Issue 300

By Col Hellmuth

“They found the body in the dunes yesterday...

“South ’f ’ere...

“Dead-er than a seafood buffet at Steaks-‘R’-Us. The gulls and crabs and Christ-only-knows-what-else found ’im first. Not a pretty sight, lad. He was burned black by the sun. Bits were missing...

“Not that he was altogether tip-top before he took off — knew 'e was done for.”

“Did you know the guy, Boof?”

“Seen ’im about. Use’ ta live down the river a-ways, I think...

“’While-back.” Boof scratched a bewhiskered side of his gap-punctuated gob, adding no further clues as to which river he referenced: none being in close proximity.

Although Paul was sitting on the other side of the campfire — fully ten-feet away — the stirrings of an early-morning breeze gifted him with a generous whiff of Boof’s halitosis.

“So you were there when they found the body, then?” Paul unconsciously pushed back — somewhat precariously — in his cheap folding camp-chair; an ancient battle-scarred longboard, being readied for combat, balanced across his knees.

“Nah,” the old man slowly averted his gaze from the campfire to somewhere above and vaguely south of Paul’s head, following an arc described to avoid any eye contact, “I was at the ’Ndev’r.”

It was apparent Boof, whom Paul had never heard addressed with any more formality, was only parroting idle pub gossip. Nevertheless, it explained the visiting uniforms out in the coastal equivalent of the boondocks — customarily the domain of transient kite-surfers and reclusive professional fisher folk — yesterday afternoon.

That sudden influx of bully-men made Paul, who still considered himself a blow-in, skittish enough to abandon his favourite bar-stool, skip town and rediscover anonymity for a stretch. That had also provided the impetus behind his present line of interrogation. He’d hastily, discreetly, journeyed twenty-odd k's up the coast to his current campsite by the (faster, but dull) inland highway this jaunt — rather than take his accustomed (scenic, and convivial) odyssey via the potentially treacherous beach at low tide.

Paul returned his attention to waxing his board. 

Boof, oblivious to etiquette, helped himself unbidden to another can from Paul’s esky — belched long and loudly with an impressive tonal control hinting at an undiscovered musical ability — then resumed staring into the flames: reliving some private scene from his past.

 Having seemingly exhausted his knowledge of relevant current events, Boof was outwearing his welcome quicker than he was downing beers. The crusty old fossil had appeared at the jury-rigged beach camp from origins unspecified like a moth to a flame, directly following Paul’s diligent emergence from his threadbare swag (not unlike, sans grace, a pupa from its chrysalis), at the crack of sparrow-fart, to rekindle the embers of last-night’s over-stoked fire.

Paul vaguely recognised the harmless old soak as a relatively recent addition alongside the local fixtures diurnally entrenched at the seedy end of the beachfront boozer’s public-bar back in town. 

Life wasn’t presently all chips and gravy for Paul either; his (ex)mistress, the flighty Lady Luck, had soared thither on a golden breeze. An ill-timed random D&A test had heralded the end of an all-too-brief FIFO career in the mining industry, and the beginning (okay, middle) of a long convoluted pilgrimage of self-loathing — culminating in a theatre of depravity his nagging (sub)conscience now referred to simply as The Bender. Left floundering in its wake was a broken midlife-crisis-aged man, stuck in an unfamiliar city on the wrong side of the continent without the means, or the beans, to get back home, because the company had rewarded his disgrace by remunerating only the first leg of his return airfare.

He’d had to resort to less legitimate employment opportunities to put a few dollars back in the piggy-bank; brokered through a dodgy, long-time associate from his home state, now living up north (by the coast this time, and nary a ship-loader, conveyor belt, nor reclaimer in sight).

He’d quickly been lured into the muck deeper than he could paddle.

Now might be the time to cut and run. Skip Hicksville permanently. Fuel-up the old Hilux currently gathering rust between the dunes and the high-tide mark, using the illicit cash (not strictly his) stashed in the zippered case with his harmonicas beneath the canvas seat covers. Hit the Great Eastern Highway and see how many kilometres he can add to the ute’s old-style mechanical odometer; follow that concrete and steel pipeline of O’Connor’s — through the Wheatbelt, through Coolgardie — right to its very end: so he can flip a middle-finger salute out the window as he takes that dog-leg down through Boulder. Then on past Norseman; on to Highway 1 — try to put at least one state border between himself and here.

It may well be worth the risk even though the route is a known haven for trainee cops with hair-trigger radar-guns and his licence is currently suspended (The Bender again); notwithstanding, the stolen ute is almost certainly going to throw up a red flag as soon as a highway-patrol car with licence-plate recognition passes by.

It might well be worth a lifetime driving-ban — jazzed up with a few months of free accommodation and a bonus three-squares-a-day chucked in — just to get busted in another town from this one.

At least he might live long enough to regret it.


The low early-morning sun cast a vitiating glow over the eastern face of the looming island — almost within spitting distance (on lower tides) of the sandbar on which he now stood, radiating from the scrubby headland accommodating their camp — leaving most of its fringing beach in the shadow of the mainland dunes, freshly crested, to Paul’s back.

The sets were lining-up small and few, but clean. The usual build up of tangled brown weed littered the beach and floated in the water like stringy turds. Farther up the beach a couple of fishermen were rigging up; chasing salmon.

