I fled behind a brick wall and slumped to the damp ground, burying my face in my arms and wishing that I’d never come—that I’d never even contemplated coming to the party. I lingered there for – well – for what seemed like hours. When I finally raised my head, I realised only minutes had passed since… since the most horrible experience in my life.
I shot to my feet and pressed my back against the wall. I must not be discovered. Not now… not like this.
Crunch… crunch… crunch.
Louder and louder, the distinct sound of footsteps loomed closer each time. Frantically, I cast a quick glance across the countryside, searching for some hideaway. I had no idea where I was, so I just had to use my wits. Hills, trees, bushes, birds. Hills, trees, bushes, birds. Bushes, horses, paddocks, sheds…. Sheds!
Away in the distance, on a gently sloping hill, were two small sheds nestled between several gumtrees. One shed in particular – an ancient-looking one with a sagging roof – appealed to me. Perhaps no one would look for me there.
But, for the time being, I didn’t dare move from my position there by the wall. I couldn’t risk showing myself by a foolish sprint across open country.
Snap… crunch… crunch… splash… crash… splash!
For a moment, confusion and curiosity overtook my fear. I couldn’t remember seeing any water as I ran away from the party. So where did the splash come from?
Then the sound of singing, punctuated by rhythmic crunching and the occasional splash, met my ears. And it was coming from the direction of the woods – only a hundred or so metres to my right! In a matter of seconds, I would be completely exposed to this… this singing stranger!
I could go back….
No, I could never go back. I’d rather be discovered by a stranger than by Mum or – even worse – Rick and Carly. Even so, I whispered, “Go away! Go away!”
The singing stranger crunched closer. By now I could decipher that it was a he and that he wasn’t singing just any song. He was bellowing an old hymn in his baritone voice as though he hadn’t a care in the world and he wanted everyone to know it.
I wish I felt the same way.
In the midst of my bleak thoughts, a new idea burst forth like the sun. Maybe he would give me a ride to a new town, a new place, where I could start again! I remembered that Mum had once hitched a ride from a Christian family on their way to church. She said they were all crazy, but were very kind to her. Maybe if I could just put on my best apologetic smile and ask ever so sweetly for a lift, he would help me. It was worth a try.
Two seconds after I made up my mind, I caught sight of him through a gap between some straggly wattle branches. Actually, I only saw his hair at first and then the rest of him. His hair was wiry grey and brown; it stuck up straight like a steel-wool brush and served as a comical contrast to the curly beard that covered his broad chin. Old overalls were his simple garb and a shiny leather belt encompassed his wide girth. The black rubber boots he wore were massive. He swung a white plastic bucket in time with his song as he walked amid the gumtrees. But what really struck me was his height. He had to be at least six foot ten inches!
Alarm bells started ringing. How could I approach a—a giant and ask for a lift? It was ridiculous.
Crunch! Splash! The giant took a long step farther into the gumtrees and threw water on a wilting fern. He was less than ten metres away from me and could easily spot me, but he seemed too preoccupied with his odd gardening. Maybe if I just stood there like a statue, he’d just turn around and go home with his stupid crunching and splashing.
But if he sees me—
The sound of yapping made me snap to attention. A dog dashed through the bushes in a blur of brown and black and danced around the singing giant, licking his long fingers and demanding that he play with him. With a loud guffaw, the giant abruptly stopped singing and threw a stick for the dog.
It was now or never. I had to make a run for it. Turning towards the old barn, I prepared to set off at a flat-out run.
“Where are you going?” bellowed the giant.
A cold shiver went down my spine. Stiffly, hesitantly, I looked back at the giant.
“Where are you going?” he bellowed again.
I slowly opened my mouth, unsure of what exactly I’d say. I began to mumble some excuse about needing to get home, but he interrupted me.
“Hezekiah wants to play with you,” the giant informed me with a wide grin that revealed somewhat yellowed teeth.
Hezekiah? Something heavy leaned against my leg. I quickly looked down and beheld the black-and-brown dog. What a stupid name for a dog! And why should I play with it? I wondered. But I guess I’d better do it. Maybe the giant will leave me alone then.
I looked around for the stick but it was nowhere in sight.
“Looking for the stick?” The giant shook his head as though he was disappointed at my stupidity. “No, no… Hezekiah wants to wrestle with you.”
