My name Is Hope: I am as old, as the oldest bit of matter. The year is 1875, the place Queensland. My awareness came to me from Island Head. I am 6 foot 3 and look to be in my twenties, I have pale blue eyes and blond hair; I’m 12 stone in weight, fit and lean. I am the twin brother of Ann; she is 6 foot 1 and as physically fit as me. We are the same but opposite, we are a conundrum. My name is Hope.
The sea sparkles to the horizon; islands, headlands, beaches and coves, the smell of saltwater and melaleuca, the rumble of ocean 800 foot below. I am as rich as the richest person alive… what is rich to me, could be poor to you… life is an enigma.
Black cockatoos screech in the hoop pines as I contemplate life. You want me to tell you the time, I cannot; time is irrelevant. I am surrounded by my father’s house in the headland. I sit in a comfortable chair with a view to Island Head. Wallaby’s craze as I write this journal… it is me who writes, but who am I?
Energy, I feel the energy.
I am all things to all people, but remember… the energy, I feel the energy; trillions of neutrons expand like the universe.
I am everything. I see and hear Ann calling my name, but not with my eyes, not with my ears… I listen without listening.
I see her in a different way to you; I see her surrounded by a radiance, I see her energy. Can I trust you with this story? She is dressed in a soft translucent material, I see the outline of her body.
Time has no meaning… equally it is everything. Believe me when I say I am between times. I see my twin sister walking towards me, her platted roo-hide belt slung low on her hip, her long skinning knife clinging to her leg, her clothes rippling with allure. I admire her style of dress, but nothing compares to the power she conceals.
In your time my eyes are closed, Ann is behind me, she is wearing leather sandals, the straps decorated with groupings of turquoise and opal. I see these things, but not with my eyes. Would you believe me if I told you, I know how to compress time? Of course the answer depends on when you read this. Time is wrapped in space, the energy for expansion coming from matter in conflict. We are all part of the beginning, we are part of everything. I am you, you are me, we are the same; I see things you do not.
Lula comes out of the living room, her black skin glowing with health. She is the same height as me, everything about her is startling. She is wearing a pink loin cloth that hangs from a silver chain about her waist to just below her knees, another silver chain holds her beautifully kept knife in its crocodile sheath. On her feet green-hide sandals are held with straps decorated with opal and pearl, a string of delicate shells dangle from her left ankle.
The two women stand at the back of me and look at each other. I sit and think; my mind is calm and clear. If you were to look at me, you might think I was asleep…but you’d be wrong. To make things real, you have to dream… what is a dream besides thoughts in your head? A thought is energy, energy is matter… when matter expands, energy is released. You and I are matter, we are the stuff of stars. Who dreamt the first dream and where did the first speck of matter come from? Life is a conundrum beyond imagination.
Inside my mind I hear Ann, we are telepathic, we are the first. We are Homo Telepathic… but more, we are the opposite of each other.
Nobody can hear what she says except me and the children, but the children are not here.
“Hope, why don’t you answer? Are you in compressed time?”
I cannot answer; a fraction of my time would equal a year of hers. Ann is an alchemist, she has attained the Tincture. Not only did she change matter from one form into another, she changed her own awareness; elevating herself into a higher way of thinking which is called the Tincture. One of the by-products of the ‘great experiment’ is a universal flux and a water so pure it can wash away ageing. Because we are telepathic, (something we didn’t know at the time of her attaining the tincture) her awareness had an opposite and equal effect on me; her mind expanded in one direction, mine in another. While Ann was searching for the soul of matter, I was probing the secrets of time.
You might think we have no effect on time, you’d be wrong. Every action however small and inconsequential has an effect on the next action, each trivial thing building into a monumental consequence. I used to think the planet was inert rock separated by dirt and water, how wrong I was.
Ann was the first to see, I was the first to listen. Her awareness came through a conscious effort, mine in an unconscious way. We are opposite, but alike. Lula is the catalyst between us, she is the conduit and insulator; without her we might have gone mad.
This all started with the first homo sapient, in all truth with the first doubling of matter… but we will start with the first homo sapient; the ‘First Woman,’ because that’s what she called herself. Scientists think the human race started in Africa, but what do they know.
The First Woman’s awareness came like a bolt of lightning, her thinking wasn’t restrained by conflicting thoughts, it was clear and unsullied by dogma. One of the first things she realised was; we are evolving. She knew that eventually the rest of humanity would catch her up; as long as she had children, and her children’s children had children. She knew it would take thousands of years, but eventually humankind would have the same intelligence as her, and when that happened, the race would take another step forward.
Ann was the next step. The First Woman predicted it would be a woman, but she’d never thought of twins; male and female. Looking back it should have been obvious; ‘for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction’… that is the first law.
Lula smiled to herself and whispered to Ann, “He is in the place between time.”
Ann pursed her lips. “Yes,” she said softly to nobody in particular, “the place between time.”
Island Head loomed in the distance, sea mist drifting up the beach as the shadows lengthened.
Time, space and matter; I contemplate these things, they are the great questions, each related to the other. Matter and space are expanding, as matter doubles it releases energy, energy is space; space is the thing that contains matter. If space and matter are the same, what is time? Is time moving or are we moving through time. I am matter in time; believe me when I say I can manipulate time.
Manipulating time is not unheard of; it just appears to be random. There are spots on this planet that have power, some people think they are holly places, and in a sense they are right. These places are where knowledge is given, where power seeps from the land. Island Head is such a place and so is the Island in the Sky. (the Story Hill of Eerwah)
For this story to make sense, I have to tell you these things. The old people used to worship the land, they could see that the land had power, but here’s the funny thing with homo sapiens, the more knowledge we get, the more the truth becomes muddy, it’s the first law; ‘for every action an opposite and equal reaction.’ So in a sense, the more you know the less is clear, that’s why life is a conundrum. Life and everything is God dissolved, it’s as simple as that… but of course the bigger or smaller it gets the more complicated it appears to be; we call it quantum.
