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Authors: John Marsden

The Third Day, The Frost

BOOK: The Third Day, The Frost
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Macmillan Australia

John Marsden’s website
can be visited at:

First published 1995 in
Macmillan by Pan Macmillan Pty Limited

This Pan edition
published 1996 by Pan Macmillan Pty Limited

Market Street

, Sydney


Reprinted 1996, 1997
(three times), 1998 (twice), 1999 (five times), 2000 (four times),
2001 (twice), 2002, 2003, 2004 (twice), 2005 (twice), 2006 (twice),


Copyright © JLM Pty Ltd


The moral right of the
author has been asserted.


All rights reserved. No
part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or
entity (including Google, Amazon or similar organisations), in any
form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including
photocopying, recording, scanning, or by any information storage or
retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the


National Library of

cataloguing-in-publication data:


Marsden, John,

The third day, the


ISBN 978 0 330 35668


I. Title.




Printed in Australia by
McPherson’s Printing Group


The characters and
events in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to real
persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


Papers used by Pan
Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd are natural, recyclable products made
from wood grown in sustainable forests. The manufacturing processes
conform to the environmental regulations of the country of

To my sister and long-time



‘The third day comes a frost, a killing frost

King Henry VIII,
William Shakespeare



Chapter One

Chapter Two


Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six



Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten





















Many thanks for help generously given by
Lizzie Farran, Lachlan Dunn, Dallas Wilkinson, Rob Alexander, Peter
Stapleton, Heidi Zonneveld, Hayley Reynolds, Anne O’Connor, Rebecca
Dunne, Lauren Sundstrom, Robert Rymill and the Bell family.

The first reader of this trilogy was Julia
Stiles, and I treasure the memory of her wonderful support and

Chapter One

Sometimes I think I’d rather be frightened
than bored. At least when you’re frightened you know you’re alive.
Energy pumps through your body so hard that it overflows as sweat.
Your heart – your heart that does the pumping – bangs away in your
chest like an old windmill on a stormy night. There’s no room for
anything else. You forget that you’re tired or cold or hungry. You
forget your banged-up knee and your aching tooth. You forget the
past, and you forget that there’s such a thing as the future.

I’m an expert on fear now. I think I’ve felt
every strong feeling there is: love, hate, jealousy, rage. But
fear’s the greatest of them all. Nothing reaches inside you and
grabs you by the guts the way fear does. Nothing else possesses you
like that. It’s a kind of illness, a fever, that takes you

I’ve got my tricks for holding fear at bay. We
all have, I know. And they work in their own ways, some of the
time. One of my tricks is to think of jokes that people have told
me over the years. Another’s the one Homer taught me. It sounds
simple enough. It’s to keep saying to yourself: ‘I refuse to think
fear. I will think strong. I will think brave.’

It helps for mild fear; it’s not so good for
panic. When true fear sweeps in, when panic knocks down your walls,
no defence can keep it out.

The last two weeks I spent in Hell were solid
boredom; the kind of time you long for when you’re terrified; the
kind of time you hate when it’s happening. Maybe I was a fear
junkie by then, though, because I spent a lot of time lying around
thinking of dangerous things we could have done, wild attacks we
could have made.

These days I don’t know whether I’m murderous,
suicidal, addicted to panic, or addicted to boredom.

I wonder what happened to the people who were
in the world wars, after the fighting was over? They were mostly
men in those wars, but there were plenty of women too. They weren’t
necessarily soldiers, but you didn’t have to be a soldier to be
affected by it all. Did they press their ‘Off’ buttons on the day
peace was declared? Can anyone do that? I know I can’t do it. I
seem to be getting used to the way my life’s gone lately, from
total frenzy to total nothing. But I often dream of the regularity
of my old life. During school terms my days always started the same
way: I’d have breakfast, cut my lunch, pack my schoolbag and kiss
Mum goodbye. Dad’d usually be out in the paddocks already, but some
days I’d get up early to have breakfast with him. Other days when I
got up at my normal time he’d still be in the kitchen, toasting his
backside against the Aga.

For years – as soon as I was big enough for my
feet to reach the pedals of a car – I’d driven myself to the bus.
Kids living on properties can get a special licence to drive to
school buses, but we never bothered with that. Dad thought it was
just another stupid bureaucratic rule. From our house it’s about
four k’s to the gate on

Providence Gully

. It’s not our front gate, but it’s the only
one on the school bus route. Like most people we had a ‘paddock
basher’ – an unregistered bomb – mainly for kids to use, or for
stock work. Ours was a Datsun 120Y that Dad bought for eighty bucks
at a clearing sale. Usually I took that, but if it wasn’t going
properly, or if Dad wanted it for something else, I’d take the Land
Rover, or a motorbike. Whichever it was, I’d leave it sitting under
a tree all day while I was at school and I’d pick it up again when
I got off the bus.

School was OK and I enjoyed being with my
friends – the social life, the goss, the talking about guys – but,
like most rural kids, living on a farm took up as much energy and
time and interest as school did. I’m not sure if that’s the same
for city kids – sometimes I get the feeling that school’s more
important for them. Oh, it’s important for us too, of course,
especially nowadays when everyone’s so worried that they won’t be
able to make a living on the land, won’t be able to take over their
parents’ places the way they used to assume they would. Every
country kid these days has to think about setting up in some other

What am I talking about? For a few minutes
there I was back in peacetime when our biggest worry was getting a
job. Crazy. Now those dreams of becoming brain surgeons, chefs,
hairdressers and barristers have gone up in smoke. Smoke that
smells of gunpowder. The dreams now were simply of staying alive.
It’s what Mr Kassar, our Drama teacher, would call ‘a different

It’s nearly six months since our country was
invaded. We’d lived in a war zone since January, and now it’s July.
So short a time, so long a time. They came swarming across the
land, like locusts, like mice, like Patterson’s Curse. We should
have been used to plagues in our country but this was the most
swift, sudden and successful plague ever. They were too cunning,
too fierce, too well-organised. The more I’ve learnt about them,
the more I can see that they must have been planning it for years.
For instance, the way they used different tactics in different
places. They didn’t bother with isolated communities, or the
Outback, or scattered farms, except in places like Wirrawee, my
home town. They had to secure Wirrawee because it’s on the road
from Cobblers Bay, and they needed Cobbler’s Bay because it’s such
a great deep-water harbour.

