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First pages

Megan moaned and slowly opened her eyes. She squinted in the sharp sunlight and thought she must be on a ship - the world seemed to be rolling and rocking.

But ‘no’ - some part of her upside down brain laughed ‘ship of the desert maybe.’

She was strung up across the back of a camel like a sack of trade goods. As the animal walked, its hips swayed, and the tiny bells hanging from its saddlebags tinkled like water. The motion exacerbated the pain in Megan’s head, and she vomited onto the passing sand. Behind her, a string of slaves shuffled, heads down and hobbled, strung like so many switched off Christmas lights along a length of chain that extended as far as the eye could see.

1

Megan wasn't really just staring into space.

Well, she was, but she was thinking while she was staring. She did a lot of that, staring into space and thinking. Her brother said it was because she fell out of her high chair too often as a baby and landed on her head. Her English teacher said it was because she had an uncommonly active imagination. She preferred the latter explanation.

This afternoon Megan would have been surprised to learn she was thinking about much the same things her despised younger brother was brooding over.

Twelve-year-old Jamie was standing outside his school waiting for the bus to take him home, surreptitiously scratching his crotch, and thinking how much he hated his life.

His crotch had been extremely itchy of late, which he didn't mind at home because, well, let’s face it, it felt good to scratch. But at school, it was a different matter altogether. Scratching around that area too often could get you labeled a nickname that could stay for life like his friend Mark who everyone called Master, short for Masturbator. All the kids called him that. Even his aunt called him that. She always addressed his Christmas cards, which invariably contained five dollars, with the words ‘To Master Mark Spencer.' Master hated his aunt.

Now, as Jamie watched for the bus and hoisted his bag to his other shoulder, his face reddened and his muscles tightened as he began to think about his mother. It was his Mum who had caused his present discomfort when she had said he and his sister could have just one shower a month – the rest of the time they had to have ‘Maori showers.'

"Water is too expensive," she had said to Jamie and Megan as she lay on the lounge and puffed on her Alpine Fresh. "One bath a month is plenty unless you want us to have to cancel Foxtel, we’re not made of money you know. Besides, a Maori shower will do; splash of water under the arms, on the face and the fanny – nothing more needed at your age."

Jamie reckoned Megan wasn't too worried. She was 16 and never went out much anyway; he figured she didn't care if she smelled. She didn't have many friends, so nobody told her she smelled.

But Jamie cared. He had heaps of friends, he didn't like being called ‘Smello Yellow’ and he didn't like having an itchy crotch. Of course, his parents didn't notice he stank, didn’t even notice he was around half the time. And let’s face it - he tried not to go home as much as he could, home to that pale yellow Homeswest house in a shitty, wet little town in the middle of South-West Nowhere. Fifty bucks a week his parents paid for that fibro shack on a quarter acre block that contained nothing but half-dead Buffalo grass and car bodies.

Jamie used to spend time at home when he was younger, and the neighbours had a dog. He’d been allowed to play with it in their backyard and take it for walks, but it had died from a snake bite.

That was the summer the police came and burnt the backyard. Jamie's mother had called them after she saw the snake, but they couldn't find it, so they set fire to the Buffalo. It didn't matter much; the yard looked just as bad before. Jamie had giggled nervously when his dad had told the cops they were `fucken useless.' They didn't say anything back, just left. Jamie stopped thinking the cops were any use after that – just like teachers, you could tell them to ‘piss off’ and they did nothing.

He thought he would like to have a dog one day when he grew up. But he had no idea how long that might take, and where he might end up. All he knew was that he wanted a job; didn't want to be like his parents. They were both on the dole, although his father was a volunteer firefighter, which Jamie felt did stand for something - he just wasn't sure what.

A souped-up Holden roared past the school, and Jamie turned his mind to cars. He was into cars, like most boys his age, and he knew he needed a pretty good job to get the car he wanted when he grew up - unless he stole it like the older boys did up the road and changed its license plate - he was still toying with this idea. His family only had one car, a dusty hand-painted matte-black Torana. His dad had said the black was just an undercoat, but like everything, the job had never been finished and so black it had stayed.

