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Authors: Phil Cummings

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BOOK: Danny Allen Was Here
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Sam flew across the front of the iron. It bounced up before landing beneath him. Sam fell, head first, arms outstretched to break his fall. He fell toward the sharp edge of the iron.

The jagged edges of rusty iron ripped into the softness of Sam’s right arm and tore into the flesh of his bicep like angry teeth. ‘Aggghhhhh!’

Sam rolled and tumbled. He disappeared over a ridge in a storm of kicked-up sand.

Stunned, Danny and Mark stood as statues. They hoped to see Sam’s head, still attached to his body of course, bob up.

A second passed . . . two seconds . . . three seconds . . . nothing. Silence – but for the echo of cockatoos, sheep, crows and magpies.

Mark was the first to speak. ‘Jeez. That was some fall. He should be a stunt man.’ He turned to Danny. ‘I hope he’s not dead.’

Danny raced down. His feet stuck in the cool sand, slowing him.

Mark followed.

‘He might be knocked out,’ said Danny.

‘If he’s knocked out we have to carry him home,’ said Mark. ‘We can’t stay here in the dark.’

Danny looked back at him. ‘But you can stay. You’ve done it before. You can wait here and I’ll go home and get Mum or Dad.’

Mark’s face suddenly twisted and crumpled. ‘I’m not staying here!’

‘You might have to.’

Mark looked across the sand dunes to the darkening corners of the homestead. ‘No way! This place is haunted!’

Danny glanced back at Mark again, whose face was buckling – his eyebrows twitching nervously. The fear behind his eyes was obvious. They were darting and blinking wildly.

Danny kept running. ‘But you slept here! You’re not scared; you said you weren’t!’

‘No but . . . but . . . I . . . I mean I’ve done it once and that’s enough.’

‘But if you
have
to stay, you will, won’t you?’

Mark shook his head violently. ‘No, I won’t! I think we should get out of here as fast as we can. I mean, you see, I don’t think
you
should see the headless mum. And if Sam’s out to it then we can carry him if we have to.’

Mark was scared and Danny knew it. But it didn’t matter.

Danny was puffing hard when he neared the ditch into which Sam had fallen. His heart was pounding as he ran to peer over the edge.

The first thing Danny saw was a patch of redness richer than the sand.

Blood!

Danny’s eyes flicked to the glistening flesh of a gaping cut at the top of Sam’s right arm. He felt ill looking at it. He thought he was going to cry. The flesh looked just like he imagined the Miller woman’s neck might look.

Sam was clutching the gash.

‘Help me, Danny, quick.’

Danny jumped to Sam’s side. He pushed back big tears. Then came a sound that startled them both. A sad groan followed by . . .
thwump
.

Danny turned sharply, expecting to see a ghost in the half-light of late evening dropping her head at his
feet. But no. He saw Mark Thompson lying flat on his back with his mouth wide open and his arms spread, like a dead person.

‘What’s wrong with him?’ Danny gasped, his eyes darting in all directions. ‘It’s the ghost, isn’t it?’

Sam shook his head. ‘No,’ he said firmly. ‘He’s just fainted, that’s all. He hates the sight of blood.’

Danny was stunned. ‘What? But he said he’d pick my scab and that the woman had blood on her neck and . . .’

‘Don’t worry about it. You don’t believe everything he says.’ Sam grimaced. ‘Just help me. I need to wrap my arm.’ He looked across at Mark. ‘Hang on, I know, rip his old T-shirt off and we’ll use that. You have to wrap my arm tight, you know, like Mum says if you get snakebite, remember?’

Danny nodded.

He scrambled across the sand to Mark and found a hole in his T-shirt. He stuck his finger in and pulled. As he ripped he glared at Mark.
I bet he’s never slept at the homestead
, he thought,
or picked scabs or even ridden down the slide in the playground on his bike
. Danny ripped some more. He didn’t understand why Mark told lies. He didn’t need to; he could kick a ball over the Mundowie Hall and ride iron down the Everest Dune and make the best turns ever.

Danny ripped long strips of T-shirt off and handed them to Sam. Most of the front of the shirt came away easily.

