Irmi

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic


Into the Australian Outback

Submitted: October 30, 2017

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Submitted: October 30, 2017

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Irmi

e.h. luithle

Heller bought new shoes for Sundays. As he left the shop, a woman in a swimming costume approached him. She gave him a brochure and said he had won a holiday at a brand-new beach resort. A photographer was also at hand to take a picture of Heller with the beach fairy.

(Well, to claim this prize the beach resort had to be reached first. Those were very different times. The resort had been built on the tropical West coast, then still a barely accessible region of the vast country. That’s why the brochure specifically called for a love of adventure).

Heller was flattered the beach fairy chose him for that. He at once went about to prepare for it, bought everything essential for a tropical beach and finally excused himself to his employer as fatigued and in need of a rest (he was then a young German-teacher at an International School). He packed a suitcase into his Volkswagen and assured his landlady he would soon be back again. She still was very worried about this sudden holiday trip (and his good job). Like a mother she had always watched over his daily routine. Now she could only shake her head in disbelief as he just drove off, out of the big city and through the endless eucalypt forests.

He slept only now and then in the driver’s seat and made it like that half way across the country, well into the semi desert. But at that time the bitumen still suddenly ended and the Volkswagen rattled onto a rough dirt track. He had to plod around potholes, stone clumps and sand traps. At that speed he would never claim his prize. So he steered off this “highway” and instead accelerated next to it like in a four-wheel-drive. Now he flew over the bits of scrub.

But then he startled up some dozing Kangaroos and one of them crashed through his windscreen, its head quivered in through the shattered glass. Heller fled from the car, he was bleeding in the face. The dead animal was lying huge on his dented Volkswagen. The surviving Kangaroos regrouped at some distance and watched as he dragged the cadaver off the car and tried in vain to restart the motor.

Very few cars came through this outback then. In the fierce heat Heller could only wait and hope for help. He made himself some shade with a beach towel spanned between the open car doors. The Kangaroos were lying low again in the sparse shade of the saltbushes. A raptor dropped from the sky onto the dead Kangaroo and quickly took off again when Heller moved under the towel. He drank his last mouthful of mineral water.

After some hours a vehicle finally approached, not along the highway, but from the North across the plain. The Kangaroos pricked up too, but were too sluggish in the heat, until a pickup truck closed in and a rifle was aimed at them. Only the shot panicked them off in giant leaps. Two hunters in the pickup argued about the missed kill, then they noticed Heller and drove up to him. With their rifles they looked dangerous in that uninhabited territory. But they first focussed on the dead Kangaroo, examined it and threw it on their pickup. Then they joked about the Volkswagen, an unusual motor vehicle in that wilderness. 

“I have to get to the West coast,” Heller explained and mentioned an unknown location.

“In this car,” said one of them.

“Hardly,” said the other. With a steel rope they connected the Volkswagen to their pickup.

“Get in, mate, and steer it.”

Barely inside, they towed him off in the direction they had come from. With the smashed windscreen he was near blind in the dust thrown up, clung to the steering wheel to keep straight behind the pickup. When they reached a railway line they changed direction along it into the setting sun, stopped only briefly at an emergency water tank. Heller held his empty bottle under the tap, but the tank was dried out with countless bullet holes. The hunters laughed and banged in a few more to be sure.

The sun was sinking below the horizon when they crossed the railway tracks and reached a camp. There were cabins, in the heat with half-naked men in front of them. The hunters threw their kill into the dust and supervised the men (with their rifles). They came away from the huts, skinned the Kangaroo and cut it apart, threw pieces into an open fire. They poked into the meat until it was done, took it to their huts, ate and watched Heller who fumbled awkwardly under the bonnet of his Volkswagen. Until a foreman with a hard hat went up to him, guarded by the other armed hunter.

“You are new,” said the foreman. “Your name, mate.”

“My car won’t start.”

“Your name, mate.”

“Heller.”

The foreman wrote his name on a list.

“Hut 8. Housing, meat and water will be deducted.”

They gave him his first ration of water (lukewarm and rusty), which he emptied on the spot.

“Come,” ordered the hunter and marched him to the hut.

“Left bed,” he pointed out there

After a quick glance into the hut (windowless, two bare wooden bunks, rubbish), Heller hurried back to his car and once more tried the ignition, but now a long goods train (in the treeless landscape still discernible against the darkening sky) came in behind the huts and screeched somewhere to a halt. The workers swore and dragged themselves up. The foreman called out two names at a time, together with a track number. The workers left the camp like that in pairs, some injured with rough bandages. Heller’s name came up last, assigned to an Aborigine who was already waiting. The two hunters kicked sand over the glowing ash and came for Heller. His car battery weakened and died on him. The hunters meant business, so he followed the Aborigine who only wore shorts and thongs.

