Haunted legends the queen of spades, haunted legends the queen of spades key.
[Transcribed from the dictaphone of Flynn VanDeBerg, during his investigation into a murder of a man who's body was dumped in the mangroves of a rural Australian Town]
Chapter One - 'Girl, Birthmark'
It's with lamentation and sorrow, that I officially begin this auditory/literary investigation into the mysterious death of Jeremy Scarborough; who had his skin carefully stripped from his flesh and muscles extracted with a hunting knife, and was subsequently dumped in the mangroves at Green Gill's river.
I'm recording, in spit of goose pimples, in my dressing gown, cicada's clicking like a wave, across the black stretch of space; a hot, Australian sky, tall-black grass blowing in the breeze. The glistening stars of the Milky Way; as clear as a river of light above me. Country stars.
To a soundtrack the croaking of frogs fall out of step with the cicadas melody. There's so much disorder in the outback.
It's so rustic... sparse....yet.... somehow even amidst the random beauty of the Australian bush, natures chaotic rythym seems to have..... some unknown ....but deeply disturbing meaning to convey to whoever is willing to listen.
Seems to be Working. Grammatically it's good, and the punctuation is spot on. I'm a little apprehensive. When I discovered the dictaphone feature in 'HypeWriter': the writers application I downloaded a few months ago, I had low expectations of the method surpassing conventional typing, as a preference for my writing. There's no doubt it's accurate, but there's a kind of shroud- a concern over integrity. I'm worried about editing the words, in case I lose my candid voice. That kind of infects the usual methods and professional standard of the medium. All the same.. It's a lot more personal, I almost feel like I'm speaking straight to my readers this way, as my lips hover over my mobile phone in the onyx coloured night, too pretentious? I would normally edit that out, but now I'm not sure. The dictaphone doesn't pick up the chirping in the background, which is lucky.
The cicada's have been leaving their crusty brown shells everywhere on the frames of my new residence, must be the season of the damn things. I'm picking one up in my hand, right now, plucking it off the splintered, wooden railing; it's sticky, like the skin of a dried fruit, it's legs are sharp and stick into the callus on my fore-finger. Ouch.
I've had the most pervasive sense of dread since I've come to this place. I don't know what it is. I used to feel misgiving putting honest words down on a page after a haunting or traumatic incident, but recording my voice, and having it instantly translated into words is somehow even more daunting. I'm feeling existential, alone in the dark, a little paranoid, listening to the sound of my own voice echo through the desolate valley. Then there were the incidents.
I'm supposed to give some character description about myself for depth, I guess, as an introduction, how about... if I read you my bio off the dust jacket of my last book, it's sitting right here on the divan next to me, here let me turn the porch light on. There; in bleak typography, if you were here you might read the title 'The Koala Killer' and an abstract red, clownish bear face, channelling Ralph Steadman, Gerald scarfe, and in the inset...you'd see the portrait photo of me. Short curly brown hair. Thick rimmed Glasses. Handsome. Ha. A pointy, angular face. let's see.... 'Flynn VanDeBerg is a stoic Australian writer who....'.. Stoic??--in case you can't tell I didn't write the inset biography myself. '...a writer, who...cuts into the unfashionable medium of the occult like a knife. His bold prose--' OK. I won't bore you with the rest of that nonsense. Any fool can arrange sentences, I'm not into the more pretentious, self-aggrandising aspects of the trade.
That is the reason I'm out in this obscure outback town though. That's my trade. I write about ' the occult', don't back off just yet, the word simply means 'what is hidden', I'm not a conman, not dogmatic, or conspiratorial--though sometimes my work can be pretty trite, my investigations at least aim to be candid, honest. The subject remains a niche area of interest, marketable, even if it often seems to run hand in hand with charlatanry and pseudoscience, there are unexplainable forces out there. I know that much. I get paid to distribute my writings online, so long as I mention 'Black-lab' publishing house, shameless plug there you are, I sense you're judging me, but we all have to earn a crust, don't we? Actually I couldn't be more grateful to Vicky, my publisher, they're paying me to develop my own set of Tarot cards this year, with a unique Australiana theme, it's a fascinating project, alongside that-- they paid for free accommodation for my six month stay in 'Bishop's Valley'. That's this small, rural Australian town about a third of the distance between Sydney and Melbourne. I've got a nice set-up here, a beautiful old, free standing house with a patio and a deck, which I moved into today, hence the welcome croaking symphony of the cicadas. Bishop's Valley library is supposedly one of the better libraries in the state of New South Wales for Australian specific phenomenon and history, so I'll be researching over the next few weeks and finalising the tarot deck with my artist colleague via the Internet. The tarot deck will be marketed as a promotional bonus alongside an anthology of BL writers work. I'm actually pretty excited about the whole thing, a tad jittery and nervous. Perhaps that's to be expected.
