Chapter 1: The Party

The fridge door shut with a satisfying thud. Ashley leaned her forehead against the cool grey frame, wishing that the throbbing in her brain would disappear. Parties were most definitely not her thing. But they had all worked so hard this past term, and it was the first weekend of the spring holiday. Their last chance to relax before the final term of year 12 and exams kicked in. And her parents had agreed Ashley and her friends deserved a night to celebrate the end of prelims. So, here they were.

But the music was too loud. And someone had changed her carefully crafted Classics playlist so all Ashley could now hear was the repetitive beat of a techno tune. She had tried to feel it, as some of her classmates had advised, but it was a real struggle telling when one song changed to the next. Or was that the point?

With about forty of her classmates all rammed into the living room and more spilling out onto the deck to see who could do the most push-ups, the house had quickly turned stuffy. The cumulative smell of fifty or so adolescents, fizzy drinks, cheap beer and chips of all sorts had formed a heavy, intoxicating atmosphere. Ashley poured herself a glass of water, hoping the relative solace of the kitchen and cold hydration would free her from this strange dizzying effect.

“Ashley.” The voice was hazy and distant. Suddenly a tall person blocked her view. “Ash.” The voice was persistent now. “Are you alright?”

“Ah. I think so.” Her voice didn’t sound like it belonged to her, all groggy and raspy. She was still parched.

Her eyes finally focusing on the dark figure, she made out Dan’s face. He was in the year above, but had been plus-oned by one of Ashley’s classmates, though she couldn’t remember who. Handsome, Ashley thought, and immediately bit her lip, worrying she had said it out loud. It was probably no surprise to him that she fancied him – everyone did – but still, she had to retain some dignity.

“Hey.” His voice was soft, a tinge of curiosity mingled with concern. “You look a bit red.”

A sudden clattering from outside made Ashley momentarily hold her breath before she dared ask, “Do you know if my deck’s still alright?”

“Just from there. Won the push-up competition!” Dan laughed. “Think they’re onto pyramids now. Who’d have known your classmates were such acrobats! We should enter the inter-school gymnastics competition next year!” But seeing Ashley’s genuinely worried face, he added, “It was fine when I left. No one’s going too crazy. Think most people got the respect the house memo your, um, loud friend made everyone swear to at the door.” He laughed again, and Ashley grimaced. Of course Mel had to.

“I don’t want everyone going around calling this party lame!”

He suddenly had his hands on her shoulders. Firm, supportive, calming. “Stop. Worrying. Party’s great. Have some punch.”

Ashley inspected the cup carefully, gave it a sniff. Dan watched, bemused

“What’s in it?”

“As many juices as I could find, some lemonade and ginger ale,” Dan recited. “Oh, and strawberries. I brought them!”

“You didn’t mix in any-”

“Anything your parents wouldn’t approve of?” Dan smiled. He had a lovely, genuine smile. Dan raised his right hand, as if swearing in court. “Your house, your rules.”

“Thanks.” She gulped the punch sheepishly.

His left hand was still on her shoulder. He tapped his index finger on it, eyes dancing between amusement and concern. “Maybe you should sit down.”

Maybe I should. With him beside me. They could talk. They were friendly at school. They had been in the school play together earlier that year: Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. It had been a trying piece, and the whole cast had really bonded over the five week of rehearsals. She really liked Dan, but he would be moving away after graduation in a few months to study International Relations in Adelaide. She would most likely never see him again. But here he was now and…

“Ash!” The distraction came in the form of one of her best friends Matt skipping towards the kitchen with a triumphant gleam on his face. “There you are! We’ve built the pyramid. Just need you to top it. Rosie’s too scared and you’re the next lightest! Come on!”

His static hair even more wild than usual, Matt swerved around the two of them, opened the pantry door, grabbed himself a butter croissant Ashley had been saving for tomorrow’s breakfast, and mimed a pulling gesture. She responded, giggling. As if by magic the grogginess had begun to lift and she already felt better.

“Was the pizza not enough, Matty?” She watched as the croissant disappeared rapidly before her eyes.

“No, plenty! Well…I got hungry again.” Matt pulled her into a half hug and turned her towards the sliding doors which led onto the deck.

Suddenly, the familiar ring of the house phone sounded through the beat of the party music. Ashley looked at the clock. 11pm. Who would be ringing so late? 

As comfortable as ever in her home – they’d always felt like they had grown up under the same roof together like brother and sister – Matt reached out and picked up the receiver.

“The Days’ place. How can I help?”

Ashley could hear the speaker on the other end of the line loud and urgent, though not loud enough for her to make out the words.

“What are they saying? Matt, what’s happened?” 

Matt’s face had turned dark. He put what remained of the croissant onto the kitchen bench. “Matt!” Ashley tried to grab the telephone, all trace of the previous haziness gone, but he turned away from her, muttered something unintelligible and slammed the receiver onto its stand.

