Lost and Found
Jacob Pilkington (RMIT University, Australia)
Candy Wiatt has passed. Somewhere out on the dismal road that leads to the mouth of the abyss. Gone, dead and lost. Candy was a luminary, the pride of her school over in Safety Beach, popular among friends, and the model youth. Somewhere at the back of the Bruce Road and the Nepean Highway, they had stopped to pee. They were all laughing, girls tittering over the edge, and Candy left the main road, then disappeared behind some bushes.
The police went out looking for her that night, and many days afterwards. And found nothing. Her friends were in shock, and stayed out late with the police cars. The community got together. That Saturday they formed a line by the side of the road and walked out until the evening, like lost buoys in the ocean. They were expecting to find a body, but found none.
I was searching for someone, entrenched in the night, along that scaly road. Beacons lit up as cars passed by. I had my thumb out, but that seemed to make no difference. I was out on the road where Candy Wiatt disappeared. My parents might have warned me, but I had left home angry at them two hours before. I was wandering out in a sea of dark.
Candy Wiatt was the love of her district. She who led her year in grades, and tutored peers who needed help. The belle of the school ball and Miss Safety Beach 2016. Candy made leader of the school basketball team. Candy made valedictorian of graduation. Candy got into Melbourne Uni in Sciences. Candy was beautiful. She was a sunny day locked in the chasm of memory. A beautiful, playful puppet dancing over us all. One night she was royalty, then she was gone.
The story goes that they were headed to a party in Mornington by car. The windows open, laughter flying like confetti, drinking bourbon and coke, driving fast, and flying into the mouth of the night. The night was alive, beckoning, and all consuming. Through their minds fled an Indigenous monster and totems written in the wind.
Just past the planned housing on the riotous highway, they stopped the car so Candy could pee. The radio played that old Australian rock. A sheet of noise protecting them from the watchful eyes in the bower of the night. Candy walked into the bush with her bourbon and her phone. The others smoked cigarettes, drank and sang to the radio.
The darkness swallowed her. The blue cloaked night and the insidious moon conspired to take her from us. An unseen mouth opened and swallowed. The light of her phone went out and Candy disappeared for ever. No more dances, no more speeches. Gone.
My great uncle lived out that way, by Safety Beach. I had lived with him while my parents were in Queensland, taking care of my mother’s mother. I had gone to school out there for a year. I knew Candy Wiatt. She was a bitch. Everything about her was a lie. She bullied kids, she took drugs, she beat up other girls. Life at that school was torment.
I liked my great uncle. He set me books to read, crazy stuff that nobody ever heard of. I missed talking with him all night. I missed his old jazz and blues records. I missed that musty old fellow. It was where I always went after a bad argument, searching all the way out to Safety Beach.
You could see the texture of the moon, all broken like chipped china. The light on my phone reassured me I was not lost. I felt like a deep sea diver, watching back up under the moon. Music from the phone kept me walking. I wondered whether I would disappear too like Candy Wiatt.
The first car that had stopped for me had been a policeman. He warned me about the dangers of hitchhiking. He took me about a mile up and then out to a road off the highway where I would be in less danger. The second was an old lady taking her cocker spaniel to the vet. She gave me a few of her cigarettes. The last was a creepy balding guy. He put his hand on my leg and I screamed for him to stop the car. I realized I must have gotten further away from the main road, that I had missed Safety Beach and was lost over the craterous desert of the night, where crickets sang and shrubs turned their backs to the wind.
I walked out deeper into the night. One thousand men in capes seemed to cover the sky. I decided I wouldn’t call my mother, that I would try to find my way back to my great uncle. Was this what it was like for Candy? Had Candy gotten into a car where a man put his hand on her leg? Had she screamed and threatened him? I could see her running over the dirt road, the dark man driving behind her laughing, spurring her forward. She stumbled and fell, crying and picking herself up again. I saw her fall to her knees before the dark man with the shiny knife. I recognized in her eyes a look of cattle taken out to slaughter. I did not begrudge that Candy now knew what death was.
There was nobody coming along that lost forgotten road. I was deep in another dimension where cars were yet to be made. I took myself over the barbed fence, across the fields where Candy might have run, along silver ripples of reeds in the wind. I thought she must have come out this way, where a sinister house stood at the end. The old man and lady would have taken her in. She would race inside, telling them she was being followed. They put a blanket over her. Could she call the police? No, we have no phone. Come, have some hot chocolate. What is your name?
Little by little suspicion seeps through the walls. There was a fire going where an old dog was sleeping. They talked to Candy about the disappearances, of the lost girls in the papers by the general store. It is almost as if some Ancient Greek curse requires them for a sacrifice. Candy was getting scared. The old couple talk, about times before the cities, where there were only villages, and there were stationed caretakers over the shores of night.
I thought of Candy running—pushing her lithe body over the brambles and the thorns—thrashing because she knew she could go no further. I thought of Candy as the present, and I was lost far away in another time.
Had she been killed? Had they chopped her into pieces, wrapped her up in plastic bags and put her in the freezer? What had she thought in her last moments? Was it terror or insanity? Did she run agog over the slimy verdure only to stumble and fall before her killer? She must have come out this way.
