If Blood Should Stain the Wattle, page 47
Leafsong bit her lip and shook her head.
‘What does an offering mean?’ cried Jed desperately.
Leafsong looked like she might cry. She hunched her shoulders, indicating she didn’t know the answer.
Sam turned on the engine, then pushed the accelerator as he said, ‘It doesn’t matter now. We just need to get there. What happens when these precious aliens arrive?’
‘I don’t know! Peace and harmony, but that might mean anything.’
Sam nodded grimly. A community of dead acolytes could be seen as peaceful.
‘People have been leaving the community all year long. Maybe no one’s there except Ra Zacharia. Though Mark must be — he wouldn’t leave without telling Scarlett. But Carol says the place might be mostly empty.’
‘Except for a madman who thinks aliens will arrive today.’ It seemed no crazier than what had just happened in Canberra.
Jed nodded, her face twisted with terror and shame. ‘Sam, it’s all my fault. I . . . I tried to arrange Scarlett’s life for her. Sam, have I done that to you too?’
‘Done what?’ he asked, skirting around a wombat, worried, shocked, and yet still managing to enjoy Jed’s scent, the touch of her arm as they hurtled towards the sunset . . .
‘Bribed you into coming back to Gibber’s Creek? Used my money to make you do what I wanted?’
‘Darling, I need to concentrate on not running off the road. But trust me,’ he managed a tired grin, ‘you couldn’t manoeuvre me into doing anything I didn’t think was right, or that I didn’t want to do. Or if you tried, I’d tell you.’
‘Oh.’ He could feel Jed think about that, realising that what he said was true. He managed another grin. He was the son of two forceful people, neither of whom could persuade their son to be a respectable engineer, with a safe superannuation scheme, a secretary to make his coffee and a nice house in Mosman. He’d chosen instead to build a mud cottage in a commune, because he truly was their son, as sure of his own life as his sister was of hers.
‘I’m here because I want to be,’ he said. And he was. At Gibber’s Creek, in this ute, on this rescue mission for his littlest sister. With Jed, the heartstone of his life.
ABC Local Radio, Gibber’s Creek, 11 November 1975
. . . with the election date set for 13 December, in just over a month’s time, the Australian people will be able to express their true opinion of today’s events . . .
For a moment Scarlett was afraid that Ra Zacharia might continue to push her chair, once it was inside, instead of letting her propel herself, but he let go. Did he stagger as he did so? By the time she turned to face him he stood straight in his robe of shining white.
‘Come through here.’
She glanced around. The atrium’s plants were shreds of leaves on dry soil. Clots of debris blotted the skylights. Every time she had been there before there had been the sounds of other people; not shouts or chattering, for the Chosen didn’t gossip, but the faint clang of pots, the mutter of looms. Today silence ate the walls.
She wheeled her chair through the doors Mark had said led to the astronomy and medical areas, then waited while Ra Zacharia closed them behind her. This area looked no different from the wing on the other side. A long white corridor, white doors, all shut.
‘Mark 23,’ Ra Zacharia corrected, heading down the corridor without looking back at her. He made no pretence of smiles now.
‘Mark 23,’ said Scarlett. ‘Where is he?’
‘Working.’ Ra Zacharia was focused on something other than her. Possibly on keeping upright, for his hands were clenched, his walk strangely stiff.
Ra Zacharia kept walking. ‘Yes.’
‘But where are all the others?’
‘They were not truly healed. They thought they were. But all they achieved was freedom from pain for a small while.’
The future Dr O’Hara took over. Something was wrong with Ra Zacharia. The stiff walk, the slightly twisted face. Was his tumour affecting him? The symptoms of brain tumours varied, depending on where they were. Mark had said Ra Zacharia’s pressed on his optic nerve, but it might suddenly grow in another direction.
‘Ra Zacharia, are you all right?’
‘I will be. I am alive, which is triumph enough. But you,’ he turned, and now the smile was back, a wolf’s smile, almost terrifying in its naked hunger, ‘you will walk.’
Part of her wanted to wheel away as fast as possible, find a phone, call Jed for help. Call the police, if necessary. But tell them what? She wasn’t being held here against her will, was she?
