The Ghosts of Roebuck Bay by Ian W. Shaw – Extract

The Ghosts of Roebuck Bay

Chapter 1

The Port of Pearls
By the 1940s, Broome had become a nondescript town on a lonely coast, falling into apathy and sunbleached of its colour and rapidly losing traces of its past.
– John Bailey, The White Divers of Broome

Broome has always been open to refugees and newcomers, to fortune-seekers and adventurers. In the first few weeks of 1942, however, Broome was just a shadow of its former self. Its glory days as one of the most colourful sea-ports in the southern seas were just fading memories for the few original inhabitants still living there. The small peninsula on which the township sits was one of the first areas of the Australian continent to be visited by Europeans. The buccaneer turned explorer, William Dampier, visited twice, in 1688 and 1699. Roebuck Bay, the inner stretch of water that framed the peninsula, was named after Dampier’s ship on his 1699 voyage, while the creek at its head, Dampier Creek, was named in his honour.

Dampier had been singularly unimpressed with what he found in the northwest of the continent, but other Europeans who followed just over 200 years later found riches that Dampier could not have known existed. The waters around the peninsula were home to enormous natural pearl beds. Shortly after the discovery of this underwater treasure, the township of Broome was firstly surveyed and then named after the then-governor of Western Australia, Sir Frederick Broome. From around 1880, Broome became a magnet for fortuneseekers from around the world. Some sought the pearls, while others prized the shells the pearls grew in; mother-of-pearl was in demand in Europe and elsewhere for use as buttons and brooches, and as inlays in furniture and fittings. Between 1880 and 1920, 80 per cent of the world’s pearl shell came from Broome. The town became home to more than 8000 people, every one of them from somewhere else.

The white Europeans learned early on that while the industry itself was attractive, the same could not be said for the process of retrieving the pearl shell from the seabed. At first, local Aboriginal people were hired or simply taken to dive for the shells. As the shallower waters were worked out, the Indigenous people were replaced by those who could dive deeper: Manilamen from the Philippines, Malays and Koepangers from Timor, specifically the area around Koepang (Kupang) in West Timor. The South Asian people were in turn replaced by Japanese divers but many remained in the industry as deckhands on the pearling luggers. The Japanese divers were also better equipped with the new technology that was entering the industry in the form of air pumps and diving suits.

The changing nature of the industry straddled the years when the bottom fell out of the pearl shell market. The disruption caused by World War I was followed by the development of cheap plastic alternatives to pearl shell during the 1920s which, in turn, was followed by the Great Depression. By the late 1930s, pearling luggers were still operating out of Broome, but where they once numbered in their hundreds, there were now merely dozens of craft. The white male Europeans in their white cotton suits were gone, too, replaced by Japanese owners and agents on the luggers and in the shops.

The Japanese dominated the pearling industry, albeit through a series of dummy companies which disguised that dominance; the White Australia Policy was still the law of the land. They also held a strong position in the Broome community as a result of this dominance. They even had their own club in the town, the Japanese Club, housed in one of Broome’s largest buildings, and it quickly became one of the most popular venues in town. Broome still has Australia’s largest Japanese cemetery; it is the final resting place for around 900 Japanese people who died seeking pearls and pearl shell.

By December 1942, though, the town’s population had dropped from a peak of over 8000 to around 1600, of which just 450 were European. The majority were Asian – Chinese, Japanese, Malays and Koepangers – and a large number were Aboriginal and mixed-race residents.

With the decline of the pearling industry came the realisation that Broome was nothing more than an outpost of civilisation on the edge of a vast and empty continent. The only overland connection to Perth was via a track that was rough at best and impassable at worst, especially during the wet season. The railway tracks in the region were as small as the route they traversed was short, from the far side of Broome to the end of the long jetty. They were used by the small steam engine that pulled flatbed carriages out onto the jetty with petrol and other supplies and, on their return trip, the bags of pearl shell that the luggers brought in.

The ships and luggers that used that jetty were Broome’s lifeblood until the early 1930s when an airfi was established on the edge of town on the track to Cable Beach. The town’s fi regular air service began in 1932, connecting Broome and Perth in a trip that took two-and-a-half days. In February 1942, there was a regular passenger and mail service connecting Broome with the cities and towns to the south. The contract to deliver that service had been won by MacRobertson Miller Airlines (MMA) and the pilot assigned to it, Jimmy Woods, was one of the most popular people to visit the town.

The coming of war in September 1939 brought increasing change to Broome; slow, incremental change at first, but small changes that were cumulative. By the end of 1941, virtually all the young men and women from the town had either enlisted in the armed forces or had moved to the large cities in the south to work in the jobs vacated by others who had enlisted. In a small town like Broome, their loss was a major blow.

If the war came to Broome, the town’s defence would be in the hands of the local equivalent of a home guard, the Broome Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC). Unfortunately, the VDC was not particularly impressive, on paper at least. Formed in July 1940, it could count on just 30 or so volunteers, who had only six weapons in their armoury, all World War I–vintage Lee-Enfield rifles, with 500 rounds of ammunition for each.

Their leaders were of the same vintage, but all had impressive records from the Great War. Their commanding officer and their intelligence officer, captains Harry Macnee and Lou Goldie respectively, had both served at Gallipoli and on the Western Front, and both had been commissioned from the ranks. Both had served in the 10th Light Horse Regiment, as had the units’ drill sergeant, Beresford Bardwell. So far, their activities had been confined to regular training and occasional guard details at the wireless station and the jetty, the main points of strategic interest in Broome. They prepared as best they could but nothing could have prepared them for the fateful events ahead.

*

There was a distinct social order in Broome at this time and those at the top were the families of ‘Old Broome’ when Broome was the ‘Port of Pearls’, the town where fortunes were made with the opening of a single shell. By 1942, those days were long gone. The mansions were boarded up or falling down, and most of the luggers had disappeared. The most important people in town were no longer the pearlers but those who had authority rather than wealth; with the passing of the pearl trade came the passing of power from the commercial to the administrative. Those who now exercised that power were Broome’s senior public servants, the most prominent of whom were the town doctor and senior policeman.

The town doctor was the English-born Dr Alexander Thomas Hicks Jolly, 32 years of age and married to Margaret with a small daughter. Jolly had only arrived in Broome in July 1940, and was still feeling his way in local society. As well as carrying the designation of resident medical officer, Jolly was also the town’s resident magistrate. While time proved him to be a competent doctor, Jolly would never really become part of the town’s establishment the way previous doctors had. The town may have been a little too ‘frontier’ for Jolly and his family, or perhaps he was a little too urban for that particular time and place.

The senior policeman was Inspector James Duff Cowie, a former city detective who had joined the Western Australian Police Force in 1910, and served with distinction since. Cowie was not especially happy about his Broome posting. It was a long way from where the real action was in the south, and the tropical climate had already affected his health through several bouts of dengue fever. Just to confuse everyone, the senior police sergeant at Broome was also named James Cowie – no relation, but enough of a coincidence to regularly raise a laugh. Another senior bureaucrat was the Broome inspector of Aborigines, the local representative of the state Native Affairs Department. The position was occupied by Laurie O’Neill, a former police sergeant who had spent most of his police career in the northwest, at places like Fitzroy Crossing, where he had been the district’s sergeant of police. O’Neill was efficient and popular with both the Aboriginal people he was responsible for and the Europeans he had to negotiate with.

Also close to the top of social hierarchy was Beresford Bardwell. As well as his role as VDC drill sergeant, Beresford also headed up the Broome Public Works Department and was a member of the Broome Roads Board. Beresford and his brother Bernard did not really qualify as ‘Old Broome’ as they had originally come to Broome around 1910, drawn from their native Melbourne by promises of adventure and riches from the sea. They had some of the former but little of the latter before the Great War broke out in 1914. Beresford enlisted and served with some distinction before being invalided back to Australia in 1918 because of wounds suffered in France. He and Bernard continued their pearling partnership after the war, joined by other family members, and then in 1920 their fortunes improved dramatically.

Beresford was out on one of the company’s luggers, going through pearl shells brought up by one of his Japanese divers. Opening one shell, he spotted a pearl the size of his thumbnail. Concerned about what might happen if the rest of the crew saw the pearl, Beresford slipped it into his mouth, and continued opening shells until he could ease away into his cabin where he locked the pearl securely away. That pearl later sold for £4000 (about $700,000 in today’s currency), and was one of the most valuable ever discovered in the northwest.

In the mid-1920s, the Bardwells got out of the pearling trade like so many others in Broome, seeing no future for the industry. Unlike many who left pearling, they didn’t leave Broome. Beresford and his wife, Biddy (Marjory), had three children – two sons and a daughter – and were determined to stay and make a life for themselves and their children.

In the 1930s Beresford was appointed to the position of harbour master for the port of Broome. When the long jetty there caught fire in 1937, his quick thinking prevented the destruction of the entire structure. When he arrived on the scene, a fire had taken hold in the centre of the jetty. He sent someone away for dynamite, which he used to blow out sections of the jetty on either side of the fire. The jetty was damaged, but it was quickly repaired in a few days.

Finally in the hierarchy of the town, there were a number of ‘new’ Broomites, families such as the Milners. Harry and Catherine Milner had come to Broome in the 1920s. Harry was an engineer, but in 1924 left that job and went into partnership with Leonard Knight to run the open-air cinema in Broome, the Sun Theatre. They did well. Their family now numbered seven – five daughters and two sons – and, like most in the town, they participated in the town’s social life. Catherine was the Girl Guide district commissioner and, through their children, involved in most things that happened in town. Unfortunately, Harry died in 1940. Catherine bought out Leonard Knight, took over the running of the theatre and tried to carry on with her life.

*

In 1941, Australia’s defence planners recognised that Broome had another point of potential strategic significance – its small airfield. Because it was there, in place, and was being used on a regular basis, Broome’s little airfield was designated an Advanced Operational Base (AOB), as were similar small airfields at Wyndham and Derby in the northwest.

A wireless telegraph station was built near the airfield on the same side as the town. Unfortunately, the messages it was designed to send and receive were in code, and no trained operators were available until sometime in 1942. Until then, the military authorities in Broome had to use the civilian telegraph with its copper wires running to the nerve centres of defence in the south.

It was the same with the plans for the airfield. The proposed upgrade would only be to the extent that it could handle two medium-sized aircraft arrivals and departures a day rather than the one or two that it now handled each week. There were no plans for radar, no plans for anti-aircraft defences and there were no plans for fighter aircraft to protect the facility.

*

The very thing that threatened Broome’s existence – its geographic location – suddenly made it very important in the first weeks of 1942. The tides of war were lapping ever closer to northern Australia as success followed success for the Japanese.

In Malaya, the Japanese landings on the northwest of the peninsula were a preamble to a measured advance to the southeast, through successive British defence lines towards the ultimate prize of Singapore. It was an advance characterised by a total domination of the air and by the use of dozens of small boats the British forces had failed to destroy as they retreated. The boats, packed with Japanese soldiers, would sail at night to landing places behind Allied lines. The troops would wade ashore to create havoc in the rear echelon areas. Australian defence planners could do nothing about the Japanese air dominance that emerged early in the fighting as they had no aircraft capable of matching the performance of the Japanese Zero fighter, but they were able to address the issue of the potential Japanese use of abandoned boats should the Japanese ever be so bold as to invade the Australian mainland.

In January 1942, Broome pearlers were informed that all their luggers would be purchased by the Australian government. A fair price would be paid for them, and any deemed unseaworthy would be destroyed. The remainder would be sailed south, to Fremantle most likely, where they would be put to work in supporting the war effort. Unspoken but implicit was the fact that removing all luggers from the northwest would also remove the possibility of them being captured and used by the Japanese. Eventually, 44 luggers were purchased at a cost of £80,000. A further sixteen luggers, found to be unseaworthy, were purchased for almost £9000, and burnt where they lay.

The task of crewing the remaining luggers and organising their despatch to Fremantle fell to RAN Reserve Lieutenant

D.L. ‘Beau’ Davis, who flew into Broome from Melbourne on 9 February after being fully briefed at Defence headquarters. The middle-aged sailor was a good choice for the role. He had many years experience in the northwest and at one time had owned and operated a fleet of six pearling luggers out of Broome. When there was a neap tide on 17 February, Davis floated his luggers on Roebuck Bay, giving them, literally, a water test before fitting them out for the voyage south. He had no idea when that voyage would begin, however, because he was struggling to find crews for his little armada.

*

While Beau Davis was selecting and preparing the luggers to sail south, the war situation was steadily worsening. On 15 February, Singapore and the 90,000-plus Allied defenders surrendered to the Japanese. In the Philippines, American ground troops had been forced back onto the Bataan Peninsula and their own island fortress of Corregidor. Their army, air force and navy units had all retreated steadily to the south, first to the Netherlands East Indies (NEI), and then to Australia where they joined other American forces who had arrived there. A reinforcement route for the units that remained to face the Japanese in Java had been established along the old Qantas Empire Airways (QEA) flying boat route, via Timor and Bali into Java itself.

The NEI slowly but inexorably fell under Japanese control. Japanese forces attacked Borneo in December, then Sumatra, the Celebes (Sulawesi) and elsewhere across the archipelago. Regular air raids on Kupang in West Timor and its associated airfield at Penfui and the shooting down of a QEA flying boat, the Corio, effectively closed the air route through Timor.

The only alternative reinforcement route was a direct route between Australia and Java. The two closest points were the south coast of Java and the northwest coast of Australia. There were several possible departure points in Java – Bandung and Jogjakarta for land-based aircraft, and Tjilatjap for flying boats – but only one realistic destination in Australia.

That destination was Broome, and in a few short days, Broome went from being almost an afterthought, an alternative landing point for aircraft in times of inclement weather, to perhaps the most important port town in the western half of the continent.

A lot of work had to be carried out in a very short time. First was the airfield, which was simply too small for many of the aircraft it was expected to handle; an upgrade of its main runway was needed. The main contractor would be Bell Brothers, an earthworks company based in Perth. Co-owner Alec Bell travelled to Broome, his heavy equipment following him a few days later, and there he found a ready-made workforce awaiting him. It being the wet and the luggers being laid up, there were deckhands and support workers who now had nothing but time on their hands.

Most of the workers were Koepangers or Malays. Bell scooped up 180 of them. An iron aircraft hangar and a number of small huts were constructed at the airfield in quick time, while a lot of work went into extending and, where possible, strengthening the runway. Maintaining the runway soon proved to be a never-ending task. While it coped with the lighter domestic aircraft that had been using it for a decade, the runway surface struggled with the heavier two- and four-engined aircraft that began to arrive in the second half of February. The twin-engined DC-3 Dakotas made depressions a couple of centimetres deep every time they landed; the big American B-17s (Flying Fortresses) and B-24s (Liberators) could gouge out 20 centimetres or more during a rough landing. When the airfield got busy, which it soon did, Bell arranged for many of the 180 labourers’ meals to be brought to them as they worked as maintaining the runways had become a full-time task.

The Japanese launched a massive air raid on Darwin on 19 February causing immense damage and substantial casualties there. That air raid destroyed the morale of most residents of Darwin, civil and military alike, because it showed them in harsh detail just how isolated and exposed they actually were. While disastrous for Darwinites, it did galvanise both civil and military authorities into further action. Shortly after news of that raid reached Melbourne, the War Cabinet meeting there issued its Minute Number 1916, which said,

War Cabinet confirmed the order for compulsory evacuation of women and children from Broome and approved of the proposal for the use of civil aircraft for this purpose.

The actual evacuation was organised locally at Broome. The War Cabinet Minute applied only to European women and children and some of them had already been sent south to Perth by air. In Broome, two of the senior local officials, Inspector James Cowie and Beresford Bardwell, took immediate and decisive action. Cowie’s police and Harry Macnee’s VDC assisted the process and on 21 February more than 120 women and children departed for the south aboard the steamship Koolinda. One who refused evacuation was Biddy Bardwell, who was able to convince the relevant official – her husband – that her work at the Broome telephone exchange was vital to the town’s operations. As there was no-one to replace her, Beresford agreed she could stay until someone else was trained to take over.

