Roma Writer's Group
The Works of F. Robert Kelly
RIDERS ON THE STORM
The clock's face shows ten thirty PM when the phone rings and wakes him from his sleep. It is January 13th in the year 2461; he picks up the phone and says, "hello Michael Bradely here". A voice on the other end said "hi, I'm sorry I woke you up at this hour but your father was taken ill last night and sent to hospital, we're afraid he might be just about to pass on to the next world. Anyway your father has asked that you be notified in the event of this, he says he would like you to be there when he does die".
Michael thought for a moment, then asked; "ok, where is he?" the voice answered "in Saint Carmichaels hospital". Michael said, "Ok, I'll be there in about an hour".
The sky was pitch black outside he noticed, as he drove above the ground, looked like a real humdinger of a storm was about to hit. He loved these hover vehicles, no worries about getting a flat tyre. And they used less fuel then normal drive cars. They used a new organic fuel based on vegetable oils.
And the other benefit was the councils and governments didn't have to worry so much about road repairs, they could focus spending their money on other things of more importance. Like schools or hospitals or a way to repair the ozone layer.
He watched the dark ominously heavy clouds roll across the sky like an angry sea. Thunder and lightning streaked forth to wreak their vengeance on the unsuspecting people below.
The lightning lit up the sky like a million giga watt flash bulb.
He pulled into the driveway of the hospital and the car's anti-grav generators turned of as he drifted softly down to the ground.
He pressed a button on the inside of the door and the door slide backwards. Car doors didn't open outwards any more instead they now slid backwards towards the rear of the car, like the side door of a minibus.
Automaton nurses patrolled the corridors of St Carmichaels; now a-days human nurses were very rarely needed. Robots that hovered just above the ground and that were fully automated were used. These Auto nurses as they became known had a screen built into their chest and could take pulse, temperature and all other vitals just by touching the patient.
No more thermometers being put up inside ungodly parts of the human anatomy. The patient's bed was also equipped with a send/receive device that broadcasted the vitals of the patient to the auto nurses in case they were away from the bed or ward. That way the nurse could monitor the patient from a distance with no worries what so ever.
And since 90% of the beds were off the ground there was no real need for cleaners any more, the beds like everything else hovered.
Although some human cleaners and staff had to be kept at the hospital just in case the auto nurses had a system crash, however there were never very many of them.
Michael hated hospitals. The smell of hospital strength antiseptic, the all over brightness of the fluoro light bulbs. He just hated them.
He arrived at the nurse's station and pressed the buzzer. One of the human nurses came over and asked how she could help him. They didn't use auto nurses to man the desks because they had no personality and people usually became irritated with them rather quickly.
"Yes" Michael answered "I am Michael Bradely, one of your doctors here rang me at my home about an hour ago and told me to come here because my father had been taken ill and was dying", the nurse just said; "uh huh, and what is your father's name?"
He answered "Dave Bradely". She said; "righto just hang on a minute". She then turned to the computer and punched in the name.
The computer hummed and beeped and then she said; "uh huh, here it is, Bradely Dave, room 416, I'll get an auto nurse to take you there.
After the auto nurse arrived Michael followed it to the ward where they had his dad. They turned into it and walked between two rows of hover beds, Dave, Michael's father was on the last bed on the right hand side.
The nurse turned and left.
Michael asked Dave "dad how are you?"
Dave answered in a weak raspy voice "I am not good son, I am old and I am sick, and I am dying. The doctors give me about twenty-four hours to live".
Michael asked, "Dad what caused this?"
Dave said; "it's that new strain of flu going around, it's especially dangerous to old people. You have probably heard that it kills people, well it does, it's a real bastard".
Michael asked; "is there anything I can do, any way I can ease your suffering?"
Dave said; "yes", the asked; "did I ever tell you how I became one of the most well known truckers in the land?"
Michael said; "no, I don't think you did".
Dave said, "well sit down, shut up and I will tell you how you are related to a four hundred and eighty year old legend and how I saved a small town and became a legend myself".
Dave started his story.
It actually started son, way before I was even born, back in the year 1981".
He looks out the window as the rain that has been held in the clouds suddenly rips forth and pelts against the pane of the window, and just like the rain, the memories flood back.
A late Monday night, in a bar, in a town in far north west Queensland called Dureeba, the locals, who are but a few, sit and watch a solitary TV, on it is the trots (horse and buggy racing).
Suddenly the door to the exterior is literally ripped out and a six foot eight-inch tall truckie who goes by the name of "Duck" (mainly because it's the best thing to do when he starts swinging). Strides in, sits on a stool so heavily he nearly puts it through the floor. He turns ever so slowly and looks out the door as if expecting the devil himself to come bursting in and get him.
He then turns and orders a triple scotch and brandy with a side of vodka, the room, if it wasn't already as silent as ghost town went so. It was the strongest and strangest concoction of a drink they had ever heard any one person order.
They looked at him, all eyes glued to him, they knew something was wrong. For one he was sweating like a monsoon storm in a sauna. For two his face was whiter than the towel he had his drink on. For three he shaking so badly the whole bar was vibrating.
But that was big Dave, 6 foot 8 inches, legs like tree trunks, and arms like rolls of carpet. The bar tender being the bravest asked; " Dave, what's up? You look like you've seen a ghost"; Dave who gathered courage answered "yeah, was a phantom of some sort". The bartender pressing on asked, "So, tell us what's got you spooked". Dave downed his glass and a guy up the far end fainted, and few others nearly did too, just from watching! He then started his tale.
"I was out on the Old Northern road doing eighty in my twenty two wheeler and I was topping the crest of Doughty's ridge, as I started going down into the valley the sky started getting darker. The wind picked up. Then as I got down more this sandstorm came out of nowhere. So I slow to sixty cause I can barely see the road. I start on the flat and suddenly in all the sand and wind I see this guy with his thumb out walking the road".
At the mention of this an elderly and highly respected aboriginal came out of a dark corner and sat next to Dave, he said to Dave "please, continue", so Dave did.