I'm not married, and I have no children, so travelling around the country is ideal for me. I like people, I like to meet people I mean, i'm more studious than social, truth be told. I like to study people, observe them, make mental sketches, y'know...For my writing--Hmmm--The girls light is still on ...over on the hill. How intriguing. She was.... Intriguing..
Sorry. Trying to remain linear for your sake. Back on topic. The purpose of this journal is to document my experiences here for the anthology. I only arrived today so I'm pretty tired, but it's probably better to reflect on the day while it's all still fresh in my mind. I pulled off the Hume Highway at.... about 7:30, after driving for seven uncomfortable hours. Then I started the long descent into Bishop's valley, down 'the forward way'. The moment you get off the highway you notice the lack of council work in the district. The old roads in this part of the country haven’t been tarred since the 80’s, they're bumpy, with lots of holes, very gravelly, sometimes they aren't even roads, they're just scattered piles of rocks.
On the rough road into the place, you are also treated to the awe inspiring sight of that unique Australian bush land, the sparse and bent, bracken trees along the way, gnarled stones and branches of heaven slanted, miles of red dust, road kill and skeletons of dead animals. I couldn't help but feel a kind of bad omen, or premonition as I was driving in, kicking up dust, looking at the haunting slice of spiritus Mundi carved into the landscape all around me.
It's actually overwhelming to finally set eyes upon the soil here, seeing as I've been doing my own research on the place for weeks now. The Indigenous people of this land inhabited the area now known as Bishops Valley for at least 6,000 years prior to European arrival, so i've read. The Warriwul people had a recognised camping ground where tribes gathered annually to fish and hunt wallabies, dingoes and bandicoots. According to photographs I've seen in books, there are historical signs of the Warriwul people from Muro-vale down to the shore’s of Green-Gill River, including; rock shelters, rock carvings and cave paintings, particularly in the Western bushlands. It's going to be great to actually see some of these historic sites in person when I start exploring. One particular interesting rock painting I'd really like to see, is in a cave site near Yalumba basin, it's about five kilometres from my house, and it's known colloquially as ‘The crown of the shadow king’. I've only seen a couple of blurry photos but according to sources it depicts a curious silhouette of a giant man, surrounded by adoring tribe members - who are placing a crown of stars upon his head, some representation of tribal initiation no doubt. In any case the painting indicates a rich artistic tradition for the Warriwul people and their 'dream time' legends.
I was thinking about all these things as I drove through Murro-vale earlier today. History was dancing on the edge of my imagination, fresh in my mind from research. I could imagine how the first Europeans felt, tramping through here, actually; in terms of the natural landscape not much has changed since then. It was the explorer and ex-convict John Goldlook, who obtained permission from governor Hunter to explore this area for the first time, with a small party; back in 1796, alerting the officials to the large river and mangroves at the basin of the valley. The mangroves, in fact, are a mere stones throw from the house I'm staying in. The river was apparently named 'Green Gills' river after the unfortunate death of one member of the expedition. John Harp, who was found face down in the river, laying in the water --also less than five hundred metres down the old bush path which runs from my backyard-- apparently drowned or poisoned, they say he was quite pale and off coloured when he was found, hence came the name ‘green gills’ from the colloquial Aussie expression, likening the dead man to a rotting fish. I was almost disappointed to learn this fact, my initial thought on hearing the name 'Green Gills River' was that it may have been the home of a friendly green troll named Gill. But there you are, the truth is more gruesome than fiction.
