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Volume II

Die Young Stay Pretty

 

Rebecca is a normal teenager who lives in a slightly unreal world dominated by her Mother’s philanthropy.  That is until in an attempt to appear normal they visit the Victorian town of Echuca and delve into the mysterious world of Sharp’s Magic Movie House.   A meeting with a mysterious stranger while admiring the old two realers of Charlie Chaplin leads to an unusual prophesy…

 

 

GRANDMOTHER’S PROPHESIES

 

Danger, danger lies ahead

Skirt it with a delicate tread

Don’t stick your chin out

Or you’ll regret it no doubt.

You are very quick tempered. Quick to get excited and quick to cool off.  This will cost you some dear friends.  Your pride will frequently get you into trouble.  Learn to be a little more sympathetic to the troubles of others.  Lend a more willing ear to their tales of woe.  You have a fine mind, cultivate it.  Make it a habit to do a little more reading.  Find a little more time to do a bit of travelling.  It will broaden your outlook on life.

 

Drop another coin in slot and I will tell more

Your lucky numbers – 166, 65, 64, 63, 62

Sharp’s Magic Movie House & Penny Arcade

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The prophesy becomes oddly prophetic when 14-year-old Rebecca is kidnapped in the middle of the night a week later.  This follows a threatening text message that is sent to her mother Andrea:

 

In room 78 of the Egyptian Museum

It comes from tomb KV 5

It describes the sons of Rameses II

All of whom were buried here

Its text has not been confirmed

It names many sons

 Not all have been found here

It is only 30cm tall Shaped like a miniature obelisk

 

The message seems vague, but Andrea knows only too well what it involves and how it is dragging her back into her more mysterious past life.  This past life is drawn even closer as Rebecca’s mysterious stranger joins forces with her mother Andrea to seek Rebecca out across thousands of kilometres of ocean to an undiscovered tomb in Egypt.  The revelations there involve more than the treasures of the Pharaohs - as they discover a lost family history that none of them expected to ever cherish in their own lifetimes.

 

 

They told her how, Upon St Agnes' Eve,

Young virgins might have visions of Delight, And soft adorings from their loves receive Upon the honey'd middle of the night, If ceremonies due they did aright; As, supperless to bed they must retire, And couch supine their beauties, lily white;  Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require

Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.

Excerpt:

The Eve of St. Agnes

John Keats

Prologue

Accidents Never Happen

 

 

 “Why are you crying Mum?  It’s only homework – the Progress of Poetry or some such rubbish, I’m sure I’ve done this poem before at some stage – I’m also sure my brain’s getting clogged up with all this stuff.”

 “It may seem like stuff and rubbish to you, but it is all important – besides, I’ve also read this one before – a long time ago.  It must have been just after you were born.  I never did find out what happened to him, he just disappeared into the desert wind – much like I had to him a couple of times… serves me right, I guess!”

 “What are you talking about Mum?”

 “I was almost going to say that you should remember, but I’d forgotten that you were still in a bassinet at the time.  It’s funny how time passes by and events that seem to have happened yesterday actually happened fourteen years ago – and the space in between seems to have been filled with everything except time.  Memories play funny tricks with time sometimes and I seem to have a trail of memories that I treasure and a chest load that weigh me down with regrets.  This poem and the reading of it, Rebecca, is the one story about Jack that I’ve never told you.”

 “Why Mum?”

 “Because it’s just so sad.  It took place high on a cliff top out by the Great Ocean Road.  I’d never been there before, in fact I’ve never been back, but I remember the wind blowing in across the ocean bringing with it the fresh salt sea spray.  Jack seemed to like these types of places, wild and raw – he’d only mentioned it once, in Venice I think, but I remember so much of what he said and did.

 “He was such an ordinary fascination for me.  He seemed ordinary, but there was always that something just below the surface that wasn’t quite so!  It typified him really – the raging sea versus the crumbling coastline, endlessly reshaping the rocks into the Twelve Apostles and London Bridge, which eventually fell down.  I guess they all will eventually, that was probably the attraction and why he wanted his ashes scattered there, but I had no ashes.”

 “We never seem to see the bodies all mangled and bloodied in real life or in the papers – the Americans do – it’s some sort of journalistic fascination for them.  We don’t have that here in Australia, when anybody dies they just evaporate into a white outline.  Jack didn’t even have that; he was just an evaporation!”

 Andrea paused for a moment as if trying to envisage Jack across the years – turning his white outline into the flesh and bone that she had devoured and discarded with relative flippancy.  A flippancy time had taught her was foolish… for she now knew that loneliness lasted for all eternity and that an extended quality time with any other individual is more than precious…

 “We held a service for him there on the cliffs out by the Great Ocean Road.  I can’t remember how long after his disappearance it was, but it was after you were born so I did wait for a while.  I’d hoped he’d come back and meet you, he didn’t know about you yet - your Auntie Liz was the only one I’d confided in at that early stage, when Jack disappeared.  I read out that poem you’re reading now, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne.  Jack really really liked poetry and books in general – he was always writing in his diary, but he did have a curious style and he did have odd tastes sometimes…

 

As virtuous men passe mildly away

And whisper to their soules to goe,

While some of their sad friends doe say,

The breath goes now, and some say, no:”

 

 “Will you take me to the Great Ocean Road one day Mum?”

 “No Bec, I’ll never go back there!  Too many memories – too many demons from the Id!  Too many chasms of hidden laughter from virtuous Saints!”