Optimists, Paul thought — the seasonal run of pelagics up the coast hadn’t started yet. The tide had peaked and was on the ebb; the faces of the sets were sitting up nicely as he waded farther out into the cool water.

Jammy Jim, Paul’s current partner-in-crime — despite expressing an uncharacteristic appreciation for the great-outdoors and opting to join him on this impromptu surfing junket — was still just a shapeless lump in his fart-sack; missing the best part of the morning, lazy bloody junkie. When the gifted mofo stayed off the nod long enough to finger some blues from his battered hock-shop sax, you’d swear you could hear his soul leaking out the valves; and when he really blew that thing: his demons — screaming to be freed from their brass ’n’ bones cage.

Still, it was nigh time to blast him, and his wasted talent, off too.

Boof seemed quite content guarding the esky. He would probably be feeling a little less complacent, and a trifle more obsequious, when big Jim finally arose from his farty — and dreams of the Bigtime: to discover they were his Emu Exports rapidly dwindling.

The few-hundred metres out to the back of the break was an easy paddle; a gentle rip guided his board out through the channel and Paul was soon off the southern tip of the wedge-shaped island. Momentarily startled by a dark shadow in the water, his testicles constricted — then he relaxed: just a bait-school.

Back on the mainland one of the fishermen was trying to untangle multiple clumps of seaweed from his line. Paul couldn’t tell what Boof was up to. He had his back to the water.

After catching a couple of waves Paul retreated behind the break to wait for something a little bigger, content with having the sets to himself for a time. He sat, legs dangling over the sides of his old-timey board and looked towards the mainland. Over the tops of the dunes he could see the occasional aerial pointing towards the sky, or water tank perched precariously on makeshift stand: giving away the positions of dilapidated fishermen’s huts in their lee.

Despite the sun in his eyes, Paul saw the glint of silver as one of the fishermen hauled in his first salmon. And then another. 

Paul didn’t see the long, dark silhouette emerge from the depths of the Indian Ocean at his back, now silently arcing toward him just beneath the surface like the prelude to an act of war; an organic torpedo — barely sentient, yet perfectly evolved to excel at the hunt, and execute the kill. 

The two fishermen didn’t see it either: they were in a re-baiting frenzy, eager to get their lines back in the water while the run was on. Jammy was still dead-to-the-world in his swag. The old booze-hound, still haunting the makeshift camp, didn’t witness anything: he was busy pilfering Paul’s cigarettes while he had the opportunity.


Boof leaned back in Paul’s chair, removed his gloves, lit up one of Paul’s tailor-mades and made himself comfortable. He couldn’t stop thinking about the feller who’d wandered off unnoticed from that nursing home near the northern terminus of the metro train-line, two weeks ago. The poor bastard hadn’t wanted to spend his last days wasting away in a home with the big double: Cancer and blossoming senility.

Loose lips.

Somehow he’d absconded from the (secure) dementia-wing and made it all the unlikely way back to his old stomping (disposal) ground undetected — and unaided, so far as anyone knew.

Boof wished his one-time mentor had found a little more dignity at the end. It wasn’t dignified the way they’d found his body, all messed up like it was.

The distant thumping of a double-pot diesel — the last of the morning’s cray-boats (likely piloted by a hungover skipper), headed out to the reef to soak its cargo of pots — abruptly faded out of the range of audibility. It could have fallen off the edge of the Earth, Boof thought.

Sink ships.

He shaded his eyes unnecessarily with his hand and tried to pick out Paul in the surf. He couldn’t see him.

Imagine dying alone like that, with (hardly) no-one there to even notice.

Boof wasn’t in the least concerned that the second middle-aged malingerer might awake to give him grief over missing beer: now that the sun was up it was impossible to miss the blossoming rust-coloured rosettes discolouring the thin dirty canvas of Jammy’s swag, or the thick, sluggishly moving puddle spreading out — faster than it could soak into the Swan Coastal Plain’s hydrophobic sand — from underneath. The sun glinted off the long, thin blade of Paul's wickedly-sharp filleting knife, discarded nearby.

Collateral damage: he had expected to find a woman asleep in the bedding. The unwelcome discovery to the contrary had simply triggered a reflex kill when he’d recognised his own (misguided) intent mirrored in the giant’s waking eyes.

Boof supposed he’d now have to dispose of the other fellow too before moving on (and up, since he’d surreptitiously observed Paul checking his stash in the Hilux the previous evening). It was a shame, as the young bloke had seemed quite likeable.

He still couldn’t see Paul.

There was some sort of commotion going on down the beach. One of the fishermen had discarded his rod carelessly in the sand and appeared agitated. He was pointing at something washing to-and-fro in the surf and shouting something unintelligible to the other. The wind had picked up already and was blowing his words out to sea. 

Boof cracked another can as he casually wandered down the beach to see what the fuss was about.

rocket crux 2 75

About the Author

col hellmuth

After spending much of his life moving around the Australian continent Col Hellmuth has finally settled on an off-grid lifestyle amidst the Daintree Rainforest, in his birth-state: Far North Queensland.

When he is not writing he likes to spend his time growing a beard (he still hasn't learned how to multi-task).


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Meet the Narrators

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