|Almost a Sixer in the Cubs
Friday, July 29, 2011
The fearful night journey pt 1 of 2
From about 8 years of age onwards till I was 11, I was a Cub. Cub Scout, that is. Scouting was a venerable institution, and I had risen through the Cub ranks to become a Sixer.
This meant that I could wear two gold stars on my cap, which symbolised that I had both eyes open. A Sixer – one who led a platoon of guess-how-many infantry Cubs like a sort of Corporal – had to be a suitable Cub chosen by Akela, our wolf mother, Mrs Small. I had done time as a One-Star Deputy Sixer with one eye open, but I was now a Cub of some importance.
But this is not about being a Cub. It’s about the journey home each Monday night about 2 km from the CWA Hall afterwards.
I have a confession to make at this point. I was scared of the dark. Look, it’s all very well for you to laugh and jeer, but I had to walk, often on a moonless night, those two long kms to reach the haven of our house.
And I, dear friends, had the most vivid of imaginations. After reading a great colour comic of H G Wells’s War of the Worlds, and seeing the tentacles of that...thing... creeping into houses, I used to leap into bed at night from as far away as possible, in case one of those tentacles grabbed my leg from under the bed as I was getting in. I was pretty sure that’s where the creatures from Mars would be hiding, looking for a tasty morsel like me. But only in the dark of the night. They disappeared at first light.
I also used to leap up the stairs from the ground. Our house, like all respectable Queenslander dwellings, was on stilts, and the steps were never covered in underneath, which meant that any creature lurking under the house in the dark could have flashed a tentacle round my ankle and sucked the life out of me before anyone upstairs heard my dying screams. But on the bright side, it did wonders for my high- and broad-jumping, and I can say with some pride that I was never caught by a Martian.
So, picture me coming home from Cubs by starlight only, barely able to see my hand in front of my face, choosing which way to go. At that time Calliope had no electricity, so no public lighting. You made your own.
I did have a torch, by the way, but the battery in it was usually nearly flat, as we were a long way from town and torch batteries were not high on the priority list – even though I might have been taken by some scaly and hideous denizen of the dark at any time on my way home.
I had two choices. I could go home the longer way, which was easier than tramping through the paddocks knee-high in speargrass, or I could take the route we normally took by daylight to school.
There was one truly serious obstacle with the first option. I had to pass the cemetery. Right by the graves, just metres away. I knew what happened at cemeteries at night, and I’m not talking that witchcraft-naked-dancing stuff, of which at the age of eight I had not the faintest idea. There probably wasn't much of it in Calliope anyway, specially in mid-winter. That would have been infinitely preferable to the decomposing bodies oozing their way out of the graves to haunt me, or ghostly white spirits that I knew were lurking amongst the tombstones.
No, I went that way home once or twice and considered myself very lucky to get there alive, or not to be sent mad by the tortured Souls of the Dead, or an encounter with a vampire, which I had heard about but just didn’t want to know more. The others were enough trouble already. I didn't need further complications. The cemetery had its full complement of spooks and ghouls as far as I was concerned.
So I chose the Left Fork instead.
Sometimes if Bimbo Brown went to Cubs, we could walk part of the way home together. I had no fears at all as long as I had company. No Creature of the Night would ever attack two of us together. We were both Sixers, after all. In any case, Bimbo had a flashlight so powerful that a lighthouse keeper could have used in an emergency, and as long as there was light, no monsters of any sort existed. Not as far as I was concerned anyway.
But Bimbo didn’t always go to Cubs. His nose was out of joint when I became a Sixer the same time as he did, and he was a year older than I was. OK, 11 months less a day. If he’d have learned how to tie his knots when he should have, he might have got promoted earlier. So he wasn’t always there. Frankly, I thought a Sixer frequently deserting his loyal Gang of Six should have been court-martialled, but he always seemed to get away with it.
That wasn’t the troublesome area anyway. It was after his house that was my problem; the paddocks between Aunty Anne’s and home.
Getting across the gully when the creek was running was one thing, as there was only one narrow peninsula to jump across the water to the other side. Tricky in the dark... but not the worst of my trials by a long chalk.
Walking across the paddock after jumping the creek had way more than its share of dangers, especially on moonless nights. There were tall gum trees to walk under, from which panthers or bears or leopards or anaconda snakes could drop on me. There would be a short sharp struggle and it would be all over for me. I fervently prayed if it were the anaconda that it would squeeze me to death first and not slowly eat me alive. I'd seen things boa constrictors did to animals pictured in books. It wasn't pretty.
It wouldn’t have helped me to know at the time that anacondas mainly live in water, by the way, as that would have made jumping the creek in the dark at the gully that much trickier. They surely would have ambushed me there, probably before the crocs got me.
These are matters that weigh heavily on the mind of a nine year old. Laugh if you like – I’d like to see you walk under those trees in the dead of night with a failing torch and likely to come under jaguar attack at any moment. You wouldn’t be sniggering then.
One night I was walking across that paddock, eyes on stalks on a frosty winter’s night, only the light of the Milky Way to help me. However beautiful that galactic phenomenon is out in the sticks where there is no man-made light at all, it’s not much help when all of a sudden the whole earth erupts in front of your feet.
Yes, that’s what happened to me. I'm not kidding. (cont.)