"As I got closer to this guy the storm got heavier but he didn't seem to be affected and I could see him better than I could see the road. So I stop just in front of him and open my door and he gets in. I ask him "where ya going mate?" he says Dureeba township thanks".
No sooner has Dave said this destination than the aboriginal goes whiter than Dave was.
But Dave continues, " So I start driving at 60 again. As
I get going the sand gets thicker and the wind gets stronger, and soon the wind
is so strong that the truck is rocking just slightly. So this guy says, "you
mind if I nod off for a while?" and I said, "yeah go for it".
And I'm getting to the middle of the valley and the wind is so strong it feels
as if it will tip the truck. And there's this weird howling noise and I look
to see if all this has woken my friend and I see him starting to disappear.
And it shocks me so much I nearly lose control of the truck.
So I say to him "hey man, you're like fazing out, disappearing" and he says "yeah I know, I ran out of time again". And he vanishes altogether and the last thing I hear before a great resounding "POP" is this voice on the wind say, "find me".
I get so freaked I have to stop before I loose it totally, so I get out and after rubbing my eyes, see that I can see the road ahead and behind. In fact I can see all the way to the top of the ridge. But! It was what I could just barely see in front of me that scared the wits out of me the most.
What I saw was a white cross, just barely sticking out of the grass on the side of the road. I went over and read the scripted plaque, it said, "dedicated to the unknown hitchhiker", I then realised I had picked up a ghost!
SITCHARNA GEYHOUNI, Dave turned to the elder and said "excuse me?" the elder, said "the one who rides the storm" or the "Storm Rider". The whole place went deadly quiet, Dave asked "who or what is the Storm Rider?" the elder answered" he is legend, for as long as I have lived, I have remembered the tale of him, passed down through many generations.
The story goes that many, many years ago a hitchhiker was walking along what was then no more than a track. When he entered a valley named by my people called TIANOU HARTE DGOLNOU or "Valley of Death". You will notice no cattle feeding in this valley, because the ground is poisonous and so is everything that grows there and because of the wind bought death. Only one person has ever walked that part of the road and that person was he.
The hiker was said to be walking along the valley part of the road when a sandstorm hit. Instead of sitting it out he covered his face and head and continued, as everyone knows it is impossible to see even two feet in front of you in a sandstorm. So as he was walking he wondered out onto the skinny road. And because of the wind he didn't hear the truck coming behind him and the truck did not see him. He died under the wheels of that truck and the driver didn't realise until it was too late that he'd hit someone.
The driver out of his truck and taking a shovel buried the dead man's body, and then nailed two pieces of wood together to form a cross and put the dedication. The trucker had checked him first for signs of life then I.D, he had neither. He then continued onto the town, he arrived it is said at ten P.M.
The whole town was closed and he couldn't be bothered trying
to find somebody to tell about the accident. And so that night some say the
ghost took his revenge, and some say it happened naturally to a 35 yr old truckie.
But he died in his sleep and never got the chance to tell about the accident,
how the people found out about the accident I don't know."
Dave was speechless
The elder continued "it is said that the ghost will continue haunting truckies on that road until someone finds out who he is. Believe me lots have tried but there is no trace of him".
For as long as the sands of time have shifted, so too has a story been told a story of a ghost that haunts truckies on a road to a small town.
But now after decades, no centuries of waiting the ghost stories are becoming frighteningly real and people and people are dying to find out his name
Before he kills again
Suddenly Dave felt weary, tired and sleepy, and was finding himself dreaming..
A hot Summer's day, mid Oct 1981. On a road to a small town that is only wide enough for one vehicle walks a hitchhiker, he doesn't look like much. He wears raggy, torn jeans, an old t-shirt, with a hooded jacket. He has the drawstring tied under his chin. He walks slowly, lazily but yet methodically with his hand extended and his thumb in the air.
Not far away a freight-carrying semi-trailer is driving down a highway; the radio is blasting through the truck. The driver, who has stubble 11/2 cm long on his chin, pushes the gas a bit further. He has about 2 K's before his turn off.
The hiker, who is resting by a tree, takes out of a bag he has on his back, a water bottle and pops the lid. He takes a few mouthfuls puts the lid back on. He looks both ways along the road, seeing nothing he continues after wiping sweat from his head.
The truck driver has just turned on the air conditioner in his truck; the thermometer reads warmly 38 degrees Celsius. He spots his turn off, slows, and flicks on the blinkers.
He stops for a minute as a truck, to which he waves, passes by. He then pushes the gas and turns the wheel to the right and takes the turn off.
Little does the driver know that this road will not only lead to his demise but that of a hitchhiker with a vengent ghost.
The hiker who is starting up a hill stops to listen for a minute, the wind is picking up. He pulls a scarf out of his bag and drapes it around his face. The hitchhiker continues on.
About his same moment the driver has turned off his radio and is trying to yodel up someone on the C.B with not much luck. It's a pity really because if he had the radio on he'd hear about the sandstorm that is blowing towards the TIANOU HARTE DGOLNOU valley (Valley of Death to the natives) and he would have been able to take a different road around it.
Sand was starting to blow ever which way but loose and the wind wasn't exactly friendly, but the hiker just put on a pair of glasses and continued walking.
He (the hiker) reached the crest which was pretty high, and looked down into a valley, noticing that this valley in a whole only had about twenty trees and most of them was by the road, no grass grew there, not even weeds.
All of this meant nothing to the hiker, who took a swig of his bottle and started down.
The trucker was hitting about 80 K's and had given up trying to raise somebody on the C.B, he switched on the radio but got only static, and so he turned it off.
The hiker was halfway down when visibility started getting bad, and the wind was doing its best to bowl him over but he kept on going.
The driver started up the ridge, shifted the gear lever back to third and reduced it back down to sixty. He noticed a wind picking up so he closed his window.
The hiker, who was walking quite fast considering the conditions, had passed the halfway mark of the valley. He noticed the only signs of life were crows and they didn't land on the ground, only in the trees.
The driver got to the top of the ridge and pushed the truck back into forth. Little did he know that over the next ridge a nightmare unlike any other would start, one he would not live to see corrected.
