A young lady named Violet lazed on the floor of her lounge. Debussy decorated the airwaves and thin book on the hijinks of mole people sat in her hand while a cheap electric fan stayed the sweat from her visage. A man of similar age and similar face invited himself in and collapsed across the couch beside her.
“It’s too hot,” her brother James whined.
She offered a sympathetic ‘hmm’ and turned the page.
“I popped down to the corner store and back two hours ago and my soles are still melting. I had to pay extra for liquid nitrogen just so my icecream wouldn’t melt. Forget the icecaps, the frozen moons of Neptune are in danger of becoming puddles at this rate. Call NASA, the space program is cancelled until someone turns down the sun. Gotta get right up in there and replace the fuse on the big thermostat in the sky. Someone get Prometheus on the line, tell him we’ve had enough of this ‘fire’ nonsense and he needs to take it back. Oh by the way, have I mentioned it’s too damn hot?”
“If you’re going to spontaneously combust so noisily, can you do it somewhere else? Some of us are trying to embrace death by heat stroke with a little dignity.”
“Then I guess I have to respect your final wishes and let you evaporate into a puff of snooty vapour in peace. If you’re still here when I get back from the kitchen though then I’m afraid you’re just gonna have to deal with it.”
“And what kitchenward saviour have I to thank for this merciful, if brief, reprieve?”
“Icecream. Come on Violet, try to keep up.”
“Oh?” she perked up, “what flavour?”
“Well it was Rum and Raisin,” he said, voice muffled from inside the freezer, “but it turned out my research grant got rescinded and I didn’t have enough to get any liquid nitrogen after all. So I figured, as long as the whole tub is mostly goo, why not spice it up a bit?”
“What did you do? What did you do!?”
“Behold!” James slammed the tub down on the kitchen table and rubbed his hands in glee. “First, we started with the obvious stuff. Chocolate, strawberry, and caramel topping, half a bag of assorted nuts, and a bunch of sherbet sticks I found in the back seat of the car yesterday,”
“Alas, poor Rum and Raisin, I hardly knew ye.”
“Hang on, there’s more. After that I decided to raid your spice rack and grabbed all the stuff I remembered went good on desserts. Cinnamon, lavender, nutmeg, ginger, vanilla bean, paprika, and some stuff called fenugreek.”
“What possibly possessed you to add fenugreek?”
“It’s what they use to make Greek yogurt, right? There was some more stuff I tossed in after that, but I was in a groove at that point and just trusting my gut. They could have been anything.”
“Of course you realise I’m going to have to report you to the U.N. for your crimes against humanity.”
“Hush, no talking during the unveiling.” Butterknife in hand, James pried open the tub containing the substance formerly known as icecream.
“And?” Violet asked in anticipation.
“I. . . don’t remember it being this black when I put it in to set,” he probed the tub with a suspicious gaze, then skimmed the top with his butterknife.
Violet turned and watched in rapt attention. To miss even a single moment of the face her brother would surely make would be nothing short of having squandered every opportunity life ever gave her.
As soon as the stuff made contact with his tongue, James’ eyes flew wide. Yet he stood his ground and swallowed the sliver properly. His face contorted further, and Violet identified a number of colourful emotions including denial, guilt, anger, depression, and finally her brother came to terms with his lot in life and set the knife down with a look of stoic acceptance.
“Tastes kind of like vegemite, actually. Might go good on some bread,” he insisted unconvincingly.
“That’s as well as maybe, but if you recall you used the last of our loaf to fashion, as you called it, ‘the breadnought’ which you then mounted on the Roomba and used to befuddle our cats.
“Ah yes, good times. Say, you want some?” he gestured to the tub.
“Perhaps later. If I add in some turpentine it might make for a rather nice boot polish.”
“Well if nothing else we can leave it outside and see if it takes out the ants nest via chemical warfare.” James lethargically slapped the lid back on, made a token effort of straightening it, and then shoved the tub back in the freezer.
“If you’re quite done bothering me, can I get back to my reading?”
“Good lord, no,” he balked. “What kind of monster do you take me for? To suggest I would abandon you to wallow in my absence. I am shocked. Shocked!”
