Stephanie Kervin 2016-18
Suddenly, the three of them were standing on the edge of a battlefield. Bullets were flying everywhere, screams echoing with each one that found its mark.
Tears streamed down Sophie's face at the sight of more destruction. "Why is this happening?" She asked desperately.
The Author turned to her. "Because each man here firmly believes that he is in the right, and the other side is wrong." He turned back to face the battlefield and pointed at what seemed to be one side of the fighting. "For example, if you were to portray them as evil, then no one would bat an eye at this."
Raising his pen, he pointed it at an important-looking middle-aged man shouting orders to three other soldiers. A second later, the man's body flew back a few feet, driven by the impact of the shrapnel that had hit him. Two of the three soldiers that he had been directing instantly retreated to the next person in charge, but the youngest just stood there, staring horrified at the blood that was spilling from his superior's gut. The boy could not be 18 yet, he looked barely 16.
A strangled exclamation left Peter's throat. "What did you do that for?!" He screamed at The Author.
"To prove a point." came the calm response.
Peter sounded like he was choking. "To prove a point?!" He thundered "You would kill someone to prove a point?!"
"Well of course I would. That's what authors do."
Peter still looked ready to strangle The Author, who sighed. "Don't you see?! If you had read that scene in a book you wouldn't bat an eye. A high officer on the 'evil' side was just killed. That, in a book, would be considered a victory."
As Sophie and Peter exchanged a look, The Author raised his pen once more. "But what if I were to do this?" Pointing his pen towards the 'good' side, a young soldier - Australian, Sophie suspected judging by his uniform - who had been running forward suddenly wasn't running anymore. His head jerked back slightly when the bullet hit him square in the forehead, and his entire body slumped instantly. He hit the ground with a sickening crunch, but no one heard it over the gunshots.
As the two of them stood in shocked silence, The Author wearily lowered his pen. "I always hate killing a good guy. No one cares if you kill a bad guy, you even get satisfaction out of it. But killing someone who is seen as good is very draining." He gestured back to the battlefield. "Maybe that's why these guys can find it within themselves to kill another human being," he commented as bodies continued to drop on each side, "they each view the other as evil."
They stood in silence for a few minutes, until The Author took their hands and the battlefield started to spin away into blackness. In her final glimpses of the destruction, Sophie saw that the young soldier who had been looking at his superior had been standing still for too long.
She started to feel sorry for him, then saw that the young Australian soldier had company. Another man, about the same age, was bending over him, clinging the body to his chest, crying. Yet another man ran over. He looked like the crying man's brother, and seemed to be trying to drag his brother away. The man refused, mainly on the account that he was now slumped over his friend, blood all but spurting from his neck. The older brother snatched his hand back like it had been stung, horror and pain clearly etched on his muddy face.
Sophie couldn't see anything after that, as The Author guided them through space to the next book. But she couldn't help the anger and sadness that raged through her. How dare those people hurt others like that?! They killed that man's friend, then killed him in front of his brother. How dare those awful, evil...
The image of the other boy flashed into her mind. He'd seen a man killed right before his eyes, by the very people she'd just been crying over, and had been shot while just standing there. Was that not wrong? He was definitely underage as well, Sophie decided. Could she really call him evil? Or was that side only evil when it suited her?
Suddenly she figured out what The Author was telling her. Good and evil are not the best way to describe people - they're very opinionated words.
Craning her neck to look at Peter, she saw tear tracks marking his face, and knew that he had come to roughly the same conclusion.
Human lives are all connected, like the biggest spiderweb you've ever seen. We all laugh in the same language and bleed in the same colour. And yet, when humans interact, there seems to be a lot of bleeding happening - mainly because people often don't stop to think about this intertwining spiderweb of lives.
Peter could remember that from a young age he was obsessed with all the Superhero comics. Thinking back now, they all had a similar message: "It's okay to hurt people if they're bad." What if those 'bad guys' had family?!
Trying to put the villains of Superhero comics into the scenario of the battle he had just seen, he felt tears trickling down his cheeks. How unfair was it that he had been convinced that there was a clear line between good and evil! How wrong he had been...
He glanced down at his sister and caught her staring at him. He was suddenly self-conscious of the fact that he had been crying. Boys don't cry, he told himself as he angrily wiped his tears away with his free hand.
