She threw on a sackcloth and followed the wedgetail eagle for many days. She called the bird in her head and her spirit entered its body, flying high above the earth to decide which way to go. Eventually she came to a camp of fringe dwellers in a creek bed near a town. She could see the rooftops of the houses shimmering in the distance but decided to stop for a moment in the creek bed. The people welcomed her, and she sat with them in the shade of a big old Coolibah tree as she rested her weary feet amid the chatter of cackling kookaburras and the cries of screeching cockatoos.
While she rested soaking up the atmosphere, a cry came from above. The eagle was urging her on.
Dash! she thought, just when I was getting comfortable. She begged the bird to give her more time to rest and eat, and he agreed.
‘But do not linger,’ he urged. ‘You have much to do. You must get to the town before nightfall or you will be locked out, so make haste once you’ve eaten.’
After resting a little, she began the last leg of the journey into the town. She arrived at dusk and stood on the footpath looking through one of the large windows of the Australian Hotel, a rambling structure of grand design. She was mesmerised by the scene that played out before her. There was a party going on and people were everywhere. For someone who had lived in isolation, seeing so many people in one place at the same time was a shock. Music, shouting, and laughter filled the air while smoke, dust and shadows framed a picture of a barroom scene straight out of the Wild West. A large bar dominated one wall of the main room. A piano stood in the opposite corner and was played by a refined woman dressed from head to toe in white lace. A man with a long waxed moustache played a squeeze box and beside him a woman in trousers, vest and bow tie played the fiddle. Women danced with cowboys and rough necks who stumbled about in a drunken stupor on the dirt floor. The mirrored walls reflected and distorted everything, making it difficult to discern what was real and what was a copy. Then, the image shattered when a large red kangaroo hopped into the bar and ordered a drink. However, before he could get the money from his pouch, the barman drew a rifle from under the bar and shot him point blank in the head, muttering, ‘I told that brute he was not welcome here after the last time.’
No-one batted an eyelid as the clean-up boys dragged the carcass out onto the street and returned to continue doing what they had been doing as if nothing had happened.
The girl on the street suddenly became a point in the centre of a circle from which she reached out into deep space. She transformed into a star that flew into the Milky Way where a black hole sucked her in and shot her out, landing her in a desert that stretched to the foot of a mountain where there was a cave. She entered the cave and flew down into the depths of the earth until she came to the edge of a large black hole. She stood in this dark lonely space for what seemed like an eternity then peeped over the edge to be greeted by the words ‘the heart’ on a breath of fire. But, as quickly as it had started, it ended. The hole closed up and she was left feeling empty as she stood in the street looking through the window of the hotel.
‘Aww, have a heart, Smelly, and ask her in,’ came the voice of a woman.
‘Come in girl. Don’t stand out there like a loose goose! Come in and join us for a drink,’ the woman said, patting the space beside her on the settee. Smelly, her companion, was not impressed.
Realising the comment was directed at her, the girl snapped out of her trance. She was unable to speak back but could communicate through the mind to all creatures. Hence, she accepted the invitation and climbed through the open window to join the couple sitting in the corner of the room.
‘Good girl.’ The matron moved to make space for her between them. ‘Sit here.’
Smelly was disgusted and whispered, ‘Honestly matron, you can’t do this to me, she positively stinks.’ He pinched his nose and scowled.
‘Watch and learn,’ she whispered back. She ordered the girl a glass of icy lemonade.
The trio sat in silence while the girl drank and looked around. A man vomited on the floor while another was spanking a woman and shouting. Others sang out of tune and the smells of stale beer, smoke and sizzling sausages wafted over her. Her first impulse was repulsion, but after some thought, she intellectualised the situation.
I have never been in a situation like this before. This is a new experience. Absorb it and grow from it, she thought.
Once the drink was finished the woman took the girl’s hand and invited her outside, winking at Smelly as they made their way out to the back of the hotel where there was a game going on. A group of men were assembled in a circle with an individual in the middle who held a small stick with two coins on it.
‘Place your bets,’ he called.
A moment of frenzied shouting led to an eerie quiet as the game master took centre stage. He threw the coins up into the air as all eyes followed the trajectory of the silver discs which transformed into circus acrobats, spinning, turning, flipping, climbing higher until they could climb no more. On the final turn they descended in perfect synchronicity with the same acrobatic precision seen on the way up, to land in a spray of dust with a bounce, twist and drop that saw both coins fall into their final resting place, carrying the silence with them to the end.
‘Heads!’ the game master called, and the crowd erupted with cheers and curses. The winners surged forward to collect their winnings and the losers crept to the back to find a way to stay in the game.
When things settled down and a new spinner was nominated, Smelly stepped forward to place a bet.
‘No way,’ said the game master. ‘You’re banned. You already owe the boss 100 pounds.’
‘But I can pay that, my friend,’ he replied, ‘with this …,’ he hissed, dragging the girl forward by the ear.
Silence descended upon the gathering as the crowd drew back to make space in the centre for the parade of goods. It was not often that fresh meat came to town.
‘Bring her into the light. We’ll inspect the goods and see what she’s worth,’ ordered the game master.
‘Yeah, let’s have a good look at ‘er,’ someone shouted from the back.
The girl, who now stood in the centre of the circle, felt like prey to a pack of wolves.
Heavens, she thought, I’m going to get eaten alive, and on the back of that thought she used telepathy to sing each of them in their heads the song the sage had given her on the night of his death.
On a wedgetail called Magnificence, I rode upon its tail …
This softened the mood until suddenly the silence was broken by a bid.
‘I’ll pay 100 pounds for her.’
Everyone turned and, in the corner, saw the indomitable Lord Fang.