Broome’s non-Europeans were not subject to the same order. The Japanese were already gone, held (under very lenient conditions) in the Broome gaol before being sent to internment camps in the south, their lovely club shut down. The Asians who remained – the Chinese, Malays and Koepangers – were by and large ignored. Most of them were not Australian citizens and many were not even Australian residents. They had shown, however, that they could cope with just about anything the northwest could throw at them and the majority had spent much of their lives in Broome. Even if it were possible to return them to their places of origin, most of those places were now either behind Japanese lines or sat directly in the Japanese line of advance. They were left to fend for themselves.

The Aboriginal and what was officially termed ‘part-Aboriginal’ population were subject to a different set of rules and regulations. Leprosy had been a scourge in the Aboriginal community and, because of this, a state law prohibited the movement of local Aborigines below the twentieth parallel of latitude. Local officials and the Native Affairs Department had factored this into their planning. Between 250 and 350 Aboriginal people, mainly women and children, were transported to the Beagle Bay Aboriginal mission, run by German monks from the Pallotine order, and located some 150 kilometres to the north of Broome.

The influx from Broome more than doubled the Beagle Bay population, and the Native Affairs Department made arrangements to assist the missionaries with building materials for the construction of new dwellings and with the promise of regular deliveries of additional rations to the mission.

Not all the Aboriginal and part-Aboriginal population were relocated to Beagle Bay. Those who had ongoing work in the town were allowed to make up their own minds about whether they would stay or go while others, sometimes described as ‘indigent natives’, were allowed to remain in their camps at Bones Well and Fishermen’s Bend, just outside the town boundaries. The Native Affairs Department indicated that it would also supply both those camps with rations on a regular basis.

All of this was undertaken according to a prepared timetable. However, it was the wet, a season when timetables could become hit-or-miss affairs. A tropical cyclone, the third of the season, had swept through the area a couple of weeks earlier, and there had been heavy rains since. When those rains came, roads were impassable. Under the new timetable, the last truck would carry just a few remaining children from Broome to Beagle Bay – orphans from the newly built orphanage – and they would be accompanied by the one other white woman who had stayed behind, Sister Catherine Hayes. Sister Hayes and her charges were to leave Broome sometime during the morning of Tuesday, 3 March.

*

Qantas, through QEA, had responded almost immediately to Japan’s explosive entry into the war. Singapore was the terminus of QEA operations to the west, and the company soon abandoned all its regular commercial flights to the island. In January, with the loss of Singapore looking more likely, Batavia (Jakarta), the capital of the NEI, located on the north coast of the island of Java, became the westernmost port for QEA flights, with Bali, Kupang in Timor and Darwin remaining the regular stops on that route. Disaster struck on 30 January when one of the QEA flying boats, the Corio, was shot down by Japanese fighters near Kupang on its mission from Darwin to Surabaya, killing thirteen of its eighteen passengers and crew, mostly Dutch women and children evacuees.

In the wake of that loss, the civil aviation department immediately instructed Qantas to bypass Kupang, and to organise an ‘effective connection’ from Java to the most convenient point of entry along the Western Australian coast. Qantas sent Lewis Ambrose, its senior QEA pilot, to Batavia to liaise with the relevant NEI authorities to determine which port to use.

In Batavia, NEI civil aviation authorities told Ambrose that the pace of the Japanese advance meant that both Batavia and Surabaya would soon be within range of land-based Japanese aircraft, and recommended the use of Tjilatjap (now Cilacap) on the southern side of Java. Ambrose agreed and organised for Malcolm Millar, a senior QEA representative in Singapore, plus some ground crew to be sent there. Millar was an ideal choice for the task. An experienced Qantas and QEA administrator, it had been Millar who established the Singapore base for QEA’s operations, and who had, in the years since, built up a strong network of contacts throughout the region. Within a few days, the picturesque little town, a short distance upriver from the Indian Ocean, would become one of the busiest ports in the world.

With agreement on Tjilatjap, Broome’s selection as QEA’s Australian reception point was a mere formality. While Millar and his small staff set up at Tjilatjap, Qantas despatched one of its best men, Captain Lester Brain, to Broome to oversee the operations there. Again, it would be hard to find a more qualified person for the role. Brain was widely regarded as the best all-round pilot in both Qantas and QEA, and he had pioneered many of their domestic and international routes. A man of medium height and build, with a bright, open face, Brain’s appearance sometimes belied the fierce energy which burned within. Brain coordinated the movement of ammunition and supplies to the NEI and the evacuation of personnel from there and, specifically, from Java. His task was a relatively simple one, or so it had seemed when it was presented to him. Lester Brain was to put together anything and everything necessary to anchor the Australian end of the QEA evacuation program at Broome, its Australian point of entry. He arrived in Broome on Saturday 21 February and immediately set to work. A week later, Brain would celebrate his 40th birthday; he hoped it would be a good one.

At the other end of the air route, Millar approached the Allied evacuation centre to apprise them of QEA’s progress. He was not surprised to learn that the first batch of high-value evacuees had been identified and were standing by for departure on short notice. He was surprised, though, to learn that they were all female secretaries to high-ranking Allied officers.

*

Brain’s orders from Qantas headquarters in Sydney and the Civil Aviation Department in Melbourne were that Brain and his staff would cooperate with the US Army wherever possible, but Brain would retain responsibility for the QEA flying boats. It was hardly an ideal situation, but it did mean that, in one area at least, Australian interests were being looked after by Australians.

Brain’s QEA operations in Broome would eventually directly involve at least fifteen people from Qantas’s air traffic, engineering and marine divisions, and at least one other manager. Many of those staff arrived on QEA flying boats from their original bases in Singapore, Batavia, Bali or Kupang. A fully furnished cottage was rented as a central point for QEA staff and operations, and outfitted to accommodate up to six QEA aircrew at a time. The remainder, if any, would stay in one of the town’s hotels. To coordinate the ground operations, accommodation and catering, Brain had one of QEA’s senior stewards, John Oram and a purser named Baron.

Brain also turned his attention to the complexities of the flying-boat operation on Roebuck Bay. Shortly after being requisitioned by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), the coastal lugger, the Nicol Bay, and its captain, Harold Mathieson, were put to good use. The Norwegian-born Mathieson and his Fremantle-built lugger had spent most of the previous decade working up and down the North West coastline acting as a lighter for a Perth company. The tidal range in that part of Australia was extreme, and little ships like the Nicol Bay were needed to carry and deliver freight to places larger vessels were unable, or unwilling, to travel. Working primary out of Port Hedland, Mathieson and his locally-based crews had become a fixture in that part of Australia.

The Nicol Bay was instrumental in creating three flying-boat moorings at Brain’s direction. Heavy anchors and heavy chains held the mooring floats in place so that aircraft could land on the water, taxi to the floats and tie up to them. Passengers, luggage and cargo would then be ferried to the jetty by small craft.

That was the theory. The moorings had to be placed in deep water because of the tidal range. Brain soon discovered that, at low tide, the seaward end of the jetty stood almost ten metres above the sand and mudbanks. To get to and from the moorings then involved a climb up or down the stairs at the end of the jetty, a walk of several hundred metres to deeper water and then a boat ride to wherever the aircraft was moored.

Passengers and crew would have to carry their own luggage for the whole distance. Even if the loading and unloading took place at high tide, there were complications.

To Brain’s dismay, there was a distinct shortage of suitable boats in this port town. He could locate only a couple of rowboats, one small motor dinghy with an unreliable engine and the fleet of luggers waiting to be sailed to the south. After some enquiries, he was able to find and buy a motor launch and a motorised dinghy.

The Nicol Bay was ideal for refuelling the QEA flying boats, and with a stripped-down lugger in tow, could carry more than enough fuel for all flying boats it needed to service. If the tides were right, it could also ferry passengers and crew to and from the jetty. Brain’s final plan was to minimise delays to the shuttle service. Each high tide was to be used to the full and, where possible, the flying boats would be refuelled either immediately after their arrival or just before departure.

The entire operation was in place by the night of 22–23 February, and it worked as well as Brain had hoped it would. After the experience with the Corio shoot-down, radio silence was enforced between Tjilatjap and Broome, with each base simply signalling aircraft departures and arrivals. Ambrose, who was familiar with the route, flew it as often as possible. On the outward leg from Broome, the flying boats carried such things as medical supplies and aircraft spares, while inbound flights from Tjilatjap carried up to 25 passengers, mostly Allied servicemen.

Just a couple of days into the service, Brain was informed that evacuation had taken precedence over reinforcement and resupply, so the big flying boats began flying to Java carrying nothing but their aircrew. On 27 February, Ambrose flew the Coriolanus into Broome and informed Brain that Allied headquarters in the NEI believed that a Japanese invasion of Java was imminent.

Brain was well aware of the forebodings. His diary entry for 26 February reveals that he was aware of just how precarious the situation in Java actually was, but also noted that there were political imperatives to keep the evacuation route open. He concluded his diary entry with: ‘Millar agrees we will remain there and that we shall continue on a day to day basis.’ His diary entries around that time also reflected his growing pessimism. A practical man, Brain recognised that shutting down the evacuation operation too early would leave QEA, and Australia, open to criticism from the Americans who were still operating their own evacuation flights from Bandung. It was a decision he agonised over making, noting that: ‘The position of Java is apparently hopeless and it is now a case of getting as many useful people out as possible.’

In the end, the decision was taken out of his hands. The next day, Millar in Tjilatjap received a radio message saying that two flying boats, the Corinthian and the Circe, had departed from for Broome. The Corinthian arrived safely on 27 February but no trace of the Circe or the twenty passengers and crew she carried were ever found. Later that day, Millar and his staff were told that civil aviation had suspended the QEA shuttle and recalled all aircraft to the west of Broome. The Coriolanus, which had taken off earlier for Tjilatjap, returned to Roebuck Bay.

Millar and his staff were directed to report to US Army authorities in Jogjakarta for their evacuation to Australia.

Shortly after 11 p.m. on 1 March, Millar and his team boarded a B-17 Flying Fortress at Jogjakarta airport for Broome. There, they found Brain, suffering from dengue fever, waiting for them. They also found the rest of the town waiting for something to happen, but not knowing what it was they awaited.

*

Australia’s efforts to extricate its people from Java to Broome depended very much on the individual efforts of Lester Brain, Malcolm Millar and Lewis Ambrose and their small band of air and ground crews in Tjilatjap and Broome. Fortunately, they were supported by the people of Broome – those who had not been evacuated anyway, for Australia’s military and civilian leadership could offer little beyond words of encouragement and formal directives. In many ways, this was in direct contrast to the American approach, which identified impediments to the desired outcome and then simply bulldozed them out of the way – mostly figuratively, but sometimes literally. For instance, they paid more for anything they wanted than the locals could afford. It might not have made them many friends, but it was effective.

The US Army wanted their air force servicemen evacuated; most were members of various USAAF squadrons who had been rushed to the NEI from Australia to shore up Allied resolve and resistance in Java. A few remnants of US forces from the Philippines did fall back onto the NEI; several Catalinas from PatWing 10 (Patrol Wing 10) had escaped to Ambon and, when they were bombed out of there by the Japanese, fell back again to Surabaya and then to Tjilatjap. The US personnel would eventually be concentrated in and evacuated from either Jogjakarta in East Java or Bandung in the west of the island. They were flown out in big four-engined bombers, the B-17s and the B-24s, which could fly to Broome without refuelling.

The fi decision to evacuate the remaining 450-plus USAAF specialist flight and ground crew in Java was made by Lieutenant Colonel Eubank, commander of all the US forces there.

On 22 February, the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) Colonel Edward Perrin flew in to Broome to coordinate the American forces’ transit through Broome’s airfield. Perrin believed he was in command of this part of Australia because of an anomaly in Allied command arrangements. In an earlier attempt to coordinate Allied efforts against the Japanese, ABDA (American, British, Dutch, Australian) command had been established. Under its terms of reference, ABDA command held discussions with the governments concerned and then took nominal responsibility for a large slab of the Australian mainland – the area lying northwest of a line drawn from Onslow on the Western Australian coastline to the southeast corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Broome and Roebuck Bay fell clearly within that area.

After surveying the facilities, Perrin sought out Lester Brain to outline what he would take responsibility for. They were broad orders he carried, said Perrin, but they could be easily summarised: he was in charge of everything, and that included the loading and movement of all aircraft into and out of Broome. Brain said simply that he would seek some direction from senior officers in government about the best way to coordinate their various operations.

Perrin then sent out an urgent request for assistants. From Java came Lieutenant John Rouse and a captain named Schwanbeck, both B-17 pilots. Schwanbeck was appointed maintenance officer and given a crew of mechanics and technicians whose role was to ensure the aircraft were refuelled, serviced and sent on their way as quickly as possible.

Schwanbeck quickly learnt that turnaround time depended on a number of factors, some of which were well beyond his control. Fuel, for instance, had to be brought to the airfield from the dispersed fuel dumps by two old, civilian-registered trucks and then hand-pumped into the empty aircraft. The trucks’ European drivers and their Aboriginal assistants seemed to speak a language that only they understood, and were only able to work at a single, constant pace – slow. A lack of servicing also caused frequent breakdowns and tyre failures on the aircraft. Schwanbeck and his men faced trying times.

John Rouse felt the same. He flew in from Java on 24 February and assumed a role as rationing officer. Rouse took over the now vacant Broome school, which he set up as a mess area, with cooking facilities in the playground behind the schoolhouse. He seconded some American-enlisted men to help him and, for the first couple of days at least, relied on the assistance of a couple of local volunteers and at least one Catholic nun.

The facilities Rouse established seem to have worked quite well for the first few days, but proved inadequate when significant numbers of evacuees began to pass through the town. He had extra staff and kitchen equipment flown up to Broome from Perth. Once he could look beyond the next meal to be served, Rouse decided to bury food caches behind the town in case of a Japanese landing. He marked the location of the caches on a Caltex road map he bought from a local shopkeeper.

The first American evacuees arrived in Broome on 25 February, and the following day two B-17s arrived, each carrying twelve evacuees. These successful flights were followed by more, then more, and within a week every US serviceman on their priority list had been evacuated from Java, through Broome and on to either Perth or Melbourne. The first aircraft from those southern cities flew into Broome on 26 February.

The Americans also evacuated other Allied military personnel and, in the case of QEA at least, civilian non-combatants were among the earlier evacuees despatched to Broome. The circumstances of the evacuation could be challenging. In the big B-17s and B-24s, passengers had to cram as far forward as they could for take-off – if there was too much weight towards the rear of the aircraft, the pilot simply couldn’t get the tail off the ground. Battle stations were manned after take-off and the gunners remained in their turrets until the flight was halfway to Broome and presumably safe from Japanese fighters. Most flights left Java late at night and at Jogjakarta, American ground crews would create a flight path by tossing kerosene flares onto the sides of the runway from a moving car.

While its overall success cannot be discounted, the American operation was not without its own controversies, caused primarily by a lack of communication. From the beginning of its Broome operation, the USAAF believed that Allied agreements made elsewhere gave it the imprimatur to take command of all military assets in Broome. While this may have been clear to those who made the agreements, those who were on the ground, thousands of kilometres and several weeks away, were never given the same direction. The Americans assumed everyone knew they were in charge; the Australians (and Dutch, at times) assumed that the Americans were again being arrogant and overbearing. The lack of communication was in turn needlessly complicated by a lack of demarcation and a glaring absence of clear lines of authority and reporting. ABDA command was dissolved on 25 February, and when it was, the Americans simply stepped into the vacuum and assumed authority. Unfortunately, and in the words of one of the Americans present in Broome during those critical days, ‘The US Army Air Force did not particularly mix with the Navy or the Australians or the Dutch or the civilians or anyone else.’

