[EXT? INT? – LOST – SOMETIME]
See the boy in centre stage. Around him, a circle of ghosts, a spectral audience. They swap phrases and faces until one cannot be sure where each one begin and end.
See the boy suddenly strike out at the ghosts. He rants and raves at the unstoppable mutation around him. The ghosts shout back with smoke-like words until a dense cloud floats a few feet above the stage. See the boy almost lose sight of himself in the fog.
[ENTER FROM STAGE LEFT: THE DESERT]
See The Desert walk slowly towards the slowly sinking boy. It pulls a small box from its dark robes and hands it to the boy. See the boy take a mask from the box.
He walks out of the fog and over to the crowd of ghosts and attempts to blend in.
The Desert asks, “Where are you?”
[INT. – THE BRACKEN HOUSE, PROSPECT – LATE AT NIGHT]
The chance encounter with Nicole and the story that he had wanted so badly to forget had thrown Luke’s mind, and his outfit, into disarray. He was sweaty and dishevelled from the bike ride home. It wasn’t a long journey, for sure, but it was a tough one if your heart was fluttering and misfiring all along the way.
“What’s wrong?” Perrie asked when he came through the door and down the clean, cream hallway.
“Nothing.” Luke lied.
“I thought you were gonna be out all night. Says here you were at the pub, yeah? With your mates?” She gestured at the slowly heating laptop screen on her knees.
“Yeah, well, I was. I had to come back though. I’m not feeling to good.”
“You didn’t run into… Anyone, did you?”
There’s no way she could have known. “N… No. Why do you ask?”
“Well, I do still have ‘she-who-must-not-be-named’ on Facebook you know. I just saw earlier that she was out as well. On Union Street, in fact.”
Luke unclipped his bike helmet with shaking hands. “Why would you still have Nicole on Facebook?”
“Why wouldn’t I? She went to our school, ya know?”
“I thought you would have realised I don’t want reminders of it all.”
“So, cause you broke up with someone means I can’t have friends? You’re being silly, Lukey. It’s hardly like you have to talk to her if you don’t want to.”
Luke was ready to leave if he had to. If Perrie dug too much deeper into the past he’d have to escape. He’d planned, scrimped and saved as much as he possibly could between studying for a “useless degree” (his dad’s words) and drinking West End with his friends. If anyone knew his computer password they’d log in to find a browser full of obscure bookmarks linking to 24 hour rent-a-car companies and a number of saved maps.
Luke could picture it now. He knew the highways out of the city. He knew how much petrol he’d need. He knew he didn’t have a final goal and that gave him some sort of foolish hope. He just needed the push; that last final straw to set the plan in action.
“Come and sit down and talk about it. Don’t go off and do something stupid ’cause you’re upset.”
How could she know? He hadn’t posted about it… Wait… Did I?
Perrie was good, but she wasn’t that good. Was she? Luke suddenly began to sweat. Had she figured out his plans? No, surely not.
“You’re problems aren’t gonna go away just because you run and hide, Luke.”
Luke’s feet suddenly felt cold. He looked down to see a mist rise from the grout between the floor’s tiles. It shimmered and crackled like television static and, with it, came the noise. He could hear it clear as day… and understand it. It was a slowly rising buzz, barely perceptible, but powerful.
“Now or never.”
The Desert was calling.
Sitting across from Perrie on one of the Bracken parents’ plush arm chairs (pride of the family decor) was the tall, black-garbed figure. It’s head faced downwards at such an angle that its broad brimmed hat covered whatever face it had. Black gloves clutched the arms tightly.
How can she not see it? Luke wondered. He also wondered if he was going mad but that was, oddly, not a high-priority in that moment. He felt like he had to sit down and talk. He was drawn to the empty armchair.
“I’m glad you’ve come to your senses, at least.” Perrie said as Luke sat down. “I’m not gonna lie and say I haven’t been a little concerned these past couple ‘a weeks. Mum and Dad haven’t said anything, but I feel like I know you better than anyone.”
Luke was listening, but he was also totally distracted. Around Perrie’s head floated a sparkling cloud of silver threads, growing steadily like a ball of steel wool come to life. Within it he could spot brief flashes of… something… words… voices… faces. Luke rubbed his eyes and when the world came back into focus again the images were clearer. It was… Profiles… Pictures… Status updates… A stream of data growing like a sci-fi fungus in time-lapse.
“I’m concerned about your health, Luke,” The midnight wanderer spoke up. “Mum and Dad haven’t said anything, and Perrie can’t know you as well as I do.”
“What do you want.” Luke said.
“Just to help you get through this whole thing.” Perrie answered. “Look, I know break-ups are tough and you’re going to be going through a stressful time now that uni’s finishing up. But, ya know. It’s not all that bad. I was stressed out at the start, but, ya know, things work out.”
“Have you thought about what you’re even going to do after school, Luke?” The Wanderer asked. “Have you seen what everyone else is doing. It’s quite amazing.”
The spirit gestured to the cloud of steel spider webs, now almost reaching the roof. Among the eddies and waves emerged a single tranquil lake of colour. It suddenly flooded with images and words… images and words that Luke had been constantly subjected to for the past year.
He could see a picture of his friend Bella standing in front of the Eiffel Tower with her hubbie. He read a mystical inscription apparently written by his old school mate Patrick. “So I just got published. Omg. Thank you so much for your support. Buy my first book, ‘Holy Holy’ at…” The words faded away, back into the smoke.
“I feel pathetic. What do I have?” Luke asked no one in particular.
“You aren’t pathetic. What are you talking about?” Perrie said. “You’ve almost finished uni. You’ve managed a three year relationship. Not many people your age can say that.”
“I haven’t travelled… Or published anything.”
“Why should you have?”
“Others have. And they can prove it. But the day is not too late. You can start now.”
“I know I am.” Perrie laughed. But she couldn’t have realised, not in a million years, that Luke wasn’t replying to her.
“You’re not limited to this. Go and make a new one. You have the tools.”
“Okay. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, I’ll start.”
“Start feeling better about yourself, you mean?” Perrie asked. “Well, I suppose better late than never haha.”
“You will soon be part of the web. Part of the cloud you want so much to be in.” The wanderer hummed.
Luke’s mind turned to wheels and petrol and endless desert. Who else had gone out exploring the outback… that he knew at least? No one, that’s who. He’d be the first. They’ll be so impressed. His heart filled with hope as the electric cloud began to disappear and smiling Perrie began to reappear. The wanderer had left the chair and evaporated along with the cloud. To where? Luke had no idea… But he thought that, soon, he’d find out.
Operation Electric Forever, was created during the SA Writers Centre Digital Writer in Residence program during 2016.