A Free Short Story

KOORANGA COUNTRY

min-min-lights_queensland_australiaIn the north west of Australia, above the Simpson desert, it is said the desert heat can become so intense that it causes hallucinations as real as anything physical for the sufferer. The unfortunate victim never recovers their nervous system.

Emmanuel Vincent, real estate mogul extraordinaire, a man plagued with poor impulse control and stress, was finally doing what he had told his shocked wife and colleagues back in Gemini Bay, England.

He was on a mission into the outback. Ten thousand miles from home.

For twelve hours he had been without food. He was driving east of Darwin, away from the direction of the Ningaloo Reef. The resourceful green 1970 Zephyr Zodiac Mk4 that carried him, seemed to be almost driving itself.

To start a new chapter in his business life was the reason he had to tell his intimates back home. He had no idea that he would have to face the ancient rites and strange beliefs of an ancient stone age people.

In particular, Vincent would have to face the man they call Kooranga.

The Kooranga, in the form of a man they say, can perform many supernatural means. He can climb the invisible ropes that link the earth to the sky.

He can travel through the many dimensions without the passage of time.

He can control life or death….through the mere pointing of a bone. Of course its nonsense to most people on this planet.

You can’t kill a man from hundreds or thousands of miles away by merely pointing a bone at him. Its a superstition.

As for Emmanuel Vincent, he liked to believe he was never alone, that something or someone was always watching over him. But what?

He was on a journey.

To save his life as he had enjoyed it for years. To save his reputation. To save his private pleasures from public gaze and ridicule. To save his fortune.

As he drove, he kept his eye on the rear view mirror.What for he wasn’t sure. Paranoia. Pure and simple.

The sun lit up everything with a super brightness. As for the dreadful heat, he was drenched in sweat and swigged water from a bottle every half hour or so.

It didn’t take him long to find the main road to Darwin.

After five hours in the rental car he had hardly interacted with any traffic.

The road narrowed into a long dirt track. The sun was beginning to fall in the sky. The desert was nearly treeless. It was a dismal sight, red earthed soil everywhere like a dreary landscape you might find on the moon, he thought for some reason.

If the moon was tropically hot and brilliantly burning.

He had been given directions to a tiny mixed race town of Aboriginals and Europeans named Clearwater. To think all this started back in Gemini Bay on a pleasant summer morning.

He had gone into work that Monday feeling on top of the world. Tanned, fit and poised for anything.

Nice to see you back, sir” mumbled the security guard as Emmanuel strolled past him with a smile and continued along the carpeted corridor and into his large private office. Here he felt like a king.

Three large windows revealed a harbour moored with ships and boats of all sizes.

He popped his lunch into a small fridge in a corner before sitting behind the large cluttered wooden desk that had a view through all three windows.

Going through his desk drawers, making sure nothing had been re-arranged or stolen by the cleaners, a familiar shape suddenly loomed over him.

It was his secretary, Ms Foster. Slim with short light brown hair, she carried a tall vase of pink flowers and placed them beside his desk on a filing cabinet in front of the window. She coughed first before speaking.

“We wanted to send you these roses to the ship before it sailed, but you and Mrs Vincent slipped away so quickly.”

He seemed embarrassed and kept moving back and forth the photograph of his wife on the corner of his desk.

“Well, we just gave in to an urge to sail the Med. We forgot to keep you informed as to our timing. But thank you Ms Foster, that’s a lovely gesture.”

I prefer it when you call me Ann, Manny” she purred at him. He put his finger to his lips. “ Its best to pretend formality. Just in case someone has large ears.”

He wanted to avoid her gaze, so he pretended to mull over his mobile phone before bringing up a spreadsheet program on his laptop. That would show her he had something to do.

The secretary suddenly dropped an envelope in front of her boss. “This arrived yesterday. Its very odd, no return address or name on it.” Intrigued, he took from her the envelope addressed to him in block capitals and ripped it open.

Out came a messy sheet of paper. He couldn’t help reading it aloud.

See the Morning Herald, June 15, paragraph seven, column three, for a news item that will be of special interest to you.” He looked up baffled at his secretary who quickly delved into a stack of local mail.

She tugged forth a folded newspaper. Handing it to him she pointed at a column heading at the top of the page.

Because of their casually intimate relations he had to tolerate some very forward behaviour from Ms Foster. One of these was her habit of frequently walking behind her employer to read over his shoulder.

