We froze at the sound, our eyes popping on little sticks like toons.
—Aahh! I went.
Silence. We looked at each other and then at the pillow which covered the bonechina that had made the smashing noise that tells you that it is broken forever. The noise only took a second but in my mind it was still happening and in my ears it was still crink-cracking.
—No! You threw it!
—Made me! I said.
We listened and waited for Gram or Gran to come down the corridor. Gram is old with white hair but the back of his hand feels like wood. But nothing happened so maybe they hadn’t heard us. Sarha was still looking at the pillow on the table next to her bed, so I went over to it and lifted it up. When we saw the broken horse underneath, it unfroze her and she hissed at me:
—The bunyips are gonna get you!
—Shh I said.
—They are she said.
—What are we going to do? she said.
—I’m thinking I said.
We looked at each other for a bit but it was still quiet and Gram and Gran still hadn’t come. Then we looked at the horse and its bonechina legs were broken. So was its body—you could see right into its body which was curved and white like an eggshell. Sarha tipped her head like she was sad—it looked like it was her neck that had crink-cracked. She said:
—We could fix it?
—We haven’t got any glue, I said.
—In the cupboard maybe.
Then we tiptoed out into the dark hall (still no Gram) and over to the big cupboard. I opened the door and used my watch light to see, moving as quietly as a spy. I was thinking about whether Gram would make the bunyips take us to the balloons if he found out, and what tricks and toolkits spies have to beat the bunyips, when she went—Mm! and I could see the teeth as she smiled, pointing at the glue. It was heavy and moved ever so slowly. Back we went to our room, and now I was thinking about where the balloons go, up from the leg fog, following the legs up into the sky and into the cloud to the prison. You hardly ever see balloons coming back down. The horse was still in pieces, its bonechina still broke.
After the glue the horse looked uncomfortable because it must have known we had done a bad job. Not all of the horse pieces fit, and there were still holes. And there was brown glue smeared on the horse looking like wiggles of honey poured on it. My insides scrunched up and her face went afraid.
—They’ll give us to the bunyips!
—Roland’s dad went to the bunyips, and he didn’t break anything.
—He got fat.
—You never come back. The only people that come back are really old and they’re really sad she said.
Part of me actually wanted the bunyips to come for us, and march us through the streets to the balloons. I would be brave and Sarha would hold onto me for protection as we walked past Gram and Gran, who would now be wishing they hadn’t called the bunyips though they would try not to show it. But I wasn’t sure I would stay brave—I wondered if I might actually cry instead. Sarha has seen me cry of course, but not for ages, and not at an important time, and never in front of others which would make things worse.
—When they come back they look like they’re looking for something they’ve lost she said.
I was thinking of the bunyip gloves on my shoulder. The prison city only visited once a year and that’s when they take the bad people. If you’re bad the bunyip’ll get you. Bad people, naughty people, have to go to the walking prison. The prison was here now, above our town, and hidden in its cloud. My mind was racing on and on as I looked at the horse and it looked back at me.
—But it’s like they can’t remember what it was that they lost she said.
The legs look like tiny lines in the sky but they get fatter as they get closer to us down here and then they just dissolve into the leg fog, which looks whiteish like normal fog but it’s hard to push through. Slomo! they shout at you if you’re trying to push through the leg fog, so I always try to keep clear of it. Gram said that’s the speed you move at when you’re up in the walking prison, slow as if you had run out of battery. Sarha kept opening and closing her hands and the glue between her fingers made strings so thin that they turned into smoke. In group they showed us vids of prisoners working in the prison yards, making the first walking prison, Gram said they deserved it. My eyes were starting to sting. But you never see a vid of what happens after you go up to the prison. Si said that you stay on the prison until it comes back to your town again, one or two or maybe ten years later. My heart was going too fast and my face must have looked like disaster because her voice went very small and she said
—We could run away.
By Rod, 2 August, 2006; direct link.