By Lara McCormack 

It was a big leap from the North Bank Building to the residential lots, but I’d managed it many times. Especially since I turned 15 in autumn; I felt like my legs had grown about an inch every day. The jump may have become easier, but it was no less exhilarating. In those few moments, when I was three stories up, flying above the concrete with nothing tying me down, I felt a sense of freedom that I couldn’t attain anywhere else.  

I stretched my legs out, bent down, and leapt eagerly into the air, holding my arms out in front of me. I landed on the side of the first townhouse and gripped the chimney to steady myself. The red brick scraped my hands, but the sting barely registered; it was drowned out by the familiar rush of adrenaline.   

The residential lots went on for miles, all connected to one another through the roofs. I discovered this a few years ago when mum ordered me to replace the flickering downlight in her bedroom. I climbed up the ladder, popped my head through the maintenance hole, and flashed my torch at what I expected to be a wall, but instead was emptiness that seemed to go on forever. Emptiness that turned out to be a gold mine.  

I was thoroughly distracted by my discovery at the time, and began a fervent roof-hunting expedition, filling my pockets and hands with things to bring home. On my first trip, I found dry unused matches, old coins emblazoned with the head of a dead king, an antique oil lamp with a gold-plated handle, a half-opened pack of Pokémon cards, and a box of tealight Christmas candles. When I came back down, I very nearly got grounded for not fixing the light before I managed to get a word in and explain what I’d discovered. After that, mum and I agreed it wasn’t stealing because there were no walls; everything up there belonged to everyone and therefore everything up there belonged to us. Our house went from barely furnished, let alone decorated, to an eclectic collection of items other people had forgotten about. We had pretty-smelling candles above the fireplace, six different chairs at the dining table, hand-painted ceramic jars in the kitchen, a grubby cat tree for Larry in the living room, and an old monitor for mum’s desk in the office.  

I climbed into the first roof through some gaps between tiles that I’d removed myself, turned on my torch, and crept carefully back to our house, number twenty, counting the houses by the number of chimneys I passed. This was my trip home from school every weekday; it was faster than walking along the busy main street, and I didn’t have to see anyone who might know me. I’d basically cleared out all the items in these roofs, from the first house to our house, of the things that were light enough for me to carry. There was a grandfather clock in the third house that I had my eye on, but I hadn’t yet worked out how to move it without alerting the occupants of every house between theirs and ours.  

“Four… five…six…seven…”   

A soft creaking pricked my ears, distracting me from my chimney counting. I flashed my torchlight around the roof in search of the source. I tried to breathe slowly and evenly, but my heart was already pounding out of my chest. It wasn’t uncommon to encounter a possum or a rat between the rafters, but it was easy to be irrational in the dark. Still, I couldn’t see anything that seemed extraordinary. I closed my eyes and stood completely still, focusing only on my sense of hearing, hoping to work out which direction the creaking had come from. A barely stifled giggle broke the silence. For I moment I thought it was my mother, laughing at me as I stood motionless, believing me to be struck dumb with fear. But she hardly ever came into the roof, her hip gave her too much pain to scale the ladder, and this giggle was lighter and softer than anything I recognised from her.  

“Who are you?”  

The voice was light and soft, just as the giggle had been. The words seem to float through the darkness in slow motion, reaching my ears seconds after they had been spoken. I lifted my torch and found a girl peeking out from behind the seventh chimney, a head shorter than me, with brown hair that curled up at her shoulders. I couldn’t find my own voice to respond, so instead I studied her face, searching for her intentions inside her brown eyes and the lines of her upturned mouth. 

“Are you lost?” she prompted, raising her eyebrows in expectation of a response.  

“No, no, not at all.” I stumbled over my words, but I was relieved I’d managed to speak at all.  

“Me neither.”  

She smiled. She had a glittering, infectious kind of smile that was impossible to look away from. She took a step towards me and held out her hand. “I’m Niamh.” 

“I’m Lewis.”  

I awkwardly shifted the torch into my left hand and reached out my right to shake hers. Her skin was gentle and smooth against my calloused, scratched-up palm, and I winced at the contrast. Beside her I felt clumsily big and rough.  

“Come on, let’s explore together,” she said. Her smile was somehow even brighter, and I couldn’t help smiling too.  

I knew in that moment, as we stood across from one another in the dark with only my torchlight illuminating her face, that we were going to be best friends, companions through life, and maybe even soulmates. I saw my whole future reflected back at me in the depths of her eyes. The familiar feeling of exhilaration spread across my body; it was time to stretch my legs and take an entirely different kind of leap.  

Lara McCormack (she/her) is a final year Business and Creative Industries student at QUT with a keen interest in children’s adventure and short story writing, taking inspiration from the works of Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis. After graduating, Lara endeavours to develop a career in the publishing industry as an editor and author. 


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