That observation was made by Second Lieutenant John Minahan, a 27-year-old bombardier with the 7th Bomb Group who flew into Broome from Java on 27 February. Minahan was ordered to remain in Broome by Perrin to assist with the evacuation operation. A keen diarist, Minahan opened his observations of Broome with, ‘Our principal purpose was to save the combat force’. Everything else – Allies, foreign countries, civilians, cooperation – was subservient to this purpose, an approach that would come to grate with many people.

On the afternoon of Sunday, 1 March, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Legg flew into Broome to relieve Perrin as the US commanding officer. Those who knew Legg, whether as an equal in rank or as a junior, seem to have shared an opinion of him, and that was not particularly positive. A short man who seemed to try to project a larger, more aggressive version of himself to others, Legg was also prone to both hyperbole and self-aggrandizement. Generally, he was a man who generated neither respect nor confidence in other people. Legg had previously been with the 17th Pursuit Squadron in Java, and may even have spent time in transit at Broome before being sent there to take charge. Legg looked around the town, spoke to some people, and decided that he didn’t really like Broome and its inhabitants. Broome was a small town in a large continent which was part of even larger war. It was a long way from the nerve centres of that war, and was therefore somewhere Legg preferred not to be. Legg’s feelings were reciprocated almost immediately; most of the Australians who met Legg took an instant dislike to him.

*

Purely in terms of evacuation to and through Broome, until 1 March, the most affected by what was happening in the NEI – the Dutch colonists, civil and military – had been the least involved. For 300 years, the NEI had been administered by the Dutch and protected by Dutch arms. The longevity of the Dutch occupation may have encouraged feelings of invincibility among the Dutch colonists and military forces. If so, they were in for a rude awakening; rude, but slow. The first Japanese troops to invade the NEI did so at Miri, in Borneo, on 17 December 1942. After that, more landings forced the Dutch to fall back onto Java, the NEI heartland.

Even then, there was a belief that the NEI might survive if Java could hold out long enough. Two events shattered that illusion. The first was the naval Battle of the Java Sea, which began on 27 February and lasted, with subsidiary clashes, for two days. In that battle, the Japanese destroyed what was left of the Dutch Navy’s NEI fleet, and so ended any faint hope the Dutch may have held over preventing Japanese control of all the sea lanes the way they now controlled the air.

The second was the invasion of Java at two points on the island’s north coast on 1 March, landings that met with little more than token resistance. With the fall of the NEI now in sight, it was every man for himself. The Dutch rush to Broome had begun.


Excerpted from The Ghosts of Roebuck Bay by Ian W Shaw. Copyright © 2014 by Ian W. Shaw.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Rachael’s Gift by Alexandra Cameron – Extract

Rachael's Gift

Part One

Camille

Ash fell from the sky like snow on the day my mother died. A thick cloud of smoke engulfed the city and a hot wind passed through the hospital windows, rustling the blinds and taking the breath from her lungs with it. Grit got up my nose and in my mouth and eyes. I sneezed all morning; my face was red. I had trouble breathing. The doctors thought it was grief.

She died at noon exactly. Her profile had been still, her chest flat and square. She was white. Her colour had drained almost immediately, except for the faintest flush of pink that remained smudged along one cheekbone. This single stroke, as if she had been struck, grew, becoming purple as her temperature dropped and her arm became heavy and waxen in my hand. It was deceptively alive, this process after death. They said the oxygen mask had bruised her. It was like a birthmark, or rather a deathmark. Her cheeks had sunk, becoming jowly, and she reminded me of Whistler’s Mother. I rested her arm on the bed beside her body.

Wolfe, Rachael and I spent the remainder of the afternoon going through paperwork, hanging around sterile corridors, waiting for doctors and then nurses and then administration people to approach us in their soft-heeled shoes. Rachael was silent most of the time, smiling occasionally, standing back and fetching coffee and water for us. During those long afternoons at the hospital, before my mother let go, I would often forget Rachael was there and then I would see her head on her arms by her grandmother’s side. It was hard to imagine her as anything other than an angel. So she was a precocious fourteen-year-old – at least she had spirit.

The cloud of smoke turned the light eerie, the sun a mere amber dot with a feeble glow. Grey flakes coated cars, windows, skin – everything in its path. Faces were tense with worry and bewilderment. Wild imaginations thought it was the end of the world.

Outside, our car was filthy. Rachael waited for us, her finger tracing her name on the bonnet. Wolfe started the engine. The windscreen wipers squawked, making angles in the grime.

We drove slowly. Wolfe hunched forward over the steering wheel, the blue vein at his temple raised.

‘Do you think the fires have reached Sydney yet?’ Rachael said.

‘Hope not,’ Wolfe said.

‘Can’t they stop them?’

‘They’re pretty bad this time,’ he said.

I switched on the AM news radio station . . . Residents in Sydney’s western suburbs have reported seeing burning embers up to thirty kilometres from the fire front . . . as a result of the fire at Lithgow…

‘There you go, still the Blue Mountains.’

‘You mean Black Mountains.’

We all fell silent and let the radio announcer’s voice fill the gaps. I tuned in and out . . . due to excessive drought and higher than average temperatures . . . global warming . . . El Niño effect . . . wind gusts are expected to be in excess of seventy kilometres per hour . . .

At which point I leant in and switched the radio to FM.

Camille

Sweat gathered on Wolfe’s forehead as he scraped away the nicotine-stained wallpaper in my mother’s sunroom. His shoulders worked hard, wet patches growing at the nape of his t-shirt. The wallpaper was a velvet fleur-de-lys pattern, which used to be gold and lime, but it was hard to tell now because of the brown and yellow discolouring. For years, I had offered to get rid of it but my mother had always refused. Stubborn to the end of her days, I like things the way they are, she would say in her still-strong French accent.

‘Bloody bitch of a job,’ Wolfe moaned, the sound of the metal spatula grating. Mr Brown dozed at his feet, immune to the bits of paper landing on his fur. The paper tore off with difficulty, revealing dirty cancerous clouds that had penetrated the wall underneath, just like it had my mother’s lungs. ‘You offered,’ I said, attempting to slap Wolfe’s behind, but he was too quick and I missed him. Anyway, you owe me, I thought. Mr Brown raised his head, opened one dopey eye and buried his nose under his paw again.

My mother’s flat was a standard 1940s dark-brick block. It had four flats downstairs and four flats upstairs, each with their own balcony. There was a front garden and a driveway around the side that led to eight garages at the back, where she’d left her pea-green Renault sedan to rust.

She’d been the longest-standing resident. As a kid, I’d had few playmates in the block. Instead, I would bug our elderly residents and eventually, one by one, they disappeared: Mr Chan, a silent, ageless, Chinese man, who had apparently been a doctor in his homeland, had died one night in his sleep; Mrs Margaret Bilson had no longer been able to take care of herself, and had been moved to a nursing home by her son; and Mr and Mrs Eric and Berthe Fleischmann, Holocaust refugees, had decided to go back to Europe – to make peace, they said, before it was their time.

Mrs Fleischmann used to water the garden and feed me dinner when my mother was working on reception for the local medical centre and I still remember her hand on the hose, the skin on her sleeveless arm wobbling, and the faded green numbers on her wrist. Once, when I was too young to know better, I asked her why they didn’t have any kids. She had looked at me, pressed her forefinger into the middle of her fleshy bosom and said, ‘Why would we want to pass this on to our children? It is too much. I could not give it to anyone else.’

We lived on the knuckle of a peninsula, beside jagged cliffs that soared high out of the Pacific Ocean. For two hundred years, the foundling city had carved itself along two legs of the harbour, nestling into leafy hillsides, an insular wall against the flat, exposed land to the west; sparkling skyscrapers idled in the neck and beyond sat a shimmering pool of water like a great heaving womb (indeed our coloniser claimed there’d been a birth). On board the discovering ship a man wrote of ‘a land of milk and honey’, but he was deceived and the colony nearly died of starvation: the land was arid and harsh and isolated, just like its people.

Through the open windows in the sunroom I looked out to the communal garden where my mother had planted flowerbeds of yellow roses, white and blue hydrangeas, dark pink camellias and white gardenias. Although she had no outward patience for art, she was the one who had first taught me about beauty and colour, about light and shade and textures. It was in her blood. The smell of honey wafted from a jasmine vine, signalling the beginning of a hot summer. The wind would blow in off the ocean, over the cliffs across the road, heavy with damp and salt, and a layer of stickiness would settle on everything, eventually corroding all it touched – nothing lasted around here, even the rocks.

The white muslin curtains, curdled from smoke, had been removed. My mother used to sit in here at a small green card table, where she would play Patience or Baker’s Dozen and smoke. There would always be an ashtray and always one tendril of smoke whistling up to the ceiling. When we arrived this morning we’d found the cards laid out mid-Patience with a suit of hearts and clubs. The ashtray was full of old butts. I’d kill for an espresso, she’d say, before stubbing out her cigarette and shuffling off to make her coffee.

We threw the ashtray into a box marked junk, along with the gaudy seashell playing cards, and Wolfe piled the rickety table into the back of his truck with the rest of the furniture we would sell at auction. There wasn’t much: a glass cabinet which had held her silver service and a set of crystal goblets, a 1960s teak armchair and a sofa with orange and green wool-like cushions, a box television set from 1988, an old drop-leaf dining table and her beloved espresso machine. It was worthless and out-of-date stuff that, thankfully, we didn’t have to pay someone to take away. I stared up at a framed painting hanging on the wall. It was called Three Women, because of the three generations of women it portrayed in a kaleidoscope of mirrors; R Larkin, was scrawled in the bottom left. It was clever and the local council had certainly thought so. It had been Rachael’s first prize-winning picture. She’d come a long way since then. I stood on tiptoes and unhooked it from the nail. On the back she had written: To Mémé, with love, R.

We sorted her personal items into three boxes: rubbish, for sale and keepsake. My mother was not exactly a hoarder, but in the last years had not been able to keep up with her usual vigorous expunging. Get rid of everything, I told Rachael and Wolfe, who held up various things and yelled, ‘Bin? Or keep?’ Part of me felt as if we were invading her privacy and the other part held imaginary conversations with her. What did you keep that for? Or, Where in the world did you get that?

In the bedroom, I went through her personal papers – bank statements, tax returns, unopened mail, unpaid bills and debts. No one told you about the administrative nightmare of death.

Rachael’s backside, clad in black tights, poked out of my mother’s wardrobe. Rummaging around in its depths, she pulled out plastic bags full of god-knows-what and dumped them next to piles of clothes on the floor. ‘We should have done this when she was alive. I don’t remember Mémé being so drab, do you?’

I was about to chide her but thought better of it. We were all feeling out of sorts right now. Mémé’s clothes were going to charity; although seeing them again, I wondered if charity would even accept them: one mauve and frayed velour tracksuit, one peach floral polyester dress from Kmart, several pairs of tan slacks, a couple of long cotton skirts of various colours, some white shirts – yet somehow she’d still managed to look elegant.

Mostly I remembered her dressed in a hospital gown. She’d been in and out since her diagnosis three years ago. We’d decided to have her cremated and her ashes were currently sitting in a black urn on our kitchen bench. I didn’t know what else to do with them. It had been a short and simple ceremony, only last week, but felt like years already. A few of her acquaintances had come. We put on a light buffet lunch at the house: Rachael served buck’s fizz in a jug and Wolfe drank whisky, kind words were exchanged, people brought cards; Rachael had put a picture of my mother next to the urn. It had been taken when she was nineteen, before she left Paris; with dewy skin, baby-blue eyes and rose-coloured lips – the photo had been hand-painted – her gaze lifted towards an invisible sky, smiling, as if she were a Hollywood star.

Items flew out of the closet into the air, creating a pile on the floor. A photo album crashed against the end of the bed, splitting open and spilling half its contents. ‘Rach, be careful,’ I said, but she didn’t hear me.

‘Hmmm, interesting,’ Rachael said, backing out and holding up a green and pink sequined black dress with tulle skirting, still in its dry-cleaning plastic. ‘This is quite something,’ she said.

She took off her t-shirt, pulled the dress over her head, and shimmied it down over her curves, the seams stretching.

‘What do you think?’ She wolf-whistled and ran her hands down the side of her body, twisting back and forth in front of the mirror.

Rachael didn’t look like my mother – my mother was blonde and thin while Rachael was dark and athletic, like Wolfe – but there was a pang in my chest, seeing her in my mother’s dress, the one she had worn to our wedding dinner. I remembered Wolfe’s father’s friend Terry twirling her around the dance floor while his wife watched with a glum look on her face; Terry couldn’t understand why my mother had stayed single. A real looker like her, he’d said.

‘Rach, it’s too small for you.’

Rachael perched in front of the dressing table, finding my mother’s old lavender toiletry bag, full of crusting Estée Lauder make-up, and lavishly applied purple eye shadow and pink rouge. Mémé had used the same brush across her cheekbones. I sighed. She could have been a little more sensitive. But then it was only make-up. Old, caking make-up that would have been thrown out anyway. Rachael saw me watching from the mirror and her expression changed. A match of mischief lit in her eyes. She took the gold lid off the lipstick, wound the end of it right out to expose a long pink stick, pouted her lips and circled the nub round and round, applying layer after layer, until it smudged at the corners of her mouth and reduced the stick to a messy stub. She continued staring at me, pleased with herself, and dropped the lipstick on the dresser; she opened her mouth and smugly wiped the corners with her finger. ‘Well, hello dahling . . .’

I shook my head. What would she think of next? I ignored her. All teenagers went through phases and I had to allow for her artistic temperament. You didn’t become a brilliant artist by being well-behaved! We all had our crosses to bear, whatever they were. Anyway all those afternoons at the hospital, you couldn’t fake that, and today I could see there was something bothering her. I could see it in her face when she didn’t know I was looking – a tiny trace of worry that didn’t seem to go away. A mother noticed these things.

‘What’s going on in here?’ Wolfe stuck his head around the door. Mr Brown appeared beside him, his tail wagging.

Had he seen this display? He looked impassive. Neutral. He never read into things, not like me. Wolfe liked things to be simple. Surfing, food, sleep and sex. And love, of course. Always love, like some big leftover hippy standing on the side of the road with his broken guitar and unwashed hair, thumbing rides up and down the coast, preaching love as the answer. Except he had been born in the late sixties and had missed the entire movement. Usually, he left me to do the worrying.

‘Your daughter’s wasting time,’ I said.

The match went out. Rachael’s face crinkled into an innocent smile. She blew her father a kiss. ‘What do you think, Wolfe?’ I flinched hearing her call her father by his first name.

Wolfe looked at me, saw my disapproval and decided to assist the bad cop. ‘Better do what your mother says.’

Rachael continued to admire herself in the mirror.

‘Right, that’s it.’ Wolfe launched himself at her and Rachael squealed as he bundled her up in his arms and threw her over his shoulder. Once again that delicate line between adult and child was crossed. I could not get used to that shift.

‘Wolfe, stop!’ she squealed. ‘You stink!’ She thumped her hand against his bum. Mr Brown jumped on the bed, barking madly, his dirty paw prints all over the sheets.

‘Hey, guys!’ I said, seeing the seams of the dress pull. He swung her up and about and then the photo album caught under his feet. ‘For goodness’ sake!’ I yelled, falling to the floor to rescue the mangled pages.

Their faces were flushed, their breathing erratic. Wolfe bent over, sliding Rachael to the ground, a mess of tulle, hair and sequins; the two of them looked at me sheepishly.

‘That’s right, you two, partners in crime.’

‘Better clean that up.’ Wolfe ruffled Rachael’s hair.

She pulled away from him, fixing her hair, annoyance crossing her face.

‘Watch out, or you’ll see the back of my hand.’ Wolfe winked at me and squeezed my fingers.