 “Now you’re starting to sound weird again Mum!  Will you tell me about Jack’s funeral then?  Please Mum… I really would like to know…”

 “Just like Jack, aren’t you Rebecca – he always needed to know.  OK, I suppose it’s been a while since I told you a bedtime story regarding Jack.  Best we close the door – wouldn’t want Liz to hear me reminisce too much, too lovingly!  Where to start… Jack disappeared on a trip to Egypt.  I hadn’t gone, as I was pregnant with you, but only just – that’s why I hadn’t told him yet – I’m a bit superstitious about things like that!  The problem was, he never came back and I was in no condition to search the deserts of North Africa by then, so Liz did that – with some local help!  They never found anything – no body, no sighting – absolutely nothing.  It’s almost as if he was a ghost of a lover that I didn’t deserve and that you were some kind of Immaculate Conception given to me to perpetuate his memory.  It seems like such a dream now and if it weren’t for you lying here next to me I’d know it was all a dream!  Anyway, Liz consoled me wonderfully over the next year.  She was there when you were born – she was the first one to hold you after I had, but I still needed closure!  I’d remembered Jack’s dream funeral, I’m not sure why we spoke of it in Venice – we did have some extraordinarily deep moments, but this one doesn’t actually reflect the mood of most of our conversations or the things we did together…”

 “OK Mum, I get the picture – smoochy lovey dovey stuff, I’ve already heard all about that  – back to the funeral.  Tell me what you did for Jack.”

 “Don’t cringe so much Bec, you never used to - besides, you’ll be craving a boy just like the rest of we love struck women before long, but hopefully not too soon – it’s best to be young while you can.  Some of us didn’t get that chance while we were, but I’m sure that you’ll find the right one when he comes along without trying too hard.  You know, we all desire a partner of some kind, but sometimes they don’t quite work out to be the kind you had envisioned!  Anyway, I just decided it was time to complete his dream, his journey – I didn’t want him to be another lost soul, like so many of the travellers in history.  So the three of us made our way down the coast road with all its beautiful surf beaches, high cliff walls and mountainous rain forests.  Jack had told me about waterfalls deep in the forest where on rainy days the water cascaded in rapturous torrents and where leeches dropped off the sodden foliage and clung to his beard – or what there was of it back then before I knew him!

 “Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any of those wonderful natural things that Jack liked so much.  We were so focussed on saying goodbye that the wonders of the world seemed unimportant.  We headed straight for the high cliffs down near Warrnambool and there on a windy, sun-drenched afternoon as clouds drifted aimlessly above and the sun drifted towards the sea, we lit a pyre of Jack’s things – for we had no ashes.  The pyre had his European travel map, the cover of one of his favourite CDs, Blondie, I think it was Parallel Lines – he was so retro sometimes – and I was about to add his diary to be burnt.  That had been Liz’s choice, but I changed my mind at the last moment, which I’m sure you are extremely grateful for!  I added a picture that he’d taken of me in the Medici Chapel crypt with some Michelangelo wall drawings in the background.  I think that’s where I began to fall in love with him or at least when I realized it for the first time; realized there was something special about him.  So all of those memories became his ashes – just paper memories of him, for that’s all I had left… memories and ghosts…

 

 

Chapter One

Fade Away And Radiate

 

 How cool is this?  I can’t believe Mum has finally found a cool place to visit and she’s not even here – her loss.  I’m the one that gets to see images that were created over one hundred years ago and I get to tell her all about something for once, excellent!  Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, Laurel and Hardy – real train smashes, not computerized ones, and people hanging from clock towers with no safety nets or computerized backgrounds!  I’ve even seen Douglas Fairbanks sliding down a ships sail and Mary Pickford being cute and sassy and I’ve only been sitting here for an hour.  I wonder if you can get these on DVD?  I can’t believe they did all this without talking – without sound even.  Jack would have loved this – pure inventiveness without technology, although I suppose it probably was advanced technology for those days!  Jack and nature versus Jack and technology – what a contradiction in personality!

 It seems that my life is so complicated in comparison to the people who made these films and the people who watched them, and yet it’s not really that long ago!  I seem to have spent all of my life either in school or in front of a computer - how did I miss all of this?  My life seems to have been so focused, but for me - not by me!  I suppose wealth does bring its responsibilities – at least that’s what Auntie Liz keeps saying and Mum just tells me to abide by her – “If it wasn’t for your Auntie Liz you wouldn’t have had any of these opportunities!”  Yeah, opportunities to squander my life studying and never seeing or doing anything really exciting!  “Think of all the starving children in Africa!”  So why don’t we send them the food?  Well, apparently we do – oops!

 I’d love to do some of the things Jack wrote about – to go on an Archaeological dig, travel the world with a backpack sleeping in strange unprotected places with the locals, to watch the football at the MCG – whatever that is?  I feel like I’ve been everywhere and seen everything without experiencing any of it!  I feel so old for a fourteen-year-old girl…

 “You write older than a fourteen-year-old girl too, young Miss!  You do write very well though, so obviously some of the schooling has sunk in…  I’ve always thought that the silent era had a certain innocent charm – a simplicity difficult for a modern world to comprehend.  Don’t be completely fooled though, there were some very powerful and ruthless people behind those innocent images!  Despite that knowledge, I’ve always been rather fond of it myself, although I do find that one craves colour and surround sound after a few sessions of the old clips!”

 “Do you work here, Mister?”

 “No, I’m just visiting – like you, but I’m old enough to know not to talk to or trust strangers!”

 “That’s OK!  My Mum’s outside and there’s no other way out of here, she always checks!  She finds this stuff a bit boring – besides, I get some free time on my own instead.  Have you played the slot machines yet, I think they’re great, but I’ve run out of pennies!  I can’t believe entertainment was so cheap back then, they’d totally freak out if they saw today’s prices!”

