Two cousins encounter something on a country road that they won't forget...
This story is dedicated to Arnel Afinidad, who inspired me to put this onto paper. Also to Kim Galea, my favourite critic and good friend. Enjoy!
I am now a man in my early forties with a wife and two children in their teens. My son, Riley, has an assignment for English about the supernatural. He asked me after dinner about whether I believed in ghosts or not. I then told him a story which I doubt he really believed, but I would swear on a stack of bibles that it was true.
When I was thirteen, the same age Riley is now, I stayed at my uncle’s farm for two weeks during the summer holidays. The farm was located in western New South Wales on the outskirts of a small country town with a population of about five hundred called Iona. The car ride there was uneventful. My father drove me halfway where we met up with my uncle and cousin at an abandoned service station.
“Hey, Uncle Jim,” I smiled, shaking his hand.
“Hey, hey Max. Oh, firm grip.” he replied, grinning broadly. “Bob”, he said, nodding towards to my father.
“Jim.” Dad answered, somewhat stiffly.
Something had been going on between Dad and Uncle Jim for years because every time I saw the two of them together they both acted really weird.
At that moment my cousin, Paul, walked out from behind the building, zipping up the fly of his jeans. When he saw me his face split into a smile, one almost exact to his father’s.
Paul and I had always been close. We were the same age (I was about three months older), and out of all our other cousins the two of us were the only boys.
“What’s happening, man?” Max said, reaching us.
“Not much. You better have some cool stuff planned for the next couple of weeks or I’m gonna be majorly pissed.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s all good.”
“Paulie,” Uncle Jim interrupted. “Why don’t you go help Max carry his bags over to our car, eh?”
Paul and I walked across the parking lot to my dad’s car. I climbed into the back seat and began passing out my suitcases to Paul who propped them up against the side of the vehicle.
“Wonder what they’re talking about,” Paul said.
Looking over my shoulder see what he was talking about, I saw our fathers conversing in low voices.
“Who cares? They are like this every time they’re together.”
“Yeah, but still, don’t you ever wonder what happened between them to make them so cold to each other?”
I shrugged. “Not really. You know as well as I do that my dad can hold a grudge for years. It’s probably something really dumb like your dad broke my dad’s model aeroplane when they were kids. Just forget about it.”
“Boys”, Uncle Jim called. “Time to go.”
Paul and I grabbed the suitcases from beside the car and hauled them over to the back of Uncle Jim’s.
“See ya later, Dad,” I said, giving him a brief hug.
“In a couple of weeks.” he replied, roughing up my hair. “You behave yourself, alright kid?”
I climbed into the back seat of Uncle Jim’s car, next to Paul. “Come on,” I laughed. “You know me. I’m always good.”
“You wish, kid.” Dad banged the door closed and stepped back.
As we drove out of the parking lot, I stuck my head out the window to wave goodbye but Dad had already turned his back on us and was heading back towards his truck.
Late that night we pulled onto the dirt track leading towards the farm. Both Paul and I had been falling asleep on and off for the past two-and-a-half hours.
The brakes squeaked as Uncle Jim pulled up in front of the barn and turned off the engine.
“You awake, Max?” he whispered.
I murmured a reply.
“Let’s get your things inside then we can all go to bed and get some shut-eye.”
I slid out of my seat and headed for the boot.
“No, no I got that. You wake up your cousin.”
“Paul.” I shook him gently. When he didn’t respond I shook harder.
“What? Dude I was sleeping.”
“We’re here. Come on.”
The two of us entered the house together. It smelt strongly of acrylic paint. Uncle Jim came in behind us and flicked on the light switch.
We were in the lounge room. Sheets covered the furniture and the walls were half painted.
“Still renovating?” I asked.
“Yep, it’s slowly getting done. We’ll just leave your bags down here for the night and we can get everything organised tomorrow morning after we’ve all had a good nights sleep.”
Paul and I tramped up the stairs to his room. There was already a mattress made up for me on the floor. I took off my shirt collapsed onto what would be my bed for the next couple of weeks.
We said our good nights and not long after the sound of Paul’s quiet snoring filled the room.
The warm night air floated through the open window. Somewhere in the field Bessie, Uncle Jim’s cow, mooed sleepily.
The next morning I was awoken by Paul moving around the room.
“Whaddya doin?” I moaned, shielding my eyes from the glare of the sun poking through the window. A quick look at my wristwatch told me it was ten to nine.
“Getting some breakfast. What do you want?” Paul headed out the door and down the stairs.
The smell of frying bacon and eggs floated up the stairs. Enticed, I rolled my way out of bed, pulling on my old football Guernsey as I did so.
After three helpings each Paul helped me get unpacked. When I say unpacked I really mean I threw my suitcases in the bottom of Paul’s closet.
My first day in Iona was mostly spent helping Paul and Uncle Jim doing work around the farm. I didn’t mind in the slightest. There aren’t many bales of hay to pitch in the city. After lunch we all took a swim in the creek that runs between ours and the property next to us.
There must be a certain setup for rural creeks because every one I see looks the same. A large tree with a limb hanging out over the water with a knotted rope tied to it.
My cousin and I ran into the water and then swum out to a log that floated out in the middle of the creek. Pulling myself onto it I let the summer sun warm my back.
I looked around me at the house in the distance and the mountains behind it. The only word to describe something like that is beautiful. If someone painted what I saw I don’t think it would be a masterpiece, but one of those subtly beautiful ones that might hang in your lounge room.
We stayed there for ten minutes or so then headed back to the shore to try out the rope swing.
