Authors: Phil Cummings
âShane isn't dreaming and, whatever the doctor and his parents think, he's not going crazy. His brother David is back â and, like any older brother, he's a bit of a pain.
But Shane can't wait to talk to him and to have the family together for what almost turns out to be one last time!
If you've got a member of the family who's certainly no
, Phil Cumming's funny and engaging first novel is for you.
This book is dedicated to my brothers and sisters and to the memory of our dear brother David.
It was a still evening in late autumn. The air was cool and crisp. A lazy orange sun sat on the horizon like a big crinkled balloon. David lifted his face to it, closed his eyes and smiled. The cool air brushed his face, his hair and whispered past his ears. When he opened his eyes again he saw home: the red roof of the house, the dull grey shed, the lawn and the trees. His eyes began to water. He tried to clear them with a bunch of nervous, clumsy fingers. He looked again. The butterfly feeling he hadn't felt in his stomach for so long fluttered back to tickle
him. He'd forgotten that feeling.
As he looked at the house, his home, he knew things weren't going to be exactly as he remembered them. He knew things would be different but he wasn't sure how different. He wasn't going to be able to stroll through the door and shout, âHi Mum, I'm home!' He was going to have to be careful and stay in hiding until the time was right. To rush things would be foolish. He had to stick to his plan, take one step at a time and not get carried away with the thrill of being home again. Nearing the back fence, he saw his young brother, Shane, and suddenly realised how hard it was going to be.
With his eyes firmly fixed on his brother, he moved through the backyard. Shane was playing basketball in the driveway. He loved basketball, as did David. David headed for one of his old hiding places, a narrow gap between the shed and the side fence. It was a quiet, shadowy
place. A place for dumping things, like old broken chairs and rolls of rotting carpet. It had been one of his favourite places, a sanctuary for him when hunted by grumpy parents or annoying little brothers.
Without stumbling he made his way through the junk jungle to the corner of the shed. The junk, the shed, the overhanging tree made this a perfect hide for David. He could watch Shane safely here, without being seen. Craning his neck, he pushed his face through the leaves of the tree and peered out.
Shane was spinning, twisting and jumping in the late afternoon sunshine. His voice echoed a commentary to his imaginary game. David listened, amused.
âShane Hamilton has the ball now. Just look at this kid move. He's powering down the court looking for someone to pass off to. There's nothing on offer so he's going to have to go it
alone. He's outside the three point line. They need this basket. He's going to have to go for it. It'll take some shot from there. He's put it up! It looks good. YES! IT'S IN! HE'S PUT THAT ONE AWAY, FOLKS! What a player this kid is!'
David shook his head and chuckled as Shane imagined himself a basketball hero. The lights were on him. The crowd was cheering. The slow motion replays were highlighting his amazing talents on the giant screen in the stadium. He jumped about, giving his imaginary team mates high fives and continued with ravings about him being the best in the world.
David wanted to run out and give Shane a high five too. He wanted to be part of his game. He wanted to burst from his hiding place, steal the ball and bounce his little brother around in circles; like he used to. He'd loved doing that. âCatch me if you can,' he'd cry, and the game would begin. With fierce determination Shane
would jump and dive after David, his blond hair flapping like the broken tongue on his dirty old sneakers.
They'd play for ages. David was always in control. His age, size and skill were too much for his young brother.
Shane hardly ever got the ball but he'd keep going until, with his face bright pink and beads of sweat glistening across his top lip, he'd sulk off whining. âMuuuum, Daaaad. David won't give me back my ball.'
And in a flash David would be gone. He'd run to the side of the shed, sit on the frame of a broken kitchen chair and hide. Just as he was doing now.
Puffing, Shane stopped to rest.
David glanced around the yard. He couldn't see much. He looked skywards and headed for the top of the tree. He kept a keen eye on Shane. He sat himself on a leafy branch and
flicked his dangling legs about like he used to over jetties on fishing trips. He looked around.
