My baby brother Peter was born with his hands clenched into fists, his face screwed up like a turnip freshly clutched from the earth and his nose blooming like a purple bruise. I was there looking at the ball of red, red noise and could feel his panic. I could feel him burning. Everything started to burn and spit, it was all on fire and I had lived four years without seeing a flame so bright. Now I saw red, red, red but no one else could see it. No one but my brother writhing and hollering in the blanch-white cloth and I, I, I, my ears were burning, they were a hundred raging red-orange flames. They were licking the soft skin above my earlobes and reaching for my hair which was floating in the air like a thousand gasping, reaching wick ends. I was there, I was tinder, I threw up all over the faded green linoleum floor and it doused the embers in the sudden flood.
My brother tells me he can talk to the sun and I don’t believe him until he opens his hand and shows me the flame that’s burning on his palm. He is 6 now, a burning yellow-gold boy. He tells me he’s frightened of the way the sun talks, he says the sun makes a hollow sound like suspense, just before it arrives. He said the sun’s voice comes closer and closer and it’s like when you look into the sun too long and it starts teetering at the edges of black and white. He says it is hot, too hot, and the words leave him freckled, they burn little full stops into his skin. I’m in his room, we’re playing with little plastic toy animals. There is a fox, a wolf, a horse, a cat and an octopus. I’m playing with the octopus because it has suction cups so can stick to certain things. I’m throwing it at the fake moon hanging from my brother’s ceiling and I think ’this is why suction cups.’ When I un-stick the tiny plastic molds one by one they made a schllll-uck popping sound.Then I hear a schllll-uck that isn’t from the octopus, it’s from my brother because all the air has suddenly escaped him. He’s pale, all the red is gone, he’s only left with the blinding white light, so white it’s black then white again then both at once, everything at once (or nothing). “The sun is coming” he says and his eyes are wide like burning bright sun as well. “Livvy!” He gasps at me as if I could save him but I don’t know what to do, I am frozen like I had just been thrown against a wall and then held there by my own suction cups. This is why, this is why. ”Livvy I can hear it!” His voice is high and fast and I feel even more frightened. I can feel a strange vibrating, the kind you feel from a very, very low noise, I can feel it in my chest like my heart is a motor. It feels suddenly darker and then the light starts disappearing from the room but Peter’s eyes are growing brighter and brighter while I am suctioned to the wall with my heart about to take off and my mouth frozen, looking like an acorn in the snow. The whole room is vibrating now, the fake moon is spinning. My brother’s body with it’s bright eyes, is motionless in the middle of it all and it scares me more than when he was calling my name. “Peter!” I half-sob and fall to the floor. I grab his hand and it is so hot that it’s burning my own but I pull and pull and call his name again. My heart is beating so hard now that I can feel it hollering in my ears, screaming for me so that I don’t have to open my frozen-acorn-mouth. His body suddenly jerks and pulls his hand away from mine and the darkness rushes out of the room. Everything is normal again, the only pieces of evidence that anything strange had taken place are my brother’s eyes rushing over everything making sure the sun had gone, and the bright red burn mark, a hot lick on my palm.
I start to think I imagined it all until I look down at the tomato red stain on my hand. Also I can’t get the image Peter’s bright, bright, burning frightened eyes out of my head. I think about how he’s my little brother and I should be protecting him from these sorts of things. I start wishing I had the little toy octopus to play with again, pulling the suction cups away one by one helped me think straight. Then I think about the fake moon and then the howling that sometimes reaches the edges of our property and of course, of course.
“Petey?” I look in his room, he’s hard to find sometimes. My brother is like an ember, flickering in and out, you have to find the right words to say to make the oxygen move in a certain way otherwise he goes out altogether and you’ve lost him for days. “Petey, it’s just me, are you in here?” There. I see him playing with the plastic animals under his bed. I lay on the floor, my right ear pressed against the scratchy carpet fibres. In school they taught us to keep our heads close to the floor in a fire because pockets of oxygen hide there, for weeks I saw the carpet inhale. I start to try and hold my own breath to see if I can hear the carpet sighing but then I remember. “Pete?” He’s playing with the wolf and the cat, he turns the cat toward me, “Mew?”
“I think I’ve thought of a plan.”
His bright eyes flash at me.
“I think we should hide from the sun, I think if we hid long enough it would forget you and would leave you alone.”
“How could we hide from the sun?” His voice sounds like heatstroke.
“I think we should go and live with the wolves.”
“These ones?” He turns the wolf to face me now, the cat left lying on it’s side.
