24 Apr From Perth to Darwin: A Ghost Story
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"From Perth to Darwin: A Ghost Story"Written by
Estimated reading time — 24 minutes
I’d been travelling around Australia for about eighteen months doing the usual things travellers do. Between partying and sightseeing I’d worked on chicken farms, picked fruit and worked in call centres. I’d originally gone with some friends but one by one they ran out of money or got homesick so I was the last. I met James about two months before my visa was due to end. I was staying in Perth in some shitty hostel and one day he moved in to the bunk above me. These hostels were full of colourful characters, some fun, some annoying but most were like me, away from home and doing something different. It wasn’t a very glamorous existence but it was fun and it was what it needed to be at that time.
We clicked immediately. James was unlike a lot of the guys you’d meet ravelling. He’d gone it alone and actually seemed like he was out in the world to actually grow and better himself. He wasn’t obsessed with getting drunk and trying to have sex with anything in a skirt like 99% of the guys I’d encountered. He was calm and easy-going and the type of person who would immediately put people at ease, with James around the hostel actually felt like a home. James had a few more months on his visa than I did but we agreed that we’d go home together and he’d move down to London. We wouldn’t live together straight away, he would find a house share and when the time was right we get a place together. Those were the kind of plans we were making before we set off on the road trip.
The idea was to drive from Perth up to Darwin, avoiding the main highways, where we’d fly out back to the UK. James had some crappy car that he’d brought while living in Queensland and claimed to have driven it across the outback more than once. We set off, a bit later than planned to due leaving drinks the night before but we had plenty of time. With three days for a two day journey, we planned on taking in some sights along the way. We were five hours out of Perth on some outback road when the car gave up on us. Neither of us knew much about mechanics but when your exhaust pipe is visible in the rear view mirror on the road behind you, it’s obvious that something is wrong. All we could do was wait for someone to pass by and give us a lift to the nearest town, which according to our map was a five hour walk across the outback. Though we had plenty of water and food, neither of us fancied that. We had no phones either; we’d given up the contracts as we were leaving the country. We probably should have walked. Hindsight is a bitch.
We waited for hours. When you come from the UK, especially London, and everything is on your doorstep you don’t have the sense of scale for dealing with a land mass of the size of the outback. As time went on and no vehicle appeared the opportunity for starting off on foot left us. It would be dark soon and attempting to cross the outback at night held less appeal than attempting it during the day. We sat in that crappy car for hours before he appeared in a dust storm of exhaust and sand.
When Jonno, that’s what he called himself, pulled up beside us we were hesitant. Jonno was a stereotype through and through. He was covered in grease, unkempt and spoke with a thick accent that seemed almost caricature. His pick-up truck looked fifty years old and the mangy dog sat in the passenger seat, quiet but looking at us like we were meat.
‘Looks like you could use a tow?’ he said.
‘Yeah, any chance we could get back to Perth?’ asked James.
‘Not heading that way mate, my ranch is about an hour north of here. You can rest up the night and I’ll take you to Wagga Notch in the morning. You can get the bus to Perth from there’.
‘Can we go north from Wagga Notch?’ I asked ‘we need to be in Darwin in two days’.
‘Yeah, there’s a few busses that go that way but you’ll need to change at Quietbrook. Might be a bit tight with the changes but I think two days is doable’.
James looked at me with concern. He leaned in.
‘I’m not sure about this, maybe we should wait for someone else? Just go back to Perth and get the train.’
Jonno heard what James had said.
‘I doubt there’ll be anyone on this road till morning, even then it’ll be the ranchers going up to Quietbrook. Look, you’re out here in the middle of nowhere, I really don’t want to leave you, I can tow you, no charge.’
We both a bad feeling about the situation, about Jonno, but what choice did we have.
We decided to leave the car where it was, we’d be getting the bus in the morning and Jonno said he’d come back for it in a few days. He dealt in scrap and could put it to good use. We sat in the back of the truck, we told Jonno we didn’t want to put him out but really neither of us were comfortable around him. We drove through the freezing outback as the sun set and the temperature dropped. I pulled on my Jacket and James put his arms around me to keep me warm. It helped a bit.
