This is my not terribly impressive attempt at this year's NaNoWriMo. If you've never heard of it, check out cos I don't have time to explain... gotta keep writing!!!! Will update whenever I can be bothered, which probably won't be very much at all.

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It's twenty-five minutes past seven on a beautiful bright summer morning. There is a scatter of people across the footpath outside a pleasantly positioned, lemon coloured, weatherboard house. Its size, colour and vaguely impersonal appearance announce it as a holiday house. A man lies dead in the living room. One side of his head is completely shattered and his face is unrecognisable. The carpet beneath him is saturated with blood. It will never clean - the room will have to be recarpeted. In fact, it would also be a good idea to sand back the floorboards beneath. The body really should be covered up, but this nicety appears to have been overlooked for now, as everyone is in shock and the police are doing their best to calm and comfort the people involved and to control the inquisitive neighbours. Disaster always draws a crowd.

A girl is rushed out by stretcher and loaded with care into the waiting ambulance. Without delay, it screams down the street, red flashes and wails. She teeters on the brink.

[Tribune, Monday, January 26, 2004]

Police were alerted just before 7.15am by neighbours who had heard several gunshots coming from a holiday house just outside local Torquay yesterday. A man, 26, shot himself dead after holding his brother and four friends at gunpoint throughout the small hours of the morning.

The man, whose companions say separated from the party without notice the night before, had reappeared at approximately 2.30am, having kidnapped a young woman, 25, from a house in Melbourne's east. He held the group in a front room of the house for nearly five hours before attempting to kill the woman he had kidnapped. He instead shot one of the other women in the group who put herself in the line of fire to save her companion.

The woman is currently in a critical but stable condition.

[Torquay Courier, Monday, January 26, 2004]

In a dramatic incident at a house at Shaw Street yesterday, two men and three women were held at gun point by a man who later turned the gun on himself. Local authorities say the 26 year old man, Paul Lehr, had travelled from Melbourne for the holiday weekend, with his brother and three friends. At some point in the night, Lehr parted from the group and made the two hour car trip back to Melbourne whereupon he forced his way into the house of his brother's ex-girlfriend and forced her to return with him to Torquay. Upon returning to the house, he threatened and argued with his friends until approximately 7.15am when neighbours reported hearing three gunshots.

One woman was seriously injured and was transported to Geelong Hospital in a critical condition. It is currently unknown what triggered Lehr's rampage.

White… white, everything is white. There's a fog all around me, and white. The world is white. There's a light somewhere in the distance I think. No, it's just that my eyes are opening. I must have been asleep. I don't remember going to sleep. Of course, I don't usually remember that I've gone to sleep - does anyone? One minute you're conscious and the next you're not. It's quite strange really. One minute you're in the world, and the next… well you're somewhere else completely aren't you? Do you even exist while you're in that state; does the world exist? I feel that I'm somehow not really me when I'm not awake, just a dormant package of flesh and bones. I suppose to some degree, it's because of this that I never go to bed as early as I should. It's healthy to have eight hours of sleep every night, I know it and I don't object. I love sleeping, and if I don't get enough of it I'll regret it the next day, sitting staring at the lurid glow of my monitor, feeling my eyelids weigh about a ton each. Somehow though, the night before, it doesn't seem that important, and I can't bring myself to waste precious time sleeping when I could be doing something I want to do… because, just like everyone else, I spend every day doing everything for everyone else, being someone else. Why waste time sleeping that could be better spent being who I'm meant to be? When I'm asleep, everything that makes me myself is not here, but somewhere else entirely. It's an unsettling thought. Don't misunderstand - I don't have issues with sleeping. I usually don't think about these things. These thoughts are reserved for occasions such as this, when I find that I've woken up from a mysterious period of unconsciousness, a complete blank. Although, now that I think about it, this has never happened to me before.

I blink several times in an attempt to clear the last remains of the fog. My eyes are uncomfortably gluey and I have a sudden urge to wash my face. For a few seconds, I can't think of anything I want more than a sharp splash of icy water. My vision clears gradually, shapes and colours and shadows emerging from the fog. This is how it must have felt in the old days, to traverse the icy seas, icebergs looming on the edge of blindness, appearing from nowhere. The scene before me fades in and out, trembling and then strengthening, until finally it has shaped itself into what would appear to be a hospital room.