Governor Macquarie granted Lord Havelsby 3,000 acres of land here in 1819 and put him in charge of developing an arterial road. That was 'the forward way', which I drove down this afternoon. The first landowner in Bishop’s valley was Captain Errol Flinders, who named his farm ‘Chapel of the new sun’, using convict labour to run the farm, eventually sold in 1816. There was a fair amount of livestock here in the early days. Over 25 years from 1790, many other farms were built, and a great deal of timber cutting in the region began, it was particularly a hot spot for the popular 'Blakeley’s red gum' timber. As most provincial towns, the place was marred by tragedies of all sorts, a bushfire killed half the town's population in the early 19th century, and there was even a rather unusual outbreak of leprosy in the 1830's. By 1836 many convicts had been granted land to farm. Hans and Eileen Webster purchased a large plot of land along what would become Prime Street in 1938, (The main commercial street in Bishop’s Valley). The area became renowned for it’s cultivation of onion’s, due to the rare red soil, and was frequently attacked by raiding bush rangers, thieves and tribes people in the early years (for vegetables and livestock). John Bowman surveyed the entire area in 1832, calling it 'a paradise' and settlements also began on the two nearby area’s at the twin mountain bases-- in Murro-Vale and Oper-Bodie, which would become the more industrialised towns; as the region developed.
I only got a short look at Oper-Bodie on my way in today, and will hopefully return there in coming weeks. But from what I saw of Murro-Vale it's a pretty ugly steelworks town. I had reservations driving through there at all, based on the looks of some of the frightening ocker townsfolk. From what I can discern from history books and early writings Murro-Vale was a popular stop in point for migrators and travellers, the BlackGum Hotel was a favourite stopping place for Cobb and Co coaches which travelled down that way. Murro Vale was also a refuelling place for locomotives on their way from Sydney to Melbourne, and thus did attract many nefarious types fleeing Sydney to escape criminal charges. Lots of mafia and underworld figures hailed from Bishop's Valley back in the day. Murro Vale also happened to be very close to the path of the famous explorer Hamilton Hume, who's great expedition would become the path of the future Hume Highway, the main roadway from Melbourne to Sydney; this no doubt aided the areas industrial growth --and explains its unique modern ugliness. The steelworks, engineering works and coal trade all thrived in Murro-vale. Coal mining went through a surge in the 1850’s, with established mines in Oper-Bodie, and Bishop’s Valley, copper and asbestos mining also achieved success, BHP steelworks had a factory there from 1920. Since the steelworks closing in Murro Vale in the 1990’s the whole region has apparently been forced to reevaluate it’s employment and industry options, which to be honest I have no idea how they're managing. It will be interesting to analyse in coming months.
Murro-Vale developed the first police Barracks and post office over a hundred and fifty years ago which served most of the surrounding area well enough, although the Bishop’s Valley private police unit, ‘Blue boys’ have maintained a healthy power ever since, which is entirely strange under Australian law, and I'm also shocked, keen to uncover the facts of how Bishop's Valley has somehow managed to evade Australia's heavy gun laws, housing the widest array of private guns I've heard of in this country. There's even a double barrelled shotgun hung neatly above the open fireplace in my temporary abode. I checked to see if it was loaded, dumbstruck to find it was, later finding a gun cupboard packed with cases of shells.
I was quite happy to pass through Murro-Vale this afternoon, and come down the windy 'Serpentine road' that leads to Prime Street, Bishop's Valley. The bushland on the mountains to the West and East of Murro-vale and Oper-Bodie are said to be largely unexplorable, they appear as strikingly beautiful purple mountains as you drive past. The bushland was labelled a national park in 1879, but was reverted to private ownership in 1890, to the 'Cathar Council', another curious fact I noticed in my research.
There seems to be a deep religious current to the history of Bishop's Valley. A Catholic church was established in the region as early as 1821. Quickly a significant clerical community identified it as a point of organisation for the holy orders in other parts of Australia. Cardinal DelSoire built a large manor house on Fruitbat Road, having the rather conservative belief that Australia should continue along feudal Catholic lines, with the helm right here; he named the manor ‘Cardinal House’, and it apparently still stands today, though I've not yet seen it.