They had been flying through blackness for a good 5 minutes now, but now a spiral of colour was opening up in front of them. It grew larger and larger, until they flew into the centre and landed in a muddy street. Wait, that wasn't mud.
The Author seemed unfazed by the strong smell, but then, traveling everywhere and everywhen was his job.
There was a festival going on. They were in the Middle Ages, the siblings guessed. An announcement sounded that the next fight was for the hand of the princess, and the sound of horses running, a loud crack, and cheering filled the air. Jousting.
Sophie groaned. "More fighting?!" She whispered. Her face was still pale from the last story.
Peter started moving towards the racket of jousting, but The Author grabbed his hand. "Wrong way." He pulled them both in the opposite direction, and soon they heard the sound of clashing swords.
They watched the sword fight for a while until one conquered the other. The Author was still, calmly watching the fight, and Sophie and Peter exchanged a glance. Was there a reason they were watching this?
The Author smiled, reading their minds. "You will see why we are here." He said smugly, as the defeated competitor left the 'ring'. The victor was a huge man, and when he lifted his visor they saw his bushy red beard and dark eyes. While his expression was happy as he lifted his arms in victory, his eyes looked dead, like he couldn't be bothered trying.
Another competitor stepped up, and just for a second something flashed over the knight's face. He looked like he would rather be anywhere else but fighting.
The other competitor looked a lot scrawnier, and they walked strangely, Peter thought. Like a girl, he realised suddenly.
"The next thing I want to introduce you to," said the Author as he raised his pen, ready to direct the fight. The competitors lifted their swords. "Gender roles."
Attitudes to Suicide
In February, I received the news that my Mum had committed suicide. At her memorial, only one person came close to mentioning how she died. This person visibly checked herself to avoid saying the subject, and there was an air of tension in the room. And I was thinking, why? Yes, it might be unpleasant to mention the cause of death in a memorial, but I get the feeling that the tension came specifically from the fact that it was the topic of suicide that was nearly breached. In the past, a lot of suicide deaths were covered up, as they were seen as shameful to the family.
Another time I experienced a stigma around the topic of suicide was on the bus on the way to school. There were two year 8s a few metres away from each other on the bus. On was shouting at the other: “Go kill yourself!”, and the other one was replying: “I’ll go cut tonight.” This back-and-forward continued, with them debating which poison the “suicidal” one would use to kill himself. They saw it as a joke, but this was not a quiet conversation. This was practically shouting at each other over the span of at least half of the very crowded bus. They seemed to think that suicidal people were stupid, making up their problems, and deserving of ridicule. And they seemed to think that that opinion needed to be shared with a busload of people.
Two very different attitudes towards suicide – pushing it away, or loud ridicule – both negative views. Of course, pushing it away does make some sense. Suicide is a negative topic, I mean, someone is hurting so badly that they take their own life. But the truth is that suicide is the leading cause of death of Australians between the ages of 15 and 44. Pushing away the topic of suicide is not working. If suicide victims are weak or stupid, Australians are pretty damn weak.
Now, how different would this statistic be if suicidal people felt that they could talk to others about their problems, without fear of being dismissed or ridiculed?
Let’s play “would you rather”. Here’s the situation: you are suicidal, hurting so much that death seems less painful than living. Would you rather the people around you be supportive and want to help you or be ridiculing and not want to hear your problems, shutting them down as stupid? Now, does your answer line up with how you act towards the topic of suicide?
Those kids on the bus probably didn’t spare a thought that someone might have recently lost family to suicide, or that they might have lost friends, or be considering suicide themselves. I was fine, just annoyed, but how would it affect someone feeling that way to hear their problems, their pain, their depression ridiculed in front of many people. It could make them question whether their problems are real, shutting them off from people who actually want to help them.
A requirement of coming to Eltham High School is that you follow the school values. Social responsibility means that if you see something dodgy happening in your social environment, you step up. If you hear people joking about suicide or self-harm, or trying to shut down others who are talking about the injustice of suicide, it is your responsibility as an Eltham High student to tell them that that is not okay. I suppose that makes me a hypocrite, coz I didn’t tell those boys on the bus to not joke about it, but that just means I really need to do that next time.
