FATELINE


This story first appeared in the X-Files .creative newsgroup, and was later housed at Vincent's [late lamented] legendary Gossamer archive. I'm not sure where it is being held now. It's very speculative, just my thoughts about what might have shaped the life of the young Fox Mulder. I believe that within each of us we carry the seeds of our own destruction.

Disclaimer:

the characters in this story are copyright to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions and have been used without permission. This story may be taken from this site, so long as it is not done so for any monetary gain, and so long as it remains intact with the author's name.

The character of Justin is based on a real person. Justin, in the unlikely event that you ever read this, no insult or offence was meant to you or your family.

The rather revolting incident involving the spider and the cup of coffee was based on an article by Mike Gray on page 8 of the Spring 1995 edition of Nature Australia magazine.

The picture in this story is of David Ducovny when he was about the same age as Fox is in the story.

I hope I will be able to maintain this website with additions to my personal archive every couple of weeks. I appreciate feedback and I almost always reply to email :) amanda

*:)

amanda


FATELINE

"It'th not fair," Samantha slumped back in her seat and stared out her window at the tear streaked clouds below her.

"Look, Sam, it's gonna be fun," Fox had done his level best to cheer her up, even giving up the coveted window seat, but nothing was working.

"They wouldn't even let me take my kitty," she started sobbing again.

"Sam...look at this," he held up the tourist brochure in front of her, "In Australia they have great animals. I bet we could catch a koala bear and have that as a pet," he pointed to the picture in the brochure; a little girl cuddling a koala, "Don't you think that could be as good as a cat?"

"Don't be thtupid, Fokth," she snapped, hitting the brochure out of his hands.

"You're the one that's *thtupid* THAMANTHA," he hit back at her. That lisp she'd developed since losing her two front teeth a week or so ago was irritating the hell out of him, and if she wasn't prepared to enjoy the adventure with him, well, he was just about tired and fractious enough to make a really good fight of it. Their mother intervened, and within moments he found himself sitting beside his father, with his mother taking the seat in front, with Samantha.

Fox settled and let himself doze, thinking of the sudden upheaval that their lives had seen over the past five weeks. It had been upsetting, of course, but good in a way. He'd been the centre of attention at school, and they'd done projects about the cities and animals in Australia. The house had been a mess with packing and tidying, but there was the fun of the garage sale, and Fox had made a handy profit on some of his old comics and toys that he'd really grown out of. Samantha was very upset that she couldn't take her kitten to Australia, she'd only had it a few weeks, it had been a present for her seventh birthday, just before they'd heard they were going to leave home. Fox couldn't see any problem with taking a kitten on an aeroplane with them, but there was something about quarrantine that made it illegal to take cats to Australia. The payoff for Samantha's unhappiness was their father's state of mind, though. Since bringing home the news of their transfer, their father had been a different man. He'd taken them to Pizza Hut and told them about the adventure that was coming up. He was happy and joking with them. He'd even given up smoking, something that certainly seemed to make their mother a whole lot happier. Fox wasn't sure if it meant a big pay rise, or maybe just some kind of adventure his dad had always wanted to have, but the move obviously meant a lot to him.

For his own sake, Fox was not sure how he felt about the move. It was an adventure, he liked that. It meant being without his friends and the neighbourhood he loved so much. He certainly didn't like that. There had been promises to write, and they were the kind of idealistic promises that a nine year old makes, not realising he has no intention of keeping them. There hadn't been time to sell the house in the weeks leading up to the move, so they had let it out as rental property. In the back of his mind, Fox never really said his final goodbye to the house. It was simply too much to think that he had walked out the door for the very last time.

The plane was making its final descent into Melbourne Airport. They'd been on Australian soil for nearly half a day, with the initial landing in Sydney and getting through customs there. But that didn't count. This was the real thing. His father had been stationed in Melbourne, and this was where they were going to be. Sydney had been rather tropical, hot and wet. A lot like Hawaii on the way across the Pacific. Melbourne was just hot. It didn't seem right that the middle of February should be like this. They'd left a snowman in the front yard, now, less than three days later, all he wanted to do was go for a swim.