Over the silver hills that bow to the reverend moon I dreamt of Candy and her demise, that she was taken in and sacrificed. Some lone psychopath found her, brought her back to his killing shed and stabbed her fourteen times. He dragged her body out under the moon to an alien altar, where he expected the Great Ones to come, and gigantic creatures from the wilderness of our minds.
I found a dirt path that pre-empted my passage. I felt like a peasant scouring seeds over the hills. But what foul trees will rise and capture those that walk between them? What little creatures shall live inside them? What dreams will they watch ascending upwards to the night sky? Candy had fallen, exhausted, and could run no more. She heard the dogs approaching but could not put up a fight. They would shortly dismember her.
I stumbled through the midnight glade and Mr Spirit took my hand. I saw tiny gnomes staring from beneath the open roots of trees, and goblins scurrying. Drums set my heart thumping with a strange current. There were little fires dispersed across the space, where sheep curled near beast-man shepherds. Satyrs danced and played their pipes and exhumed skeletons who flung themselves in a polka. The dark became dense. In the shades a caravan of strangers. Mr Spirit pointed to a dour old crone.
‘That is the Lady of the North,’ he said. ‘Past the North Pole, where the valleys become level and the air grows warm, you will find her there most times. But like the others, she cannot refuse a dance and comes here every time.’
‘And who is that?’ I asked, pointing to an old man drenched with water.
‘That is the Wizard of the Cold,’ said Mr Spirit. ‘And that is the Wizard of the Warm,’ pointing to a man covered in soot over the other side.
We were soaked into the shade, goblins scurrying, witches bowing, and horrible voodoo men feasting on corpses of I-do-not-know-what – into a ghostly clearing where the chipped moon shone seemingly forever. There in the centre was a dark oak dining table, set for five. Goblins rushed about pampering the shaded figures at the table. A darkly person stole into my eyesight. It was Candy Wiatt, in tight jeans and sweater, with bruises around her neck where she had been strangled, and a broken jaw. Mould had set in around her eyes, ears and mouth. I could smell the death that exploited her.
She led me to the fifth placing and I caught sight of the ghastly others. Candy Wiatt sat at the head. To her right was a decomposing girl in a football sweater, her skull stretching through her cheeks. To her right was a corpse so withered it could frighten the mockingbirds from the trees. Next to me the last place was taken by a complete skeleton, imbibing a red liquid down its throat and ribs.
‘Tonight the court is in session,’ said Candy. ‘We are the Ghosts of the Shaded Pass. One girl must be sacrificed every twenty-three years. I, Candy Wiatt, was dispatched two years ago. I think I look good for my age.’ Candy pointed to the decomposing girl. ‘Sarah was stabbed twenty-three times twenty-three years before me.’ She then pointed to the girl whose corpse would frighten mockingbirds. ‘Stacey was hit by a car twenty-three years before, and so on. Sally, next to you, was shot by her boyfriend. We were all unrighteously killed and must be allowed to lament. We meet here every year, on the anniversary of our deaths to dine like queens and salute the dilapidated night.’
A band of goblins entered the clearing with plates of cooked road kill that had been charred on spits. Dead cats and possums, and one dead dog. They poured pigs blood into goblets and passed them round to divas of death.
‘But why am I here?’ I asked. ‘It hasn’t been twenty-three years. I am not going to appease this demon road!’
‘You will be our sacrifice to the sixty-two moons of Saturn. That they may invest in us the strength to rise anew,’ said Candy.
Weeping from the witches wove into the night. The four corpses produced scythes. Figures from the shady forest edges moved in as if to grab me. I put my head down and ran hard–past the dinner table and the cackling viragos, past the squat goblins that almost took my ankles, and past the sneers of witches and wizards, who knew in their hearts the secrets of all dimensions. I ran through the blue night into pitched nightmare. I pushed through the forest like a baby pushing to be born.
At last I collapsed, my body magnetized to the earth, my burning throat calling for water. I looked up to the crenelated moon to divine whether there would be a sacrifice and I listened to the telling of the trees, who harmonized with the groans from far off. The nightmare had stopped, given up in its tracks and turned around. The salient stream of the will-o’-the-wisp came to goad me toward the roads of man.
The night was waning, its horse and cart taken to the darkly stables. I laughed like a lunatic against the colours of the morning. I could not recognize where I was. The hills awakened to the sun’s caresses and I felt calm and happy to be its witness. The great eye opened, its light falling over me. At the end of the hillside there was a cordon of bushes and trees. The wood spoke to me, told me I was nearly home. I made my way through the trees and the barricade of dreams, out to the Nepean Highway. I was close. Close to home, close to sanity. My lunar expedition had ended. I wandered toward the road. Across it the reach of ocean shimmered before me. And to my right, carved into a gnarled tree stump, Candy Wiatt 1-6-2016.
Jacob Pilkington has lived in Australian and America, and both places inform his writing. He began seriously writing at age sixteen. He writes short stories and poems, and is currently writing a new novel. Also he is currently enrolled in Masters of Writing and Publishing at RMIT. He now lives in Hawthorn.