Seeing the bus round the corner, Jamie snapped back into the now and stepped closer to the kerb. All-in-all he figured his life was pretty much a static hell; his dad drove the Torana around a lot, his parents fought a lot, his sister stared into space a lot – and he scratched his balls a lot.

φ

Megan didn’t scratch anything, but she wondered what to do with her life and what she had done in a past life to deserve her current lot. As usual, these thoughts then tended to lend themselves to her imagining she lived an altogether different life in an altogether different place.

She knew all about past lives because old Mrs Mackey had told her. The neighbourhood kids all said Mrs Mackey was a witch, but Megan knew she wasn't really. No one but Megan knew her real name. They called her Mrs Mackey because she had a small sausage dog called Mackey that she walked around the block most evenings. Megan knew her real name was Violet Ellement. She knew this because she did Mrs Mackey's gardening chores and looked after Mackey when the old lady was away, which had started to become more and more frequent of late. Megan also wandered up the road to Mrs Mackey’s house regularly to read through her bookshelf – she loved historical romances, poets – especially Robert Frost – Tennyson, Keats, Shakespeare, anything that allowed her to escape into someplace else.

Megan had known Mrs Mackey for so many years now that the old lady had truly become her one hold on reality. She was Megan’s only real adult guidance, and the one thing that kept her going when she thought that maybe it would just be better if she laid down on the train tracks like the old drunk up the road had done a few years ago.

Of course, she only thought this with half her brain. Half her brain was always thinking up odd ways for her to die. She always imagined that her family would mourn her passing and bury her lamented body in a flowing white dress. Actually, she didn't like the idea of being buried – just in case she wasn’t quite dead and woke up under the ground, only to die for real because she couldn’t escape before she suffocated. She thought instead her body should be laid out on a big square rock inside a shrine covered in cherub statuettes, like the princesses of old. Her gown would hang down becomingly over the sides of the rock, which she supposed would nowadays have to be made from concrete, and she would lay there like a frozen vision of loveliness, her hands clasped over her heart, a faint smile on her countenance. Of course, that was only the romantic part of her brain taking over. The other half of her head - the half that didn't really like the idea of dying - would then take over her imagination and fixate on the gruesome and practical aspects of her chosen form of demise. Like what it would be like to have the cold track of a train pass across your neck like a blade.

Last summer while standing in front of the fridge looking, as usual, at nothing, she had wondered about this so much she had taken an ice block out of the freezer and passed it across her neck like a knife. It had felt cold, and wet, but it didn't hurt. She half suspected that having your head cut off by a train would be the same, cold, wet with blood, too quick to hurt. She remembered reading about someone who had been attacked by a shark. She had poured over the page with the full-colour photographs of the hundreds of stitches required to put his torso back together and had been thoroughly amazed that the man had said the bite that had nearly rent him in half hadn't hurt at the time. He said he just felt a strong pressure, like someone had pushed him, hard, in the back, and then a dull feeling as the water had turned red all around him.

Megan loved reading about things like that, gruesome things that sent a shiver down her spine. But she equally loved the books Mrs Mackey lent her. Books on love and war, National Geographics full of archaeological discoveries and far-flung places, and most particularly, books on ancient Egypt.

And that was what she turned her mind to now, as the old wireless in Mrs Mackey's house played classical tunes and she sat engulfed by a large, comfortable armchair; ancient Egypt.

"Well, my dear what do you think?" Mrs Mackey asked, interrupting Megan's reverie.

Megan looked up from the faded, brown photo album she had been perusing before drifting off into her daydream and smiled.

She often looked through Mrs Mackey's album, all filled with silk postcards from Egypt sent more than 100 years ago during World War 1 and now carefully preserved. It was the first thing she took out of the bookshelf whenever she had tea with Mrs Mackey, and it never ceased to delight her. She rubbed her fingers across the silk cards, some featured flowers and poems, others scenes of Egyptian life, and all had a brief message from Mrs Mackey's late brother Victor.