The sound of the ripping didn’t wake Mark. He lay there, his chest and large jelly-like stomach exposed. Gurgling sounds bubbled from his throat occasionally.

Together, Danny and Sam wrapped the wound. Patches of blood stained the cloth like a map.

Sam looked up to the top of the darkening Everest Dune and smiled. ‘I can’t believe I surfed all the way down.’

Danny grinned. ‘Yeah, you looked just like a real surfer, even when you fell.’

Sam nodded. ‘Yeah.’

Their next task was to wake Mark.

They looked down at him. His shredded T-shirt hung around his neck. Danny could see the resemblance
to Mark’s description of the skin hanging from the neck of the headless ghost.

Danny enjoyed slapping Mark’s face. He and Sam laughed at how the cheeks wobbled.

Darkness was creeping in fast. The homestead was just a spooky silhouette when they managed to get Mark to his feet.

He didn’t mention fainting.

‘What happened to my shirt?’ he asked drowsily.

‘The ghost attacked you,’ said Danny.

Mark came quickly to his senses. ‘What?’

‘Just kidding.’

‘We had to use it to wrap this,’ said Sam, holding out his arm. ‘I might need stitches.’

Mark looked quickly away.

Danny looked at Mark, fascinated by the weird green tinge of his face. ‘Ever had stitches, Mark?’

Mark shook his head.

‘You know,’ Danny continued, pretending to thread a needle, ‘they poke a needle into your skin and pull that thread through . . .’

Mark moved away. ‘All right! Yep, fine,’ he snapped, swallowing uneasily. ‘I know! I know!’

They walked quickly over the hills and headed toward the creek. Some of the sheep followed. The sky was the deepest blue that comes just before darkness. The moon was a huge yellow ball sitting above the
treetops. Mark kept looking over his shoulder and imagining movement in dark hollows. ‘I wish those sheep wouldn’t follow us,’ he moaned.

Danny had never seen him so twitchy or nervous. Sam wasn’t afraid and that made Danny feel brave. He was braver than Mark Thompson and
he
could kick a footy over the Mundowie Hall.

Danny thought about the days ahead and how he could tell the world that his brother had surfed down the Everest Dune and nearly had an arm chopped off.
And
he didn’t faint when he saw blood.

Danny smiled to himself. And neither did I, he mused.

He thought that maybe if he and Sam came out and slept at the old Miller homestead one night they wouldn’t be scared. Danny wondered if Mark Thompson would come with them.

Danny looked at him waddling a little way ahead. A lone sheep wandered sneakily out of the darkness of a hollow and crept up behind Mark. Mark didn’t see it coming.

It bleated loudly.
Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh.

Mark jumped into the air! ‘Eeeeeyaaaaaaggghh!’

Danny didn’t know Mark Thompson could jump so high.

Mark ran, kicking angrily at the fleeing sheep. ‘You dumb, stupid, idiot animal!’

The sheep was in panic.
Bahhh, bahhh
.

Danny and Sam laughed hard.

At the crest of the hill overlooking the creek the few yellow specks of the lights of Mundowie came into view.

Mark was some way ahead. ‘Race you home,’ he called. And he was off.

Despite the fact that he had a head start and it wasn’t fair, Danny and Sam set off after him. Sam couldn’t move as quickly as he’d have liked. His arm hurt. Danny didn’t race off. He stayed by his brother’s side.

‘That’s not fair, Thompson!’ they called. ‘You got a head start!’

They could hear Mark laughing as he raced away. Ghostly white strips of his torn T-shirt fluttered from his round shoulders.

‘Losers!’ he bellowed.

3
Stanley the Ram

Vicki loved to laugh. ‘Ha, ha, ha! Faster, Danny!’ she cried. ‘Faster. It makes tickly feelings in my stomach. Ha, ha, ha.’

She was perched on the seat of Danny’s bike. Danny was standing, pedalling hard. They rode up the driveway and past a crowd of nervous chickens. Tippy was running with the bike. He veered away belligerently and sent the chickens scattering.
Yap, yap, yap
.

