‘So, what do you think?’ Chad asked his companion as they stood before the timber cutter’s hut. ‘It looks pretty cool, eh?’
‘Chad, it’s an old shack,’ Shawn replied. ‘And God only knows what we’ll find in there. There could be bugs, or snakes, or spiders, or any-fucking-thing!’
‘You left out the axe murderers and the ghosts!’ Chad remarked.
‘Yeah, I know I did! I was trying not to think about those.’
Now that they were finally here, Shawn wasn’t quite sure exactly how he was feeling about this whole dare thing. A part of him wanted to feel excited about it, and about the opportunity to prove himself a man, at least in the eyes of their friends and family, but then again another part of him wanted to turn and run like hell, and not stop until he had reached the boat, and had safely pushed off, and had pointed it in the direction of home.
Of course, he couldn’t do that, could he? So that left him standing here with his boyfriend, just a few feet away from the rickety looking verandah that ran along the front of the building, while a cold chill seemed to be seeping into his bones, and standing the hairs on the back of his neck on end.
Cautiously he reached out and found Chad’s hand, letting their fingers intertwine and for just this once not giving a flying fuck if the others, Eric and Donnie, were out there some place in the bush and watching them.
As he did so he felt Chad give his hand a gentle squeeze, before turning and smiling at him. Oddly enough, at the very same time he felt those cold chills simply vanish.
‘It’ll be okay,’ Chad said. ‘I’ve got a good feeling about this.’
‘Yeah, well I don’t . . . but we’ve still got to go through with it, don’t we?’ Shawn eventually said, his voice almost a whisper.
‘I reckon so.’
‘Do you reckon they’re out there watching us?’
‘Does it matter if they are?’
‘I guess not,’ Shawn answered, while trying to smile back at him, but not sure if he actually managed it. He gave Chad’s hand another squeeze, and that was comfort enough for the both of them. They were both just happy that they were together and sharing this adventure, however crazy that might sound.
‘Like I said . . . it’s going to be okay,’ Chad promised. ‘So how about we check out our digs for the night?’
‘I . . . I guess.’
‘Attaboy,’ Chad replied, before taking a step forward and stepping up onto the verandah, while dragging Shawn with him closer to the front door. The old floorboards creaked under their weight, but they seemed solid enough . . . or at least most of them did.
Over the years there had been various renovations done on the hut, whether for the workers that had followed James and Dominic, for the rangers who supervised the National Park, or for the hikers and nature lovers who regularly passed through in more recent times.
Gone was the original bark roof, replaced by more solid corrugated iron roofing, now well rusted and showing every sign that it was beginning to fill with holes, while on the inside the boys were about to find that the original uneven floor boards and rickety old hand-made furniture had also been dispensed with, having been replaced with slightly more modern materials . . . like, you know, from somewhere around the nineteen forties or thereabouts.
Yet despite looking a little the worse for wear on the outside, and completely dated on the inside, the workman’s hut was still reasonably comfortable and habitable, even if nowhere near the standard of a regular home. If James and Dominic had been alive today they probably wouldn’t have even recognised the place. But then again, if the rumours were true, they would have already seen all the changes that had been made to their home, anyhow. Wouldn’t they?
‘You ready?’ Chad asked, as he placed a hand on the door handle.
‘Just open the fuckin’ thing, won’t you! Or are you actually enjoying dragging this out?’
‘No, babe. I’m not enjoying it. I just want to make sure you’re good with this.’
‘And if I wasn’t?’
‘Well, I’d probably just have to pick you up and throw you over my shoulder and carry you inside anyhow!’
‘Oh, great. I bet you’d just love that, wouldn’t you?’
The grin on Chad’s face told Shawn all he needed to know. For a moment Shawn just stood there watching him, thinking about all the goofy things that they did together and wondering just what his life would be like if Chad wasn’t a part of it. Shawn knew the answer of course . . . his life would be about as dull as it could possibly be . . . hardly even worth living . . . so he was glad that he had Chad in his corner and that they were as close as they were. He would just die without him . . . even if he couldn’t actually say that to Chad; or anyone else for that matter.
‘Fuck it! Let’s do this!’ Shawn forcefully said, while at the same time pushing Chad’s hand aside from the door handle and quickly grabbing it and turning it himself, before pushing the door open.
‘Whoa! Just where the hell did that come from?’ Chad chuckled.
‘Oh, you know . . . I’m just full of surprises?’ Shawn answered. ‘And if you’re real good, I might show you a few more of them later,’ he added, before quickly kissing Chad on the cheek and then stepping through the open doorway, dragging Chad with him.
Once inside the boys stopped and looked around them. The place was rather dark, given the time of day and seeing as there were only two small windows along the front, yet it was surprisingly neat and tidy, and nothing like what they had expected at all. Dust hung in the air, drifting aimlessly through a shaft of amber afternoon sunlight, and the place reeked of history.
Along one wall there stood a double bed, of the old wrought iron variety, and complete with an old striped mattress, covered with various stains. The mattress stuffing was hanging out of one corner. On the opposite wall there was a timber bench, upon which sat a large enamel dish, and matching water jug. There was also an assortment of cupboards, a small table and a few wooden chairs, none of which looked anything at all like the others, while a small pot-bellied stove sat quietly in one corner.
Shawn stepped forward and ran a hand over the table, which was the piece of furniture that was closest to him. His fingers left three parallel lines in the thick layer of dust.
Chad walked over to the bed and tried pushing down on the mattress. The ear-piercing sound of protesting, rusted bed springs quickly filled the room.
‘Jeezus!’ Chad barked in surprise. ‘Imagine the racket if you were trying to have a bit of fun on that! It’d be enough to wake the dead!’
‘Looks like we’ll be sleeping on the floor then,’ Shawn flatly remarked.
‘Hmmm . . .’ was all Chad could say, as he inspected the stove and the stack of dusty fire wood which sat beside it.
‘So, this was home sweet home for them, eh? Do you think it has changed much since they lived here?’
‘My dad says it has. Apparently the national parks guys have fixed it up quite a bit over the years, so that people can stay in it when they are hiking through the park and stuff.’
‘And you reckon that folks really do stay in here?’
‘Not everyone believes in ghosts, babe.’
‘Maybe not when they get here . . . but I bet they do by the time they leave!’
‘Well, I guess by this time tomorrow we’ll know ourselves, one way or another.’