"Mmmm nothing much Mrs Mackey," she replied, carefully slipping a postcard back into the little triangle-shaped holes that held it into the album. She liked to turn the cards over and read the message on the back, even if it was just a few penciled lines. She thought she would probably have loved Victor in a past life, always imagining him as a dashing sergeant riding at the head of a cavalry charge.

"I was just wondering what it would be like to see Egypt, to float down the Nile on a felucca and watch the sunset over date palms."

The old lady smiled. "Oh is that all," she said, raising an eyebrow and laughing as she considered the young girl.

She didn't mind being called Mrs Mackey, in fact, it amused her greatly, and she especially didn't mind it from her little friend, whom she had known since the lass was nine-years-old. Mrs Mackey thought Megan had grown to be quite an attractive girl in her own way, not pretty by any means, but sharp and intelligent looking with her frizzy, auburn pigtail pulled back tight from her face, the freckles scattered across her pert nose and her little, intelligent blue eyes. Quite different looking from her dark-haired brother, but then she supposed they probably had different fathers if the girl's description of her mother's behaviour was anything to go by.

As she watched Megan flip the pages of her album the old woman ran her crinkled and veined hand over the silver filigree and turquoise scarab necklace she always wore and pursed her lips. She could do so much for the girl, but should she? Was it just selfishness on her part wanting to keep her young friend with her? She put these thoughts aside and, frowning, went to boil the kettle.

Megan stayed where she was and stared at the pages in front of her, looking at a photograph of giant obelisks at some place in Egypt called Luxor and wondering how on earth the ancient Egyptians had raised the stones. She had concluded that aliens must have helped them when Mrs Mackey called out from the kitchen.

"Megan, I have to go away again soon, for quite a while, do you think Mackey could live with you?"

Megan looked up from the album. "Of course Mrs Mackey," she said, smiling as the old woman re-entered the room carrying the tea tray.

Megan loved that dog like he was her own and had been looking after him for Mrs Mackey for years, she was pretty sure her parents would let her keep him if she kept him out of their way and paid for his feed herself. Paying for this shouldn’t be too much of a problem, she had a job three nights a week at the local supermarket, and it provided enough money to feed both she and her brother fairly regularly, and surely enough to feed a dog. She smiled as Mrs Mackey offered her tea. She loved how all the cups and saucers matched with their pretty little violet pattern and how Mrs Mackey served tea out of a teapot, not with tea bags hanging out the side of a chipped and stained coffee mug, like at home. Mrs Mackey smiled back and, settling next to Megan on the lounge looked at the postcard the girl held in her hand.

"Oh that one was from Heliopolis," she said smiling. "Victor sent me a silk handkerchief and a tiny bottle of cologne from there," she said laughing.

Megan shook her head and sighed wistfully.

"He must have really loved you, Mrs Mackey," she said, staring again at the handwriting on the back.

"Yes, he was the best of brothers. I only wish I knew what he had written in full. You can see from the eraser marks that the censors took out nearly every second sentence the poor boy wrote."

Megan sighed and put the card back into the album.

"I wish I had a nice brother," she said, almost inaudibly.

Mrs Mackey laughed, forgetting her annoyance at the lost words written by a long-ago lost brother.

"Mmmm well certainly there isn't the feeling between yourself and Jamie that there was with Victor and I," she said laughing a little. "But war and adversity bring people together you know."

Megan reached over for a biscuit.

"I don't know about war Mrs Mackey," she said. "But I sure know about adversity."

Mrs Mackey lost her smile at this. "Has your father been drinking again lately sweetie?"

Megan shrugged. "It's not so much Dad you know, it's ..," she cut off her words, instead turning her attention back to the book.

Mrs Mackey put down her tea. "What is it dear? You know you can tell me. What is bothering you?"

