The eucalyptus trees arched and bent themselves across the road as if to shelter the townspeople from the pain and trouble that they may see during their journey through life. Appearing on a sloping bend in the road which traversed the hill, was a party of itinerant travellers; a young man with a suitcase, two young women, an older woman of at least forty five years, and a small boy, who assisted his guardian, by carrying her suitcase. Their luggage was notable due to its worn appearance, the only additional belongings they carried apart from a single suitcase each, might be a coat or hat. The distant onlooker might also witness the party walking steadily down the slope, not in a rush, but with a concerted, sustainable speed, nonetheless.
In this part of Australia there was little public transport; the young girls, only just approaching their early twenties might have felt a painful thirst that would not be quenched. Along their way, the group of travellers passed a cemetery, and the two young girls, at such an impressionable age, drifted their eyes over it for a moment, absorbing the inevitable feeling of dread of the unknown that such a place instilled within them. For one of the girls, particularly, the cemetery symbolised her overall feelings about the journey, and the place which they were approaching. Eventually, after a few minutes, a few abandoned historic buildings began to appear intermittently across the landscape. Not even a train serviced this poor and aging district, although a ghostly station could be found nearby. Finally, the outskirts of the town could be discerned from the open road.
"There it is," said the young man, who at a closer look, could be judged as being a possible thirty years of age; "the hotel. It is the only place we could really stay."
The young man led them across to the hotel, which in the typical old Australian fashion, was still barely usable, despite its once colourful, but now greying signs, ripped at the corners, the wind beating at the metal roof of the verandah in parts; accentuating the feeling of decay already held in the town. The front door naturally opened with a particular squeak, and he held it open for the rest of the party, who followed him through the door, into the open foyer. In front of them was a reception desk, with a bell to summon the staff member who would take their bookings, the young mans heart sank as he realised that in such a small, deserted town, there could possibly only be one person to assist them at the front desk, and to service just about all their possible needs.
After at least two full minutes, the front desk attendant appeared; it was a mature woman, who shuffled her way out into the front office, and barely glanced up at them, before bending over and pulling out a lodging book.
"What sort of room would you like, sir" How many people do you have with you?" She glanced up for a moment, then appeared puzzled as she realised he brought with him a mixed party of tired travellers with a mysterious purpose; remembering her expression could be openly scrutinised by strangers, she bowed her head again and looked down the entries.
"I am the mother of the boy," the woman, roughly in her forties, suddenly spoke up,
"we would need a room together."
"I am prepared to pay for my own room, so I can be alone," the young man put forward, promptly.
"My sister and I will have one together," instructed the young woman, standing most forward of the two, from behind the young man.
Once they had paid for their rooms, and received their keys, the hotelier said, "The stairs are directly in front of you there, I have placed you all in rooms next to each other on the second floor." She looked at them, again, and wondered for a moment whether she should ask them what they were there for, and why, but then she quickly changed her mind, and grabbing her book, she turned away and disappeared into the room behind the desk.
Once inside their rooms, the two girls tried to relax, the younger of the pair sat on the bed, appearing suddenly gloomy, and the older one began to take off her ear rings.
"Should we inspect the town, during the rest of this afternoon?" Asked the younger of them, from the bed, watching her sister remove her decorations in the mirror.
"Why should we? We have only a night here, before we move on. There's nothing here
to look at, anyway."
A couple of hours later, the young man looked out over the main street of the town, from his window. He then looked down at his watch. There was little movement in the street, it appeared to him that this place was a true ghost town. He sat and looked down at his map, again, unfolded, on the bed. They were not far from Kalgoorlie, he assured himself, feeling homesick, but somehow the assurance could not offset his overall feeling of restlessness.
Next door, the mother distracted her son from his reading of a Western Australian travelogue; "go out and buy some aspirin for me," she said, in a hurried voice, "I feel a headache coming on."
The youngest girl stirred momentarily in her sleep, her older sister looked over at her, already carrying all of her belongings, and suitcase, and then tiptoed over to the door, slipping out surreptitiously into the hall, she held her breath for a second, as she waited to hear the door close behind her. No sound was then audible as she tiptoed down the hall, to the staircase. She stepped lightly down the stairs, and paused before she hid for a moment between the walls of the suitcase, looking carefully about the foyer to check if anyone was there. The entire foyer was clear, and she found herself racing across it, to the door, opening it, and exiting into the dusty main street, leaving barely a trace of her movement. She began to walk down the dusty road with her suitcase in one hand, and a coat and a hat scooped under her opposite arm. She walked hurriedly until she began to leave the town behind her, the buildings dwindling gradually in number until bushland began to surround her again, acres of dry, reddish sand stretched all around her, stopping only at the distant mountain ranges, where the landscape trailed off into an aching land of despair, if not beauty.