‘By this time tomorrow I’d like to think we’ll be unpacking our gear back in Thompsonville.’
‘Oh, I don’t know . . . I’m thinking it might be fun to stay here for a couple of days.’
‘What? On your own?’ Shawn said, while grinning at his boyfriend.
‘We’ll see,’ Chad remarked.
* * *
Elsewhere in the forest, Eric and Donnie had almost reached their target.
They had seen the others leave Thompsonville and had shadowed their every move up the river, being very careful not to be spotted, before beaching their own tinnie well downstream and securing it, then starting out across country in the direction of the hut.
With the afternoon shadows now starting to lengthen both boys were beginning to grow anxious. They both wanted to find a spot close enough to the hut to be able to spy on the others, but they also wanted to be able to find it before it was too dark to be able to tell where they were.
‘How much further, do you think?’ Donnie asked.
Eric stopped and looked around them, then took the time to wipe his brow with the sleeve of his t-shirt, before answering.
‘See that ridge coming down off the mountain?’ he said, while pointing ahead to a prominent feature of the mountain range in front of them. ‘It’s just near the bottom of that, so we’re almost there.’
‘Thank Christ for that. I’d hate to be rootin’ around in the dark while trying to find a place to camp.’
‘Oh, I don’t know . . . I was kind of looking forward to doing some rootin’ around after dark!’
‘That’s not what I meant, asshole!’ Donnie replied, before pushing past Eric and continuing along the faint path they had been following, all the while silently seething at how Eric seemed to just take it for granted that he would always get his own way.
Sensing something was up, Eric followed, wisely choosing to remain silent, but beginning to wonder just what it was that had gotten up Donnie’s nose, and if there was still any hope of some hanky-panky out in the wilds tonight.
When they came to a decaying pile of logs a short time later Donnie started leading the way around them, but before they had made it all the way he stopped and stepped back quickly, causing Eric to bump into him.
‘What the fuck?’ Eric hissed, only to have Donnie place a hand over his mouth and then force him down.
‘We’re there,’ Donnie whispered. ‘And so are the others.’
‘All right! So let the fun begin!’ Eric excitedly whispered, as the two of them peered at the hut from between some logs, which they could clearly see Chad and Shawn currently standing in front of.
‘What do you think they’re doing?’ Donnie whispered.
‘I reckon they’re too scared to go inside, that’s what I reckon.’
From where they were positioned they were looking at the side of the hut, so they could only see the others from side on, and for the most part that meant they could largely only see Chad, as he was slightly taller than Shawn and standing closest to them. As they watched them the two boys were just standing there, but then, after a few moments they saw them step up onto the verandah and cross to what they knew was the door, not that Eric and Donnie could see it from where they were hiding, because of the side-on angle.
‘Now what do you think they are they doing?’ asked Donnie, but almost before he had finished the sentence Chad and Shawn had disappeared inside the hut.
‘It looks like it’s game on!’ chortled Eric. ‘C’mon, let’s see if we can find a spot someplace around front, so we can get a better view when they come running outside screaming their pansy heads off!’
* * *
After taking a good look through the hut and deciding that the floor would be the best place to doss down, Chad and Shawn went back outside to scout the exterior and to retrieve their camping gear.
It was growing darker with each passing minute and when they made it back inside with their gear, dumping most of it on the table, Shawn suggested they get the fire and some lanterns lit just as soon as they could, so that they would be able to heat something up for dinner and would be able to see what they were doing.
‘Okay,’ Chad replied. ‘I’ll go take a look and see if I can find some twigs and more wood for the stove if you like. That little bit beside it won’t last very long.’
‘And I’ll see if I can get a lantern or two going.’
‘That sounds like a plan,’ replied Chad.
‘Yeah, well . . . I want to keep the lights going all night . . .’
‘Pussy,’ Chad gently teased.
‘Well, let’s just see who the biggest pussy is when we get woken in the middle of the night by you-know-who . . . and I have a feeling it isn’t going to be me,’ Shawn offered with a grin.
‘Don’t count on it, sweetheart!’
Shawn was grinning to himself as he started looking through his backpack for a torch, as well as for the bottle of kerosene he had brought along for the lanterns, while Chad quickly retrieved his own torch and headed outside into the early evening. Once Shawn had found the bottle he set his torch down on the table and then reached up and took down one of the lanterns that were hanging from a nail which had been hammered into a ceiling rafter, before unscrewing the cap in readiness for it to be refilled.
Just as he began to fill the lantern, however, he was startled by a sudden gust of wind, which caused the door – which Chad had left open – to slam shut, making him spill a few drops of kerosene on the table.
‘Oh, fuck!’ he hissed, before trying again. His hands were by now beginning to shake, and were being made even worse by that eerie sound of wind howling through gaps in the walls. Suddenly he wished Chad was back here inside with him.
Moments later Chad did return, the loud stomping of feet on the front verandah being a more than welcome sound for Shawn, but when Chad actually came in through the back door instead, Shawn’s heart skipped more than just a beat.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ Chad asked when he noticed a pale looking Shawn staring at him, open mouthed. ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost or something!’
‘W-what? N-no, don’t be stupid,’ Shawn stammered. ‘You just startled me . . . by coming through that door. I thought I heard your footsteps out the front.’
‘Nooo . . . that wasn’t me,’ Chad drawled. ‘Are you sure that’s what you heard?’
‘Yeah . . . no . . . oh fuck, I dunno what I fucking heard.’
‘Maybe it was the wind rattling a board or something . . .’
‘Yeah . . . maybe . . .’
‘Anyhow, I’ve got some fire wood, so how about I start the fire? I’m starving!’
‘Sounds good,’ Shawn replied, even if his mind was still thinking about the tricks that the sounds coming from outside must have been playing on him.
As the hut continued to be swallowed up by the veil of darkness that was descending, Chad and Shawn busied themselves with readying their accommodation for the night. Shawn finished lighting the first of the lanterns, while Chad started work on warming the place up by lighting the fire.
‘What’ll it be? Irish Stew, or Sausages and Vegetables?’ Shawn asked, while holding up two good sized cans for Chad to inspect.
‘Is that the best you could come up with?’
‘What’s wrong with these? At least they’re quick and easy. Anyhow, it’s about all I could find in the cupboards at home.’
‘Well, I guess it’s the sausages then.’
‘Good choice,’ Shawn replied with a grin, before digging into his pack once more for the can opener.
