THE MURDER BIRD
We met in our second year at university and immediately I knew that this young man with the mop of ginger curly hair and a broad smile which showed his perfect white teeth and character lines around his eyes, was the man for me.
I was from the city and had only come to this regional university because I hadn’t achieved the score required for any of the major universities. It had been a great disappointment.
Kevin came from a farming family and with eight siblings spanning various ages, he was the first person in his family to attend university. They were all very proud of him and he was also very pleased with himself. This didn’t mean that Kevin ‘had tickets on himself’, in fact, quite the opposite for he was always aware of those around him and was the first to put his hand up whenever anyone called for help.
My upbringing couldn’t have been more different. With my sister, Jenny, and our parents I grew up in a modern home with all the comforts in life including a holiday home up the coast by the bay. My outgoing personality meant I loved being surrounded by people having fun. Most of my friends were skeptical that the relationship between Kevin and me would last.
When I introduced Kevin to my parents, I sensed that Dad was a little disappointed that I hadn’t brought home a man like Jenny’s husband, who was a merchant banker.
After graduation, I convinced Kevin to follow me back to the city even though his family hoped he would use his engineering degree to work on the farm.
Typical young professionals, we were content together. With one exception!
It was a ritual that every Friday night we would meet after work and head to the local wine bar for a catch up with friends. This was also a great venue to network and, as Kevin was looking for a move up to the next rung on the ladder, it was ideal for him.
“I have a confession to make,” he told me one night as we snuggled up in bed. “I don’t really like wine and I like the people in the wine bar even less.”
“Some of the guys at work stop at the Fox and Hound pub for a couple of beers on Friday nights and have invited me to join them next week. You don’t mind, do you?”
I was shocked. He always seemed to enjoy himself at the wine bar even if he was reticent to join the conversation. Clearly this invitation to the Fox and Hound did not include me.
In a very short while, Kevin’s Friday night ritual was with the boys at the pub. He always came home with great tales of their adventures and misadventures and the main protagonist was Barry or Baz as he was known to one and all. Baz suggested to Kevin that a weekend away camping was just what the ‘little lady’ would enjoy!
“I know you’d love it, if you’d just give it a go,” Kevin cajoled. “Baz said the best idea is to hire a campervan for the weekend. It comes with all the equipment and Baz said the best thing to do is free camp. Baz said don’t let those caravan parks rip you off with their site fees!”
“Baz said, Baz said. That’s all I hear these days,” I answered angrily. We’d rarely argued and now the tension was thick between us.
Kevin had often talked about how in the future he would like to do the big trip around Australia in a caravan. I had thoughts of buying into a time share on the Gold Coast.
“Ok,” I conceded, thinking this might put that idea out of his mind, “let’s do it. But just three days!”
He came over and put his arms around me. “Thank you” he said, smiling “I’ll make sure you have a wonderful weekend.”
Friday afternoon, we arrived at the campsite. Kevin decided to take up Baz’s suggestion and free camp.
“What a great idea,” Kevin exclaimed “Baz said he free camps all the time and sometimes you have the whole area to yourself and other times like-minded people pull in for the night. It should be exciting.”
I had to admit to myself, although not to Kevin, that the hired campervan was certainly well set up and had everything you needed to camp out. Having driven a few kilometres along a dirt track we came to a grassy area on the banks of a stream. It was so peaceful albeit isolated. Kevin assured me that Baz said it was a popular spot and therefore we probably wouldn’t have it to ourselves the whole weekend.
Placing a group of boulders in a circle and stacking kindling and small branches in the middle, Kevin lit a campfire. Smoke billowed into the air and the smell of burning eucalyptus leaves on the branches made me start to relax and enjoy my surroundings.
“We need some logs to put onto the campfire to keep it burning all night.” Kevin told me. “You fill the billy and put it on the fire while I go into the scrub and find some logs. I’ll be back before you know it”.
I pulled out a fold up chair, placed it at the edge of the campfire and watched the water heat up in the billy while I fed small twigs into the fire. It was almost sunset and the long grasses sang with summer insects while overhead an enormous flock of white cockatoos screeched and circled before settling for the night.
“What was that?” I asked myself to listen intently. I thought I’d heard a twig break the silence behind me. Turning, I caught sight of a potteroo on the edge of the clearing. He soon hopped off into the bush. Relieved, I returned to the campfire. The water in the billy was almost at boiling point so, hopefully, it wouldn’t be much longer before Kevin returned.
The sun was very low now and shadows were beginning to play across the campsite. The silence was deafening. Suddenly a scream pierced the air. It was blood curdling as though someone was being murdered. I listened closely. Before I could convince myself that I had imagined the scream, there it was again only this time it was muffled and seemed further away.
Packing up the chair to move closer to the campervan, I turned just as a man stepped out from the shadows along the roadway. My heart was pounding, and I could almost taste the adrenalin. Where was Kevin?
“G’day, love” he said, giving me a sharky grin. I stared, speechless, in his direction. He had a muscular body pushing the seams on his tight shorts to almost breaking point, the sleeves of his shirt had been ripped out leaving ragged edges at the armholes and with his shaved head and a beard, his appearance seemed very threatening. I noticed a long knife in a sheath strapped to his waist and in his right hand he held a plaited, leather strap which he constantly slapped against his thigh. An uneasy feeling was turning to outright alarm.
“Camping on your own, are you?” was his question.
“Oh no, my husband is nearby. And his two friends are with him,” I lied. “They have come here to do some hunting, they’ve all got rifles,” I lied again. “I’m also a marksman with a crossbow,” I announced. The lies were getting bigger and I didn’t know how to stop.
“We’re also expecting two other couples to join us any minute now. They sent a text to say that they’re only 5 minutes away”. More lies. I couldn’t stop, but I didn’t know how else to protect myself from this madman. The constant slapping of the leather strap against his thigh was causing a knotting in my gut and my breath was stalling in my chest. Thoughts of a recent incident interstate where a man was kidnapped by a bushman and his girlfriend chased into the night flashed through my mind. Was this the end for me? I started to self talk: don’t panic – stay calm – where the hell are you, Kevin!
I was easing my way towards the door of the campervan when stepping out of the scrub and into the clearing came Kevin. I had never loved him more or been happier to see him than at that moment. I waited for him to come to my side and wrap his arms around me but instead he walked straight over to the stranger.
“G’day Baz,” beamed Kevin, “what are you doing here?”
“I thought I’d surprise you when you told me where you’d be free camping. I parked my van along the road back there so I could sneak up and surprise you. When I met up with the little lady here and she told me that she was with other people and all about her hunting prowess, I thought I was in the wrong place.” “You didn’t tell me what a great outdoor woman she is,” said Baz smiling in my direction.
Kevin glanced at me and lifted one eyebrow with a curious expression on his face.
“I didn’t know it either,” Kevin chuckled.
“Oh, and mate, did you hear that piercing call of the Curlew bird out there in the bush?” enquired Baz “the locals call it the Murder Bird because its call sounds just like someone screams blue murder. It puts the wind up a lot of campers, I can tell you.”
I hastily retreated to the campervan and flung myself onto the bed, pulling the quilt over my head. How would I explain all this to Kevin?
Later that night as we huddled under the quilt Kevin turned to me, kissed my cheek and said “I had no idea you loved the outdoors so much, we’ll have to do this again.”
Jan Pike © 2018
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