The worst day of my life started with a beautiful April morning. Even after all these years I still remember the soft autumn sun filtering down through the gum trees.

It began like any other day: as usual I got up slowly and almost missed the bus. I'll never forget the bus that linked the farms to Canberra: the boys from Daramarlan always sprayed deodorant. The bus driver Shelley never quite got Thomas and James from Grammar to be silent. The boys from Saint Edmunds, snatching away my knitting needles, would tease me till I became angry.

In retrospect it was stupid of me to make such a fuss of such insignificant little things, but at thirteen I believed a suffered terribly. That was about to change

At ten minutes to 9 the bus dropped me off outside my school.

But that day I wasn't going to school, that day I was I was going to have some fun. It's not that I was unappreciative of learning or that I disliked my school but that day was, sports carnival, I hated Sports carnival

I clicked away with my knitting needles, humming to myself, looking forward to a day of relaxation. I smiled, as in fact (or so I foolishly thought) that the previous day, had been the best day of my life: Ali, a boy whom I had a crush on for months, had come up to me at the end of recess - in full view of my friends. And asked me! As in me, Alice, Out! He said that since he didn't much like the upcoming sports carnival and he knew I didn't, would I like to see a movie instead? I had been too surprised to speak. Ali, who was normally so shy and awkward, and if not that then violent and abusive, was being charming, sweet and polite.

In hindsight, I should have been wary of this sudden change in character - just the week before he had sworn at me calling me stupid whore for wearing tight jeans on a uniform free day, but I was too enamoured of him to care.

At school I hurried to the bathroom in order to change out of my navy school uniform into my favourite pair of jeans and my best jumper. I shall never forget the soft, clean scent of that cashmere. Not now, not then, not ever.

I checked myself in the mirror for at least the thousandth time: touching up my make up so everything was just right. I ran to my locker and, cramming everything in to it but my handbag and knitting, I ran to end of the oval where Ali had told me to meet him.

When I did not see him, I became frightened that I had been set up, and that he would never show up, but then I saw Ali emerge from behind a bush, he smiled his beautiful smile and my heart nearly melted.

"Hi Ali, how are you?" I said unable to contain my excitement

"Hello Alice I am really well." he replied as we walked towards the bus stop. Instead of going to the closer cinemas in Manuka, Ali wanted to go Belconnen. I was so overjoyed that I agreed despite the considerable distance.

"Excellent!" I giggled, "Oh Ali, isn't this wonderful to be going to see a movie? I have never been on a date before! What do you want to see?"

"Anything you want to see," He smiled again.

"Well I really wanted to see Here On Earth, I've heard it's really good", I commented, it was the ultimate chick flick I hoped I wasn't pushing my luck.

His smile didn't falter. "That sounds like a great idea, I'll buy the tickets."

"Really? Thank you so much, it's not often these days that you get to meet a gentleman" I was impressed.

The ACTION bus pulled up at our stop. Getting out my wallet I asked the bus driver whether this would take us to Belconnen.

Over the next twenty minutes we talked a lot. I learnt that his father was in the Jordanian Diplomatic service, and that he wanted to become an engineer. He had an older sister who still lived at home and a five year old brother, and that he wouldn't turn thirteen till August. But mostly he asked me questions, which delighted me as most boys were too reticent to do anything more than mumble.

I told him about my farm, my pro-Israeli stance (which he astonishingly agreed with) and he admired my knitting and my love of dogs. He seemed interested to know that my mother still found time to tatt and embroider, despite the fact that she travelled extensively around Australia, as a senior public servant.

He asked me whether after the movie I would mind if we went to his club. I asked which one and he told me about the Sharing. I sighed, my friend Sarah had joined the Sharing about two weeks earlier and was always trying to persuade me to join. I had avoided this because my mother had once made me join the Scouts but I had left my first meeting in tears, I had never attended another. So I told him that I found clubs like the Scouts tedious. Ali told me not to worry, that the Sharing was way cooler than Scouts.

Still, I felt nervous- I am not comfortable in groups. But I really did want to make Ali happy, and he seemed really into the Sharing.

When we got to Belconnen, we bought our tickets for the 11 o'clock session of Here on Earth.

We had an hour to spare so Ali suggested that we browse through a bookshop. Pleased by Ali's unexpected interest in literature; I asked him what his favourite books were and he looked at me blankly and mumbled something about the One Thousand and One Nights andRumi's Masnavi. I raised my eyebrow sceptically; I had leafed through The Masnavi at the library once and had found it dreadfully dull,

"But Rumi is so boring! Do you like history?" I said wondering if he had lied to impress me. Ali looked flabbergast that I even knew who Rumi was. "Well there is this book I read in Arabic it's called Kitab al-I'tibar which is a firsthand account of the Crusades."

This sounded more interesting than Rumi "I would like to read that, I love military history, especially when it's a primary source. Tell me the author's name and we can see if it's been translated into English."

"That's a very unusual interest. The author was called Usama Ibn Munqidh." He didn't need to say that's a very unusual interest for a thirteen year old girl.

"I guess it is unusual; my Dad reads classical history books to me. We can't all be boring and stupid. Reading a firsthand account of the crusades isn't usual for twelve year old boy either."

"Very true." He replied. I wondered if my mention of his age embarrassed him, we were both looking through the history section, but were unable to find any book by Usama Ibn Munqidh.