Within a few minutes Chad had the fire lit, with the flames building steadily as he continued to add wood to it, before then closing the door of the stove.
‘What do we do about water?’ Shawn asked.
‘I had a look outside but couldn’t see any place we could get any water from. For tonight we just use what we brought with us, I guess. That’ll be enough won’t it? We can top up from the river in the morning.’
‘Yeah, we should be okay.’
‘I did find some more cut firewood though, so I’ll get some more soon and we’ll have plenty for tonight.’
At the same time as Chad and Shawn were settling down inside the hut, Eric and Donnie were trying to make themselves comfortable outside, having found a flat spot amongst some rocks and trees, sheltered by a large fallen log. It allowed them a place where they could roll out their sleeping bags while still having full view of the hut.
‘How about a fire?’ Donnie suggested as they lay themselves down.
‘What? Are you friggin’ crazy? They’ll see it,’ came Eric’s rebuke. ‘We don’t want them to know we’re here, dipshit!’
‘They’re going to know we’re here anyhow. How else is anyone going to know if they had the balls to go through with the dare?’
‘No! No fire!’
‘Well, don’t come trying to cuddle up to me when you’re wanting to try and stay warm!’ Donnie quickly shot back.
‘Awww . . . what’s the matter?’ Eric teased, while reaching over and gently tickling Donnie’s side, only to have his hand quickly batted away. Undeterred he tried again, giggling as he did so, knowing full well that Donnie would eventually cave, even allowing for the crappy mood he seemed to have been in this afternoon.
His assumption was correct and it wasn’t long before his persistence began to pay off. Donnie didn’t bat his hand away this second time, and as the two of them lay side by side amongst the rocks and bush, and Eric playfully ran his hand across Donnie’s body, he began to feel the tension in Donnie’s body start to flow out of him.
‘I’m sorry if I got on your nerves this afternoon,’ Eric said. ‘You know I can be a real arse when I want to be, but I don’t really mean to be . . . well, not all the time anyhow.’
‘Horse’s arse, more like it.’
‘Well, I guess I’m big enough and ugly enough to be able to cop that on the chin.’
‘You sure got that right.’
‘Both! I know just how big you are . . . and everyone knows how ugly you are . . .’
‘Oh . . . is that right?’
‘You better believe it, sunshine. You know, I like what we have together, but if you want some more of this arse, maybe you better start treating me with a little more respect?’
For a moment Eric was taken aback by what Donnie had just said, but when he weighed up just how it had been said, in a such straightforward manner, he realised there was more to these words than he had first thought.
‘Do you understand what I’m saying, Eric?’ Donnie asked.
‘What? You want . . . I don’t know . . . you want us to get serious, or something? You and me? Guys don’t do that . . .’
‘So what do they do exactly?’
‘It’s just a bit of fooling around . . . a bit of fun . . . everyone does it . . . and everyone grows out of it! I bet even those two dweebs out there fool around together.’
‘And what of those who don’t grow out of it? What if some guys like it and want to keep at it?’
‘What?’ squeaked Eric. ‘Are you saying that you . . . that you’re . . .’
‘I’m not saying anything,’ Donnie snapped. ‘All I know is that I like it when we’re together and I like what we do . . . and I know that you like it too, but you seem to think I’m just here for your pleasure, or something! So I’m just telling you again, right now, that if you want us to keep doing what I know we both like doing, then you had better start treating me a little differently, and as more than just someone who helps you get your rocks off.’
‘And if I can’t do that . . . or won’t?’
‘Well then, maybe you’ll just have to find someone else to play your games with, or go back to doing what you were doing when you were twelve years old and start taking care of it yourself once more!’
‘You want to try me?’ Donnie said, while his face was plastered with a mischievous grin. ‘Now, what have we got to eat? I’m starving.’
For a long while the two of the remained silent, each thinking over what had been said, while still keeping watch on the hut. They were no more than about one hundred paces away and could see light spilling out through the windows and the open doorway from inside. Occasionally a shadow would pass in front of the source of the light, but that was the only sign of any activity.
When the wind shifted direction slightly Eric and Donnie would catch the smell of smoke, and on one occasion they even caught the scent of something cooking.
‘Damn. Did you bring anything else apart from chocolate bars and crackers?’ Donnie asked. ‘Something smells okay in there.’
‘Yeah, it does, doesn’t it?’
‘Well? What have we got to eat?’
‘Just chocolate bars and crackers . . . for tonight anyhow. We knew we wouldn’t be able to light a fire, remember . . . or at least not until sun up, so we can boil some water for coffee then, and we’ve got some bread we can toast over the fire in the morning.’
‘Sun up is a hell of a long way off, though.’
‘Well, if you want a snack you could always . . .’ Eric began, while suggestively running his hand over the front of his jeans.
‘Oh, for fuck sake! Can’t you ever think of anything else?’
‘Yeah, I can.’
‘Like, I wonder whether those two over in the hut ever fool around together like we do? Maybe we could do a foursome?’
‘Who cares if they do . . . it’s nothing to do with anyone else even if they are . . . and I’m sure they’d be just as horrified about anyone finding out about them as you and me would be. But anyhow, aren’t you forgetting something?’
‘Well, how about the fact that one of those two over there just happens to be your kid brother?’
‘Oh, Jesus! You really can be a sick fuck when you want to be, can’t you?’ Donnie spat, while getting to his feet and walking a few steps away, propping himself up against a strong young tree and gazing out into the darkness toward the hut, watching shadows flit across the windows.
For a few moments nothing more was said between them, as Eric looked up and studied the shadow that was his friend, all the while trying to imagine what must be going through Donnie’s head right now.
‘I take it that means I’ve somehow crossed the line?’ Eric eventually asked, in an attempt to try and bridge the gap that seemed to have suddenly grown between them. Eric even thought he could feel a coldness coming off Donnie’s body, chilling the air around them, and when Donnie didn’t answer him he took that as a yes.
He looked away, gazing instead at the moon which was beginning to rise above the dark rim of nearby mountains, casting a dim light over everything as some clouds began scudding across in front of it, bringing back a sticky blackness before the dim light and the eerie shadows of the night returned once more.
Eric could feel a cool wind starting to pick up as well, whistling through the forest around them, almost as if it was warning them of something ominous that would be coming their way during the night ahead.
‘Do you feel that?’ Eric asked, hoping he would be able to begin to thaw that barrier that had sprung up between them.
