The book I was devouring came from a pile salvaged from the old kitchen that was all that remained from the Toohey house on our property. It was a strange collection. There were a lot of Westerns, especially Zane Grey yarns that I loved (“So long, pards, I'm slidin' to Hell,” gasped Smokey, his chest bleeding profusely from the bullet that had ricocheted into the cave.... You know, stuff like that.) But the one I was reading this time had a motley red worm-eaten cover, and was called Terror Island.
It was aptly named. It was inhabited by these greyish-white half-men-half-gorillas, who terrorised the group of blokes who had come to study the mysterious place because of the reports of strange things that went on there. Given its inhabitants, that was hardly surprising. In the night, these ghostly sub-humans would occasionally enter the tents of the scientists, silently, and all that you might know of their presence was their warm breath on the cheek or a slight rumble in the chest, as they kidnapped their victims one by one, and all you heard of them later was horrific screams....
Frankly, I suspect now that whoever wrote this novel had serious personal problems, but at the time I was reading it, it was just the terrible screams of those poor scientists that made me feel queasy. I had the heebie-jeebies good and proper on that night. Not the sort of thing you want to go to sleep on.
Still, I didn't want to read on in that mood. Who knows what I might have discovered the ape-like men would do next? The night was sultry and the breeze warm and spooky. Like the breath of an ape-man, I thought. There was no moon.
I switched off my light, using my newly invented string pull device described earlier. My substitute for the modern remote for the TV it was, except it was for the light. It wasn't failsafe, by the way, as sometimes the looped string slipped off the notch when I pulled it, and I'd have to hop out of bed and turn it off manually.
It worked as designed this time. I was plunged into darkness at the speed of 192,000 miles per second.
I slipped into an uneasy slumber. The warm breeze, the rare lightning flash and the low rumble of thunder far away were not conducive to sleep.
Something moved at the other end of the verandah. It was tall and grey-white. It DID move. I saw it. And the direction of its movement was due north. That was straight for me. Not a large movement, mind... but visible. I was NOT asleep. I even pinched myself, hard. It hurt.
I would have been happier if I knew I was in a dream. How come pinches in dreams don't hurt, by the way? Hmmm.
It moved again. The sensation of warm breaths on my cheek increased. My skin was crawling. And yet again, coming directly and inexorably toward me, stopping and starting. I was being stalked by something even taller than my Dad. I was human prey. And I had left it too late to make a run for the internal door, as the apparition was now level with it, and soon would be between the door and me.
All too soon it was. My father was asleep in the bedroom next to my wall. No-one ever woke him when he was sleeping - that was the unwritten rule - even if being attacked by a monstrous being that carried people off, never to be heard of again apart from their dying screams. My mother would be in the kitchen washing dishes. No matter what I did, it would be too late.
The other part of my failsafe remote switching that I had neglected on account of it was too hard for a 10 year old brain to solve was that there was no remote ON button. Once I'd turned the light off, that was it. If I could actually see what I was up against, however fearsome, however huge and ape-like, that would have been preferable to not having the faintest idea what this shadowy form was.
It was now at the end of the bed, right in the centre between the bedposts. I was in the centre also of this double bed, but as far up on the pillow as I could go. The warm breaths increased. My escape was pretty much blocked.
There was a flash of lightning and I saw in that instant how tall the figure was. Its arm moved. There was a peal of thunder like the roll of a drum.
That was it. I leapt from the bed, down the narrow space beside it, hurtling past the looming figure, and raced frantically for the door that would take me inside. It was almost never locked. I flew, rather than ran inside, past the bedroom door where my father was sleeping blissfully, and dived into the dining room.
My mother was there, calmly reading a book. One look at my face told her I had confronted something fearsome and dreadful.
'What's wrong?' she demanded with some urgency, putting a hugely comforting arm around me.
'It's ... out there!'
'What's out there?'
'I don't know!' I wailed. 'It came all the way down the verandah to get me.'
'You must be having a bad dream. I'm going to look.'
'It WASN'T a dream. It was REAL! It was tall and grey and it was.... '
'I'm going to look. You wait here. Or do you want to go into the girls' bedroom?'
She knew I had had a bad scare. An ashen face on a kid who isn't obviously sick tends to give that away to mothers. I don't know if she thought there really was something or someone out there, but she took the old walking stick near Grannie's rocking chair just in case. Grannie had passed on years before, but the stick remained in the corner.
There was one thing I knew for sure. I wasn't waiting there on my own, and my sisters would be asleep. My mother could deal with anything. I wasn't letting her out of my sight right then.
Not surprisingly, I had left the verandah door open as I raced inside to find a saviour. Mum walked in front clutching the stick, went smartly through the door and snapped on the verandah light.
'There's your monster,' she said. Her faint but sympathetic laughter was tinged with relief. There was indeed something tall and light coloured now looming right above where I had been lying.
You see, there was a single washing line that ran from the centre of the southern end of the verandah to the northern end. It was a strong steel plastic coated cable with a turnbuckle at one end, so it could be made nice and tight, and was used to dry off essential items in inclement weather. What had happened was that Mum had put her dressing gown on a hanger on the line at the southern end, just hanging and not pegged down, and the approaching storm with its breaths of warm air gradually pushed the garment on the hanger along the line up the verandah, right to where I was supposed to be sleeping.
I told Mum about Terror Island, and the ape-men, one of which or whom had so nearly carried me off.
'Do you want me to get rid of the book?' she asked, knowing well how my vivid imagination worked.
'NO!' I responded quickly. 'I want to know what happened.'
The storm was passing over and I wouldn't be sleeping for a while anyway.
'I want to finish it now.'
'You better wait till daytime,' she said.
It was a good plan. Things never look the same in the bright light of day, and I wasn't sure how the story would end.
As it tuned out, they solved the problem of the ape-men in the usual post-Victorian way. The remaining scientists wiped them out; I don't remember how, to be truthful, but it's a time-honoured tradition in the old colonial and post-colonial world when dealing with what you don't understand. No meme in the storyline about one group of anthropologists who wanted them kept alive and the others who didn't. Even scientists dealing with what was obviously a unique and amazing species didn't stand for that nonsense in them days. Stuff 'em and put 'em in a museum. That's the safest way.
At the time, I'm pretty sure I would have agreed. So would you if one was stalking you.
Oh yes you would. You're all bravado and righteous indignation right now, but just wait till it happens to you!
I wrote yesterday (and saw it go up on the blog) that this is my favourite story so far. So today I'm writing it again! You know who I am:)ReplyDelete
PS Did you ever read the 'Edge' cowboy books? Michael loved then even as a grown up!ReplyDelete
Does your name start with J and end in e? Nope, no idea! :)ReplyDelete
I never read nor knew about the 'Edge' cowboy books as far as I can recall, but I assure you that if I had had access to them I would have read them, as I read every scrap of paper that had writing on it anyway, including the syrup tin labels, which weren't even paper, come to think of it.
I even read our Illustrated Pilgrim's Progress (which must have belonged to my grandmother) - dark horrible etchings that scared me into being good for about 30 seconds after I closed the page I stopped reading at for that session.
Clearly John Bunyan was an unwitting Christianity's trojan horse, aimed at turning children off the Faith!