‘I . . . I’d like to see Mark. Mark 23. Please.’
‘He would distract you. There is too little time.’
She stopped wheeling. ‘Why? You said it might take weeks, months, before I could walk.’
‘You will walk today! It has to be today. If you don’t walk today, you never will.’ He turned to her again, his eyes like green fire. ‘You can see Mark 23 then. In half an hour you will walk towards him!’
‘Oh . . . kay.’ She had no choice. Despite his ravaged appearance, if Ra Zacharia chose to stop her, she couldn’t wheel herself fast enough to get away.
And he had promised she would walk. If she tried to leave now . . . DID leave now . . . she would always wonder if somehow, in ways unknown, it might have worked.
Ra Zacharia looked past her. She heard it too — a car. Had Leafsong come back for her? Or Jed found her? She wasn’t sure if she longed for Jed, or resented that she might come. Perhaps it was Mark. Or had the Elders hired a car in Canberra . . . ? She stifled a giggle.
‘Ra Zacharia?’ The woman that limped towards them, carrying Gavin, was familiar to her from River View. Why had she never connected her white dress with the Chosen? Because so many of the staff wore white coats?
But, no — Gavin?
‘What are you doing with Gavin?’ demanded Scarlett.
‘Healing him,’ said Miss Forty gently. ‘I came back, Ra, as you said I would. The doctors can do nothing for cracked vertebrae. You took my pain for three years. Help this boy now. Please.’
The wolf stared. ‘I should have known,’ he whispered. ‘All according to the Elders’ will. The Sacrifices have come!’ He nodded to Miss Forty. ‘Bring the boy.’
He opened the door at the end of the corridor. Scarlett and Miss Forty, with large-eyed Gavin, followed him into a round room, white walled, windowless, a vast star on the wall with a polished, wood-handled knife hanging below it, a curved metal ceiling that might even open, and a surprisingly small telescope mounted on a high platform. To her shock the floor was dirt. Hard dirt and swept of dust, but still dirt. Ra Zacharia’s too-bright eyes watched her surprise.
‘Your feet must be on the surface of the planet. Your mind must be among the stars to call the Elders down. You will prove to the universe that humanity can perfect itself!’
He pressed a button. The metal ceiling indeed creaked open, showing a slice of purple sunset, a dapple of grey cloud.
‘But it’s not dark yet.’
‘The stars are still there. They are always there, day or night. Our small star, the sun, and all the others.’
‘Okay.’ She tried not to sound nervous. Or hopeful. She was Scarlett Kelly-O’Hara and she had already done the impossible. Just one more step. Literally . . .
‘Put the boy down,’ Ra Zacharia said to Miss Forty.
‘You . . . you won’t hurt him?’ For the first time the young woman sounded uncertain.
‘Did I hurt you? I will heal him. But you must go.’
‘Why? I . . . I want to see.’
‘Because you couldn’t heal yourself. You would pollute this room. But from tonight, I promise, you will have no more pain.’
Miss Forty nodded quickly. She laid Gavin on the floor, unmoving, staring. He must be terri
Please, she prayed. Even if I can’t be healed, heal this boy. Give him the life I have had, these last few years. Happiness, love, hope, even in a wheelchair.
Miss Forty closed the door behind her.
‘What do I need to do?’ asked Scarlett, keeping her voice steady.
‘Close your eyes. Listen to my voice. That is all.’
Relief washed over her. She had been afraid he would offer her one of the thick green drinks. She was prepared to do a lot, but not to be drugged. Listening to his voice meant he was going to hypnotise her. Which would sound bad if you had never researched hypnosis during dull afternoons when other girls were playing sport, did not know that hypnosis could almost never make someone do anything truly against their will. The patient had to work with the hypnotist, or it would not work.
And hypnosis could achieve extraordinary things — though not in a single session, according to Dr McAlpine’s old research papers.
‘Did you KNOW that in the 1920s surgeons used hypnosis instead of anaesthetic even to remove appendixes? The patients didn’t even bleed! They only stopped using it because it took three days to get patients into a receptive state and anaesthetics were getting safer and more efficient . . .’ She was gabbling.