Column three’s bold heading read: “ City Council Vetoes Oil Exploration.” He shook his head, baffled at these words.

“This doesn’t affect you in any way, does it?” the secretary whispered into his right ear seductively but he wasn’t in the mood.

He just looked up at her with a bland smile.

I don’t see how, but I’ll hang on to it for a bit. Something may pop up in my memory later.” Ms Foster fiddled with his tie, annoyed he wasn’t showing any interest, then walked to the door with a sigh.

“Give me a buzz when you need me,” she said then was gone.

Once the door was closed, Emmanuel Vincent turned the newspaper article over. He suddenly gasped in unpleasant shock.

“Pole Dancer Murder Mystery Baffles Police.”

The accompanying article briefly described the death of Cynthia McLane, 23, who worked most nights at the North Pole Club.

She originally hailed from Northern Australia. Detectives were finding it hard to uncover a motive, or the assailant, responsible for her killing three weeks earlier. The North Pole Club was in the most seedy area of Gemini Bay – Princess Street.

The name alone sent shudders of revulsion through the city’s respectable citizens.

Scowling at the article, deeply agitated, he re-read the article as a harrowing fear began to etch itself into his facial features. His phone buzzed and he picked it up absentmindedly.

It was Ms Foster in the reception room outside. “Mr Lloyd’s called several times. He’s anxious to know if Mrs Vincent still wants to sell her apartment units in Cardiff.” He couldn’t think straight for the moment.

Or care about his wife’s possessions and what she did or didn’t want disposed of. “Whaa? Oh, tell him I’ll call him back later.” His secretary sounded peeved.

“Yes, Mr Vincent,” her voice filtered back to him before he put down the receiver.

His hands started to shake. His mind was flooded with unpleasant memories.

That cramped pokey apartment he used to pay for Cynthia’s accomodation. The gradual exasperation with her ‘profession.’ It had all came to a head one night.

Settling into a chair opposite the young woman, he had barely had time to down his first brandy of the evening when she suddenly blurted it out.

“I’m pregnant.” His eyes widened in shock. “You heard right, Emmanuel.”

Tight lipped, he struggled to find his voice. “You wouldn’t be so careless.” “I wouldn’t huh?” she sneered aggressively back at him. “But why?” “Because its been a year and still you won’t leave her or get a divorce.”

He stood up and paced back and forth with agitation. “I can’t! There’s just too much money at stake! Margo is so bloody wealthy I don’t want to cross her.

Cynthia’s eyes flashed angrily at him. “Not for me there hasn’t been. Either work it out with that cold fish who pays so many of your bills, or I will be paying her a visit.” He felt like a cornered, desperate animal now.

“How do I know its even mine!” he burst out hysterically.

The withering contempt in her gaze immediately made him regret saying that. She held up a mobile phone with her right hand.

“Are you going to call her, or do I?” was all she said. In the room next door heavy metal music was booming through the wall.

Emmanuel Vincent stared at his lover’s mobile phone in horror. He was frozen. Cynthia Lane began to punch in the numbers.

Galvanized, he hurled himself across the room and wrestled the mobile device from the young woman’s hand. He dropped it onto the carpet then stamped on it repeatedly with both feet.

The two antagonists stared at each other for a moment, eyes locked in a mutual hatred. She walked to the door, stooping to pick up a coat and hand bag on the way.

I’ll just make the call at a friend’s. Makes no difference.” As the music pounded ever louder next door, Emmanuel Vincent lunged at her.

Too late she realized the danger she was in. It was messy. He used his bare hands at first, but he couldn’t quite achieve what he wanted to do.

In frustration he banged her head repeatedly into the floor until she was semi-conscious. Then he tore her pantyhose off and throttled her.

He was sure he had left no clues and the quick trip around the Mediterranean Sea should help with any alibi if needed. But that was three weeks in the past.

****

The next day was a sunny afternoon and he was dining at Bradleys, an expensive restauraunt with another real estate man, Mike Meredith. Despite the great food and liquor Emmanuel had been strained and distant with his friend.

They finally paid up and made for the door when a waiter ran up to them. “Excuse me, I believe this is yours, sir” he politely inquired of Vincent.

It was his brown topcoat. “Of course,” he smiled and took it from the man. Meredith shook his head with a chuckle.

