Young Jimmy-Jack rose early, before the sun, as was his habit. Splashed water over his head from the barrel under the eaves then shook himself off, like a dog, head-to-tail. Pulled a t-shirt off the clothesline and used it to dry his face; put it on.
Washed and Dressed (ready for The Dawning)
He grabbed an apple from the bowl in the kitchen then set off, jogging down the steep scrubby hillside to the creek. It was cool and dark in the narrow valley at the bottom, the grass growing lush under the heavy canopy of old peppermint trees. Jimmy-Jack stopped to polish his apple, listening to the birds’ sleepy chirpings, the water’s whispering. He smiled and chomped into his apple, following his own well-stamped path through the grass, his feet getting wet with dew. On the other side of the creek, the Pub Gardens were all shadowy curved embankments, lawns neatly-mowed and edged with fancy flowering shrubs. And the silvery slate stairway, zigzagging its way down the long steep hill past rose-arbours and viewing seats and pavilions, until the last step took you onto a sealed path and over the little wooden bridge.
On the other side of the creek – Jimmy-Jack’s side – the path was gravelly, little outcroppings of limestone creating dips and rises on the surface. The Locals liked calling it ‘The Ghost Trail’, though no one really knew why. One of them must’ve got spooked there years ago, mis-stepping on the way home from the pub, dodging shadows under a full moon, blaming the supernatural rather than a couple too many pints.
Jimmy-Jack had his own name for the track, not that he’d ever use it with The Locals. It was a private thing, given him by his father, who was given it by his father, who’d been given it by all the mothers and fathers before him. Part of the family lore.
So mostly, Jimmy-Jack just called it The Ghost Trail like everyone else.
This time of year – late summer – the creek wasn’t much more than a trickle flowing sluggishly around exposed river-stones. But it still flowed, and that’s what was important. It was one of the things Jimmy-Jack liked to check every morning.
Creek Still Flowing
At the end of The Ghost Trail the creek did a tricky thing, flowing into a pipe and going underground, below the road, then coming up again on the other side. At this point, Jimmy-Jack felt like he wanted to go underground too, and not break the bond between him and the running water. Instead he had to skip quickly across the road then rock-hop his way over the boulders, trying to track where the creek would emerge on this day. You never knew, had to keep an eye out, no two days the same.
And then there it was – the creek again! Springing out from under a tumble of aeons-weathered boulders and sort of spreading out over the rocks and limestone, flowing into the chains of rock-pools and merging with the salty water, then finally flowing into the ocean.
It was tricky following the fresh water once it was on the limestone ledge, but Jimmy-Jack had the eyes to spot it. It was another thing given him by his father. “Just there, Son, see how it makes its way, not quite mixing, until that big salty ocean claims it.”
Yes. Jimmy-Jack Could See.
Once he’d seen the creek to its ultimate destination – The Great Wide Ocean – Jimmy-Jack turned around and looked back at the township perched on the hillside. All those big houses with their big windows and big verandahs and big cars parked out the front.
When Jimmy-Jack had been a little boy there’d only been a few humble fishing-shacks nestled under the melaleucas, but that was a long time ago, before the City-Folk had got interested in Ocean Views. If Jimmy-Jack squinted – just so – he could imagine all the big houses disappeared, leaving just the scrubby hillside of his youth.
Jimmy-Jack knew the sun was rising up from the curve of the earth, on the other side of The Cape; he could tell because the greyness was lightening, everything in the landscape becoming more defined. Now it was time to walk over the reef and the rocks to the beach and Interact With The Locals.
First was Old Tom.
Old Tom came down at dawn every morning, usually with a longboard tucked under his arm. “Morning James,” Tom would say. And Jimmy-Jack would reply, “Morning Tom” then “swell’s up – better get out there before the crowd arrives” or “no swell, just a swim this morning, eh?” depending.
“Too right!” Tom would reply, before going and jumping in the ocean.
But this time, Old Tom paused before heading out into the surf. “How’s your father, James?” he asked. “I haven’t seen him around for a while.”
Jimmy-Jack looked up, surprised, then looked down, his eyes scanning over the sand to the lagoon and on to the waves rising up cleanly beyond the reef. “Oh, he’s all right, Tom. He’s been away for a bit. Business down the coast. You know how he is.”
“Mmph,” said Tom. “Yes I do. Well, give him my regards when you see him.”
“Will do,” said Jimmy-Jack, looking up and giving Tom his Sunny Smile, the one everyone liked so much. “You have a good surf, yeah? Waves are looking pretty good now, but the breeze’ll be in soon.”
Tom smiled back at him, and Jimmy-Jack felt everything click back into place.
“Off you go then,” said Tom. “And I’ll be seeing you tomorrow.”
Jimmy-Jack watched Tom make his way out to The Main Break, paddling his board across the lagoon then tucking it under his arm as he picked his way over the reef to the jump-off spot. He thought about his father, trying to picture his face. How long since he’d seen The Old Man? He couldn’t remember. What did he look like? He wasn’t sure.
Pete-from-the-Pub jogged by, calling out a cheery ‘morning Jack’ and pulling Jimmy-Jack out of his reverie.
“Morning Pete!” Jimmy-Jack called back. “Got your shark-repelling wetsuit on?”