The hiker was 3 K's shy of where he was to die when he heard a noise; he turned back but saw nothing through the sand. He listened hard but heard only quietness under the sound of the roaring wind.
Clearing the first valley at 80 K's an hour he started up the second at 60.
The wind blew harder and harder as the hiker walked, the sand was so thick he couldn't see the road he was walking on.
Topping the second ridge, which was called Doughty's Ridge, he saw the sandstorm in the valley below and cursed to himself. He kept it at sixty and went down.
Now on a normal day the hiker would've heard the truck coming down the ridge, as his hearing was good but on this day the wind was vicious and the sand was flying.
It didn't take long for the truck to enter the valley; he entered the sandstorm and hoped for the best.
The hiker who was exhausted from pushing through the wind and who couldn't see his hand in front of his face didn't know he was walking in the middle of the road.
The driver was cruising down through the valley when he saw a shape in the middle of the road, at first he thought it was a post so he went right a bit, as he did it disappeared, he thought he must've imagined it.
He was about to go back to what he thought was the left side of the road when a form of some sort appeared just in front of him. It just seemed to pop out of nowhere, he then realised it was a hitchhiker and he slammed on the brakes hoping to stop in time.
Unfortunately the sand was not good gripping material and the next thing he knew he'd hit the hiker.
He managed to finally stop the truck; he got out and went around to the left side of the truck to the hiker.
Meanwhile someone was watching him; it was the soul of the hiker, who watched as the truck driver checked him for signs of life, of which there were none.
The driver tried everything to give life to the hiker but in vein. The soul of the hiker watched him (the driver) search him (the hiker) for I.D, none of that either.
The soul watched as the driver went to his dog box and got a shovel, he watched as the driver dug a hole and carefully put the body in. The driver then got out two white boards, which it is known that truck drivers always carry in case they get bogged. And using a hammer nailed them together to form a cross; he then rummaged around and bought out a square piece of tin. He inscribed something on it and nailed it to the board.
He then took his hat off and stood for a few minutes before getting into the truck.
The driver started it up and drove along the road again, except now he had a passenger, someone who wanted to see if he'd do the right thing and report it.
The soul rode with the trucker all the way to Dureeba, only to see him pull up at a hotel and book a room. Sure the town was closed but this guy just couldn't be bothered, so the soul suffocated him in the night.
That was 400 years ago.
And now the soul is getting impatient.
The year is 2381 and the future has not hit the outback yet, after a restless night of being chased by ghosts in his dreams, big Dave is tired and it shows.
11:30 A.M and when he yawns his mouth looks like a black hole, he was up all night trying to figure out not only how he got from the pub to here, but also how to find out who the ghost was.
The police cruiser slowed as Constable Pihcardo saw that the grass on the side of the road was scorched ash.
This was unusual since the wind was too strong for burning off. The air smelt of burning rubber, and petrol, so Constable Pihcardo continued to follow the trail of burnt grass. When he topped Doughty's Ridge he saw what he feared most. An eighteen-wheeler had had a major prang in the valley; the tyre tracks were all over the road. The trees on the left side of the road were gone, probably blown away by the force of the blast. It had been so hot it had melted the tar on the road. Pieces of the rig littered the road and countryside for a radius of 3 K's.
Constable Pihcardo pulled the cruiser up about 600 metres from the wreck, he didn't know if there was any unexploded fuel left.
He opened the rig door expecting the driver to be burnt to a crisp, but to his surprise he was untouched, all though dead.
The expression of utter terror on the driver's face said it all, death from fright; his body was as stiff as a board.
It was as if some sort of shield had covered the driver during the blast, as for the rest of the truck there wasn't much too be seen.
When the ambulance finally came, they had to fracture the fingers of the driver to pry them from the wheel.
By 6 P.M the whole town of Dureeba knew but only Dave and the elder knew it was the work of the Storm Rider.
Dave had been to the local library to check the history of the Storm Rider. What the elder had said had been true; the Storm Rider had been around for 400 years. But although he searched their records he found no trace of the Storm Rider's name.
Dave had to leave Dureeba that day to go to the big smoke and as it was he was shit scared to go, mainly because of the Storm Rider.
Dave was in the valley before he knew what was happening. He was so worried about whether or not the ghost would haunt him or not, he didn't notice the ghost sitting in his truck.
"BOO!" the ghost, exclaimed scaring the daylights out of Dave. Dave turned and said to the ghost "you know you're not going to be easy to get a name for. I checked the town's records as far back as 1955 and there is only one mention of the accident, and that only showed up when someone found a log book in the truck, although it's said it's more like a diary".
The ghost answered back "well Dave, I hate to say, but you're looking in the wrong place, don't look for my name yet, look for me!" and then he vanished.
Dave was just about to ask, "How in the hell did ya know my name?" when he noticed the ghost had disappeared.
Dave was rumbling down through the valley two days later when he heard on the radio a story about a car carrier that had pranged up majorly.
Apparently, as the driver came into the valley he hit an oil slick and a car came loose and went into the back of the cab killing him instantly.
Dave cursed for he knew the ghost had played up again.
Just as he did the ghost popped, literally, into the passenger seat and quipped; "gee, that was a cool trick I did, don't ya think?"
Dave who was shocked answered "cool, waddaya mean cool?"
The ghost just smiled and said; "yeah I got some Great Spirit type powers. Just watch this".
Suddenly the truck sped up to 110 K's an hour and the electric's went crazy, the horn blared, the lights flashed, and the C.B went totally wacko.
Dave, trying to keep control said; "hey would you mind?"
The ghost just said "oops, sorry" and vanished again.
Dave pulled up outside the hotel of the town and got out of his truck like a bolt of greased lightning. He ran in the door with his heels on fire, literally.
He hit the bell with such enthusiasm that it went through the counter, and buckled. Almost immediately a gent came out and queried; "yes sir, can I help you?"
Dave thought for a minute and said "yeah, just wondering, that guy who carked it here 400 years ago, would his stuff still be 'ere?"
