Love and Magic part Three
Jack sat in the back seat of the Ford Fairmont, it was the flashiest car he had ever travelled in. On any other day he would have been madly playing with the power windows and checking out the dashboard. However today he was on his way to his new foster home.
He sat staring out of the window letting the music from the car's radio drown out the noises in his head. He had felt strangely detached the last few days as if he was watching himself and the goings on as an observer from outside his body. There was a constant static of noise of people saying things to him, sometimes actual comments and sometimes imagined scenarios of what may be to come.
The foster home to where he was travelling to was a considerable distance from his home town. Jack floated out of the music for a moment and thought to himself; new family, new friends, eventually when the holidays were over new school.
The Xibera’s his new foster family, sounded like good people. They were a couple in their early thirties with no children of their own. Apparently they were also caring for an autistic four year old boy called Tom once a month over a weekend to give the boys immediate family a break. Jack was also to meet with Tom and Tom’s parents once Jack was settled. Probably to see if they were compatible Jack guessed.
The car finally turned off the main road, down a dirt track that had the appearance of being carved through the thick scrub. Jack found himself being drawn out of his dream like state and actually began feeling curious. Along the immediate roadside there were places the bush was so dense he felt that if he stuck his arm out of the car window that it would be torn off.
An old Queenslander style house suddenly emerged before them as the track widened out into cleared pasture land. The car pulled to a stop and two very large dogs bounded towards the vehicle barking excitedly. A tall slender woman with tightly permed blonde hair, wearing denim shorts and a pink singlet ran from the house and began dragging the dogs away to an upturned water tank beneath a huge sprawling Poinciana tree and secured them each to a separate chain.
“That’s Anna”, explained Desley, Jacks caseworker a rather manly looking woman. Jack wasn't sure if it was just the dark pants and dress shirt that made him think she was a bit ‘blokey’ or her gruff manner. Desley opened the car door for Jack and he stepped out quickly as a precaution in case Desley dragged him out. She probably wouldn't but Jack decided not to try his luck.
Anna briskly walked back to her guests, wiping her hands on her shorts as she approached. She smiled broadly and stuck her hand out in their general direction for whomever to except the greeting first.
“Did you find the place alright?” Anna asked trying to catch her breathe.
Jack couldn't help smiling at the woman who at the moment resembled her excitable dogs.
“God you're a good looking kid”, Anna mused to Jack.
The comment was genuine and the woman’s manner instantly put Jack at ease, however now he felt a little lost for words.
Desley took Anna’s hand and gave it a firm shake. “Yes thank-you!” Desley answered Anna’s first question.
“This is Jack Borg”. Desley said placing a hand lightly on Jack’s head.
“Hi”, Jack finally managed.
“I’m Anna Xibera, welcome to your new home”, Anna announced proudly spreading her arms out. “Come on in and get settled, then you can have a tour of the place”.
Jack followed Anna into the house. The veranda was big and wide to catch the breezes and funnel them into the main living areas to keep the place reasonably cool. The bedrooms each had their own air-conditioning which was an unexpected surprise. Anna showed Jack to his room and left him unpack, Desley and she sat at the dining room table and had a chat and sorted out the necessary paperwork. Soon after Anna’s husband Steve arrived and after a quick lunch of ham sandwiches and a cup of tea Steve took Jack on a tour of the farm, aboard a dirty red quad bike.
The farm covered 75 acres and ran a modest twenty head of cattle, six horses a dozen pigs, an over sized chook run with God knew how many chooks and anywhere from ten to twenty suicidal guinea fowl depending on how many chicks survived their parents at a time. There was an abundance of small crops in various stages of growth including some twenty mango trees and one hundred or so lychee trees. The Xibera’s also had several casual workers consisting of local kids from neighbouring farms (who didn't want to work for their own families) and retirees looking for extra cash.
There was a fairly big corrugated iron shed for the farm machinery and a couple of smaller sheds that were used for packing fruit and veg as well as a cold room.
Steve gave Jack a running commentary on what was being harvested or nearly ready and tried to explain as best he could about how Anna and he ran the place.
After an hour or so Steve handed the quad bike over to Jack with a quick rundown on how to operate it and a description of the boundaries then invited Jack to go off and get a feel for the place.
“And make sure you come back”. Steve winked as he waved Jacked off.
Jack was relieved to be on his own and drove on aimlessly at first not thinking of anything in particular but just enjoying the feeling of freedom the wind in his face the feeling of the quad reverberating and shaking the crap out of his arms. He smiled to himself as he selected a track to explore and sped off with a sudden feeling of purpose.