The area was originally called ‘Bishop’s head’ in 1867, but was for some reason renamed ‘Bishop’s Valley’ in 1955 evidently influenced by the clerical community here, though I've not yet been able to pin down the exact etymology of the name.
I gather much has changed here from the older days, and there is not a great deal of information on modern life in the small town. The recession of the 1880’s caused great problems and unemployment in Bishop's Valley, (then bishop's head), with a number of families having to leave on mass exodus. Roads connecting Murro-vale, Oper Bodie, and Bishop’s head were built by a convict chain gang, these roads included ‘Forward Way’ and ‘Serpentine Road’. A bridge at Serpentine road was also constructed back in those early years, leading onto Prime Street, as the centre of the town.
As I drove over the bridge, I was surprised to find my old Ford Fairlane nearly lost it's grip running over the rickety wooden slabs, and I wondered if the towns folk didn't need a four wheel drive to manoeuvre safely along these wild outback roads. My suspicions were later to be confirmed.
As you drive down Prime street you can see how quaint the old town is. It's remained almost entirely residential except for a few shops along the main drag, there's an old corner store, maintaining that early fifties hand painted American 'milk-bar' quality, and a curious collection of doctors surgeries. The first school was built in 1880. Bishop’s Head Public School retains the original name of the town and I think is somewhere on the South side --which I didn't explore today.
Many of the homesteads still retain the late Victorian style of the peak growth period. There's an array of rather gorgeous multi-coloured rooves as you drive in. The animals in the paddock were all up at the fences, staring curiously at my car, as I passed, as if traffic was a rarity, and I saw no people at all on the streets or paddocks, bizarrely. The first census in the area amounted to 96, and three years ago the census indicated the population was about 4,340. So it's hardly a rapidly growing population, but I expected to see SOME sign of life. Of the population's heritage ; 70 percent are Italian, Irish or Anglo Saxon, with the remainder being of various Eastern European nations. It's a fairly white bread place, an archaic relic of the past, not unlike a lot of these backwater Australian towns. God knows what became of the indigenous population, I'll be doing some research on the matter in coming weeks.
I was amazed by the colour once you left the dry bush. Some impressive flower beds are kept in well-tended gardens, vibrant rainbows of tonality and pretty splotchy multicoloured hues. Local flora include Blakely's red gum, The New England stringy bark, silver top stringy bark. Blackberry, bracken, Lantana and other invasive weeds are also common; I could see them intruding sinisterly through various yards and fences. There are abundant forms of local wildlife, which the many streets in Bishop's head are named after. There are many pest animals here too, so I understand, including foxes, rabbits and feral goats, the area, historically was also once host to vast populations of Australian Megafauna. But that's getting into Ancient pre-human-history.
I drove a little bit around the town to explore before arriving at my leased house, mainly absorbing the quaint homesteads and reading all the road names; named after local fauna. Currawong Road. Magpie Place. Echidna Street. Blacksnake Lane. Fruitbat road. There were some lovely buildings on Fruitbat road, truly magnificent, but I didn't travel far enough to see the old Cardinal palace. Redbelly drive. Huntsman Street. Crow St. Finally I came to my own street, Livestock Circuit, which wound around to a culdesac where my grand old house stood, number 7.
It's a big old style farm house, painted a pale lime colour; not the most attractive place, but for six months it'll do me just fine. I had been extremely daunted by not seeing anyone in the town on the drive in, wondering where the hell everyone was, when I chanced on the girl, walking through the old bush trail. She took me by complete surprise, somehow I hadn't at all expected such a modern looking, youthful, dare I say extremely attractive young woman to live in a rural setting like this. Tromping loudly on loose stones. She had kind of rosy blonde hair, short cut to her shoulders, her clothes were casual, almost farm-like, she was extremely skinny, but flushed and lively looking. The girl had raised her arm at me and waved from twenty metres away; 'You must be the one moving in! ' she yelled out gleefully, 'I guess that makes us neighbours.' Then she had got an excited look in her eye, and turned to run off, 'I'll come and introduce myself, just let me have a shower and get changed first. I've just been running and I'm all sweaty.' With that she had slipped off before I had been able to say a word. This was well before the sun went down, but the girl proved true to her word and did indeed return in three or four hours.
