[Fleischer Camp, Central Australia]
Arthur Fleischer clumped into camp. ‘Amie, we’re home.’
The sun hovered just above the horizon, its rays bathing everything in its path in orange hues. A cool breeze ferried through the clearing picking up the red dirt.
Fleischer paced the campsite glancing left and right, up and down. No Amie. After a fruitless search for the lad Joseph Smith, not much older than Amie, a chilling thought crept up on Fleischer. ‘Not Amie too,’ he murmured. He cleared his throat. ‘Nah, don’t be silly, she wouldn’t’ve gone far.’
Adam straggled into camp and looked around. ‘Where’s Amie?’
‘Probably gone to the waterhole and got stuck there with the white bull trapping her. Remember the white bull we saw, Dad?’
‘Oh, could be.’
‘I bet she went skinny-dipping and got trapped by the bull and a dingo ate up all her clothes.’ Adam sniggered.
‘Don’t be silly,’ Dad Fleischer said. ‘She’s probably just forgotten the time. I’m damn cross with her. She promised to mind the camp while we were out searching.’
‘Yeah, well, she’ll turn up,’ Adam said. He picked up her mobile phone snug in its “Hello Kitty” pouch. ‘I mean, she’s left her phone here. She can’t be far if she’s left her phone behind.’ A smile spread across his face. ‘Cool, I’ve always wanted to check out her phone.’
Adam jumped into the four-wheel drive and fiddled with Amie’s phone.
Walter Wenke strode into the clearing. ‘What? You haven’t started dinner yet, Fleischer? I’m famished.’ Then glancing around the campsite, he added, ‘I thought we’re having roo. Where’s the roo?’
‘Is that all you can think about? Food?’ Fleischer gazed at The Range, its ridges now glowing pink, and without looking at the coal-pit, he muttered, ‘Still cooking in the coals, I guess. And, anyway, you seen Amie in your travels? She’s not here.’
‘Her bad luck if she misses out on tea, I say,’ Wenke said. ‘You should get something together before it gets dark.’
Their indigenous guide, appeared. He had stolen into their presence without making a sound.
‘Ah, Nathan, you gotta stop doing that,’ Fleischer said.
‘You wan’ me to knock?’ Nathan picked up a shovel. ‘What? Dinner still in oven?’ He then drifted over to a campfire and shovelled out the blackened kangaroo carcass from the coals. The aroma of cooked meat filled the air. ‘Dinner. Well done. I go get more wood for the fire tonight.’
Nathan then vanished into the bush in search of fuel for the fire.
‘Cool! Roo!’ Adam came out of rover-hiding to inspect the effigy, stiff and black. ‘Wait till Amie sees it. She’ll be grossed out. Wicked!’
‘Yeah, if she doesn’t take her time getting back.’ Fleischer paced back and forth across the campsite as if he were walking on coals. ‘Where could she have gone?’
‘I’ll go to the waterhole. I’m sure she’s there.’ Adam galloped towards the gully where the water-hole was situated. As he ran, the sun, a flattened shiny disc, slipped below the horizon.
Fleischer called after him. ‘Wait, Adam.’
Adam stopped and looked back. ‘What?’
‘Let Walter go with you. I don’t want you getting lost.’
Walter rubbed his hands together and then loped after Adam.
They disappeared over the crest of the hill, and Fleischer busied himself with tidying up the campsite. He moved billy cans and fry pans from one side of the fire place to the other. Then he moved them back. He shovelled stones from the clearing. He rearranged the luggage in the back of the rover. He did anything to keep busy. He had a bad feeling that he just couldn’t tidy away.
Nathan returned from gathering wood. After placing the sticks on the coals, he gazed at the tracks criss-crossing the clearing. ‘Where they go?’ he asked.
‘To the water-hole.’ Fleischer pointed towards the gorges in The Range.
‘Why they go there?’
‘No, she not.’
‘What do you mean?’
Nathan placed his hands behind his back and like an emu searching for food, he stalked the sandy ground. He pointed at some twigs. ‘She go this way. She go to The Spring.’
‘That doesn’t make sense,’ Fleischer said. ‘She’d be back by now. What’s there at The Spring?’
Nathan studied the gorge in the grey light of twilight. ‘She climb over into the Hidden Valley.’
‘How do you know that?’
‘I jus’ do.’
Fleischer ran to the four-wheel drive. He grabbed a torch and then offered it to Nathan. ‘Can you find her? Can you go looking for her and find her?’
Nathan ignored the torch. He tipped his head back and seemed to sniff the icy breeze of the coming night. ‘’s too late—she’s gone.’
Fleischer shone the torch up the gully. ‘Don’t be ridiculous. She’s only been missing a few minutes—hours. She can’t be gone too far.’ He said this to allay his growing sense of alarm.
Fleischer stormed from the camp. He swished the torchlight from side to side. He had to do something to will his daughter back.
Nathan turned and began building up the fire.
Fleischer stumped back into camp and stood over Nathan. ‘Well, aren’t you coming?’
Nathan looked up at Fleischer. ‘She not here, Arthur.’ He then crouched down and blew at the coals igniting the fire.
‘Oh, don’t give me excuses.’
Nathan rested on his haunches. ‘She okay, Arthur. She in other world. She safe for now. Don’ worry spirit people look after her.’
‘I don’t believe you, she’s not dead.’
‘She no’ dead. She wi’ boy,’ Nathan said. ‘She come back.’
Fleischer scanned the first stars blinking in the sky. ‘Yeah, right, I think you’re making it all up. Well, I’m going to find her.’ He shone the torch up the gorge and then paced out of the campsite.
Nathan called behind him. ‘She come home unless the bad man stop her. That Walter, you watch him. Him bad man.’
Arthur Fleischer shook his head as he tramped up the gorge. ‘Not here—another world—spirit people. Chewing too much “pitcherie” if you ask me.’ He scrambled over boulders and climbed higher. He yelled over and over. ‘Amie? Amie? Are you there? Amie? Where are you?’
[to be continued…]
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017
Photo: Cliffs of Western MacDonnell Ranges © C.D. Trudinger 1981