 “I even freak out sometimes because everything was still comparatively cheap when I was young.  I remember my Grandma sending me up to the local Milk Bar to get some milk; she always left an extra 10 cents for a bag of lollies – a whole bag!  Bet you’ve never done that little Miss?”

 “No way – a whole bag!  Does that mean your Father bought a whole bag for like one cent?”

 “So he’s told me, over and over and over again.  You’ll learn that Dads usually get louder and more repetitive as they get older – they tend to tell the same stories over and over and over again, with embellishments!”

 “I’d love a Dad who could do that… I’d love to have a Dad…”

 “You don’t have a Dad - that’s a shame Miss…”

 “Gradenko, Rebecca Gradenko.”

 “Well I’m pleased to meet you Miss Rebecca Gradenko.  So what happened to your Dad?”

 “Oh, he died before I was born – so I never knew him.  But I do have his diaries from all of his trips, he travelled lots and did odd things… and I know his name was Jack, so I suppose that’s better than not knowing him at all!”

 “Jack, eh!  Well isn’t that a coincidence.  My grandpa’s name was Jack – well not really.  It was actually Reginald John!  They had such grandiose names in those days, which was odd considering they weren’t that wealthy, in fact they were all quite working-class.  A term that politicians seem to avoid these days; we all seem to be part of the expanding middle-class!  There doesn’t seem to be a working class or a poor these days, statistically speaking!  The politicians hide them well beneath the statistics, but there are always starving people somewhere.”

 “There are still starving children in Africa – I’m constantly reminded of the fact at meal times!”

 “So was I – it seems that some things never change!  You know you should try the slot machines again, it’s something you might not get a chance to do anywhere else – this place is more than unique you know!  Apparently some of the machines even come from Coney Island!”

 “Coney Island?”

 “Yeah, on the east coast of the U.S. – you know just like Tom Hanks in Big – making a wish on the Zoltar Speaks machine.  He put the coin in the machine as a child and the machine gave him a card that read your wish is granted and he became big… Now you’re looking at me like I’m a complete lunatic and I’d so cleverly avoided that so far!  Don’t tell me, the moon’s just arisen and it’s full?  No!  Well come with me Miss, there’s a very similar machine just over there by the entrance!”

 “But I don’t have any more pennies to play with – and… and you look like you’re limping slightly, have you’ve got a sore leg or something?  Are you alright?”

 “Not only am I alright, but I also have a pocket full of pennies with which we can play and a pocket full of pennies can take your mind off most ills in a place like this – pennies from heaven you might say!!!  It’s quite a lot of fun if you choose the right machine and the lady at the counter has not long since filled the popcorn machine – do you like popcorn?”

 “Definitely yes!”

 “Good!”

 “You’re not one of those freaky weirdo type of guys are you?  I don’t think you are, but I’m sure it’s quite hard to tell sometimes!  I’m sure you’re just lonely though.  My Mum wouldn’t be happy with me talking to one of those other types.  I told you she’s cased this place already to see if there’s a rear entrance, otherwise she’d be in here with me being bored right now!  She does get awfully paranoid sometimes…”

 “And so she should, but I’m more interested in the machines and having a bit of fun through them!  The variety here is timeless, endless even and sometimes the things they have to say transcend both time and seeming reason!”

 “So show me this machine that Tom Hanks supposedly used.”

 “So you do know Tom Hanks or do you just listen well?  It seems that I might be in the presence of a vixen; I think I should be the paranoid one!  Let’s see, what would Grandmother’s Prophesies say about you then… doesn’t know who Tom Hanks is or where Coney Island is – the youth of today…”

 “The youth of today is wiser to the world earlier and generally more worldly, but we still do require a penny or two if the Grandmother is to predict as you say – hey, cool machine!”

 Before us stood a slightly dusty and ancient penny arcade machine.  It had a glass case with ornate copper edges that surrounded an eerie old lady who had a hooked wart-ridden nose, a weird hat or turban and two craggy hands surrounding a crystal ball.  The lighting in the movie house was appropriately dim to accommodate the silent film screenings, but it also added to the eerie presence of the Grandmother!  I took a penny from my odd benefactor’s hand as he held it out invitingly and I placed it into the slot of the Prophesy machine.  It came to life.  Slowly smoke filled the glass case and the crystal ball began to glow – Grandmother herself raised her head and leered towards me, silently cackling and nodding above the glow amidst the smoke and then just as suddenly as she’d come to life all was dim!  The machine hadn’t finished though, next to the coin slot was another slot and in it now sat an orange card – Grandmother’s Prophesy!

 “It would seem appropriate to read that now rather than just stare at it Miss Rebecca!  Don’t worry, it’s just an old penny arcade machine from last century – what could it possibly say that would come true?”

 

.

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 I took the card, I’m not sure why I was so reticent – there was something about this entire afternoon that was becoming eerie, and it wasn’t just Grandmother!  The orange card that she’d delivered to me was a little bigger than a credit card with a sun, stars and Saturn on one side and a (see other side) instruction at the bottom, so I turned it over -

 

GRANDMOTHER’S PROPHESIES

 

Danger, danger lies ahead

Skirt it with a delicate tread

Don’t stick your chin out

Or you’ll regret it no doubt.

You are very quick tempered. Quick to get excited and quick to cool off.  This will cost you some dear friends.  Your pride will frequently get you into trouble.  Learn to be a little more sympathetic to the troubles of others.  Lend a more willing ear to their tales of woe.  You have a fine mind, cultivate it.  Make it a habit to do a little more reading.  Find a little more time to do a bit of travelling.  It will broaden your outlook on life.