They only had a couple of suitcases with them, the bulk of their belongings were being shipped surface and would not arrive for weeks yet. They lugged their cases out of the terminal building and onto the concourse which looked boringly like any other airport, though Fox thought that perhaps the sky was a little bluer than at home. They piled into a taxi that didn't have air conditioning and were talked at, for the entire hour and a half of their journey, by a man whose Italian/Australian accent rendered him totally incomprehensible. Not that it seemed to worry their father at all, he laughed and joked with the man the whole time.

The house was a disappointment too. It was just...a house. A regular brick bungalow. Sort of newish but nothing special. The main difference Fox could discern was that the electrical power sockets were a different shape. Apparently the electricity that came out of them was different too, because they'd sold all their appliances in the garage sale, despite Fox's idea to bring them across and just put new plugs on them.

"Even the tv?" he had asked miserably.

"They use a different system there," his father had told him, "I think we might buy a new colour set."

Now there was a carrot to dangle before a nine year old. He helped his parents unpack the suitcases and walked in and out of the nearly empty rooms. His father's new boss had met them on the way and brought their key. Basic furnishings had been bought, beds and bed linen and towels so that the tired travellers could shower and sleep. There was also a box of groceries on the bench in the kitchen. The boss had also provided his dad with a roll of colourful Australian money and a credit disc from one of the large department stores so that they could go shopping for a fridge and a radio...and of course that very desirable colour tv.

Fox was disappointed that we wasn't allowed to help with the shopping, although his mother had promised him and Sam a day when they would all go to the toy shop and choose something special. He wasn't sure just how special things could be, but he was going to try for a dragster bike. While their parents filled the house with whitegoods and linen, Fox and Samantha spent their first day at school. The boss had enrolled them and even organised their books.

"Didn't want you to miss out on too much schooling," he said with a smile.

Fox cursed his thoughtfullness. The school was, he decided, particularly boring as schools went. It was a red brick two storey affair that by Fox's calculations must have been built by the first settlers for their children. Decrepit was a good word for it. The playground was worse. A couple of boring yards, mainly asphalt with a bit of dirt. The headmaster gave a boring speech at first assembly and Fox found his way to the room he'd been shown and the teacher he'd met the previous day. He stood at the front of the class feeling uncomfortable while the teacher introduced him to the sea of thirty faces (at least half of which were, to his relief, not even turned in his direction.) Some of them laughed at his name. They'd have to get used to it. He was sent to sit at a large, uncomfortable desk built for two. He shared it with a girl called Sue who had stringy, greasy hair and milk-bottle glasses and a bit of an aroma. He understood immediately why the other kids had avoided sitting here. Fox and Sue ignored each other while they worked. The whole class was given milk to drink and then a bell rang and it was playtime. The children burst onto the hot asphalt of the playground and made their way to the shade provided by the flowering gums that were planted all along the fence line.

Fox had been aware that kids were following, he was hoping that their intent was friendly, though he knew he was just being optimistic.

"American!" said a voice, and made it sound like an insult.

"Yeah. Yank Yank septic tank," it was a catchy chant, and several of them took it up. Then things started getting physical. A tug at his shirt, "Where's your uniform septic tank? Did you flush it down the dunny?" laughter and then pushing. He was hoping a teacher would come to his rescue. There were too many of them for him to push back. He was badly outnumbered. At the front of the pack was a snotty nosed, wiry, rat-faced kid who had led the chant. "Fox *Mouldy*!" sneered the rat-faced kid, and with both hands shoved hard so that Fox landed flat on his back in the dust. The kid moved in close, he was going to start kicking. Fox was trying hard not to cry. Then he heard a new voice.

"Jeez you're a wimp McKenzie."

"He's just a seppo," said rat-face defensively.

"Yair, and it would have to take all twelve of you to push him to the ground. You are all weak as piss. So just piss off, the lot of you."

Rat face and his friends made a grudging retreat from their prey and Fox gazed up at the boy who had sent them on their way. This was a *big* kid, and Fox wasn't sure if he was actually being rescued, or just being delivered out of the hands of one threat, into another.

"What did you say your name was?" said the big kid, "Mouldy?"

"Mulder. Fox Mulder."

"You know foxes are vermin in Australia," he put out his hand, "Your mum's gunna kill you if you stay down there, you'll get filthy. C'mon Vermin." Fox let himself be helped up by the bigger boy and in that moment their friendship was sealed.

