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Inbetween Rd
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Inbetween Rd

by N. T. Schofield

Alex drove through the miserable streets of Port Augusta, South Australia. His beaten down 1979 orange Sigma collected dust from the road side each time he turned a corner. The people who walked along the sidewalks wore grungy flannelette shirts and shorts; some even wore suits, which made them look extremely out of place. Some kids rode their bicycles in the gutters with no helmets or protective gear; ‘Someone like me could easily knock you over and kill you,’ Alex thought.

The sun was now on Alex’s left side as he drove through the last stretch of Port Augusta. Reaching over, he pulled out the sun visor to shade the light from his eyes. Someone tooted their horn in front and Alex sat straight back up again. Somehow he had swerved. He looked around and saw absolutely nothing. Port Augusta was now behind him and in front all Alex saw were some scattered shrubs and red hills stretching far into the distance. Some dust blew over the road ahead and now the sun was in his eyes again. This happened for the next three hours.

The landscape that went by Alex was of complete emptiness and silence. At one point he turned the radio on at full volume to rid himself of the feelings of loneliness he felt whilst driving. His thoughts could not escape how exposed he felt. The red dirt and rocks that passed by appeared to glare at him. They smirked at him. They made him shiver more than once. Every now and then he would pass a tree. These trees looked entirely out of place, all alone in the heart of a great desert crawling and hot throughout the centre of Australia. Alex wondered how these single trees would flourish out here. There was no water, no real sustenance. There was no green and definitely no life. There was only a void of hot red dirt, and the smelling decayed animal corpses that littered the sides of the road. Their white bones protruded through hard broken skin and flesh. Sometimes he would see vultures pecking at fresh ones, ones that were messily piled up on the edge of the road.

At various times Alex would have to wind the window up because there were so many dead animals. He could not turn the air conditioner on either because the smell of rotten animals seeped through the vents. At one stage, Alex was so frustrated that he resorted to pouring the now warmed water on his face to cool him down.

Another two hours had passed and Alex was starting to experience fatigue. His eyelids were becoming heavy, falling then quickly lifting again. The sun was almost set to his left and the blue-black sky was looming on his right. The road ahead just went on further. There were more dead animal remains; vultures were seen, even soaring high above him, circling him, and screeching. Alex heard the cry of a dying animal out to his right; its howl echoing into the little orange Sigma, sending a sinister reminder through his spine. Then the storm came.

At first it was a light wind. Some red dirt whisked across the road. A couple of tumbleweeds rolled across in front. Alex laughed at this. He had never seen tumbleweed before. A loud ‘swoosh!’ was heard from behind. Suddenly awake and alert, Alex drove a little faster than one hundred and twenty. His little orange Sigma struggled at first but soon sped up and over a crest, then before him he saw a great wall of orange and red dirt rolling towards him.

‘Holy shit!’ Alex exclaimed.

Within moments the wall was upon him; swallowing his car like one huge ravenous mouth. Alex could barely see in front of him and reluctantly decided to keep driving. This storm would not stop him.The gnawing sound from beneath his car would not stop him. Its fingernails scratching, like the sound of nails on a blackboard.

Alex just drove. His course was straight so he did not need to worry.He did not even worry about the puncturing sound of his petrol tank, and the fingernails along the side of the car – grazing the cars metallic flesh.

One hour had passed. Alex was still driving but now he was strangely losing fuel. The dust storm had settled down to almost a breeze and the black sky totally surrounded him. Then finally, the little orange Sigma stopped.

‘Bloody hell!’ he cursed.

Alex pounded the dash board and stopped, hearing the groan of the engine. Some soft grey smoke billowed out from beneath the bonnet. He swore again, this time much louder than before. Afterwards, he looked around him. He could not see much in the dark so he stepped out of the car and straight onto dirt.

Alarmed he quickly looked around for the road, and then realised he was not on it. He then realised that he had veered off the road during the storm and ventured deep into the desert. He had no food. He could see no light. There was no life around him, only the soft gust of a dirty wind. And ultimately, he could see no road.

Not trying to make himself anymore nervous than he already was, he opened the boot and went searching for a torch. After some minutes he found it buried in his smelly laundry bag. It lit up straight away, and he pointed it around him. Alex walked around his car and shone the torch light in all directions, until he saw a sign post. The sign post was about thirty metres away and he immediately began waking towards it.