‘Yeah, it’s turned cold,’ Donnie answered.
‘Hope it doesn’t keep up all night?’
‘Hmmm . . .’ was all the reply he received, telling Eric all he needed to know; this night was going to be a long and chilly one, and in more ways than one.
Despite his earlier protestations, the idea of lighting a fire – and sooner rather than later – was beginning to grow on him, regardless of the consequences. He knew that he couldn’t do an about-face on that issue, however, and so instead he concentrated on the real reason they were here, and just what the other two boys might be up to right at this moment.
Oh, how he would love to catch them in the act of fooling around!
For Donnie, his thoughts were also on the two boys in the hut. Secretly he wondered just how close the two of them might be, and in some way he even hoped that they were more than just friends, as he thought they made a cute couple. He just hoped that Chad was a more thoughtful friend, or partner, or lover, than his brother was.
He also remembered his own experience in the hut with Eric some years ago, and while he still had no idea just what it was that had scared them witless and sent them running off into the night that time, despite their earlier claims at having seen the two ghosts that were alleged to have been resident there, he knew that something had happened, that something had been there with them, and whatever it was had been something to be feared.
How must Chad and Shawn be feeling right now, he wondered? Would they be scared, or would they be bravely facing up to whatever the night may bring?
Whatever happened tonight – if anything did happened tonight – he prayed that the two of them came out of it all right.
* * *
Across the clearing, Chad and Shawn were settling in for the night, having cooked themselves a meal and rinsed their dishes using a little of their water. Their two sleeping bags were spread across the floor, ready to be zipped up into one double sized bag once they decided they were ready to turn in, while in the corner of the hut the small stove was still burning brightly, casting a flickering orange light across the floor in front of it and warming the room nicely.
Things had been surprisingly quiet since they had arrived, but now they could hear the sound of the wind starting to pick up outside, whistling around the eaves and through the many cracks in the walls. Inside, with the doors firmly closed and the windows shut, a chilly draught came and went, but overall they felt surprisingly comfortable, and safe, and at home.
‘Does this feel strange to you?’ Chad asked as they sat upon their bedding, playing their umpteenth game of poker.
‘What’s that?’ asked Shawn. He was contemplating the hand that Chad had dealt him and wondering if the two pairs he was holding were worth sitting on.
‘You know . . . aren’t we supposed to be scared . . . or something?’
‘It’s ages yet ‘til midnight.’
‘And what’s that supposed to mean?’
‘That’s when the ghosts are s’posed to come out.’
Nervously, Chad glanced at his wrist-watch. It was only a little after nine. He had a feeling that this was going to be a long night. ‘Okay, so what do we do until then?’ he ventured.
Shawn glanced up and saw his boyfriend grinning.
‘Not that,’ he quickly replied, his voice little more than a forced whisper. ‘Those other two could be sneaking around outside, or anything. We can’t get caught, or our lives would be as good as finished.’
‘You didn’t seem to be too worried this afternoon when we went skinny-dipping, or tonight outside the hut when we held hands, and kissed even. So, c’mon, it wouldn’t be that bad!’
‘Well, I’ve had some time to think about it and I’m just not game to risk it. If you want to test that theory, fine by me, but you better find someone else to test it out with first!’
‘Okay, okay . . . whatever you say.’
‘So, what about later . . . after we turn the lights out?’
Shawn just rolled his eyes and threw away the two of diamonds, deciding to keep his pairs of kings and tens and just hope for the best. He knew that Chad would be disappointed, especially after the time they had spent together earlier in the day, but that feeling of being watched was still with him and the last thing he wanted was to give anyone at all anything that they could use against the two of them. And besides, there was far more at stake tonight as well.
As the night had worn on the two boys started to grow more and more aware of the approaching hour, yet both were also growing weary after what had been a long and tiring day. They were by now expecting something to happen, but had no idea just what that might be, so they nervously waited. It was all they could do.
Shawn watched as Chad looked at his cards and then threw away three of them.
‘How many do you want?’ Chad asked.
‘Just one, thanks.’
Wordlessly Chad flicked one card across the expanse of sleeping bag between them, before dealing three to himself.
They reached for their new cards at the same time, each being careful to lift up only the corner of the card to see what they had been dealt.
Chad’s grin when he found another queen to match the pair he had been holding told Shawn all he needed to know – he really was as transparent as a window pane – but when Shawn found himself picking up a King, to match the two that he already held, he knew that it would be difficult for Chad to beat him, despite whatever his friend might be holding.
‘You want to bet?’ Chad asked.
‘Nah, let’s just show our hands,’ Shawn replied.
Shawn just grinned and asked, ‘So, what have you got?’
‘You mean, besides blue balls?’ Chad asked, before fanning his cards out across the sleeping bag and saying, ‘Just read ‘em and weep!’
Smiling inside, Shawn selected a card and laid it down.
It was the King of hearts. He was wanting to drag this out just a little.
Next came the ten of spades.
Then the King of diamonds.
Chad was still looking smug, as if his hand couldn’t be beaten, but when the ten of hearts joined the other cards on the sleeping bag, his expression showed the first sign of change.
If Shawn just happened to be holding another King, Chad knew that he will have lost this hand.
Shawn picked up the card and held it in front of him, so that only he could see what it was.
‘It won’t do you any good trying to bluff your way out of this one,’ Chad boasted.
‘Who’s bluffing who?’ Shawn replied, with a grin, but just as he did so, and before Shawn could throw down his final card, the kerosene lantern flared brightly for just a moment, before spluttering out.
‘Oh, fuck it! Where’s the damned torch? Did you throw your card down? What was it? You were bluffing, weren’t you?’ Chad babbled, as if he had been consumed by panic from the darkness enveloping them so suddenly. ‘I won, didn’t I? Tell me I won!’
‘Can’t do that,’ Shawn replied, giggling.
‘You were bluffing! I knew it!’ Chad blurted out. He was scrambling around in the semi-darkness now, searching for the torch he had brought with him.
‘I wasn’t bluffing . . . and you didn’t win . . . I can guarantee you that,’ Shawn answered, just as he heard a loud thunk sound, as something hard collided with what must have been the leg of the table.
‘Oh, faaarkkk!’ Chad exclaimed. ‘Whose fuckin’ idea was it to come out here? So, what was your card? It wasn’t a King, was it? It couldn’t have been!’