Things had changed, but not much. There was a new pond near the front lawn and the trees were taller of course. The street looked very much as he remembered it. Mr Wilson hadn't moved the old caravan with no wheels from his driveway and Mrs Packer's dog was still yipping at nothing.
A cough from Shane pulled David's attention back to his young brother. He was trying to spin the basketball on the end of his finger but wasn't having much luck.
David had missed Shane, his giggling, his weak jokes his desperate need to do everything David could do.
âI can do that! Let me try now! I can do that!' he'd say.
At the time it had driven David crazy, but now it was something that made him smile
when he thought about it. It was strange to even miss being annoyed, but he did. He knew Shane had missed him as well. When he'd first left, he'd lurked about, listening to Shane sitting in his room. Shane would play games in a corner by his wardrobe. He would get all his superhero figures and line them up like his army. They would stand there in costumes and capes, with muscles flexing, and Shane would give them orders.
âYour mission,' he would say in hushed, secretive tones, âis to save David. We must rescue him and bring him back to base. I command you!' Then he'd march them all off to various dark corners of his room.
David had seen Shane play that game many times and the thing was there was never anything to save. There was no figure called David. Their mission was never accomplished, and the superheroes were thrown into a box in
anger by their commander.
âYou've failed!' he'd hiss. âYou've failed again!'
David didn't like listening to that game and he liked listening to the dreams even less. Shane had had terrible dreams when David first left. The calling out, the crying, the desperate reaching out and clutching at empty darkness.
âI've got you, David. I've got you! Grab my hand! Quick!'
David wanted to, but couldn't. It was too late. He wanted to help, to pull Shane from the nightmare, to tell him everything was going to be okay and that there was nothing to worry about. But he didn't know what to do. He didn't know what was happening to him. Suddenly, on that cold, cold night he'd been pulled away, far away, like paper pulled into a dark alley by a twisting wind.
A year had passed since then. It seemed longer: a lifetime.
David had learnt so much. He knew what to do now and couldn't wait to talk to Shane. To talk about things they used to do together, laugh about the silly things like Shane stuffing the tv remote control down the back of his pants and bouncing up and down in the chair to change the channel. And the teasing times at the tea table when flinging legs collided and mouthfuls of mushed food were displayed when Mum and Dad weren't looking.
David had missed Shane so much. Now he watched his brother push his hand into his pocket and pull out some bubblegum. Watched him stuff it into his mouth â one piece, two, three, four, five. Five pieces in at once! Shane chewed away like an old cow. His long jaw rotating, slowing, the bulge of bubblegum being pushed from his right cheek to his left and back again.
Shane's eating habits hadn't changed much, but he had. He was much taller and thinner than
he'd been before. His hair was a little darker and longer too. After all, he was nine now.
David remembered when Shane was born. What a fuss! Dad rushing out from the labour ward, scooping David up under the arms and swinging him around like a sack of potatoes. âYahoo! It's a boy! You've got a baby brother!'
But David hadn't shared his father's joy, especially when he'd seen Shane for the first time. He was an ugly little critter. He looked like an alien. He was yellow and his face was as crumpled as a dried apricot. He hadn't only looked revolting; he'd done some pretty revolting things as well. He'd thrown up on David twice in the car. David had been trapped in his seat belt with no way of escaping the gurgling mass. He'd got covered in it and the smell wouldn't go away. It was trapped in his nostrils for days and in the car for years.
David rubbed his forehead thoughtfully. It
was hard to imagine how much he'd missed Shane, but he had. And tonight he was going to talk to him when he was on his own, when everything was quiet. When his parents were asleep.
But what was he going to say? He'd have to handle this carefully or things could go terribly wrong. He was expecting Shane to be surprised of course. He was expecting him to be stunned. In fact he was expecting â¦ Well, he wasn't quite sure what to expect.
He gazed at his little brother blowing enormous pink bubbles. The leaves of the tree flicked across his eyes from time to time. He was very high up but heights didn't bother him any more. He watched the last orange rays of the sun illuminate a huge bubble Shane was blowing. POP!