The big boy's name was Justin and he was a head taller than any other kid in grade four. Despite being tall he was easy going and tended to stick up for the underdog, as he had shown in the playground that morning. He liked Fox, the new kid was different enough to get under his skin and before the day was over Fox had learned what it was to have a "mate".

Things did not go so well for Samantha. There was no big friendly girl to help her out, nor had there been any scene in the playground. The girls simply ignored her, froze her out of their games, moved away if she tried to join in with them. Fox thought of Sue who he sat next to and wondered if that's what Samantha would look like in two years' time.

Fox and Samantha walked home together in a companionable silence. He hoped she would be okay in time. The house was full of empty bags from various shops, though there wasn't that much to interest kids. They looked at their bedroom furnishings. Their mother had gone to a lot of trouble to make things nice for them. Fox's bed was dressed in a new doona, a feather quilt that would keep him too warm on the summer nights. It was bagged in a quilt cover that featured motorbike racers. Sam's room was frilly and pink with kittens on the doona bag. They only reminded her of her abandoned kitty and made her cry.

Their father got the new television out of its box. Fox helped with a kind of nine year old enthusiasm that involved trying to disintergrate the polystyrene packing till he got yelled at. Samantha had gone into her room to sulk. They were fiddling with the aerial of the television when they heard the scream.

"A THPIDER!! Mommy a THPIDER!!! Mommeeeeeee," and then sobbing.

Fox experienced a moment's guilt, wondering what he had done with the rather fabulous rubber spider from last year's Hallowe'en party, but he was sure it hadn't been hidden anywhere in Sam's room. He followed his parents to see what all the fuss was about. High up on the wall of Samantha's bedroom sat something that was, by Fox's reckoning, far too big to be a spider. Its body was kind of modest to large. It was maybe a little bigger than a quater...or a twenty cent coin. But spread out, its legs would have easily covered a dinner plate. Their father stood on the bed, one shoe in his hand and swatted the spider. Most of it fell to the floor leaving a pulpy brown smear and one leg clinging to the wall.

"That'th *dithguthting*!" said Sam, "I'm nautheouth," she walked out of the room with their mother, apparently agreeing with her, following close behind.

"That was a *triantular*," Justin told him the next day, eyes as big as saucers, "They're not poisonous or anything, but my dad reckons they're something worse."

"How can you have worse than being poisoned?" said Fox.

"Well, you can go to the hospital and get a needle to make you better from being poisoned, but my dad reckons there's no cure for being *scared* to death."

It was a funny concept and the two boys laughed about it all day. Even when Fox's father came home that night and agreed with Justin that triantulars (or "huntsmen spiders", as he claimed they were called,) were not venemous, Fox was still convinced about their fatal possibilities.

Fox and Samantha woke early on Saturday morning. They had been promised a trip into town, to do a little shopping of their own. Fox had a feeling, just from the look in his father's eye, that the bike was going to be a very big possibility. He fell in love almost at once with a very racy looking red dragster. It was like nothing else in the shop existed and Fox could hardly believe his eyes when his father wheeled it towards the cash register. Sam and their mother were standing there, Sam had the latest Barbie doll in her hands, though she didn't seem overly happy with it. It was as though she didn't want to concede even that small joy.

They packed the bike into the boot of the car and while Fox yearned to be home and riding, Sam stared at the doll in her lap.

"Now there's the other thing, Bill," said their mother. Fox saw him look at her with a resigned expession on his face.

Their mother could be utterly implacable when her needs were thwarted, their father knew he had no chance. He flipped the street directory over to her, "Just tell me how to get there," he ordered.

"Where are we going?" asked Fox.

"You'll see."

"Tell me."

"Be patient."

"Yeah. Shut up Fokth."

They almost managed to turn it into a fight, but the threat of going nowhere and missing out on the mysterious side trip was enough to calm them down. Fox heard the dogs barking first, and there was a bit of a smell about the place.

"What is this? Where are we? A dogpound or something?"

"Got it in one, son."

"Thith plath *thinkth!* complained Samantha.

"Oh, well, I still think you'd better come with us," insisted their mother.

They followed, Sam wrinkling her nose and Fox very curious.

"But we never lost a dog, dad. Why are we here?"