In the meantime I had begun to unpack my car. The sun was getting low in the sky, and I was feeling flustered by the sense of desperation to the town. Could I really live here in the middle of nowhere? As the sun sunk, the local Red gums began to glow in the fuzzy-dark like frozen fire, arms twisting and glowing in the night like flames. I began to fantasise, believing I could be in some medieval town, totally cut off from industry, another time entirely preserved, a piece of the past; with people for who all intents may prove to be completely hostile towards me, a different class of people to myself, me--a city slicker, but the girl had at least been friendly, that was a positive sign.
It took me about an hour to unload all my things from the back of my dinky old Ford. I haven't bothered to even begin opening the boxes tonight, leaving them stacked up in the living area. There was some mail addressed to the householder from an electricity company tucked under the door. I had to chase away some rogue ibis' from the porch, then I entered to soak up the fully furnished, lavish interior.
The inside of the house was indeed quite spectacular. The house was apparently once owned by a prominent Catholic clergyman, but is now owned by a salesman who upkeeps the original household exactly as it was left by the priest, (who I'm told died of natural causes). The old floorboards creaked under my New Balance runners. The furniture has a very conservative quality to it, coming off almost like an old monastery, the kitchen and fridge and alike have evidently not been modernised since the 70's, giving them a dingy, bohemian feeling. The back of the house plays like a collection at a museum, filled with quite phenomenal paintings of the area, indigenous art and historical pieces kept in glass cases.
I had initially gravitated towards an elegant, mahogany chess-board displayed on the classical styled antique Louis V dining table. It was a beautiful hand carved board, with classic European, probably German figures. Delicately I had picked up one of the fragile pieces, a bishop, fingering it gently to find the wood was very old, and splintering at the diagonal cut of the mouth: markedly. Without any sudden movement, I suddenly felt the shards of bishop-wood pierce my thumb. A dark globule of crimson blood immediately formed on my thumbprint, and I dropped the piece to the floor, yelling with pain. The dark blood ran, flowing thinly and began to sprinkle Jackson Pollock like spirals; first on the chessboard, then on the lacquered hardwood floor. I stuck my thumb in my mouth, rushing to the kitchen. The salty blood caused my tongue to salivate, and putting my thumb under the tap, already free of pain, I began to contemplate dinner. I'd known there wouldn't be much open when I arrived, so I'd cleverly anticipated my hunger, and picked up a large meat-pie at a truck stop on the highway, which shortly thereafter I sat down and supped upon, already forgetting my thumb which now only stung --with a dull throbbing sensation.
I picked up a piece of paper on the grand table as I spooned the delicious pastry and mince and gravy into my mouth. 'Preserving the possessions of Archbishop Raymond Gubbels.' It read, 'Dear Tenant, as caretaker of number 7 Livestock, you are to be completely responsible for the upkeep of all possessions in the house, and any damages to the possessions will be repayed out of your tenant bond. All items upstairs are free for perusal, and items which aren't encased may be used at your careful leisure. It is advised you do not concern yourself with any of the items in the basement beneath the back stairs, as these are merely for storage, and not part of the heritage museum. We hope you enjoy your stay in Bishop's head. All questions can be directed to Blacklab publishing who will handle all real estate and tenant issues directly with the client.'
I stuffed another scoop full of the delicious meat pie, covered in tomato sauce, and masticated loudly ..milling things over in my brain. Spitting flakes of pastry as i mumbled to myself. I found it interesting that the anonymous writer of the letter had used the old name of the town 'Bishops head' instead of 'Bishops Valley' but shortly changed tracks of curiosity. The mention of a basement had immediately got me curious, the owner clearly didn't appreciate the mind of a writer, moreover a researcher of 'the occult', as the very nature of the business revolved in opening doors that one is not supposed to, the doors of perception, as Jim Morrison said, you got to 'break on through to the other side'. I resolved to have a little explore around the backyard once i finished dinner, before it got too dark.