Ann and I see things in a different way to you, we are Homo Telepathic; we are the first. We have nobody to cloud our thinking; our thoughts and ideas are clear, untarnished by belief. For you to understand, you will have to unclutter your mind and open yourself to a new way of thinking. I’m going to tell you things that are odd, even a bit crazy. By the time you read this, it will be history. Remember, we are God dissolved and scattered; the more we expand the greater we shrink, all the time getting closer to the end or beginning. It’s that conflict, the essence of life, the great conundrum… the chicken or the egg.
When Ann and I realised we were telepathic, it was obvious… for the children it was as natural as speech. At first we thought the strange things happening to us, but more specifically Ann, were coming from the Stick; in actual fact it was the Stick feeding off us. The First Woman had programmed the Stick to find the next ‘first’ in the rung of evolution.
Ann told me later that the first inkling she’d got about her telepathic abilities was when she and Lula would dance, when she was undertaking the ‘great experiment.’ Lula had suggested they dance while the ore was in the furnace, she thought it might set up a resonance with the melting. She was right, it had, but not in the way she’d imagined. Dancing had relaxed Ann’s mind to the extent where her mind roved free, she and Lula would dance in front of the furnace not as two people, but as one; their minds would overlap and merge, their thoughts blending in bliss while their bodies swayed in the heat. At first, Ann had thought it was the dance, and then she’d thought it love. But as the weeks had blurred into moths, her perceptions of things started to change, not only was she blending with Lula, she started to realise she was sharing Lula’s thoughts…
The dance of the ‘melting ore’ was pure joy. I remember her thoughts, in her recollection of the time; my breath taken away… and she’d only let me catch a brief glimpse of her feelings. Sometimes they’d dance in the nude, other times in the silk underwear they wore for safety, (silk being a natural sterilising medium) the material clinging to their bodies in provocative caresses. The furnace roared with the heat radiating out… and the dance, the dance of the melting. Ann and Lula would circle the room in the most exquisite dance you can imagine, both women in superb physical shape as they matched each other move for move, step for step. The fire was the music, the walls jumping with flames, the floor glowing like embers. They danced like the flames, merging and blurring. In the dance, Ann could see into Lula’s thoughts and the heart of the fire, the crucible glowing with the melting ore. It was in the dance that she glimpsed these things; with her inhibitions down she could flow. It was in the dance that she sensed something, something different happening to the ore in the furnace. Intuitively she knew that the repetitive experiment was coming to an end, what she’d waited for had happened. She’d captured that indefinable something in the element she’d melted. Raven Wings, she had the Philosophers Stone.
The two women had quickly changed into their protective cloths and retrieved the crucible from the furnace. The ore had hardened into a black glasslike substance that shattered when exposed to the sunlight. From then on she’d known what to do; it was like she’d undergone a change as big as the ore… but hers was a realisation. She had a substance that had truly magical properties; blended with other elements, even in the tiniest proportions… she could change one thing into another. And while she’d studied the crystals, she washed them with triple distilled water; this is the water that Ann, Lula and I drink… just a drop, but it will keep us in perfect health, washing out any corruption or ailment; keeping our bodies the same, decade after decade.
By the time you read this, the portals for Island Head will have changed. It will be a different time, only a split second, but that’s enough. Island Head will still be there, the place of power, the birthplace of homo sapient. We’ll still be there; we’ll see you, but you won’t see us. It’s not magic, believe me when I say, we can see what you cannot.
We choose to live at Island Head because of the power… we have everything. We have the house our father built into this headland at the end of the Canoona gold rush. Our father the Captain was obsessed with secrecy, the huge house carved out of the rock by miners, the miners making more money than they would have on the diggings. Rooms and balconies were carved out of granite, the headland riddled with passageways and workshops, everything hidden from the outside. The Fig-tree glade with its secret door. Some of these things are still there, but in a different time.
I hid the Stick in the deep shaft, I am beyond the Stick and so is Ann. The ‘water of life’ is real; just a drop will wash away any disease, ageing is stopped. We drink a tiny bit every few months; we always do it together.
Nothing changed on the outside, but big things happened in our minds; we soon had enough brain-power to open a portal in time… it was a quantum leap in our thinking. Moving into the place between time was as much mental as physical. Like a fault line between what is now, and what is to be; that is where we are. We are at the place where time and space are merging. With an understanding of time and space, our thinking expanded again. If normal people had realised what Ann and I were doing, they would have burnt us… or worshipped us. Very few people know of our existence, let alone suspect a huge house has been carved into a remote headland in central Queensland.
All the investments the family have made over the years have grown and grown, until the family is probably the biggest and richest company in Queensland. To the casual observe it might look like a modest trading firm, but those in the know… know nothing. Rumour has it that, B&B is run by a tyrannical earl who lives in Scotland.
COOKTOWN at the start of the Palmer River gold rush.
In 1872 the overland and Java sea telegraph line was opened, allowing instant messages between London and Sydney. The twins were 35 at the time of the ‘Palmer’ gold rush.
In the autumn of 1874; Ann, Lula and I took one of the company ships to Cooktown, to view firsthand the Palmer gold fields. Cooktown had 63 licensed pubs with 30 more applied for. There were 20 eating houses, 12 large stores and 20 small ones, 6 butchers, 5 bakers, 3 tinsmiths, 4 tent makers, 6 hairdressers and 7 blacksmiths, it was said the brothels, gambling and opium dens outnumbered everything 2 to 1.
After waiting for the light, the steamer we were aboard proceed into the Endeavour River, tying up to the busy wharf, close to a schooner from Hobart and a dilapidated barque from Sydney. After thanking the skipper for a safe trip, we shouldered our swags and went ashore. The road was called Charlotte Street and ran from the wharves towards the jungle clad hills to the West. Cooktown looked like it’d grown from the mud; the place had a bustle, the excitement of gold pervading the place like garlic. Ann and I had felt it before in Rockhampton at the hight of the ‘Canoona’ rush. This was Lula’s first gold rush; she’d sniffed the air carefully and looked around patting her hunting knife out of habit. “I smell excitement” she’d said, “and a hunger for gold.”
“I smell something also” I said, sidestepping a steaming pile of bullock dung. “I think its bullshit and smoke.”
Ann grinned as she looked up and down the dirt road. On both sides were buildings, some substantial, others like they’d fall down in the next breeze. I remember being fascinated with the ingenuity of some of the buildings; anything and everything was used, nothing was wasted. The vigour that went into mining towns was fantastic, no doubt the inclement weather giving the building more urgency.
