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Jasper Jonesby Craig Silvey
Jasper Jones has come to my window.
I don't know why, but he has. Maybe he's in trouble. Maybe he doesn't have anywhere else to go.
Either way, he's just frightened the living shit out of me.
This is the hottest summer I can remember, and the thick heat seems to seep in and keep in my sleepout. It's like the earth's core in here. The only relief comes from the cooler air that creeps in between the slim slats of my single window. It's near impossible to sleep, so I've spent most of my nights reading by the light of my kerosene lamp.
Tonight was no different. And when Jasper Jones rapped my louvres abruptly with his knuckle and hissed my name, I leapt from my bed, spilling my copy of Pudd'nhead Wilson.
I knelt like a sprinter, anxious and alert.
"Who is it?"
"Charlie! Come out here!"
"Who is it?"
"Jasper. Jasper!"--and he pressed his face right up into the light. His eyes green and wild. I squinted.
"What? Really? What is it?"
"I need your help. Just come out here and I'll explain," he whispered.
"Jesus Christ, Charlie! Just hurry up! Get out here."
And so, he's here.
Jasper Jones is at my window.
Shaken, I clamber onto the bed and remove the dusty slats of glass, piling them on my pillow. I quickly kick into a pair of jeans and blow out my lamp. As I squeeze headfirst out of the sleepout, something invisible tugs at my legs. This is the first time I've ever dared to sneak away from home. The thrill of this, coupled with the fact that Jasper Jones needs my help, already fills the moment with something portentous.
My exit from the window is a little like a foal being born. It's a graceless and gangly drop, directly onto my mother's gerbera bed. I emerge quickly and pretend it didn't hurt.
It's a full moon tonight, and very quiet. Neighborhood dogs are probably too hot to bark their alarm. Jasper Jones is standing in the middle of our backyard. He shifts his feet from right to left as though the ground were smoldering.
Jasper is tall. He's only a year older than me, but looks a lot more. He has a wiry body, but it's defined. His shape and his muscles have already sorted themselves out. His hair is a scruff of rough tufts. It's pretty clear he hacks at it himself.
Jasper Jones has outgrown his clothes. His button-up shirt is dirty and fit to burst, and his short pants are cut just past the knee. He wears no shoes. He looks like an island castaway.
He takes a step toward me. I take one back.
"Okay. Are you ready?"
"What? Ready for what?"
"I tole you. I need your help, Charlie. Come on." His eyes are darting, his weight presses back.
I'm excited but afraid. I long to turn and wedge myself through the horse's arse from which I've just fallen, to sit safe in the hot womb of my room. But this is Jasper Jones, and he has come to me.
"Okay. Wait," I say, noticing my feet are bare. I head toward the back steps, where my sandals sit, scrubbed clean and perfectly aligned. As I strap them on, I realize that this, the application of pansy footwear, is my first display of girlishness and has taken me mere moments. So I jog back with as much masculinity as I can muster, which even in the moonlight must resemble something of an arthritic chicken.
I spit and sniff and saw at my nose. "Okay, you roit? You ready?"
Jasper doesn't respond. He just turns and sets off.
After climbing my back fence, we head downhill into Corrigan. Houses huddle and cluster closer together, and then stop abruptly as we reach the middle of town. This late, the architecture is desolate and leached of color. It feels like we're traipsing through a postcard. Toward the eastern fringe, past the railway station, the houses bloom again and we pass quietly under streetlights which light up lawns and gardens. I have no idea where we're going. The further we move, the keener my apprehension grows. Still, there is something emboldening about being awake when the rest of the world is sleeping. Like I know something they don't.
We walk for an age, but I don't ask questions. Some way out of town, past the bridge and the broad part of the Corrigan River and into the farm district, Jasper pauses to feed a cigarette into his mouth. Wordlessly, he shakes the battered pack my way. I've never smoked before. I've certainly never been offered one. I feel a surge of panic. Wanting both to decline and impress, for some reason I decide to press my palms to my stomach and puff my cheeks when I wag my head at his offer, as if to suggest that I've smoked so many already this evening that I'm simply too full to take another.
Jasper Jones raises an eyebrow and shrugs.
He turns, rests his hip on a gatepost. As Jasper sucks at his smoke, I look past him and recognize where we are. I step back. Here, ghostly in the moonlight, slumps the weatherworn cottage of Mad Jack Lionel. I quickly look back at Jasper. I hope this isn't our destination. Mad Jack is a character of much speculation and intrigue for the kids of Corrigan. No child has actually laid eyes on him. There are full-chested claimants of sightings and encounters, but they're quickly exposed as liars. But the tall stories and rumors all weave wispily around one single irrefutable fact: that Jack Lionel killed a young woman some years ago and he's never been seen outside his house since. Nobody among us knows the real circumstances of the event, but fresh theories are offered regularly. Of course, the extent and nature of his crimes have grown worse over time, which only adds more hay to the stack and buries the pin ever deeper. But as the myth grows in girth, so too does our fear of the mad killer hidden in his home.
From the Hardcover edition.
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