Jeremy was new at school; small and shy. I saw him walking home through the deepening snow, staggering under the weight of a bag full of books. I offered help and we shared the load. He didn’t say much but his smile was radiant. It was a moment I quickly forgot, but from it friendship burst. Years later, during his OAM acceptance speech, Jez floored me: “I dedicate this award to my friend. Years ago, I cleaned out my locker and headed home to take my life. A random act of kindness diverted me. Never underestimate the power of friendship.”
Click. Cornelius lay in bed. Clack. Unable to sleep. Click.
The infernal clickclack came from the billboard outside his window; neon winking on and off until midnight. After a month of broken sleep, Cornelius raised a petition. His movement gained momentum – Power to the People! – a nationwide boycott sent the company broke.
The billboard came down. Cornelius slept well for the first time in weeks.
The following month, a new billboard went up. With its competitor gone, a rival company expanded its empire. Their profits paid for a billboard twice as large; one than never switched off.
ClickityClackity. ClickityClackity. Clickity.
“It was the empty sky that first set me on edge.
“Hundreds of birds huddled in overcrowded trees, despite the late hour and the crisp morning air. I was sufficiently unsettled to restock the bunker and still inside when the radiation sensors sealed the door. But I ramble.
“If there’s anyone still alive out there, I’m in a bunker on Mount Dandenong. I’m transmitting on UHF and will scan all frequencies for as long as I’m able.
“I’m at coordinates 37.8311° S, 145.3600° E, with food and water. Is there anyone out there?
“I don’t want to die all alone.”
Sprinting the last block to his bus-stop, Chance knew he was late.
And that meant dismissal.
Defeated, he stepped from the rain into a crowded cafe. He took the last vacant seat beside a pretty young lady.
“Bad morning?” she asked.
“Rejected manuscript, fired, drenched…not too bad.” Chance grinned.
“What’s your story about?”
Over a coffee, Chance detailed his novel.”
“Let’s hope it’s a best seller!”
“Bring it to my publishing company and we’ll see.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Only one way to find out…” She stepped outside.
“Wait, what’s your name?” Chance called, following.
Dane glanced at the somber gathering, all dark suits and dresses; he shouldn’t have come. As the ceremony finished he approached the broken couple, crumpled together in their grief.
“Mrs and Mr Bowen, I’m so sorry.”
He’d expected harsh words, a slap even. Their response was worse: they pushed past him and left, like he didn’t exist.
Grief mingled with guilt. He’d been too drunk to drive, she’d told him to slow down. “I should’ve died too.”
“Should’ve? You did.”
Startled, Dane looked up. A shadowed form stood before him in the suddenly dark cemetery.
“I’ve come to collect you.”
The girl at the wheel didn’t deserve her licence but if Joe failed her, the paperwork would keep him from happy hour.
“Ok, you passed. Take us back.”
“Really? Even after that rear-ender?”
“Your lucky day, kid.”
“I guess so.”
“Where ya goin’? The office is the other way.”
“Something to show you, mister. Here we are.”
“The bridge? Quit fooling around.”
“No fooling, mister. My brother drove my family off this bridge after you licensed him. He shouldn’t have been driving.”
“Ain’t my fault, kid. Shit happens.”
“Sure does. Can you swim?”
“Swim? Stop, kid! Wha-”