"Well, this place isn't just where people find their own lost animals," said their mother, "Sometimes people buy pets here, too."

"But you're allergic to dogs," Fox protested, aware that already his mother's eyes had begun to look red and watery, "Oh, Fox, they have animals other than dogs here."

In that moment Samantha saw the sign pointing to the cattery and her excited shrieking almost drowned the constant cacophony of the dogs. She chose a ginger and white kitten, which really surprised Fox, who was sure she would take a little black one which looked just like the one she had left at home. She explained that this one was cuter, and given the huge range of colours available, went for the one that reminded her of the picture for "October" on last year's calendar. The kitten was named Pumpkin.

Pumpkin accepted his new home with happy grace. Or so Fox was told. He was too busy exploring the neighbourhood on his new bike to really think about it. He had to keep reminding himself to ride on the wrong side of the road and watch out for cars that were doing the same thing, but he was getting better at that. You got used to it after a while. He loved the bike. It represented a kind of freedom that he had been needing for a very long time. He rode to Justin's place to show off and then the two of them rode around the streets. Justin's bike was not a dragstar, it was just the plain kind of bike, a twenty-six incher, second hand from his big brother Simon. It wasn't anywhere near as cool as the dragstar, but Fox tried not to say anything.

The nights were ridiculously hot for school weather, but the kids just had to suffer that. Fox tossed and turned in a bed sticky with sweat. He stared at the stars, upside down through his window. He waited for a faint breath of sea breeze to cool him. He fell into a doze and was woken by a noise. He wasn't sure what it was at first and strained to listen. There was nothing moving in the house. Pumpkin had curled up on Sam's bed and he could hear the heavy sighs of his parents' sleeping breath. In the distance there was the engine sound of a car and then...there it was again. Someone whistling. A sharp commanding whistle, and then a shout. He wondered what it was. Boys maybe, big kids out on the road at two in the morning, making trouble.

He crept lightly out of bed and down the hallway to the lounge room which had large windows facing onto the road. The curtains were pulled back and the windows open, in the hope of catching a breath of cool breeze. He stood by the window and peered down the street. There was another noise now; the rhythmic sound of something that might have been chains rattling and the beat of a horse's hooves. The whistle and shout again, "Get up!" Fox was frozen, paralysed by a chill of apprehension at what he might see next. Some antipodean version of Ichabod Crane, the Headless Horsemen? There was still time to run back to his bed and pretend he had heard nothing, only now the clatter of hooves was with him and he saw the whole thing under the street light. There was a man running from house front to house front, collecting milk bottles. In the dead of night they brought the milk, and the waggon was pulled by a horse. The chains on the horse's harness rattled, the sound enchanced by the clinking of the milk bottles in the wagon. No one guided the horse with reins, it simply took itself, slowing down occasionally and being encouraged by a whistle and a shout from the man. He watched as the man took their two empty bottles and replaced them with frosty cold full ones. It was like magic. A moment later the man and the horse were gone in the night. For a little while Fox could still hear them rattling and calling away on their rounds, but eventually it all merged into sleep.

Justin taught Fox how to play cricket. Fox showed Justin how to play softball. Justin showed Fox how to kick a footy. Fox showed Justin how to throw a football. Justin shook his head, "You'll be freed against if the umpire catches you chucking it like that."

They worked together on projects and rode their bikes together after school. Fox still worried about Samantha, she still didn't seem to have any friends, though she seemed quite happy to play with Pumpkin when she was home. Sam had also grown a decent pair of teeth in the front, and had lost that irritating lisp. Sometimes after school Justin would come to play, or Fox would go to his house.

Justin's family had a pet cocky. A large, white cockatoo with a yellow crest on top of its head. Sometimes it would shriek as they walked past, sometimes it would sway on its perch, squawking "Carn the Bombers" and "Go, Budgie!" Justin and Fox would steal handfulls of sunflower seeds from the cocky's bowl, and then they would lie side by side in front of the tv, cracking the seed hulls between their teeth and reading Justin's substantial collection of Mad comics...most of them pinched from Simon.