The man pondered Dave's question then said; "no, since it is of historical significance, I.E it's one of this town's claims to fame, so therefore it would be at the museum".
Dave just stood there amazed and said; "um, yeah, thanks".
In a squeal of rubber he was off towards the museum.
He was out of that truck faster than a shot out of a gun. He entered the museum and went up to the information desk. Noticed it was empty he banged so hard the sound echoed for two minutes and he put a hole in the desk.
Within seconds a clerk appeared, noticed the hole and questioned; "hello, what can I do for you?"
Dave, who had no time for mixing words, answered, "show us yer myths and legends section!"
The clerk said, unperturbed, "yes sir, follow me". He then walked off to the right with Dave in tow.
All the while they were walking, Dave was checking cabinets on either side of the walkway. He was about to walk past one when he stopped suddenly and noticed a photo of a cross and a diary plus several other items. Dave hollered to the clerk, "Is that the "Legend of the Unknown Hitchhiker" display?"
The clerk answered "yes it is, is this what you were looking for?"
Dave said; "yeah, it is".
Dave's eyes focused on the dirty backpack, he asked "is that the Hitchhiker's bag?"
The clerk said; "sure is".
Dave said "open the case, I wanna closer look", it was more of a command than a request.
The clerk commented "sorry sir, it's museum property and is there for protection".
Dave grabbed him by the shirt, lifted him off the ground, and pulled the clerk so that they were face to face, and said; "no, is not an option".
After putting the clerk down, he opened the cabinet, and then the poor man took off like a rocket. Dave looked the bag over, no trace of a tag with a name on it. He opened it and looked at the contents.
There was a water bottle, mystery novel, lunch box and a cap and glasses, with a scarf. And that was all that was in the bag.
He was still left clueless as how to find the ghost's name, as he pondered a voice on the wind whispered "look for invisible clues", suddenly a light clicked on in Dave's head.
Of course the ghost meant fingerprints. His fingerprints would be on the bottle and box, so using his shirt he put them in the bag. He also had another idea he could follow up in the big smoke.
As Dave was gathering info in the city, a storm was raging over Dureeba that night, one fiercer than any other that had hit. First driving rain, along with blast of lightning and ear splitting thunder.
When Dave arrived at Dureeba the next morning, the pub crowd was bleak. So he asked what happened, a local bloke said, "last night a storm hit and the old theatre caught on fire and was destroyed. Two people died trying to put it out".
Dave asked, "Where's the elder?" a guy at the bar answered, "At the cop shop, he was lucky to get out with his life".
At the police station Dave asked to see the elder, once shown to where he was resting he related his news. "I've got some leads on our ghost, for one the big city cops put his fingerprints through their computers, it seems he was a small time crook and for two I put an ad in the cities papers. He showed the elder the ad; in the picture in the centre were the contents of the bag. Around the photo was the word "found" printed from the top down on the sides and across the top and bottom.
At the very bottom this was written; "have you seen these items? Do you recognise them?" and then "these articles were found on a dead hitchhiker on old Dureeba RD heading towards Dureeba. If you know or knew of someone who could've been hitchhiking that road or possessed these articles please contact your local police station".
Once the posters had been erected, the local police stations were flooded with calls. All from people who had photos of those items and why? Because of one peculiar story.
Apparently this story started in 1962, when the hiker was still alive. The story goes that the hiker used to travel the country by thumb; however the part about how he used to get the attention of the cars and vehicles was the peculiar part.
First he'd stick out his thumb and hope for the best and if that didn't work he'd set down his bag and pull out a bag of balloons and he'd make things out of them. Like Lions and Tigers, Dogs and Cats even an Elephant; he had a knack for it.
And if that didn't work he'd juggle, juggle anything, sticks, rocks, balls, hats ETC.
It is even said he'd make two drivers very nervous by juggling their car keys.
He'd juggle bowling pins, tools, and packs of cards, packs of matches, lighters even jewellery.
And then when ten or twenty motorists offered him a lift he'd pull out a small game board and put a ball under one of three cups and tell each one to have a go of finding it after he moved them around several times.
The one, who found it, won. And during the journey he'd play card tricks with the children, or the wife, even the driver.
The driver's that picked him up dubbed him "The Highway Clown" and many had photos taken with him.
So it was obvious he wasn't unknown, he even helped an accident victim stay alive long enough for an ambulance to arrive, how?
Told the person jokes, well they do say that laughter is the best medicine.
A heap of people told stories of their ancestors' travels along the Great Wamuran Highway and how he was seen there many times.
The calls were so great in number; the police took three weeks to gather them into something Dave could use.
A lot of calls pointed along the road to a town called Teso (Tay-so), which was really, really in the middle of nowhere.
Dave with the help of some rigger friends did a leaflet drop in all the letterboxes of the town.
On them was the ad that had appeared in the daily rags of the big smoke.
Meanwhile the farms around the town of Dureeba were being hit by plagues of Locusts and crops were being destroyed by the ton, and all the ghost would say is "don't look at me, I didn't do it".
Of course when a twenty-ton bulldozer rolled off a still moving truck and after trying to flatten the cab went on a mad rampage and wiped out what little vegetation was left in Doughty's Ridge, the ghost knew he couldn't squirm out of this one.
Four days in a hotel flew by for Dave as he waited for a response. When the phone rang he was quick to pick it up, "yeah, hello, Dave 'ere" he said with nervy speed. A voice on the other end spoke "hello, Dave is it?" a pause, "Dave I got a leaflet in the mail the other day and it was two days before I recognised the items. Another pause, " I remembered them from a photo, and I'm wondering if you could come to my home to talk about it more" the voice asked questioningly.
Dave thought for a minute and answered "yeah, sure, how's tomorrow, say two o'clock? And by the way, where do ya live?" he queried, the voice told him and he wrote it down.
The place was an ordinary brick place with fully rounded (I.E all around the yard) 6-foot fence made of chain wire and chicken wire combined (one on top of the other). It had about three steps and then a solid wood door.
