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Treanna walked past the young couple waiting in the patchy shade of a tree and stood beside the bus sign. Stop twenty- five. Same number as her grandparents’ old place, before Pop died and Nana moved in with Aunty Sissy. Same number, minus a week, as her brother’s age when he died. Accident, they’d said. He shouldn’t have resisted, they’d reiterated at the inquest. Thinking of Buddy, she twisted the stretchy red, yellow and black band on her left wrist.

‘Want one?’

Treanna turned and saw an older guy, perhaps mid thirties. Greasy blond hair framing a flaking sunburnt face. He held out a crushed pack of smokes. She shook her head. He looked her over, smirking. She turned away, willing the bus to arrive. She glanced at the couple under the tree and noticed they were deep in conversation. She wondered whether they’d even bother to look her way if she needed help.

From the smoke drift, she knew the stranger was a few steps behind her. She touched her bracelet again. Treanna’s teacher, Mrs Ford, constantly told her off for fidgeting with it, not realising the bracelet helped Treanna feel less anxious. It had briefly belonged to Buddy, her brother. He’d gotten it at a protest to save the river. Treanna had wanted to go with him that day, but their mum said no and promised to take her to the next one. The cops came looking for Buddy the day after the protest.

Pop handed Treanna the bracelet at the funeral. She’d been inconsolable when she heard Buddy wasn’t ever coming home. She’d wailed so loud that moths flew in and nestled deep in her stomach. She didn’t cry when Pop died a few months later. She kept her mouth closed, lest something else decided to join those moths.

She’d wailed so loud that moths flew in and nestled deep in her stomach.

‘You’re not so bad on the eye.’

Suppressing a shiver, she hoped the stranger would not move closer. She looked at the couple. They appeared to be quietly arguing. She stiffened her back, planning which way she’d run. The moths in her stomach tumbled to the left, then the right. Treanna kept her head down, hoping he’d leave her alone. She decided the right was the best direction to make her escape. If she ran past the tree, the couple might step in. If not, she’d keep running.

He was fast. Much faster than she’d anticipated. He grabbed her shoulder and swung her around. It hurt, but Treanna never even blinked. She looked him in the eye, calmly priming saliva. She planned on spitting in his right eye. The left was half closed, with a faint purple-blue mark above the brow. He relaxed his grip on her shoulders slightly. Treanna couldn’t reach the tri-coloured band on her wrist. Her breathing increased, becoming more erratic. The moths were in such a frenzied flurry that she felt like vomiting.

Treanna took a deep breath and tried to picture Pop. She remembered him sharing stories with her while fishing down by the bend in the river. Pop had been a quiet man, preferring the company of his chickens. Get him in the right mood, and he’d tell a yarn or two. Treanna’s mum had often remarked at how much she reminded her of Pop. Buddy had been more like their dad, who’d been gone so long that Treanna could barely remember what he looked like. They had put Dad to rest with a view of the river, on Country.

Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land. Buddy had taught her that chant. Pop hadn’t been too keen on chants or protests. Not even when the fish started to die, and the river almost stopped flowing. Those days are over, he’d patiently tell Buddy. Pop believed there were other ways to push for justice and rights, to protect Country. Buddy had adamantly disagreed. Treanna wondered what Pop would do if he was here. She knew what Buddy would do; however, she was just a girl.

Pop believed there were other ways to push for justice and rights, to protect Country.

Closing her eyes, she saw a tall woman: feet planted firmly on the ground, hands on hips, chin held high. Treanna watched in horror as the invaders rushed into the river camp. The woman did not move. Shouts. Screams. Bare feet running. Running. Still the woman stood her ground.

‘Stop ignoring me,’ said the stranger.

Treanna opened her eyes and blinked. Then she opened her mouth and out poured – not words. With a loud clang, a lance fell to the ground. They both stared at it, confused. He released her abruptly and stepped back. She opened her mouth again, and a blunderbuss fell out. Then a dagger with a chipped handle. Followed by a small, short-handled pistol. Clatter. Clang. Clink. Clank. More weaponry fell from her mouth. Soon, a pile of rusted metal, many pieces with bone or wood handles, reached to her knees.

Then a single moth escaped. She watched it fly over the heads of the nearby couple, and settle in the tree. The couple were still arguing, oblivious to what was happening a few steps away. Treanna put both hands over her mouth.

‘That’s old British armoury, that is,’ the stranger said. ‘Where’d you nick it from?’

She looked up at him, then back to the heap of metal at her feet. He scowled and gave a rifle a kick. It made a rattling noise before resettling in the stack. They both looked up as the bus arrived. The door made a loud whooshing sound as it opened.

‘You getting on, love?’ the driver asked her, before turning his attention to the man.

‘Told you before, I won’t have any trouble on my bus.’

The man swore at the driver before walking away. Treanna jumped on the bus, suddenly feeling lighter. As the bus moved away from the kerb, she looked out the window. The pile of weapons had vanished.

This is an edited extract from ‘Clatter Tongue’, a story by Karen Wylde from This All Come Back Now: An anthology of First Nations speculative fiction edited by Mykaela Saunders, (University of Queensland Press),  available now at your local independent bookseller.