“Yes, of course, what was I thinking?” Violet rolled her eyes, “you would never be so debase as to force me to,” she shuddered, “enjoy a bit of peace and quiet.”
“Like Harold Holt always said, no peas until you finish your roast beef,” James returned to the lounge room and slithered back onto the couch belly-up.
“I believe it was Sir Francis Bacon who said that.”
“Since when did bacon have an opinion on food? That’s ridiculous?” He grabbed the fan by the neck and lifted it to his face.
“Hey,” Violet protested, “get your own.”
“No can do. I tried to overclock mine and fried the motor.”
“Then be a good boy and take responsibility.”
James opened his mouth to reply, but only managed a groan, then put the fan back down.
“See?” he said. “It’s so hot I’m out of banter already. I am de-bantz-ed. Bantzus minimum. Quantifiable amount of bantz remaining is zero-zero-zero-zero-zero-zero-”
Violet shut him up with a cushion to the face. James stopped moving, the object teetering on his brow. An angry electric hum came from his pocket. Without disturbing the cushion he slid his phone up to his face and hit accept.
“Y’hello? No! Legit? Yes.” He hung up and leapt to his feet with a holler, “Sis, we’re going to the beach.”
“That’s nice, have fun on your date,” she turned the page back and finally found where she’d missed her spot.
“May I remind you that the Terracotta’s AC is still busted and thus incapable of emitting air warmer than an arctic blizzard.”
“I’ll go get changed.”
The brick coloured claptrap of a vehicle, dubbed ‘the Terracotta’ by the siblings, rocketed down the highway. Frosty air blasted from the vents and Bet of the 90’s blasted from the speakers.
“I’ll remind you,” Violet declared, “that our previous ruling still stands. If you start singing along I’m hurling myself out this door and taking you with me.”
“Why sis, I would never violate our sacred agreement.”
“Don’t give me that I can see you mouthing the lyrics.”
“Purely a nervous twitch, trust me.”
“I’m watching you. So what made you suddenly crave sand in your shorts anyway?”
“ . . .”
“Look, I’m trying to find a way to put it into words, but quite frankly the English language just isn’t up to scratch. It only has, like, four words for snow, and doesn’t even have a word for schadenfreude, how can you expect me to explain such an esoteric quest as this?”
“It’s some gimmicky local performer you found on YouTube.”
“It’s some gimmicky local performer I found on YouTube. In the same way the Louvre is just a pile of carbon atoms and the double down is just a sandwich with chicken instead of bread.”
“The double down IS just a sandwich with chicken instead of bread.”
“See? You are a total Neanderthal when it comes to art.”
“This is coming from the man who thought Ben Hur was a commentary about seatbelt safety.”
“The symbolism was all there, Sis. Open your eyes.”
Violet harrumphed and turned to watch the roadside rush past. The age-old mental image of a little running man popped into her head, and she watch him leap and scramble over the trees, fences and powerlines that dotted the scenery.
“We’re here,” James declared as the Terracotta pulled into the beachside carpark.”
“You’ll have to go on without me. I have been bewitched by your tainted air conditioner and can no longer live without it. Bring me a blanket and a cup of hot milo, you can pick me up in the morning.”
With a click of his tongue James killed the engine, taking the AC with it, and opened the door. Violet recoiled from the blast of hot afternoon air that blew in after him.
“No, no! I’m melting! Oh what a world, what a world.”
“Whatever happened to that little dignity that meant so much to you earlier?”
“That was before I was seduced by the forbidden mistress of cool air. Alas, it was not meant to be,” she declared, and dragged herself out the car along with a beach brolly and her handbag. James grabbed an eski from the backseat, locked the car up, and the pair headed down to the sands.
Clad in a one-piece, sarong, and a sun hat, Violet pitched her beach brolly in a quiet patch of sand, close enough to feel the spray on her face but far away enough to avoid the tide. She then pulled out a chilled towel from the eski, laid it out, and lay down on it.
“Come on, you’re not gonna sit this one out after coming all the way here are you?” James, in yellow polka dot shorts, was already lathering himself up with sunscreen.