Nobody took much notice of the three new arrivals, we had the look of prospectors; Ann was dressed in grey with tan riding boots and a chamois bag. Lula’s boots were hard to spot beneath the hem of her long cotton dress, and all three of us carried a swag. Ann and I had our foil like swords out of sight, and I had my latest design in concealed woomera and spear.
Even at that early hour there seemed to be lots of people on the street, the unmistakable smell of fresh ground coffee overpowering the warm salty air. We walked across the road to a ramshackle building that seemed to be made out of driftwood and string, with the word ‘Coffee, Tea & Food’ swinging from a sign. Sitting down at a rickety table under a frayed awning, a man appeared from the back with a dishcloth in his hand. “Good morning Misuser and Mademoiselles” he said in a heavy French accent. “What can I get you?”
We ordered coffees. Sitting there in the cool of the morning, we let the atmosphere wash over us, the excitement and expectation as real as the smell of saltwater and bull-dust. A few minutes later the man emerged from the interior with three cups of steaming coffee, two of them held in his hand the third balanced on his upturned wrist. “A beautiful day for gold, yes” the man said, putting the chipped mugs on the table.
Ann smiled and thanked him.
The morning quiet was shattered with the sound of a stock whip and the bellow of a bullocky cursing, a shambling span of oxen appearing out of the dusty haze pulling a huge dray. The two lead animals butting each other, the chain between them jingling and snapping tight like a pistol shot. The long stock-whip snaked above them, cracking with a loud report, the tip exploding in a fine white powder. Slowly the long line of bullocks past the cafe, the empty dray following in a cloud of flies and dust.
Ann sipped her coffee and listened to a thousand jumbled thoughts; suddenly the tumult died, replaced with a single mind, a single thought. Ann’s eyes opened with alarm.
I also felt it; a single thought in my mind intent on mischief. Ann and I merged our thinking, trying to subdu the rouge mind with thoughts of sleep. When we had calmed the intruder sufficiently, I probed the outer thinking of the berserk’s mind while Ann held it still. I can tell you it was scary, I had never come across such madness before, it was like looking into hell; such evil, such strength, a hunger so strong and grotesque that it left me shaken. ‘Give it sleep’ I whispered to Ann.
‘My God’ she replied. ‘What is it?’
I shook my head and replied out loud, ‘Evil, pure evil. I don’t know what it is, or where it is, but it’s strong and hungry.’
Lula blinked in alarm. ‘Who you talking about’ she said, looking around with wide eyes.
‘Something close’ I remember saying. ‘Something thats pure evil,”
‘Whatever it is’ Ann said, “It’s been following us ever since we got of the ship.”
“What is it?” Lula said, gripping the hilt of her knife.
Screams reverberated in my head.
Ann withdrew her mind. “Whatever it is,” she said hurriedly, “it’s completely mad; it has a hunger for cruelty, it want’s us.”
Lula looked at Ann, then me.
Dogs barked with flocks of birds chattering in the trees, the huge inlet sparkling like spilled diamonds, the smell of coffee and wood smoke permeating the air. Ann put her coffee cup down, her appearance belying the turmoil of her mind. ‘We must leave now’ she said, looking at me.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘We have to get away from these people, it’ll use them as bait… and if that doesn’t work it’ll use them as a shield. Let’s go, we have no time to lose.’
I remember throwing down a gold coin for the coffee, picking up my swag and following the women onto the street. ‘Back to the ship’ Ann said, as she hurried across the dusty road.
It was the only logical thing to do, I thought. It was at least a 2 mile walk to the outskirts of town, and then scattered campsites for another 5 miles. I wasn’t afraid for myself or the two women, but I knew with certainly that many innocent people would die before we reached the bush and equal terms. Halfway across the road I felt a probing coldness try to enter my mind.
Lula came to a stop with a cry of alarm frozen on her lips. Ann and I never missed a step; we picked her up by the arms and ran for the wharf. Somebody stepped in front of us, but we never heisted; Ann dropped her shoulder, poleaxing the person aside. By the time we reached the wharf there seemed to be quite a commotion happening; people were fighting, women screaming, men shouting and dogs howling.
Ann and I looked at each other across the ridged body of Lula, we didn’t have to say or think anything, we knew instinctively who was going to do what, and what had to be done.
Two screaming ladies and a small man threw themselves at us, one of the women tried to claw at my face all the time screaming hysterically; I didn’t hesitate in pushing her out of the way, the three of us walking over the other two as if they weren’t there. Reaching the gangplank I threw my swag over the rail and left Ann to carry Lula aboard. First I cut the bow mooring, then the two springs that crossed amidships; all the time fighting off various people who tried to stop me. The outgoing tide caught the bow and swung it away from the wharf the gangplank falling into the water with a splash, the stern grinding into the wharf with a sickening noise. Looking up I saw Ann pull the Captain out of the wheelhouse, just as a huge, full bearded man rushed me with an ugly cudgel in his hand. Side stepping I kicked him in the shin, the man’s face creased in pain as he went down with a cry.
Cutting the stern rope that was stretched bar tight, I pulled some gold coins from my pocket and dropped them on the man wreathing in agony. ‘Sorry mate’ I said, as the rope parted with a twang. Pushing against the stern rail, I jumped aboard as Ann engaged the propeller in a swirl of foam. Standing at the stern of the ship, I watched the distance widen between us and the land. Suddenly one of the stewards came charging towards me with a boat hook in his hands, a murderess look on his face. Grabbing the end of the hook I pulled him towards me then lifted him up and over the rail before he knew what was happening; the last I saw of him, was him swimming towards the shore.
Looking up to the wheelhouse I saw Ann fighting with two men, one of them managed to grab hold of her skirt, the garment ripping and coming away in his hand. Falling backwards with the dress in his hand, he tripped and went down with a cry; just as his mate rushed forward. Standing in her yellow silk bloomers she looked magnificent as she turned and kicked at the same time, her tan riding boot catching the bloke fair in the guts. I heard the grunt and whoosh as air was expelled from his lungs, the poor man hitting the deck before he knew what was happening.
