[EXT./INT. – LUKE’S CAR – THE SUN BLAZES THROUGH THE WINDSHIELD OF A RUSTING RED FORD LASER]
See the boy in centre stage. That is, in the centre of the entire world. As his vehicle rips and tears through the rugged landscape, the planet moves around him like an endlessly repeating pantomime panorama.
A town passed by about an hour ago. The audience (that’s you) surely would have seen the boy leave his car on the side of a wide road in the middle of that town, walk into a quaint convenience store and pick up a veggie pasty and an iced coffee. What the audience would never have been able to guess without narration is that the boy would have loved a curry pie, stuffed full of beef and oil… but his character is a vegetarian at this stage of the story.
“Wise choice.” said the shimmering black mass that was sitting patiently in the passenger seat. “Appearing to care is one of the most important things in this life.”
[ENTER FROM THE DRIVER’S SIDE DOOR: THE BOY]
“I do care. I don’t want to hurt anything that has feelings.”
[Mockingly] “Then why drive a car? Why wear a leather belt?” The Desert asks the boy. The creature speaks in a rough hum, like the background radiation of the Big Bang, but even still, the question sounds cruel.
[Defensively yet apathetic] “Shut up” says the boy.
But we leave this flashback scene to return to the boy, speeding down the highway. He heads north, north and further north, stopping along to the way to feed the ravenous machine that is his camera.
“Did you ever even do it if there’s no proof? What’s the point of doing anything if you can’t share it?”
“Right.” says the boy as he selects the best filter for the photo. That one looks good. Boosts the saturation a bit. What do you think?
See the boy sit in the dust. He watches as numbers and icons flash across the screen of his magic little box. As the sun rises over the parched globe, the numbers slow and fall away, until the steady stream becomes a trickle.
“Not enough attention, is it? Not enough worshippers, hmm? Not as much as you deserve, at least.” the black mass croons. It stands in the sun, some seven, eight, nine feet tall behind the boy. “We’re going to have to go deeper… wilder…”
[With a certain angst] “Okay.” says the boy. See the boy plug the machine’s charger into the car’s cigarette lighter. See the battery glow, grow and grow.
[INT. – THE BRACKEN HOUSE, PROSPECT – A SUNNY AFTERNOON, BUT NOT QUITE AS SUNNY AS OUTBACK]
“Dad! Dad!” Perrie shouted, running down the hallway to the master bedroom. Inside, it smelled like freshly laundered sheets and floral patterned fabric. Like always. Mum was laying on the neatly arranged pillows like a perfect log, Dad was sitting in the armchair, leg tapping up and down nervously. Like always.
“Luke just posted a photo. He’s somewhere in a place called ‘Magnetic Hill.’ Look!”
Perrie flipped the laptop in her hands around awkwardly so that the screen could be seen by everyone in the room. Displayed, among a pale field of text and icons, was a photo of some strange roadside sign, like a cartoon magnet that a certain wily coyote would use, brought into reality. Sloping away into the distance behind it, there was a gravel track wrapped around a dry hill.
“He just tagged himself there. It’s in some town called… Oorooroo? Orrooroo? Something like that.” Perrie stumbled over the syllables.
“That’s nice for him…” Mum said, somewhat defeated by the whole experience.
“He better not put a scratch on my car.” Dad said, somewhat aggravated by the whole experience.
The Brackens had never faced a crisis like the one they had found themselves in before. A child running away from home was meant to happen at a younger age, an age when they didn’t have access to a car and the wherewithal to escape into the middle of the country. It was meant to go like this:
- Childish tantrum
- Escape from the house at dinner time
- Kid gets tired and/or scared of the dark
- Kid has a bit of a sulk
- Dad and Mum pick them up from a street the next block over
But the formula was broken. The family’s only car and only son had disappeared in the middle of the night, taken for some bizarre joy-ride into the heart of Australia. How the hell do you deal with that? Perrie thought.
“Well… Aren’t we going to do anything?” Perrie asked.
“What can we do? We’ve tried getting through to him every way we can. He doesn’t pick up his phone. We’re just going to have to wait until he tires himself out and turns around.” Dad said.
