Compared to my last Australia Day spent in Thompsonville, even I have to admit that this one outdid that day easily. For starters the crowd was much larger, as well as there being many more activities, food stalls and entertainers than I had ever seen before. Even the local Aboriginal community and their Invasion Day protest, with their distinctive red, black and yellow flags, and hand painted placards, only seemed to add to the spectacle that this day had become.
‘So, what do you think?’ Luke asked as the three of us walked along a row of stalls, rubbing shoulders with a never-ending stream of locals. I guessed that I must have had a look of amazement on my face as I looked around and took in the sights and sounds and the whole exciting atmosphere.
‘It sure as hell wasn’t like this back when I was a boy!’ I chortled.
‘Yeah, I know. It was always so dull compared to nowadays,’ he replied. ‘We didn’t blame you and Aaron for pissing off to screw around once the boring stuff started.’
‘You knew?’ I laughed.
‘Of course we knew. What else would two sixteen or seventeen year olds be doing sneaking off into the scrub on a sunny January day? You sure as hell weren’t going in there for the surf . . . that was that-a-way,’ he replied, while cocking his thumb back in the direction of the beach.
I grinned at him, and, I think, I may have been blushing as well.
‘You want to know the funny part though?’ he asked.
‘All this . . . what you see today . . . it’s all your doing!’
‘What? Don’t start that crap again! Australia Day was celebrated long before I came along.’
‘That may be the case, but what I’m talking about is what has happened in this town. I’m being serious . . . the population of this town more than doubles over the summer holidays, and while that was probably always the case, it’s even more noticeable now because of you and your stories. You put this place on the map, and don’t you forget that.’
‘I’m still having trouble believing that.’
‘You watch,’ Guy added. ‘School goes back next week, so most of these people you see here today, they’ll all be spending tomorrow and Monday, packing up their luggage, loading their cars, and then heading back to their dull little lives in their dull little towns. By Tuesday, or Wednesday at the latest, Scott’s caravan park and all the motels and beachside apartments and boarding houses will be almost empty again. The holiday-makers will depart in droves, leaving Scott and the other landlords to count their cash. But even after they are gone, and the town gets back to normal, the population is still almost double what it was when you lived here last . . . and for that reason alone, that’s why the councillors are happy to have you here today. So, if I were you, I’d just soak up the sunshine and the accolades, smile like crazy, shake a few hands, maybe let the mayor buy you a beer, let us get a few shots of it all, and then we can get back to the party that really matters today!’
‘I’m thinking I like that idea,’ I said, just as we came to a stop alongside a stand where a young, obviously new-Australian, couple were cooking and selling various Asian foods.
‘The new face of multi-cultural Australia,’ Luke remarked as I raised an eyebrow. ‘Yeah, I know, there was nothing like this back when you were a boy. So, fancy some spring rolls?’
‘I’d love some,’ I laughed.
As Luke ordered three servings of spring rolls from the stall my telephone started to ring, so I fished it from my pocket and glanced at the caller ID. It was my brother, Mike.
‘Hey, mate,’ I said as I took the call. ‘How are things in the big smoke?’
‘Hi, Tony. We’re all just heading home,’ he replied. ‘I have the girls in the car and it’s on speaker.’
‘Hi, big brother,’ I heard Jess say, although to me there seemed to be a definite lack of enthusiasm in her voice, which for some reason, had me immediately on the alert.
‘Hi, Jess. And hi, Kellie. So, what’s happened?’ I asked. ‘And just where are you heading home from?’
There was a short pause, during which I could hear only the sound of traffic in the background, before Mike finally said, ‘Our darling mother’s house.’
‘Oh shit!’ was all I could say.
‘I wanted some stuff,’ Jess said, ‘So, like you suggested, I asked Mike to come along.’
‘And what did she do this time?’ I enquired.
‘Just her usual rant and rave at the top of her voice, while making sure all the neighbours knew just what was going on,’ Mike answered. ‘We’ve all been damned to hell for all of eternity.’
‘Again?’ I replied, but with what I hoped was a deliberate ring of laughter to my voice, in the hopes of not making the situation any more tense than it was.
‘Yes . . . I know,’ Jess sighed.
‘Did you get your stuff, then?’ I asked.
‘No. We didn’t even get inside,’ Mike answered.
‘What? Even with you there, Mike?’
‘Yeah . . . and it seems I’m now in the same boat too. Cast out into the wilderness for helping the sinners,’ he answered.
I could have laughed, but did my best to stifle any sound. ‘So, what’s the plan now, then?’ I asked, as Luke and Guy joined me, now carrying three plates of delicious smelling spring rolls between them. Luke motioned for me to follow them as he headed toward a nearby seat.
