Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Along the Old Road, written by Big Sister

Hello there readers! I wrote this story for school using the poem "To David Campbell" as a stimulus.  I put the poem here as I couldn't seem to find a link online.  I suggest reading the story first. ;)


The sharp cold morning air nipped at Philip’s lungs and pinched his fingers. He walked through the frosty paddocks and down to the dry sandy riverbed, rejoicing in the quiet stillness.   

Wherever he was, Philip always walked alone in the mornings; to think, to enjoy the solitude and quiet.  Here on the rural property of his friend David, the mornings were wondrous in their newly born splendour.  Poetry wrote itself in his mind as life unfolded softly in the singing birds and arising light.

In the riverbed he found a stone, smoothed by water and shaped like a heart.  Philip smiled and put it in his pocket before continuing.

His feet pulled through the sand.  He was lost in deep contemplation, his narrow shoulders hunched, his dark head hanging down on his chest, and his dark-grey eyes watching his feet.   He almost missed it, but a corner of his sight caught the patch of red, and he turned abruptly to see the body of a fox stretched out cold on the ground.  He stood over the little form. Its coat was damp with dew.  “Poor chap!  Poison, perhaps?” he said out loud.  He leant and touched the silky red fur. 

Then he walked on, though a little of the glory seemed to have faded from the morning.

Later, Philip rambled with David along one of the property’s dusty trails.  David’s dog, Joe, ran about like a child on a sugar high.  There was an old ghost gum leaning almost over, still healthy and alive. The dog ran up it, barking happily; then his paws slipped and he fell to the ground.

  David laughed at him.  “Half-witted animal!”

Philip grinned at him.  “I bet you couldn’t climb a tree.”

“Oh really, you old cow?  You bet eh?  I’ll show you!” 

“Not the leaning one!  That doesn’t count.  A baby could climb it.  This one.” Philip touched a tall, smooth gum.

“Fine!”  David’s strong arms pulled, his feet scrabbled awkwardly for footholds.  Philip stood with his arms crossed, laughing, as David climbed high then slid uncomfortably down again.   His white trousers were filthy and ripped, his arm was bleeding from a cut and his fair hair was dark with sweat, but he grinned triumphantly. 

“Ha! Lost your bet!”

“Oh, did I?  Or perhaps I knew you could climb it all along and just wanted to laugh at you.  I’ll write a poem about it.  ‘My friend David climbed a tree; just like a half-baked drongo looked he--”

“Hey!  Put a sock in it!” cried David.  “You and your poetry…!”

Further along, they came to an old road –once busy, now just a roaming-place for cattle and wildlife.  It stretched its long length between scrabbly bush.  Philip’s mind wandered down it absently; till he looked around and saw David beckoning him.  Philip followed, curiosity wrinkling a small frown on his forehead.

David led him into a grove of trees.  In the center of it were several mounds, long grassed over with age. “Graves,” David said quietly, in reply to Philip’s questioning look.  “Early settlers here.  One of them was my great-great grandfather.”  He took his hat off and held it before him. Philip saw his huge shoulders and his face with its broken nose soften in respect; his usually playfully twinkling blue eyes grow thoughtful.

 The wind rustled gently in the tall gum trees.  Philip could feel, still lingering faintly in the air, memories of bygone sorrows; and the trees remembered the sounds of broken hearts weeping.  He stood next to his friend in thought for many minutes.

In the afternoon, they saddled up two frisking horses for a ride.  They took the old road.  Philip breathed deeply, the gentle winter sunlight soaking warmly into his skin.  His horse swished its tail and threw its head about, restless as the ever-moving butterflies that fluttered past.  Philip began to rise to a trot, then a canter.  Then, “beat you to the end of the road!” he called to David; and leaned forward into a gallop.

They thundered along the trail, clouds of bulldust rising behind them.  Their horses breathed in air through wide nostrils, eager, excited.  Philip’s heart took wing as the wind rushed past his face, and he shouted for sheer joy.

Something, a kangaroo perhaps, flew crashing out of the scrub and across the road.  David’s horse, terrified, shied away with the speed of a whip.  David was flung off and slammed hard into the ground.   Philip pulled his frightened horse to a halt with desperate hands.  He was by his friend’s side in a moment.

“David!  Are you all right?” he gasped.

David was still.  Philip knelt down.  His throat all of a sudden gasped dry and he felt nauseous with a terrible fear for which there could be no words.

Everything that passed after that was misty, dreamlike.  Philip refused to be parted from David for a moment.  He was there when they loaded the still form into the ambulance, and when they carried him into the hospital.

By David’s bed, in a moment alone, Philip whispered words filled with such pleading.  “Please… come back… wake up… open your eyes.”  There was no reply. 

Philip looked through dull, wet eyes at the mound of fresh earth, veiled with a mantle of flowers.   Flowers and tears, last gifts from the living to the dead.  Philip felt as though his heart was gasping for air under its crushing load of loss.  David… just before sparkling with life, then extinguished like a snuffed candle.

Philip’s mind, shrouded in grey misery, searched desperately for answers. How could a being, so filled with life, so real, so normal, so human, die, and turn back to dust?  This is not how it should be. 

Beyond his anguish, a whisper answered him.  When he had seen the coffin, heard the dull thud as it dropped down into the earth; he had felt through his sobs that somehow, it was not really David in that cold white box.  For he had gone to the land where everything is shining light under the Greatest light of all.  

Philip leant down and placed the heart-shaped stone, warm from his hands, on the grave; then resumed standing in silent thought beside the still mound of earth.

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