“Got a smoke, mate?” he first asked.

Heller only reluctantly dug out a crunched packet, also had to give him matches, though he didn’t want to smoke himself with him that quickly. In the bad light they stumbled over some railway tracks, then the Aborigine pulled Heller sharply back and only narrowly saved him from a railway wagon catapulting out of the dark. A worker was clinging to its back, desperately throwing himself on a brake handle.

The Aborigine now hurried on faster and they only just made it to their allocated track as a wagon shot in for them too. With the cigarette in his mouth, the Aborigine easily swung up on the brake, merely lost his thongs and disappeared with the wagon into the dark. Left behind alone, Heller wondered what it was all about (only later found out it was “train shunting”, assembling trains for different destinations). From other tracks he heard foul swearing and someone screamed out in pain, but now the next wagon came shooting out of the dark.

“That’s yours, stop it!” yelled the Aborigine as he reappeared. Heller at once lurched at this wagon and nearly got under its wheels. With luck he clutched onto something, but then slipped off the brake handle and dangled along helplessly until the wagon crashed full speed into the first one. Both loads must have been fragile, you could hear from afar how things dislodged and smashed to pieces. Heller landed hard in the track gravel and ripped open his arm.

“Shit man, shit, shit! We have to pay for the damage!” said the Aborigine and only just pulled Heller away into the dark as the two hunters came running with their rifles and torches. They fled through the camp where Heller stubbornly stayed with his Volkswagen. The Aborigine came back for him and together they pushed the car as fast as possible out of the camp into the night.

You can well imagine how relieved Heller was to escape from that surreal (and also dangerous) work camp. At sunrise they were already hard to find in the vast terrain. The Aborigine wrapped some leaves on Heller’s wounded arm. Heller offered him a cigarette, now also smoked one with him. Then he watched him as he grabbed a snake with that native finesse and wrapped it around the carburettor of the Volkswagen. He also urinated into the battery, then the motor sprang on at the first try. Now they could drive on in comfort.

The Aborigine gave the directions and Heller wound his car through Spinifex-Grassland (ring-formed bushels), then they suddenly struck a dried-out salt lake. The glare of the reflected sun (especially without a windscreen) irritated even the Aborigine. He lost his orientation and they strayed into the soft centre of the salt lake. There the Volkswagen got stuck.

“Shit man,” said the Aborigine. When they got out of the car he also burned his bare feet on the blistering hot salt. Heller gave him his new Sunday shoes from his suitcase, while the Volkswagen quickly sank deeper.

“We have to get away from here,” said the Aborigine. “Or we’ll soon be dead.” And he stalked off in the stiff shoes. Heller followed him as quickly as he could with the suitcase (he knew how hot it can get on a salt lake like that, over 60 degrees without any shade and now he saw bleached skeletons lying around everywhere).

After two hours the sunk Volkswagen was left far behind. A few camels also trotted parallel to them across the white expanse. Then they reached the first plants, where the Aborigine tried to find drinking water in his traditional way. But he dug to no avail in the dust.

“Shit man, real shit,” he said, gave the shoes back to Heller and, light-footed again, let himself be driven by his native instinct. Heller wanted to keep up, but soon fell back and lost sight of him. Now he didn’t know which way to turn anymore, tried several directions. He badly needed drinking water. Millions of flies ambushed him and mercilessly crawled into his eyes to lay their eggs in the rare liquid.

That was a long time ago, in a distant region. Heller was in a desolate situation. With today’s hindsight (and a modern map) he should at least have orientated himself by the sun, nearing her apex above him. Then he could have calculated that he was north of the transcontinental railway line. He should have headed that way. Instead, he trotted on aimlessly. He shuffled through the red sand, his shoes were full of it. He sucked at a useless plant. The flies he didn’t ward off any more, they burrowed into his face. He left behind the dusty Sunday shoes. His suitcase was also getting too heavy, he wanted to throw it away and just sit down for good.

But he was lucky again. A red dust cloud rolled in the distance through the wilderness. A road train. Heller pulled himself together and hurried as fast as he could in this new direction. But he came too late, the road train powered brutally past him. After the dust settled he was at least on a track through this forsaken Never-Never. As he followed the track, another, smaller, dust cloud emerged from the endless southern wasteland and a young couple on a light moped rattled closer. The girl on the back seat tightly clutched her boyfriend. The weak motor struggled through the rough terrain, then they got bogged down just short of the track. As Heller was close-by he lent them a hand. The young girl had to get off, deep into the red dust with her impossible flat shoes, her pale skin inflamed from the heat. Her little summer dress was completely unsuitable in the dusty outback with its merciless climate.

“Irmi,” Heller said to her. “What are you doing here.”