This certainly takes me by surprise, but just as I am about to ponder the reason for it, the memories wash in. Not like a flood, but like a tide.

The weekend. The holiday house. The gig at the Gatsby. The kiss. The kidnapping. The shooting. My head spins as I take it all in, but my thoughts are interrupted by the door opening.

A nurse quietly enters. She looks very young; pale blonde hair pulled back from a flushed pink face. She reminds me a little of Jess. Her uniform is so crisply blue that I almost feel refreshed, but I find it hard to focus on the colour after the white blindness. I feel like a camera that needs its white balance setting adjusted. I lift my head instinctively as she approaches me, and start to speak but my voice comes out in a weak cough.

The nurse smiles serenely. "Shhh. You still need to rest. Don't try to sit up. You've been through a lot." She lifts the grey plastic clipboard from the end of my bed and scans my chart, then looks down at me, her wide blue eyes shining with a touch of reverence that takes me by surprise. "It was a wonderful thing you did, Leah. I read the article in the paper before I knew that it was about you." She touches my hand lightly, and smiles again. Her teeth are dazzling and perfectly straight. Her hands deftly adjust some tubes and wires which seem to connect me to various pieces of equipment that are on the edge of my peripheral vision. For a crazy second I feel like I've been abducted by aliens and I stare at her accusingly, almost expecting her to reveal her sinister intentions. All this paraphernalia is part of a bizarre and frightening experiment they're conducting on me. The nurse, however, doesn't notice my momentary discomfort, or if she does, attributes it to my current physical condition. She continues speaking as if I haven't just glared at her rudely. "You obviously love your friends very much to put yourself at risk for them."

Her comment reminds me and my alien hallucinations melt away. "How are they? Are they okay? Am I okay?" It sounds like a silly question, but I haven't a clue. I don't feel like I'm dying, but on the other hand, I'm not sure that I feel particularly healthy either. I don't know how I feel at all, actually. "I can't tell if I'm alright. I don't know how I feel." My voice sounds small and childlike, almost petulant. I hate it when I hear myself do that, but under the circumstances, I think it's justifiable.

"You'll be fine. You're doing very well. Although it was touch and go when you first came in. You lost a lot of blood…. it was close. You'll still be feeling a bit groggy from the medication - that will explain how you're feeling now." Ah yes, the aliens. They must be drug induced.

"My friends? Josh?"

"They're all fine. They did wait for a long time to hear how you were, but we had to send them home. Your parents are here. I'll go and find them. I think they went to the cafeteria. It's been a battle convincing them to eat and sleep."

"Wait! I don't know your name." For some reason I need to know. "You know all about me and I don't even know what to call you." I don't really care, but it feels polite to ask.

"I'm Lisa. I've been looking after you since you came out of surgery." Suddenly she reminds me very much of Jess - those innocent blue eyes, that golden hair, that angelic doll-like manner about her. I dislike her immensely for no good reason, but try to maintain my polite manner.

"Thanks Lisa, I really appreciate it." Does it sound sincere to her? It sounds hollow to me. I feel so strange.

She shrugged. "There's no need to thank me. I'm just doing my job. I'm going to go and get your parents now, okay? They've been so worried about you. They should be told you're awake." She bestowed another glowing smile upon me and I watched her leave.

Her brief visit has left me feeling slightly more human and I can feel my brain waking up, albeit in an oddly sharp and jarring manner. Thoughts of Josh cause a stabbing feeling somewhere in my stomach. I wish he was here, but I'm almost afraid to see him. In those last moments before the darkness, I can remember the way he tried to shield Jess, his protective manner towards her and that final look of relief on his face when he realised that I had prevented her death. It cut me up inside to see so clearly that he loved her. I should have known better, but I really did think that I had a chance with him. With heart-breaking clarity, I have a vision of he and Jess standing before the altar. I can see the flowers and the guests, even the detail of the lace on Jess' white gown. I know where Josh's future lies.

"That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day."

Mister Dickens sure knew his stuff…but which day is it? Upon which day in my life was that first fatal link forged? Was it the day that I met Josh? That would be the obvious choice. Was it the day that I met Paul? Was it the day I cast the first spell… or the second. Or was it the day that I saved Jess' life?

