‘Dad, I’m begging you not to go.’ A tear dripped onto my school skirt.
‘Shush, Karen. Come out here.’ He’d opened the sliding door and stepped into our grassy yard, growing wild since the rain.
He crept toward the shed at the back of the yard.
‘What’s that noise?’ he asked. I heard a scratch and a yap.
He tugged the shed door open. ‘Here he comes!’ A brown puppy galloped to him and to me, then ran circles around our yard.
‘Dad! Is he for me?’
‘Happy 13th birthday, Kaz. Will you turn into a rotten brat, now?’
He ruffled my hair. I pushed his hand off and smoothed my long blonde strands. ‘Yep, just like you.’
I went to school and dad went to work, Proofing Lismore against the Perforation. That night he came through our squeaking screen door and plonked Indian takeaway on the table.
‘See, little princess?’ he said. ‘No hole swallowed me up.’
Sun blaring in the window was making my bed too hot. I sat up panting. I’d had the dream again: a hole had swallowed the town where dad was working. Roger’s black nose poked open my door and he leapt onto my blanket, claws digging into my ribs, pink tongue licking for my cheeks.
‘Roger!’ I hugged him and stroked his velvet ears, then padded out to the kitchen.
Dad was stepping through the door, draining his coffee mug.
‘You ducking out again?’ I glared at him over Roger’s head.
‘No, Kaz. Just gotta run. I’m on the make ready job for Brisbane. Tomorrow’s Proofing.’
‘Dad, please don’t go, I’ve got this feeling…’
He came back in, dirt crumbling from his boots onto the floorboards. His yellow jacket crinkled, smelling of plastic, as he hugged me.
‘I’ll be fine.’
That afternoon I walked out the school gates with friends, pushing my bike alongside. Boys jostled by the fence, showing off for some giggling girls. I turned toward Dina. She was checking BOM on her phone. People used to check the weather. These days, they looked to see what towns or suburbs had vanished. For months, now, nothing had disappeared. I wanted to tell Dina not to look but she was turning to me, pale, her mouth slightly open. I grabbed the phone. Half of Burleigh, gone; Parkwood, gone; the City of Brisbane — I gulped — gone.
Hands were on me, trying to hug me. I needed to get away. I straddled my bike as the girls called for teachers. A few strong pushes on the pedals took me out of their reach.
I wheeled my bike onto the train at Robina station. The end of the line was now Park Road station, near the old Brisbane gaol. No-one spoke on the long ride. Some sniffled. I couldn’t cry.
I got off the train with my bike, wove through crowds of commuters and frantic loved-ones, then rode along Woolloongabba’s backstreets toward the freeway. As I came to the overpass I saw the crater that had engulfed Brisbane’s centre. The brown river ran, unaltered. Bridges still spanned its width, but metres onto the north bank it looked like the black mouth below had bitten the bridge’s ends off. Where the city had been, the crater gaped, swirling with grey mist.
I looked over to Southbank, swarming with army, Police and council workers wearing orange vests. I searched for the yellow coats of Proofing contractors but saw none.
My dad was in that hole.
I made it to the river’s edge and waited for dark, then walked along the riverfront houses of Mowbray Park. Hours passed before I found a kayak that wasn’t chained up and dragged it to the water. The paddle clunked as I slid in, shivering in my wet school skirt and thin cotton shirt. Night would hide my passage upriver.
Small waves lapped the kayak as I fought the tide. Hair blew in my eyes and whipped my neck. My arms and shoulders ached as I finally rowed into the mangroves at what had been the Botanic Gardens. Dark leaves rustled against a silvering sky and beyond them was the crater’s edge. I trudged up to the rim, leaves crunching underfoot.
The crater’s continuous black wall was shiny as fresh tar, with thousands of tiny holes lining the surface, and more perforations within those. I shivered and looked away. It felt like the crater was staring at — probing — me. I squinted into the grey mist that swirled within.