‘Well . . . that’s where we were kind of hoping you might have some ideas,’ Jess said. ‘Are you still going to come down here to see us?’
‘Yes, I was . . .’ I said, but then suddenly had a better idea. ‘But, did Mike mention to you my suggestion that you guys all just throw some things in a bag and all come up here for the weekend instead? You can leave all your troubles behind . . . for a few days at least . . . and we can catch up. If you get away early enough you’ll still arrive here by nightfall and the party will be only just getting warmed up. Then afterwards we can decide what to do about getting hold of your stuff.’
‘I . . . I don’t know,’ Jess began to say, but Mike cut her short.
‘Is there somewhere where we can stay?’ he asked.
‘You let me worry about that. You can meet Aaron and the rest of the guys, then we can talk it all through and work out what to do next. Besides, it’ll give me a chance to get to know Kellie.’
I could hear some quiet murmurs in the car as they must have been debating the offer.
‘You guys just get yourselves here and I’ll sort it all out while you’re on the road. And however much you spend on fuel or whatever, just let me know and I’ll cover it for you, okay?’ I added, knowing that between the lot of them, thanks to the fact that they were all only working part-time, there wasn’t a great deal of spare cash available. ‘Okay?’ I repeated, a little louder this time. ‘And I won’t take no for an answer!’
I heard someone laugh quietly.
‘Okay big brother. You win,’ Jess said. ‘We’ll see you tonight. You’ll have to tell us how to get there though.’
‘That’s great!’ I said. ‘The place is easy enough to find . . . after you’ve gone through Macquarie Harbour and are still heading north, just keep an eye out for the Thompsonville turn off, take that, then give me a call and I’ll talk you through it. I’m so glad you’re all coming . . . and Luke and his folks will be too!’
* * *
As we sat and ate our snacks I filled Luke and Guy in on the conversation, and just as I imagined, they was only too happy to have them come for the party and to stay a few days. They were family, after all, he had said.
‘They can have the tent, or for that matter they could probably stay in Aaron’s cabin at the caravan park,’ I suggested.
‘It’ll be fine. We’ll find somewhere for them,’ he said.
When we had finished our snacks we got up and went in search of a garbage bin, and in doing so I glanced at a nearby stall, which proved to be a fortune teller, with the name of Shania – according to her purple and gold sign. Through the veil like walls of her canvas canopy, of about three metres square – which seemed to be all the rage these days for this type of event – I could easily see the woman sitting inside, currently reading the palm of a young lady, while her male partner watched on. They were talking in quiet tones, so nothing could be heard from where we stood outside, but every now and then I could see the young couple’s heads nodding, and hear the occasional sound of surprise.
When the couple emerged a few moments later, all smiles and happiness and thanking their psychic, it sounded as if they had, of course, heard just what they had wanted to hear.
‘What do you think?’ I heard Luke ask beside me. ‘Want to give it a go?’ he asked.
‘I’m not really into . . .’ I began to say, but just then the psychic, a well dressed woman of about fifty, with long blonde hair, seemed to catch my eye and stare at me, before then starting toward us.
‘Come,’ she said. ‘I can see there is a story in you.’
Luke looked at me sharply.
‘That doesn’t mean much,’ I said to him quietly. ‘I get recognised all the time.’
‘We’ll see,’ he said, while giving me a gentle push in the back.
‘You too,’ the woman said to Luke, motioning for us both to step forward. ‘Come.’
We both looked at Guy.
‘Go on . . . this should be good!’ he said to us. ‘I’ll go and see if our crew have arrived. I’ll catch up with you again in a little while.’
We followed her into her little stall and were directed toward two chairs on one side of a small table, while she sat down opposite us. Around us there were hanging various charms and stones from leather thongs, while on the cloth covered table between us there were what looked like crystals and other stones, plus a pack of cards; which I figured must be Tarot cards.
‘I can see there are doubts in your minds already,’ she began. ‘All I ask is for you both to open your minds and allow yourselves to share with me what is within you, and absorb what I can offer you in return.’
‘I’ll try,’ I managed to say, for which I received a nod.
‘Please . . . give me your hands,’ the woman requested. Luke and I both reached across the table and she took hold of us both, her gaze flitting from one palm to another, before finally letting go of us and looking back up at our faces.
‘It seems I was wrong,’ Shania said, which I immediately felt didn’t bode well for this exercise. ‘You are not a couple, which was what I had first thought when I saw you there. I sensed a connection between you, which I am sure others would also see, thinking just as I did. But I know now that you are not. You are, however, of the same blood.’
‘H-h-how could you know that?’ Luke stammered.
‘It is just what I see,’ she replied.
‘What else do you see?’ he asked.
Shania reached for my hand once more and started looking at my palm.