Ann ducked into the wheelhouse to correct the course. While she was gone, the man with her dress in his hands seemed to come to his senses… blinking he looked around in a fog and then without the slightest bit of hesitation he jumped over the rails. I heard the splash as he hit the water, but I never saw him again.
The Captain and First Mate came out of the saloon door armed; the Captain was holding a pistol, the Mate cocking a double-barrelled shotgun.
Moving out of their line of sight, I ran down the other side of the deck and into the saloon, coming up behind them as they cautiously climbed the steeps to the bridge. ‘As your employer’ I shouted, ‘I order you to put down those weapons.’
Both men turned at the same time, the mate discharging one of the barrels as he did. Ducking out of the way, I was enveloped in noise and dust as the shot tore a hole in the deck. ‘I am Hope Bridie’ I yelled at the top of my voice. ‘Do not shoot, I repeat, do not shoot… I am Hope Bridie.’ Another blast ripped past my head, lead pellets splintering the door I was sheltering behind.
‘Have you gone mad’ I yelled. “This is my family’s ship, you are shooting at your employers. I repeat; I am Hope Bride, my sister Ann is on the bridge. We are being pursued by madmen. I order you to put down your weapons. I repeat, you are shooting at the owner of this ship; Hope Bridie. While I was being shot at, Ann had come down the steps from the bridge as silently as night. Coming up behind the Captain she squeezed a nerve in his neck, the man dropping like a sack of potatoes. The mate was trying to reload the shotgun when she swung on the handrails and kicked him in the chest with both feet. I was just in time to catch him as he came flying down the steps backwards. Taking the shotgun by the barrel I threw it overboard, then laid the mate on the deck as gently as I could in the circumstances.
By this time we were about 200 yards from shore. Looking up I shook my head; Ann raised her eyebrows and turned, climbing the steps to the wheelhouse two at a time. I could hardly believe what was happening as I took the pistol from the Captain’s hand and unloaded it, throwing the bullets into the sea. It was obvious we were dealing with a mind as powerful as ours, only this mind was completely mad, the energy and power channelled into possessing and consuming other minds. As I dragged the limp body of the young Captain down the steps, I thought about the enormity and the consequences of such a mind roving free in the human race. It was clear this brain, this intellect, was the opposite and equal to us.
Lula groaned and sat up; rubbing her head she looked at the Captain and Mate lying side by side at the bottom of the bridge steps.
‘Are you back now?’ I said, as I walked over and gave her my hand.
‘What happened?’ she said, as I pulled her up.
‘You were possessed’ I said.
‘What you mean possessed?’ she said, standing up but still hanging onto me. ‘Where’s Ann, and what we doing back on the ship?’
‘It’s a long, short story’ I said. ‘But to put it in a nutshell we have a mind as powerful as me and Ann put together… but opposite, and it’s trying to kill us. We don’t know who it is, or what it is; all we know for sure, its evil and it’s strong… and it wants to consume Ann and me. Like cannibals, it believes that eating us will increase its power. Whatever it is, it has no morals or constraints… it would sacrifice every living thing around here to get at us. That’s why we had to leave as quickly as possible, and the ship was the quickest way.’
‘So this thing knock me out?’
‘Well,’ I said trying to find the right words. ‘Not exactly, it possessed your mind. You would have tried to kill us if we hadn’t knocked you out.’
‘You knock me out!’
‘Not just me’ I said in defences, ‘both of us. We put you to sleep so you didn’t hurt yourself.’
Just then the saloon door was flung open by the Scottish engineer, he took one look at the Captain and the Mate lying side by side, then the receding shore. “What the hell is going on?”
‘It’s all right Jock’ I said. “We’ve had a madman on board, I threw him over the side.”
‘Who is driving the ship?’ Jock said in a daze.
‘I am’ Ann said from the top of the steps.
I remember Jock’s eyes nearly popped when he looked up and saw Ann in her tan boots and yellow silk knickers; his mouth had dropped like a draw-bridge the colours of sunset flushing his face. ‘Are ya all right M-M-Miss’ Jock stammered.
‘I’m fine, Jock’ Ann said. ‘But I do need more steam.’
‘Aye-aye Miss Bridie, coming right up. You’ll have ta excuse me’ he said, as he went back into the saloon. ‘I’ll be in the boiler room if ya want me.’
Ann smiled down at Lula and me, giving each of us one of her dazzling smiles. ‘I think we’re out of range from the minds influence.’
‘I hope so’ I said.
‘What happened to your dress?’ Lula said, with a worried look on her face.
Ann put her hands on her hips and made a hard line of her lips. ‘Some bloke liked it so much’ she said in a tease, ‘that he ripped it off and went for a swim.’
Lula shook her head and took a deep breath. “So where we going now?”
‘In a circle’ I said.
‘You talking, but nothing make sense’ Lula said with a sigh. Five minutes later, the Captain and Mate came to, both of them completely unaware as to what had happened. In the meantime, Ann had found her swag and saddle bag; pulling on a faded blue shirt and soft twill riding britches held up by a roo hide belt holding her skinning knife in its crocodile sheath. By the time the Captain and Mate climbed into the wheelhouse we were well out in the bay.
The Captain rubbed his head while the Mate looked around in a daze. ‘Sorry about all this, Miss Bridie’ the Captain said. “Ya brother told us about the madman on board.”
Ann smiled at the two men. ‘I think we’ll circle round to the South’ she said, turning the wheel. ‘We need to find a landing spot out of sight from the town.’
The Captain nodded, and said he knew of a place a few miles down the coast. An hour or so later we were stopped close to a rocky headland with a small beach in its lee. The Mate rowed us ashore and apologised again for the inconvenience. Stepping onto dry land for the second time that morning was a lot different. Waving farewell to the Mate, we watched him row back to the ship, then made our way up the beach. After a hard climb between scrubby bushes we reached the top of the hill all sweaty and puffed. With a good view, we watched the ship head north, the hull soon disappearing behind the headland.