Suddenly I remember Paul. I forgot to ask what happened to Paul. I know he tried to kill Jess, and he very nearly killed me, but he's been a friend, he's been there with us for so long and it's strange to think of him as a villain. What's going to happen now? Our whole world has changed. The police must have arrested him… he's probably in jail right now. There'll be a trial. I was shot - I'll have to be a witness. We've lost a friend… Josh has lost a brother. I saw the look on his face. I don't think he could forgive Paul for what he tried to do to Jess. Oh Josh, you must be miserable now.

Lisa returns with my parents to find me weeping. My mother gathers me into her warm arms and I feel her aura of comfort wrap around me as a protective envelope. For a long while there are no words, just tears. I cry in reaction to the fear that I felt in those hours. I cry to know that a friend was the cause of all this pain for us. I cry for Josh who loves his brother. I cry for my broken heart… disappointed yet again.

Finally I sit up. Choking back another sob, I ask, "Dad, will they make me testify? Will I have to help put Paul away?" I notice the look the parents exchange, but can't interpret it. "What? What was that look for?" My mother just shakes her head and hugs me again, but I struggle from her grasp. "What aren't you telling me?" I demand.

My father looks me squarely in the eye as he says, "Paul's dead. He shot himself in the head right after he shot you." I feel myself gape, fish-like. I don't know how to feel about this news. My father deals with the situation by continuing to talk, to tell the facts. "You were really lucky, Leah. Some of the neighbours called the police to report a disturbance which is why the ambulance got to you so quickly. You lost so much blood…. we thought we were going to lose you." He broke off and coughed a couple of times. "We're proud of you, Leah."

"Just don't do it again sweetie," my mother whispers.

"I had to mum. I had to do it. He would have killed Jess. He was wild. He wouldn't listen to any of us. He would have killed her, Mum. I had to save her." I bury my head against her, trying to block out the memories. She strokes my hair and makes shushing sounds. "I know you did, sweetie, you're a good girl."

I don't enlighten her.

Five hours later and no sign of any of my friends. I know it seems conceited to expect them to come rushing the moment I awoke, but I've been shot, for god's sake! I nearly died. Doesn't that warrant some special treatment from your friends? One little visit? A phone call, even. I can't expect Josh of course. I probably won't see him for a few weeks. I miss him already. Maybe it really just time to let go. I thought I'd already done that but I was wrong - can I do it for good this time?

As if summoned by my thoughts, Josh is suddenly standing before me. I know I'm dreaming, but he seems so real and there's a certain expression of concern and caring on his face that surprises me. I'm afraid to move or breathe in case I shatter the dream. This must be another side effect of the pain killers they've got me on.

"Well, say you're happy to see me or something. I kind of feel like a dick head just standing here." Josh tries to be jovial and doesn't quite succeed.

I sit up suddenly and receive an unpleasant dizzy spell in response. "Josh! You're really here. I mean, you're real."

"Is this what being real feels like? Crap, I thought it'd be better." There's a white plastic armchair by my bed. It looks extremely uncomfortable. Josh moves it a fraction closer to me before sitting down. He smiles weakly. "Real, huh?"

"When I saw you standing there, I thought I was dreaming."

"You're dreaming about me now? It's all good, I hope." I can feel my face flush crimson and I don't know what to say, so I just look down at the bedcovers. I am swathed in white sheets covered in a lightweight woollen blanket. I concentrate so intently on their snowy whiteness that it startles me when I feel the warm pressure of Josh's hand upon my own. I jump and he curls his fingers around mine. He bends over me, so close that the long dark lock of hair that is constantly falling over his face brushes my forehead lightly.

"I'm glad you're okay, Leah." He says it very softly, in the manner of someone who isn't used to saying personal things. The words send a shiver through me. I dare to glance up and meet his eyes with my own.

"I thought… I mean you and Jess…" I don't know how to finish the sentence, so I don't.

He tightens his grip on my hand unconsciously. "No, no. It's over between me and Jess. You know that. Why would you think otherwise?"

"You were so concerned for her during… you know. I mean, I could see it on your face. You were really afraid for her."

"My brother was threatening to kill her. Yeah I was afraid for her. She was a huge part of my life for five years. I didn't want her to die. Obviously, you didn't either or you wouldn't have done what you did." I mumble something unintelligible and look away. "If I looked afraid, it was for Paul too. And for you."