“Wrestle?” I repeated, staring at him blankly. Couldn’t he see the skinny arms and long legs of the fourteen-year-old girl standing not even ten metres before him? And couldn’t he see that she was also wearing her nicest clothes and new sandals?
“Wrestle, yes,” the giant nodded in affirmation. “Have you ever wrestled with a dog before?”
Hezekiah began tugging at my jeans with his teeth. I tried to push him away but he wouldn’t budge.
“Uh, no… but—“
“I need your name first, though,” the giant added with the manner of one who was about to make a solemn pact.
“M-my name?” I stuttered in disbelief. “I’m only gonna play with the dog.”
His eyebrows lowered. “If you can’t tell me your name, you shall not wrestle with Hezekiah,” the giant declared. With a loud whistle, he summoned his noble companion and proceeded back into the woods without stopping once to splash water on the plants.
I waited until Hezekiah had sprinted to his master’s side and then walked in the direction of the shed. I hoped that was the last I’d see of both of them.
The winter day was coming to a close – the sun slowly sank behind the foggy mountains in the distance. Its rays spread over the green landscape as though it were bidding the world one last farewell. Shadows closed in on me like four cold, dark walls. It seemed like some sort of omen.
I supposed the sun must have hated me, too, and had decided that its warmth would be wasted on me. I couldn’t blame it.
After all, how could I have been so stupid? How could I have believed they really cared about me? It was hopeless. I mean, I was just boring old Veronica Blake who quietly did her sums, never went anywhere exciting, and never did anything out of the ordinary. Why then did I even try to impress the cool crowd?
I shivered, but not just because of the cold. It was all Carly’s fault. And Rick’s. They made me believe that I could be someone; that I could be pretty and funny and popular. But, the whole time they were laughing behind my back.
And Mum was guilty of even more than them. How could she?
Hot anger surged through me. I clenched my fists and, forgetting that I was wearing sandals, kicked a stone out of my way. Sharp pain shot through my big toe.
“Argh! Why did I even buy these stupid shoes?” I grumbled through gritted teeth. Everything just made me want to scream. But I had to keep a cool head.
I wasn’t far from reaching the shed now. All I had to do was trudge through some bushes, climb a small grassy ridge and I’d be there. But I longed to get those sandals off.
In the dim light, I spied a large, smooth-looking stone, surrounded by trees and shrubs on three sides, which was just a little farther ahead and slightly to my left. I limped towards it and sat down. Not having had much experience with fancy shoes in the past, I had to make several attempts at undoing the clasps before my feet were successfully freed from their bonds. Grabbing both shoes in one hand, I stood up and hurled them over my shoulder and into the shrubs. They landed with a loud thud on something.
I whirled around. I couldn’t see anyone and all was silent. “Wh-who’s there?” I called out.
“I asked you for your name first, remember?” was the muffled response.
The giant. Again.
My fear quickly turned to anger. Why on earth would I want to tell him my name? “Why are you following me?” I demanded.
Leaves crunched as he slowly emerged from behind a gumtree with Hezekiah trailing behind him. He shrugged and then leaned against the gumtree. “Well, you’re too young to be out here alone. Consider me a concerned neighbour. Where’s your home?”
I made no reply.
“I can take you home.”
“No!” I snapped, turning my back on him. “I’m not going home.”
“Then, what’re you going to do?”
An awkward silence fell. An icy breeze ruffled my long hair. Shivering, I wrapped my arms around myself. I stood there, staring into the dark sky, and realised I had no answer for that question. The ancient-looking shed with the sagging roof certainly wouldn’t have warmth or food.
Food. My stomach grumbled loudly. I hadn’t stayed at the party long enough to eat.
“Sounds like you could do with some dinner,” he commented.
However reluctant I was to accept help, I had to agree.
“Come to my cabin and have something to eat. After that, I’ll drive you wherever you want to go.”
Wherever you want to go, echoed in my mind. Here was my chance handed to me on a silver platter.
I looked back at the giant. He stood there, patiently watching me.
I guess he seems friendly enough, even if he is weird.
“I suppose I’ll come.”
“And you’ll take me anywhere I want?”
“Yes, as long as you’re safe.”
“All right then. It’s a deal.”
He beckoned me to follow him. “This way.”
As I tried to match my short strides with his long ones, I felt like I’d strayed into a dream. For here I was, following a giant, whose name I didn’t know, to his cabin. And what awaited me there, I had no idea.