Following a long ridge to the West, the country was rocky with thick low scrub making walking hard. After a couple of hours, Ann sat down on a smooth bolder and raised her eyebrows at me. ‘So what now’ she said, looking at the undulating canopy of pale green and rocky bluffs that stretched to the West. Ann was talking for the benefit of Lula, as she knew what I had in mind; we’d been communicating telepathically from the minute we’d gotten out of range from the mad-mind, as we’d come to call our assailant.
‘As you know’ I said to Lula. ‘We’ve been attacked by somebody with a very powerful telepathic mind, a mind completely mad. This mind is hunting us; it wants to consume our minds by eating our body. It has no morals or constraints, no scrap of self-discipline. The only thing it has, is a hunger, a lust to get stronger; in short it is driven by greed, a greed for power. These are the only things we know for sure. We have to turn the tables; we must hunt it.’
Lula smiled a faint smile. ‘So we circle back.’
Ann nodded. “We have one advantage Hope didn’t tell you about; it doesn’t know we are twins.”
I remember Lula looking first at me then Ann. ‘Twins’ she said slowly. ‘Sometimes I forget. So one of you is going to be the bait, while the other plays the hunter; but what about me?’
‘Bait’ I said. ‘Why have one, when you can have two.’
Lula nodded with a resigned look on her face. ‘I wonder why you bring long gun, you going to shoot it?’
‘Maybe’ Ann said, taking the snider rifle out of its canvas cover. ‘But first we’ll see if it has the range and accuracy. We think the ‘mad mind’ has a general telepathic range about the same as ours; about a quarter mile. We also think it has about the same mental powers as ours. So if one of us comes within its telepathic range, it will know; but so will we. So the hunter will have to stay out of mental range, but still inside rife range. So the first thing we’re going to do is find out the range of this rifle.’
Twenty minutes later, Lula and I climbed down from the hill and made our way to a clay-pan that was conveniently within range. Setting up targets in a long line, we placed each one fifty paces behind the other all the way across the flat surface. When they were all set up, I waved to Ann on the ridge then took cover with Lula behind a large rock. We both saw the first target explode in a puff of dry wood, the crack of the rifle arriving a split second later. The next target was a pile of rocks, one of them splitting with a loud noise before the report arrived as a drawn out bang. The next two targets were hit; but after that it was a hit and miss affair. When Ann finally stopped shooting and stood up, Lula and I went out onto the flats and stood beside each target; raising both hands for a hit, one hand to the side for a miss, the left or right hand showing which side; one of us would stand to the front or back, indicating high or low.
After another target shoot the rifle was ranged in; Ann coming down from the ridge and walking along the targets herself. ‘Pulls to the left’ was all she said. By that time it was well past midday, the clay-pan rippling with heat.
‘I’m hungry’ Lula said.
‘Yes, me to’ Ann said, pointing. ‘There’s a river over there.’ Arriving at the mangrove lined tidal creek, the three of us split up to search for food. Hope speared a five pound barramundi, while the two women pulled three crabs from their holes. Within half an hour we were sitting around a fire, roasting the crabs in the ashes, the fish baking in a mud jacket.
‘Eat well’ Lula said to Ann. ‘This might be your last hot meal in a while; no more fires for you.’
After we’d eaten, we started walking to the West, the day losing its heat as the sun went down towards the range of hills that traced lines along the skyline. Green ants nests were thick in the low scrubby trees, and great care had to be taken not to bump them. After a mile or so we split up and broke into a run, Lula lifting the hem of her skirt and tucking it into her knife belt. Silently we ran, the miles eaten as the day dissolved into night.
It was quite obvious when we reached the Palmer Road, the track rutted with the wheels of drays and the cloven feet of bullocks. The smell of horse dung and the unwashed bodies of men was heavy in the low lying country. Lula and I pushing on, not wanting to camp in the mozzie infested place; knowing it would be worse for Ann. The road to a gold field has to be seen to be believed, the only thing that would come close would be an army returning or going to war. An air of excitement and comrade pervaded the road with groups of people struggling with sacks, picks and shovels; others with nothing more than their swags. Whatever the people looked like, they were united in their goal… and that was to get to the Palmer and stake their claim to gold.
The first thing that struck me was the Chinese, I’d never seen so many even in San Francisco where they were numerous. Lula was quite amazed with their dress and pigtails, but it was their way of moving and talking that set them apart; they sort of shuffled along in a noisy group, one of them urging the others on in high sing-song voice. Very rarely would you see a lone Chinese, and if you did it usually meant he’d been thrown out of the group because he was too sick, to quarrelsome or a thief. On their own, most would die. We found out later that most of the young men had been sold into a sort of indenture, mostly to pay off some family debt back in China. In other words they were nothing more than slaves while in Australia, and any gold they found had to be handed over to their master. For this reason they were much despised by the other diggers; it wasn’t their race or their religion, it was the fact that most of them were nothing more than slaves that riled the prospectors on the Palmer.
The road had a constant stream of people, even when darkness descended the tide of humanity kept going. The wet had kept the diggers bottled up in Cooktown, the creeks to high to cross. This was the first time in months that it was possible to get to the Palmer, so the road was crowded. There was only one reason to come to Cooktown, and that was to get to the Palmer gold field. At the time there were only two ways of getting there; one track followed the range from Cairns, the other up from Cooktown. It wouldn’t have taken a genius to figure out we’d skirted around Cooktown, and sooner or later we’d have to join up with the road to the Palmer.
Lula and I jogged along the track, weaving in and out of the groups of people that stumbled along in the dark. The darkness suited us fine; our intention was to put as much distance between us and Cooktown as possible. The other thing we needed to do was find a camp site that was open, or at least somewhere that was overlooked by a hill. Ann and I both knew the sort of camp site we wanted, and when I found it, she would know instinctively; it was something we possessed that was beyond our telepathic abilities. Moonrise was late that night; when it did come up the land was bathed in a misty blue that cast no shadows.
Ann followed us as far as the road, as soon as she detected the thoughts of the prospectors stumbling along in the dark, she withdrew into the bush and camped for the night.
