“Run,” said Santa when he recognised the two young men in front of them, but as he turned around he saw another young man and young woman were cutting off their escape.
“It’s alright,” said one of the young men in front of them, holding up his hands. “We just want to ask you some survey questions.” The man beside him had a clipboard.
“Who are they?” asked Ned. “They don’t look like the law.”
“Much worse,” said Angie. “Scientologists!”
“Leave ‘em to me,” said Ned and put his head down and barrelled through them, knocking them to the ground. “Survey that!” said Cook as they rushed past. They turned down another alley or two and came to the edges of a wide open plaza. “Uh oh,” said Angie. She’d been trying to avoid ending up here. Garema Place. The heart of the badlands. Cook, Kelly and Santa stopped in their tracks to take in the scene ahead of them. The Place was lit by fires in small braziers or tins and there were all the unaffiliated and un-real-estated tribes of Canberra here. Hari Krishnas, skateboarders, buskers, Goths, beggars, poets, young liberals and Star Wars fans. All the lost boys and lost girls of contemporary Canberra. All with their own distinctive tattoos or ragged-clothes markings.
There was one group of people sitting together passing around a large bottle of something. Another were screaming at the stars. Another group were dancing around a fire, beating on drums.
“What on earth is this?” Ned Kelly asked.
“Just another night in the badlands,” Angie said.
“It was a bit like this in Tahiti,” said Cook.
“If they catch us here they’ll try and get their next meal out of us,” Angie said.
“More like New Zealand then,” said Cook.
“Not like that,” said Angie. “They’ll rob us or steal everything we have.”
“What should we do?” asked Cook. Angie turned around and saw the bruised scientologists stumbling towards them, like B-grade actors trying to pass an audition for a zombie film.
“Follow my lead and rely on the miraculous,” said Santa. He placed Angie’s hands on his hips and started dancing a conga line dance, right out into the middle of Garema Place. Ned and Captain Cook joined in, looking about them furtively. But it was like they were invisible. Like the lost Canberrans had spent so many years striving to ignore their parents embarrassing them by dancing conga lines at family parties, that they now subconsciously could not see them.
They reached the far side of the Place safely and ducked into the shadows by one of the burned-out shops. “That was… well… miraculous!” said Angie.
“Which way?” asked Cook, seemingly unaware of the irony of the Great Navigator being lost.
“This way,” said Angie, and led them down to the remains of the carousel. It had not seen children nor music in over a decade, since the night of the bloody New Year’s Eve turf war in Civic between the National Capital Authority and the ACT Government.
The dark shapes of horses drew Ned’s eye as they walked past and he was tempted to put a hand out to touch one. Just to recall that comforting feeling of blood and muscle beneath one’s hand. Even thought he knew all he’d feel was something lifeless.
He had stopped long enough to get separated from the others though, and so was outside the ring of bright light that suddenly snapped on about them. “Do not move! We have you surrounded!” said a deep echoing voice of authority, that seemed to come from many directions at once.
Ned saw the other three put their hands into the air and saw dark-unformed figures approaching them.
“That’s not how I see it from here,” he said softly. “I believe I’ve got you surrounded!”
Craig Cormick is an award-winning Canberra author who has published over twenty book of fiction, non-fiction and short-fiction. His awards include the ACT Book of the Year, a Queensland Premier’s Literary Award and a Victorian Community History Award. His most recent book Uncle Adolf won a 2015 ACT Publishing Award. For more information on Craig and his work check out his website at www.craigcormick.com
Part seven will be published on the site tomorrow.