“They say everything in Australia can kill you?”
The dreadlocked youth leaned against the bar and drew a line in the droplets that clung to the outside of his beer. It had been an exceptionally hot day, and the air-con worked hard to keep the small bar cool, I, on the other hand, wasn’t trying as hard to keep mine.
“Even the rocks. Eh Evan.” Brian, smacked me on the arm, and I mumbled something incoherent into my elbow but didn’t otherwise move my head from the cool counter.
“Eh Brother.” Said Brian, again with another tap to my arm “You dead you crazy old fool? Or just can’t handle your piss eh.”
The sun marked me today, but it didn’t seem to affect Brian’s aboriginal skin. If anything he was already too dark for it to do anything but deepen his skin tone. While I had the tight burn associated with pale skin, blistering heat and a unrelenting sun. Then again, I was a white man in aboriginal lands.
I took another gulp of the cool beer, as the glass tipped down Brian’s white smile greeted me.
“You alive brother? I thought you were a goner.” Brian gestured to the bar lady to pull another round. “You want one?” It took dreadlock college fund a minute to realise he was being spoken too. Before long three cold glasses full of sweet release swam before me.
“So why you out here mate?” Brian, always the talker, struck up a conversation with the youngster.
All I wanted to do was drain the glass, numb the memory and repeat, I never drank before I came here, but after what happen, well it was the only way I found to shut it off. But, somehow I knew this wasn’t going to be one of *those days.*
Sooner or later the topic would change and I would relive it. Purge it from my soul to the behest of dreadlock college fund.
“Prospecting,” said the kid fanning his face with a battery operated fan. “I’ve heard that Australia is the riches land in the world for gold apart from South Africa, but I don’t want to go there. It’s too dangerous. Plus, the welcome stranger was found right there.” He jabbed a finger at the plastic sheet that the rundown bar called a window and I groaned, *Stay calm.*
“You don’t know what your talking about kid,” He looked over at me as I drained the glass and gestured for a refill. “Them fields out there lead nowhere, the tunnels lead nowhere, the mines lead nowhere and they will take you with them, if they don’t take everything from you first.” *Getting close.*
“Ah, don’t mind Evan here. He’s a bit crazy. Names Brian.” Said Brian.
College fund snorted.
“That’s a funny name for an aboriginal isn’t it?”
“Not really and I’m only half. My dad was a white man.”
“How long you two been friends?” He asked and nodded at me. Brian laughed.
“When’d you’d get into these parts Evan. Last week was it? Yeah that long.” He chuckled again.
“Well.” College fund continued. “Eight of the top gold nuggets were found in your back yard, and I’m going to find the next one.” He pointed to a sheet of rolled up paper on the bar and before he could place a finger on it, Brian whipped it out for under his hand.
“What you got mate, coordinates or something?” Brian said. The drum of the aircon filled the room like a disjointed marching band as it struggled to work in the heat, a second later and it died.
“Ah man, Brian? can you go look at that piece of shit please?” The bar lady huffed. “There’s dinner in it for you.” She said sweetly and the temptation of free food is enough for my drinking companion, lucky he was here, because my trembling hands aren’t much use.
“You bet kristy, back in a jiffy boys.” Brian said as he tossed the unrolled sheet on the bar.
It landed open before me. I’ve seen tons of maps before and this was no different, even with the marking and statuary X.
The kid turned back to his drink and fan as silence filled the bar, it allowed the edges of the memory to echo in my head, the voices, the pain, the writing, the… Rumble of the aircon drowned out my thoughts and I closed my slack jaw and reached for my new beer.
Suddenly I’m was cold and it wasn’t owed to the faulty aircon unit. Brian came back in and took up his usual seat.
“So mate, Where was it you’re going?” He asked.
Dreadlocks stabbed the map. “My father’s friend gave me this, he said he found his fortune there and told me if I dig deep enough I’d find mine too.” It’s my turn to snort. Fucking towny and their family legacies. They didn’t know shit. His father’s friend probably had a team of aboriginals working for sugar to find that gold. Shit they didn’t even know what they found half the time, didn’t stop them getting addicted to the sugar though.
“Thats old Murdocks land.” Brian shoved it back and knocked over his pint. “No one goes up there mate. not even us Wongia, not anymore anyways, and it’s our dreamland. The place is cursed ain’t it Evan.” Bam, there it was, the coldness rose up from my stomach and gripped my throat, the drink won’t have any affect anymore.
“Tell him what made you a crazy bastard.” Brian laughed.
“I’m not crazy.” I said before I took a longer pull of my beer.
Dreadlock college fund scrunches up his face, “What happened?”
I closed my eyes and swallow again.
“Evan here swears he found something, said it took something from him too, but half the time he can’t tell you what happened.” *Can’t, try won’t.* He laughed again as the memories came flooding back.
