Somewhere in Alice Springs it stepped inside the car. Unseen, invisible, perhaps it had waited in the Red Rooster car park at the highway’s edge. Maybe it was lurking in the shade of the creek below the fenced compounds of Charles Court town camp.
In the dark, out past the gaol, the night was clear and warm. Stars flickered and flecked the dark jelly overhead. The car lights swooped through the bushes and bumps. Not an animal was abroad. Consciousness penetrated the sensory deprivation of concentration on sound, interrupted ears listening for a cracked differential getting worse.
Something in the passenger’s seat radiated shaped heat. It permeated solid bags slung across the passenger’s seat. The heat indented outer skin, elbow to shoulder tip.
Feel, feel it with the mind. What reflected in a feeling of tangible shape on skin?
The mind said not a ghost, never human,. There was no commonality to connect with, belligerent or benign. A lost malpa, a traditional custodian’s spiritual helper, inadvertently left behind when a ngangkari went home? The mind sought the answer, detected no response. It was a passenger, not a protector.
A warp had opened at the join of two worlds. Dangerousness abroad, no interest in being either safe or dangerous. Its only interest was the road ahead. This was a wild thing, something living in a parallel universe, hitching a ride to the place where it was going. Impassive it rode the road; as concerned with car and driver as mud on a tyre. Its disinterest was frightening.
Size penetrated consciousness. Heat pressed against a lot of outer skin. Extending a hand was being a fly or an ant touching the sensitive upper arm of an uncaring expanse. Pull back, don’t touch there, don’t touch the skin that’s like an eye. Feel with hand and mind without causing unintended rudeness to something with little truck with humankind. Touching the semi human forearm was an irrelevance again, irrelevance cupping a forearm like a tree trunk.
Don’t go down the highway to that bed in Marla. This wants to be with kindred. Its kindred won’t be on a highway. For the first time the traditional healer’s shrine passed unseen. The car was travelling on the edge of a world his mind had had the eyes to see. The passenger in the darkness obliterated this world’s memory of the ngangkari and his existence in it.
The fluro lights and fuel bowsers of Kulgera came as a welcome distraction, delivered the relief of human interaction, respite from silence and its consciousness. “What’s your name? I’ve often seen you, I’m Suzy.” A dozen heavy men drinking beer sat at a long table outside the bar. One belched in a long low rumble like an earthquake shuddering in a solid. “That was a good one,” said the man beside him.
Usually long closed by this time, though there was no traffic on the road, and no reason to leave them open, tonight Suzy had tarried when it came to shutting down the fuel pumps.. The passenger was taking no chances.
Back on the road the heat was back and pressing on human flesh. Far to the south the sky flashed red. Stars vanished in a moonless jelly over above a distant range hidden by the night and the horizon.
To the other side, the passenger’s single minded anxiety began to ebb.
Lightning shocked the warm air as the car clattered down the highway, and round eyes in the sky grew larger. Sometimes red irises flashed open. Dark salmon orbs illuminated cloud.
Then the turn off, and the car skimmed along the track to the ranges. A grader had smoothed the surface. The red and pink eyes in the sky passed to one side. Another flash, this time in the jelly sky.
Now the passenger was at peace. Above the mountains something was abroad. Forms danced. Lighting coloured by the spectrum, opalescent, snaked from side to side. Momentarily, it lit red ironstone hills, mulga bushes ever taller. Iridescent reds, greens, crisp white, slithered through the sky, feathering through a deep dark indigo.
The passenger radiated happiness as well as heat. Horses lit up, glowed, as they crossed the road. Brake, brake, brake hard. Always unseen, the passenger vanished in the moment of distraction.
The first community light appeared ahead. The car was empty. Maybe it was just a waking dream brought on by the smell of diesel. Maybe it wasn’t.
Lights shone from the house in the dim street. Wiratju opened the door, and beckoned. “The water snakes are on the move,” he said. “Don’t stay out there.”