"Attention passengers!" You heart jumps at the sound of Tasha's voice over the speaker. The crocodile seems to grin back at you then disappears under the water. "We will be arriving to our destination shortly. Please be certain to wear loose clothing and bring the water bottles we gave you this morning. You will need to stay hydrated. It's a hot day today and we don't want any of you becoming dehydrated. Thank you."
You peer into the Cruisin' With Allison backpack, pull out your sunscreen and generously place it all over your exposed skin. Your two full water bottles sit nestled in the pouches on both sides of your backpack. You put the sunscreen away, pull out the baseball cap with your favorite team logo on it, pace it on then throw the sunscreen in the bag. You sip your bag up and place it on. Wherever you are. You're ready for another adventure.
|By Jeff Gunn @ http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffgunn/5802346067/|
My friends call me Jess or Jessie, and I’m back in the Northern Territory after many years away. My feelings about this place are mixed, and if you read my story you’ll find out why. But let me show you around so you can make your own mind up.
Tea Tree Falls is a jumble of buildings scattered around the railway line. The locals joke that you can see the train coming a day before it arrives and that isn’t so much of an exaggeration. A wavering apparition, splintered by dust and heat, hangs in the distance for an age, calling a warning long before anyone needs to be warned, eventually chugging up to the battered shack that passes for the station.
Within sight of the Stuart Highway but beyond the noise of the thundering roadtrains, Tea Tree Falls skirts the edge of the savannah that stretches south and east. There’s a general store, a tiny police station, no bigger than a workman’s hut, and an old barn that serves as a cinema on Sunday nights. The hotel, where I used to work, is still the only pub in town, though the wooden façade is weathered and peeling now, the name-board faded.
Inside the bar, it’s quiet and still. Ceiling fans stir the torpid air. Half a dozen men, in creased shorts and sweaty singlets, prop up the long bar. Silent and lugubrious, they pull at their beers, their floppy bush hats pushed to the backs of their heads, their boots large at the end of their bare legs.
The barmaid shuffles in my direction. I remember feeling that same lethargy myself, when I pulled pints here, eighteen years ago. The heat, the humidity, the sleepy atmosphere, all contribute to a drowsy hypnotic state.
Let’s order a beer and watch as the ice-cold liquid rises up the glass. Thirst is a constant, out here; beer slips down like water.
Oh these silent afternoons. Days when the heat is so intense no one can be bothered to speak. And yet it isn’t just the heat. There’s something else too. Some inertia hanging over the whole place, making anything other than daydreaming impossible. I worked through many afternoons like this. Afternoons when it seemed like a spell had been cast over the town, the inhabitants bewitched, as if they waited, like characters in a fairy tale, to be woken from their trance by the kiss of a prince.
I remember one day when we were all awoken abruptly—the day Billy Doyle rode into the bar on a chestnut mare. Billy was a big red-haired man. He waved his hat and stood up in his stirrups, almost touching the tobacco-stained ceiling, in danger of being decapitated by the juddering fan. At once, the bar was in uproar, the air filled with laughter and ribald comments.
Billy Doyle worked for Jamie Mulvahy out at the MacIntyre. Jamie himself slipped into the bar a few paces behind his rowdy roustabout. ‘Sorry ’bout all this,’ he said. ‘Couldn’t stop the ol’ so and so.’
‘Not to worry.’ I said. ‘It’s livened us all up, anyway.’
Billy was having trouble getting the horse moving through the bar. ‘Come on ya useless lump o’ horsemeat!’ he yelled. ‘Move yer arse, will yer!’ The horse reared and whinnied.
‘Pour us a couple o’ beers,’ Jamie said. ‘Back in a tick.’ And he went to assist, leading the spooked horse firmly around the bar, across the verandah and out into the dusty central courtyard.
The noise level increased then as the men started to remind each other of previous outrages Billy Doyle had perpetrated. Like the time he brought the baby crocodile in. The croc had hidden behind the jukebox. ‘Took a half hour o’ Slim Dusty records to get the poor little b*****d out!’ one of the regulars said. Oh Billy was a right drongo—they were all agreed on that—but he provided bonza entertainment.
The rest of that afternoon sped past in a flood of stories and jokes. By the time I went off duty, my jaw ached from laughing, and my arm from pulling pints. I poured myself a beer and took it outside to catch the last rose-pink glow of the evening. Leaning back in my chair, I drank most of it down in one swallow.
That was when Jamie came over.
‘Looks like that one didn’t touch the sides.’ he said. ‘Can I get you another?’
And of course I said yes.
Do you want a free book? Comment below today and you will automatically win a free copy of The Land Beyond Goodbye. This offer is only available until the end of September 2012.
THE LAND BEYOND GOODBYE
by Barbara Scott Emmett
Amazon USA: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0057X66OE/
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0057X66OE/
How my time in the Northern Territory turned into THE LAND BEYOND GOODBYE:
About The Author:
Barbara Scott Emmett has been writing for a number of years and has had prizewinning short stories published in various anthologies and magazines. She’s also had articles, poems and a novel (THE MAN WITH THE HORN) published conventionally but is now embracing the ebook market.
DON'T LOOK DOWN, a thriller set in Germany, THE LAND BEYOND GOODBYE, a novel set in Australia, and DROWNING - Four Short Stories, are available as ebooks at Amazon and Smashwords for Kindle and many other ereaders.