After an hour we reached the ranch. Jonno had told us he made his living dealing in scrap and towing broken down cars and his ranch consisted a wire fenced car park of abandoned, mostly derelict cars. Some were no more than rusted shells stacked on top of each other, some looking in relatively good conditions. It was lit by some low level flood lights which cast most the area in shadow. As Jonno unlocked the padlocked gate we took in the surroundings. Off in all directions, nothing was visible, just an endless dark desert where you couldn’t even tell where the dark sands met the sky. Turning back to the ranch I noticed a shack made of old wood and corrugated iron amongst the auto graveyard that must have been Jonno’s dwellings. It didn’t seem like any place anyone could live, let alone spend the night.
We had both seen the movie ‘wolf creek’ and maybe because of that we were immediately on edge. I was staring at the shack, imagining chains, hooks and torture devices while James scanned the surrounding area. He always was calm and level headed. We ground to a halt a hundred yards from the shack and Jonno got out of the truck. He was smiling. Dogs began to bark in the distance.
‘If you wait here a minute or two, I’ll lock up the girls. They don’t really like strangers.’
He walked off to the shack. The dog on the passenger seat remained, staring at us through the rear view window.
‘Fuck!’ James said ‘This is bad! Do you think we should just make a run for it?’
Even though I was having the exact same thoughts, I didn’t want to encourage James. I tried to steady my voice, to be the literal voice of reason.
‘No, you’re being ridiculous.’
‘No, I’m not’ James said as he got up from the truck. ‘People go missing from the outback all the time. Who actually knows we’re out here?’ I couldn’t really answer. The truth was no one knew where we were. Our families back in the UK only knew to expect us back in three days time. Our friends back at the Hostel would have forgotten us already.
James jumped off the truck and headed for the driver’s door. The dog in the passenger seat began to growl aggressively. I jumped off the back of the pick-up and followed James as he backed away from the truck and started heading to the numerous cars aligned within the ranch.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked.
‘Looking for a working car. Not all of his victims would have been breakdowns.’ I let out a nervous laugh.
‘If we can find a working car, we know he’s lying. We’ll offer him some money for it and get the hell out of here’. James said. He had checked several cars by this point and was heading towards a blue four door car. It stood out amongst the other wrecks, there was no rust or dented chrome like a car only ever driven to church on a Sunday, it was old but still new. James was sat in the car playing about with some exposed wiring.
‘This is the one, I can feel it’.
‘You’re not actually trying to hotwire it. Are you?’ I laughed. The engine started first time and the headlights lit up the surroundings. I stood in the glowing lights of the car, unable to see James now exiting the vehicle. He ran to the pick-up and grabbed ours bags and Jonno’s spare petrol canister from the back. At some point the howling and barking had started again from the shack. It grew louder as the shack door opened and Jonno emerged, shouting.
Before I knew what was happening, James was beside me in the blue car with the passenger door open, screaming at me to get in. I glanced up to see Jonno being overtaken by a pack of scary looking dogs. I jumped in to the car and slammed the door shut. As James drove away some of the dogs had made it to the car, their breath condensing on the windows before we overtook them and drove off into the quiet outback, the barking fading to nothing.
As some semblance of calm took over me I began to register the intensity on James’ face as we sped along the dark road. His jaw was clenched shut and his eyes were fixed on the road ahead. I tentatively reach for his shoulder. He flinched as I made contact and the car swerved slightly. He shot a look sideways and upon recognising me, seemed to relax immediately. All the tension in his body fell away and the car began to slow down.
‘What the hell are you doing? I asked ‘you just stole a car’.
‘We’ll be on a plane before he reports it, if he does report it anyway. You saw how many wrecks he had lined up there.’
‘Still, how do we even know that this thing will reach bloody Darwin?’ I asked.
‘We don’t, but it’s better than being butchered by some psycho in the outback.’
‘You’re the one acting like a fucking psycho’ I screamed ‘I can’t believe you’ve put us in this situation!’ I could see the tension crawl back over him, it made him almost unrecognisable. His fists clenched on the wheel and then his arms and shoulders tightened. He took a long, deep breath in an effort to remain calm but his jutting jaw and grinding teeth betrayed his true feeling. Though twitching lips he let some words slip.
‘If you’re so desperate to be raped and murdered then by all means I’ll stop and let you out’.