“Yes those ones.” I smile to make it look like I knew exactly what I was talking about. I didn’t though, I wasn’t completely sure the wolves would let us live with them but I had read some books about a girl who learnt to talk to animals and the wolves from that story seemed like brave things and if we were living in the night we would need something to protect us.
“The wolves always howl at the moon you see, if we want to hide from the sun it would be best to do it with animals who are friends with the moon.”
“What about mum and dad though?”
I had thought about that too.
“They aren’t coming back for another few months, I think that will be enough time.” Our parents travel a lot, we are left to be looked after by our only neighbour and they hadn’t noticed how old she had gotten. She slept as much as her cat, I often would go over just to find her curled up in a puddle of sun.
Peter asks if he should pack anything but I say we should make it look like we were still here, that way the sun wouldn’t guess what had happened.
In the afternoon the sun’s fingers creep along the walls. Pete watches the mute scraping sun- fingernails with the toy wolf clutched in his hands.
“Don’t worry,” I say, “It will be dark soon.”
I’m stitching up a hole in Pete’s grey jeans. We will wear all grey, we will look as much like wolves as possible, we wil be pat of the pack.
We leave that night, as soon as there’s no warmth in the sky. We both hold small mountains of raw steak, as much as we can carry. It means that we leave a trail of blood behind us that the dirt soaks up. We sit at the edge of the woods.
“Do you think they’ll come?” Pete asks.
” I think so, I read that they smell food on the wind and it’s blowing toward the trees.”
“We should ask the wind to help us.”
I think about that for a bit.
“The wind sort of spins.”
“Like this?” Pete spins and bobs like something caught in ocean waves and in a storm. I copy and we spin and spin more wildly and head deeper into the trees, two bouys in a sea of leaves. The wind follows us and we begin giggling nervously realising we are two kids in the deep dark forest with the wind whipping around our shirtsleeves.
“Did we do that?”
“I don’t know Petey.”
We hold hands, feeling the steak blood warm between our skin.
“Let’s sit against this tree.” I chose one with roots so large and knotted that it makes almost caverns.
”It looks a bit like those shelters the man on the Surviving the Wild show sleeps in.”
Pete nods and the wind shrieks with laughter.
“Are you scared?” He asks. I lie and say no.
I’m half asleep when I think I see inky shadows melting towards us. I nudge Pete and he wakes, his eyes reflecting the slivers of moonlight that are spotlight-shining on us.
“Livvy it’s the wolves!”
We pick up the bloody steaks and hold them out as far as our arms can reach. The ink turns into sharp pin teeth in front of yellow moon-eyes. I don’t move, I think of suction cups. I can hear my brother breathing beside me schllll-uck, schlllll-uck, schlllll-uck. There are four pairs of pin teeth dancing closer, I can feel their warm breath curling around my hands. I feel my own breath dying in my throat. The closest one’s mouth opens like a cavern that looks like danger now, not saftey, and clamps down on the meat, dead and not breathing, in my hands. Then they feed, ripping estatically, we are so close I can hear the strands being ripped from the dead body bit like the splitting of violin strings. In the end my brother and I are left each holding a small morsel.
“They’re leaving us a piece.”
“Livvy it’s raw.”
“Eat it Peter.”
I gulp mine down ignoring the dirt and the raw animal wrongness of it. The wolves curl around us and we rest our heads on their fur as the moon filters itself away.
“Rooooooooooo!!” Pete yells and jumps on me. I laugh and yelp back in the tall grass. We are drunk on moonlight and running and bloodshed. We are grinning in the shape of the cresent moon. I’m letting the night smell of sweet stars and insense moon full my lungs and thinking ‘this is the happiest I’ve ever been.’ The adult wolves are eating with a contageous frenzy .
“I wish we could murder a sheep every night.”
We are running, giddy with our own excitement. We are bounding over knots of grass, over each other, over the sound of a familiar name.
“Peter?!” I stumble over the consonants of my brother’s name and roll as a mess of pale arms and legs.
“Livvy?!” Peter crashes into me. His ears twitch, I sniff the air.
“Peter?!” He lets out a low growling noise.
“Livvy! Is that you?” Our father’s question is hovering above us as some sort of strange, strange sound cloud.
“God, you’re filthy! What have you been doing?” A mother’s voice joins the strange-cloud. They pick us up and take us into the house, Peter whimpers. They take us into the lit up living room. Our moonlight bodies are covered in mud like we have been pulled from the ground by our dirty roots, we have dried blood cracking in the corners of our lips, our nails long and curled like claws. We are animals. We are wolves in the golden room.