Wake and Walkabout
Return to the Mission
The trek returning to The Mission in Dan’s patrol car began in silence making the traverse along the wheel-ruts towards The Pass seem endless.
Dan concentrated negotiating the rough track. He bumped his deluxe four-wheel-drive at twenty kilometres an hour.
Nathan waved a hand at the direction of the track, sometimes hidden by overgrown bushes and lack of use.
Dan’s thoughts began to meander like the trail. He seems to spot the bush tracks fine. Why can’t he find the lad and the girl? Surely, they hadn’t strayed that far. Could he be right? Had they been abducted by aliens? Filleted cows. Nah, too much like science fiction. Has to be a logical explanation. Wasn’t one for the cows, though. Irrelevant. That was Switzerland. This is Australia. Haven’t seen any strange phenomena concerning cattle in this country. There was that dingo in the precinct…How did all those cockroaches get in its stomach? Dan nodded. Maybe Nathan has a point.
Dan glanced at Nathan. His head rested on the window. Every so often it bounced against the pane as the vehicle rolled over a rock. Nathan’s eyes remained shut.
Poor chap, he needs his sleep. I guess I’ll have to find the track on my own. He glanced behind. Father and son, heads bent towards each other, eyes closed. Phone hung loosely in boy’s hand and the father was snoring. Dan gripped the steering wheel, and squinted at the lines in the sand.
In the west, thunderclouds plumed, their underbellies pregnant with moisture ready to burst and storm.
As he struck the The Loop, Arthur woke and plopped a comment. ‘I feel a bit bad leaving Walter behind.’
‘He’ll be alright,’ Dan said. ‘He can come back in your car with the search crew.’
‘Yeah, I s’pose.’
Nathan woke and looked out the front windscreen.
‘Probably better this way, Dad.’ Adam yawned. ‘Nathan and him don’t get along.’
‘Hmmm. I noticed that.’ Arthur Fleischer wrung his hands.
‘He’s creepy,’ Nathan muttered. ‘You keep your children away from that beast.’
Arthur cleared his throat. ‘You’ve known Wenke a while, Officer, how does he come across to you?’
Dan swerved avoiding a mound of cow carcass. He also narrowly missed a wedge-tail eagle, so bloated from gorging on the carcass, it ambled across the road unable to take off. ‘How do you mean?’
‘He means kiddies,’ Nathan said.
‘Oh, that’s a pretty serious allegation.’
‘No, I mean people. He’s been acting kind a weird,’ Arthur said. ‘And he threatened Nathan the other night. Said he’d shoot him. I mean, that’s not the Walter Wenke I knew from teaching down south. He’s changed since he came up here.’
Dan massaged his temple. All this new information about Walter Wenke was giving him a headache. He’d seen Wenke teaching the kids at the school. They liked him. The little tackers always ran after him when they saw him around the place. His impression of Wenke—a walking encyclopaedia, wearing long white socks and shorts, his specialty family history, and a gentle demeanour.
Dan tried to imagine Wenke holding a rifle and threatening to shoot. He tried to visualise him morphing into a cockroach. Nah! Ridiculous! Besides, Walter was the kind of man who, if he saw a cockroach on his kitchen floor, preferred to catch it in a jar and place it outside in the garden.
Dan gasped. I guess Walter Wenke wouldn’t be the first white man to come to the Centre with good intentions and baggage. Dan became cold all over. Maybe not good intentions. Maybe not a man at all…
‘Yeah, well,’ Dan said, ‘the Centre does things to people. We’re at the coal face—we’re it. We see things here that you city people’re insulated from. We’re all there is, you see. If there’s a car accident, we’re it. A break in. We’re it. You get the picture?’ If there’s paranormal activity…Am I it? “It” all started with the strangely dissected cows in Switzerland…Dan sighed. But he wasn’t going to share his other cap—investigating extraordinary events over the past few months—the busload of missing tourists, a cockroach plague and reports of strange lights over the Meteorite Range. And the ghost or whatever it was haunting the Precinct. Only last week, a local girl reported a red glow coming from the old morgue, and someone’s dog died full of cockroaches. Did Walter Wenke have something to do with these strange events? He’d arrived six months ago when all these odd things started to happen.
‘Do you think Walter Wenke did it?’ Adam echoed Dan’s thoughts.
‘What makes you come to that conclusion?’ Dan asked.
‘Well, when I was at the waterhole—he was like—like—weird—um—like the witch in Hansel and Gretel.’ Adam bounced up and down in his seat. ‘He looked at me like he was going to eat me.’
The hairs on the back of Dan’s neck stood to attention. How did he miss Wenke? Then a more disturbing thought. Nathan’s right. The Indig have been mumbling about it for months. The Min-min Man. He’d dismissed it as local folklore—a myth. Maybe Nathan’s not making it up. Did aliens really exist? Was Walter Wenke an alien in disguise?
‘If it wasn’t for Nathan,’ Adam continued, ‘that man would’ve, I don’t know.’
Dan glanced at Nathan. ‘Sorry mate—about not believing you this morning. We’ll look into it.’
‘What?’ Fleischer asked.
‘We’re doing what we can to find Amie and the lad. We’ve another line of enquiry.’ He hoped they would find them in time.
‘We’ll not stop until we find ‘em two,’ Nathan said.
‘Thanks,’ Arthur said.
In his rear-view mirror, Dan noticed Adam had resumed his play on the mobile phone. Just like his son—a son he’d barely seen in his fourteen years. The job and divorce had robbed him of his son just as the desert had robbed Arthur of his daughter and the Swiss couple their son. How ironic, these people had tried their best for their children to get out there, off the computer, see the world—and how does fate repay them? The wilderness snatches them away…or the cockroach man did.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017
Photo: Road to Gosses Bluff © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2013