‘Never did you any good,’ I said, knowing his own father had been a brute, but he just stood there grinning.

Rachael remained on the floor, amid piles of clothes, the tulle fanning out like a big tutu. ‘Yeah, good one, Dad,’ she said. Wolfe had never laid a hand on her.

‘You just watch it, missy.’ A shadow crossed Wolfe’s face and I felt a desire to touch him, but he turned and headed back to the sunroom, Mr Brown plodding along behind. I tried to fix the pages back into the album.

‘Camille, who’s that with Mémé?’ Rachael asked, holding up a single black-and-white photo she had picked up.

Two young women gazed into the distance. ‘That’s her younger sister Francine.’

‘Very glam.’

‘Aren’t they.’

Rachael snatched the album from me. It was an old one with the sticky pages that turned orange after time and eventually decayed the photos. She turned the pages: there was my mother with my stepfather on a yacht and me as a young baby and then us as a family doing ordinary things families did, like going on holiday and mucking around in the backyard and my first day at school.

‘Is that my great-grandfather? And what about these people?’

She held out a more recent photo of a group of people. It was a photograph I had sent Mémé from Paris of her parents Anton and Marie, her sister Francine and Francine’s husband Rupert, and Lucien, one of the resident artists. They stood in the garden of their home in the French countryside in front of a mural that Lucien had just painted. I’d taken the photo. I explained who they were and Rachael watched me coolly. She’d heard snippets about them over the years and vaguely knew who they were, but Mémé and I had never gone into detail.

‘Are they still alive?’

‘As far as I know.’

‘I can’t wait to go there,’ she said. ‘Have you heard from the school?’

‘Not yet.’ I had sent an application on behalf of Rachael last month to the Beaux-Arts, a renowned art school in Paris. In any case, we had been promising to take her there for years, but with Mémé ill and one thing after the other we had never made it.

She squinted at me as if weighing up whether to pursue it, then shrugged. ‘Maybe I’ll just go anyway.’

I thought back to my own experience. ‘You have her look about you,’ my aunt Francine had declared in accented English, upon my arrival as a naive nineteen-year-old. Here was my mother, unlined and assured, had she remained in Paris. She had the kind of voice that made you sit up straight, her consonants crispy and her vowels full-bodied.

I closed the album, sliding it into the plastic bag.

‘Wait a sec,’ Rachael said, wrenching the bag out of my hands. We tussled for a moment and just as I gave in, I heard a loud rip. The seam on Mémé’s dress had split, exposing a large triangle of Rachael’s skin and showering us in a rainbow of sequins.

Rachael looked at me, childlike. ‘Oops!’ She raised her hand over her mouth and shrugged. ‘It’s not like she’ll be needing it anytime soon.’

She stood up, reached for her t-shirt and peeled the dress off. It sank to her ankles, scrunching at her feet, a thistle of black tulle; she stepped out of it and left it lying on the floor. I waited for Rachael to say something or to turn and pick it up, but she slunk off to the bathroom. Oh, Rach, I thought, and knelt down to collect each coloured sequin from the floor. I found an envelope for the sequins, folded the dress, and together with the album closed them up inside a large cardboard box marked Keep.


Excerpted from Rachael’s Gift by Alexandra Cameron. Copyright © 2014 by Alexandra Cameron.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini – Extract

Trial by Fire

Chapter One

Lily Proctor ducked into the girl’s room, already yanking back her rebellious hair. Aiming for the toilet through a blur of tears, she vomited until her knees shook.

Lily had been symptomatic all day, but she knew she’d rather eat her own foot than get sent home. Tristan would never take her to the party that night if he knew she was having another one of her epic reactions, and Lily couldn’t afford to miss this party. Not now. Not when things between she and Tristan had so recently, and so wonderfully, changed.

Tristan Corey had been Lily’s best friend all her life. They’d grown up together, building tent cities out of his mother’s clean sheets and space stations out of sofa cushions. Most kids grow apart when they start to grow up—Lily knew that. Some figure out the trick of being cool, and others stay runny-nosed geeks for the rest of high school. But to Tristan’s credit, no matter how popular he got over the years, or how isolated Lily became as her allergies intensified and embarrassing rumors about her mother spread, he never once backed away from their pinky-swear promise to be best friends forever. He never tried to hide how close they were or pretended not to care about her because other kids thought she was strange. The only reason he rarely let her go to parties with him was because lots of kids smoked at them, and Lily’s lungs couldn’t handle smoke.

Or at least that’s what Tristan said. Since Lily had never been to one of these parties herself she couldn’t know for sure, but she had a sneaking suspicion that Tristan didn’t bring her with him because he was usually going to hook up with a girl. Or several girls.

Everyone in their graduating class knew that Tristan was the biggest player in Salem, Massachusetts. Sophomore year he’d come back from summer baseball camp a foot taller and achieved legendary status by dating a senior. Ever since then the girls— and women—of Salem had passed him around like a pair of traveling pants.

Unfortunately for Lily, she’d had a crush on Tristan since she first realized that there was a difference between boys and girls—way before he rode the testosterone rocket to studliness. And she’d suffered for it.

For years she’d had to pretend that she was okay with being his Girl Friday.

They’d run everyday errands together—Drivers Ed, shopping for cleats, studying—and then, inevitably, some girl would call and he’d leave. Lily never told him how much it killed her to see the excited flush grazing his cheekbones or the hungry shine in his blue eyes when he’d give her a distracted hug goodbye and dart off to meet his latest conquest. Tristan had never looked at Lily like that. And, as she heaved monstrously into the toilet, Lily had to admit she couldn’t blame him for taking so long to finally kiss her.

The kiss had come out of the blue. They’d been hanging out, watching TV, and Lily had fallen asleep on his leg like she’d done a thousand times before. When she opened her eyes he was staring down at her with a stunned look on his face. Then he’d kissed her.

That was three days ago. Even thinking about it still made Lily shake. One second she’d been asleep, and the next Tristan was on top of her– kissing her, touching her, and slowly moving against her. Then he’d suddenly pulled away and tried to apologize. But Lily wasn’t sorry at all, and she didn’t want him to be, either.

They hadn’t talked about it, but the next morning he’d held her hand in school. He’d even given her a sweet little kiss in front of his jock friends right before practice. Lily had never dated anyone and didn’t really know how these things worked, but she was pretty sure that by taking her to the party tonight he would be announcing to everyone that they were officially together. So Lily didn’t care if she coughed up her spleen or sneezed out an artery. She was going to that party if it killed her.

When she was finally done vomiting up the leaves, twigs, and roots that made up her vegan lunch, Lily staggered over to the sinks to mop up her face.

She moaned when she looked in the mirror. It was worse than she’d expected.

Her alabaster white skin was flushed such a bright red it looked like someone had slapped her across the face. Crimson hives were rising like whip marks across her wing-like collarbones and her green eyes were glassy with fever. Quickly recounting everything she’d eaten that day, she couldn’t think of what could have caused such a run-away reaction. Her allergy must have been caused by something she couldn’t see, like the chemicals they used to clean the school, but she couldn’t really be sure of that.

Lily twisted her slippery strawberry-colored curls up close to her scalp and stabbed the thick mass into a messy French twist with a pencil. She took off her “Save the Wales” t-shirt and bent over a sink in her bra, trying to coax colder water out of the lukewarm tap by batting it with her fingertips. She splashed the not-quite-cool-enough water over the angry rash that was rising like a hot tide up her hyper-reactive body.

The bell rang, signaling the end of her lunch period, and Lily had no choice but to reach into her bag for one of her many emergency kits. She dug past a bottle of quick-dissolve steroid pills and her inhaler, and went straight for the Epi Pen. She took the grey cap off the tube of sterile metal and jabbed the black tip through the jeans covering her thigh, gritting her teeth against the painful stab.

Technically, she wasn’t supposed to use her Epi Pen except in a life-threatening situation, but since she had no idea what was causing such a violent reaction, she figured it was better to be safe than sorry. As the medicine cocktail from the Epi Pen flooded her system, Lily’s symptoms began to diminish. Her eyes stopped watering and her vision cleared. She shivered violently as the adrenaline from the shot rushed through her system, and realized that her entire upper body was wet. Hands shaking with the jitters, she dabbed at herself with some paper towels and put on her t-shirt as the bell rang a second time, signaling the start of the next class.

Lily ran out of the girl’s room, up the stairs, and thundered down the nearly empty hallway to Mr. Carnello’s classroom just before he closed the door.

“Sorry Mr. Carn.” She panted as she ducked past him.

“Are you alright?” Mr. Carnello asked her, glancing down at Lily’s top and then quickly away.

“Sure. I just had a…thing,” she mumbled distractedly, and darted into the room.

Tristan looked up from his spot at their lab table and narrowed his eyes at her as she made her way over to him. She noticed a couple of people looking at her strangely as she sat down. She tried to smile back at them in friendly way, but they all looked away from her without making eye contact.

“Lily,” Tristan hissed at her.

“What?” she hissed back. “Why are your boobs wet?”

“My what?” Lily looked down at her t-shirt and saw that the white material was completely transparent where her soggy bra had soaked through. Mortified, she crossed her arms over her chest. She could hear a few guys snickering in the corner and saw Tristan’s head spin around, silencing them with a look.

“Do you need a moment to collect yourself, Miss Proctor?” Mr. Carnello asked kindly.

“No. We’re good,” Tristan answered for Lily as he quickly pulled his sweater over his head.

The shirt he was wearing underneath hiked up accidentally as he did so, and a few girls whispered excitedly at the glimpse of rippling muscles and velvety skin. Tristan helped Lily into his sweater like he didn’t even hear them, which considering the fact that he just had to walk past most girls to make them groan out loud, he probably didn’t. But Lily heard them, and felt herself flush with even more heat as she resisted the urge to strangle the two of them.

“Do you have a fever?” he asked.

“I always have a fever,” Lily replied grumpily, which they both knew was true.

Lily’s body ran hot—about 102° Fahrenheit on a normal day. On a bad day, her fever could shoot up to as high as 111°. The doctors had no idea how she’d survived some of her worst attacks, but then again, they had no idea about a lot of things where Lily was concerned.

“I’m serious,” replied Tristan, pointing accusingly at the spot of blood on her jeans where she’d impaled herself on the Epi Pen. “Do you need me to take you home? Or the hospital?”

“I’m fine,” she replied emphatically. “Really. I feel great.” She paused and smiled ruefully. “Well, apart from the whole wet boobs in class thing.”

Lily gave him a saucy look and nudged his arm, brushing the whole thing off.

After everything that people had said about her and her family, a wet t-shirt was the least of Lily’s problems. Tristan’s big blue eyes sparkled and his light brown hair fell across his forehead as he ducked his head with quiet laughter. He had a million little gestures like this that left her star struck. He was almost too pretty to look at sometimes, and Lily couldn’t believe how lucky she was that he was finally hers.

“Pay attention to Mr. Carn,” she chastised, like Tristan had been the one to disrupt class. He nudged her back and they focused on the lecture.

“If any symbol fits the universe better than this one,” Mr. Carnello spun to his projector and drew the sideways figure eight that represented infinity. “It would be this one.” He drew an equal sign. “Newton proved that if you hit a ball with a known amount of force, that force doesn’t disappear. It’s turned into kinetic energy and the balls flies a distance that you can measure with accuracy—why? Because energy in,” he tapped one side of the equal sign, “is equal to the energy out,” he finished, tapping the other side of the equal sign. “So. Energy changes. Matter can even change into energy—we’ll get to Einstein’s E=mc2 later—but you can’t make something out of nothing. This is the first law of Thermodynamics. Now! Thermo, which is Greek for heat, and dynamics, from the Greek dynamikos with means power. Heat and power are two halves of the same whole.”

Mr. Carnello began to scribble furiously as he mumbled to himself, Lily and Tristan looked at each other and grinned. They both loved science. In fact, Tristan had scored higher on his Biology Achievement Test than anyone else in the state that year, and he was seriously thinking about enrolling as a pre-med student in one of the Ivy League schools that he would apply to this winter. It was only early November, and the senior class still had another month or two to pick colleges, declare a major, and basically figure out the rest of their lives before they all turned eighteen. Lily was sure Tristan had already decided to be a doctor someday. After spending so much time visiting her at Mass General when she was having one of her more severe attacks, he certainly knew his way around a hospital.

Lily wasn’t particularly interested in being a doctor herself, but she studied all the sciences with a passion. She had always been able to understand physics intuitively, and on the days she was feeling particularly put upon, Lily believed this was because her body was a wacky science experiment gone wrong. Every year Lily’s ailments grew worse, and not even the cadre of specialists in Boston she went to see every month knew how to treat her. She’d always dreamed of chaining herself to an endangered redwood tree or participating in a days-long sit in to stop animal testing, but the truth was her body would never let her do those things. She probably wouldn’t even be able to live on campus when she went to college next year—if she was healthy enough to attend college at all.

A wave of anxiety overtook her at the thought of Tristan going far away to college. Harvard and Brown were close enough for him to commute easily, but what if he decided to go to Columbia—or worse, Cornell? Ithaca was a six-hour drive from Salem.

As Mr. Carnello delved into the finer points of thermodynamics, the adrenaline from the Epi Pen shot abandoned Lily all at once, leaving her with a killer headache and a raging case of paranoia about her changing status in Tristan’s life. She resisted the urge to rub her temples and beg Tristan to stay in Boston. Every time Tristan looked over at her to see if she was okay, Lily smiled brightly to prove how great she felt. What she really needed was about a gallon of water to wash away the bitter film that was coating the inside of her mouth, but she’d have to wait until after class to go to the bubbler or Tristan would know she felt sick. Lily nearly sighed with relief when the bell rang.

“Thanks for the loaner.” She pulled Tristan’s sweater off and handed it to him. “I think my boobs are sufficiently dry now.” She fanned her flushed face. “Actually, I think they’re cooked. I was roasting all period.”

“And I was freezing.” Tristan gratefully put his sweater back on with a shiver. “Mr. Carn always keeps his room so damn cold.”

“The half-dissected cats like it better that way.”

“You’re just lucky I love you.”

“Yeah, right. You just didn’t want me flashing the whole room!” Lily exclaimed a bit too loudly.

She watched Tristan grab his stuff and hurry out of the room, not even thinking twice about his choice of words. He said he loved her every now and again. It didn’t mean the same thing to him as is it did to her, and Lily knew it. But she also knew that he did care deeply about her, which made the situation all the more confusing. Since their steamy episode on the couch, Tristan hadn’t tried anything sexier than a few chaste kisses and a lot of handholding. He loved her—Lily had known that for years—he just didn’t seem to be all the crazy about her body.

Not that she had a bad body, Lily thought as she grabbed a sip from the bubbler and then followed Tristan to their side-by-side lockers. Sure, she had skin that was much too fair for the current style and she was painfully skinny, but even she was aware of the fact that she had a great face. Well, Lily conceded, she had a great face when it wasn’t leaking snot or covered in hives, which wasn’t very often. And the hair was a problem. Bright red, thicker than polar bear fur and curly as scissor-skinned ribbons on a birthday present, Lily’s hair was a force to be reckoned with. She wouldn’t be surprised if it could be seen from space, and she spent most of her time pinning it back, pulling it up, and generally trying to convince it not to eat her face.

Lily hated her hair, probably because it reminded her so much of her mother’s.

Her big sister, Juliet, had pin-straight locks in a perfectly respectable shade of brown, but not Lily. Oh no. On top of having to wear a battalion of medic alert bracelets that proclaimed her freakiness to the world, Lily also got saddled with their mom’s crazy hair.

Lily fervently hoped she hadn’t gotten her mom’s crazy mind to go with it. “Are you sure you want to go to your last class?” Tristan asked skeptically as he watched Lily pull her Spanish textbook out of her locker. “I could get a pass and drive you home right now,” he offered.

“What for?” Lily said brightly.

