The Bringer on the top of Mount Parnassus, in the grand temple where the gods hang out, I am struggling to load my thunderbolts into the two
white sacks strapped on to Gus’s back.
“Stand still!” I use a firm tone with my pony as he fidgets. “This is hard enough without you messing about.” The thunderbolts have these sharp, pointy edges that make them almost impossible to stuff into the sack and I’m trying not to jab Gus in the flank, but I’m in a desperate hurry. The white fluffy clouds beneath my feet are trembling. The whole mountain is shaking from the bottom up. There isn’t much time – we need to get out of here.
A voice booms through the temple and I turn round to see Zeus striding towards me across the clouds, white robes flowing behind him. “Put the thunderbolts down, Evie.”
I ignore him and continue packing. I can’t stop now and leave the job half done. That would drive me mad. Two thunderbolts absolutely must go in each sack. Two plus two. An even number. I must get the ritual right, do it in sequence, or terrible things will happen. But then terrible things are already happening. The ground thunder is coming. I can feel its rumble beneath my feet, unstoppable and uncontrollable.
“Evie –” Zeus is beside me – “I want you to tell me how much anxiety you would feel, on a scale of one to ten, if you stopped doing this right now?”
His voice is soft, reassuring, and suddenly I realise that beneath his big white fluffy beard Zeus is not a Greek god at all but actually Willard Fox, my psychologist.
“Evie,” Willard says, “this is the OCD trying to trick you. I know you want to make everyone safe, but you cannot control what is to come. There are things in the universe beyond your powers…”
I feel tears prick my eyes when he says this. I want to stop the rituals. I don’t want to be OCD’s slave any more, but I’m so scared. And the earthquake is here now. The shaking that has been rocking the mountain is growing stronger and the air around us turns electric as the thunder rolls under our feet.
Laden with his pannier bags full of thunderbolts, Gus has been getting more and more agitated and suddenly, with a panic-stricken jerk, he wrenches free of my grasp. I lunge at his reins.
He gallops off and I break into a run, chasing after him, but then the clouds disintegrate beneath my feet and suddenly I am wheeling through the sky. It’s like falling from a plane. Air rushes by me with incredible speed. I look down and I can see Parnassus far below. Not Parnassus the Greek mountain, but my own Parnassus. The small South Island town in New Zealand where I have lived for all twelve years of my life. Parnassus looks very different from above. I can see the rust-red rooftop of the town hall, and the dairy, and Wrightsons farm supplies, and along from the shops is my school, five classrooms set out in a horseshoe, and the chestnut trees bordering the green expanse of the playing fields. The main street looms up towards me as I plummet headlong. Even as I’m falling, in my death plunge I get this sense of wonder, because there’s something cool about seeing the town from above. It all looks so tiny, but then Parnassus is pretty weeny. Mum says the tourists blink and miss it when they drive through on the way to watch the whales in Kaikoura, further up the main state highway where the road hugs the coastline of the Southern Ocean.
I can see our farm as I free-fall. The big oak marking out the lawn beside our villa with its green roof and the driveway to the stable block and the steel grey of the milking sheds. It must be almost milking time because the cows are coming in, moving slowly down the track to the shed as Jock, my Border collie, runs behind them. He’s barking his head off and the noise of his bark is almost as loud as the rumble of the earth, and even though I am in mid-air I can still feel everything shaking.
The green fields are coming towards me super-fast now and I brace myself. I take a deep breath and prepare for the fact that I’m about to crash-land head first into the ground…
And then, with a jolt and a heave, I wake up. I’m surrounded by pitch black. Something heavy
is crushing my ribs and pinning me down, and beneath me the ground is bucking and rumbling with a noise like a train.
It feels so raw and so close this time in the darkness, lying here on the ground in a pup tent, with nothing between me and the rolling, turbulent earth. It was different in the first quake two days ago. I was asleep that time too and the quake threw me clean out of bed. I remember grabbing my backpack and me and Jock running for our lives as the house collapsed and feeling the cold jolt of realisation that Mum wasn’t with us, then turning back and seeing her lying on the lawn, not moving. That was the quake that destroyed Parnassus and started all of this. The evacuation and my mum being taken away in the rescue helicopter, the others taking the inland road to meet the rescue ship at Kaikoura.
