The high-pitched roar of the engine fills his head, reverberating through his bones. Tight across his chest, his harness cramps his breathing and he is sweating beneath his racing overalls. But he is not bothered, he is focused. Beyond his gloved hands on his steering wheel, and the elegant, aerodynamic, front hood of his car his environment rushes past in a blur. An animated audience spectates from behind a fence, with not enough long green grass in between, for them to feel safe. He passes high trees and dauntingly solid concrete walls, and a million miles away, the commentators buzz eliminates all silence. But he pays no attention to these distractions, he is focused. Like a hawk, he spied his prey ahead of him; the first place racer. He crunched the gears and accelerated recklessly round corners, pushing to his limit to catch up. And he did catch up. With one lap to go, second place tailed first. The pair flew round every corner, desperately trying to beat the other, hoping beyond hope, that somehow their cars could go faster, accelerate harder, but neither succeeded. With engines shrieking and tyres hot like embers, the cars were locked in battle. But finally, second place was presented a chance, a split second decision, a shot at glory. His counterpart had gone much too wide on the corner, providing an inside lane between a concrete post and the first place car. But it was risky. Second place was stricken with doubt. His rational mind battled with his competitive side, safety battled with hot headed courage. But it was not in his nature to recede from a risk. His foot dropped on the accelerator and he lined up the gap, eyes wide behind his tinted visor. The gap closed with every moment, becoming little wider than his car. But he was too far in now to retreat. He gripped the steering wheel harder, and closed his eyes. His front wheel clipped the post with enough force to lift the car into the air onto its back. Sparks erupted from the car as it slid across the track into the grass, where the bodywork dug into the dirt and somersaulted the car high above the ground like it was a toy. The stressed wail of the siren fills his head. His inverted world is blurry in front of his eyes, and he can see shades of green below him, close to his head. He can imagine the gasps of the crowd not far from him, some guiltily excited by his peril. Inside the car, ravenous blue flames lick at his body, but he can not feel them; he is dying. Paramedics and pit crew flood to the scene wielding fire extinguishers, desperate to free him. The flames grow higher, crawling hungrily into the deep fume-filled areas of his vehicle, threatening to explode, and consume all in its way. Everyone around the car is frantically busy, stressed and panicked. Except for him. He can not move, and the only emotion he feels is fear. He is dying.
Puddles of yellow light from inside the house pour themselves over the lawn, making the freshly cut summer grass look strangely blue in the disintegrating daylight, as cars sleep in a snaking line along the sidewalk. I breathe in the smoky scent of burning wood, which lingers invisibly in the late evening air, like the roaring laughter of the crowd of kids who sit by the bonfire in the backyard. This atmosphere is a long lost friend the sudden rush of adrenaline it brings to my veins, welcoming me after so long. I haven’t felt this alive since last September, since my younger sister Jenna disappeared, her absence remaining unexplained. During the first few months which followed her apparent nonexistence, my parents did all they could to keep hopeful, though as the days began slipping away, like sand between the gaps of fingers, I watched my world shatter apart. An overwhelming sense of paranoia had seemed to consume both my parents, at one point so serious I was restricted from leaving the house and, because of this, I just lied to my mother. She thinks I’m at the movies with friends. ‘’Be home before twelve’’, she had insisted as I headed toward a house party on the opposite side of town, and, adopting a reassuring tone, I had told her a friend would be waiting for me at the end of the street, because I knew she opposed the idea of me walking alone. Jess is not exactly what most would perceive as an eligible friend, her unbridled demeanour slightly frightening, but she’s more than an acquaintance. I can’t help but sense the feeling that some unknown ulterior motive lives behind the blue in her eyes, but the mysteriousness fascinates me somehow. Despite my parents frequent comments that I should avoid any contact with this girl, she stands in front of me now, the strands of her untamed hair cascading over the skin on her shoulders. ‘’Let’s get a drink’’, she says, glancing at me with a shimmering grin, as if she’s just found the cure for cancer, or deciphered an uncracked code. ‘’Sure’’, I reply, still growing accustomed to the mess of noise which surrounds me the crisp clink of glass bottles and the watery slosh of ice in the chilli bin the undomesticated hoot of other kids voices competing with the loudspeaker, which spills house music out across the lawn. I begin following Jess to the bin, but am paused half way by Hunter Parker, the palm of his outstretched hand containing a plastic bottle of water, reaching in my direction. ‘’For the non alcoholics’’, he