Dave knocked lightly and even though he did the place sounded like a tomb. A few minutes later a man who stood about 5" 3' tall and skinny as a rake answered the door. He invited Dave in, and Dave was glad to get out of the humid heat. He led Dave to a table in what appeared to be a kitchen.
The man sat down, he then slapped his forehead and got up and got a chair for Dave, he then went to a room and reappeared a few minutes later.
The man placed the photo frame he had in his hands on the table and proceeded to tell Dave what info he could help with.
"This here is a photo of one my uncles way down the line, ya know like great, great, great etc uncle, he knew the "Highway Clown" pretty well, mainly because he used to rest here a lot".
Dave listened carefully to what the man had to say.
"Apparently, he trusted him (my ancestor) so much, when he went to Dureeba to visit his aunt, he left all his tricks here, actually all but two, and they were trick packs of cards".
Dave interrupted for a minute or two, but I checked his gear and I never found no cards".
The man smiled and quipped, " that's because you don't know "Highway" like my ancestor did, he hid his cards in a hollowed out book, the book is a mystery novel book, but then everything about "Highway" is a mystery".
Dave was confused "why is that?"
"Because no one knows where he was born or who 'is parents or families were except for his aunt that is".
Dave said, "this is good info, but it doesn't help me find out what his name was".
The man said, "yes it does, the town's family history man should have records of his aunt, her first name was Josephine. I know that much. Follow that lead to her last name, and then see if she was married. Find her married and maiden names, once you've found her maiden name trace her sister/s and their children, and you'll find 'im".
Dave said, "thanks" and left for Dureeba, again.
On the way to Dureeba, the ghost popped into Dave's truck.
Dave quite surprised, said; "I wish you'd stop doing that!" the ghost just said "what, what did I do?" Dave answered "stop just appearing, and give me a warning when you're coming!" The ghost thought about this and said, "you know, you're right, I'll give you a warning next time. Anyway did you hear what happened? No, well a plague of locusts wiped out Dureeba shire's crops".
Arriving at Dureeba, Dave went to the pub to find out who the town's family tracing man was, and where to find him.
Dave found the gent out on a property out of town called "Crest Haven". When he arrived there he knocked loudly on the old oak door.
A man, who seemed to be about 50 years of age, answered. He was rather tall, although shorter than Dave was. He was about 5" 7' tall, with a flourishing grey beard; he wore a battered bushman's hat and old, faded, blue overalls.
The man who's name was Nick, asked of Dave "howdy there, can I help you with something?" Dave answered politely (which was rather unusual for Dave).
"You sure can, I'm trying to trace a lady who lived here about 400 years ago, her first name was Josephine, but I don't know her last name, can you help?"
Nick thought for a moment then answered "yeah, should be able to help, there shouldn't be too many Josephine's in the books".
Dave and Nick arrived at the town's record offices, which were at the back the rear of the courthouse.
They went to a cabinet in a row of many. The cabinet had ten drawers. Nick told Dave "each one of these drawers is for each year that has passed since Dureeba was built".
"We'll start with the year 1981because we know that she must've lived here that year because the guy you're finding the name of was coming to see her that year". (Dave had told him about his quest to find the name of the unknown hitchhiker on the way back).
"We have an election every year for mayor" Nick smartly stated.
"If miss or Mrs Josephine voted in that year she would in the voting register.
One good thing" Nick said as Dave listened, "is that for each year there are two lots of register one in order of surname and one in order of Christian name.
Ah here it is, Josephines " nick said to Dave, "lucky there's only two, one permanent, one temporary. Only the temporary one didn't vote, so there's only one left".
Dave was so excited he stuttered "w-w-w-what's her last name?"
Dave asked; "is that her married or maiden name?"
"She was never married according to our files, er, that is there is no marriage certificates listed under her name" nick stated.
Dave queried, "so that means the hiker's last name could be Harbinger?"
Nick answered "yes and no, you see, that is Josephine's sister could have been married, therefore different name, anyway what I'll do is check our records for any other Harbingers in our town".
Unfortunately there was no other Harbinger's in the town.
Dave thanked Nick for his help and headed out towards the big smoke to chase up the info on Harbinger. He had found out Josephine had a sister named Mary-Lou. This person was listed as her next of kin in case something happened to her.
When he arrived there it was pretty late at night so he got a motel room and slept the night in the city. The next day Dave asked the motel clerk about tracing family history, he didn't have a clue but he did tell Dave to try the courthouse.
In Dureeba, it was everything but quiet. The town's people were trying to figure out how to return a herd of cattle to a property just out of town. Apparently a disturbance had started a stampede and most of the farm had been trampled, the barn was destroyed, the fences crushed as was the vegetable garden that was the farmers life, lucky no one was hurt.
The same could not be said for a cattle truck driver whose truck had been it seemed, thrown about like a matchbox toy. The sheep in the cattle trailer had disappeared and the trailer itself was two kilometres away from where the truck was.
The courthouse wasn't as small as Dureeba's one. It was much bigger. It wasn't just a single courtroom and an office; it was many courtrooms and their offices. Dave went in through the huge steel front doors; he looked around at the entrance hall and knew this was going to be harder than he thought.
There were two hallways on each side of the entrance hall, a flight of stairs was practically right in front of him, and off it, one flight of stairs went to either side.
Luckily for Dave there was a building directory in the foyer. Dave walked over to it and looked on the guide for family historians.
Since he couldn't seem to find them, (they were there, but under some really big, and extremely hard to pronounce name).
He stopped a guy with a wig on and asked him where the guy who traces family history was, the man who was a judge gave him directions and Dave gave him thanks.
Walking to the guy's office was like trying to find a way out of a labyrinth, but Dave finally found the right door, he knocked and after a few minutes a man in his late 40's answered.
Because Dave had rang before coming the man whose name was William McBrandy knew what Dave was looking for, he went to the table and picked up a file. He said to Dave after a brief introduction "I believe this is the thing to help you in your quest, I spent all yesterday tracking it down".
Dave thanked him and asked, "how come it took you so long?"
William answered, "Because for one Miss Harbinger married just before the birth of her only son!"
Dave was so shocked, it showed, and he flopped straight into a chair like a limp rag doll.
