dark – side – thursday – six
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The Invited: Part 6
Another watery drip, louder now, comes from the bottom of the steps, but then a fleeting movement beyond the gate catches her eye. A large animal approaches. At first Helen is unsure what it is because of the undergrowth at the edge of the forest, but when it comes towards the red iron gate she recognises it as a leopard. It pauses just a few feet away and sniffs the air, then it turns and stares directly at her. Helen edges behind the sandstone plinth and they eye each other. Strangely she feels quite calm. The big cat has droplets of water in the fir and whiskers of its head and it briefly shakes itself before looking back into the trees from where a trumpeting is heard. Helen finds herself standing by the gate, looking towards the forest with the same calm intensity as the leopard.
A gazelle dashes past and then Helen sees the smoke. The forest is burning.
She stands, watching the leopard. The leopard whisks its tail and then gives a low, deep growl before turning back to look at her again with an unblinking stare. It looks at her as if it knows her, as if to say, it’s time you were moving.
Smoke reaches their nostrils. The leopard lowers its head and pads silently off, following the route of the gazelle.
Helen continues to hold on to the gate.
Up to this moment she hasn’t stopped to consider what her options might be. She doesn’t have to think things through, though, because she already knows that her car isn’t really parked where she left it when she arrived here. She knows that somehow she is no longer just twelve miles from home; that it probably isn’t April the first anymore; not even April!
She’s certain that the building; this tomb, that she stands inside, is a memorial to her mother. She has a vague sense that it could have been built by her father who never came back from Australia when she was about seven. She knows that this place is Tasmania. She visited here when she was twenty when she came to look for some trace of her father. How she got here….. Helen shakes her head….. Perhaps I’m not really here at all ….
She rests her head on her arms. Perhaps dying here won’t be that bad…..
As she looks out through the ironwork of the gate she can see a broad column of smoke rising over the forest and a cockatoo flies out of the trees. Soon other birds join the exodus and an echidna is overtaken by small wallabies and a group of deer. From the forest there comes a crashing and a trumpeting sound and a large tree-fern topples. An elephant; several elephants, come crashing through the edge of the forest. Helen looks blankly at them. You’re in the wrong dream, she thinks to herself, there are no elephants in Tasmania!
The two enormous grey beasts are real enough, though, and come directly towards Helen in her mother’s mausoleum. Feeling the ground shake, she backs away from the gate, but it’s too late, the first charging animal suddenly veers in front of the other and with no space to turn, it collides with the corner of the building. The red gate parts from its hinges and hits the ground with a ringing sound; screeching across the floor towards her, throwing up dust, stones and dry leaves. The column next to it tumbles into pieces and blocks of stone drop down from above with a tremendous roar. Helen falls backwards down the flight of steps and lies, stunned in the darkness, against a cobweb covered door……