Once at the sign, Alex sighed. It was an old wooden post. It was also high. Looking up he saw that it read ‘Inbetween Rd’. It pointed to the direction of his car, which was now a little orange speck in the dimming torch light. Now worried about the dimming light, he ran back to the car. As soon as he reached the car a howling began.

Alex tilted his head slightly towards the sound. It seemed to be the crying of a dingo; a cry that was now becoming closer towards him. Alex opened the driver side door and jumped in, locking all of the doors behind him. Then just as quickly as the sound began, it stopped. He could hear nothing again; although it was this nothing that deeply affected Alex. He was claustrophobic. He was afraid of the dark. He was also afraid of the silence. His ex-wife would always tease him about being afraid of so many things.

Alex sat back into his seat and bitterly remembered Dotty.‘You’re so fucking stupid,’ said Dotty, tipping two day old coffee down the kitchen sink. ‘Don’t you know how to clean up after yourself?’

Alex laughed. He took another swig from his beer mug and raised the volume of the footy game. St. Kilda was playing, and they were losing.

‘Listen Alex, I’m not gonna keep coming over here to clean up after you,’ she insisted. ‘You are a grown m…’

Alex took the blunt axe out of his ex-wife’s head.

The look of amazement on her face amused him. A little blood trickled down past her left eye and down her cheek as she fell to the ground. He smiled. He put the bloody axe back on the coffee table and went back to watching the game.Alex was now slowly becoming tired. Thoughts of his ex-wife raced through his mind. She was always so demanding, so strict and so tight. Having sex with her was like screwing a crack in a wooden door. He hated her so much. That particular day when St. Kilda was losing gave him no patience. The axe however gave him so much freedom. Its blunted edge brought so much more life than it ever would chopping away at mounds of wood for a fire that would never burn hot enough in cold South Melbourne.My nail-scratching woke him up.

Alex sat upright. He tried to listen for the sound that woke him. He stared outside the window and into the black. He saw nothing but would not sleep now. A single shiver ran down his spine and his body shook. Then finally, after gathering up some courage he opened the car door and stepped onto the dirt again, except this time his legs were shaking. He held them for a moment. They stopped shaking and he stood up.

‘Who’s out there?’ Alex commanded to the night.

There was still no sound.I am right behind you, it whispered.

Alex turned. The shiver came back, this time causing his knees to tremble. He looked over the car, but saw nothing. Through the darkness Alex could see no more than twenty feet in front of him. This was a very different dark. Not the normal dark you get at home when there are lights, but a stranger dark; one without noise. When there is no noise, sight somehow alters your perception. Things seem closer, and sometimes they seem farther away. . .I walked past the car.

. . .and when you look. . .

Alex stopped thinking and tried to find the figure. It walked behind him but he could not see it. It was definitely grey. It also had a smell. But still, there was no noise. Alex, now scared for his life, jumped back into the car and shut and locked the door again. His little orange Sigma appeared to just wait; waiting for something big to happen, something big enough to put Alex and his car out of their misery.

Misery! He had found a word to describe it. His mind raced through certain possibilities. Maybe the tall grey figure was just a figment of his imagination; but what about the creature's smell? There was definitely a smell. It was almost definitely grey. It did walk past again, like right now.I torment him with my odour and my nails scratch the car again.

‘What is that scratching smell?’ Alex screamed.

His mind was now jumbling, pouring out and inside of his head. His claustrophobia was taking control of his body. He began to shake; not only his legs, but his arms, shoulders and stomach quivered with mixed emotions. His whole psyche was twisting in arrays of extreme colours and the car began to moan with sadness.

‘Why must I be so sad?’ it asked. ‘Why must this world hurt me so?’

Alex’s head shook from left to right so fast that his neck started cracking with each rapid movement. Some blood dribbled out of the corner of his mouth. The sounds and smells died down and Alex stopped moving. As soon as he stopped stirring he fell asleep again. The howling started up once more, but this time it was the wind, and as Alex slept the windy moans got louder as the wind got stronger. The winds got stronger and the howls became louder as the winds got stronger, the sounds got louder, as the scratching got nearer as the wind became closer as the howls got nearer as Alex slept.