Becoming exhausted, she rested for a moment on her suitcase, and then, it seemed, she was surrounded by the silence. There, where she had rested by the side of the road, her emotions appeared to assume a quiet intensity, and she felt herself becoming more and more upset, inside. Why had she chosen to come on this trek? She should have stayed at home. They had run from trouble, but now she realised the trouble was within herself. She brought up her hand and pressed it against her cheek to measure her internal heat. Disgusted by what she found, she shifted it quickly away, and looked down the long road. For most of the way ahead of her, there was nothing but the haunting emptiness which was indicative of the Australian countryside, but something stood out to her, in the middle of landscape which had escaped time; a lonely house, each room of which appeared obviously vacant from the outside.
She walked tentatively over to a window of the house, of which there was only an empty frame left, and peered through it, into the front room. Only a broken chair remained out of all the furnishings that had once existed, the sunlight fell in a shaft across the room, from the outside. She walked over to the door, which had been broken away, and left standing by the doorway. Puzzled, she touched its rough exterior, but forego touching it any further in case it began to peel away in front of her. She stepped into the musty hallway, and held her hand up to her mouth as a response to the dust which rose up into her eyes and nostrils. She began to choke, and brought out her handkerchief to stifle further coughing. She rested against the doorway, as she was overcome with an asthmatic reaction to the symptoms of age which pervaded the house. She turned around, and then blinked her eyes as she felt she saw a shadow of a person cross the opposite wall, but the more that she stared across the hall, at where the shadow had fallen, the more she realised that there were shadows all throughout the house; even a peeling piece of plaster would throw a small shadow on an opposing wall; it was the intense sunlight in this part of the country which created so much visual diversity in the surroundings. She walked further into the heart of the building, and stopped by one of the doorways to study the floor plan of the house, another hallway ran off in another direction, branching off of it were other rooms. She considered it for a moment, why was the house so intricately designed?
She stepped across the intersection of hallways, and continued walking until she reached the back of the house. She paused before she set foot on the back verandah because she heard the creaking of a rocking chair as it moved in a backwards and forwards motion on the wooden planks.
"Excuse me," she said to the old woman, in the chair, who cast her head down to her lap as if dazed with melancholy.
The woman looked up at her, with shock, the moment she heard a voice.
"What are you doing here?"
"I am sorry," she explained, "I thought this place was abandoned."
The woman coughed, and then began to try and explain the situation, "It is, but I come here to think."
"In an old abandoned house?"
"It is my house, so it is not completely abandoned," she said.
"Then why is there no furniture?" The old woman rose from her chair and strolled across the verandah.
"Have you been to the cemetery?" She asked.
"That will explain to you everything."
The girl shivered. "I don't think I wish to visit a cemetery on my own."
"I will come with you," offered the woman.
She followed the woman as she stepped down from the verandah, and walked around to the front of the house. She continued to walk down the lonely highway with the young girl by her side, until they reached the cemetery. She walked amongst its head stones until she found one that extracted a faint smile from her drawn, featureless face.
"Are you in the town, alone?" The old woman asked her.
"I came here with a group of people. We ran away from.. we came from our own problems," she said.
"That is a shame," remarked the woman, "well, can you tell me what the problems are?" She thought for a moment, and then shook her head.
"Never mind, then, you don't have to tell me," said the old woman.
"When I was a young girl, I came here to pray," said the old woman. "It was prettier, then, because many of the townspeople would lay their flowers here. It is sad to think, that now, this is a deserted town. It grew first from the discovery of gold, and the mining which followed. That house you were in was my real home, how can I forget it?"
"Where did your family go?" She asked the old lady, who sat down to rest on one of the tombs.
"The town was once a major gold mining centre," she reiterated, "but the infrastructure died away, once the mines had been fully plundered."
"I see," she said, then said, 'well I suppose I had better start back to the town. I should keep with the others."
"Did you have to get away from them for a little while?"