‘Close your eyes,’ he said softly.
Scarlett closed them. Immediately her other senses became sharper. She could smell something citrusy. Herbs, maybe? Hear a crow’s hoarse shriek from down towards the river. But still no human sound.
Was Mark really here? Was anyone else here?
‘Now listen. Just listen. Listen only to my voice . . .’
Definitely hypnosis. Or was the hypnosis just to get her into the right frame of mind to . . .
. . . what?
‘Imagine you are floating in a bath. A soft warm bath . . .’
Scarlett almost giggled. A bath? She imagined a warm shower instead . . .
Warm water. Falling water. Kind hands. Jed’s hands. The second week after they met Jed had taken over bathing her at Nancy’s. Jed had read to her, fed her, strapped her into the flying fox. Jed, who had no money back then, who even Scarlett had realised had been close to starving. But they had been sisters, even if they hadn’t known it.
She had been wrong. And Jed had been wrong. They were both wrong — they had no idea what being sisters meant. But Scarlett shouldn’t have been so angry. Had she really thought that Jed was offering everything merely to control her, enjoying using her money as power? It was as ridiculous as blood turning green and photosynthesising. Which come to think of it would be an excellent mutation . . .
She wasn’t focusing. She needed to focus if this were to have any chance of working. But as soon as it was over, succeed or fail, she’d ask where the phone was and ring her sister.
‘The warmth is spreading. Feel your toes warm, your ankles, feel it spread up into your knees.’
She began to relax into the voice now. Felt warmth cover her body, seep down into her bones.
‘Now imagine a warm belt around your waist. Feel that warmth in your spine. Imagine your spine is growing down, down. It is a monkey’s tail, reaching to the centre of the earth. Your tail is gripping the earth’s core. Feel its heat, its strength flow into you . . .’
She could feel it. Dimly she realised that Scarlett Kelly-O’Hara was very, very good at concentrating. Which meant that if she WANTED to be hypnotised, she was a great subject.
Ra Zacharia’s voice flowed like the warm air he was conjuring. ‘Now feel wings grow from your shoulders. The bud on your right shoulder opens, and the wing unfurls. The bud on your left shoulder bursts open. You are free to fly!
‘Fly up, up into the stars. Choose the furthest star of all and wrap the edges of your wings around it. You are hanging by your wings in the starlight, held firmly to the earth by your tail. You are the monkey who has become an angel. You are the soil and the energy of the stars. Feel the certainty of this planet seep into you, anchoring you, the starlight a fiery fuel that feeds your spirit, feeds your body. Can you feel it?’
‘Yes,’ Scarlett whispered.
‘Can you feel it?’
‘Yes!’ Her voice was stronger now. All of her was stronger . . .
‘Can you stand? Let your wings lift you. Let your tail anchor you. Can you stand?’
‘Yes!’ She could! She knew she could!
‘Then feel my fingertips touch yours. Feel my energy feed you too. Stand up, Scarlett Kelly-O’Hara! Stand!’
‘Yes!’ Cold fingertips touched hers. She stood, firm on two strong feet, her eyes still shut. She took one step, and then another . . .
‘Stand, Scarlett Kelly-O’Hara! Stand!’
But she WAS standing! No, she just imagined that she stood. She had imagined it so often it was easy to imagine it again.
Scarlett Kelly-O’Hara stood.
It hurt. Her elbow shrieked. Her knees, which had never felt anything harder than a blanket or a therapist’s hand, jolted into pain. Beside her, Gavin blinked, one of the few movements his body allowed.
‘No!’ Ra Zacharia’s anguish sounded worse than hers.
She ignored the cry, focusing on her body. She could move her toes. Fingers. Hands. Neck. So she hadn’t broken anything, hadn’t cracked her deformed spine, losing even more of her hard-won mobility.
Okay then. She reached over to Gavin. ‘It’s all right,’ she said softly. ‘I’m all right. You’re all right. I won’t let him hurt you.’
‘Stand up!’ The scream came from above her. ‘You can do it. You were doing it!’
