Tommy woke up with a gasp and saw the floor. The windows rattled as his body collided with the ground. Peri bolted upright, his chest heaving. He jerked around, looking all over the room for any sign of an intruder. Then he spotted Tommy kissing the ground.
“Did you just fall out of bed?” Peri asked in disbelief. His eyes were bugging out of his head and his mouth had dropped open.
Saying nothing, Tommy moved his hands to either side of his face and pushed up. He groaned as something in his back popped. Tommy held the yoga position a few moments before slouching back down.
“Did I wake you up?”
Peri choked. “Did you just fall out of bed?”
“Yes,” he snapped, moving so that he sat cross legged on the floor. Rubbing the back of his neck, he scowled. “I thought that was obvious from the banging and the fact that I was on the ground.”
Peri burst into laughter. Tommy gaped at him, flabbergasted. His brother laughed like Tommy had told the funniest joke in the universe, his eyes streaming with tears as he clutched his stomach.
“That wasn’t funny.”
Peri tried to calm down, but when he looked over at Tommy again it started all over.
“Seriously, what’s so funny?”
Peri was gasping for breath and Tommy moved his legs so that he was kneeling, concern making his eyebrows furrow together. Peri’s asthma pump was on the bedside table, within easy reach if his brother had an attack. He hoped that it didn’t come to that, because his episode yesterday still played on repeat in Tommy’s mind, making his stomach heave.
Tommy waited him out, frowning at everything that sat in their dingy room. The photographs in their silver frames were of their grandfather’s family – his brother and uncles and aunts and grandparents. It was a strange place to keep them, considering that no one came up to this part of the house except Tommy and his brothers whenever they stayed, but maybe that was the point.
Thinking about it, he realised that he didn’t know all that much about his grandfather’s family – the Sullivan’s – except the names of his dad’s uncles and cousins. Come to that, he knew even less about his Grandi’s family.
Tommy frowned, moving to his feet as Peri tried to pull himself together. He ignored Peri’s half-questioning, half-amused look and walked to the closest photograph. It sat on a chest of drawers that almost stretched against the entire wall. Tommy picked it up, rubbing the collected dust and grim away.
It was a nice black and white photograph. A large group of people sat in front of Misselthwaite House as it must have looked nearly seventy years ago. They wore clothes that Tommy had only seen in his history text books and old World War Two movies. There were five adults, two gentle looking women and three well-dressed men, standing to the left of a group of at least seven children. The women sat in the elegant, wrought iron chairs that now lived on the master bedroom’s balcony. A man stood behind each of them, smoking cigars, while the third was off a little to the right, holding nothing but his hat and a cane. The children were dressed nicely, and were sitting all together on a small hill. Five were boys, two were girls. Tommy looked closer at three of the boys. They looked similar, with darker skin then the rest. Grandfather Archibald, Tommy realised, and his two brothers. The oldest boys looked about thirteen, Ria’s age. The youngest girl was only a little younger than Vivvy. He couldn’t identify his grandfather, or any of the other children. As he looked closer he saw a date scribbled in black, nearly ineligible writing down the bottom:
September 22, 1938.
He looked again and saw the eighth child. They sat in a pram beside the younger of the two women. Tommy felt his chest restrict as his lungs tightened with fear. The child wasn’t human.
“Tommy, what are you doing?” Peri asked from over his shoulder.
He spun around, his head throbbing painfully, and shoved the picture in his brother’s face. “What do you see?”
Peri looked startled, taking a step away from him. “What? Tommy I don’t –”
He shoved the picture at Peri again. “Tell me what you see Peri! It isn’t so hard.”
Peri gave him a confused look, but took the picture frame. “I see a picnic in front of Misselthwaite.” Peri looked up at him in puzzlement, but Tommy shook his head and made a go on motion with his hands. “Uh, okay, um… I see a group of kids about our age and their parents. They’re all dressed in old clothes. The youngest woman is sitting by a pram and looking at another man, who’s by himself.”
“What else? What else do you see?” Tommy hadn’t realised that the woman was looking at the other man.
Peri frowned; he watched Tommy in a way that made his skin crawl. “Tommy, seriously, what does this have to do with –?”
“Just do it Peri.”
Peri licked his lips, giving Tommy one final concerned look. Peri gazed intently at the scene, his eyebrows coming together like two caterpillars, and bit his lip. Tommy sighed in relief. Peri did that when he was concentrating hard, which meant that he was taking him seriously. He waited, watching Peri carefully for any sign of terror or enlightenment.
When Peri recoiled away from the photograph, Tommy nearly let out of whoop of joy.
“What? What do you see?”
“The pram…” Tommy’s heart beat quickly in his chest, thumping rapidly like a dog’s tail. “It’s empty.”