 

Drop another coin in slot and I will tell more

Your lucky numbers – 166, 65, 64, 63, 62

Sharp’s Magic Movie House & Penny Arcade 2.

 

 

 “Whoa – that’s heavy, all that danger and quick temper.  Besides, I do far too much study and travelling as it is!  Gee, I hope you’re not the danger Mister.  Do you even have a name Mister…?”

 “Yes.”

 “But I see that it’s not as important as you putting your penny into Grandmother’s greedy clutches?”

 “No, it seems that it’s not!”

 “So best you put it in then… come on, make her work – that’s it, there she goes again, all smoke and mirrors just like before… but the card’s the thing, isn’t it!  I wonder what she’ll say this time… Tell me Mister, what does she say?”

 

 

GRANDMOTHER’S PROPHESIES

 

Round and round the ball will spin

Till it draws your good luck in

Ah, I can foretell for you

Good luck in a month or two.

 

 

Drop another coin in slot and I will tell more

Your lucky numbers – 111, 69, 64, 39, 14

Sharp’s Magic Movie House & Penny Arcade 3.

 

 

 

“Well considering that I’m not expecting anyone back from a long trip and that I don’t know anyone in the armed forces, I’d say that this was as I said before – a load of hocus pocus hokum!  Care for some popcorn?”

 “Uh huh!  You know, I’d say that considering your lack of mirth concerning your little red card, which I noticed you haven’t thrown away, there must be some truth in it!  So what are you hiding in there behind those brown eyes?  Ha, I see it Mister, my Mum says I take after her when it comes to reading people’s faces.  Hokum, eh?  I’ll remember that card and what it says, I bet it’ll come back to haunt you!”

 “It probably already has.”

 “Never mind Mister, I’m sure you’re old enough to make your own future – I’m not allowed to do that yet… there’s still too many people doing it for me!  So, how do you suppose we get the popcorn out of that machine?”

 “I’d like to say I had on heavy boots to smash the glass, but all I can offer you is a penny for your thoughts.  I suppose you could scratch the glass with it, although I’m sure copper doesn’t have the same effect as diamond, but you might try the penny in that slot!”

 “So how do you work this machine once the penny is in it?”

 “Just put your coin in the slot and move the arm until it hangs over the bag of popcorn you want.  Hopefully it will then drop down, claw up the bag and drop it into the chute over there – go on, give it a go and try for that one to the left.  It looks eminently grabbable!”

   I followed his instructions and miraculously, on the second penny, I scored a bag of popcorn.  He smiled a smile that looked strangely familiar although I couldn’t quite place it – I was sure I hadn’t met him before, but I wasn’t that clever in that particular nuance as to remember every face I’d ever met.  I thought about asking him the question, but it didn’t seem appropriate.  He seemed to like his anonymity and he hadn’t really bothered me about too many of my details, so I left it and we continued with the slot machines until his pennies ran out.

 The rest of the machines were mostly lame in comparison to the first two we’d tried – strength devices, lose a coin to gain a coin games and a silly cricket game that defied all known laws of cricket for the penny was lost in a second – Liz always said you go to the cricket to watch the grass grow!  “Oh look!  There’s a blade now!”  There were a few good ones though, What The Butler Saw – a collection of photographs that you wound or cranked really fast to create a mock movie, a golf game and a horse race in the round.  This was extremely hard on the wrists as you had to turn a crank around and around until your horse made it all the way around it’s track – the problem was that one turn of the crank equated to one millimetre of distance!

 “I suppose I should go now, Mum will be wondering what’s taking me so long.  Thanks for the pennies and the popcorn.  I had a really good time!”

 “You might want to look up Mr. Chaplin in The Goldrush some time, it’ll be a nice addition to your education, history mixed with comedy.  Give your Mum a kiss for me and be good!  Oh, and if you’re in the mood for more mystery, why don’t you try out the underground bar at the Star Hotel – they say it has a hidden passageway frequented by ghosts!”That’s where I left him at the foot of the stage, a ghostly figure dimly lit by the flickering images of stars from bygone eras.  I slipped between the velvet curtains and into the souvenir shop.  Unfortunately they had no silent films for sale so I went out to the street to meet my Mum and attempted to tell her of my adventures and of my mysterious suitor!

 “That took you a while Bec!  What on earth could have been so interesting as to take you nearly two hours in there?  Did you use all of your pennies or did you spend your time writing in your little black book?”

 “Both.  And I watched the silent films for ages – you would have loved them Mum, we have got to get some on DVD – Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, Mary Pickford; they were so clever, so funny and they didn’t even have to talk!  And there’s…”

 “It sounds to me that you learnt to talk quite a lot too – remarkable achievement for a silent film theatre.  I haven’t seen you this enthusiastic about a trip or anything involved with one for a long time, but I am glad to see it!”

 “But Mum there’s more.  There was this spooky machine that told fortunes and I found out about this secret passage at the hotel just over there – we’ve just got to go and…”

 “OK, OK, we’ll go – I wish you’d been more enthusiastic about the paddle steamers, they were the attraction that originally drew us to Echuca!  Come on then…”

 The Star Hotel was just up the main esplanade from Sharp’s Magic Movie House, directly across the road from the Port of Echuca gift shop.  Mum had bought the All The Rivers Run DVD there earlier – apparently it was big on TV when she was a kid!  The hotel was old and single-storeyed, but its age and its architecture was not what I was interested in – I wanted to find the secret passage!  Nothing like a good mystery!  A growing girl requires a growing set of adventures and I sensed one in the hidden passages below!  Mum wasn’t having any of it though, mumbling something about having seen enough real mysteries, dangers and tragedies in her time to last a lifetime.  I wasn’t actually convinced of this, despite having read Jack’s diaries and memorizing those adventures, but she never elaborated about her part or the other adventures in her life, so I entered the Star Hotel alone.