They all wanted me to go with them, but I couldn’t. I had to make my own way. I chant the names in my head: Parnassus, Hawkswood, Ferniehurst, Hundalee, the Stag and Spey, Kaikoura. This is our journey. Me and Gus and Moxy and Jock…
The heavy weight that’s been squashing my ribs gives a whimper and I realise it’s him on top of me.
As he struggles to stand up, he shoves his paws deep into the soft bit of my stomach. I give a squeal as his claws dig into my flesh, but before I can push him off me the ground gives another hard buck that throws both of us flat. The impact leaves me winded and I can’t get any breath into my lungs. I begin to hyperventilate and it’s like I’m going to die from not breathing and the more I think about dying the more I can’t breathe and I begin to make these choking, gasping cries.
You want to know where I am right now on a scale of one to ten, Willard? I am a million!
And then the ground stops. I lie there, panting like a dog and shaking. My heart is hammering in my chest and I still can’t get any air into my lungs. I’m gulping, trying to make my breath work again. And then my hot skin goes goosebumpy as I feel something cold and hard against my thigh. Torch! I grab for it and as soon as I have it in my hand I flick the switch and suddenly the tiny black space of my pup tent is illuminated. The first thing I see is Jock’s eyes shining back at me in the light and I nearly scream at the sight of him because he looks deranged, all wild and wolfish with his hackles raised. He gives this low, panic-stricken growl, and at the same time another sound choruses in, an awful howling noise like a baby bawling. It’s Moxy. She must still be in here somewhere, but even with the torchlight on I can’t find her.
“Moxy!” I begin to burrow through the bunched-up folds of sleeping bag.
Moxy has worked herself head first into the bottom of my sleeping bag. I worry that she’s dug herself in so deep she’s going to suffocate, but when I try to pick her up she hisses and lashes out with a paw, swiping viciously at me. I take her seriously since I still have scars on my arm from the last time. I leave her alone and unzip the tent and squirm out of the flap with Jock behind me and then zip Moxy in. I don’t want her to escape and get lost.
Outside the tent the night is totally black. There’s not a flicker of light, no houses for miles in any direction. Parnassus is not exactly bright-city-lights, but the hills of Hawkswood are really remote. This is the middle of nowhere and it’s just me and my cat and my dog. And somewhere, out there in the dense black nothing that surrounds us now, is my horse.
When the big earthquake, the seven-point-eight, shook me out of bed in Parnassus, there was a full moon to see by. Tonight the moon is clouded, the stars seem faint and distant, and the beam of my torch is gutless, so I can’t see more than a couple of metres in any direction. For all I know, the earthquake might have destroyed the land all around me. Maybe everything has slid away and right now I’m perched on a cliff edge. I shine the torch beam as far as it can go and stand rooted to the spot. I turn slowly round, trying to find the tree that I tethered Gus to before I went to bed.
No answer. I keep circling with my torch beam and then I see the tree. The torch beam wobbles as I search for him.
My heart sinks. There’s the branch where I tied his rope off, and the rope too, but I can’t see him.
My eyes blur with hot tears. I’m having trouble breathing again.
The rope is frayed at the end where he strained and broke free. I feel bad when I think about how terrified he must have been to destroy the rope. But of course he was afraid. I had Jock and Moxy with me when the quake struck. Gus had no one.
This is the second time that Gus has been alone when the quakes rolled. The first time was the big one, back in Parnassus. Was it really only two days ago? It feels like a lifetime ago now. When Mum was about to be airlifted to hospital in the helicopter, she told me that Gus would be fine on his own. But she never saw how he was after the first quake struck, the pure terror in him. He’ll be feeling that same fear again right now, and once again I’ve let him down because I wasn’t with him.
I should have slept with him. Like a Bedouin nomad who brings his horse into his tent to sleep right beside him for safety. That’s what I should have done with Gus.
