© 2018 Lochley Shaddock

Red Lands

Excerpt

“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.

And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”

- Friedrich Nietzsche

 

 

The stars shone too bright for a night like this.

 

Below them, the highway stretched across the desert, and he, alone on the road, brought his car to a stop. Under the little moon, the slick green Holden Gemini rumbled. Smoke leaped from the exhaust. And inside the car, Cadeo watched the horizon, hands clasped to the wheel. His knuckles were white and his grasp taut. He took a breath, released the wheel and killed the engine. He heard the sounds of the wind rolling across the plains and the rustling of the shrubs that lined the road. As he waited, he lifted his hand and ran the tip of his finger above his right ear, along an ugly scar.

 

Nothing appeared in the distance.

 

He pulled back his sleeve and reached for the torch on the passenger seat. Beside it lay a Ballester-Molina pistol, a Bowie knife, and an electronic cattle prod. He flicked on the torch and aimed it at his watch. The tiny, hypnotic hands ticked rhythmically.

11:37 pm.

 

The red desert of the Western Australia lapped over the road and marred the car’s exterior. But he would wait, as planned. Readjusting the rearview mirror, he saw dead eyes peeking out from his Vietnamese visage, the jaw buried under a cropped beard, cracked lips. The face, his face, was unfamiliar, a statue forged from fire, shaped by time. He turned off the torch, and the face disappeared. The car was enveloped in the dark. Unbuckling his belt, he shifted in his seat and reached for the canteen on the floor. As he snatched the bottle, he paused.

 

A light, twinkling like a newborn star, appeared in the distance.

 

The metal was cool on his lips as he drank the water. After he placed it back on the floor, Cadeo took up the torch, ignoring the pistol, the knife, and the cattle prod. Opening the door, he stopped, glancing at a balaclava on the dashboard.

 

*

 

Waiting in the shadows, the air was warm and his black shirt, dampened in sweat, clung to his torso. The car came to a stop. After a pause, the light died. The stranger stepped into the road and leant forward on his opened, car door. Cadeo watched him. Standing opposite one another, their paths lay crossed, and in that night, out on the fringe of the earth, one way ended, and another began.

 

“Oi, mate,” the stranger said, “you broke down? I got some leads in the back if you need a jump."

 

Cadeo flicked on the torch. The light shot into the stranger’s eyes. He stumbled backward, shielding his face.

 

“Watch it, buddy. You’ll blind someone doin’ that.”

 

The stranger laughed, a beat too late.

 

From his pocket, Cadeo revealed a photo. He shined the light on it and scanned the features of the man within its frame. He had brown, thinning hair, big ears, and a slender build. Then, he pointed the light up, once more, blinding the man. Cadeo gazed upon the stranger and then turned the light off.

 

 “Let me get the jumper leads,” Cadeo said.

 

There was a deafening silence. Cadeo opened his door and climbed in and across the seat. Taking up the cattle prod, his hand hovered over the knife and the Ballester-Molina. He grabbed the gun. Before he got out he popped the bonnet.

 

Back in the hot air, he stuffed the pistol in the back of his pants and watched the stranger.

 

“You gonna give it a look?” Cadeo said.

 

His voice flat, emotionless.

 

The stranger looked to the hood of the Gemini and back to Cadeo. His body was locked up, suspended in the purgatory between their cars, swallowed by the night.

 

"Sure, bud. Sure. I gotta be on my way soon, though."

 

The stranger walked over to the Holden and lifted the bonnet. Cadeo came around and behind him. The cattle prod lay in his grasp.

 

“Don’t worry, sir. This won’t take long.”

 

Arms raised, the stranger held the bonnet suspended, but Cadeo knew he was not looking into the engine, but into an abyss that lay before him.

 

“It always seems so far away,” the stranger said.

 

“What?”

 

“This… I knew it was coming. But… can I ask you something… before you do it?”

 

Cadeo thrust the cattle prod into his spine. The blue spark flashed in the dark. Convulsing, the stranger fell. The bonnet slammed shut. He hit the road hard. Cadeo held the prod firm. A sour gargling sound erupted from the stranger. Cadeo pushed harder. And then he stopped.

 

In the silence that followed, he heard the wind and the strained weeping.

 

Revealing the Ballester-Molina, Cadeo felt the cool grip and the weight of the gun in his hand. Taking his time, he released the magazine, looked it over in the moonlight, put it back in and cocked the gun. He levelled the barrel, aiming it at the stranger's temple.

 

“Goodnight, John Doe.”

 

There was no reply, only the bark of the bullet and a white flash, echoing out into the desert and the nothingness and the night.