Literature Competition Entry #1: Meeting Dan at Stringybark Creek by Joanne Stritch

Many a ghost has come back to a place where life took them down a path they regretted. So was the situation for the image of a man kneeling next to the gum tree. Leaning his slim weight on his rifle with one hand, one knee was on the dewy ground and the other leg bent, heeled foot flat against the earth. His unbuttoned blazer exposed his waistcoat and his stained trousers were slightly baggy but tucked tidily into his riding boots.

The man felt burdened by the weight of an event that took control of the end of their lives; him and his brother and that of two friends. Near to him he saw a splayed body lying on its back, all bloody with a helmet still on. Himself, he wore a brimmed felt hat, cord under his nose, the trend of his group. He had thought it was so cool. Heroes of the bush they were, his group. What does that really matter now? He could almost feel his thin moustache cringe in disgust.

The man’s eyes looked far into the bush below, but showed no expression. In his soul he looked with regret, regret for what his young life became, how wasted it was and how one solitary event had sealed all their fates. The landscape remained similar, preserving the battle scene on the hill above the creek. The body was long gone, carried out on a stretcher with the others. They had won this event, his group, but had lost with their lives. He would stand with his brother and mates again in a heartbeat against a force so strong, so unfair and unbeatable; a man had only two options.

Immense pride at the mateship of his group flowed thru his aura. They were a fair minded group of blokes, fair to most that crossed their path. They created their own sense of justice but nobody got hurt from this justice, except maybe the banks. The supposed justice that was served their way was cruel, emotionally and physically. There was reflected hurt back to the authorities at this event but it wasn’t his group’s choice to have this outcome.

Want flowed thru him willing the bush, with all its living scents of eucalypts and peppermint trees, to force some life into him and move him on. Transition him into a higher sphere and take him away to his family. Instead he was a contradiction; stuck like lifeless paste to a place in the history of the valley, whilst the valley was full of life, feeding its nature and evolving. He fed nothing, not even hope. There was no colour in his world, only a monotone of dullness.

The man was very still and statue-like, slumped slightly. If his mother walked past she would’ve given his shoulders a friendly shake in support to try and cheer him up. But his mother was long gone, and the man wished he had led his troubles further afield from his beloved family. If he was real life flesh and blood his black coloured eyes, which pierced the air like a fast shooting bullet, would disarm the most confident person walking by. That same person would be able to see straight into his soul, with a view directly to the hole in his chest where his heart should be. A heart shredded and burnt into ash by physical forces but also emotionally destroyed by guilt.

Drawing attention to his presence did not feel like the purpose in him being here, and reliving the events was certainly not attractive. Searching for a method of how to connect to try and heal the pain was on his mind, not knowing how proved the problem. Sharing emotion was not his strong point. He’d physically been a weight bearer for his group, despite his lean appearance. Being emotionally supportive by just being present was his method. Right now he was staying patiently in a position ready to act, but also ready to wait. Could this convey sorrow, could this fix the injustices of the past, could this bring forgiveness which might ultimately let him rest? He’d been around for too long, a dead man was not supposed to be frozen in an aura of defeat.

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