By Scott Wilson
Word Count: 1,547
Shadows fell across the immense plain of red dirt and dust, like band-aids covering a blood covered planet. The formation appeared to be that of a black and red zebra lying down in the shade to rest. A soft wind blew red dust through the air, creating a mist like veil to cover the shadows.
Five campers peered out the dusty windows of the tour guide’s Land Rover, mesmerised by the eerie, alien landscape. It almost looked like the tour was on Mars rather than in the Northern Territory. They had left Alice Springs two and a half hours ago, with a fully stocked, fully clean, four wheel drive, keen and eager to view the great Australian outback. Curtain Springs was the last civilised outpost that they had passed about twenty minutes ago on the Lasseter Highway.
Two of the campers where from America, two from Japan and one from New South Wales in Australia. The Tour Guide, Matthew Georgetown, was the son of an aboriginal mother and white Australian father. He grew up in a small community in the Northern Territory, gaining the traditional native skills of the bush and folklore and European technology and comforts. Matthew was just as comfortable in the bush as he was in town. Passing the last outpost before Ayer’s Rock was just okay by him. Some time in the bush, a fortnight, would let him become one with nature for a little while and help him wind down from a hectic year.
“Is it always this dusty?” Frank, the American tourist asked loudly.
“’Round this time of year it usually is, brother,” Matthew said, bunging on the aboriginal accent that he knew the tourists like to hear.
“How are we going to be able to breathe out there?”
“Just a dust storm, brother. Be gone in a few minutes. During the dry season the red dirt cracks and dust flies around when the westerlies get blowing.”
“My clothes are going to be ruined!” The American tourist’s wife screeched. “There was nothing in the brochure about this, Randy.”
“Don’t worry, Ruth. I’m sure the dirt will come out.”
The two Japanese tourists said something to each other in their own language, and then laughed. The American woman was sure that they made fun at her expense.
“Exactly what I was going to say.” The Australian tourist said, and then laughed.
An ear piercing crack rang out into the silence of the outback, startling all five tourists and the tour guide. The four-wheel drive slide to the left, then to the right, when Matthew turned the steering wheel to straighten the vehicle up, almost rolling when it snapped back on the gravel road. Matthew managed to regain control of the vehicle before two wheels left the ground, ready to topple over into the ditch running beside the road. He used the gears to slow the car until it was safe to stop and take stock of what had just happened.
“What in blazes was that?” The Australian said.
“Sounds like a blow-out, Kez.” Matthew said in a calm voice.
Matthew quickly hopped out of the four-wheel drive before he copped an earful from the Americans. Kez was quick to follow. He did not want to hear any complaining from anyone. It was the first holiday he had been one since his wife left him six months ago.
“I’ll give you a hand.”
The tour guide opened the small-sealed trailer and moved the toolbox aside, reached down and pulled out the heavy spare tyre. He dropped it to the ground and rolled it towards the blown out one on the driver’s side of the vehicle. When he reached the back door of the four-wheel drive he felt uneasy, as though something, or someone, was watching him from the distance. Matthew realised that the spot they had stopped was parallel to the sacred burier site of one of the violent tribes of the past. Ninety years ago, the last of the tribe had been hunted down by the white settlers and hung.
“You right back there cobber?” Kez yelled out. He was squatting near the front wheel, waiting for Matthew to come back with the jack. He had already rolled himself a smoke and taken a good couple of drags on it by the time Matthew got near him.
“We should hurry. Bad blood in this area, brother.”
The two Japanese tourists had also hopped out of the vehicle and were stretching their legs and arms out. It was a long, rough road from the turn off from the Lasseter Highway and you felt every bump and jerk of the gravel road. The American couple were still sitting in the vehicle, with the wife in hysterics and the poor old husband trying to calm her.
“Just a quick stop then back on the road,” Matthew yelled across the bonnet to the Japanese.
The woman, who apparently knew more English than her husband, nodded and smiled. She turned and said something in Japanese to her husband before they headed away from the car and towards some dead shrubs and trees.
“Bathroom,” Matthew thought she said before they walked out of speaking distance.
“What’s so bad about this place, mate?” Kez said.
“Bad tribe lived around here when the first settlers ventured out this way. They kept killing the livestock and damaging the tents at night. Never took anything, well nothing that anyone ever noticed. When the settlers didn’t get the hint, the stakes were raised and the children started going missing. None of them were ever found though, not one child or anything that belonged to them.”
“I never heard about any of this in history lessons at school.”
“No brother neither did most of Australia – white or black. Happened in a less populated spot in the country, so not many European settlers knew about it. The tribe responsible was the last of their generation, so when they were rounded up and hung, men, women and children, there was no record from the aboriginal side to speak of.”
“Whoa, children taken. Women and children hung. Are you sure this isn’t some urban legend mate?”
“True story, brother. See out there?” Matthew pointed of to the right. Kez only then realised that the dust storm had completely stopped. It was as dead as the moon; there was no breeze at all now. Kez couldn’t remember if it had stopped before he got out of the four-wheel drive or after. It must have been before he got out; surely he would remember the dust if it was still hurtling around and slapping him in the face.
“Where those trees are right on the horizon?”
“That’s where they tribe was hung.”
“How do you know it’s there? Looks like everywhere else out here.”
Matthew finished putting the spare tyre on then pointed about thirty degrees to the left of the trees. Kez squinted and could make out a dozen or so rocks, or tombstones by the looks of them.
“Is that a graveyard?”
“Of sorts, you could say. Them stones there are the Shadow Stones of the Yourigowi tribe.
They are supposed to contain the souls of the tribe – one member in each stone.”
“Small tribe wasn’t it?”
“They were the last of the Yourigowi. The elders were supposed to be sixty and the two children were both twelve. Some say they were stolen from a rival tribe, the Yourigowi hadn’t had any children for forty years that anyone knew of.”
“Who put them there if they aren’t tombstones?”
“Legend has it the morning after the hanging, the stones appeared. Strange thing was the bodies were gone, brother. Another legend has it that they made a pact with the great snake god. Anyone who goes near them stones better be sure that their shadow doesn’t hit any part of the stones. To have revenge on the settlers they were given undying life in those stones with the power to take the soul of anyone whose shadow hits it.”
“Sounds like a load of crap to me. Dead bodies turning into soul sucking rocks. Why wouldn’t someone have smashed them up at night if they had that sort of power?”
“Legend has it that all but one of those settlers lost his soul to the Shadow Stones the next morning. No one believed him when he crawled into town at Curtain Springs ranting and raving about demons and devils. When the police officer finally made some sense out of the crazed man, he led a search party out to the community and found nothing. The sole survivor had gone completely mad from the horrific soul sucking scene he witnessed and couldn’t remember how to get back to the exact place of the hanging. The site of the hanging and Shadow Stones was lost for decades before found by a group of elders from the Uluru tribe. The secret has been kept to protect both the aboriginal community and anyone wanting to see if this legend is true.”
“So why have you told all of this to me, if it is such a big secret?”
“Well brother, you ain’t in any danger of finding this spot again by yourself are you? We are in the middle of now where and you even said yourself, how did I know this was the spot.”
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