Tristan straightened to his full height of six foot two and turned toward her. He reached out with one of his long, supple arms and boxed her in against the wall of lockers. She went still and looked up at him. Tristan was one of those rare guys whose skin always managed to look dewy and fresh, like every inch of him was utterly kissable.

“No jokes. No acting tough,” he said, easing closer to her until his thighs rested on hers. Tristan brushed her cheek with the backs of his fingers. “You don’t have to come with me to the party tonight.”

Lily frowned. If he thought she was so sick, why would he go the party without her? She was about to ask him when a shrill voice interrupted them.

“Are you serious?”

Lily and Tristan broke apart and turned to see Miranda Clark staring at them, her hands planted on her shapely hips and an exaggerated look of disgust on her spray-tanned face. Half the hallway full of students slowed to gawk.

“What, Miranda? You got something to say?” Tristan said rudely.

“Yeah, I got something to say,” Miranda retorted, her lower lip trembling.

Lily felt bad for her. Under all that lip gloss and chemically treated blonde hair, it was easy to see that she was hurt. Tristan didn’t talk about his love life with Lily, but she was pretty sure that Miranda and he had been involved a few weeks back. Lily wasn’t sure exactly when they’d stopped seeing each other, but from the stunned look on Miranda’s face, Lily guessed that it had been recently. Maybe too recently.

“This should be great,” Tristan said, crossing his arms and smirking. “Remember to use your big girl words, Miranda.”

Lily gaped at Tristan, surprised at how cruel he was being. True, Miranda Clark wasn’t the smartest girl in school, but she was two years younger than they were. Of course her vocabulary wouldn’t be on the same level as theirs. What was he doing hooking up with a fifteen-year-old to begin with? The whole episode was leaving a bad taste in Lily’s mouth.

“Miranda. I’m sorry you’re upset, but maybe we should talk about this later?” Lily said. Miranda didn’t appreciate Lily’s peace offering. In fact, she looked like she was just about to pounce on Lily and beat the crap out of her.

“This isn’t your mess, Lily,” Tristan said tiredly. “Go to Spanish. I’ll handle her.” “Mess?” Miranda said, focusing her rage on him. “You think I’m a mess?” she repeated, her tone sliding up an octave.

The bell rang, breaking up the knot of bystanders, but Miranda didn’t move. She waited, eyes glassy with furious tears, for Tristan to deal with her.

“Go,” Tristan repeated to Lily. “I got this.”

Lily turned and went to her class. Behind her she could hear the two of them arguing. The volume rose steadily until Lily could catch the last retort from all the way down the hall.

“Whatever Miranda,” Tristan said. “I honestly don’t care about what you think.” Then Lily, and half the student body, heard Miranda slap Tristan across the face.

Lily ducked into her classroom rather than go back and defend Tristan like she might have a few days ago. This wasn’t the first time a girl had slapped her best friend, but it was the first time Lily believed he’d really deserved it.

After school, Lily felt a bit strange getting a ride home from Tristan as she usually did. Having no other option, she waited in the parking lot by his car and grimaced when she saw the hassled look on his face as he crossed to her.

“I could have my mom…” Lily began halfheartedly.

“Your mom? Driving? Like I want innocent blood on my hands,” he said, raising an eyebrow.

“She’d never make it out of the driveway, anyways,” Lily said dryly. “The garage confuses her.”

Tristan unlocked the doors on the Chevy Volt that he kept immaculate for Lily and they both got in.

“Sorry about today,” he said sincerely. “I didn’t mean to drag you into it.”

“That was some slap. How’s your face?”

He sighed dramatically. “Unfortunately, the nurse said that slap was loaded with cooties.”

Lily sucked in a pained breath. “Cooties. You know what that means?”

“They’ll have to amputate.”

“Girls across the tri-state area will be inconsolable. A national day of mourning is sure to follow.”

He smiled at her lazily, his mouth inches away, eyes locked with hers. Lily desperately wanted to forget the whole thing and kiss his cootie-infested face, but something held her back.

“How’s Miranda?” Lily asked, looking down at her hands.

“How should I know?” Tristan turned back to the steering wheel and started the car. His coldness toward Miranda disturbed her. Was this how Tristan treated every girl he was finished with?

“Do you want me to talk to her?” Lily offered. “I can tell her it was unexpected. That she’s got the wrong idea about us and what happened.”

“Miranda has so many wrong ideas in her head I don’t see how setting her straight about one of them will make any difference. She’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, Lily.”

Tristan glanced at the look on Lily’s face while he drove out of the parking lot and knew what she was thinking.

“I know, I know,” he said with exasperation. “If I think she’s an idiot, I probably shouldn’t have fooled around with her in the first place, right?”

“She’s a lot younger than us, Tristan. Two years is a big deal,” Lily objected gently.

“I guess,” he sighed. “But trust me, Lily. Miranda’s not some innocent little girl. I didn’t, you know, ruin her or anything.”

“Ruin her? What century is this?” Lily chuckled. Tristan’s lips turned up in a tiny smile. Lily took a second to steel herself for the next question. “Were you still involved with Miranda the other night?”

He rolled his eyes. “She wasn’t my girlfriend. I never made any promises to her and it was idiotic of her to think we were going to be a couple.”

They drove in silence for a bit.

“Just out of curiosity, how would a girl know if you were going to be a couple?”

Lily was reaching—fishing for a commitment from him like she was one of his desperate admirers. She disliked herself for it, and as the silence stretched out, her question hanging like a bad smell in air, she started to dislike him for not answering her. They pulled into Lily’s driveway, Tristan’s face never even twitching to show that he’d registered what she’d said.

“I’ll pick you up at seven for the party,” he said, and drove off.

Lily stood outside in the cold sea air after Tristan left. She liked the cold. She especially liked the clean, salty air that blew in off the Atlantic Ocean, which was pounding away at the rocky shore just a few blocks from her house. Cold, damp air cleared her head and soothed her skin. Luckily for Lily, growing up in Salem meant that there had always been plenty of blustery winds off the water.

When she was comfortable and cool, Lily turned and went inside the ancient colonial-style house that had been in her family since the Pilgrims had landed. Literally. Both of Lily’s parents could trace their families back to the Mayflower, and both of them had family members who had either lived in Salem or the surrounding Essex County since there was such a thing as an Essex County on this continent. Sometimes Lily wondered if her raging allergies were from inbreeding, but her sister told her that was ridiculous. Tristan’s family, the Coreys, had been in Salem just as long as theirs had and there was certainly nothing inbred about Tristan.

Lily put her stuff down on the kitchen table and listened to the house for a moment. “Mom?” she called, when she decided it sounded empty.

“Is that you, Lillian?” Only Samantha, Lily’s mom, called her by her full name. “Yeah, it’s me. Where are you?” Lily wandered toward her mother’s voice, confused. It sounded like she was out in the garage.

“Ah, Mom. Look at this mess,” Lily exclaimed when she saw what her mother was up to out there.

Samantha sat at her old potter’s wheel, her curly red hair sticking out wildly, throwing clay in her pajamas and robe. She was in the spot where Lily’s dad parked his car, but she hadn’t put a tarp down underneath her. The floor was covered in drippings that were already beginning to harden. They’d have to be chipped off, but that was only half the problem. In the parking spot next to that, her mom’s old Jeep Grand Cherokee was splattered with clay. Lily dug her hands into her hair, surveying the disaster.

“There she is—no bumps or bruises! I almost came to get you at school,” Samantha said in chipper way. She only garbled her words a little, and that concerned Lily. The meds made her slur, and the slightly clearer speech could mean that she hadn’t taken all of them today. “But when I didn’t get the phone call from your principal, I knew that my Lillian wasn’t the one that trashy girl had attacked in the hallway. See? That’s how I knew the difference between what happened here and what happened elsewhere.”

Lily tried and failed to work out her mom’s logic.

“And then I saw my wheel!” Samantha continued happily. “And I wondered, why did I ever stop throwing pots?”

Lily looked at the watered down lump of poorly mixed clay in her mother’s shaky hands, and couldn’t think of a way to say the phrase “you lost your mind and the meds destroyed your talent so it didn’t sound cruel.

It didn’t escape Lily’s notice that before she went to Spanish, Miranda had looked like she’d wanted to attack her and had settled for Tristan instead. But, according to her mother, the fight had happened. Elsewhere. The new medication obviously wasn’t strong enough. If her mother was under-dosed, things could get ugly. She’d need help.

“Hey, Mom? Aren’t you cold?” she asked brightly. Samantha nodded, like it had just occurred to her that she was. “Why don’t you go inside and I’ll finish up out here for you.”

“Thank you, dear,” Samantha said placidly. She slid out of her dirty Crocs and took off her ruined robe, handing it to Lily.

“I’m going to take you upstairs, tuck you in, and then make a few phone calls, okay?” Lily said carefully. When her mom got confused like this Lily knew the best way to keep her calm was to be as clear as possible.

“Yes, call your sister and tell her exactly what happened,” Samantha said. Her face suddenly got serious and she grasped Lily’s hands with her clay-covered ones. “There isn’t a Juliet who doesn’t love you,” she said desperately. “Remember that.”

“Sure, Mom,” Lily said, smiling brightly as she pried her fingers free. “Let’s get cleaned up, okay?”

Samantha nodded and shuffled inside. Lily pulled out her cell phone and called her dad, just in case he decided to answer. When she was shunted to voice mail after two rings, Lily didn’t even bother to leave a message. He was obviously avoiding the call, and probably wouldn’t check his voicemail for hours. She speed-dialed her big sister, Juliet, instead.

“What’s wrong?” came Juliet’s immediate response.

“Mom’s having a bad day,” Lily said, not at all surprised that her sister already knew something was out of place. The two sisters often joked that their phones were so used to making emergency calls that they had somehow learned how to ring more urgently when there was trouble. Lily walked over to the refrigerator and checked her mom’s meds.

“Did she get loose again?” Juliet asked.

“No,” Lily replied thankfully as she counted her mom’s pills. “She just decided to make a few pots. But she neglected to take the car out of the garage first.”

“Fantastic.” Juliet paused. She and Lily started laughing at the same time. “How bad is it?”

“Oh, it’s pretty impressive, Jules.” Lily finished counting the pills. “I just checked and she took all her meds today, so we’ll have to talk to the doctors about her dosage again. I can clean up the mess myself, but I’m worried about leaving her alone tonight. And I have this thing.”

“A date?” Juliet practically screamed with excitement.

“Sort of.” Lily felt her cheeks heat with a blush. “Tristan’s taking me to a party.”

“A party.” Juliet sighed heavily. “Lily, are you sure about that? With all the hair products and perfume that the girls will be wearing, and the alcohol and smoke…”

“Can you come or not?” Lily asked quietly. “It would mean a lot to me.”

Juliet paused. “We’ll talk about the party when I get there,” she said, and ended the call.

Lily decided to start on the Jeep first. Her dad’s spot could wait. It wasn’t like he’d be coming home that night anyway.

Technically, Lily’s parents weren’t divorced, but her father, James, had pretty much abandoned the family about the time her mother started wandering around sleepy Salem, screaming at everyone to shut up. He’d hung in there for a few years. Lily was in eighth grade when her allergy symptoms started escalating exponentially and, as luck would have it, at around the same time Samantha began accosting people at the grocery store. She’d started walking right up to people, telling them she knew about the affair they were having, the bankruptcy they were hiding, or the Adderall they were stealing from their kids to lose weight.

Sometimes she was right, and sometimes she wasn’t. When she was wrong, she simply said that another “version” of the person she’d accused had done what she’d said. Samantha caused a lot of trouble for some good people, but she’d downright humiliated anyone with the last name Proctor. In a small community like Salem, having a crazy mother was not something that was easily overlooked. By the time Juliet went to college two years ago, it seemed like all of Salem had turned on the Proctor family and wanted to run them out of town.

That’s when James stopped coming home most nights. He couldn’t take the embarrassment of being married to the town kook, but he knew that if he filed for divorce he’d end up getting burdened with Lily. No court would grant Samantha custody of a minor with as many medical problems as Lily had, and James didn’t like sickness, either mental or physical. He didn’t file for divorce or involve the legal system in any way because he knew he would end up with more responsibility. Instead, he just stopped showing up.

Lily filled a bucket with soap and water and opened the garage door so she could let out the fumes of the cleaning goop while she scrubbed. Ten minutes later her eyes were watering from the chemicals so badly she could barely see. She ignored them. She had a party to go to, damn it, and after everything that had already happened that day, a couple of leaky eyes weren’t about to stop her. Another twenty minutes later she was mostly done with the Jeep, when she heard Juliet’s car pull into the driveway and park.

“You know what? The way the clay’s all flung out like that, it looks almost festive,” her sister said from the door.

“I’ll be your best friend if you check on Mom,” Lily said, wiping her hair off her damp forehead.

“Fever?” Juliet crossed to Lily. Her giant brown eyes were rounded with concern. Lily edged away from her sister’s smooth, cool hands before Juliet could touch her face.

“Just warm from all this exercise,” Lily said.

Juliet cocked her chin as she judged Lily’s health. The gesture accentuated the heart shape of her face and as she pursed her naturally red lips with worry, Lily thought, as she always did, that Juliet’s mouth looked like a heart inside a heart—a small red one inside a larger, pale one. Lily knew most people considered her sister a bit plain. Juliet dressed conservatively and never wore make-up or styled her straight, mousy-brown hair. But to Lily that stuff was irrelevant. She thought her sister was the prettiest girl she’d ever seen.

“Check on Mom. I’m awesome.” Lily turned Juliet by the shoulders and gave her a playful kick on the rump to get her to go inside.

When Lily finished she found her sister sitting in bed with their mom, taking her pulse. At twenty, Juliet was already a registered EMT and moonlighted at a hospital to pay her way through Boston University. Sometimes it seemed like everyone closest to Lily had decided at an early age that it would be a good idea to go into medicine— probably because at some point they’d seen paramedics fighting to keep Lily breathing. That kind of experience tends to leave a lasting impression on a kid.

“How is she?” Lily whispered when her sister looked up. Juliet tilted her head to the side in a non-committal gesture before easing herself out of bed and taking Lily out to the hall.

“Her pulse is racing. Which is kind of hard to do when you have 200 milligrams of Thorazine and an Ambien in you.”

“Is she alright alone?”

“She’s fine for now,” Juliet whispered, her big eyes downcast.

“Did she say what’s bothering her?” Lily asked. She took Juliet’s arm and led her down the hall to her room.

“She’s paranoid.” Juliet sighed as she sat on Lily’s bed. “She said another Lillian was thinking about taking her Lillian.”

“That’s…” Lily stopped, overwhelmed.

“…The way she explains her hallucinations to herself,” Juliet finished for her. “The hallucinations aren’t wrong if they really happen ‘somewhere’. She isn’t crazy if there are multiple versions of people and multiple worlds that only she knows about.”

“Yeah.” Lily agreed reluctantly. Something about this explanation bothered her. She knew her mom made stuff up, but how had she known about Miranda nearly starting a fight with her in the hallway? It hadn’t happened, but it almost had. It certainly could have happened if one or two things had worked out differently. “But it’s spooky how close to true her lies sound sometimes.”

“Yeah. I know.”

“And it keeps getting weirder.”

“Schizophrenia is a degenerative disease.”

Juliet said things like that sometimes. It wasn’t to edify Lily, who already knew the ins and outs of their mom’s condition. It was to remind herself that no matter how much of a nightmare all of this seemed, it was still considered normal in some textbook somewhere. Feigning normalcy didn’t help Lily much. Cracking a joke usually did, though.

“Ah, schizophrenia. The gift that keeps on giving.”

Neither of them laughed, but they both smiled sadly and nodded in unison. It helped to have someone to nod with. That’s how Lily and Juliet survived. A textbook answer, a bad joke, and a sister to lean on, and so far they’d managed to keep their dysfunctional little family from going completely down the drain.