Dawn was misty pink with seams of expanding silver. Surrounded by thick scrub, the twisting road lead upwards in a series of zigzags to the top of the range obscured in cloud. With the light, I saw the perfect place to make camp; a few hundred yards from the track, a natural clearing was overlooked by a pyramid hill in the distance. Lula made a fire while I picked up sticks for fuel. Five minutes later we were drinking a cup of tea when a lone China-man strode towards us. Just looking at the way he walked I knew he was a warrior, his mind was focused and uncluttered, his dress simple but functional. On his back he carried a short hunting bow with a quiver of arrows, at his waist a beautiful sheathed sword with his hand resting on the pommel.
Lula gripped the handle of her cup, ready to throw boiling tea at the approaching man. “He intends us no harm,” I said quietly, before sipping my brew again… the tension draining from Lula. As he got closer I looked up and nodded at him and said to Lula, “He is also looking for the mad-mind.”
The man stopped ten feet away and gave a quick bow of his head and shoulders, he had a calmness about him that came with power; about five foot ten in height his raven hair was swept back in a tight queue, his slit eyes were black and had seen things men should not, his face was round with a oriental inscrutably. ‘Hi’ he said in a clipped outward breath.
I nodded and put my mug down. Standing, I nodded my head in return. “Hi,” I said doing a good imitation of his greetings. Sweeping my hand to the fire I said, “Come and join us.”
He nodded his head in a ‘thank you’ gesture.
“Tea?” I said sitting down on my swag again.
He nodded gratefully and produced a beautiful silver cup from the folds of his clothes, then squatted down on his haunches. Lula lifted the billy from the side of the fire and filled his cup. He nodded his thanks and lifted the steaming brew to his mouth. I was surprised his fingers weren’t burnt from the hot metal, the man obviously feeling no pain. He made a slurping sound as he drank, finishing off with an arrrrrrr of appreciation. Lula and I both smiled at the ground. The stranger nodded and slurped more tea, Lula copping him, only louder. He smiled and nodded happily.
“You’re a warrior, a soldier,” I said indicating his sword.
He nodded in the affirmative.
“You?” he said indicating me and Lula.
“Travellers,” I said. “Queensland travellers.”
“No, I said shaking my head. “We come to look.” I made the Red Indian sign for looking, by putting two fingers to my eyes and pointing with them.
He nodded understanding. “Hunters?” he said, indicating Lula and me.
I smiled in reply.
He nodded imperceptibly and nothing more was said as we drank our tea. The morning was chilly, sounds carrying easily, crows cawed in the distance with the chatter of lorikeets and the sweet song of a magpie close by with the sound of men coming from the track. Suddenly black cockatoos screeched a warning. Lula and I both sitting up and looking around… all three of us moving away from the fire. The Chinaman watched us back away as I put my finger to my mouth. He nodded slightly and squatted in the shelter of a large bolder… his hand welded to the pommel of his sword.
The cry of cockatoo came from everywhere… then a long drawn out scream followed by cries of alarm, rifle shots and bloodthirsty whoops, followed by more yelling and another scream of pain. Further down the hill dogs started to bark with somebody yelling for help. Lula and I slipped into the trees and ran towards the cries, just as a volley of rifle shots shattered the air. More confused yelling was followed by the cry of black cockatoo and the howls of men in battle.
Closing the scene of the skirmish, I opened my mind and was immediately swamped with a jumble of confused thoughts and pain. Signing to Lula we came to a stop, the smell of cordite and blood permeating the air. In a small clearing three black-men were leaning over a man bleeding profusely, the gurgling sound of a death rattle clawing at our hearts. One of the men had his hand in the bloody opening, obviously trying to find something.
I read their minds; they were looking for a spear, none of them having any concept of what a bullet was. The man died with a shudder, in a vomit of blood, his comrades having no idea what had killed him. I filled their heads with calming thoughts, Lula and I staying out of sight. Without a word they lifted the dead man’s body and carried him off for a tribal burial.
The next thing we found was a horse on the ground with several spears sticking from it body. Lula stepped up and drew her long knife; holding the spear in one hand, she cut down into the entry wound and followed the spear deep into the flesh, deftly she cut the barbed weapon away and drew the spear out with a sucking sound. Blood poured from the opening in a rush. Lula moving to the next spear while I closed the wound with several small sticks I’d been sharpening, threading them in and out of the flesh like a suture. The bleeding slowed to a trickle, then stopped altogether while Lula cut the next spear free… and when she’d finished she helped me by sharpening suitable sticks. The horse whinnying but laying still.
Gun shots were still going off when we’d finished, panicked people calling from the bush. The last thing I did before leaving the horse, was to undo the girth for the saddle. Wiping my hands on the grass I patted the horse on the neck and whispered in its ear to stay still. Following Lula into the trees, wood smoke drifted past with the mournful sound of somebody sobbing close by. Opening my mind, I was overwhelmed by sorrow and fear. Lula looked back as I pointed to where the person was hiding. She tiptoed over to a fallen tree and pulling some brush away to reveal a hiding man, his hands covering his face. Lula touched him on the shoulder, the sobbing stooped, the man freezing with fear. Taking his hands away from his face he looked up slowly, only to let out an ear piercing scream as soon as he saw Lula standing over him, her black glossy skin covered in blood.
I’d gone to the fire where a man was lying on his face, a barbed spear sticking from between his shoulders; without touching him I knew he was dead. A little way from the fire another man was lying on the ground with three spears sticking from his body, one of them had pierced the side of his bottom the hideous point holding his cheeks together in a bloody embrace. Another had broken off in the middle of his back, while the third had gone right through his neck, bloody bubbles inflating and bursting around the entry and exit wounds with a horrible sound.
The man looked at me with a glazed look, his mouth working but no sound coming out. I reached into his mind. ‘I am here’ I thought to him. ‘Don’t be alarmed, I can read your thoughts and you can read mind.’
His eyes cleared and a great peace flooded his mind. ‘Are you an angle? he thought to me.
‘No,’ I replied with tears welling from my eyes, ‘I can read mines, that’s all.’
He looked at me with wonder. ‘It’s a miracle, a miracle. I’m dying mate.’
I nodded my head and sniffed, wiping away the tears irritably with the back of my hand. It was then that the man Lula had found started screaming. I looked up in time to see Lula reached down with her bloody hands and pick the man up by the scruff of his shirt, all reason fled his mind; all he could do was babble incoherently and scream between breaths. Lula shook him and said ‘Shuuuuu,” in a calming voice. But the man was past reason.