‘You’re a prick!’ I muttered. I climbed into the back seat, positioned myself for some sleep the best I could using my bag as a pillow and James’ jacket as a cover. Despite my anger at James and the adrenaline in my system, sleep took me and I slept soundly.
I was awoken by the collision and in those confused moments upon waking I forgot where we were. I sat up, looked out the window and saw James screaming and shaking just out in front of the car. I tried the handle on the rear door I was sleeping against but it came off in my hand. The opposite door wasn’t much better. James was now silent but stood trembling with his hand covering his face. I awkwardly climbed over to the front and exited from the driver’s door, left open from where James had fled. As I emerged from the car I saw a dent in the bonnet and glanced back at the road behind us. There was something in the road, maybe thirty meters back. At that point it was just a ‘thing’ with no discernible shape I could make out. I approached James slowly. As I got closer I could make out his muttering.
‘I killed her’ he said ‘the girl – I only shut my eyes for a second.’
I looked back to the mass in the road behind us. I backed away from James and walked towards the thing. I only had to take a few steps before I could make out what it actually was.
‘James! It was only a kangaroo’ I cried in relief ‘just some stupid, bloody kangaroo’
I was right next to it as James joined me. The poor thing was lying in the road at some awkward angle, its legs bent back under its body, a small trail of blood from its ear. James was still in shock from the collision and didn’t share my relief, I could still see him shaking.
‘It was a girl, a teenager. I was tired but I only shut my eyes for a second, I swear.’
‘It’s just a kangaroo’ I said.
‘It wasn’t. It was a girl, I looked her in the just before I hit her, she looked so sad.’
‘Look around you’ I said, ‘where would she had come from? Why would she have just standing there in the middle of the road?’
‘She was…’ James trailed off, he was confused and tired. We were both stood staring at the poor broken thing when it began to spasm. The kangaroo was still alive.
We both stumbled backwards, horrified by the weird jutting movements as the Kangaroo tried to get back on its feet. It moved like it was a broken puppet, being pulled up by tangled strings and a vindictive puppeteer. There was a silent horror to the violent jerking limbs, as if the laws of nature and physics didn’t now apply to this particular creature.
‘We can’t just leave it like this’ James said. He began walking up and down the side of the road, head down, searching. I crouched down beside the Kangaroo and looked in its eyes. The panicked movement had calmed down by this point and the animal merely twitched. A shadow cast over me and I heard James speak in a flat voice.
‘Out the way’ he said as I turned to see him holding a large rock above his head. I burst in to tears and ran to the car, sat myself in the driver’s seat and covered my ears. A few moments later James was standing at the window, his hand gesturing for his bag.
‘Can you pass me a bottle of water?’ he asked. I leant over and grabbed one from his bag. As I did so I could make out small dots of blood on his hand. He took it without a word and rinsed his hands. I heard the bottle hit the road as he tossed it over his shoulder. I adjusted the seat and mirror and turned to James as he got in the car.
‘You need to sleep’.
‘I saw her before’ he said.
‘The girl I hit, I saw her earlier – a few times in fact. Like, I’d be driving past an old sign post and there’d be some old banner or something hanging from it, but then, when I’d see it in the mirror behind us, it would be a girl, just standing there.’
‘James, you were clearly asleep at the wheel and dreaming. You’re in shock now, that’s why it all seems so real. It was just a kangaroo, you saw that right?’
‘Yeah’ he said.
James turned away from me, staring out at the endless desert. I started the car and drove.
If you’ve ever driven long distance you know how tedious that level of concentration can be. Driving through endless desert with nothing your own thoughts for company can cause all kinds of hallucinations. James slept I turned his words around and around in my head. In some dream like states you could easily mistake a Kangaroo for a person but there was something about James’ reaction that unsettled me. He knew he’d hit a wild animal, but at the same time he knew he had killed the girl. Both realities were real to him. I tried the radio but there was nothing but static. It either didn’t work or there was nothing broadcasting in range. James slept.
Two, maybe three hours passed before we had to stop to refuel. After taking a pee break I was getting the can of petrol out of the back seat when James woke up. He looked at me and then looked out the window.
‘I’m not too sure how to do this’ I said holding the can up to him ‘do you mind doing it?’
I was sat on the side of the road half way through a bag of crisps and warm can of coke as James refuelled.
