A Step Back in Time – Gail McNamee

My name is Gail McNamee; I grew up in Darwin, I  experienced cyclone Tracy’s devastation on Darwin on Christmas Eve, of 1974.

TRACY

Distinctly I remember the one night in December,

Hells wrath fell from the heavens and struck upon our shore,

First the calm before the storm, a soft stir rustling leaves,

A wind that follows fast and fills the bushy shrubs,

Loud bangs, of lightning in black clouds, woke me from my snoring

Ear splitting sounds, so loud the frightening music, as the wind plays piping loud, Banging, crashing and grinding of houses, collapsing like a deck of cards, I hear the helpless cries, through the howling wind it carries,

Into the darkness I’m peering, it’s a nightmare which I’m still awakening.

SYNOPSIS

Never in David’s wildest dreams, could he have imagined, that doing something as mundane as putting the bins out on the side foot path, on a stormy night would link him to the small city’s past.

A STEP BACK IN TIME

There was no reason; no explanation; I was not connected in any way, was it fate, maybe the pattern in our lives common. I have agonised over the fact that I stepped into a past, that I had no knowledge off. Now I am writing about it because it never leaves my mind.

But first; I must tell you a bit of my life; my wife Jane and I, also our two young children, moved from Germany, to this new country Australia and settled in the small tropical, city of Darwin. I am a maths teacher at a secondary school and as with new posting’, I’ve had to deal with the usual taunts, with my German accent; the butt, of jokes about Nazis, but these have subsided and so now I have found myself in a comfortable lifestyle, and earn enough to afford the comforts we need, to keep the weather at bay.

My wife’ first Christmas, without snow, so I thought I should bring a little taste of home to her. I must tell you, I am partially blind in my left eye and have forty percent vision in my right; it’s a handicap, I’ve had to live with. Before I left the house, I polished the thick lens’ of my glasses, then drove fifty kilometres out of town, to a private property that was selling the real Christmas trees and bought one, I secured it with ropes on the trailer of my car.

I arrived home a little late in the evening, drove up the driveway and beeped the horn a few times. My children came running out excited, my wife stood there, sweating heavily, with the bucket in her hand and she had a certain look. ‘Yeah, I know,’ I muttered.

A distant rumble in the sky; ‘you had better hurry David.’ ‘Okay in a minute,’ I said, and detached the trailer. I soon drove to the beach which wasn’t far and filled the bucket with sand. Twenty minutes later I returned, ‘where can I put this?’ I asked. Jane stopped talking and pointed. ‘Agree,’ I said, and motioned towards the left side corner of the sitting room and placed the bucket. I went back outside and stumbled with the tree through the narrow doorway, ‘careful, David!’ Jane shouted, cursing me for almost knocking over one of her precious ornaments.

I moved towards the corner, and with a lot of effort managed to get the tree standing up right in the bucket of sand. Jane came over and took three quiet small sniffs of the pine tree then stepped back. My wife didn’t like excitement, and if she could, always, avoided it. I laughed heartily, and said, ‘suppose the coloured lights and decorations should be put up.’ I looked at our two small children, ‘what do you both think?’ ‘Make the tree pretty!’ shouted: my little girl, a chant that my little boy took up.

I stepped back and watched. The decorations took a good thirty minutes. We waited as Peter hung the last glittery ball on a branch. ‘Well, Margaret and Peter, you both may have the honour of switching on the lights,’ I said. They jumped about excitedly as children do, and both flicked the switch, and we all hugged each-others. After that I went to the kitchen and poured Jane and I a glass of sardine, to congratulate myself on not having to go anywhere and sat on the couch, in our sitting room enjoying the Christmas tree with my family. Then Jane reminded me. ‘It is Thursday night . . . the bins must be put out.’ I thought it could be done in the morning, but as usual my wife always knows best. I sucked in a long breath and stepped out the door.

The heavy weather moved in and the night was very dark and windy. I hurried over to the gate, opened it, and dragged the bins out to the kerbside. I returned to my yard through a sudden heavy down pour, the weather was so wild, I had to seek shelter, its, totally black.

I stopped, and glanced around not knowing where I was, debris was flying at me. I was confused. It suddenly turned eerily quiet for a time, then I heard cries for help, above me, I didn’t know what to do, and couldn’t think, suddenly I was confronted with a woman with pallid skin, coming towards me, her dead white face frantic. For just half a second, her vacant eyes met mine. She beckoned to the sounds above, and disappeared up a flight of wooden steps.

