Chapter 1. Zeno
Skinny-dipping with Raylene’s friends was not Zeno’s idea of a fun night out. He’d only agreed
because he wanted to seem tough, and hoped if he felt her up in the water and fucked her afterwards
her mates would stop spreading rumours he was queer.
The cars screeched to a halt at the boat ramp. Everyone piled out and headed for the small beach
until Bob’s girlfriend reckoned there’d be eels and leeches in the river and refused to go down.
Then the others also chickened out, saying it was too dark, probably dangerous and a stupid idea.
‘Fuck you lot are wimps’, Raylene yelled, grabbing Zeno’s hand and dragging him down to the
strip of sand. A half-moon provided enough light to see and it was hot and humid so Zeno kicked
off his sandals, dropped his shorts, jocks and shirt on a rock and ran into the water, calling to
Raylene to follow.
The river was wide and deep at that point with little current, so he swam upstream a few metres
then drifted back expecting to meet her in the water, but the beach was empty. She’d wimped out
like the other wankers; all talk and no action. More money than intelligence. He waded out in
disgust and found himself in the spotlight of half a dozen powerful torches.
‘You’re a pathetic turd, Zeno,’ Raylene’s sharp voice sneered. ‘Did you really think I’d want to
be with a creep like you? Crawling up teachers’ arses to get top marks. You think you’re so bloody
smart but you’re just a creepy faggot who thinks he’s too good for us—won’t even pay footy with
the boys.’ Her tirade was interrupted by a high-pitched giggle, ‘Bob, get your hands off my tits.
‘You’re a total reject, Zeno, even your name’s a fuckin disaster,’ one of the guys sneered.
Loud cheers and the clink of bottles.
‘Piss off back to the city, arsehole. We don’t want your sort here.’
Laughing drunkenly they ran back to the parked cars and drove off.
Zeno remained rooted to the spot, too stunned to react. As the noise of revving cars faded and
vision returned it brought with it a sense of liberation. He wanted to be with them even less than
they wanted to be with him. At least he hadn’t made a fool of himself by rushing around grabbing
his clothes or covering his crotch. That would have been really pathetic.
He took a deep breath, let it out in a loud sigh, turned, stretched, grinned up at the stars and
jogged a hundred metres up stream where he swam for a bit, then drifted back to the beach and
wandered across the sand to retrieve his clothes. The rock was still there but the clothes weren’t. He
ran up to the car park. Only old food wrappers, a couple of discarded drink cans and a burnt out car
wreck. He retraced his steps imagining he’d forgotten where he’d dropped his gear, but found
nothing that could be used as clothing for the eight-kilometre walk home. The bastards had taken
everything, even his sandals!
It was about nine o’clock, so as the only road home crossed the bridge in the centre of town he’d
have to wait at least three hours for the streets to be quiet enough to risk it. A slow smile softened
his face and he relaxed. It felt as if he’d been tense for months. Wound tight in a fruitless effort to
be like the locals. Not appear too clever. Pretend he liked their music, jokes, films. He didn’t think
he was too good for them, he knew he was and hadn’t been more sociable for fear of letting his
guard down and being himself—too different to be acceptable in this shitty arsehole of a town. As
for their pathetic football, he hated team sports. As a rabid individualist he wanted to be judged on
his own merits, not on the success or otherwise of a group.
He laughed softly. He’d given it his best shot but it hadn’t worked, so his parents would have to
let him go back to live with his grandmother next year. Lying back on a smooth rock he saw his
future in the stars. A future devoid of the local cretins. ‘A small farming community,’ his mother
had gushed when persuading him to make the move north so they could be near his father’s work as
a mining engineer. ‘Fresh air and simple folk who appreciate the finer things in life. We’re going
back to nature.’