The PaintingFeatured in Science Fiction, Fable genre.4vote up
Science Fiction and Fable
Mark walked up a broad and shallow gully following a thin stream which meandered among the scattered rocks and light scrub. It was spring and the Flinders was vibrant with wild flowers, all colours of the rainbow. Despite the colour, everything still had a faded greyness about it. This country is ancient, Mark thought, the mountains are worn down to foothills like an old man’s molars. It felt like the weight of ages was pressing down on the land, grinding it down. The relentless heat of the sun bleaching and fading everything. Yet there was an underlying vibrancy, a pulse that beat through the trees, rocks and earth. Mark felt the tension drain out of his body. After a while he came to a wide, shallow bowl of land just below the peak of a hill. In the centre of the bowl was a clear and fresh pond which fed the stream he had been following. The pool was surrounded by low native grasses and shrubs, with small lichen-covered rocky outcrops protruding here and there. He sat down in a shady spot, took his hat off and let the breeze wash over his sweaty head. He lay his rifle down and lowered his pack. It was peaceful here. His mates were down at the shearer's quarters sleeping off the booze from the night before. They would be off to town later today get drunk again. Mark couldn't see the point of it, all these holidays away and never actually seeing anything. He missed his brother. They noticed things when they were together, subtle clues and glimpses of hidden worlds and meanings. On the surface the country looked harsh and forbidding. Rocky and dry with reds and yellows glaring in the sun, and sparse clumps of green scrub poking through. But there were plentiful small pockets of lush shady moisture that could be found by the observant bushman. These little pockets are how the aboriginals must have lived through the long hot summers, Mark thought, islands of solace in the searing heat. It was strange, they were like gateways into another place. There was almost a visible line, where the air became cooler, the ground softer and everything just that bit more vital. Mark was only an hour's walk from the shearer's quarters, but it felt like he was utterly alone. He chewed on a muesli bar and thought about heading back. What's the point, he thought, they'll just be whingeing about their hangovers and drinking energy drinks and pain killers. There was a comfortable spot on the ground under the trees with a nice view of the pool. He made a pillow out of his pack and lay down. He could see puffy white clouds drifting across the sky, gently stretching apart and coming together in pleasing patterns. Mark settled back into his pack and watched the stately procession through the swaying branches of eucalypts. He could hear the buzzing of insects and soon he started hear the rustle of small animals coming alive, tentatively showing themselves once he had stopped making noise. He was pressed against the ground and he could faintly feel the vibration of the road trains as they roared down the highway. If I stay awake I might see a rock wallaby, he thought as he drifted into sleep. When he woke the sun was shining straight into his face. He felt groggy and disoriented. How long have I been asleep for? He wondered. He looked at his phone to check the time, but it was dead. Just over the hill were some cave paintings from the Aboriginal tribes who used to live around the Flinders. Visiting the paintings brought back fond memories of childhood family holidays. He had seen them many times but never tired of looking at their mysterious designs. Mark put his hat and pack on and slung his rifle. He walked quietly, hoping to see a yellow footed rock wallaby. He crossed the crest of the bowl and started down the hill into the little gully where the cave paintings were. He was greeted by a sea of delicate wild flowers and he broke into a smile. He took a few more steps and then he stopped, startled. He couldn't see the gravel path from the car park. He looked over to the over hangs where the cave paintings were and received another shock. The timber viewing platforms to help tourists see the paintings and the steel bars to protect them were gone. Have they been doing repairs he thought? He took a few tentative steps. He heard some scraping noises, then a pause and an incredibly loud raspberry, undoubtedly made by a person. He walked closer and peered under the overhang. Inside two aboriginal men sitting grinding ochre paint and spraying hand prints on the wall. They were almost completely naked, clad only in loin cloths. They also had white paint on their faces, chests, arms and legs. Scattered around them were string bags, spears and crude stone tools. He hesitated, unsure as to whether he should speak to them or not. He didn't want to disturb them and was already feeling a bit embarrassed at his intrusion, so he quietly started back up the hill. Suddenly he slipped and stumbled. Two dark faces peered out from under the overhang. Mark could see their eyes widen and their jaws drop. One of them yelled, grabbed his spears and leapt out. He was young and trembling with adrenaline. An older man stepped out. Mark put his hands out, palms facing forward, “Sorry fellas, I didn't know you had a ceremony on today,” After expressing initial shock the old man's face was calm, curious even. The younger man was not. He shouted and threw a spear. Mark yelled in fright and glanced down the valley. He saw more heads popping up in the long grass. Instinct took over. He turned and fled back up the hill. More spears flew past him. He burst into the clearing. There were some rocks on the other side of the pond, about waist height. Mark splashed around the edge of the pond and threw himself over the rocks. He unslung his rifle and chambered a round. His heart was pounding and his hands were shaking. He peeked around the side of the rocks and saw about ten aboriginal men looking intently at the ground and edging forward, spears ready. Then he saw them converge on his muddy prints on the edge of the pond and one of them looked right at him and shouted. BANG! Mark fired into the air and leapt to his feet. He aimed the rifle at the man who threw the first spear. “Just back off alright,” Mark shouted. The old man walked through the group of younger men and shouted something at them. Some of the spears wavered and started to drop. The moment stretched for an eternity. Adrenaline started to evaporate, and you could hear everyone's breathing start to slow. And then it happened. Someone flinched or twitched and another spear was launched. It hit Mark in the leg. He fired again and someone dropped in a heap. Two more spears hit him in the chest. A red haze started to cloud his vision and he sank to his knees and pitched forward. Mark woke up gasping. He looked around. He was lying under the same trees he'd fallen asleep under. He felt a twinge in his leg, but when he looked down there wasn't any blood. His rifle was still by his side and it hadn't been fired. He breathed deeply and settled after a few moments in the serene environment. He checked the time and it was still early. It had only been about ten minutes since he dropped off. Mark decided to go and see the paintings. It was a ritual he found soothing. When he saw the viewing platforms and bars around the overhang he breathed huge sigh of relief. Mark made his way down to the caves and started to meander around the paintings. Suddenly he stopped and his blood froze. There was a painting that hadn't been there before, as faded and ancient looking as all the rest. It was a white man with a gun.