This time I squeeze his hand. "Josh, I'm so sorry. Paul… I just can't believe it was Paul. And he's gone. I didn't know." I can see that Josh is trying his best not to cry, but he's tearing up nevertheless. "Look, Josh. I know I haven't had a lot of time to absorb everything - I'm still pretty hazy actually and barely know what's going on, but right now I'm thinking that what I want to do is try not to think about it. How it all ended, I mean. I want to remember Paul as he was, one of us. I don't know how he ended up being in whatever place he got to in order to be able to think and act the way he did, but I don't want to know about it. It wasn't him. Paul was our friend, your brother, he was sweet and smart and thoughtful…"

"He was in love with you, Leah. How come you never-"

"Because he wasn't you." It's the sort of thing I always imagined I should say, but now that I do, I feel awkward and completely unsophisticated. "But that doesn't mean that I didn't value him as a friend. I just want to remember everything as it was… do you think people will let me do that? I know my parents will think I'm crazy."

Josh hugs me, breathing a sigh of relief. "I'm so glad you said that. I want to ask you a huge favour, but I wasn't sure how you'd take it."

"What's that? You know I'm always there if you need me."

He draws back and looks me in the eye as if he's about to challenge me. "Paul's funeral is on Saturday. If you can… I mean, if they let you leave here, would you come? I'm worried that because of what's happened, no one will be there, not even our relatives. It will tear up my parents if there's no one there, and… well, he was still my brother. I know what he did was terrible, but I can't put away the feelings of twenty-six years and not care that he's dead. I'm like you - I want to block it out and remember what he was. It would hurt to be at his funeral and see that nobody cared that he isn't with us any more. So I'm really hoping that you and the others will be there."

I nod mutely, feeling very strange about the whole situation, but knowing that can give no other answer. "Of course I'll be there." I kiss his hand and try to look reassuring. "Did you ask Jess?"

He turns his head slightly and his gaze falters. "Jess won't be coming."

I throw my arms around him and stroke his hair the way my mother tries to comfort me. He gives up fighting the tears and lets them flow freely. "Oh Josh, I wish I could help somehow."

"You did. You helped a lot. If you hadn't thrown yourself in front of Jess like that, Paul would have killed her. My brother would be a murderer. I know what we've got isn't much better than that, but it's something, you know. I'm trying to imagine what it would be like if he was still alive, and in jail for murdering Jess. This is better, it is. You made a difference, Leah."

A few weeks ago… before everything happened, I was driving home having been shopping, and I thinking about how I don't seem to think much about random things any more. Maybe it's because I'm always tired, maybe it's because I've been focusing a lot on Josh lately… I dunno. Anyway, for some reason, I then started thinking… oh yeah, I was driving along the freeway and for some reason I started thinking about the size of the road, which got me thinking about how much of the world is taken up by human constructions. It's kind of disgusting because we're destroying the earth, but it's also amazing that these things were built. And cars! We've built all these things that do things - things that move, things that build other things. It's amazing! The world is so complex. There's so much that makes our modern society run the way it does. It's a complex, complex web. There's so many things to know about, so many areas to study, so many things that we don't even know that we don't know. Anyway, it was one of those moments when the enormity of the world struck me. So big and so complicated. Intricate. And then there's the rest of the universe too. It's mindboggling. It's probably not safe to boggle your mind while you're driving, but there you go.

There was some article on the radio the other day about world population. They said that the world population is over six billion. Wow. And that's only the people they know about. Six billion people. Doesn't that make you feel insignificant? I was thinking that in the car, about how unimportant we each are when there are so many more - like ants. But then they always say that no two people are alike. Not exactly. Not even identical twins are exactly the same. And isn't that amazing? Out of six billion people, no one's the same. It's kind of like pi. Josh sent an email around a couple of weeks ago - "the story of pi" - he loves bits of trivia. Apparently there are pi appreciation groups and people who memorise pi for the fun of it. And although I wasn't that impressed at the time, I suppose it is such an infinitely random number is pretty amazing.

The funny thing, though with how amazing people are, with all these inventions… these things that do things, is that I feel that I'm like Arthur Dent. Although I was born in this world and I've lived in it for twenty-six years, I don't know how to do anything. I don't know how to make any of these things, and I don't have a clue how they work. Pretty much all I could do if I was stranded on a primitive planet is make sandwiches. I don't even do that particularly well - my sandwiches are always a bit messy. I have issues with cutting tomatoes.

