloody thing off!” Josh snarled into his pillow, kicking at his sheets.
Emma groggily felt around the air beside her and her hand eventually came into contact with the alarm. She slammed it, but it wouldn’t turn off because she couldn’t feel the button, so instead she threw it at the wall.
The alarm stopped and Emma opened her eyes at once. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that the alarm had only hit the floor, rather than the walls or Josh’s bed.
“Thank you,” Josh muttered before returning to his sleep.
She threw a couple of pillows at him and swung herself off her bed.
Halfway through her breakfast, Josh came down and poured himself some orange juice. She prepared herself for school much earlier than him and caught the bus before Josh had even finished his large breakfast of scrambled eggs and slightly burnt bacon.
Emma didn’t relish the thought of getting on the bus with Julia. Perhaps, if she were lucky, Julia wouldn’t be there.
To her dismay, she saw Julia sitting smugly beside Opal after she paid her fee to Dennis the hippie. She immediately sat on a seat to hide her face from Opal, who was luckily looking out the window at the grey sky.
For the whole ride, Emma did nothing but observe the view that the window gave her. The dark colour in the sky told her that a storm was indeed brewing, and that she had better be prepared for it. Too bad she had forgotten her umbrella today – but then again, it would probably break because of the fierce winds that were expected.
After a long session of Dennis’ driving that made Emma’s stomach churn uncomfortably, everybody piled out, with Emma in the lead. She ran up the steps and proceeded to enter her Care Class, but someone grabbed her shoulder.
“Your bike is at the bike racks, just so you know,” Lester said in his gravelly voice. “Carmen, er… borrowed it that rainy night.”
“Burrowed, sure,” Emma said with a grin. “Thanks for telling me. Now I won’t have to catch the bus with that dangerous Dennis guy…”
The bell rung through the school hallways. Emma waved Lester goodbye and walked through the door, just missing a large group of girls texting distractedly with long, manicured nails.
Opal waved happily at Emma, who gladly returned the gesture. Their next class was History, which they had together (and without Julia, to Emma’s immense relief). The teacher began to call people up to do their speeches on events in history that had caused mass death. Unfortunately, Emma hadn’t done her speech.
A girl called Gabrielle Uren began her speech and Emma tried hard not to fall into a stupor, unlike Opal, who was listening attentively.
“In 1816 there was a severe drop in temperature due to climate changes and a volcanic eruption that took place in 1815, causing a volcanic winter event. The most affected areas were the northeast United States and Canada, as well as most of Western Europe. There was famine and poverty, so much so that over 100,000 people died,” Gabrielle droned on.
The end of her speech was met with soft and polite clapping from those bothered to move their hands. The next girl, Alice MacDowall, began her speech in a cheery tone that at least prevented Emma from falling asleep.
“The Black Death was an epidemic of an infectious disease, one that caused devastating mortality rates of all those who came in contact with the plague. It is estimated that it killed around 100 million people.”
A few boys and then Opal did their speeches, and suddenly it was Emma’s turn.
“Sorry, sir, I didn’t manage to finish my speech,” she lied as smoothly as possible.
She got detention. That was when she remembered that she also had afterschool detention… but she wouldn’t go to that.
“I saw you on the bus this morning,” Opal whispered as a girl started talking about a great volcano eruption. “How come you didn’t come over?”
Emma gulped. “Well, Julia… is kind of scary…”
“Scary?” Opal repeated, shaking silently with laughter. “What makes you think that?”
“She gives me these looks sometimes… I don’t know… They give me the feeling that she’s planning something really bad. It’s a kind of dark, devious look,” Emma admitted.
Opal stared at her for a second, before saying, “Emma, are you jealous?”
“No!” Emma denied, alarmed. She stopped talking when the teacher shot a nasty look at her, and then she continued when he turned away.
“Opal, I’m not jealous of Julia! Why would I be?”
“Well, I do hang out with her a lot,” Opal considered. “In fact, I think I’m hanging out less with you than with her. That’s really sad!”