‘I did see her’ he started ‘when you were asleep, I kept seeing that girl, at least I thought I did’.
He seemed more like his normal self so I let him continue.
‘And just now, I think I dreamed about her. I could see her face, it wasn’t anyone I knew or recognised though. She was weird looking, teenage features but an old face, like, really old – barely starting to decay. There was something else too, when I hit her… the kangaroo I mean, I remember, were you like, stroking the back of my neck?’
I looked up at James. He didn’t look back. He was just staring at the can in his hands.
‘I was asleep, it wasn’t me. It wasn’t anyone. You imagined it.’
‘Yeah, he said ‘you’re right. Maybe it was the petrol fumes eh?’ James pulled the can nozzle out of the refuelling jet and walked to the back of the car. He tried the boot but it wouldn’t budge. He took a step back and suddenly started kicking at it repeatedly and ferociously. He had turned from an introspective, gentle man in to an animal in that one split second. In the time I’d know him I’d never seen him like this. He was angry, kicking at the car in frustration.
‘James’ I shouted ‘I don’t think that’s going to help’.
James stared at the boot. He tried it again and it sprang open.
‘Take a look at this’ he said as he peered into the boot of the car.
I joined him and looked in to the boot. There was a back pack and a pair of hiking boots. I pulled out the pack and sat it on the side of the road. James sat inside the boot, legs hanging over the side, shading himself from the sun. I opened the pack and started pulling out the contents, jeans, T-shirts, pants, socks. It obviously belonged to a fellow traveller, some guy just like us. There were maps of Australia and book of collected poems by Sylvia Plath. Everything had a musty smell to it, like it had been sat in that car for years. I packed it all back up and noticed a pocket on the top of the pack. I found a digital camera inside, quite an old model; it was bulky and looked thoroughly used. I tried the power button and was surprised when it clicked itself on and whirred into life. The battery indicator flashed ‘LOW’ and I pressed the button to see the saved photos. A picture of a guy downing a can of beer flashed up. I scrolled sideways to see the same guy sat next to a woman by a pool, drunk and having fun. I scrolled further and the pictures of the couple by the pool gave way to pictures of the couple in the outback. I stopped at on picture which showed the woman sat in a car. I stood and walked around to the driver’s side, matched up the photo to what I could see in front of me. I scrolled to the next picture and saw the insides of the car, exactly the same as it was now. The next few pictures showed endless desert scenery and then one of the guy stood on a rocky outcropping. The final picture I saw before the battery died showed the woman sat in the driver’s seat, she looked sad. I tossed the camera on to the back seat and went back to the pack where James had started rummaging through it too. He casually tossed the contents on to the side of the road.
‘Useless’ he said as he kicked the bag away from the car. James tossed the petrol can in to the boot and slammed it shut.
‘I’ll drive’ he said.
We drove for hours in silence. We ate whatever food we had left and stopped to relieve ourselves all without saying a word to each other. We passed endless desert and a few abandoned road side shacks. With each passing shack James would watch it come towards us intently and then quickly double take as we drove passed it. He’d then look at it in the rear view mirror until it was out of sight. I remembered what he had said about the girl he kept seeing and wondered if he was seeing her now or just looking for her. We passed a truck hauling what looked like old caravans, worn down and derelict through holidays and recreation. There were a number of empty windows where a phantom girl could hide but James paid it little attention. A few minutes later James turned to me.
‘Did you happen to see who was in that truck we just passed?’
‘Truck? That one just now?’ I asked.
‘Did you though?’ he replied.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Did you see who was driving it?’ He asked.
We carried on driving in silence. I knew he had seen the girl in the truck’s cab; he was trying to ask me if I’d seen her too. There may well have been a girl in that truck but whatever James saw; it wasn’t what I would have seen. I climbed into the back seat and tried to assume my sleeping position. I’d drift in and out of sleep but between everything that had happened and James playing with the radio, there was no way I could rest. I tried to tell him that I’d already tried the radio but still, all he got was static. James eventually found something that was playing music; he managed to tune in just as ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ by ‘Elton John?’ started.
‘That’s nice’ James said in calm, soothing voice.