“So what’s all this about a party?” Juliet asked. Lily sat down next to her sister. “It’s the only one I’ve been invited to since junior prom. Which I missed because I got sick,” Lily said quietly. Juliet wanted to interrupt. Lily took her hand and kept going before her sister could argue. “Look, I know what’s happening to me. I know that soon I won’t be able to go to school anymore. I’m out of time, Jules. And it’s okay. Well, no, it isn’t okay, but I’ve accepted it at least. I just want to go to one high school party before I’m stuck inside a plastic bubble for the rest of my life.”

“So. Tristan’s taking you,” Juliet began cautiously.

“Yeah.” Lily looked down, smiling softly. “And I’m pretty sure we’re going as a couple.”

“But he doesn’t care if you don’t go to parties. You know that.”

“I also know how long I waited for this. How long I waited for him. I can’t miss this party, Jules.”

Juliet tilted her head to the side and rested it on Lily’s shoulder. They sat together for a while, comforted just to be close to each other.

“Want me to blow out your hair?” Juliet asked after a long silence. She sat up and looked Lily in the eye, smiling.

“Would you?” Lily jumped off the bed and pulled her sister up with her, like the melancholy exchange they’d just had was miles away already. “I can never get the back.”


Excerpted from Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini. Copyright © 2014 by Josephine Angelini.
First published 2014 by Macmillan Children’s Books, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited, 20 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RR, Basingstoke and Oxford. Associated companies throughout the world http://www.panmacmillan.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

The Book of Days by K.A. Barker – Extract

The Book of Days

CHAPTER ONE

Most people believe the best way to forget someone is to throw them down a well. Or lock them in a room with eight keys, or bury them at a crossroad in the thirteenth hour. But they’re wrong. The best way to forget someone is for them never to have existed in the first place.

Madame Marisol’s Unreality House was where you brought people to make that happen.

It was a harsh October evening when the strange young man showed up at Madame Marisol’s door. This wouldn’t have been strange in itself except that no one ever made the journey across the Whispering Plains after dark; and yet here he was, standing on her front landing with the nerve to drip on her welcome mat.

He was so tall that the top of his hat was cut off from her view as she peered through the peephole, while a blue woollen greatcoat swathed the rest of him, and so she was no better off at guessing his identity or purpose than she had been when his knock had first disturbed her.

The rain fell in diagonal sheets, splattering against the weathered timber of the House and half-soaking the stranger every time a vindictive flurry of wind found its way underneath the veranda.

Madame Marisol pulled back from the peephole and calmly reached for the loaded musket she kept propped up in the umbrella stand. Then, with equal poise, she put down the book she’d been reading to the occupants of the Unreality House, opened the door a crack, and aimed the musket at the strange young gentleman’s face.

‘You have sixty seconds, sir,’ she said, cocking the gun, ‘before you no longer have a head. Use them wisely.’

He took a step backwards, tilted his head to the side as though formulating the fastest way off her veranda, and raised a sodden arm in feeble defence. ‘You can’t be serious. I’m Lord of the Fifth Quarter, you know.’

‘And I’m the Lady Fortuna,’ she remarked, taking in the bare patches on his greatcoat. The Fifth Quarter. He might as well have said he was from north of the Seething Sea – both places were equally imaginary. ‘Did Sterling send you?’

The hat he wore quivered in what could have been a laugh. ‘Last I heard, he was chasing up recruits out in the provinces. Besides, do I look like a daybreaker to you?’

His sass didn’t impress her. Time was, someone who answered back to her in such a manner would find themselves seated in one of the deceptively innocent chairs in her drawing room – the one with the really big spike in the unfortunate position and the lovebird cushions – to be tested on The Little Blue Book of Basic Etiquette, and Days help them if they got an answer wrong. ‘Just for that,’ she said, ‘you’ve got ten seconds left.’

He looked from her face to the musket held steadily in her hands and then back again, and she could almost see the thoughts humming away in his head. Just how good is she with that musket? Could I make a dash for it? She met his eyes, silently daring him to try as her finger twitched against the trigger. The furthest anyone had gotten was the lightning-struck tree by the gate. That gentleman’s false teeth were still embedded in the bark. ‘You could be taking this time to compose some suitable last words, dearie. I’ve heard some corkers.’

‘No doubt.’ Despite her hopes, he paused for another second, and finally drew off his hat in a swift movement, revealing mismatched eyes of blue and brown, a strong brow, and white teeth set into his dark face in a conciliatory grin. ‘There. And may I say what a pleasure it is to meet such a beautiful hostess.’ He bowed, and then paused as though waiting for her reaction. She stubbornly refused to give him the satisfaction. With his wide-brimmed hat swept up just so, revealing his close-cropped hair, the greatcoat falling open at the chest to show just a hint of an embroidered waistcoat, and his handsome face smiling up at her, it was true that he cut a fine figure. But the entire effect reminded Madame Marisol of men she had seen in her youth, waiting in alleyways with cards or dice or cups-and-shells.

‘Oh, don’t try your tricks on me,’ she told him. ‘I’m too old to be charmed by the likes of you. What is your name, daybreaker?’ To his credit, the only hint of his disappointment was a slight twitching in one of his little fingers. ‘My name is Quintalion,’ he said. ‘And though I may own to being cunning, self-absorbed and rather too loose with the truth for some people’s comfort, I can’t yet add “murdering zealot” to my list of vices.’

She settled the musket into a more comfortable position against her shoulder and squinted at him. ‘How do I know that? Just because you say you’re not and you’ve got a nice smile? Daybreakers have teeth too, you know.’

‘True,’ he conceded, ‘but I doubt they have this.’ He reached into the innermost recesses of his coat and pulled out a piece of parchment, little larger than a calling card, which he held out to her between two fingers. His greatcoat had protected against the worst of the weather, but segments of the card were still damp, the green ink blotched and running.

‘Days preserve me,’ Madame Marisol said in the most sarcastic voice she could muster. ‘A piece of paper. Welcome to my humble abode, kind sir. Would you like tea and biscuits?’

The strange young gentlemen who called himself Quintalion huffed out a breath. ‘Take it,’ he said. ‘I hope you’ll at least look at it before depriving me of a head.’

With one hand still pointing the musket where it could do the most damage, she took the offered card and stared at it suspiciously.

‘It’s an invitation,’ he said, as though she didn’t see the very words in front of her. ‘Completely genuine, I think you’ll find.’ It was all there on the parchment: the green ink of the invitation, sealed with a charm that warded off copies and other tricks; the golden sigil of the Unreality House ingrained into the paper; the words she remembered as well as her own name. The bearer of this invitation is offered full rights of entry to my House according to the ancient codes of welcome. She’d written so many of them over the years: scraps of paper that she’d pressed into the hands of distraught family members who’d brought their loved ones to her House to forget about them rather than face the agony of grieving. Most people never found their way back to her door, having forgotten why they visited the moment they left, which was for the best. Precious few of her souls faced a life outside her walls that would be filled with anything other than pain and death. Better an eternal sleep than a life of torment.

‘Where did you get this?’ she asked him sharply, gesturing at him with the barrel of the musket.

He stared at her. ‘Where does one normally get them? It was delivered to me one morning and I assumed I had visited your House to drop off one of my . . .’ He paused. ‘Oh dear,’ he said in a deadpan tone, ‘I do hope it wasn’t Uncle Balthazar.’

It was true that she sometimes sent out invitations to the families she thought were ready to accept their loved one’s passing, or on rare occasions the miracle of having them back again, but she hadn’t sent one in years, not since before . . .

She turned the card over. There, written in handwriting she knew almost as well as her own, were five words: Wake me when it’s safe.

‘When was it delivered?’ Madame Marisol said, fear making her words harsh.

‘A year ago? Three? I don’t remember. A man can’t be running about after possibly dead relatives all the time. Why does it matter?’

‘You don’t understand.’ She tried to keep her voice calm, but she was afraid that the girls in her weekly whist club, were they to hear her now, would be gleefully reminding her to use her indoor voice. ‘The girl pertaining to this particular invitation, she . . .’

‘Oh, a girl, is it? I didn’t know I had a sister, but I suppose that’s the point.’ As Quintalion craned his head, trying to snatch a glance of the House beyond her shoulder, Madame Marisol began to have the sinking feeling that the musket was no longer providing effective dissuasion.

We ll see about that when he finds himself short a toe, she thought.

‘And I’m sure you’re well aware of the wording of that invitation: full rights of entry, and final decision to remove said possibly dead relative if I wish it. So lower the frankly intimidating musket, please, and I take my tea with two sugars and a dash of lemon.’

Madame Marisol reluctantly lowered the barrel. Think of page 63 of The Little Blue Book. It is the height of bad manners to kill someone simply for being unpleasant. ‘I suppose you’ll be wanting to come in then.’

His mouth opened into a grin. ‘Only if you’re offering.’

The musket went back into the umbrella stand, but she kept her eyes on the gentleman as he followed her in out of the rain. It paid to be careful. Not many travellers found their way to her House these days – magicians mostly, influential families that still kept to the old ways, and, of course, her weekly whist companions. Invitation or not, this man was still a stranger, and strangers were made to be distrusted.

At the moment, however, he seemed more interested in scraping the mud from his boots than in doing anything underhand.

‘You won’t believe the nonsense I went through to get here,’ he said, leaving a large chunk of mud and grass on the lintel of the door.

She shut it against the rain, pleased when he had to leap to one side to avoid catching his foot. ‘Oh, yes?’

‘Blockades everywhere. The daybreakers have been swarming around the borders for a month now. Don’t want a repeat of what happened up north, I’ll wager.’

‘I don’t blame them,’ she said, remembering how many extra guests she’d had during the horrible years of the Saturday Wars. She’d contemplated lining the keeping-houses up in the hallway. ‘How many died?’

He shot her a dark look. ‘Too many. They say war is never over, but some people are taking it too literally for my liking. It’s bad for business.’

‘Follow me, then,’ she said, and led him further into the House. She snuck a glance over her shoulder as she pattered over the stone floor. When people heard of a house that contained the souls of those caught between death and life, she doubted they imagined a modest little homestead with a fireplace that smoked, cheery wallpaper, and a pianola in the sitting room. And sure enough, her guest was so busy looking around him, one eyebrow raised in disbelief, that he tripped over a rug by the fire.

‘Be careful there, dear,’ she said, ‘that rug’s genuine chimera and you can’t get its like for love nor money these days.’

The House was arranged around the large, two-storeyed entrance hall, which was something of a nonsense since she kept little in it besides the stone fireplace to the left, rugs to warm her old bones, and paintings that the House switched over when it wanted a change. But she had lived here for so long that she wouldn’t have had the House any other way: the sitting room at the front and to the left, the dining room to the right, the kitchen at the back, and the bedrooms up the wooden staircase on the second floor. Everything was where it should be.

Including the room she was leading him to. They walked underneath the second floor landing and into a small passageway at the back of the House. The shadows choked the little light that made it through from the entrance hall, and all she got was a glimpse of white hair and the rose-pink fabric of her favourite dress as she passed a mirror on the wall, before turning away to face the door opposite it.

Madame Marisol felt it before she saw it. Even after all these years, the power of the room and its sleeping occupants still left her breathless. They were the heart of the House; their presence reminded her that, however much she might have felt at home here, she was still and would always be just the caretaker.

She hesitated, her hand hovering above the ruby handle. ‘Is it safe out there for her?’

‘Not my problem,’ he replied quickly. ‘I, Madame, make a point of avoiding situations that can get me killed. I’ll try my utmost to do the same for this girl, whoever she is.’

She could hardly trust the word of a man she’d just met. He wouldn’t be able to guarantee the girl’s safety, not with the daybreakers apparently growing in number. But she had no choice: as the bearer of the invitation, he had the House-given right to take the girl away, however much Madame Marisol herself protested. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t give him a run for his money.

‘Why are you here, really?’

He shrugged. ‘I had an invitation and an inclination to find out why. Besides,’ he pulled aside the bulk of his coat to reveal the ivory handle of a pistol peeking out above the holster at his hip, ‘I’m very much hoping this is worth the trouble.’

So he’s one of those types. Madame Marisol rested her hand against the door in a vain effort to quell the anger rising within her. ‘You do realise, my dear,’ she said, and it took all her concentration to keep her voice calm, ‘that if I hear that you hurt a single hair on that girl’s head, I will have to come after you with all I’ve got?’

Quintalion flicked the cuff of his greatcoat, spraying droplets of water everywhere. ‘Thank you for the warning,’ he said. ‘I would hate to face up against doilies, cat hair and the faint smell of regret.’

Madame Marisol dug her fingernails into the wood so hard that she felt splinters under her nails, but when she turned back to him, she wore a smile on her face. ‘Never underestimate a woman with knitting needles, dearie. Now,’ she added, and pulled the door open with a flourish, ‘would you like to come inside?’

*****

No matter how many times she set foot into the room, Madame Marisol always breathed in that first breath of air like a drowning soul. It tasted of wind and lightning, and seemed to fill her up right from the bottom of her toes to the top of her head. It was like waking up after a good night’s rest, and she automatically whispered, ‘Good morning, my loves.’

The hundreds of keeping-houses lit up all as one, throwing a soft light against the faces of their sleeping occupants. Some were young, barely yet alive, and some had beards that coiled around the bottom of their keeping-houses like blankets. There were peasants and kings, dairymaids and court ladies. Some looked merely asleep, and others as though they would never wake again, with gashes and limbs missing and the pale milky complexion of delayed death.

She knew all their stories. Most were sad. The Unreality House was a place to bring people to escape their fate, be that death or dishonour, and those with happy lives rarely graced her doorstep. Madame Marisol could remember when each of them had arrived at her House, carried on stretchers and funeral biers, or, in one particularly heart-breaking case, entwined in each other’s arms.

There was only one, in all the thousands of souls she had kept safe over the years, who had found her way to Madame Marisol’s House by herself.

Beside her, Quintalion drummed the fingers of one hand against his leg as his head moved from left to right to take in the room. ‘It’s not . . . it’s not possible. The room must be half a furlong from wall to wall, but it’s not possible. Have we gone underground?’

Smiling to herself, she shook her head. ‘Not at all, my dear. We’re still in the Unreality House, of course. Would you like me to define “unreality” for you?’

Without waiting for an answer, she set off past the first row of keeping-houses. Years of experience had left her with knowledge of the twisting paths, but folk had been known to get lost in the room. The House had a way of ridding itself of undesirables.

They walked in silence for a few minutes, the tap, tap, tap of Quintalion’s boots on the marble floor the only indication that he was following along behind her, and, since it felt wrong to cheapen the revered quiet of the room with small talk, Madame Marisol contented herself with humming a little ditty.

Another right, a left, and a complicated half-turn later and they’d almost reached the girl’s resting place. When the girl had first come here, Madame Marisol had placed her close to the back for two reasons: it meant less of a chance that unfriendly eyes would find her, and there was also a group of other young people of good families for her to associate with. Although they spent their time in the perpetual sleep of the Unreality House, Madame Marisol was the last person to claim herself an expert on what went on inside the keeping-houses, which is also why she insisted on reading proper literature to them all every night. ‘I really must remember to put a bookmark in The Tale of Amiens and Aemilia,’ she said absently. ‘Amiens is about to get stabbed with the poison dagger and I would hate for my duckies to miss it.’

‘That would be tragic.’ Quintalion had wandered over to one of the keeping-houses and was peering at the soul encased inside, his nose almost touching the glass.

‘I’ve heard the great heroes of the past are here,’ he said. ‘Sir Tristan the Valiant, the seven sisters, Alaric and his fool, Sylvain the Swordsinger. Of course,’ he added with a carefully timed cough, ‘that’s ridiculous.’