 To the left of the main entrance was an open doorway with a sitting room of some kind beyond.  It looked fairly ordinary and I almost left it without further investigation except that I spied an unusual barrier against the rear wall – the barrier that wasn’t; how did Jack put it in his diaries – the Clayton’s barrier!  It actually doubled as a balustrade for a narrow almost hidden stairway.  I looked around to find I was alone so I stepped carefully down the stairs into the basement to find the underground bar – put there to protect drinkers from the Law, wicked!  The room had an open fireplace, a bar and some historical details hanging on the walls, but no secret passage – or so I thought!

 It was there - in the far right-hand corner of the room, a dark narrow passage with no real walls for the most part except the dirt that held up the hotel itself!  The escape tunnel veered to the left a few metres in and that brought you to the bend in the tunnel, which then headed up to a distant staircase – at the top of which you would alight at the rear of the hotel. At the bend there was a small triangular open area, which had a display of illegal alcohol equipment and other mysterious and ghostly things, some of which were not immediately evident!

 “Your mother is a trusting woman, Rebecca!  I’m not sure that I’d be so relaxed about my daughter being alone in a strange place, especially in the presence of a strange man – that’s of course if you actually told her about me!”

 “Well, no actually. It sort of never came up; she has this way of interrupting me… I have a way of rambling on and over explaining and exaggerating things.  Apparently I’m like my Dad in that respect!”

 “No doubt, no doubt… so how do you like the secret tunnel?”

 “It’s really cool, compared to the temperature outside, it’s really cool!  Just joking – it is really really cool!  You know you shouldn’t go around in dark places popping up like that – people will get the wrong idea.”

 “Let them.  What are they going to do anyway?  It’s not as if I really exist in their minds, is it?  Besides, I’m good company aren’t I?  I’m prepared to attempt different things and to watch lots of different things.  I’m also full of lots of interesting information – and I do have some more if you’d like to hear it?”

 “I think I’d be especially interested if you told me.”

 “Well, let me see.  There is a place your Mum would appreciate here in Echuca and they’ve done some work on it since I was last here – I think she might appreciate the humour in it.”

 “What is it?”

 “If I told you that would spoil the surprise – and the joke!  I’ll only give you some vague directions that should get you there.  That’ll make it more exciting for you both, more of a mystery!  When you leave here, go back through the pub to the main street and look for the first house on the left in Little Hopwood Street!”

 “You are full of mystery aren’t you Mister.  So do I get to see your face this time or are you going to stay deep in the shadows amongst the other relics and ghosts?  One might suspect you were a vampire the way you seem to avoid the sun and talk of the moon.  I know it’s hot out there, but it’s much cooler in here – cool enough to show yourself even if you are a fiend of the night, so come out from the shadows Mister… Mister?”

 He was gone.  He was only a voice this time and I almost suspected that I’d been dreaming, but I still decided to check out his clue so as to appreciate his joke.  I wondered why he’d remained hidden; did he suspect my Mum was close by?  Maybe he was worried that I hadn’t discussed him with her?  If so, his actions certainly foretold her reaction, as she was less then happy when she finally discovered his presence!

 “That took long enough Rebecca, I was beginning to worry – and that makes me start to sound old, which I’m sure I worry about more!  So what took you so long?”

 “He was there again Mum!”

 “Who was there again?”

 “The man I was trying to tell you about before.  The man from Sharp’s Magic Movie House; he paid for me to play the penny arcade machines a few extra times and taught me how to catch the popcorn.  He seemed to like the silent movies too and he told me about the secret tunnel here…  You don’t look pleased, Mum!  He said you might not be.”

 “I’m surprised he wanted to be known… he didn’t …”

 “Mu-um, he’s just lonely.  He wasn’t like that, he was more like a big brother or an odd distant Uncle – he thought you’d appreciate another place down the road, he said you’d appreciate the joke in it, but I’m not sure what he meant, so shall we go?”

 “I don’t think you should… it’s just that…”

 “Come on Mum!  Some supposed adventurer you are.  It’s only a block down – come on, we’re nearly there!”

 She was curious and I had managed to divert her attention from my obvious faux pas, so we walked silently for a while.  Little Hopwood Street was just off Murray Esplanade, which housed the Star Hotel and Sharp’s Magic Movie House.  It certainly wasn’t far down the road and what greeted us certainly was a surprise, but it brought about a wicked grin on my Mum’s face – a grin I loved, but saw little of these days.  Unfortunately, it only lasted a brief moment before she swung straight back into her more staid and protective mother mode…

 “A brothel – your mystery man sent us to a brothel!  What did you say his name was Rebecca?”

 “He - he didn’t say… he wouldn’t…”

 “Rebecca!  What have I told you about strange men?  Especially strange men with no name who presume to know things about me and who attempt to lead you astray!  What did he look like?  How old was he and what else did he ask you to do?”

 “Nothing, he didn’t ask me to do anything!”  I knew I was in trouble now.  “I only saw him once, he only spoke to me the second time in the tunnel – it was so dark, he didn’t look bad Mum!  He’s only about your age, your height… he had short dark hair, there wasn’t anything special about him really.  He did say that his Grandpa’s name was Jack, but I think he’d sort of read my diary from over my shoulder, so maybe he was just being sympathetic – he probably guessed my loneliness from my situation and my writing!”