Maybe I could spare the kid, make him not go searching for a change in fortune, heaven knows, he probably didn’t need it by the look of him. I suppose it was worth a try. I opened my mind and let it out. Maybe it was time I cleared my soul too.
“It happened the second day I arrived, like you, I’d heard about the gold and thought I’d like me some of that too. Even got myself a map like yours.” I stabbed a finger at the map and noticed where the X was located.
“It took me a while to get to there. The terrain wasn’t easy going. If you know what I mean and the 4×4 wasn’t the best, didn’t even have aircon. Plus there’s no shelter out there apart from some natural rocks and that’s only if you know where to look.”
Dreadlock college fund called for another round as I continued.
“The 4×4 overheated at one point, must have hit a rock or just bad luck. I don’t know, but I thought what the hell, I’m here now, might as well try my luck.”
I pulled the map towards me and looked at the familiar landscape. The map looked identical to the one I had all those years ago. It even had the mark of the watering hole near where I broke down.
“I shouldered my gear and opened the map. Pulled out my compass, corrected my course and started out toward the mine on my map. After about an hour I checked the compass again. But it didn’t read.”
“What do you mean, didn’t read.” College fund asked.
“What I said. Didn’t read. It just span back and forth.”
“I’ve heard it does that over the poles.” Said Brian.
“Right, like a magnetic field disruption.” Said college fund.
“I don’t know about that. But anyway, the compass didn’t work and I just thought what the hell. Can’t be much further. So I kept on walking.”
“Did you find the mine?” Asked college fund.
“Yep, well I think so anyways. Came across a broken signpost that read Murdoch’s Mining Co. His land was riddled with holes, like it had been extensively mined. Even had a little shack up on a overlook.”
“So you found gold?” The kids excitement made me reminisce the way I felt after walking for so long and then finding the mine. Like my Christmases and birthdays had all come at once.
“Not exactly. I found something better.” Dreadlock college fund’s mouth fell open.
“The compass was still useless so I set the broken sign down on the ground pointing the way I came. Thought best way to not get lost. Anyways. It was getting late so I headed to the shack. Funny thing was it seemed I wasn’t the only one there.”
“What, like the mines were still open?” Brian’s beer was going untouched as he lingered on my tale. It was the first time I had spoke about it fully.
“No they were closed alright. But there were piles of clothes scattered around; and the shack, that was the weirdest. When I got close I heard music. So I knocked. When no one answered I pushed the door open and stepped inside. It was like someone had just got up and left.”
“But you said there wasn’t anyone there?” Said dreadlocks.
“Yep, not a soul, that’s what’s so damn weird about it. Half eaten food left on the plate next to a glass of water. A coat hung over the back of the chair and the music was coming from an old radio on the window shelf. Strangest thing I’d ever seen.”
I shook my head as dreadlock college fund ran his fingers down his glass. Brian concentrated on my face like he wanted to see into my mind.
“Bullshit. If no one was there,” he said as he leaned back in his chair. “Then how the hell didn’t the food turn bad.”
“I’m no scientist, I have my theories. But they’re just that, theories. Like I said it was getting dark so I thought I’d bed down and wait to see if anyone came back.”
“Did they, Come back?” I cocked my head at college fund and reached for my beer. Kirsty polished a glass by my elbow. “Well,” She said, “did they?”
I shrugged. “If they did they never woke me or took the food.”
“So what happened next?” Asked Brian.
“Well, I got up and went down to the mining floor. There were so many holes I didn’t know which one to choose. So I ipped dipped until I settled on a big one to my left. The hole in the side of the rock was big enough for all of us to stand side by side, and deep too. So I strapped on my head-torch and shouldered my pack. I must have walked down that shaft for 30 mins before I started seeing signs of life.”
“So you met the people from the shack?” Asked dreadlocks as he picked up his glass and drained the last of his beer.
“Nope, shaft was empty too. But there were signs that someone had been down there. Like old lamps and mining tools. Even came across an old generator, didn’t work though. So I carried on and that’s when I heard it.”
“Heard what?” Kirsty refilled my glass and handed it to me with a nod to continue.
“I don’t know what it was. It didn’t sound like words I recognised. I just thought it was the wind.”
“That far underground. Pff.” Brian scoffed and drank some more of his beer as the aircon unit started to rattle. We all watched as it shook until it calmed and returned to normal.
“Like I said. I don’t know what it was, but it unnerved me. That’s when I found some gold laying in the wall. Only a little bit mind, not enough to fill my fingernail. But gold was gold and I thought I was going to be rich.”
College fund had clapped his hands when I mentioned gold. I shook my head knowing what he didn’t.
“I carried on, the tunnel narrowed until I was hunched over. It got even tighter and I had to surrender my gear. I took out my hand pick and carried on.”
I picked up my beer and took a long draught. It helped a little to calm the nerves.