Shawn couldn’t help himself, the giggles soon turned into fits of laughter, but everything was abruptly silenced by the sound of a long and high-pitched scream coming from somewhere outside the hut, and from not very far away.
Seconds later Chad’s hand found the torch and, bringing it up quickly between them, he flicked it on. Immediately they looked at each other. They could both see the fear in each other’s eyes.
‘W-w-what was that?’ Shawn managed to stammer.
‘Someone being murdered, I’m sure,’ Chad replied.
As shadows flitted and bounced around the room, Shawn could see that Chad’s hands were shaking violently. Even though he was scared shitless himself, he reached out placed a hand over one of Chad’s, trying to reassure him and remind him that he was there with him.
Chad just looked at him, but didn’t say anything.
‘D-do you think we should ch-check it out?’ Shawn cautiously suggested.
‘W-what? Are you crazy?’
‘Well, what if it was one of the others? What if something has happened to Eric or Donnie?’
‘Tough!’ Chad replied. ‘I ain’t going outside. Not on your Nelly!’
‘Well, give me the torch then . . . ‘cause I am. We’ll have to light the lantern again . . .’
‘You can’t be fucking serious?’
‘Yeah, I am,’ Shawn answered, but Chad could tell by the tone of his friend’s voice that he was far from confident about doing so. ‘So give me the torch.’
As Shawn set about re-filling the kerosene lantern and lighting it Chad handed it over, even if it was somewhat reluctantly.
‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ Chad asked, now sounding quite concerned.
‘Absolutely,’ Shawn answered, as he reached for the door handle. ‘So unless you’re coming too, don’t you ever call me a pussy again!’
* * *
Beyond the clearing in front of the hut, at about the time when Chad and Shawn were playing their final hand of poker, the big freeze between Eric and Donnie was showing no sign of beginning to thaw. Eric had decided he couldn’t just sit around; he knew that despite Donnie’s protestations he needed to try and find out what was going on inside that hut and so he had crept off into the night, leaving Donnie alone and keeping watch from his position amongst the boulders and trees.
Eric’s eyes were by now well accustomed to the night, and with the brief glimpses of moonlight he was easily able to make his way through the scrub, skirting around toward the side of the house. His intention was to try and catch a glimpse of what might be happening inside, through one of the many cracks between the slabs of timber which made up the walls. He was convinced that he would be able to see his brother and his friend doing something that they wouldn’t want anyone else finding out about, and if he was proved right their lives were going to be hell . . . he was going to see to that personally.
‘Fuck Donnie,’ he whispered to himself as he pushed his way through a stand of saplings, determined to complete the mission he had set out upon. ‘I swear, he must be turning totally queer, or something, the way he’s carrying on.’
No one replied, of course, not that he had expected anyone to, but all the same it still irked him that Donnie’s attitude toward him seemed to be changing. Why couldn’t things just go on like they always have, he wondered? They had both been having fun, hadn’t they? Why change that?
As he carried on, trying to make his way through the scrub without having to resort to the small torch he was carrying, and hopefully without being seen or heard, that was when Eric first noticed the mist that seemed to be rolling in. He stopped and looked up toward the moon, or at least the place where he had seen it just a few moments ago, but all he could see was a dull glow, from it now being hidden behind dense, gathering clouds.
It was also growing colder and he noticed that the mists around him were, rather oddly, growing heavier. At the same time he noticed the mists beginning to swirl in an eerie fashion, made especially so by the fact that there didn’t appear to be any wind. For the first time a real twinge of fear began to gnaw away at him. His heartbeat quickened and despite the cold he could feel his skin dampened by a coating of sweat.
For one fleeting moment he thought he saw a face, all twisted and cruel looking, which seemed to form from the mists and then dissipate in the blink of an eye. Confused, he rubbed at his eyes then looked again. There was nothing, only the fog drifting against the inky blackness of night. Once more he turned back to face the hut, thinking it was just his own imagination playing tricks on him, but just as he was about to move forward he felt the cold touch of a hand on his shoulder.
‘Jesus, Donnie! Don’t do that,’ he whispered. A quiet chuckle came from behind him, but it was of no comfort to him. In fact, he froze, as a cold shiver of fear coursed through his body.
He knew that didn’t sound like Donnie.
Slowly he began to reach for the hand that gripped his shoulder, but just as he did so he found himself being forcefully spun around, while at the same time the night was filled with the sinister laughter of two different voices, even though there was no one to be seen.
‘Who . . . who’s there?’ he yelled, as he whipped the torch from his pocket and flicked it on, then flashed it all around him. He knew that his shout must have been heard by everyone in the vicinity; Donnie, from where he sat amongst the trees, as well as Chad and Shawn, from inside the hut. ‘Show yourself, you fucking bastards! Who are you?’
From behind him he heard a sinister laugh, which chilled him to the bone. He spun around and aimed his torch in that direction, but he needn’t have bothered, as it was impossible to miss the two ghost-like figures that were advancing upon him. With their lips curled in a vicious snarl, like rabid dogs, and accompanied by a growl that almost wasn’t human, they kept on coming, while Eric stumbled backwards.
He had no doubts as to who they were. These were the ghosts of the Baker boys. And they were coming for him, so Eric did what any scared shitless teenager in his position would do. He screamed, filling the night with a blood curdling sound that would wake the dead. And then he ran, as laughter echoed in his wake.
* * *
It was only moments after he had heard the scream that Shawn opened the door of the hut and stepped out onto the verandah. Shining the torch out into the night all he could see was a white nothingness . . . a wall of white mist which had rolled in since sunset.
Sensing movement beside him he turned his head and found Chad standing there.
‘I’m not staying in there alone,’ Chad said.
Shawn offered a faint smile then reached for Chad’s hand. ‘I don’t blame you,’ he said.
‘So, what are you going to do?’
‘I . . . I’m not sure, really. Take a look around, I guess. See if it was Donnie or Eric or . . .’
‘Or what? What if it wasn’t them? What if there’s some nutcase out here? Or worse . . . what if it was the ghosts, trying to scare everyone away?’
‘Well, no matter who or what it is, we’ll find out together then, won’t we?’
‘I . . . I guess,’ Chad replied, but only after giving it some thought for a few long and drawn out moments.
Cautiously they stepped down off the verandah and were instantly swallowed by the swirling mists. Shawn swung their flash light from side to side, but the light only seemed to bounce right back at them from the wall of fog.
