This story is by Liberty Wright and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
“I dare you!” Alice’s laugh is shrill. She sucks punishingly on a tailor-made cigarette then emits smoke from her hard mouth. She fixes her eyes on mine. “I dare you to break into Government House and bring back a souvenir.” Cackle. Cackle. Schmackle.
“Jesus Alice. You’re not serious. Are you?” Epsilon looks over the rim of her ninth Tequila, lemony tears squeezing her pretty face into a sour moue.
Epsilon rolls her eyes. Alice has only recently inveigled her way into our clique. Nobody likes her or her habit of coldly pointing out perceived weaknesses in others. Alice is mean-spirited, but we’re all too polite in 1981 to tell her to fuck off.
On the other hand, Epsilon (think test tubes and Brave New World) is a hazard drinker. We all like her, a hell of a lot. Despite the kamikaze drinking habit, Ep is a good person who would give you the shirt off her back.
I twirl a length of my hair and try to look calm.
“Is this within the rules?” I ask. My mouth is dry. There are agreed rules of engagement to this daring practice. Rules set by the group, including myself. That said, I’m not about to attempt one without checking first.
The others consult in low voices, debating among themselves as I wait anxiously.
“Yes, we believe it is within the rules,” says Lou, a tall, attractive woman with a law degree. “It’s not life threatening, therefore it stands.” Her hawk-like gaze, a formidable asset in court, comes in handy here as she speaks for the collective.
“I’m not sure about your logic, Lou! If the security staff at Government House are armed then this dare is life threatening!” Ronnie goes in to bat for me.
“They’re not armed.”
“How do you know, Zoran? You been to Government House lately have ya?”
Zee’s reply is laconic “Not me Ron, but one of my cousins is a cleaner there and she reckons the security is pretty slack.” He pauses, “and they don’t carry guns.”
“Yeah? I don’t know if we should take the word of one cleaner, do you?” Ronnie seeks support from the others, but it’s only me and Epsilon who agree with him. Zee’s nose is out of joint, given the three of us doubt his cousin’s word, but he’s not one to hold a grudge.
“Okay, what about criminal? This constitutes a criminal act.” I feel weak, but ask anyway. I know most dares involve some level of law breaking, but streaking, wedding-crashing or hoisting undies up parliament’s flagstaff don’t seem quite as precarious as breaking and entering Government House.
Another confab, until…
“We think the level of criminality is allowed by the rules, though admittedly it is skating very close to the outer edge.” Lou looks with distaste at Alice, then back at me to reiterate, “as there is no threat to life and no intention to harm anyone or anything, the dare stands.”
Everyone talks at once. It’s a while before I make myself heard.
“Hang on, it is stealing! Isn’t that harming someone? Besides, if I get caught I could lose my job. Sheesh! I will lose my job!”
Alice is smug. “You’re not being asked to enter a private home, Monday. Government House is a public building. Besides, all you have to do is grab something little to prove you were there.”
More whispering before Lou speaks. “We all agreed when setting the rules, that anyone with a professional qualification can ask for a less- risky dare.”
The others nod in accord.
“Higher education takes time and money. Getting caught can affect a person’s professional employment prospects.” Lou eyes me speculatively, “Monday, do you request a less-risky dare because of your professional status?”
I don’t have any professional qualifications. I’m an office drone.
I twirl my hair.
The dare stands.
Here I am clinging to, and crabbing along, a knobbly branch of a big Oak tree. I have one arm through a loop of strong rope slung around my neck. The branch reaches over the south- eastern corner of a humungous, eight-foot high stone wall surrounding Government House. It’s not raining and a half-moon emits enough light to see by. There’s no need to use a torch. Epsilon is waiting nearby in Ringo, her VeeDub Beetle. If questioned, she’s taking time out from an argument with a boyfriend.
I have one and a half hours before my ride leaves.
At last, I touch the top of the wall with my feet. I tie off the rope from the branch and shimmy down to the ground inside, my thoughts racing. “I’m not a burglar! What the hell? I don’t trespass, break and enter or steal. This is madness! I must be crazy agreeing to do this shit.”
The building is a further 50 metres from the wall. Large trees dot the grounds and I run, freaking out, from one tree to another. Numerous times I hover in the shadows, tempted to call it quits but willing myself to continue. “Be brave, Monday. You can do this.” In the south-east corner of the building an unobtrusive door stands mute in a darkened alcove. I skitter into the recess and check my watch – it’s taken me nine minutes to negotiate the grounds from the wall. I’m puffing and out of breath.
Slinking behind an ornamental panel, I wait until the security guards make their regular sweep of the building’s perimeter. Heart thudding like a percussionist’s kick drum, I’m positive if I look down my chest will be visibly pulsating. I clamp a length of hair in my mouth, hoping to stifle a nervous urge to shout out loud.
I hear the guards conversing as they stroll toward me.
