Ghosts in the Precinct
Brumbies grazed amongst the gum trees on the dry river bed. Amie wanted a closer look at the horses. Walter informed them that the locals bought the horses from a ranch near Alice Springs. They used the horses for racing. But mostly the horses roamed wild and free around the township.
A mangy dog, half-dingo half-greyhound, trotted beside them. The bitch glanced at the brother and sister from time to time, her eyes protruding from bony eye-sockets.
‘She wants something to eat,’ Adam said.
‘I guess that’s why she’s following us,’ Amie said. ‘You can see her rib-cage.’
They walked on. The road seemed to take them on a lap of the outback town. They passed an unused gym with the equipment all rusty, a school with a state-of-the-art playground, and an empty arena of a basketball stadium.
‘It’s so quiet,’ Amie said. ‘Where is everyone?’
‘Dunno.’ Adam shrugged. ‘Guess they’re at home recovering from all the excitement. Not every day someone goes missing.’
‘I overheard the policeman say a busload of German tourists got lost.’
Amie chuckled. ‘Imagine being stuck on a bus with a busload of German tourists.’
‘Dad’s worst nightmare.’
‘No one to laugh at his lame jokes.’
Both sniggered as they turned another corner. The cemetery lay to their right, and to their left the Historical Precinct.
Amie stopped laughing. ‘Funny how it is we have a boy lost in the desert, and Germans in a bus gone missing.’
‘Maybe they’ve been abducted by aliens who have a fetish for boys and Europeans,’ Adam said.
‘Then, why didn’t they take Walter Wenke?’
‘Don’t be silly, he may have a German name, but he’s as Australian as you ‘n me,’ Adam puffed. ‘If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from Walter’s long-winded historical lectures, it’s that our ancestors emigrated from eastern Europe generations ago in the mid-Nineteenth Century to escape religious persecution. But our ancestors have lived in Australia for over one hundred and fifty years, so I reckon that makes us Australian.’
Amie gazed at the unsealed road of this town which she thought needed some “tender loving care” and remarked, ‘Not as Australian as the original owners.’
‘S’pose not.’ Adam caught Amie’s elbow and steered her away from the cemetery. ‘So, Amie, do you reckon ghosts exist?’
‘Don’t be stupid,’ Amie said, ‘of course not.’ She watched the dog disappear into the Precinct.
‘Nathan, you know the “Indig” guy I was talking to, he reckoned he’d seen one in the Precinct.’
‘Reckoned it hung around the morgue.’
‘Really? That’s creepy.’
‘Hey, why don’t we have a look.’
‘Nah, I’m tired.’ A knot had congealed in Amie’s stomach as she thought about Joseph. Such a brief encounter. Yet she knew him. The reality of him lost in the wilderness was sinking in. She hoped he was alright. Tall, athletic form and blonde. Poor guy, his parents hovered over him—helicopter parents—making sure he was safe and didn’t do anything that would corrupt him. And he was seventeen! How did he manage to escape their watchful gaze? God! He complained to her he’d never even had a mobile phone. What were his parents? Perhaps he ran away from them.
Adam scampered over to the Precinct gate. ‘Come on, Amie.’
‘You can’t go in there.’
‘Why? Who’s going to stop us?’
‘The ghost,’ Amie said, joking.
‘Come on, there’s nothing else to do around here since Dad took our laptops and mobile phones.’
‘He wouldn’t have if you hadn’t been so annoying, Adam.’ Amie stomped after him. She didn’t want her brother getting lost again—not after the sand hills of Uluru—even if he annoyed the hell out of her.
‘You started it.’
‘Me?’ Amie raised her voice. ‘You’re the one who makes all those demented noises when you played Mario Kart on the drive here.’
‘I’m allowed to.’
‘You were ruining my movie.’
Adam leant on the gate and faced her. ‘And if Dad knew you were watching “Seriously Cracked-up”…’
‘Nothing wrong with that—although I think he would have a definite issue with your download, illegal download, of “Killer Kings”.
‘But…but…it’s historical fantasy—War of the Roses—even Walter Wenke would like that.’ Adam coughed. ‘From a German, or should I say, Slavic perspective.’
