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The Komatsu Wombat and the Fantastical Anticlimax

Chapter 6.

My sister Sami got married soon after we 300 got out of the cave-in. Unlike my mother, Sami didn't survive to see us ride out the Alien's storms. She died 4 months after her husband broke her neck. The hospital didn't have the resources to keep her alive.

It was plain bad timing, Sami having a broken neck while we were living in the Pit. Before, we would have flown Sami to a specialist or flown in specialist equipment. During the storm? Impossible. Now? Sure, no problem.

I don't know what I'm saying sometimes. Timing wasn't the real problem. The problem was, Sami shacked up with the person who would kill her. She met him through Arunta and me. The murderer was a pro football player. She'd met him at a fancy party the newsies threw for us 300 survivors, where Runt brought my mum as his date, and I brought Sami as mine.

For a while, it was us survivors and the newsgroups holding the city together. The riots were as recent as yesterday's nightmare, and out into cesspit the 300 of us came out, having survived 7 years of the worst with nothing more than bad haircuts and a grudge against mushrooms. Everyone wanted to know, how did we do it? How did we spend those 7 years living in the dark and not killing each other?

So the newsies told our stories. For morale, one newsgroup organised a quick-up league between our 300's best and the local teams. Runt played ruck rover again, I took full forward, and it felt like we were back in the Pit when it'd been just us diggers, our Wombats and a Pit not Super.

The other team's captain, who was the murderer Sami married, came into our change rooms after the game. He shook everyone's hands. 'That was a great game, guys,' he'd said, earnest, looking everyone in the eyes. 'You're all absolute champions. You're all my heroes.'

When Arunta found out he would be going back to correctional, only a couple of months after Sami died, he told his psych officer: 'You put me in the same facility as that murdering arsehole, I don't know if I want to stop myself from glassing him either.'

'Why would you want to do that, Arunta?'

'He threw my sister off the side of the Pit.'

'You don't have a sister, Arunta.'

Arunta said, 'That bastard threw my sister in law off the side of the Pit. She landed on top of the rec centre, did you know that? There were kids inside! Katashi went mad and for 4 weeks, he didn't say a fucking word. You don't understand it, he never shuts up. He talks in his sleep, he likes talking so much. For 4 weeks, I had no idea what was wrong. I thought I'd done something. I didn't know what to do. And Katashi still won't talk about his sister, he still won't talk about the cave-in, I only knew what had happened to Sami when Ma - my mother in law - had to break down and tell me. You are not putting me in the same place as this guy!'

'You're not married, Arunta.'

And Runt said, 'I spent 7 years living in the dark with him, you try to tell me we're not family again in that tone of voice, and I don't know if I'll want to stop myself from doing what I want to do to you. Why do I need a reason to want to stay away from murdering arseholes?'

'Maybe everyone in prison is a murdering arsehole,' said the officer. 'Maybe everyone in this city is a murdering arsehole, you can't tell, Arunta, until it happens. How do you think you're going to cope?'

Runt said, 'Look at my hands shaking, genius. I'm not going to cope.'

The psych's name was Unique Yeboah. Until the day Unique died, Arunta would mail him the cheapest, nasty cask of wine he found every New Year. Unique must've had a sense of humour, because he'd always send Arunta a Get Well Soon card in return.

Unique said, 'Listen to me carefully, Arunta Williams, do what I tell you to do, and we will get you out as quickly as we can.'

If there was anything Runt backed, it was his own salvation.

After the 3 years of anger management finished, Runt told me over dinner: 'All I was saying was, I didn't want to be living next to a dickhead neighbour again. Out here I've got a choice.'

'You don't sound like you've changed.'

Runt grinned around his tea. 'It's all superficial strategies. Gotta strategise to preserve the core miracle of my sweet-arse insanity, right?'

'Thanks be for small mercies.'

While Arunta was in correctional, the storms outside let up enough that some of us went back outside.