"Let's have a Vegemite sandwich," Justin suggested one evening at his place. He put the makings on the bench in front of Fox and then decided he needed the toilet. Fox had never really encountered Vegemite, aside from seeing the ads for it on tv. He spread the butter on the bread and then took a decent knife full of the greasy looking black substance in the jar. He spread it thickly onto the bread and Justin walked into the room just as Fox bit into his sandwich. The expression on Justin's face was a mixture of horror, revulsion and sheer curiosity. Fox bit down onto the sandwich and almost immediately gagged on its contents. This stuff tasted every bit as bad as it looked. He spat it into the sink, convinced that Justin had played a trick on him.

"Jeez, Vermin," said Justin scratching his head, "At first I was really surprised. I thought, Jeez, you Americans really must like Vegemite a lot. I didn't realise you'd never eaten it before. You're only meant to put a *little* bit on. You had about enough for a hundred sandwiches on that bit of bread."

Day after day of unchangingly hot, clear, perfect weather rolled Summer into Autumn. Few of the trees made any effort to change their leaves. There would be no fall show in Melbourne. Fox crawled early out of bed and ambled into the kitchen to get himself breakfast. No one else was up. As he walked past the kitchen bench, he noticed something moving and stopped dead. It was a worm. Not an earthworm, but a very long, thin worm, twitching and writhing in spastic loops. One end of it was in a half-drunk cup of tea that his parents had left on the bench overnight. The other end led to...Fox grimaced and drew back. One of those horrible spiders. The spider was dead, its legs were folded up, it lay beside the cup in its own puddle of tea.

The whole scene left Fox feeling rather ill. He was inclined to agree with Samantha's original impression of the big spiders...they were disgusting. He didn't understand this whole macarbre scene with the worm, but it seemed unnatural and put him off his breakfast. He went to tell his parents about it. His father was curious about the spider and worm, and, taking care not to touch either with his bare hands, gathered them up into a jar.

"One of the fellows at work is an entomologist," he explained, "I'm sure Mike will know what all this is about. Or he'll know someone who knows."

About a week later, Fox received a letter in the mail. The envelope bore the letterhead of the museum, and when he opened it, the letter explained what had happened to the spider.

"Dear Fox,

What an interesting name you have. My friend Mike told me that your father brought in the dead spider and a worm which you found in a cup of tea. He said you are very curious about the natural world and thought you might like me to explain what happened to the poor spider.

The worm in the coffee was a kind of mermithid nematode. When it was in its larval form, the spider would have eaten it. But instead of being digested by the spider along with the rest of its food it set up house, and *it* began to eat the spider...from the inside. Slowly the worm was eating the spider's digestive glands and reproductive glands. Slowly the spider was getting sicker and sicker, its insides were filling up with the worm as it grew bigger and bigger. But the worm left the spider's vital organs intact, so that it did not die, the worm needed the spider alive for one last thing.

In its own final stage of life, the worm must find water so that it too can reproduce. The spider was driven to go to water. Well, the only water the poor old spider at your house could find was a cup of cold tea, so he just had to make the best of it. The worm erupted out of him, and that was what sounded the death knell for your spider, and that was what you found.

I hope you have found this explaination interesting. I think the world of insects and spiders and the like is quite fascinating. If you have any other questions, I would love to hear from you.

All the best..."

It was followed by an incomprehensible signature. Fox couldn't understand how anyone could feel sorry for one of those revolting spiders. He was appalled and disgusted by the description of what had happened with the spider and the worm. He was also intruiged and fascinated.

Justin and Fox sat in the corner of the playground eating their lunches and staring at the traffic. Justin looked about him and then, between bites of his Vegemite sandwich, he said; "Hey Vermin, what do you think of the Easter Bunny."

Fox tried to be cool, choking down his peanut butter and jam. He'd sussed out all this Easter Bunny and Santa Claus stuff years ago, but Sam still believed, and he was under orders, on pain of death (and no Christmas presents or Easter Eggs) not to give the game away. He had sufficient sensibilities not to do that to Jusin, either...if the other boy still believed too.

"Er...what do you mean?"

"Well, your mum and dad bring the Easter Eggs and hide them, right?"

"Right," said Fox with relief.

"Yeah, Simon told me that. Well, it's got nothing to do with Jesus on the cross."

"Nope. I don't think he was hanging there eating chocolate eggs."

"So where does this bunny thing and the chocolate eggs come from?"