“What if he doesn’t want to turn around?”
“Why wouldn’t he want to?” Mum asked.
Question after question after question. The psychotic merry-go-round of worry had been spinning from the moment Luke had posted his first status from outside the Adelaide area, almost a week ago.
The Bracken’s had been circling each other, nipping at each other like anxious sharks, never coming closer to an answer to that most important question: “What next?”
“I don’t know.” Perrie said. She lay her laptop on the queen bed and flopped, face down, on to it. “He’d just seen Nicole again… and he’d had a drink or two. Maybe he just didn’t want to face it anymore?”
“Oh, bloody hell.” Dad almost shouted. “I thought he’d be over that by now.”
“Nah,” Perrie said. “It takes about the same amount of time to get over a break-up as the relationship lasts… if it’s a good one. Don’t you know that?”
“I’m not exactly up to speed with all your millennial dating rituals.”
“It’s not hard, Dad. Far out.” Perrie rolled over and slammed her face into her palms. She rubbed her temples, trying to work the knots of stress out. “But that’s beside the point. That’s not why he’s run away. I’m sure of it.”
“What do you mean?” Mum asked.
“No, you’re right.” Dad spoke up before Perrie could answer. “It’s his bloody teenage angst. He’s always been such a worrywart. I told you one day he’d act up.”
“That’s no fair on him, you two aren’t much better.” Perrie said. “But anyway, it’s more than that. It’s more like… He should be further away by now. He’s obviously been stopping a lot. He’s looking for something.”
Perrie had to stop and think. What was her little brother looking for? Was it some sort of recognition? Some truth? Some fresh experience?
The latter option seemed the most reasonable. The Bracken household was hardly a progressive one. For as many years as she could remember, things had remained the same. Even after major clean-outs the house still looked the same. It always filled up with the same junked eventually. It always resounded to the noise of a TV playing the news at full blast. It was always too cold in the morning and too cold in the evening. It just always was. Everything remained in a state of stagnancy and suspension. It was no place for young adults to flourish.
But could he be looking for truth? Could the breakup and the drama have shaken something loose? Was Luke looking for himself out there?
No, Perrie thought, that’s stupid. Luke had a fairly stable image of himself. His social media life attested to that. Across as many profiles as he could plant his flag in, he’d created an image of himself as an “interesting” boy. He liked all the right things, followed all the right bands. If Perrie didn’t know him better, she’d assume that he was some sort of quiet, charismatic intellectual at the top of his game in University. But that wasn’t reality… Nothing on a screen could really match the strange complexity of her little brother.
But that would only leave one option…
Perrie opened her laptop again and found Luke’s latest photo. She looked through the screen and across time and space to see what Luke had seen with his own eyes not an hour ago. She tried to see past the picture to the boy behind it. She tried to figure out why this photo was so important.
Perrie clicked the little blue thumb that hung underneath the photo. With a satisfying “pop” she added her name to the list of witnesses. But she wouldn’t stop there. She tapped below and added her voice to the story…
Perry Bracken Where are you going now, Luke?
Like ∙ Reply ∙ Just Now
Perrie waited with bated breath. She hadn’t heard from Luke since he’d left that night…
POP, DING. A new, red icon appeared in the top of Perrie’s screen.
Luke Bracken Dunno really, just getting out and about haha. Hope all’s well back home.
Like ∙ Reply ∙ Just Now
[EXT. – SOMEWHERE THAT WAS NOT ORROROO – IT IS GETTING VERY HOT IN THE RUSTING RED FORD LASER]
“Are you ready to move on?” The creature dressed in black asked. “There’s a lot more to see. A lot more to find.”
Luke’s hands shook as he tapped the “send” button. He didn’t want to talk to his family… Not yet. But what could he do? Perrie’s comment had come out of the blue. It was so inquisitive, so demanding, so judging. He was trapped by it. He had to give some explanation.
The problem was that he had no explanation.
The Desert was still there, and all around him, but the cloud of silver, haunted images had been fading away. He didn’t wake up every morning to find the car windows foggy and a static wool clawing through the air-con anymore. There was only a subtle hint, a buzz, that let him know it was still there.