“I dunno, Manny. Your body is here but your mind is still in Sardinia.” Rummaging around in the pockets to give the waiter some change, he dug out an envelope instead. A shiny new one.

In hand-printed block letters he reads FOR THE EYES OF EMMANUEL VINCENT ALONE. He immediately recognized the same style as on the original back in his office. His eyes flashed at his friend.

Holding up the envelope his temper boiled over. “You put this into my coat didn’t you?” Meredith looked perplexed. “I’ve done nothing of the sort!” he protested.

Emmanuel hurriedly scanned Mike’s eyes for a sign of deception but he only recognized the usual clear honest expression. He suddenly felt ashamed. “I’m sorry Mike. I’ve been under some since the holiday.”

He managed to stuff it back inside his pocket and extract a few gold coins. He dropped them into the waiter’s hand, who beat a hasty retreat.

Then he gave a tired smile to Mike Meredith. He couldn’t wait for the other man to leave. “I’ll see you later, Mike” was his parting shot as the two went in opposite directions for their cars.

It was one of those sleepy afternoons that Emmanuel used to love.

Getting into his blue BMW, he wanted to get out of the massive carpark as quickly as possible. Too many respectable (and curious) people who knew him, could stroll past his window.

He roared off as quickly as possible, driving to a nearby reserve a mile away.

The parking facilities here were nearly empty and anonymous, surrounded by trees and a walkway. He wasted no time in examining the envelope.

This time he would be alone. A grubby piece of pad paper was inside with a hand printed message: “I haven’t forgotten you. Save yourself painful consequences. Full instructions in the glove compartment of your car.”

He caught his breath, eyeing the glove compartment warily before reaching over to open it. From within he brought forth another envelope.

This one larger and bulkier than its predecessors. With nervously fumbling fingers he ripped it open. Pulling out a sheet of folded paper, something fluttered down beside his leg. He reached for it. It was a photograph of Cynthia McLane.

She was smiling suggestively, almost mockingly at the camera. Tearing his gaze away from the image he hastily read the written note.

It turned out to be a rough map of the upper Northern Territory and the northern part of Western Australia.

Emmanuel was getting sick of looking at the block lettering. “I will expect the money – $150,000, in US currency, at 11pm Thursday, 23 October. Do not fail. Tardiness will produce lamentable results.”

The map traced numerous roads and highways before the rendezvous point at Clearwater, a tiny town seven miles east of Darwin.

This was to be where the financial transfer was to take place. A crude red X was helpfully painted there to mark the spot. Panicked and worried, he picked up the photo of Cynthia again. “Would you please step out of your car, sir.”

This voice cut into his terrified sense of guilt.

Swivelling his neck around painfully he sought out the source of the voice. A stern-looking policeman stood beside the driver door. Looking down on him.

Answering his own unanswered question, he droned on. “You ran that red light on the corner as if it wasn’t even there. Can I see your driving license, please.”

For some reason he felt relief and almost laughed. He dug around in his pockets until he found what the cop wanted. Handing it over to the policeman, the latter retreated to his vehicle behind the blue BMW.

Eight days. That was all he had.

To get to bloody Australia. With a huge pile of foreign money in cash. Could it be any worse as far as inconvenience was concerned?

He kept looking at his watch helplessly as he waited.

But somehow he had done it. Not quite there at the finishing post yet, but he was doing it. He had called in so many favours from a certain people in the financial world and travel agencies to get him here.

The dashboard on the rented Zodiac told him that he had travelled thirteen hundred kilometres.

It is 10:15pm and he is driving along a two lane blacktop road searching for a side road. He slowed the old vehicle down as the road became rutted and full of dangerous pot holes. He was trying to find a certain sign.

His eyes suddenly saw a decrepit wooden sign that stated Clearwater.

An arrow from this pointed to the right. He suddenly slammed on the brakes, navigating the car to a stop in front of the sign, headlights falling on the C word.

After reading the name he turned to an attache case on the passenger seat.

Snipping it open he slowly took out a snub-nosed revolver amongst the large number of bundled one hundred dollar bills. Then he withdrew the crudely drawn map and studied it. “To Clearwater, 12 minutes from sign.”

He put on an old gray jacket, slipping the gun into an inside pocket before suddenly accelerating the car forward and down a dirt track.

Down into hell flashed through his mind. Within seconds there are vicious bumps, jerking the old car up and down. The vehicle’s progress shuddered to a slow crawl.