“Everything alright?” Dan’s tentative query was ignored as Matt silently grabbed Ashley by the hand and dragged her towards the front door.

As Matt hurried a coat onto her shoulders, she tried to ask again what was going on. 

“We have to go, quickly, Ash. Something’s happened to your mum.” He was speaking so quickly that Ashley could barely register what he had said. Then he turned to Dan, acknowledging his presence for the first time. “Hey, man, sorry to put this on you. Let Rosie and Mel know something’s come up, okay? Get everyone to pitch in and clean up after?” Turning back to Ashley, he reiterated, “We need to be quick.” His instructions were short and straightforward. Scared but forced into motion, Ashley grabbed her car keys from the wooden bowl on the kitchen bench, nestled between her mum’s two pots of geraniums, and rushed outside with Matt. She made for her little car, only to realise it was jammed in the driveway by two others. She twisted around to see Matt already making for his Jeep which was parked on the street.

Without a word, she climbed into his car, quickly looking back to see Dan’s worried face just visible in the doorway as he slowly waved them good-bye.




As Matt drove to Buckley Hospital, Ashley’s heart felt like it was drumming holes in her ribs. What had happened? What was going on? Why was her mum in hospital? And where was her dad?

“Ashley, breathe.” It was Matt’s voice. As they made their way onto the motorway Ashley finally let out the breath she had been holding since she got into the car.

“Matt…” She wanted to ask what the person had said on the phone, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to say it.

Matt’s mouth slowly eased up into the warm smile Ashley loved so much. They’d been best friends since primary school and although they now went to different high schools they had remained as close as ever.

“You focus on your breathing,” he said softly, “and I’ll focus on the road.”

It was late. The roads were empty. They made it to Buckley Hospital in record time. As they turned off the motorway and onto the last stretch of road, the big dark block of the hospital complex loomed before them and Ashley felt a wave of nausea rush up from her stomach. She dug her nails into the soft of her palms to keep her focus. Just another minute. Just another minute.

As soon as they were parked, Ashley and Matt pelted for the main reception. They were directed to the emergency block. Ashley’s heart thudded louder and faster as they ran past ward one, two, three! The rushed through the first door on the left. A group of doctors and nurses were clustered inside, discussing something in rapid hushed voices. Ashley saw one of the nurses turn and administer something through an IV drip into the arm of the patient.

“What’s happening?” she demanded, but her voice couldn’t be heard over one of the doctor’s.

“Fiona Patricia Day, unresponsive, depressed brainstem reflexes,” one of the doctors was briefing the nurses. “Sustained acute head injury to the left temporal area at approximately 9:30pm today. Patient remains unresponsive. Both tibias broken, small fractures along the femurs, and a fracture in the right ulna.” 

There was too much terminology. She needed to know now whether her mother was alive or- She couldn’t even bear the other thought. With a surge of energy, Ashley wrenched one of the nurses away from the door and stumbled into the centre of the blindingly white room. The light stung her eyes, but she forced herself to look.

A stark white bed. A body, a familiar slim female body, lying motionless between the plain white sheets. The smell of starched linen and disinfectant intoxicated the little box room. Tubes ran from the woman’s nose, pushing air in and out of her body, and an IV drip stood attached to her arm. Both legs lay elevated slightly in casts that ran almost all the way up to her hips. A pulse reader counted her heartbeats, thankfully steady. But her eyes were closed.

Ashley rushed to the side of the bed.

“Mum, Mum, wake up!”

A nurse hurried over to move Ashley away before she could disturb any of the hospital equipment.

“Sweetie, we’re doing everything we can-”

“Let me go! She needs to wake up!” Ashley pushed the nurse away and leaned back down towards her mother.

It was only when the sudden eerie silence of the room made itself known in the chill running down Ashley’s back that she managed to turn around. Matt was standing in the corner by the door, whispering with an ancient-looking doctor, the ‘medical terminology’ doctor from just moments – or had it been longer? – before. Everyone else had vacated the room. The sudden change in atmosphere weighed on Ashley as she watched Matt and the doctor’ interaction, struggling to hear past the deafening drumming within her temples.

“If you could explain to Ashley what happened, Mr. Gordon, perhaps she would take it better coming from you first.” Ashley managed to make out the doctor’s words, though they sounded miles away, muffled, as if he was speaking through a window. “I’ll just be outside.” He patted Matt on the shoulder, gave Ashley a sympathetic glance and removed himself from the room. 

Ashley felt Matt’s hands on hers, lifting her up to stand against his strong body.


“Don’t worry. He’s hasn’t fully left. He’s just stepped out to give us some privacy. He’s there to answer any questions if you need.” Matt steadied her and stroked his hand through her thick long black hair, a calming gesture, as he’d always done in childhood.