Again the air around me took a sudden turn. It picked up and got stronger, noise of the wind, deafeningly noisy. I kept trying to keep grounded, but my body swayed with the motion, crazy sounds above me, it was impossible to stay focus on one thing. Something exploded, loud crashing and voices, upstairs in a panic. I didn’t like the sound of that, my first instinct, slip away quietly and leave the horror behind; but I felt more intrigued by the moment.

My next instinct, to go further, on up the stairs was a brave one, I might be able to help; but on the down side, assume a terrible horror, in my mind. A little common sense and use precaution. My instinct told me to go further, with caution. I moved towards the awful sounds.

The outside stairs was leading up to a veranda. I started up the steps, slowly and cautiously. Sounds carried in the wind, sent a chill through me. I stopped and listened, feeling inclined to go back, but took another step further, and stepped onto what was left of a veranda, right at that moment, the air suddenly took a turn for the worst. The rain thicker in a sweeping motion, almost blinding my sight, I went on. I got knocked about by bits of debris, ducked as a piece of wood speared through the air towards me and for a few seconds, I stayed where I was. To leave now wasn’t an option, although, I felt the gloom in the air, I went on finding my way through the mess crossing my path, on the slippery wood floor. I stopped; there was no front door to thrust open.

I moved on through the howling wind and rain, dodging what-ever came at me, still I went on through the grey light, then stopped. I noticed no walls. My eyes lifted to the wild dark sky, then, to the moving floor beneath my feet, I switched, to another sound, in the wind. I thought I would seek it out. I looked along what must have been a long corridor and froze, I doubted my own eyes. I remembered, I rubbed both my eyes and stared. Choosing my steps for a minute, which seemed like eternity, to the tremulous light, my nerves almost, failed me. I shuddered with horror, of witnessing two pallid skinned children, in a bath tub in the wide open space, no walls to shield them from the force of the wild wind and sweeping rain, I went into a squat, to keep grounded. I winked the water from my eyes, the little girl clutching the sides of the bath tub and her hands frozen with terror, looked at me, as if I had awakened her from sleep, crying and next to her a little boy sobbing, with his small fingers clenched frozen tight, on the sides of the bath tub, holding on for dear life.

In the few seconds I was there, I became conscious of heavy steps running on the floor board behind me, it frightened the wits out of me, I looked around to the woman I saw earlier, she was hysterical. Her dead white arms outstretched from her tattered night gown. I turned back to the bathtub, no children; the wind eased, and all the terrible sounds fell away, all around the ray of moonlight fell eerily.

I stayed in the squat position for a few seconds longer, beside the empty bath, my hair and clothes dripped of water. I started to feel the movement of wind and quickly stood up, I was shivering and shaking, and again the weather took a turn for the worst, that terrible crashing sound started, right at that moment the children appeared clear as day in the bath tub, then heavy foot steps behind me, I turned and watched the woman. I was too fascinated by the scene around me to leave, so I watched their pattern of behaviour for a moment. I had forgotten my own life, my family and home. It was as if I had stepped into someone else’s life, their cares and concerns were suddenly mine.

I felt uneasy, so I made my move slowly towards the stairs. I stopped and turned back to the horror – with fascination, on the two little figures, the girl and boy sobbing in the bath tub. The black clouds stirred above, and the violent force of the wind and flashes of light started, and again the terrible sounds of crying. All choked up, I hurried on my way, only to be met again by the woman, as she ran, frantic up the steps. I ran into the darkness panting heavily, in the pouring rain.

I ended up on a concrete driveway; that could be mine, and walked up to the open door and there was my two children, ‘papa,’ they cried out with arms stretched, I dropped to my knees and fell into their arms, ‘what’s in your hand papa,’ Peter, asked. I opened my clenched fist it was a matchbox car. I shook my head. ‘That,’ I said, ‘I picked it up.’ I handed it to Peter. My wife didn’t question it. There was a little awkward silence.

Before going in, I stepped back to my driveway, and walked to the gate, my house identical to all the others on the street. There was no evidence of where I had been.

From the warmth of my bed, I stared cold eyed, into the black silence, thinking of the dead pale faces, not knowing what I had seen, switched my head to the side, staring through the window.

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