‘Yeah’ I replied through my half sleeping haze ‘I love this song’. I roused myself and sat up slightly, finding James face in the rear view mirror. His eyes met mine and then flitted sideways to the empty space directly behind him. Panic shot across his face. The car swerved one way and then back the other, brakes squealed and we spun out of control. We came screeching to a halt and James was out of the car before I could register what had happened. Elton john was singing about ‘boys too young to be singing blues’.
Clambering in to the front of the car and finally out on to the road I joined James about ten meters off in the dirt. He was just stood there in the sand facing away from the car, no movement and no emotion on his face.
‘What happened?’ I asked.
James screwed up his face as if trying to even comprehend the question caused him pain.
‘James’ I pleaded ‘tell me what wrong with you?’
He turned back to the car and then back to the desert expanse. He couldn’t bare to look at the car, even for a moment.
‘You…’ he started. I waited for him to finish but it was clear he wouldn’t, or couldn’t even. His face contorted again and his fists clenched.
‘Was it her again? I asked ‘did you see her?’
He immediately grabbed the back of his neck and started rubbing, scratching almost.
‘You thought I was stroking your neck again, right?’
He continued to rub the back of his neck, like he was trying to get rid of something clinging on there. I took his hand by the wrist and stopped him. I came up behind and put my arms around him. His arms covered mine and I leant in to kiss his neck. We stood there for a while.
‘It’s ok’ I said finally ‘you’re just tired. We’ve been on the road for almost twenty four hours and you’ve driven most of it. I’ll take over while you get some sleep. It’s not too bad in the back’.
He turned around to look at car, specifically the back seats. He shook his head and closed his eyes.
‘No, think I’ll just sleep up front with you’.
We got back in the car and Elton was singing about ‘mongrels who ain’t got a penny’. I turned the radio off so James could sleep and set off as the sun began to set.
I drove through the desert and through the night until the sun started to rise. I was glad for the extra light and the extra warmth. The drive had been a harrowing at times. I nearly nodded off to sleep on several occasions and narrowly missed several kangaroos leaping out in front of me. I went through cycles of freezing shivers and blistering sweats as I tried unsuccessfully to maintain the cars heating system. I had some terrifying pee breaks alone in the desert and witnessed the full majesty of an unpolluted star filled sky as I refuelled the car. James slept the entire time. It wasn’t sound sleep by any means. He writhed in the seat and would mumble nonexistent words at random intervals. It made me nervous, having him there right next to me, knowing that his dreams and thoughts were haunted by this girl. As the morning sun crept up over a mountain dead ahead of us the light made it impossible for me to continue, I’d lost my sunglasses the previous night. With my hunger and tiredness increasing I pulled over to the side of the road and tried unsuccessfully to stir James from his sleep. That man could sleep through anything.
I refuelled the car with the last of the petrol and then fished my back pack from the back seat of the car. I looked at the road map and I figured we had about another eight hours on the road and just about the right amount of petrol to get us to Darwin. I took my bag and sat in the shade behind the boot of the car. I took out my camping stove and some bottled water and cooked up some instant noodles for breakfast. James finally woke up and came to join me there. He was back to his old self, all the self doubt and terror had left him. We ate out noodles and then James surprised me with some chocolate biscuits. We washed them down with some warm cans of coke and James announced that he ‘needed a piss’. He stood up, stretched and wandered off a few meters from the car and stopped. I heard his zipper undo.
‘Further’ I shouted to him ‘I don’t want to see or hear you pissing’.
James walked some more, and I settled behind the side of the car with some toilet roll. I look up and down the road for oncoming vehicles, pulled down my shorts and pants and did my business there. I stood up and to see James still going. I walked around to the driver’s side, opened the door and sat with my legs out of the car. I leant back and tried the radio. It was still just the same static as before. I turned it off and saw James starting to head back towards me and the car. He was gazing out to the horizon, taking in all the sights but came to a sudden stop as he looked up to meet my gaze. He stood there and glanced from me to the ground and back to me again. A few moments passed and he repeated the motion, only this time he added a look of anguish. He turned on the stop and bent over, clutching his head with his hands. He straightened up and reluctantly looked at me again, only it wasn’t me he was looking at. It was the back seat of the car. I followed his gaze to the empty seats. I called out to him.
‘Come over here’ he offered in response. His voice was somehow lacking conviction, like he was pretending there was nothing wrong.