remarks, casting a gaze on the neckline of my tank top, his eyes lingering much longer than they should, like an unwanted smell. ‘’Thanks’’, I respond, retrieving the bottle from the clasp of his fingers, praying the act of doing so will help make him leave. I am hurt that he so obviously pities me, and that perhaps he believes I am not capable of handling a more sharp dose of beverage, like the can of vodka popping open in Jess’s hands, its sweet bubbles sizzling like soda. I’ve never enjoyed the display of sympathy regarding my sister the gifts of bouquets of flowers and chocolates which had anonymously been delivered to our doorstep early last December,in the wake of the pain my family felt, or the letters that arrived in our mailbox simple sentences in numerous handwritings, each addressing the same condolence. I despised the fact people were behaving as if Jenna was permanently gone people my family did not associate with otherwise, and even though the bottle is not a letter, nor a bouquet, Hunter’s apparent good intention seems almost pseudo, tinted with a sickening sarcasm. After sipping half the bottle, the universe begins tipping sideways. Tilting my face to the swirling sky, I see countless stars, the kind people make wishes upon, the kind that make even the most wild dreams seem possible. For a moment I am moved by the simplicity of their beauty, liberated by this newly found freedom. For months on end I would barely leave the comfort of my own room. I spent hours gazing at the dark wood on my ceiling or outside the window at the street below, watching as strangers went on living their lives while letting my own pass by. There were days where the pain was too much, swallowing me whole like a bottomless ocean, dragging me down under until I became consumed, drowning while others breathed fine, and I honestly did believe, in the devastation of it all, that I could never be happy again. Unfortunately, the moment soon passes, that temporary happiness diminishing. The atmosphere suddenly seems heavied by a cold and awkward air, and the party is no longer electric, the quietened hum of the speakers staggering on through the night, the noise of the crowd slowly dying, as people leave to go home. I look dizzily at the patio and see the bottles which clinked earlier are empty. I have no recollection of the events which have taken place between now and the time I arrived, my thoughts an incomprehensive tangle. But I do know I want to be home. Maybe the comfort of my own room is best. Maybe it is where I belong. The decision to deceive my mother is possibly the most foolish I’ve ever made. When I wake the following morning, I realise with a sharp ping of guilt in the pit of my stomach, that my parents spent a considerable amount of time searching for me the previous night, driving aimlessly through each snaking street until they eventually discovered the party. I can recall how acidic they tasted, the lies which flew from my mouth, a simple yet dubious sentence bubbling with bitterness at the tip of my tongue a bitterness I no doubt deserved. I realise too, within those first waking hours, that the bottle of water in Hunter’s hand had been spiked, explaining the loss of my memory till now, and a new wave of recollections wash over me, gathering like clouds in a storm. Jess had been in on it too, a scandal which aimed to humiliate me, take advantage of the little I had left. In my mind I see her laughing like the devil, Hunter as well. At the time I had thought they laughed with me, but I now understand they laughed at me instead, the flash of their cell phones temporarily blinding my eyes, as they videoed selfishly for their own sick entertainment. I would open my news feed later, and there would be images of me dancing on table tops, alcohol buzzing in my bloodstream, my outlandish behaviour influenced by the action of somebody else. Making my way downstairs toward the kitchen, I am greeted by the scent of coffee. My father stands behind the machine, and my mother sips orange juice at the counter. Tears prickle at the corners of my pupils, and the knot which has formed in my throat makes it feel as if I’ve just swallowed a clenched fist, but the dizziness has well receded, leaving only a slight throbbing sensation pulsing at the back of my head. ‘’I’m sorry’’, I say, my words broken by the gravel in my voice. Silence rules the kitchen for a moment, before my mother pours herself into my arms. ‘’We’re just so glad you’re back’’, she replies, and I know that she’s crying now too, sobbing into my shoulder, taking deep sips of breaths. Jenna is not coming home it’s time to accept the unspoken truth. When it first happened, the shock of her random disappearance had sparked a sense of urgency within the town, and the police worked against all conditions to bring her safely back home to us, but, like with everything else, the hype soon dissolved in the wake a more recent event, and we were forced to stumble forward with our lives. I should’ve known better than to lie for a party, to one of the two people who love me most. I should’ve considered the fact that I am the only child they have left imagined the panic which must’ve crept at the corners of their mind. ‘’I’m sorry’’, I persist, weeping helplessly, surrendering to the warmth of my mother’s hold. ‘’I’m sorry.’’
