Hindsight is a wonderful thing
If only we could see the future, even just a little bit. A few hours could be enough. And if we could, would we be smart enough to do things differently? I wonder.
I was holidaying at a little seaside town and, to fill in an hour or so, had been driving aimlessly around looking at the scenery. The dirt road I was travelling along terminated at a tee junction. A wooden signpost indicated ‘to the beach’ in one direction while the other side of the post had been painted over, showing no destination.
I considered it for a while, wondering just what had been removed from the prying eyes of the general public. I’d spent plenty of time on the beach, so why not be bold and take the road with the hidden agenda? A little bit of local knowledge would have been a valuable commodity at the time, but did that stop me? No. Of course not. I turned in the direction of the unknown.
Continuing leisurely along the dirt road, I noticed the scrub getting thicker and ‘scrubbier’. Large trees formed a tunnel-like canopy overhead. I slowed down as the road became narrower and more pot-holed. The bushes were almost scraping the sides of my car, which was a bit of a worry, but there was nowhere to turn around. I kept going, cautiously. I felt the first pangs of unease as I moved further and further into the bush.
Suddenly the bushes and trees opened up into a large clearing. I stopped, keeping the motor running while I took in the buildings before me. A run-down old freestone homestead with some outhouses, and fences collapsing with age and neglect. I idled the car towards the house, turned the motor off and stepped out.
To the right of the buildings, a short distance away, the land dropped into a steep cliff. I was drawn to it like a magnet. The deep blue of the ocean under a perfect summer sky was breathtaking. I was too far away to hear the shushing of the waves but I could see the brilliantly white tips constantly kissing the shoreline then retreating to advance again. I could understand why the house had been built here. I wondered if the residents of the old home had taken time to appreciate the stunning beauty of the vista, or if they just went blindly about their daily chores.
The absolute stillness was slightly unnerving. No bird cries, no insect buzzings, not even the sound of wind blowing through the tree branches. I wondered who’d lived here and what had happened to them. It appeared to have been a large and prosperous property at one time. The front door was invitingly ajar, so I walked towards it.
In view of the general un-lived-in appearance of the building, I assumed there wouldn’t be anyone there, but knocked politely, calling out, ‘Hello. Anyone home?’ I opened the door wider and tentatively stepped inside. ‘Hello,’ I called again, but only silence bounced back at me.
The hessian ceilings had rotted and fallen in cascades from the hewn tree branches forming the rafters. Mud and lime plaster crumbled from the walls and onto the dirt covered floor. There was no sign of any human having been there for a long time, although evidence of animal habitation was present in dried dung and scrapings in the dirt.
Curiosity overcame my unease, and I walked through the old home. It appeared to have had two bedrooms off the main entry/kitchen area. A faded photograph of a bullock team hauling bales of wool hung crookedly over the blackened brick fireplace. Looking closely, I could make out the form of two men standing at the head of the team. Over time, their features had faded to a blur.
Out the back, the old dunny had lost its door somehow but was still standing. Wandering around the old yards, I felt a chill as if someone or something was watching. Turning around slowly, I scanned the yards and the scrub at the edge of the clearing. Nothing moved. Suddenly, a raven flapped noisily away from the branches of a tree, scaring the hell out of me.
I walked through a little lean-to near the back door that had probably been the bathroom and laundry area. There were wooden pegs hammered into the wall for hanging hats and coats, and an iron bar was mounted on two blocks of wood for scraping mud from boots before entering the main house.
Standing in the front room again, I thought about the people who had once lived here. Men going out each day caring for their animals, coaxing the land into providing some kind of living. A woman probably, digging the hard ground to plant vegetables and a few struggling flowers. Where had their water come from? There must have been a windmill somewhere for watering the stock and for household needs. It had probably been dismantled and pinched by one of the locals.
A scraping noise from one of the bedrooms brought a breath of fear down my back. My ears strained for another sound. ‘Is anyone there?’ I called nervously. No sound. Time for me to go, I thought and turned to leave. I was shocked to see the front door was now closed. But I had left it open. I hurried to it and tried to pull it open but it wouldn’t budge. Panic overwhelmed me and I squealed in fright.
Turning around, I ran for the back door and out into the daylight. Without looking back, I sprinted to the car, opened the door and jumped in. I pressed the automatic lock and all the doors clicked. My hands were shaking so badly I could barely get the keys into the ignition. When the motor fired, I put the car into gear and accelerated into a fish tail in the dusty clearing.
As I aimed the car for the exit road, I glanced back at the house. I swear I saw the blurred images of two men at the front window and squealed again. Holding the steering wheel in a death grip, I could hear the branches hanging over the road screeching down the sides of my car but I didn’t care. The potholes seemed larger and more numerous now, and as I bounced out of one I collided with a sapling.
I didn’t slow down until I got back to the tee junction. Even then, I took the corner like Daniel Riccardio, racing along the road back to town. Still feeling very shaky, I stopped at a little café for a large coffee. When the lady brought it to the table, she noticed how freaked out I appeared. Peering out of the window, she noticed the damaged headlight and dirt that had been flung up on the vehicle.
With the slightest of smiles she said, ‘Bin up the road to the old homestead, eh?’ I nodded. ‘Well, I don’t guess you’ll be going back that way again soon, will you?’
Feeling like an idiot, I sipped at the hot coffee while holding the mug in a viselike grip to cover the fact my hands were still shaking. I decided I’d cut my holiday short. I’d had enough relaxing and needed to get back to familiar territory.
‘It’s surprising really, how many strangers get fooled into taking the road to the unknown,’ she said thoughtfully. ‘Wouldn’t you think people would realise there’s a reason for it being avoided?’