Clearing the Fence

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
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The wind blew a tree across the fence.

Submitted: February 09, 2017

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Submitted: February 09, 2017

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A roaring gale blew through the night, one of the strongest for some years, the house shook and a loose sheet of iron rattled! In the morning, although the wind could still blow the milk out of your tea, it wasn’t quite so bad, so Henry put on a jacket and set off around the boundary to make sure all the fences were intact. Wandering stock are always a menace to traffic.

Down by the main road there was a tree across the fence! Luckily his sheep couldn’t pass it easily but it did encroach a little onto the road, so he went back to sharpen and fuel up his chainsaw. Young Hodari came out to see if she could help although she a little wary of the wind. Hodari had come back from Africa with Henry and Mags to stay with them, to study and hopefully to make a life for herself in the new country. She liked to help Henry out on the farm.

‘This place feels spooky!’ They had just climbed the fence and Henry hadn’t yet started the saw.

‘What do you mean ‘spooky?” asked Henry.

‘I don’t know, I just have a cold feeling.’ She replied and she showed him the goose bumps on her arm.

‘Do you want to go back to the house?’ Henry asked. He was conscious of African superstition and didn’t want her to be afraid or alarmed.

‘No,’ replied Hodari, ‘I’m not frightened, it just feels…. spooky!’

Henry started the saw and began cutting the branches off the trunk while Hodari pulled some of them away and stacked them as per Henry’s instruction, in a small hollow, over the bank. He switched off the saw to help her with the rest of the branches.

‘His name was ‘John.”  Hodari said matter-of-factly.

‘Whose name is John?’ Henry raised his eyebrows.

Hodari shrugged her shoulders and replied, ‘The boy who was murdered here.’ She was just matter-of-fact, as if she knew what she was talking about.

Henry wasn’t about to scoff! He sat down on the tree truck and motioned Hodari to sit beside him. ‘See that little flat piece of land across the road?’ She nodded. ‘Well that was where the first school in the area used to be. I read a report that an old guy wrote years ago about his time at the school. See that bush up there, that’s the Otepopo Bush and that ‘u’ shaped hill? That’s a saddle, like you put on a horse. He wrote about those places.’

‘That’s right, John went to the school.’ Hodari said quietly.

‘How…?’ Henry started.

‘I just know.’ She replied her palms upward. ‘What happened to the school?’

‘I don’t really know, it shifted up to the township, maybe they pulled the old one down.’ Henry told her.

‘Was the teacher bad?’ Hodari asked. ‘I think he was!’ She said the last bit emphatically, and Henry wondered how she knew.

‘Yes the teacher was bad.’ Henry respected Hodari for her wisdom, but still, he was hesitant. ‘Here’s what happened from the point of view of the old guy who spent a year at the school when he was a youngster. In those days it was remote, there was not even a bridge over the Waitaki River! The guy came to the school with his brother, he didn’t say if anyone else attended the school or not.’

‘John was there.’ Asserted Hodari.

‘Ok, they found that the teacher was very strict, severe in fact. I didn’t mention that it was a boarding school eh? The teacher’s wife looked after the cooking and washing.’

‘Yes, I know it was boarding.’ Hodari responded.

At first the teacher used to watch the boys bathing, they had this big tin bath! But soon he began to beat them, even across their backs, hard enough to make them bleed. And later he used to climb in the bath with them and pick the scabs off their backs!’

‘Ewww.’ Hodari didn’t like the idea!

‘They pulled a small wagon up into the Otepopo Bush to collect firewood and he would threaten the boys, saying he could murder them there and they would never be found! This scared the boys and they were made to do ‘unnatural acts’. The old guy didn’t say exactly what acts in his report and I won’t either!’

‘Horrible man.’ Hodari said solemnly.

 ‘There was more,’ Henry concluded, ‘but that’s what he was like! Towards the end of the year, the boys’ father arrived, first to see how they were, and then to take them home! The teacher was arrested, fined five pounds, not very much even in those days, and was banished from the area.’

‘Serves him right!’ Hodari responded.

‘Stand back!’ Henry advised, ready to attack the uprooted tree, ‘When I cut the trunk, the roots might flop back down and the stump might pop up. It can be quick and dangerous.’

Before he started the saw, Hodari glimpsed something in the hole left by the uprooted tree. She signalled Henry to look. There were bones there! Three bones that Henry thought looked like a child’s arm bones. Sheep bones aren’t like that, he knew very well! They didn’t touch them.

‘It’s John.’ Said Hodari.

‘Maybe.’ Replied Henry. ‘I suppose we should call the police.’

‘Just cut the tree.’ Hodari insisted. ‘See what happens.’

He wondered about taking the advice of a fourteen year-old African girl, but started the saw. The stump began to rise as he cut the last inch or two of wood, and with a sudden plop, the roots settled back into the hole and the stump sat up.

‘The bones won’t be disturbed now.’ Hodari said, a statement or an order, Henry couldn’t be sure.

‘He’s gone now.’ She said easily.

Henry finished cutting up the tree and the pair loaded his truck with the firewood. They never spoke about the bones or even what Hodari ‘felt’. Nothing like that has happened to her in the twelve years since!

 

 

 

 


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