Vicki clasped Danny’s shoulders like an eagle clasps its prey. Her splayed legs were swaying awkwardly. ‘Hit bumps, Dan! Lots of bumps, go on!’

‘Don’t fall off if I do.’

‘I won’t.’ She gripped harder.

Danny was taking her to the playground to cheer her up. It was his mother’s idea. Vicki had been a bit sad for the few days following the death of Snot the frog. But it was over a week since he had died and she was still moping.

Sam told Danny that he thought she was just pretending so that she could get more attention. Early that morning he had been mean. Just after breakfast he told Vicki it was stupid to be so upset over a
frog
. ‘That was ages ago; you can’t still be upset. He was just a frog, for goodness sake.’

Vicki’s retort sounded funny. ‘He wasn’t just
any
frog,’ she said, with hands on hips and neck stretched at Sam like a curious emu. ‘He was Snot!’

‘Do you mean he was
not
?’ Sam chuckled sarcastically. ‘Or do you mean he was
Snot?

Vicki didn’t get it, she was confused. Her lips buckled. ‘Don’t tease,’ she said and ran off.

Danny was happy to cheer her up. Like Vicki, he had felt sad when Snot died and he knew how it felt to be on the receiving end of a cryptic Sam tease.

‘Hang on! I’m speeding up,’ he called, as he pulled
his bike into the weave of an uneasy zigzag. The wheels rumbled in the gravel.

They went out the driveway and across the road. Vicki swayed and teetered as she laughed. ‘Ha, ha, ha. Go, Dan, go.’

Danny was spurred on by the infectious sound of his little sister’s laughter. He pumped his legs and hit a pothole on purpose. Vicki bounced into the air. ‘Yay! Ha, ha, ha!’ She teetered but didn’t fall, her grip was so tight.

The bike was old and spattered with dry red mud. The rust spots over the frame were like the freckles on Mark Thompson’s nose. Beneath the layers of dust and mud it was metallic blue. It used to be Sam’s and before that it had belonged to their older cousin, Matt. Just because it was old it didn’t mean it couldn’t fly.

The floppy chain rattled and the pedals squeaked in rhythm with Danny’s pumping legs. ‘Hang on, Vicki,’ he called. ‘We’re going to hit another pothole!’ Danny imagined her face and smiled to himself. He lunged forward, gripped the handlebars until his knuckles were white and gave an extra hard push.

Vicki clung on. They hit the hole. Everything rattled and shook. With a little wobble and a lot of laughing, they continued down the gentle slope on the far side of the road. Danny crouched low over his handlebars like the cyclists in the Olympics. He pushed his legs with all his might. Vicki threw her head back and let
the wind lift her fine long hair, the same colour as Danny’s, from her shoulders.

They rode past the Mundowie Hall. Vicki waved to the soldier statue that stood guard at the front. ‘Hellooooo soldier statue man.’

Tippy stopped for a sniff on the steps of the hall.

‘Tippy!’ Vicki called. ‘Keep up, come on!’

He ignored her. The smell, whatever it was, was too disgustingly luscious. He lifted his leg and left a message for any other dog that might pass by – this was his town and they needed to know. Then he took off again. He was so fast, his little muscles were firm and his legs a blur. He caught up in no time.
Yap, yap, yap
.

Danny suddenly turned sharply and changed direction. Vicki nearly slid off the seat. ‘Whooooa!’

‘We’ll go the long way,’ Danny called.

‘Yeah!’

The route Danny chose took them along the main gravel road . . . past Thommo’s house and the church . . . then round a corner and past the cemetery. The Wallaces (old people like Danny’s grandparents) lived near the cemetery and right next door to the playground.

Mrs Wallace was a squat little lady with a ‘sunshine smile’, Danny’s mum called it – so big and broad that it lit up her whole face. Her hair was as white as white and she wore it the same way every day – short and
curled perfectly at her shoulders. She was famous for her cooking. Her meringues were good, but Danny agreed with Mark Thompson’s assessment that she made the best Anzac biscuits in the world.