10:33. He was running out of time and the Zodiac’s headlights were bobbing up and down with every bump. Something very large loomed in front of him. It was a bloody telephone pole. Lying across the dirt road.

There is virtually no way he could avoid the huge obstacle. In a panic he veered to the right, the vehicle hitting the pole on the shoulder with a sickening crunch.

The lights of the Zodiac stay on but the engine abruptly dies. Realizing his predicament, Emmanuel quickly forced the door open.

He stepped out to no sound except the water gushing out from the ruptured radiator. “Not now!” he screams into the desert. Grabbing the attache case, he turns off the dimming headlights and takes out a flashlight from the glove compartment.

Straightening up he slammed the door as a sudden barking of dogs broke the stillness of the night. He ran up a small mound of earth beside two trees to make out lights twinkling in the distance.

Turning on the flashlight he staggered in a drunken manner toward the only sight that promised some hope of life in a lifeless landscape.

The barking of the dogs sounded fairly close. Then the outline of a house appeared in his murky vision. He suddenly felt a surge of self-hatred.

Travelling thousands of miles to this godforsaken hole.

It might even be a wild goose chase with his life at stake. His fear had not quite turned to panic but he knew the dogs could attack him at any moment. The house or unknown dwelling, turned out to be closer than he could have imagined.

He could suddenly see his own reflection in an oblong window that he was staggering toward. The house was one of those ominous old colonial wooden structures that the early settlers built.

He hoped it was connected to a dependable water supply.

Lights glowed dimly in the downstairs windows of the homestead.

Emmanuel walked across the porch and stood in front of the door. Then he rapidly started pummeling it. He kept his head turning away fro it and into the darkness as the unseen dogs barked even more wildly.

No reply. “Hello! Help me, anyone!” He turned the knob and the door easily opened with little pressure. He entered cautiously, switching off his flashlight and cautiously taking in all of the new surroundings that he could.

Directly ahead of him, a staircase led upward to a second floor. To one side, an open doorway revealed what appeared to be a living room. Opposite this, on the other side of the entry hall was a closed door.

He approached this door and tried it firmly. Nothing doing. Locked. At that moment the un-mistakeable sound of a lightly strummed guitar wafted throughout the building.

Hello? Is anyone here?!” he shouted out. No answer. As the sounds of the guitar continue he shrugged his shoulders and entered the living room.

It was furnished in thrift shop items that had long been discarded by their original owners.

The couch was covered with an old bedspread. The light was provided by kerosene lamps. The remainder of the furnishings were a horrible symphony in rusted chrome, oilcloths and general tat.

On a dining table was an old but reliable looking telephone. He picked up the receiver after laying down his flashlight. It was dead. The guitar strumming suddenly stopped. He whirled around after feeling a quiet presence in the room.

It was a heavily built man with a trim white beard.

The low lighting from the kerosene lamp lit up his weather beaten face. He was deeply tanned with brown eyes.

One eye scarred and closed, this gave him an even more sinister appearance. From his left arm dangles an acoustic guitar. “I don’t know you, do I mister?” his voice was deep. The stranded Englishman started talking in a fearful babble.

I’m sorry I shouted but I’ve had an accident and there didn’t seem to be anyone around.” The old man scratched his beard before replying. “Phone can’t help you. Pole’s down.” Emmanuel smiled pathetically.

“I know, I ran into it!” It was weird to be talking to another human being after all the hours of solitude in the car and desert. “I’m trying to reach Clearwater.”

That’s another five miles from here.” Emmanuel began to plead with him. “Its an emergency. Can I borrow any vehicle you have?” The old man blew out a breath.

“I have a sort of tractor. Half truck, half bailing wire…” “It’ll have to do! Naturally I will leave a deposit.” The occupant of the house grinned at this.

“Hold your horses, sonny. You’ll have to ask Kooranga first.”

Alright, where is he?”

“He’s visiting a patient. he’s been called to perform a healing. When the dreaming ceremony and rites are over his friends will bring him back here, in a while.”

Emmanuel did not like the sound of this. “But I don’t have ‘a while’. I need it now!” he shook his right fist. The white haired man just smiled and shrugged.

Sorry mister, but I don’t make a move without checking with my brother-in-law. He is the Kooranga. An Aboriginal tribal man who married my sister. I suppose you could call him a witchdoctor.”