After a few minutes he said, "So the guy I'm looking for is an only child?"
William, who was smiling widely, mainly because he knew how close Dave was to his answer, answered "yes he was, but back to what I was saying. Miss Harbinger was married and it seemed as though there was no marriage certificate, therefore when she married her record disappeared. Mainly because it would have been relocated to her husband's file, and she had her child after her marriage so that child's name would also be in her husbands file. So what I did is, I rang up births, deaths and marriages in their main office in the capital city and asked if they had a copy of miss Harbinger's marriage certificate, which they did". He paused for a second to let Dave take this in; all Dave said was "wow!"
William continued, "Now because of the fact that I have a brother who is a judge they let me have it. So I looked at the name and matched it with a name in our files, and found miss Harbingers file and with it was the birth certificate of her so with his name and all the important info on it".
He then handed the file to Dave and said "the papers within are copies so you can keep them if you want, I'll leave you to look over them, I bet you're glad to finally end your search".
He then turned and walked out.
Dave opened the file and looked at the birth certificate, on it was the name Michael with the date of birth as 1948 with date and month written as 21st November along with the place and parents.
The birth certificate was a bit faded so Dave had stood up and gone to the window to see it better.
The certificate was not what really drew Dave's attention, but what was written on the marriage certificate; the married name of Mary-Lou Harbinger was
And this is what shocked Dave the most, for this was Dave's last name!
When Dave awoke from his faint there were several people standing over him, one was an ambulance officer who was putting an oxygen mask back away in the med kit. Dave asked, "What happened?"
A lady who seemed to be in her mid twenties answered "well I was walking down the hall when I heard this massive, tremendous thud come from this office, I opened the door and saw you on the ground and immediately took your pulse, you had a very weak one. So I called for an ambulance".
Dave slowly sitting up thanked her and stated that he would be fine, after the office cleared Dave said "thank you" to William and left to do some further research.
Dave remembered that he had visited a guy whose ancestor knew Michael Bradely (the hiker) so he rang him up and asked if he could come and see him again, it was confirmed he could.
Dave drove to the place that Dave had found out was owned by Charles Shanaghan, (Dave had asked his name before leaving for the big smoke).
Dave arrived at Charles' place and knocked on the door, it opened and Charles said, "Dave it's nice to see you again, what can I do you for?"
Dave answered by asking; "do you mind if I come in?" Charles moved aside as if to usher Dave in and Dave entered.
Dave sat down and Charles sat opposite him and Dave started on what he wanted to ask, "when I was here last you said your ancestor knew "Highway" pretty well is that correct?"
Charles pondered for a minute and said, "yes that's true", Dave continued "well what I need to know is, did your ancestor ever say anything about "Highway" ever mentioning a girlfriend or wife?"
Charles tried to remember the stories that had been passed down from father to son through the generations; he sorted through them in his mind before answering "yeah there is a story about one day when the clown met a lady who picked him up. She was as beautiful as the sun rising in the morning, as sensual as the new-blossomed rose and apparently as kind and as generous as the good lord himself was. That's the clown's description of her that was passed down to me. Anyway this lady was like "Highway" and travelled the Great Wamuran highway many times, so of course she got to know "Highway" pretty well, and then one day they got married and had a child, and for a few years "Highway" settled down".
Dave was amazed and he was so much this way he couldn't think of anything to say, so Charles continued, "however the restlessness of "Highway" never died and his wondering habits restarted, anyway after two years the wife got sick of "Highways" roaming life and left him taking the child.
It was said that after that all the life wept out of his tricks and he died a miserable man".
Dave who had gained some composure asked; "what about the wife, was she ever heard of again?"
Charles pondered the question for a moment, once again searching his brain, sorting through the catalogue of stories, then answered "not that I know of".
Suddenly! Dave stood up and thanked Charles and left for the big smoke's office of family tracing again.
Once again Dave was sitting face to face with William, talking about family history. William who had his feet on the desk stated "so Dave, you're back to trace the history of your family this time huh?"
Dave just said "uh, yeah" then William continued.
"Ok, well thanks to your call you placed before coming here, I learned that Mary-Lou Bradely lived in a town called WinCheko and her only son, your man was born at a small country hospital nearby. He lived to be 33 yrs old. He married a lady by the name of Deborah Crikshank at age 29 they had a baby age 30 and divorced two years later".
Dave let all this sink in before asking William to continue.
"Well unlike "Highway" as you first called him his child named Eric Bradely didn't become a roamer, I think this was mainly due to his mother's influence, but went through school and even uni and became a doctor. At age 22 he married his high school sweetheart and they had two boys one was your ancestor, so now you know yourself and Michael Bradely are RELATED!"
Dave sat in his truck shocked. He couldn't believe that he was related to a psychopathic ghost. Dave finally, through a lot of searching found where Michael "Highway" Bradely kept the mystery novel. It was in the bag except it had a different cover, he opened it and as Charles had said there were two packs of cards, but also under those was a photo of two people and a baby, Dave decided it was time to end Michaels torment.
Dave was pushing the limit going along the Great Wamuran Highway, he was doing up to and including 120 K's in a 100 zone and so far he'd been lucky. Dave didn't realise he'd almost passed the turn off until he saw what was left of the sign. The poles were twisted into knots and the sign like a replica of a paper plane, a very bad replica at that.
Dave was doing some very low flying along the road to Dureeba, he only just noticed the drops of rain on his wind screen but when he did he hit the brakes so hard he thought the truck might jackknife. He looked out his windscreen to see the massively ugly black cloud in the sky. The one that was blocking out all light and putting the entire countryside around Dureeba into darkness.
However he was glad the rain would do this part of the country some real good, so he started the old girl back up and kept on towards Dureeba.
With a giant ear splitting crack of thunder Dave awoke from his daydreaming, he looked out the window. Not only was lightning raking the sky but thunder was bellowing forth like a million billion synchronised trumpets and hailstones as big as golf balls flew at unbelievable velocity. While a blowing wind that made him think he was in a tornado shook the truck and rain like thick sheets of glass.