“I’m not jealous, trust me,” Emma promised.
“That’s good to hear.” Emma was relieved that Opal had finally accepted that she had been telling the truth. “Though it’s kind of funny how you hang out with Josh and the other guys.”
“I don’t know. Because they’re boys, I guess.”
Emma grinned. “Well, boys and girls can be best friends.”
Opal thought about that for a moment, her face scrunched up.
“I guess you’re right. Lily’s best friend is a nerdy male.”
The rest of the day passed without many interesting events or happenings. At lunch, Emma chose to play soccer with the guys again instead of sitting next to Opal, while at the same time facing Julia’s expressions. As she hurriedly turned away, Julia shot Emma a mischievous and rather evil look.
“God, she’s so scary,” Emma muttered under her breath while shaking her head.
At the end of the day, she skipped detention and hopped on her bike, keen to get back home. She found that she was pedalling slowly, though, because her legs were worn out from Sport that day.
Animals started following her again.
“Are you trying to terrorise me or something?” Emma cried unhappily, pedalling faster.
The pack grew steadily with the addition of new animals. Emma was able to pedal faster than she usually did because the weather was very cool; no doubt thanks to Storm Bomb.
“Get away from me! Go chase some prey! Get away!” Emma shouted at the animals, though her attempts were fruitless and completely futile. The animals only seem angered at her words and bounded or scurried or galloped or even slithered towards her.
“This is most irregular!” Emma pouted, wishing she could stamp her foot on the ground to complete the look. “Stop it! Go!”
Why couldn’t she just ride home in peace?
“Bloody animals! I hate you all,” Emma yelled behind her darkly.
The animals sped up more at this statement and Emma sped up with them, swinging her legs in circles like a pumping machine. She began to sweat, despite the chilly temperature and the cold breeze pinching her cheeks. The animals seemed undeterred by Emma’s negative comments.
“Why can’t you go and terrorise someone, like, I don’t know, Carmen Alaceleste?” Emma suggested hopefully.
To utter disbelief and surprise, the elephant replied in perfect English.
“Carmen is our master,” it grunted in the most gravelly of voice.
Emma was so shocked to hear the animal reply that she didn’t see that she was rapidly approaching the curb, and then bike flipped. Emma fell painfully on another person’s lawn beside her wreck of a bike.
To make things even better, it began to rain. The freezing droplets assaulted Emma’s skin and uniform, making her uniform see-through as it had been before.
“No!” Emma screamed to the sky in frustration. The animals made her so angry that she didn’t even mind looking like a lunatic, staring up at the greenish clouds and shrieking furiously.
She didn’t even bother to mount her bike again. Instead, she walked it home and dropped it in the driveway. When she was all the way at the top of the stairs, she remembered that she had to bring it inside and angrily descended the endless stairs just for her stupid bike.
Her mother and father greeted her the second time she came in. Emma returned the greeting quickly and jogged up the stairs to grab a robe and wrap it around herself. Now Josh wouldn’t be able to see beneath her shirt.
“Josh, get off the computer,” Emma snapped suddenly, surprising a sleepy Josh.
“Get off the computer,” Emma repeated with an authoritative voice.
When he didn’t budge, she physically pushed him off and stole the office chair. He frowned at her indignantly.
“Thanks for that, Emma,” he said, his voice coated with thick sarcasm.
“No problem at all, Josh,” Emma replied distractedly.
She searched for many things, all the while cursing her research skills, or lack thereof.
“Talking animals… terrorising animals… animal curse… animals following you…” Emma muttered, typing in each thing she said. Sadly, every search ended up with fairy tales and other miscellaneous stories.
Nothing at all helped her. She went downstairs to get herself something to eat and Josh got back on the computer to do whatever he was doing.
She made a jam sandwich and stuffed it in her mouth, pulling the robe tighter around her, and then pulled up a chair right beside the largest window in the house to watch the sky. The storm was close to hitting Pineville, Emma could tell. And then when it did, it would take ages to go away because the weatherman had been stressing how large the storm was.