Vincent felt too pushed for time to care about who he was or any mystical mumbo jumbo. “If you tell him it was a matter of life or death I’m sure he’ll understand.” The old man raised both hands and shook his head.

I can never go over his head. Him and me are close but I always let him have his way on everything because he has the gift. Those dogs outside would rip me to shreds for starters. They only obey him. What would happen to my soul after that only the Good Lord knows.” He shuddered with apprehension.

Emmanuel was getting hysterical. “You are talking tosh, man!”

The older man turned and walked out the door, turning to offer some solace first. “I will bring you some sandwiches. You’ll feel better without hunger tickling your belly.” He opened his mouth to protest but the man with the tan had already gone.

The door closed and he heard a subtle click.

Emmanuel suddenly ran at the door and pulled wildly on the knob. Locked. Turning in rage he staggered into the centre of the room and knocked his right hip into a table of pictures. The bundle of images tumbled onto the floor.

Bending down he reached out to pick them up when he sees something disturbing. One was of a high school girl in a cheerleader costume, her face meticulously cut out as if by scissors.

The other is of the same girl, this time in graduation robes, again with no face. With mounting apprehension he quickly examines the room for any more photos.

There are many pictures of the girl, in various different costumes and poses, with her face always scissored out. Emmanuel delved into his jacket pocket to inspect his circular photo of Cynthia McLane.

The one that had accompanied the map in the envelope.

He held it up to one picture after another until he found the right one. He stopped dead in his tracks. It was a photo of a scantily clad dancer with no face.

A perfect fit. Gasping in shock, he reached for the gun inside his jacket. As he withdrew the weapon he could hear a click from somewhere behind him.

I’ll trouble you to drop that gun, Mr Vincent. Turn around, nice and easy. Just toss it over here.” He turned around to see the Aussie man in the doorway, a large rifle pointing straight at his head.

A jug of some liquid was resting beside him on the floor. Emmanuel did as he was told, slowly laying the gun down on the filthy carpet.

The older man gestured for the unarmed man to retreat a few feet. When he obliged the old man stooped forward to retrieve the .38 weapon.

He grinned at his prisoner. “Cynthia was my daughter. She was also the Kooranga’s spiritual disciple. We called a ceremony of the ancestors. Then he pointed a bone. Across the oceans of the earth. At you!

I don’t believe in black magic or witchdoctors! This Kooranga, whoever he is, is fooling you into helping him set all this up. But its a crime to keep someone prisoner. Go to the police if you want to see me punished for her death!”

The weather beaten face just sniggered as he removed the clip from the hand gun. He checked the chamber before extracting a shell and pocketing it.

I done my share of helping him, Englishman. But Kooranga – he’s the one who thought it all up. Mean and clever, that’s what he is!” Emmanuel could scarcely believe what he was hearing or the miserable circumstances he was in.

His pulse was racing and his throat very dry as a feeling of doom set in.

Why bother with the telephone pole and holding me up at gunpoint? I came didn’t I? From the other side of the world, with the money too, just like you asked!”

“You also brought a revolver. The Kooranga predicted you would. If I had met you in Clearwater, like the note said, you’d have shot me on the spot. This way you get ambushed.”

The old Aussie tossed the .38 onto the table, picking up the jug of liquid, he poured the contents into two glasses. Emmanuel, sweating profusely now, gestured toward the attache case. “There’s a hundred thousand dollars in there. Count it!”

The old man shook his head. “We don’t want your money, mister.”

The old man handed the exhausted Englishman a glass. Even though he knew the answer he couldn’t help pleading. “Then what do you want?”

The old man picked up the other glass and swallowed. “Whatever Kooranga wants. And what he wants is what he gits. You better drink up. It’ll put some starch in your knees.”

Vincent miserably took a quick swig. It felt like whiskey tumbling down his throat. He watched anxiously as the old man, gun crocked in his arm, moved to the open window. He threw the cartridge clip into the darkness outside.

Then he turned to Vincent with a weird smile.

Don’t have any hopes that the police or passing strangers will find your car. That section of the old road has been closed to traffic for about a year.

I’ve unchained the dogs too. Just in case you were intending to leave before the Kooranga gets back.

Them hounds can be a mite discouraging. Compared to him, they are downright affectionate.” He crossed to the door while Emmanuel watched helplessly. He had one more thing to say before closing it behind him.