Megan blushed. "Well, it’s bloody Uncle Rod, he's hanging around a lot at the moment and, well, I don't like the way he hugs me so close and stuff, he’s like some creepy pedophile."

Mrs Mackey looked stern. "Now dear, he hasn't done anything improper has he?"

Megan turned even redder but shook her head, almost choking on the biscuit she had popped into her mouth seconds before.

"It's not so much that Mrs Mackey, it's things he says, like that I'm getting boobs and things, only not in those words, and he sneaks up behind me and pats me on the bum and stuff like that. Nothing terrible, just, well, after he and Dad start drinking together it gets worse, and Mum won't say anything. She said I was imagining things, but, well, oh I don't know, sometimes I think maybe she's right."

Mrs Mackey leaned back into her chair and took a long, hard look at Megan, again subconsciously touching the necklace that rested under her jumper.

Megan coughed and closed the book.

"Let's not talk about it Mrs Mackey; I like to pretend I'm in another world when I'm here, tell me some more about your life, did you have much adversity?"

Mrs Mackey closed her eyes and leaned back into the sofa. "Oh yes, but I also had my share of fun you know," she said laughing. "Well, where to begin? You know that my brother Victor and I and my sister Bibi were the only surviving children of seven out of our family."

Megan nodded. She knew babies had a high mortality rate in the early days in Australia and everywhere else in the world. Mrs Mackey had told her how each of her younger brothers and sisters had died, some when only a few days old, others from diseases when they were older. Most had never reached the age of five.

"And you know that I have a son, Roy, who lives in Bunbury now with his wife and that I have grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren, the little lights of my life," Mrs Mackey continued.

Megan nodded and interrupted. "But will you tell me about Mr Mackey? I mean Mr Ellement, I have never heard you speak of him, or seen any photographs. I mean, you don't have to, if it's too painful or anything," she added quickly.

Mrs Mackey laughed. "Oh there's no pain there," she guffawed, "because there's no Mr Mackey or Mr Ellement for that matter, never was."

Megan gasped. She always thought Mrs Mackey had some dark, romantic secret hidden away, now she knew it, Mrs Mackey must have been a single mother, perhaps abandoned by some dark, handsome cad and left penniless and alone in the world to raise her child. Looked down on by society and disowned by her family. Her reverie was interrupted by Mrs Mackey continuing.

"Ahhh I can see that overactive imagination of yours working madly there Megan, but I'll tell you...Roy isn't really my son you know."

Megan gasped at this. "Really?" she said, her voice going up an octave. "Far Out! You mean he was an orphan, and you adopted him? Or a foundling, left lying abandoned on the roadway during the war, maybe in a box on your front door? Or next to the trash cans or something?"

Mrs Mackey shook her head laughing hard. "Oooh you do have a head on you girl, surely I have corrupted your brain with all my love yarns."

Megan laughed and shook her head as Mrs Mackey continued in a sober voice.

"No my dear, it was nothing so romantic or exciting, my darling younger sister Bibi died in childbirth while her husband Franklin, we call him Frank, was overseas serving his country. My mother was too old and ill to take in the babe, and so I looked after little Roy."

Megan interrupted. "But surely Franklin didn't die too?" she asked, wanting to get straight to the end of the story, not being able to bear the suspense. "I thought you said once before that Franklin made it home."

"Yes dear," Mrs Mackey continued. "Frank, unlike my Victor, did make it through the war, served in Belgium and France, but he never came home.”

Megan wanted to know more but could see Mrs Mackey was keen to close the subject.

"And so you raised Roy then? As your own baby?" she asked instead.

"I did," Mrs Mackey said. "And I never regretted it for a minute. And as you can see now, he's all grown up into a fine man who has a wonderful family of his own, a distinguished medical career, retired now and secure, which is all I'm sure his mother could have wished. What's more, it was his research and medical discoveries you know that ensure few women these days die in childbirth. Through her death, my dear Bibi produced a son who went on to save countless thousands of women's lives. And you know, he wasn't that different from you at this age, my girl, he also had a lively imagination, and he loved looking through these old postcards just as much as you do now."