"Oh, that," Fox tosssed his crusts onto the ground and watched as the sparrows came to pick at them, "Well, it's all about t his goddess. She was the goddess of the east, that's why it's called Easter. And she had a pet rabbit."

"Hare," corrected Justin, "It was a pet hare."

"Okay. So what about it?"

"Would you like to see her?"

Fox shrugged, "Have you got a picture in a book or something?"

"No," Justin's eyes were shining, "I mean *really* see her?"

Fox was intrigued, "How?"

"Well, you know Scotchman's Creek?"

Fox nodded. He knew it well. Justin and he had ridden their bikes to the littered shores of Scotchy's creek where he had been educated in the noble art of yabbying. Catching small freshwater crayfish in nets made from Justin's mother's old pantyhose and baited with bits of meat.

"Well, he reckons if you go down to the creek on the night of the Easter full moon, you *see* her. First the air fills with a mysterious mist, and then all these thousands of rabbits appear and start drumming the ground with their feet, and then the goddess comes. She gives each rabbit a solid gold egg."

"And this is really true?"

Justin nodded, "I know someone who saw it."

"Who?"

"It was Simon's best friend's cousin's next door neighbour. He *really* saw it."

"I'd like to see that for myself," said Fox quietly.

"So would I," agreed Justin.

They stared in silence at the passing traffic for a little while, "You know," said Fox eventually, "They do this in books and on tv shows all the time, it's like I tell my mom I'm going to spend the night at your place, and you tell your mom you're going to spend the night at my place..."

"And we both go somewhere else..."

They began to plan. They would each take a sleeping bag and a torch and pocket money. They would buy fish and chips for dinner and hot cross buns for breakfast and ride to the creek on their bikes. This was going to be a major adventure. The Easter full moon was on the Thursday, the day before Good Friday, so they would set off immediately after school. This made things a whole lot easier for Fox, since his mother did her shopping on a Thursday afternoon, and usually didn't get home till after he and Sam did after school.

The days leading up to Easter were profoundly exciting for Fox. He agreed wholeheartedly with Sam's babble about the Easter bunny, though it was not the thought of chocolate eggs that filled his thoughts. On the Thursday morning he was first up. He went out to collect the milk, Pumpkin dashed past him out the door and pounced on his ankles as he collected the two pints of milk and the morning paper, but the little cat did not return to the house with him.

Pumpkin's death was not heralded by a dramatic screech of brakes or even an embarrassed driver at the door admitting guilt. When the children went out with their mother, ready to kiss them goodbye on their way to school, Pumpkin was dead on the nature strip, a little trickle of blood still damp on his face. The kitten had dashed onto the road, chasing butterflies or shadows and been sideswiped by some commuting motorist who hadn't seen him or didn't care. Fox was upset. Samantha was devastated. Samantha stayed home from school, Fox walked doggedly on, knuckling tears from his eyes all the way.

Justin commiserated on the death of the little cat. He'd spent happy hours teasing Pumpkin with bits of wool dragged across the floor for the cat to ambush, or sitting on the sofa with the cat on his knee while he and Fox watched cartoons. But even death was not going to get in the way of the adventure they had planned. They were going to meet at half past four at the little shops. Between them they had nearly four dollars in pocket money. It was going to be a really great night.

As Fox had hoped, his mother was out shopping when he got home. Samantha was there though, staring morosely at the tv screen, her Barbie doll in her lap. Fox went about getting himself ready for the adventure, he collected his sleeping bag and found a torch. He was a bit worried that the batteries in the torch might go flat on him, so he found a couple of extras which he slipped into his pocket. He stuffed his pocket money into his other pocket, and, searching behind the sofa cushions, found another twenty eight cents. Sam watched him.

"What are you doing?"

"Going to Justin's for the night," he lied happily.

She nodded, taking in all the preparations, "I wish I could go home," she said finally.

"Sam," he laughed, "You dummy. You *are* home. I've gotta go now, see ya later."

Fox and Justin congratulated each other heartily. They had got out of their houses. The first part of their plan had worked perfectly. They went into the bakery and bought hot cross buns for breakfast, and then to the fish and chip shop. Mr Silvagni grinned and chatted to the boys. Justin was an old friend, a regular customer. Occasionally he brought Fox in to the fish and chip shop for an after school snack.

"Hallo Justin, you bring your American friend?"

The boys grinned back and made their order.