“I started to see light. Not from my torch though. From somewhere else further down the tunnel. And the noise got louder too. I pushed on until I came into a chamber and the source of the light. Again it looked like someone had just stepped away. Numerous holes spread around the chamber, and amongst them, gold and other precious gems filled the walls, that’s what the light was. I couldn’t believe my luck.”
“Wait. What. You found diamonds and stuff too!” Dreadlocks excitement didn’t fill me at all. The coldness still gripped me and I knew nothing was going to calm it.
“That’s not all. The walls were covered with crude pictures of creatures with long arms and legs. The more I looked on them the more I swear they were fucking moving, like it was a snake charmer weaving its magic and I was it’s snake. I couldn’t tear myself away from its red eyes gleaming down at me. I saw my hand reach out like I was in a dream and touched the wall, then all of a sudden I was back on the mining floor, and it was night.”
“What happened?” Gasped Kirsty.
I shrugged again. “Don’t know. But the stars out there were incredible though.” I said closing my eyes remembering. “I looked at them like it was the first time I had truly seen stars. I felt insignificant and empty. I stole back to the shack and went to sleep.”
I took another draught of my beer, more to calm me then to wet my dry throat. There’s some things you never remember and some things you wish you would forget.
“The next morning I noticed the food again, but didn’t feel hungry. Despite not eating the day before either. I went back down the the mining floor. I picked another tunnel and set out again. This time I saw the picture sooner, the same long legged, long armed creatures, only smaller than the last tunnel and amongst them I saw the effigies of people. You know Devinci’s divine man?”
The group nodded. “Well imagine that but with his skin pinned around him. Like someone opened him up to take a look inside. Hundreds of them.”
“Ah man that’s fucking disgusting.” Said college fund.
“There were more.” I said.
“More?” Said Brian. “What, pictures?”
I nodded. “And words too. Although I couldn’t understand them. I carried on following the pictures until I realised. I was in the chamber from yesterday. The large creature loomed over me this time. I felt weird, kinda dizzy and spaced out at the same time. The creature’s eyes seemed to glow with a red light and I saw my hand reaching out again.”
“Did it happen again?”
I nodded. “Bam, right back on the mining floor in the dark of night. I knew I had only just gone down that tunnel. Maybe two hours at best. And there I was standing in the pitch darkness with only my head-torch lighting the dusty floor.”
“Weird.” Said college fund.
“Damn straight.” I said before I took another gulp of beer. I lit a smoke and exhaled.
“I figured I lost about 10 hours. My watch had stopped working so I’d no way of truly knowing. I didn’t know what to do but go down another tunnel. Maybe I should have walked away there and then. But I hadn’t actually harvested any gold, and that’s what I came for.” I puffed on the cigarette again as Brian took a drink and eyed me with narrow eyes. I knew the question was coming.
“So, you were blacking out and coming to when you were out of the mines? What the hell was you doing then?”
There it was. The golden question, excuse the pun.
“The straight answer? I don’t know. But sometimes I have dreams that I’m in the walls of those mines. Like the rock sucked me up and I became one with it until it took what it wanted and then spat me out.”
Kristy pulled four pints and put them in front of us and supped at hers. “You think it was the heat, the blackouts I mean. The sun can do that you know.”
I agreed with a nod, the sun had done a number on me today while I worked the fields.
“No, I think it’s something else. I went down everyone of those fucking mines, every time I came out in that chamber, and every time I woke up outside. It wasn’t until the last time when I knew something was really wrong.”
“What was it?” Asked dreadlock college fund.
I stubbed the butt of the cigarette into the ashtray and swallowed a long draught of the beer.
“I forgot my name.” I said. “ I wandered around the site trying to find what I was missing. Trying to remember why I was there. That’s what I think the clothes were. The people who worked there. I think they stopped remembering why there were there. What they were doing, and then sat down and eventually died. I only started to remember when I was far away from that place.”
“How did you get out, if the others didn’t?” Brian leaned off the bar, his eyes wide with wonder.
“The signpost. I stumbled over it one day, don’t remember how long I was there but I thought that it was strange, kinda out of place. So I followed where it pointed. The further I went the more I remembered. Little things at first, like my name. Danny.”
“Wait,” Said Brian. “I thought your name was Evan?”
I smiled at Brian. “Na, when I saw you in the truck two weeks ago, I knew I had found salvation. I had been wandering for God knows how long, you remember how bad I looked? When I collapsed and you dragged me into the truck all I could say was Heaven.”
The bar was silent as I drained the last of my glass. “Strangest thing is, I went looking for gold after my 40th birthday on 21st January 1956. I should be dead, but instead I’m a hundred and two years old and yet I look like I did when I left. I can’t explain it. So my advice to you kid is go home. Searching for your fortune there…” I stabbed the map with my finger.
“…Will only bring you pain. Everyone I once knew is gone, My sons, my wife, all gone. That place nearly swallowed me, and those other people are long gone, turn around now or if you go there, it’ll swallow you too.”