"I guess,' she said, and then excused herself, and began to walk out of the cemetery.
"Just a moment," said the woman.
"Yes?" She asked, turning around.
"Why did you come here?'
She put her head down.
"I cannot talk about it."
"I just cannot talk about it," and she turned away to walk out of the cemetery. She kept walking back towards the cemetery gate, which was open, and continued down the road, returning in the direction of the town.
The woman walked out of the cemetery entrance and stared after her; the young girl had become a puzzlement now, to her, in her mind.
The young girl began to feel her aloneness more acutely as she found herself on the open road, again. Then she reached the town, or what was left of it. The hotel, where her friends were staying, stood directly on the corner. She opened the front door, and found the hotelier standing there, checking her lodging book, once more. She continued past her, and began walking up the staircase, turning to watch the woman. The hotelier then took out a newspaper from underneath her desk; when the girl saw this, she panicked momentarily, but was then relieved when she realised from the date, that it was yesterday's. She continued to walk up the steps. As she walked down the corridor, everything seemed abnormally silent. She tapped on the door of her own room, before opening it. Her sister was sitting up, and making a note in her small diary.
"Where did you go?" she asked, "I thought you'd disappeared forever."
"I wonder how long it will be before we have to tell them the truth," she said, poignantly, and sat down on the bed, "what we came from."
"They will find out in their own time," Her sister dismissed her, and kept writing.
"I think we should order something to eat," she said, and walked towards the telephone, "do they have room service, here?"
She picked up the telephone receiver, but it did not return any dial tone. Angrily, she slammed the receiver back down on the hook, and cursed the abandoned town,
"Nothing works in this place."
Her sister ignored her efforts to forge a link with the outside world, and continued writing.
Her older sister left the room, again, and walked downstairs. The woman who owned and ran the hotel was still at the desk, leafing through the pages of the newspaper.
She looked up when she sensed the girl's presence. She walked up to the woman, and asked her if there was any room service available to guests. Having sensed the mysteriousness of the party of travellers, the woman regarded her with a stern, suspicious look;
"No, I'm sorry, we don't do that anymore, since the town has died." The girl turned, then, and began to walk towards the door. The hotelier suddenly chased after her, and grabbed her.
"Listen to me," she said, "where have you all come from? Why do you all never
"Let me go," she said, panicking, and trying to tear her arm away from the woman's grasp.
"No, you must tell me," she said, tightening her grasp around her arm. "What town are you from?"
She paused and gulped, fearing further violence from the woman, if she did not relieve herself of her secret. "Kalgoorlie."
"Why have you all come so far? Kalgoorlie is miles away, near the water."
She hung her head, down.
"You must tell me," the woman urged her, again.
Ashamedly, she began to confess, "Kalgoorlie was destroyed in a nuclear blast. Some of the luckier people had time to escape, before the blast occurred, others were fortunate enough to have suits to protect them. We did not escape before it happened, but we did have time to put on our suits before the catastrophe. My sister and I were out walking, when we heard the alarm. Amidst the panic, we were guided to a nearby shelter, where we were introduced to the young man you met, this morning, Andrew Parker, who, before the blast, practised as a solicitor in Kalgoorlie, and following him, Mrs Wilson, and her son, Peter. Neither of them have told us anything about their relatives. We were given a lift part of the way, here, by a local man, in an uncontaminated car. We travelled constantly through the night, to get to somewhere safe, until we planned to work out what to do next. We are only very lucky. Jemma and I are yet to know what has since become of our parents," she began to sob.
"Why has no -one told us? I cannot even get hold of the paper, today." Said the hotelier, angrily.
"I have no doubt the papers have been held up," she said.
Disconsolate, the hotelier released her grasp, and then began walking away slowly, behind the counter. The young girl walked out of the hotel, into the dust which disintegrated like powder, instantly, beneath her feet. The wind rose the dust up into the air and floated it serenely across the street, above her the expansive blue sky continued indefinitely onto the distant horizon, and beyond the last remnants of the town, the desert began, in brilliant dried red ochres. Beyond the desert lay the future, for this young girl, who was caught up in circumstances which previously, a week, before, would have been inconceivable, but would, from this moment, irrevocably alter her life. She wondered, then, what her life would be like from that moment, as the news of the cataclysmic event which had occurred in her own faraway, home town would gradually reach each and every town across the continent.