Danny, Vicki and Sam called her Aunty Jean although she wasn’t their aunt at all. She was very friendly and kind, not only to the children but to Danny’s mum as well, who was often over visiting Mrs Wallace for a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Mr Wallace was taller and much rounder than Mrs Wallace. Too many Anzac biscuits was Danny’s guess . . . but she also made cake with thick, real melted-chocolate icing; maybe that was it.

As Danny sped past the cemetery Tippy ran off in search of rabbits. There were a lot of holes between the headstones. Danny felt sorry for the rabbits having to share a hole with dead people. Their little rabbit lounge room could very well be inside the rib cage of a skeleton. Or inside a coffin with a wormy, decomposed body, like that of old Mr Adams, who had died only two weeks before. Danny didn’t like to think about it, but sometimes his imagination, helped by gory TV shows, was just too strong.

Vicki’s hand wrapped suddenly around his throat, pulling him backward and taking his mind off revolting rabbit houses in cemeteries.

‘You’re choking me, Vicki!’

‘Ha, ha, ha. Sorry, I nearly fell off.’

When the Wallace house came into view Danny spied Sam and Mark. They were standing at the sheep pen beside the Wallaces’ driveway. They were pointing and laughing at something.

Danny pulled up next to them in what he thought was an impressive skid. Dust rose from his wheel. Vicki slid awkwardly from her seat. ‘Whoops!’

Sam and Mark took no notice.

Vicki wiped her eyes with a laugh and pulled at her hair. ‘Thanks for the ride, Dan.’

She skipped off to the playground, singing. She paused and turned. ‘You can take me back later.’ Then, without waiting for confirmation of her taxi booking home, she continued happily on her way.
Tra, la, la, la, la
.

Danny dropped his bike and walked up to the boys. ‘What are you doing?’

Sam pointed through the tall wire fence. ‘Look at that.’

Danny clasped the wire and looked into the paddock. There was a huge ram staring back at the boys. He was massive, with a thick woolly brow and huge horns.

‘Wow! He’s huge,’ said Danny.

‘You know who that is, don’t you?’ asked Sam.

‘Who?’ asked Danny.

‘That’s Stanley,’ said Sam.

‘Stanley?’ gasped Danny. ‘It is not! It can’t be.’

Mark nodded firmly. ‘It is!’

‘But look at him.’

‘Yeah,’ said Sam, wrapping his fingers in the wire of the fence and leaning. ‘What did you feed him when he was little, Anzac biscuits?’

Mark laughed.

Danny couldn’t believe his eyes. He had known Stanley when he was just a lamb. Something terrible had happened to his mum and she had died in a paddock.

Danny didn’t like to think of life without a mum. He had felt sorry for Stanley, and Mr Wallace didn’t want to lose him. ‘I need all the stock I can get,’ he had said. So Danny had helped Aunty Jean look after the little lamb. He was fluffy and hilariously clumsy, always tumbling over. Danny carried him a lot.

When it was time for a feed they would sit on the front step of Aunty Jean’s verandah. Danny would eat biscuits dunked in cups of farm-fresh milk and feed Stanley with a bottle.

Aunty Jean had put the finger of a rubber glove on the end and pricked the tip with a pin. Danny had to hold it still while little Stanley attacked it. He loved his milk and always gripped the bottle as if he were starving. His tail would spin like a helicopter blade and Danny would laugh at him.

After feeding they would sometimes play roly-poly games in long grass. After a while, for some reason, probably because of school, Danny and Stanley had lost contact.

Standing at the fence gazing in at Stanley, Danny remembered him being a strong little lamb but he had had no idea he would grow to be so big. His horns were massive. His wool curled tightly into a healthy thatch on his head. He looked pretty good for a little ram that had never had a mum.

‘He’s awesome!’ said Danny, sounding like a proud father. ‘I’m going in to see him.’

Mark grabbed Danny’s arm. ‘Don’t be stupid! He’ll tear you to shreds.’

Danny pulled away from Mark’s grasp. ‘No he won’t, he’ll remember me.’

Mark laughed mockingly. ‘Don’t be an idiot! Sheep can’t remember things! He’ll tear you apart if you go near him.’

