by JACK DEY
A whisper from the wilderness calling.
The morning was already well advanced when slowly, Caylin’s red and weary eyes began to open. Aching temples and rolling mind fog played across his semiconscious state, blurring his vision and further distorting the unfamiliar surrounds. After the worst sleep he’d ever had, it was hard to believe the room – now sunlit in all its glory – had a part in the previous night’s conflict, but even more incredibly, Caylin had actually ventured out onto the hostile battleground alone.
Appalled at the daylight’s revelation, a disturbing shudder ran down his back. Lying flat on the mattress and staring absently at the shocking picture, clods of thick spider web infested the underside of the rusty metal roof. Black-bodied residents had attached a conglomerate of menacing silk onto the dusty rafters, as well as anything else that would give the spidery tenants a thread of advantage in snaring their prey. As he followed the raw and cracked timber walls down to the splintered floorboards, Caylin’s arm lazily dangled over the bedside edge. Feeling an unexpected breeze wafting through the chasms in the floor timbers and playing with his fingertips, he peered over the mattress to investigate. Through substantial gaps, he could clearly see decades of rodent habitation, piles of rubble, and even the cottage’s crumbling support pylons holding its twisted and rickety frame almost a metre off the gravelly soil below.
Quickly snatching his arm back into the protection of the sheets, Caylin began to wonder what he’d been forced to comply with. Knowing Lisa’s penchant for everything expensive and luxurious, this seemed too out of character for her five-star tastes and it was causing him real concern and making him suspiciously wary. A holiday among the macabre, Caylin could easily deal with and had done so on many occasions before when Lisa’s faddy appetite had found him tangled in some kind of unusual experience. But deliberately and permanently driving a lifetime away from their comfortable lives and into some dilapidated and abandoned ruins to die penniless, just wasn’t making any sense at all.
Turning onto his side, he noticed Lisa had already arisen and dressed for the day. With her back to him, Caylin studied the slender outline of the highly strung woman reflected in a new movie-star mirror, meticulously combing out the length of her black, waist-long hair and making her velvety locks crackle with every deliberate stroke. Innocently watching the hypnotic gesture as the brush repeated its task, Caylin pondered the lunacy of a new, expensive bedroom ensemble and a complimenting Queen-Anne dresser clashing with the backdrop of the splintered cottage ruins. Unable to believe where he’d landed and arriving after dark, he was tired out from the long drive and couldn’t take in the enormity of the project Lisa had undertaken on both their behalves. She had already prearranged for the closest city store to deliver the mattress and other furniture, having them placed into the cottage and on the floor at her behest. Caylin nearly choked when he saw the price tag for the exuberant furnishings, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Without a single thought to the expense of two men and a truck travelling nearly 900 miles in a round trip to make the delivery, Lisa insisted it be done before she arrived and that added a further tome to the outrageous bill.
“You’d better get up, Caylin,” Lisa’s preening abruptly paused, noticing that she had attracted his unwanted attention.
It took a moment for Caylin to realise that she’d even spoken, and another few seconds to register what she’d said.
“We need to get supplies, find hired help, and the nearest town is over an hour away,” Lisa insisted, attempting to divert any amorous thoughts away from her.
“Didn’t you hear a word I said, last night?!” Caylin finally burst, realising he was walking on dangerous ground and throwing explosive fuel on Lisa’s unpredictable ire.
Lisa turned deliberately to face him, hairbrush in hand and ready to cut his argument to shreds. “Well, Sherlock! Did you find anything?!”
Caylin knew he’d just lost the battle, and a fresh bout of ridicule was about to start. “No,” he admitted, dispassionately.
“So, let me see if I’ve got this straight. You want me to lose sleep over some kind of imaginary boogieman you’ve concocted. Is that it? Get a grip, Caylin! This is the new life… deal with it! I don’t intend to mother you or pander to your insecurities. You’re an adult, so act like one! We’ve got a lot of work to do, and you need to pull your weight… and that means getting OFF your back and finding good paying clients to represent in court!”
The sneer didn’t come, but Caylin knew it was lurking. Stunned by this new level of intimidation, he suspected there was more to her demands, but for the moment, at least, Lisa needed him even if it was just to help carry her shopping to the car. Everything else had been sold and turned to cold, hard cash and that made Caylin extremely nervous about the security of his impending future.