Megan smiled. "But what of romance Mrs Mackey?" she asked. "Didn't you want to get married yourself? Wasn't there anyone special in your life?"

Mrs Mackey looked surprised by the question. "Of course," she said quickly, "of course there was someone, but he also died in the deserts of Palestine, and that is that."

Megan didn't want to pry, but, well, come to think of it, yes she did, she had to know what this man was like, who he was.

"But Mrs Mackey, I only see two postcards from other men in your book, just two, and surely if you were in love, you would have received, well, I don't know, dozens."

Mrs Mackey rubbed her hand over her forehead and sighed. "My Danny was a country boy, quick-witted and too brave for his own good. We never promised ourselves to each other before he left, but it was as good as said and he knew I'd wait for him. Anyway, he lasted all but a few months in Palestine before he was shot. I never knew of any but two postcards because his sergeant told me, many years after the war, that he didn't have a head for addresses and had sent all his love letters to me via his mother, and the silly old woman didn't approve of the match and so never sent me a-one. The only two I did receive came via mates who, being sent home with injuries, delivered them for him."

"But Mrs Mackey," Megan prattled on quickly, “Didn't you write to him and tell him he was an arsehole, I mean, sorry, a pig for not writing, or something along those lines?"

"No I certainly did not, I just decided that I was mistaken in his affection, it wasn't until his mate told me how things were that I knew, and by that time it was too late."

Megan was quiet for some time, absorbing what, to her mind, was an absolute tragedy. She imagined the poor, handsome hero, waiting for the post and standing aside as all his friends received letters and presents and he received none. She imagined him standing, steely-eyed next to his horse, daring the enemy to come while at the same time carrying a heavy load in his heart because his darling had not written. And she imagined him taking a risk he shouldn't have because he felt he had nothing to go home for, and receiving a bullet in the heart, his life's blood spilling out onto the hot desert sands. When she snapped out of her thoughts, Mrs Mackey had absented herself to the kitchen to fetch some more biscuits and Megan felt that, as she had obviously upset her, she had better change the subject.

"Well then Mrs Mackey, I'll bet having heard your story and read these postcards young Roy wanted to go to Egypt just as much as I do then?" she said.

"Welllll," Mrs Mackey let the word hang in the air. "Yes and no," she said, giving her secretive smile. "You see there is more to my life than just raising a baby, much more."

Mrs Mackey was just about to continue when she was interrupted by a shout from the road. Megan grimaced. "That's Jamie. It's time for me to go home."

Rising she put the photo album back into the bookcase and thanked Mrs Mackey for the tea.

"That's fine dear girl, I'm not leaving for a few days yet, so do come back tomorrow after school and we will continue our conversation.”

Megan brightened visibly at the invitation and, quickly making her way to the kitchen, rinsed out the teacups the pair had used, stacked the cups and saucers in the plate drainer and left. Mrs Mackey watched her go before rising to prepare for her journey. She planned to take a great deal more this trip because she had no intention of returning.

2

Jamie, frustrated by having to wait for his sister, started abusing her the moment she approached him.

"Stupid fat sow," he remonstrated. "Mum said you have to walk home with me at 6.30pm; she didn't say anything about 6.31 or 6.32, she said 6-bloody-30."

Megan looked at her brother with contempt. "Yes, well if my darling little brother doesn't shut the hell up he will be hobbling home with one leg because I'll sic the Whalleys’ bulldog onto him quick smart. And will you stop playing with that, it will fall off," she snapped, casting a meaning look at Jamie's shorts.

Jamie took his hand off his crotch and shut up. Ever since he had been bitten by a stray blue-heeler the year before he had been terrified of the neighbourhood dogs. The bus-stop where he left his bike each day was only a few streets down from his house, but his sister had to walk there and back with him. Since the attack, he had refused to venture outside on his own fearing that another of the big dogs everybody seemed to own in the township would escape its confines and savage him.