The leading cause of death in Australia is preventable. The stigma surrounding suicide is responsible for the fact that over a quarter of deaths in males aged 15-24, and overall 12 deaths for every 100 000 Australians – or around 2800 Australian deaths per year, are due to suicide. School values may be painful and overused, but if you can’t see the point in having the social responsibility to stand up against this stigma, maybe you should consider finding a new school. Let’s work together to a better future, where we leave behind the days when suicide is shameful to the family, or casually joked about.
I remember hearing about a whale who sings at a different frequency to other whales. Because of this, it cannot communicate with other whales – they cannot hear its song. It reminds me of one of my friends. She seems to see the world differently, on another spectrum entirely. We’ll call her Violet, because I think that’s how she sees the world: in the brightest, most vibrant mix of red and blue there is. She shows a bright and happy façade to the world, but her very makeup is a swirling storm of anger and sadness.
I think the world shows in red and blue for Violet, yet somehow she maintains a bright exterior.
Sometimes I wonder about that lonely whale, and whether it realises that it’s alone. I wonder does it go about crying out for…anyone…to answer it, to make it not feel so alone. Or does it know that it is the only one that sings that song? The only one that can hear and understand itself? Does it sing its song for itself, and only itself, because it knows that it only needs to please itself?
And then I wonder the same about Violet. Does she realise that she is the only one that sees the way she does? Or is she going about her day helplessly trying to figure out why no one seems to understand, seems to see the world the way she does? And these other colours “green” and “yellow”, that everyone keeps talking about: what do they look like?
There’s nothing wrong with being alone, but it’s never nice to feel lonely.
The Rose Garden Memories
Some memories you see. Some memories you smell. Some memories you taste. But some memories you feel. They’re the ones where your eyes were closed, blurred by tears, or where you were so tight in someone’s arms that nothing else existed.
I would like to present you with a memory.
St Kilda, 12th February, 2017
We had wandered away from the noise and bustle of the festival and into the gardens. It had been odd, the festival. The last festival had been the happiest day of my life, for many reasons. It was also only one day before my mother had died. I don’t like the other phrases for it. Softer phrases like “took her own life”, “passed away”, “we lost her”, that are meant to soften a blow. They are unnecessary. She just fucking died.
But however you say it, time was moving on, very quickly, and it was moving on without my mother. And that was odd.
The day was spent in happiness, but with an underlying numbness. It was in the Rose Garden that the tiredness hit all of us. The grass was soft, the air was clear, and the roses were pretty. We lay down, sleepy. At one point, I rolled over onto my stomach and gazed up into the nearest rose bush, deep in thought. I must have seemed troubled, because he touched my shoulder. “What’s up?”
And I said the words, the words that had been circling in my mind all day without any emotional consequence. The words that explained how last St Kilda Festival was the day before my mother had killed herself, and how the coming Wednesday would be a year since that day.
Before I said those words, I was okay, and suddenly I wasn’t anymore.
The memory of last St Kilda Festival, I feel. It’s in my chest. A blooming happiness that flushes up into my face. I feel a tingling on my cheeks where the smile I had that day was. I feel the cold salt water splashing around me. I feel laughter constantly bubbling.
The memory of the Rose Garden, I feel also. I feel an incredible, overwhelming love in my chest. I feel the tears in my heavy eyes and on my cheeks, and the fabric of his t-shirt against my face. I feel the soft grass under me, and his lips pressed gently, caringly against mine. And I feel his hands rubbing my back, and his arms around me.
I see it, too, obviously. I see the blurred green of the grass through my half-closed eyes and the pale pink of the roses. They grow darker as I’m pulled into his chest.
But mainly, I feel it. Sometimes, the strongest of memories can be no more than a blur of half-seen green and pink, and an incredible feeling of love.
A Largely Inarticulate Discourse on Life and Death
Last year, Valentine's Day.
St Kilda, by the beach.
Dad said, very next day,
Mum had slipped out of reach.
That day changed my story.
I learned: life is gory.
One mission in friends' heads:
Hold back the scythe death yields.
No one said the word 'dead';
Euphemisms, their shields.
"Steph, I know you're bereft",
They say. "'Cause your Mum has left".
Your buzzwords do not help.
"Sorry", "Much love", you coo.
Pain so blunt I could yelp.
Panic, out of the blue.
One and a half years passed;
Each moment, someone's last.
I stand out on a ledge
With this feeling I hate -
Always feeling on edge;
Couldn't tragedy wait?
I was far too young. I
Try to ask myself why
Loved ones die. Why I age
But others never wake.