The cool, crisp morning air a welcome but missed smack in the face as I swung open the hut door and meandered onto the deck. Snow lay thick over the hand rail, and icicles hung from the rusted tap. I stood overlooking the valley below, clear, crystals covered the landscape like a silk blanket, stags war calls echoed in the expanse around us. Mt Alta stood tall in the distance. Her summit a small peak above the clouds, dense bush and tussock a skirt around her waist and the icy creeks veins running from her heart. As the sun rose above the horizon, Dylan the supposed ‘mighty’ hunter lay snoring in bed but a handful of snow quickly fixed that. The hut was near the Black Peak in the Southern Alps on the rugged west coast of Southland, and very rugged it was. Dylan soon found himself ready for a hard day of hiking and hunting as we started up the mountain. The damp shingle a hardy challenge, finding ourselves on our faces more than our feet. Before long we had climbed the ridge and were staring down into a rock covered valley. A small creek started at the top of a limestone bluff and ran swiftly down its moss covered face and through the boulders below. Pale grey in colour and speckled with small spots of moss the boulders covered the valley, and beautiful blue but icy cold water, slithered past before disappearing into the thick Manuka jungle. Then without warning a bellowing ROAR came echoing up from deep within the ferns. Dylan and I froze stiff, the crackling sound of breaking branches soon followed, we jumped back into a tussock and Dylan seemed to disappear. His olive skin and hair similar to the dead leaves, his beard hid his face in wat looked like a mangled birds nest, and dressed in head to toe camo you really had to look twice before noticing a man lying there. It was silent. We lay low for what felt like an hour before there was movement in the valley once again. The ferns seemed to part as I whipped the gun from off of my back and into my shoulder, I slid the mag in and out walked this monstrous beast, head covered in vines and almost six feet tall. I let out the tiniest peep of excitement and his ears pricked. He sniffed the cool air, nostrils pumping. “Shoot it!” Dylan whispered. I forced the bolt forward, loading the Remington with a click. I glared down the sites admiring the crown upon this king’s head, the crown he had been growing his entire life. His crown. I could take it with the simplest squeeze of a finger, robbing him of his ‘trophy’ but should I? All eighteen points above his brow he had made and managed to keep safe from other thieves like me. Still was I about to let this trophy of a life time run off into the hills? Dylan nudged me, urging me to take the shot. My finger tightened around the trigger. The beast looked so majestic. CRACK! The explosion rocked the mountain, but he stood there deadly still. Something wasn’t right. He collapsed, the life that drained from within him also drained from his home, the mountain. Everything was dull and dreary, the sun no longer visible but the sky painted in grey. The wind was now blowing vigorously and the flax and tussock swayed violently. The mountain was mad. Dylan and I walked over to the stag, it was even more magnificent up close. His antlers protruding trunks from his head, the tines were perfect. The magnitude of this ‘trophy’ dampened by the Guilt that hung over me. ‘Shot boy’ Dylan said with a smile full of his own ragged hair. ‘Thanks’ I mumbled ‘Let’s sort this monster out’ He said still oblivious to the change in the environment. We then started to butcher the animal, taking as much meat as possible in hope of covering the shame of killing an animal for his head. ‘Feed the family’ I said leaving with a crown rested upon my shoulders, but still I felt remorse, I had stolen from and killed the king of Black Peak. I had murdered for a prize and machoism. If only I hadn’t pulled the trigger-