‘Try aiming lower, where the fog is thinner,’ Chad suggested, and when Shawn directed the light closer toward the ground they found that they could see much farther ahead of them.
‘Keep an eye out behind us,’ Shawn said. ‘See if you can keep sight of the light in the hut, just so we don’t get lost.’
For the next five minutes they scouted around in a large semi-circle out in front of the hut, but they found nothing out of the ordinary. The fog and mists certainly didn’t help their cause any, but still they continued to search.
‘It’s useless,’ bemoaned Chad. ‘How can we possibly see anything in this quagmire?’
‘So what do we do? Leave them to whatever it is that might be out there?’
‘They’re big enough and ugly enough to be able to fend for themselves aren’t they? And besides, haven’t they left us here to do exactly that?’
That was certainly true, Shawn thought, before eventually replying, ‘Yeah . . . I guess you are right there.’
‘So what do you want to do? You want to keep looking?’ asked Chad.
Before Shawn could answer, however, the night was shattered by another shout, which was quickly followed by the sound of someone running through the scrub.
‘What the fuck!’ exclaimed Shawn, while right at the same time Chad yelled, ‘What was that? I think it sounded like Eric . . .’
They looked at each other, with worry etched on both their faces, while all around them the mists suddenly began to grow heavier and heavier, before then starting to spin and boil, like heaving thunderclouds, threatening and ominous.
‘Wha . . . what’s happening?’ asked Chad, nervously, before flashing the torch from side to side, but all he could see was the wall of dense fog, which even as he looked around, he could see was growing heavier by the second, while also starting to spin faster and faster.
For the briefest of moments both boys thought they could see a shape forming within the swirling mass. Was that a . . . a face? And another beside it?
‘Chad?’ Shawn asked, almost pleading. From the tone of his voice it was easy to recognise his fear. Instinctively the boys reached for the other, each grasping the other’s hand as they stood there in the swirling abyss, watching the walls close in around them, ever spinning faster and faster.
‘I can’t . . . I can’t breathe . . .’ Chad gasped, before grabbing at Shawn and pulling him close.
‘I’ve got you,’ Shawn answered. ‘I’ve got you,’ he repeated, knowing exactly what Chad was meaning, as he too was finding it difficult to breathe, but when he suddenly felt Chad slump in his arms the weight of it all became too much and Shawn found himself feeling as if he too was about to pass out, but not before he heard the unearthly sound of laughter echoing around them.
* * *
Shawn had no idea for just how long he had been passed out, but when he started to stir he could tell that it was still dark and that he was lying on a cold, hard surface which smelled faintly of dust.
For a few moments he couldn’t quite figure out where he was, but when his eyes finally focused he soon recognised the familiar surroundings of the hut. But just how he had gotten there he had no idea.
It was then that Shawn noticed a faint light within the room. Without even looking in that direction he figured it must have been the lantern still burning, so he couldn’t have been out for too long, he concluded. That was when he also noticed the familiar shape of Chad lying on the floor beside him and so he tried to scramble over closer to him, despite the protests being made by his aching body.
‘Chad! Chad!’ he said as he shook his partner’s shoulder. For a few moments there was no response and he started to think the worst, but finally Chad let out a groan and moved slightly, and Shawn knew that he would be okay.
Then, just as Chad opened his eyes and began to stir, recognising the concerned expression that he could see on Shawn’s face, a chill went through the bodies of both boys. Once again they were filled with fear as the eerie sound of what must have been a thousand spirits whispering to themselves began echoing around them.
‘What’s that? Who’s there?’ Chad heard Shawn bark as he jumped to his feet and started looking nervously about. When Chad also managed to get to his feet he instinctively reached for Shawn’s hand, who he was surprised to find staring at one wall of the one roomed hut, his expression frozen somewhere between fear and amazement, not that it was at all difficult for Chad to understand why once he recognised just what Shawn was staring at.
‘W-w-who . . . are they?’ Chad whispered to Shawn, as he gripped his boyfriend’s hand a little tighter.
There was no answer forthcoming, however, as Shawn appeared to be gobsmacked, and understandably so, given that they were both staring at the source of the white light that seemed to fill the room: the shimmering, ghost-like figures of two men.
Both of the men appeared to be in the prime of their lives, strong and fit and handsome, apart from the obvious signs of severe wounds which looked to have been inflicted by a knife or some other large, sharp blade, and which both spirits were clearly showing.
‘Is that? Are they?’ Chad stammered, while pointing at the apparitions before them. From the corner of one eye he thought he could see Shawn nodding, but that was the only reaction he received from his companion.
For what seemed an eternity the four of them stared each other down across the room, until finally it was Shawn who was first to regain his senses.
‘Who . . . who are you?’ he asked. ‘How did we get back in here?’
For quite some time there was no answer, but then the two ghostly figures glanced at each other. To the two boys it seemed as if the spirits had shared something, or come to some deep and mutual understanding, all without anything having been said.
It sent shivers down their spines, but when the spirits turned their attention back to the boys it was with softened expressions, which helped in some small way to sooth the jagged nerves of Chad and Shawn, though still far from completely putting them at ease.
‘One of the others . . . out there . . .’ one of the spirits quietly said, while pointing outside through the nearby window. ‘His thoughts wished harm upon you.’
‘How? How could you know that?’ Shawn replied.
‘We just do,’ the second spirit replied. ‘There is so much we know . . . and so that is why you were returned to this place.’
‘It is so rare that we see others, especially others like . . . like us,’ the first spirit added.
‘Like you? What do you mean?’ demanded Chad. ‘We’re not . . . we’re not dead are we?’
‘Oh, no. You are both still very much alive and well,’ the ghostly form answered.
‘So, what exactly do you mean when you say . . . like us?’
Once more the two spirits looked toward each other, only this time they both smiled. It was only when they reached out and took each other’s hand, while gazing into the almost transparent depths of each other’s eyes that their meaning finally dawned upon Shawn.
‘I think he means, like this,’ Shawn said, as he reached for Chad’s hand and held on to him. The two spirits turned their attention back to the boys once more and smiled down on them.
For one fleeting moment Shawn thought Chad was going to pull away, but after giving his boyfriend’s had a gentle squeeze Shawn knew that Chad would be okay, even if he still looked confused, Shawn thought, as he noticed him glancing from Shawn to the two spirits and back again.
‘Do you mean . . . everything that’s ever been said . . . it’s all . . . it’s all true?’ Chad stammered. ‘You’re the Baker boys, and you’re not . . . not brothers?’