Now as he pondered Megan's threat he tried to think up a fittingly cutting response, but none came to him. The fact was that he loved dogs, but feared them, he wanted to pat them, which was the whole reason he got bitten in the first place, but now all he could do was look at their teeth and remember the pain and fear he had felt when the blue-heeler chomped him. And of course, that wasn't the worst of it. The bite was bad enough, but the dog had gripped onto his leg and swung its head left and right, shaking him like mad and ripping a jagged hole in his pants. Megan had come along just in time and had hit the dog on the head with an encyclopedia. She hit him twice before he would let go, and a third time just to be sure and then half carried, half dragged, Jamie home.

But there had been no sympathy when they got home. Instead, his mother had thrashed them both for stirring up the neighbourhood with their screams and for ripping his jeans. Later Megan got another thrashing because the encyclopedia had been damaged in the fray and the library insisted a replacement be paid for. Jamie had laughed at that.

Now as they rounded the corner, their house in sight, Jamie stretched his foot down off the pedal of his bike and gave Megan a hard kick in the leg before cycling madly home. He made it in the door just as Megan ran onto the verandah. Slamming the door, fumbling in his fear and excitement over his sister's inevitable retribution, he flipped the catch and ran to his room. Megan rattled the lock and yelled that she was going to bash his brains in the moment she got hold of him.

She stood outside for a good half an hour before either of their parents could be bothered raising themselves from the couch and opening the door. As she entered the lounge room the smell of cigarette smoke almost overwhelmed her. Thanking her father for opening the door, she made her way directly to her bedroom, ignoring her mother's shout that they could fix themselves something for dinner from the freezer. Megan knew there wouldn't be anything worth eating in the freezer, there never was. She decided not even to bother and instead bolted her door and nibbled from a box of chicken-flavored biscuits she had bought the day before.

As she ate she wondered what her family would do if she choked on a biscuit and died. She imagined the little chicken drumstick lodging in her windpipe, how she would crawl, all blue in the face, gasping for breath towards the door, how she would try to bang herself on the back to dislodge the biscuit. Maybe she would bang into the wall a few times as small choking gasps slipped from her indigo lips. And how they would find her in a few days, after the smell became too overpowering, her small lifeless body stretched on the floor like one of those chalk drawings in murder movies, her little hand stretched out for the help that never came.

Jamie meanwhile had found a packet of grey-colored lamb chops in the bottom of the freezer and, chipping it out of the surrounding ice with a wooden spoon, was now busy searching the cupboards for something he could cook them in. As per usual, his thoughts drifted to how much he hated his mother. As he listened to his parents bickering in the lounge room, he heard Uncle Rod come in and offer them a glass of Bundy. He hated Uncle Rod too. His uncle, if indeed he was even related to them, which Jamie wasn't so sure about because his parents made them call all adults Uncle or Aunty whatever, was always hanging around lately. He hung around especially when Jamie's dad was at fire training or was driving around in the Torana. Jamie thought it funny that Uncle Rod always seemed to know when his dad wasn't home.

He heard his mother's stupid laugh above the noise of the television and wondered about that too. His mother seemed to laugh a lot when Uncle Rod was around. She never laughed normally. Jamie heard Uncle Rod call for him to come and bring a glass but he pretended he hadn't heard. He wasn't anyone's slave, particularly not hairy Uncle Rod's with his stupid tattoos of naked girls on motorbikes and dragons. Uncle Rod, he decided, was a dickhead and could just piss off.

His view was obviously shared by his sister because he heard his uncle knock on her bedroom door and tell her to come out. He heard no reply and assumed she must have been pretending to be asleep. Jamie was secretly glad for her; he didn't like the way Uncle Rod was always making fun of Megan. As far as he was concerned no one could make fun of his sister but him, and that went both ways because he knew Megan felt the same way about him.

