“Ballarat or Bust”…The Final Chapter…
It gets light awfully early in the desert.
Not a sound, usually, just the dawning of a new day, the sky as colourful as a Zombie cocktail, layers of mauve, neon pink, then pastel pink, bright yellow, then pastel yellow, and as the minutes tick by, those layers evaporate into a pale blue, then an electric blue, which stays as brilliant ‘til the day is done.
But today, there were sounds coming with the dawn, only these sounds were not from Mother Nature, these were Man-made, un-natural, unsettling…
Moans, groans, murmurings…rustling…
Low and few and far between, then louder and stronger, filling the entire cabin, originating from all who had slept there last night.
Well, almost all.
And it was this sensory scene which awoke Sharon from her fitful sleep.
She looked exhausted, dark circles lay under her eyes, a sight not usually seen with this beauty. As she quietly rose up from her cot, she looked to her left and saw that Charlie was still in bed, totally uncharacteristic of the man who was usually up before everyone else.
And some of the moans and groans were actually coming from him, as he writhed on his floor mattress, asleep but not at rest.
Sharon kept staring at her Leader. She couldn’t take her eyes from him, his face all tight, his features strained, eyelids flickering as if he was deep in a dream, tossing and turning but not enough, she thought, to wake him from his fit.
“Psst, Sharon, you awake?” a disembodied voice whispered from the living area of the cabin.
That voice instantly shook her from her stupor, and she whispered back, “Bruce, is that you?”
As he tip-toed over to the bedroom door, the one festooned with
Manson’s favourite pictures, Bruce peeked around the door frame not knowing what to expect from her room-mate.
“Well?” he enquired.
“I don’t know. He’s doing allot of moaning but doesn’t wake up.” Sharon replied.
“The same out here. No one seems to be awake but they’re not asleep either.” Bruce whispered back.
“Get your stuff together and hide it in the summer kitchen. I'll walk on down to the Myers Ranch to get Paul. You wait out on the porch for me, okay?” he ordered, his voice still barely audible.
“If anyone comes to while I’m gone, just tip toe back to bed like nothing’s amiss, okay?” Bruce said.
“Okay, but hurry, I’m worried I didn’t do it right last night.” Sharon hissed back, as she saw Bruce run off down the hill in search of Paul at Myers.
When he got to the gate, he stopped running, his feet screaming from the pain caused by such exertion in cowboy boots. He hovered there, to see if he could hear anything but the place was dead quiet.
On approach, he peered into the front room and saw no one around. As he opened the cabin door, its hinges giving off a terrible squeak, he was sure to be discovered, but it was he who did the discovering, seeing Sandy and Squeaky fast asleep, he thought, on the twin cots, Paul, Ivan and Ze Zo Zose were wide awake and playing quietly in their crib until they spied Bruce and then they all began to cry.
The noise, he felt sure, would wake the dead but neither girl was roused. As he leaned in further to take a good look at them, both seemed hardly to be breathing, their chests only rising with shallow and sporadic breaths.
Without a thought, he scooped up the babies and took Ze Zo Zose by the hand, not bothering to close the front door as he left. He knew there was no need.
The trek back to Barker took a while with his charges but finally the foursome made it back to the ranch and to Sharon, her running to the gate to scoop up Paul in her arms as soon as she saw their figures top the rise.
As Sharon babysat, Bruce headed back to the
bunkhouse to fetch his gunny sack and as he did, he spied the other bunks. I and Paul Watkins were comatose, barely breathing and as Bruce looked down at me, tears left his eyes, the drops splattering on the woollen blanket below him, the one on top of me and my writhing, fevered body.
Even in the midst of doing good, bad things can happen to good people. Sometimes they just have to…
On his way back to Sharon and the babies, he grabbed Sharon’s sack from the summer kitchen, and as he did, he heard the
side door of the Main cabin creak open and his heart did a full stop.
As the door slowly turned, the body of Tex was seen lying on the ground, half in the cabin and half out, his hand grasping tightly the frame, his eyes wild and fighting to remain open. As he looked up, he saw Bruce looking down at him, and for just a brief moment the two gazed at one another, Tex’s expression seeming to say, “What have you done, Bruce?, What have you done?” But of course, Tex couldn’t talk, his tongue was swollen twice its regular size, drops of blood leaking out of both sides of his mouth.
Bruce could have answered the mute and suffering man but what was the point, he and the rest would know the answer very soon, he felt.
On reaching the front of the walk, other Family members were crawling out of the front door, some trying to talk, others just gasping for breath. Manson was in the lead, his determination to escape more strong than the others. He saw Bruce too, and as he gazed up at him, managed to grunt out the words, “Water- Bruce – Why?”
“I had…we had…no choice, Charlie. You brought all this down on yourself, Man.” stated Bruce very matter-of-fact, almost cold, certainly detached.
Charlie crawled further, his face red and full of anger but his body was weak and his strength to advance soon subsided. Bruce didn’t wait around to see and hear anymore, he just grabbed Sharon’s hand and the five living human beings slowly left through
the gate, no one taking a second look back but Paul, or rather Scorpio, his little arms reaching out for the only “Dad” he had ever known…Charlie.
Sharon hushed Paul, grabbed his hands in hers and said everything would now be alright. That, she promised her little boy.
The moans now becoming screams as more Family bodies emerged from the buildings, crawling, craving breath, dying of thirst, bleeding from every orifice they had, all heading for oblivion fast. It was a living nightmare but the sounds and the sight of them all soon evaporated with the distance the five had already covered under the mild morning sun.
Sure, Bruce would report the scene they had just left. He would admit to the rat poison being placed in last night’s meal and in the lemonade, and maybe, just maybe, many up at Barker would survive…
Honestly, Bruce didn’t want to know one way or the other. Neither did Sharon.
But not until one woman was reunited with one man, her entire family and a nation yearning for her return, Sharon’s return. Only this time, with a friend in tow and with a beautiful little boy, Paul Richard, in her arms…
As it should have been all along.