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the unexpected

The Ghost of Ivan Milat

Kris McGinnis

As warm acidic tears slowly bite my sunburnt cheeks, as his crooked grin leers from the shadowy driver’s seat, as the thud-thud-thud ruptures from the trunk, an epiphany strikes, jostling for position where fear resides.

Regret can only be nurtured into experience if you live long enough to caress it. 

Regret that campfire stories which scar the nation’s underbelly, of its vast emptiness, of disappearances, of monsters like Ivan Milat, were brushed off as tales of yesteryear on the sun-kissed beaches and bustling city streets of my Melbourne life.

Regret that teenage stubbornness masqueraded as adulthood, that assuming travel by foot and thumb to view the apocalyptic opal town of Coober Pedy and coppery sandstone terrain of Uluru would provide a more freeing experience, that sisterly scorn refused a brother’s companionship. 

Regret that when the rusted yellow station wagon slowed down, tired feet willingly accepted, that his eerie silence, broken only by a gruff demand for my name, was initially viewed as restful, that my weary mind was too slow to connect the glint of sharp metal, duct tape and body bag; that I can only save myself.

As I slowly grip the door handle to the thud-thud-thud of his trapped prey, he reaches into his pocket. In the glare of moonlight, I notice streaks of blood on his arm. Without pause, I thrust the door open and throw myself out . . .

My wife calls me introverted, says I need to open up more to enjoy the sociable aspects of life that raising children denied. I promise to try but I prefer solitude and the outback provides that.

There are abandoned opal mines around Coober Pedy which resonate with my inner prospector. It takes patience, but gemstones will come.

She said my car wasn’t suitable; I’ll get stranded. I somewhat agreed. The rear suspension’s loose and thuds like a headache, but I’m fond of the old yellow rust bucket. Loaded with supplies and mining equipment, I set off. 

It got dark just after Glendambo, that’s when the oil tank leaked. Patching it with duct tape, I cleaned my oil-slicked arms with tissues and continued on.

Not long after, I saw a girl walking down the highway. Dark, desolate; it’s not the safest place. With a promise to socialise more, I offered a ride. 

She was quiet, but starting conversations chokes me with dread, so the thud of the rear suspension filled the void. It felt awkward. She noticed my camping tarpaulin, shovel and mining pick. I considered explaining my hobby, but decided the youth of today wouldn’t be interested. 

Anxiously, I asked her name. ‘Heather’ she meekly responded. Tongue tied again, I smiled nervously and noticed she was crying. I reached to offer some tissues . . .

And that’s when she fucking launched herself out the car!

I searched but there was no sign of her. Driving off, a sense of fear overwhelmed.

You grow up hearing tales of phantom hitchhikers. Last time I’ll ever try to be sociable. 

Kris McGinnis is a Scottish writer of flash fiction who has been published in Clover & White and ‘Less Than 100 Words’ e-book anthology.

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