As I swung out from the embankment I flung my head back and looked at the sky. The sensation is one I will never forget. As I if I was flying. At that moment I envied birds. Then I let go and neatly entered the water.
Dinner that night was sausages cooked on a fire we built in the back paddock. Uncle Jim sat back in a chair with a beer and a cigarette and stared into the depths of the fire.
“Hey dad?” Paul asked.
“Have we got any marshmallows left?”
“Nope. Do you wanna take your cousin into town and pick some up? You can show him where everything is while you’re there.”
Paul looked at me, hopefully. “Maxie?”
I shrugged. “Yeah, sure. I’ll just grab my wallet.”
Soon enough we were walking down the long driveway towards the little lane that led away from the farm. The moon was full that night and high in the sky. The air was pleasant, a warm breeze blowing lightly across my face.
“We can either take the long way by road or cut through this field. That should cut about five or so minutes off our walk either way,” said Paul, once we had reached the lane. “It’s up to you.”
I nodded. “Sounds good to me. Let’s do it.”
He held the barbed wire of the fence down so I could slip through and I did the same for him.
Walking through stalks of corn and wheat is strange, almost claustrophobic for someone like me. Paul walked in front; one arm outstretched forging a path for us.
The crops gave way to another dirt road. There weren’t any asphalt ones this far out west until about ten years later when Iona’s population began to swell to a decent size.
Paul looked left and right, tongue in the corner of his mouth, trying to get his bearings.
“It’s this way,” he said, pointing right.
We continued on our way, with only the moon lighting our way. We were approaching a T-intersection, Paul told me. Ahead on the left side of the road I thought I saw something. Darker than the night around it; a silhouette of a rectangular object. As the distance between us and it closed I discovered, to my horror, it was a coffin.
“Do you see that?” I choked.
“See what?” asked Paul.
“Th-That…on the side of the road.”
“Oh, my God. Jesus, Mary, and fucking Joseph.”
Making our way to the ditch on the other side, as far away from the coffin as we could get, we watched it as we passed. Maybe it was because it was so utterly out of place that I was filled with a kind of sick fascination and felt I needed to keep looking.
We turned right, still not wanting to look back when I heard several noises in quick succession. There was a kind of thud, followed by a deep exhale of air.
Slowly, I turned to see what was on the road behind me. A great bull stood in the middle of the road, staring me down. I knew straight away something was different. Wrong. It was black as sin but it was the eyes that scared me. They were red, as if there was a fire burning behind them.
“Run!” I yelled into the night.
I turned my back on the bull and ran, ran as I never had before, all the while making sure Paul was in front of my. A huge rush of air pushed both of us sprawling into the dust and I rolled onto my back, fearing the worst.
There was nothing there.
“Max…” came Paul’s weak voice from behind me. “Max, what was that?”
“I have no idea.” I could taste blood. I must have bitten my lip when I hit the ground. I wiped the back of my hand across my mouth and spat.
I helped him off the ground. “Let’s get out of here, Paulie.”
I put my arm around him and we walked, not talking and not looking back.
We reached Iona and welcomed the lights from the lamp posts and surrounding houses. Turning the corner onto Centenary Crescent, Paul led me into the twenty-four convenience store.
A man stood behind the counter reading a newspaper. His nametag read Joe. He looked up as we entered.
“Paulie,” he exclaimed. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”
Paul didn’t respond, only tried to grin, which made him seem gaunt.
“He’s fine,” I replied, knowing that if we told Joe what had happened he would surely have called the nearest mental facility and had as carted off.
“All right,” said the unconvinced Joe. “What can I get for you boys this evening?”
I had to think. What we were coming here for had completely left my mind after what had just occurred. Then I remembered.
Joe reached into a box beside him and pulled out two bags of white marshmallows.
“Will these do?”
“Perfect. Thanks, Joe.” I handed him the money and told him to keep the change.
“Cheers, kid. Paulie you sure you’re okay?”
Paul just nodded and followed me out of the store. Outside, standing beneath one of the street lights was a group of boys around our age. A boy nodded at us and the others turned.
“Paulie”, the tallest one of the group called.
“Hey, Tom,” He seemed to be getting some colour back in his cheeks now. “What’s doing?”
“Just bumming. What ‘bout you?”
“Just grabbing some marshmallows. This is my cousin, Max, by the way.”
We shook hands and were introduced to Tom’s two three other friends, Chuckie, Phil, and Chris. Paul invited them back to the farm and the agreed. We walked home the way we came, no longer feeling scared after having our group grow to six people.
When we reached the T-intersection once again, Paul and I looked for the coffin but there was nothing there. Nothing. As if there never had been. The six of us continued to the farm where we spent the night sitting around the fire talking and eating toasted marshmallows.
Paul and I never mentioned that night for the remainder of my stay. We just pretended it never happened. I don’t think we were sure it really did.
My father picked me up at the same abandoned service station as he had dropped me off. There was once again that awkward feeling in the air between him and his brother. I said bye to both my cousin and uncle and climbed into the passenger side of the truck. Dad pulled out of the lot and we were heading home once again.
I remain convinced that on that warm summer night I stood face to face with something evil. Supernatural, you ask? I don’t know. But evil, all the same.
Something in my heart tells me it was the Devil. Those eyes of fire seem to further my belief. And what if, when I am an old man with a walking stick, I happen to come across that bull again and I’m not able to run? What if he remembers me from all those years ago and is just waiting for that time to come.
Michael J Morgan
25th July, 2008