“Always do, Jacky-boy, always do. You gonna let me teach you how to surf today?”
“Nah, looks a bit big today. Maybe tomorrow. Catch a wave for me though, yeah?”
“Always do, Jack, always do.”
Then the rest of The Locals came by, and a few City-Folk too, not so many now that summer was almost over. Jimmy-Jack gave them The Nod or his Sunny Smile, depending on how well he knew them. And they smiled back, or waved, or called out a ‘Morning Jack’ or a ‘Morning Jimmy’ or ignored him depending on how well they knew him.
But the familiar routine didn’t feel right. Something was amiss.
He heard The Yoga-Lady call out her Good Morning, encouraging her yoga group to Give Thanks and Be Present for their Daily Practice. The Yoga-Lady made Jimmy-Jack giggle inside, telling the Yoga-People to ‘Stretch high, higher! Find your centre and keep it strooong’, and ‘Up dog! Lower your hips and arch your back’, then ‘Down dog! Bottoms in the air and push baaack’.
Usually at this time, Jimmy-Jack would make his way up to the Viewing Deck where he could watch The Surfers and listen to the Yoga-Lady call out her instructions at the same time.
But Tom’s talk of The Old Man had got Jimmy-Jack unsettled. Restless. Instead of going to the Viewing Deck, he found himself walking along the beach, heading to the granite boulders, where the coast got all rocky.
The wet sand was cool and crunchy under his feet and he walked close to the water, letting the gentle waves that rolled off the lagoon wash around his ankles. It was cold but it felt nice, so he went a little deeper, until the water was up around his calves. It made his skin tingle and his stomach clench, but he persisted, feeling brave and daring.
Then he was past the reef and the waves got bigger and rougher, rolling in from the Deep Ocean and crashing onto the sand in a wild wash of creamy-white foam. The Locals called this stretch of beach ‘Rabbit Hill’. In summer, when all The Tourists were in town, the Surf Lifesavers set up their flags and patrolled the beach to make sure no one got sucked out to sea in a rip, and to make sure no one got hurt if they were dumped by a wave. Jimmy-Jack eyed the crashing surf warily and retreated to the edge of the dry sand.
The beach was still empty along here. No dog-walkers out yet, and the waves too dumpy today to tempt The Surfers away from The Main Break. Jimmy-Jack kept half an eye on the waves – the tide was turning – and the other half-eye on the granite outcrop that was his goal. Looking at the rock made him feel safer. It was solid, dependable; it didn’t move.
He walked. A falcon hovered above the scrubby dunes, probably hunting one of those rabbits the hill was named after. The sand squeaked under his feet, still cold. Then the sun crept over the ridge of the cape, making the scrub glow green-gold. The air got warmer, a whisper of breeze touching his cheek. The granite rock got bigger. He walked.
Then he was at the limestone cliff, its surface all scalloped and pointy, creeping plants with their bright pink flowers hanging down from the high edges. The sand was in shadow here, cold and damp. He walked up to the granite boulder and spread his arms wide, trying to hold it. Its surface was cool and rough against the skin on his arms, on his cheek. Solid, dependable. The ocean couldn’t eat it away like it did to the limestone.
The tide was still far enough out for the boulder to be fully exposed. Jimmy-Jack decided it was safe to go a bit further. He remembered exploring rock-pools with The Old Man, just a little way along; he’d go there again. So he skirted the rock and walked along the beach, trying to find a memory that would help him know what to expect. But the memories were fragmentary, kept sliding away.
Brown eyes and a whiskery face.
The smell of salty wet fur, seaweed, fish.
An octopus grabbing a crab off the rock – quick as a flash! – then disappearing back into the rock-pool – gone!
A knife prising an abalone from a rock, rubbery flesh in his mouth, a salty taste.
An arm pointing out to sea and a voice saying ‘Look Son, see that spray rising out there? That’s a whale coming up for a breath’ and Jimmy-Jack looking and looking but not seeing.
Jimmy-Jack walked. And then, there it was – the rock-pool! And there were the crabs scuttling over the rocks, just as he remembered them! Jimmy-Jack crouched down to watch, hoping to see an octopus emerge and grab his breakfast. Little fish flitted in and out of the weed and there were anemones and black sea-snails and those creamy-ridged shells that stuck to the rocks. He waited and waited, barely breathing – but no octopus this time.
Then a wave washed around his ankles, reminding him that the tide was coming in and that it wasn’t safe to linger too long. He stood up and looked out over the ocean and thought about the whales, but it was the wrong season for the whales to be swimming by.
Another wave washed around his ankles, making him shiver. He should probably go back, before the incoming tide covered the sand around his big granite boulder, cutting him off. But his thoughts were on those abalone on the rocks, and he knew they were just a little further on. So he kept walking.
The beach broadened a little, making Jimmy-Jack feel safer even though the limestone cliffs towered above him and the waves kept creeping higher, washing over the sand. Then he saw a tumble of small granite boulders, and knew that beyond them was The Place where his father had found the abalone. His pace quickened and he felt his Sunny Smile spreading across his face. It was here! He remembered!
He scrambled over the rocks, full of anticipation, and found
and found a small body covered in silvery brown fur.
No. Half a body.
A seal. Just a pup. Dead. So dead. That ripped flesh…