The article also said that there's about three people born in the world every second… and those are only the ones we know about. Isn't that scary? Boom! Three more people right there, and another three as I speak, and more and more and more! The second you die, you've already been replaced thrice.

When you think about it, we're lucky if anyone misses us at all.

The cemetery is what has brought that train of thought sharply into focus. It's a lonely place. Not because there are no people, but because… well, isn't it a saying that in the end, everyone dies alone?

My feet are hot and dusty. It's been a dry summer and the cemetery is just like everywhere else - parched and dead. But then, I guess that's appropriate. Paul is being buried in the newest part of the cemetery, where the paths are merely dust tracks leading to mounds of dirt in orderly rows. The strappy summer things I'm wearing on my feet don't keep out the dust and I feel dirty as well as sweaty. It's hard to walk here and I'm still not feeling terribly strong. I stumble on the uneven ground, but Josh catches me by the arm before I fall. Many of the graves in this section don't have proper markers on them yet - they look pathetically anonymous and I know now why Josh needed to have people here. We need recognition. Without the acknowledgment from other people that you were someone who mattered in some way, some how, it's almost as if you didn't exist at all.

The saddest graves are the ones decorated with toys. There are headstones with tiny plastic teddy bears and rabbits sitting upon them, others with tiny brightly coloured cars driving along their narrow edge; there are pots of smiley plastic flowers and misshapen stuffed animals that have been sitting out in the weather for too long… all toys brought for children who will never play with them. I don't usually get sentimental about this sort of thing, but under the circumstances, my emotions are finely tuned. I discreetly wipe the tear from my eye.

The sun seems too bright today. The bare earth reflects it and amplifies it. I can feel my skin prickling and burning and I swipe at the flies that won't leave me alone. I feel supremely irritated - the flies, the heat, the sun, the dust… but I concentrate on all these to avoid what we're really here for.

I look up at Josh who stands next to me and think how brave he's being. He's being strong for his mother. She stands on his other side and I can see that he looks at her more than he pays attention to what the priest is saying. When he reaches for my hand, however, I know that inside he isn't feeling brave at all. I try to rearrange my face into a reassuring expression, but I don't think I've succeeded. So I turn to the scene in front of me.

It's strange how they lay that little green carpet over the edges of the grave. Like that deep, deep hole in the ground is rendered somehow less threatening by it's presence. It's like a tiny oasis in the middle of a vast desert, this patch of green with its polished coffin and festoons of flowers. Josh and I ordered so many flowers because of his fear that no one would show up. At least flowers give the impression that someone cared, at least for the ten minutes or so that it takes to make a phone call to your local Interflora. As a result, Paul has an explosion of red carnations, his favourite flower, sprays of ferns and exotic lilies, garlands of sweet country favourites like daisies and pink baby roses, wreaths of white roses and gardenias… there were are flowers than guests.

Josh had been very astute in his fears. Many of the Lehrs' relatives hadn't bothered to show up. Of course, they sent polite condolence cards, and some of the smaller flower arrangements came from them. Some of them made excuses, while others didn't even bother. They had heard and they couldn't overcome their shock to even attend in support of the family. I can see some of Josh's cousins standing across from us, though. Bronte and Xav are here, though of course, not Jess.

The scent of the gardenias is incredibly overpowering and all of a sudden, I feel slightly nauseous. I tighten my grip on Josh's hand, which is just as sweaty as my own and watch the coffin being lowered slowly into the ground. It's an odd feeling. I don't think of it as Paul being in there. To me, Paul has disappeared.


Paul's face is distorted with what I can only guess is blind rage. It's hard to tell though because I've never seen his this way. His rampaging emotions manifest in a wild ugliness that does fit him at all. He savagely shoves Jess in the direction of Josh who swiftly steps forward to catch her. She slumps into his arms, fear turning her into a stupid rag doll.

Josh glares at Paul over Jess' bowed head. "Pauly, what the hell -" But he isn't allowed to finish.

