BushwalkThe moment I stepped into bush, it was as if everything melted in the hot Australian sun, and all that remained was the dead silence that after five minutes spent in this mysterious place seemed to be tearing me apart. I took a drink of my water and trudged into the wilderness.
Soon Jack and Bill caught up, breathing heavily.
“Come on mate, what’s so good about this place anyway? We can still get back and catch the rest of the game, and pick up a couple of beers on the way.”
I couldn’t tear my eyes from the bush, calling out for me.
“I have wanted to do this since I was a kid, and I told you, I’m taping the game.”
After fifteen minutes Jack was sweating.
“This is the most work I’ve had to do since the finals. It’s the summer holidays, why don’t we just relax?”
I shook my head at how pathetic he looked, his old Rugby shirt soaked in sweat: I shouldn’t have brought him along.
“Come on Jack”, I said, “you know how much I want this, and anyway, this might be good for you.”
Jack threw a longing glance at Bill, but Bill shook his head.
“I’m sorry Jack, we owe it to Pete.”
Jack muttered something, but eventually followed me as we entered the denser bush. I thought back to when I was six, living in Bendalong. I would sit at the bay window and stare out at the bush, echoing with cicadas, beckoning me in. But my mother always pulled me back. The last thing I saw when we moved was the bush, laughing, challenging me. I swore then that I would return.
I found myself mesmerized by the soft trees. The smell of eucalyptus was a drug, lifting me to a plane where nothing mattered but the present. I suddenly awoke from daydreaming to find myself far ahead of the others. The undergrowth had grown thicker and the surrounding noises were louder. I stopped for a moment, thinking about the others and straining my ears for any sound of them, but got impatient quickly and, after staring back one last time, I left the map for Bill and continued. I didn’t need it, the path now descended directly to the beach.
I soon regretted my decision. It became harder to see around the bend and by my watch it was already four in the afternoon, leaving Bill and Jack only four more hours to reach the beach. Their inexperience worried me and occasionally I would glance back, hoping that they might have given up and returned to the jeep, meeting me at the end. Through this turmoil the junction that I had noticed on the map almost escaped my eye. But at the last second I stopped, noticing that I had almost gone down the false trail, made many years ago as a decoy for policemen by a criminal who hid here. After congratulating myself on choosing the right path I started down it, knowing that I would reach the beach soon. Jack and Bill would be only twenty minutes behind me. They would make it in time.
Fifteen minutes down the path, I almost stepped into a spider web. I looked up and noticed differences. Noises that once seemed to be coming from either side of me started to sound from right in front. At every noise, I would stop; observe my surroundings, almost tasting the air before pressing on. I checked my watch, and felt better; I would be there in less than ten minutes.
I checked my watch; I should have been there by now. And there were differences in the path. Logs lay across my way; leaves covered the string of dirt curling off into the distance which had been my path. My breath became heavier as the truth steadily dawned on me. This was the wrong path.
Suddenly I realized how tall the trees were; silently towering above me. My throat clenched and sweat poured down my face. My breath became heavier and my heart began to beat faster as I pulled out my last bottle of water, drinking almost half of it. I found myself groping for something to lean on. Ears pounding and head spinning, I slumped down on a log, my hands outstretched, mutely calling for help. It now became clear: I had to get back to the junction before dark. With this realization I momentarily pulled myself out of my state of panic, finished my water, and pushed on, every noise blocked out by the pulsing in my ears.
But my pace soon slowed to a walk, as if a force issuing from the bush was pulling me back to its dark heart. I realized that I would soon be trapped by nightfall. I started to run.
As I ran, the thin path that I had once confidently followed disappeared, replaced by an endless wilderness, with heat issuing from the ground as if I were running on fire. Tree branches snapped against my chest and pain seared my body. I ran until I collapsed with exhaustion, my blood mingling with my sweat, my broken body lying on the ground for hours, not dead, but not alive either. Life drained from me, as the light was drained from the sky. And my last thought as the darkness coursed through my body was that the bush, which I had dreamed of so long, had defeated me.
“This bushwalk is killing me”, muttered Jack as he reached the junction.
Bill closely surveyed the map.
“Ok, we have to take the right path here. Wow, lucky Pete left me the map, I could have sworn it was the left.”
“Well don’t tell him that”, said Jack, “he’ll give you that lecture on the dangers of bushwalking that he gave us at the beginning of the trip. Come on, it’s getting dark. We don’t want to be stuck out here at night.”
[TABLE OF CONTENTS, LHS CLASS OF 2009 EDITION]
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