Jake Heath hung his jacket on the metal hook behind the cabin door and headed straight for the fridge. Pulling out a can of coke he pulled the tab and threw it on top of the formica table that sat in the center of the room. He took a bite from a shriveled cold sausage left over from the early morning fry-up, then washed it down with the creamy froth that rose in bubbles to the to the top of the can.
Johnny Munroe came in behind him and threw his oilskin coat over the wooden hard-backed chair. Heading straight to the fridge he pulled out two cold beers. He handed one to Rob Douglas, his hunting buddy for the past 45 years.
“Where’s your old man then, Jakey?” Johnny asked.
“Dunno.” Jake shrugged his shoulders. “He’s probably loading up the wagon so we can take off early in the morning, I guess.”
“You’d best go find him and tell him to hurry up with the kindling to get this fire going before we all freeze to death. Hear me?” Johnny laughed as he rubbed his weathered hands together to warm them from the chill of the mid-afternoon.
At fourteen, Jake was tall and lanky; his pale skin blotchy with reddened pustules that lay like erupting volcanoes across his chin and cheeks. He pulled his black baseball cap around so that the peak covered the nape of his neck.
“Is that your ‘cool’ look, son? Does that pull you the girls these days?” laughed Rob.
The older men teased him, but he liked them, they were all good sorts and it was fun to be around the blokes instead of his two whiny teenage sisters who always liked to get their own way.
It was late in the season for their first hunting weekend because of the pandemic, but it was good to get together again with the boys after the weeks being cooped up in lockdown. It had been the male tradition of the Munroe family for the past eighty years or so to get their mates up to Trail Peak for their yearly winter hunt. Rob was the only one who’d travelled up from the city this year, but normally a group of them would come, as their fathers had before them. Their wives and partners guessed it was more for the male bonding than for hunting, as they never seemed to come home with anything other than weary bones and glazed eyes.
The men were feeling their age. They were cold and tired after a long day up in the ranges. They’d come close to a catch, but it wasn’t to be. A warm fire, a cold beer, a hot stew, and a few laughs were all that were needed to finish off what had turned out to be a good weekend.
Dave Heath was a good sort. He helped Johnny out with some laboring work at the farm when he could for a few extra dollars, and Johnny teased him as being his ‘gofer.’ He really felt for Dave as he was just getting over a messy divorce after his wife took off with the local plumber, and on top of that he had the sole responsibility of looking after three kids on his own, which wasn’t an easy task with three teenagers, two of them being girls. He knew young Jake missed having his mother around and he thought an invite into the wild beyond would do the lad a world of good. They’d set him up with some old cans to practice target shooting and taught him the do’s and the don’ts when armed with a loaded rifle.
Jake headed outside towards Dave’s four-wheel drive, squinting as the low winter sun reflected across the dusty windscreen of the vehicle. Jake could only make out a silhouette of his father as he walked closer to the vehicle. He held up a cold beer that dripped with condensation onto his bare hand. He moved the can side to side and grinned as he held it up in a teasing fashion towards his father.
“Hey, Dad. What’s keeping ya?”
Nearing the wagon, Jake saw his father’s head slump forward onto the steering wheel.
“Dad. Hey, Dad, what’s up?”
Panic rose in Jake’s throat as he opened the cab door. Dave Heath’s body slumped to the side and started to convulse in quick short jerks.
“Dad! Dad! Stop fooling around, Dad… Dad stop it.” Jake realised his father wasn’t fooling around after all and threw the full can of beer to the ground as he ran back towards the cabin. Pushing the door open wide, he yelled, “Johnny… Johnny, Rob. Come… come quick, it’s Dad… He’s not good.”
“What the..?” said Johnny, as they both rushed out of the cabin and towards the vehicle.
“Dave, Dave,” Johnny yelled as he shook him. “Come on, help me get him out Rob.” Both men pulled at Dave’s heavy jacket as they tried to haul the 130 kg mass out of the driver’s seat. Their faces were strained and reddened as the veins pulsated in their necks. Finally, Dave Heath’s body fell with a thud to the ground, his legs twisted beneath him. Johnny unzipped his jacket and tore away the buttons from his thick shirt to uncover a large distended belly. Johnny blew into Dave’s mouth in quick succession. He’d served in the army in the years before he’d taken over the farm, so he’d been trained to give CPR and first aid, although never imagined of having to use it in the situation he was in now.
Rob stood back in shock as Johnny pumped at Dave’s chest. He felt helpless not knowing what to do. He was ashamed of himself. He should know what to do in such a situation. What if it was him lying there and there was no one was there to help him.