"Shut up! You listen to her - you listen good. She's sorry for whatever stupid things she said. She wants you back. Tell him!" Paul is screaming. His voice sounds like someone else. With a sharp finger he stabs Jess between the shoulder blades. "Tell him! Say it, dammit!" Jess is sobbing and clinging to the front of Josh's shirt. Although it's hardly an appropriate time for it, I feel a stab of jealousy. She can do that to me so easily. She's so perfect. I can barely believe that four hours earlier I was kissing Josh… it must have been a dream.

Paul lunges forward and grabs Jess by the shoulders, ripping her from Josh's arms. I'm surprised by his strength. I've never really thought of Paul in a physical sense, never really considered whether he was weak or strong, whether he could win a fight or hurt someone. If I was asked to put a wager on a fight between him and his brother, I definitely would have put my money on Josh. Tall and athletic, he had the appearance of a vast advantage over the slighter, more intellectually focused, Paul. For some reason though, that doesn't seem to make a difference tonight. While Paul holds Jess firmly with one hand, he pushes Josh aside with the other. I think Josh has hit his head against the door frame because just lies there, very still.

Without thought, I rush to him. Paul is too busy screaming incoherently at Jess to notice my movement. I can't tell if Josh is okay. He's lying so still. Is he breathing? I lean over him, trying to catch the sound of his breath but it's too faint. "Josh, Josh, are you alive?" I lay one hand on his chest, and wave the other in front of his mouth, hoping to feel the familiar rise and fall or the soft touch of moving air. The action reminds me of the first time I went to a movie with him. The darkened room, the glow of the big screen. When you're young and you're sitting in the darkness with someone you think is pretty special, even if it's just the innocent, platonic darkness of a movie theatre, you really do expect that something significant could happen. But this wasn't. This was just nice. Not mindblowingly exciting, but really nice. Just enough to make me feel happy and content at the time. You know when you're with the one you might possibly falling in love with and you're sitting next to each other and you realise you can actually feel the other person breathing… your shoulders are touching and you
can feel the movement of his body as he breathes and then you realise that you've fallen into sync with each other so that you're both exhaling and inhaling at the same time. I suppose it might not seem like much, but at the time it seemed like everything. At this very second, it would seem that way again.

And then Josh coughs. He sits up groggily and I run my hand through the back of his hair to make sure no real damage has been done. There's a large, angry lump on the back of his head where he hit the door but it isn't bleeding. He just looks at me, confused, and I think that for a minute he's forgotten where he is and what's happening.

The commotion has roused Xav. I notice him slip out of his bedroom, into the shadows and around to the back of the house. He sees me see him and nods his head imperceptibly. He must be making his way outside, around to the front of the house; planning to come up behind Paul and ambush him. I just need to keep him occupied and looking in this direction. He's still shaking Jess furiously, rambling and muttering. He doesn't make sense. She's almost passed out.

"Paul!" My call doesn't register at all. "Paul, what the hell is going on. Look at me when I'm talking to you, you freak. What the hell are you on about?" It's almost comic, the dreamlike slowness with which he reacts to my yelling. I watch his head turn and expression shape itself like play-dough.

"What the hell is going on? What the hell is going on? You're asking me what the hell is going on?" He lets go of Jess and she drops to the fall like a dead weight, her golden curls spreading fan-like over the floor. In three strides, Paul has crossed into the living room, away from the front door. He grabs me roughly by the shoulders, almost lifting me from the floor, his eyes wild and breath ragged. "How can you of all people, Leah, as me what the hell is going on. It's you. It's always you." Unfortunately, Xav chooses this moment to burst in the front door and lunge at Paul. He tackles him to the ground, also knocking me over in the process. Although I'm slightly winded, I'm not hurt and I scrabble inelegantly away behind the relative safety of an armchair. I rest my forehead against it's plushy surface and breathe deeply. It's meditation style breathing, deeply inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. If I keep this up for long enough, I can imagine my way out of this mess and into another place altogether.

Xav puts up a brilliant fight, but somehow Paul overcomes him. It all happens so fast - Josh has just managed to haul Jess out of the way before he turns to help Xav when Paul lets loose a blood-curdling yell. He hurls Xav to the floor and whips out a hand gun in one swift motion. We all freeze. Josh drops back down to the floor, instinctively moving to shield Jess.