The storms started when the Alien's hit ignited the forests. From that, the cities went up in smoke, and the toxic product involved in cities went up in multicolour flame. Scientists speculated it'd take years for that to die down, not to mention the UV and the radiation. About the 14-year mark, it was bearable enough that we risked it. We needed to get outside and fix the slow failures happening across the cover.

I would be going up with other diggers, this latest generation of Komatsu Wombats. 150 other workers would be out and up too, fixing windpods and sensors and the kinds of things I knew nothing about.

Every 2 years, a group of us went to tidy things up. By the time Runt got out of correctional, I'd found a way to wangle him a pass too.

Apparently, we just had to ask.

The world up there was a jar full of muddy water, and someone kept shaking it up so the mud couldn't settle.

We worked as quickly as we could. We only came out in a lull, with no way to predict how long they'd last. By the time we finished, the walls of dirt would be getting agitated.

Driving back to the Pit, racing, even, Arunta pulled on his oxy mask before I could ask what he was doing, sealed it shut and kicked opened the 4WD door. 10 to a car, we screamed at him, too busy with our own masks to grab for him. 'Keep driving!' he hollered, because the swerving of the panicked driver was nearly knocking him off. 'Go on, straight! Follow it home!'

Arunta hauled himself up the side of the 4WD, clung to the roof racks and arched up into the sky as the chemical storm broke behind him. Mad, mad fucker, he still wears the acid burns on his shoulders.

The woman in the middle slammed Arunta's door shut. I wound down my window, lifted myself out to sit on the edge so I could see Arunta, and clung for my life to the door frame. He was laughing, crazy bastard, pointing. I followed his finger.

The storm was spinning up a cyclone, a funnel black like paint against the nothing grey. At the very top, where the vortex was sucking up the dirt clouds, were streaks of vivid blue.

The only other time I'd ever seen Runt so happy-stupid was when we got out of the cave-in and went back to our house. I had the key in my pocket. I'd had the same bloody key in my pocket for 7 years. It didn't even squeak when I turned the lock.

Mum was sitting inside, wearing a pantsuit she must've spent the last 6 years sewing with the tackiest, most godawful cockatoo and rabbit pattern I'd ever seen in my life. She howled murder the second she saw us, a bawl going straight to my guts and pressing buttons I never knew I had. I froze. Runt went straight to her, wrapped her up in his arms and rocked her.

'You're both so thin! Nothing I bought will fit you! I bought you jumpers! I even bought you jeans! Do you know how hard it is to size for your stupid height, I had so many hems taken down! And you know how much I hate working with denim, it's a horrible working class material fit only for the poor and the rock stars!'

Runt said, 'No worries, Ma, we can get fat again, promise.'

She grabbed two fistfuls of his hair and worked him side to side, and kissed him on the forehead and the lips, and she shouted, 'I got you strawberries!'

Runt said, 'Course you did, Ma, because you know they're my favourite fruit.'

Sami said, ''Cept maybe for the big lout standing at the door looking like a structural support?'

'Too right,' Runt said. 'More of a vegetable right now, look at that blank stare on him.'

'And I sewed you rabbits!' my mum howled. '1 for every month you were away! Because you screw like bunnies!'

Sami said, 'You guys probably shouldn't ask what the cockatoos were for.'

'You're a sick-minded pervert, Ma,' Runt said, and squeezed her through her sobs.

She said, 'I know! That's why you love my son!'

He said, and damned if he wasn't shaking too, like they were contagious, 'My god, I love you and your son.'

'Sheesh,' Sami said, who had come up to my side by then. 'And they reckon people end up finding partners exactly like their parents. Where's that idea come from, you reckon?'

'Hey, big 'un. Good to see you.'

'Hey, bro. Yeah, likewise. Working a bit of overtime these days, eh?'

'The first 4 years weren't too bad, the last 3 dragged on forever.'

Sami pulled a tissue out from her sleeve. 'Something in your eye, little brother?'


'Course it is. You idiot.'

I don't want to talk about the cave-in, except if I don't, you'd think something bad and horrible and unspeakable happened.

It wasn't like that at all.

Continue to Chapter 7

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