As Dave looked down upon the town of Dureeba he was mystified for Dureeba had disappeared under a raging torrent of water, he capped his hands to his mouth and shouted; "Hey, hallo, is anybody there?"
He heard a voice say; "sounds like helps arrived, light the torches" suddenly the roof of the tavern lit up with flame torches on three sides. Dave seeing the spectacular laughed uproariously. Not because it was funny, but because he was glad all the locals had gathered in one place.
Dave was stumped as on how to get across until he saw a dinghy tied to a tree; he grabbed the rope and gave a mighty heave making it land on the roof. He then shouted "tie the rope to something strong I'm going to tow myself across in a boat". The people on the pub tied it down and Dave braced himself in the boat and lent backwards to keep the rope tight, as he moved out into the river he found that it was like trying to row through mud.
But finally he got to the other side; he climbed to the roof and asked, "Is everybody here?"
The barman said "yeah, everybody got up here in time".
Dave commented, "Good, now has anyone seen the storm rider?" at this a chorus of groans, moans and incoherent mumbles echoed. The elder who looked a little worse for wear but ok asked "why?"
Dave answered "I think it's time to our punishment, so I'll tell him who he is, cause I finally found out".
As the wind buffeted the people on the pub, the elder asked "wasn't you able to find him in the valley?"
Dave answered "nah, I even stopped and got out of the rig, he didn't show", the elder contemplated this for a minute then said; " the only place I can think he might be is "
Suddenly there was a massive explosion and a shower of sparks and the smell of smoke.
Dave asked, looking off towards where the sound came from "were you just about to say the hotel?"
The elder said "yes, why?"
Dave answered "well that boom sounded like it might have come from there".
The elder continued what he was about to say before Dave asked his question "yes, I was about to say the hotel, because he might return to the place where his first victim died and I hear that's the only place the water hasn't touched".
Dave edged down the side of the roof using the rope to abseil. He got in the boat and rowed to the hill with the hotel on it.
Dave looked at the hotel, the blast had taken out all the windows and left the face of it charred black, and there was a hole in the roof and tiles and pieces of wood everywhere. The door creaked rather noisily when Dave pushed it open, he stepped in and ducked as a chair suddenly came sailing out of the darkness straight for his head. He couldn't see what direction it had come from because the power was out. He took a few steps inside, heard a rattle and jumped out of the way as a chandelier came crashing down, right where he had just been standing.
An iron supplement was something Dave needed but not in the form of 60 super sharp chef's knives that had missed his nose by only 1cm. So Dave yelled "oy, ghosty boy. Where are ya, I've got news for you!"
The hiker came out of the roof in a rush of icy cold wind, although his form was different. Instead of his hiker form he was a 10-foot high fire-breathing dragon with blood red eyes and claw nails like well-sharpened machetes. Before Dave could say anything the obviously very pissed off ghost yelled with a voice that made the walls shake "where is it? I know that fruit loop trucker hid it somewhere".
He then turned and demanded of Dave "where is it!?"
Dave asked "what, what are you looking for?"
The ghost answered "the book, I want the book now!"
Dave thought for a moment then realising what the ghost meant took the book out of his bag and showed it to the ghost, as soon as the hiker saw it he shrunk back down to his normal size and shape. He stuck out his hand but before Dave handed it to him he asked; "it's not the book you want is it but what's in it?"
Dave saw a tear crease its way out of the hikers eye and roll down his face, then he asked; "how did you know?"
Dave answered, "because I know now who you are, but your name is not what you wanted".
The hiker collapsed to his knees and broke into outraged fits of tears and whilst sobbing said "yes it's true, after meeting my wife she became my life, my identity, my name didn't matter. Because I was so happy, you see I knew you had found my name because something in me changed. And an angel came down and told me that I had two days to end my quest, I had to ask him, if finding my name wasn't my quest what was?"
Dave took a seat on what was left of the reception desk.
The hiker continued "I got so angry when I figured out what my quest actually was, I then came here, and boy was I fuming. So I started tearing this place apart hoping to find it".
Dave was crying, but he didn't care. The hiker's story was so sad, he then said between sobs "so in your anger you lost control of your supernatural powers", and the hiker answered "yes, but now I have a persona again, but apart from that you say I have a name".
Dave during his sadness almost forgot and said startlingly "yeah, yeah it's right here, Michael Bradely, and there's more than that, that you ought to know".
The hiker was now laughing like a Hyena while trying to say; "hallelujah, I've got a name, what a great day" as he said this, the rain stopped, and the clouds parted just enough to let a small ray of sunshine through.
He (the hiker) then asked "what's this about there being more?"
Dave took a deep breath and got ready to deal out the biggest shocker ever. He then said "well I, after learning your last name traced my family history, and found that you're the father of a great, great, etc uncle of mine, so we are related!"
Dave thought he had seen all sorts of weird faints before but to see a ghost faint, go deathly pale and fall straight through the floor was definitely spooky.
After the ghost found out Dave was a relative he celebrated by helping Dave to clean up his mess and the town. So he used his spiritual powers to get rid of the water and clouds, he also renewed the crops he had destroyed.
The town's folk soon got to know the hiker, they were wary at first but soon found him to be ok.
The next morning they (the towns folk, Dave and Michael) were all at the pubs bar when a sudden blinding flash of light sent the darkness running and scared the breath out of everybody (even the ghostly one). Mainly because only Michael had seen an angel before. The angel spoke to Michael in a voice that literally sounded like a thousand harps all in tune.
The angel stated "I'm sorry to say Michael but God needs you", Dave decided it was time for a bit of courage to show through. So he walked up and tapped the angel on his white shoulder and the angel turned and asked "yes Dave how can I help you?"
Dave instead of being surprised the angel knew his name, just answered "well, I know God is a patient man and because that I want you to ask him to hold on till we've given this guy (he pointed to Michael) a decent burial. You see we only just found out his name and we want to bury him in the cemetery".
The angel looked up and concentrated for a minute and answered "God says ok, but after the funeral and burial it's goodbye".