“Marion is due any day now. Honestly, I can’t wait until the baby is born. She’s been sick almost all the way through. She’s totally over it! ”
“Mmmmhmmm I hear you man. Hey, none of your kids are teenagers are they?”
“Nah, Zach is seven, Max five and Lorelei is three,” the lights from their torches merely glance across the place where I cower, sweating in fear.
“Oh mate! You haven’t even started parenting yet …”
Their conversation recedes. The pent up air in my lungs whooshes out.
Reluctantly, I press on with this crazy mission.
Heart in mouth, hand trembling, I place the key Zoran’s cousin managed to pinch for the night, in the lock.
Click A well-oiled and well-maintained mechanism. Thank you maintenance staff!
Inside, the hallway is as quiet as a sarcophagus and darkly spooky. I close the door gingerly behind me, then take from my pocket a small torch. The torchlight is weak but illuminates just enough so I can tip toe forward safely. I need to find something small to shove into the bum-bag strapped around my hips. Then, I’m out of here!
Six metres along, a door stands ajar. In the darkened room the torchlight picks out portions of large stuffed sofas and huge chairs. There are occasional tables upon which lamps, figurines and other ornate things rest mutely. A massive grandfather clock towers sentry-like against the far wall. Paintings in gilt frames, their subjects unclear in the murk, festoon the borders of the room. Bookshelves from floor to ceiling, heaving with weighty tomes, hold up an entire area.
I brush against a mass of roses. The blooms engulf a complete sideboard and their perfume sweetens the air. I snatch up several heads, stuffing them in the bum bag as my dare souvenir. Something small gleams on an ornate table close by. Without thought, I reach over, pick the thing up and hastily shove it in after the roses.
ZZZiippp Now to get out without getting caught!
Just as I mean to exit the room, the hallway abruptly lights up. Someone is walking this way.
I swing around and disappear behind a sizeable leather chair. A person enters, but rather than flicking on the light, muffled steps recede to the other end of the room. A muted click and a low, mellow light from a Tiffany lamp brightens a small area.
Peeping from the back of the leather recliner, I see an old man in dressing gown and pyjamas. He hovers next to a table upon which glimmer crystal decanters. He holds in his hand a crystal glass. I watch as he pours a generous amount of a dark liquid into the glass then a splash of something else.
He mutters to himself and sighs tiredly. He must be staying as a guest of the current Governor General and his wife. The distinctive scar on his cheek leaves no doubt of his identity. He is infamous for his bad temper.
It’s no great leap to imagine the loud clunk of a judge’s gavel and prison doors shutting behind me.
I almost sob recognising the unmistakable sounds of the Prime Minister, reclining into one of those well upholstered seats, for a quiet drink alone.
The waiting is pure agony.
The huge grandfather clock ticks, tocks and ding dong ding donnngs every fifteen minutes, building up to the moment when it will play that famous tune right through, and peal out the hour.
Three times the clock sonorously sounds the quarter hour. Each time, the Prime Minister raises his head and looks in the direction of the timepiece, as if just once it might change its’ tune.
He gets up, pours another drink.
Fear leaves me indecisive. I clamp a length of hair in my mouth and surreptitiously twirl another.
I ruminate on how a bit of so-called fun has morphed into a full-on criminal act. “I will never, ever, do anything like this again!” I vow.
Another thought breaks like a wave. That I have been less of a friend to someone I love, hits me hard. I have been a cruel enabler. Even the nickname “Epsilon” is callous. It’s no wonder Alice feels right at home in my company.
The PM reclines in the dim light, a faraway expression on his tired face. His chin almost rests on his chest. He looks like an ordinary old man sitting there in the soft pool of light, a man with the weight of the country on his shoulders.
It’s time to act.
Cautiously I get on my hands and knees. It’s not easy after sitting scrunched up for forty-five minutes. As the first notes from the clock ring out
ding dong ding donnng
I crawl delicately from behind the chair
ding dong ding donnng
To the open door and out into the hall
ding dong ding donnng
Get to my feet in the lighted hallway
ding dong ding donnng
Run on tip toes to the exit
Open the alcove door, slip through
Close the alcove door. Put the key in the lock
Click! Run like the hounds of hell are after me.
Alice alone disputes the veracity of my story, “Monday, you can’t prove those came from Government House! They could have come from anywhere.” She’s goes on and on.
“Alice, you came up with the dare. I carried it out to the letter and if you don’t believe me, tough shit!”
Zoran’s cousin, the cleaner, backs me one hundred per cent. She is adamant there were pink, highly scented roses in the south-east smoking room of Government House that day. She also confirms the PM spent the night.
The pink crush of petals imbues the air around us with a fragrant scent.
“By the way, I’m over this dare thing. I’m out.”
Petra has agreed to attend an AA meeting, and I’m ready to support her journey to sobriety. I’ll never call her Epsilon again.
I’m not telling anyone about the Dunhill Aquarium sterling silver lighter.