The tall grey figure stretched out its arms to scratch the little orange Sigma as it groaned, ‘Why are you tormenting me so?’ The figure slanted its head listening to the car cry in pain. The wind spoke to the tall grey figure and the figure nodded, then walked away and let Alex sleep some more; so that he could rest up before they woke him again.

Alex came to a little after three in the morning. The night was still black and the sounds were still not there. He shifted slightly in his seat. Raising his hand to his face he felt the dried blood near his mouth. He wiped the crusted blood away and groggily glanced around him at the night. This would be a long night, and he would need to overcome his fears in order to get through it.

Being lost in the Australian desert did not seem to be totally daunting at first, but Alex soon realised that it was awfully macabre. The distant memories of the burnt landscape were not going to die as long as people like Alex got lost in them. These memories of pain and torture of a lesser known civilisation were slowly creeping up through the earth like blood. They were thick, and they were vengeful. They were also very hungry. Alex felt that he did not want any of this.

He did not want to have to be afraid of the past and the spirits that brought it with them. He felt as though he was being used by the dark. His thoughts rushed by analysing and computing every possible solution to alleviate his present situation. He could hear the moans of the desert; its victims crying in agony, wrestling underneath the dirt to break free and escape back into normality. Their crazed imaginations sent vibes of deep unrest and Alex eventually decided to just run; away from his groaning little orange Sigma, away from the screaming desert, away from the tall grey figure that was now standing directly in front of him, staring at him with its small yellow eyes.

Alex wailed at this sight. He could not look away from its grey and wet skin. Its arms arched out from its body and it looked down on him, through the now cracking windscreen. There was some blood on its fingertips; fresh blood. Its teeth chattered quickly and drool dripped off its fangs. Alex opened the door and leaped out. He landed on his knees and hands. He stood up and ran straight out into the void.I turned and watched him run; watched his pathetic little legs skipping with each step as he tried to get away. Fuck he is pathetic. I want to eat him now.

Not yet, the wind moaned.

Alex could not see where he was going. He ran over rocks and weeds that scarcely littered the dirt. He ran through a large shrub. Its branches reached out to him and grabbed his shoulder, pulling him down. The wind moaned all around him.

He struggled to get out of the shrub. It held him down tight, curling its vines around Alex’s ankles and wrists. It then spread Alex out into the shape of a star and shoved leaves into his mouth. A vine dug itself into his left foot and travelled deep into his leg. Alex struggled some more, then saw the tall grey figure standing over him. Alex stared at it in horror, but could not scream. His mouth was open but full of leaves.Can I eat it now? asked the tall grey figure.

The wind whispered no, just look at it, it is in so much pain.Alex saw the tall grey figure chatter its sharp teeth. It licked its long fangs. The figure was getting uptight. It was squirming and writhing with hunger pains. It chattered its teeth again.Now you can, whispered the wind.

The tall grey figure jumped down on top of Alex. Its hands were cold and clammy on his cheeks. Its breath smelled like the road kill he had seen earlier that day. It had no hair, no markings; it was just grey and wet, and bald and hairless. Its teeth were silvery white, and pointy. Its eyes were small and yellow. Its arms were long and stringy. Its hands were cold and clammy on Alex’s face as it admired his soft flesh; pink and fresh.

Alex closed his eyes, fearing the worst, and it happened.

First, the tall grey figure took a bite out of his cheek. The pain shot through Alex’s body like razor blades. It munched on his chin, cracking the bones in its mouth with each bite. It swallowed pieces of bone and took a mouthful of some blood from his vanishing face. It then sucked out each eye, one at a time. It took off the nose and then the ears. Soon there was no face left, only blood and muscle. It chewed rapidly on Alex’s now lifeless head; and lifted its body up, tilted its head back and roared piercingly into the Australian desert night; blood and drool sopping down its neck.

The tall grey figure sunk back into the earth after its feed and would wait for another. It would keep doing this. This was how it survived. It had buried what was left of Alex to feed the animals the next night. The Australian desert was hungry. It will never stop feeding.

Copyright N. T. Schofield 2002

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