Fucken hungry. He could murder a cold one too, a dozen, but he knows he could drink a sea and it wouldn’t fill him with what he needs.
He’s just taking a breather. No one could deny he’s been digging away down here in the dark. Working hard. Its only when he looks up that he realises there’s a kid down here.
Thinking about it, he supposes there are dead kids. Has to be. Plenty of them. Not much use though, are they, your dead kid. Not in a mine, he thinks, forgetting how old he was when he started this caper, like he’s forgotten everything, except how to dig. And that he’s dead. He knows that.
Its not a smoko, cos he doesn’t have any smokes. Can’t, not down a mine. More a breather. Not that he’s sure he’s really breathing. Dead, and he still wants a smoke. Some habits die hard. And its not as though he’s just dead. When he realised he was here, when he woke up working, he didn’ t have any legs left, that’s how dead he was.
The kid’s not on a track, not on rails. Neither is he, now that his legs have grown back, but you know what I mean. He’s not official like. The kid’s not working. He’s on a lark, just wandering about. Gets on his wick.
The kid sees him. He’s got a lamp stuck on his head, like he’s a miner. He’s a bludger, more like. Shit scared now, not wandering about so aimlessly now. So he should be, bludger. He wouldn’t bludge down here. Who knows what they’d do? If they can bring you back to life, what other shit can they do? He’s never liked bludgers and he’s never liked wankers. Remembers that. Bludgers, wankers, thieves. Blinks. A feeling rises, and he remembers it before he can name it. Shame. That’s it. Thieves. He’s been eating some of the rocks he’s been digging. Just some little ones. Surely no one will miss them. Fucken hungry.
Smell the kid’s fear. Didn’t know he could do that. Bet that’s new. Scent condenses on his tongue, and saliva flows. He changes inside. Its like feelings he gave up on a long time ago. Longings.
So fucken hungry he could eat his own arse.
But he doesn’t have to.
He’d laugh if he had a voice. Oh yes. The kid’s face turns weird, he’s running. Why? He realised that he had been walking, without knowing it. Just a passenger being carried along by legs and hunger. I see. The kid’s running away from me. The kid fumbles in his back pack, loses a bit of the distance between them, pulls out a bit of tinfoil. That knife won’t help, kid. You gonna murder me? I’m already dead.
He hops down from the track, into the rubble of what they’ve been digging. Coal. Utility pipes. Dirt. Small trees pulled down through the earth by their roots. Form and complexity. Information and structure. Bits of it lying around down there.
Watcha got in that bag kid? A monster gun? Shambling over, stretching stiff joints. Something wriggling about in there.
Whatever it is, the kid brings the knife down into the centre of it, and it doesn’t like it. Its jumping around. The kid sticks the knife into its guts, and it spurts.
O! The smell. He still can’t remember his name, but flavours flood back, and the drool pours out over his chin. He can recall crumbed lambs brains and cream and mushrooms and wine – the bitter of the first beer after work on a summer’s day – burning his fingers snatching at hot chips with vinegar, the sun already down and steam pouring from their mouths as they broke battered fish into bits – onion as he licked at his wife’s fingers – stolen honey – other, private tastes…
The thing whatever it was was in his face and he sucked it empty, breathed it down, a wonderful throat-full of blood or motor oil or whatever it was inside, bloody beautiful, and chewing down on the carcass, swallowing it into him, wiping his mouth with his arm then licking the arm clean, the misery in his stomach abated for a moment, letting out a moan like he’s breaking.
The creaking of an ancient unoiled engine returning to life, his voice returned. “Thanks kid.” Clouds were lifting and he stepped out of a haze. “I’m George?” he groaned with the intonation of an unsure teenage girl. “Yes, I’m George. What the fuck are you doing down here?”
“Looking for someone.”
“Are they dead?”
“What’s your name then?”
“Joe. Joe Chip.”
(Such was life in Katingal. Riding bikes, swimming in canals, wandering the zombie ridden caverns. Kids weren’t wrapped in cotton wool in those days. Ahh, the bliss before Trevor ruined everything…)