After a two year period of reflection, soul searching and counselling from his first marriage breakdown, he could see all the imminent signs in this latest exchange and the young woman who he suspected was only just tolerating him. With the stinging pain of divorce still fresh in his memory and throwing up all kinds of rejection issues, Caylin’s desperate and constant need to find love and acceptance would keep him firmly in her grip. He would do anything in his power to avoid a repeat, even if it meant being used as a soulless slave in the heartless hands of an apparent gold digger.
Still trying to dress for the day, he’d been mocked out of bed and swiftly herded in the direction of the car. Tucking his shirt into his jeans and recounting his steps from the previous night, Caylin began to appreciate the magnitude loitering in Lisa’s crazy scheme. A huddle of broken structures, in far worse condition than the cottage, wrestled his attention to the ground and halted his march in midstride. Gawking in disbelief, decaying structures scattered over the landscape, and their haphazard debris littered the ground. Outbuildings and sheds, corrals and pens were all broken and in total disrepair with not a salvageable piece of tin or timber in sight.
He lifted his head and peered to the limits of the property’s outer extremities, and as far as his eyes could see, thick, overgrown forest bordered the neglected pasture land. Besieging on all four sides and attempting to reclaim the broken down farm in a vegetative takeover bid, the forest boundaries had become a mass of invading jungle. Everywhere he looked was either derelict or overgrown with small trees girded by piles of scattered rock, and even the face of the soil had massive furrows from eons of misdirected rain. Fences were broken and downtrodden from decades of neglect, and even the nearby dams were dry. Although Caylin lacked the expertise and knowledge, it didn’t take much for him to realise that any future path to a working farm had bankruptcy screaming at him from every pore.
When a not-so-subtle huff tore his attention away from the carnage, Caylin knew he had overstayed his allotted ten-second time slot, and Lisa was getting antsy. Finding his step and approaching the dormant BMW and with its lavish remote in hand, Caylin unlocked the cabin with the press of a button. Responding with a cheery bleek.. bleek and seconds later, the vehicle computer started its own engine as they prepared to enter the cab. Standing at the opening and holding onto the door, Caylin took a horrified sweep across his broken kingdom, and an impertinent sigh drew an obvious point of disdain from the painted lips of the much younger woman.
“Do you mind! I’m waiting!” Lisa complained, and cut right through him.
Dropping into the driver seat and buckling the belt, Caylin began to wonder whether this wasn’t a deliberate ploy on Lisa’s part, and somehow her future plans didn’t include him. Maybe he would just simply disappear, decaying like the farmhouse – permanently housed in the rotting remains of a man-sized pine box and perhaps surrounded by an eternal apartment of soil.
Trying to make sense of his new life and attempting to ignore the morose thought, he concentrated instead on guiding the luxury car and choosing the appropriate track leading to the closest town. Traversing the laneways, criss-crossing the backblocks of an identical but empty, forested landscape, Caylin relied on the vehicle’s sophisticated GPS to guide him through the maze. The blacktop was a skinny remorse and only one lane wide, dropping off savagely to a gravel easement – something that could easily destroy the soy-boy suspension of a pampered and expensive highway rocket.
Tapping and slashing furiously at a high priced iPad and securely belted into her seat, Lisa was lost in a world of her own, busy planning as if Caylin didn’t exist and wasn’t worthy of a single word of communication.
The slender face of the slightly built man reflected in the rear-vision mirror, and just for a moment, Caylin’s troubled gaze flicked up and caught the depth of his own despair. He had no idea what he’d find in the looming town, or what she’d arranged for their outing there, preferring not to risk a civil war by making an obvious enquiry.
After a silent, eighty-minute ride, the BMW finally bumped onto a section of respectable duel-lane blacktop, leaving the skinny country track as the looming outskirts of the town came into view. Almost as if Lisa knew exactly where they were, she closed up the iPad and began to look around.
“What’s the name of this place?” Caylin timidly asked, thinking the innocent question was safe enough to offer.
“It’s on your GPS! Just ask it!”
Lisa’s curt reply sliced him to the core. He didn’t understand this new game she was playing or the rules of how to participate.
“Township of Kirby, 500 metres,” an artificial female voice chimed out from a speaker hidden somewhere within the vehicle’s lavish interior.