Luke slammed his head against the drivers-side window as his comment sent forth and flew across outer-space. He saw the thunder of its passage as it leaped away back to the suburbs of Adelaide. His heart thumped at odd patterns. His stomach clenched and grumbled.
“West next. Yes.” Suggested The Desert. “To the sea one last time before we see the sun.”
“I can’t. I have to go home. Perrie is worried about me. I can tell.”
“The Cloud is more powerful there. You know it. Out here… you just have to deal with me. Don’t go back, Luke. Don’t drown in The Cloud. I’m here for you. I’m out there for you.”
Luke sunk his nails into the soft rubber of the steering wheel. The black mass hovered just outside the car, bent double so that it’s non-face could stare into the vehicle. Behind it, the roads stretched on endlessly.
“You’ll drown if you go back.” The Cloud rose again, sudden and violent from every possible corner. It flooded in through the cracked-open windows, t̝̻̘̦̠h͚r̳̬̺o̪̦͉̼̤u̠͓g̙͓̤̼̼̖ͅh̗̲͈͙ ͍̖̮̳̟͖ͅa͎̞̪i͉͖̳̰̻̻̫r̭̤͔̮̬͖ ̫͔̥̦̰͉̭v͔͙̲̰̺e̠̙̹͉̳̮ͅnt̲̙͍̳̪͇s̘̙͉̮̘͕,̜̯̯̗̹ ̳͓̲̦̦̹̭f͕͈r̤om un̮͇̭̜̲̺d̪̼͈͎̦e͔ṛ̬̬ ̦̜̭̼ͅt̲h̤̼̮̲e̟̻̟̦ͅ ̯͈̗șe̼͙̻̘͔a̭̪̠͖t̟͓͙̥͓͍ͅ It gibbered and jittered and screeched at Luke. He tried to shut his eyes, but he could hear it as well… He could hear the stream of numbers and ̒͑̇lͯͬ̑̄͋̅eͪ̍ͫtͭ͑͑ͯͤ̓̋tͫͬeͧ͑ͥrͩ̾͂ͫ̈́͌̽s̍ͩ̋̑̌̾ aͯ̑ń͒̽d̊̾ͣ̊̂͗͆ ͊fͬ̍̏̇̔̆̚a̿͋͐̔ͦ͛ͯc͆̅̎ͪ̉͐̋e̓̂ͭͦs͆̍̆ ͆aͬ̿͂ndͯ̆̆̓ͧͥ̋ ͛̅͒ͥͮ̌cͥo̊̃̊ͯ̌̇d͊̊e̽ͧ̅̎͑ͤ̽.ͪ̊̽̓ͦ There was the sound of laughter, the sounds of parties going on without him, a hint of sniggering behind his back. He could hear his sister’s voice clearest of all. L̡̝̥̰̝̬͔̪͝u̴̳͘͝k͏̱̩̟̪͈́͘ḙ̢͎͕ ͏̙̺̤͉̤̪̀ó͇̝̜͕͠͡ṕ̶̹̣e͉͇̟̱̣ņ̴̥̼̠e҉̫̜̥͟͠d̛̲̜̼̼̫̣͎ ̰̰͇h̛̪̫̗̖͇͚͕͜ì̷̢͖̳̖͚̲̺̗̺s͚̥̱͇̺̪͉͇͉ ̢͎̺̻͙̖̥̻͢ͅt̺͚̤̮̗ȩ̙̦͕̮̤a͈̮̤̟̙ṟ̳͔͎̭͓̕ͅy̖ ̜̤̱͓͖͈͢͝e̬͎͎̪̲͇̕ỳ͍̗͙ȩ̖̝̀s̵̩̤͈̟̟͝.̝̦ ̤͎̥͉̮̳̤
“Good boy.” The Desert whirred. “You see now that you have to escape it. You see now why you are here. Here is the place that you can rewrite EVERYTHING.”
The car shook from side to side as if hit by a strong wind. The grey-green mass of thin trees outside did not sway.
See the boy.
Operation Electric Forever, was created during the SA Writers Centre Digital Writer in Residence program during 2016.