‘There is greatness in you,’ she began, glancing up at me as she said it. ‘Although I sense that it is as yet untapped. Your words, whether written down, or spoken aloud, are of comfort to others, and such comforting words will have you known the world over, even if you continue to doubt yourself, just as you are doing right now. You must embrace that which is being offered to you, as it will lead you to places you have never dreamed of exploring.
‘I can also see that you have much love in you, although the path to that love has not been an easy one to walk upon . . . not so much for you, but more so, I believe, for your young man.’
Luke and I again exchanged glances. How could she know that?
‘The worst is behind you, however, and while the path ahead of you seems mostly smooth, it will not be without its bumps. Rest assured, the love you and . . . is his name Adam? Or a name with more than one letter ‘A’ in it? Anyhow, the love which the two of you share is one that is built on a solid foundation, not like that of sand, and any days of darkness, for both of you, are now at an end.’
At that reference even I did a double-take. If she had known who I was and had read my stories, then it would be quite simple to add in a reference like that; about foundations not being built on sand . . . it was just as I had written. But what about the last bit, about the end of dark days? Apart from me, there were only two other people in the entire world who knew about the new story being called The End of Darkness . . . and neither of them were even in the same state as me at the moment. Was that a co-incidence? Or was this woman actually the real deal?
‘I see family around you,’ she continued. ‘Those that have been distant will soon become closer, although there is still a chasm there which is yet to be healed . . . and possibly may never be, unless forgiveness can be found in the hearts of all concerned. I also see future celebrations, and with family involved. There will be children around you . . . perhaps not of your own, but your house will be a place where they are all welcomed, and where all will feel that they are safe. Yet even amongst this joy I sense that you still feel there is something missing. Do not dwell on that, as it will only distract you from your true purpose. Think instead of those who are around you, and of the joy that not only they bring you, but also of what you bring them.
‘I see also that you are ambitious and that there is much you wish to achieve in your life. You must follow those ambitions and dreams. Trust your feelings. Trust your instincts. But above all, trust those around you, as they all have only your best interests at heart.’
She let go of my hand and I sat back in my chair, contemplating what she had said.
‘My words have meaning for you?’ she asked.
‘Yes, some,’ I replied.
She smiled, then repeated, ‘It is just what I see,’ offering a slight bow as she did so.
She then turned her attention to Luke, reaching out for his hand, which he duly produced.
After just a few moments she looked up at him.
‘Unlike your friend here, who has much yet that he wishes to accomplish in his life, you believe you have everything in life you have yearned for. You have much love and happiness in your life . . . someone who loves you and whom would move mountains for you. You have a career which satisfies you.’
Once more she looked down at Luke’s hand, carefully tracing a line on his palm, before looking up once more.
‘I sense that there were troubles in your past. These are well behind you, so do not worry about these. Do not look back. Look forward, and if dark clouds do appear — for I feel they shall — don’t be afraid of what the future holds. Embrace the future, and it will embrace you,’ Shania advised.
‘I think I understand,’ Luke replied.
With that having been said she leaned forward and took hold of one of each of our hands, giving a gentle squeeze and then releasing, before then standing up. Apparently our reading was over, so Luke and I both did the same.
Luke reached into his pocket for his wallet but was soon stopped. ‘There is no need,’ Shania said.
‘No, I insist,’ Luke replied. ‘We are both grateful for what you have told us, as well as being surprised.’
‘As I have said, it is just what I see.’
Luke pulled a fifty dollar note from his wallet and handed it to her, which was accepted and deftly slipped inside the sleeve of her blouse.
‘Thank you, very much,’ I said to her. ‘That was truly enlightening.’
‘I am only too pleased to be of service,’ Shania said, before Luke pulled aside the doorway and ushered me outside, where we found several people already lined up and waiting for their own words of wisdom.
As we walked away the next customer was ushered inside, and when I glanced back I saw Shania staring after us, with a warm smile on her face. She gave a slight nod, which I returned, then she disappeared inside.
‘So, Mr Skeptic, what do you think now?’ Luke asked me as we began to push our way through the growing crowd.
‘What can I say? She was amazing.’
‘Yeah, I think she was, wasn’t she? How the hell she figured out we were related, though, I have no idea.’
‘There were lots of little things I picked up on. What seemed like simple statements really meant a lot more . . . like her mentioning days of darkness.’
‘Yeah, I heard that. What did she mean?’
‘The story I started this week,’ I said.
‘It’s called The End of Darkness.’
‘You’re kidding me?’
‘Nope. She hit that nail right on the head . . . and you’re now officially only the third person in the world who knows that . . . so how she managed to reference that, I’ve got absolutely no idea.’
Luke let out a long whistle.
‘So, where do we have to go now?’ I asked.
‘How about I give Guy a call and find out where he’s got to?’ he suggested.
To be continued . . .