“Oh I’m sure the change of ambience is more than enough excitement for my old cat lady heart,” she said with a smile. “Now pass me the anti-daystar goop.”
“Unbelievable,” he shook his head, but still tossed her the sunscreen.
“So when is this internet curio supposed to be performing anyway?” she asked as she
“Sunset, give or take a downunder hour.”
“So anywhen between now and midnight. Alright, you do your thing and I’ll do mine. I think I spied some sportsball over on yonder dune.” She finished coating herself in sunscreen and, after wiping her hands, retrieved her book from her handbag.
“Alright, alright, I’ll get out of your hair and leave you to your weird looking-at-words witchcraft.”
The steadily cooling salty air and the irregular hush of the tides lured Violet to sleep, and as she dozed her thoughts flitted from horses made of clay and blankest woven from frost to a singing fish on the wall smelted from tubular bells keeping time for a march of uniformed lobsters.
A change in the breeze dragged her attention back to the real, and Violet cracked an eye open to the sight of James hovering over her, a black marker in hand.
“Nice try, broblerone,” she said with an edge of warning.
“Curses, foiled again,” her brother lamented in his best Snidely Whiplash. He stood, jammed his hands in his pockets and idly kicked the sand.
“Ran out of sports?” she asked as she glanced around for where her book ended up.
“Ran out of ball. Wilson is with the ocean now. RIP in pieces.”
“He will be shore-ly missed. So who won the game?”
“I’m afraid we tide.”
“Well, no need to be crabby about it. At reef you enjoyed yourself.”
“Okay, no. That was terrible. You’ve invoked a penalty.”
“Wha-“ Violet finished putting her book away and glanced up just in time to receive a splash of something wet across her face. She put her hand to her cheek and it came back black. In James’ hand was the marker from before, the tip removed and ink trickling from the hole. His face was a mix of mischievous accomplishment and growing regret.
Violent clenched an inky fist. James turned on his heel and ran.
“Get back here,” she snarled.
“It’s non-permanent,” he pleaded to no avail as she chased him into the ocean. He was the stronger swimmer, but righteous fury propelled her through the water.
“Great and ancient ocean, claim my foolish brother for the darkest depths,” she cried, and with a whooping yell she lunged. Knuckles met scalp, knees met sides, and there was a great wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The battle ended with no clear victor. Both combatants lay back against the mild tides, treading water and catching breath. Violet smirked, snickered, and then her voice erupted with laughter which fast proved contagious.
“God, we haven’t scrapped like that in years.”
“Yeah, not since … when was it?”
“School holidays, year nine. We found a fifty dollar note in a carpark and agreed to split it, then you went and bought yourself some new shoes with all of it.”
“Yeah, that’s right. You gave me a black eye and took the shoes for yourself. They were three sizes too big for you but you wore them anyway on principle. You spent the whole summer wearing like five pairs of socks.”
“That’s right. It got so bad people would evacuate the room if they even thought I was going to take them off.”
“Whatever happened to those shoes anyway?”
“Mum got sick of washing forty socks every week and gave them to salvo’s so I’d stop.”
The pair floated there for a while more in content silence
“It’s getting dark, and I’m getting prune-y. We should probably head back to shore.”
“Yeah, I think I’ve swallow a schooner of saltwater just bobbing here.”
The duo clambered onto shore, picking bits of seaweed from their arms and with water sluicing down their back.
“So I assume the metal drum of fire is where you curio is going to be performing?” Violet asked as she peered at the flame two dunes over.
“I’d say so.”
“Okay. I’ll see you there, I just want to make sure nobody filched my stuff.”
“Cool beans. Fare thee well,” James bid with a wave as they parted waves.
To Violet’s relief, not only had nothing been stolen, some passing stranger had been considerate enough to toss half the blanket over her handbag so no opportunists would notice it. Or maybe it was the wind. A strange wind, then, but there have been stranger still. Could never be too cautious though, so she evicted quiche, chips, and canned drinks from the eski to make room for her handbag, gathered them up and made her way to the burning beacon that beget entertainment.
Once there it was easy enough to pick out her polka-dotted brother amongst the small gaggle that had gathered. With just a bit of slinking between bodies she found a space beside him and handed over his share of consumables.
