Jordan Phair (Griffith University, Australia)
Walking back to my office down the long, sterile laminated corridors, I play the tape again, trying to make sense of the insensible. In my mind I see the room, the white padded walls in stark contrast to the mop of dark hair, eyes that remind me of a trapped tiger. My voice comes through the little speaker thin and tinny.
Me: “Tell me about it.”
Natalie: “About what?”
Me: “The dream.”
Natalie: “No idea what you’re on about, Doc.”
Me: “Sure you do, Natalie. You dream it almost every night, ever since you
started with us.”
Natalie: “You make it sound like coming here was my choice, like I’m starting a new job.”
Me: “Part of you did make that choice. Let that part tell me about the dream.”
Natalie: “Fine. I open my eyes and see Josh standing over me. His usually serene, blue eyes are troubled and skittish. He extends one hand down to me, urging me to get off my arse. I stop and take inventory of my injuries. Sprained ankle, two jarred fingers, twisted knee and grazes from head to toe and I seem to be covered in some sort of grime.
“My formerly white canvas shoes haven’t exactly coped very well with the events of the morning either. They are covered in the same grime as me and they’re even starting to give me blisters. To me, my favourite pair of shoes giving me blisters is just the rosy red cherry on top of the six-level cake that today has turned out to be. To think, less than twenty-four hours ago, my biggest concern was an exam later in the week. Now, the only thing keeping Josh and me alive is the fact that we’re good runners. I genuinely never thought that playing hide and seek as a kid could turn into a valuable life skill before the age of twenty.
“Of course I fell down. I always fall down. Like someone above enjoys mysteriously tripping me whenever the timing couldn’t be worse. For example, the first time Josh had gone to kiss me, I over balanced on the balcony rail, head-butted him then fell on my face and broke my nose. Or maybe like now, when we’re running for our lives, it would obviously be appropriate to fall on my arse. My internal groan is silenced by the brain-melting scream in the distance. I grab Josh’s extended arm in a monkey-like grip and haul me off the ground.
“Josh and I have been friends for years now. We basically grew up together. He lived five doors down from my house when we were in primary school. After school every day, we’d play for hours; until my mother came out to drag me home by my knotted hair. By the time we got to high school, Josh was the ‘it kid’; he was good at everything. Every sport he tried, academics, extracurricular, everything. He was good looking too. The kind of guy you need to have in your life – no matter how. Yet, even with all of that, he still hung around with me, the tall and awkward girl with long and frizzy black hair and big green eyes. The strange girl who liked English more than sport and who everyone thought would be the “Crazy Cat Lady” because she was bent three ways from Sunday. Even after that, he still chose me. It’s because of that, because of him, that I have to keep running.
“We don’t even know what we’re running from. The moment that all of your internal alarm bells sound at once in some sort of frantic, high-pitched harmony, you usually have no choice but to obey. When the screaming first started in the library, the terrified look on Josh’s face was all the motivation I needed to leave all of my research papers strewn across the desk and run as fast and far as I could.
“We didn’t get far.
“From where we hid, across campus in the cafeteria, we could see men, lots of them, all wearing black. They were walking around the outer limits of the university, holding automatic guns. I checked my phone again. Still no signal. They must have been be jamming it or something, I’d never had bad reception here. We were on top of a mountain for Christ sake! As Josh and I watched, some of our fellow students were marched into view, shepherded by more of the men in black. We saw one man with a hand held camera walking around the group, as though he was chatting to them about the weather, or about the upcoming final round of exams. He walked over to one of the men in black.
“I grabbed Josh’s hand. It was like a car crash – I didn’t want to look, but couldn’t look away. I looked into Josh’s eyes, silently begging him to understand that no matter what happened next, we had to stay still and we had to stay quiet. He nodded in response. It was stiff and jerky, as though he had to fight against his body just to give me that small response. I tried to hold his eyes, so neither of us had to watch but he slowly looked away. I also lost the battle of wills and slowly turned to watch too.
“The group of twenty or so had been herded into the small courtyard like a flock of sheep. They were all clinging to each other – complete strangers, all willing to lend their shoulder to cry on.
“The gunfire started. It was deafening.
“I squeezed harder on Josh’s hand and cupped my other hand over my mouth to stop myself from sobbing. Every one of my fellow students in that courtyard, now lied indistinguishable and entangled with each other. The men in black stand among them, high fiving each other, like they picked the winner of the Melbourne Cup. I couldn’t pry my eyes off the scene in front of me. One girl in particular captures my attention; her cold and lifeless eyes staring straight into my soul. I would not give up. I could not give up. My new determination must have been painted on my face, because as soon as I looked at Josh, I knew he understood. We would both make it out alive.
“I slid back from under the table, for once not caring about the amount of crap that covered my favourite white shirt. Across from me there was a door that was a straight shot to the car park. From there, we could weave our way to the main street. I nudged Josh’s arm and look pointedly at the door. He looked just as stunned-mullet-like as he did in the library. I guessed I was leading this charge myself.
“I peak around the table we were hiding under. No one. I tugged Josh’s arm until he emerged and we started to run towards the door. A man stood in our way; a man in black.
“Oh, fuck,” I exhale.
“Before I had a chance to think, I pushed Josh left as I ran right. He had the sense to run for it. He was too terrified to think about anything else. I ran until there was a loud bang. I spun around so fast I lost my balance and tripped over a chair. There was another bang, louder this time, but this one corresponded with a fire burning in my right shoulder. I opened my eyes to see the man in black standing above me, gun pointed directly at my forehead. Then there was nothing.”
“Happy now? Same shit, literally, just a different day. Or night. I lose track in that cage you keep me in.”
Me: “Natalie, you know that’s for your own safety.”
Natalie: “Ha! You mean the safety of everyone else!”
Me: “Yes, that also, but your safety is my main concern.”
Natalie: “Do you like watching caged animals Doc? Bet it makes you feel so in
Me: “How does that dream make you feel? Natalie? You know there was no shooting. Do you remember what happened that day? Can you tell me what happened to Josh?”
Natalie: *Manic chuckle* “Natalie’s not here anymore; I killed that lover boy, and made her watch.”
I pause the tape. I can’t listen to the rest. Listening to Natalie 2.0 describe, in great detail, what she did to Josh was horrific enough the first time. Making it to my desk, I pull a bottle of scotch from the top draw, draw a swig straight from the bottle and almost collapse into my chair. What the hell was I going to do?
I rewind the tape and press play.
Jordan Phair has been immersed in the Creative Industries since she began dancing at the age of 4 with Kick Performing Arts in Brisbane. She is currently completing her MA in Linguistics at Griffith University. This is her second publication.