All Alone In The Desert | Grace Halliday


All Alone In The Desert

Grace Halliday

Major Contest 2018: Hate and Coat Award

It was in the Wild West, where the sun and the red dirt met, both so bright you could no longer see the divide between sky and land.

This was the place of ol’ Rowland Smith, the last of the Smiths of Bundaroo.

He looked like a scarecrow, with a lanky figure and spindly limbs, drowning in his woollen coat. With a smoking pistol and that strange coat, Rowland Smith was the ominous creature that lived on the outskirts of town, creating clay pots and scrap- metal sculptures with his wife, Lorali.

They sold their handmade goods down at the Bundaroo fair.

He married his childhood sweetheart, Lorali, at the age of seventeen, desperate to fill the burning hole in his heart. Rowland and Lorali tried for a child who would smell just like the coat Deanna left hanging on Rowlands door, the day she disappeared off the face of the earth.

Two years had passed and there was still no small bump or the sweaty glow in the cheeks of Lorali. Rowland became desperate. The shack began to mirror their emotions. The rooms darkened and the shelves collapsed. The mice in the walls seemed to have multiplied and wailed continuously.

And so, Lorali sunk further into her melancholy state. It was, therefore, that Rowland decided one morning at the Bundaroo fair, to take desperate measures.

Taking a child would be no easy feat; it went against all of Rowlands moral values. Yet, he was slowly sinking into Deanna’s ominous black coat; He and Lorali were running out of time. Lost children from the east, west, south and north were drawn to this fairground like moths to the light, itching for a glimpse of the travelling circus of gypsies known as ‘The Nomads’. Children from the cities and the wilderness came with packs filled with treasured childhood toys and pictures of their family, in search of a haywire life among the hospitable and wealthy gypsies.

Rowland Smith was once susceptible to such charms, dreaming of the day when he himself and his older sister Deanna could pack their bags like little adventurers and join the ragtag group of ‘lost boys’ that they so admired.

Unfortunately, Rowland kept his dreams to himself, so that eventually it was too late. Deanna had run away without him, leaving only her long black coat that smelt of soap and hay.

One particular golden afternoon, Rowland left the house with Lorali for the fair, his heart heavy with dread and anxiety. After setting up the stall of bronze metal sculptures, Rowland excused himself to light a fag. He hid behind a mess of rusty trucks and led his piercing gaze to the Nomad caravans on the edge of the fairground.

Children swarmed about the ringmaster, like flies to a rotting animal carcass.

As the clowns and tattooed dwarves emerged from the red velvet curtains of the stage, Rowland sneaked towards the huddle of caravans. Here he found his old friend, his saviour, the man who breathed fire. He had rescued Rowland from the ring-master’s clutches one too many times. The two of them took their places.

The fire-breather walked cautiously towards the ring-master who was admiring the show and the potential ‘students’ that sat in awe before him.

“Sir, a mister Bartholomew from the Sydney Herald wishes to see you, sir” whispered the fire breather in the ring-master’s ear.

“Who?” the ring-master questioned.

“Why sir, the Sydney Herald! They are here to write up an article about the Nomads”

“Where are they?” the ring-master questioned.

“I told them to wait in your parlor sir” replied the fire-breather.

“Roth!” shouted the ring master, in the direction of the caravans.

Out stalked an impossibly tall man, with arms made of chiseled stone and decorated with tarty ballerinas.

Hiding in his heavy coat, Rowland slithered amongst the shadows cast by the tents and grabbed the first child he saw. Like a newborn he squirmed and wailed.

Rowland shot forward into the hazy distance.

However, the child’s passé followed behind. Once Rowland had managed to reach an isolated spot he turned to the carry-ons behind him. He yelled and cried, trying to scare the kids into returning to the Nomads bright and wonderful display.

“They aren’t going anywhere sir. They’re sticking with me” the boy wailed.

So Rowland sank into the blood red ground and cried. Rowland now had eleven children, lost and scared, in the middle of the Bundaroo desert.

Meanwhile, it had been two long hours in ring-master’s office, foggy with burning incense and too many people squished into one place.

“Tell me” growled the ring-master.

“No” calmly answered the fire-breather.

The interrogation was continued outside. As the fire-breather stepped forward into the purple dusk, he noticed his love, Birdie, her back facing him, as she looked out towards the fraying tightrope joining two canyons.

“I’m getting impatient. Where are the kids? Otherwise, Birdie will be broken into millions of little pieces.”

“I can’t tell you.”

The fire-breather turned towards the figure in the distance.

“I’m sorry Birdie!” he yelled. “But I can’t let those children end up like us.”

With that the ring-master, enraged, ordered Birdie to walk. She barely made it two meters across when she fell, her frail body giving in to the coolness of the shadowy caverns.

The fire-breather let out a tiny gasp and was shot in the heart by the ring-masters Winston pistol, under the light of the eerie purple sky.

“Pack up everything. I have a kidnapping to report” said the ring-master, as he watched, in malice, as the muscle men threw the fire-breather to the ghostly arms of his lover below.

In this Rowland gained a life, a child, a mini Deanna. Yet, the gaping hole he wore, hidden underneath the folds of the black coat, never healed as many more fell to their death in order to help Rowland with his impossible reincarnation of his dear Deanna.