Chapter 2

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It took eight days to reach the outskirts of Brisbane. They passed in a blur, as if I had stepped into a world I no longer understood. After so long on the road I knew how to walk and keep walking, how to fall into a steady pace and keep it up all day, but back on the other side of the Wall that pace had been set by Gracie. Now, with only my father and I, it was possible to walk faster and for longer, without breaks or interruptions.

For the most part we walked in silence. The fact of Matt and Gracie's loss had hollowed me out. On the good days I managed to remember happy things, or to cut myself off from feeling. On the bad days it felt like the silence of the landscape had entered me and I was weightless, transparent, so it was all I could do not to disappear into that wordlessness and be erased. And at night I wept inconsolably.

Having my father with me should have helped. But even though he walked beside me, and once or twice placed a hand on my shoulder so I could lean into him, the more time I spent with him the more altered he seemed. Although he looked like my father and spoke like him, there was something distanced about many of his reactions, a sense he was only half the person he had been. Sometimes when I spoke to him, in the second before he replied, I was gripped by the certainty he was not really there at all, that his body was just a shell or – worse yet – inhabited by something that was only pretending to be human.

Yet for every moment like that there was another when he was clearly himself. One night he asked me to tell him about Vanessa, what had happened to her, and when I hesitated he took another bite of the piece of fruit he held and smiled, the expression suddenly inescapably familiar.

'You don't need to worry. I won't be upset.'

And so I told him the story of the years since he had been taken away, of Vanessa's grief, and Tim, of our move away from the city, of baby Caspar.

'That must have been difficult for you,' he said.

I shrugged. 'I had Gracie.'

'You love her very much, don't you?'

I nodded, blinking back tears.

He seemed to think for a few seconds. Then he looked at me. 'What you did for her was incredibly brave. But you never should have been alone like that.'

As the days passed the landscape changed, wooded hills giving way to open areas that must once have been grazing land or fields. In the forest the effects of the Change were apparent everywhere, in the growths on the limbs of the trees, the unearthly cries of the Changed birds. But even where the forest gave way to grassland, there were constant reminders that we were deep in the Change: an insect strumming by, unnaturally large and shimmering with a metallic gleam, or a plant hissing and shifting as I passed, some kind of intelligence suddenly unfurling itself in my direction.

At first I tried to dismiss this quality of awareness as my imagination. Yet the more times I turned, certain there was something behind us only to hear some plant rustle or glimpse the glint of some animal's eyes, the stronger the feeling became.

In fact it was everywhere, this sense we were being observed, that the landscape itself was somehow alive. This feeling usually came when it was quiet, and something rippled through the fabric of things, like wind or breath. But at other times it was stronger, more palpable, as if voices were speaking somewhere just below the level of hearing, or some meaning I could not quite comprehend was trying to unfold itself in my mind.

When we reached the first town I expected my father to go around it, but instead he just led me on up the main road, past houses and shops, an old weatherboard church set back from the road.

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