"Big snack, boys. You not going to spoil your dinner eat too much dim sim and chippies?"

"This *is* our dinner."

"Oh. Early dinner tonight. You planning to go to bed soon, get up really early for the chocolate eggs for breakfast? Or maybe you go to the Church for morning mass, huh? Six a.m." there was something about the expression on Mr Silvagni's face that made it perfectly clear that he knew exactly what they were planning.

"Oh, we're just having a sleepover," said Justin as he handed over payment and accepted the warm newspaper package. He was quite pleased with himself for having avoided the absolute truth while not exactly telling a lie. Fox paid for the rest of the meal; two cans of coke, and then they took to their bikes.

The ride to the creek was uneventful, and they spent a little time wondering exactly where they should camp the night. Eventually they found a spot not far from where they fished for yabbies. It was slightly less littered with cans and bottles and there was a little grassy patch where they could spread out their sleeping bags. The sun was almost on the horizon as they sat on their sleeping bags and spread out the sumptuous repast of *double* chips, eight dim sims and four potato cakes. It was more than they could possibly eat, but they didn't care. They opened their drinks and toasted their adventure. Justin was careful to keep the two ringpulls off the drink cans. Simon was collecting them, he had an ambition to make the world's longest chain of ring pulls, and he had *everyone* collecting them.

The boys ate their meal and watched avidly for any sign of the supernatural. The air grew chill about them and they cursed their lack of foresight. It had been a warm day and neither of them had thought to bring a jumper. They pulled their sleeping bags around their shoulders. The sun was setting. A light mist began to lift from the creek. Fox shivered in anticipation. He saw movement on the far bank and nudged Justin, a rabbit had appeared, seemingly from nowhere, andd was nibbling at the grass by the now misty bank. The two boys could feel their hearts thudding in their chests. This was really going to come true.

"You pair of mugs!"

The two boys swung around in shock. Simon was standing behind them, glaring down at them.

"Just what the bloody hell do you think you're up to, pulling a stupid stunt like this Justin? Mum is absolutely worried sick, and Fox, your mother has called the police."

Fox felt his jaw drop and his eyes bug out. The police???

"Your little sister has gone missing, and when your Mum rang our place to get you to come home...well, let's just say the shit really hit the fan. Now GIT home this instant the both of you!"

Fox stuffed his sleeping bag back into its sack and rode home like the wind. There was a police car parked out the front of the house. A police woman sat beside his mother, quietly talking to her. A police man stood leaning against the kitchen wall. Fox walked through the door, a sheepish look on his face. His mother hugged and berated him. There was an expression on his father's face that clearly said *I will deal with you later, boy*.

"Where've you been young feller?" said the policeman. He was authoritative though not quite pompous or threatening.

"I was with Justin."

"Yeah, but you weren't at his house like you told your mum you would be. You told a lie and so did your friend. Set up a little scheme."

"We were down at Scotchy's creek."

"What about Sam? Did your sister go with you?"

He shook his head, "It was just me and Justin."

"You sure? Because you know she's disappeared. Run off. You sure she didn't follow you or anything?"

Fox shook his head.

"You boys talk to anyone?"

"Only the man at the fish and chip shop."

The policeman nodded, directing himself at Fox's father, "Yeah, we talked to him. There was no sign of Sam, but he remembered the two boys buying enough to feed a small army," he grinned and shot Fox a wink, "No point camping out on an empty stomach, ay? Now tell me Fox, was Sam still home when you got home from School?"

Fox nodded, yes.

"And did she say anything about running away."

"Well, she was still really sad about Pumpkin..."

"Pumpkin? What's that?"

Fox was surprised that his parents hadn't mentioned the cat, "Pumpkin was her kitten. He got run over by a car this morning. Sam really loved him...well, we all did, but Sam especially, but he got run over and that's why she didn't go to school today."

The policeman stared curiously at Fox's mother, "You didn't tell me any of this," he said, "You told me she'd stayed home from school because she wasn't feeling well."

Fox's mother shrugged, "I didn't think it was that important."

"And did she say anthing to you when you got home from school, Fox?"

"Well, only one thing, and I thought it was really strange. She said she wanted to go home."

"Home," said the policewoman, "Did Samantha have any pets left behind in America?"