‘What the fuck, James! We need to get back on the road, we got plenty of time but I don’t want to take any risks’. His hands began to tremble so he clenched his fists to stop them. He spoke in a put on calm, measured voice.
‘Please, just – just come over here with me’.
I got up and slammed the car door, every movement carefully choreographed to show my annoyance. I stomped over to about two meter from where James was standing.
‘What?’ I spat at him. James took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, he closed his eyes.
‘There’s someone sitting in the back seat of the car. It’s the girl, she’s been following me. She’s a ghost or something and for some reason you can’t see her. She’s there right now. She’s been… haunting me.’
I just stared at him as he stood, tense and closed off. I turned to the empty car, turned back to James. I was scared, terrified. Not because I thought there was a ghost in our car though, I was scared for James, scared for his mental state, scared about what he might do next, what he was capable of.
‘James’ I said ‘there’s no one there. The car’s empty. It’s just the two of us. Maybe it’s the heat out here, or maybe… you’re exhausted James, we both are. Please, come with me and I’ll drive us to Darwin and then we’ll go home.’ I tried to be as soothing as possible. James was now had sweat pouring off him. It was hot under the sun but this was something else. He was in a heightened state, running on his instincts and fear alone.
‘I thought that at first’ he said through clenched teeth ‘but she’s there, she’s touched me and I’ve felt her, she has mass and…and form … she’s real. I can’t get back in there with her… I just can’t’.
‘Then what are we going to do then? Abandon the car? Wait out here for someone to pick us up?’ I snapped.
‘Yes’. He said it like it was the only option.
‘Look James, I’m sorry… you just need to relax. I’ve got some valium for the flight, you can have some now and then I’ll drive, it’s only a few more hours to Darwin’. I motioned to touch his face and at the same time he violently swiped my arm away.
‘Don’t fucking touch me!’ he screamed.
I was almost knocked off my feet but managed to right myself mid-stumble.
‘You fucking prick! Don’t you dare ever do that again’ I screamed back at him.
I was furious. I turn around and began to walk away. I tried to calm myself, to think rationally. I put the pieces together in my head and formed an idea that made perfect sense at the time. I marched back towards James.
‘Is this some kind of trick to get rid of me?’ I yelled at him ‘pretend you’ve gone mental so I’ll have to break up with you? You’re pathetic!’ My expletives continued for a few more minutes. I accused him of having a girlfriend back in the UK and told him just how low this was. Told him that if he was a real man he would just admit it and then he could stop pretending. All he did was stare at the ground. His silence and refusal to respond made me angrier. I stormed back to the car got in and started the engine the way James had shown me to do it. I took what I thought was my final look at James.
‘Stay here then, you wanker!’ I literally slammed by foot on the accelerator. The car screeched off in a cloud of burnt rubber and sand and I set my sights on the horizon.
About a minute later I had calmed down. I stopped the car, reversed and drove back to James. He was sat on his knees in the sand where I’d left him, he’d just given up and let whatever horrors he had overwhelm him and crush him. I walked over to him and took him by the wrist. He started screaming, hoarse screams that came from somewhere else, not from the James I knew. He didn’t physically resist, just screamed ‘No’ continuously. I led him to the car; I think that maybe a part of him knew that this was the only option.
‘She’s doing it again’ he said through howls and tears as I sat him in the passenger seat. He was covering his head and leaning forward, as far away from the back seat as he could.
‘Leave me alone’ he screamed ‘just leave me alone, I didn’t do anything!’
By the time we’d pulled into the car park for Darwin international airport five hours later, James was silent. The inhuman howling and screaming had become crying which then became a whimper which then finally gave way to a blank silence. It was in this dulled state that I sat James down on a bench while I unpacked the car. I got our bags together and led James away from the car leaving the windows open and the inside exposed. I don’t know what happened to it, if Jonno ever reported it stolen or missing. It had served its purpose.
We were both exhausted and filthy and the checking in process was like a blur. James was somewhat unresponsive but managed to get through the security checks without concern. We had seats in different sections the plane and to be honest I was glad. I showed him to his seat and then found mine and downed a valium with a cold beer I’d got in the duty free. I half snoozed through the safety demonstrations but was fully asleep before the plane took off. Aside from some half recollected visits to the toilets I slept the whole way and I awoke as we began our descent in to London Heathrow.