That was about 3 hours ago now, when I had ventured out into the back garden, and saw the padlocked green door leading to the basement beneath the house. I had checked the keys on the large copper ring which my publishers had given me, and tested all of the keys in the curious padlock, only to find that none of them fit. But to my relief, my agonising pondering was mildly satiated when I saw the small glass window which looked into the room. It was dark in the basement, but I could still make out a large wooden table and shelves, covered in mostly commonplace items, and I became temporarily satisfied that there was no great mystery to the basement itself, but it was, like the letter suggested; merely a place for storage of private heritage items. One curious thing I was to note, was the odd synchronicity to some of the objects stored in that dim room; which did strike a chord with me; being the same as that of the minor arcana of the Australian tarot deck I was creating. (If you're not a student of the occult, the tarot is basically an Italian ancestor of the playing card), and just as modern cards have four suits, the tarot also traditionally has four suits, though instead of hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs, the tarot has wands, pentacles, swords and cups. These ; are referred to as the minor Arcana and provide the basic units of meaning which a fortune teller accesses in their alleged process of divination. I'll no doubt get more in depth with this information regarding the tarot later, but to explain briefly the co-incidence, for my own tarot deck, I had created a new arcana, featuring the four suits: rifles, candles, cups and opals, so you can imagine the mild unease I felt observing the stacks of packets of candles, and lines of precious opals along the shelves in the basement under the stairs. Opal mining IS unique to Australia, and there may even be an opal mine in Oper-Bodie, so it's not entirely an unusual discovery. It also makes sense that the agents would have locked the door, given the value of the precious stones. Still, it is my profession to observe co-incidences and evaluate if they are indeed random incidents, or if they may perhaps form a pattern or tapestry of greater mystical meaning. The synchronicity wedged itself in my mind, but I was able to move on, and explore the vast unkempt backyard of number seven.
It was evident that there hadn't been any gardening done in the yard for many decades. The bush was wild and overgrown, there were giant hirsute banksia trees and ivy running over large rocks, and the perimeter itself ran off into unexplorable bushland, the only avenue of interest, being the rustic, (but man cleared) path which I knew must run down to Green Gills River.
I knew I wouldn't be able to get a great look at the river now, when it was getting dark, but I figured it couldn't hurt to have a quick exploration of the trail. So, pushing the spidery branches aside, I began to walk cautiously along the ragged path. The Cicadas were only just beginning their song at this time, and the Valley was mostly of an unearthly quiet. Dry branches cracked under my feet as I descended the muddy trail, pushing leaves out of my face, occasionally being whipped by hard sticks. I had been walking for only seven minutes when I began to second guess myself. The dusk was really in full swing now, and it was getting increasingly difficult to see. Sand flies and mosquitoes began to nibble at me. There was something else too, an anxious feeling rising within me. There were two smells which really turned my guts and made me uneasy, marijuana smoke .... And the smell of mangroves. That latter disagreeable smell was now growing extremely strong. The vile smell of natural compost, an ecosystem of rotting, festering dead organisms, was even saltier, even more horrible than any previous encounter with mangroves I had had. I was still on the path, but I could hear the coastal wind now, blowing up through the estuary and into Green Gills River. The slow, heavy wind almost sounded like breathing, as the sound of the river tide lapping on the shore also became audible. The mud was getting thicker and squelched around my ankles, when out of the blue, I lost my grip and slipped forward, landing awkwardly on my face and neck and sliding down the muddy slope, stopping only after descending 3 metres and bogging myself.
I lifted my muddy face off the ground contemptuosly, at first resentful, then happy to be relatively unscathed. As I put my hands out to push myself up onto my elbows, I almost gagged. I knew the smell of death had been more pungent than mere mangroves. Before me lay the carcass of a rotting kangaroo, in the dim light of the moon I could see its festering flesh, the skull beneath its dried black eyeball, grey decaying meat, wrecked in all it's hideous horror. I sprung carefully to my feet---yes, I had had quite enough exploration for one night. I tried to erase the memory of the poor animals mangled body from my mind, scaling back up the path, and using my hoodie to wipe the thick, stinking mud from my face and eyes.