‘No,’ one of the spirits answered. ‘We are not brothers. We share much more than any two brothers would share.’
‘And if what you are asking . . .’ the other spirit responded, ‘is that did we live here, and did we love here, and did we die in this place, then yes, that is all true.’
‘W-w-what happened?’ asked Shawn.
‘That was quite a long time ago . . . and it is quite a long story,’ one of the spirits offered, with a sigh.
* * *
Somewhere out in the night two boys eventually found each other. Eric’s screams had galvanised Donnie into action, and he had blindly dashed out into the swirling mists, running in what he thought was the general direction from which they had come; scratching his bare arms and legs on branches and thorns, while stumbling over fallen branches and logs and running directly into trees.
When the light from his torch eventually found Eric, down on his knees and quivering with fear, Donnie felt his heart leap within his chest. Nothing he had ever seen or done could have prepared him for the sight of his best friend and lover, down on his knees, his arms wrapped around his body, while he cried and trembled in fear.
Despite the words that had passed between them earlier, Donnie couldn’t do anything else but drop to his knees beside Eric and embrace him, holding him close while Eric sobbed against his shoulder.
‘D-d-d-did you see them?’ Eric eventually managed to stammer.
‘Who?’ Donnie asked, initially thinking that he must have been talking about Chad and Shawn, but quickly realising that didn’t exactly make sense and that it must have been something else that had caused such an intense reaction.
For a few moments nothing was said, but in the torchlight Donnie could see the fear in Eric’s eyes.
‘Did I see who?’ Donnie asked again.
‘It was them . . . it was the . . . the Bakers . . .’ Eric replied. ‘And they was . . . they were coming for me . . . both of them . . . I swear!’
Donnie didn’t doubt what his friend had seen, but still, he was somewhat surprised by his reaction. He had thought Eric might have been stronger than this, though what did that matter anyhow?
‘It’s going to be okay,’ Donnie whispered as he held Eric close, all the while rubbing a soothing hand up and down his back. ‘C’mon, let’s go back to the camp. I think now we can light that fire you were talking about.’
* * *
‘So, who are you? Are you really the Baker boys?’ Chad ventured, still feeling somewhat freaked out by the fact that he and Shawn were sitting in a room with two ghosts.
‘Some people have called us that,’ one of the spirits replied.
‘But only one of you has the name of Baker, don’t you?’ added Shawn, with a tone in his voice that almost sounded like a challenge, which he regretted almost immediately.
‘That is true,’ the second spirit calmly answered, before adding, ‘My name was James Garrett.’
‘And mine was Dominic Baker,’ said the other.
Chad and Shawn exchanged glances. So the old stories really were true!
‘And you fellows are?’ enquired James.
‘I . . . I’m Chad. And he’s Shawn . . .’
‘And what of the others . . . the two outside?’ asked Dominic.
‘One of them is Eric, my brother,’ answered Chad. ‘And the other is Donnie . . . Shawn’s cousin.’
‘I am sure they have been here before, and from what I have seen of them, they are rather strange lads,’ James remarked. ‘Are they bunji-bunji as well?’
‘Bunji-what? I’ve never heard of that. What does that mean?’ Chad replied, somewhat confused.
‘Bunji-bunji. It is a term the natives used many years ago, to describe people who are . . . are like us. They used the word bunji to describe a special friend or a partner, so bunji-bunji is for two partners who are the same,’ answered James.
‘You mean, for people that are gay?’
‘Gay? Like, happy? I don’t understand.’
‘No . . . not exactly. It’s what everyone these days call people who are . . . queer. Guys who like other guys instead of girls . . .’
‘Oh. That’s a strange name to be used for us,’ Dominic remarked.
‘Lots of things are strange these days. Things happen in the world now that I’m sure would make you turn in your graves,’ offered Chad.
‘I wouldn’t doubt that at all,’ said James. ‘Though at least being called . . . what was it? Gay? That has to be better than being called a god-damned sodomite!’
‘Wow! That’s a word that I’ve never heard,’ Chad said, chuckling as he did so.
While this weird conversation between his boyfriend and two ghosts was taking place, Shawn was trying his best to concentrate, but was finding it extremely difficult. How in hell’s name would he ever be able to explain this night to anyone?
Suddenly a question came to his mind, which he knew he just had to ask. This could be the opportunity for him and Chad to be able to finally be someone, and know something that nobody else knew . . . especially not Beavis and Butthead outside.
‘So, can I ask,’ he ventured. ‘What . . . errr . . . how did you . . . you know . . . die? There are so many legends and stories about what happened back then that we just don’t know what we should believe.’
James and Dominic glanced at each other, but Shawn could see nothing in that look which gave anything away. There was only sadness, almost as if the two spirits had finally resigned themselves to what had happened all those years ago.
‘And do any of those legends have a different outcome to that which we are destined to forever endure, my young friend?’ asked Dominic.
‘Wh . . . what do you mean?’
‘What I think he means,’ Chad said, ‘is whether or not there are any stories where they don’t end up dead?’
‘That would be one way of putting it,’ said Dominic, with just a slight note of amusement in his voice.
‘Errr . . . no, there isn’t. But there are lots of stories about who did this to you.’
‘And which one is it that you think may be true?’ James enquired.
‘I don’t reckon it was the blacks . . . even if their spears and stuff were found, like what has been said, they would have known that they would be hunted down like wild animals if they had killed a white man. So, I reckon it had to be the Thompsons,’ Chad answered.
‘The Thompsons? You know of them?’ asked Dominic.
‘The town is filled with Thompsons, and everybody knows who the first Thompsons were from around here. There are enough stories about them to fill a book . . .’
‘Or a dozen books,’ Shawn interjected.
‘And, I dare say, you could just about believe every last one of them,’ replied James, in a somewhat melancholy tone.
‘So it’s all true then?’ Shawn eagerly asked.
Gravely, James nodded.
‘So, what actually happened? How did they . . . I mean . . .’
‘How did we die? Well, they had come to us, threatening to blackmail us because of . . . well, let’s just say because of who we were,’ James began.
‘They came to us, wanting a partnership in our milling business,’ continued Dominic. ‘But not wanting to give us anything in return.’
‘What? You mean they just wanted to take your business?’ asked Shawn.