“Oh boy, dinner.”
“And just think, you have a whole tub of frozen vegemite at home for dessert.”
“Don’t remind me of that you’ll spoil my appetite,” he said. “The more time passes since its creation the more I’m not okay with what I brought into this world.” Despite his claims James didn’t hesitate at wolfing down his three mini-quiches in rapid succession.
“So where is our curio performer?”
“Over there,” he said between munches, “in the facepaint and striped shirt.”
“Where, behind the mime?”
“ . . . ”
“James. James did you drag me all the way out here just to see a mime.”
“Blankneto is no mere mime. Just wait.”
With snacks snug in the crook of her arm, Violet put her other hand on her hip and watched. After silently bidding everyone welcome and shaking a few hands, Blankneto —if that was his real name — procured from the back of his car a metal case, and from within that metal case came a long black box, which Blankneto set up atop a tripod. The box had a round antennae sticking out from the side and a straight antenna sticking straight up.
“Wait, is that-“
“One of those no-hands music thingamajigs, yeah.”
“-a theremin. They’re called a theremin, James.”
“Well if you already know, why did you ask?”
“I wanted a second opinion, James. I could have been wrong.”
“Sssh, it’s starting.”
The point of the act was readily apparent. A theremin is played strictly through gestures, and Blankneto’s pantomime had been choreographed to create its own accompanying music thanks to that. Despite the limited range of gestures that the theremin could pick up, Violet could follow gist of the performance. It began whimsical and merry, took a dark turn into melancholic, and after a deranged schism of melodic dissonance the final reprise was one bittersweet and hopeful. It was clumsy and unrefined, a work-in-progress at best, but Violet still brought her hand to her chest to quell a conspicuous ache.
The performance was shot lived, scarcely fifteen minutes long, and there was no encore. A few people clapped, most seemed satisfactorily amused by the novelty itself, but once Blankneto stepped back to recompose himself Violet marched forward, looked him in the eye and firmly shook him by the hand. Then, with a curt nod, she returned to her brother.
“That good, huh? To think, you doubted my taste in local talent. I’ll have you know I’ve been voted ‘most discerning eye in all the land’ five hundred years running. They actually revoked first prize from every prior contest winner to retroactively hand me every gold medal ever. They then vowed to never hold the contest every again just in case a clerical error caused it to go to someone other than me anywhen between now and the heat death of the universe. Many even blinded themselves out of shame, could bring themselves to still consider themselves as people with sight with how inferior their eyes were to mine.”
“Alright, alright, I admit you found a good one.”
Post-pièce de résistance the gathered gaggle mingled while Blankneto provided ambience in the form of theremin covers of pop songs and classic rock. James chatted up and down but Violet elected to just hover behind her brother, spacing out with her snacks and letting the time slide by. The night turned darker, the fire flitted, and the small crowd started to slip apart.
Her mind was brought back from the fairies by her brother’s hand on her shoulder, and he turned her to beam at her with the excited stare of a labradoodle with a pool noodle.
“You will never. Guess. What I just heard.”
“The moon is made of cheese after all?”
“They say just a bit down this beach there’s a cave in a cove haunted by ghosts.”
“Oh my, what a ghastly boast. A cove with a cave with ghosts?”
“Ghosts in a cave on this very coast.”
“Well after that caliber of limerick, how could I say no?”
“I thought a limerick had to have an AABBA rhyming scheme?”
“I didn’t say it was high caliber.”
“Hurry up and lets go,” James declared, and ran off down the beach. Violet followed at a leisurely jog, sarong trailing behind her. When they hit rock wall, they turned and hit the water, swimming out and around, sticking close, then James held up his arm and pointed.
“See that white tree? They said we go down here and the entrance should be right in front of us.”
“Underwater? It’s too dark to do that.”
“Relax, I bought one of these off them, see?” he held up his arm and a white pillar of a torch cut through the watery gloom. “Waterproof and everything.”
“So the same people who told you about this happened to have a waterproof torch to sell you? I think you got scammed.”
“Nah, trust me, they’re legit. I got a gut feeling. Trust me.”
