More silence as the Kombi trundled along Main North Road. Was this the trend for the road trip? Long awkward silences. Two brothers sitting side by side, itching to punch each other. Liesel itched to lay hands on Fox who squashed himself against the car door. And Minna opposite Günter, tried not to make too many calf-eyes at him, as well as trying her best to not nibble her nails. Was this what grown-up young people do for fun? Where was the excitement? The pillow fights? The Coca-Cola? Things go better with Coke, so the commercials say. And things in this mobile can did require better going.
A man dressed in brown walked on the roadside. He hunched over and stuck out his thumb.
Fox slowed down the van. ‘Oh, a hitch-hiker. Why don’t we pick him up?’
‘Are you crazy? No way!’ Liesel batted his arm.
Fox eased the Kombi to a stop. ‘He looks like he needs a lift. What the heck.’
‘What’re you doing?’ Liesel raised her tone.
But Fox continued to pull over to the side of the road.
Johann glanced back at the bug of the man settled on the tucker box. ‘Cup? You want a cup? Be my guest, they’re in the tucker box, I think.’
I sidestepped that idea and ran to the Kombi. The coke bottle, I’d use the coke bottle.
After emptying out the icky liquid, I raced to the other side of the van. I reached as far as I could on tippy toes. No use. I was just too short. I jumped. I tried climbing up the roof rack. Failed. No footholds to launch me up. I slumped on the edge of the road and cried. No one cared that we were in danger. Liesel had given up without even trying. She didn’t care. And worse, I didn’t matter. Me, a nobody. Thirsty and no one bothered to give me a drink. Aware that I was all alone, I sniffed. Nothing could make me happy, not even the smell of kangaroo steak wafting under my nose.
‘Oh, little girl, why so sad?’
I looked up to see Boris in his grey skirt towering over me. I was sick to the stomach, like I had eaten a cocktail of worms and cockroaches.
‘What is wrong my pet?’ he asked.
I shuddered but refused to answer.
‘Maybe I can help you.’
For a price, I thought.
‘Just tell me what you want more than anything in the whole wide world.’
I glared at him. Over my dead body. What is this man?
Tears blurred my view.
He extended an arm to me. ‘Anything, anything at all.’ his arm seemed so skinny; more like a tentacle than a limb.
I rubbed my eyes.
It crouched beside me. ‘Come on, you can tell me. You can trust me. I can grant you anything, any wish you have.’
Beside me perched a man-size cockroach. Its oily armour glistened in the golden rays of the risen sun.
‘I don’t think I need anything, Sir.’ I tried to stay cool and resisted the urge to recoil.
Its antennae twitched. ‘Anything. Just say the word. Your wish is my command.’
‘I want you to leave me alone,’ I said. All thoughts of thirst evaporated.
Its beady eyes bored through me into my soul trying to suck out all my goodness, my life. ‘My dear girl, I’d beg you to reconsider. With the gifts you possess, the universe is your oyster—if you follow me.’
I gulped. A cold breeze cut through me and as if I’d faced death itself; the Grim Reaper. I pushed myself up, and staggered from it. ‘No thanks, I’ll have none of what you offer.’
It reached out a spiny hand. ‘But you’ll—’
‘None at all.’ I dropped the bottle, and bolted to the campsite.