"What the FUCK did you think you were trying to pull there, Xav-man?" Paul demands. He waves the gun around crazily as he talks and not only Xav's, but Josh's and my eyes follow its motion back and forth. It's like watching a bunch of people at the tennis. Well, if tennis was played with live grenades instead of fluffy yellow balls, then this would be like watching people at the tennis.

Paul's eyes dart around the room like a nervous mouse. "You're not all here. There's another one of you hiding out the back waiting to jump on me… aren't you… aren't you???!!" He raises his voice, screaming at the person he imagines is in the kitchen waiting to attack him. Actually, Bronte is still somewhere, but she's an unbelievably heavy sleeper. I wouldn't be surprised if she had slept through the initial furore and only awoken now to be too terrified to move from her position of invisibility. The idea that she would be planning to leap out at Paul is laughable anyway. Paul is no heavyweight, but Bronte wouldn't be able to arm-wrestle him, let alone knock him out while he's armed. Of course, these sort of rational lines of thinking are not within Paul's capability at the moment.

"Bronte! Bronte get your skinny little butt out here now or I someone out here is going to get hurt and it'll be your fault!" It's so strange to hear Paul speaking like this - he's the softly spoken one, nice, polite, educated Paul. Not some drunken truckie getting rowdy out the back of a roadside.

One of the bedroom doors creaks and Bronte slinks out into the living room in her silky blue PJs. Paul smirks. "Got dressed up for the occasion, eh? I feel so honoured."

Bronte flips him the bird. "Shut up you asshole. I've been listening to this whole thing and you're a freaking psycho." This comment is met with a pounding fist to the side of her head. Bronte isn't very bright sometimes. Her usual blunt manner isn't really the most effective way of dealing with this kind of situation. I feel sorry for her though - by the look on her face, it was a hard blow. Paul shoves the gun in her face. "One more word out of you and I swear to God…" he trails off and at least Bronte has the sense to keep her mouth shut. She huddles up to Xav, who puts an arm around her.

"Where'd you get the gun, Paulie?" Josh is obviously still functioning under the delusion that a part of Paul is still within reach of his childhood nickname. He watches Paul carefully, but I can see that a good portion of his attention is devoted to Jess. He glances down at her now and then and I wonder if she's badly hurt because he seems so concerned. "Paulie… the gun. Where'd it come from?"

A strange expression moves across Paul's face and he stares intently at the gun in his hand. He looks like a child who doesn't know the answer to a problem the teacher has presented to him. The moment passes and he snarls, "None of your business. You always have to stick your nose in, don't you, Josh? Always trying to run other people's lives because you're so perfect and in control."

"I'm not trying to control you, Paulie. I just never knew my little brother was messing about with firearms. I'm concerned." Paul's face actually softens slightly and Josh feels encouraged enough to continue in the same soothing tone. "Hey, Paulie, can I ask you something? Did you-"

With terrifying speed, Paul lunges at Josh, shoving the barrel of the gun up against his throat. Josh struggles to breathe as the metal crushes his trachea. Paul not only appears enraged, but quite anxious. "Don't say it!" he yells. "Don't you say it! You swore you'd never tell!" He releases the pressure on his brother's neck and Josh gasps. I'm amazed, but he manages to say, "but did you, Paulie?"

Paul's face twists into an expression that I can't identify. I have no idea what is going on here. The conversation doesn't make sense. One of my friends has gone completely wild, which is out of character to say the least. This has to be a nightmare - the illogical plot, the nonsensical conversations, the world turned upside down. Last night I dreamt I was being chased by a leopard. About a month ago, I dreamt I was fighting to keep a leopard out of the house. I remember wondering why I kept dreaming about leopards. Were they premonitions? Is Paul a leopard?

Paul sweeps a furtive gaze about the room to make sure no one is trying to pull any tricks on him and then hisses at Josh. "No. No I didn't okay. Are you happy? Does that prove your great big theory or something?"

"I just don't understand. Why, Paul?"

"Because! Because I'm trying to get this stupid bitch to take your sorry arse back!" He sweeps Jess up as though she weighs no more than a feather quilt. She's regained consciousness but is looking confused. Well, join the club, sister. "What is your problem, Jess? You love my brother, I know you do. You two are meant for each other. You're fucking perfect together goddammit. So you had some pathetic dumb arse argument over nothing. Deal! Take him back, take him back. You have to get back together!"




© 2003MC Hill & rischa arts