“One, two, three, four. Come on Davey boy, come on.” Johnny could feel a weak pulse and started to pump again for the air to flow into Dave’s chest cavity. “One, two three, four…”
“You’d best go get some help Jakey.” Johnny spoke in short bursts, as he pummelled furiously at Dave’s chest. “If you can’t get any cell phone reception over the ridge, go to the house and get them to call the ambulance. Run now, run.” Johnny took in a deep breath and blew once again into Dave’s gaping mouth.
Jake froze in fear as he looked down at his father. He was scared, real scared.
“Go, son. Run. Get your old man some help.” Johnny spoke in short gasps, as he gasped to refill his own lungs with the crisp air.
Jake ran towards the trail that led through the bush away from the log cabin and ponds, up towards the farmhouse. He could feel his own heart pounding in his chest as he ran frantically through the bracken and up the muddy trail.
Johnny worked on Dave for 20 minutes until the glean of the yellow helicopter hovered above the misty bush clad hills. Finding a clearing, the helicopter danced until it found its settling place. The paramedics, a stretcher, a defibrillator, and bags. They worked on him for a full hour. They tried. His body looked purple. His lips were blue. There was no pulse. He was already dead. They tried, they really tried.
The police came. The fire service came. The coroner came. The coroner didn’t think it would be necessary to do an autopsy. It was obvious they thought, although no one dared to say so. They nodded as they looked down with sadness at the huge bulk of a man lying prostrate in front of them. The paramedic stood with his hands on his hips and looked at both Johnny and Rob. “You’ll need to get a vehicle in here to move him? We can’t lift him, I’m sorry. We just can’t take him.”
Johnny and Rob looked at each other.
“He was only fifty-five,” said Johnny.
Rob had to yell over the noise of the rotor blades as the helicopter lifted and swung above the craggy hilltop. “You did your best mate.”
Johnny looked down at Dave, exhausted, and with deep sadness.
He pulled at his unshaven bristly chin and pondered what he should do next.
Rob shook his head. “I’m lost for words, Johnny.”
Johnny gave Rob a friendly slap on the back. “Best you go back to the city, mate. There’s nothing more you can do here. I’ll see if I can organize some boys up here to help get him out. I’ll see you at the funeral, eh? I’ll let you know. We’ve all had a bit of a shock.”
“As long as you’re sure you can manage without me,” Rob said. He felt relieved, as he knew he wasn’t good in this type of situation, although he’d never had to experience anything quite like this before in his 62 years. He quickened his step to collect his bag and rifle out of the cabin before Johnny could change his mind. He hoped he’d get back over the ridge to the farmhouse and to his parked car before dark set in.
Four days later, Rob stepped out of his car and straightened his blue pinstripe tie. He looked up at the grey clouds and prayed for the rain to hold out until they’d buried poor Dave. He deserved a bit of sunshine today, did Dave.
The narrow street was lined with cars and large farm vehicles that seemed out of place in such a quaint old country setting. Rob made his way up to the white wooden chapel that stretched across the whole corner. It was surrounded by old oaks and tombstones that gave it a sense of peace and tranquility. Rob looked up at the large white sign that had been painted in old English black lettering, ‘Saint David’s.’ He smiled and thought what a coincidence it was that it bore the same name of the person being buried here today.
Rob noticed a small group chatting together next to the Hearst as he neared the chapel gates. Johnny waved out to him and Rob was pleased to see a familiar face. Rob held out his hand to shake Johnny’s and they gave each other a quick manly hug and pat on the back.
“Alright mate?” asked Johnny.
“Yeah, yeah. You?”
Rob caught Jake’s eye as he stood alone next to the white picket fence. He seemed to have isolated himself from the group of people who Rob presumed were close family and friends. Rob excused himself and took a step towards Jake, looking at him with deep empathy. “I’m so sorry, son,” Jake nodded and pushed the dark sunglasses up on the bridge of his nose.
Rob did a double take as he turned to hear a familiar voice behind him. His knees felt weak and he staggered a little, nearly losing his balance as he stared in disbelief at the man coming towards him. Four days previously he’d stood and watched the same man in front of him die a terrible death, and now here he was standing in front of him smiling.
“Rob?” he said, as he held out his hand to shake it.
Rob looked into the man’s face and blinked twice, three times. His body was trembling, and he thought his knees wouldn’t hold him upright any longer. He turned a deadly shade of white. Was he having a bad dream? His mind was trying its best to make sense of it all. He turned to look at the back of the Hearst to make sure he wasn’t imagining things, but could still see the pine coffin closed, with a wreath of red and white flowers on its lid.
“Dave? Is that really you? What the…”
The man held out his hand towards Rob, but Rob just stared at him.
“I thought you were dead,” said Rob.
The man held out his outstretched hand once again as he looked with puzzlement at Rob, then smiled. “Graham, Graham Heath. I’m Dave’s identical twin brother.”