It wasn't the image I would normally like to present of myself to the world. A mud-riddled vagrant, whipped and cut from thorns and branches, staggering blindly from the bushes like a madman. You can imagine my embarrassment when I came to the top of the garden path, and found the girl from earlier, waiting coyly and patiently in my backyard.
'Oh my.' Said the girl, suppressing her fit of giggling with her hand, to feign empathy, 'Having a look around?' I looked up, still trying to scrub the foul smelling mud from my face, 'Oh. Uh. Hello.' I stammered awkwardly, walking out into the moonlight. 'Are you hurt?' She asked genuinely. I looked at her through one good eye, holding the stinging mud stained one loosely with my dirty hand, 'Not really.' I said, still wiping. We soon moved to a nearby patch of grass at the base of the old concrete steps, 'Oh.' I said, awkwardly fumbling for the ring of keys in my pocket; 'Please. Do come in for coffee....or tea...Just... Uh..Let me wash my face.' As I unlocked the door, she smiled and pulled something out of her khaki bag, 'I've got something even better. Here. A house warming present.' She twisted her hips, and held out a bottle of boutique red wine, grinning profusely. I took the bottle obligingly and opened the door in resigned humiliation, moving rapidly towards the kitchen. The cicadas were croaking incessantly by then, and I was ready to break down emotionally, backing away from the stranger, and sinking into my own maudlin privacy...but the girl, with some bizarre country charm refused my city body-language blockades, moving straight over and grabbing a sponge, 'let me help you with that.' She said kindly, soaking a queenly portion of water and violently dabbling the mud from my face. I removed my glasses.
'My name is Pheobe.' She said, her big brown eyes staring motherly into my own. 'Pheobe Rimbaud. I live up on Crow Street. Don't worry, I'm a freak here too. Been here... Two months...I'm from Adelaide.' I surrendered to her hospitality, throwing my muddy hoodie into the sink and moving my neck so she could clean the hardening mud from my left ear and neck. 'Flynn.' I replied, calming, 'Flynn VanDeBerg....I'm a.....'
'Writer...' She said, turning around politely while I took off my shirt, 'I know. I'm contracted by the same publisher. Thats why we're here. That's why we're all here.' She said, accentuating the sentence in a curiously morose tone, moving over towards the table and picking up my book, which was at this time still inside, before...well...you get it. She began to casually flip through the pages of 'The Koala Killer'. Rimbaud? I thought to myself. She must have French relatives. 'We all?' I asked genuinely puzzled, returning to our conversation, I turned around, clean and clothed, putting my glasses back on--only to find the girl had disappeared.
Finally I noticed the ajar front door. 'Grab some glasses, I'll fill you in' she yelled from outside. I didn't even know if the house was furnished with wine receptacles, but quickly tufting my hair in the mirror, opening a few cupboards, I found two large wine glasses and meandered towards the door.
As I came out on the verandah, I found the girl positively relaxed, draped over the outside recliner like someone on a beach holiday. The bottle of wine sat open on the table next to my book, which she had skim read and discarded.
'You mentioned other people?' I asked, 'I wasn't aware that....' She sat up, motioning her hand towards the bottle of wine, as if to hurry me along. 'No. It's not what you think'. Quickly I strode towards her, placing the glasses flat, and gently pouring two full glasses of the rich Crimson liquid. 'I'm not here for anything to do with your deck. I just heard about you through my agent. I'm an editor, but they may have sent me down here to scope out the place, before they sent you and your friend down. I think. There's three of us. My flat mates. We're kind of a group,' she said, laughing strangely, 'It's a local wine. From Oper-Bodie actually. A Cabernet Merlot.' She pointed to the wine again. 'A good drop.' I began to notice a mildly manic personality that I hadn't detected in her at all when we had first laid eyes upon each other. I took a sip of the wine, as she threw half a glass down her throat. There was something dangerous about this girl, like Nancy Spungen or Courtney Love. Something broken in her eyes.
'I'll take you tomorrow and introduce you around. Get to know the locals. That's why you're here right. So what do you think of the place huh? It's just heaven isn't it?' She kind of leapt back on to her feet, as if she couldn't get comfortable anywhere, topping up her wine and then moving on to lean her hands on the balcony ledge. I finished my glass to catch up with the mad girl, filling up another glass and moving in beside her. The cicada's changing from a song of isolation and loneliness to one of tension and romance.