One fact fills me with rage:
Life gives so much but takes
And takes. Mum lived in hell
While she lived in life's spell.
'Cause "others were to blame".
False, she sparked her own pain.
She was so quick to shame;
I s'pose it kept her sane.
I wish that time would slow.
This winter's cold as snow.
Book Review - Stranger the Dreamer
“On the second sabbat of Twelfthmoon, a girl fell from the sky.” Upon reading those words, my heart fell. This was the opening line of my new book, Strange the Dreamer. My sister and I had splurged and purchased a FairyLoot box as a combined-early-birthday-present-to-ourselves, and this was the book that came with it.
I was disappointed. I was disappointed when I read the blurb. I was disappointed when I saw an interview with the author and found out that the story was going to be a romance. I was disappointed when I read that opening line. If I had opened the book in a bookshop or a library, it would have been placed directly back on the shelf with an eyeroll and a sense of dismay that such a beautiful cover could be marred by such a uniform story.
Uniform. That was the word that came to mind as I read it. Nothing original happened - it was just like every other YA fantasy novel in existence. I only kept reading because I was determined to finish this book that my sister and I had bought ourselves. Laini Taylor has a way with words that makes every sentence beautiful, lyrical… but most authors can do that. Putting words together in a pretty way is something that most of us with a brain can do, but I was looking for a good story. A good story was not being provided… until I got past the first few chapters.
Suddenly, it became interesting. This uniform story - with unoriginal characters who had stupid names, set in places called “Zosma” and “Elmuthaleth” (stupid place names kill my interest in stories) – spun itself into something special. The characters started speaking to me, their stories making me laugh, (almost) cry, bite my nails with anxiety, and almost throw the book through a wall when the author had the audacity to end the book with “To Be Continued”. Dear Laini Taylor, you’re not my friend anymore. That was very rude.
Strange the Dreamer is one of the very few romance stories I have ever enjoyed. Romance in novels is usually tedious, forced, and unnecessary, but the romance between Lazlo and Sarai is beautifully written.
My message is: give Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer a chance. I know for a fact that if I had come across it in a bookshop or library, I would have dismissively placed it straight back on the shelf. As luck would have it, I gave it a chance and now this book has a treasured place on my bookshelf. It is a beautifully written story, a story of magic, adventure, and of romance that is actually written well (!!!). I would highly recommend giving it a read despite the flat, uniform feeling to the beginning few chapters.
Genetically Modified Food
In light of all of the energy people waste protesting against the genetic modification of food, I’d like to bring some facts to your attention. This piece is based on a Science assessment task of mine surrounding natural and artificial selection, responding to the question: “Discuss the ethical implications of genetic engineering – is it an aberration against nature or the salvation of humanity?”
Genetic modification is talked about as if it is new. It’s not. The moment humans started the move from early hunter-gatherer societies into the first agricultural communities, we started fiddling with genes. When domesticating animals and cultivating plants, we picked and chose what we wanted and selectively bred the ones with the most favorable traits – not necessarily for them, but for us as their owners/consumers. For example, we prefer domestic animals to be sweet and docile, whereas the more vicious hunters would be the ones to survive had natural selection been able to run its course. We took these organisms out of their natural environment, introduced fences, and changed the properties of the soil through ploughing and irrigation. In doing this, we removed or changed selective agents acting upon them – for example susceptibility to predators and other dangers that were in their wild environment.
Fun Fact: The Italian word for tomato is pomodoro, which literally translates to “golden apple” – they weren’t originally red; that was our doing through selective breeding.
While at this stage in history we may not have been physically reaching inside an organism and meddling with their genes, our actions drastically changed what gene variations were going to come through the strongest. We tampered with the environment, with the natural way that natural selection would run according to factors in the natural environment such as predation. The traits that we, as consumers, selected to be the most favourable and unfavourable are not necessarily the ones that would have come out in a natural situation. If this could not be described as artificial selection, I don’t know what could be.
Am I saying that selective breeding is a bad thing? Absolutely not! I am saying that genetic modification/engineering is something that has been widely practiced for years, with almost entirely positive effects.