After a while the scrub began to thin out and he could see an open expanse of salt pans, muddy flats of ground that had very little to no vegetation growing due to the salt from tidal waters. Further on he could see a thick tangle of mangroves.
Jack stopped the quad bike and jumped off to stretch his legs and rest his thumb from pushing on the accelerator. One of the farm dogs came bounding out of the scrub from no-where and scared the absolute shit out of Jack before he realised it was Zeus, Anna’s huge part wolf-hound dog. The dog stopped for a moment and seemed to grin at Jack as if knowing he had just given the boy the fright of his life and then casually loped away after some scent.
Jack breathed a sigh of relief as he collapsed onto a fallen log.
“Hello”, a voice said.
“Shit!” Jack exclaimed as he jumped to his feet again.
The old man laughed to himself at Jack’s shock. His skin was tanned and weather worn, he had bright shiny eyes that peered out beneath a worn akubra and a scraggily white beard. His red, checked, flannelette, shirt had the sleeves torn off and looked as tatty as his faded blue jeans, and he had no shoes on his feet.
“I seen you coming but you didn’t see me eh mate”, the old man said as he sat on the log near were Jack had been sitting.
“Sit down kid”, the old man said patting the log next to him, “you make the place look untidy hey”.
Jack regarded the old man for a moment then sat a short distance away from him.
“You new here then,” the old man said as he pulled out a packet of tobacco from his shirt pocket and began rolling a cigarette with yellowy orange stained fingers.
“Yeah,’ Jack said, “I got here today.”
“It’s a good place,” the man said looking up from his freshly rolled cigarette and nodding his head across the land in general. “You’ll like it here….You belong,” he said tipping the brim of his hat with a long finger and smiling through broken teeth.
Jack looked down at his feet for a moment at a loss for words for the second time today and when he looked up the man was gone.
Jack once again sprang to his feet, and surveyed the surrounding area, looking for where the old man might have gone. Jack didn’t think he had been staring at his feet long enough for the man to disappear completely from view, so he did a quick search of the immediate area looking around the log for a clue to where the man might have gone.
‘God maybe I’m so tired I dreamed while I was awake’ Jack thought to himself. It had been awhile since Jack could recall himself sleeping through the entire night. He’d heard of ghosts but this was in broad daylight. Feeling somewhat ‘creeped out’ he decided to get back to the house and have a good lie down before something else jumped out of the bush at him. So he climbed back onto the quad bike and sped toward his new home…. or in that general direction at least.
Jack pulled up at the front of the house, the quad bikes tyres crunching on the loose gravel. Anna was walking back to the house after seeing Desley off and was surprised to see Jack back already.
“That was a quick run…..are you alright mate”, Anna asked.
“I’m just stuffed hey, I think I need a lie down”, Jack said feeling embarrassed.
Anna didn’t think Jack had any medical conditions and so assumed the past few days’ events were possibly catching up on him. Desley the case worker had mentioned that Jack seemed very detached and was a little concerned herself that Jack may be ‘bottling things up’.
“Go on up to your room and I’ll look in on you in a minute…to make sure you’re OK”, Anna said. She didn’t want to smother the boy but she needed to know that he actually wasn’t sick, or maybe he was ready for a chat.
Anna poured Jack a tall glass of Coke and brought it into his room.
“You’d better have a drink”, she said as more of a statement than a suggestion.
Jack complied and took a big swig, before resting the glass on the bedside table. His curiosity had now gotten the better of him, stifling a burp he decided to ask.
“I saw an old man near the salt pans, is he a worker?”
Anna was at a loss as to whom Jack had seen. The workers Steve and she hired were mostly teenagers.
Anna scratched her head and asked, “What did he look like Jack, there really shouldn’t have been anyone out on that part of the farm today?”
So Jack gave Anna a rundown on his encounter with the dog and the disappearing bushman.
Anna had a laugh at her dog Zeus’ antics, but the story about the bushman left her with goose bumps.
“And you didn’t see were he went,” Anna asked.
“I looked down at my feet for a minute and when I looked up he was gone. That probably sounds stupid hey”, Jack said.
“Hun I don’t know who you saw, but if you see the old bushie again don’t go near him. Come and let me or Steve know straight away. I appreciate you telling me, I don’t like people just walking through here without our permission”, Anna said hoping that had cleared the air for the moment.
“Yeah OK, I think I’ll just have a bit of a rest”. Jack said.
Anna found Steve in the packing shed and told him about Jacks incident.
“Well I don’t want anyone on the property unless they come and tell us first. Bloody hell we could be out shooting and not know the silly old bastard is there. I’ll go in the ute with the dogs and see if I can find him”, Steve said.
Anna waved Steve off but she was doubtful that Steve would find the old man.