‘I wasn’t,’ she said, grasping her chair wearily, waiting for hands to lift her into it. All her life, hands had lifted her.
No hands reached for her now. ‘Stand up, Scarlett Kelly-O’Hara,’ commanded Ra Zacharia, his voice almost under control again.
‘It’s not going to work,’ she said quietly. ‘It might have worked if I’d been less . . . damaged. Could you help me into my chair, please?’
‘Chair? That is what’s stopping you! How long has that chair been part of you? I should have known!’
Before she could react, the chair was ripped away from her, folded out of her reach. She watched in disbelief as Ra Zacharia clambered up onto the platform and hung her chair, handle first, on the telescope above her.
Way, way above her. Impossible to reach it there.
Ra Zacharia gazed down at her triumphantly. ‘You have no choice now! Walk! Close your eyes again. Feel the warmth, the monkey’s tail.’
‘No,’ she said wearily. ‘Truly, I saw myself walking. I even felt it. I can imagine walking as deeply and clearly as you like. But thinking won’t heal my back.’
‘Not thinking! Joining with the power of the universe! Letting it make you what you were always meant to be.’
‘I think perhaps the universe and I are already the way we were meant to be,’ Scarlett said gently.
‘Then it must be the boy. That was why he was brought here! You have learned failure too deeply to cast it off. But this boy will move! He will be the offering —’
‘What do you mean, offering?’
‘The pathway that will bring the Elders here! Life, death, the cycle of the universe, stars are born and stars die, the universe is born, expands, contracts, begins again . . .’
‘That’s balderdash,’ said Scarlett. ‘WE don’t even KNOW that —’
She stopped as Ra Zacharia leaped down from the platform. He grabbed the knife from the wall. ‘See! The boy is moving! HE can feel the power of the universe!’
‘He’s not moving!’ How deluded WAS this man? ‘No! Don’t you dare touch him!’ She pushed her body protectively over Gavin as Ra Zacharia stepped towards them, arms raised. And stopped, as if vast hands had grabbed him.
‘No!’ Ra Zacharia shrieked again. But this time he didn’t look at her, or Gavin. He dropped the knife, his hands clawing at his eye
Take what? Scarlett watched from where she lay crumpled on the floor as Ra Zacharia crouched, tearing at his eyes, as if he were trying to rip out his eyeballs. His face turned to the sky. ‘Let me see again!’ he commanded. ‘Let me see!’
Should she help him or crawl away, trying to drag Gavin with her? What was happening? If she tried to help him, he might hurt her in his frenzy, and then there’d be no one to help Gavin. She stroked the boy instead, trying to soften the terror in his eyes. No, she realised, not terror. Gavin was not afraid.
Gavin was watching. Examining. Thinking. Feeling. Whatever else was happening, he wasn’t scared. Had there been so much love in his life that even this scene would not frighten him?
‘Aaaaahh!’ Ra Zacharia’s cry was a wordless scream of anguish. He bent his head, shook it like a dog, howled, again ripping at his eyes as if to tear away a cloud across them.
Scarlett Kelly-O’Hara was going to be a doctor. A doctor did not crawl away from illness and distress. And this man was ill. A tumour can lie dormant for years and then grow fast, or slow, or not at all. That day’s growth, a tiny fraction of a millimetre, had been enough to take his sight.
‘It’s all right.’ She tried to make her voice calm. ‘It’s just the tumour. We can cure it.’
She didn’t know if that was true, suspected only a surgeon could tell if it were possible and even that only after hours of surgery, seeing if scalpels could cut away enough of the tumour to release the pressure on the optic nerve or if, by trying to remove it, they took his sight forever. But she had to reassure him, quieten him, get him away from Gavin and to a hospital . . .
She pushed with her elbows, as she did in therapy, was glad to find they still had their strength, despite the fall. Nothing worse than bruises.
She inched her way across the dirt as Ra Zacharia beat his hands against the telescope mounting. Finally she reached him. She put her hand out, took his. ‘Ra Zacharia.’
‘Don’t call me Ra! I can’t even heal myself!’
‘Ra,’ she said firmly. ‘You ARE a healer. You can help yourself now.’
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