Just then the Chinaman came running into the clearing with his bow drawn, the man Lula was holding let out another ear piercing scream at seeing the oriental. Lula lost all patience and slapped the man across the face, the noise going off like a pistol. The Chinaman was unmoved as he slowly released the tension on his bow string. Relaxing, he walked over to me with a peculiar gait.
The dying man gripped my arm and whispered in my mind, ‘Who is this?’
‘A friend,’ I replied. ‘A fellow traveller.’
‘I thought it was the grim reaper in fancy dress.’
I smiled at his sense of humour in the face of death.
‘Me horse, they speared me horse. Me faithful horse, Starlight.’
‘The bay gelding with a star on its head?’ I thought to him.
‘Aye, you seen him?’
‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘my partner and I cut five spears out of him and stitched up the wounds, he’ll be right. That’s one strong horse.’
His relief was palatable.
‘Thanks mate, that horse means everything to me. I want’s you to have him, I know you’ll look after him. These other bastards I’m travelling with would eat him as soon as look at him. Will ya have Starlight and look after him?’
‘Yes mate,’ I thought back. ‘I’ll look after him, you have my word.
‘I want a witness, it has to be done proper like.’
‘You hang on then, this fight’s not over. The blacks are coming back for another go.’
I felt the spear leave the woomera, stepping into slow time I watched the shaft flex and straighten as it flew true and steady. Moving past the oriental gentleman at a speed to quick for him to see, I waited for the spear to reach me; when it finally arrived I reached out and caught the shaft in the middle, bringing it to a complete stop only inches from the Chinaman’s back. Lifting the deadly weapon above my head, I compressed the air about me letting it expand out through a rent in the space above my head.
The noise was unbelievable, like the howl of a monster it reverberated around the clearing, shaking the leaves from the trees until the very air seemed to quaver. Lula and the Chinaman covered their ears, the dying man starring at me in disbelief. With a last noise the air rushed from compression, an unholy peace settling over the scrub.
Another volley of rifle shots rang out, one of the bullets passing over my head. “Stop ya shooting ,” I yelled out. “Stop shooting, the blacks have gone.”
There was a moments silence and then somebody shouted, “Are ya all right?”
“Two dead and one badly wounded… we need help.”
‘Somebody else shouted from a different direction, “What was that noise?” But I ignored them. I went down on my knees and tried to comfort the dying man. Lula and the Chinaman standing close by. The dying man looked up at me, his eyes going out of focus. ‘Am I dreaming,’ he thought.
‘No mate,’ I replied in the same way.
‘Watch that snivelling bastard,’ he thought weekly, ‘the one doing all the screaming; he’s a thief and a liar. Promise me you wont let him get anything of mine, specially me horse.’
‘Don’t worry mate,’ I whispered in his mind. ‘He’ll get his just deserts, I promise you.’
Somebody called from close by, “Is it safe?”
“Yes, its safe,” I yelled.
Three men hesitantly came into the clearing, all of them carrying rifles at the ready. They took a look at the man laying on the ground with the spears sticking out of him then at the inert body of the screamer. I could see others waiting in cover, a jumble of confused thoughts crowding my mind. The sly mind of the screamer came into my thoughts, alert and calculating he planed to turn this tragedy to his advantage. His evil planning came into my head like slime, his duplicity revolting me. He intended telling the people coming into the clearing that he’d saved the day by fighting off the blacks with nothing more than his raw courage. Not only that, he intended claiming the horse along with the dying mans possessions, as his.
Two of the men came and looked at the dying man, the third bending down over the screamer. The screamer groaned and stirred, opening his eyes slowly. “Me mates,” he said in a sort of a groan. Sitting up he looked around; the next thing he’d intended saying was, ‘where’s me horse,’ But I was in his mind by then, suggesting other things. “Bloody heroes them two,” he said pointing to the inert body and the man who was dying. “Bloody heroes. I went to pieces, I couldn’t help meself. Them three come in and drove the blacks off, saved the day they did,” he said pointing at me, Lula and the Chinaman. “Jack, who be dying over there has willed all his possessions to the gentleman that saved his horse, I witnessed that before going into a faint. If that’s right, just raise a finger Jack.”
Jack smiled and lifted his hand. The three new arrivals nodded, one of them saying, “We’ll se ya wishes are carried out mate, don’t you worry about that.”
Jack nodded gratefully. ‘Thanks mate,’ he whispered in my mind. ‘I don’t know how ya did it, but thanks. You’ll find me journal in the saddlebag. Will ya write to me Mother and tell her what happened?’
I nodded. ‘Yes mate.’ The mans eyes started to cloud and then the bloody bubbles stopped. The Chinaman leaned down and closed the dead mans eyes, while I folded his hands over his chest. Getting up I looked around as more men came into the clearing, one of them leading the hobbling and bloody horse, another carrying the saddle and saddlebag. “Who’s horse?” the man leading the animal said. The screamer was looking around with an unbelieving look on his face, pointing to me he said, “It’s his horse now.”
One of the men who was holding a rifle across his chest said, “What was that noise we all heard? I never heard a noise like it, it was enough ta give ya the willies.”
“Dun-know mate,” I said. “We thought it was some kind of animal, even a Bunyip maybe.” More and more people started to crowd into the clearing, everyone looking around nervously while talking in subdued voices. An hour latter we’d buried the two unfortunate soles with all due ceremony, everyone bringing in a rock to build a cairn over the graves. When we’d done all we could; me, Lula and the Chinaman left the gloomy spot with the limping horse and went back to where we were boiling the billy.
Lula and the Chinaman hadn’t said a thing in the last hour, the Chinaman’s thoughts making no sense, only his emotions. The horse had followed me without question, somehow intuitively knowing its rider was dead. The death of a fellow human being shocks even the most hardened warrior, and it was a sad group that gathered about the ashes of our fire. The trees seemed to close about us, the trunk and limbs taking on the appearance of tall skeletons that reached for the sky, the place draped in gloom.
The Chinaman caught my eye and bowed his head, turning to Lula he did the same thing. It’s hard to believe that so much information can be conveyed in such a small and quick gesture; but then again the Orientals have been practicing for thousands of years. His meaning was quite clear, he recognised us as superior or equal to him.
