July 15th, 2014, 5.00 am, Uluru, Australia
The pale Englishman unfurled from his desert tent, the shy morning sun glowed orange on the horizon and on his slightly balding pate.
“We’ve done it, Joan! By jove, we’ve done it!” he exclaimed, stretching his arms to the naked sky.
“Mmm,” murmured the body in the sleeping bag as it turned over.
“Right,” he said to the spiders doing their morning constitutional over the red sand.
He spun round and too fast, wobbling uncertainly, his sleep-weakened senses still warming up. Strong arms grabbed him. Stood him upright.
“Struth! You okay, mate?” asked the paunchy, Akubra-hatted fellow from one of the other six tents scattered among the spinifex grass.
“Aah, yes, I think so,” stammered Arthur Bayly, adjusting his spectacles. He still hadn’t become used to people greeting him without being properly introduced.
“You a long way from home, by the looks.”
Unsure if that was a question or a statement, he decided to blunder into conversation like others seemed to do.
“Yes, a long story, I’m afraid,” he said as his legs finally took charge of themselves and he smiled weakly.
“Plenty of time for stories out here. Plenty of time for everything.” The man swiped at flies on his bare legs and Arthur surmised his long trousers were out of place here.
“Look,” he said, his mind finally making itself up. “I just need a little time to sit and think. And to write.”
“Wow, you a writer?”
“Not yet but who knows,” he said with an unaccustomed chuckle.
“Righto. See you at breakfast over tea and damper, mate.” As the man strode off, Arthur wondered what damper was. In this dry heat, nothing was damp. Oh well, I’ll ask later, he thought as he chose a log beside last night’s dampened fire and sat. It felt like he could see the shadows of the grass moving as the sun gained confidence and quickly took charge of the cloudless sky. He took out a pen and notebook and started to write:
The map of Arthur Bayly’s life was a narrow one and, like a child in a cot of steel, can only dream of another life. He awoke from his fitful sleep with his usual sense of foreboding and wondered, again, how it was ever possible to feel elated about the day, about life. Apparently, some people did …
This is the opening chapter of The Last Stand Down.