He snatched the frame out of Peri’s grip, ignoring his brother’s outraged objections. His eyes zeroed in on the pram immediately… and saw nothing. It was empty. He hissed out a breath and looked at the rest of the photo. Everything was the same as he remembered: the kids all played together, the oldest girl sitting in the middle of a circle of boys, her face hooded by a massive hat and the men smoked their cigars.
Peri had been right. The woman by the pram wasn’t looking at her husband – who Tommy guessed was the man behind her – but at the fifth man, who stood alone with only his hat and cane. Tommy looked back to the pram and it was still empty.
His brain felt sluggish.
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“What?” Peri asked, grabbing Tommy’s shoulder and spinning him around.
Peri sighed in exasperation. “What doesn’t make sense? What did you mean?”
Tommy could only stare at Peri as his mind tried to clear away the heaviness inside it. “I…”
He couldn’t remember. What hadn’t made any sense? Why had he wanted Peri to look at the photo? It was just an old photograph with a bunch of children and their parents, plus a random guy and an empty pram…
“I don’t know,” he whispered, more to himself then to his brother.
Because he didn’t remember why he was so uneasy; all he remembered was a very bizarre, creepy dream that had seemed real.
“Tommy, are you okay?”
He turned to Peri and smiled, ignoring the shivers that danced along his spine. It was like looking in a mirror. Peri’s face was identical to his in every way, with the same high cheekbones, strong nose and untameable black hair. Their eyes were opposites, and the only difference between them. Their mother said that they would be the handsomest of all the Sullivan men, but Tommy didn’t believe that. Looking at Peri, though, he could see why they might be good looking one day.
Peri’s fingers pinched the flesh just above his elbow. Tommy yelped, springing away. “What was that for?” he demanded, rubbing his stinging skin
"You zoned out. I had to get your attention somehow.”
“By pinching me?”
Peri shrugged, crossing his arms. “You don’t look too good, Tommy. Are you sure you aren’t coming down with something?”
Tommy shook his head, running a hand through his hair. “I’m sure. I just… didn’t sleep well last night.”
Peri nodded sharply, his hands coming together as he poked both his index fingers together and twirled them. He always did that when he was afraid of someone or something. Their mother called it a nervous habit. Tommy called it Peri Blaming Himself.
He reached out and slapped Peri’s hands. “You haven’t given me anything,” he said slowly, making sure to look Peri directly in the eye. “I’m just sleep-deprived and starved. Stop blaming yourself and relax.”
“How do you always know what I’m thinking?” asked Peri softly, looking at the frame Tommy still held in his hand. He hadn’t realised he still had it.
“It’s a twin thing.”
Peri snorted. “Sure.”
“You know it’s true. Otherwise how would Misha and Lochie have gotten out of so many jams with school?”
“Magic?” Peri joked with a small smile.
When they had been little, they had thought the twins had magic. They’d spent long hours trying to see if they had the Twin Magic, too. Instead of making him laugh like it always did, Peri’s words created a hammer that slammed against his mind. Tommy frowned, looking at the picture in his hand as his dream tried to crawl back to him. It couldn’t, like something was stopping it.
A knock at the door made Peri jump; they turned around at the same time. Grandi wore a shocked expression on her face as she held the door slightly ajar and peered in at them.
“Good morning Grandi,” Peri said charmingly, the surprise evident in his voice. “What are you doing here?”
“I just came up to see if you were dressed and out of bed yet, Peri.” Peri frowned at their grandmother. “Your mother is heading into town and thought you might want to go.”
“Of course,” Peri said with a big smile. “Tommy and I will be down in a minute.”
Tommy shifted uneasily as his grandmother’s burning green eyes landed on him. For the first time in forever, he didn’t see any malice in them; he didn’t see resentment or anger. She watched him with something Tommy didn’t understand, no matter how hard he tried to. It was something sorrowful, sad and bitter.
He and Granid stared at each other, neither breaking eye contact. When she realised that he wasn’t going to cower in the corner like a frightened little boy, she gave up. They skimmed down his figure – when had he changed out of his clothes? – until they rested on the frame in his hand.
She jerked away, moving backwards quickly like someone had punched her in the jaw. Peri watched with concern, his eyes darting back and forth between the two of them. She just stared at Tommy in fright.
She shook her head sharply. “Don’t take long.” Giving Tommy a weighted glance, she turned and fled the room. He and Peri shared a look.
“I can see what you mean about her.”
“Whatever happened to small, quiet country towns?” his mother grumbled as they moved through the throng of people that flooded Main Street.
“This isn’t one of them,” replied Misha, gawking at a group of girls who ate ice-cream across the street in front of a Wendy’s.
“And thank God for that,” added Lochie, waving at a girl as she roller-skated past.
“Boys show some respect,” their dad said, frowning at the two as they wandered off towards Bunnings. “Honestly. We didn’t raise you in a barn.”