But Wirrawee was easy enough for them. They
timed the invasion for Commemoration Day, when the whole country’s
on holiday. In Wirrawee that means Show Day, so all they had to do
was grab the Showground and they had ninety per cent of the
population. But to take the big towns and cities they needed a bit
more imagination. Mostly they used hostages, and for hostages
mostly they used children. Their strategy was to make things happen
so fast that there was no time for anyone to think straight, no
time to consider. At the slightest delay they started blowing
things up, killing people. It worked. Those political rats, our
leaders, the people who’d spent every day of peacetime telling us
how great they were and how we should vote for them, felt the water
of the drowning country lapping at their ankles. They took off for
Washington, leaving chaos and darkness behind.

Yes, it was cunning, it was brutal, it was

And because of them – or because of our own
apathy and selfishness – our peacetime ambitions had been
vaporised, and we suddenly found ourselves living lives of fear and

Fear and boredom weren’t our only emotions, of
course. There were others: even pride came sneaking in
occasionally. In mid-autumn, just five of us, Homer, Robyn, Fi, Lee
and I, had launched our biggest attack. We’d used gas to blow up a
row of houses where a major command post had been based. We’d
beaten the odds and caused an explosion that would have registered
eleven on the Richter scale. There was no mushroom cloud, but it
had everything else. That was spectacular enough, but we didn’t
fully realise what we’d done till afterwards. We’d struggled back
to our mountain hideaway, intending only to detour for some food,
and had made the terrible discovery of the body of our friend
Chris. We’d brought him with us and buried him in our sanctuary,
the wild basin of rock and bush known as Hell. And there we’d
stayed for weeks, gradually made aware by the ferocity of the
search for us just how far we’d promoted ourselves on the most
wanted list. We were scared by the toughness of the search. With no
access to news – except for occasional radio bulletins from other
countries – we had no way of finding out who we’d killed or what
we’d destroyed. But we were obviously in more trouble than a dog in
a mosque.

When the search calmed down and the hunting
helicopters returned to their lairs we calmed down a bit too.
Still, we were in no hurry to do anything rash. We stayed in our
bush home for a few more weeks. With plenty of food – even if there
wasn’t much variety – we lay around and ate and slept and talked
and had bad dreams and shook and cried and jumped up trembling at
sudden rustles in the undergrowth. It affected us all in different
ways. Lee got a nervous twitch, especially at night, that pulled
the right side of his mouth up towards his eye every time he spoke.
And when we made love, even though he said he enjoyed it and he’d
start off all excited, his body wouldn’t do what he wanted it to

What I wanted it to do. What we both wanted it
to do.

Robyn stopped eating and sleeping. She’d
always been nicely plump and round but she starting getting skinny,
fast: the kind of ugly skinny that I’ve always hated in my friends.
‘You think you’ve got problems,’ she said to me one day when I lost
my temper over a can-opener that wouldn’t work. ‘I’m a paranoid
anorexic insomniac.’

It was one of our few jokes. Only it wasn’t
very funny.

Homer sank into a silent depression and went
for days at a time without a word to anyone. He spent hours sitting
on a rock looking up at Tailor’s Stitch, and it seemed like the
only time he used his voice was to have a tantrum. His temper,
which had always been edgy, was now out of control. When it came to
arguments I’d always matched Homer yell for yell, but for a few
weeks there I joined the others and melted away into the bush when
he exploded.

Me, I sort of did a bit of all those things,
plus some. My particular specialty was flashbacks that were so
lifelike I was sure they were real. I’d smell something and that’d
set me off. A bit of plastic on the fire at night and the next
thing I was back in

Buttercup Lane

and the air was full of burning rubber as
trucks slid into each other on screaming tyres. My mind couldn’t
tell what was real and what wasn’t. It was like having nightmares,
except that I was awake. Sweat ran down my face so fast my eyes
would be stinging; then I’d be gasping, and then hyperventilating.
Needless to say, I had nightmares when I was asleep too, till I got
scared of going to sleep. It’s so long since I’ve had a good
night’s sleep I can’t even imagine any more what it’d be like, but
I dream of it – daydreams, that is – and long for it.

The one who handled it best of any of us, at
that stage, was Fi. Fi was so lightly built that she looked like a
grasshopper. She was all leggy. Maybe that was why I always thought
of her as frail, easily broken, needing protection. But she had a
strength that I could never quite figure out. I don’t know where it
came from, or where she stored it. How much heart could she fit
inside her little frame? How tough could that balsawood body be?
It’s not that she had no feelings. Fi had always been
mega-sensitive. She seemed strung like a violin: the slightest
touch made her vibrate. But the terrible things we’d done didn’t
eat away inside her like they did the rest of us. She rose above
them. One reason, maybe, was that she was so sure we were doing the
right thing. She was proud of what we’d done. I felt pride
sometimes but, truth to tell, I never knew whether to be proud or

For all that, when the call for action came
again, we answered it. Maybe we answered like robots, programmed to
kill and destroy but we answered.

BOOK: The Third Day, The Frost
12.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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