He’s an Arab – you’d know that straight away if you saw him, with that delicate dapple-grey coat and skinny ballerina legs and his pretty dished face. I should have taken him inside my tent, except it’s only a pup tent and it’s way too small. It could barely fit me and the dog and cat. So why didn’t I sleep outside under the tree with him? We should never have been apart. This is all my fault. Who leaves their best friend alone like that?
I shine the torch around again, like I still expect Gus to magically appear beneath the tree. Then I walk back to the tent with Jock hugging so close to me he’s almost wrapped round my thigh. Working dogs usually stick close, but Jock is like glue and I know he’s worried that we’re going to lose each other too.
“Good boy,” I reassure him with a pat on his head, and then I bend down and unzip the tent very carefully, making the smallest gap possible to let us both back in and at the same time make sure Moxy won’t bolt out. We’ve been through enough in the past few days and I don’t want to lose her again. I want to look for Gus, but first there’s something I need to do. I can see Willard Fox at this moment looking down from the clouds still dressed as Zeus with his beard and everything, frowning as he tells me that OCD is a war. “In a war, Evie, you can’t win every battle. Sometimes you have to accept a loss or two. But you can still win the war.”
On a night like this, my OCD is too hard to fight. And so I give in to the urges, and once Jock and I are back inside the tent and all zipped up, I begin the rituals.
I pick up my backpack and undo the side pocket. Then I do up the zip and then I unzip it again. Unzip-zip-unzip and already I feel a lot better. My heart isn’t pounding so hard in my chest any more, but my hands are still shaking as I take the contents out of the pocket and lay them in front of me in the torchlight. There are four items: a gold pen that writes with blue ink, an old takeaway container, a pair of glasses and a pocket notebook.
Somewhere out there in the dark, Gus is lost and I need to find him. But I can’t go yet. I want desperately to go and search for my pony, but the rituals override logic and compel me to continue.
I line up the objects like precious artefacts in a museum. I check them and rearrange their position and then I stack them back in the pocket of my bag in precisely the right formation and I zip it up again. I do this twice over, and then I am done. My heartbeat slows further. I can breathe now. The air goes in and out and there’s a lightness in my chest. I am ready.
When I emerge from the tent this time, I have my backpack on and I feel better because I’ve done things right. All the same, I feel like it still might not be enough protection. And I know I should have done more last night before I went to bed.
If I’d done the rituals better then maybe this earthquake wouldn’t have come.
If Willard Fox was here right now, he’d tell me that my rituals are not going to change the world… that they wouldn’t stop an earthquake. I am not responsible for saving the fate of others or even myself. “Evie,” he’d say, “do you really think a twelve-year-old girl can unleash catastrophe? That you are capable of killing everyone you love and care about, including Jock and Moxy and Gus? Because if you can do this, Evie, then I’m pretty sure that one of those super-secret spy agencies like the CIA would have got in touch with you by now. They could use someone like you. Powers of mass destruction. They’d want to harness that, right?”
The way he says it, it isn’t cruel or sarcastic. He’s not mocking my abilities. Willard is truly asking me the question. Do I really in my heart believe it’s because of me? Am I the one responsible for all of this?
Sometimes I believe him and I know it’s not real. Other times, like right now, I lose faith, I fall back on the rituals.
I know I could have done them better. But it’s been hard because I’m not at home any more. I’m in a tent, camping out, with no one around to help me and everything keeps changing. I am trying to do it right but I know I’ve been failing.
The gods of Parnassus up high on those fluffy clouds are watching me and they see it. They know it’s all my fault. That is the burden of my powers, and if Willard was to ask me right now at this very moment if I caused all of this I would tell him the truth and say, Yes, yes of course it’s me. It’s always been me.
My name is Evie Violet Van Zwanenberg and I am the harbinger of a power so dark that, if I cannot control it, I will destroy the world. I am no ordinary twelve-year-old girl. I have thunderbolts in my fingertips and lightning in my veins. I am the end of days. I am the bringer of earthquakes.