Amie folded her arms across her barely discernible breasts. ‘You’re fifteen—not appropriate viewing for you Adam.’
‘But—I like the dwarf…’
‘Anyway, it’s—you shouldn’t—and if you go in there,’ she pointed over the gate swinging ajar in the breeze, ‘you could get into serious trouble.’
‘Why not?’ Adam pushed the gate. ‘I’m game if you are.’ He ran towards the historic church.
Amie hissed. ‘Get back here!’
Adam shouted. ‘But I want to see the ghost.’ His small frame blurred in the darkness.
Amie bolted past the open gate. She was trespassing too, now. She chased Adam’s retreating figure. ‘There’s no such thing as ghosts.’
She heard footsteps near the whitewashed walls of the church. She followed the footsteps and the yellow hair that wavered in the moonless night. ‘Adam, this is not funny. Come back now!’
Footsteps crunched on the gravel. ‘This is not a joke, Adam. Where are you?’
A breeze barged past her. Hairs pricked up on the back of Amie’s neck.
‘Adam?’ Amie called. She traced her fingertips along the rough wall of the church as she worked her way to the rear. ‘Adam? Where are you?’
She thought she saw him by the little building behind the church. Was that construction a toilet block? Or did she hear someone, Walter perhaps, say that building was the morgue?
The pale stick figure drifted towards that little building and vanished into it.
The wind howled.
‘Adam! Get out of there!’
Amie quickened her steps towards the building.
Adam appeared in front of her. Amie screamed.
Adam laughed. ‘Got you!’
Amie grabbed her brother by the arms and shook him. ‘You idiot!’
Adam kept laughing. ‘You should’ve seen your face. Like you’d seen a ghost.’
A low moan. Amie clutched Adam and stared at him. Her brother’s eyes widened to the size of dinner plates.
‘What’s that?’ Adam asked, his voice cracking.
Another moan, longer, more agitated.
‘It’s the wind,’ Amie replied. ‘I hope.’
‘It sounds human.’
A high-pitched wail. Amie and Adam froze.
‘No, it doesn’t,’ Amie said barely moving her mouth.
Adam twisted his neck to look at the morgue. ‘C-could b-be—’
A long low moan.
‘It’s coming from the morgue,’ Adam said.
Adrenalin coursed through Amie. She galloped towards the gate. She pulled Adam behind her. In their frenzy the gate eluded them.
‘Where is it?’ Amie panicked.
‘Jump the fence,’ Adam said. He glanced behind and hesitated.
‘Come on!’ Amie yanked his arm.
They flew over the barrier, raced like the brumbies to Walter’s house, and bolted through the door.
Their father and his friend reclined on their respective rockers in the lounge room sipping port out of mini souvenir tin cups.
‘What’s the matter with you?’ Dad asked.
Walter bared his port-stained teeth in a sneer. ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’
‘Nothing,’ Adam panted. ‘Just racing.’
Mr. Wenke raised a hairy eye-brow. ‘Really?’
Amie did not like the leering expression he gave her. She nudged Adam. ‘Yeah, actually, we’ve been taking a tour of the town.’
‘Oh, I see,’ Walter said. ‘I hope you haven’t been anywhere you shouldn’t have gone.’
‘No,’ Amie replied. She ushered Adam out of view and into the kitchen. ‘Walter’s creeping me out,’ she whispered to Adam. To the men, she called out, ‘We’re going to bed. Good night.’
Dad called back, ‘Good idea, early start tomorrow. We’re going way out West.’
‘And I’ll be joining you,’ Walter Wenke added.
Adam thumped the wall softly. ‘Great! Physics and history lesson! Just what I needed.’
‘Thought you liked history.’
‘Not the kind that Mister Wenke teaches.’
Amie gave Adam a hug. ‘I’m with you there, brother.’ She pecked him on the cheek. ‘Good night, sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite.’ Then she trotted to her designated bedroom at the end of the hallway.
‘Or anyone else for that matter,’ Adam muttered as he glanced at the lounge room. He then wiped his cheek as he entered the bathroom to brush his teeth and have a shower. He had touched something slimy on the door of the morgue and his fingers stank like fresh blood.
(To be continued…)
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017
Photo: Ghost Gum in Finke (c) C.D. Trudinger circa 1955