[Meanwhile, in Central Australia]
Dan rubbed his eyes and blinked. He looked at Heidi, Jakob’s wife.
Her eyes widened, and she screamed.
Jakob glared at the two. ‘Get away from my wife or I clobber you.’
Dan pulled his arm from her back. ‘Sorry, I don’t know how that happened.’
‘A likely story.’
‘What do’ya mean?’
‘Hey maite, I saw what happened up there.’
‘Please refresh my memory.’
‘Yeah, you’d like that.’ Jakob raised a fist. ‘I know karate, you know.’
Officer Dan stroked the air in front of him. ‘Now, calm down. I’m sure there’s a simple explanation.’
‘I hope so,’ Jakob said. He shoved Dan into the baggage and then squeezed in the space next to his wife. There he sat hunched over wringing his hands.
‘What’s all this about?’ Heidi patted her husband on the thigh. ‘You seem to be over-reacting dear.’
‘I’m not over-reacting!’ Jakob barked.
Arthur, in the seat in front, turned and asked, ‘What exactly is going on?’
Jakob and Heidi snapped their attention to him. ‘None of your business!’ Jakob said, glaring at Arthur.
Heidi shrugged. ‘He gets a bit emotional under the circumstances.’
‘No, I mean, do you have any idea what we are doing here?’ Arthur Fleischer locked eyes with Dan. ‘Dan? What’s going on? And how are we going to get out of this mess?’
The afternoon sun beat down on the bus. Its metal body radiated the heat to over fifty-degrees Celsius inside. The widows seemed glued shut. No matter how hard some of the passengers tugged at their windows, they didn’t budge.
The last of the water had almost dribbled away; rationed down the fifteen of the seventeen passenger’s throats. Arthur’s tongue stuck to his teeth. Each swallow as if he were drinking sawdust.
And he worried about his wife Carol and his son Adam. They were still unconscious and seemed unresponsive to attempts to keep them hydrated.
Arthur moistened his handkerchief with the last drops from his water bottle and dabbed their lips.
‘Don’t vaste ze wasser!’ Fat Tony, as Arthur had named him, in reference to his size, just had to give his two Euros worth.
Arthur knew he shouldn’t make such judgements about a person’s size, but it was hot in the bus, he was stressed and well, he just couldn’t help having such thoughts about the big guy telling him what to do.
So, Arthur snapped. ‘I’m trying to keep them alive!’
‘Ve must wasser save.’
Arthur rolled his eyes and swayed his head. ‘Any other bright ideas?’
Fat Tony shrugged.
‘Fat lot of use you are. We can’t just sit here and boil to death,’ Arthur said.
‘Calm down,’ Dan stroked the air again.
‘Is that all you can say, Officer?’ Arthur asked. ‘Calm down?’
Fleischer waited for the policeman to finish his sentence. In the pause, he was aware of the laboured breathing and soft moans that filled the cabin. ‘Well?’ he goaded Dan. ‘Well, what are we waiting for? Do you think some helicopter’s going to fly over—?’
The bus listed forward. Arthur glanced out the window and surveyed the cliffs. One- thousand-metre cliffs…One-thousand-metre drop…the cliffs…purple…like teeth. His mind was ticking over and putting the pieces together. Then ding! Arthur clapped his hands. ‘Hey, Dan! I think I know where we are.’
‘Do you now?’ Dan pressed against a sports bag with his arm and peered out the window. ‘Sure we’re not on some alien world?’
‘What do you mean, alien world?’
‘Last thing I remember I was on some ship being probed by grey-like creatures. It stands to reason this isn’t earth,’ Dan kept looking out the window and studying the cliffs. He took a sharp breath, then said, ‘That and the bus being on top of a mountain on the edge of a cliff. How else would it get there?’
‘Could still be Earth. In fact, I’m certain we’re on top of a mountain in the Western MacDonnell Ranges. If I could just break a window and get out.’ The cogs were turning so fast in Arthur’s brain, they’d been sent into over-drive. ‘Just wait a minute, you think we were abducted by aliens? You mean the Germans weren’t joking?’
Heidi whimpered and shook.
‘I’m sorry. I did over-react, my little cabbage.’ Jakob touched a stray curl on Heidi’s forehead. ‘What did they make you do?’
Fleischer looked at Jakob and then Dan. ‘My daughter Amie—where’s she? Jakob—Heidi—your son, Joseph—where’s he?’
‘And your point is?’ Dan asked.
‘My point is—if we’ve been abducted by aliens and ended up in a bus full of Germans on a mountain-top, isn’t it possible Amie and Joseph were taken too?’
Carol moved. ‘My baby girl—my baby girl,’ she murmured.
Adam’s eyes sprang open. ‘I told you, it’s Walter—he did this. He did all this. I kept telling you, but you wouldn’t believe me.’
Arthur ground his teeth, then muttered, ‘Walter! I knew it! I knew that man was trouble.’ He hugged his wife and son and then looked each of them square in the face. ‘Darling—my son—I have to go. I have to get out of this bus and find help before it’s—too late.’
‘Nein! Nein! Achtung!’ Fat Tony again. ‘If you go, you’ll destroy de equilibrium—ve vill all fall to our deaths.’
‘Stuff the equilibrium!’ Arthur replied.
‘Nooo!’ Fat Tony shook his head making his double chin wobble.
‘How are you going to get out?’ Carol asked.
‘A good question,’ Fat Tony said.
‘I’ll—I’ll think of something,’ Arthur said. ‘For a start, you, yes, I’m talking to you, Fat Tony—’
‘Mein name ist Antony Wurst.’
‘Figures.’ Arthur muttered and then raised his voice. ‘You can get your body down here near the back seat—no, better still, everyone, get down the back. Now, there’s your equilibrium.’
A volley of excuses rebounded.
‘I’m sick,’ started Herr Wurst. He did sound a little “worst” (sic) for wear, Arthur thought.
‘But if we move, the bus vill tip.’
‘I’m too veak.’
‘I’m too tirsty.’
Jakob echoed Arthur’s command, but added that it was an order from the policeman sitting at the back.
One by one, the Germans moved, until all were crowded at the rear of the bus.
Arthur climbed over the luggage that had been piled on the backseat for that all-important equilibrium. With a wad of windcheater wrapped around his arm, he beat the back window. His arm bounced off the glass. He jabbed the pane with his fist.
‘Ouch!’ he cried and then rubbed his sore hand. ‘It’s as hard as steel!’
‘Try your boot,’ Jakob suggested.
‘Alright.’ Arthur reclined on the baggage, and clutching the handle of the seat in front, he kicked. The bus rocked.
[…to be continued]
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2018
Feature Photo: Liebig Cliff © C.D. Trudinger 1981