Children of Ibbdgalgar by Nick Petrou


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If I'd known what I would see, I wonder if I still would've gone with her that night. Without the ichor, it's invisible.

But I know it's up there right now. Pulsating. Wriggling.

Thanks to the stresses of third-year uni, I became pretty good friends with my dealer, Robbo. He'd given me the sign of the horns when I'd worn a My Dying Bride shirt to pick up a fifty. We started talking metal, and that was that. A few fifties later, he said he was hitting up a backyard show in the sticks that night and that it'd be right up my alley. I was halfway through an assignment and feeling pretty nihilistic, so I asked him how he was getting there. He said he had a Troopy and a spare seat with my name on it if I didn't mind being the only chick. Growing up with my older brother and his friends, that didn't phase me at all: I borrowed Dad's tent and smashed my piggy bank, then we were rattling our way north before I had a chance to cancel my study plans or tell my housemate to stay out of my room.

The eucalypt trunks trimming the road glowed red in the setting sun. I was drinking gin and chatting metal with bearded faces emerging from smoke as thick as cotton candy in the back of the Troopy. Robbo was blasting a local band called Wobbegong. And then it turned out some of the guys I was riding with were Wobbegong all except the bassist—just some girl who replaced a friend who'd recently quit. She was driving herself to the show. I couldn't feel my skin, and it was exactly what I needed.

We pulled in just after sunset. Trees and a wire farm fence bordered the property. Thirty or so cars and vans had spilt in through the front gate and parked up in square and triangle formations with tents between them. Metalheads and hippy-types loitered by their vehicles, cash and baggies changing hands. The house stood in an oval of hedges and citrus trees. Stacks of firewood choked up its wrap-around porch, and a steady cloud of orange-tinted smoke rose from behind the house. Drumbeats kicked my heart. My stomach quivered like I'd dropped.

While I was setting my tent up by a shedding gumtree, Robbo came up to me. "It gets cold here at night," he said. "You'll be warm enough in there? I'm gonna set the Troopy up with a mattress and shit."

I started stomping a tent peg with my boot—said nothing.

"Here." He squatted and pushed the peg into the ground.

I had hoped he'd invited me here just for the music, but I was somewhat prepared for this too. "I got it, dude. This band sounds sick. Go have fun. I'll join you in a bit."

Robbo stood. "Easy. See you in the pit."

Once my tent was up, I got out my phone and skim-read the passive-aggressive messages my study group had left me. I tossed my phone into the tent and zipped it up. Tying my flanno around my waist, I followed the music.

An all-male band with waist-length hair rattled a tin shed that had been converted into a stage. Each band member stood in a shaft of smokey, orange light. A small crowd moshed on a patch of buffalo grass in front of the stage. Another twenty stood back, nodding their heads and stamping their heels. Fifty more were strewn throughout the backyard, drinking, punching bongs, and hanging by a fire pit. I scooped ice into a red cup and topped it with gin and soda, then stashed the bottle behind a potted fern and went back to the stage. I couldn't see any of the guys I'd come with, so I sipped my drink on the edge of the mosh until the butterflies in my stomach were dead.

When the band finished, Robbo crept up at my side.

I gave him a polite smile then pretended to be interested in the band packing up their instruments. "Heavy as," I said.

"Yeah, those guys chop," said Robbo.

"When are your friends on?"

"Not the next band but the one after." He took a baggie filled with white pills from his shirt pocket. "Pinga?"

"It's not really my thing. Thanks but."

"Easy."

The next band was a little too thrashy for my taste, so I ripped cones with some random girls in a treehouse. Through the treehouse window, I saw Robbo funnel two beers then stagger into some guy, knocking his bottle out of his hand. It landed on the grass and didn't break. After that, I went to watch Wobbegong set up. They were playing random chords and growling nonsense into the mic. A girl was standing in the shadow to the back of the stage, just beyond the reach of the stage lights. I couldn't see her face, only her combat boots and some of her green dress. Then she stepped into the light.

Her hair was cut in a horizontal line just above her eyebrows. A few of the tips were curled like fish hooks. She held her bass guitar as though it were dead in her arms. Her spider-leg fingers started working the neck, working her spell.

I wanted to be the only one who knew her.

Wobbegong's live set wasn't as good as their recording, but I would have listened to cats burning if it meant I could watch her play. In one of their songs I'd listened to on the drive in, there'd been an instrumental interlude. When they got to that part in their live set, she stepped up to the lead singer's mic, and the rest of the band looked confused. Her throat was as white as porcelain, and when she opened it, the crowd went silent. She was our necromancer, and we were her undead horde, bound forever to her voice. At one point, she looked right into my eyes, and I looked down into my drink.

At the time, I could make out only some of her lyrics.

Till your wing dust shapes stars anew

Whose flames never die

O corpulent queen

When their set was over, she retreated into the shadows, and I was moved away by the crowd. I don't remember what I did for a good hour after that. Mostly, I remember the feeling of waking from a dream and wishing it was real. I couldn't find her anywhere. When I asked one of the guys from Wobbegong if he'd seen her, he said he barely knew her himself. She'd only practiced with them once before. When I asked Robbo, he tried to hold my hand. I took the rest of my gin and lay on the grass under a dead tree just away from the party. Studying the stars, I wished heat death would just happen already. That was when the shadows solidified and sat down at my side.

"What do you see?" I knew the voice: I was under its spell.

"Darkness," I said. "It's mostly empty space."

"Yeah." She smelled like church incense. "The stars will go out. Time will end."

"I was just thinking that," I said. "I'm Emma."

"Cara," she said. "The darkness has a shape, yo