Now, I assume the prompt wants me to talk about genetic engineering in the form of physically manipulating the genes in a laboratory setting, taking genes from one organism and putting them into other ones. I say that, ethically, there is not a whole lot of difference between that and selective breeding. Selective breeding has been around for millennia without causing controversy. They have the same goals – in the example of crops, making the crops as high-yielding, disease/weather-resistant, long-lasting, attractive, and great-tasting as possible – but they go about it in a different way. This “different way” is one that reduces the unpredictability that comes with the trial and error of selective breeding. Also, with selective breeding, you have to test it after every variation, which can take years. To get a particular variation, you might need to cross-breed and then cross-breed and then cross-breed again, which is very time consuming and subject to chance. With genetic engineering in a laboratory setting, you are able to do this faster, and also be more precise.
Now, in Australia, we are very lucky to have a stable food supply. The speed at which we can find a more effective variation does not particularly mean life-or-death for us. But I would like you all to appreciate that in many developing countries people are currently in danger of starving to death due to their crops and livestock having low resistance to disease and weather, and/or being very low-yield. Maybe we can afford for some of our food supply to be unreliable for a few years until we get the variation we want (or don’t get it! Selective breeding doesn’t always work!). But people who are starving don’t have that time and can’t afford to gamble with a million variables. And no one should expect them to have to do that when we have the technology to genetically modify crops to suit their needs.
I would like to clarify now that by saying “selective breeding doesn’t always work”, I don’t mean that I believe that genetic engineering in a laboratory works all of the time. My point is that it doesn’t take years of cross breeding to realise that an alteration doesn’t work.
To conclude my opinion of genetic engineering in food: Genetic engineering is seen as contentious, new, and as having bad intentions. But take a minute to ask yourself this question:
“Am I okay with the fact that all plant and animal ingredients I have consumed in my life have been selectively bred (i.e. undergone artificial genetic modification) for thousands of years?”
If you say yes, then you should be okay with genetically modified food. Selective breeding and genetic engineering of food have the exact same goals, only that genetic engineering gets the job done more effectively and efficiently.
Skylarking Creative Response - Alexandria
The sky was grey and yellow forever that day. Grey and yellow and so dark. The odours of sulphur and smog hung in the air, the strongest they’d been since Armageddon. In every direction, rubble lay sprawled in piles – black sand dunes in a metal desert. We broiled under the heat of the sun, but the howling wind cut through us like blades of ice. Melbourne had never been known for its consistent weather.
We’d had good pickings for the day. We’d found an old fridge, broken of course. Inside was some ginger cake, half a loaf of bread, and a square of butter somehow unmelted in the heat. The rest of the food was rotten, or covered in spoiled milk from a bottle that had burst.
I remember our excited chatter as we found it. I remember Cassy high-fiving me, ecstatic. I remember how our hopes were lifted with the discovery of food, and how we redoubled our efforts in hope of finding more. I remember catching a glimpse of a rope buried deep in a pile of rubble, or was it a chain, or cord? No matter, it would be useful.
I remember calling out to Cassy for help to extract it. I remember her hands reaching out, the intricate latticework of scars there somehow making them more beautiful as they reached out for the cord.
I don’t want to remember anything after that.
Twenty. That’s how many of us were left after Armageddon. We fled and hid when the bullets started flying, and stayed hidden and sheltered when the bombs started falling. Others fought. We did not. They were all killed. We were not. It was the first time my tendency to run from conflict served me well.
We knew tragedy well here. Death. Destruction. Suffering. Hunger pangs like knife wounds. And we knew boredom. Sometimes, it got so boring here. I resorted into my imagination, trying to imagine us in a movie. At least in movies, something interesting happens.
The camera pans across our home in the remains of Flinders St Station. My four younger siblings play a makeshift game of their own creation with the three Johnson kids. My sister Mimi runs over to Donny briefly, and he shows her what he’s been building. The narrator tells the watcher that Donny is always tinkering, and that he used to be a mechanic and an engineer before Armageddon. And a breakdancer, apparently, although he'd never dance for us. He said he couldn't bear to remind himself that we didn't have music anymore.
The camera follows Donny's admiring look directed at another character sitting in the foreground. Locks of golden hair muddle messily at Cassandra Foy’s shoulders, but she still somehow looks elegant. Her shirt seems whiter than everyone else's. The narrator explains that although it may be difficult to act like a princess when you're living in the ruins of a train station, eating scavenged food, Cassandra manages to do it. She's fixing her clothes, green eyes sparkling.