 “Well we’ll just see, won’t we Miss!  We’re going back to that tunnel right now and then the movie house if that’s what it takes to get to the bottom of this harassment!  I’ve got a few questions I want to ask of these country weirdo’s, hiding in dark places and pouncing on vulnerable young girls!”

 The questions proved as useless as my mother’s ire at both the Star Hotel and Sharp’s Magic Movie House, for no one it seemed had seen my mysterious Mister.  The man I described to them had not visited either establishment today – nor recently.  In fact, I had been the only visitor to the movie house today, which was not uncommon as it was mid-week in a non-holiday period.  My paranoid mother tended to choose such times for site seeing, but it meant that there was little company to be had and that many of the attractions were closed.  It seemed to be the price of wealth – not that we advertised it.

 My Mister didn’t seem to exist beyond my experience of him.  It seemed that my ghostly apparition was just that and Mum’s look turned from panicked anger to composure and slight mockery.  There was something in her following questions that then softened and became caring – wealth did bring loneliness too and she knew I wanted a father more than anything… she also knew that a brother or a sister wouldn’t be bad either…

 “You weren’t dreaming of Jack again were you Rebecca?”

 “No!  No – I have the tickets from the Grandmother’s Prophesies machine and my miniature popcorn bag!  Look… see, I wasn’t dreaming – he was there, he was real!”

 “He sounds more than a bit like my Jack, with my Jack’s odd sense of humour even.  Only he sounds a little older than I remember him… It’s OK though Rebecca, I often dream of Jack even if I don’t tell you his stories anymore – and I know you still read his book and it’s OK really, but this time it is a bit elaborate!  You don’t need to try so hard to grab my attention – you always have it, even when I do drift into my memories and to what might have been – I suppose I have done that a bit lately!  Memories are tiring sometimes and ghosts are painful – you’re too young to be shackled by such spirits - perhaps Liz is right, you may need a solitary school where you can stay and develop long lasting friends and become more grounded and less dreamy…”

 “Not the private boarding school idea again, Mum…”

 “No Bec.”

 “I so glad… we’ve been there, and what’s the point – all the other girls at those places just think I’m strange.  They’re usually too busy doing their hair and painting their nails and drooling over boys and going to the mall… They also do a lot of sneaking out late at night – who knows who they might be meeting up with or what they might be doing?”

 “Probably the things normal fourteen-year-old girls do!  But don’t worry Bec, I’m unlikely to distance you or smother your experiences so… I’m actually thinking more of a local school and less travelling for us all.”

 “Really?”

 “Yes, which reminds me, I think I’ve had enough of Echuca – shall we return to Melbourne, settle in a bit and get to know your birthplace a little better?  Actually it’s our birthplace you know – we rarely get to see it well, it’s always such a fleeting trip down here, I’m not sure Liz appreciates how important it is – how important it is to have a place to call home.  We should spend more time here so you can grow to understand your own heritage, maybe I’ll learn something of it too and learn to appreciate the place I escaped so long ago!”

 “OK, Mum – but choose some more interesting and dramatic places this time… If I’m going to get more culture it would be nice to enjoy it for once!  Maybe if I have better things to do I won’t dream of Jack so often!”

 “I’m sure that that applies to me as well…”

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Chapter Two

Island Of Lost Souls

 

 I know I’ve been told not to dream too much, but dreams are dreams… I know I’ve been told to let go of the ghosts of the past – especially my Mum’s, but her ghosts are mine and I still feel her pain even if she does try to hide it.  There are places even here in Melbourne that she still refuses to visit and so I miss out on them, which might actually be good!  “Such is life” or so I’ve just heard from Mr. Kelly and so it is!

 It seems my heritage is filled with bushrangers, convicts and sportsmen.  Our historic and cultural visit to the place of my birth has been filled with stories of men like this, which is interesting, but it’s yet to really grab my attention.  Obviously there were no great women in Australia or none that became worthy of being an icon – at least none that I’ve found yet!  Perhaps it’s because they weren’t all criminals like the men, but Mum says that I should look more carefully, because places like the M.C.G. just might surprise me with some great deeds performed by some great Aussie women!

 At least Mum’s been more attentive to me since Echuca, which is good – not that that was my aim.  My main aim is to see her come to life again – the kind of life I read she’d had in Jack’s diaries… yes, I am still reading them!  I keep them on my portable reader these days; I typed them into my computer ages ago and transferred them over so it didn’t look like I was reading him as much. I do love technology sometimes – although I’m sure she still suspects what I have done!

 Melbourne in spring and the spring in my step has brought me to the very bridge where Jack overlooked the Yarra River lined with its leafy Elms swaying in the breeze above the joggers, the walkers and the rowers.  I can see the green copper based domes of Flinders Street Station where people still meet under the clocks across the road from Federation Square and its patchwork jigsaw pieces.  It looks as though they took the Architects model to the contract presentation and dropped it on the way – squashed and cracked they presented it anyway and won the contract for their extraordinary and visionary imagination – what a load of crap!  Although I have been told that the Eiffel Tower had a similar genesis in public opinion and look at it now, it’s a national treasure.  Somehow I don’t think this will happen to Federation Square surrounded as it is by the ancient (ancient in Australian terms) beauties such as Flinders Street Station, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Young & Jackson’s Hotel – the home of Chloe the nude – cool!  Besides, Federation Square is bound to fall down in a couple of years as it’s already passed its modern use-by date!