David laughed as Shane began peeling gum from his eyebrows. He twisted up his face as he
tugged at the threads. It was like a sticky pink spider's web. As he struggled, Shane pulled a face in David's direction. David shrank back. Shane would see him tonight, not now. What a surprise it would be. David tried to imagine it. It was going to be wonderful. He would stand in Shane's room, with his skin glowing proudly in the darkness and say, âHey, Shaney boy! I'm back! Your big brother's an angel now!'
David was still sitting in his tree when darkness fell. He had forgotten how dark it could get this side of the night sky blanket. When he was alive he'd been frightened by darkness, or at least by the things he'd imagined might be lurking in darkness. But now, darkness was wonderful. Without it there would be no moonlight, no mystery, no star-filled skies.
He had some waiting to do and the show the stars put on made sure he wasn't bored. After a while he pushed himself off his branch and floated to the ground and into the house. He
didn't go straight to Shane, he would wait until his parents were asleep. The powers he had been given enabled him to be seen by only one person. David had chosen Shane as his contact. So, even if he wanted to, he couldn't show himself to his parents. It was good in a way, because he could float around his parents without them even realising he was there.
David spent the evening becoming reacquainted with their habits and mannerisms: their coughs, their sniffing, their expressions. He watched them wishing he could say something or travel back in time to make a memory real again. He would choose a birthday or Christmas. Maybe the mountain bike Christmas, the red mountain bike â a Banshee. Nothing had glittered the way things glittered that Christmas. It would be good to go back to that.
David floated up to his father. âDo you remember that Christmas, Dad? You rode that
bike more than I did.' He studied his father's face, searching for extra wrinkles. His dad hadn't changed much, except perhaps the colour of his hair. There were fine grey streaks appearing in his dark brown mop. That was okay. It suited him. His beard too was streaky. David grinned at his father and floated behind and onto his back. Every night he'd been piggybacked to his room and tossed onto his bed, laughing. David wrapped his arms around his father's neck and whispered into his ear. âYou know, Dad, if I could I'd lift you and whiz you up the passageway, glide you into your room and toss you onto your bed. You'd like that, Dad. I know you would.'
Of course, David's father didn't hear him, but he felt something. He frowned, rolled his shoulders and looked at his wife. âI've just had a fit of the shivers,' he said.
Mrs Hamilton looked at him strangely. âHave you?' she said, raising her eyebrows.
David floated over and spun playfully around his mother. He brushed past her, teasing her with the gentle feeling of his presence. David felt a soft warmth. A warmth he had felt at bedtimes when she sang to him in gentle whispers. A warmth he had felt at the hospital on his weak days when she rocked him in her arms. Mrs Hamilton shuddered. âOoooh, me too, Rob. I've just gone all funny.'
âPerhaps we're coming down with something,' said Mr Hamilton.
âNo,' replied Mrs Hamilton. âIt was just a draft.'
Mr Hamilton squirmed again. âHmmm,' he nodded.
David could've teased his parents all night with his tricks, but he didn't. After tingling them he sat with them. It was just as it used to be.
Time passed quickly and when bedtime came, David couldn't help but jump on his father's
back for a ride up the passageway. Mr Hamilton wormed and squirmed. He turned to his wife. âThat draft is back,' he said.
David jumped off halfway up the passage when he saw the door to his room. It was ajar. He walked slowly towards it, then hesitated. He wanted to go in and see his room just as he'd left it. He wanted to see the posters on the wall, his glow-in-the-dark space mobile hanging at the window ready to catch any breeze and his basketball cards scattered over his desk. He wanted to see Webster, his black goldfish, swimming about happily in his aquarium.
What if it had all gone though? What if everything had been cleaned out? What if there'd been a garage sale?