‘Yes. Or at least a share of it,’ Dominic answered. ‘It would be but a small price to pay for their silence, that is what they said to us.’
‘I hope you told them they could go and get fucked?’ spat Chad.
‘Get . . . fucked? I don’t really know what that means . . .’
‘I think, Dom, unless I am mistaken, it is a modern way of saying . . . no,’ James said with just a hint of a chuckle.
‘You better believe it!’ Chad laughed.
‘So, what happened next?’ demanded Shawn.
‘Well, that night we found it difficult to sleep. We were on edge and in the deep hours we heard the sounds of voices outside. We had been having troubles with the local aboriginals and we thought it may have been them returning . . .’ James said.
‘But when we went out into the night . . . that’s when we were jumped by the Thompsons. We saw them clearly in the light of our lanterns. The two of them came at us swiftly and silently from out of the darkness, from both sides. Each of them was carrying a weapon and although we fought hard they mortally wounded both of us . . .’ added Dominic.
‘And that was where we stayed until our friends, the Sorensons, found us a few days later and gave us a decent burial, out there, beneath the overhanging branches of our favourite tree,’ added Dominic, while at the same time pointing out through the open front door.
‘So, that’s how they did it, huh. They bushwacked you, left you for dead and then stole your business . . . just like that!’ mused Shawn.
‘Yes. Just like that,’ replied Dominic.
‘That’s just so unfair,’ Shawn complained.
‘Life can be unfair, boy,’ James remarked. ‘And there is often little we can do about it.’
‘But they got away with it!’ exclaimed Shawn.
‘Perhaps,’ James replied, but judging by the amused expression on his face the boys immediately knew that there was more to the story.
‘And just what is that supposed to mean?’ demanded Chad.
James’ amused expression turned into a grim grin.
‘Have you not heard what happened to the Thompson brothers? And how they themselves died?’ asked Dominic.
‘No . . .’ Shawn cautiously replied.
‘Like we said, we’ve heard lots of the old stories about them . . . but nothing about how they died. Why? What do you know?’ urged Chad.
Once again a knowing exchange of looks passed between the two dead men.
‘I dare say that most of what you may have heard would be true,’ James began. ‘They were beastly men.’
‘But they weren’t always like that,’ added Dominic.
‘That’s right. For a time they were just like everyone else who came to this place . . . pioneers willing to work hard to build a new life for themselves. But even then, there was something about them that set them apart from the rest of us . . . they thought themselves to be Kings of this new domain,’ James said, with just a note of venom in his voice.
‘We always thought they were the first ones here. Didn’t they come here with their father or something?’ asked Chad.
‘Oh, no, the blacks were always the first ones here,’ Dominic replied, as he sat down on the floor in front of the boys, crossing his ghostly legs and leaning forward with his chin resting on his hands, propped up with his elbows on his knees. ‘But yes, it is true of course that the Thompsons were the first white people here, though they weren’t here alone for very long. There were others who quickly followed them, just like us, all setting up their own homes in the area.’
‘Yes, and by the time old man Thompson died there were certainly many others living around these parts, even if they were all struggling to get by,’ James added, as he joined his partner on the floor facing Chad and Shawn.
The two boys looked at each other in amazement. Was this really happening? There was something about these men who came from a time far off in the past that simply mesmerized them. The stories they had been told while growing up now seemed to all be coming to life, and as surreal as this seemed to the boys from the twentieth century they wanted to hear it all first hand.
This truly was the stuff of legends.
‘Will you . . . will you tell us about it all? About what it was like back then?’ Shawn eagerly asked.
‘Yeah . . . we’ve got all night, haven’t we? We want to know everything!’ added Chad.
For a few moments the two spirits smiled at each other, then both nodded. The real truth about the past was about to be told.
* * *
When the first hint of the new day came, Eric and Donnie found themselves still perched on a log which they had managed to stumble over during their flight through the scrub in the night. For many hours their eyes had been glued to the shadowy form of the hut, watching the strange pale glow within, which seemed to come and go. Now, with the hut slowly emerging from the mists, and the grey dawn beginning to lighten, the hut was being transformed yet again, as more and more of a peaceful bush scene was revealed.
They had watched and wondered as the night had worn on, but neither boy was quite game enough to want to venture any closer toward the building. When Chad and Shawn eventually emerged, that would be good enough for them to have earned bragging rights. The dare was as good as done, and the bragging was bound to be long and loud, but well worth listening to, Donnie suspected.
Looking about him Donnie noticed a spider’s web that had been carefully crafted by one of the inhabitants of the forest, clinging to a young sapling on one side and a tall weed on the other. It was waving gently in a soft breeze, all the while waiting for some unsuspecting insect to become ensnared. In the early morning light, with glistening drops of dew gathered along its fine threads, the symmetrically perfect shape – a thing of true beauty – could easily be seen.
Even as he sat gazing at it, Donnie spotted the resident beast – a spindly legged creature with a fat body, olive-grey and yellow in colour – venture out from beneath the leaves of the sapling. Cautiously it stepped out onto the fine strands of the web, which soon vibrated beneath its miniscule weight, before it ran part way across the web, to where a small insect had become trapped and was now struggling to break free.
Donnie knew what would come next, but he had no desire to watch the final moments of this ritual and so turned his attention back toward the hut.
He was about to ask Eric if anything had happened, but just as he was about to do so he noticed some movement at the hut, with the front door swinging open.
For a few moments nothing happened, but then Shawn stepped out onto the verandah, followed closely by Chad, before they both turned and looked back through the doorway toward the dark interior of the hut.
When they finally closed the door and turned back toward Donnie and Eric, Donnie slid down off the log and waved to them. They both waved back.
‘Got to hand it to ‘em . . . those kids sure must have some guts to have stayed in there all night like that!’ Donnie remarked, as they watched their friends start walking across the clearing toward them, happily chatting away, as if nothing had happened.
‘Yeah. Who would have thought it, eh?’ Eric replied.
‘Guess we’ll have to stop raggin’ on them now.’
‘Yeah, I guess so.’
As for Chad and Shawn, who were now half way across the clearing, they both knew that this would be the morning that would signal the beginning of their new lives, and things couldn’t be better.
They had survived the greatest challenge so far of their short time on this planet, and they now knew the secrets behind the legends that had been born at this very spot all those years ago.
They also felt certain that their own secret was still safe, for now at least, but above all they knew that the events of last night were sure to signal the start of something new: the fact that a new legend had just been born.