 I’m beginning to realize that we Australians have an odd sense of humour and disrespect or is that respect?  I’m not sure; perhaps it’s both!  The things we choose to respect or laud and the ways in which we do so are completely contrary to the way Americans and Europeans do, but I love the general trend all the same.  We don’t take ourselves or anybody else or anything we do too seriously and that seems to lighten the stress of life in general – and I should know, as I’ve been brought up to be so proper and so educated!  There seems to be such a diversity in the odd things on offer here - I’ve seen feted nudes, feted criminals, and sports heroes down at the MCG museum, which is the home of the ocker or is that the yobbo?  Not that I’m completely certain what either of them are, but I’m learning quickly – and I have my eye out for creatures in t-shirts, silly hats, thongs and coloured zinc cream painted on their faces (usually in the colours of their favourite team!)

Melbourne’s a wonderfully quaint place, though.  Picturesque and modern with numerous parks and high-rise buildings, Victorian architecture and trams… I love the trams, but Liz hates them!  She always panics during a hook right hand turn, which I’m sure Mum takes on purpose as often as she can – Mum always prefers to drive herself when at home.  It makes life seem a little less privileged – a little more normal – what ever that is!  Normal is what normal does – whatever is normal for you, is home!  These are the kind of answers adults constantly give me when I ask these questions, and they wonder why the youth of today is confused and so often rebellious – if only they’d treat us as adults!

 I talked Mum into catching the tram up St Kilda Road, as she wanted to show me the Shrine of Remembrance.  We’d already taken the City Circle tram, which was really old and rickety.  It even click clacked on the tracks – I never thought a piece of old machinery would be so exciting in a quaint kind of a way and Mum says they have something here called Puffing Billy, a real old steam train that runs up in the rainforest in the Dandenong Ranges.  It didn’t really sound that great at first, but after the tram ride I’m quite looking forward to it.

 Unfortunately, the St Kilda Road tram was a modern one, but here atop the Shrine I look over all of Melbourne – well not all, it’s far too big – thirty to fifty kilometres in every direction from its centre, yet it’s still nice and homely.  I think I’m beginning to get attached.  I think I, representing the youth of today, have found a base – something to respect and treasure and the Shrine certainly gives me a past that I can link to that - proudly.

 “It certainly is nice to see the youth of Australia still appreciating Melbourne and its Island of Lost Souls!”

 “I’m sorry if I disturbed you, here of all places… I was just reading out loud to myself to see if it sounded OK.  Oh, it’s just you again, Mister!  I got into a lot of trouble because of you!”

 “Adults are a complicated and often frustrating lot, Miss Rebecca.  I’m certainly no different or unusual in that respect and neither is your Mum I suspect!”

 “So what did you mean when you called this the Island of Lost Souls – I’m not sure I understand you?”

 “Ah!  A history lesson, now that’s right up my ancient alley!  You see, this extraordinary edifice was erected by the people of Victoria to honour the men who fought in The Great War – or World War I as we now know it due to the unfortunate and far too similar shocking events that followed some twenty years later!  I think they called that one World War II!  In fact I don’t think the world has seen a year of complete peace since The Great War ended - the war to end all wars as they called it then!  Some say there hasn’t been a day when there wasn’t a war somewhere on the planet since that time!  Mostly though, this was built to honour the souls who didn’t return – many of which didn’t even have marked graves where their loved ones could grieve for them.  Of course travelling overseas was not the done thing in those days – it was considered a novelty for most of the soldiers, a grand adventure!  So here in this island of stone which sits atop and amongst a sea of greenery I feel we’re on an island of lost souls!”

 “You’re quite poetic in an odd kind of way, aren’t you?  I bet you haunt this place along with the other lost souls!  It is a lovely place to haunt though and I see you’re sheltering in the shadows again – or should I say lurking?   Does it burn you… the sun, or do you prefer the moon?  The sun really is quite lovely you know – you should try it sometime, just add some sun screen!”

 “Cheeky thing aren’t you!”

 “Yes, apparently I get that from my Mum – adults seem to like to claim a child’s more endearing attributes and blame their weaknesses on other members of the family, have you ever noticed that?”

 “Constantly!”

 “I thought you might have, I’m sure you’ve been told that your nose is your Auntie Flo’s and that your ears are Grandpa’s, no wonder he’s deaf… I’m rambling as usual now – that’s another hereditary thing apparently, something from the other side of the family, but we try not to mention that anymore!  I do love and appreciate this view, though.  I’ve read about it so often.  I can look down the boulevard here to St Kilda Road lined with all its beautiful leafy elms and follow the trams down to Princes Bridge where Jack stood and watched the rowers glide beneath him on the Yarra River.  I can also see beyond the parklands to the M.C.G. and its light towers – the place in Melbourne that he loved so much, not that he ever mentioned which team he followed – other than Australia in the cricket!”

 “You certainly do describe the view from here beautifully Miss Rebecca… both in your words and in your book!”

 “So, you’ve been looking over my shoulder again!  Who said ghosts didn’t appreciate what life there is!”

 “That’s why we keep coming back, because we do appreciate such beauty in the world about… the beauty in its people and the beauty in what they continue to create around themselves!  So I gather your Mum’s bored again or is she just getting too old to climb the stairs up to here?”

 “Bored I think.  She has excited a passion in me for my birth place that she can’t quite re-ignite in herself!”

 “Shall we see what she’s up to then?  You have been up here a while and I wouldn’t want to get you into trouble, again!”

 “Does that mean you’ll meet with her?”