‘You’d be surprised, dearie,’ she said lightly. ‘I’ve met my share of heroes. They’re a strange breed – tramping in without wiping their boots, eating all the scones, insisting to their companions that they’re fine when they’ve got half a quiver lodged in their chests. I’ve never really cared for them. Now,’ she added, ‘I think you’ll find who you’re looking for just over here.’

The girl hung suspended in the pale glow of the keeping-house. She was an odd thing: a girl to forget, frozen halfway between childhood and womanhood, and as gawky as Madame Marisol herself had been at that age. She had a long straight nose set in an otherwise unremarkable thin face, hair the colour of bark that hung in shaggy tendrils to her knees, and a beanpole body. In her most generous mood, after a sherry or two, the most Madame Marisol could have said in her favour was that she was interesting looking.

‘This is the girl,’ she told Quintalion. ‘As she came to me with no name, I called her Tuesday.’

It wasn’t exactly the truth, but she wasn’t about to go spilling all her secrets of that night or the letter that she had hidden in her lanterloo table.

‘Let me guess . . . she arrived on a Tuesday?’ Quintalion raised his eyebrows.

‘You’re just full of insight, fine sir.’ She watched as he circled the girl’s keeping-house with a quick step, once, twice, and then a third time, his hands positioned behind his back. It was taller even than he was: a rectangular box, or coffin, she thought darkly, made out of rosewood on three sides and with a glass door on the fourth. ‘Do you know her?’

He looked down at his dark skin and then back up at Tuesday. ‘She’s certainly no sister of mine.’ He made one final lap and paused in front of the girl, saying softly to himself: ‘And yet he had the invitation . . .’

Madame Marisol had tucked it away up her right sleeve, but now she pulled it out and stared at it again, hoping that a second look would reveal some obvious sign of fraudulence, but it looked more and more authentic the closer she studied it. It even had the second watermark she’d hidden up in the right-hand corner to trick forgers. But something didn’t feel right about the man standing in front of her. She couldn’t decide what it was exactly – his restless fingers or his shark-like smile – but the very air around him smelled wrong, as though the House was trying to warn her about him.

She ran a thumb over the invitation. ‘The funny thing is,’ she said in a deliberately calm tone, ‘I never actually drew up an invitation for Tuesday.’

She had told herself many times over the last ten years that she really ought to get around to it, but every time she sat down to pen the invitation, something always seemed to come up, or she received news of more skirmishes in the borderlands or that Sterling and his daybreakers were on the prowl, and the invitation remained unwritten.

Quintalion didn’t even bother to look away from the girl’s keeping-house before replying: ‘And yet I have one. Surely that indicates one of two things: you’re growing forgetful in your old age, or I’m lying through my teeth. I’m going to go with the former . . . but of course I would say that.’

Or that she didn’t trust me as much as she claimed, Madame Marisol added silently.

‘So what will this Tuesday be like, anyway? I’m not going to have to teach her how to use the privy, am I? Because that doesn’t quite work to my schedule.’

Seven sisters, give me patience. Madame Marisol joined him next to the keeping-house and purposely refused to look at his face, for fear she might forget the rules of invitation and smack him about the ears for his impertinence, instead sweeping the frame of the keeping-house with her eyes: fir branches, splayed open in a delicate pattern, and a nameplate down the bottom, the name mostly hidden by grime. ‘Oh, she’ll be able to tell you what a cup of tea is and hold a decent conversation about the weather, but if you want much more, you’ll have to be patient.’

He snorted through his nose. ‘Not one of my many qualities.’

‘Tough,’ Madame Marisol said. ‘You’re the one trouncing up to my House in the middle of the night. If you’re claiming that invitation of yours is real, then it’s your responsibility to look after her. Which would include not selling her to the highest bidder.’

‘My dearest Madame Marisol, as if I would sell my beloved little sister.’

They were clearly no relation, so the fact that he was claiming kinship spoke more of mockery than any real feeling, and it set her teeth grinding.

He must have noticed, because he added, ‘Fine. If it will put your heart at ease, I promise not to sell her.’

Madame Marisol was sure she heard a right away dangling at the end of his sentence, but as she had no authority to refuse him, she let it slide, and gestured to Tuesday. ‘Then it’s time to wake her up. Be careful, dear, the lock sticks.’ And I know precisely where to stick it . . .

His eyes narrowed. ‘How do I do that, exactly?’

‘Some give a good old kiss, though that’s a little too forward in your case, I’m sure. Contact is the key. Go ahead. Press her hand and be done with it.’

Madame Marisol watched as he fiddled with the door, smirking when he let out a curse at the stubborn latch, before he finally wrestled the glass open, releasing a waft of musty air that smelled like mothballs.

The day that Madame Marisol had first come to the House, so long ago that she barely remembered when, there had been no keeping-houses, just an empty room waiting to be filled. The keeping-houses had gone through many different designs over the years, but she’d ordered the current model from a casket maker in Bittertongue, who had no concept of aeration, it not being a concern of his usual clients . . . or her duckies either, if she cared to think about it.

Quintalion paused with his hand hovering just above Tuesday’s skin and took one long look at her. ‘What was he doing with her?’ he muttered, softly enough that Madame Marisol had to lean in to hear him. ‘Ah well, there’s no accounting for taste.’

Not for the first time, she wished that she’d never introduced the invitations. The ancient codes of welcome were one thing, but they did make it far more difficult to stab someone without the House disapproving.

Quintalion reached out, not for her hand as Madame Marisol had suggested, but to brush his fingers lightly against her left cheek.

The nerve . . .

Golden light bloomed where his fingers touched her skin.

Quintalion let out a strangled hiss, and cradled his hand to his chest. ‘That . . . hurt,’ he said, his breath coming in gasps. He wavered for a moment, leaned over with his eyes screwed up, and then straightened again to look at the white marks he had left behind on the girl’s cheek. ‘I do believe my heart stopped beating for a second there.’

Ah, she thought, her suspicions confirmed, but all she said was: ‘Nothing to worry about, dearie. It happens to the best of us. Now off to the kitchen with you. I’ll not have you blabbering about daybreakers and hearts stopping when she wakes. There’s half a cold chicken in the larder. Help yourself to anything else, but I’d avoid the chocolate cake if I were you. The last gentleman to eat a slice grew an extra head.’

‘Thank you for the warning,’ he said dryly, and turned to leave.

Cursing her snap decision to tell him about the cake, Madame Marisol waited until she heard the door shut off in the distance before she turned her attention back to Tuesday.

The golden light had spread to cover her entire body. It pulsed through her veins and shone out behind her teeth to spill from her slightly opened mouth.

‘There now, my love,’ Madame Marisol told the girl, who was now beginning to vibrate with the throbbing energy and magic that filled her body, awakening every muscle and shooting fire through each nerve ending. ‘It’s just you and me. Show me those pretty eyes of yours.’

Tuesday glowed all over with golden warmth, nowhere brighter than the still visible fingerprints on her cheek.

Theyll leave a mark, Madame Marisol thought. I hope she doesnt mind.

The light surrounding the girl’s body fluttered faster and faster until she fairly hummed with unreleased energy, like the string of a plucked fiddle. Just when Madame Marisol thought she might have to give her a gentle tap with the paddle she kept for just such occasions, the girl’s eyes flew open.

She gasped, scrunched up her nose in confusion, said, ‘Wh . . . what . . . ?’

And then she fainted.

‘Welcome to existence, dear,’ said Madame Marisol with a slight smile. ‘You’ll get used to it.’


Excerpted from The Book of Days by K.A. Barker. Copyright © 2014 by K.A. Barker.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey – Extract

What I Know for Sure

Introduction

Its not a new story, but at least for this book, I think it’s worth telling one last time: The year was 1998, I had been promoting the movie Beloved in a live television interview with the late, great Chicago Sun-Times film critic, Gene Siskel, and everything was going perfectly smoothly, until the time came to wrap things up. “Tell me,” he asked, “what do you know for sure?”

Now, this was not my first rodeo. I’ve asked and been asked an awful lot of questions over the years, and it isn’t often that I find myself at a complete loss for words—but I have to say, the man managed to stop me in my tracks.

“Uhhhhh, about the movie?” I stammered, knowing full well that he was after something bigger, deeper, more complex, but trying to stall until I could come up with a semi-coherent response.

“No,” he said. “You know what I mean—about you, your life, anything, everything . . . ”

“Uhhhh, I know for sure . . . uhhh . . . I know for sure, I need time to think about that some more, Gene.”

Well, sixteen years and a great deal of thought later, it has become the central question of my life: At the end of the day, what exactly do I know for sure?

I’ve explored that question in every issue of O magazine—in fact, “What I Know for Sure” is the name of my monthly column—and believe me, there are still plenty of times when an answer doesn’t come easy. What do I know for sure? I know that if one more editor calls or e-mails or even sends a smoke signal asking where this month’s installment is, I’m going to change my name and move to Timbuktu!

But just when I’m ready to raise the white flag and yell, “That’s it! I’m tapped out! I know nothing!” I’ll find myself walking the dogs or brewing a pot of chai or soaking in the tub, when, out of nowhere, a little moment of crystal clarity will bring me back to something that in my head and my heart and my gut, I absolutely do know beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Still, I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive when it came to rereading fourteen years’ worth of columns. Would it be like looking back at old photos of me in haircuts and outfits that really ought to be left in the seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time file? I mean, what do you do if what you knew for sure back in the day turns into what were you thinking, here in the present?

I took a red pen, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, a deep breath, sat down, and started to read. And as I read, what I was doing and where I was in my life when I wrote these pieces came flooding back. I instantly remembered wracking my brain and searching my soul, sitting up late and waking up early, all to figure out what I’ve come to understand about the things that matter in life, things like joy, resilience, awe, connection, gratitude, and possibility. I’m happy to report that what I discovered in those fourteen years of columns is that when you know something, really know something, it tends to stand the test of time.

Don’t get me wrong: You live, and if you’re open to the world, you learn. So while my core thinking remains pretty solid, I did wind up using that red pen to nip and tuck, explore and expand a few old truths and some hard-earned insights. Welcome to my own private book of revelations! As you read about all the lessons I’ve struggled with, cried over, run from, circled back to, made peace with, laughed about, and at long last come to know for sure, my hope is that you’ll begin to ask yourself the very same question Gene Siskel asked me all those years ago. I know that what you’ll find along the way will be fantastic, because what you’ll find will be yourself.

*****

“Sit. Feast on your life.”
—Derek Walcott

*****

The first time Tina Turner appeared on my show, I wanted to run away with her, be a backup girl, and dance all night at her concerts. Well, that dream came true one night in L.A. when The Oprah Winfrey Show went on tour with Tina. After a full day’s rehearsal for just one song, I got my chance.

It was the most nerve-racking, knee-shaking, exhilarating experience ever. For 5 minutes and 27 seconds I got a chance to feel what it’s like to rock onstage. I have never been more out of my element, out of my body. I remember counting the steps in my head, trying to keep the rhythm, waiting for the big kick, and being so self-conscious.

Then, in an instant, it dawned on me: Okay, girl, this is going to be over soon. And if I didn’t loosen up, I would miss the fun. So I threw my head back, forgot about step, step, turn, kick, and just danced. WHEEEEW!

Several months later I received a package from my friend and mentor Maya Angelou—she’d said she was sending me a gift she’d want any daughter of hers to have. When I ripped it open, I found a CD of a song by Lee Ann Womack that I can still hardly listen to without boohooing. The song, which is a testament to Maya’s life, has this line as its refrain: When you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.

What I know for sure is that every day brings a chance for you to draw in a breath, kick off your shoes, and step out and dance—to live free of regret and filled with as much joy, fun, and laughter as you can stand. You can either waltz boldly onto the stage of life and live the way you know your spirit is nudging you to, or you can sit quietly by the wall, receding into the shadows of fear and self-doubt.

You have the choice this very moment—the only moment you have for certain. I hope you aren’t so wrapped up in non-essential stuff that you forget to really enjoy yourself—because this moment is about to be over. I hope you’ll look back and remember today as the day you decided to make every one count, to relish each hour as if there would never be another. And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.

*****

I take my pleasures seriously. I work hard and play well; I believe in the yin and yang of life. It doesn’t take a lot to make me happy because I find satisfaction in so much of what I do. Some satisfactions are higher-rated than others, of course. And because I try to practice what I preach—living in the moment—I am consciously attuned most of the time to how much pleasure I am receiving.

How many times have I laughed so hard on the phone with my best friend, Gayle King, that my head started to hurt? Mid-howl I sometimes think, Isn’t this a gift—after so many years of nightly phone calls, to have someone who tells me the truth and to laugh this loudly about it? I call that five-star pleasure.

Being aware of, and creating, four- and five-star experiences makes you blessed. For me, just waking up “clothed in my right mind,” being able to put my feet on the floor, walk to the bathroom, and do what needs to be done there is five stars. I’ve heard many stories of people who aren’t healthy enough to do that.

A strong cup of coffee with the perfect hazelnut creamer: four stars. Going for a walk through the woods with the dogs unleashed: five stars. Working out: one star, still. Sitting under my oaks, reading the Sunday papers: four stars. A great book: five. Hanging out at Quincy Jones’s kitchen table, talking about everything and nuthin’: five stars. Being able to do good things for other people: five plus. The enjoyment comes from knowing the receiver understands the spirit of the gift. I make an effort to do something good for somebody every day, whether I know that person or not.

What I know for sure is that pleasure is energy reciprocated: What you put out comes back. Your base level of pleasure is determined by how you view your whole life.

More important than 20/20 eyesight is your internal vision, your own sweet spirit whispering through your life with guidance and grace—now that’s pleasure.

Life is full of delightful treasures, if we take a moment to appreciate them. I call them ahhh moments, and I’ve learned how to create them for myself. Case in point: my 4 p.m. cup of masala chai tea (spicy, hot, with foamed almond milk on top—it’s refreshing and gives me a little lift for the rest of the afternoon). Moments like this are powerful, I know for sure. They can be your recharge, your breathing space, your chance to reconnect with you.

*****

I have always adored the word delicious. The way it rolls off my tongue delights me. And even more delectable than a delicious meal is a delicious experience, rich and layered like a fine coconut cake. I had one a few birthdays ago—both the cake and the experience. It was one of those moments I call a God wink—when out of the blue everything lines up just perfectly.

I was hanging out with a group of girlfriends in Maui; I’d just come back from India and wanted to have a spa retreat at my house to celebrate turning 58.

As girlfriends do even at this age, we sat around the table and talked till midnight. On the night before my birthday, five of the eight of us were still at the table at 12:30 a.m., worn out from a five-hour conversation that had run the gamut from men to microdermabrasion. Lots of laughing, some tears. The kind of talking women do when we feel safe.

In two days I was scheduled to interview the famed spiritual teacher Ram Dass, and by coincidence I started to hum a line from a song invoking his name.

Suddenly my friend Maria said, “What’s that you’re humming?”

“Oh, just a line from a song I like.”

She said, “I know that song. I listen to it every night.”

“No way,” I said. “It’s an obscure song on an album by a woman named Snatum Kaur.”

“Yes!” Maria said. “Yes! Yes! Snatum Kaur! I listen to her every night before I go to bed. How do you know her music?”

“Peggy”—another friend who was with us—“gave me a CD two years ago, and I’ve been listening ever since. I play her every day before meditating.”

Now we were both screaming and laughing. “No way!” “I actually thought of having her come to sing for my birthday,” I said when I caught my breath. “Then I went, Nah, too much trouble. Had I known you liked her, too, I would have made the effort.”

Later that night, lying in bed, I thought, Isn’t that something. I would have gone to the trouble for a friend but not for myself. For sure I need to practice what I preach and value myself more. I went to sleep wishing I’d invited Snatum Kaur to sing.

The next day, my birthday, we had a “land blessing” with a Hawaiian chieftain. That evening we gathered on the porch for sunset cocktails. My friend Elizabeth stood up—to read a poem, I thought, or make a speech. Instead she said, “You wanted it, and now you have manifested it.” She rang a small chime, and suddenly music started to play.