I’m gonna practice my guitar now.” The trapped estate agent had to ask something first. “How did you know it was me?” “We didn’t. There were eight names in Cynthia’s diary. We sent letters to everyone. You were the only one who bit.” His smirk was infuriating as he exited the room.

****

After the old man was gone, noisily locking the door, Emmanuel Vincent stepped over to the table and examined the handgun. It was useless. Like him.

Walking to the open window, he carried the useless weapon and stared with despair into the night. One dog was viciously barking.

Above the ceiling over his head a guitar was plunking in a stop-start way. He looked back at the photos of his victim. There was definitely a taunting vibe emanating from the empty spaces where a head should be.

Then something in the corner of the large room grabbed his attention.

A baseball bat.

He quickly picked it up while slipping the empty .38 into his pocket. Then he marched over to the door. To his surprise it was unlocked.

The guitar started going horribly out of tune, jangling and discordant as Emmanuel started cackling to himself. Julian Bream this Aussie creep was most definitely not, the trapped prisoner’s mind irrelevantly noted.

Kooranga’s coming…Kooranga’s coming!” He could hear his captor’s voice coming from above. His reason was tottering.

But he ignored what was going on upstairs. He marched to the front door and threw it open. Flashlight in one hand, bat in the other, he furiously searched in the undergrowth. He needed the cartridge clip.

The hounds suddenly rushed him, one by one. Flailing away, he was bitten severely in his left arm while he clubbed another one to the ground. Amid the uproar of canine howls and violence, Emmanuel’s eyes could still make out the cartridge clip in the dust. A stroke of luck.

With great difficulty and haste he shoved it into the pistol then turned it on the dogs. Five times he opened fire and five canines hit the ground. He fled back into the house with six other dogs running at his heels.

Bleeding lightly from a dozen flesh wounds but very much alive, he managed to keep them out, slamming the front door behind him. He actually felt stronger by the adrenaline flooding through his system. Putting his shoulder to the door, he engaged the lock. An anger based on self preservation built up within him.

The dogs lunged, pawed and snarled on the other side of the wooden entrance. He inspected his ripped and torn jacket. Flashlight gone. Bat gone.

Then he checked the cartridge clip. Only one left! He carefully loaded it into the chamber of the .38. Then the old Aussie’s voice could be clearly heard. “Kooranga is coming, Mr Vincent! And you only have one bullet left.”

Emmanuel looked around but could not see the man taunting him. “Maybe one is all I need!” he shouted back. “How long have I got?!”

“Soon” was the only reply he got. Returning to the living room, Vincent picked up the attache case and stepped back into the hall.

He decided to investigate the next room, beside the staircase.

Maybe he could hide in there if it wasn’t locked. It wasn’t. Stumbling forward into the dark room he could only make out a single object. A large coffin.

Bringing the flashlight into focus it picked up these words: EMMANUEL VINCENT – MURDERER.

He gasped and stepped back in fright. Behind him the door slammed, followed by a slight clicking sound. He threw himself at the door but nothing would budge it.

Sobbing with misery now he cast the light around the room to find it any distinguishing features. Windowless. The gray paint peeling from the walls.

He started to scream.

I didn’t mean to kill her! She had me up against a wall. Threatened to tell my wife that I’d put her up the duff! I had to do it! But what you are doing is premeditated murder, between the dogs and the Kooranga I haven’t a chance!”

The guitar strumming abruptly stopped. Then the irritating Aussie voice responded to his pleas. “Well, maybe there is another way out. But the Kooranga might have a fit if he finds out.” The guitar started twanging again as Vincent feverishly examined the shabby walls, the wainscoting, the gib board, every joint and seam.

He knocked and pounded with his hands, listening for any variation in sound.

Finally, just when it seemed he must give up in despair, his eyes alighted on a stone fire place. With renewed hope he groped and clawed his way all over it.

Suddenly he found something. An innocent looking lever attached to the grate.

He shoved at it and the fireplace swung back with a groan to reveal a dark passageway beyond. Picking up the kerosene lamp in one hand, revolver in the other, he made his way in.

The narrow unlit passage was musty and full of cobwebs.

As he moved warily forward, the low ceiling forced him to lower his head. The feeble lamplight illuminating hardly anything but the floor at his feet.

Behind him the fireplace swung creakily shut. He turned his head at this but quickly had to look in front again as a scurrying sound raced toward him. Rats.

They scurried past him as he shuddered involuntarily.

