Aunt Lucy had one final wish. By Christmas the sickness had spread through her bones so that she had to sit in a chair all day. This was not at all like Aunt Lucy, whose favourite thing was walking up mountains with a heavy pack on her back. And that’s the reason we’re on a holiday to Maria Island – because my mum says you can’t deny a dying person their final wish, even if the business of carrying it out might kill you too. Aunt Lucy has been cremated, and what’s left of her – her ashes – is in a jar in mum’s backpack. Aunt Lucy wanted her ashes scattered from the top of the highest mountain on the island. It’s a three-hour walk to the top, but mum thinks I’ll be able to do it.
My big sister Taylor says she’s not going to do it, and that Aunt Lucy isn’t going to care, or even know about it, for that matter. My brother Andy wanted to go up straight away, but mum told him not to be ridiculous, we’re going in the morning after we’ve had a good night’s sleep. Taylor told mum that she was being ridiculous if she thought any of us were going to get a good night’s sleep in the old Penitentiary. The Penitentiary is where the convicts slept in the old days when Maria Island was a jail. Can’t you hear them screaming? Taylor said to me. But I can’t, and I’m not going to either. Because there’s no such thing as ghosts.
My brother Andy is upset because he wanted to sleep in a tent. Andy is a nature freak, and I mean that. He loves everything about nature, especially birds. He’s brought his binoculars and his guidebook and his notebook and his camera and we’re all sick of hearing about the forty-spotted pardolote and the masked owl and the Cape Barren goose. Andy is under strict instructions not to wander off. This is because sometimes he wanders off and forgets to return, and then we have to send out a search party.
We went on a walk to the painted cliffs after lunch. Taylor refused to come. She lay on her bed and listened to her iPod, which dad reckons will end up getting fused to her ears. On the way we had to look out for the forty-spotted pardolote, which meant walking quietly a long way behind Andy. He found them, twittering in the bushes, and spent a lot of time staring at them through his binoculars. He was very excited, but I don’t know why. It’s just a small bird with spots. After that we got to climb over the painted cliffs which are all different coloured stripes and patterns. Now that was fun.
We went on another walk after tea, this time in the dark to search for the masked owl. We didn’t see one though, and Andy threw a tantrum when dad said we had to go back to get an early night for our big walk tomorrow. Dad said that in his own way Andy is as difficult as Taylor.
I can’t get to sleep in the Penitentiary, not that I’m scared of ghosts or anything. So that’s why I hear Andy get up. I ask him what he’s doing and he says he’s going for a pee. I say I’ll come too and he gets annoyed and tells me to go back to bed. That’s when I know he’s going looking for the masked owl. I know Andy might forget to come back, so I’m going with him. Taylor doesn’t wake – she must’ve been tired from listening to her iPod all day.
Outside there is a full moon and no wind at all. We walk down a rocky track, moonlight shining on our faces. Andy hears an owl and turns off up a hill. It’s hard work keeping up. We are standing still, listening carefully, when the moon disappears behind a huge cloud. It’s dark.
Andy searchs for his torch, but it isn’t in his backpack. In the bush at night there are noises.
Thumps, bumps, rustles, shrieks. Lots of shrieks.
‘Where’s the track?’ I ask, but Andy doesn’t reply. I scream and grab onto him as something thumps by close to us.
‘It’s only a wallaby,’ says Andy. ‘Be quiet or you’ll scare off the owls.’
‘I don’t care about your stupid owls,’ I say. I’m crying now. Just a little bit. I scream again when I see a light in the distance. I know it’s coming our way. I think of all those convicts, all the robbers and murderers, and I know they’re coming for me. I scream again as the light gets closer and closer.
But then I hear a familiar voice.
‘You’re so in trouble, nature freak.’ Taylor has her arm around me now. I feel better. We walk slowly back to the Penitentiary. Taylor holds my hand all the way. We see torches as we approach. I hear Andy groan. He knows he’s in big trouble.
‘This is your fault, Will. If you hadn’t followed me and then kept screaming everything would’ve been all right.’
‘Except you would’ve probably fallen off a cliff,’ Taylor says, squeezing my shoulder.
When we get back Taylor speaks first.
‘We’re feeling sick. You poisoned us with those disgusting sausages we had for tea,’ she says. ‘I won’t be able to climb that stupid mountain tomorrow. We’ll have to go home early.’
I could see dad looking suspiciously at Andy’s backpack.
‘Get back to bed right now,’ he says in his serious voice. ‘We don’t want to keep Aunt Lucy waiting tomorrow.’
As I enter the door of the Penitentiary I hear him say to Andy, ‘I’ll be having a word with you tomorrow, young man.’
As I’m drifting off to sleep I think about Aunt Lucy and I think about Tayler searching for us in the dark. Aunt Lucy would’ve been proud.