“Okay. Lead the way.”
James grinned and dove down. Violet followed after. The saltwater stung her eyes but she managed to keep track of the glow of her brother’s torch and follow after. Down and down and forward and forward and finally up and up and up. They broke surface and gasped for air.
“This must be it,” James tittered excitedly, and flicked the flashlight back and forth in searching. “Hey, we can climb up here.” He paddled along the surface to some smooth-worn stone steps and clambered up. He then turned, got on his knees, and held out his arm.
Violet clawing through the water towards him and grabbed him by the forearm. With a heave he pulled her up beside him.
“Cold in here, innit?” James grinned and rubbed his goosebumps. “Hello ghosts? Are you around?” he called into the cavern.
“This is all starting to seem rather foolish,” Violet declared, straining to keep her teeth from chattering. “If something happens to us they’ll never find the body and then none of your funeral pranks can be pulled off.”
“Relax, we’re just going to take a quick look around. See? There’s a tunnel over here.” James twirled the flashlight and set off for the abyssal passage. The tunnel had a sharp downward slope before evening out. Violet kept pace close behind.
Muffled by the rock walls, the ocean outside sounded like the slurping and gulping of a supping goliath. Inside, water trickled down stalactites and hit the floor with a ploink, an incredibly slow-falling rain. Hissed whispers of wind beckoned from unseen cracks overhead.
An inhuman shriek lunged out from James’ mouth and he fell to his knees, clawing desperately at his back. The torch fell from his hand and spun along the floor, making the whole tunnel flash bright and dark.
“What’s wrong? What happened?”
“Big fat gob of icewater,” he hissed.
“Oh for goodness sakes, don’t scare me like that.”
“Come on, just a bit further,” he said and picked up the torch. “when I dropped this it looked like there was a chamber of some kind. I just wanna see what’s in there, we can call it a night after that.”
“Alright then, just a bit further.”
James stepped into the chamber first, and met what he beheld with but a quiet gasp. Violet came in after him and agreed shared the sentiment.
From one side of the round chamber all the way to the other the walls had been decorated with a sprawling red and brown ochre mural. Small spindly humans with nought but spears ran from, hunted, and triumphed over reptiles, birds, and beasts, some more than twice their size. James slowly dragged the light from one image to the next, and the siblings’ eyes gleamed in rapture at the millennia of history radiating from all around them. Compared to the weight of time, such things as fatigue and the cold were so insignificant they could no longer feel them. The only thing that mattered was burning these images into their minds forever.
Their reverie was shattered by cold water licking at their heels.
“Oh bollocks,” Violet exclaimed, “the tide is coming in.”
“We should really get out of here and back to the car.”
“If someone’s nicked the eski I’ll go mental, my bag was in there.”
The pair of them turned around and, with one last lingering glance behind, made haste back to the cave’s entrance. The ‘step’ they had climbed up was already completely submerged, and the water was sloshing around more than it had when they entered.
“I think a storm is brewing. We don’t have much time.”
They clambered back down. James misstepped and teetered forward but Violet’s arm shot out and pulled him back. With a nod, they double checked the torch and slipped underwater.
The swim back was tense and exhausting, with the choppy currents heralding the dark clouds that had begun to swallow the moon. Hearts surging with adrenaline they hit the beach running. Everyone else had already made for home, and with no small relief Violet found their stuff right where they left it. James grabbed the umbrella, she grabbed the eski, and they made a beeline for the car like the storm came for them personally. James’ hands shook and he fumbled with the car keys, and he sighed loudly with relief when the doors opened. Once he and his sister had hastily buckled up he took off and floored it.
Once they were on the highway home they turned to each other and laughed.
“What on Earth was all that about?”
“I know. It felt like we were trying to outrun a bomb or something.”
“Haha, yeah, or like we were being hunted ourselves.”
“Don’t jinx it,” chuckled, but her grin faltered all the same.
“Still, just think. If you can only get in there when the tide is just right, maybe we’re the only ones who know about that inner cavern.”
“You’re right, that is pretty cool.”
“ … ”
“ … ”
“We should call a museum or something first thing tomorrow.”
“Yes, yes, absolutely.”