David eased himself through the half open door. The shapes he spied in the darkness were familiar. When he saw a pair of green alien eyes staring at him, he knew his space mobile was
still there. Feeling confident, he made his body glow to lighten the room. His basketball cards were sitting in a pile on his desk, wrapped in rubber bands.
He scanned the walls and the basketball posters bounced back into his memory. Everything was just as he'd left it, well almost â things were a lot tidier. There were no jumpers scattered over the floor, no shoe piles, no clutter on his desk and his bed was made. The only thing missing was Webster. He was gone, aquarium and all. David assumed he'd died and become an angel fish. Webster had been a good friend, a companion on the long nights when David couldn't sleep. He would sit and watch Webster swimming about for hours, and wonder all the time if he ever went to sleep.
David sat on his bed and looked at the space where Webster had once been. He was a funny-looking fish. His bulging eyes stuck to the sides
of his head. He had a weird swimming action as well. His tail never seemed to swish smoothly â it jerked in spasms, sending the little fish rushing across his aquarium when he seemed least to expect it. An image of Webster's strange little face peering out from his aquarium flashed into David's mind. He felt a desperate sadness wash over him and, as the image of Webster went away, David thought of his parents.
He sat up and took a deep breath. âIt's time to make contact,' he said stoutly. âI've got to let them know I'm okay.'
David walked into his parents' room and made sure they were sleeping. His father was snoring; his mother was restless. David leant over her. âSleep tight,' he whispered, brushing her pillow. She stirred as he left her and headed for Shane's room.
He floated in. It was a mess as always but
David didn't notice. The first thing he saw was Webster! He was jerking about in his aquarium on top of Shane's bookshelf. âHey Webster, you little whale!' David giggled, pushing his face up against the glass. âYou look great, little buddy.' David put a glowing finger into the water and tickled Webster's tail. Webster jerked happily on his way.
Grinning, David turned his attention to Shane. He looked down at his sleeping brother. He looked so sweet, almost angelic. David moved closer. âHow can someone who looks so sweet be so annoying?'
It seemed a shame to wake him but David knew it had to be done. He knew Shane would be the only one able to hear him but he still tried the soft approach. âPssstttt, wake up, wake up, Shane.'
There was no response: only a soft gurgling and snuffling.
Still only gurgling and snuffling.
David leant over close to Shane's face and whispered into his ear. âShane, it's David. Wake up! I've got to talk to you.'
Shane rolled over and moaned. âDon't â¦ no â¦ Dave â¦' he muttered.
âYou're not dreaming, Shane. This is real. I'm here. I'm really here. Open your eyes.'
With his feet shuffling under the covers and his back arching, Shane was struggling to free himself from sleep's dreamy spell.
David stood up and made his body glow. Fine threads of silver energy prickled from his form like a sparkler. âLook at me, Shane,' he called. âI'm right here.'
Shane turned onto his stomach, scratched his head and yawned. He mumbled grumpily and pulled his pillow over his head.
David put his hands on his hips. He was
becoming annoyed with his little brother, a feeling he knew well. âHey! Wake up, butt brain!' he called. It wasn't the sort of thing an angel should say but he knew Shane didn't like being called butt brain. It had always made him angry.
Shane's pillow started to move. Like a timid snail checking the weather outside its shell, Shane's head slowly slid from beneath his pillow. His heavy eyelids opened and closed slowly. He looked like a turtle. He had noticed light, unfamiliar light. It wasn't like the bathroom light or the hall light. It was soft and silvery. He pushed at his covers and began to unwrap himself. He kicked, he rolled, he wriggled. Eventually, he lifted himself to a half sitting position and leant on his elbows. With a crinkled face and straining eyes, he looked at David.
âHi there, Shaney boy!'
The shock almost took Shane's breath away.
He saw David standing at the foot of his bed in jeans, a t-shirt and old sneakers. His arms were folded and he was glowing all over like a new silver coin.
David spun himself round. âIt's me,' he grinned proudly. âI'm back. How do I look?'
