A gleam in the dark

Callie sighed and heaved her backpack to her other shoulder. She peered around the corner, but she couldn’t see the bus. She busied her toe into the dusty ground. Her sneakers were already dirty, they had been a muddy colour for as long as she could remember. Just this morning the sole had begun to peel away from the toe, a great flap forming like a chattering mouth. She would have to remember to get some glue when she got to school.

She heard the distant roar of a vehicle approaching. She looked up but it was only a grey station wagon. It shot past her, the occupants lost in a blur. Callie sighed. She checked her watch. Quarter to eight, the bus was late.

She lifted her backpack from her shoulder and placed it on the ground, propping it against her legs. She shrugged her shoulders a few times and rolled her neck. Everything felt tight, her muscles were coiled like a snake, she could feel the thin ribbons of them knotted under her skin.

There was no one else around. The morning was quiet and the sun was already beginning to strip the air of moisture. It was going to be a hot one, over forty again, perhaps. She craned her head around the corner, still no bus. Then something caught her eye a few paces away. She pushed her backpack away and stepped closer.

There was a crevice beneath a large flat rock—there in the dark something moved, glimmered. Callie looked toward the road again, then crouched down. It was dark in the little clutch. She pressed her cheek to the ground.

Under the smooth grey rock, in the dust and darkness, a family of lizards gleamed. There was the large one, the mother she suspected and then a dozen babies, maybe more, crawling over each other in a heaving heap. It was like a tangled knot of string that was alive and shimmering.

One, a baby, braved the open, pushing its head from the shadows. It was small, no longer than her finger, but thinner like the bone stripped bare. Its skin was a dark not-black colour, a colour that had absorbed all other colours and become the darkness of all the colours mixed together. Its head twitched upwards then from side to side, testing. Then it crawled with quick, jerky movements to the top of the rock.

One by one it was followed by its brothers and sisters until the rock was alive with their twitching eyes. Last of all the mother walked languidly and sat squat among them. She flicked a lazy eye at Callie as if to say, I’m watching.

Suddenly the bus roared around the corner. Callie picked up her backpack and jumped on board. She did not believe in mystical experiences, but even so, she sat at the back of the bus and watched from the grimy window. As the bus pulled away she watched the rock gleam black like it was alive. She watched the glint of the sun on the lizard’s tight skin. She kept watching until all she could see was a dark-on-dark speck getting smaller and smaller in the sun.

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