'Are your parents French?' I asked, making conversation. She turned her head stiffly and raised an eyebrow, not saying anything but merely giving me a vacant look. 'I don't talk about my parents' she finally said, turning back out towards the dark bush beyond; she drifted back into a fantasy, 'Look out there. Nature is a living beast. A darkness with no answer. Isn't it bizarre? But we treat it as though it's all so common place. We're like these alien experiments grown inside one another, wet wombs, Nature's frankensteins. Dr Moreau's animals. So what do we do with the great gift of life? Build houses. Get mortgages. Hide away from nature. Start corporations. What are we afraid of? Of living, I think.' I raised my eyebrow now, taken aback by her strange rants, her unabashed soliloquy's, giving wine to strangers, her odd comfortableness and yet constant discomfort in her skin. She was unphased by my facial expressions, moving to face the other way, 'I'm sorry. I'm actually really tired.' She said in a different tone, like a bi-polar personality, 'I'll come down tomorrow. Show you around. Don't worry. I think you're going to like it here. What's not to like? Right?' Saying this she turned again, facing me with a sudden vulnerability, holding her glass with two hands in her crotch, shrugging and looking up through scared eyes. She seemed to crave comfort, moving towards me, like a kangaroo, trying to brush it's head against a stubborn father. 'Are you?....' She asked, 'I mean are you seeing anyone?...' With that she placed one of her hands gently on the side of my jeans, running her finger tips innocently along my leather belt. I got caught up in her eyes, leaning in within inches of her neck. I could smell her perfume, sweet but tacky. She pushed closer. My nose fell into her neck, I felt my wine glass going limp in my hands, and my body begin to grow warm. My lips grew thirsty, and I almost began to kiss her neck, until, breathing heavily I managed to pull myself off. Escaping the seduction. As I raised my head, I noticed something just under her shirt collar.
Gently raising my arm, I pushed the collar of her blouse to one side. There was a curious mark. About the size of a five cent coin. It comprised of two parallel lines, with twirled ends, and a swirl like a nine, or a six, on each side of the line. I began to speak softly, 'How did you get this.....' Suddenly, she changed again. Pushing herself violently away, 'It's just a stupid birth mark' she yelled angrily. 'You know you're pretty nosey for someone who's out of their depth, in a foreign town. It's been a long day. I gotta get home.' Then she grabbed the bottle and took off into the dark.
I could see her silhouette walk up onto Crow Street and into the big three story house with lots of lit Windows. Watching, awestruck. As she disappeared. What just happened?
That's pretty much caught up to where I am now. Not just a little baffled. Perplexed. The sound of my voice. A digital record making the insecure seem temporarily secure. The taste of wine and perfume have all conspired, worked me up into a heightened state of arousal/anxiety. I wonder if Phoebe will still come by tomorrow? I wonder what that mark really was, it looked more like a burn than a birth mark, the edges were raised, pink, like a scar.
I'm standing on the verandah. There's a crippling quiet, but I can see something now. It's ten thirty at night. It's so quiet here, nothing but the cicadas and the breeze, you could hear a car from a mile away coming down serpentine road. That's just what I hear now, then I can see, the lights move like sinister lanterns, along the winding road of serpentine. Three. Four. Cars coming into town. But who? Why?
I slowly reach over and pick up my book, anxiously trying to curb the suspense with self distraction. Two of the template cards of my designs for the major Arcana of the tarot deck; which were in the back-- fall out onto the table.
Judgement - the image of a barrister wearing an old powdered Whig, looking studiously at case files, in his fine blue silk gown. The Milky Way - A picture of that great river of stars which I can see so clearly above me in the crisp, country sky.
My heart starts to pulse in my chest.
Four black cars pull into my yard, engines spluttering loudly. The spotlights blind me.
Audiobook available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVWQ8g_1tSw&feature=youtu.be
Chapter Two - https://www.reddit.com/libraryofshadows/comments/6j09ww/the_mangroves_of_bishops_valley_chapter_two_of_six/