"Whoa! You know so much about history, what would you recommend?" Ali asked. I blushed at his flattery.

I pulled out Julius Caesar's The Invasion of Gaul "My dad says this is really good, and Titus Livy's The War with Hannibal is apparently still studied by tacticians today." I handed him the two books and then I picked up Suetonius's The Twelve Caesars. "My father doesn't own any Suetonius, he has Tacitus though."

"Would you like me to buy it for you?" he asked.

I was slightly taken aback by his generosity, so I replied "Only if you promise to read the Livy and Caesar from cover to cover."

"You have my word. I will read anything you tell me to." Said Ali

I then remembered how last week Ali had told our SOSE teacher that there was no point in studying 'the rubbish of human understanding'.

"I always assumed I was only person interested in ancient literature, except Sarah who prefers poetry. What caused you to become so interested in 'the rubbish of human understanding' all of a sudden?" Especially, I thought to myself, polytheistic Roman understanding.

"People change Alice, and I have changed for the better since I joined the Sharing. It's opened my heart to new knowledge and a greater understanding of humanity." A knot in my stomach twisted-something seemed very wrong about his answer, though I was not sure what exactly sure what troubled me. Suddenly Ali's face changed: twitched, jerked, as if something momentous was happening inside him, he gasped out the word "Jahiliyyah."

"Are you okay Ali? You look a little peaky."

"I am absolutely fine." He said gathering his composure "Now allow me to pay for these books."

I wasn't going to disagree with his generosity and put up no protest.

By then it was 10:50. "It's almost time for the movie, we had better run." So I ran, and Ali followed.

The movie was good-I had always loved romances, and Chris Kline was so handsome! Unbelievably Ali enjoyed it even more-yet another surprise as I had never thought that Ali would be the kind of boy who liked romantic movies.

It was the worst day of my life, although the first half of it was unbelievably happy. Ali led me along as we chatted about other unimportant things. Finally, we arrived at the Canberra Headquarters for the Sharing: it was a steel and glass building, designed by a fashionable architect. He showed me to a large room-much like a school hall, with chairs all facing a podium. The interior was like the exterior-modern and fashionable with a Zen sort of atmosphere with its white lounges and New Age posters. The sounds of a Didgeridoo CD permeated the room. I suppose it was meant to make you feel relaxed, but for some reason, I felt uneasy. The only other feature of the room was a door in the far right corner.

Ali turned and smiled as a short red haired girl entered the room-accompanied by an older man who looked to be her father. She walked over to us and greeted Ali in a familiar way

"Well Daddy, this is my new friend Ali, who I've been telling you about. He's a full member like me," she said excitedly.

Ali replied "Hi Áine, this is Alice-she goes to my school and she agreed to come along and try out the Sharing just once" Ali gave Áine a knowing smile. We were introduced-Patrick seemed okay even if he did smoke; Áine, it transpired, went to Orana.

More people arrived; Ali and Áine both seemed happier and happier-as if they knew each other really well. Everyone I spoke to seemed to want me to become a full member-whatever that was.

"So what exactly happens when you join the Inner Sharing?" I asked cautiously.

"If you go through that back door there you will get to find out!" Ali told me in a mysterious voice.

"And would I have to become a member of the Inner Sharing to enter through that door?"

He laughed "You become a member of the Inner Sharing when you enter through that door, and trust me, being a full member is the best thing in the world; it's as if you let go of all your problems at once."

A few metres away, Áine appeared to be having the same conversation with her father when it looked like he'd agreed. I finally made up my mind "All right I'll join; as Nietzsche said what doesn't kill you makes you stronger-and you're obviously not dead!"

Ali's laughed. "Oh I am so happy for you-you're just going to love being a member of the Inner Sharing" he said as Patrick and I were lead towards the door.

My earlier sense of unease was suddenly reinforced-it was if all the inner members were encircling us, making us unable to escape.

As Áine opened that small back door my emotions went from unease to panic-the door led down a dark staircase and I could hear the sounds of a hundred voices screaming all at once.

"Quick" said Ali harshly "she looks like a runner." Two stocky men grabbed my arms and legs as they pushed me down that slippery staircase. As we walked down the screams became louder and louder: men, women, children and some sounds so altogether alien, that I couldn't identify what they came from.

SRREEESRAAAWWW. A horrible screeching sound came from the mouth of an immense 3 metre long worm as it scuttled towards another giant worm and began to devour it. I kicked and screamed as much as I could. I even bit one of the men, regretting that I left my knitting needles upstairs with my handbag, but nothing I could do allowed me to escape.

The room was hell itself.

At the end of the long staircase was a pool surrounded by cages full of screaming people and more strange creatures. But the true horror lay in the pool itself: dark brown sludge that seemed to breathe with unholy life... People were taken from the cages screaming in torment.

Giant seven foot tall monsters covered in razor blades would hold them down, thrust their heads into the water, and suddenly they became very still, and walked away gracefully as if nothing had ever happened.

My stomach lurched, and for the first time realised why the water seemed alive: the water was filled with a multitude of large grey slugs that swam around in what seemed like expectation.

When the scaly beasts seized me there was nothing I could do to resist. As my head was thrust into that satanic water, I discovered the meaning of true suffering.

I had been infested.