Drowning on Dry Land: Chapter One

When something really bad happens, everything in your life gets divided into two distinct parts: before it happened and afterwards. Everything is suddenly defined in terms of it. You remember where you were just before, how you felt before, and worst of all, you remember who you were before.

And then, there is the afterwards. That’s the really hard part.

For twenty-one-year-old Peter Williams the before was North Bondi: he was still drunk having just seen the first sunrise of the New Year break over the Australian surf, amazed that he wasn’t feeling worse, given the amount of booze he’d consumed last night. Together with a group of fellow back-packing Brits, strangers until eight hours ago, they had partied like the world was about to end, just like everyone else on Sydney’s Bondi Beach. Now they waited for the new day to break gloriously around them because – of course – the world was not about to end. Or so Peter thought.

Some people had already crashed out on the sand, lying prostrate and dead to the new year, safe in the knowledge that it would still be there when they awoke. A couple were kissing fully clothed in the waves, making drunken promises to each other for the twelve months ahead; and behind him Pete could hear the Bondi lifeguards opening up the tower two hours earlier than usual in anticipation of one of the busiest days the beach would see. It was still only five-thirty in the morning.

Before.

“Happy New Year!” Pete whispered to the sun, slowly climbing above the horizon and, through the lager haze, it seemed that just then, for that brief moment, the world was held in perfect balance.

Before.

Then his phone rang.

It took him a while to realise it was his phone that was ringing, and then an equally long time to locate it in the pocket of his boardshorts. He looked at the caller i.d. It simply said HOME. But home was over ten-thousand miles away. He tried to calculate the time difference as he pressed ‘answer’.

“Hey, Happy New Year!” he laughed.

“Happy New Year,” came the voice at the other end.

It was Rick, his youngest brother. He sounded small and far away, as was to be expected from the other side of the world. Rick bit down on his lip. He’d said ‘happy new year’ without thinking, an automatic response. He took a deep quivering breath.

“Pete, you have to come home. Now. Something terrible has happened.”

After.

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