‘Why did you do it?’ I yelled.
‘It’s a girl!’
The man’s shout made me jump. It came from the bridge behind me. Distant footfalls slapped against the road – soldiers running to save me.
‘I’m coming to get him,’ I said, my breath stirring the mist.
And then I dived.
The voices were a world away. I stood beside my dad, over a floor of strangers that slept with open eyes. The mist smelt faintly of rot and burnt rubber. Empty black holes riddled all our skins and although dad stood by me he couldn’t speak. He smiled sadly like a damaged photograph.
The soldiers called again so I rose to the crater’s edge.
‘There she is!’ They called. They saw my perforated face. ‘Oh my God!’
When they reached for me I dropped back down.
‘Karen! Kaz!’ Dina called.
I rose. Above the crater it was midday. I squinted, scanning the mangroves for Dina. The sun was too bright, it shone through my holes showing that I was obviously horribly empty, so I stepped toward the shade.
A fine fibre net sprung from the ground, catching me like strong spider web. Soldiers ran at me, slipped a canvas sack over my head and threw me on a cold floor. An engine revved, the truck lurched forward.
For the first time since dad’s death — or mine? — I cried.
A white room. The ground below my chair was dappled with bright circles, like miniature spotlights, from the lights above shining in and out my perforations. Researchers had probed me with instruments, exchanging horrified looks.
‘Turn off the lights,’ I begged. ‘Let me go back to the darkness.’
My desperation built into a moan, then a scream, shrill and continuous. It shifted from my mouth to emanate from all the black holes in my skin. Hurricanes swirled forth from them, forming one giant, dark whirlwind. The white room greyed, it shook and shattered, as the crater engulfed me.
Above the misted darkness a dog was barking.
I brushed my blonde hair back and glanced at dad, still smiling. I stroked his shoulder, avoiding his black holes.
I rose to the crater’s lip, searching for a trap. Leaves crunched under the mangroves, crushed by a big dog’s paws. His fur was dripping and he shook himself then pawed the ground.
I knelt. ‘Come.’
He lay down, whined, then crawled to me and licked my hand. My old mobile phone was clipped to his collar. I unhooked it and checked the messages.
Kaz, U xtended th cr8er by callng it. U cntrld th Pr48tn. U can stp it.
My head was hollow. Was that true?
Theyv fnshd Proofng frm Southprt 2 Mlbrn. They think no hls can breach t but theyr wrng. If any1 can stp it U can. Do it!’
I scooped Roger up and faced the crater. He whined, begging me not to take him. But I needed him, his help. I jumped, his howl spiralling upward.
We plunged down into dark mist, the fall dragging my hair upwards. I crashed past my father, through the floor. The rushing air buffeted us and I squeezed Roger, tangling my fingers in his hair so tightly that he snarled.
The vacuum began to suck out my breath.
‘Perforation?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ said a hollow voice.
‘Go away,’ I begged. ‘Give my dad and the other people back.’
Infinite gaping eyes turned on me.
‘They’re lost,’ it said. ‘But this…Roger…I want it, too.’
The Perforation’s focus built. Wind whipped my feet out from under me and I tumbled, clutching Roger tightly. The Perforation’s hunger turned to him. I heard its desire to pierce his fur and translucent skin; to consume his organs and soul.
I screamed, shrill enough to stab my own holes through reality’s branes, and I splayed my fingertips outward, letting Roger fall away. White needles of desperate love shot from my fingertips, penetrating the black cliffs of the crater, piercing every Perforation eye across the world. I dragged them back to me, sucking the entire perforation in through my skin’s craters, with a flow of air to fuel my continuing scream.
The Perforation resisted. BANG: its hold snapped.
Then nothing but drifting silence.
I open my eyes. The Earth hovers over my palm. Against space my skin is reversed night sky: silver, with infinite black eyes.
Over wind-blown grass on the freeway’s verge, Roger is galloping home.
I have no home. I am the Perforation.