A high camera angle, sweeping over the landscape. The remnants of Melbourne lie scattered in piles under gases and smoke that coil lazily through the air or writhe like dark serpents. The camera zooms down to a small group of people scavenging for food or anything useful. The narrator says "All of our parents are here - my parents, Cassandra's, and the Johnson's". Connor, Sam and Maria Johnson's eldest, is with them. The camera zooms in on him. Russet hair, surprisingly fluffy. Eyes of chestnut. The narrator introduces him, and explains that she'd probably find him attractive if she was even mildly heterosexual.
Cut back to the station. The camera circles around to face the protagonist of this story. Close up on her chestnut eyes, glinting under her permanently furrowed brows. A long mat of brown hair reaches to her waist, pulled back into a ponytail. Threadbare clothes, worn. Leather coat, tattered. Knee-high boots, battered. Alexandria Hope is a truly formidable character.
I sighed, waking from the daydream. I’d spent five of my nineteen years alive living in this place, and it hadn’t become any more interesting. Then again, I was glad that we were even alive. Our little contingent was a bit broken, but we got along well, and rarely fought.
I almost snarled. Cassandra Foy really knew how to get on my nerves. I took a deep breath to calm myself, but my exhale ended up more like a growl.
The old tarpaulin that formed the roof and walls of my ‘bedroom’ shook, and then swept aside. I glared at my intruder. Erica grinned back, waving cheerfully.
A smile that I couldn’t help started to edge its way onto my face. Erica Fawayada was a lone wolf, and didn’t live with us. She showed up at random and left just as suddenly.
Grinning, she held up a shard of glass and flicked her long brown ponytail, the same colour and length as mine, over her shoulder. “Seeing as you’re not doing anything at the moment…” she teased as I stood up. “Well, except for moping”.
“Ha, ha, ha,” I said sarcastically, taking the glass. She turned around, and I gripped her ponytail. I tried to slice it all off in one go, but I only managed to get half. The rest of her ponytail I had to saw off bit by bit. When I’d finished, we strolled out of the station into the blinding sunlight. I tossed the knotted clump of hair in my hand onto one of the dunes nearby. Erica giggled when she saw her reflection in the glass as I handed the shard back to her.
“Man, I look sexy.” Her brown hair fell in every direction possible, every section a different length. Some looked silky, some spiky, some still clumped. But there was no hairdresser among us, so we had to make do. It was better than letting our hair become cumbersome.
“Ow!” someone screeched behind us. We turned to see Cassandra clutching her hand, tiny drops of blood rolling out between her fingers. I rolled my eyes. Wasn’t she special? Everyone else seemed to think so, as they crowded around her to see if she was alright. I glanced at my own hands, ripped and torn from years of being savaged by shards of metal and glass. Erica smirked at me, holding her lacerated hands in front of her. She had been thinking the same thing. Scars on our hands was the price we paid for getting to buried food and resources. It wasn’t something to make a fuss about.
Next to me, Erica stiffened. She whistled for attention and held up her hand, calling for silence. She cocked her head to the side, listening. Everyone heard it. A metallic, grating, growl. We froze, then ran, scattering in every direction. The tigers were here.
The tigers. That’s what we called them. They were robotic…well, tigers… Weapons of death leftover from Armageddon. Programmed to detect noise and kill whatever is making it. Cassy’s scream had probably alerted them. I sprinted towards the sea, vaguely aware of the fact that someone else was just behind me. Cassandra. And behind her, a tiger. No, two. The breath tore in my throat as the tatters of my coat flapped behind me. Cassandra was starting to trail behind so I clutched her hand and dragged her along.
I don’t know how we lost them. I don’t know how we outran them. All I know is that Cassandra and I ended up lying in the ruins of an old lighthouse, holding each other close, trying to absorb as much air as possible as quietly as we could. Their mechanical grumbles reverberated outside, but they had lost us. The tigers clunked off.
We breathlessly agreed to stay in the lighthouse until dawn. Then Cassandra kissed me.
One moment, we were embracing on the floor of a ruined lighthouse – as two people who hate each other often do – and the next, her lips pressed against mine.
The kiss broke.
She just kissed me.
Her golden hair was rolling in waves framing her cheeks, flushed with exhilaration.
“We made it! We escaped.” She whispered hoarsely.
She… she just kissed me.
Her smile softened. “You saved me. You grabbed my hand and helped me keep going.”