The old man’s voice filled his ears again. Where the hell could he be speaking from that he could be heard so clearly and far away? “If you’re thinking of finding another way out Mr Vincent, I would hurry. I can hear a car coming.”

Emmanuel managed to crouch his way along despite the lamp growing dim. He turned a corner. A figure loomed in the passage, advancing toward him. He couldn’t think of anything else to do but shoot the gun.

In front of him a full length mirror shattered. His reflected image disintegrated into the endless shards of glass.

At first there was silence, then the old man piped up again. “Seven years bad luck, Mr Vincent. And you’ve wasted you’re last bullet.”

He stared at his now useless gun and weakening lamp light. He saw an aperture and hurriedly moved closer to investigate.

He halted in sudden dismay as the light revealed a dead end just ten feet in front of him. The sound of footsteps can be heard mounting the front porch, the door being unlocked then opened. The jangling guitar stopped.

So did the baying of the dogs. Then the old man’s voice boomed in celebration.

Here comes the Kooranga !” Just the sound of that name was making the prisoner feel sick.

Emmanuel staggered this way and that, frantically searching for the other way out. Stumbling, he lose his balance and collapsed onto the unforgiving floor. In the lamplight he noticed a ring attached to the floor.

Reaching out, he pulled it up. A trap door. He could hear the Kooranga’s footsteps getting closer. He peered down expectantly. There was a ladder leading down into a horrible darkness. But then he could hear the fireplace clicking open.

That sound persuaded him to ease himself down the steps of the ladder.

Maybe it was his weight, but whatever caused it, the wooden steps suddenly splintered and let him plunge down. It was a three metre fall.

Dazed and bruised, he lay in a crumpled heap on an earthy-floored pit.

Reaching out to the lamp, he stuffed what paper money he had in his wallet into the source of the flame. That increased its strength and the light shot out in all directions.

He took in his new surroundings. Four sheer-faced walls rearing upward, fifteen feet high on all sides around the trapped prisoner. Just a few feet from where his knees landed lay a bone.

He listened with intensity as the footsteps overhead were getting very close now. From above his head a light suddenly hit him in the eyes. He tried to shield them against the glare. It was the old Aussie, carrying a lamp.

He was standing over the pit looking down on the desperate real estate man from England. “Its time, Mr Vincent. I want you to meet…the Kooranga!

He gestured to his right. Emmanuel’s eyes nearly bulged out of his head and he held his breath in terrified anticipation. He just stopped himself from fainting.

At first his eyes were blurred then he focused sharply on the small figure standing beside the old man. It was a skinny small boy. A white boy. No more than ten years old. “Ain’t goin nowhere, is he boy?”

The old man cackled with glee. “Him?! He’s the Kooranga!?” shouted Emmanuel in outrage from the pit. The old man shook his head and took the boy’s hand.

“His real name is Karl but I decided to give him an Aboriginal nickname. Just for fun. Comes in handy when I want to fool strangers.”

He indicated to the man in the pit.

This is the man who killed your sister.” The small boy just stared without expression. His guardian carried on talking in a cold tone.

I am the Kooranga, Mr Vincent. My father was part Aboriginal and passed the tribal knowledge down to me. I planned to give my gift to my daughter. But you ended her earthly existence. And her child’s.”

The miserable prisoner gasped with guilt and shame as he remembered he hadn’t just taken one life.

What are you going to do now?” Emmanuel demanded to know although he felt thoroughly defeated. “I promised Karl I’d take him on a fishing trip. We’ll be back in two weeks. Time enough to fill that coffin.”

The man in the pit was so angry he almost wished a heart attack would take him now. To be fooled by this man in the wilderness and a tiny kid.

You said there was another way out! You lied to me!” The old man moved his hand and something fell into the pit, near the helpless man.

He scrambled to retrieve the object. In his sweat drenched palm lay the cartridge that the old man had earlier removed from the .38’s firing chamber.

Bye” the old man said and closed the trap door. Footsteps sauntered off.

Emmanuel sobbed hysterically, lapsing into insane laughter at first before dissolving back to tears. He slipped the cartridge into the weapon with shaking fingers while trying to make his final decision.

Where to aim?

THE END

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Comments

  1. I love this tale, I was on the edge of my seat right up until the end (very reminiscent of The Twilight Zone)! Keep up the brilliant work, looking forward to your next story!

    Like

  2. Thank you so much. 🙂

    Like

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