“Just a quick spin,” answered the friend for her. She still had her Rolleiflex, took a photo of her friend and Heller freeing the moped onto the track. There she got back on and they motored along.

Heller came soon, in the middle of nowhere, to the “Dingo Hotel”. The giant road train had stopped there and encircled the isolated pub like a monster. Three massive trailers were full of cattle (it was the time of a legendary drought in the interior of the country, hundreds of thousands of cattle had to be saved to slaughterhouses).

Irmi ignored Heller as he turned up, was busy photographing the cattle from closer up with her Rollei. They were gasping and choking in the crammed heat, faeces and blood was seeping out into the dust, lifeless limbs, infested with greedy flies, stuck out through the grids. Against the stench Irmi held a handkerchief to her nose (matching her dress).

Heller put down his suitcase and went into the “Dingo”, past the road train trucker who sat with a beer on the entrance step. This remote pub today still has some notoriety. All sorts of adventurers come through there to prospect for gold and diamonds in the desert to the north. At the time it was even worse, you never knew whom you were dealing with, everybody had to look after himself. As a clear warning a stuffed Dingo stood on the bar, with a loaded 303 rifle propped against it. The publican lurked behind it, barely acknowledged Heller though as he came in, because he was totally focused on the trucker, who now got up outside.

“Water, please”, said Heller.

“No water, where from,” said the publican without taking his eyes off the trucker.

“Beer then”. 

The publican quickly tapped a beer, which Heller gulped down. In the meantime, the trucker confronted Irmi at the road train. A wiry man, though not that young and quite small, he had his shirt fully unbuttoned and showed his narrow chest with exaggerated macho (only much later learned Heller that this driver was very feared in the outback for his violent temper and, so it was said, the bloodthirsty and totally senseless killing of a squalid gold digger with a crowbar, even vampirisms was talked about).

“You don’t like the smell,” he said to Irmi who took the handkerchief from her nose and turned away to her friend, relaxing on a shady bench outside the pub. They shared a Cola, both suffered badly in the unaccustomed heat and now the little trucker faced up to Irmi again.

“Animals are like that.”

“It’s ok,” assured him Irmi’s friend.

“You as well,” said the trucker and put aside his beer, which already was enough for the youth, he got up and beat it to his moped.

“He’s only a boy,” said the driver and sat down close to Irmi himself. She at once jumped up and spilled his beer over him. He swore out loud and she photographed him like that with her Rollei. The publican threw open a window and Heller came out of the pub, saw how Irmi fanned herself with her airy skirt as only she could. She lured the trucker, photographed him and got herself out of reach just in time. That’s how she was in the past, with that maddening innocence. But it was different in that outback heat, she tired and the trucker menaced closer. Her friend was too occupied with his moped, wiped off the red dust and polished it. (A crappy Miele, brand new, made in 1960, 50ccm, in awful green). Heller appealed to him.

“You have to help her.”

“I am only driving her around, she wants you.”

Heller only reluctantly placed himself between Irmi and the trucker.

“Don’t make a fuss,” Irmi said to him, gave him all her perfume and breathed him full in the face.

“You are too late.”

“What’s it to you,” the trucker also wanted to know. Heller shrugged and left them alone, took his suitcase to the shady bench to finally rest. But Irmi followed him.

“Do you still smoke.”

He took out his crunched pack and she sat down next to him. From the window behind them the publican kept the trucker in check, showed him his 303 now. As Heller lit Irmi’s cigarette, she held his hands steady.

“I am not sixteen any more as I was then.”

As she smoked, she leaned back.

“It was just like this.”

She cradled her head against his arm behind her.

“Then you didn’t dare any further.”

She led his hand to her knee.

“You were such a coward.”

The trucker barely dared a step closer and the Publican pointed the 303 at him, forced him to retreat to his road train. Now Irmi stretched out fully along the bench and nestled her locks into Heller’s lap. He kept his hands off her, yet her dress was messed up like after hours of wrestling with him. The trucker came back with a crowbar. The publican aimed, fired at him and shredded his ear. The loud bang started a panic amongst the cattle on the road train. A grid gave in. Cattle plunged out into the dust. The sickest just kept lying there, others staggered up and looked about confused. The fittest took off and sought their luck in the endless wasteland. The publican shut the window and barricaded himself into the “Dingo”. Now a camel galloped into the chaos, ridden by the Aborigine from the labour camp. He pulled Heller and his suitcase up with him and immediately drove the camel on.

“Man, that was close,” he said to Heller. “Nothing but away.”

Heller looked back once more, as the trucker smashed his way with the crowbar into the “Dingo”, Irmi was lying with her Rolleiflex on the bench (her dress messed up like after hours of wrestling) and her friend was polishing his moped.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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