That’s not normal.
Cassy’s lips closed on mine again.
My hand snaked around her neck and pulled us both into a deeper kiss. Into a world of lips and teeth and hands and legs from which we didn’t emerge for a while.
Daybreak. We crept out of the lighthouse ruins, hand in hand. Erica winked at us from the edge of an old jetty nearby. It wasn’t long before we found our group, already scavenging.
We joined them. You know the rest. I told you at the start. We had good findings, we were happy, and then I saw the cord.
I couldn’t reach it. “Cassy?” I called softly. “A little help?”
She teased me about my height, then reached in. Her expression changed as the displeased rope writhed and coiled itself around her scarred hand. A frantic shake of the arm. A small whine. The cable dropped, floundered.
Weird, ropes don’t usually do that.
Oh, that was a snake. Gotcha. It had been thick and black, oddly shiny. The last of its tail glinted as it flicked under the wreckage.
I knelt down next to Cassy as she crumpled. I murmured explanations and words of comfort to her shaking body as I embraced her softly. I couldn’t figure out why she didn’t understand my words. I was telling her, I’d never seen a snake since Armageddon. I was telling her, this snake couldn’t be normal, or from around here, as it didn’t look like one I’d seen before. But she wasn’t listening. She was just grasping her arm, gulping at the air as if she couldn’t breathe. She swayed, vomited. Donny reached her side and caught her, held her, tried to make her lie down.
Trust Cassy to overreact like this. Snake venom wasn’t this fast-acting. I knew this, I read a book about it when I was seven.
Her breaths rattled in her throat, lips pink and slobbery. With each rasp, her hands twitched. I watched, fascinated. Her hands and lips had always fascinated me.
On second thoughts, I don’t think that book talked about snakes that had been subjected to post-Armageddon fumes and detritus for a few generations.
Cassy stopped convulsing, and stopped breathing.
There was dirt on her cheek, and under her nails. A cool draught swept around the corner, stopped to pick up and playfully curl a strand of her flaxen hair onto her slackened jaw, then danced off on its merry way.
Everyone stared in horror, unable to scream lest we alert the tigers to our presence.
It took 3 hours to dig the grave. Even the sharpest rocks we could find from the rubble did little against the bone-dry ground. I didn’t watch as they rolled Cassy’s body into the hole, and only looked back when the last of the dirt had been cast over her. Now maybe I could convince myself that it hadn’t been her.
We all stared at the grave, silent. Donny left. We let him go.
Almost half an hour passed.
It was dangerous, to be out in the open for so long. But we risked danger for Cassy.
It felt like it should be raining. If it had been a movie, if I remembered movies correctly, it would have been raining. But it hardly ever rained after Armageddon. Instead, the air that day was just hot. Hot, uncomfortably humid, heavy. The sun beat down mercilessly from the yellow sky. The smoke was calm, and so was I. I was so, so still.
You always wished that you wouldn’t be second to Cassy. And now she’s dead. And they still care more about her than they do about you. You’re second to a fucking corpse. A wry smile slinked onto my face, and I almost laughed. A dry, mirthless laugh.
I was leaving. I barely knew where to. Maybe Bendigo, or what was left of it.
Flinders St was basked in silvery light from the moon, silky shadows slinking off into the direction I’d be leaving in. The wind whipped around the dunes of rubble, a shrill whistling. So cold. The smoke and gases above us writhed any time it caught them, but were otherwise still.
I watched, mirthlessly amused, as they all tried to pretend that they wouldn’t breathe easier without me, that they wouldn’t be relieved when I was gone. I was more appreciative of those who didn’t even give me the charity of showing up.
My boots crunched along the parched ground. They’d needed repairing for years. Before Armageddon, Dad would have said that the soles were so thin that you could step on a coin and tell which face was up. But there were no coins anymore. We couldn’t eat money.
I slowed as I realised I was nearing Cassy’s grave. It was hidden, just behind that rubble dune.
‘I should say goodbye before I leave’, I thought. Then, ‘nah…’.
The old bike that Donny had repaired coughed and spluttered to life. Apparently there was just enough fuel to last a days’ worth of riding.
Thoughts of Cassy plagued my mind that night as I journeyed into my solitude. Particularly the night at the lighthouse. For so long I’d longed for someone to bruise my lips and neck with kisses, but all that had come of it was becoming bruised with grief.
