Question Mark 1
The first time I met Kari was the first time I saved her life. I didn’t expect to be a hero and I’ve never thought of myself as especially brave, but there you go. And I don’t want to go bragging, but it is true that without me, Kari’s story wouldn’t have got any further than the first page. This is the first page, of course. Kari asked me to start us off and so I will. First pages are easier to come by than last pages, but you’ll find out plenty more about that as you go.
I didn’t know any of this was going to happen back then. I was just out walking on the Todd River bed – it was dry then, as it usually is. It was before dawn, still dark. The cockatoos were quiet and that was the first sign that something was wrong. I had it too – that shivery feeling I mean, like something cold was coming, something that made you hold your breath, something you didn’t want to find you.
I remember looking up: there were still a few stars out, even though it wasn’t long till morning. That’s when I saw the silhouette of an eagle, across the sky.
It was carrying what I thought was an animal in its claws, but a really big animal – huge, like the size of a small person. I have to tell you, I was scared then. I ducked behind one of the river gumtrees. The eagle was getting so close, there would have been no time to run away, so keeping myself as hidden as possible was all I could do. I heard its wings flapping hard, as if it were struggling, which I guess it was because it was carrying such a heavy load. It was hard to make it out in the darkness, but I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It was coming down to land, right on to the ground. And that animal it had in its claws, the one the size of a small human – well it was a human, a child I mean; and it was alive – it wasn’t as if the eagle had caught it to eat it. It was making a delivery; the kid was getting ready to land on its own two feet. That’s how Kari came to this place: brought in by an eagle.
I couldn’t stop staring – it’s not every day you see someone arriving in front of you, dropped off by an eagle. It made me rub my eyes – you would have thought you were dreaming too, I’ll bet. When I looked back, I saw Kari standing there, touching her hand against the eagle’s head, gently, like stroking it. Preoccupied, I suppose. That’s probably why she didn’t notice the movement behind her. But I did. Someone else was watching Kari and the eagle too, from the other side of the riverbed.
The sun was beginning to rise and in that weak light I caught a very quick glimpse of a man, darting between two trees. He looked completely grey, but it might just have been the light. One thing I could see, one thing I knew for sure was that he had a gun in his hand.
Now, even though I was still just a boy then myself, I knew well enough that you don’t go messing with someone who’s got a gun. I didn’t know if he was going to shoot the bird or the kid, but I saw him pointing his pistol in their direction and I couldn’t let that happen, could I? I guess it was a bit crazy, more crazy than brave, but I was not going to let that man fire a gun at them, no way. So I jumped out from behind the tree and I shouted, louder than I’d ever shouted in my life: HOY! GET AWAY! And then the gunshots came. I’d spooked him into firing and in his fright, he’d turned towards me! The first bullet went flying past my head, just missing my ear. The next one grazed my arm – I’ll show you the scar later – but it didn’t stop me. I yelled out again: GET AWAY FROM THEM!
The tussle that followed was chaotic: the eagle swooped at the grey man; I ran over and snatched the gun away; there was shouting and yelling and talons and fists all over the place.
But Kari did not move. In the middle of the struggle, she just stood totally still. It made me stop too, when I saw her eyes. There was lightning there, flashing blue and white against the black. It was no reflection – there was no storm, no rain, nothing – it was inside her, getting ready to come out.
The grey man saw it too and he didn’t like it. He looked really angry. He slapped at the eagle and sent it flying, but it was weird – after all that fighting there was hardly a scratch on him – the light was getting brighter now and I saw it all clearly. He looked over at Kari – she was all flashing sparks – and he turned and cursed at us, then walked off. I watched him go, hardly ten or twelve paces, then he just disappeared. Vanished, I mean, into thin air. And the gun he’d fired, the one I still had in my hand, it disappeared too, evaporated more like – one minute there, the next minute gone, like the grey man himself. I didn’t know at that time who he was. I was just glad he was gone.
The lightning stopped. The eagle got to its feet and flew off. Kari spoke. “Thank you, Albert.”
I don’t know how she knew my name, but she did. And that’s it – that’s how we met, Kari and I. The bravest, warmest, kindest, weirdest person I have ever known. Maybe you’re curious – maybe you want to know more about Kari. I did then. One thing I can’t tell you is what Kari looks like, because she’s always different; she changes everywhere she goes, so she can fit in more easily. She looked a bit like me when she was here; she’d probably look a bit like you if she came to your town. But don’t worry about that – it doesn’t matter. She changes her appearance, her hair, her skin, her face – all except for those silvery eyes; they’re always there, no matter what else is going on, so you’ll always recognise her. You’ll get to know her pretty well, so don’t spend too long worrying about little things like appearance. Funny to think about it now, but back then, when I first met her, she was so new to the world; she had so much to learn about being a human. She was ready to fill up with all that knowledge then, find out what people are like. Let me tell you a couple of things about her, though. It’ll be helpful.
First thing is that Kari can travel all kinds of different ways – not just by eagles. Travelling is what she does, and not only around the world: she can travel through time. I know, I thought that was impossible too, but you’ll see. Second thing to remember is that she is human – time-traveller or not – she’s one of us alright. And if you’re wondering where she came from: she told me she came from a storm. That’s how she could make that lightning appear from inside her own body – but she was only able to do it the once – she said it was just the leftovers. Just eyes the colour of lightning now, that’s all she’s got left of that first storm.
That’s enough to know for now. You’d better get going, time is coming after us and in more ways than you might think. Before you go, I’ve got a couple of instructions for you – Kari asked me to give you these too. You see this map of the world you’ve got? That’s a present from Kari. You’re going to need that to keep you right, let you know where you are, where you’ve been, maybe where you’re going. Mark down each place as you leave it, but mark it properly, using the little symbols you find, ok? Remember that scar I told you about, the one I’ve got from that bullet – take a look, it’s like a couple of little diamonds and the number one: ³1. That’ll do for your first symbol.
We’re not on the first page anymore and you can move on the normal way, just turning the page. That’s not how Kari travelled, back then. That was something to see! This place here, this is Caterpillar Dreaming land; there are tracks of the ancient caterpillars all round the town in rocky ridges. And what becomes of a caterpillar? Right. A butterfly – biggest I’ve ever seen, probably the biggest there’s ever been – came down from the Untyeyetweleye, the place they call Anzac Hill, and it grabbed hold of Kari by her shoulders and flew right off, way beyond the horizon.
You’d best catch up, away you go. But I’ll see you later, no worries!