“Matty, why is mum here? She looks, she looks-” Apart from the tubes sticking out of her nose and vein and two huge casts wrapping her legs, Fiona Day looked, well…normal. Alive. Pale, yes, but that was her natural skin colour; thin, yes, but she had lost some weight recently. There was some bruising and cuts around her face, chest and arms, but nothing that looked life-threatening. Why isn’t she waking up? The question plagued Ashley as Matt held her against the gravity that threatened to pull her down.

She could not see Matt’s expression as she rested her head on his wide chest, but she knew by his uncharacteristic silence that something was definitely very wrong. Unable to control herself and feeling totally and utterly helpless and confused, she let out a strangled whimper. Her body started to sag back to the floor and Matt had to hold her even tighter to keep her from completely disintegrating.

“Ash, ssh, we’ll get through this.” He was trying to put on a strong front, Ashley could tell. “Doctor Aimon – he’s the one I was just speaking to – he said your mum was in a car accident. With your dad. He’s a bit concussed, sprained his wrist, but he’s alright…awake.” Matt was stumbling through the words Doctor Aimon had asked him to share. Then he drew in a rattling breath, squared his jaw and fixed Ashley with his caring, wideset eyes. “The car drove right into someone’s fence. Your mum hit her head and broke her legs. Your dad will be fine, Dr. Aimon said. He’ll be released tomorrow.” Matt was now rattling off the doctor’s words in short, crisp sentences. Perhaps this was the easiest way, he felt, for her to understand, to come to terms with what had happened, but it all just sounded like a long shopping list, with too many items to focus properly on the main ingredient. “Your mum-”


Ashley couldn’t finish the sentence. It was as if her body was running on empty. No words to speak. No cohesive thoughts to process. Empty. She suddenly felt very dizzy and scared.

“Your mum on the other hand,” Matt continued, but his voice broke as he tried to tell her. 

Ashley sucked in a breath, focusing her vision, and lifted her face to see tears start to escape his eyes. No, Matt was crying. He couldn’t cry. He was the strong one. Ashley reached up and started wiping the tears away from his cheeks. 

“Ash, your mum is in a coma. She’s unresponsive. They’ve done what they can so they’re waiting for any chang–.” He choked on his own words and closed his eyes tightly.

Ashley’s fingers stopped on his cheek and curled into a balled fist as she bit her teeth hard into her lower lip to stop herself from crying. Terror coursed through her body, pounding in her arms, her throat, her head. 

She couldn’t let emotion cloud her judgment; she needed to think of a rational solution for this. But it was too late. Tears had begun streaming down her face. As they fell into her mouth she winced, realising she had bitten her lip to blood. Yet that was nothing compared to the pain she felt growing from somewhere deep within her, inside her being. It was as if all her muscles had stopped working and were only throbbing, wanting to be let out of her body as if she was keeping them there by force. Her hands tingled and she once again felt so light-headed while at the same time her temples pounded so hard it felt as if her brain would explode into a million pieces. 

She twisted around and saw what she had missed. Two small red lines drew themselves just past the white wad of bandaging that covered the left side of her mother’s scalp. A patch of her wavy brown hair had been shaved away to allow for the bandage which, Ashley now realised, concealed an angry red gash. From where she’d hit her head in the accident. The blow that had put her into this coma.

I should have stopped them.

Unable to endure the pain further, Ashley felt herself slipping out of consciousness to the sudden cries of Matt as he tried to keep her upright. Within moments her eyes were closed and the ugly white lights and the sickly smell of the sterilised hospital room had disappeared under a veil of thick, overwhelming darkness. As the suffocating smells and sights vanished, Ashley felt her body succumb to the numbness and let the night take over.


pelted - bashed. Think you mean bolted. 

doctor' (add an s)


It was only when the sudden eerie silence of the room made itself known in the chill running down Ashley’s back that she managed to turn around. 

That is a wonderfully crafted sentence. 

Check through for overwriting like this paragraph:

Ashley’s fingers stopped on his cheek and curled into a balled fist as she bit her teeth hard into her lower lip to stop herself from crying. Terror coursed through her body, pounding in her arms, her throat, her head.  (You could pull out the key points and tighten.)

Here's an example of what I mean: Ashley’s fingers curled into a balled fist. She bit her teeth into her lower lip, the coppery taste of blood filling her mouth. Terror pounded in her veins (this sentence is a bit of a cliche).

It is not the only way to tighten this...just an example. You could try tightening all the way through the hospital scene. 

The party scene is fantastic. I could see and feel the bustle and Ashley's concerns over the drinks. It is a very good example of showing not telling. 



Suraya, thank you for your insightful feedback. You're right, I need to tighten the hospital scene quite a bit, and your example has helped give me an idea re how to do this!

Thank you for taking the time to read through and comment on my work.

My pleasure Anna.