As if to negate their father’s point, Lochie – having paid him no attention – said, “Woof.”
Tommy's father looked ready to blow a blood vessel.
“Why don’t we split up into groups and do some browsing independently?”
Tommy turned to his mother and raised an eyebrow. She had tied her long dark hair back into a ponytail and was clinging to Vivvy’s hand. If Vivvy cared, she didn’t show it, too busy ooo-ing at a nearby Petting Zoo.
Peri stood beside him, hands in his jeans pockets, as he read a nearby sign. Tommy joined him as Ria started chatting to a nice older lady in a wheelchair.
THIS WEEKEND ONLY
COME SEE THE ANNUAL CAPE SULLIVAN TOWN FAIR
CELEBRATING ITS ONE HUNDREDTH AND FIFTIETH
His mother would love this.
“Hey Mum?” he called, trying to get her attention as she finished saying goodbye to Ria’s new best friend.
She bustled over, dragging Vivvy behind her as she weaved through the crowd, blowing a stray hair out of her face.
“What is it?”
Tommy grinned happily as he pointed to the sign, not saying a word. His mother read the information quickly. She groaned when she finished, rubbing her eyes. “Figures.”
Tommy laughed as he followed her back to where the rest of his family stood. Lochie and Misha were talking about the hardware section of Big W almost greedily as they stood in front of the supermarket. Ria had been handed Vivvy and was petting one of the goats with her. Neddy was speaking quietly to Don as the oldest Sullivan brother listened intently. His Dad just stood in the middle of their group looking lost.
“Alright everyone! I think we should split off into partners. Vivvy can come with Dad and me.” She glanced over each of Tommy’s brothers. “Peri and Tommy can stay together. I’m guessing that Lochie and Misha will do whatever they want regardless of what I say.” She gave a withering look to the twins, who smiled angelically in response.
“Now, why would you think we would do that, mother dearest?” Misha said.
“When have we ever gone against your just and fair commands?” Lochie added.
His father sighed. “The better question is when have you not gone against Thea’s directions. The list is shorter.”
His mother gave his father a warning glance. He cleared his throat nervously. “Anyway, Misha and Lochie will take Ria with them, while Neddy and Don can do whatever. Peri and Tommy can stick together.”
Besides the initial objections from Misha and Lochie (“Why do they get to go by themselves?” “Because Don is nineteen and Neddy is seventeen, now start acting your age”) everyone agreed to the plan and went their separate ways.
Tommy and Peri ended up heading in the direction of Big W along with Ria, Misha and Lochie. The street was packed full of people, vendors trying to sell their wares in the nearby carpark and park, while holiday commuters tried to get to the beach.
Misha whistled a happy tune loudly. Lochie gave his twin a whack on the shoulder and told him to be quiet when a couple of nearby girls giggled at them. Tommy rolled his eyes and shook his head. His brothers were absolutely girl crazy, and it drove his mother bonkers. Their Dad only shook his head and told the twins to watch themselves.
Not even Don had been that bad. Don hadn’t really had the time to notice girls. He was always too busy playing footy and winning medals for athletics. It was part of the reason why Don was still at home. He was in one of the professional VFL football clubs, and a reserve for an AFL team or something.
Tommy didn’t care either way.
Peri nudged him in the side and asked if he was alright with a glance. Tommy gave Peri a look in return, which led to a conversation with their eyes. Peri was still worried about what had happened earlier in the morning, with Grandi and the photo. Tommy still didn’t have an answer to give him about his weird questions.
Misha’s phone rang. “Hello?” he answered. “Mum?”
Tommy immediately lost all attention in the conversation, as did Lochie, and turned away to kick at an old soft drink can.
“Yes?” Misha was saying.
Everyone had stopped walking and stood around Misha, getting pushed and bumped around by the other pedestrians. Everyone was trying to get to one of the number of shops that had popped up since the last time Tommy had been in town. Thinking back, Tommy realised that that had been two and a half years.
His grandmother had insisted on coming out to see them for Christmas’s and birthdays.
Police officers in uniform wandered about, mingling with the people and greeting the locals by name. Their eyes drifted over the crowd, spending more time watching the teenagers and young adults than anyone else. Tommy waved when they started staring at him and his brothers. He heard Peri scolding him, but paid his brother no attention. He wished that Orson was there. He would have found it hilarious and joined in.
“Why?” Misha demanded loudly, regaining Tommy’s attention.
He moved closer and tried to hear what the other person on the phone was saying. All he got was muffled noises and the screaming of little children.
“Fine,” sighed Misha. “Yes, whatever. See you then.” He ended the call and shoved the phone deep into his pocket.
Lochie arched an eyebrow.
“That was Mum.”
Misha gave Lochie a dirty look. “She wants us to pick up a couple of bags of fertiliser.”
Lochie groaned. “Why?”