Shane sat bolt upright. His tongue quivered inside his gaping mouth. A noise came out, a choking noise. His eyes were popping out of his head almost as far as Webster's.
David's silvery glow had filled the room with frightening shadows that stretched up the walls and onto the ceiling. They were surrounding Shane, looming over him threateningly. David just kept grinning. Shane just kept shaking. More gurgling noises bubbled from his throat.
âYou don't have to be scared, Shane,' said David. âI'm not a ghost; I'm an angel.'
Shane shook his head vigorously, like a dog shaking itself after a bath. He squeezed his eyes
shut then opened them again quickly, hoping the vision would float away like steam in a cool breeze. But no, David was still there, grinning. Shane pushed himself up the bed until he hit the wall at the bed head. He couldn't go any further but he kept pushing. He pushed with his feet, his outstretched fingers, his whole body. He hoped he'd wake up soon. He'd wake up and David would fade away. David would disappear and he'd think, âWhoa! What a wicked dream.'
Shane clutched at his sheets like a rock climber clutches a cliff face and his heart pounded its way uncomfortably up his throat. He swallowed. âGo away, you're not real', said the voice inside his head. âGo away, leave me alone. Get out of my head! Get out of my dreams! Get out of my room!'
David thumped his chest. âI'm real, Shane, sort of. I am here. I'm back!'
Shane shook his head from side to side and
tried not to look at the glowing vision of his brother. âYou're not real, you're not.'
David leant forward. âOh yes I am.'
âNo you're not. You're some kind of dream or something. You died a year ago. You got really sick and you died.' Shane couldn't believe he was talking to this vision, this dream thing, this figment of his imagination.
David moved closer to Shane. âThat's right, I did. But I've come back. I thought you'd be happy to see me.' He sat on the end of the bed.
Shane stood up and pressed his back hard against the wall. He turned away from David and looked towards his window. There was a small gap in the curtains. He could see outside. The sky was clear. He could see the moon, a crescent moon lying on its side like a big silver banana. He stared at it.
âI'm going to look out of the window,' he said aloud. âI'll just look out of the window for a
while and then I'll come to my senses. I'll talk to myself to clear my mind, that's what I'll do. It'll help me think of something else.' He took a deep breath and started babbling. âI think I like the moon when it's full. Especially when the sky is clear and there are all those weird shadows around the backyard. The shadows of the swings look like a space creature with tentacles I reckon.'
Shane ran his fingers through his hair. âNow, what other shadows are there?' This was working. He was thinking of moonlight, shadows and space creatures. If he kept going then the angel vision thing would, of course, fade. He focused on moonlight, shadows. More images were coming to mind. The claw-like shadows under the bare apple tree and the web-like pattern of the clothes line. Suddenly, his thoughts were interrupted.
âWhat do you think the apple tree looks
like?' said David. âAnd the clothes line: that makes great shadows too. Almost like a spider's web, don't you think?' David smiled smugly as he said, âI can read your mind, Shaney boy.'
Shane turned sharply and looked David in the eye. He stared, hard.
âI'm real,' said David. âBelieve me. You played basketball just before sunset, I watched you. You got bubblegum stuck all over your face, didn't you?'
Shane stared. He knew David's eyes. He'd always remember his eyes because of the joke. His mother called them hazel but David called them mud.
âYep, my eyes are still the same colour,' said David, pulling the skin under them down to his cheeks. âMud.'
Shane kept staring and leant forward just a little. âDavid,' he said softly. âIs it really you? Are you really back?'
David nodded excitedly. âIsn't it great? I can hardly believe it myself. I can't hang around for too long though.'
Shane slid down the wall and slumped onto his bed. âBut this is crazy. I'm just dreaming. I must be.'
David bounced down next to him. âOh no you're not. Just ask a question, any question. You must have loads of them.'
David was right. Shane had asked himself thousands of questions over the past year but in his stunned state he couldn't remember one. He tipped his head back and rested on the wall. He had a question. He looked at David and frowned. âHow did you get to be an angel?'