He had learned this not long after they moved to the town on his first day of school when some boys had beaten him up. He was running to the bus as fast as he could with three in pursuit when they caught him. Two held him while the third boy had punched him so hard one of his bottom teeth had come out. Megan, sitting on the bus, had watched the whole affair and had seemed like she didn't want to interfere, but as Jamie laid on the ground crying the boy who had hit him spat on him before starting to walk off.

Jamie smiled now as he remembered Megan descending the stairs of the bus, to his mind, like a demented superwoman. Grabbing the boy who spat on him, she smacked him in the nose till he cried and holding him by the hair made him lean down till his face was touching the ground near the gob of spit. And while she had him down on the ground she had hissed to him that “nobody picks on my brother, but me, understand?" and the boy had sobbed he did understand, and that was that.

Now, listening to drunken Uncle Rod telling Megan to `come out and give Uncle Roddy a kiss' Jamie’s face reddened and he gritted his teeth. He tipped his chops into the frying pan and watched as the water from the frozen meat reacted with the grease and spat droplets of oil onto the wall.

φ

Mrs Mackey gave one last cursory glance over her travel bag and absent-mindedly stroked the charm on her necklace, as she looked over at sad-eyed Mackey.

"I know what you think boy," she said to the small dog. "You think I'm abandoning you, and you’re right, I'm abandoning everything I know and love here, but you knew this day would come, didn't you?"

Mackey sniffed and, getting up with as much dignity as an old, fat, sausage dog could waddled into the kitchen and lay down on the pale-green lino under one of the kitchen chairs. Mrs Mackey sighed and answered the knock on the door.

"Come in Megan love, come in," she said, standing back. "Do you want to have a shower before we have our cuppa?"

Megan sighed "yes please" and headed for the bathroom. Ever since her mother had clamped down on their showers Mrs Mackey had let the girl use her ablutions. The old lady never directly interfered in the affairs of others, but she was certainly happy to thwart ridiculous decisions when she could. Megan now nightly showered there after doing Mrs Mackey’s gardening or walking her dog.

This evening the old lady had said she would take Mackey for a walk herself because it would be their last.

Megan wondered what Mrs Mackey had meant by that and supposed she just meant `last for a while' because she was going on another trip. As she showered, she luxuriated in being able to get clean and in being able to have a shower undisturbed. The moldy, cracked shower recess they had at home was hardly used now, and it had no lock on the door. The last time Megan had used that shower, three months ago, Uncle Rod had come in, supposedly to wash his hands, and wouldn't leave until Megan's screams eventually got on her mother's nerves and she came to investigate. Megan remembered there had been a big scene then between Uncle Rod and her Mum, but in the end Megan had been the one to be slapped and told not to ‘play slutty little games.'

As she soaped herself now, she wondered what her mother had meant. She certainly hadn't asked the man to come into the shower, and she hated the way his eyes had roamed over her body as she had tried in vain to cover herself. She began to think now that Uncle Rod was probably planning to molest and kill her, just like in the movies. She had written down her suspicions in her diary last night, just in case the police needed a lead if she ever did wash up all bruised and strangled in the nearby river. She passed the next few minutes imagining how a lonely fisherman would come across her body, drifting, partly clad among the reeds and how he would cry because such fresh loveliness had been brutally extinguished from the earth. Eventually, the shower started to get cold, and she got out and dressed.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I write fantasy and contemporary fiction for adults, teenagers, new adults, and children. I have worked as an English teacher, newspaper journalist, university lecturer and director of a literary festival. I have always written and particularly enjoy constructing worlds that offer pure escapism for the reader. I love to read and prefer long series, and that is also what I tend to write. My love of nature and the natural world influences much of what I write, especially for children.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I wrote this story while teaching English in a low socio-economic high school. I wanted to encourage female students and older readers, who didn't like to read, to pick up a book with a character they could relate to.
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
www.helenallan.com
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
I have always been drawn to the fantasy genre with strong female protagonists. I want total immersion and escapism in my books. I particularly like imaginative series which enable me to stay in a different world for an extended period of time.

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