“Grandi called her. Said that her garden needs some work – no crap – and asked Dad to pick up the stuff she wanted.”
“Why couldn’t he?” asked Ria, ducking under a man’s outflung arm as he spoke to his friends.
“Because he and Mum have taken Vivvy to some puppet show.”
“So we have to do it, Ria,” Misha snapped. “Dad is going to send me the list.” Tommy heard his brother’s pocket vibrate. “Just like that, and we’re going to get the stuff from Big W.”
“And what? Carry it back to the car?” sneered Lochie, shoving his hands into his pockets.
When Misha nodded, Lochie swore. Tommy lifted both his eyebrows. He hadn’t heard those words used quiet like that. By his wide eyes and impressed expression, Peri hadn’t either. Ria just continued to look bored.
“You have got to be kidding me!”
As Lochie, Misha and Ria launched into another argument, a strange shadow caught Tommy’s eye.
The shadow was cast on the side wall of a nearby pavilion, and at first glance looked like a rather large dog. It showed the animal sitting on its hunches, as all dogs did, and waiting expectantly with its tongue lolling out. Scowling in disgust at the two kissing teenagers who got in his way, he stepped around them.
The crowd thinned out and the sun ducked behind a row of clouds. It flickered, bending and twisting the shadow. When the sun came back, the shadow continued to move. Then it started melting. Tommy moved closer, mumbling an excuse to Peri about a bathroom break. The shadow withered some more and the dogs’ back split in half. Tommy felt his heart smash against his ribs and started running, eyes glued to the shadow as he pushed people out of the way. A few people shouted after him, but Tommy ignored them all, ducking and weaving through the crowd.
As he watched, from the tear in the shadow's back, two bat wings popped out like an opening umbrella. The shadow continued to change, flickering as another cloud blocked out the sun. Tommy skidded around a bin and came to a stop. A large and very normal looking dog was lounging on the park bench directly ahead of him, its normal shadow reflected on the pavilion wall.
Tommy scrubbed at his eyes and went as far as to pinch himself.
The dog stood up, stretching out with a whine, jumped down off the bench and started padding away. Tommy couldn’t move. His head was pounding and he winced as the same hammer smacked against his skull.
The shadow had been normal. The dog had been normal. Two eyes, two ears, four legs, a tail. It looked a bit on the skinny side, but it was a stray, so skinny was to be expected. It did not have wings.
Moving backwards, he tripped on an upraised tree root and fell flat on his back. The crowd ignored him, going about their business without a second glance. No one seemed bothered by his strange behaviour.
He sat up, resting his elbows on his knees, and grabbed a handful of his hair. Something was wrong with him. This was the second time he had hallucinated today. His head ached, the palm of his hand burned underneath his bandages. What was happening to him? The dog….
That was it.
Tommy bolted to his feet and dusted himself off, scanning the busy park. He checked the time on his watch and decided that an hour was long enough to get the answers he needed. Peri would worry, like he always did, but the work Grandi needed them to do would keep him occupied and out of Tommy’s business.
He started jogging, muttering apologises as he went. The footpath was soft, grey gravel and his sneakers crunched with every step.
After ten minutes of searching, Tommy wasn’t any closer to finding the dog. People were everywhere and he could hear the distant thrumming of a band playing a set. He growled under his breath and jumped onto the edge of a fountain, hoping the position would give him a better viewpoint. The band was twenty metres ahead of him. The nearby people would just think he was trying to get a good seat.
Tommy looked over the park again and something caught his eye. He shaded his eyes with the hand that didn’t itch. He frowned. Something niggled at the back of his mind and his eyes felt fuzzy. He looked again. It was a strange shimmer, by a large gum tree. Tommy felt like he was looking through thick fog, but he kept looking. The shimmer separated like two opening curtains.
The flying mutant dog was with a boy and a girl. They were obviously siblings; both had the fairest skin Tommy had ever seen and hair as white as snow. The girl looked older and wore strange jodhpurs in a pale brown colour with shiny knee high black boots. The boy was dressed just as strangely, with massive goggles on top of his fair hair and a white shirt like something from one of his mother’s Victorian England TV shows.
Tommy called out to them and they spun around so fast they were a blur. The mutant winged-dog snarled, the young boy shouted something and the girl waved a long stick in front of her.
An invisible force slammed into Tommy, knocking the air from his lungs, and him to the ground. he could see the young boy's mouth opening and closing as he said or yelled something at the girl. The dog bounded towards Tommy, his vision going spotty, and the two children followed. Each held a stick in their hands.
His vision blurred around the edges and his ears crackled with a high pitched humming sound. The boy made it to his side first, falling down to his knees. His face was panicked as he said something soundlessly to his companion. Tommy briefly saw the girls pretty face before something sharp was pressed against his temple.
He cried out once in pain, though he couldn't hear any sound, and fell into blackness.