“Mum, when the storm comes, do I still have to go to school?” Emma asked casually.
Her mum’s eyes shot up like rockets.
“Storm? What storm?”
“Storm Bomb. You know, that thing they’ve been talking about on the news?”
When her mum’s face didn’t change at all, Emma sighed.
“Do you even watch the news?” Emma deadpanned.
“No,” her mum admitted.
“You have it on all the time!”
“I don’t watch it, though,” her mum said, laughing. “Alright, when the storm comes, of course I’m not letting you go to school! Storms are dangerous!”
“Yes, they are,” Emma agreed, happy that she wouldn’t have to sit through any more History or Maths classes.
The rain poured down heavily and Emma got rather excited when the first crack of thunder boomed across Pineville. It was at that exact moment that the doorbell rung, so nobody heard. When it rung a second time, however, Emma got up to answer.
She looked through the peephole and saw nothing. Perhaps someone had left a package.
When she opened the door, her only thought was, this is no package.
The animals had somehow managed to ring her doorbell! They were taking the terrorisation to a new level. Not only had they invaded her riding time, they had also invaded her home.
“Shoo!” Emma yelled in the face of the panting, spotted dog. “Go away!”
“No,” it refused gruffly. Emma brought her fist backward to punch but the elephant put its trunk protectively in front of the dog.
“Do anything to harm us and we’ll call our master,” the elephant threatened.
“Do anything to harm me and I’ll… I’ll call my master!” Emma bluffed.
“You don’t have a master,” the cat said coldly. It saw right through Emma’s weak bluff.
“We don’t really want to harm you,” the snake hissed thoughtfully. “We jusssst want to annoy you and… terrorise you, as you ssssssaid.”
Emma slammed the door in their animalistic faces.
She stormed up to her room and her ignored her parents’ questions, her body weighed down by the thought of these animals invading more parts of her life.
Emma had planned to spend the rest of the evening watching the storm and perhaps cuddling up in bed with one of Josh’s thrillers, but those pesky animals thought otherwise. An innocent-looking blue jay tapped its beak on the bedroom window. Josh paused his conversation with Lester over the phone and shooed away the bird, but it didn’t budge.
It tapped louder and Josh and Emma just ignored the silly bird. When the taps were much too frequent and much too loud for Josh, he got up and stormed away in annoyance, so that he could converse in peace. Emma gave up on ignoring the bird and opened the window slightly; not enough so the bird could get in, but at least enough to let sound in and out.
Rain streamed through inside the room, making a wet spot on the floor.
“What?” Emma hissed angrily. “What do you want?”
“From you? Oh, absolutely nothing at all,” the bird chirped.
“But you just want to feel my pain,” Emma said bitterly.
A hissing sound could be heard outside the window and Emma immediately tried to close her window, but it wouldn’t budge. The two men that always appeared near the animals were standing underneath the dark shadow of a tree, staring up at Emma’s window with their faces still somehow managing to be covered. Emma knew that those men were preventing the window from being closed.
The great, emerald green snake slithered in, as thick as a tree branch and as strong as twenty men. It hissed with disdain at Emma, who simply stared at it, wide-eyed.
It moved elegantly through her room and Emma bit back a scream. She watched as it creeped across the floor and then turned to slide out of her room. Suddenly, the window snapped completely open of its own accord and the blue jay, along with several other breeds of birds, swooped in.
Then the rest of the animals that could reach Emma’s window intruded, such as the monkeys and the rats that had climbed up through the pipes. There were also several butterflies that obviously couldn’t do much harm to Emma, but they were accompanied by swarms of bees and flies.
“Sting me and you’ll die,” Emma spat at the bees, which buzzed angrily and raced towards her. She shrieked and raised her arms over face, but felt nothing. The noise was gone. When she had the courage to open her eyes, there were no animals present in her room.