“My name is General Se Hi Shek.”
I acknowledged him with a sort of a cross between a nod and a bow… there was no point in trying to play dumb. “I am Hope, my companion is Lula,” I said indicating Lula with my hand.
Lula looked at the ground as was her custom,
After another long pause he said, “You hunt the same thing as I.” It wasn’t a question, more a statement.
“What is it you hunt?” I said.
“We call it the ‘Mind,’ he said slowly. “Per…haps,” he said breaking the word into two, “the greatest single mind in the world.” His voice was deep and resonant, the words sounding different with the sing song inflections he put on them.
“This mind, is it unbalanced, ” I said putting a forefinger to my temple and circling it. “Mad?”
He nodded with a quick jerk of his head.
“Why do you think I hunt this mind?”
The Chinaman looked at me, his eyes inscrutable behind the slits below his brow, his moon face devoid of expression. His age was hard to guess, his countenance bland except for the scar across his right cheek and the bumps on is nose denoting it’d been broken on several occasions. He exuded a restrained force like a sedated berserker, a man not to trifled with. “You are the same as the one I seek,” he said deliberately. “It is no coincidence that we are on the same road.”
I nodded like the Old Man used to, neither agreeing or disagreeing only acknowledging that I’d heard his words. He was right of course, it was no coincidence; a random coming together of three minds like ours in a remote spot like this was to much for chance. ‘Like Island Head, there are more things in heaven and earth,’ I thought. “What will you do when you find this ‘Mind,’” I said.
“I will probably die. It plays with me like a cat plays with a mouse. I sense it grows board of me. It could make me pluck out my own eyes; I would laugh with joy as I ate them for its amusement. Its power knows no bounds, it is its power that has corrupted it absolutely.”
“Do you know this mind?” I said softly.
The Chinaman’s face crumpled for a split second before he regained his composure. “Yes,” he said with great sadness, “I was her lover in another time, another place. She was the greatest sorceress off all China, possibly the greatest sorceress of all time.”
Lula caught my eye and raised her eyebrows by the merest fraction. I remember at the time both of us were surprised; why I don’t know, but we were. I felt like moving on and leaving this place of sadness, but the horse needed rest… besides this was the perfect spot for our camp. Looking up, the top of the range was still covered in cloud the silence of the rainforest broken by the shouts of men as they climbed the slippery track.
I unrolled my swag and sat down with my back to a boulder; the morning sun seeped into my bones and banished the gloom. Closing my eyes I slowed my thinking and merged with the land. Energy, I felt the energy, nothing was still. I am you and you are me, I am everything. I am the whole dissipated. You think we are separated, you are wrong. Everything is connected, we are the beginning and the end, we are part of every star and galaxy that is. What I’m telling you is so simple, but complicated beyond belief. In your heart you know what I say is true, its just to big for your brain. You have to learn to think with your body, not your mind. To think, is to set up conflicts; I don’t think, I listen, but not with my ears. I listen and look, I see and hear with my soul, that bit of us that is not attached. We all believe in the soul, but where is it? Is it in the head or is it close to the heart? Can you see it, can you weigh it, do some people have a bigger one than others, and if they do what colour is it?
You know the answer as well as me, it is something indefinable, something that has never been seen but has a name; we believe in it. To build or make anything, first you have to think about it; you have to dream it. Everything is made of dreams, we are the reality of a dream. For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. What I’m saying is, if you can think about something, if you can build an image in your mind of something, anything, you can make it real. The undreamed is waiting to be dreamed, and for every thought there is an opposite with a myriad of conflicts between. That is why I say life is a conundrum. To me it is clear, to you it is conflict. I see you, but you do not see me. There is nothing magical in what I do or say, it is natural. I dream to make it possible.
Ann knew she was close to the road when she heard the faint sound of people with the unmistakable smell of horses and tobacco. Backtracking, she camped for the night, knowing Hope and Lula would keep going. Lying in her swag she thought about the happenings of the day, analysing every detail. It was quite obvious they were dealing with a mind every bit as powerful as theirs, only this mind was mad, or was it. Mad, implied unhinged, but the more she thought about it, the less likely mad would seem. Cunning and devious yes, but mad, even unbalanced, seemed unlikely. ‘Could this be a trap with many baits,’ Ann thought to herself as she looked at the stars.
I knew something had changed. Opening my eyes I looked around the clearing; the horse had its ears pricked and seemed to be frozen. I’d seen the same thing before on the Story Hill overlooking the Mary Valley. Lula appeared to be asleep, while the Chinaman paced up and down nervously at the edge of the trees. The leaves rustled to an unfelt breeze and out of the corner of my eye I saw a childlike figure flit from a bush to a log. ‘Java,’ I thought to myself. ‘The forest People.’
Behind the rock at my back I heard a bird call, then another and another. Lula’s eyebrow moved imperceptibly. The call at my back turned into a singsong voice that whispered softly, “Beware the nine, things are not as they seem.” Leaves rattled and moved, then silence. The horse snorted and pawed at the ground, Lula opening her eyes. The Chinaman cocked his head while hardening the grip on his sword. I winked at Lula and got up, stretching I looked all around, but knew the Forest People had gone. Walking over to the horse I checked all the wounds, smelling each one carefully. Satisfied I patted the horse on the neck and whispered in its ear, “You’ll be fine in a couple of days.”
The Chinaman gave me one of his quick bows of the head. “This is bad place,” he said drawing out the ‘is.’
“Why do you say that,” I said innocently.
“You,” he said stretching the word up and down, “feel the wood spirits, like me.”
“Maybe,” I said. “But we can’t travel, the horse is to weak.”
The Chinaman sucked in his breath nosily, his eyes momentarily popping, bloated with air he nodded quickly.
“Don’t let me stop you, my friend,” I said.
He nodded wisely and said, “We hunt the same thing you and I, you are great hunter. Big honour to follow you.”
“Whatever you like,” I said. “It’s a free country.”
Lula came over to the horse and looked at the wounds; brushing the flies away she wrinkled her nose. “We need some bush medicine.” She said quietly.
“Yes,” I said, “I agree.”