I tried to find James as the plane emptied but he was gone. I pushed past everyone I had to trying and catch up with him but got stuck in a huge queue at immigration control. I made it though and found James waiting at Arrivals. He’d obviously got off the plane before me as he was waiting there in his still filthy state. He greeted me with a kiss on the cheek.
‘This is my mum’ he said pointing to a nice looking middle aged woman stood with a teenager ‘and my sister too, they’ve come to pick me up. I had no idea’.
James introduced me as his girlfriend and we made our introductions. We went for lunch where we told his mother and sister about how we met and about all the places we’d been and things we’d done. James was back to his normal self. We didn’t mention the drive from Perth to Darwin. James might have blocked the whole thing out judging by the way he was acting and I certainly didn’t want to think about it. It was done. There was no need to mention it.
James mother, Susan, kindly drove me to my own parent’s house in hackney where James met my parents. My dad invited James and his family to stay the night, we had plenty of room and they wanted to get to know James. I had written all about him in the many emails I’d sent them over the last few months. Susan said they would love to stay but were unable to as she had commitments the next day. They would have to drive back home that evening, soon if they wanted to be back at a reasonable hour.
‘I’ll call you tomorrow’ James told me as I waved him and his family off. I didn’t bother waiting for his call and I tried him constantly that evening and the next day. For some reason the number he’d given me wasn’t connected. I sent him messages on Facebook and via email. Days went by with no response, his Facebook account closed and emails started bouncing back. My parents told me to give him time, let him get in contact with me. Friends told me to just forget him, that he was an arsehole just after a holiday fling. They all have reasonable suggestions and reassured me there was no reason to worry, but none of them knew about the drive from Perth to Darwin
After some time it began to make some semblance sense, to me at least. The whole episode with the haunted car was a trick. He’d make me want nothing more to do with him or use his supposed breakdown as an excuse to end the relationship. Nothing else made sense to me or could explain his behaviour. I turned my sense or loss into anger and I tried to forget him, tried to move on and eventually I did.
I’d been back in the UK for about five months and was working in local bar when one evening someone put on the ‘greatest hits’ of Elton John. This wasn’t anything important until we hit ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ and I stopped in my tracks. I rushed to the toilet and started crying, part out of sadness and part out of anger. I relived the entire relationship and that entire drive over the course of that bastard three minute song. I went home that night and sat down at my laptop. I spent hours on Facebook trying to track down anyone who would’ve known James. I eventually remembered the name of his old school and managed to find his sister on one of its associated pages. Though her profile was closed to anyone who wasn’t a friend, I was able to send her a message with my phone number telling her get James to call me.
The next day my phone rang from an unknown number.
‘James?’ I answered hesitantly.
‘Hello? No, I’m afraid it’s me, Susan’ came the reply ‘is James not there?’
‘What?’ I asked. Susan started crying on the other end of the line. She asked if James was here, if I’d seen him recently, if she could talk to him. I told her what had happened, how he had completely cut me off, how I’d not seen or heard from him since they drove away the day we got back. Through her tears she told me what had happened on her end of this tragedy. James had pretended to still be in touch with me, pretended that he was going to come and live with me and my parents in London, and pretended that my dad had lined up a job for him the workshop. Three months earlier James left his mother’s house with all his things packed in a car he’d brought ago and they’d not heard from him since. I didn’t know what to say or what to do so I hung up. Susan immediately called back so I switched my phone off.
I ignored her calls for a few days until I had worked up the courage to talk to her. When I did, I told her about the road trip, about his breakdown. She listened carefully, told me how James was a bit different when he came home. How he’d lost some of his spark, as she put it.
We went about trying to find him, posting missing persons flyers in both cities, even getting his picture in to national paper. I rallied all our friends from Australia and James’ face is now all over Facebook and traveller websites, ‘missing: have you seen this man’. We had the police try and track his car, bank transactions and passport. There only so much they can do though, after all, he’s an adult and can do what he likes.
Nothing has worked so far. It’s like he has fallen off the face of the Earth. I don’t know what really happened to him in that car but I’m certain his disappearance is something to do with it, that bastard car and that cursed drive from Perth to Darwin.
Credit To – Danbell