The music was muffled, as if the speakers weren’t working. I thought, Whats going on? And then there appeared, walking onto my front porch . . . Snatum Kaur, in her white turban. And her musicians! “How did this happen?” I cried. And cried, and cried. Maria, sitting next to me with tears in her eyes, held my hand and just nodded. “You wouldn’t do it for yourself, so we did it for you.”

After I’d gone to bed the night before, my friends had called to find out where Snatum Kaur was, to see if they could get her to Maui in the next 12 hours. As life and God would have it, she and her musicians were in a town 30 minutes away, preparing for a concert. And were “honored” to come and sing.

It was one of the most amazing surprises of my life. Layered with meanings I’m still deciphering. What I know for sure: It’s a moment I’ll savor forever—the fact that it happened, the way it happened, that it happened on my birthday. All . . . so . . . delicious!

*****

When was the last time you laughed with a friend till your sides hurt or dropped the kids off with a sitter and went away for an entire weekend? More to the point, if your life ended tomorrow, what would you regret not doing? If this were the last day of your life, would you spend it the way you’re spending today?

I once passed a billboard that caught my attention. It read, “He who dies with the most toys is still dead.” Anyone who has ever come close to death can tell you that at the end of your life, you probably won’t be reminiscing about how many all-nighters you pulled at the office or how much your mutual fund is worth. The thoughts that linger are the “if only” questions, like Who could I have become if I had finally done the things I always wanted to do?

The gift of deciding to face your mortality without turning away or flinching is the gift of recognizing that because you will die, you must live now. Whether you flounder or flourish is always in your hands—you are the single biggest influence in your life.

Your journey begins with a choice to get up, step out, and live fully.

*****

Is there anything I love more than a good meal? Not much. One of my best took place on a trip to Rome, at a delightful little restaurant filled exclusively with Italians except for our table: my friends Reggie, Andre, and Gayle, Gayle’s daughter Kirby, and me, eating as the Romans do. There was a moment when the waiters, prompted by our Italian host, Angelo, brought out so many delicious antipasti that I actually felt my heart surge, like an engine switching gears. We had zucchini stuffed with prosciutto, and fresh, ripe tomatoes layered with melting mozzarella so warm you could see tiny cheese bubbles, along with a bottle of ’85 Sassicaia, a Tuscan red wine that had been breathing for half an hour, to sip and savor like liquid velvet. Oh my, these were moments to treasure!

Did I mention I topped all this off with a bowl of pasta e fagioli (made to perfection) and a little tiramisu? Yep, that was some good eating. I paid for it with a 90-minute jog around the Colosseum the next day—but it was worth every delectable bite.

I have a lot of strong beliefs. The value of eating well is one of them. I know for sure that a meal that brings you real joy will do you more good in the long and short term than a lot of filler food that leaves you standing in your kitchen, roaming from cabinet to fridge. I call it the grazing feeling: You want something, but can’t figure out what it is. All the carrots, celery, and skinless chicken in the world can’t give you the satisfaction of one incredible piece of chocolate if that’s what you really crave.

So I’ve learned to eat one piece of chocolate— maximum, two—and dare myself to stop and relish it, knowing full well, like Scarlett O’Hara, that “tomorrow is another day,” and there’s always more where that came from. I don’t have to consume the whole thing just because it’s there. What a concept!

*****

Its been more than two decades since I first met Bob Greene at a gym in Telluride, Colorado. I weighed 237 pounds at the time, my highest ever. I was at the end of my rope and the end of hope—so ashamed of my body and my eating habits, I could barely look Bob in the eye. I desperately wanted a solution that worked.

Bob put me through my workout paces and encouraged a lifestyle built around eating whole foods (long before I’d ever heard of the store that shares that name and mission). I resisted. But even as different diets came and went, his advice remained consistent and wise: Eat foods that make you thrive.

A few years ago, I finally got the big aha and started growing my own vegetables. And what began with a few rows of lettuce, some tomatoes, and basil (my favorite herb) in my backyard in Santa Barbara eventually became a genuine farm in Maui. My gardening interest grew into a passion.

I get ridiculously happy at the sight of the purple radicchio we’ve grown, the elephant kale that reaches my knees, the radishes so big I call them baboon butts— because for me it all represents a full-circle moment.

In rural Mississippi, where I was born, a garden meant survival. In Nashville, where I later lived, my father always cleared a “patch” by the side of our house, where he would grow collard greens, tomatoes, crowder peas, and butter beans.

Today that’s my favorite meal; add some cornbread and I’m clicking my heels. But when I was a girl, I saw no value in eating freshly grown foods. “Why can’t we have store-bought food like other people?” I’d complain. I wanted my vegetables to come from the “valley of the jolly—ho, ho, ho—Green Giant”! Having to eat from the garden made me feel poor.

I now know for sure how blessed I was to have access to fresh food—something not every family today can take for granted.

Thank you, Lord, for growth.

I’ve worked hard to sow the seeds for a life in which I get to keep expanding my dreams. One of those dreams is for everyone to be able to eat fresh food that goes from farm to table—because better food is the foundation for a better life. Yes, Bob, I’m putting it in print: You were right all along!


Excerpted from What I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey. Copyright © 2014 by 2014 by Hearst Communications, Inc.
First published 2014 in the US as What I Know For Sure by Flatiron Books. First published in the UK 2014 by Macmillan, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited, 20 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RR, Basingstoke and Oxford. Associated companies throughout the world http://www.panmacmillan.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

The 52-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths – Extract

 

01

Hi, my name is Andy.

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This is my friend Terry.

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We live in a tree.

Well, when I say ‘tree’, I mean treehouse. And when I say ‘treehouse’, I don’t just mean any old
treehouse—I mean a 52-storey treehouse! (It used to be a 39-storey treehouse, but we’ve added another 13 storeys.)

So what are you waiting for? 02Come on up!

03

We’ve added a watermelon-smashing room,

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a chainsaw-juggling level,

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a make-your-own-pizza parlour,

04

a rocket-powered carrot-launcher,

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a giant hairdryer that is so strong it practically blasts the hair right off your head,

05

a rocking horse racetrack, 06a haunted house,

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a wave machine,

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a life-size snakes and ladders game—with real ladders and real snakes,

07

a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week, non-stop Punch and Judy puppet show,

08

a remembering booth to help us remember important stuff we might have forgotten,

09

a Ninja Snail Training Academy (Terry’s idea, not mine),

10

and a high-tech detective agency, which has all the latest high-tech detective technology, like a
complete set of magnifying glasses (including one so small that you need another magnifying glass to see it), a hot-donut vending machine …

11

and a Disguise-o-matic 5000, which has a disguise for every occasion!

12

As well as being our home, the treehouse is also where we make books together. I write the words and Terry draws the pictures.

13

As you can see, we’ve been doing this for quite a while now.

14

Life in the treehouse isn’t always easy, of course,

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but one thing is for sure …

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it’s never dull!

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Excerpted from The 52-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths. Copyright © 2014 by Andy Griffiths. Illustrations copyright Terry Denton.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – Extract

Big Little Lies

chapter one

‘That doesn’t sound like a school trivia night,’ said Mrs Patty Ponder to Marie Antoinette. ‘That sounds like a riot.’

The cat didn’t respond. She was dozing on the couch, and found school trivia nights to be trivial.

‘Not interested, eh? Let them eat cake! Is that what you’re thinking? They do eat a lot of cake, don’t they? All those cake stalls. Goodness me. Although I don’t think any of the mothers ever actually eat them. They’re all so sleek and skinny, aren’t they? Like you.’

Marie Antoinette sneered at the compliment. The ‘let them eat cake’ thing had grown old a long time ago, and she’d recently heard one of Mrs Ponder’s grandchildren say it was meant to be ‘let them eat brioche’ and also that Marie Antoinette never said it in the first place.

Mrs Ponder picked up her television remote and turned down the volume on Dancing with the Stars. She’d turned it up loud earlier because of the sound of the heavy rain but the downpour had eased now.

She could hear people shouting. Angry hollers crashed through the quiet, cold night air. It was somehow hurtful for Mrs Ponder to hear, as if all that rage was directed at her. (Mrs Ponder had grown up with an angry mother.)

‘Goodness me. Do you think they’re arguing over the capital of Guatemala? Do you know the capital of Guatemala? No? I don’t either. We should google it. Don’t sneer at me.’

Marie Antoinette sniffed.

‘Let’s go see what’s going on,’ said Mrs Ponder briskly. She was feeling nervous and therefore behaving briskly in front of the cat, the same way she’d once done with her children when her husband was away and there were strange noises in the night.

Mrs Ponder heaved herself up with the help of her walker. Marie Antoinette slid her slippery body comfortingly in between Mrs Ponder’s legs (she wasn’t falling for the brisk act) as her owner pushed the walker down the hallway to the back of the house.

Her sewing room looked straight out on to the schoolyard of Pirriwee Public.

‘Mum, are you mad? You can’t live this close to a primary school,’ her daughter had said, when Mrs Ponder was first looking at buying the house.

But she loved to hear the crazy babble of children’s voices at intervals throughout the day, and she no longer drove, so she couldn’t care less that the street was jammed with those giant, truck-like cars they all drove these days, with women in big sunglasses leaning across their steering wheels to call out terribly urgent information about Harriette’s ballet and Charlie’s speech therapy.

Mothers took their mothering so seriously now. Their frantic little faces. Their busy little bottoms strutting into the school in their tight gym gear. Ponytails swinging. Eyes fixed on the mobile phones held in the palms of their hands like compasses. It made Mrs Ponder laugh. Fondly, though.

Her three daughters, although older, were exactly the same. And they were all so pretty.

‘How are you this morning?’ she always called out, if she was on the front porch with a cup of tea, or watering the front garden as the mothers went by.

‘Busy, Mrs Ponder! Frantic!’ they always called back, trotting along, yanking their children’s arms. They were pleasant and friendly and just a touch condescending because they couldn’t help it. She was so old! They were so busy!

The fathers, and there were more and more of them doing the school run these days, were different. They rarely hurried, strolling past with a measured casualness. No big deal. All under control. That was the message. Mrs Ponder chuckled fondly at them too.

But now it seemed the Pirriwee Public parents were misbehaving. She got to the window and pushed aside the lace curtain. The school had recently paid for a window guard after a cricket ball had smashed the glass and nearly knocked out Marie Antoinette. (A group of Year 3 boys had given her a hand-painted apology card which she kept on her fridge.)

There was a two-storey sandstone building on the other side of the playground with an event room on the second level, and a big balcony with ocean views. Mrs Ponder had been there for a few functions: a talk by a local historian, a lunch hosted by the Friends of the Library. It was quite a beautiful room. Sometimes ex-students had their wedding receptions there. That’s where they’d be having the school trivia night. They were raising funds for smart boards, whatever they were. Mrs Ponder had been invited as a matter of course. Her proximity to the school gave her a funny sort of honorary status, even though she’d never had a child or grandchild attend. She’d said no thank you to the invitation. She thought school events without the children in attendance were pointless.

The children had their weekly school assembly in the same room. Each Friday morning Mrs Ponder set herself up in the sewing room with a cup of English Breakfast and a ginger-nut biscuit. The sound of the children singing floating down from the second floor of the building always made her weep. She didn’t believe in God except when she heard children singing.

There was no singing now.

Mrs Ponder could hear a lot of bad language. She wasn’t a prude about bad language, her eldest daughter swore like a trooper, but it was upsetting and disconcerting to hear someone maniacally screaming that particular four letter word in a place that was normally filled with childish laughter and shouts.

‘Are you all drunk?’ she said.

Her rain-splattered window was at eye-level with the entrance doors to the building and suddenly people began to spill out. Security lights illuminated the paved area around the school’s entrance like a stage set for a play. Clouds of mist added to the effect.

It was a strange sight.

The parents at Pirriwee Public had a baffling fondness for fancy-dress parties. It wasn’t enough that they should have an ordinary trivia night. She knew from the invitation that some bright spark had decided to make it an ‘Audrey and Elvis’ Trivia Night, which meant that the women all had to dress up as Audrey Hepburn and the men had to dress up as Elvis Presley. (That was another reason why Mrs Ponder had turned down the invitation. She’d always abhorred fancy dress.) It seemed that the most popular rendition of Audrey Hepburn was the Breakfast at Tiffany’s look. All the women were wearing long black dresses, white gloves and pearl chokers. Meanwhile, the men had mostly chosen to pay tribute to the Elvis of the latter years. They were all wearing shiny white jumpsuits, glittery gemstones and plunging necklines. The women looked lovely. The poor men looked perfectly ridiculous.

As Mrs Ponder watched, one Elvis punched another across the jaw. He staggered back, into an Audrey. Two Elvises grabbed him from behind and pulled him away. An Audrey buried her face in her hands and turned aside, as though she couldn’t bear to watch. Someone shouted, ‘Stop this!’

Indeed. What would your beautiful children think?

‘Should I call the police?’ wondered Mrs Ponder out loud, but then she heard the wail of a siren in the distance, at the same time as a woman on the balcony began to scream and scream.

***

Gabrielle: It wasn’t like it was just the mothers, you know. It wouldn’t have happened without the dads. I guess it started with the mothers. We were the main players, so to speak. The mums. I can’t stand the word mum. It’s a frumpy word. Mom is better. With an ‘o’. It sounds skinnier. We should change to the American spelling. I have body image issues, by the way. Who doesn’t, right?

Bonnie: It was all just a terrible misunderstanding. People’s feelings got hurt and then everything just spiralled out of control. The way it does. All conflict can be traced back to someone’s feelings getting hurt, don’t you think? Divorce. World wars. Legal action. Well, maybe not every legal action. Can I offer you a herbal tea?

Stu: I’ll tell you exactly why it happened. Women dont let things go. Not saying the blokes don’t share part of the blame. But if the girls hadn’t got their knickers in a knot, and that might sound sexist but it’s not, it’s just a fact of life, ask any man, not some new age, artsy-fartsy, I-wear-moisturiser type, I mean a real man, ask a real man, then he’ll tell you that women are like the Olympic athletes of grudges. You should see my wife in action. And she’s not even the worst of them.

Miss Barnes: Helicopter parents. Before I started at Pirriwee Public, I thought it was an exaggeration, this thing about parents being overly involved with their kids. I mean, my mum and dad loved me, they were like interested in me, when I was growing up in the nineties, but they weren’t like obsessed with me.

Mrs Lipmann: It’s a tragedy, and deeply regrettable, and we’re all trying to move forward. I have no further comment.

Carol: I blame the Erotic Book Club. But that’s just me.

Jonathan: There was nothing erotic about the Erotic Book Club, I’ll tell you that for free.

Jackie: You know what? I see this as a feminist issue.

Harper: Who said it was a feminist issue? What the heck? I’ll tell you what started it. The incident at the kindergarten orientation day.

Graeme: My understanding was that it all comes back to the stay-at-home mums battling it out with the career mums. What do they call it? The Mummy Wars. My wife wasn’t involved. She doesn’t have time for that sort of thing.

Thea: You journalists are just loving the French nanny angle. I heard someone on the radio today talking about the ‘French maid’, which Juliette was certainly not. Renata had a housekeeper as well. Lucky for some. I have four children, and no ‘staff’ to help out! Of course, I don’t have a problem per se with working mothers, I just wonder why they bothered having children in the first place.

Melissa: You know what I think got everyone all hot and bothered? The head lice. Oh my gosh, don’t let me get started on the head lice.

Samantha: The head lice? What did that have to do with anything? Who told you that? I bet it was Melissa, right? That poor girl suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome after her kids kept getting re-infected. Sorry. It’s not funny. It’s not funny at all.

Detective Sergeant Adrian Quinlan: Let me be clear. This is not a circus. This is a murder investigation.


Excerpted from Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. Copyright © 2014 by Liane Moriarty.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.