It was exciting to be staying in a house rather than a dilapidated old caravan for a change. On the eve of the day we were to take the cattle through town, we stayed in the abandoned house belonging to the stock owner.
The shack had no electricity or gas, so we brought in our gas lamps and camp stove from the caravan to cook dinner. I had shot a rabbit that afternoon and was determined to cook it for dinner. Shooting for me is not a sport, but in reality, I should have fed it to the dogs like we usually did. I have since learnt how to cook rabbit and it is a bit more of an art than I had anticipated with delicious results if done well. We were hungry, we ate; it was disappointing.
It was going to be a big day the next day. We had 2000 head of cattle waiting in the sale yards for us to funnel through the busy country town of Denileqin. Although we were in a house, it was only the shell of what it once would have been. The high ceilings with neglected ceiling roses and peeling architraves echoed the spirits of a warm and happy home. It made me feel lonely and I longed for the happy home that I had grown up in.
Earlier, before the light had faded, we had set out our swags in our chosen bedrooms. Mine was big and airy with French doors opening out onto a courtyard. In the daylight it felt inviting and warm and the view from my double doors was that of the mystifying Barmah State Forest where we had earlier mustered the cattle from. An enormous blue centipede with a myriad of fine red legs decorated the lank and dusty orange curtains hanging either side of my view.
Long grasses and seeding weeds grew forlornly between the cracks in the bricks of my courtyard, and an unattractive concrete well stood unapologetically to the side of the abandoned retreat. The urge to look inside was overwhelming and with the expectation of finding tadpoles, green algae or perhaps just smelly stagnant water, I ventured over to peer inside.
With a sharp withdrawal of breath, and an instant rush of adrenalin, my body jerked backwards at the sight of the King Brown Snake undulating in the green, stagnant, tadpole filled maw; just inches from my nose. How do these wells stay so full anyway? Well I guess a well is a well and that is why they exist. Evidently, they just keep on filling up even when forgotten and disused.
My heart pounded violently, but at odds to the cold and gripping fear, I couldn’t restrain the urge to crane back over the cracked edge and wonder at this fear inspiring creature. I had never been so close to a deadly snake before, and my skin crawled with its inexplicable affect on me, but I couldn’t help but wonder about the fate of this animal as it would surely lose its battle with the vertical edges of its ultimate crypt.
I searched around to find a long forked stick. Tentatively, fearfully, I snagged the beast in its hook and carefully lifted the snake above the lip of the well. In an uncoordinated movement, fuelled by terror, I flicked the snake into the bushes beyond, shoving the stick away from me with it.
With a pounding heart, a centipede broach on the drapes, and the absent warmth of those desolate echoing rooms, the shroud of sleep crept slowly over my conscience that night.