‘How come you’re so sure he’ll attack me?’

‘Because he’s mad,’ said Mark.

Danny tilted his head curiously. ‘Mad?’

‘Yeah, haven’t you heard?’ Mark continued. ‘The kids on the school bus were telling me how wild he can be.’

‘I didn’t hear anyone say that.’

‘You don’t sit up the back.’

‘Who told you then?’

‘Ernie Critchley. He told me that when Stanley was in the paddock near their farm he hid behind a tree and waited for Ernie’s dad to ride past on his motorbike. Then Stanley charged out of nowhere and knocked Ernie’s dad right off the bike and sent him flying into the creek. Then he attacked the motorbike, punctured both tyres and walked off with the petrol tank stuck on the end of one of his horns like a trophy.’

Danny pictured Stanley in hiding and then Mr Critchley flying into the creek. That would be some feat. Mr Critchley was a
giant
of a man with hands the size of frisbees.

‘Yep,’ nodded Mark learnedly. ‘Stanley here is a bit of a renegade. He attacks anyone that comes near him. Apparently he butted old Mr Wallace and threw him up into the air with a single flick of his head. The poor bloke flew clean over his tomato patch, spinning and twisting. He landed flat on his back under the apple tree near his rainwater tank. That’s why he’s got a walking stick now.’

Danny put his fingers through the wire fence and clung on. He peered in at Stanley. He looked strong but he didn’t look mean.

Danny didn’t take his eyes off the big ram when he said, ‘I don’t believe you, Mark. He wouldn’t hurt
anybody. He’s as gentle as a . . . lamb. I know because I used to feed him.’

Mark picked up a stick. ‘Oh yeah? Watch this.’ He moved back a little from the fence and threw it at Stanley.

‘Hey!’ Danny cried. ‘Don’t do that!’

The stick hit the ram between the eyes. He snorted and lowered his head before charging clumsily at the fence. The boys all jumped back as Stanley head butted the fence with a dust-stirring skid.

‘See!’ said Mark. ‘He’s mad. He’s a menace. If he got out of there, he’d kill someone.’

With his brow deeply furrowed, Danny marched right up to Mark Thompson. ‘I bet you’d go mad too if some
idiot
threw a stick at you!’

Mark lifted his shoulders and frowned darkly. ‘What did you call me?’

Danny had never stood up to Mark Thompson before. He usually backed down. But not this time.

‘You heard me,’ said Danny, thrusting his neck forward like a turtle. ‘Don’t tease him.’

They glared at each other.

Sam broke the tension. ‘Look out! Here he comes again!’

Stanley thrust his head at the fence for a second time. The tip of one of his curling horns became caught in the wire. Distressed, Stanley pulled wildly, twisting
and shaking his head, trying to break free. The wire was tangled tightly. Mark laughed at Stanley’s frantic attempts to pull free. The fence rattled and shook.

Danny lunged forward. He reached out to the wild whipping of the sharp horns.

‘Danny!’ Sam cried. ‘Get back!’

Danny ignored him. He pulled at the fence, grabbed at the sharp horn and unravelled the wire. Stanley was free. Danny pedalled backwards, lost his balance and fell to the ground.

The huge ram snorted and spun himself, kicking and bucking, in a swelling cloud of red dust. Then he was suddenly calm and stared back at the boys.

‘Now leave him alone!’ Danny bellowed. ‘You’d better hope he doesn’t have a memory, Mark, because if he gets out of there he’ll have you.’

‘You’re as mad as that stupid ram, Danny Allen,’ said Mark, pushing a foot into Danny’s leg.

Sam grabbed at Mark’s grease-stained shirt. ‘Come on, Thommo, let’s go kick the footy. Maybe we can kick it over the hall.’

Mark Thompson turned sharply to Sam. ‘I don’t think so. There’s no way you’ll get it over the hall!’

‘You never know, I might today.’

‘Huh, no chance.
No
chance! Let’s just kick it between the trees near the statue. My hamstrings are sore anyway and I won’t be able to kick too well today.’

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