And I realised, with a start, that Cassy had changed my life. In my darkest and lightest moments, there would always be that day. Cassy had made me, and her death would always be a part of me. This bruise would never fade.
I threw my head back and let out a crack of laughter, nearly crashing the bike into a scraggly old wattle tree that was grasping at survival. Some skylarks resting in the tree burst into flight, terrified. I was laughing, but there were tears there that the wind scraped up and across my face.
Cassy, oh, Cassy, you bitch.
The Credits Roll.
A Collection of Pleiades
Sunset clears, revealing
Scattered ancient fires -
Sombre ancients stared up,
Studying the expanse.
Sensibles and dreamers -
Skies capture them alike.
Winding roads meander,
We follow. Stones crumble.
Walking or trudging long.
Where does it lead? Away.
Wondering minds enquire.
Wandering hands and eyes
Waltz cautiously around.
Temples where we worship
Tired-out gods and numens
Tiles fade and fall, rooftops
Tumbling t'wards destruction.
Taxed by time, wooden beams
Taken over by moss.
Threadbare hangings torment.
Social Responsibility Speech
So, the literal definition of social responsibility: it's an ethical framework, and it suggests that an entity, be it an organization or individual, has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large. Most simplisticly, it's the responsibility we all have to take care of eachother.
The way I see it, there's two ways you can develop and live this value. The first is by checking your own behaviour. The second is by changing what is going on in the world around you.
The first way: checking your own behaviour.
Everyone in this room has flaws, so none of you are exempt from this.
The process is simple. Find a flaw that negatively affects the way people feel around you, specifically a flaw that you have control over, and can fix or improve. Then just chip away at it.
For example, if you've spoken to me since December, I've probably snapped at you. I've been experiencing weird mood swings that have caused me to misjudge situations as attacks and react angrily. And I've gotten to know the look of "I don't know why you're mad at me".
I recognise that this makes people feel unhappy and unsafe around me. So, I'm working to change it.
That's all you have to do.
Really, unless you become a recluse and never interact with people again, you'll need to face that if you want the people in your life to be there for you, then you'll need to look out for them. You'll need to make sure that you're standing up for people, offering kindness and compassion, and know when check your own crappy behaviour.
Alrighty, the second way: Changing what’s happening in the world around you.
There are 795 million people worldwide without access to enough food, and in the duration of period 3 today 48 children will have died from water-borne diseases. What you need to consider, is what kept any of us from being one of them? And what kept us from being one of the 151.6 million child slaves worldwide? You know, there's 37.1 million kids our age who are doing really hazardous labour, sometimes up to 43 hours per week. Our age.
It's just luck.
Out of sheer luck, we were born in Australia. And by no means is everything perfect here. But we turn the tap and fresh water comes out. We go to supermarkets knowing that we have one of the safest and most reliable food supplies in the world. We have the privilege of groaning about having to go to school. When we want the parliament to change, we don't have to overthrow the government in a violent coup, or even travel far to vote.
Given that it is only luck separating us from those situations, I think we have a responsibility to help those people who weren't born so lucky. Global or local scale is irrelevant here. Go ahead and change the world if you can, but if you don't have the time or the energy to do that, then start here, and start small.
Do what you can to positively influence situations in your immediate social environment. We're the big kids of the school, now. Even me, at 5 feet tall and not intimidating by any stretch of the imagination, politely asked some year 8s to stop being so loud on the train, and they stopped. It made everyone who was on that train a little bit happier, because there were no longer screaming children.
Considering that I can do that, and considering that a lot of you give off a would-stab-you-in-a-dark-alley vibe, there's a lot of potential here for inspiring the younger years to be socially aware themselves.
And while you're busy being a nice person, allow problems bigger than yourself to touch you emotionally. Read articles and watch videos with your empathy on full blast. With the internet, you can find so much about every issue. If you want an issue to start with, look up the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. That's some of the most heartwrenching stuff I've ever read.
And when you have the time and the strength, let your empathy manifest action. Put 10c in a collection box. Wear a school dress for a month. Shave your hair off. Go abroad and do volunteer work in poverty-stricken countries. Whatever you can in the given circumstances.
This is what social responsibility is about. It's about the responsibility, or actually, if we revisit the literal definition, the obligation we all have to do whatever we can to take care of eachother. That's it, bye.