The Village of Ghosts
[Episode 28 of a spin-off from my novels The Hitch-hiker and Mission of the Unwilling.]
I trod down the hill to a tiny cottage. There, I pushed the wrought-iron gate. The metal scraped over a mound of turquoise grass.
Behind me, thump! thump! thump!
I turned around.
Günter Fahrer caught up to me. ‘Did you not hear me? I ordered you to stop.’
‘No,’ I lied, ‘I didn’t.’
‘Never mind,’ Günter said. ‘I have a better idea.’
‘Much faster than walking.’
‘Really?’ I pointed to a broken-down barn. ‘Is there a car in there?’
‘Warp-porting? What is that?’
‘It is like teleporting, only over greater distances—through space, even.’
‘No, not time. Just space. But we save time.’
‘So we could travel to the Convent in no time, then?’
Günter rubbed his hands together. ‘Oh, Miss Mueller, much further than the Convent.’
‘Back to the Sister Ship, then? That would surprise Liesel.’
‘Nein! Further than the Sister Ship.’
‘To another planet?’
‘Yah. We could go to Earth, if you like.’
I shivered. That suggestion chilled me to the bone. Face Johann again? ‘No thanks.’ Although, if I could avoid Johann, like go to the dead heart of Australia, that would be alright.
‘No, I guess that is not part of the mission—unless, Boris is on Earth’s doorstep and ready to take over.’ Günter walked up to the cottage door. ‘Boris world, then.’
The thought of landing uninvited on some slimy planet owned by the biggest bully of the known universe gripped me with insane fear—even if that were our mission to deliver the known universe of this particular foe—terror still gripped me. ‘I don’t know, wouldn’t we be a bit outnumbered on Boris world?’ Walking two hundred kilometers to the Convent was becoming more appealing by the second.
‘You signed up for the mission, Ensign. And Earth and Boris World are the two choices only.’
‘Yeah, but…two of us against all those mutants and cockroaches…’ I joined Günter at the doorstep. My heart started to pound. In 1995, the ship I’d just boarded was blasted to bits. I was catapulted fifteen years into the future. Thanks to Boris. My face was burnt to shreds. Thanks to Boris. I spent several years languishing in hospital having it reconstructed. Thanks to Boris. Minna died from the nuclear blast in this very place on this very planet. Thanks to Boris. Not to mention the annihilation of this colony of Wends as well as millions of other civilizations and planets having perished…thanks to Boris. ‘…but I thought I could just have my little part being a ship’s counsellor in the whole mission thing and not have anything actually to do with Boris or his nasty cockroach planet. I mean the contact I had with him on that road trip to the Flinders all those years ago…I mean, I never recovered…it changed me…’
Günter looked down at me. ‘You finally finished your sob story?’
‘Well, then, we will go in the house, yes?’ He pushed open the door. ‘And so, we will try and go somewhere besides Earth or Boris world, I will find the equipment I need for the Trans-warp-port, yes?’
‘And I’ll find some food, just in case, yes?’
‘If you must,’ Günter said. ‘Is there anything else you think about apart from food?’
‘Yes, Sir Günter, I mean Fahrer or whatever…’ I barged past him and zeroed in on the kitchen.
‘You do realise it is radiation affected all,’ Günter said as he climbed the ladder to the bedroom loft.
‘There must be something, surely.’
I picked up a saucepan, and the sensation hit. De ja-vu did not explain adequately the sense which I had about the place.
I thought I saw Günter standing near the hearth. ‘By the way, Günter where is this warp-port you keep talking about?’
He didn’t reply. Just stood there by the empty fireplace.
I tottered toward him. ‘Captain? Where’s the warp-port?’ As I approached him, his dark hair turned white.
‘Don’t be so rude. Tell me where the warp-port is? Is it in here, somewhere?’
‘It is in the mountains.’ His mouth didn’t move; his voice detached, echoed from some other place in the room. ‘A cave in the mountains—who are you talking to?’
‘I’m talking to you—how are you doing that?’ I reached out to Günter and he drifted to the crumbling beams in the ceiling. ‘How did you become a ghost all of a sudden?’
Voices, children crying, shouting, and the hollow emptiness crowded my senses. It was like the ghosts of the past that inhabited this home, had camped in my memories. I was faint with dizziness. The room began to spin. I had to get out of there.
‘Let’s go b-back to the c-campsite. This place gives me the c-creeps.’ I staggered to the door and bolted out. The cobble-stone path sped towards me.
‘What is wrong with you?’ Günter caught my waist and held me, my face two centimeters from the stones.
He then carried me back to the campsite with the saucepan in tow.
Dehydrated food, there is nothing like it. There is nothing in it, except water, starch, and dry vitamins. It is bland, bloated, and tasteless. Somehow, after my eerie experience, I was in no mood for food, particularly the offerings from our survival pack; dehydrated rice, vegetables, and miso soup with bean curd. My jaw ached, causing me to be nauseous, close to gagging.
‘It is evening, and you have barely eaten all day,’ Günter said. ‘You can’t walk up the mountain on an empty stomach.’
‘I can’t bear even the thought of food. My stomach’s not quite right.’ A sharp pain hit my abdomen every time I moved. A wave of sickness made me sweat. The blood drained from my head. I had to lie down.
But acid rose up from my stomach with speed and force. I bolted to the bushes and retched.
Returning shaking, I stated the understatement of the century. ‘I don’t think I am well.’ Cold and feverish, I retreated into the tent, and then crawled into my sleeping bag.
‘How much melon did you say you ate?’
I groaned. ‘I didn’t eat any melon. It’s that horrible house we visited.’
Günter entered my tent and asked, ‘Are you alright?’
‘No of c-c-course n-n-not!’ The shivering and shaking were uncontrollable.
‘I think you did take some melon. Even the smallest drop is deadly.’
‘No, there’s evil spirits in that house making me sick.’
‘Oh, do not be so superstitious.’
‘You just don’t want to believe Minna’s ghost has come back to haunt you.’ I rolled over and clutched my stomach in pain like I had been stabbed through the intestines.
‘But I am not sick, you are…now, where is that medicine?’
I could hear Günter rustling around with the backpack and sensed him kneeling beside me. He held out his palm baring two pills in front of my face. ‘Here, Holly, take these.’
I sat up and gulped the tablets down with a few sips of water. ‘Thanks,’ I said, and sank back into the sleeping bag to sleep.
* * *
I dream I’m lying in a hospital bed. I hold a mirror to my face. I’m like an Egyptian mummy with bandages covering my face and body. A petite Italian doctor slides a needle into my arm. The words override the scene. “The decision you make is permanent.”
[to be continued…]
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2018
Feature Photo: Ruins, Flinders Ranges © L.M. Kling 1999
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