The War of Wind and Moon, Chapter Three
Tak had missed home-room to meet with the soccer coach and as he made his way to Japanese class, the corridors were buzzing. Something had happened with Julian at the year 12 lockers. Tak rolled his eyes. Something was always happening at the lockers with Julian-usually to some poor kid. Until Year 9, when he’d returned from Summer holidays the tallest kid in the class instead of the smallest, Tak had often been that poor kid. He wasn’t interested in giving Julian any more attention but as he entered the classroom and made his way to his regular seat in the back row, Connor’s wide eyed grin told him he was going to be informed anyway.
“Hey, Con. I’m not interested in whatever Julian’s done now.”
But Connor couldn’t keep it in. “The new girl hit him!”
Tak did a double-take. The new girl? Couldn’t be. Not polite little Mia. “What new girl?”
“Mary or Mia or something. She was at her locker and Julian comes up behind her, puts his hand on her shoulder and she just whizzes around and smacks him! No warning. Nothing!”
“Smacked him? Like – in the face?”
“Yes!” The word was so high pitched, it was barely audible. Tak understood Connor’s joy, their friendship had been born under Julian’s fists but he found what he was hearing hard to reconcile with the demure girl he’d left at Kostopoulos’ office forty minutes ago. “You saw this?”
“Well. No. But Chris did – Chris!” He threw a pen at Chris Lockwood who looked up from the huddle at the row in front of them. “You saw her hit him, right?”
“Yeah!” Chris beamed and straddled his chair backwards, rocking it forward to give the pen back and confide what he witnessed. “Well. I saw him stumble and I looked over and she was standing there with her fists up and this fierce look on –” Chris’ neighbour slapped his back. A hush fell over the room. Julian had entered.
Tak didn’t see any physical sign of Julian having been hit in the face but he was definitely not a happy camper. He stopped in the doorway, took a breath and opened his mouth but said nothing and closed it again. Shaking his head, Julian grunted and made his way to his seat at the other side of the last row.
The hush remained but the glee was palpable. Tak felt a touch of it himself but it was overwhelmed by curiosity. Surely she hadn’t just hit him out of the blue? Julian must have done or said something other than just tap her on the shoulder. He hoped she was alright. He also felt a spark of pride but that was irrational, he hardly knew Mia at all. Still, he knew something about her that the rest of the kids didn’t know – at least until their teacher walked through the door leading Mia behind him.
“Sorry I’m late everyone. I was getting to know our new student. This is Mia.”
Mia nodded at the front couple of rows and pressed her lips together in a n0n-committal smile.
Furuta-sensei set his satchel on the teachers’ desk and began pulling books out. “Take a seat, Mia.”
Mia scanned the room and, to Tak’s shame, his classmates feigned reading or otherwise avoided her gaze. They may have been thrilled to see their bully taken down a peg but they weren’t willing to side with the girl who had done it. Tak raised his hand and ignored Connor’s elbow in the ribs. “Mia. Over here.”
He regretted it almost instantly as a movement to his right caught his attention. Julian had snapped his head round and was sneering as Mia smiled and took a step toward them. Tak had been trying to help but he’d only succeeded in giving Mia another mark against her in Julian’s book – being Tak’s friend.
But before she reached the second row, Mia spotted Julian and the death-stare he was aiming at Tak and again she proved better able to take care of herself than Tak had given her credit for. She stopped, searched the middle rows and took the nearest, isolated seat instead. Unfortunately, it was directly in front of Julian but at least it wasn’t next to Tak. Not that snubbing him appeared to have helped. Julian’s tight-jawed expression didn’t change. His eyes bored hate into the back of Mia’s skull. Tak had been on the receiving end of that look too many times. Mia was going to pay.
Mia’s Gossip was already paying. Being bound to one human, domesticated Gossips did not follow the swarms that wild Gossips did and they became accustomed to a certain amount of personal space. But for a small safety buffer around the Gossip’s branded stomach, it had no space now. Every Gossip in the school was either in the Japanese class or pressing up against windows and doors jostling for a chance to squeeze inside. But it didn’t have to bear the crowded room for long. Its belly filled fast as Mia silently berated herself for being so stupid as to antagonize the school bully on her first day. The pain of a full belly was almost a relief, allowing it to flee the scene.
Returning to its masters from a new location was always tricky. In ancient times, and not even that long ago, there was a church or religious building with a cemetery in every village. Now, large cities like Melbourne tended to centralize their burials in cemeteries on the edge of the suburbs, an edge that moved as the cities expanded. The cemeteries of inner Melbourne were mostly closed and had not seen a burial for some time, so no-one visited to keep the gateways open. Memorial statues or buildings would also suffice but so few people paid attention to them outside of ANZAC Day or Remembrance Day that their gateways were only open for a couple of weeks in April and November.
But the Gossip’s brand was pulsing, responding to a soft-spot somewhere not too far away. The Gossip located the familiar mix of loss and hope that marked a gateway and set out east. Following the emotion, it left behind the shopping strip the High School backed on to, passed over the brick landscape of St. Kilda’s apartment blocks, and on into the leaf and lawn of Caulfield North. There. A gaggle of wild Gossips were zeroing in on the emotion, too, descending toward a cream-coloured house with an enormous Lilli Pilli tree in the backyard. In the living room of the house, a four-year-old boy sat crying in his mother’s lap. But Mia’s Gossip wasn’t looking for the source of the grief, it was looking for the piece of soul the boy was missing. It found it shimmering under the soil beneath the tree, under a tiny memorial made of icy-pole sticks. The boy’s love for his guinea pig was holding the gateway wide.
Already white-hot, the Gossip’s brand flared, sending a burning, crackling finger of magic toward the little grave, linking with its masters’ gateway on the other side. The Gossip had no choice but to allow the magic to take over, tugging at it, distorting its form as it yanked it through belly-first. Then, just as the pain was almost unbearable…it ceased. The hunger for emotion, too… gone. The fog that descended upon the Gossip’s thoughts in the physical plane lifted and it could think clearly again.
This was the astral plane, the plane between realms where souls waited to be reborn in some new body into the physical realm, or move on to the next part of their journey, in the Afterworld. Except, neither of those had happened to the Gossip when it had first visited this plane – they might have, if it had lived a less selfish human life. Instead, when it had arrived here, freed of its physical body, it had been spat out again, a disembodied spirit in the physical realm, cursed to seek the emotions of others in a vain attempt to feel as close to whole again as it would ever be.
When the Gossip had been wild it had never entered this plane, never faced that understanding. As its masters’ magic pulled it through the astral plane and back into the physical plane through their own gateway, it embraced the return of the pain; the return of the hunger that remained no matter how full of Mia’s emotions its belly became and the fog that allowed it to forget.