And with another wink of light the angel was gone
It was a beautifully sunny day as the town's folk and a few extras; namely Charles Shanaghan and William McBrandy arrived at the church for the funeral. The casket was closed because of the fact that it had been 400 years.
Dave, who fidgeted in his rented tux, stood up the front of the church and after everybody was seated he began "well um, I haven't been to a funeral before so I'll just try my best". He cleared his throat and continued "Michael Bradely, better known to the folk of this town as "The Storm Rider" and to our guests as "Highway" was a man who spent his life moving around. He spent a lot of it, as a drifter, going from town to town and city to city etc. but to the few of us who only just got to know him, he turned out to be a great guy. To me, he turned out to be family".
He paused for a second to take a swig of a glass of water that was on a table beside the podium.
But to hundreds of motorists he turned out to be a person who made many people smile and that's how I'd like to remember him, so goodbye old mate and may you travel the roads of eternity and drink at the bars along the way, in peace".
Dave went to the front row and sat down and Charles came up and began. "I never knew "Highway" personally but then my ancestor took so many photos and wrote so much in his diary about him, I'm not sure that's true. And every time I read the stories or look at the pictures it makes me laugh. Because he was always doing something extraordinary, like juggling torches and I don't mean the battery powered ones".
He stopped to think for a minute, then restarted "or making some poor motorist believe he'd just burned the fifty dollars he'd entrusted into "Highway's" hands. And on saying my bit I'd like to remember him, as a man who made many very ordinary travellers journey's quite unusual and fun. And made more people laugh than any T.V show or normal comedian could. I'd just like to remember him as a man who bought much laughter into a world of sadness".
He then went and sat down.
Next up was the town's historian/ family tracer/ museum curator. He got up and began his final farewell "I only knew Michael "Highway" Bradely through what I learned from the elder and Dave. But from that I know that this man is a man with a history and a legend that will go on forever or as long as there is people to talk about him. What he did in his life, touched and changed the lives of so many others and even though he's gone we will never forget him. And to make sure I'm personally going to start up a fund to build a memorial to Michael "The Unknown Hitchhiker", "Highway", "The Storm Rider" Bradely. Anyone who wants to contribute can do so as you leave. All I want say now is, let's turn this man from a folktale to a legend cause that's what he is".
He went and sat down.
The last person to get up was the elder, he began his goodbye to the great ghost "the Storm Rider", and he said in his aged, raspy voice "has been a story in my tribe for 400 years. It was always the way to gather around the campfire and hear tales of his antics, but to us they were more than tales.
But life long memories. You see I am 73 yrs old and the last time my father told me a tale about him I was just 10. That is what it is to remember, all I ask is that you keep in your heart as well as your records, books, and legends. For even through all he has done he has always been a star that shone brightest in our skies, and so I say goodbye "Storm Rider" you have ridden your last storm and now the seas are calm once more".
He slowly and frailly went and sat down.
Just as he did a sudden deathly quiet passed up the aisle, a chill like no other washed over the gathered like an icy sea and they new it was him. He materialised behind the podium and began his farewell to them "you know, it's amazing that after all I've done so many people would have such nice things to say about me. And it's amazing how because of the fact that I'm a ghost you can all hear and see me. Maybe God's giving me a chance to say goodbye and to say that one-day, you will be walking down the highway of eternity and I'll stop and pick you up. And on that day we'll gather together in that great big bar in the sky. Until then may your actions shake the world to its very core and may the wind be at you feet, and may your friendships NEVER DIE!"
As he said that he faded away.
Here they were, gathered again, this time in front of a grave, with a headstone carved in the memory of Michael. The carriers bought forth the coffin and layed it on the two ropes that would lower it down. Together they had gathered just over two thousand dollars towards Michael's memorial but they knew it was not enough. They lowered the coffin into the grave and were about to put the first shovel of dirt in when they heard the rumble.
At first they thought it was thunder, but there was not a cloud in the sky, then they looked down the road both ways, coming towards the cemetery. On it were four trucks, one to each half, but they knew that even that couldn't make this much noise. It wasn't until they started parking on a piece of vacant land adjacent to the cemetery that they realised what was causing the noise, it was four lines of semi trailers each over six K's long.
As each pulled in the driver turned off the engine, got out and came over to the grave. Then put down some flowers and gave to the fund, and each one gave no less than 50 dollars.
The cavalcade of semis continued on for 1-½ hours each driver doing the same thing. There must've been over 200 truckies there.
A guy by the name of Nev came up to Dave and said; "how's it going mate? We heard about your friend's funeral and decided any friend of yours is a friend of ours. So we dropped by to pay our respects".
Dave was so touched by the gesture he started to cry again. This crying thing was getting embarrassing.
After all the truckies had arrived they all got a shovel of dirt, (that is one after they other) and put it on the coffin. The last truckie had just put the last shovel in and patted it down when there was a sudden burst of light that even scared the truckies appeared. Like the crew at the pub they had never seen an angel. He came to Dave and said, "where is Michael? It is time".
Michael appeared and thanked Dave for all he had done then with a brief wave to all the scared, rigid truckies took the angels hand and disappeared into the sky.
A year later and the memorial stood proud in the centre of town. And after the money the truckies donated was counted they found they had more than enough money to build a wing on to the old museum dedicated to the life of the hiker and rebuild the rest of it as well.
Dave took a rest as he finished telling the story to his son, Michael Bradely.
Michael just said "wow, how unbelievable. But all true?"
"Yes" Dave whispered "all true, every word".
"And you also became a legend too right?"
"Yes, amongst truckers and the people of Dureeba, both aboriginal and normal".
Dave's breathing was laboured as he beckoned his son closer "son, like those before me, I pass this on to you, to pass on to your children. So that it will not be forgotten".
As he said that his eyes closed and he slept.
Dave died aged 93
And somewhere far away another hiker started walking the road to eternity.
Michael looked out the window as the dark ominous clouds that had hung overhead gave up the fight and the rain poured down.
Lightning streaked the sky with its wrath as the Auto nurses came rushing in to Dave's bed.
Outside the storm raged on.
© F R Kelly 2001