This piece is part of my “Rejected Stories” collection. Click here to learn more.
Tanner and Cody turned to Mum between bites of freshly buttered toast.
“You know we don’t answer the door when Dad’s not home,” she said in a hushed tone. Her messy red curls bounced as she motioned for them to finish their food. “You’re still not dressed for school.”
The knocking grew louder, insistent.
But Mum picked up Justin from the floor. She sat next to them at their small square table. Ran her thin fingers through Tanner’s sandy-blond hair. Fed Justin his bottle.
The knocking became a deafening bang, like a round of bullets.
Mum let out a nervous breath. “Now, don’t you move until you finish your breakfast!” she said firmly. Balancing Justin on her hips, she headed to the living room.
Tanner grabbed another piece of toast. The salty butter tickled his tongue, the sensations warming his stomach.
Tanner jumped at Mum’s sharp cry. He ran towards her voice, Cody following close behind.
Three stainless-steel cyborgs towered over her, eyes flashing red lasers.
“No, not my babies!” One of them ripped Justin from Mum’s arms. “No! Please!!”
“Mum!” Tanner rushed to her side but she shoved him away.
“Run! Boys, run and hide!” She held back the cyborg but one swing of its arm sent her crashing to the floor.
“Boy, bring your brother.” The robotic command reverberated through Tanner’s body, leaving him paralysed.
“No, no, no!” Mum lunged for the cyborg’s leg but it kicked her aside. Defeated, her eyes poured out tears like blood from a wound.
“We are from the authorities,” it said in its matter-of-fact tone. “It’s for their own good. We know better than your kind.” The head cyborg turned to his free accomplice. “Get the younger one,” it said. “I’ll handle the oldest.”
A second later, Tanner found himself trapped between cold metal arms. Cody’s cries came next. But it was his mother’s sobbing and piercing screams that turned Tanner’s blood cold.
Their voices grew hoarse as the creatures forced them into a white four-wheel-drive.
Since the disruption of their routine morning, Tanner let the tears stream out of his eyes. They blurred the vision of Mum, running then falling to her knees and screeching to the heavens.
“You’re going to a better place, boy,” the cyborg next to him said.
“You’re going to have a better—”
“Okay class, goggles off!”
Stunned silence filled the room. Nobody moved.
“Goggles off and everyone looking at the screen.”
Tanner blinked back tears, the vision of his broken younger self still raw. His hands shook as he lifted the AR goggles over his head. His eyes adjusted to his reality then widened at the sight of the three boys in the car on the projector screen.
His classmates voices chorused his own unmoving tongue.
The boys were black. And the cyborgs beside them weren’t fantasy at all. They were Aussie police.
All eyes turned to Mrs Khan.
“What you’ve just experienced isn’t a made-up sci-fi story. This story really happened in 1957. It’s one of many true stories in Australia’s ugly history. To think that this happened less than one hundred years ago…” Mrs Khan paused to let the words sink in.
“Miss, so they’re real kids?” Muhammad asked.
Out of habit, Tanner turned to John to roll his eyes, but today, they shared an uncomfortable glance. They jerked their heads back to Mrs Khan.
“Yes,” Mrs Khan said, “the boys are Indigenous Australians, among the Stolen Generation. Their names are Phillip, Greg and Robert. Phillip was ten years old, the age you saw yourselves, when he was ripped from his birth mother. As for the better life the Australian authorities promised, he experienced so much abuse that his only escape was drugs and alcohol.” Mrs Khan shut the projector and continued. “Thankfully, not every story had Phillip’s sad ending. His youngest brother, Robert, didn’t remember the details of this traumatic event to the degree of his older siblings. He managed to get through school and graduated from university. But there are permanent scars they all wear that we’ll never understand.”
It was like someone had put his Year 11 history class on mute. Tanner let out the breath he’d been holding. The air remained thick with their sombre mood as Mrs Khan explained their homework.
Tanner stared at the back of Muhammad’s head on the bus trip home. Something about his thin long neck, elephant ears, and dirty coloured skin always irked Tanner. But today, his blue and yellow beanie with the logo of Tanner’s favourite footie team beamed like a beacon.
Tanner clutched his stomach. Was it the rough movement of the bus around that corner that was making him queasy?
He got off before Muhammad like every other day. He walked the one block to his front yard. But when he passed Dad’s car, his eyes caught the black and white bumper sticker with the Australian map. His stomach churned again.
“What are they brainwashing you about at school these days?” Dad greeted as he entered the house. Dad coughed, his voice croaky from too many cigarettes.
“Leave him alone,” his Mum said, squeezing Tanner’s shoulder.
Tanner held her warm gaze a second longer than usual. His heart beat faster at the memory of her tear-streaked face he’d seen through the augmented reality goggles.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
Tanner shook his head, averted his eyes.
“It’s a waste of time, school. They fill your head with stupid dreams that aren’t real life,” Dad said. “The government doesn’t give a crap about us anymore. Only care about abos and terrorist boat people who get special treatment and take all our damn jobs!”
“Not this again,” Mum said, rolling her eyes.
Dad stood up. “It’s bloody true! The government’s so stupid. Can’t see we’re struggling too. And those damn greenies don’t even let us ask for help just because we’re white.”
“Oh, get off your soapbox, Bill!” Mum said, gesturing for Tanner to escape to his room.
Tanner sat on his bed, staring at the wall. The images from his class ran circles around his head. He fidgeted with his quilt cover. He shifted, glancing at a pile of clothes at the edge of his bed. Were they dirty, clean?
On top of the pile, a plain white t-shirt with an Australian map drew his attention. The unsettled feeling grew.
A charge of energy sparked through his legs, urging him up.
Tanner picked up the t-shirt that read, “We’re full” and scrunched it into a ball. He hovered it above his bin.
This was originally created in 2019 for a literary magazine submission. I was inspired by the true story of Bill Simon.
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