Fox's mother nodded slowly and the expression on the policewoman's face was the look of triumph at having found they key piece of a puzzle. At that moment the phone rang. The policeman answered it, the expression on his face lightening as he listened, and he gave a thumbs-up sign to his partner.

"Thanks D-24," he hung up the phone, "Your daughter had somehow managed to get herself halfway back to Tullamarine airport," he said, "A motorist had the good sense to wonder what in hell a seven year old was doing wandering along the emergency stopping lane of the freeway and he used the emergency phone to ring police. She'll be home soon."

Samantha wanted to go home. To America. Nothing was going to stop her. Long after the two children had been put to bed Fox heard the raging of his parents' argument. His father's hissing anger punctuated by his mother's quiet but irresistible demands. He couldn't hear the words, only feel the seething tides of emotion as point after point was hammered home in quiet determination. He dozed through the argument, and his head was filled with guilt feelings. He could have made sure Pumpkin came back in with him when he had gone to collect the milk. He shouldn't have lied about going with Justin. He should have stayed home with Samantha. When he got up the next morning his mother had already begun to pack and Fox had a feeling that he had somehow been the cause, not just of the immediate upheaval, but of something deeper, something that fell across the day's news that they would return to America like the dark shadow of a foreboding.

The return home took even less time than going to Australia. They were packed by the end of the Easter holiday and had tickets for a plane that left on the Saturday after school went back. Their house was full of boxes and cigarette haze. Their father had taken up smoking again. Fox supposed it was due to the stress of Sam running away, but he wondered if there was something more. There seemed to be a terrible anger with their mother and Samantha about going back home, but both of the women were steadfast, Samantha in her need to be in familiar surroundings, her mother in her need to protect the daughter.

Fox turned up for his last week of school, dismayed to find that Justin was not there. He had been grounded during the holidays, forbidden from seeing or even talking to Justin on the phone. Now his friend hadn't turned up to the first day back at school. Fox hoped he wasn't sick. He planted himself on the seat next to Sue (otherwise known as "Toad"), and squirmed around, looking hopefully at Justin's seat.

"Justin's not coming to school," said Sue.

Fox was more surprised than anything, this was the first time she'd talked to him, "Huh?"

"He's not coming today. Probably not for weeks and weeks."

"How come? How do you know?"

"His dad died. The whole family went away."

Fox was alarmed, though he suspected Sue might have been lying. At playtime when the teacher called him to stay behind and gave him the same information, he was devastated. Justin's dad, tall as the sky and always cheerful, was dead. He had died suddenly and unexpectedly, of a heart attack. Justin's dad who was one of those big, jokey kind of dads who could always make you laugh, was gone and Justin had to live the rest of his life with no dad. The final week of school had no particular meaning for Fox. He never saw Justin again. He didn't ask the teacher where Justin had gone to, or when he would return, and it never occurred to him to write.

The drone of the engines had a kind of anaesthetic effect on Fox and the plane lifted him high and away from all the possibilities of "might have beens" to a whole new set of potentials. Sam dozed beside him, a small toy cat that had been bought in the week following Pumpkin's death clutched tight in her arms. Their parents sat in the seats behind them. The kids were in non-smoking seats, his dad had insisted on a smoking seat. Still, Fox felt the presence of his parents there, just in back of him. He was surrounded by his family and Justin would never again have that. His father sat hazed in a cloud of smoke and gloom. His mother, indomitable, stared ahead. She had done all she knew, calling upon her husband to make this sacrifice to the needs of the family. She was certain she could keep the family safe by sheer force of will.

Fox heard his mother whisper something and then a grunt from his father, "Just don't blame me," said his father, "I did my best. I refuse to be held responsible for whatever happens."

It seemed a strange thing to say. The plane droned on and they were fed and chatted to by the hostesses. Fox fell asleep sometime during the movie. He really wasn't a big "Love Bug" fan. When he woke again the cabin lights had been dimmed and someone had put a blanket over him.. It was still all about him, everyone seemed to be asleep. He stared at the night sky through the little double glazed perspex window beside him. The Milky Way blazed bright, ten billion radiant pinpricks cast casually across the heavens. He was all alone with just the night sky and for a moment, though they were separated by light years it seemed to him that he could feel the distant heat of stars.

the end

*:)

amanda