 “No!  That’s not necessary just yet, but I would like to see you safely back to her…  Now, now - don’t be too disappointed with me, there’s plenty of time and some things do take time!  Time has a strange way of affecting the way we view each other… and the way we accept what we’ve done in life…”

 My ghostly companion walked me down the long stairway back to the main Sanctuary of the Shrine of Remembrance where they were now giving an explanation and exhibit of the ray of light passing over the Stone of Remembrance –

 

GREATER

LOVE

HATH

NO MAN

 

 It’s something that only happens at 11 O’clock on the 11th day of the 11th month each year, so they simulate it for guests.  Mum wasn’t about, so my mysterious Mister and I stood solemnly for the service at the rear of the group of people that had gathered about the Stone of Remembrance; it only lasted for a few minutes.  I must admit that I was surprised at his patriotism and solemn demeanor, but I suppose if you think of all those young men who never came home, never had families and often weren’t even buried properly I can understand the emotion that encompasses the Shrine and that within him.  I felt it too now, as I realized that most of the young men who were commemorated within these walls were not that much older than I was now!

 At the conclusion of the service he tugged at my arm and pointed through the dispersing crowd to the south entrance – he was pointing towards my Mum, who was walking passed the entrance, but she didn’t notice us and she wasn’t alone!  Two younger men wearing sunglasses were right behind her.  She seemed to be avoiding them or perhaps she was luring them into the shadows of the outer corridor – the Ambulatory, which surrounds the main Sanctuary.  It was odd; I’d never seen these two men before.  She did have many dealings with many diverse people, but I usually got to meet them all at the cocktail parties or during the casual chats they had after their formal meetings.

 I made to signal her, but she was gone and my mysterious Mister was holding me back.  I thought this an odd reluctance on his behalf and he’d made me angry with this, but as I turned towards him to vent my anger I could see he had something else on his mind.  He held his finger up to his lips and then motioned me towards the north entrance…

 “I don’t think your Mum wants to be disturbed just at this minute, Miss Rebecca.  Come with me!”

 We walked silently into the Ambulatory, passed the steps to the upper deck where we’d met and passed the Books of Remembrance, which listed all the men who enlisted for World War I, alphabetically.  At the corner Jack paused, again aware and silent he whispered the following…

 “Be very very quiet Rebecca, this corridor echoes every sound and each sound reverberates around each corner into the next corridor.  If you listen carefully you just might hear whom it is your Mum’s talking to and what they want with her.  Sometimes discretion reaps unusual rewards and the ghosts in this place and their echoes often speak volumes!”

 He was interestingly suspicious, however, in our three meetings he was always watchful and rarely incorrect about what was happening about me – he was almost my sixth sense and that in itself was a little unnerving, but again his instincts were eerily correct!  As we listened, voices did echo down the corridors to where we stood from my Mum’s conversation and as exciting and mysterious as this was, it also held other emotions completely unexpected.

 “What do you expect me to do?  I’m not at your beck and call, I haven’t done this kind of thing for over fourteen years and besides, what would make me do anything that stupid for you of all people considering the life I lead now?”

 “Please Miss Gradenko, don’t insult our intelligence.  We are more than aware of your ability to purloin treasures from unsuspecting museums – we have a dossier on your previous activities and it’s quite extensive!  We are also aware that your contacts are far better now and that you are far wealthier than you were then and much better travelled!  It is but a small task for you, especially compared to others that you’ve managed to complete and remember the rewards will be great!”

 “You speak of rewards. I have no need for rewards – I earn more than a comfortable living and quite legitimately, so why don’t you just ask for money?  I could arrange that more than legitimately given an appropriate cause!  That’s usually the approach you people tend to use.”

 “My benefactor is not interested in monetary gains – and it is certainly not this kind of reward that I was referring to.  I was speaking more literally and I thought a woman of your intelligence would have picked up on that.  You have far more to risk than prestige or a few dollars, Miss Gradenko!  If I permitted it, your reward would be the safety of your daughter! That is a legitimate cause you may consider more than rewarding!”

 The conversation paused momentarily.  Perhaps it was my gasp echoing around the corridor to them following the last turn of the conversation!  Perhaps it had disturbed them, but I know for the first time in my short life I felt a new sensation – fear!  Real fear - not the fear of falling off a bike or the fear of failing a school exam or the fear of getting a pimple before the school photos.  This was fear for my Mum and fear for my own safety, but he was there to comfort me and to keep me quiet and it seemed perfectly seemed natural for him to do so.  The conversation around the corner and down the corridor eventually continued…

 “It’s quite simple Miss Gradenko.  We require you to acquire a piece from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.  The piece comes from a tomb in the Valley of the Kings and it is, of course, quite unique.  Why else would it be required in the first place!  We expect to see the piece within two weeks – the exact details and the confirmation of your willingness to accept the task will be conveyed by phone in three days.  Unwillingness on your behalf would bring dire consequences, so be wary Miss Gradenko; we will be waiting and watching.  We’re sure you will begin to make the appropriate arrangements quickly and efficiently – and without the unnecessary involvement of the local authorities!”

 All was silent from the corridor except for a few quick disappearing footsteps.  I moved to join my Mum, to console her, but I found my self again being held back.  I didn’t him resist this time.  I realized why he was holding me back – why he was holding me back from running into the unappreciative arms of my Mum.  It was painfully obvious that she would have a lot on her mind at the moment and my knowing of her problems wouldn’t make her worries any easier to cope with.

 I slid down the wall and sat there in the corridor for a few minutes until my special Mister adjudged that it would be OK for me to seek my Mum out amongst the echoes of the connecting corridors.  Echoes that had long lost their fascination for many, echoes that had recently gained interest for others, and echoes that meant something completely different to those originally intended… As I left him, he nodded his good-byes whilst taking care to watch me disappear into my Mum’s sight – becoming another lost soul, one amongst three, in an island of lost souls…

 

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Home The Authors D.J. Contact Gargoyles News Fellow Authors